Part 4 of the “Reform” series, in which we look at the third stage of Josiah’s reformation and discuss ideas and worldviews we need to challenge and purge in our own day.
Texts: 2 Kings 23:4-20; Romans 1:18-25
In this series we’ve been talking about the fact that every so often in history, the people of God have what we might call a rummage sale—a time when we get rid of some of the ideological and theological junk that has accumulated in order to get back to the basics of the faith. We’ve been looking at the reforms of King Josiah as a model for how that kind of reform happens—it begins with a personal awakening, realizing that there’s something wrong with our world and with us; it continues with a rediscovery of God’s Word—remember that Josiah is given the scroll found in the temple and, last week we saw that he led the entire nation in a Bible study saying, in effect, “We are going to live by this book.”
The next step in reform, then, is to begin ordering life around the foundational story of the Scriptures. To that end, Josiah begins a great purge—not a rummage sale, but actually backing up a dumpster to Jerusalem and getting rid of a lot of pagan stuff—the idols and practices that had accumulated over several decades and had led the people of Israel astray.
But what Josiah was really doing was changing the worldview of the nation. They had been captivated by the pagan worldview of their Canaanite neighbors—a worldview that has been prevalent in one form or another in many cultures then and now, as we will see. We call this the worldview of “immanence.”
The Pagan Worldview: Immanence
In this worldview, humans, the gods (and there are many), and nature are all part of a closed system. The gods are capricious and cruel and control the forces of nature, thus they must be appeased, but they can also be manipulated. If a Canaanite farmer in the 7th century BC wanted to make it rain for his crops, he knew that he had to get the storm God Baal and the fertility goddess Asherah together via a ritual – a ritual involving their avatars or idols made out of wood or stone. These idols were carved by a craftsman and then a ritual was performed in which the god or goddess would “inhabit” the idol. Sometimes these rituals involved sexual practices, certain meals, and other kinds of offerings. In this worldview, humanity has no purpose other than survival and keeping the circle going in the right direction via magic and ritual. It’s a worldview that puts humanity in a constant swirl of instant gratification and treats people, the divine, and nature as useful commodities.
In such a worldview, humans really have little worth. They are expendable. One of the most detestable practices was infant sacrifice—babies being seen as having little worth until they became adults who could function and keep the circle going. The ancients believed that the gods required their babies, thus Manasseh had instituted rituals to the god Molech in the Hinnom Valley outside Jerusalem—rituals in which babies were thrown into the fire (interestingly, it’s this valley, also known as Gehenna, that Jesus points to as a model for hell—seems appropriate).
The pagan worldview treated sex as a commodity, violence as the norm, and exploitation of the physical world as a given. We might argue that things haven’t changed much and I think that’s correct. It was certainly still the case in Paul’s day. In Romans 1, he outlines the power of this pagan worldview and the hold it has on humanity. He begins by saying that God’s wrath is being poured out on the “ungodly behavior” and “injustice” of this worldview. The pattern of God’s creation has been evident from the beginning—and it is not something to be exploited. But instead of worshipping God the creator and ordering our lives around his purpose, Paul says that humanity instead “didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves.” They exchanged the glory of God for idols, they were driven by their own desires and degraded their bodies. “They traded God’s truth for a lie,” he says, “and they worshipped the creation instead of the creator” (v. 18-25).
The Biblical Worldview: Transcendence
What is the truth to which Paul refers? It’s the truth that Josiah discovered when he opened the dusty scroll and read it. It’s the truth that Paul took into a pagan Roman world where idolatry and exploitation was the norm. It’s the truth of a different worldview—the worldview of transcendence. Nature and humans are created by one God, and created with a purpose. Creation is brought forth as God’s dwelling place, God’s temple, and he creates humans to be the priests in that temple. He creates humans with bodies designed for the purpose of reflecting God’s image. Whereas the pagans saw their idols as being invested with the image of the gods, the one true Creator God invests his image in humans who are embodied—an image shared equally by both male and female.
In this worldview, humans are not to be exploited, nor are they to manipulate others. They certainly can’t manipulate God. Rather, they are to be stewards—stewards of creation and stewards of their bodies, using them for God’s glory. Human beings and human bodies are endowed with a holy purpose—our physical nature is a gift and not a curse as ancient pagan philosophers like Plato and others had said. We were meant to be co-creators with God, made male and female to be fruitful and multiply. Our bodies are thus an essential part of our creation in the image of God.
That’s why sin and death are such a big deal, but they are also the product of idolatry. Genesis 3 tells us that the first human archetypes, Adam and Eve, chose to be like God instead of embracing their humanity. They wanted to live in a spiritual plane outside of their created purpose, which they ultimately could never do. Their sin was thus a rejection of their humanity—and it made them less than human, subject to brokenness, pain, exploitation, and the death that ends the life of the body.
