A prevalent worldview today is naturalism, which answers the three questions like this: 1) We are the product of random acts of nature with no real purpose. 2) We do not respect nature as we should. 3) We can save the world through ecology and conservation. A naturalistic worldview generates many related philosophies such as moral relativism, existentialism, pragmatism, and utopianism. It sometimes seems as if there are more philosophical and religious views than any normal person could ever learn about. Indeed, there are more than six thousand distinct religions in the world today. However, some people are surprised to find that the world’s religions and philosophies tend to break down into a few major categories. These five worldviews include all the dominant outlooks in the world today. This chart is adapted from Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense by Dennis McCallum (Tyndale).
|The material universe is all that exists. Reality is “one-dimensional.” There is no such thing as a soul or a spirit. Everything can be explained on the basis of natural law.||Man is the chance product of a biological process of evolution. Man is entirely material. The human species will one day pass out of existence.||Truth is usually understood as scientific proof. Only that which can be observed with the five senses is accepted as real or true.||No objective values or morals exist. Morals are individual preferences or socially useful behaviors. Even social morals are subject to evolution and change.|
New Age Consciousness
|Only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion, Maya. Spiritual reality, Brahman, is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. It is possible to say that everything is a part of God, or that God is in everything and everyone.||Man is one with ultimate reality. Thus man is spiritual, eternal, and impersonal. Man’s belief that he is an individual is illusion.||Truth is an experience of unity with “the oneness” of the universe. Truth is beyond all rational description. Rational thought as it is understood in the West cannot show us reality.||Because ultimate reality is impersonal, many pantheistic thinkers believe that there is no real distinction between good and evil. Instead, “unenlightened” behavior is that which fails to understand essential unity.|
|An infinite, personal God exists. He created a finite, material world. Reality is both material and spiritual. The universe as we know it had a beginning and will have an end.||Humankind is the unique creation of God. People were created “in the image of God,” which means that we are personal, eternal, spiritual, and biological.||Truth about God is known through revelation. Truth about the material world is gained via revelation and the five senses in conjunction with rational thought.||Moral values are the objective expression of an absolute moral being.|
|Spiritism and Polytheism
Thousands of Religions
|The world is populated by spirit beings who govern what goes on. Gods and demons are the real reason behind “natural” events. Material things are real, but they have spirits associated with them and, therefore, can be interpreted spiritually.||Man is a creation of the gods like the rest of the creatures on earth. Often, tribes or races have a special relationship with some gods who protect them and can punish them.||Truth about the natural world is discovered through the shaman figure who has visions telling him what the gods and demons are doing and how they feel.||Moral values take the form of taboos, which are things that irritate or anger various spirits. These taboos are different from the idea of “good and evil” because it is just as important to avoid irritating evil spirits as it is good ones.|
|Postmodernism||Reality must be interpreted through our language and cultural “paradigm.” Therefore, reality is “socially constructed.”||Humans are nodes in a cultural reality – they are a product of their social setting. The idea that people are autonomous and free is a myth.||Truths are mental constructs meaningful to individuals within a particular cultural paradigm. They do not apply to other paradigms. Truth is relative to one’s culture.||Values are part of our social paradigms as well. Tolerance, freedom of expression, inclusion, and refusal to claim to have the answers is the only universal values.|
Additional Chart Links:
World Religions Index Table 1 – A table that will take you to data on Christianity, Christian Science, Spiritualism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Eastern Mysticism, The Way International, Unity, and the Unification Church.
World Religions Index Table 2 – A table that will take you to data on Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Primitive Religion. ==============================================================
The Universe Next Door: A Basic World View Catalog
James W. Sire 1976/1988
- Theism: Middle Ages: 500-1500 (1000 yrs)
- Deism: Renaissance: 1500-1630 (130 yrs)
- Naturalism: Enlightenment 1630-1870 (240 yrs)
- Nihilism: 1870-1930 (60 yrs)
- Existentialism: 1920-1965 (45 yrs)
- Eastern Pantheistic Monism: 1950-1975 (25 yrs)
- New Age: 1965-1990 (25 yrs)
Preface to the 2nd Edition
1. A World of Difference What is a World View? Seven Basic Questions and Some Common Answers
What is prime reality—the really real?
- The gods
- The material cosmos
What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
- The world as created or autonomous;
- As chaotic or orderly;
- As matter or spirit;
Emphasizing subjective, personal relationship to the world, or its objectivity apart from us
What is a human being?
- A highly complex machine
- A sleeping god
- A person made in the image of God
- A “naked ape”
- Personal extinction
- Transformation to a higher state
- Departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side”
What happens to a person at death?
Why is it possible to know anything at all?
- Because we are made in the image of an all-knowing God
- Because consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution
- We are made in the image of a God whose character is good
- Right and wrong are determined by human choice alone
- The notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival
- To realize the purposes of God or the gods
- To make a paradise on earth
- To prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God
How do we know what is right and wrong?
What is the meaning of human history?
Examples of Other Issues that Arise within a Worldview
Who is in charge of this world?
- No one
Are we as human beings determined or free?
Are we alone the maker of values?
Is God really good?
Is God personal or impersonal?
Does God exist at all?
2. A Universe Charged with the Grandeur of God: Christian Theism
Basic Christian Theism 1. God is infinite and personal (Triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good 2. God created the cosmos ex nihilo to operate with a uniformity of natural causes in an open system 3. Human beings are created in the image of God and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, morality, gregariousness and creativity 4. Human beings can know both the world around them and God himself because God has built into them the capacity to do so and because he takes an active role in communicating with them 5. Human beings were created good, but through the Fall the image of god became defaced, though not so ruined as not to be capable of restoration; through the work of Christ God redeemed humanity and began the process of restoring people to goodness, though any given person may choose to reject that redemption 6. For each person death is either the gate to life with God and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the only thing that will ultimately fulfill human aspirations 7. Ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good (holy and loving) 8. History is linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity
The Grandeur of God
3. The Clockwork Universe: Deism
Basic Deism 1. A transcendent God, as a First Cause, created the universe but then left it to run on its own. God is thus not immanent, not fully personal, not sovereign over human affairs, not providential. 2. The cosmos God created is determined because it is created as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system; no miracle is possible. Closed to God’s reordering, because he is not interested in it
- Closed to human reordering, because it is locked up in a clocklike fashion (de-emphasized)
3. Human beings, though personal, are a part of the clockwork of the universe. 4. The cosmos, this world, is understood to be in its normal state; it is not fallen or abnormal. We can know the universe, and we can determine what God is like by studying it. 5. Ethics is limited to general revelation; because the universe is normal, it reveals what is right. 6. History is linear, for the course of the cosmos was determined at creation.
An Unstable Compound
4. The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism
Basic Naturalism 1. Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist. 2. The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system. 3. Human beings are complex “machines”; personality is an interrelation of chemical and physical properties we do not yet fully understand. 4. Death is extinction of personality and individuality. 5. History is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect without an overarching purpose. 6. Ethics is related only to human beings.
- Naturalism in Practice: Secular Humanism
- Naturalism in Practice: Marxism
- The Persistence of Naturalism
5. Zero Point: Nihilism
- The First Bridge: Necessity and Chance
- The Second Bridge: The Great Cloud of Unknowing
- The Third Bridge: Is and Ought
- The Loss of Meaning
- Inner Tensions in Nihilism
6. Beyond Nihilism: Existentialism
Basic Atheistic Existentialism 1. The cosmos is composed solely of matter, but to human beings reality appears in two forms—subjective and objective. 2. For human beings alone, existence precedes essence; people make themselves who they are. 3. Each person is totally free as regards their nature and destiny. 4. The highly wrought and tightly organized objective world stands over against human beings and appears absurd. 5. In full recognition of and against the absurdity of the objective world, the authentic person must revolt and create value.
- A Saint without God
How Far beyond Nihilism? Basic Theistic Existentialism 1. Human beings are personal beings who, when they come to full consciousness, find themselves in an alien universe; whether or not God exists is a tough question to be solved not by reason but by faith. 2. The personal is the valuable. 3. Knowledge is subjectivity; the whole truth is often paradoxical. 4. History as a record of events is uncertain and unimportant, but history as a model, or type, or myth to be made present and lived is of supreme importance.
7. Journey to the East: Eastern Pantheistic Monism
Basic Eastern Pantheistic Monism 1. Atman is Brahman; that is, the soul of each and every human being is the Soul of the cosmos. 2. Some things are more one than others. 3. Many (if not all) roads lead to the One. 4. To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond personality. 5. To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond knowledge. The principle of noncontradiction does not apply where ultimate reality is concerned. 6. To realize one’s oneness with the cosmos is to pass beyond good and evil; the cosmos is perfect at every moment. 7. Death is the end of individual, personal existence, but it changes nothing essential in an individual’s nature. 8. To realize one’s oneness with the One is to pass beyond time. Time is unreal. History is cyclical. East and West: A Problem in Communication
8. A Separate Reality: The New Age The Radical Transformation of Human Nature The Panoramic Sweep of New Age Thought
- Drug Therapy
- Transpersonal Psychology
- Sociology and Cultural History
- Natural Science
- Science Fiction
- Psychic Theorists
Relationship to Other World Views The Basic Tenets of the New Age 1. Whatever the nature of being (idea or matter, energy or particle) the self is the kingpin—the prime reality. As human beings grow in their awareness and grasp of this fact, the human race is on the verge of a radical change in human nature; even now we see harbingers of transformed humanity and prototypes of the New Age. 2. The cosmos, while unified in the self, is manifested in two more dimensions: the visible universe, accessible through ordinary consciousness, and the invisible universe (or Mind at Large), accessible through altered states of consciousness. 3. The core experience of the New Age is cosmic consciousness, in which ordinary categories of space, time, and morality tend to disappear. 4. Physical death is not the end of the self; under the experience of cosmic consciousness, the fear of death is removed. 5. Three distinct attitudes are taken to the metaphysical question of the nature of reality under the general framework of the New Age (1) The occult version in which the beings and things perceived in states of altered consciousness exist apart from the self that is conscious (2) The psychedelic version in which these things and beings are projections of the conscious self (3) The conceptual relativist version in which the cosmic consciousness is the conscious activity of a mind using one of many nonordinary models for reality, none of which is any “truer” than any other Shirley MacLaine: A New Age Exemplar Cracks in the New Consciousness
9. The Examined Life Choosing a World View Christian Theism Revisited
There are a number of circumstantial lines of evidence pointing to the existence of God, and the diverse, collective nature of this evidence is most reasonably explained by the existence of a Creator. The following is a summary of a brief cumulative case for God’s existence, built on just five lines of circumstantial evidence:
(1) The Temporal Nature of the Cosmos (Cosmological) (a) The Universe began to exist (b) Anything that begins to exist must have a cause (c) Therefore, the Universe must have a cause (d) This cause must be eternal (uncaused), non-spatial, immaterial, atemporal, and personal (having the ability to willfully cause the beginning of the universe) (e) The cause fits the description we typically assign to God
(2) The Appearance of Design (Teleological) (a) Human artifacts (like watches) are products of intelligent design (b) Many aspects and elements of our universe resemble human artifacts (c) Like effects typically have like causes (d) Therefore, it is highly probable the appearance of design in the Universe is simply the reflection of an intelligent designer (d) Given the complexity and expansive nature of the Universe, this designer must be incredibly intelligent and powerful (God)
(3) The Existence of Objective Moral Truth (Axiological) (a) There is an objective (transcendent) moral law (b) Every law has a law giver (c) Therefore, there is an objective (transcendent) moral law giver (d) The best explanation for this objective (transcendent) law giver is God
(4) The Existence of Absolute Laws of Logic (Transcendent) (a) The laws of logic exist i. The laws of logic are conceptual laws ii. The laws of logic are transcendent iii. The laws of logic pre-existed humans (b) All conceptual laws reflect the mind of a law giver (c) The best and most reasonable explanation for the kind of mind necessary for the existence of the transcendent, objective, conceptual laws of logic is a transcendent, objective, eternal Being (God)
(5) The Unique Nature of Our World and Universe (Anthropic) (a) Our universe appears uniquely designed so: i. Life can exist ii. This same life can examine the universe (b) This unique design cannot be the result of random chance or unguided probabilities (c) There is, therefore, a God who designed the universe to support human life and reveal His existence as creator of the Cosmos
This brief list is intended as a recap and reminder. Fuller descriptions of these arguments are available at http://pleaseconvinceme.com/category/theism/
VARIOUS VIEWS OF GOD
There are many views of the creation, the being or power that did it, and the resultant oversight of the creation by that power or being. We need to look at some of these views.
1. Dynamism: There is in all things a force which can be tapped for either good or evil purposes. This force is not described — only used and worshiped. This is an impersonal force that is stronger than man. Does that sound like anything you’ve been seeing on TV in recent years? Sound like Star Wars? “May the Force be with you.”
2. Animism: All of nature has spirits that are personal and responsive to the worshiper. The spirit will do good or evil according to the worshipers’ activities. Help or injury can come from these spirits at the will of the spirit. This would be tree worship or moon worship etc. Animism views all immaterial things as being and existing due to the immaterial part of the object. The immaterial is inseparable from the matter and gives the matter form and life. In short if we were animists and I was to give you a test and you failed the test, you might well come to the desk that you took the test in, and feel that its spirit had been unkind to you because you left your gum on it. You might clean the gum off and do some ritual to get back into its good graces.
3. Fetishism: The idea that objects have spirits and the object must be worshiped because the spirit is there. The spirit is a temporary resident of the object so may leave the object. The term means magic. Many Indian tribes in South America and elsewhere have great problems with fetishes. When the people accept Christ one of the first things to go should be, and usually is, their fetishes. In our previous illustration, if we believed in fetishism, you might, when you came to the desk, find that the spirit had moved. You might have to go find it. This reminds me of the Roman Catholic Church in South America in years past when they removed some of the saint’s statues from the cathedrals because they were no longer saints. The people had been worshiping at those statues for several generations in some cases, and all of a sudden the saint wasn’t a saint and was gone — they had no one to pray to.
4. Idolatry: This is not the worship of sleep. The term means image. The idol is the permanent residence of the spirit and as such, is worshiped. The object is something that is man-made normally and is sacred. The difference between idolatry and fetishism is that the spirit is permanent in the idol while the spirit is not permanent in the fetish. The difference between animism, idolatry and fetishism is that the animist views ALL objects as having a spirit, while the idolater and fetishist view only some objects as having a spirit. Jeremiah 10 has a great listing of the attributes of idols: they are cut from the forest, they are crafted, they are decorated, they are fastened so they can’t fall, they can’t talk, they need to be carried, they aren’t to be feared, they can do you no harm, they can do you no good, they are falsehood, they have no breath, they are vanity, they are works of error, and they will perish. So Why Worship Them? You can then list all of these and compare them to God’s own attributes and see the difference. He, the Living God is what all of the idols are not. Isaiah 44:14-20 is a text you need to remember for speaking to the foolishness of idolatry. Take time to read it.
5. Monolatry: The worshiper selects one idol from all the rest and worships it exclusively and feels that his god is more powerful than all others. Quite often this idol that is worshiped will be a tribal god in the Indian cultures. In monolatry the object is import rather than the god. Sound like “money” today, indeed, the title is close.
6. Polytheism: This is not, as someone has suggested, the worship of parrots. It is Greek for many gods, or the worship of many gods. These gods are usually well defined in the persons mind. They may live in mountains or in other objects of nature. In the Greek thought they were well-defined gods of supernatural nature. Venus, Apollo, Jupiter etc. The Greek gods all lived on Matthew Olympus. Quite often there will be one god that is over the other gods or at least more powerful than the other gods. This is also true of the Greek system of gods. These gods are different from the idolater’s god. The god of the polytheist has form and is not related to an object. Their god is independent and can act as he wills, rather than being contained within an object. There is indication in the Old Testament that many of the peoples of the earth were polytheistic. They all felt that each god had different levels of power. When they ran into a god more powerful than their god, they would add that new god to their list of gods. They might do this when as a valley people; they fought the mountain people and lost. They would naturally assume that the mountain people’s god was more powerful. The Old Testament pictures God as knowing that He was one god among many, however, He always declared Himself as the Living God, or as the God above all gods.
7. Henotheism: The worshiper chooses one of the gods of a polytheistic listing and worships it exclusively as his god. Within the Greek system of gods, the person might choose cupid and worship the god of love to the exclusion of all other gods in the system.
8. Dualism: This thought comes from the Latin two. Dualism is a belief in two equal gods of opposite character. One is good and one is evil. (Zorasterism) If you study the different ideas of the creation of the universe, you will run into the dualism of the ancient peoples. Many of the concepts of creation are based on two gods, one representing good and the other representing evil. They quite often are the products of one set of parents, or one producing force.
9. Tritheism: “This is the doctrine of three Gods.” (Cambron, Mark G. D.D.; “Bible Doctrines”; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1954, p 21) I have read that this thought originated with a man that came out of the Brethren movement in years past.
10. Pantheism: All there is, is god and there ain’t no moe. God is all, and all is god, and all you see is a manifestation of that god. There is no matter — only god. You are sitting on God, and you will eat God at lunch. It would be very difficult to honor your god within this system, since you have to use material things, while knowing they are your god. In this system you would definitely respect the things which you used.
11. Panentheism: This system of thought is very similar to Pantheism. Pantheism holds that all is god, and god is all that exists, while Panentheism holds that all is god but god is more than exists. In other words, god is in all things, but all things are not the extent of god. The universe is god, but god extends further than the universe and is more than the universe.
12. Deism: Deism comes from the Latin for god. There is one personal supreme god that is personal. He is far off from mankind and as a result is very seldom worshiped or heard from. He’s Way Out I Guess You Could Say. God is known from nature and reason, but not from the Scripture. (Many of our countries founding fathers were Deists. Benjamin Franklin for one.) He created but doesn’t sustain the creation. “God is the Maker, but not the Keeper.” (Cambron, p 20) Theissen states, “God is present in creation only by His power, not in his very being and nature. He had endowed creation with invariable laws over which he exercises a mere general oversight; he has imparted to his creatures certain properties, placed them under his invariable laws, and left them to work out their destiny by their own powers. Deism denies a special revelation, miracles, and providence.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 74)
13. Monotheism: From Greek for one. Monotheism presents a personal ethical god that is in the world yet distinct from the world. One god only. We as Christians are monotheists. Among monotheists we find not only Christianity, but Islam and Judaism.
14. Theism: Theism is the same as Monotheism, with the added idea of self-revelation. God has revealed Himself via our nature, the creation and the Word. “Theism is the belief in the existence of a personal God, Creator, Preserver, and Ruler of all things.” (Pardington, Revelation George P. Ph.D.; “Outline Studies In Christian Doctrine”; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1926, p 57)
15. Idealism/Realism: This is not usually a form of worship yet could be. It is often listed with Realism for they are opposites. Idealism would be the worship of ideas. Idealism states that what is, ain’t, and realism states that what ain’t, is. The idealist would view a chair as only an idea and not real. The realist would view a chair as real because he can perceive and be conscious of it. Realism relates to things of which we are conscious. If we are conscious of something then it is real. Logically speaking from their definition, if you sit in a chair and feel it on your backside it is real. If your rear area goes to sleep then you don’t feel it and it really isn’t there so you will fall on the floor.
