Understanding the Spiritual Environment of Today’s Youth Culture
Factors that have shaped today’s spiritual climate:
The loss of biblical cosmology
Our youth have grown up in a society that has lost its grasp of biblical cosmology. Cosmology is that branch of philosophy which deals with the origin and structure of the universe. At the heart of biblical cosmology is the Creator-creature distinction. Biblical cosmology includes the creation of male and female as the image of God (with the sub-themes of the dominion mandate; and biblical anthropology).
Central to biblical cosmology is that God is Creator and ‘Definer’ of what He has made. As Creator He gives designations, definitions, categories and relations of what He has made.[i] God’s defining role over His creation has established the creation structures of male and female and marriage and family. These creation structures are foundational and ontologically real—they are at the core of your being (which is why social contract theory, sexual perversion, and abortion constitute a radical overturning of biblical cosmology).[ii]
The absolute truth of cosmology is essential in interpreting the universe.[iii] God’s relation to the creation is the ordering principle of the universe and of reality. Because God is the sustainer and definer of all that He has made; there is no such thing as a reality greater than God—or a reality in which God is but a component (note this error in deism and pantheism).
Thus, biblical cosmology is the sole vantage point ‘high enough’ to provide the foundation for a unified cohesive worldview (the alternate is pluralism, diversity, and hopelessly fragmented knowledge). Cosmology alone provides a wide angle lens broad enough to see man’s place in the universe. Biblical cosmology is a totally unified ordering principle—without it, worldview has no foundation.
Consequently biblical cosmology is the foundation of the gospel—for the gospel only makes sense in a world in which our omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God is Creator, Owner, Upholder, Lawmaker, Ruler, Redeemer, and Judge. The gospel has no point of contact in a world in which pagan cosmology has replaced biblical cosmology. This is why there is an increasingly desperate need to define categories as God does—that He is Ruler, Sustainer, Owner of His creation—and that the designations and definitions He has made concerning His creation are absolutely essential for accurately interpreting reality.
God has authoritatively set forth His ‘blueprint’ for His creation. His blueprint, found in His Word, is not only our moral map; but also our ‘metaphysic.’ In other words, God’s relation to what He has made is our fixed point of reference which provides our understanding of the nature of reality (Ps 96). Only by what God has said in His infallible Word do we know what is true, real, right and wrong.[iv]
The pervasive influence of Darwinian Theory
Darwinian Theory has had a central role in removing biblical cosmology from the American mind. Young people brought up on evolutionary theory in the classroom have been taught that death, disease, pain, and suffering have always been part of life. This has a ‘killing’ effect on cosmology; for it sends the message that the only way God could make things was by the cruel forces of billions of years of evolution.
Harvard Anthropologist Irven De Vore captures the same thought, “I personally cannot discern a shred of evidence for a benign cosmic presence . . . I see indifference and capriciousness. What kind of god would work with a 99.9 percent extinction rate?” De Vore’s point is hard to miss—what kind of character would a god possess if he created such a scenario? “How could a God of love allow such horrible processes as disease, death, and suffering for millions of years?”[v]
Ken Ham notes that the god who uses death and suffering as part of the creation process is a cruel god and not the God of Scripture. Scripture makes it clear that death is not part of the creative process; death is the penalty for sin (1 Cor 15:26). Evolutionary theory redefines death as a driving force in the creative process.[vi]
Today’s youth have been robbed of an education in biblical cosmology. As a result, when they watch a nature program, “They look at the gruesome violent spectacle of the lion chasing down the smallest, weakest zebra, and finally ripping it apart. How, they ask, could a loving Creator have made a cruel world like this?”[vii]