But the good news that Paul will reveal in the rest of the story is that God did not abandon his creation, nor did he abandon humanity. Indeed, he will come in person to redeem it. How will he do so? In a human body! We expressed this truth earlier this morning in the Nicene Creed—“For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.” He will live a human life, and die a horrific human death on a cross, and he will rise again from the dead—again in a human body. And Paul will say in Romans 8 that the death and resurrection of Jesus results in the redemption of our human bodies from death. Notice how the Creed ends—“We look for the resurrection of the dead” or as the Apostle’s Creed puts it, “the resurrection of the body.” Our hope is not in a disembodied spiritual plane, but in the resurrection of the body—renewed humans in a renewed creation!
That’s the worldview of Christianity. It’s a worldview that the church needs to recapture because it, too, has been influenced by a pagan, secularized worldview of humanity and creation that leads to idolatry. It’s a worldview that is endemic in American culture—a worldview that values the soul or the mind over the body, that separates the body from personhood, and causes us to lose our God-given purpose.
When we began this series we talked about how the Protestant Reformation launched a revolution in science and learning. As people became more literate, they began to discover more about the natural world. A lot of good came from that—advances in medicine and scientific discovery, marveling at the world God created. But the unintended consequence was the beginning of a bifurcation of the world into the secular and the sacred. As science began to study the natural world and as it began to understand the nuts and bolts of life, there was less room for seeing God’s hand in the midst of it. Creation began to be reduced to a function of natural processes with no central purpose—a machine that grinds onward to an uncertain future.
And that worldview also began to apply to humanity. Rather than seeing humans as being created in the image of God and endowed with purpose, the Enlightenment and its heirs began to see humans, particular human bodies, as fleshly machines with limited purpose. A new form of Platonist dualism emerged, which separated the body from the life of the mind, and separated the human body from human personhood.
It’s hard to understate how much Western culture has been influenced by this worldview, which many think is “new” but is actually just a regurgitation of the ancient pagan worldview of immanence. The gods are different, but the circle is the same. The prophets of that worldview have exerted great influence on our culture in ways that most people don’t even recognize because they are so immersed it. Names that might be vaguely familiar to you have influenced your thinking in ways you might not imagine.
The Postmodern Worldview: An Echo of Immanence
In the 17th century, the philosopher Rene Descartes posed his famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am.” In using that phrase, he located authentic human identity in the mind alone. Here again is that dualism: mind vs body, with the body taking a lesser and inconvenient role as a mechanistic machine. In the 18th century, another philosopher, Immanuel Kant, expanded on the dualism of Descartes and said that humans live in two worlds—the lower world of “nature” (the machine) and the world of “freedom” or the ability for humans to make choices. For Kant, it is the mind then, that is primary and decides what is real. My thoughts and feelings are the ultimate arbiter of truth, the ultimate reality to which everything else must conform. If we take Kant’s vision to its logical conclusion, the material world—including the body—is largely a construction of the mind. There is no created order that we are morally obligated to honor and respect.
In the 19th century, Charles Darwin traveled to the Galapagos Islands and posed his theory of evolution, which posed a very different story about humanity and creation—that the physical world is simply a process of natural selection, evolution, and survival of the fittest. Darwin’s theory rocked the world. “If nature was not the handiwork of God—if it no longer bore signs of God’s good purposes—then it no longer provided the basis for moral truths. Nature was just a machine, churning along by blind, material forces” (Pearcey, 24). Take that to its next logical step—if nature does not reveal God’s will, then it is also a morally neutral realm in which humans can impose their will. It can be exploited and manipulated—the pagan nature circle rides again.
Sigmund Freud, who became an admirer of Darwin, took his theory and applied it to human psychology, particularly sexuality. He treated sex solely as a biological drive, like hunger or thirst. He said that “pleasure” is the main purpose of our entire “mental apparatus”—which essentially means that humans are machines with satisfaction and gratification as our mission. Freud had nothing but contempt for the biblical idea of sexuality as being a covenant within marriage, saying, “Only weaklings have acquiesced in such a gross invasion of their sexual freedom.”
Margaret Sanger and Alfred Kinsey took Freud’s ideas to the next step. Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, believed that sexual liberation was the only method by which a person could find inner peace and security” and create a “real civilization.” Kinsey saw humans as essentially “animals” and sex as a normal biological function that was acceptable in any form. It was this thinking that helped launched the sexual revolution in the mid-twentieth century.
Do you notice the dualism? It’s the separation of the Autonomous Self from the Physical body. The Autonomous Self is free to impose its own interpretation on the body, while the body is only raw material with no intrinsic identity or purpose. It’s a closed system in which humans find themselves with their bodily nature as the enemy of their desires, and the divine (if one believes in such things) as something to be appropriated and manipulated for one’s own use.
You don’t have to go far to see how much this worldview dominates our culture. Hollywood lectures us on sexual harassment, while still churning out media that treats human bodies as commodities to be sold and idolized. And they do it with no trace of irony.
Porn is a multi-billion dollar industry—a detached view of human bodies as consumer products to be ogled and used for one’s own pleasure. Freud would be pleased.
Young people are shown the mechanics of sex in school and given the Freudian/Kinsey-an view that it’s just bodies getting together. A hookup culture on college campuses leads young people to swipe an app to accept or reject someone based on appearance and are encouraged to have sex without any attachment. The result is a lot of broken young people who have difficulty ever bonding with someone for life.
In Josiah’s day, children were sacrificed in the fire to appease the gods. Today they are sacrificed in the womb to appease the god of sexual freedom—they might have bodies, but they aren’t yet persons—just tissue to be discarded.
Confusion reigns about gender and sexuality because the prevailing worldview says that your physical body, your male or female body, doesn’t matter, but rather it’s what you desire and what you decide that gives you your identity.
This is the world we live in. And notice how hard the culture defends its worldview with a kind of religious devotion. Indeed, it is it’s own religion, with its own dogma—and it serves a very jealous set of gods. But it exchanges the truth of God, the truth about creation, and about human beings, for a lie. And the result, as Paul says, has been a lot of human misery.
As Josiah realized—when we lose our story, we lose our identity.
What are we to say about all of this? Moreover, what are we to do? Josiah confronted the problem directly and began uprooting the symbols of the pagan worldview. He was the king and could throw things in the dumpster without too much opposition.
We are in a different situation—as were the other reformers throughout history. Real reform doesn’t begin with condemnation, but it begins with living and proclaiming the truth. It involves living a different way of life, modeling a different worldview in front of a broken culture. It’s about helping people to see that creation matters, that humanity actually has a purpose, and that God has come in human form to enable us to embrace it.
The Christian Worldview: “I am embodied in the image of God, therefore I am!”
In effect, we need to adopt the strategy of the early church. In Paul’s day and in the first few centuries of Christianity, a very similar pagan worldview dominated Roman culture. People were commodities—slavery was common, sexuality was simply about bodies, babies could be easily discarded if they were deformed in some way or if they were girls. It was the early Christians who came along and picked up the pieces of this broken culture—they built strong families, they gave status to women and slaves, they rescued babies from the trash piles and raised them as their own. When Roman culture finally broke under the weight of its own pagan corruption, the Christian church stepped into the breach and cared for the victims. For the early Christians, contra Descartes, the philosophy was, “I am embodied in the image of God, therefore, I am!”
It’s time for us to follow their model again. Our culture rejects the Christian worldview, but it’s the only way that leads to life. Friends, if reform is going to come, we are going to need to take a hard look at how we have been complicit with our culture and then, rather than bring condemnation, we need to be ready to bring compassion to its victims. We need to demonstrate why the Christian worldview is the truth; that we were created for so much more.
The early church father Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is man fully alive.” Fully alive—body, mind, and soul. The Westminster Catechism says that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” John Wesley put it this way:
Remember! You were born for nothing else. You live for nothing else. Your life is continued to you upon earth, for no other purpose than this, that you may know, love, and serve God on earth, and enjoy him to all eternity. Consider! You were not created to please your senses, to gratify your imagination, to gain money, or the praise of men; to seek happiness in any created good, in anything under the sun. All this is “waiting in a vain shadow;” is leading a restless, miserable life, in order to a miserable eternity. On the contrary, you were created for this, and for no other purpose, by seeking and finding happiness in God on earth, to secure the glory of God in heaven. Therefore, let your heart continually say, “This one thing I do,” — having one thing in view, remembering why I was born, and why I am continued in life, — “I press on to the mark.” I aim at the one end of my being, God; even at “God in Christ reconciling the world to himself.” He shall be my God for ever and ever, and my guide even unto death. – John Wesley, “What Is Man?” (Sermon 109)
That is truth!
As you head out this week, I want to invite you to look around and examine the worldviews that you encounter. When you watch TV, surf online, look at magazines or the newspaper—what is the worldview? And then consider, how does the Christian worldview challenge this? What is the truth as opposed to the lie?
When we begin to see and live by the truth, reform and revival are surely not far behind!
Eberstadt, Mary. “The Zealous Faith of Secularism: How the Sexual Revolution Became a Dogma.” First Things, January 2018.
Pearcey, Nancy. Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality. Baker Books, 2018.