16. Positivism: Positivism limits itself only to the knowledge which can be gained by and through phenomena. In other words if a lightning bolt hits one of them they can observe the result and know of that item. In relation to god, there can only be knowledge of god if there are some observable phenomena to study and draw conclusions.
17. Pluralism: This system sees the mind as the determinate factor as to what the world is. Thus each person has their own world because each person has their own mind. To a point this is what Humanism is. Humanism teaches that everyone is free to choose their own thing and own way.
18. Atheism: “Atheism is a denial of God’s existence.” (Pardington, p 57) Indeed, the atheist tries to prove that god does not exist.
19. Skepticism: “…a doubt of or disbelief in the existence of God.” (Pardington, p 57) I suspect that most modern day atheists are more correctly defined as skeptics. They attempt to prove that He doesn’t exist indicating that there is a strong possibility that He does.
20. Agnosticism: Agnosticism “…is a denial that God or his creation can be known.” (Pardington, p 58) Pardington relates the term to another interesting term. “Etymologically, agnostic and ignoramus mean the same thing. The former is from the Greek, the latter from the Latin.” (Pardington, p 58) Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary mentions of an ignoramus, “…..ignorant lawyer in Ignoramus (1615), play by George Ruggle…..an utterly ignorant person: DUNCE…..” (By permission. From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary copyright 1991 by Merriam-Webster Inc., publisher of the Merriam-Webster (registered) Dictionaries.)
HOWEVER… DO NOT CALL AN AGNOSTIC AN IGNORAMUS.
21. Materialism: This view holds that there is no spirit realm but only matter. Matter exists, and matter is all that exists. There is no god that created matter, nor is there a god that formed matter into creation. The use of the term materialism in our own day is actually a slight redefinition of the term. When we use the term, we usually mean that a person is taken up with material things, such as cars, homes, stereos, etc. The underlying principle is still there however. The person may not really believe that there is no god and that only material exists, yet they are living so as to indicate this belief.
22. Monism: This system attempts to reduce all things into one principle or substance. There are different types of monism. Materialistic monism = matter only exists. Idealistic monism = Ideas are the only reality. Pantheistic monism = “If monism denies the reality of both finite personal life and finite physical existences, through affirming both as phenomenal manifestations of an impersonal ground, the doctrine becomes pantheistic monism.” (Reprinted by permission: Walvoord, John F. editor; “Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, Vol. I & II, 1988, p 130) I once illustrated the pantheistic monist to a class as follows. If I believe I don’t live and don’t exist, but I manifest life and manifest existence then I am a pantheistic monist. Everything is a manifestation, but not real. Since I’m a manifestation, I can’t dismiss class, but I’m leaving. I guess you’ll have to sit here for eternity. In all of these systems you can see man’s attempt to explain his environment, and his inward knowledge of God. The problem is that they have rejected the God of the universe for a god of their own making. The only real God that we have discussed is the monotheist’s God — the God that we know to exist, that we know to support His creation, and that we know to be our Salvation.
Worldview Video Resource
Dallas Willard – The Nature and Necessity of Worldviews (Video)- An hour-long presentation by the late Dallas Willard on worldviews. He provides some good insights into what makes up a worldview and the applications thereof.
Understanding Basic Beliefs
By Jim Leffel Everyone has a set of beliefs. In this chapter, we will discuss the concept of “basic beliefs,” and describe the basic belief systems that shape contemporary ideologies. In the next chapter, we will examine how to critically assess basic beliefs.
Setting a foundation
Our capacity to ask “why” is one thing that makes us distinct as human beings. Even at a very early age, children seem preoccupied with this question. In perpetually asking “why,” children are building a framework of ideas to interact with the world, to make sense of it. What we see so clearly in children is true of adults too. Human history is the story of people seeking answers to questions that only beings aware of their own existence could ask. These questions relate to the meaning of life, the inevitability of death, and the rules governing society, the nature of reality and so on. These are the concerns that force us into forming basic beliefs. A basic belief is an idea we hold that can not be explained by some other idea. Its truth seems self-evident to us. That is what makes it basic or foundational. Let me provide an illustration. In teaching philosophy to undergraduates, I sometimes begin with a little exercise to help students get in touch with the fact that they hold basic beliefs. The exercise goes something like this: “Tell me, why are you here in my class?” The typical answer: “To satisfy a humanities requirement.” “All right then,” I ask, “why do you want to satisfy a humanities requirement?” Obvious response: “To complete my college degree.” “Fair enough, but why do you want to get a degree?” “Well, to get a job of course,” they say, as if it were somehow self- evident. The inquiry continues, “Why do you want to get a job?” The somewhat exasperated response is, “To make money!” “Ah, yes,” I continue, “But why do you want to make money?” “It takes money to buy things,” they retort, as if I were nuts. “Okay, but why do you want to buy things?” “Well, to be happy,” they somewhat hesitatingly urge. Then I press the issue further by saying, “Yes, that’s nice, but why do you want to be happy?” To this, there is no response. We finally arrive at a basic belief: The goal of life is to be happy, and the acquisition of things is the way to be happy. Of course this is not the only reason why people take classes, work and so on. But by peeling the layers of belief back in this way, we are able to arrive at some irreducible or basic beliefs. When we come to the point in asking “why” where there is no more “because,” we have identified a basic belief. Everyone has basic beliefs. But people are largely unaware of them, which is why exercises like the one I described are so important for introducing students to the world of ideas. Basic beliefs are often revealed through life-defining decisions, such as whom to marry; whether or not to have children; the choice of a career, and so on. Also, times of anguish bring us face to face with our basic beliefs. For example, the death of a loved one, revelation of a life-threatening disease, or the personal tragedy of divorce or arrest. These events cause us to ask “why?” And the answers provided by our basic beliefs will either enable us to make sense of life, or perhaps, drive us toward despair. The kind of life we live is tied to the adequacy of our foundational belief system. Consider the words of Jesus Christ: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rains descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” Matthew 7:24-27 Whether we agree with Jesus’ message or not, basic beliefs are the foundation on which we build our lives. From them, we form other beliefs. Our interrelated basic beliefs and other ideas that derive from them are referred to as a “belief system,” or “world view.” A world view is a philosophy of life or a way of looking at reality. World views play an important role in our lives, by assigning meaning to our experiences and providing a framework for important decisions we need to make. But where do we get our world view? Constructing a world view is a life-long endeavor. They tend to be fluid, being shaped by many influences. Our upbringing is a major factor in the making of a world view. Our outlook on life is formed largely from our families. Beliefs about how we should live, religious convictions and other crucial aspects of our belief system are often formed in our youth. But there are also influences from the wider culture in which we live. In the last chapter, we discussed the role media and education in belief formation. We could also include sub-cultural identity, significant life experiences, and even our attempts to morally justify decisions we make. For most people, world views are formed subtly, over time, and without much conscious reflection. We tend to uncritically absorb the zeitgeist of our culture in the formation of our belief systems. So, if we are to get a handle on how people think, we need to probe more deeply in the realm of basic beliefs. What makes up our basic beliefs? A world view is based on beliefs in four general areas. Here, we will briefly outline the four foundational ideas, then in the next section, examine major ideological currents in our culture that relate to each of them.
The primary component of a world view relates to the question “what exists?” While few people sit around contemplating the nature of reality, everyone has ideas about it. Every one has beliefs about whether or not God exists. Those who deny the existence of God have beliefs about the nature of the universe. Specifically, they hold that the universe is all there is, and that it is composed of material objects governed by natural laws. Those who accept the belief of God also have beliefs about what he is like. Some conceive God an impersonal force, like gravity, while others view him as personal. Beliefs about God have other implications. For an atheist, the universe has no intrinsic meaning or overarching significance. On the other hand, those who accept belief in God typically see the universe as serving some kind of divinely inspired purpose. The way we view reality has a bearing on all of our other beliefs.
2. Human nature
If we have survived adolescence, we understand the importance of the question “who am I?” Because we are conscious of our existence, we naturally ask such questions. What does it mean to be a human being? We form beliefs about whether or not there is a spiritual aspect to our nature. This helps us adjust to our mortality. It is also instrumental in the quest for meaning in life. Is there some purpose life serves, or are we, like animals, the product of impersonal biological forces that are indifferent to our existential reflections? We also are concerned about whether or not human history is going anywhere. Should we be optimistic about the direction of human society, or pessimistic? Are we going in any direction at all?
People act on the basis of principles. We make judgments constantly about our preferences, and our approval or disapproval of things. The word “good” is the most broadly used expression in the English language. All of us have beliefs about the nature of goodness. Are there any standards of judgment that are true whether the individual cares to accept them or not? Are there standards for living that apply to everyone, or are values dependent on individual choice alone? We also form beliefs about the nature of moral responsibility. When, if ever, are we morally guilty? And finally, we form beliefs in the area of values that direct the goals we pursue in life. We embody our basic convictions about “the good life” in the motivations and choices that drive us toward life goals.
The category of truth involves our beliefs about the nature and limitations of knowledge. This seems quite abstract to the surface of it. What can be known? What is the difference between rationality and irrationality? Does the same truth hold for all people, or does it differ depending on culture or personal belief? Of all the categories making up a world view, truth is perhaps the most difficult. We hold convictions, sometimes deep ones, that our beliefs are true. But is quite another matter to rationally justify our beliefs—either to ourselves or to others.
Three Basic World Views
By describing three general world views, we will have much of the background needed to examine and critically interact with scientism and postmodernism. The three world views that are discussed in this chapter are broad systems from which scientism and postmodernism draw their beliefs. By understanding these basic world views, we will be conversant in the world of modern and postmodern ideas. Many of the terms and critical issues in scientism and postmodernism are defined within these world views. Because many of the concepts introduced in this section will be used throughout the text, a glossary is provided. In the next chapter, we will provide a framework for critically analyzing these world views.
We begin with a description of the world view most familiar to us. Theism is the set of beliefs shared by the religions that are based on the Old Testament: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jews, Muslims and Christians view God somewhat differently, but they all believe that there is one God. This is called “monotheism.” Theism views reality as both material and spiritual. Sometimes, this is referred to as metaphysical dualism, which means that reality consists of two distinct realms. Ultimately, reality is grounded in an infinite, personal and transcendent God. By personal, theism asserts that God is volitional, moral, creative, purposive, rational and knowable to other persons. We refer to God as “him,” not “it.” Transcendent means that God is distinct from the universe. He is able and willing to interact with the creation, but his existence is not bound by or limited to the universe. Everything that exists is contingent upon God’s creative act. He created both an immaterial realm of spiritual personal beings, and a world of material objects. God is both creator and sustainer of all things. Thus, the universe is an open system of cause and effect. An open system means that God maintains access to the created order and involves himself with it as he chooses. Cause and effect means that God has designed the universe in such a way that nature follows a recognizable pattern. Finally, because God acts with purpose, reality is inherently meaningful. This has substantial implications for the theistic view of human nature and values. Human nature is both biological and spiritual. Human existence cannot be explained wholly by reference to neurochemical or evolutionary processes. We are, in the words of Genesis 1:27, “in the image of God.” Humans are the unique creation of a personal God, and shares in his likeness as a personal being. Therefore, we have intrinsic worth as human beings. We were created to enjoy an eternal relationship with our Maker. Our lives have objective meaning and purpose. Because human nature is a composite of eternal spirit and mortal flesh, the death of the body is not the end of personal existence. We live eternally, either in conscious communion with God, or under his righteous judgment. God remains invested in humanity. History, consequently, is going some place. Sometimes, the biblical view of history is termed “linear history.” It means that history had a beginning, followed by a meaningful sequence of events, and will culminate in state of resolution (what the Bible calls the Kingdom of God). Human history is not a random sequence of purposeless events, but the unfolding of God’s plan to restore his just and loving rule over the earth. There is an objective purpose to the ebb and flow of human civilization. In the theistic world view, values are the expression of an absolute moral Being. By referring to the nature of God, we have objective standards for moral evaluations. Right and wrong are universal moral rules, binding on all people at all times and in all places. We call the theistic view of morality “absolutism.” Absolutism means that moral values are objective and universal. Objective means that moral values exist independent of us. They are true whether we accept them or not. Universal means that moral rules apply to everyone, regardless the culture in which we live. In the area of truth, theism holds that since God is personal, his creation is orderly and understandable. We can have genuine, if limited, knowledge of the world. We can trust the observations of science, because God has made the universe with an intelligible order. Further, because we are personal and self-aware, we can have intuitive knowledge of morality. And lastly, we can know God. General knowledge of God’s existence comes through moral awareness and sense experience of the natural order (Romans 1:18 ff; Ps. 19:1-4a). Specific knowledge of God is available in God’s self-disclosure in the scripture.
World views are commonly defined by reference to the “reality” category. Naturalism, then, is a world view founded on some beliefs about nature. It is the belief that only the natural realm exists. And by the natural realm, we mean the world of material objects. Consequently, sometimes naturalism is referred to as “materialism,” or “materialistic naturalism.” Carl Sagan, an astronomer and well known naturalist, succinctly summarized the naturalistic view of reality by stating in Cosmos, “The universe: all that was, all that is, all that there will ever be.” The physical universe is all there is, and it is governed by the laws of nature. Everything can, in principle, be explained by material objects guided by natural law. Naturalistic world views include atheism, scientism, secular humanism, existentialism and nihilism. Postmodernism is also heavily influenced by naturalism. These concepts are introduced and defined below. While materialistic naturalism is ancient in origin, it has been the dominant world view of the West since the enlightenment period of the 18th century. During this era, great advances of science, especially Newtonian physics, were interpreted as the key to understanding the universe. Naturalistic philosophers optimistically assumed that by reference to the laws of nature alone, all of the mysteries of the universe could be unlocked. This belief led to the conclusion that God was not needed to explain reality. So while theists view the universe is an open system of cause and effect, naturalists conceive it as a closed system. Naturalism rejects either the existence of God, or the relevance of God’s existence to the affairs of the universe. Naturalists hold that if he exists, God is uninvolved with the universe. This view exists today in the form of scientism. Materialistic naturalism has direct implications for understanding human nature. If reality is wholly explained in materialistic terms, then human nature is too. Man is fully accounted for biologically. There is no qualitative difference between man and animals. There is no “mind” over and above the biological functions of the brain. There is no spiritual aspect to human personhood. Man is the product of a series of genetic mutations that survived according to the law of “survival of the fittest.” But what does this analysis of human personhood mean? What about our perceived sense of dignity and uniqueness? What does naturalism say about the inherent value of human life? Harvard professor B.F. Skinner, father of behaviorism, addressed this question: “What is being abolished is autonomous man—the man defended by the literature of freedom and dignity. His abolition has been long overdue. Autonomous man has been constructed from our ignorance, as our understanding increases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes. To man qua man we readily say good riddance.” Skinner is saying that under the naturalistic view, there is no room for human dignity and freedom. No room for dignity, because we are not qualitatively distinct from any other species or organism. No room for freedom (of choice) because we are explained purely in terms of biochemical or neurochemical reactions which follow the prescribed laws of nature. We are determined biologically and environmentally. Skinner quite properly excludes the language of freedom and dignity from the naturalistic view: Man is nothing other than a stimulus-response machine. There is no room to speak of a “mind” or “soul” since there is no non material realm. A naturalistic view of human existence includes an awareness of the transitory state of life. Our existence as a species is the product of chance. Our lives do not fit into an ultimate purpose. We came into being by random biological chance, live a relatively short life, and then become fertilizer. The realization that naturalism implies purposelessness for human life is termed nihilism. It is a philosophy of deep despair. Any attempt to create meaning out of a meaningless universe is considered by nihilists to be arbitrary and artificial. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre illustrates this point well in his short story “The Wall.” It is a story about three prisoners of war who stay up all night talking about life as they await execution at dawn. By a strange twist of affairs, one man is saved from the firing squad. But after spending the night contemplating the meaning of life from a materialistic view of reality, Sartre’s protagonist says, “At that moment I felt that I had my whole life in front of me and I thought, ‘It’s a damned’ it was worth nothing because it was finished. I wondered how I’d been able to talk, to laugh with the girls: I wouldn’t have moved so much my little finger if I had only imagined I would die like this….I spent my time counterfeiting eternity, I had understood nothing….In the state I was in, if someone had come and told me I could go home quietly, that they would leave me my life whole, it would have left me cold: several hours or several years of waiting is all the same when you have lost the illusion of being eternal.” Realizing that human existence is purposeless is shattering for those who consistently and honestly maintain a naturalistic world view. The true naturalist strips away the “illusion of being eternal,” to face the absurdity of existence. Because this sobering implication is contrary to our sense that life is meaningful, most naturalists’ basic beliefs are inconsistent. Naturalists usually live and act as though there was some objective purpose for life. Albert Camus, a long time friend of Sartre, saw the contradiction between what naturalists believe and how they live. In reference to his own nihilistic writing Camus admitted, “a literature of despair is a contradiction in terms.” In the creative act, whether it be writing or painting, the nihilist is attempting to “transcend nihilism.” If the concept of human personhood is difficult for naturalism, values also pose a significant tension. The naturalistic world view extends to the realm of morality in a way that most naturalists are slow to recognize. If we begin by assuming that reality is matter, then there is no room for morality. Nature is amoral. Nature is neither good nor bad. It just is. It is impossible derive a statement of value from a valueless universe. Consider again the words of Sartre, “[T]his is the tendency of everything called reformism in France—nothing will be changed if God does not exist. We shall find ourselves with the same norms of honesty, progress, and humanism, and we shall have made of God an outdated hypothesis which will peacefully die off by itself. The existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it is very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an objective Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. Nowhere is it written that the Good exists, that we must be honest, that we must not lie; because the fact is we are on a plane where there are only men. Dostoevsky said, ‘If God didn’t exist, everything would be possible.’” No objective meaning can be given to our moral judgments if naturalism is true. In an amoral universe of material objects, any attempt to erect an ethical system is, by definition, arbitrary fiction. British philosopher A.J. Ayer expressed this clearly: “We can now see why it is impossible to find a criterion for determining the validity of ethical judgments. It is not because they have an absolute validity which is mysteriously independent of ordinary sense experience, but because they have no objective validity whatsoever. If a sentence makes no statement at all, there is obviously no sense in asking whether what is says is true or false.” For Ayer and other naturalists, ethical judgments are expressions of emotion. They reflect personal idiosyncratic preference. Ultimately, saying “X is good” is equivalent to the aesthetic judgment, “I like X.” Values are matters of personal taste. Moral disagreements are ultimately unresolvable on moral grounds. But many naturalists find this implication threatening. From the earliest days of naturalism the attempt was made to find some basis for values. The ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras was the first to espouse humanism in his famous dictum, “Man is the measure of all things.” Protagoras meant that while we live in a valueless universe, each man has the ability to create values. Man is the standard of good and evil, right and wrong. Humanistically based values regard man as the definition of goodness. Historically, this led to optimistic humanism, expressed in the tradition of enlightenment rationalism—the notion that the human race is perfectible. Enlightenment humanists believed that given sufficient knowledge and technology, we can better our world. Humanistic optimism is echoed in the famous words of John F. Kennedy, “All of man’s problems have been created by man and can be solved by man.” But who decides what is right or wrong, just or unjust?” Most contemporary naturalists are ethical relativists. Relativism means that values are defined either by individuals, or by cultures. So what is right for one person or society may not be right for another individual or culture. Moral truths are subjective. This means the sphere of truth is limited to the individual or to the culture in which ethical standards are defined. As we will show later in the text, relativism plays a prominent role in postmodern thought. Ethical Absolutism. Absolute values are objective and universal. “Objective” means that moral truths are independent of what people believe. “Universal” means that moral truths apply to everyone in every place throughout history. Ethical Relativism. Relative values are subjective and individual. “Subjective” means that they are the creation of some person, not discovered in a world outside of the individual. By individual, we mean that the sphere of truth is limited to the individual (or to the culture that accepts the same moral beliefs). The naturalistic view of reality is closely related to the nature and limits of knowledge. Since man is only a biological entity, knowledge is based on physical, sense experience. Sense perception as the basis of knowledge is called empiricism. Empiricism states, “Nothing is in the intellect which is not first in the senses.” How does a person come to know something? Because they see it, hear it, feel it, smell it or taste it. Put simply, “seeing is believing.” Empiricism has substantial implications for what, in principle, can be known. Since knowledge is rooted in sense perception of material things, we can not know anything beyond the realm of possible sense experience. The sciences become the final arbiter of truth in the naturalistic world view. Atheism is the naturalistic view of reality. The naturalistic view of knowledge entails agnosticism. Agnosticism is the position that no knowledge of God is possible, because God is not something that can be experienced by the senses.
