All posts tagged “worldview

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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?

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Michael Goheen on worldview and mission

This one might not be of general interest, I’m warning you now.

Yesterday Michael Goheen was in town, speaking at a Surge Network event for a bunch of Phoenix church planters and at least one blogger whose presence was akin to a fly on the wall. Goheen’s talk was both autobiographical and theological — I guess you could say it was the autobiography of his journey through different Christian traditions in five stages. In showing the reasons why he has moved from tradition to tradition, including the pitfalls he discovered along the way, he spoke charitably about the traditions he has left behind, which I really appreciated.

In my own theological journey, lately I’ve been reading some stuff by Abraham Kuyper and folks with a Kuyperian take on things (for example, this, this and this), and I’ve found it deeply encouraging and instructive. So yesterday’s talk with Goheen was just what I needed: he too has been shaped by a Kuyperian framework, though he has also recognized what he perceives to be some of its weak spots. It’s some good food for thought. So, as I’ve done once or twice before, I offer you a blog post consisting of lecture notes, most unvarnished. This is Goheen’s journey — not mine — though it’s a journey I’m grateful to learn from, and I hope it’s helpful for you too.

1. Born again into Pietism, which consisted believing and confessing the right things and being born into the church; not much concern for a warm, deep relationship with Christ or the ethics that follow. It was largely cold, cerebral orthodoxy. It was very individualistic and very other-worldly, without appreciation of the resurrection of the body or the new heavens and new earth. The mentality was getting people onto a lifeboat and off the sinking ship of Creation.

2. Became interested in Calvinism as a theological system after stumbling upon the Westminster Catechism, and went to study reformed theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. There, he found two traditions at work: Scottish and Dutch. While he deeply appreciated the Westminster Catechism, and continues to value it contextually, he found it to be a dated document that was still very individualistic, whereas Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and other Dutch theologians were onto the bigger picture.

3. In the Kuyperian/Reformational stage, he was seeing that the Bible is one big story, which stood in contrast to Pietism’s individualism and other-worldliness, which he found refreshing. It seemed to him that systematic theologians had taken the story and turned it into a system; basically saying the Bible got its form wrong, and they were finally getting it right. His belief was reinforced that the gospel wasn’t just about Jesus saving individual souls, but about the gospel of the kingdom. Its cosmic scope challenges our individualism and other-worldliness, and the concept of covenant helped him see the importance of community. As a pastor at this point, he wanted those in his church to believe the right ideas; they in turn started asking what it meant for every area of life: what does the gospel of the Kingdom have to say about literature, business, education, and all kinds of social, economic and political issues? He wasn’t sure, but together they started trying to find out.

4. The next stage was rediscovering Kuyperianism not as a theological system but as a worldview. Kuyper saw the Enlightenment/modernism as a pagan force that shrunk Christianity down to individualism, which he saw as a direct threat to the gospel and the church. Further, he saw modernism as a religious worldview, and a dangerous one; it wasn’t spiritually or morally neutral as many claimed. Christ is Creator, Reconciler and Lord of all, and as such he is concerned about individuals but also cultures. Therefore we need a rigorous all-of-life worldview recognizing the Lordship of Christ. In this stage, Goheen began to understand the importance of creation and its goodness, and how that understanding shapes our worldview, and in turn, all spheres of life.

5. The fifth stage began when he was introduced to the work of missiologist Lesslie Newbigin, who was deeply rooted in both scripture and tradition, and what he said was relevant to all of life. Newbigin showed him that mission is central to the whole biblical story. He began to see that mission is as wide as creation. Newbigin was radically Christocentric and saw the relevance of Christ to every area of life. Kuyper started with creation and moved toward Christ; Newbigin started with Christ and moved to creation. Realized that if he’s going to understand the biblical story, he needs to start with Christ. Mission was not for a chosen few in the church; rather, it’s for laypeople in the context of “secular” workplaces. Newbigin, however, didn’t have a full doctrinal appreciation for creation, so it excited Goheen to do synthesis with these two mutually enriching traditions. Kuyper spoke of transformation a lot, but not of suffering (we can learn from Pietism on this point); he learned about that from Newbigin as well. He also gained a deeper appreciation for the importance of spirituality, prayer, the Lord’s Supper, good preaching, fellowship and meditation on Scripture. Without that deep rootedness, you’ll give up or you’ll get arrogant, using any methods necessary to reach your goals. Finally, he learned from Newbigin the indispensability of the local congregation; in emphasizing the importance of all spheres of society in God’s plan, Kuyper had minimized (intentionally or not) the uniqueness of the local church. This fifth stage, and the present one, is what he calls missional Kuyperianism.

