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Not Being Conformed to This World

For the Christian, there is a close relationship between Deut 6:4-9 and Rom 12:2. To love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and might (Deuteronomy 6) is to reject being conformed to this world and instead to embrace transformation by the renewal of the mind (Romans 12). Both texts communicate a strongly active idea. There is work to do for anyone to love with all one’s might. So, also, there is work to do to resist the pressures of this world to be conformed to it. Notably, Paul identifies the renewal of the mind as the means by which conformation is resisted and transformation happens. In the context of Romans, that makes sense because renewal is then keyed to a primary means by which God’s wrath has been revealed against all unrighteousness, namely God’s giving over the unrighteous to a debased mind (cf. Rom 1:28). So, also, in Deuteronomy 6, a kind of mindfulness in everyday life is presented as a means by which love for God is sustained and forgetfulness of God is avoided. Keeping “these words” (Deut 6:6) top of mind means keeping them on the tip of the tongue. It’s important to recognize that while Deuteronomy 6 does not use the term “mind,” the intellectual faculty is organically connected with the affections and the will and is primarily denoted by the term “heart.”[1] For this reason, it’s not all that unusual that in Mark’s gospel a word for “mind” is included in the quotation of Deut 6:5. It is an addition that draws out the fuller meaning of the Shema.

But what we should remember is that this emphasis on the intellect as a means by which we are transformed (in Christlikeness) and through which we resist the conforming pressure of this world is not an automatic process, even if it is the inevitable result of a person being regenerated by the power of the Holy Spirit. Quite to the contrary, the default is more like cruise control, or better yet the adaptive cruise control of newer vehicles. A tremendous amount of computational effort is expended by the vehicle in operating according to the parameters of cruise control, but no conscious decision making is done. That is the domain of the driver, who, when he’s only half-aware of what’s going on, may desire to cruise along at 70 miles per hour but ends up loping along at 40 miles per hour behind another driver (who is likely not paying full time and attention). Much of what happens automatically in us, like the adaptive cruise control without an attentive driver, simply conforms us to whatever is directly in front of us.

In aiming to make sense of the world today, Carl Trueman uses the language of the social imaginary, borrowed from the philosopher Charles Taylor, to speak about the largely unconscious conformation of society to certain values or vices. Recognizing that most people don’t consciously develop a coherent worldview by an analysis of various ideas, the social imaginary fits in as “a somewhat amorphous concept” that encapsulates “the totality of the way we look at our world, to make sense of it and to make sense of our behavior within it.”[2] Trueman then notes that “this is a very helpful concept precisely because it takes account of the fact that the way we think about many things is not grounded in a self-conscious belief in a particular theory of the world to which we have committed ourselves.”[3] 

Of course, the social imaginary is helpful for you and me only insofar as it prods us to have a self-conscious belief that affects our whole heart, soul, and strength. Moreover, the social imaginary ought to prod us to energetically apply our self-conscious belief in Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world (and all that that belief entails) to every part of our life, whether we’re teaching them to the next generation, sitting in our houses, walking by the way, lying down, or rising (cf. Deut 6:7). In this way, rather than being like the adaptive cruise control that simply conforms us to whatever is directly in front of us, we might be actively engaged in a whole-hearted devotion to God that transforms us more and more into the true image of man.

[1] “νοῦς,” NIDNTTE 3:428.

[2] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2020), 37–38. J H Bavinck notes the same phenomenon, but uses the language of worldvision and worldview to make the distinction between a more intuitive look at the world and a more rigorous worldview [Personality and Worldview, ed. James Perman Eglinton (Wheaton: Crossway, 2023)].

[3] Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 38.

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