Friday, April 10, 2009

"Biblical Worldview"-- Polished Arguments or Selfless Love?

My church is currently going through a video series designed to help Christians form and articulate a "Biblical worldview."  I've only been able to see one of the sessions, so I really can't speak to the whole series.  But the one session I saw started me thinking on the phrase "Biblical worldview" and what it might mean.

Simply put, having a Biblical worldview usually means seeing the world through the lens of the Bible.  It makes the Bible one's ultimate authority for decisions on life, faith, and morality.  It recognizes that there is an absolute truth that transcends time and culture.  In general, I think that is a very important thing for Christians to know.  Christians need to know their Bible, how to read it, how to understand it, and how to apply it.  Christians need to know their theology and what it means for their life.  What we believe directly affects how we act.  So in this sense, honing a "Biblical worldview" is a very good thing.

But two main concerns arise in my mind whenever I hear people talk about a "Biblical worldview."  (And it's not just this particular video series-- there are countless books, magazines, websites, articles, and conferences designed to help the Christian "think Biblically.")

1.  My first concern is that a "Biblical worldview" invariably means more than just the Bible-- it means taking the Bible and applying it to specific issues within our culture.  Trouble is, the Bible doesn't specifically address many of the issues we are facing in the 21st century, just as it didn't specifically address issues in the 5th century or the 16th century.  There is a lot of room for subjectivity in our attempt to be objective.  Two different people can both view the Bible as inerrant and as the ultimate authority for life and faith, but when they seek to apply that to cultural or social issues, they may apply it in very different ways.  Who then has the Biblical worldview?  

Too often, these attempts to help Christians develop a "Biblical worldview" are just thinly veiled disguises to get Christians to support a particular side in the debate of a cultural issue.  For instance, it might be geared to helping Christians develop a politically conservative worldview.  It is often implied that if one is truly "thinking Biblically," then it would be impossible for that person to, say, vote for a pro-choice politician or stand in opposition to a "just war."  What a beautiful argument that is-- if someone doesn't vote for your candidate, you can accuse them of not having a "Biblical worldview."  Then it becomes an issue not of political preference but of obedience to a holy God.  Politics is just one example of where disagreement can occur.  Devout, faithful believers can find their "Biblical worldview" translating into very different actions in the public square.  So... who is right?

2.  My second concern is that these attempts to disseminate a "Biblical worldview" end up giving believers an "us versus them" and "Christians versus culture" mentality.  It sees our "post-modern"culture as the enemy out to destroy everything we as Christians hold near and dear.  Thus, the solution is not teaching believers to love their neighbor, but to arm them with strategic information to thwart the attacks of "culture."  If believers can learn the weaknesses of their enemy's arguments, find the holes in their logic, then they can sweep in with their well-formulated arguments and score a major victory for Christ... or so the thinking goes.  

Trouble is, it doesn't work.  Culture is not something we can grab and take control of-- culture is made up of people and the things they do.  So "culture wars" are not simply ideas versus ideas.  They pit people against people.  As Christians, we know our "fight" is not against people.  Our struggle is a spiritual one (Ephesians 6:10-18).  We are told to love people, even our enemies (Matthew 5:44).  Presenting someone with a logical argument for our faith is not the same thing as loving them.  

I worked on formulating my arguments for years.  I studied Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, took notes, and memorized the facts.  (I'm not criticizing McDowell or Strobel--I greatly appreciate their books and their testimonies.) How do you think it played out in my interactions with other people?

Non-Christian Friend: "You know, I don't know why you read the Bible.  It's just a big bunch of myths written by monks hundreds of years later."

Me: (Excited to get to use what I know)  "Actually, there is a lot of historical evidence for the veracity of the Bible.  Most of the books were written soon after the life of Christ.  And did you know there are hundreds of manuscripts in existence, while Homer's Iliad only has a few...?"  (Continues with amazing, brilliant argument)

Non-Christian Friend: "Wow, I never knew that.  I had no idea there was so much evidence for the Bible.  I guess I better give it another look.  Can I go to church with you on Sunday?"

