All posts tagged “Al Wolters

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My favorite books of 2012

This past year was a rich year for reading, and whittling my 2012 reading list down to a top ten was tough, but I’ve given it my best shot. As it happens, only two of these were actually published in 2012, but they’re all timely anyway. It was interesting for me to realize that three are novels, five pertain to public theology, and the other two have to do with history and ecclesiology, respectively.

Novels
gileadGilead (Picador) by Marilynne Robinson. I finished this one on New Year’s Eve, and it was easily one of my very favorite books of the year. Robinson’s prose is poetically earthy, and the themes of the story are profound. The premise may not immediately hook you – an elderly, dying Congregationalist minister in Iowa writing an honest letter to his young son – but if you stick with it, you’ll be deeply moved.

asher-levMy Name is Asher Lev (Anchor) by Chaim Potok. A novel about a tormented artist who struggles to pursue his craft without abandoning his Jewish faith, something that becomes more and more difficult as his “gift” becomes increasingly evident. It’s an interesting look at the Hasidic Jewish community, a tradition foreign to many of us. And for those of us who aren’t artists in any obvious sense, it’s an insightful look at the life of an artist. As a Christian, I found much to ponder, considering the challenge of being “in the world but not of it.”

poisonwood-bibleThe Poisonwood Bible (Harper) by Barbara Kingsolver. I’d wanted to read this one for quite some time, but it was always a bit intimidating to me, both because of length and because of its premise. But I think it’s a hugely important book for Christians to read, especially as we think about the ways we engage with others across cultures. My thoughts on the book, and the difficult questions it raises, are here.


Public Theology

A-Public-FaithA Public Faith (Brazos) by Miroslav Volf. I had a lot to say about this when I read this in early 2012 (I re-read it this fall), but in brief, he argues that as adherents of the world’s major religions grow numerically, as globalization brings them together geographically, and as they each seek to promote their vision for society, we face the twin temptations of imposition and withdrawal. Volf writes that the Christian faith, when functioning properly, offers a unique vision of human flourishing, as well as the resources to realize it. I wish everyone would read this book.

Desiring-the-KingdomDesiring the Kingdom (Baker Academic) by James K.A. Smith. I was too intimidated to actually review this one, but it was a paradigm-rocker for me. Drawing on Augustine, Smith emphasizes that we’re primarily desiring beings, making decisions not first and foremost on the basis on reason or belief, but because of desire. We’re liturgical animals, he says, created to worship. Those who design shopping malls, he provocatively points out, understand this better than do those who lead our churches and Christian schools.

creation-regainedCreation Regained (Eerdmans) by Al Wolters. This book tackles worldview in light of the Reformed understanding of the narrative arc of the Bible, which moves from creation to fall and on to redemption. It may seem opaque, but my biggest takeaway was Wolters’ distinction between structure and direction in creation – in a nutshell, all creation (including people and institutions) is structurally good, but because of the fall all creation is misdirected, which is where redemption comes in. This understanding, I think, has profound implications for cultural engagement. My review is here.

kingdom-callingKingdom Calling (IVP) by Amy Sherman. For some odd reason I never reviewed this one, but it’s a wonderful plea, as the subtitle aptly puts it, for “vocational stewardship for the common good.” Sherman shows how our vocations – the work we do every day – can and should serve the common good and point to the coming of the Kingdom. For those who are not in so-called “full-time ministry” and feel that only pastors and theologians and evangelists and missionaries are truly doing God’s work, this book will encourage you and will equip you to serve God and others through the work of your hands.

every_good_endeavorEvery Good Endeavor (Dutton) by Timothy Keller. This is the best, most comprehensive book I know of on the “integration of faith and work.” Whereas most books like this focus on a single aspect of that integration, Keller takes more of a both/and approach, emphasizing a broader, more cohesive whole, and does so in a more theologically robust way than many others. I anticipated the book here and pointed to it again here.


Church and History
ancient-future-faith
Ancient-Future Faith (Baker Academic) by Robert Webber. I include this one because its themes have stuck with me throughout the year, more than most of the books I read. As we find ourselves on shifting cultural terrain, Webber believes we’ll find key resources for the future in the practices and beliefs of the ancient church, focusing specifically on the implications for our understanding of Christ, church, worship, spirituality, and mission. By the way, for those of us in traditions inclined to mark the beginning of church history in 1517 (and for those with no appreciation for church history at all), we need this book.

moral-minorityMoral Minority (Penn) by David Swartz. I’ll be reviewing this one very soon, but for now I’ll simply say it’s a well-researched, fascinating, historical look at evangelical political involvement in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century. It’s getting some very good press from the likes of the New York Times, Christianity Today, and Scot McKnight, all well-deserved in my opinion.

If you’re interested in my previous favorites, check out my 2011 and 2010 lists. What books would you recommend I read in 2013?

