Life is—or should be—about knowing God deeply. This book emerges out of the journeys we have been on since God turned our own lives upside down by drawing us to his Son.
Mike grew up in a Baptist church. The gospel that was preached there was one of individual, future, and otherworldly salvation. It was all about going to heaven when you die. Nevertheless, that church was a place where God was at work through the gospel; people loved the Lord, and their faith was alive. Mike remains grateful for much in this tradition—for example, its earnest commitment to reading Scripture, to prayer, and to evangelism; its stress on the importance of individual holiness and morality; and its emphasis on the personal relationship that we have with Jesus. These remain important issues for every Christian, and Mike is thankful for this early training. Yet it had little to say about the broader, public life of Western culture—politics, economics, scholarship, education, work, leisure, entertainment, and sports.
During Mike’s seminary years he began to see that the gospel that Jesus preached was a gospel of the kingdom. The good news is much bigger than Mike had been led to believe: God is restoring his rule over all of human life in Jesus and by the Spirit. Further reading during those seminary years in literature that explored the Christian worldview began to open up the implications of this scriptural insight for a Christian approach to the public life of culture. It was exciting, akin to a second conversion! The gospel had something to say about all of human life.
Doing his doctorate on the work of Lesslie Newbigin, one of the greatest missiologists of the twentieth century, Mike found his conviction deepened and strengthened. Having served as a missionary in India for most of his adult life, Newbigin was concerned in the last years of his life to bring the gospel to bear on the public life of Western culture. Newbigin shared many of the convictions that Mike had embraced during his seminary days. But Newbigin also had fresh emphases and critiques that were important in Mike’s worldview development. Mike got to know Lesslie Newbigin well, and his influence helped Mike to see the integral connection between mission and a Christian worldview.
For the better part of the last two decades, Mike has taught numerous worldview courses to undergraduates and graduates of varying denominational backgrounds in various parts of the world. But the importance of worldview for living has moved beyond the classroom for Mike. It moved him and his wife, Marnie, to struggle with the implications of the gospel for education and to undertake the home schooling of their four kids with the intention of shaping their education with the gospel. This change affected numerous areas of life, but it has especially opened up the arts, literature, and music. Marnie shared and participated in the same “worldview conversion” that Mike did. Her new appreciation of the arts as God’s gift was passed along to her family. Their four kids became an accomplished string quartet and devoted themselves to the study of literature, music, and the other arts. It has led on to graduate studies in the arts and music for several of them up to the PhD level. Mike and Marnie’s life is still filled with concerts, now at a professional level, in which their children play. This is only one way that a broadening worldview has affected Mike and his family, but it shows that one’s view of the gospel does have consequences.
For Mike, worldview is about opening up the wide-ranging scope of the gospel and the church’s mission to embody that gospel. Few things excite him as much as helping Christians to see the length and breadth and depth of God’s love for us and his world.
Craig grew up in South Africa during the era of apartheid, by which every aspect of South African life was structured along racial lines. He went to a whites-only school, lived in a whites-only neighborhood, and enjoyed all the “benefits” of being a white South African. Craig was radically converted to Christ in his teens through the evangelical youth group of the Church of England (into which he was eventually ordained as a minister). Like Mike’s Baptist church, Craig’s Anglican church was evangelistic and alive but had nothing to say about the oppressive, racist social context in which they lived. Really committed Christians went into “full-time ministry” (as pastors or missionaries); it was better to stay away from politics, since, after all (so it was reasoned from Rom. 13:1–7), the government had been appointed by God!
Craig has a great love for horses, and when he left high school, his choices were between becoming a vet and studying theology. He went to Bible college in Cape Town, where he was exposed to Reformed theology and the world-view thinking of Francis Schaeffer (though this was never explicitly brought to bear on the South African situation). Later Craig began to think through Schaeffer’s work, and he realized that if the gospel is a worldview, then it applies to all of life, including politics—a dangerous insight to have at that time in South Africa.
While working as a pastor in South Africa, Craig made contact with Afrikaner Kuyperian Christians in Potchefstroom, and together they developed the Christian Worldview Network, which held annual conferences and published a Manifesto on Christians in the Arts and a quarterly magazine called The Big Picture. Craig believes that what South Africa went through then, and the general failure of evangelical Christians to relate their faith to the realities of South African life, have a great deal to teach us now about the vital importance of understanding the gospel as a worldview. We now know from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission what terrible injustices were perpetrated in South Africa during the apartheid years under its “Christian” government. How was it that evangelical Christians could not see the evil right in front of them? How was it that, on the whole, evangelicals ended up reinforcing this evil rather than challenging it? One important answer is that they lacked a coherent Christian worldview. How different might the history of South Africa have been if evangelicals there had combined their “passion for souls” with a sense of Christ’s lordship over all of life!
As Craig’s thinking about a Christian worldview developed, he began (under the influence of his Kuyperian friends) to see the importance of philosophy for Christian scholarship, and this led him to Toronto for a year of philosophical study and then on to the UK, where he completed his doctorate on the book of Ecclesiastes. Craig’s current research deals with the ways in which the gospel as a worldview shapes academic biblical studies.
A Christian worldview gets you interested in everything. Craig loves reading novels and listening to music; he makes crafts and sells jewelry, has two chinchillas as pets, and enjoys teaching philosophy and religion. A Christian worldview also helps you to meet interesting people. Several years ago Craig and Mike met in Canada and then again in England, and they discovered a mutual commitment to mission and Christian worldview. Out of this friendship came, first, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Baker Academic, 2004), and now this book.
Lessons We Have Learned
Both of our stories have underscored a number of things that are important to what we hope to share with our readers in the chapters that follow. First, Christianity involves a personal relationship with God through Jesus. In this respect, we remain grateful for the Pietist tradition that has deeply shaped English-speaking evangelicalism in general and both of us in particular.
We believe that this tradition often has unfortunately narrowed the true scope of the gospel, but we also believe that it has emphasized some aspects of biblical truth that are of the utmost importance, such as the need for a personal relationship with Christ, a high view of the Bible as God’s Word, and the importance of evangelism.
Second, the gospel as recorded in Scripture is as broad as creation. Since the church has been sent to make known this good news in all of life, in actions and in words, the church’s mission is, likewise, as broad as creation. Indeed, our deepest concern in this book is to give expression to the gospel of the kingdom and the cultural mission of the church that follows from this. Our hope is that the readers of this book will be interested in relating their own faith to every part of God’s good creation.
Herman Bavinck has expressed these first two emphases in a helpful way. He quotes the well-known preacher J. Christian Blumhardt, who said that a person “must be twice converted, first from the natural to the spiritual life, and then from the spiritual to the natural.” This is a truth, Bavinck believes, that is “confirmed by the religious experience of every Christian and by the history of Christian piety in all ages.” The first conversion is to God and is expressed in the sigh of the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Ps. 73:25). The Pietist tradition understands this well. But we must be converted again, this time back to the breadth of our cultural calling in this present world. Bavinck himself was raised in a Pietist home and went through these “two conversions.” Our own similar experiences have led us to be thankful for our Pietist past and its important emphases, as well as our Reformed present with its broader understanding of the gospel. And we are concerned that each of these traditions can neglect the important emphases of the other. It has been our goal in writing this book that the breadth of the gospel would shape it from beginning to end.
Third, the term worldview, in spite of all of its philosophical and historical baggage, remains a valuable concept by which to open up the comprehensive scope of the gospel. The term does have its dangers and limitations: it retains some of its early associations with humanistic philosophy, and more recently it has taken on intellectualist overtones within some Christian traditions. But its value as a tool of Christian thought is real, and thus in this book we seek to carry on in the worldview-conscious tradition of James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, whose aim was simply to shine the brightest possible light on the Christian church’s mission in the public life of culture.
Fourth, the burgeoning study of mission can immeasurably enrich worldview studies. Those who work in cross-cultural missions have struggled to understand the engagement of gospel and culture at a deep level. Moreover, they have struggled with this issue from the biblical standpoint of how best to embody and announce the gospel—that is, from a missional concern. The literature of missiology, and especially the rich literature on the contextualization of the gospel in other cultures, will inform much of this book.
Fifth, worldview studies must be increasingly ecumenical. Paul says that the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ can be known only “together with all the Lord’s people” (Eph. 3:18). “Together” here implies, for us, a dialogue with Christians from other places, from other times, and from other confessional traditions. Both of us have been shaped by the Kuyperian tradition, and surely this tradition has taken the lead in worldview studies. But we are not uncritical participants in this tradition, and we believe firmly that no single tradition is able adequately to grasp or to express the fullness of the gospel. We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters from other parts of the world, from other historical eras, and from other denominations and confessional traditions of the Christian church. Both of us have taught the material of this book in many parts of the world and to people from many different Christian traditions. Those experiences have provided much enrichment and correction, and we hope that this will be evident in this book.
About This Book
Worldview is a concept that emerged in the European philosophical tradition, and it is valuable only insofar as it enables us to understand more faithfully the gospel that stands at the center of the biblical story, and to live more fully in that story. It is for this reason that this study of Christian worldview follows on from our former book, The Drama of Scripture. We have found in our teaching that a course on worldview is far more effective when it follows a course on the story of the Bible: worldview follows Scripture so as to deepen our commitment to living in the biblical story.
There is another reason it is important to emphasize that Living at the Crossroads follows on from The Drama of Scripture. Many traditional evangelical approaches to worldview have seen it in intellectualist terms; that is, they look at worldview as a merely rational system. We believe that worldview should have a narrative—a storied—form,since this is the shape of the Bible itself. We often have occasion to quote N. T. Wright’s observation that a story is simply “the best way of talking about the way the world actually is.”
This book is meant to be (only) an introduction to worldview. We recognize the danger in simplifying and summarizing large amounts of material on some very complex theological, philosophical, and historical issues. Something that is meant to be simple can all too easily become simplistic, but it does not have to be that way. We believe that this kind of book is needed to get undergraduate students and church members excited about the scope of the gospel and the breadth of their own callings. If you catch a glimpse of the possibilities here, other study can follow later.
When we wrote The Drama of Scripture, we constructed a Web site that provides slides, articles, and numerous other resources for studying the Bible as a single, coherent story (www.missionworldview.com). The feedback that we have received about that Web site suggests that many of our readers have found it helpful. So we are offering resources for Living at the Crossroads on the same website. It too will provide slides to be used for teaching, supplementary articles, and much more to help encourage the discussion of Christian worldview generally.
Worldview has to do with the most basic, comprehensive, foundational religious beliefs that we have about the world as they are embodied in a story. This means that Christians will elaborate and understand these beliefs that flow from Scripture. But these beliefs cannot be separated from a cultural context, for the gospel is always expressed and embodied within some human culture.
Therefore, in the study of worldview we must also struggle to understand the fundamental beliefs of the surrounding culture within which each Christian community lives. The relationship of the Christian faith to the other cultural “faith” that surrounds it must be explored. This is a very complex and highly dangerous enterprise. As contextualization studies in missiology show, there is always the danger of allowing the gospel to be compromised, accommodated to the idolatry of any given culture. Worldview studies, then, must deal with the Bible’s foundational teachings, and those of the surrounding culture, and the complex interaction of the two belief systems.
This opens up a wide area of inquiry for Christian academics, and many good books on worldview have dealt with various divisions of the topic. However, only Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton’s The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View has really shown the potential breadth of worldview studies. That book remains, in our opinion, one of the best texts on worldview studies available, precisely for this reason. Yet it was written over twenty-five years ago, and thus it did not deal with our current complex situation, shaped by globalization, postmodernity, and consumerism. Also, although the way that Walsh and Middleton relate the gospel to culture is, in our opinion, on target, they have not fully explored the dynamic of contextualization. Our book follows Walsh and Middleton’s in demonstrating that worldview is a wide-ranging discipline with many smaller fields of inquiry within it. We deal with a biblical worldview, a cultural worldview, and a worldview in action. But between the cultural worldview and a worldview in action we reflect on the way in which the gospel can come alive in a faithful way within a cultural context; that is, we seek to explore the dynamic relationship of gospel and culture.
We begin with the gospel of the kingdom and the call of the church to make known this good news. In chapter 2 we trace the origins of the word worldview and how it came to be appropriated by the Christian community, especially by the evangelical church in North America. In chapters 3 and 4 we return to the question of how this concept of worldview might help equip the church for its comprehensive mission today, and to that end we will articulate what we believe to be a faithful biblical worldview: a digest of the most fundamental and comprehensive beliefs about the world that are conveyed by the biblical story. The next three chapters describe the dominant worldview of modern Western culture: chapters 5 and 6 briefly trace the Western story from its origins in Greek culture to the present; chapter 7 asks “What time is it?” in our culture—what do the beliefs and spirits shaping our culture today tell us about where our times fit within the biblical story? In chapter 8 we turn to consider how the church is to live at the crossroads between these two conflicting and incompatible worldviews. How are we meant to live in two stories and yet remain faithful to the one true story articulated in the biblical narrative? What is involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and Western culture? And finally, chapter 9 offers snapshots of what such an encounter might look like in six areas of public life: politics, business, art, sports, scholarship, and education.
We realize we are deeply indebted to many people, living and dead, who have shaped our understanding of worldview. We mention in particular Al Wolters, Brian Walsh, Richard Middleton, Elaine Botha, Bob Goudzwaard, Jonathan Chaplin, Herman Ridderbos, N. T. Wright, Lesslie Newbigin, Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, David Naugle, and John Newby.
Jim Kinney and his excellent staff at Baker Academic have been helpful in forming this book and bringing it to birth. We are again deeply indebted to Douglas Loney, professor of english and dean of the Foundations Division at Redeemer University College. As with The Drama of Scripture, Doug has helped to provide a lively literary style. He has done more than simply edit this book and help to unify two writing styles. Doug has entered into the topics at hand, helped express things more clearly, and provided invaluable help not only on style but also on content. We are delighted to dedicate this book to Pieter and Fran Vanderpol, and to John and Jenny Hultink. These couples have become our dear friends and have demonstrated their commitment to Christian scholarship in tangible and sacrificial ways, not least in endowing the chairs that we occupy. Without such patrons, this book would not have been possible.