As you can imagine, it never played out like that.  It usually looked something more like this:

Non-Christian Friend: "You know, I don't know why you read the Bible.  It's just a big bunch of myths written by monks hundreds of years later."

Me: (Excited to get to use what I know) "Actually, there is a lot of historical evidence for the veracity of the Bible.  Most of the books were written soon after the life of Christ. And did you know there are hundreds of manuscripts in existence, while Homer's Iliad only has a few..." (Blah, blah, blah)

Non-Christian Friend:  (Shrugs)  "Whatever.  I guess I just don't buy it.  Cool for you, though."

That little scenario has happened with frustrating regularity.

It doesn't matter how great our speeches are.  Our logic may be impeccable.  But if we are not loving people and the Holy Spirit is not working, it won't make a bit of difference.  If we hope to influence culture with our "Biblical worldview," will we do so with well-polished arguments or selfless love?  

I love to debate.  I thrive on arguing.  But I save those exercises for fellow Christians who know me well; otherwise, I come across as rather unloving.  We are told to "always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have," but that is to be done "with gentleness and respect" (1 Peter 3:15).  That mandate is given after the passage tells us to "live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing..." (1 Peter 3:8-9).  A "Biblical worldview" should not make one militant or aggressive, seeking to win an argument.  A "Biblical worldview" does not want to see another person put to shame.  A true "Biblical worldview" is one that sees the world full of hurting people that need to be loved with the love of Christ.  If our apologetics do not serve this goal, then they are not truly Biblical.


lg said...

Hey, nice to find this blog!

Yes. VERY important concerns here, SlopeSitter.

You say the "worldview" approach
1) can easily be subverted to the support of one political position (quite consistently "conservative" Republican, as it turns out).
2) And it can produce an aggressive, intellectual "evangelism" that often seems and perhaps is devoid of love.

Yup! Have to agree.

After studying Dobson's Christian Worldview series a bit, and the Barna Group's 8 worldview questions, it really distressed me to realize that, according to a remark in the book of James, the demons have a "Biblical worldview". Well, THAT's not very helpful!

But they have not love, nor joy, nor peace, nor kindness, nor humility, nor integrity ... And those are the things we need. Apparently a Biblical Worldview does not actually cultivate those mighty fruits of the Holy and Eternal Spirit. That is decidedly not good news.

How can a Biblical worldview be abstract and intellectual? Life sure isn't!! We are on a variety of slippery slopes all day every day, and it's kinda hard to be carefully logical and objective under these circumstances.

How can one possibly be credited with having a Biblical worldview if their "faith" is primarily abstraction and concept? A Biblical worldview is a matter of spirit MUCH more than of abstract metaphysics. I should say it is totally a matter of spirit and not at all one of abstract metaphysical conceptualizations.

Because it is by our spirits that we view the world. An unholy human cannot have a holy worldview. We both know people whose intellectual grasp of their faith is pretty limited (by our own very limited standards!), but whose spirit is of the highest excellence. That says a lot!

Can we imagine Jesus saying their spirit doesn't matter, because their presuppositions (or politics) are a bit out of line? Can we imagine Jesus approving of a gigantic American church effort to tweak people's presuppositional theology while we prove ourselves so profoundly ineffective in benevolently undermining this cultural / political / economic / religious system that is so all-encompassing and deadly? And we - the churches - really have been proving ourselves ineffective, when not blatantly co-opted.

We have to change our SPIRITS much more than our minds. Of course, that does affect our minds. But we focus on the (abstracted) result rather than the cause and wonder why we are unsuccessful.

To change topics slightly: Actually I'm a little uncomfortable with thinking of seeing the world through the lens of the Bible. It's a true illustration to an extent - can't say it isn't. But the Bible is a very difficult lens to hold. It can turn on a guy!

I prefer to think of the Bible as looking through (throughout) me. I sit down with it to get studied more than to study. It doesn't always start out that way but it often ends that way. "Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him ..." And that, I suspect, is much more likely to produce a Biblical worldview, whether in the pulpit, on the air, in the pew, or out in people's daily lives.

