I can’t forget the shoes. Piles and piles of them filling the room. Of all the gruesome images I saw at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., the room filled with shoes from Jewish victims is the one thing I can’t forget. I think about the people who once owned those shoes, and I mourn the human lives lost in a vortex of unspeakable evil.
The tragedy of the Holocaust reminds me of something I heard as a high school student—ideas have consequences. Adolf Hitler did not come out of nowhere. Before there was the Holocaust, there were decades of philosophical theories advocating superior races, nationalistic laws, and the use of eugenics to weed out inferior peoples. Throw in a dash of “survival of the fittest” from Darwinism and perhaps the pursuit of raw power from Nihilism and eventually we arrive in the concentration camp—a horrifying concoction of various falsehoods.
Ideas do indeed have consequences. But sometimes those consequences are beautiful, as in the early days of Christianity when plagues would sweep through cities in the Roman Empire. While many Roman citizens chose to abandon family and friends and flee the city to escape contamination, early Christians stayed behind to nurse the sick. Because of their belief in a Savior who sacrificed himself for others, they were content to give their lives as well.
Caring About Ideas
Christians should care about ideas, because we care about people. We recognize the power of imagination to alter history and change culture. One of the ways we stand out from the world is by having a freed imagination to think and live differently than the world, in ways that cultivate beauty and grace.
Paul’s counsel in Romans 12:1-2 is important:
Therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your true worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. (CSB)
In light of all that has gone before, in light of God’s promises and the salvation he has provided through his Son, Paul says: “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”
You may be thinking, Bodies? Aren’t we talking about ideas? Our minds? Yes, we are. And notice how spiritual transformation includes both. In verse 1, Paul wrote that we must offer our bodies. In verse 2, he wrote that we must be transformed by the renewing of our mind. Mind and matter. Physical and immaterial. Thinking and behavior.
Paul didn’t just say, “Think rightly.” Neither did he simply say, “Behave rightly.” Paul knew the gospel transforms both our thoughts and our actions.
What does it look like to be conformed to this age? To think in a worldly fashion? The Bible has the answers. It shows us not only what a Christian worldview looks like but also wrong beliefs and how they lead us astray.
Bad Idea #1: Suffering Is Always the Result of Sin
In the Book of Job, we see how a false worldview results in false comfort.
Job was a righteous man who went through a severe trial. Along the way, he was “comforted” by his friends, each of whom accused Job of having sinned. Job’s friends had a worldview that said, “Everything happens because of cause and effect. Do bad things and bad things will happen to you. Do good things and good things will happen to you.” This worldview was the lens through which they viewed Job’s suffering. The Book of Job challenges this perspective in light of an all-powerful, all-wise God who permits things to happen that are beyond our understanding.
Bad Idea #2: There Is No Meaning to Life
Consider the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. Much of this book expresses the worldview of “life under the sun,” a life without meaning and purpose in the face of death. The author does end the book by affirming a biblical worldview, but much of the poetry is written with the perspective that all we can look forward to is death.
Though he had amassed great wealth and power, the author knew everything was indeed meaningless apart from the existence of God. And in reflecting on “life under the sun,” he wrote a book that helps us understand the mindset and worldview of someone who lives as though this life is all there is.
Bad Idea #3: The Purpose of Life Is Pleasure
Or consider the apostle Paul’s lengthy discourse on the resurrection of Christ in 1 Corinthians 15. “If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” he wrote in verse 32.
In other words, a life of hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure—is acceptable unless the claims at the center of Christianity are true. If Christ has been raised, then there is something more important than immediate pleasure and comfort. Paul contrasted a hedonistic philosophy with Christianity.
The Bible consistently presents a Christian view of the world. Along the way, the biblical authors interacted with and contradicted unbiblical worldviews. We ought to be skilled in doing the same. Developing a Christian outlook on life will keep us from being conformed to this world.
Discerning the Perfect Will of God
Knowing how to apply the Bible in specific situations is one of the goals of developing a Christian imagination.
We see an example of this in 1 Chronicles 12, where we find a list of King David’s supporters. As the author listed the soldiers, he wrote of one tribe, “From the Issacharites, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (v. 32). In the context of this passage, this tribe’s understanding was that David should be made king over all Israel. They knew what Israel should do, because they understood the times and who was the rightful king.
In a similar way, we as Christians must understand the times in order to know what to do. (This is the heart behind This Is Our Time.) We believe Jesus is the rightful King over all the world. And this truth necessarily influences our actions. A Christian worldview is developed in light of who God is and what he has done to reconcile the world to himself.
New Identity, New Imagination
What does it mean to live according to our new identity in Christ?
First, we must demolish strongholds and false ideas as we cast down the idols we make of ourselves (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Then, in ongoing repentance and faith, we seek to view the world through biblical eyes.
We are the citizens of Christ’s kingdom. We are those who have been reborn by his Spirit and are inching ever so slowly toward maturity, driven by our hope of the final resurrection.