Pantheism is the religious world view of the East. It includes Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. In its Westernized form, pantheism is the basic assumption of Transcendental Meditation and some aspects of New Age mysticism. Pantheists view reality like naturalists in the sense that both are monistic theories. Monism means that reality has one dimension. In contrast to the naturalistic view, pantheism rejects the existence of matter. Pantheists believe only the spiritual dimension exists. Since this is such a difficult concept for us in the West, we will need to explore a bit further. While subtle differences exist between Eastern religions, they are unified in the view that ultimate reality is spirit. But it would be a mistake to interpret the Eastern concept of the spiritual in Western monotheistic terms. Eastern pantheists believe spiritual reality is ultimately impersonal and unknowable. Spirit is more like energy than a personal God as we conceive him in the West. Strange from our perspective, is fact that most of the pantheistic religions involve devotion to a host of gods. The practice of Hinduism, for example, consists of devotion to three hundred million nature deities. Hindu scholars recognize that devotion to these deities is simply an attempt to explain the unexplainable, and to make Hinduism accessible to the popular, uneducated masses. Ritual and devotion to nature gods is to be understood wholly in light of the philosophical categories of the Upanishads (Hindu scriptures), not in Western monotheistic terms. As D.S. Sharma, a noted Hindu scholar states, “The particular name and form of any deities are limitations which we in our weakness impose on the all pervading spirit which is nameless and formless. The supreme being is a person only in relation to ourselves and our needs….the highest theism is only a sort of glorified anthropomorphism, but we cannot do without it.” Sharma means that all attempts to personalize the ultimately impersonal are the product our human propensity to ascribe to reality attributes that we observe in ourselves. Because we are persons, we personify the cosmos. Nothing is more foreign to us in the West than the denial of the material realm. But it is equally strange from the Eastern viewpoint that Westerners deny the spiritual realm. Materialism and pantheism seem to be complete opposites. On one level this is true. Yet, there is actually much similarity in outlook between them. Pantheists refer to the perception of a material reality as Maya, which means illusion. But illusion is the same term often used by materialistic intellectuals in the West to describe our awareness of the spiritual realm. For example, Freud’s influential work on the psychic origins of belief in God (and the soul) is titled The Future of an Illusion. Another similarity between Eastern and naturalistic Western thinking is that in the realm of ultimate reality, both hold reality to be impersonal and undefinable. What, after all is matter? Matter can no more be defined than absolute impersonal spirit. Both pantheism and naturalism teach that illusion is grounded in ignorance. For the Westerner, as Skinner stated, the illusion of a non material aspect to man is based on ignorance. One day, when we gain sufficient knowledge of neurophysiology and environmental determiners, the belief in non natural aspects of personhood will evaporate. In the pantheistic tradition, the reverse is the case. When we overcome the illusion of duality (distinct spiritual and physical realms), and experience oneness with the universal spirit, we will recognize the material as illusory. The pantheistic view of reality applies to human nature in much the same way as it does in naturalism. What is true of the whole of reality is true of the individual. If ultimate reality is impersonal, undefinable spirit, then so is man. The Hindu term for the human essence is atman. Since only Brahman exists (impersonal spiritual reality), atman is also impersonal, undefinable, spiritual reality. That is, “atman is Brahman.” No ultimate distinction exists between individuals and ultimate reality. All things are one. Reality is unity without individuality. But this raises a further question. Human experience tells us that we are individuals, that there is a difference between one another’s’ existence and personality. This perception, in classical pantheistic thought, is the consequence of ignorance—it is a manifestation of Maya, or illusion. Because this view of man and reality is beyond rational description, Eastern thinkers typically express their thought in parable. The following is one of the most famous parables from the Upanishads, in which a guru seeks to explain to his son the impersonal nature of man. “Bring me a fruit from this banyan tree,” the guru asks. “Here it is, father,” his son replies. “Break it.” “It is broken, Sir.” “What do you see in it?” “Very small seeds, Sir.” “Break one of them, my son.” “It is broken, Sir.” “What do you see in it?” “Nothing at all, Sir.” “My son, from the very essence in the seed which you cannot see comes in truth this vast banyan tree. Believe me, my son, an invisible and subtle essence is the Spirit of the whole universe. That is Reality. That is Atman. That is you.” Having defined human nature, we can now investigate the question of life’s purpose. The guiding ideal for life in Hinduism and Buddhism is to achieve experiential unity with the One, universal spirit. While this may be acquired through a variety of means, the one most familiar to us in the West is meditation. Meditation is the practice of ridding consciousness of any thought of the self as distinct from the One. It is an attempt to rid consciousness of the world of Maya, or illusion. Through a rigorous discipline, we are able to achieve experiential consciousness of unity with ultimate reality. This is termed enlightenment. Once enlightened, atman is forever united with Brahman upon death of the illusory, physical body. The imagery of water is often used to express the unity of atman with Brahman. When a cup of water is thrown into the river, it is no longer identifiable as an individual cup of water. It is part of the flow of the river. So too is the soul or atman as it merges with ultimate spiritual reality. Atman’s unity with Brahman is called nirvana, which means “the blowing out” (as in the snuffing out of a candle). Nirvana is a state of nonexistence as a self-aware individual. In Western terms, nirvana is equivalent to death. Hence, the final state in pantheism is actually identical to the final state in materialistic naturalism. Human history, like human life, serves no ultimate purpose in pantheism. It is like naturalism in this way. Objective value to human life is the sole possession of the theistic world view. The pantheistic world view makes no ultimate distinction between good and evil because ultimate reality is pure impersonal unity. Moral distinctions between good and evil express not unity, but plurality (the existence of opposites). Siddhartha, the founder of Buddhism put it this way: “The world is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potentially old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people—eternal life….Therefore, it seems to me that everything that exists is good—death as well as life, sin as well as holiness, wisdom as well as folly.” This statement enables us to understand the why anthropomorphic representations of reality in Hinduism portray god as creator (Brahma), sustainer (Vishnu) and with striking polarity, death and destruction (Shiva). Since they are equally absolute, there are no final or ultimate moral categories. No objective distinction between good and evil is possible. The course of life is not, strictly speaking, moral. Rather, it is pragmatic: seeking wisdom and enlightenment which are necessary to enter nirvana. Yet, there is a practical code of conduct which the wise recognize. Wisdom means removing from our consciousness any desire that keeps our soul enslaved to Maya, or illusion. Detached from the world of sense experience, we avoid the lure of Maya and consciousness remains fixed on its ultimate path. The Buddhist scripture states, “Let no man love anything; loss of the beloved is evil. Those who love nothing and hate nothing, have no fetters.” Sometimes we think that the Eastern notion of karma is a moral principle. But in reality, karmic law is simply an amoral principle of cause and effect. Those who do not seek enlightenment are bound to the cycle of life according to karmic law. This is the Eastern meaning of reincarnation. The goal of Eastern mysticism is to avoid reincarnation by transcending ignorance and finding enlightenment. It is interesting how we in the West have romanticized the idea of reincarnation. Western distortions of reincarnation are discussed in greater length in the chapter on New Age consciousness. Perhaps the most frustrating facet of Eastern pantheism for Western culture is the area of truth. Reason is based on an objective distinction between true and false. That is, if a proposition X is correct, then not-X is false. This is called the law of non contradiction. This law is the basis of rational thought. In pantheism, however, the distinction does not hold in the area of ultimate reality. Brahman, the One, absolute spirit is by definition beyond rational understanding. This is because ultimate reality is impersonal, non rational and unknowable. The Upanishads state, “Verily, in the beginning this world was Brahman, the limitless One—limitless to the east, limitless to the north, limitless in every direction. Incomprehensible is that supreme Soul, unlimited, unborn, not to be reasoned about, unthinkable—He whose soul is space.” Zen Buddhism provides one of the clearest examples of the essentially non rational nature of Eastern religion. World religions expert Lewis Hopfe notes, “….reason is to be distrusted more than anything else because it cannot possibly lead people to real truth. In fact, people must deliberately confuse reason before they can find the truth.” For this reason, pantheism is often refereed to as mysticism. Mysticism means that reality cannot be apprehended by reason. Only personal, non rational experience leads to a genuine encounter with reality. One of the appealing features of the pantheistic view of truth is its tolerance of opposing religions or philosophies. Since there is no rational distinction between truth and falsehood, pantheism teaches that all religions are ultimately espousing the same message. In his address to the International Congress on World Religions, Hindu scholar Vivekananda stated, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. As different streams having different sources all mingle their waters in the sea, so different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to God.” Vivekananda view is now almost the consensus in religious thought today. We will have much to say about this position when we discuss postmodern religion. With a basic understanding of the three major world views, we now turn to the practical issue of identifying basic beliefs.
Testing Basic Beliefs
By Jim Leffel
We all have a set of basic beliefs, a world view. Everyone is a philosopher in this way. In this chapter, our concern is to provide criteria that distinguish a good set of basic beliefs from a poor one. This seems overwhelming perhaps. But in fact, it is a natural process, and one that we are involved in all the time. Whenever we take action, form an opinion, or consider other’s views, we are testing a belief system—either ours or someone else’s. So our present task is to make explicit what we naturally do by providing a framework to assess world views.
Basic beliefs as hypotheses
We will consider a basic belief as a hypothesis. A Hypothesis is an idea or a set of ideas we form in order to understand or explain something. We use hypotheses in all forms of reasoning, from the simplest process of everyday decision making, to extremely complex scientific discovery. By understanding the nature of hypothetical reasoning, we will be able to get a handle on how to assess basic beliefs. Every day we make countless decisions based on hypothetical reasoning. And if we look closely into this reasoning process, we find we are actually testing some of our basic beliefs. Recently, I flew in an airplane. As the aircraft taxied down the runway, I felt my heart beating more rapidly. “Why am I nervous?” I thought to myself, “I’ve flown many times before.” With that thought, I began to relax. This is an example of how we naturally use hypothetical reasoning without even being aware of it. What went into the self-reassuring reflection, “I’ve flown many times before?” Consider the following thoughts: This airplane is like the others I have been on. Airplanes rarely crash. The laws of nature that got me airborne before are still in operation. Therefore, this ride will be safe. And of course, the safe trip to Atlanta helped to further confirm the truth of these beliefs. My basic belief in the stability of natural law and the belief that statistical odds are a reliable guide to action enabled me to enjoy the trip. I adjusted to the situation based on my deeply imbedded conviction that these root hypotheses were true and sufficient. Like these ideas, many of our basic beliefs are deeply embedded. We do not always consciously interact with them, even though they provide the foundation for our decision making. Let’s look at another example of how hypotheses work. Consider a detective faced with a violent crime scene. Suppose a woman has been murdered in her apartment. The detective enters and begins to survey the grounds. Everything in the apartment is a potential clue at first. The dwelling appears undisturbed, but he notices empty wine glasses on the coffee table, he finds a small container of cocaine on the floor, a car key on the kitchen counter, and so on. To begin the crime solving process, the detective must formulate a hypothesis: The key on the kitchen counter fits the murderer’s car. This hypothesis may not be right, but the detective must start with some kind of assumption. Otherwise, there is no way to proceed with the case. From this hypothesis a number of implications are drawn. Suppose the key fits a late-model Mercedes. Further, if the key is the only one the murder had with him (how many of us carry around two sets of keys?), it follows that the car may be parked nearby. In his haste, the murderer may have left on foot. A third implication is that the murderer’s name may be on the record of a local Mercedes dealership or registered with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. To test these implications, the detective conducts a search of the streets in the area and contacts the local Mercedes dealers to get a list of recent buyers. We note three things about this hypothesis. First, the hypothesis was imposed on the evidence, not derived from it. A hypothesis is a belief used to unveil the reality beneath the surface of our observations. Basic beliefs are not discovered like a new species of fish, they are mental constructs, ideas, and we apply to our experience of the world. For example, naturalists do not discover that the universe is a closed system of cause and effect by observing the cosmos. This belief is applied to the observable data. As we discuss basic beliefs as hypotheses, it will be important to keep this in mind. Data and interpretation of the data need to be carefully separated if we are to remain objective. Second, we note that a hypothesis directs the search for evidence. Without a hypothesis, all evidence is of equal value. The temperature of the room or the day of the month is as relevant as the key on the counter without the presence of a hypothesis. World views act like hypotheses in this way too. Forming basic beliefs is the way we try to make rational sense out of life. Third, hypotheses can be assessed, which is our main concern here. The most obvious way to evaluate a hypothesis is by seeing whether or not its implications turn out to be true. In our example, the detective may find his hypothesis was wrong, because the key fit the car belonging to the victim. In this way, the hypothesis failed, or was falsified. But what if the key did fit a Mercedes parked close to the apartment? And further, it had been purchased recently by someone who knew the victim? Does this prove that the owner of the car was the murderer? Clearly not. The hypothesis is too general to establish a murderer, even though some of the implications may turn out to be true. The car could have belonged to the victim’s mother, who left an extra set of keys with her daughter in case she lost them. So hypotheses, like world views, can be a bit tricky. We need a closer assessment of hypothetical reasoning if we are to have the skills necessary to effectively interact with basic belief systems.
As this illustration indicates, confirming a hypothesis is more difficult than determining it’s falsity. In the realm of world views this is especially true. In this section, we will present four rules for the acceptance or rejection of a hypothesis and show how they relate to the assessment of basic beliefs.
A hypothesis is adequate when it explains all of the relevant data. If a hypothesis meets the criterion of adequacy, we “tentatively” accept it. Tentatively, because the hypothesis is confirmed or disconfirmed only after all four tests are applied. When a hypothesis explains some, but not all of the relevant facts, it is either false, or insufficient. By insufficient, we mean that it is at best partially true. Adequacy concerns the comprehensiveness of the hypothesis. The more comprehensively a hypothesis explains the data, the higher the degree of confirmation. When two competing hypotheses are being considered, the one explaining the most data is preferred. Let’s assume the victim’s brother owned the Mercedes and on the detective’s hypothesis, was charged with the murder. Further, suppose that the brother’s finger prints were found on one of the wine glasses, and he had a reputation as a desperate cocaine addict. Friends of the family also testified that the brother was violent with his sister when she refused to give him money for his addiction. So far, the detective’s hypothesis seems to be well supported by the evidence. But on further investigation, two friends surface and testify that the brother had been out of town visiting them during the week of the murder. The hypothesis is now in jeopardy because it cannot reconcile all of the relevant data. Optimistic humanism is based on the belief that humans are progressing toward the perfection of our species. Eighteenth and nineteenth century humanists confidently asserted that with time and knowledge, man’s goodness would blossom into a utopian culture. But the devastation of World War One crushed this belief. Humanists could not reconcile their confidence in the progress and perfectibility of man with the fact that the most advanced civilization in the world was capable of such barbarism. The inadequacy of optimistic humanism gave rise to pessimism in the decades after the “war to end all wars.”
2. Internal Coherence
The criterion of internal coherence is the most basic test of a hypothesis. It states: a hypothesis is internally coherent if its component ideas are rationally interconnected. If a theory or a world view contains self-contradictory ideas, then it is false. The principle of internal coherence is based on the logical law of “non contradiction.” The law of non contradiction is the foundation for all rational thought. It means that if a statement is true, then any statement contradicting it is necessarily false. For example, if it is true that the earth revolves around the sun, it must be false that the sun revolves around the earth. Reason demands we reject contradictory assertions. The internal coherence criterion differs from the other three tests. These criteria “tentatively” confirm or disconfirm a hypothesis. Confirmation of a hypothesis can change in light of new information. But a hypothesis that fails the internal coherence test can never be accepted. No amount of evidence can make a contradictory statement true. Let’s go back to our illustration. The brother’s alibi is that he was out of town visiting friends at the time of the murder. Thus, the prosecution’s hypothesis appears inadequate. Let’s further imagine that the friends the accused was purported to have been visiting are giving testimony. One friend, George, confidently asserts that the brother was visiting him 500 miles away from the crime during the week of the murder. But the other witness, Martha, stated that the accused did not visit them until the week following the murder. Both swear they are telling the truth. What can members of the jury do? They must either believe George or Martha is lying, or that both are mistaken. But they cannot accept both testimonies as true. To believe both testimonies is to accept the thesis that the brother was 500 miles away and not 500 miles away at the same time. Such contradictory evidence is incoherent. There may be reason to believe Martha over George, but both cannot be believed. Internal coherence is the most decisive test for a set of basic beliefs. We need to carefully examine the relationship between world view categories. If statements about the nature of reality contradict assertions made about human nature, truth or values, then the world view under investigation is incoherent. One of the two (or both) of the contradictory components must be rejected. Because metaphysics is the most basic world view category, we find incoherence most often in the relationship between it and the other three categories. When naturalists believe in objective moral standards, their world view is incoherent. It is not possible to derive a statement of value in a valueless universe. Naturalists must abandon either belief in materialism, or in the possibility of making objective value claims. This dilemma, termed the “naturalistic fallacy” will be discussed in greater length in our section of fallacious reasoning. Incoherence in a world view is identified most frequently when a basic belief that can only be explained in one system is brought over into another system. We refer to this transaction as “borrowed capital.” True beliefs are often (unconsciously) included in world views that are by definition, rationally inconsistent with the imported belief. Theistic beliefs about human nature and values are commonly borrowed by naturalistic and pantheistic world views.