Well, I've been thinking about this and you got me going again! Thanks for your serious thinking and writing. We're going to need a lot of that.

E. A. Harvey said...

Thanks for your thoughts, lg! You bring up a very good point I hadn't considered--that even the demons have a "Biblical worldview"! As you so eloquently point out, it has much more to do with changing our hearts than just tweaking our opinions on a few issues. And it seems that if we are living by the Spirit and have love, joy, peace, patience, and company flowing out of us, we'll have better success engaging the world around us than if we approach the world on a mission that "seems and perhaps is devoid of love."

I like your last point of letting the Bible examine us rather than the other way around. It's so easy to set out with our agenda to "change culture" and then find a Bible verse here and there to support it rather than immersing ourselves in God's word and letting Him set the "agenda." Sometimes I think we miss the huge ones staring us in the face, especially in regards to dealing with our culture-- do justice, love mercy, care for the orphan and the widow, etc.

Anonymous said...

Hi, and congratulations on the blog.

You write "So "culture wars" are not simply ideas versus ideas. They pit people against people. "

This is exactly where the clergical education in the US (and all the "ruling class" nations) are failing us all.

In the Jewish early Christian church (i.e., up to 70 AD and the fall of Jerusalem) it was believed that upon Jesus' return, the world ("kosmos" and a veiled allusion to the Roman Empire) would be destroyed and the earth ("ge" in aramaic) would be given over to the righteous.

How far teaching has gone from that! To paraphrase popular culture, the salient expression of modern US Christianity is to expect the planet to be blown up (in "righteous" war against "godless enemies"), and the hope is to become some intelligent gas, disembodied forever (e.g., rapture teaching).

As for voting, many securlar voices are now realizing that Goldman Sachs has literally taken over the Treasury and hence the government. If you want, I can give you many good links of critiques among elite secular media. Any real democracy would involve constant maintenance of governmental affairs on a grassroots level by many citizens, but instead we're supposed to believe we have a democracy for going to the voting booth once every four years, hence electing some "adults" to go to Washington to make decisions for us.

This is hardly any vital species of democracy. Further, the president (if that election even were worth quarreling over!) has no powers at all in light of the globalists and the bankers who now make the real decisions. Therefore how is it that we argue as Christians over what kind of antennae is on the car (the relative power/importance of the president anymore) when the devil is at the steering wheel? This is a waste of time, and the destruction of our faith.

I say a good chunk of the church is therefore arguing over the management of Babylon. We are taught in effect to cheer economic Babylon via the international escapades of the Ponzi kings under our national flag. I say get out and show love to the perishing, and speak the good word of hope, that righteousness will overcome all of this corruption in tangible measure just exactly as Jesus and the prophets said.

After all the Lord's prayer says "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven." Seen much of that yet? So why operate apart from that hope?

But our Nicene creed requires a belief in the resurrection of the body, and the resurrection of the quick and the dead.

The sticking point is how (and when) this resurrection comes about, yet another issue. But in terms of hope, put oneself in the shoes of someone in Africa. What does he want, short of righteousness on earth? So what kind of "salt" and "light" is some "good news" about blowing up the earth?

I'll comment more if I see that you post this.

Meanwhile, some people have found this particular quote quite edifying, in terms of what is to be expected:

Revelation 11:18 (New American Standard Bible)
"And the nations were enraged, and Your wrath came, and the time came for the dead to be judged, and the time to reward Your bond-servants the prophets and the saints and those who fear Your name, the small and the great, AND TO DESTROY THOSE WHO DESTROY THE EARTH.”

[emphasis mine]

There is the real hope.

Anonymous said...

"Actually, there is a lot of historical evidence for the veracity of the Bible. Most of the books were written soon after the life of Christ"

Just curious, is this a typo?

Because all of the OT was written long BEFORE Jesus. Most of Israel was expecting a messiah because of those writings, and in fact there were various contemporaneous messianic movements in Jesus' time that did not endure.

Don't forget either that there was no "New Testament" in full production during the first 100 years of the church. It was mostly Jewish then, and they found the past, present and future written in the Jewish books. It was Jesus that opened their eyes to see how that all worked.