Some various scribbles from the Q & A time…
– Christ is central to mission, and the church is indispensable
– Worldview studies is helpful in preparing us for mission
– “Story” is more than biblical theology; it’s the true story of the whole world
– Worldview is a servant to help us open up that story and equip us to be faithful in all of life
– Mission is as wide as life: we witness to the good news that Christ transforms marriages, politics, etc. – every area of life
– Is there a preference given to personal evangelism? We do need to speak, but our lives and our actions need to back it up. Nietzsche said something like this: “If I’m to believe in their Redeemer, they’re going to have to look a whole lot more redeemed.”
– Asked who else is along similar “missional Kuyperian” lines, he said there are pockets here and there, but Richard Mouw and Tim Keller are two prominent ones, though neither necessarily use that term.
– The already/not yet tension keeps us from being triumphalistic and also keeps us from defeatism or escapism.
– Overwhelmingly, critiques from Christians in Africa, Asia and Latin America are that the Western church is too rationalistic, individualistic and dualistic. We’d do well to listen to them humbly.

Is there any congruence between Goheen’s journey and yours? Do any of his conclusions along the way strike you as particularly insightful — or worrisome, for that matter?

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Bruce Cockburn: Kicking at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

A little over five years ago when I was living in Cambodia, Tim Amstutz introduced me to the music of Bruce Cockburn (pronounced “co-burn”). Since then, I’ve gotten acquainted with several of Cockburn’s earlier records, and a couple of his newer ones. There’s no one who makes music quite like he does, it seems to me. He started out as a Canadian folk musician, and first made a name for himself in 1979 with his hit song “Wondering Where The Lions Are.” In the 80s, his music took a global and political turn. As Wikipedia puts it,

These concerns became more evident in 1984, with Cockburn’s second US radio hit, “If I Had a Rocket Launcher” (No. 88 in the US) from the Stealing Fire album. He had written the song a year earlier, following a visit to Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico that were attacked before and after his visit by Guatemalan military helicopters. His political activism continues to the present. Cockburn has travelled to many countries (such as Mozambique and Iraq), played many benefit concerts, and written many songs on a variety of political subjects ranging from the International Monetary Fund to land mines. His internationalist bent is reflected in the many world music influences in his music, including reggae and Latin music.

Certainly this isn’t the kind of subject matter that appeals to everyone, but in my experience his music resonates with a great number of us in international development and similar lines of work. His music isn’t just political though; it’s also deeply informed by the Christian story. While his lyrics contain words not often heard in church, and while this can be unsettling, you can’t really begin to understand what makes Cockburn tick without considering the role faith plays in his life.

Brian Walsh, a university chaplain and professor of theology of culture in Toronto, wonderfully explores the intersections of these themes in Kicking at the Darkness: Bruce Cockburn and the Christian Imagination (Brazos). It definitely helps to be acquainted with Cockburn’s music before reading it, as it’s more about his lyrics and over-arching themes than it is a biography.

What I found most intriguing, and most helpful, was Walsh’s focus on Cockburn’s worldview, and the extent to which it’s informed by his Christian imagination. Worldview, Walsh says, “tell(s) us both what the world is and what it ought to be.” He continues:

Worldviews answer ultimate questions… Everyone, I’m suggesting, answers, usually implicitly and seldom explicitly, at least four such questions. All great myths, all foundational stories, can be interpreted as answering these kinds of questions. First, Where are we? What is the nature of the world in which we find ourselves? Second, Who are we? What does it mean to be human? Third, What’s wrong? What is the source of brokenness, violence, hatred, and evil in life? Fourth, What’s the remedy? How do we find a path through this brokenness to healing? Where is the resolution to the evil in which we find ourselves?

These four questions are the “interpretive window” through which Walsh explores Cockburn’s body of work, and in doing so he points to some clues for rediscovering our place in a world that is broken, but that will one day be made new.

The title of the book comes from a lyric in “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” and it’s both poetic and profoundly instructive, I think, for Christians living in between the times: “gotta kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.”

I’m grateful that Cockburn has been kicking at the darkness for so long, and I hope he keeps kicking. Here’s a video of his song “Pacing the Cage,” another song for these times of darkness, but in hopeful anticipation of the age to come:

[Photo credit:]