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If you are a Christian, you seem to be caught in a culture war that has an increasing number of fronts. Nancy Pearcey has written Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality to explain the worldview behind these cultural changes.

She begins the book by laying out the philosophical foundation of the worldview at work in the Western world’s departure from a biblical morality, sexual and otherwise. Its roots are in Decarte’s philosophy, in which “I am” is rooted in self-experience, not the observable world around us. This Cartesian dualism plays itself out in a number of ways.

Theology, Morality (Private, Subjective, Relativistic)

——————————————————————-

Science (Public, Objective, Valid for Everyone)

This divides the values of a culture from the facts of the world. From a Christian worldview, we see our Theology & Morality as connected to creation. Our bodies, as part of creation, are a source of knowledge (not just about the body for its health) for morality particularly since we are created in God’s image.

Values (Private, Subjective, Relativistic)

———————————————————–

Facts (Public, Objective, Valid for Everyone)

Each of these aspects of the dualism have been the subject of philosophical views.

Romantic Tradition (Postmodernism)


Enlightenment Tradition (Modernisn)

“Modernists claim that the lower story is the primary or sole reality- facts and science. Postmodernists claim that the upper story is primary- that even facts and science are merely mental constructs.”

The Christian worldview braces both as important.

Pearcey has been greatly influenced by Francis Shaeffer, and applies his thought in this book. She is not parochial in her approach. She draws not only on traditional Protestant thinkers, but also Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thinkers. These are the areas of agreement for the different branches of the Church. We speak together about these issues.

She has a number of references and quotations from advocates of these newer positions resulting from the split between human being (lower story) and person (upper story). In the case of abortion and euthanasia, the fact of humanity is affirmed by is secondary to personhood. The theory of personhood is subjective and ethicists have different views about when a human being becomes (and ceases to be) a person. This is not simply philosophical, but such language is used in court cases and decisions (like Roe v. Wade). Abortion is justified because while human, the fetus (or even infant) is not yet a person. Euthanasia is deemed acceptable because the human in question is no longer a person.

When it comes to sexual and gender issues, the facts of biology take a backseat to the subjective feelings of the person. Those feelings can change but reign supreme in matters of gender and sexuality. The unchanging reality of biology should not be ignored or altered (superficially) to meet the subjective.

Pearcey covers a number of important issues in this book. She leaves no stone unturned on some of these subjects, looking at them from every conceivable angle. This can make for some long chapters which is a challenge for people with limited reading time. I like to finish chapters in one sitting but some extended to two or three sittings.

Pearcey tries to separate the biblical (or biological) norms from cultural norms. This is particularly in the chapter on gender. Our goal should not be to affirm a culture’s view of masculinity or femininity. She pushes back against some conservative views. Another potentially controversially view was in her discussion of same sex attraction, distinguishing temptation and sin. This is a point of contention among conservatives.

This is a book focused on worldviews and their effect on our values. To work through our disagreements on moral issues, we have to talk worldviews (but we often don’t). At times she points out the inconsistency of how worldviews are played out. The militancy of activists is contrary to the view that moral values are subjective and personal rather than public. Their own views, by their worldview, are social constructs and should not demand compliance. Yet, it is like the Borg, “Resistance is futile.” All the more reason to lay out worldviews for examination.

Pearcey helpfully lays out the origin of these newer ethical views so you understand why it is so important to those who whole those views. This is a book well worth reading.

[I received a complementary copy of this book for the purposes of review]

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Some of my uncles growing up were in construction. Most of my brothers-in-law are in construction. So as I think about the 2nd part of Bavinck on the Christian Life, I think about a construction metaphor. If the first part was the foundation, the second would be the framing.

There were only two chapters in the second part. Recall that the foundations were creation in God’s image, the Law and union with Christ. The two chapters in this section are Imitating Christ and Worldview.

Bavinck understood the Christian life as one of imitating Christ. We need to see this in terms of God restoring His image in us, in accordance with the Law, through our union with Christ. I say this because may have seen the Christian life as imitating Christ, but meant something different.

Recall as well that this is intended to be an ordinary life, not viewed as radical. We partake of earthly goods, but they are not ultimate goods. We enjoy them as part of God’s good gifts, but they are temporal and temporary. As the song goes, hold on loosely.

Bavinck looked at the historical patterns of this theme. Bolt summarizes this for us. Bavinck identified dangers and wrong turns.

The early Church was a persecuted Church. This is because they claimed to be the only true religion, and Christ claimed their ultimate allegiance. Rome did not like that. With martyrdom a real possibility, it unfortunately became “regarded as a matter of glory and fame” (pp. 106). It became pathological, similar to what we see with radical Islam today.