3. External Consistency
.A hypothesis is externally consistent when it conforms to other well-established bodies of knowledge. This is common sense. When a hypothesis is consistent with beliefs that are widely accepted based on overwhelming evidence, it gains plausibility. This is the kind of hypothetical reasoning I appealed to in dealing with the flight to Atlanta mentioned earlier. Hypothesis inconsistent with other well accepted hypotheses are not necessarily false. But the “burden of proof” is on the hypothesis that contradicts other well grounded ones. The theory inconsistent with well established hypotheses needs to both explain the same data and show why it is more adequate than the others. The history of science is replete with examples of theories that were rejected because they failed to conform to wider, well confirmed hypotheses. Sometimes the doubted theory replaces or causes revisions in formerly well-established hypotheses. Two of the most significant examples in science are the Copernican Revolution and Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. Both were accepted only after close assessment, but radically changed the way we view nature. World views that are strongly counterintuitive have a burden of proof. Where basic beliefs contradict universal human experience, we have reason to doubt their truth. The pantheistic doctrine of Maya is one such example. Denying the reality of the material world violates universal human experience. That does not prove that pantheism is false, but it puts a great deal of pressure on the pantheist to account for this illusion.
A hypothesis is fruitful when it suggests further directions for application. When a scientific hypothesis not only explains an initial problem, but directs the way to new insight, it is fruitful. Newton’s theory of universal gravitation is an example of a fruitful hypothesis. It was originated to solve the problem of falling bodies, but it also explained such things as the ebb and flow of tides, the orbital motion of the moon and planets, and the fluctuations in planetary motion caused by a planet’s interaction with other planets. When a theoretical hypothesis such as a world view is fruitful, it provides a meaningful framework to address practical issues. Fruitfulness in this context is termed “livability.” Fruitful basic beliefs can be lived out consistently as new dilemmas and decisions present themselves. By contrast, when basic beliefs can not be consistently lived out, we have reason to doubt them. Fruitfulness turns out to be more of a practical way to confirm world views than purely conceptual or theoretical. In this way fruitfulness differs from the other three criteria for testing hypotheses.
Testing Hypotheses: A Summary
- Adequacy: A hypothesis is adequate when it explains all of the relevant data.
- Internal Coherence. A hypothesis is internally coherent to the extent that all of its ideas are logically interconnected. Hypotheses with contradictory concepts are false.
- External Consistency. A hypothesis is externally consistent to the extent that it conforms to other well established hypotheses.
- Fruitfulness: A hypothesis is fruitful when it can be successfully applied, and suggest a direction for future application.
We can draw some conclusions from what has been discussed. First, everyone has a world view. Regardless of the context of belief, everyone is a believer. In this way, we all have faith. Second, standards exist to assess the rational merits of our beliefs. These standards, embodied in the hypothetical method, are presupposed in all reasoning processes. It is possible to demonstrate that some belief systems are rationally incoherent, and consequently false. But there is no “ultimate proof” for world views that pass the test of internal coherence. To have absolute certainty or knowledge beyond a shadow of doubt that a belief system is true requires an infinite mind. Since our minds are limited, the best we can do is hold beliefs that are true beyond a reasonable doubt. True beyond reasonable doubt means that our basic beliefs are internally coherent, that they explain the data of human experience and observation, and provide an applicable guide to life.
The Hydra – The Many-Headed Monster of Secular Humanism
by Dr. Steven C. Riser
How to Make Sense Out of Our Increasingly Secular Society
Is it possible to be practical when talking about the world of ideas, especially when considering various philosophical and religious worldviews? Since what we think affects what we do, both individually and collectively, it is not only practical but also essential if we are to be like “the men of Issachar” and “understand the times” in which we live (1 Chr. 12:32). The aim in this article is to be brief, understandable and accurate as well as biblical and practical. It isn’t an easy task when dealing with the way that people think, but let’s try. In Greek mythology, the hydra was a nine-headed serpent slain by Hercules as one of his twelve labors: when any of the heads was cut off, two others replaced it. There is a “hydra” loose in our contemporary culture and it is not a myth; this hydra, this many-headed monster, which is even more dangerous is called secularism, and it threatens you, your faith, your family, the church and our nation. The sad fact is that America is becoming increasingly influenced by secularism, which shows itself in a variety of ways; each one can be likened to one of the many heads of the hydra. The term hydra has come to be known as: any persistent evil with many sources or causes. We may know the meaning of secular, but what is secularism? The addition of the suffix “ism” changes a word into a system of thought which affects the way in which we look at life. This system of thought is called a worldview. Secularism is the dominant “ism” of our society. Secularism at its root is ignoring the eternal. It is living for this world only as if there is no God and no eternal consequence for our actions. It is the mark of a fool. “A fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Psalm 14:1). It is not living in light of eternity. It is easy to see how this kind of thinking is a logical outgrowth of denying God’s existence (atheism). The monster is secularism, but what do the various heads of the hydra represent? What are the components of secularism? The following “isms” contribute to our increasingly secular society. (Some of these ways of thinking are old, some are new but they’re all compatible with and reinforce the dominant worldview in our culture: secularism.) 1. Pessimistic Existentialism— this cynical, fatalistic belief system asserts that man is a useless passionate creature with no intrinsic meaning or purpose in life. Feelings, instead of truth become the new standard for evaluating human significance. The most important question is not, “What do you think?” but, “How do you feel?” The problem is that how we feel may have no correspondence to what is true. “There is a way which seems right to a man but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Paul tells us that we are to be babes in evil but mature in our understanding. Proverbs 18:2a says that, “a fool finds no pleasure in understanding.” 2. Moral Relativism— this belief system assumes that God does not exist, so there is no objective basis for believing in absolute morality; therefore, “everything is relative”—including morality and ethics. The basis of right and wrong becomes a function of individual opinion or group consensus, both of which are continually subject to change. According to George Barna, 71% of Americans subscribe in some way to this belief system. Judges 17:6 says, “…everyone did as he saw fit.” That’s the logical outcome of moral relativism. 3. Pragmatic Utilitarianism— Instead of asking, “Is it true? “pragmatism asks, “Does it work?” This is a results-oriented point of view, which says that the ends justify the means. Its motto: “Where there is a will, there is a way.” Modern man tends to be pragmatic and tends not to engage in ethical and religious reflection and thought. Instead of saying “because it’s true, it works,” pragmatism says, “because it works, it’s true.” Since God’s will must be done God’s way, the ends do not necessarily justify the means. 4. Logical Positivism, or empiricism, is the belief that reality is limited only to what can be measured by the empirical senses—eyes, ears, nose, tongue and fingers. It involves the application of rationality and empiricism through science and technology. In other words, science becomes our “sacred cow” or god. Any truth that can’t be observed or experienced, such as moral or spiritual truth, is relative. The “scientist,” like Carl Sagan, would be the “high priest” in this modern movement. Motto: “The cosmos is all there is or ever will be.” Paul says that the Christian is to “live by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). 5. Darwinian Evolution— this belief system assumes that God does not exist, so it needs to arrive at an alternative explanation for creation and the development of the human species. Theistic evolution is an oxymoron. If creation can be explained apart from a Creator, there is no longer any need for God as an explanation for the creation. This theory requires a strong “faith” since it is based on assumptions, that can’t be proven. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (11:3). The fact is that the creation of the universe is outside the purview of scientific investigation. 6. Pagan Hedonism— the motto of hedonism is: “You only go around once in life so you’ve got to grab for all the gusto that you can get.” Instead of focusing on truth and falsehood, or good and evil, the hedonist focuses on pleasure and pain. In simple terms, the hedonist makes the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain paramount to all other pursuits in life. It says, “Let us eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we shall die” (1 Cor. 15:32). Paul said that if Christ wasn’t resurrected, this way of thinking might make sense. 7. Crass Materialism— this involves the unbridled acquisition of things. Its motto: “Money isn’t everything, but whatever is in second place is sure far behind.” Jesus contradicted this point of view when he said, “life does not consist in the abundance of things that you possess” (Luke 12:15). You can’t serve two masters, you can’t serve God and materialism (Matt. 6: 24). Materialists consider shopping or consumerism a form of “therapy.” Unfortunately, greed and disillusionment get the best of such people. 8. Secular Humanism is a worldview that is man-centered rather than God-centered. In its simplest form it views man “as the measure of all things.” Man, not God, is the standard by which all norms and values are ultimately determined–all reality and life is centered on man. This belief system is summarized in the Humanist Manifesto I & II. Its motto: “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.” Man-centered secular humanism is the most popular alternative to God-centered Christianity. 9. Marxist Communism is an atheistic and materialistic form of government with a socialistic economy based upon the government owning the means of production. Historically, virtually every significant effort aimed at improving people’s standard of living invested by socialistic or communistic theories of economics has failed miserably. Since communism is not compatible with human nature, it has never worked in the “real” world. Perhaps the last bastion of communism in America is the secular university. 10. Atheism is the belief that there is no God. The most important factor in any worldview is whether or not one believes in God. The Bible never tries to prove God’s existence; it merely assumes it and states that we are without excuse if we fail to come to that conclusion based upon the evidence (Rom. 1:18ff). Proverbs 14:1 says, “A fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” Studies show that most people have some concept of God. Many people who claim to be atheists are simply mad at God. Others choose to adopt a lifestyle that is not compatible with God’s existence so they rule Him out of their lives. If you define God as your ultimate object of loyalty, then everyone has a god. We will all trust in something or someone, the question is in whom or what will we trust? Is the object for our faith worthy? 11. Historical Revisionism is the attempt on the part of secular humanists to rewrite history based on the assumptions of what is considered to be a politically correct way of thinking. In particular, they would like to rewrite the history of the founding of our nation to cover up the fact that our founding fathers had deep religious roots and used the Bible as the primary source document for their writings. They prayed regularly and included God in numerous official documents and practices of our nation. Revisionists would have us believe that our nation had a strictly secular foundation. 12. Narcissism is the excessive interest in one’s appearance, comfort, importance and abilities. It could be defined as extreme and unhealthy self-love to the point of self-absorption. A related term is “hubris”—arrogance resulting from excessive pride. This way of thinking is the result of our failure to think realistically and to regard ourselves and not God as the center of our universe. James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Narcissism is the logical consequence of enthroning one in the kingdom of self. Paul says, we are not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think (Romans 12:3). 13. Multiculturalism is the belief based on postmodernism, which assumes that all truth is culturally biased and so there is no morality or truth that transcends every culture. Therefore, no one culture is any better than any other culture, just different. All cultures must be equally tolerated and celebrated. Multiculturalism is the result of the collective application of moral relativism. 14. Pluralism is the condition that exists in a society or culture, which possesses many different religions, worldviews and truth-claims when none is dominant. It is the belief that there is no way to bring divergent ideas into a coherent whole. It does not believe in universal truth or moral absolutes. Pluralism results from a failure to realize that all truth is God’s truth and He is the cohesive force uniting all of the universe. Colossians 1:17 says that Christ “is before all things and in Him all things adhere or hold together.” 15. Postmodernism is a particular worldview based on the belief that truth does not exist in any objective sense and is created rather than discovered. Truth is culturally biased, subjective and therefore relative. This way of thinking can best be understood as a reaction to the empiricism of modernism, which limits one’s understanding of reality to the five senses. Christians believe that truth is discovered, discerned or revealed rather than created. We are not the source of truth, God is. Jesus said, “I am the truth…” (Jn. 14:6) and “…Thy word is truth” (Jn. 17:17). 16. Political Correctness is the belief that is approved and the behavior that is accepted when measured by the worldview and assumptions of secular humanism, postmodernism, multiculturalism and universalism. The bottom line is that secular humanism is considered socially acceptable while biblical Christianity is not considered politically correct. Political correctness is a means of putting social pressure on Christians to suppress their speech. Christians are called not be ashamed of the Gospel, but to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). 17. Universalism is a religious belief, which says, in effect, “all roads lead to Rome.” All religions lead to God. All worldviews can be valid avenues of salvation and any religion or worldview that attempts to be unique or exclusive is “wrong.” According to George Barna, 64% of Americans subscribe to this point of view. The simple truth is that either one religion is correct, true and valid, or none are. All religions are mutually exclusive or contradictory to one another. Christianity is the only religion that teaches salvation “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8,9). If it is true, all other religions must be false. 18. The New Tolerance is based upon the belief that all truth is relative and therefore every individual’s beliefs, values, worldview, lifestyle, and perceptions of truth are equally valid. Multiculturalism is simply secular tolerance applied to the culture rather than to the individual. Tolerance is the greatest virtue in a culture that is void of absolute truth and morality. It would appear that the only people not to be tolerated are biblical Christians, because their worldview is the only one that poses a threat to secularism’s relativistic morals. 19. Naturalism, as opposed to supernaturalism, states that this natural, material world is all that exists. Since there is no such thing as the supernatural, there’s no such thing as God or miracles. Whatever exists can be explained by natural causes; therefore the supernatural cannot exist. This belief is at the heart of the theory of evolution. Some naturalists refer to themselves as scientific materialists—the name makes no difference; Materialism, naturalism and evolution go hand in hand—you can’t have one without the other. 20. Globalism (one world government)— if God does not exist, then He can’t help us solve our problems. We have to depend upon ourselves to solve our problems. The best way to do that is through Globalism, or a one-world government, with a socialist economy of course. There are currently serious efforts going on in our world through such organizations as the United Nations and World Court to do just that. Under such a government, all nations would have to surrender their sovereign status. In the last days, the Bible says that the antichrist will be in charge of a worldwide government.
What do all these “isms” have in common? They have all rejected the love of God as revealed in the Gospel of Christ and they have all rejected the wisdom of God as revealed in His Word–the Bible. They do not respect God or take Him seriously nor do they have any regard for His Word. Paul described it this way in Romans 1:21, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The way to avoid being adversely influenced by these non-Christian worldviews is to develop a Christian worldview—that is, to learn to think biblically. If we want to avoid becoming the proverbial frog in the kettle, we must not allow the world to squeeze us into its own mold but rather we must allow God to transform us by the renewing of our mind (Rom. 12:1-2). But more than this, we are called to go on the offensive and use the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul said, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Only the “sword of the Spirit” can slay the secular monster called the hydra. ———————————————————— What’s the Big Deal About Worldview? by Dr. Steven C. Riser What is a Worldview? It is the mental framework by which we perceive reality, make sense out of our life and the world around us. It’s both prescriptive (what should be) and descriptive (what is). It is a conceptual scheme into which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and evaluate reality. Many disagreements among individuals and groups can be traced to competing worldviews. One of the reasons that some people reject the Gospel is that they have an anti-Christian conceptual scheme in some form or fashion. The word “worldview” actually comes from the German weltanschauung, coined by Immanuel Kant in 1790. It refers to how one looks at the world and life, and how that view influences the way one lives. Everyone has a basic perspective—convictions, axioms, presuppositions that help him interpret reality and make ethical choices. It is the sum total of what we believe about the world. We usually don’t examine them; many may be subconscious. A worldview basically is the philosophical/religious orientation of a person. It deals with the basic questions of human existence. John Calvin said that all people are incurably religious. Religion in the broadest sense of the term is that to which you are ultimately committed. In that sense, there is no such thing as a non-religious person. Why do we need to develop a biblical worldview? First Peter 2:21 says that: Jesus is our example and we should “follow in His steps”. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that we should love others “as He has loved us.” Question: How can we love and act like Jesus if we don’t learn to think like Jesus? We must first learn to think just like Jesus before we can begin to act like Jesus.Learning to think like Jesus is tantamount to developing a biblical worldview. According to a survey conducted by George Barna, the following have a biblical worldview: 1% of Roman Catholics; 4% of Americans; 9% of “born-again” Christians; 50% of Protestant pastors.1 What is a biblical worldview? A biblical worldview is based on our belief in the authority of Scripture. Someone with a biblical worldview believes that his or her primary reason for living is to know, love and serve God. When we believe that the Bible is true, then we allow it to be the foundation of everything we think, say and do.Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” Why is it important to view Christianity as a worldview? Our major task in life is to discover what is true and then to act in line with that truth. Truth is found only in relationship to God and His revelation. God’s revelation in Scripture is intended to be the basis of all of life. While all truth is God’s truth, Jesus Christ claims to be the embodiment or personification of truth. Genuine Christianity is more than a personal and saving relationship with Jesus; it is more than just a set of isolated doctrines. It is a way of seeing and understanding all of reality; it is a worldview. Understanding Christianity as a worldview will help us to better understand and evaluate the merits of the Christian faith and other points of view. Many elements of any worldview are philosophical in nature; therefore it is vital that Christians become more conscious of the importance of philosophy. Christianity has an intrinsic connection to philosophy and to the world of ideas. Though philosophy and religion use a different language and may end up with different conclusions, they often ask the same questions. It is important to understand Christianity as a worldview for three reasons: 1. It enables us to make more sense of the world we live in and order our lives more ratio-nally. 2. It enables us to understand the forces hostile to our faith, thereby better enabling us to share and defend the faith as well as positively impacting upon our culture! 3. Just as we can harm ourselves when we violate God’s physical laws, so we can also harm ourselves when we violate God’s moral laws. We seek to co-operate not conflict or contradict with God’s laws. (No transgression of God’s moral law is without painful consequence.) Understand and cooperating with God’s laws is what the Bible calls wisdom. To be wise is to know reality and then to accommodate oneself to it. Those who refuse to accommodate themselves to reality are foolish and stubborn and are swimming against the stream of the universe—spitting in the wind, coloring outside the lines. To deny God is to blind ourselves to reality and the inevitable consequence is that we bump up against reality in painful ways. Christians live happier, more fulfilled and more productive lives! Why is our worldview so important? Just as the proper eyeglasses can put the world into proper focus, so also, the correct worldview can function in much the same way. Consistent godly (biblical) thinking will lead to consistent godly living. We cannot act like Christians if we first do not think like Christians. Our worldview lies at the root of all our values, priorities and choices. It impacts every aspect of our lives: how we spend our time, our money, how we interact with people in public and private, how we order our priorities and even how we perceive God. We need an accurate worldview for the following reasons: 1. To unify thought and life—consistency between thinking, speaking and acting. 