We are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine; . . . we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ. —Ephesians 4:14–15
What underlies the atheistic commitment to novel sexual and marital and political patterns is a stultification of Biblical conscience, an irreligious redefinition of the good, a profane willset. . . . The Christian world-life view and the secular world-life view engage as never before in rival conflict for the mind, the conscience, the will, the spirit, the very selfhood of contemporary man. Not since the apostolic age has the Christian vanguard faced so formidable a foe in its claims for the created rationality and morality of mankind.1 —Carl F. H. Henry
As my wife and I waited in the drive-through lane of a fast food restaurant, we watched a car pass that had two symbols on the bumper. One was the sign of the fish, representing Christianity. The other was a sticker promoting “gay pride.” Assuming that the presence of one or the other of those symbols was not the result of vandalism, an interfaith marriage, or schizophrenia, that car bumper symbolizes the philosophical and moral chaos of our time. The owner of the car seemed to celebrate two worldviews that have always been understood to be in mutual opposition. This book is for the owner of that car.
As our pastor’s wife waited with her children in a hospital lounge, her daughter began reading Nickelodeon magazine. Since Nickelodeon is aimed at a pre-adolescent target audience, this seemed a safe choice of reading material. Then her daughter showed her an article. The adult writer was recounting her experience at a nudist colony when she was eight years old. The author’s portrayal of public nudity was entirely positive. She suggested that everyone should be more open to displaying their bodies, and more people ought to give public nudity a try. The article even cited the Bible in support of this philosophy, alluding to the original nudity of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Our pastor’s daughter has been homeschooled to think biblically, so she was not convinced by this shameless effort to promote “the repeal of reticence” among the young.2 This book is for the many children who read such literature without having developed a biblical worldview.
Many Christian young people have held certain beliefs as “givens”—assumptions about God, self, society, and what is right and wrong. These assumptions may be Bible-based, but they are also second-hand. They were handed down from parents or church and accepted uncritically. The theological assumptions of these young people are just that—the result of someone else’s study and thought that they assumed to be true. However, if those beliefs have not already been challenged, they soon will be. Our culture is calling into question every absolute and replacing eternal truth with popular opinion. What’s a Christian to do? Unfortunately, many compromise with the culture, buying into the myth that much of what the Bible says is a vestige of a more superstitious era. We should grow out of its teachings as we grew past belief in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Other Christians who are challenged by the culture will irrationally cling to their beliefs, although they have no idea why those beliefs are superior to the “isms” of our age. This book is written to provide a third option—the development of an intellectually coherent and biblically faithful worldview.
A friend told me that his mother describes herself as a Christian, but, he added, “it’s obvious that she doesn’t know what that means.” He sorrowfully described his mother as thoroughly secular. Her opinions about everything are shaped by the culture and not by the Bible. In fact, he said, “She couldn’t tell you the first thing about the Christian worldview.” This book is also for my friend’s mother and others like her. In their senior adult years, they still do not realize how the truths of the Bible intersect with the influential ideas of our time. They do not expose themselves regularly to the ideas of the Bible, so the ideas of the culture win by default. Perhaps some of them will pick up this book and rethink the issues raised.
This book is also written with pastors and other spiritual leaders in mind, to help them articulate the relevance of Scripture to the people they serve. They will have to look elsewhere for a more extensive discussion of philosophical issues, such as modernism and postmodernism. This book is intended as an overview of contemporary ideologies and their implications, and I have attempted to compensate for its brevity on complex issues by suggesting further reading resources in the endnotes.
So, this book has several purposes, but two of these are primary. First, we would motivate and enable people to think biblically. What does it mean to think as a Christian, and how does that thought process differ from other common ways of thinking? Second, we would demonstrate the contours of a consistently biblical worldview. What are distinguishing benchmarks of a Christian worldview? What are some practical, or ethical, implications of thinking that is faithful to the Bible?
Books have been written on either of these two subjects. However, because philosophy and ethics—thinking and deciding—go together in life, it is appropriate that they are viewed together in one discussion of Christian thinking. As James W. Sire has put it, “In the Christian worldview, how we know is intimately related to how we ought to act. That is, knowledge is so tied to ethics that on the most important issues of life, knowing the good and doing the good are one and the same.”3
My hope is that bringing philosophy and ethics together in one book will be helpful to readers.
