“Be Transformed” – Rethinking an Overused Word

One of the most overused and abused words in our modern vocabulary is ‘transformation’. We use it to describe everything from weight loss to the effects of new kitchen cabinets. I fear that by our overuse of it we have robbed it of its radical meaning.

To be ‘formed’ means to be given a distinctive shape with a specific function.  From there we can be re-formed, which implies we have lost the original form and need to recover it.  We can also become con-formed, which is to have our shape influenced by the shape of another.  To be trans-formed, however, is to be completely new-shaped to such an extent that our former shape is unrecognizable.

Consider then Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I want to consider this idea of ‘being transformed’ over the next five blogs.  Let me set the context for these thoughts.

We must make a clear distinction at the outset between the biblical transformation of the heart and the current pervasive counterfeit notion that we are in some wort of a continuing evolution toward a higher level of existence.  The two could not be in greater contradiction. Consider these words from the Humanist Manifesto I,

“Humanism considers the complete realization of human personality to be the end of man’s life and seeks its development and fulfillment in the here and now.  This is the explanation of the humanist’s social passion.”[i]

The religion of Secular Humanism preaches an ever evolving process in human development that will lead us toward a more utopian future through the advancement of science and technology.  The Secular Humanist goal is a self-actualized world society.  It is through human growth and the liberation of human intellect and potentialities that we will rise above the problems of our day and create the utopian world here on earth.

Somehow, by applying better science, we become better people.  Better, for the Secular Humanist, means more rational, logical, and earthly-minded.  Having abandoned antiquated ideas of an after-life, we will now work to make this world a better place.  What is needed, they say, is a repudiation of all things supernatural for a wholesale materialism that places the full burden of societal advancement squarely on our shoulders.  The Humanist Manifesto II concludes, “Humans are responsible for what we are or will become.  No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”[ii]

This striving for a better world based on human development and the continuation of an evolutionary process is not to be confused with Romans 12 and the biblical command to Spirit-empowered transformation.  In fact, they are quite opposites.  The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann makes this clear,

“Ever since the beginning of modern Western civilization, we have got accustomed to looking at nature merely as our own environment, related to us ourselves, viewing all other living things in nature only from the angle of their utility for human beings…This modern anthropocentricity has robbed nature of its soul and made human beings determining, bodiless subjects.”[iii]

This is important because Secular Humanist teaching has seeped into the church.  And in areas where church teaching has been weak, such as stewardship, the risk of distortion is even greater.  Therefore it is important that  we clarify and reclaim the contours of biblical transformation and distinguish it from such distortion.  To do so we will look specifically at five distinctions that mark the trans-formation of the heart of the faithful steward.  In each we will seek to understand the unique work of the Spirit and how this applies to God’s ongoing work of our being ‘made new’ as followers of Jesus Christ.

[i] Humanist Manifesto I, The American Humanist Association, 1933.

[ii] Humanist Manifesto II, The American Humanist Association, 1973.

[iii] Jurgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), p. 129.