2. To define what constitutes success—identification of the good life. 3. To find hope and meaning in life—to understand the purpose of life. 4. To guide our thinking and our actions—proper direction. It helps us… 5. To function in a diverse culture by understanding other worldviews. We are faced with a smorgasbord of worldviews, all of which make claims concerning truth. Worldviews are so much a part of our lives that we see and hear them daily whether we recognize them or not. Every aspect of our culture is affected by worldviews. If we ignore their importance, we do so to our detriment. What is considered “politically correct” is a reflection of a particular worldview. Our worldview directly impacts on our beliefs and indirectly on our feelings and actions. A personal worldview is a combination of all you believe to be true and becomes the driving force behind every emotion, decision and action. Your worldview affects your response in every area of life. What could be more important? What are some tests for evaluating a worldview? 1. It should be rational; it should not ask us to believe contradictory things. In logic this is called the law of non-contradiction. 2. It should be supported by evidence that is consistent with what one observes; i.e., Chris- tian Science—this world is a dream—not real. 3. It should give a satisfying comprehensive explanation of reality. In other words, it should account for the most facts in the best way. 4. It should be able to explain why things are the way they are; i.e., it should be able to ex- plain a Mother Theresa and an Adolf Hitler. 5. It should provide a satisfactory basis for living—an accurate map for navigation. It should help us to find our way in the world. What questions can we ask to help us discern various worldviews? 1. Why is there something rather than nothing? Can something create itself? Can something come from nothing? Or, did someone create it? 2. How does one explain human nature? Is human nature basically good, bad or neutral? In what ways are people similar or different? 3. What happens to a person at death? Does the body simply decay and decompose or is it reincarnated or does it go to heaven or hell? 4. How does one determine what is right and wrong? Is morality relative or absolute? Is it determined by God, the group, or the person? 5. How does one know what one knows? Is our knowledge limited to the five senses? What is the place of reason and revelation? 6. What is the meaning of history? Does life have any meaning or purpose or is it absurd? How will history be consummated? What are some examples of different worldviews? Secularism, Humanism, Pragmatism, Pluralism, Hedonism, Positivism, Modernism, Postmodernism, Nationalism, Feminism, Behaviorism, Pacifism, Liberalism, Deism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Christian Theism, Naturalism and The New Age Movement. How important are one’s assumptions or presuppositions? Truth is based on what God is and says and forms the basis of our assumptions. We all make assumptions; we all hold a number of beliefs that we presuppose or accept without conclusive support from other beliefs or evidence. These assumptions are necessary if we are to think at all. Augustine said that, “We must believe something before we can know anything.” Whenever we think, we take certain things for granted. The consequences of our presuppositions can be very significant. For example, do we assume that the material universe was created or do we assume that it always existed? The assumptions that we make are often unexpressed, sometimes unrecognized and often unproved. The most important assumptions are the beliefs we have about God, man and the world. These assumptions form a perspective, which influences how we interpret, events, circumstances and experiences. These basic assumptions provide the boundaries within which all other beliefs are held. Further, basic assumptions or presuppositions are important because of the way they determine the method and goal of thought. They can be compared to a train running on tracks that have no switches. Once a person commits to a certain set of assumptions, the direction and destination of his thinking is determined. Any worldview contains basic assumptions about the nature of reality in an attempt to make sense out of our world. The assumptions that we make clearly color every aspect of our worldview. Our assumptions affect our perception and understanding of the world in which we live. We are all familiar with the expression “garbage in, garbage out.” If you start with the assumptions of a particular worldview, you will end up with the conclusions of that worldview. The non-Christian has great difficulty acting in a consistent fashion with his presuppositions because they do not reflect reality. For example, it hard to consistently live as if everything is morally relative. Only the Christian can act consistent with the Christian worldview because his assumptions are consistent with the way the world really is. The assumptions that we hold determine our perception and the distinctions that we recognize. Assumptions are what we believe to be true, but we do not comprehend all truth; however, our assumptions are foundational to our ability to make distinctions. What are some of the basic elements of a worldview? 1. The fact of the matter is that something exists; the universe is rational and predictable. Why? Where did it come from? 2. Second, all people have absolutes. Everyone has an ultimate object of loyalty—a true reference point of reality. For some this is God. For others man is the measure of all things. 3. Two contradictory statements cannot be right. This primary law of logic is denied by many. Ideally speaking only one worldview can correctly mirror reality. 4. All people exercise faith. All of us presuppose certain things to be true without absolute proof—inferences or assumptions upon which a belief is based. 5. Our worldview includes ourselves, our relationship to God, others and the world in which we live, as well as our understanding about how to rectify what’s wrong with the world. A well-rounded worldview includes beliefs in the following areas: 1. God (Theology) 2. Reality (Metaphysics) 3. Creation (Cosmology) 4. Knowledge (Epistemology) 5. Morality (Ethics) 6. Human Nature (Psychology) 7. Redemption (Soteriology) 8. Purpose (Teleology) 9. The Future (Eschatology) 10. Ideals (The way things ought to be) (See Appendix A for a more detailed break down of this question) What is the single most important ingredient is our worldview? The biggest factor is our understanding of God. Who is our ultimate object of loyalty? “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (A. W. Tozer). (Note: our most important value is the source of our core values—those values which are most important to us.) How is it most frequently developed? George Barna has made the following observations: 1. While everyone has a worldview; only a few have a coherent one or are able to articulate it. 2. Most people don’t think their worldview is a central defining element in their life, but it is. 3. They spend surprisingly little time intentionally considering and developing their worldview. 4. Most people develop their worldview through unconscious evolution and social acceptance. 5. Americans rarely interact with each other on a substantive level regarding matters and issues that relate to worldview development and clarification. They seldom talk about it. 6. They have little idea how to process the interaction or how to progress from their existing position, consequently they fail to develop or more realistically refine their worldview. 7. They do not know how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life.2 Are there any non-rational foundations of rational thinking? One cannot ignore the personal dimension in one’s acceptance and evaluation of a worldview. For example, human beings are never neutral with regard to their attitude toward God. We either worship the one true God and serve Him, or we involve ourselves in gross idolatry. We cannot change our worldview without first changing some of our basic assumptions about life. How can we determine if we have a biblical worldview? Can you answer all the following questions in the affirmative? 1. Does absolute (moral) truth exist? 2. Is absolute truth defined by the Bible? 3. Did Jesus live a sinless life? 4. Is God the all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator of the Universe, and does He still rule it today? 5. Is salvation a free gift from God that cannot be earned? 6. Is Satan a real being that exists and is at work in the world? 7. Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his faith in Christ with other people? 8. Is the Bible accurate in all its teachings? Only 9% of “born again Christians answered “yes” to all eight questions therefore only 9% have a biblical worldview. Our actions reveal what we believe to be real and true.3 How does a biblical worldview get diluted? We are all constantly bombarded by non-biblical worldview ideas from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements and secular academia. Because of our intrinsic sinfulness, these ideas seductively appeal to our sinful nature and we often incorporate them into our personal worldview, often without out even knowing it. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2). Romans 12:1 says, “…Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold…” (J.B. Phillips) Most people go through life not recognizing that their personal worldview has been deeply affected by the world. The secular humanistic view of the world affects our thinking more than we realize. We then are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2: 8). What is our calling as Christians? Our calling is not only to order our lives by divine principles but also to engage the world. We are to fulfill both the great commission and the cultural commission. To engage the world requires that we understand the great idea that compete for people’s hearts and minds. It is great ideas that inform the mind, fire the imagination move the heart and shape the culture. History is the recording of the rise and fall of great ideas (worldviews) that form our values and move us to act. While the battles may involve specific issues, the war is for competing worldviews—between the Christian worldview and the various secular and spiritual worldviews arrayed against it. This is what we must understand if we are going to be effective in evangelizing our world and transforming our culture. What can we do in pursuing a biblical worldview? By diligently learning, understanding, assimilating and applying God’s truths in every area of our lives, we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s non-biblical ideas. As we trust and obey biblical truth, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, we will begin to make wise decisions, which will result in virtuous actions. We will be able to form appropriate responses to questions on abortion (sanctity of life), same sex marriage (sanctity of sex), moral relativism (sanctity of truth), etc. In the end, our decisions and actions will reveal what we ultimately believe, for good or ill. We have briefly considered the subject of worldviews. Let’s return to one of the definitions we started with: A worldview provides a model of the world, which guides its adherents in the world. 1. If our model for the world includes an infinite personal God, as in Christian Theism, that belief should provide guidance for one’s life. 2. If our model rejects God, as in Naturalism, again such a belief serves as a guide. Or… 3. If our model asserts that we are all part of god, as in New Age Pantheism, yet again our life is being guided by such a conception. These examples remind us that we are living in a culture that puts us in touch constantly with many and varied ideas. They can’t all be true. How can we apply this article to our daily lives? 1. Some of us may be confronted with the need to think more deeply than ever before. 2. Some of us may need to purge those things that are contrary to a Christian worldview. 3. Some of us need to better understand how our thinking is directly related to our living. 4. Some of us may need to better understand that the abundant life is found only in Christ. 5. Some of us may need to let God guide our thoughts more completely. And— 6. Some of us may need to let God’s wise and loving principles more fully guide our actions Paul’s admonition to the believers in ancient Colossae couldn’t be more contemporary or helpful in light of our discussion. He wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2: 8). The Bottom line: What measures are you taking to develop a biblical worldview? Appendix A: What Are the Major Elements of a Worldview? A well-rounded worldview includes beliefs in the following areas: 1. God (Theology) The most important element in a worldview is what it says or doesn’t say about God. Worldviews differ greatly on this matter. Some important questions to ask are: • Does God exist? If so, what is the nature of God? Is there only one true God? • Is God a personal being?—The kind who can know, love and act? • Is God an impersonal force or power? Do atheists exist or is the term an oxymoron? Calvin said that man is incurably religious. There really is no such thing as an atheist. Everybody worships someone or something. Whatever that object of ultimate concern; it will be our god. People worship things, ideals, others, or themselves instead of God. 2. Ultimate Reality (Metaphysics—Cosmology) Metaphysics deals with what constitutes Ultimate reality. Questions in this area include: • What is the relationship between God and the universe? • Is the existence of the universe a fact? Are God and the world co-equal and interdependent? • Is it best understood in a mechanistic (non purposeful) way? • Is the universe a closed system? (No miracles) • Can someone outside the system circumvent natural law? (Miracles) 3. Creation (Cosmology) Cosmology has to do with the study of the universe and how it came into being. • Is the universe (matter) eternal? Or did it have a beginning? If so, when? How? • Did an eternal, personal, omnipotent God create the universe? • How old is the universe? How is it sustained? By what laws does it operate? • How, when and why was the earth created? Is it unique? • What is the nature and purpose of the universe? Or is there one? 4. Knowledge (Epistemology) This area deals with the question, how do we know what we know? Some questions in this area include: • Can we trust our senses? • What are the proper roles of reason and sense experience in knowledge? • Are our intuitions more or less dependable than our sense experience of the world? • Is truth relative or must it be the same for all rational beings? • What is the relationship between religious faith and reason? • Is the scientific method the only or best method of knowledge? • Is knowledge about God possible? If so, how? • Can God reveal Himself to human beings? Is so, how? • Can God reveal information to human beings? 5. Morality (Ethics) The area has to do with how do you determine right from wrong? Some important questions in this area are: • Are there moral laws that govern human conduct? • Is morality relative or absolute? Why or why not? Are moral laws discovered or created by people. • Is God or man the source of morality? Can the same thing be right for one person and wrong for another? What is the relation between ethics and the law of non-contradiction? • Does morality transcend individuals, cultures and history? 6. Human Nature (Psychology) This question deals with the true nature and make up of humankind. Some questions in this area include: • Is man simply a product of time plus chance? • Is he the creation of an infinite, personal God? • Is man created in God’s image? If so, what does that mean? • Is man simply another animal controlled by his instincts? • If so, how can he be held responsible for anything? • Is our nature any different now then when we were first created? • Does human nature change? What is wrong with man? • Is our main problem ignorance or something else? 7. Redemption (Soteriology) The subject deals with how to solve man’s most basic problem. Questions in this area include: • Is there such a thing as sin? Is there a need for salvation? • Was there such an historical event as the fall? What provision has God made for it? • Where were the effects of the fall and how can they be reversed. • Is there something we can do to save ourselves? • Is there something God has done to provide a way for us to be saved? If so, what? 8. Purpose (Theology) This area deals with the purpose for which we were created. Some important questions in this area include: • What am I here for? Is there any meaningful purpose in life? • Are we simply here to grab for all the gusto we can get? • If there is no ultimate purpose to life, does it really matter how we live? • How meaningful is life without a significant purpose in life. • Does my life really matter? Can I make a difference? • Is my life of any temporal or eternal consequence? • If I am only a product of evolution what meaning can my life have? • Am I responsible for determining the ultimate purpose of my life? • Does God love me and have a wonderful plan for my life? If so, what? • What will determine if my life is ultimately in vain? 9. The Future (Eschatology) This area deals with the end of history, as we know it. Questions include: • Where is history going? Is there any ultimate purpose in the universe? • Is there life after death? If so, what kind of future will I have? • Do my actions in this life affect the quality of my existence in the next life? Are there any other factors that can influence the outcome? • Is death simply the extinction of by being and the beginning of decomposition? • How will human history be consummated? With a bang or a whimper? • Is God in control of the universe and has He said how it will end? • Does God have an over-all purpose that he is working out and will bring to fruition? 10. Ideals (The way things should be) Can things be better that they currently are? Do we have ideals or a vision of how we think the world should be? Should there be less selfishness, less stupidity and less corruption? Should there be more just and less poverty? Should people make fewer excuses and accept more responsibility? Should people be more loving and less hurtful toward others? Should there be more justice and less injustice? How do we explain the disparity of the way things are and the way they ought to be? Each worldview has a different explanation of this disparity. Conclusion Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, each of us has a worldview. Worldviews function as interpretive conceptual schemes to explain why we see the world as we do, why we often think and act as we do. Competing worldviews often come into conflict. These clashes may be innocuous or they may result in a major war between nations. Competing worldviews is the cause of many of our disagreements. Worldviews are double-edged swords. They can greatly help or hinder our efforts in understanding God, the world and ourselves. Appendix B: The Foundation of a Christian World View Developing a Christian World View, in part, involves asking and answering the most basic questions of human existence from a Biblicalperspective. Specifically, how would the Bible answer the following questions? 1. Does God exist? If so, what is He like?—The question of theology. 2. How do you know what you know? —The question of epistemology. 3. Why is there something rather than nothing? —The question cosmology 4. Where did I come from? —The question of origin. 5. Who am I? —The question of identity and relationships. 6. How can I explain human nature? —The question of the imago dei. 7. What went wrong? —The question of the nature of evil. 8. How can it be fixed? —The question of redemption. 9. How can I know right from wrong? —The question of morality. 10. What am I here for? —The question of purpose. 11. What happens when I die? —The question of immortality 12. Where am I going? —The question of destiny. 13. What is the meaning of history? —The question of eschatology. Appendix C: The Gospel of the Grace of God as Revealed in Jesus Christ
|Truth and Grace||Truth without grace||Full of Grace with truth||Grace without truth|
|Acceptance w/God||Through attainment||Through Christ||Human nature good|
|Divine attribute||Justice||Holiness & Love||God is all loving|
|Relation to Christ||Rejects the Savior||Accepts the Savior||Rejects the Savior|
|Lordship||Self in control||Jesus is Lord||Self in control|
|Takes pride in||Religion||Christ||Worldly pride|
|Relation to Jesus||Misuses Jesus||Understand-accept||Rejects Jesus|
|Holy and gracious||Misses God’s grace||Affirms both||Miss God’s holiness|
|Relation to Culture||Cultural Imperialism||Cultural Flexibility||Cultural Relativism|
|Grace and sin||Rejects grace||Affirms both||Rejects sin|
|Seeking God||Seek God wrongly||Seek God rightly||Don’t seek God|
|Values||Not based on grace||Biblical values||Only relative values|
Notes: 1 “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate& BarnaUpdateID=154 2 George Barna, Think Like Jesus (Integrity Pub., 2003), pp. xviii-xix. 3 Ibid., p. 28. ———————————————————-
Postmodernism: The ‘Spirit of the Age’ by Jim Leffel
We live in strange times. When I was in college twenty years ago, Christianity was under fire because it was thought to be unscientific–and consequently, untrue. Today, Christianity is widely rejected, not because it was critically examined and found wanting, but merely because it claims to be true. Increasingly, American academics regard claims to objective and universal truth as intolerant and uninformed. What accounts for this bizarre and growing consensus? It’s called postmodernism.
Postmodern ideology rejects the authority of reason and views all claims to objective truth to be dangerous. For these enormously influential thinkers, truth is political and created by “belief communities,” not discovered rationally and objectively. That the academic community is experiencing a major ideological revolution is beyond doubt. Like all intellectual movements, postmodernism deeply effects the broader culture. In this article, I will show how popular religious views mirror academic postmodernism, then clarify the challenge of this new consensus for the church.
Abigail Van Buren has provided America with practical advice on almost every problem imaginable. No where does her advice reflect the spirit of the age more than with religion. A few years ago, “Dear Abby” provided advice about how to handle religious disagreements. In it, Abby entertains the following criticism of a previously published column: Your answer to the woman who complained that her relatives were always arguing with her about religion was ridiculous. You advised her to simply declare the subject off-limits. Are you suggesting that people talk about only trivial, meaningless subjects so as to avoid a potential controversy?…It is arrogant to tell people there are subjects they may not mention in your presence. You could have suggested she learn enough about her relatives’ cult to show them the errors contained in its teaching. Abby replies, In my view, the height of arrogance is to attempt to show people the ‘errors’ in the religion of their choice. Abby’s response captures a growing consensus about religious tolerance and faith commitments. Two principles implicit in her comment show how thoroughly the postmodern hegemony in academics is fueling cultural attitudes. First, entering into religious controversy is, in her words, arrogant. Second, personal choice is the ultimate basis for spiritual truth. Understanding these new, broadly held convictions, is essential both for reaching non Christians in our culture and for the ongoing vitality of the Christian church.
Why debating religious truth is arrogant
Rule number one, it’s arrogant to suggest that someone’s religious beliefs might be wrong. By arrogant, most people mean intolerant–a term that has come to have a whole new meaning in recent years. Intolerance used to refer to bigotry or prejudice. That is, judging someone or excluding them because of who they are. In this sense, intolerance is offensive. But now, intolerance means that simply disagreeing about beliefs is wrong. The recent movie “At Play in the Fields of the Lord” illustrates this point. In a conversation between an Amazonian Indian and a Christian missionary, the Indian says, “If the Lord made Indians the way they are, who are you people to make them different?” This is one of the defining sentiments of our day. Attempting to convert is unacceptable because it implies standing in judgment over others’ beliefs. The only exception clause to today’s code of tolerance is criticizing what is pejoratively labeled “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalism doesn’t mean what it did in the early decades of this century. Nor does it refer to religious extremism, like the Shiites’ holy war against the West. Today, fundamentalists are those who believe that religious truths are objective and therefore subject to rational investigation.
