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WORLDVIEW: Human hearts abhor a vacuum

RICHMOND, Va. (BP) — The pace of change in all spheres of modern life is accelerating so quickly that no person, group or institution can keep up with it.

Pick a topic: politics and government, science and technology, education, marriage and the family, morality, faith. Any national consensus that once existed about the purpose and direction of these social building blocks seems to be gone. Factions scream at each other from the margins and try to persuade — or compel — the wider culture to submit to their agendas.

We sometimes think this is a recent thing, but it isn’t. The disintegration of unifying social principles has been underway for a long time. And it’s not just national; it’s global. Trend analyst William Van Dusen Wishard made that point in his 2000 book, “Between Two Ages: The 21st Century and the Crisis of Meaning.”

“[Y]ou and I are living in the midst of perhaps the most uncertain period America has ever known — more difficult than World War II, the Depression or even the Civil War,” Wishard wrote.

“With these earlier crises, an immediately identifiable, focused emergency existed, an emergency people could see and mobilize to combat,” he noted. “But the crisis today is of a different character and order. For America is at the vortex of a global cyclone of change so vast and deep that it is uprooting established institutions, altering centuries-old relationships, changing underlying mores and attitudes, and now, so the experts tell us, even threatening the continued existence of the human species. It is not simply change at the margins; it is change at the very core of life. Culture-smashing change. Identity-shattering change. Soul-crushing change….

“Until a new order of perception, value and meaning is achieved, we shall be between two expressions of social organization, cultural definition and spiritual experience — between two ages,” Wishard wrote.

The passing of the old age saw the decline of Christianity as the “inner dynamic of Western culture,” Wishard observed. It was replaced first by materialism and the exaltation of the individual as modernism took hold, followed by postmodernism. Now, cultural elites attack any notion of absolute truth, the existence of God or transcendent meaning.

So we are left with meaninglessness. Or are we? Human hearts abhor a vacuum.

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker, an admirer of Wishard, thinks the time is ripe for a new sense of meaning.

“For now, things aren’t looking so good,” Parker writes. “From the decline of Western civilization to the rise of fanaticism, to the greatest religious metamorphosis in history, to a rapidly expanding information environment that confuses as much as it informs, Wishard says we’re in the midst of a global crisis of identity, meaning and spiritual displacement.”

The immediate challenge, Parker continued, “is to recognize and address the reality that the West has lost its collective myth or story to live by…. Who are we? Do we have the courage to lead? Do we let the future happen, or do we help shape it? … What we need is a great, big, beautiful story, told by someone with the vision, imagination and wisdom to get the great big picture.”

What we need, I would suggest, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Not only in the West but everywhere else.

The fact that “Christianity” as a social and cultural tradition has been torn from its historical moorings in the West — first in Europe and increasingly in America — isn’t entirely a bad thing. Cultural Christianity is not the Gospel. Religion tied to a political program is not the Gospel. And a Christian faith too culturally connected to the West can’t be a truly global faith. The Gospel transcends any one culture; it is ultimate truth for all cultures.

The world needs a collective truth, not myth, to live by — a true story told with vision and imagination. The world is hungry for truth in an age of meaninglessness. That’s why people in unreached cultures believe the Gospel and follow Christ when they have the opportunity to hear and understand it. We must go to them. We also must re-evangelize the West, including America, in our generation.

Meaninglessness is a hollow faith. People want more.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges