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Thinking matters – What’s in a Worldview?

Welcome to the third instalment of my series – Thinking matters. If you are a newcomer to this ongoing conversation, I recommend reading here and here to catch up. Moving right along to the next reason why thinking matters. If we do not think seriously about what we believe and why we believe it, we are left with a hollow worldview. Before we delve deeper, let’s define some terms.

What is a worldview?

I searched far and wide for a good definition but alas. So, here is my best shot at what encompasses a worldview –

Worldview: the framework of presuppositions, ideas and beliefs through which an individual or group interprets reality.

To put it simply, a worldview is the personalised lens through which you see and understand the world around you. From this definition, we pick up on one really important aspect of worldview – everyone has one. Whether you are a sleek and smooth investment banker, or a member of an unreached Amazonian tribe, you interpret the world and everything you see in it through the lens of your own presuppositions.

What does it then mean if a worldview is hollow? Just as you knock on someone’s head to ensure there is indeed something inside, a close examination of a hollow worldview will reverberate emptiness. Presuppositions can be groundless and therefore lead to a false conclusion or vice versa, with hopeful beginnings leading to absurd endings. Sometimes, the starting and finishing lines of a worldview can tickle the ears and appeal to our deepest human desires, but when challenged by the harsh realities of life, they fall like a house built on sand.

Hollow examples may include:

  • A naturalist is in awe at the wonder of the physical world in all of its intelligibility. The logical conclusion for worship is the Designer behind the design, but their naturalistic presuppositions closed the door on this option before the conversation even starts.
  • The spiritual type who turns his back on evil and suffering in an attempt to rid them of their power and influence. They are quickly found out in this painful world.
  • The nihilist, disillusioned by the excessive agony he sees around him, intellectually denies meaning or purpose in life, but struggles to practically live in a way consistent with his conclusion.

And probably the most common:

  • The average secularite who seeks to treat others as they wish to be treated while refusing to acknowledge the source of such universal truths.

If you have read my previous two articles, you will have heard me wax repeatedly on the tendency for Christians to have their minds and actions influenced by the dominant thought trains of the day. Regarding the development of worldview, this is no different.

The harm of a hollow worldview

In a standard marketplace, goods and services are purchased with cash and if the consumer is pleased, he or she will often recommend the product to others. This increases the influence of the retailer, enabling them to spread their product through larger client bases and make more money. In an analogous way, Christianity, like any other view of reality or belief system, is competing in a global marketplace of ideas. Interpretations of reality and the meaning of life are legion and the competition is often fierce. These products are not bought with physical or digital capital, but with our allegiance

Christians stand in the midst of a world with some heavy baggage. Open them up and you will find objections of various types – intellectual, emotional, moral. Today’s idea consumers simply walk past the Christian stall, oblivious to what it has to offer. Not just oblivious, but convinced that it has nothing to offer. By not thinking seriously about what we believe and how it makes sense of the world around us, we add more fuel on an already raging fire seeking to purify the world of the Christian voice.

Towards a Christian worldview

What is the solution? How do we develop a cohesive Christian worldview that is credible, answers people’s questions, and brings honour and glory to the name of Jesus? I am in no way in a position to give exhaustive answers to these questions, but can offer a few suggestions that I am convinced are part of getting back on track.

Philosopher Douglas Groothuis proposes 8 criteria to evaluate a worldview

  1. Able to answer life’s big questions
  2. Internal logical consistency
  3. Coherence
  4. Factual adequacy
  5. Existential viability (doesn’t shy away from our everyday experience)
  6. Intellectual and cultural fruitfulness
  7. Does not make radical ad hoc readjustment
  8. Simple is better than unnecessarily complex.

An entire article could (and probably should) be written on the importance of each of these criteria, but for now they provide a good starting point for exposing the flaws of today’s dominant worldviews, and demonstrating the power of the Christian alternative.

There is one more thing we can do to begin to see change – we can pray. The task before us is enormous and we simply will not see success if we rely solely on our own ability and inventions (including the criteria above). When it comes to articulating the jaw-dropping panorama that is the Christian worldview, we desperately need the God at its centre to help us.