The number of young people from single parent homes and mixed families has increased dramatically in the past 30 years. “Many have become victims of abuse, divorce, poverty, etc., and they [tend to] blame God for their pain. It is a long journey to bring them to the point where they see God as a God of love. . . Emotionally they often identify with the weak animal, pursued and torn to pieces. They cynically regard God, ‘if there is one,’ as taking pleasure in violence.”[viii]
In other words, their evolutionary upbringing has taught them that death, pain, suffering, and bloodshed have always been a part of life for millions, if not billions of years. Therefore, death and suffering are not the direct result of sin’s entrance into human history, thus God must be cruel. When the church compromises, placing death and suffering before sin, it is telling the world that God is the author of these things and is therefore cruel. “What is the hope of overcoming death if death has always existed? God did not make a world of billions of years of pain, death, suffering, and disease. All these came about because of man’s sin.[ix]
The answer is a return to the authority of God’s word—especially as it unfolds cosmology. “When [young people] see that sin is the cause of death and their own hopeless condition, the results are dramatic. Now they have answers to the pain in the world and in their life. [T]his can be a painful process shaking their whole worldview. But this understanding of their own lost condition is vital before they can understand God’s grace. Says Geoff Stevens, “We need to prepare the ground, removing the all the evolutionary . . . boulders and rocks so that the Gospel seed falls upon fertile soil . . . Today’s needy [young] people with all their baggage, tend to fall in love with God once they understand this full truth. They are also much more likely to be serious about their walk with Christ, and to become dedicated disciples.” [x]
The rending apart of creation from redemption (dualism)
The loss of biblical cosmology has produced an immense gash; a tearing apart of creation and redemption. Part of the outworking of this loss of divine transcendence (as well as explaining everything in terms of natural laws instead of by means of the Creator) has been a pervasive dualism which separates creation from redemption. The separation of the physical from the spiritual has been encouraged by modern culture (as if religious views are private and have nothing to do with the real world). The secular arts continually operate on this premise that the real world is concrete, and that the spiritual world is not.[xi]
Having dispensed with the wonder of divine creation as the revelation of God (and thus having removed His rule and reign over creation), reality is nothing more than what you choose to make it—in essence an extension of the self. The sovereign self, with its autonomously shaped identity, may use the world as its ‘raw material’ to construct the self.
Once the universe is viewed as merely a select mass of raw material with all phenomena reducible to material properties and natural laws and processes, then the very ground of prime reality is no longer Almighty God. Primes reality becomes impersonal matter and motion. The cosmos is severed from redemption in the minds of most people.
The acceptance of postmodernism
Postmodernity has moved our thinking to the place where truth is no longer objective and universal. Truth no longer transcends race, culture, and language. D. A. Carson says the following about postmodernism, “Truth is no longer foundational and axiomatic. The postmodern meaning of things is supplied by the mind, not by the data which is sensed.”[xii]
In postmodernism there is no universal omniscient divine mind who supplies the ultimate criteria for truth. In PM there is no ultimate “Knower” who is the absolute reference point for reality. Instead the acquisition of truth is severely limited by finite autonomous man—so much so that objective truth is not attainable. But this position of PM is more than a bare philosophical view; it is also an ethic. PM says that epistemological certainty is not desirable or attainable. It is not attainable because there is no sure place to stand (no omniscient mind to test things). And it is not desirable because the true knowledge of things is constrained by the interpretive communities—objectivity is lost in the limits of the finite knower. Thus epistemological certainty is a chimera. Therefore to claim epistemological certainty is to be arrogant, bigoted, and out of date.