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Al Wolters on worldview in everyday life

In recent weeks I’ve been doing some reading and blogging related to worldview and the role it plays in shaping how we live as Christians in light of what God has done, is doing and will do in history. Michael Goheen really piqued my interest in this when I heard him speak here in Phoenix in early March. He described his theological and spiritual journey, including what he describes as an important shift from a theological system to a theological worldview (my notes from the talk are here). In last Monday’s post, Bryant Myers suggested “we are to see the world as created, fallen, and being redeemed, all at the same time.” And then on Thursday, Steven Garber in his book The Fabric of Faithfulness argued that if we are to weave together belief and behavior, it is essential to develop “a worldview sufficient for the challenges of the modern world.”

All these writers and thinkers have more or less the same thing in mind, I think, when they refer to worldview, but it’s also a term that carries all sorts of connotations for different people, so today I want to back up and take a look at what worldview means, drawing on the excellent little book Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans). It was originally written in 1985 by Al Wolters, and then re-released twenty years later, with an afterword by Michael Goheen himself (there’s a lot of overlap between that afterword and what he had to say in his talk).

Wolters defines worldview as “the comprehensive framework of one’s basic beliefs about things,” a definition he then breaks down bit by bit (I won’t spell it out here, but each word is carefully chosen).

Like the others I referred to earlier, Wolters believes that a biblical worldview is best understood by the basic scriptural categories of creation, fall and redemption. He also contends that our worldview is to inform all of life; the Bible leaves no room for compartmentalizing certain parts of life into the mutually exclusive categories of sacred (church, spiritual practices, Bible study, etc) and secular (economics, politics, technology, etc). In other words,

The plea being made here for a biblical worldview is simply an appeal to the believer to take the Bible and its teaching seriously for the totality of our civilization right now and not to relegate it to some optional area called “religion.”

All of that is established in the first chapter, and then chapters two, three and four have to do with spelling out a fuller, deeper understanding of creation, fall and redemption, respectively. I hope you’ll read the book so you can see everything he has to say about the nuances of each of those three, but the biggest contribution Creation Regained makes is the chapter on discerning the difference between “structure” and “direction.” The terms may be confusing at first, but understood properly, the implications of that distinction are huge for our everyday lives.

I’ll try to sum it up in a paragraph. First, all things are created good (their “structure” is good), but all created things have been deformed by the Fall and sin (that is, they have been “misdirected”). As Christians, too often we recognize the directional distortion of something and discard it as sinful, but we fail to affirm its structural goodness, and miss the opportunity to see how, as a structurally good but misdirected part of creation, it can be redirected for purposes that please God and, in turn, serve the common good. With this distinction in mind, we can truly be “reformers” rather than either seeking to obliterate what’s tainted by sin on the one hand, or by fatalistically accepting the sin-tainted status quo on the other. In other words, distinguishing between structure and direction gives us an alternative to both “revolution” and “quietistic conservatism,” two approaches that leave much to be desired:

Our focus on structure rejects a sympathy for revolution, and our focus on direction condemns a quietistic conservatism… In sum we may say that whereas consecration leaves things internally untouched, and revolution annihilates things, reformation renews and sanctifies them. God calls us to cleanse and reform all the sectors of our lives.

That goes for our personal lives and our interpersonal relationships, but it also has huge implications for our life as citizens and as active participants in political, economic, and other systems. So, for an example applicable to the readers of this blog, when we’re faced with an ethical dilemma like alleged abuses of workers on the other side of the world tied to the practices of a corporation which we support through our purchases, we’re presented with an alternative to the two predictable and insufficient responses. It doesn’t do to ignore the abuses as inevitable, “necessary evils” in our complicated, interconnected world. And it doesn’t do to decry the corporation for being a corporation and part of the free market system. Rather, we seek to discern structure and direction. What about the corporation is structurally a good part of creation? What about the corporation has been misdirected by sin? And what might we as “reformers” (or what Gabe Lyons calls “restorers”) do to redirect and reform that corporation so that what is good about it can continue, and so that it can contribute to the flourishing of all, including those on the other end of the market equation?

That’s a whole new way of seeing the world, it seems to me, and a whole new way of living. It’s not cynical and detached, but it’s not playing to either side of the culture wars, either. It is, however, rooted in the big narrative arc of Scripture — creation, fall, redemption — which is also the narrative arc of history. It’s brimming with promise, isn’t it? It’s realistic and it’s hopeful. It has both roots and wings.

As Wolters says clearly, developing this sort of a worldview — learning to see the world and our lives through this kind of a biblical lens — doesn’t answer every question and solve every problem we will encounter. In community with other believers and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we’re given the task of discerning the implications of biblical teaching for all these areas of life. We won’t do it perfectly all the time, but we can learn and grow. Most of all, developing a biblical worldview gives us a framework for understanding our lives in the world, and it gives us the right questions to ask:

To approach the phenomena of the world in terms of structure and direction is to look at reality through the corrective lens of Scripture, which everywhere speaks of a good creation and the drama of its reclamation by the Creator in Jesus Christ.

Do you find the themes of creation, fall and redemption — as well as the distinction between structure and direction — helpful for navigating the challenges of everyday life? Is there any part of this “worldview” you’d call into question?