The Heresy of Modernity

In “The Whole Christ,” Sinclair Ferguson describes how many modern evangelical Bible teachers and commentators reject concepts like the three-fold division (or dimension) of the law (moral, civil, and ceremonial). Ferguson points out that the rejection of this concept flows forth out of a mindset that sees anything “traditional” as being too rigid, extra-biblical, out of step with the times. Citing C.S. Lewis, Ferguson notes that many students of the Bible come in at eleven o’clock without realizing that a conversation actually began at eight o’clock. Each generation faces the temptation of succumbing to “the heresy of modernity.” This “heresy” teaches that, for the most part, it is our generation that needs to be listened to and a scornful gaze is cast on those who have gone before us.

Each day brings fresh reminders of how prone believers are to being ensnared by this error. For instance, our cultural moment relishes the quick answers, pithy statements, and theological clichés to solve all of the theological issues and debates. Social media platforms, like Twitter, become the places where believers “do theology” which means that the space and time are short. Whatever a person says about an issue, the limit is 280 characters so nuance and explanation cannot be entertained. The flashy retorts and the witty responses rule the day regardless of whether any substantive really took place.

In recent days, questions and discussions regarding theonomy, the place of the law in civil society, the nature of the church and the state, and liberty of conscience are being discussed with a renewed focus. Theological discussions are a good thing. The church needs robust exchanges and study concerning biblical doctrine. However, it is apparent that too many believers fail to put in the hard work of study. It is quite easy to listen to the hottest podcast, watch the most provocative YouTube videos, and read the wittiest blogger than it is to dig into the primary sources of theology. With all due respect, there is more to learn and understand about the law and the gospel in the writings of 17th century Baptists, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists than in most of the current material being sold in the virtual marketplace.

While it is easy to claim a heritage, it is harder to actually study and know the complexities of that heritage. If one claims to be a subscriber to the 2LBCF (1689), it would behoove him to actually read Abraham Booth’s essay on the kingdom of Christ and Isaac Backus’ treaties on liberty of conscience concerning the issues that distinguish us from those who advocate for a state church. Why would such a person take their cues on the function of the law in society from one who supports a state church? Ask yourself this question: am I really shaped by the historic foundations of the faith or the cultural moment that I live?

Carl Trueman provides much wisdom, “The Christian mind is not only doctrinal; it is also marked by a certain attitude to the past. And church practice, as well as church teaching, plays an important role in the cultivation of this.”[1] So, what would describe your practice right now? Do you do theology within the context of a local church shaped and guided by the historic creeds, confessions, and catechisms that have been passed down to us? The Christian views history differently than the world for Christianity understands that all of history is written by God. Beware the heresy of modernity that ignores the Spirit working through the people of God who have gone before us. May this generation faithfully contend for the faith passed down!

[1] Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 182.

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