By / Nov 18

Editor’s note: This is the fifth article in a series on what Christians should know about worldviews and worldview analysis. The other articles in the series can be found here.

How do we determine whether one worldview is better than any other?

A primary way to answer that question is to determine whether a worldview is true or false. A worldview that is true—that is, a worldview that corresponds to reality—would be better than one that is not. In an earlier article, we discussed that there are (at least) 10 basic worldviews, such as Christian theism, Naturalism, and New Age spirituality. Since these worldviews make claims that contradict one another, they can’t all be true (though it’s possible they could all be false). We could therefore rank the worldviews from better to worse based on whether they are truer than their rivals.

To do this we need a test for the truth or falsity of a worldview. The Christian philosopher and apologist Norman Geisler proposed that the test for the falsity of a worldview is “unaffirmability,” while the corresponding test for the truth of a worldview is “undeniability.”

The two tests

Unaffirmability means that a statement or belief cannot be supported with evidence or that it contradicts itself. It is based on the most basic law of logic, the law of noncontradiction. This law states that contradictory propositions cannot both be true in the same sense at the same time. Or, to put it more simply, if something is true, then its opposite is false.

Take, for example, the statements, “It is currently snowing in my house,” and, “It is not currently snowing in my house.” If “my house” refers to the same thing, then both statements cannot be true (though, again, they can both be false). The reason they cannot both be true is because that would violate the law of noncontradiction, which is a basic assumption about the nature of reality.

All false worldviews contain statements or beliefs that are similar in that they are unaffirmable. Let’s consider pantheism, the worldview that identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God. A primary claim of pantheism is that God, or the Absolute, is all that exists and that individual entities do not exist. As Geisler notes, a strict pantheist must affirm, “God is, but I am not.” But this is self-defeating since an individual entity—an “I”— must exist to affirm that one does not exist. The claim “I do not exist” is therefore unaffirmable. Since it is an essential claim upon which pantheism relies, pantheism must be false.

Claiming that a statement is unaffirmable does not mean, of course, that it is unsayable or unstatable. For example, we could make the statement, “Green taste like yellow.” While the statement is both sayable and statable, it is completely meaningless. It is also unaffirmable, but only because it is affirming something that is meaningless.

What makes most unaffirmable claims unaffirmable is that what is being affirmed is denied in the process or act of affirmation. If you were to affirm that you lack the ability to affirm anything, then you would be making an unaffirmable claim. What is unaffirmable is self-defeating, and what is self-defeating cannot be true because it violates the law of non-contradiction.

The second test for the truth of a worldview is undeniability, that is, a statement or belief is so true that we are unable to consistently deny it is true. The law of noncontradiction is an example of a belief that is undeniable. Another is the claim, “I exist.” For you to make that statement you would have to exist—otherwise, you would not be able to make the denial (“I do not exist.”). The claim, “I exist,” is therefore undeniable.

Unfortunately, few truths are as obviously undeniable as existence and the law of noncontradiction. But as we’ll see in a later article, Christian theism contains the most consistently undeniable beliefs of any worldview.

A more persuasive approach

Armed with this two-pronged test—unaffirmability and undeniability—we should now be able to convince non-Christians that their worldview is wrong, shouldn’t we?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. As the Apostle Paul pointed out that the ungodly suppress the truth by their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). The ungodly can find a way to deny even the undeniable.

Consider, for instance, the famous argument Dr. Samuel Johnson had with his biographer, James Boswell. The dispute was about a claim made by the philosopher George Berkeley that only the mind exists, and that matter is not real. As Boswell writes in The Life of Samuel Johnson:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, “I refute it thus.”

Johnson’s point was that it was undeniable that matter exists—and he was right. But he was not wholly convincing. His appeal to the stone would certainly not have convinced Bishop Berkely that he was wrong. Some people can—and will—affirm the unaffirmable and deny the undeniable. Some refuse to accede to logic or reality while others merely embrace that they are contradictory. As poet Walt Whitman unapologetically stated, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

The intransigence of the unrighteous should not lead us to abandon undeniability and unaffirmability. But we should be prepared to adopt a more persuasive approach when it comes to convincing someone the Christian worldview is better.

As Sam Chan explains, when the culture was Christianized, we used to argue and teach in this sequence: (1) what I say is true; (2) if it’s true, then you must believe it; and (3) if you believe it, you must live it.

It’s TRUEBELIEVE it LIVE it

That is the logical sequence, but the way our post-Christian friends discover it is often the reverse: (1) what you see is a wiser way to live; (2) but if it’s a wiser way to live, then it’s also more believable; (3) but if it’s believable, you need to consider that it might also be true.