Epistemological certainty is not desirable because totalizing statements impose a kind of total structure and worldview which is manipulative and controlling. Thus, due to the human condition, it is far better (ethically) to speak of truth as a correlative (‘truths’ from different perspectives—i.e. from a certain time in history; from a particular stance; from one’s upbringing; from one’s religious perspective; from a group of feminists; etc.).[xiii]
The N.T. injunction for believers to share the Gospel with boldness and persuasion is regarded as a ‘power play’ by postmoderns. James McDonald notes that PM will accept a forum for reasoning; but will not accept persuasion. For the postmodern, certainty is equivalent to arrogance and uncertainty is equivalent to humility.[xiv]
The presuppositions inherent in postmodernity are in collision with biblical cosmology. PM suggests that what we ‘think’ are creation structures (male and female, right and wrong, marriage and family, etc.) are actually products of finite human beings. Thus what passes for creation structures are not secure, nor disclosed, nor deposited to us by an omniscient mind outside of us as a fulcrum to move the world. They are merely social constructs. There is no transcendental truth or objectivity. To claim to have it is to use an instrument of coercive subjectivity.[xv]
Postmodernity’s deconstructing influence opens the door to pagan worldview. PM is open to astrology, ‘third eye,’ sorcery, intuition, and subjectivity. PM’s presupposition that knowing goes way outside the limits of science and physical laws (while rejecting the infallibility and perspicuity of Scripture) makes a way for other theories of knowledge. In these other theories of knowing, knowledge does not possess the quality of an historical universal which can be sorted out and either verified or falsified.[xvi]
The spiritual vacuum left by secular humanism
Like an immense wrecking ball, secular humanism has been moving through society for the better part of a century. It has left destruction in its wake. The ‘wrecking ball’ of naturalism has systematically broken down the boundaries set by God. Philosophic naturalism (evolutionary theory) has so thoroughly permeated our culture—it has practically become our national worldview. Students imbued with Darwinism find themselves metaphysically lost in a materialistic/chance universe without a fixed point of reference (75% of students are looking for the meaning of life).
The secularists have used the above philosophy of materialism to target the divine ‘blueprint’ given by God by which His creatures are to interpret the world, and order their lives and society. Naturalism has been ‘shredding’ the divine blueprint. Secularism views man as a biological machine and not the image of God.
Biblical cosmology is expressed in the distinctions which God has made in creation. We could say that God creates by ‘separating things’—heaven and earth; dry land and sea; animal and plant; day and night; good and evil; man and woman (Gen 1:4ff.).
“Two-ness” is the very essence of biblical cosmology. The creation structures formed by God are: male distinct from female; human distinct from animal; animal distinct from plant; etc. These ‘binaries of two-ness’ constitute boundaries or divisions established by the Creator. “These principles should not be seen and understood merely as primitive cosmology, but as stating a metaphysical principle and teaching a point that the universe has a moral base.”[xvii]
In other words, there is a moral order built into the creation (there behaviors that are ‘against nature’). “Human beings are only correctly understood in relationship to their Creator [and His moral government].”[xviii] As humans, our identity and purpose are inseparable from our designation as the very image of God. Our rationality, worship, and morality are the direct expression of having been created in the image of God.
Thus to be human is to be ‘mission-focused’—our identity as the image of God contains our ‘job description.’ We are to raise up God-fearing communities; we are to devote ourselves to marriage and family; we are to exercise the dominion mandate over the works of God’s hands. Our identity and our calling as humans made in the image of God are inseparable.[xix]
Eighty plus years of secular humanism have had the net effect of redefining the universe as a vast mechanism in which all phenomena are explainable by natural laws and processes. In popular culture, God has been retired to a sub-cultural role. The bulk of modern thought has simply dispensed with God. Modern science, accompanied by secular humanism, spent the better part of a century conditioning people to think that the scientific method was really the only valid way to understand and engage the world around us. “Real knowledge” was scientific—real knowledge was empirically verifiable, measurable, quantifiable. As a consequence, the creation was increasingly regarded as a great machine of natural laws and properties, and not the theatre of God’s glory (not the stage of God’s redemptive plan).
In the 1970’s it looked like secular humanism was the conquering giant that eliminated its foes. It proved to be a significant challenge to Christianity. Unbelievers embraced secular humanism as if they had met their liberator. Public life was ‘set free’ from all religion.[xx]
Secular humanism’s assault has torn down God’s creation structures and it has left society craving a replacement. Paganism offers itself as that new ordering principle. Naturalism’s denial of God’s creation structures has left an immense vacuum. Paganism is proposing to put the world back together again (after postmodernity has deconstructed the world and emptied it of meaning).[xxi]
The Western world is undergoing a process of ‘paganization.’ Militant paganism has declared war on the church and the family. As more and more Americans accept the humanist assumptions of society, the shift away from our Judeo-Christian roots will be reflected in government, business, law, education, religion, marriage, and family.