Postmodernism means the death of truth
We are witnessing a broad based backlash against reason in our culture. This backlash is widely promoted in contemporary higher education. The argument is that every time somebody claims to be in possession of the truth (especially religious truth), it ends up repressing people. So its best to make no claims to truth at all. Rejecting objective truth is the cornerstone of postmodernism. In essence, postmodern ideology declares an end to all ideology and all claims to truth. How has this seemingly anti intellectual outlook gained such wide acceptance in history’s most advanced civilization? That question requires us to understand how postmodernists conceive the past three hundred years of western history. Postmodernism abandons modernism, the humanist philosophy of the European Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking is based on the authority of French philosopher Rene Descartes’ autonomous man–the one who starts from his own thought (“I think, therefore I am”) and builds his world view systematically from reason alone. Naively, postmodernists charge, modernists assumed that the mind was a “mirror of nature,” meaning that our perceptions of reality actually correspond to the way the world is. From this presumption, modernists built a culture that exalted technological achievement and mastery over the natural order. Expansion-minded capitalism and liberal democracy, outgrowths of modernist autonomous individualism, subjugated the earth to the eurocentric, male dominated paradigm. But modernism planted the seeds of its own undoing. As arrogant, autonomous modernists conquered the globe and subjugated nature in the name of progress, oppressed and marginalized people have responded. “Progress toward what?” they cry. Postmodernists say that the idols of autonomous reason and technological proliferation have brought the modern age to the brink of disaster. The “myth of progress” ends up in a nightmare of violence, both for marginalized people and for the earth. Enter postmodernism. Postmodernism rejects modernism’s autonomous individualism and all that follows from it. Rather than seeing humanity as an ocean of individuals, postmodernists think of humans as “social constructs.” We do not exist or think independently of the community with which we identify. So we can’t have independent or autonomous access to reality. All of our thinking is contextual. Rather than conceiving the mind as a mirror of nature, postmodernists argue that we view reality through the lens of culture. Consequently, postmodernists reject the possibility of objective truth. Reality itself turns out to be a “social construct” or paradigm. In the place of objective truth and what postmodernists call “metanarratives” (comprehensive world views), we find “local narratives,” or stories about reality that “work” for particular communities–but have no validity beyond that community. Indeed, postmodernists reject the whole language of truth and reality in favor of literary terms like narrative and story. It’s all about interpretation, not about what’s real or true. Postmodernists hold that the pretense of objective truth always does violence by excluding other voices (regarding other world views to be invalid), and marginalizing the vulnerable by scripting them out of the story. Truth claims, we are told, are essentially tools to legitimate power. That’s why in postmodern culture, the person to be feared is the one who believes that we can discover ultimate truth. The dogmatist, the totalizer, the absolutist is both naive and dangerous. A growing number, especially among the emerging generation, believe that reason and truth are inherently political and subversive. That’s why they are often so cynical. According to the voices in contemporary culture that shape “Generation X” thinking, claims to truth are clever disguises for the pernicious “will to power.” Consequently, rather than dominating others with our “version of reality,” we should accept all beliefs as equally valid. Openness without the restraint of reason, and tolerance without moral appraisal are the new postmodern mandates. European history is mixed. Postmodern critics of Enlightenment humanism accurately draw out the legacy of autonomous (and fallen) human beings. But at the same time, it’s hard not to be struck by the shallowness of the postmodern line of argument. If tolerance means that we can’t offer criticism of others’ beliefs, then invectives directed toward those who believe in objective spiritual truth seem out of bounds too. Common assertions that Christians are “arrogant” for accepting the universality of biblical truth turns out to be profoundly intolerant.
Personal beliefs define what’s true
Rule number two, you can’t separate the belief from the believer. Anymore, rejecting the content of faith means rejecting the person holding it, because truth now means personal preference and personal empowerment. It’s no more appropriate to question the validity of a person’s belief than to critique their choice from the dinner menu. Simply believing is justification enough. Striving together to discover spiritual truth through debate and spirited discussion is out, because no real difference exists between what a person chooses to believe and what is “true for them.” Consider current opinion about the religions of the world. Few people understand much about them. Yet conventional wisdom is that they all teach pretty much the same thing. The real concern is finding spirituality that “fits.” George Barna’s research shows that, About four out of every ten adults strongly concurred that when Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others pray to their god, all of those individuals are actually praying to the same god, but simply use different names for that deity. Only one out of every six adults strongly disagreed with this view. America is a religious smorgasbord. The only question seems to be “what are you hungry for?” And taste is more important than substance. That’s why people are largely unmoved when it is pointed out that their beliefs are often hopelessly contradictory or that they live inconsistently with them. For most people, the postmodern outlook I’ve described is more “absorbed” than thought out. An impressive majority of Americans believe that truth is relative. But few know why they think that way. Still fewer have any clue about how their beliefs practically relate to their own lives. In general, people are more ideologically confused than deeply committed to their convictions. So while we hear the rhetoric of openness to everything and tolerance for everyone, it’s rare to find someone who really understands what this means. It’s just the socially appropriate attitude to have. Postmodern ideologues have been successful in transforming ideology into popular zeitgeist. Ironically, in an age of anti-dogmatism, this radical subjectivity leads to the dangerously arrogant inference that no one can ever be wrong about what they believe. If we are free from the constraints of rationality, nothing separates truth from self-delusion. The age of anti-dogmatism ends up being the age of anti-intellectualism. The tyranny of truth has been replaced, even among academics, for self empowering stories. And these stories typically function at the expense of truth. Christians need to be respectful of what others believe and of the traditions and experiences that form those beliefs. But the postmodern demand to uncritically accept all religious beliefs as true (at least for the person who believes them) is fanatical. Beliefs formed in the postmodern climate of openness and tolerance create a firewall against genuine and substantive dialogue about spiritual and moral truth. History offers sobering testimony to the high price such anti-rational dogmatism. Significantly, postmodern subjectivism also inhibits a deep commitment to one’s own beliefs. Since faith is rooted in the practical matters of personal taste and experience, the tendency is to adopt and abandon beliefs according to the demands of the moment. Remember, truth is a human creation, not something we discover independently of ourselves. So if a truth no longer satisfies, just move on to something new. How tragic it is when we are told by friends and neighbors that, “I tried Christianity for a while, but it just didn’t work for me.”
Postmodern spirituality and the church
This new conventional wisdom has enormous implications for the future of evangelical Christianity in America.I see two disturbing indications that the church is increasingly being conformed to the culture’s postmodern mold, as an educator and pastoral leader. First, while the culture is more open to spirituality now than in the past several decades, the church is substantially unprepared for effective evangelism. Evangelicals have been slow to discern the “spirit of the age.” Consequently, many in our own community approach spirituality from the postmodern perspective. It’s disturbing to note, regarding Barna’s survey on religious syncretism cited earlier, that Larger proportions of born again Christians and people who attend evangelical churches concur with this sentiment [all religions are equally valid paths to the same god] than reject it. So what about the task of evangelism? If all religions are simply culturally conditioned avenues to the same God, then no one is really lost. Spiritual darkness is not really darkness, but merely a different shade of light. Barna notes that the logical extension of this syncretism is a growing lack of interest in evangelism. He states, It was instructive to discover that less than half of the born again Christians and those who attend evangelical churches strongly agreed that they have such a responsibility [to reach the lost]. I don’t know of any evangelical scholar or pastors who teach universalism. And the hallmark of the evangelical church is a passionate commitment to evangelism. So how have so many evangelicals come to think this way? Much like everyone else– it’s absorbed through uncritical participation in postmodern culture. Nowhere has this absorption of postmodern ideology been more evident than with the emerging generation. Thoughtful Christians recognize that this generation lacks meaningful exposure to the gospel more than any previous generation in American history. But without the unwavering resolve of the church, fueled by a deep conviction that the gospel is absolute truth, young women and men will not be reached for Jesus Christ. The last thing this generation needs is for the postmodern consensus to guide the church. In my dealing with college students (arguably some of the most cynical people I’ve met), I have found that their relativism and postmodern critique of culture are less convictions and more like the “party line” they’ve been indoctrinated with. Working with them is like peeling back the layers of an onion. I hear all of the reasons why truth is dangerous and how reason is merely an oppressive Western “construct.” But in conversation, sooner or later you get to a core of deeply held beliefs that they accept as objectively true. For all but a deeply committed few, postmodern ideology is a veneer. Understanding postmodern reasoning and having thoughtful responses to it enables Christians to effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. I have a second concern about evangelicals today. While the church is distinct from the culture in terms of its values, we are very much like the culture in terms of how we think about those values. It’s good that the church instills biblical morals. But what grip do we have on them? When a substantial percent of our congregations reject spiritual absolutes, what sustains our attachments to moral absolutes? It seems likely that for many Christians, values are merely a part of their identity with the Christian subculture. There is a necessary connection between spiritual truth and moral absolutes. Because God is the infinite, personal Sovereign of creation, his nature is the only objective foundation for ethical values. To the extent that truth about God is cast in terms of culturally relative beliefs, biblical morality must follow. And there is indication that the erosion of objective values is suffering the same decline in the church as objective spiritual truth. Columnist Cal Thomas notes, Surveys have shown that Christians are divorcing at the same rate as non-Christians. So much for “family values.” People who say they are Christians are getting abortions at a rate as high, or higher, as those who profess a different faith or none at all. As this observation indicates, we are paying a very high price for being engulfed by postmodern culture. But the solution to the challenge of postmodernity is not to run from secular society. That’s really not an option since it is neither possible nor biblical. Abandoning truth is not an alternative either. At a time when the culture is enamored with the idea of personal empowerment, evangelicals need to gain an appreciation for the power of ideas– and the skills needed to take them “captive to the obedience of Christ.” The church has been appropriately sensitive to the personal damage incurred by people living in a socially and morally fragmented age. Christian therapy and pastoral counseling are a mainstay in most evangelical churches today. But for the sake of the ongoing effectiveness of the church with this culture, we also need to attend to the way people approach matters of truth. Having a solid grasp of postmodern ideology and a coherent, biblical response to it are now imperative for reaching the lost and raising women and men to spiritual maturity. Remember the wisdom of the Apostle John in a very similar age, I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth. (3 Jn 4)
Biographical note Jim Leffel teaches philosophy at Ohio Dominican College in Columbus, and directs the Crossroads Project, an interdisciplinary apologetics ministry that equips Christians to effectively communicate with secular culture. He is a co-author of The Death of Truth, ed. Dennis McCallum (Bethany House Publishers, 1996).
Defending an Exclusive Claim
in an Inclusive World
“Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.”
—1 john 3:13
Chapter One: The Church vs. The World
Chapter Two: Objectivity
Chapter Three: Rationality
Chapter Four: Veracity
Chapter Five: Authority
Chapter Six: Incompatibility
Chapter Seven: Integrity
In the Jesus Movement of the 1960s and ’70s, the “One Way” sign—the index finger held high—became a popular icon. “One Way” bumper stickers and lapel pins were everywhere, and the “One Way” slogan pretty much became the identifying catchphrase of all evangelicalism.
Evangelicalism in those days was an extremely diverse movement. (In some ways it was even more eclectic than it is today). It encompassed everything from Jesus People, who were an integral part of that era’s youth culture, to straight-line fundamentalists, who scorned everything contemporary. But all of them had at least one important thing in common: They knew that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. “One Way” seemed an unshakable belief that all evangelicals shared in common.
That is no longer the case. The evangelical movement of today is no longer unified on this issue. Some who call themselves evangelicals are openly insisting that faith alone in Jesus is not the only way to heaven. They are now convinced that people of all faiths will be in heaven. Others are simply cowardly, embarrassed, or hesitant to affirm the exclusivity of the gospel in an era when inclusivity, pluralism, and tolerance are deemed supreme virtues by the secular world. They imagine it would be a tremendous cultural faux pas to declare that Christianity is the truth and all other faiths are wrong. Apparently, the evangelical movement’s biggest fear today is that we will be seen as out of harmony with the world.
Why has this dramatic shift taken place? Why has evangelicalism abandoned what we once all agreed is absolutely true? I believe it is because church leaders, in their desperate quest to be relevant and fashionable, have actually failed to see where the contemporary world is going and why.
We’re not living in the modern world anymore. This is the postmodern world. And postmodernism is just as hostile as modernism to the truth of Christianity—perhaps even more so. The philosophical issues are different, but the world’s hostility to the truth of Scripture has not abated one bit.
Now is not the time to make friends with the world. It is certainly no time to capitulate to worldly cries for pluralism and inclusivism. Unless we recover our conviction that Christ is the only way to heaven, the evangelical movement will become increasingly weak and irrelevant.
It is ironic that so many who are downplaying the exclusivity of Christ are doing it because they believe it is a barrier to “relevance.” Actually, Christianity is not relevant at all if it is merely one of many possible paths to God. The relevance of the gospel has always been its absolute exclusivity, summed up in the truth that Christ alone has atoned for sin and therefore Christ alone can provide reconciliation with God for those who believe only in Him.
The early church preached Christ crucified, knowing that the message was a stumblingblock to the religious Jews and foolishness to the philosophical Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23). We need to recover that apostolic boldness. We need to remember that sinners are not won by clever public relations or the powers of earthly persuasion, but the gospel—an inherently exclusive message—is the power of God unto salvation.
This brief book is meant as a reminder of the gospel’s distinctiveness. That very narrowness sets Christianity apart from every other worldview. After all, the whole point of Jesus’ best-known sermon was to declare that the way to destruction is broad and well traveled, while the way of life is so narrow that few find it (Matthew 7:14). Our task as ambassadors of God is to point to that very narrow way. Christ Himself is the one way to God, and to obscure that fact is, in effect, to deny Christ and to disavow the gospel itself.
We must resist the tendency to be absorbed into the fads and fashions of worldly thought. We need to emphasize, not downplay, what makes Christianity unique. And in order to do that effectively, we need to have a better grasp of how worldly thought is threatening sound doctrine in the church. We must be able to point out just where the narrow way diverges from the broad way.
It is to that end that I offer this little book. It is just a brief overview, but my prayer is that it will help set the truth of the gospel in clear contrast to all the wisdom of this world. “Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:18–19).
“I am the way,
the truth, and
No one comes to the Father
except through Me.”
Chapter One: The Church vs. The World.
“Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you.”
—1 john 3:13
Why do evangelicals try so desperately to court the world’s favor? Churches plan their worship services to cater to the “unchurched.” Christian performers ape every worldly fad in music and entertainment. Preachers are terrified that the offense of the gospel might turn someone against them; so they deliberately omit the parts of the message the world might not like.
Evangelicalism seems to have been hijacked by legions of carnal spin-doctors, who are trying their best to convince the world that the church can be just as inclusive, pluralistic, and broad-minded as the most politically-correct worldling.
The quest for the world’s approval is nothing less than spiritual harlotry. In fact, that is precisely the imagery the apostle James used to describe it. He wrote, “Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
There is and always has been a fundamental, irreconcilable incompatibility between the church and the world. Christian thought is out of harmony with all the world’s philosophies. Genuine faith in Christ entails a denial of every worldly value. Biblical truth contradicts all the world’s religions. Christianity itself is therefore antithetical to virtually everything this world admires.
Jesus told His disciples, “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:18–19).
Notice that our Lord considered it a given that the world would despise the church. Far from teaching His disciples to try to win the world’s favor by reinventing the gospel to suit worldly preferences, Jesus expressly warned that the quest for worldly accolades is a characteristic of false prophets: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26).
He further explained, “The world… hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil” (John 7:7). In other words, the world’s contempt for Christianity stems from moral, not intellectual, motives: “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19–20). That is why no matter how dramatically worldly opinion might vary, Christian truth will never be popular with the world.
Yet, in virtually every era of church history, there have been people in the church who are convinced that the best way to win the world is by catering to worldly tastes. Such an approach has always been to the detriment of the gospel message. The only times the church has made any significant impact on the world are when the people of God have stood firm, refused to compromise, and boldly proclaimed the truth despite the world’s hostility. When Christians have shrunk away from the task of confronting popular worldly delusions with unpopular biblical truths, the church has invariably lost influence and impotently blended into the world. Both Scripture and history attest to that fact.
And the Christian message simply cannot be twisted to conform to the vicissitudes of worldly opinion. Biblical truth is fixed and constant, not subject to change or adaptation. Worldly opinion, on the other hand, is in constant flux. The various fads and philosophies that dominate the world change radically and regularly from generation to generation. The only thing that remains constant is the world’s hatred of Christ and His gospel.
In all likelihood, the world will not long embrace whatever ideology is in vogue this year. If the pattern of history is any indicator, by the time our great grandchildren become adults, worldly opinion will be dominated by a completely new system of belief and a whole different set of values. Tomorrow’s generation will renounce all of today’s fads and philosophies. But one thing will remain unchanged: Until the Lord Himself returns and establishes His kingdom on earth, what-ever ideology gains popularity in the world will be as hostile to biblical truth as all its predecessors have been.
Consider the record of the past century, for example. A hundred years ago, the church was beset by modernism. Modernism was a worldview based on the notion that only science could explain reality. The modernist, in effect, began with the presupposition that nothing supernatural is real.
It ought to have been instantly obvious that modernism and Christianity were incompatible at the most fundamental level. If nothing supernatural is real, then much of the Bible is untrue and has no authority; the incarnation of Christ is a myth (nullifying Christ’s authority as well); and all the supernatural elements of Christianity, including God Himself, must be utterly redefined in naturalistic terms. Modernism was anti-Christian at its core.
Nonetheless, the visible church at the beginning of the twentieth century was filled with people who were convinced modernism and Christianity could and should be reconciled. They insisted that if the church did not keep in step with the times by embracing modernism, Christianity would not survive the twentieth century. The church would become increasingly irrelevant to modern people, they said, and soon it would die. So they devised a “social gospel” devoid of the true gospel of salvation.
Of course, biblical Christianity survived the twentieth century just fine. Wherever Christians remained committed to the truthfulness and authority of Scripture, the church flourished. But ironically, those churches and denominations that embraced modernism were the ones that became increasingly irrelevant and all but died out before the century was over. Many grandiose but nearly empty stone buildings offer mute testimony to the deadliness of compromise with modernism.
Modernism is now regarded as yesterday’s way of thinking. The dominant worldview in secular and academic circles today is called postmodernism.
Postmodernists have repudiated modernism’s absolute confidence in science as the only pathway to the truth. In fact, postmodernism has completely lost interest in “the truth,” insisting that there is no such thing as absolute, objective, or universal truth.
Modernism was indeed folly and needed to be abandoned. But postmodernism is a tragic step in the wrong direction. Unlike modernism, which was still concerned with whether basic convictions, beliefs, and ideologies are objectively true or false, post-
modernism simply denies that any truth can be objectively known.
To the postmodernist, reality is whatever the individual imagines it to be. That means what is “true” is determined subjectively by each person, and there is no such thing as objective, authoritative truth that governs or applies to all humanity universally. The postmodernist naturally believes it is pointless to argue whether opinion A is superior to opinion B. After all, if reality is merely a construct of the human mind, one person’s perspective of truth is ultimately just as good as another’s.
Having given up on knowing objective truth, the postmodernist occupies himself instead with the quest for “understanding” the other person’s point of view. So the words truth and understanding take on radical new meanings. Ironically, “understanding” requires that we first of all disavow the possibility of knowing any truth at all. And “truth” becomes nothing more than a personal opinion, usually best kept to oneself.
That is the one essential, non-negotiable demand postmodernism makes of everyone: We are not supposed to think we know any objective truth. Postmodernists often suggest that every opinion should be shown equal respect. And therefore on the surface, postmodernism seems driven by a broad-minded concern for harmony and tolerance. It all sounds very charitable and altruistic. But what really underlies the postmodernist belief system is an utter intolerance for every worldview that makes any universal truth-claims—particularly biblical Christianity.
In other words, postmodernism begins with a presupposition that is irreconcilable with the objective, divinely-revealed truth of Scripture. Like modernism, postmodernism is fundamentally and diametrically opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Postmodernism and the Church
Nonetheless, the church today is filled with people who are advocating postmodern ideas. Some of them do it self-consciously and deliberately, but most do it unwittingly. (Having imbibed too much of the spirit of the age, they are simply regurgitating worldly opinion.) The evangelical movement as a whole, still recovering from its long battle with modernism, is not prepared for a new and different adversary. Many Christians have therefore not yet recognized the extreme danger posed by postmodernist thought.
Postmodernism’s influence has clearly infected the church already. Evangelicals are toning down their message so that the gospel’s stark truth-claims don’t sound so jarring to the postmodern ear. Many shy away from stating unequivocally that the Bible is true and all other religious systems and worldviews are false. Some who call themselves Christians have gone even further, purposefully denying the exclusivity of Christ and openly questioning His claim that He is the only way to God.
