A few days ago I wrote about Watermelons and Worldviews, which engendered, as they say, discussion. It was an intro piece, and you can’t always say everything in an introduction. I was tackling a certain kind of criticism of biblical worldview thinking, the kind of criticism that inevitably makes the thinking involved less biblical. But there is, of course, a line of criticism that desires to make Christian worldview thinking more biblical, which is of course, fine. The reason it is fine is that the duty of making your worldview ever more biblical is one of the central tenets of Christian worldview thinking.
Although I am not as wary as they are about terminology, here is one example of criticism of the worldview approach that applauds how biblical it has been, and the good it has done, while urging it to go further up and further in. And to call it something else. Now I don’t really see the need for calling it something else, but I am great with the further up and further in part. So if someone proposes “wisdom” instead of “worldview,” I see no need to cry out, “No! Not wisdom. What will the harvest be?”
In a similar vein, here is the beginning of a series of sermons I did called A Worldview Wheel. The link is to the first of five sermon outlines, and you should be able to find the others easily enough. Just type worldview wheel into the search bar.
Interaction With the Archives
After I published Watermelons and Worldviews, someone on Facebook linked to an old First Things article by Peter Leithart that challenged worldview thinking in some problematic ways. So let me briefly interact with the four main points of that article, and then move on to the details I promised at the end of my previous post.
The first criticism is one of vantage. Are not Christian worldview thinkers presuming too much? “First, such a theory suggests that the worldview thinker is capable of finding some place to stand outside all particular worldviews from which to view them.” Because we are finite, it is certainly fair for postmodernists to critique modernists this way, pointing out that they do not have a “God’s eye view” in order to get the cosmic panorama. That is true. But Christians do have a “God-designed balcony for man.” Where do we stand? We stand on the Bible. I can’t see everything from here, but I can certainly see everything I am supposed to see.
Remember the passage I quoted earlier:
“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity” (Rom. 12:1-2, Phillips).
All day long, I am thinking thoughts. I am doing so either obediently or disobediently. They are either thoughts that I should be thinking, or thoughts I shouldn’t be thinking. If I should be thinking them, it is part of my view from the Bible balcony. If I shouldn’t be, then I have somehow messed it up. Put plainly, a biblical worldview simply means that I should be thinking and acting the way God wants me to, all day long, every day. And God has a plan and purpose for me in everything (Eph. 2:10).
My father addressed this in a sermon once, answering the question whether I can be obedient or disobedient when I am, say, sleeping. Well, he said, you either should be or you shouldn’t be.
“Second, ‘worldview’ tends to be highly intellectualist.” Now in those places where people have assumed or taught that all cultures spring forth from prior thoughts purely thunk, this criticism would be apt. Where Christians give ultimate priority to disembodied thought that is a real problem. But even where this criticism is pertinent, it would be better to say that we must be careful to extend the lordship of Christ even further, beyond just the thoughts. We have applied it to our thoughts, well and good, but we must apply it also to our practices. We must apply it to the cultural practices that shape our thoughts, the thoughts themselves, and the things we build after having thought. Yes to all that. My series on the Worldview Wheel was seeking to do exactly that—worldview applies not only to propositions, but also to stories, symbols, lifestyles, and so on. It encompasses all that we do. The central good that the worldview thinking movement has done is that it pointed authoritatively to the truth that the authority of Christ and the Bible encompass all things. There is no neutrality. This can be used, and should be used, as a prod to practitioners of worldview thinking. Of course.
“Underlying these criticisms is my third complaint, namely, that ‘worldview’ is inherently Cartesian. Implicit in the very word “worldview” is the picture of an individual positioned so as to survey the entirety of creation (and perhaps the Creator as well) in a single gaze.”
But something is not Cartesian simply because a thinker knows things, or a thinker sees stuff. Descartes wanted a starting point where he himself could kick start the reasoning process. “I think, therefore I can see the world.” That is Cartesian. But to say “I see the world because God put me on the Bible balcony, and the view is great from here,” is not Cartesian in any way. Nor is it prideful. Remember that pride can go in two directions—it can claim to see all by itself, or it can pretend to not see what God has shown. I am not a Cartesian because he and I both have ten toes.
The last criticism is that worldview thinking belongs to the philosophers, and that to talk this way means that evangelicals are making “philosophy foundational to theology.” But Christians have been wresting things away from the philosophers for centuries. Why should we stop now? And if we were to stop it, we shouldn’t do so because of anything Heidegger said, who was both a philosopher and a Nazi, doubly damned. And incidentally, to take something from the philosophers is not equivalent to making it foundational. We might want to take something from philosophy in order to stick it in our hatband.
In my previous post, I promised this:
“In the next installment, I hope to address all the halfway measures that pomo-influenced Christians adopt in order to let the world push them halfway into the mold. I refer, of course, to tattoos, liturgical dress-ups, eyeliner on guys, metrosexuality, postmodern historical studies, lumbersexuality, and exotic drinks from the Orient. And if anyone reacts to anything on this list, saying that’s not prohibited in the Bible, it only goes to show the need for more Christian worldview seminars.”
So some critics of Christian worldview thinking believe that in its battle cry “no neutrality,” it has not gone far enough. This is a fair and sound criticism. It is a Christian worldview criticism. If we are at war with all pretenses of neutrality, we should be at war with it even if we find it hiding in our own seminars. Fair cop.
But other critics of worldview thinking are doing so for the sake of more maneuvering room. They do not want someone, fresh out of a worldview seminar, saying something like “dudes shouldn’t be using eyeliner, man.” Since there is no verse that bans eyeliner for guys explicitly and by name, the only way a biblical case can be made against it is through extension and application. (I should point out in passing that if the Bible did prohibit eyeliner by name, it would the work of ten minutes for scholars working in the original languages to get us off the hook.) But extension and application is still basic to biblical worldview thinking. And the Westminster Confession laid the foundation for this approach when they said that biblical authority includes good and necessary consequence.
“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (WCF 1.6).
Thus we may say, applying Christian worldview categories, that if an individual bearing XY chromosomes purchases himself a set of installed silicon boobs, he is sinning big time. Those who kick against this claim are doing so because they obviously want neutrality, maneuvering room, a safe space, a hidey-hole in which they have the right to imitate the citizens of the parable, saying “we do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).
The view of Jesus is that He must not be given the authority to tell us how to dress, how to eat, whether or not to ink up, what to present to Him as worship, how to understand historical causation, and so on. The move is to say that Jesus is a gentleman who minds His own business for the most part, and that people who say He has a set opinion on our small mountain of adiaphora manufactured and heaped up by our Autonomous Personal Choices are legalists. And if anyone continues to deny our autonomy, then he must be the Cartesian.
But this domesticated Jesus is not the Lord described in the Bible. Good and necessary consequence is a good and necessary thing. For faith and life. For how pitiful a worldview would be if it didn’t encompass the whole shebang.