Paganism is growing and thriving in the ‘seedbed’ left by secular humanism. Paganism is rushing into the spiritual void left by secularism. And, though paganism offers itself as a new comprehensive ordering principle; it still needs evolution in order to function (evolutionary theory is the pseudo-universal that drives paganism).
Secularists want a ‘spiritual’ answer—but not from Christianity. Paganism offers that spiritual answer. In presenting its totalizing cosmology, paganism has gone to war against theism and the biblical truth of male and female as the image of God as standing in the way of its goal of global oneness. In a sense, paganism is the ‘stepchild’ of secular humanism—it has germinated in the seedbed of secular humanism.
This worldview ‘lens’ of paganism proposes a sweeping monistic vision—stressing the oneness of all things; the divinity of man and nature; and the goal of global harmony. Paganism as a worldview presents a new view of the order of creation—a new way to view reality. This is a patent denial of biblical cosmology. It is a rejection of the Creator’s order. The antithesis affirmed in Scripture demonstrates that paganism is not partly right—but is the very antithesis, or opposite of the truth.[xxii]
The appeal of non-theistic spirituality
Secular humanism “killed God” and postmodernity deconstructed meaning. People were left people yearning for something spiritual. Currently the Western world is awash in spiritualities—all of which are from below. More and more Americans are looking for spiritual power within rather than to the God of religion. Each year the sentiment grows that ‘the god of the sacred within’ removes the need for church.[xxiii]
Common to contemporary spiritualities is that god and spirituality may be accessed within the self and unmediated (as if a god lives in all of us and we just have to open the door to self to reach the divine anytime we want).
Biblical theism condemns all privately constructed sacred spaces. The truth is that there is a fixed boundary between God and the sinner. That boundary cannot be crossed on our side (a biblical truth which offends PM’s). We could summarize the elements of contrast between theistic and non-theistic spirituality as follows:
1.) God hides from sinners; He cannot be had on the sinner’s terms.
2.) Home-made spiritualities are all blind the fact that there is a boundary.
3.) You won’t understand the boundary unless the grace of God and the Spirit of God illuminates your darkened understanding.
4.) Without an understanding of the boundary you won’t understand why the incarnation and the crucifixion is the only source of spirituality.
5.) God must cross His own boundary. It can only be crossed on God’s. The human spirit can’t do the reaching.
6.) The only starting point for spirituality is Christ’s death. The Spirit of God enlightens the sinner in his inner being to understand what we are in God’s sight. Faith is a gift of God to see the boundary and our need of Christ.
7.) True spirituality arises out of the eternal counsels of God.[xxiv]
The world is very hostile to any exclusive truth claims—that only in Christ do we find reconciliation to the Father. But the Gospel of John is so clear. Forty two times the theme is repeated: Christ was sent into the world from above. Jesus is the “Great Insider;” He was sent into our human experience to be bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
He learned obedience through the things which He suffered (Heb 5:8). His sufferings and temptations perfectly equipped Him to be our merciful and faithful High Priest.[xxv]
What is the collective effect of the above influences on the spirituality of our youth?
They live with a huge ‘disconnect’ between their thoughts and reality (they live with an intrusive dualism).
Living with the dualism inherent in postmodernism means that the majority of our young people don’t see God for who He is and don’t see man for who he is. Christ is seen as the lord of the Christian church but not the lord of the cosmos. Creation is severed from redemption. This severing manifests itself in a form of dualism which places redemption outside of objective reality.
Redemption and biblical truth claims are seen as private preferences with no basis in fact. Redemption is viewed as existing in the mind and the heart; therefore it is something ethereal and less than real because reality is the physical universe. The world’s philosophies, by severing salvation from redemption, have relegated Christ to a truncated religious role in which He is no longer Lord of the cosmos.