The biblical message is clear. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). The apostle Peter proclaimed to a hostile audience, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The apostle John wrote, “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Again and again, Scripture stresses that Jesus Christ is the only hope of salvation for the world. “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Only Christ can atone for sin, and therefore only Christ can provide salvation. “And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).
Those truths are antithetical to the central tenet of postmodernism. They make exclusive, universal truth-claims declaring Christ the only true way to heaven and all other belief-systems erroneous. That is what Scripture teaches. It is what the true church has proclaimed throughout her history. It is the message of Christianity. And it simply cannot be adjusted to accommodate postmodern sensitivities.
Instead, many Christians just pass over the exclusive claims of Christ in embarrassed silence. Even worse, some in the church, including a few of evangelicalism’s best-known leaders, have begun to suggest that perhaps people can be saved apart from knowing Christ.
Christians cannot capitulate to postmodernism without sacrificing the very essence of our faith. The Bible’s claim that Christ is the only way of salvation is certainly out of harmony with the postmodern notion of “tolerance.” But it is, after all, just what the Bible plainly teaches. And the Bible, not postmodern opinion, is the supreme authority for the Christian. The Bible alone should determine what we believe and proclaim to the world. We cannot waver on this, no matter how much this postmodern world complains that our beliefs make us “intolerant.”
Postmodernism’s veneration of tolerance is its most obvious feature. But the version of “tolerance” peddled by postmodernists is actually a twisted and dangerous corruption of true virtue.
Incidentally, tolerance is never mentioned in the Bible as a virtue, except in the sense of patience, forbearance, and longsuffering (cf. Ephesians 4:2.) In fact, the contemporary notion of tolerance is a pathetically feeble concept compared to the love Scripture commands Christians to show even to their enemies. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you” (Luke 6:27–28; cf. vv. 29–36).
When our grandparents spoke of tolerance as a virtue, they had something like that in mind. The word once meant respecting people and treating them kindly even when we believe they are wrong. But the postmodern notion of tolerance means we must never regard anyone else’s opinions as wrong. Biblical tolerance is for people; postmodern tolerance is for ideas.
Accepting every belief as equally valid is hardly a real virtue, but it is practically the only kind of virtue postmodernism knows anything about. Traditional virtues (including humility, self-control, and chastity) are openly scorned, and even regarded as transgressions, in the world of postmodernism.
Predictably, the beatification of postmodern tolerance has had a disastrous effect on real virtue in our society. In this age of tolerance, what was once forbidden is now encouraged. What was once universally deemed immoral is now celebrated. Marital infidelity and divorce have been normalized. Profanity is commonplace. Abortion, homosexuality, and moral perversions of all kinds are championed by large advocacy groups and enthusiastically promoted by the popular media. The postmodern notion of tolerance is systematically turning genuine virtue on its head.
Just about the only remaining taboo is the naive and politically incorrect notion that another person’s alternative lifestyle,religion, or different perspective is wrong.
One major exception to that rule stands out starkly: It is OK for postmodernists to be intolerant of those who claim they know the truth, particularly biblical Christians. In fact, those who fancy themselves the leading advocates of tolerance today are often the most outspoken opponents of evangelical Christianity.
Look on the World Wide Web, for example, and see what is being said by the self-styled champions of religious tolerance. What you’ll find is a great deal of intolerance for Bible-based Christianity. In fact, some of the most bitterly anti-Christian material on the World Wide Web can be found at sites supposedly promoting religious tolerance.
Why is that? Why does authentic biblical Christianity find such ferocious opposition from people who think they are paragons of tolerance? It is because the truth-claims of Scripture—and particularly Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God—are diametrically opposed to the fundamental presuppositions of the postmodern mind. The Christian message represents a death blow to the postmodernist worldview.
But as long as Christians are being duped or intimidated into softening the bold claims of Christ and widening the narrow road, the church will make no headway against postmodernism. We need to recover the distinctiveness of the gospel. We need to regain our confidence in the power of God’s truth. And we need to proclaim boldly that Christ is the only true hope for the people of this world.
That may not be what people want to hear in this pseudo-tolerant age of postmodernism. But it is true nonetheless. And precisely because it is true and the gospel of Christ is the only hope for a lost world, it is all the more urgent that we rise above all the voices of confusion in the world and say so.
The remainder of this book will examine six key
concepts that explain the distinctiveness of Christianity. These are principles that flatly contradict the conventional wisdom of postmodernism. But they are essential components of a biblical worldview. These six principles, defined by six key words, build upon one another and interconnect in such a way that they stand or fall together. They give us the necessary framework for thinking, for making sense of the world around us, and for ministering in this postmodern age.
Chapter Two: Objectivity
“Thy word is truth.”
Authentic Christianity starts with the premise that there is a source of truth outside of us. Specifically, God’s Word is truth (Psalm 119:151; John 17:17). It is objectively true—meaning it is true whether it speaks subjectively to any given individual or not; it is true regardless of how anyone feels about it; it is true for everyone universally and without exception; it is absolutely true.
That, of course, contradicts the basic presupposition that governs most people’s thinking today. Postmodern philosophy says there is no such thing as absolute truth, or if there is, it is unknowable. According to postmodernism, truth is nothing more than a creation of the human mind; people determine their own reality; and therefore no one has the truth.
Above all, the postmodernist is convinced that no religion is superior to any other. We are not supposed to think our beliefs are necessarily valid for anyone else. Nor should any theological position ever be thought of as right or wrong. What I believe is valid for me; and whatever you believe is equally valid for you. And thus we can affirm each other’s religions, even if our beliefs flatly contradict one another. That is the postmodernist credo.
You may not realize how deeply this sort of thinking has penetrated the modern consciousness, but it has already taken over the academic and secular world. Two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, former U.S. President Bill Clinton gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he suggested that America’s own “arrogant self-righteousness” was partly to blame for making the nation a target of terrorism. Apparently Clinton believed the whole mess could have been avoided if everyone on both sides had simply realized there is no such thing as absolute or universal truth, and therefore no ideology is worth fighting over.
“Nobody’s got the truth,” he told students. “You’re at a university which basically believes that no one ever has the whole truth, ever…. We are incapable of ever having the whole truth.” The terrorists, Clinton suggested, are being brutal and intolerant only because they believe they have the truth, whereas our society’s more tolerant attitudes are rooted in an understanding that absolute truth is unknowable: “They believe they got it. Because we don’t believe you can have the whole truth, we think everybody counts.”
Those remarks pretty much sum up secular society’s current attitude. Skepticism has been enthroned and consecrated, while confident faith has been banished and demonized. The only thing we can be certain about is that we can’t be certain of anything. To hold strong convictions about anything (other than our own inability to discover truth) is deemed inherently intolerant, even evil. Furthermore, according to the postmodernist way of thinking, there is little point in trying to combat false ideas with true ones. After all, they say, if we claim we have the truth, we become just as evil as the terrorists. So instead, the postmodernist intelligentsia are doing their best to disabuse everyone of the archaic notion that absolute, objective truth is knowable at all.
That view is shaping the world in which we live. People have abandoned the quest for objective truth. Multitudes literally and wholeheartedly believe they can make their own reality and define their own truth. The popularity of such a philosophy accounts for the rise of New Age religion and ideology. It also explains why people today are more self-absorbed and narcissistic than practically any generation in history.
Former President Clinton was suggesting it is arrogant to think anyone can know absolute truth. But the real arrogance is that of the person who thinks he can invent his own truth on the fly. When everything “depends on what your definition of is is”—when individuals can reimagine and reinterpret everything subjectively so that each person determines what is right in his own eyes—civilization itself is in serious trouble.
That is the direction our society is headed. Having accepted the notion that absolute truth is unknowable, people are willing to accept almost anything in place of the truth.
Even in the church, there has been a serious erosion of confidence in the objective truth of Scripture. Dogmatism on any point of doctrine is generally out of vogue; uncertainty and openness to multiple points of view is the preferred style among preachers and teachers these days. The most popular mass movements in evangeli-calism today are ecumenical in their thrust, urging us to set aside doctrine for the sake of harmony. Such trends reflect a capitulation to the postmodern idea that absolute truth is unknowable and therefore it doesn’t really matter much anyway.
Postmodernism’s contempt for objective truth is slipping into the church in more subtle ways, too. Attend the typical evangelical home Bible study meeting and you will probably be invited to share your opinion about “what this verse means to me,”as if the message of Scripture were unique to every individual. Rare is the teacher who is concerned with what Scripture means to God.
But if we really believe Scripture is the Word of God, why should we balk at saying it has an objective meaning; it is absolutely true; and all other interpretations are false? Evangelicals have always believed that Scripture is perspicuous—its essential meaning is evident on its face. It is not a secret or a mystery to be solved. The Bible is God’s revelation to us. It is a disclosure of the truth; it is not a puzzle. And in all essential matters, it speaks with perfect clarity.
Certainly there are in Scripture “some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). There are also many matters of secondary importance over which we do not need to contend fiercely. On such indifferent matters, the rule is clear: “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). But the main gist of Scripture, and the gospel message in particular, is clear and unambiguous. It was not given by “private interpretation,” and its meaning is not subject to individual preferences. “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
Again and again, Scripture makes these claims for itself: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work”
(2 Timothy 3:16–17). In other words, Scripture is not only inspired by God, but it is also sufficient to equip us thoroughly with all the spiritual truth we need. It is “more sure” than our own senses (2 Peter 1:19, kjv). It endures forever (1 Peter 1:25). It is trustworthy in every jot and tittle (Matthew 5:18). It is unchanging and eternal (Isaiah 40:8). Jesus Himself said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away” (Matthew 24:35).
Authentic Christianity has always held that Scripture is absolute, objective truth. It is as true for one person as it is for another, regardless of anyone’s opinion about it. It has one true meaning that applies to everyone. It is God’s Word to humanity, and its true meaning is determined by God; it is not something that can be shaped to fit the preferences of individual hearers.
Scripture is absolutely true whether it affects you and me or not. Scripture would be true whether we ever lived or not. In no way is the truth of Scripture decided by anyone’s experience. Whether it affects us or doesn’t affect us subjectively has nothing to do with its actual meaning or its truthfulness. The message of Scripture is not malleable. It is not unique to each person. It is not determined by personal experience or personal opinion.
That deals a heavy blow to a very large segment of professing Christianity today. Multitudes are listening for the voice of God in their heads or seeking some kind of intuitive epiphany in which truth is revealed to them subjectively. But the only ultimate and absolute truth for the Christian—the truth that supersedes all private opinions, personal feelings, and subjective experiences—is the objective truth of God as revealed in the Scriptures when rightly interpreted.
Biblical truth is objective. It is true by itself. It is true whether or not we feel it’s true. It is true whether or not it has been validated by someone’s experience. It is true because God says it is true. It is wholly true, and it is true down to the smallest jot and tittle. Psalm 119:160 says, “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”
That is the very starting point and the necessary foundation for a truly Christian worldview. Give up the ground of biblical truth, and whatever belief system you have left is not worthy to be labeled Christian, even if it retains vestiges of Christian symbolism and terminology.
Many who would call themselves Christians today are in precisely that situation. They use the language and symbolism of Christianity, but their real source of authority is something besides Scripture. Some simply live by their feelings and shape their beliefs in accord with their own personal preferences. Others actually claim God speaks directly to them through voices, strong impressions, or vague feelings which they interpret as direct revelations from the Holy Spirit. Still others think of the Scriptures as an improvisational script, which they can modify or interpret any way they please. In any case, their lives and beliefs are ordered in accord with their own personal preferences. Their beliefs are really no different from those of the New Agers who believe truth is found within themselves.
Chapter Three: Rationality
“I have not written to you because you do not know the truth,
but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”
—1 john 2:21
A second key word that helps define an authentically Christian worldview is rationality. We believe the objective revelation of Scripture is rational. The Bible makes good sense. It contains no contradictions, no errors, and no unsound principles. Anything that does contradict Scripture is untrue.
That sort of rationality is antithetical to the whole gist of postmodern thought. People today are taught to glorify contradiction, to embrace that which is absurd, to prefer that which is subjective, and to let feelings (rather than intellect) determine what they believe. They are taught not to reject ideas just because they contradict what we believe to be true. And they are even encouraged to embrace contradictory concepts and afford them all the same respect as if they were true. Such irrationality is nothing less than an overt rejection of the very concept of truth.
As Christians we know that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). He cannot deny Himself (2 Timothy 2:13); and therefore He does not contradict Himself. He is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). His truth is perfectly self-consistent.
That means, first of all, that the Word of God is a precise and unassailable record of truth. The Bible is not filled with absurdities, contradictions, or fantasies. It is perfectly consistent with itself and perfectly consistent with all that is true. The facts set forth in Scripture are reliable. The historical events described in the Bible are true history, not a mythical or fanciful allegory. The doctrine taught there is without error. The details of Scripture are accurate details, from day one of creation to the ultimate consummation of Christ’s return. Scripture itself is completely free of all errors and deficiencies. “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail” (Luke 16:17). That is how Christ viewed Scripture, and anyone who takes a different approach is not in that respect a genuine follower of Christ.
But there’s a second, equally important, implication of our confidence in God’s absolute truthfulness: Since His Word is objectively true and perfectly reliable in everything it teaches, Scripture should be both the starting point and the final test of truth in all our thinking. If Scripture is wholly true, then anything that contradicts Scripture is simply false, even if we’re talking about the fundamental beliefs upon which the world’s most popular ideologies are based.
That sort of black-and-white rationality is one of the main reasons biblical Christianity is intolerable in a generation that despises the very idea of absolute truth.
Lest anyone misunderstand, we are not advocating rationalism—the notion that human reason alone, apart from any supernatural revelation, can discover truth. A rationalist imagines that human reason is both the source and the final test of all truth. In effect, rationalists exalt human reason above Scripture.
As Christians we oppose rationalism, but Christianity is by no means hostile to rationality. We believe the truth is logical; it is coherent; it is intelligible. Not only can truth be known rationally; it cannot be known at all if we abandon rationality.
Irrationality is an assault on the Scripture and the intent of God. When God gave the Bible, He meant for it to be understood. But it can be understood only by those who apply their minds to it rationally. Contrary to what many assume, the meaning of Scripture is not something that comes to us through mystical means. It is not spiritual secret that must be uncovered by some arcane or arbitrary method. Its true meaning may be understood only by those who approach it rationally and sensibly.
Nehemiah 8 describes the revival that took place in the time of Nehemiah. It was sparked by the public reading of the Scriptures. Nehemiah describes the scene:
Now all the people gathered together as one man in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate; and they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly of men and women and all who could hear with understanding on the first day of the seventh month. Then he read from it in the open square that was in front of the Water Gate from morning until midday, before the men and women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:1–3)
Notice the stress on the people’s attentiveness. The reading was for the benefit of those “who could hear with understanding… those who could understand.” Verse 8 describes how Ezra and the scribes did the reading: “They read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading.”
The reading wasn’t a ritual exercise, like a chant or the ceremonial intoning of some liturgy. It was aimed at the people’s cognitive faculties—their rational minds.
The power of the Word of God lies in its meaning, not merely in the sound of the words. It is not a magical incantation, where its power might be unleashed through merely reciting syllables. But the power inherent in Scripture is the power of truth. I like to say that the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you don’t have the interpretation of the passage right, then you don’t have the Word of God, because only the true meaning is the Word of God.
It’s not as if we can make the words mean anything we want them to mean, so that whatever connotation we impose on the words becomes the Word of God. Only the true interpretation of the text is the authentic Word of God, and any other interpretation is simply not what God is saying. Remember, God’s Word is objective truth revealed, and therefore it has a rational meaning. That meaning, and that meaning alone, is the truth. Getting it right is of supreme importance.
That is why it is so critical that we interpret Scripture carefully in order to understand it correctly. It is a rational process, not a mystical or whimsical one.
Is it a spiritual process? Absolutely. I never approach my study of the Word of God without praying, “Lord, open my understanding to see the truth.” But I don’t then sit there until something falls out of the sky; I open my books and pursue a rational understanding of the text.
It starts with the understanding that Scripture is internally self-consistent. Therefore, as we compare Scripture with Scripture, the clear parts explain the more difficult parts. The more we study, the more light is shed on our understanding. It is hard mental work, but it is spiritual work nonetheless.
In fact, we are utterly dependent on the Holy Spirit to teach us truth, because “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But the way the Holy Spirit gives us understanding is through our minds—employing our rational faculties (v. 16; Ephesians 1:18; 4:23; 2 Timothy 1:7).
Neo-orthodox theology, which rose to prominence in the first half of the twentieth century, has caused a tremendous amount of confusion about the rationality of truth. Neo-orthodox theologians insist that Christianity is an irrational belief system—a religion of “paradox.” What they really are suggesting is that Christianity is full of contradictions. Paradox is a misnomer in the sense that they use it. A true paradox is a play on words, such as “Many who are first will be last, and the last first” (Matthew 19:30), and “Whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant” (Matthew 20:26). But when the neo-orthodox use the term paradox, they are speaking of a real contradiction. They regard all truth as irrational, self-contradictory, and absurd to the logical mind. Faith in their system entails the abandonment of logic. It is a blind leap into the abyss of irrationalism. They borrowed their irrationalism from existential philosophy and made it the hallmark of their theology. In doing so, they laid the groundwork for a postmodern version of Christianity. But it is not true Christianity, because it has abandoned the rationality that is essential to truth itself.
The problem with such irrationalism is that it nullifies the law of non-contradiction, the essential ground of all rational thinking. If two contradictory propositions can both be true simultaneously, then an idea that opposes the truth cannot necessarily be deemed error. The antithesis of a true statement cannot automatically be judged false. That is the very same kind of thinking that lies at the heart of postmodernist tolerance. It is not a Christian view of truth. It is irrationalism.
The apostle Paul wrote, “If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3–4, nasb). Paul’s statement assumes that the truth is rational and whatever contradicts the truth is error. That is the proper Christian understanding of biblical truth. It is the antithesis of postmodern thinking.
There are some difficult tensions in Christian doctrine. For example, we believe God is sovereign over the human will (“The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Proverbs 21:1). And yet we believe people choose freely in accord with their desires so that each one of us is morally responsible for our actions (“Each of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:12). Many find those truths difficult to reconcile; and yet there is no actual contradiction between them. God’s sovereignty is not at odds with human responsibility. The two principles work in perfect harmony, even though it is not immediately obvious to us how they work. We also believe in the Trinity—that God is one in essence and yet He exists in three Persons. Some have tried to characterize that doctrine as self-
contradictory, but it is not. We don’t believe God is three in the same sense He is one. Such truths are not contradictions; they are not even paradoxes in the sense neo-orthodoxy uses the term. They are difficult truths that, if anything, require us to exercise extra care in applying logical rigor. But we are not to think of them as irrational. They are not.
Chapter Four: Veracity
“And now, O Lord God, You are God, and Your words are true.”
—2 samuel 7:28
A third word that establishes the framework for a Christian worldview is veracity. Authentic Christianity, as we have been seeing, is concerned first and foremost with truth. The Christian faith is not primarily about feelings, although deep feelings will surely result from the impact of truth on our hearts. It is not about human relationships, even though relationships are the main focus in many of today’s evangelical pulpits. It is not about success and earthly blessings, no matter how much one might get that impression from watching the programs that dominate religious television these days.