E. A. Harvey said...

Anonymous #1-- thanks for the comment. You touch on a lot of topics, but I understand what you're saying. The general thrust of Christian eschatology in America focuses very little on the here and now and places all our hope in a gnostic version of "I'll Fly Away, Oh Glory" and let the earth be damned. That in turn has hurt our witness as we've stopped caring about meeting very real and pressing needs in the here and now.

I've found great insight and comfort in N.T. Wright's (Bishop of Durham) teaching on the true meaning of heaven. I think one of his quotes goes something like, "Heaven is important, but it is not the end of the world." Our hope points to a new heaven and a new earth-- a time when God will set this world to rights. If we see our world as something that God will rescue and restore rather than destroy, it gives us new purpose in our mission to minister and love the world around us. But if we're just biding our time until we're "raptured" and the earth is "blown up" (that made me laugh, because I know people that talk like that as if that were a good thing... which is really sad...), then we're going to be worthless to the hurting and the dying around us.

E. A. Harvey said...

Anonymous #2-- Is it a typo? Well, it is, and it isn't...

I know the OT was written well before Jesus, as He read it and quoted from it. I meant to say NT books (so in that sense, it is a typo)-- although the NT as we know it wasn't canonized until later, the letters and gospels were written and circulated not too long after the time of Christ. The video series I referred to in my post talked about this point of apologetics-- how the New Testament compared to other ancient texts as far as how long after the events they were written, how many manuscripts were in existence today, how old those manuscripts were, etc.

But in another sense, it's not really a typo-- my little hypothetical conversation was simply to prove how the "facts" we learn and recite (whether correct or not!) are not going to win someone to Christ, no matter how brilliant (or not so brilliant) they are! :-)

Anonymous said...


I'm the same "anonymous" as in both posts yesterday, and thanks for your correspondence.

Kudos again for your blog. "It gets late early" anymore. It's nice to have the forum to discuss things.

I guess to summarize my complaint with modern eschatology, it is that it has radically strayed from what the original church taught and held.

My point of study started in wanting to know the source - in other words, what happened in the first century church when it was still primarily Jewish. What is amazing is how few books treat of the first century church. One can find next to nothing, in comparison to truckloads of texts concerning Martin Luther alone.

By the time the Romans got ahold of the faith and made it "the state church" it was already so different that the original apostles would not have recognized it. As for what people in Europe thought a millenia and a half after the fact (including notoriously anti-semitical writings of Martin Luther), I put them far behind what the Jews taught and thought.

To that end, the "new heaven and new earth" 1) are described by a word "new" which can as well indicate renewal as replacement, 2) "the end of the world" has come to be tantamount to "the destruction of the planet" and I counter that teaching for all I'm worth, 3) for Isaiah having gone into such depth describing mortals living alongside the glorified/resurrected in the kingdom of peace to come, I still can not converse with many US Christians who believe that the "end of the world" means "the end of mortal life" and with that, I don't see any meaningful promises. Therefore I feel that my assurance of a kingdom of righteousness on earth (through countless writings of the prophets and much that Jesus said) at least leaves me a tangible hope to share with others.

I encounter most US Christians to have next to no vision of what anything will be like after the return of Jesus. Yet He said: (John 16:23) "In that day you will not question Me about anything."

So what's missing, that the church commonly has not the vaguest hint? Start asking people to describe it, I'd be curious if you come up with a single vision.

For that reason I cleave to what the Jewish church taught and held. After all, the people of the early church were those taught by Jesus himself. I would think they might know more than people in Germany 1,500 years after the fact.

Isaiah 2:2-4: Now it will come about that In the last days The mountain of the house of the LORD Will be established as the chief of the mountains, And will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it. 3 And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, To the house of the God of Jacob; That He may teach us concerning His ways And that we may walk in His paths.” For the law will go forth from Zion And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. 4 And He will judge between the nations, And will render decisions for many peoples; And they will hammer their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they learn war.

Now THERE's a vision. What's not to like about that?