New Testament writers consistently warned first-century Christians about the negative influences of the culture in which they lived. The dangers lurking in our modern societies are just as serious, if not more so, and these warnings obviously apply to us just as much as they did in the first century.
The world around us rubs off even when we don't notice. It is as if we are looking through a prism that colours or distorts what we see, constantly pressuring us to change or modify our values and beliefs.
Most sociologists agree the last few cultural eras of the Western world have affected our current thinking. For example, the Renaissance (1300s-1600s) challenged the medieval ideas of Christian piety, and there was a rediscovery and reassertion of Greek culture.
Near the end of this period the Reformation reasserted the Bible, and Puritanism became popular, especially in the New World. The Bible was printed and made available to many for the first time.
Scientific progress marked the period of the Enlightenment (1700s-1800s), with the age being characterised by reason, scientific discovery and human autonomy. Christianity became to be increasingly viewed as an outdated superstition. Deism (God is no longer involved in creation) became popular. Cause and effect explained everything and Utilitarianism (where right and wrong are decided based on the consequences of actions) became the norm.
The next cultural age of Modernism (1900s-1960s) was dominated by materialism, the theory of evolution and Existentialism (there is no inherent meaning to life). Religion and moral values were viewed as private and not to be imposed on others.
The present cultural age is regarded as Postmodern (1960s-present), with the culture being affected by elements of the previous three cultural eras. Postmodernism thinking views life as chaotic in a very complex world, and that reality varies from person to person. There are no absolutes and objectivity has been replaced by political correctness. The morals and choices of many are based on "feelings."
A good definition of postmodernity comes from the book, ‘Postmodern Times: A Christian Guide to Contemporary Thought and Culture’ by Gene Edward Veith: "Man cannot know anything absolutely. We have only limited knowledge. What we call 'reality' or 'truth' is only an individual or community interpretation of what exists. Each interpretation can be just as good as another although conflicting because each interpretation satisfies the felt needs of that person or community. Thus, man constructs truth rather than discovers it, and there is no objective good or evil."
The challenge for 21st-century Christians is to live successfully in this culture without becoming infected by its philosophies. Scripture tells us God's Word is absolute truth. Christ said, "They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:16-17). God's Word does not change with the times and culture. His laws and promises are eternal and lasting.
The apostle James warned, "...Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? … Therefore submit to God... Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you... Cleanse your hearts you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:4-8).
The reference to "double-minded" in James' warning means "divided between God and the world" in the way we think (Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's ‘Commentary on the Whole Bible’). The "double-minded" person is at fault if he allows godly thinking to be distorted by the worldly culture around him.
The Apostle John also exhorts us, "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).
The challenge Paul leaves us is to bring our thoughts into alignment with God's thinking rather than the popular culture. We need to be aware of the times in which we live and make sure we cling to the basic building blocks of our faith by prayer, Bible study, fasting (our reminder to stay close to God), meditation (critical thinking about God's way and the culture in which we live) and fellowship (Christian communication).