While I try to be temperate in language, I feel passionately about the subject of this book. I serve and speak before local congregations. As I observe members and leaders of the contemporary church, I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that the theological integrity and future direction of the church of Jesus Christ are in question. Jesus said, “I will build My church” (Matt. 16:18b), and for those who believe that promise, the future existence of the true church is not in question. But what will the future visible church look like? Will its theology remain consistent with historic Christian orthodoxy? Will its teachings parallel the ideas prevalent in contemporary culture?
Such questions trouble those who love the church and know the culture. Modern secularists possess the hubris necessary to believe the church should adopt their values, but those values are connected to a history of consequences. Twentieth century value systems contributed to two world wars, the Soviet gulags, the human incinerators of Auschwitz, the killing fields of Cambodia, the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, the tribal barbarities of Rwanda, the proliferation of abortion as a method of contraception, the normalizing of same-gender sexuality, and the celebration of mass murder by jihad terrorists. We are hardly justified in trusting current moral “values.” In current Western society, the concept of goodness is associated with a homemaking guru’s statement, “It’s a good thing,” in reference to her advice on living in gracious style, even as she was implicated in an “insider-trading” stock scandal.
The idea that the church of Jesus Christ, which has always been defined by the New Testament and not by the culture, could adopt such depraved standards is almost unthinkable. Yet in many corners of the church, New Testament standards have all but disappeared. Consider, for example, the case of Bill Phipps, moderator of the United Church of Canada. Phipps said in a newspaper interview that he does not believe Jesus Christ is God, or that Christ was bodily resurrected, or that He is the only way to God. When faced with the inevitable public relations problem his remarks had stirred, Phipps apologized for any pain felt by church members, but he reiterated his unbelief. Such apostasy from “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is indeed tragic. It causes people to wonder how someone so devoid of Christian belief rose to a position of leadership within a significant segment of the church.
The answer to how this could happen was not long in coming. After Phipps’s remarks hit the media, the seventy-member general council of lay and clergy members of the United Church of Canada met to consider their response to the uproar. Should they remove from his position of spiritual leadership one who was not “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching” (Titus 1:9)? Should they take steps to ensure that such a situation would never arise again? They voted unanimously to support him and said his comments fall “well within the spectrum of the United Church.”4 A denomination that could pass such a resolution has more in common with the pluralism and relativism of this age than with historic Christianity.
We will cite other examples of the unprecedented level of compromise with the world. Such capitulation to a corrupt culture indicates an organized religious structure that has little capacity to think biblically. For this reason, I believe that the greatest threat to the church’s integrity is not methodological. It is not difficult to identify “new-wave” churches that have abandoned long-practiced methods of worship and instruction. Consider, for example, the “Christian raves” or dance parties of Philadelphia’s “Club Worship.” D. J. Frank Horvath (also known as Frankie Vibe) said, “We’re ministers on turntables. I can’t make you believe, but I can make you dance yourself closer to God.”5 Dancing as a spiritual discipline has doubtful claims as worship that honors and glorifies God as He is revealed in Scripture. But I do not believe that these worship ravers pose the greatest threat to the health of the church. Their idea is merely one symptom of the root problem: sloppy biblical thinking. The church will survive such experiments. However, if the church does not recover a biblical way of thinking, it will continue its drift toward assimilation with a corrupt culture. An assimilated church will become more and more difficult to differentiate from the world. A church that thinks like the world will act like the world. Worldly thinking already is rampant in the church.
So how do we develop a kind of thinking that deserves the name “Christian”? We have to spend some effort understanding that common notion of philosophy called a “worldview.” We often hear of this term, but what is a worldview? In another book I have likened a worldview to a pair of sunglasses, the tint of which colors the way we look at everything.6 Although the sunglasses analogy makes that point, perhaps eyeglasses would be a more appropriate analogy. Sunglasses soften reality for the convenience of the wearer, so they might be compared to worldviews that are not based in truth. However, the biblical worldview brings reality into perfect focus, as do prescription eyeglasses. The biblical worldview helps us to see things as they really are.
