The Hope of Modernism

By Weldon E. Warnock

“Hopelessness, however, is a condition a .man cannot for long endure. Man will have his objects of hope or he will invent them anew.”(1) Modernism, therefore, rejecting and repudiating the hope of immortality, invented its own hope of a better world, here. Modernism strives toward an improved social order that will bring earthly happiness. It seeks an earthly utopia and panacea through humanistic philosophy. This is the hope of Modernism.

Humanism is “a philosophy of Joyous service for the greater good of all ‘humanity in this natural world and according to the methods of reason and democracy.”(2) Hence, we can readily see that the aim of humanism is for man’s greater good in this world, reached by human reasoning. Attitudes that reflect the humanistic hope, which is the hope of the Modernist, are seen in the following quotations:

An Earthly Hope

Corliss Lamont, who taught at Columbia University; said, “The Humanist philosophy persistently strives to remind men that their only home is in the mundane world. There is no use in our searching elsewhere for happiness and fulfillment, for there is no place else to go …. If this life is our sole opportunity to make our actions count on behalf of the social good, to contribute significantly to the more lasting human values, and to leave a name behind us that will be honored and beloved by the community . . . as for the future, it is up to the human race to work out its own destiny upon this globe.”(3)

Walter Rauschenbush, a professor of church history at Rochester Theological Seminary at the turn of the 20th century, stated, “The purpose of all that Jesus said and did and hoped to do was always the social redemption of the entire life of the human race on earth …. Christianity set out with a great social ideal. The live substance of the Christian religion was the hope of seeing a divine social order established on earth.”(4)

William Hamilton, a radical, “God is dead,” Modernist, taught, “. . . the dominant mood of modern culture is optimistic and hopeful about its possibilities. The future is open and malleable to positive hopes. The hope that all things can be changed for the better is becoming contagious again, symbolized by Kennedy’s `New Frontier’ and Johnson’s `Great Society.’ Pessimism is now out of date, culturally and theologically.”(5)

Friedrich Nietzsche, (1844-1900), a German philosopher, said, “The task confronting enlightened men today is therefore the complete ‘transvaluation of all values.’ Instead of hiding his head in celestial sands, man must learn to hold up his head, his `terrestrial head,’ and to affirm rather than deny himself. Instead of listening for the voice of an imaginary God, he should listen to the pure and upright voice of the `healthy body, perfect and square built,’ and affirm the powers and potentialities of man himself.”(6)

These men, not believing in or looking at things eternal, sought to make the most of this earthly, mundane existence. As a Virginia preacher said, “We’re interested in human life and destiny on earth” (The Social Gospel, a tract by Harris J. Dark, p. 7). What else can the Modernists be interested in when they do not believe in heaven, hell or the second coming of Christ?

Pessimism of Modernism

Though the Modernist pursues happiness and contentment through the hope of Humanism, his dream is shattered when he awakes to face reality. Looking at world conditions, such as population explosion, famine, oppression, inflation, wars, etc., where is all the optimism about the envisioned world utopia? They have been chasing the rainbow, looking for the proverbial pot of gold. Left shipwrecked and marooned by the futile hope of human wisdom, the Modernist echoes the pessimism of those of yesteryear who put their trust in man instead of God. Listen to the statements of renowned men who had lost hope of tomorrow and immortality.

Voltaire, brilliantly gifted and highly acclaimed by the world, said at the end of his life, “Strike out a few sages, and the crowd of human beings is nothing but a horrible assemblage of unfortunate criminals, and the globe contains nothing but corpses. I tremble to have to complain once more of the Being of beings, in casting an attentive eye over this terrible picture. I wish I had never been born . . . . The box of Pandora is the most beautiful fable of antiquity. Hope was at the bottom.”(7)

David Strauss, a radical German theologian of the 19th century, stated, “In the enormous machine of the universe amid wheel and hiss of its jagged iron wheels, amid the deafening clash of its stamps and hammers, in the midst of this whole terrific commotion, man finds himself placed with no security for a moment, that a wheel might not seize and render him, or a hammer crash him to pieces.”(8)

Bertrand Russell, an outstanding mathematician of the 20th century, said, “That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noon-day brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the sotac system. . .”(9)

