''Winging It' with Stan Smith
Originally posted on 05/08/2019
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:21).
A "word of the day" entry: "anthropocentric". We can find a dictionary definition, but let's see if we can figure it out from its roots. "Anthropos" is the Greek word for "man" -- primarily "man" as a group, not a gender. You know ... humans. Then there is the "centric" part. I think most of us can figure that out. So, simply put, "anthropocentric" means "centered on humans".
On one hand, it is fundamental to humans to be anthropocentric. After all, everything we know, everything we experience, is human-centered because we're humans. Fine. No problem. The problem occurs when thinking humans cast that experiential knowledge further and decide that "human-centered" is all there is. This second aspect is the natural result -- in fact, the fundamental position -- of fallen human nature. "I will be like the Most High." It seems generally to be the default position for humans. "The universe revolves around me."
Anthropocentrism has its fingers everywhere. Our culture, for instance, determines today what is "good" and "bad" based on whether or not it "benefits humans". Television entertains us, so it's good. We like whatever the popular music is today, so it's good. Killing large numbers of Americans (terrorism) is not pleasant, so it's bad. Preaching the Gospel to people who don't want to hear it or have a different perspective interferes with their personal freedom, so it's bad. The ultimate "bad"? God. You see, God does things that are definitely unpleasant to humans (like allowing babies to die or allowing tragedies to occur everywhere), so He is definitely bad.
It's not just secular culture that embraces anthropocentrism, though. Check out your local church. Most churches have decided to shift to an anthropocentric perspective. The position is not "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free." The position is, "We need to make the truth 'relevant'. We need to make it marketable. We need to conform our message to a culture that opposes it so they can hear it better." So we find "seeker-sensitive" approaches and marketing approaches to church. We even find -- as stunning as this is -- anthropocentric worship. Think about this. On what basis do most churches determine the sound and style of their worship service? Is it designed to do what pleases God, or is it designed to cater to what people want to hear? Is the primary concern "What would Jesus like?" or is it "What would best stir the emotions of the congregation?"
As it turns out, anthropocentrism is the fundamental problem. Human beings, Christian and non-Christian alike, tend to derive their worldview, their opinions, their evaluations from a human perspective. That is, meaning and value is determined primarily by how it affects humans. The counter-approach is theocentrism. In a theocentric perspective, all meaning and value is determined by God's view. All good and bad is determined by God. Theocentrism starts with God and works its way down to humans.
I wouldn't expect non-believers to have a theocentric view. They are, by nature, hostile to God (Romans 8:7). They are "by nature children of wrath" (Ephesians 2:3). I get that. What is terribly sad, however, is the overwhelming numbers of believers who blithely evaluate everything from an anthropocentric perspective. They run into problems, for instance, when the Bible portrays God as commanding "Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey" (1 Samuel 15:3). "Wait! God doesn't do that! People are important! I mean, think about the innocent children!" And this is an understandable response ... from an anthropocentric perspective. Key questions like justification by faith apart from works and the Sovereignty of God hinge on a theocentric view and come into question with an anthropocentric approach. Why do Christians, for instance, balk at the idea that God causes all things to occur as He wills? "Well, what about the human will? Isn't that important?" It is ... from an anthropocentric approach. It is far less important when you start with a Sovereign God. Other key matters fall apart as well when you start with a Man-center. Values change, morality shifts ... your treasure moves as does your heart. When you start with Man, you even lose your capacity to determine sinfulness. On the other hand, most of the more sticky questions simply vanish when you start with God and allow Him to define value and meaning. "Good" takes on a different sense. "Sovereignty" assumes a wholeness of meaning that it lacked with anthropocentrism. "Sin" becomes real ... very real. Standards change. It all falls into place.
Here's the real problem, and I indicated it at the beginning. The Number One problem for humans is idolatry. We like to think of idolatry as worshiping some sort of wooden figure or some such, but idolatry is much more generic. It is accomplished any time you substitute anything for God. That would include a faulty notion of God. That would include an anthropocentric notion of God. That would certainly include an anthropocentric Gospel and anthropocentric worship. All of reality starts with God. When we substitute anything for that starting place, whether it is science or nature or human beings, it is idolatry. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.