When it comes to modern conveniences, many Christians are confused about the relationship of their hot and cold running water, say, to the worldview that we inherited from the Enlighenment, the outlook of modernity. If we reject the Enlightenment (and who shouldn’t?), does that mean we must be relegated to the grass huts?
Put another way, is it possible to be modern without being a modernist? Sure, sez I, and let me ‘splain. Wealth is a gift from God, and pride is bequeathed to us from the devil. Is it clearer now?
The birth of the modern age, measured in terms of conveniences, technology, wealth, medical advances, and so on was largely a legacy of the Reformation. But the Bible teaches that whenever a gift is given, there will immediately be a temptation arising in our hearts to steal the glory and gratitude that should go to God alone. That temptation will say, fundamentally, that we owe none of this to God, and that we did it all ourselves. That attitude is what we call the Enlightenment. That is modernist hubris, technocratic arrogance, and purblind puffery.
“When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the LORD thy God for the good land which he hath given thee. Beware that thou forget not the LORD thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest . . . thou say in thine heart, My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth. But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deut. 8:10-18).
This is the sinful pattern. God gives wealth, man takes credit for himself. If someone else later on comes along and blames man for creating all this wealth, and demands that we have ourselves a little “social justice” around here — and what a wretched little phrase social justice is — he is just creating an extra layer of sedimentary silliness. And by this point, we don’t need any extra layers.
The Enlightenment is not to be credited with Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood, Smith’s discovery that no one man is capable of manufacturing a pin, Newton’s discovery of what objects in motion tend to do, or Watts’ admirable divvying up of energy into units of horsepower. God gave us all those things. We must thank God for them.
Seeing the inevitable abuses of wealth that follow after a humanistic grabbing of credit for it, and reacting away from the whole thing entirely, is simply foolish. If it is a good thing, as my smart phone is a good thing, then God is to be thanked. If it is a sinful thing, like thinking that man does things he can’t do, then we should abandon our folly, repent of our sins, and return to the gospel of grace that undergirds all God’s statutes and laws. And if you don’t know where those passages are, you can look them up on your phone.