Will Durant, philosopher, historian and professor for many years at Columbia University, declared, “God, who was once the consolation of our brief life, and our refuge in bereavement and suffering, has apparently vanished from the scene; no telescope, no microscope discovers him. Life has become in that total perspective which is philosophy, a fitful pullulation of human insects on the earth, a planetary eczema that may soon be cured; nothing is certain in it except defeat and death-a sleep from which, it seems, there is no awakening …. Faith and hope disappear; doubt and despair are the order of the day . . . . “(10)

What a bleak and gloomy future the skeptic offers with nothing but a momentary existence between “the cold and barren peaks of two eternities” (Ingersoll). As Ingersoll viewed it, every life, regardless of how rich with love and how filled with joy, would, at its close, become a tragedy, “as sad, and deep, and dark as can be woven of the warp and woof of mystery and death.”(11)

The Christian’s Hope

Thank God that in the midst of pessimism and despair, hope shines forth-a hope that is both steadfast and sure (Heb. 6:19). This hope that we have in Christ (Col. 1:27) enables us to sing with exuberance, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a foretaste of glory divine,” or “There’s a land that is fairer than day, And by faith we can see it afar, For the Father waits over the way, To prepare us a dwelling place there.”

The Christian’s hope looks with great expectation to the following things:

(1) The appearing of the Lord. Listen to Paul: “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). A cardinal doctrine of the New Testament is the second coming of Christ for the consummation of God’s scheme of redemption. Jesus’ coming for us points our minds upward, beyond this world and life. We are not alone in the universe. God is there and all is well.

(2) The resurrection of the dead. Though the Christian at death moves out of his earthly tabernacle (2 Pet. 1:14), he knows that he will move into a new house, a house not made with human hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1-4).

The resurrected body will be a spiritual and immortal body (1 Cor. 15:42-54) that will neither be afflicted with disease, nor grow old by the passing of the ages or be subject to the enemy of death. These earthly sorrows will be gone forever.

Our hope is vividly stated by Paul in 1 Thess. 4:13-18 when he declares that God will bring with him at His second advent those who sleep in Jesus and the dead bodies will arise victorious over the grave and meet the Lord in the air, along with those who are alive at his coming. This was the hope that Paul preached, and for which he was called in question by the Jewish council (Acts 23:6).

(3) Eternal life. The reality of eternal life will be fully experienced when all of God’s people are received into that eternal home, clothed in their glorified bodies. This new life, eternal life, has to do particularly with the quality of life and not the duration of life, although life will be forever.

We are introduced in Rom. 2:7 to the kind of life that eternal life entails. Paul said, “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” For every saved person, heaven will be a place where he will have glory, honor and immortality. This is the quality of eternal life.

Paul, a man who had laid hold on hope in Christ (Heb. 6:18), wrote, “In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began” (Tit. 1:2). “That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Tit. 3:7). Being justified by God’s grace, and assured by God’s promise, we live with full expectation of life everlasting. What a contrast with the Modernist who sees nothing ahead but gloom and darkness.

(4) To be like Christ. When Jesus comes, we shall be like him. John says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure” (1 Jn. 3:2-3).

Paul writes that when Jesus returns, he shall “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). The “vile body” is the body of the present state, subject to diseases, infirmities and death. This body will be changed into a body that will be perfectly adapted to the glorious world where Jesus now resides. This is our hope.

(5) For salvation. “But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary states that the hope of salvation is “the eager expectation of being rescued from God’s final wrath (1:10) and destined for endless glory and fellowship with God.” This is the salvation that is “nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11). No wonder the Bible speaks of hope as “that blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13).

In conclusion, the Christian’s hope is laid up for him in heaven (Col. 1:5). In other words, the things hoped for are reserved in heaven. As Peter expressed it, “To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Pet. 1:4).

The Christian’s eternal welfare is just as secure as the integrity of the Lord. God says there is a place reserved for us and we believe it. On this our hope is based. We are preserved by “the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:5).

Truth Magazine XXII: 42, pp. 682-684
October 26, 1978

1. Carl E. Braaten & Robert W. Jenson, The Futurist Option, p. 48.

2. Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism, p. 9.

3. Ibid., pp. 12, 91.

4. Walter Rauschenbush, Christianizing the Social Order, pp. 67, 69.

5. The Futurist Option, op. cit.

6. Paul Schilling, God in an age of Atheism, p. 35.

7. James D. Bales, Atheism’s Faith and Fruits, p. 77.

8. Ibid., p. 78.

9. Ibid., pp. 79-80.

10. Wilbur M. Smith, Therefore Stand, p. 198.

11. Atheism’s Faith and Fruits, op. cit., p. 76.