In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.
So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:
- It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
- It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
- It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
- It will have a preferential option for the poor.
- It will take spiritual formation seriously.
- It will attempt to “live the solution.”
Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:
Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)
They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.