The Incompatibility of Anti-intellectualism and the Fullness of the Spirit

[pk_box width=”600″]”The fact that Jesus called the Holy Spirit ‘the Spirit of truth,’ and gave such a prominent place to his teaching ministry, is of great importance in the anti-intellectual cultures of the world. I do not hesitate to say that anti-intellectualism and the fullness of the Spirit are mutually incompatible, because the Spirit with whom we claim to be filled or desire to be filled is the Spirit of truth. In consequence where the Holy Spirit is free to work, truth matters.”[/pk_box]

John R. W. Stott in “Biblical Expositions” (The Anglican Communion and Scripture), page 27.

[Source: Joseph E. Gorra]

Two New Books about Christianity and the Life of the Mind

It does not take much investigation to see that the Christian church no longer values the life of the mind and the pursuit of knowledge as highly as it once did. While there may be encouraging signs of change within Evangelicalism, for many the mind is still viewed with indifference, confusion, and sometimes suspicion. The Bible, however, commands us to use our minds and calls us to thinking that is rigorous, passionate, and God-centered. The writers of the New Testament make it clear that we cannot feel or act out our faith as responsible Christians unless we first think as Christians (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).

Crossway Books has recently published two new books to help Christians in this area. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is authored by well-known pastor and author, John Piper, and The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life is penned by associate professor of Christian studies at Union University, Bradley G. Green. Both titles look deeply at the task and privilege of thinking and how this is encouraged and sustained by the Christian worldview. With Christmas near, these books provide a great opportunity to fill the stocking of your friend or loved one with something that has both spiritual substance and intellectual bite.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

In Think, Piper seeks to develop a considered theology of thinking that demonstrates it’s importance and necessity for the Christian life. Far from neglecting our emotions and our experience of God, he shows how our minds are in fact indispensable to knowing God better, loving him more, and caring for the world. We don’t have to choose between either our hearts or our minds, instead Piper argues that thinking carefully about God and done to His glory actually fuels passion and affections for God.

Endorsements:

“Piper has done it again. His outstanding book Think promises to shepherd a generation about the Christian commitment to the life of the mind. Deeply biblical and uniquely balanced, Think practices what it preaches: it is an accessible, intellectually rich study that calls the reader to renewed love for God and others.”
J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

“An essential dimension of Christian discipleship is the life of the mind, and this may well be the most neglected Christian responsibility of our times. God has made us intelligible creatures, and he has given us the stewardship of intellectual faculties that should drive us to think in ways that bring him greatest glory. In this new book, John Piper provides brilliant analysis, warm encouragement, and a faithful model of Christian thinking. This book is a primer for Christian thinking that is urgently needed in our time.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Thinking—the alert, meticulous, probing, logical, critical use of the mind—will be a highway either to godliness or to its opposite, depending on how it is done. Taking leads from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper surefootedly plots the true path here. His book should be, and I hope will be, widely read.”
J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College; author, Knowing God

The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life

In The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green carefully examines the nature of the relationship between the Christian worldview and the life of the mind. He endeavours to the show that it is not an accident of history that (to use the phrase articulated by D. Bruce Lockerbie) wherever the cross is planted, the academy follows. By distilling several key concepts that are necessary for a flourishing and meaningful intellectual life – creation and the importance of history, the centrality of a telos to all things, the value of words – Green then argues that it is the Christian worldview that uniquely provides these preconditions. His book is not only a compelling argument for Christianity but also immensely practical: reminding us of the fact that the cross rescued not just our souls and bodies, but also our minds.

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Endorsements:

“This remarkable and ground-breaking book is an adventure to read. Green argues convincingly that there is a strong link between Christian faith and the intellectual life of human beings. Given the Christian theological vision of God, human beings, and the world, learning has both a foundation and an animating purpose. Apart from Christian views of creation, history, and redemption, learning is adrift and without ultimate purpose. I strongly recommend this book for all those who long for the recovery of a vibrant intellectual life in our time.”
Stephen Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

“The Enlightenment teaching that reason is a neutral universal act of thought free of tradition has been as decisively refuted as any philosophical theory can be. But the question remains of how to understand the embededness of reason in tradition. Green makes a convincing argument that Christianity contains just those foundational beliefs about reality that make the life of the mind possible. Christians who for two centuries have anxiously tried to conform their teachings to Enlightenment reason will discover—perhaps to their astonishment—that it is the gospel that makes reason in its fullest sense possible.”
Donald Livingston, Professor of Philosophy, Emory University