Perhaps some additional definitions will help clarify:
[A worldview is] a more or less coherent frame of reference for all thought and action. . . . A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world.7
We all have values. We all have some viewpoint about what life is all about. We all have some perspective on the world we live in. We are not all philosophers but we all have a philosophy. Perhaps we haven’t thought much about that philosophy, but one thing is certain—we live it out. . . . The theories we live are the ones we really believe.8
A worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life. The philosophical systems of great thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle were worldviews. Every mature rational human being . . . has his or her own worldview just as surely as Plato did. . . . Achieving awareness of our worldview is one of the most important things we can do. . . . A worldview . . . is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality.9
James Davison Hunter, in his provocative book Culture Wars, concluded that the culture conflicts in the United States are a result of the interaction of incompatible worldviews. Hunter named the two cultural polarities “orthodox” and “progressive.” By “orthodox,” Hunter refers primarily to Judaism, Catholicism, and Protestantism. He concludes:
What is common to all three approaches to orthodoxy . . . is the commitment on the part of adherents to an external, definable, and transcendent authority. Within cultural progressivism, by contrast, moral authority tends to be defined by the spirit of the modern age, a spirit of rationalism and subjectivism. What all progressivist worldviews share in common is the tendency to resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life.
Each side operates from within its own constellation of values, interests, and assumptions. At the center of each are two distinct conceptions of moral authority—two different ways of apprehending reality, of ordering experience, of making moral judgments.10
Hunter’s research shows that both orthodox and progressive polarities now exist inside the organized church. The fact that persons or groups are in the church does not necessarily mean that they can be described as orthodox. Indeed, they may be progressive, and thus, according to Hunter’s definition, have “the tendency to resymbolize historic faiths according to the prevailing assumptions of contemporary life” and “the tendency to translate the moral ideals of a religious tradition so that they conform to and legitimize the contemporary zeitgeist” (“spirit of the times”).11 The debacle within the United Church of Canada demonstrates that progressives may not only be in the visible church; they may be leading it.
In such a context, it is long past the time when Christians should be encouraged to think biblically. A host of Christians have avoided serious thought about the implications of their faith and the differences between biblical belief and the zeitgeist. Some of these Christians know what they believe, but they do not know why they believe it. Their faith comes across as hopelessly naive in public conversation. This is because they have never done the work of developing a Christian mind. This book is intended to help them in that great work.
Those who aspire to possess a Christian worldview must make a commitment . . .
1. to think in a manner that is consistent with the propositional truth of the Bible;
2. to learn why the truth of the Bible is both reliable and rational;
3. to understand the ways in which a biblical worldview differs from other worldviews;
4. to live in accord with the truth of the Bible;
5. to develop the ability to communicate to others coherently and compellingly the basis and implications of a biblical worldview.
I will sketch the philosophical issues involved in the worldview debate, but I am particularly interested in considering the ethical product of the worldview clash, the ways in which philosophy affects behavior at the individual and societal levels. As John Henry Newman put it, “Good thoughts are only good so far as they are taken as means to an exact obedience, or at least this is the chief part of their goodness.”12 This is where theory meets practice for most Christians, and I am writing for Christians and Christian students, not for academicians. I want to show Christians how differences in systems of morality arise from different worldviews. I want to demonstrate that the Christian worldview and its inherent system of morality make sense.
Carl F. H. Henry, quoted above, wrote of a “willset” as well as a mindset. The latter leads inevitably to the former. The pages that follow will show that an unprecedented level of immorality is being accepted and practiced within the church because Christians have not developed a Christian view of the moral issues of our time. They are not thinking biblically. This book is written with the prayer that all the church will yet practice biblical thinking and living, and will influence the culture to do the same.
1. Carl F. H. Henry, Twilight of a Great Civilization (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway, 1988), 27.
2. I borrowed this phrase, “the repeal of reticence,” from Rochelle Gurstein’s book on the loss of modesty in Western culture, The Repeal of Reticence: America’s Cultural and Legal Struggles over Free Speech, Obscenity, Sexual Liberation, and Modern Art (New York: Hill and Wang, 1996).
3. James W. Sire, Discipleship of the Mind: Learning to Love God in the Ways We Think (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1990), 97.
4. Reported in World, 20 December 1997, 17.
5. Quoted in Christianity Today, 8 July 2002, 9.
6. Allan Moseley, What’s Life All About? Foundations for a Biblical Worldview from Genesis 1–12 (Nashville: Lifeway Christian Resources, 2001), 5.
7. James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 2d ed. (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 16–17.
8. R. C. Sproul, Lifeviews: Make a Christian Impact on Culture and Society (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1986), 25–26.
9. Ronald Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 16.
10. James Davison Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America (New York: Basic Books, 1991), 44–45. Emphasis Hunter’s.
11. Ibid., 45.
12. Quoted in James W. Sire, Habits of the Mind: Intellectual Life as a Christian Calling (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 2000), 37.