Christianity is viewed as a heart preference absolutely divorced from the purpose of the cosmos. The rule of the Creator, the consummation of human history in Christ, the coming Kingdom of God, and the ultimate restoration of the cosmos are all out of view.
The lordship of Christ is seen as existing over things that belong in the Christian religion—His lordship is not seen as His absolute rule and authority over all reality. As a consequence, knowledge is hopelessly fragmented into innumerable particulars. In this dualistic view of life spirituality is partitioned off from the rest of life.
With the image of God lost (an essential aspect of cosmology), anything goes. The human body becomes the canvas and the playground upon which to experiment with the task of being the architect of one’s identity. Freedom, fulfillment, identity, and meaning come from doing your own thing. Well because this is God’s world designed to operate in the way God has made it, it is axiomatic to say that the false promises of youth culture won’t deliver. Young people carry a quiet desperation, a metaphysical lost-ness, a palpable absence of meaning. Love, meaning, purpose, joy, identity only can come from serving, obeying, knowing, and enjoying one’s Creator.
They find that postmodern relativism pushes them in the direction of synthesis instead of biblical antithesis.
Dean Paulson of Northwestern College observes how PM’s relativism affects Christian students’ approach to Scripture. Says Paulson, students today have relegated themselves to ambiguity. That is the nature of the culture; the trend of the times. But worse, this relativism tends to manifest itself in the misconception that true spirituality involves embracing the ambiguity (a preference for synthesis over antithesis). Clarity in the meaning of Scripture is regarded as unattainable—perspectivalism reigns. Christian students heavily influenced by PM’s relativism tend to be extremely weak on the infallibility of Scripture. This weakness also shows up in the students’ pessimism about finding the single meaning of a passage of Scripture (suggesting that uncovering the biblical author’s intent is not attainable). This leads to a low view of the authority of God’s Word as well as a weak view of the perspicuity of Scripture.
They are tempted to view non-theistic spiritualities as a viable option (if not for themselves; then for others).
The interest in self-focused religions and spirituality is growing at an enormous rate. The newer non-traditional beliefs tend to emphasize self-transformation, self-fulfillment, and self-enlightenment to the exclusion of community. Agnostic researcher Rosemary Aird discovered that 21 year olds who practiced non-traditional spiritualities had higher rates of depression, anxiety as well as higher rates of anti-social behavior.[xxvi]
“Traditional religion tends to promote the idea of social responsibility and thinking of others’ interests, whereas the New Age movement pushes the idea that we can transform our world by changing ourselves. The downside is that people are very much on their own and not part of a community, which may lead to a kind of isolation. Says Aird, “[Those who replaced] traditional religious beliefs with trendy, self-focused religions and spirituality are not the happier for their attempts at self-transformation.”
Aird found that in her study group church attendance resulted in a reduction of anti-social behavior among males but not among females. Though Aird is an agnostic, her study on spirituality trends is insightful.
“People who are into the New Age spirituality tend to shop around and will tend to borrow from all sorts of old beliefs, like Wicca, witchcraft, or Native American religions. It’s a whole mishmash and changes all the time . . . they’ll do something for awhile before doing something else.” “If there is no sense of any kind of tradition, it means you are cast adrift and [it] means that there’s no fundamental basic thing to hang on to.”[xxvii]
Aird also noted that popular culture had fed the trend toward non-traditional beliefs with a popularization of “spirituality.” “Religion and belief has kind of become mixed up with popular culture.” Note the television shows such as “Supernatural,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Medium.” They promote witchcraft, special powers, and spirituality. Young people exposed to them could see them as attractive. “People want to find some way of embedding these things into some sort of belief system.”
