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"Worldview in Conflict
Pt. 4"


In Part 3 of our series, we considered the development of western world-views during the Renaissance, which successfully dislodged God from the center of the Western worldview. Renaissance thought redirected focus from a transcendent Creator-Sustainer-Redeemer to temporal man. While the Renaissance was a shift to humanistic mysticism, as it developed, the religious aspects of this humanism were discarded and the age of the Enlightenment emerged.

The Enlightenment

The Enlightenment may be defined as a philosophical movement of the 18th century emphasizing the use of reason to scrutinize previously accepted doctrines and traditions. This movement is credited with bringing about many humanitarian reforms. By the people of its day, the Enlightenment was considered to be the “Age of Reason,” the dawning of a time enlightened by science and a respect for humanity.

The Enlightenment was not so much a set of fixed ideas as an implied attitude and method of thought. It was an age of faith in the power of human reason. Through the use of reason, man believed he could achieve unending progress in knowledge, technical achievement, and even moral values. Proper education was considered the new savior through which the very nature of humanity itself could be changed for the better. Truth was to be discovered through the observation of nature. They no longer needed authoritative sources such as the Bible. Most Enlightenment thinkers viewed the church as a prison that enslaved the human mind.

However, men were not yet ready to renounce religion altogether. They could not deny the existence of God because reason and science demanded some “First Cause” for the universe. Thus, many influential thinkers of this day found a home in Deism. As they saw it, the universe was analogous to an enormous and intricate clock. God was the great clock-maker, the “Architect” of the cosmos. However, He merely “wound things up” and left them to run under their own steam. Therefore, while they believed that God does exist, they rejected the notion that He ever intervenes in the realm of time and space.

The Enlightenment thinkers believed that focusing human energies on the next life was a colossal waste of resource. Instead, human beings should direct their energies toward improving life here and now. The chief end of man was no longer glorifying God but finding personal satisfaction. Thus, worldly happiness began to occupy the place once enjoyed by religious salvation. The church was considered an enemy of the Enlightenment because it restricted the free and unchallenged exercise of reason.

In many ways, the Declaration of Independence and the foundational documents of our country were applications of Enlightenment ideas. The Enlightenment was responsible for a decline of the church and the growth of modern secularism.

God and the World

In many ways, the Renaissance had successfully dislodged God from a centralized focus in the Western worldview. In the re-thinking processes of the Enlightenment, there was a discernible shift concerning the basic beliefs about God and the world. The Deism so characteristic of that day resulted in seeing God as transcendent, but not immanent. They could not deny that He existed but they managed to banish Him from creation.

God was no longer thought of in terms of being both above and yet present within creation. God no longer pervaded every aspect of the universe. God no longer ruled over all that exists. Of course, rebellious humanity has always wanted to expel God from the world. Consider the human philosophy recorded in Job 22:13-14, “And you say, ‘What does God know? Can He judge through the deep darkness? Thick clouds cover Him, so that He cannot see, and He walks above the circle of heaven.” Men have always been far more comfortable with a God who is aloof. However, the Enlightenment was so successful in promoting this propaganda because it provided plausible substitutes for the perfections of God.

The Supernatural and the Natural

The question of how God may be known was answered in the same way every other question of knowledge was answered, through human reason. Special revelation simply did not exist.

In an age preoccupied with the rational, religion was stripped of its supernatural content. People were still committed to the idea that there were truths of an eternal and supernatural nature; truths that could be known. And these truths were thought to be the very truths of God Himself. However, Enlightenment thinkers believed that these truths could only be discovered through scientific investigation and rational reflection. Data must be examined and patterns discovered. They were looking for the laws of nature; laws that governed everything. Thus, human beings did not need God to discover the realm of the supernatural. Everything was obtainable through the all-sufficient, rational mind.

The Sacred and the Secular

Even in the Enlightenment, men recognized that, without ethics, society could not survive. Therefore, Enlightenment thinkers were still committed to ethical absolutes. However, the Scripture was no longer considered the standard for moral and ethical behavior. It was believed that reason alone could show humanity what is right.

In Enlightenment thinking, the sacred was separated from the secular because God simply did not intrude into the realm of the secular. However, humanity could reach into the sacred. Thus, the sacred was thought of as the highest possibility for human achievement. Through the stairway of human ethics, derived by rational thought, men could reach into heaven. This sounds a bit like the aspiration of the people of Babel.


In the age of Enlightenment, changes in the Western worldview impacted all of society. God was retained as Creator but stripped of His providence. He was transcendent, but not immanent. He created the world and went into early retirement. For Enlightenment thinkers, it naturally followed that a true knowledge of God could not be discovered through Scripture. The application of human reason to nature would tell us all we need to know. Since it was believed that human reason is what provides the knowledge of God (which Scripture was believed insufficient to convey), the influence of the church was replaced by the university.

IGovernments were founded on what the Enlightenment referred to as, the rule of “natural law.” It was supposed that this “natural law” was built into the universe by the “Great Architect.” Many laws that were derived from biblical ethics were accepted, but only because they seemed to pass the scrutiny of human reason. Mankind himself was deemed responsible for making life better. God had provided everything needed in the form of raw material, but the rest was up to us. Creation had been set forth as a grand experiment. History was not the unfolding of the divine plan but the workings of a universe left to itself.

Once interaction between Creator and creature is rejected, the concept of accountability before God soon vanishes. Likewise, any sense of the eternal fades away. Under the influence of such a worldview, emphasis is progressively laid upon “the here and now” with little thought of eternity.

For the Christian, the fallacy of this worldview should be evident. Still, far too often, evangelicals reflect this worldly life-perspective. How often do modern Christians emphasize secular education over a faithful and accurate understanding of Scripture? Do you think it is more important for your children to be well-schooled professionals or Christians, well trained in biblical doctrine? How many evangelicals live by the conviction, “life is what you make it?” According to Scripture, life is what God determines in His providence. How often do Christians line up with the world in looking to science and technology with baited breath for the newest and latest perspectives on any given subject?

Too many professing Christians look to the world for answers even though science and technology, driven by human reason, has not proven to be an adequate Savior. The history of our so-called progress is barbed with reminders of our frailty, inefficiency, and ignorance. While we have witnessed the development of a number of wonder drugs, medications have also been marketed that ended up killing those they were intended to heal. While some technological advancements have helped to control violent aspects of this created world, others have irresponsibly ravaged nature. For every step we take forward, we also stumble. Yet, this is as it should be. Worshipping anything other than God, including ourselves, is idolatry.

Next month, we will consider the affects of “Enlightenment” philosophy upon the founding of our nation and the rise of Secularism.

- Stan McGehee Jr