Monastic separation created a divide between clergy and laity. Professional Christians tend to breed “incompetence and an unspiritual life-style.” He noted the rise of the Waldensians, and others, who simplified doctrine and emphasized holiness. Soon you also saw the rise of the “mendicant armies” who exalted poverty above all other virtues. Medieval mysticism came to see Jesus as model, not Mediator and Redeemer.

Any view of imitating Christ that neglects Him as Redeemer is sub-biblical and rejected by Bavinck. This brings us back to union with Christ as the primary element of imitation. He believed we were not to simply look and act like Jesus, but to be transformed inside.

Bolt then brings us to the Sermon on the Mount. Bavinck’s views shifted, with his latter view more nuanced. World War I lay between point A and B. It helped him see some problems with his understanding, and deepened his understanding. Bavinck understood it in its original context as to His disciples who would face persecution. We cannot simply woodenly apply it to our circumstances. The Sermon was about obeying the law of God in your circumstances. Our circumstances may be different, and therefore our obedience may look differently. They lacked power in culture, and were to let their light shine. “If the early church had tried to transform its world through cultural engagement, it “would have quickly drowned in the world’s maelstrom.” (pp. 115)” As Christianity loses power in the West, we need to recognize how we imitate Jesus will change. We will become more like the early church. We can’t focus on cultural engagement, but “simply” preach the Good News.

Bolt summarizes all this with “our following Jesus in lawful obedience is grounded and shaped by our union with the whole Christ. (pp. 117)” Therefore we focus on our obligations, not our rights. This is hard for sinful, self-absorbed people.

The chapter on worldview is more theoretical. Bolt covers specific aspects of the worldview in which we fulfill our vocations and imitate Christ in part 3 of the book. The concept of a Christian worldview appears to be first articulated by Kuyper in his Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton. Bavinck would also talk and write much about this topic. While the particulars were nearly identical, their methodology was different, as was their application. This lead to some conflict between the two men in later years. Kuyper was the more “dogmatic” of the two, and comes across as an autocratic leader. Bolt traces this history, and I won’t repeat it.

But one key area went back to regeneration. Kuyper viewed, at the risk of reductionism, regeneration creating two kinds of people with two kinds of science. Bavinck was more open to receiving the science done by unregenerate Christians. As image bearers, they could see something of the truth too. Kuyper was engaged in cultural conflict, Bavinck was more open to learning from non-Christians.

For Bavinck, a worldview broke down into thinking, being and doing. The relationship between these is important. For Bavinck,, being is first. As we become self-aware we think and do. Bolt notes that “worldview follows faith and union with Christ; it does not create faith and is no substitute for it. (pp. 125)” Worldviews are how we navigate our way through the world, other humans and God.

For the Christian, our worldview is about God revealing Himself to us, as well as revealing truth about ourselves and the world. God is faithful and good, revealing these things truthfully and reliably. While he acknowledges the distortions caused by sin, he doesn’t focus on them like Kuyper and Van Til.

“The essence of the Christian religion consists in the reality that the creation of the Father, ruined by sin, is restored in the death of the Son of God, and re-created by the grace of the Holy Spirit into a kingdom of God.”

These frames, built on the foundation, will direct our understanding of the Christian life. We’ll get to that next time.

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Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch was one of the hot books of 2008.  It has endorsements from such people as Lauren Winner, Richard Mouw, Tim Keller and James Emery White.  As such, it is not a book for a narrow group of people but is respected by a broad spectrum of Christian leaders.  As a result, I was looking forward to reading the book as I worked through Genesis.

I was not disappointed.  I expected an interesting, challenging read.  As far as specifics, I was not sure what to expect.  It did not go in some directions I had hoped, but took me in directions I probably needed to go.

One of the main things that Crouch does is look at the cultural import of Scripture.  This takes up much of the book.  He develops the way in which Scripture traces major developments in Scripture, and how culture affects the people in Scripture.  Scripture places us in a variety of cultures (ancient Canaan, Egypt, ancient Israel, Babylon, post-exilic Jerusalem and Galilee, etc.).

Crouch begins at the beginning- how the Scriptural account of creation is very different from the myths of other cultures.  There, we find the importance of structure for creativity.  Structure creates regularity without which no creativity can happen.  There must be some type of predictability for us to manipulate creation in order to display creativity.  Too much structure though stifles creativity.

“Culture is the realm of human freedom- its constraints and impossibilities are the boundaries within which we can create and innovate.”

He lays out some of the common questions regarding culture, and a few I hadn’t thought about before.

  1. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world is?
  2. What does this cultural artifact assume about the way the world should be?
  3. What does this cultural artifact make possible?
  4. What does this cultural artifact make impossible (or at least very different)?
  5. What new forms of culture are created in response to this artifact?

Questions 3 & 4 address the horizons of the possible and impossible in a culture.  This was some of the new material that I had not really pondered before.

“Family is culture at its smallest- and its most powerful!”

(more…)

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