Friday, December 3, 2010

Forming a Workable Worldview

People take strong issue with me, not so much because of my positions – this also is an issue – but because I express a high level of certainty and claim that these issues can be proved. One respondent stated, “I hate it when anyone claims that they can know something for certain!”

Although few will be so transparent about their inclinations, I sense that this cultural bias has been deeply instilled into our corporate Western consciousness. Even Christian scholars will write in very couched and carefully formulated terms to avoid the charge that their faith directs their scholarship and that they are over-stating their case. Others go further and disdain any talk of proofs and certainty. In “The Myth of Certainty,” Daniel Taylor writes,

“When people defend their world view, they are not defending reason, or God, or an abstract system; they are defending their own fragile sense of security and self-respect.” (25)

According to this statement, it’s all about personal mushy stuff, and questions of truth don’t seem to matter very much. Many postmodern philosophers claim that assertions of truth are no more than our own subjective constructions, employed to exert power and influence. This assertion represents a dismissal of any defense of truth, including the defense of the Biblical faith as mandated (Jude 3; 1 Peter 3:15).

We might conclude that Taylor also wrote his book to support his “own fragile sense of security and self-respect.” However, he explains that the reason is not to convince anyone of the Christian faith, but instead to reassure those who, like himself,

• “Have found in God, and in Jesus Christ, a proposed solution to the human dilemma to which they have made, with varying degrees of confidence, a commitment. At the same time they have been blessed and cursed with minds that never rest. They are dissatisfied with superficial answers to difficult questions, willing to defend faith, but not its misuse…Their relationship to this [church] subculture is complex, and only partly conscious, and they are both indebted to it and victimized by it.”

Is Taylor’s problem the result of “difficult questions” or the wrong presuppositions, the wrong starting point? Has he started buttoning his shirt with the wrong button, finding that every subsequent button is in the wrong hole? Of course, the mind is experienced as a “curse” whenever our worldview fails to congeal, leaving us in confusion and resenting the professed assurance of others. Sometimes the resulting dissonance represents a failure in reconciling the “dissonant” elements of the faith; sometimes it’s a matter of failing to reconcile our faith with the prevailing culture. Which way do we go? Do we reconcile the Bible with itself and then find ourselves even more at odds with the culture? Or do we try to reconcile those most central and important parts of the Gospel with our public lives and leave aside some of the harder edges of Biblical revelation?

A common strategy emphasizes the “spiritual” and personal aspects of the faith, those parts that can be reconciled with our public lives and secular culture. Often, this conceptualization divides life into two non-overlapping or non-competing orbs of influence. The spiritual orb pertains to what I do at home and in church. It’s about faith and worship. The other orb is the public one, which involves science and provable facts. Since the faith isn’t “provable,” it’s to remain private, until someone asks us about it. Then, our defense largely revolves around sharing our own personal experiences, rather than evidences and proofs. It also entails some degree of conformity to secular norms – evolution is a fact, we can marry whomever we want, and Islam doesn’t pose a threat since they will become secularized as the rest of us.

There is going to be cognitive struggle with whatever strategy we adopt. Although the latter solution is culturally more comfortable, it has its own problems. The conceptualization of non-overlapping orbs of life is highly artificial. For one thing, in both orbs, value judgments are part of every decision we make – whether we’re conscious of them or not – and Christian values and beliefs aren’t the same as secular values. When the orbs collide – and they will – this means dissonance. Here are some other costs of this latter option:

1. Peace with the world is enmity with God. By reconciling our faith with the secular world, we heighten the conflicts within our own Christian worldview. This will only cause greater discomfort with the message we hear from our pulpits. Younger Christians are leaving the more traditional churches in hope of finding a message or theology in more seeker-sensitive churches with which they can experience affirmation. This includes finding relationships with more like-minded people.

2. Certainty is undermined. These conflicts aren’t resolved by finding more affirmative churches. They reappear whenever we pick the Bible or even turn to God in prayer.

3. The secular formulation of non-competing orbs marginalizes and silences Christianity. How could it not! If Christianity is no longer about proof and certainty – and these belong only to the orb of science and provable facts – then there isn’t much to say in defense of the faith or even in defense of our Christian values and opinions if they conflict with secular norms. Our tendency will therefore be to adopt values which we can vocalize or else suffer marginalization.

In this postmodern climate, the expression of any certainty about our faith and its rational basis is met with disdain. We have overstepped the accepted boundaries! But how then can we communicate effectively with our culture? Are we relegated to merely a sharing of our feelings and experiences? Although our personal testimonies are important, they can’t be the entire story. Everyone has their own feelings and experiences. What makes ours any more valid than theirs? What then is the answer? It might sound simplistic, but this represents the core of our faith – “Trust in the Lord!”

Paul wrote about the contrary cultural climate of the last days and gave instruction to the church:

• “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus…Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction.”
(2 Tim. 3:14-15; 4:2)

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