Biblical Christianity is all about truth. God’s objective revelation (the Bible) interpreted rationally yields divine truth in perfectly sufficient measure. Everything we need to know for life and godliness is there for us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). God wrote only one book—the Bible. It contains all the truth by which He intended us to order our spiritual lives. We don’t need to consult any other source for spiritual or moral principles. Scripture is not only wholly truth; it is also the highest standard of all truth—the rule by which all truth-claims must be measured.
Such a conviction is the very antithesis of the postmodern notion that no one should ever claim to know objective truth. And that is another major reason why Christianity has been targeted by the proponents of postmodern inclusivism.
Authentic Christianity is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Christian truth is not subject to change or amendment. It isn’t nullified by changes in worldly opinion or standards of political correctness. It doesn’t need to be adapted and redefined for every new generation.
Certainly, an individual’s understanding of the truth can be refined and sharpened by study of the Scripture. But the truth itself does not need to be reinvented or retooled in order to make it suitable for the times in which we live. The same truth Abraham, Moses, David, and the apostles believed is still truth for us. Changing times do not change the truth. Scripture is as unchanging as God Himself: “But the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:25). In other words, we need to adapt our understanding to the truth of God’s Word, not try to manipulate Scripture in a vain effort to harmonize it with the changing opinions of this world.
The truth of Scripture is something precious that must be carefully handled and closely guarded (1 Timothy 6:20). Once again, a proper understanding of Scripture involves conscientious and diligent study. Second Timothy 2:15 says, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” By implication we see that all who do not divide the Scriptures right are sloppy workers who ought to be ashamed. The phrase “rightly dividing” comes from a Greek expression that means “cutting it straight.”
Paul was drawing on his experience as a tentmaker and applying a principle learned from that craft to Bible interpretation. Tents were made of material like goat hides. Since goats are relatively small animals, no one skin would ever be big enough to make a tent. Therefore the tentmaker would cut several goat hides according to a pattern and sew them together to make one large tent. Obviously, if the pieces weren’t cut straight, they wouldn’t fit together right. So when the Apostle Paul says we are to cut the Scripture straight, he means that individual passages of Scripture are to be interpreted so that the whole fits perfectly together in a coherent, self-consistent way.
In other words, no one has the right to be a theologian who is not an exegete. You can’t make sense of the whole until you fit the pieces together properly. And if you’re butchering the pieces, they won’t fit together right. Misinterpretations won’t ultimately fit together into a coherent whole. You have to interpret the individual passages correctly (cut them straight). You do that by comparing Scripture with Scripture—again, letting Scripture itself be the rule by which we interpret Scripture. When that is done correctly—when you’ve rightly understood the texts of Scripture—then they fit together, and the whole comes together in the way God designed.
Precisely because it is “the word of truth,” both in the whole and in the parts, Scripture fits together perfectly. That perfect fit is one of the ways we know we have interpreted individual sections of Scripture correctly. So Scripture, rightly interpreted, yields truth. And that truth is to be the substance of our message.
In Paul’s day, like today, there were men who sought positions of prominence in ministry and church leadership but were not really concerned for the truth. They made up their own message as they went. They were apparently looking for prestige or influence, or some other more sinister kind of fleshly self-gratification. Their teaching therefore twisted the truth. Paul referred to it as “profane and idle babblings” (2 Timothy 2:16). That statement follows immediately after his charge to Timothy about “rightly dividing the word of truth.”
He writes, “But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some” (vv. 16–18).
Notice that the apostle Paul didn’t mind naming names. He wasn’t concerned with political correctness; he was concerned with the truth. And the purveyors of lies needed to be identified and answered with the truth. Their twisting of the truth was actually overthrowing the faith of some.
Truth and faith are inextricably linked together. People cannot have genuine faith apart from the truth. Real faith involves the assent of the mind and the submission of the will to the truth. So if you remove truth from the equation, you overthrow faith, as Hymenaeus and Philetus were doing.
Did you realize that the truth is instrumental in salvation? People cannot be saved apart from hearing and embracing the truth. Romans 6:17 says, “Though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.” In other words, people are saved when they are delivered out of error into sound doctrine—truth. There is a real sense in which we are saved by the truth. Peter writes, “You have purified your souls in obeying the truth” (1 Peter 1:22). We are begotten by the word of truth (v. 23).
So the truth is everything to a Christian. That is why we are called to refute error, defend the truth, and proclaim Scripture as the supreme truth against every lie propagated by the world.
I fear that the church in this postmodern era has lost focus on that fact. It is no longer deemed necessary to fight for the truth. In fact, many evangelicals now consider it ill-mannered and uncharitable to argue about any point of doctrine. Even gross error is now tolerable in some quarters for the sake of peace. Rather than rightly dividing the Word and proclaiming it as truth, many churches now feature motivational lectures, drama, comedy, and other forms of entertainment—while ignoring the great doctrines of the faith. Meanwhile, people who attack the truth in pseudo-scholarly ways are finding publishers in the evangelical realm and being honored as if they had deep insight.
We must recover our love for biblical truth, as well as our conviction that it is unassailable truth. We have the truth in a world where most people are simply wandering around in hopeless ignorance. We need to proclaim it from the housetops and quit playing along with those who suggest we are being arrogant if we claim to know anything for certain. We do have the truth, not because we are smarter or better than anyone else, but because God has revealed it in the Scriptures and has been gracious to open our eyes to see it. We would be sinning if we tried to keep the truth to ourselves.
Chapter Five: Authority
“And they were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
An understanding of the Bible’s authority is the fourth foundation stone for a proper Christian worldview. Because we believe Scripture is true, we must proclaim it with conviction and without compromise or apology. The Bible makes bold claims, and Christians who believe it ought to affirm it boldly.
Anyone who faithfully and correctly proclaims the Word of God will speak with authority. It is not our own authority. It is not even the ecclesiastical authority attached to the office of a pastor or teacher in the church. It is a still greater authority than that. Insofar as our teaching accurately reflects the truth of Scripture, it has the full weight of God’s own authority behind it. That is a staggering thought, but it is precisely how
1 Peter 4:11 instructs us to handle biblical truth: “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God.”
Of course that is a profound threat to the tolerance of a society that loves its sin and thinks of compromise as a good thing. To speak boldly and declare that God has spoken with finality is neither stylish nor politically correct. But if we truly believe the Bible is the Word of God, how can we handle it any other way?
Many modern evangelicals, cowed by post-
modernism’s demand for latitudinarianism, claim they believe Scripture, but then shy away from proclaiming it with any authority. They are willing to give lip service to the truth of Scripture, but in practice they strip it of its authority, treating it as just another opinion in the great mix of postmodern ideas.
Neither Scripture nor common sense will allow for such a view. If the Bible is true, then it is also authoritative. As divinely revealed truth, it carries the full weight of God’s own authority. If you claim to believe the Bible at all, you ultimately must bow to its authority. That means making it the final arbiter of truth—the rule by which every other opinion is evaluated.
The Bible is not just another idea to be thrown into the public discussion and accepted or rejected as the individual sees fit. It is the Word of God, and it demands to be received as such, to the exclusion of all other opinions.
Obviously that way of assessing truth is unpopular today. According to the new postmodern tolerance, everyone is entitled to have whatever opinion he or she prefers; every belief is to be accorded equal respect; and no one is ever supposed to claim superiority for any single viewpoint. In effect, then, postmodern tolerance entails an utter rejection of the whole concept of divine authority. It amounts to a denial that God has truly spoken, or at the very least, a denial that His words have any real authority. That is precisely why postmodern tolerance is fundamentally at odds with a biblical worldview.
As Christians, we face a clear choice: Either go along with the spirit of the age and downplay the authority of Scripture, or accept Scripture and set its authority and ourselves against the rest of the world. Our duty is clear (James 4:4).
And yet it seems that many of the most vocal and visible leaders in the evangelical community are fearful of asserting biblical authority. Rarely do evangelical spokesmen speak clearly to the world with an authoritative “Thus saith the Lord.” How have we reached the point where we can accept as authoritative the opinion of a lawyer, a doctor, or an architect, but we will not tolerate an authoritative word from God?
Do evangelicals still believe without reservation that biblical truth has divine authority? Evidently not. It has become trendy to speak of the clash between truth and error as a “dialogue.” Every time a conflict arises between Christianity and another worldview, some evangelical leader will issue a call for dialogue with leading advocates of the other point of view. Over the past decade or so, well known evangelical leaders have sponsored formal dialogues with a wide variety of non-Christian religious figures, cult leaders, advocates of various alternative lifestyles, and representatives of practically every worldview that is hostile to biblical Christianity.
Shortly after the September 11 terrorist event, one of the best known evangelical churches in America sponsored a dialogue with an Islamic cleric (imam) in their weekend worship services, ostensibly to bring Christians and Muslims closer together. “I thought it was interesting how much we have in common,” one church member told a reporter after the meeting. Another said the dialogue with the imam had “opened up doors to communicate and showed [Muslims are] people just like we are.” According to a reporter who covered the event, those responses were “the kind of impact [the pastor] had hoped for.”
Why is it that the goal of such dialogue always seems to be to minimize the differences between Christianity and false religion—and never to draw the lines of distinction more clearly?
Biblical truth is to be proclaimed with authority, not put on the table for discussion as just one possible alternative to other points of view. The conflict between biblical truth and competing beliefs is not a matter to be settled by dialogue. This is spiritual warfare, not a tea party. It should be seen as combat, not a conversation. We are commanded to pull down the strongholds of unbiblical thinking, “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
But the church has become so effeminate and powerless these days that most evangelicals seem to think such a militant stance against error is inappropriate and too severe. Christians have virtually surrendered the battle for truth. And as a result, the evangelical community has become a place where people can advocate virtually anything or promote almost any doctrine, and the one thing no one is permitted to say is that someone else is wrong.
There’s even a name for the new perspective. It’s called “the hermeneutic of humility.” A syllabus description for a proposed seminary course on the subject says this:
The course seeks to help students to learn to formulate a new theology and methods that are relevant and meaningful in pluralistic, multicultural, postmodern world in which they are called to minister. It is basically an attempt to articulate a hermeneutic… based on dialogue, a sincere effort to go beyond the limits of one’s own worldview, that is, a hermeneutic of humility.”
Another advocate of the same view says,
Christians must distill the valuable insights of postmodernism with its multicultural, deconstructed culture. We need to glean from this radical critique what is fitting for a renewed Christian cultural vision—developing a hermeneutic of humility…. We need to provide an example of a non-triumphalist, listening, confessing cultural stance.
But the Bible knows nothing of any “hermeneutic” based on a dialogue with other worldviews. Our preaching of Scripture is supposed to be authoritative. In Titus 2:1, the apostle Paul told a young preacher, “But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine.” At the end of that same chapter, he added, “Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you” (v. 15). The word translated “despise” is the Greek term kataphroneo, which literally means, “to think around.” Paul is saying to Titus, “Don’t let anyone evade you; don’t let anyone circumvent the truth. Preach sound doctrine; teach and exhort people with the authority that is inherent in the Word of God, and confront or rebuke people who oppose the truth.” In the words of 1 Timothy 4:11: “These things command and teach” (emphasis added).
That doesn’t mean we’re to be abusive or unkind, of course. It is possible to be both bold and charitable, and that is the balance for which we must strive. Speak the truth in love, Paul says in Ephesians 4:15. But proclaim it nonetheless with authority.
There is no other legitimate way to handle biblical truth. It is, after all, truth revealed from God Himself, and it ought to be proclaimed accordingly.
Chapter Six: Incompatibility
“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according
to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”
Scripture says, “No lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). As Christians, we know that whatever contradicts biblical truth is by definition false. In other words, truth is incompatible with error. Incompatibility is therefore a fifth essential key word in describing a biblical worldview.
Jesus clearly and unashamedly affirmed the utter exclusivity of Christianity. He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Obviously, that sort of exclusivity is fundamentally incompatible with postmodern tolerance.
As Christians we must understand that whatever opposes God’s Word or departs from it in any way is a danger to the very cause of truth. Passivity toward known error is not an option for the Christian. Staunch intolerance of error is built into the very fabric of Scripture. And tolerance of known error is anything but a virtue.
Truth and error cannot be combined to yield something beneficial. They are as incompatible as light and darkness. “What fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols” (2 Corinthians 6:14–16)?
We can’t tell the world, “This is truth, but whatever you want to believe is fine, too.” It’s not fine. Scripture commands us to be intolerant of any idea that denies the truth.
Lest anyone misunderstand, I’m not defending dogmatism on any and every theological issue. Some things in Scripture are not perfectly clear. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all” (1:7). Sometimes we cannot reconstruct the historical context to understand a given passage. One notable example is the mention of “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29. There are at least forty different views about what that verse means. We cannot be dogmatic about such things. But those are rarities in Scripture.
The central teachings of Scripture are so simple and so clear that even a child can understand. The way of salvation in particular is so clear that “Whoever walks the road, although a fool, shall not go astray” (Isaiah 35:8). In the words of the Westminster Confession again, “Yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them” (1:7).
All the truth that is necessary for our salvation can be easily understood in a true way by anyone who applies common sense and due diligence in seeking to understand what the Bible teaches. And that truth—the core message of Scripture—is incompatible with every other system of belief. We ought to be dogmatic about it.
No wonder postmodernism, which prides itself on being tolerant of every competing worldview, is nonetheless hostile to biblical Christianity. Even the most determined postmodernist recognizes that biblical Christianity by its very nature is totally incompatible with a position of uncritical broadmindedness. If we accept the fact that Scripture is the objective, authoritative truth of God, we are bound to see that every other view is not equally or potentially valid.
There is no need to seek middle ground through dialogue with proponents of anti-Christian worldviews, as if the truth could be refined by the dialectical method. It is folly to think truth given by divine revelation needs any refining or updating. Nor should we imagine that we can meet opposing worldviews on some philosophically neutral ground. The ground between us is not neutral. If we really believe the Word of God is true, we know that everything opposing it is error. And we are to yield no ground whatsoever to error.
In 2 John 9–11 the apostle John wrote, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God…. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.” That’s incompatibility! Our love for the truth demands an intolerance of error. To be clear, the apostle was not advocating unkindness or inhospitality toward unbelievers in general. (Again, Scripture plainly commands us to show love and kindness even to our enemies.) But John was dealing with the problem of itinerant false teachers in the early church. Typically, those qualified to teach doctrine in that era traveled from city to city and sought shelter in the homes of believers. John was saying that when a known purveyor of false doctrines came seeking such accommodation, he was not to be welcomed into the fellowship; he was not to be offered free housing; he was not to be given encouragement of any type—especially a greeting that signified support for his efforts to teach false doctrines. The antithesis between truth and error was so important that believers were under a bounden duty to make clear their disapproval of everyone who would deliberately corrupt the truth with lies.
Similarly, the apostle Paul wrote, “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8–9). Strong language, but the point is clear: When someone twists the fundamental truth of the gospel, even if he’s an angel or an apostle, let him be cursed.
Warnings against false teachers fill the New Testament. It is a major theme in the pastoral epistles, 2 Peter, Jude, and 2 John. Whatever is unbiblical—including everything untrue, any wrong understanding of Scripture, and all heresy—is not to be tolerated by those who love the truth. It is a danger to the truth and a dishonor to the God of truth. A biblical worldview is incompatible with any kind of tolerance for lies.
Chapter Seven: Integrity
“The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of
the unfaithful will destroy them.”
Rounding out our list of essential principles for a biblical worldview is the word integrity. This flows naturally from all the preceding principles. Since Christianity places such a high premium on truth, we must acknowledge that integrity is an essential virtue, and hypocrisy is a horrible vice.
Integrity is the essential biblical qualification for all ministry. In every list of qualifications for church leaders in the New Testament, one requirement heads the list: The man who would fill any office in the church must be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2, 10; Titus 1:6–7, nasb).
Success in business, skill in public relations, or other earthly talents are not what qualify a man for leadership in the church. The supreme and primary qualification at every level of church leadership is integrity—a love for the truth and consistency in living it out practically. To ignore that principle is to sacrifice the premium we place on truth as Christians.
In other words, if we really believe the objective, rationally understood truth of Scripture is both authoritative and incompatible with error, since the Bible is the singular Word of the living God—we must not only preach it; we must live it, too. It is not enough to give lip service. If we genuinely believe the Bible is divine truth, we must allow it to permeate our lives and ministry. To live otherwise is tantamount to denying the truth. People who think otherwise may “profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work” (Titus 1:16).
Ezra, the high priest in Nehemiah’s time, is the prototype of what every godly minister ought to be. “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10, emphasis added).
I learned this lesson from my father, who as a lifelong pastor has been my model of integrity, as was his father before him. I first began to appreciate how difficult the struggle can be when I began in the ministry as a young man in my twenties. I had been in the pastorate for barely a month when I was asked to perform a wedding for a girl in our church who was planning to marry an unbeliever. In a meeting of the church board, some of the leaders urged me to do the wedding because the girl’s father was an influential man. A lot was at stake, they said. We might lose this family from the church if I declined.
I said, “But I can’t do that. I can’t do what Scripture clearly forbids. Believers are not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. Second Corinthians 6:14.”
They were already prepared for that. They replied, “Well, OK. We understand your feelings. We know a minister from somewhere else who will come in and do it, so that this girl can be married in the church.”
I asked them, “But whose church is this? Is this your church to be used at your discretion, or is this Christ’s church?”
They replied to their great credit, “You’re right; we can’t do it. This is Christ’s church.”
That was the Rubicon for Grace Community Church. That was the moment when the future of our congregation was decided. Yes, an entire family left, and several other people withdrew their membership over that incident as well. But we decided as elders that day that we would not only preach the Word of God; we would expect it to be lived out in the corporate life of the church.
That sort of obedience to the Word of God has shaped and molded our ministry over the years. It shows up even in the way we worship. We don’t entertain people. We don’t have a dog-and-pony show. We gather to worship God, to exalt Christ, and to hear the Word of God preached. We practice church discipline as outlined in Matthew 18:15–20. We seek to obey what Scripture teaches, no matter how politically incorrect or out of fashion it might seem. And at a time when many churches are becoming more and more like the world, our goal is to be conformed more and more to the standard set forth in the Scriptures. God has blessed that, and I am convinced it is because our elders have sought to uphold the standard of biblical integrity at every level of leadership.
Unfortunately, the evangelical movement today is drifting from these fundamental principles and has already begun to embrace postmodern ideas uncritically. Evangelicalism is losing its footing; people’s confidence in the Scriptures is eroding; and the church is losing its testimony. Fewer and fewer Christians are willing to stand against the trends of this generation, and the effects have been disastrous. Subjectivity, irrationality, worldliness, uncertainty, compromise, and hypocrisy have already become commonplace among churches and organizations that once constituted the evangelical mainstream.
The only cure, I am convinced, is a conscious, wholesale rejection of postmodern values and a return to these six distinctives of biblical Christianity. We must be faithful to guard the treasure of truth that has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14). If we do not, who will?
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). Why one way?: defending an exclusive claim in an inclusive world (pp. iii–72). Nashville, TN: W Pub. Group.