In commenting on the plethora of self-help books and do-it-yourself spirituality, Aird said, “My generation was about social responsibility and collective interests compared to the Me generation. [The] New Spirituality promotes the idea that self-transformation will lead to a positive and constructive change in self and society. But there is the contradiction: how can one change society if one is focused on oneself?”[xxviii]
They are immersed in a culture that views the sacredness of sexual relations in marriage as trivial.
There has been a spate of Hollywood movies made about unwanted pregnancies. “Juno,” “Knocked up,” “Waitress,” and “Bella” to name a few. The box office hit “Juno” sends the message that, “[T]eenage girls can withstand the shock of pregnancy to attain blissfully happy endings.”[xxix]
The incredible crisis of an unwed teen mother is reduced to a “blip” on the radar of one’s life. Some have lauded the pregnancy movies as an example of being willing to bear the child instead of choosing abortion. But, is it really that simple? Hollywood evades reality by oversimplifying tough choices: “I got pregnant, I guess I can have the baby too.” It is expected that 750,000 teenage girls will become pregnant this year.
In the battle for the heart, why is the body is the epicenter of the battlefield?
To what degree are our youth affected by a market-driven culture?
What are the presuppositions of popular culture?
(See “Developing Discernment in our Culture” for text on these sub-titles.)
Questions our Christian youth have trouble answering:
1.) How does my Christianity cut completely across my cultural experience?
2.) How can my entire life be an answer to God’s calling?
3.) How can I make Christian truth speak to all of life?
Christ is Lord of the Cosmos. Consider the ‘vastness’ of His Person.
He is restorative Lord: He will reconcile all things.
He is consummative Lord: He will sum up all things in Himself.
He is cosmic Lord: He made all things; He is upholder; all has been made for Him.
He is judicial Lord: All judgment is given to the Son.
He is epistemic Lord: In Him are all the treasures of God’s wisdom and knowledge.
He is providential Lord: All authority has been given to Him in heaven and in earth.
He is rational Lord: He is the rationality of the universe and of every man.
He is revelatory Lord: He is radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His character.
He is veracious Lord: He is the truth incarnate. Truth is Christ; an absolute Person.
[i] Dave Doveton, “Paganism in the Church” (Escondido, CA: Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet, think-tank, 2007).
[ii] Jay Wegter, “Worldview, Apologetics, and Evangelism, BCW363A” (Newhall: The Master’s College, 2007).
[iii] Dave Doveton.
[iv] Jay Wegter, “Worldview.”
[v] Ken Ham, “The god of an old earth,” Creation Magazine (21:4, September-November, 1999) p. 42.
[vi] Ibid, pp. 44-45.
[vii] Geoff Stevens, “Genesis and Generation X” Magazine (21:4, September-November, 1999) p. 22.
[viii] Ibid, pp. 22-23.
[ix] Ibid. p. 23.
[xi] Jay Wegter, Art and Biblical Worldview--Developing Christian discernment, p. 8-9.
[xii] D. A. Carson, Postmodernism.
[xiv] James McDonald, The Cross-cultural Values of Discipleship, Truth and Life Conference, 2008, The Master’s College.
[xv] D. A. Carson.
[xvii] Emil Brunner in Dave Doveton, “The Pagan Deconstruction of a Biblical Worldview,” p. 3.
[xix] Jeffrey Ventrella. , “Grotius or Gaia: Identifying and Defeating the Legal Implications of Neo-paganism” (Escondido, CA: Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet, think-tank, 2007).
[xx] David Wells, The Cross-cultural Impact of Discipleship, Truth and Life Conference, 2008, The Master’s College.
[xxi] Peter Jones, “Forms of Paganism” (Escondido, CA: Christian Witness to a Pagan Planet, think-tank, 2007).
[xxiii] David Wells.
[xxvi] Rosemary Aird, “Do-it-yourself ‘spirituality’ linked to poor mental health” (World Net Daily, Jan 20, 2008) p. 1.
[xxvii] Ibid, p. 2.
[xxix] Gary Direnfield, “Teen Pregnancy: It’s not like the Movies” (The Hamilton Spectator, Jan 14, 2008).