I can LIVE it → I can BELIEVE it → it must be TRUE

The corollary to this is that if a worldview is not a wiser way to live, then it’s less believable, and therefore unlikely to be true.

In the next few articles, we’ll apply this approach to show why non-Christian worldviews are not only unaffirmable but “unlivable” and should therefore be abandoned. 

By / May 1

Like Gen X and others that have come before, the millennial generation is old news. They have moved beyond the college-aged years and into the workforce. In fact, many have their own kids!

There is a new youth generation that has been dubbed “iGen,” the “selfie generation,” the “trans generation,” but are most popularly known as Generation Z. Essentially, Gen Z includes elementary to college-aged students.

There is a ton of research on Gen Z by leading organizations such as Barna and The Center for Generational Kinetics. Yet in our recent book, So The Next Generation Will Know, J. Warner Wallace and I list a number of insights that uniquely characterize this new generation. Let’s consider five:

1. They’re digital natives: Gen Zers spend nearly every waking hour of the day interacting with some form of digital technology. This shapes their sleeping habits, how they process information, how they build and maintain relationships, and how they spend their spare time. Gen Z is the first generation raised swiping screens on tablets and smartphones before they could even speak. The use of digital technology—and in particular social media—is perhaps the defining characteristic of this generation.

2. They’re fluid: Categories that were seemingly fixed and distinct for previous generations are now considered blurry, ambiguous, and fluid for Gen Z. Technology has contributed to a blurring of the lines between work and home, truth and fiction, fact and feeling, and our public and private lives. Perhaps nowhere is there greater fluidity than with issues of sex, gender, and family. Few believe there is such a thing as a “normal” family. Only half of teens today believe gender is defined by one’s sex at birth.

3. They’re post-Christian: More young Americans describe themselves as religiously unaffiliated than ever before. The frequency of Bible reading, prayer, and church attendance is also declining. The Bible no longer holds the same authority in the minds of this generation, at least in terms of what previous generations claimed to believe. In her book iGen, Jean Twenge concluded, “The move away from religion is no longer piecemeal, small, or uncertain; it is large and definitive. More young Americans are thoroughly secular, disconnecting completely from religion, spirituality, and the larger questions of life” (p. 132).

4. They’re lonely: Based on their online presence, most teens seem eminently happy. But this happiness is often a veneer hiding deep loneliness. Gen Z may be on the verge of the greatest mental health crisis in decades. Depression, anxiety, and loneliness are on the rise.

5. Information overload. With smartphones, young people have endless amounts of information at their fingertips. As a result, they can have what they want, how they want it, when, where, and with whomever they want it.

Reaching Gen Z

The big question is how we reach a digitally-shaped generation that experiences information overload. In light of my research and personal experience as a parent, speaker, and teacher, I believe there are two key components.

Building Real Relationships

First, we must build relationships with this generation to develop trust so we can speak into their lives. Young people today have endless voices vying for their allegiance. Why should they listen to you or me? Part of the answer lies in building relational capital with them so we have the right to speak into their lives.

This is a distracted generation that deeply needs meaningful relationships with caring adults. Much of the loneliness of this generation stems from their broken relationships. Many young people settle for relational counterfeits­ such as consumerism, busyness, pornography, fame, and so on which can never truly fill their hearts. What they long for, and need, is adults who will step into their worlds and value them for who they truly are.

In 2018, the A&E channel ran a special show called Undercover High, in which seven young adults, aged 21 to 26, went back to high school to get an inside perspective on students today. What alarmed the undercover students most was the disconnect between teens and adults. One of the undercover students said, “They [teens] are craving for adults to understand them and see them for who they are and the struggles they are facing.” The undercover students concluded that, most of all, young people today just want someone to talk to.

Think about the caring adults in your life who shaped you. Honestly, would you be where you are today without them? Probably not. Because of social media and smartphones, this generation faces more relational challenges than you and I did growing up. They don’t just need “someone.” They need you and they need me. Will you be that caring adult who makes a difference?

Equipping with a biblical worldview

Relationships are vital for building the trust to reach this generation. But young people today also need a worldview through which they can make sense of information bombardment. In other words, Gen Zers need a belief system that can act like a funnel to determine which cultural message are good, true, and worth listening to.

Here’s the reality: If we do not consciously equip young Christians with a biblical worldview, they will unconsciously absorb the ideas of today’s culture. And because of our information-saturated world, Gen Zers are exposed to more competing worldviews—and at earlier ages—than any generation in history.

Barna research has consistently shown that people who see the world as Jesus did are more likely to live as Jesus did. We live based not on what we say we believe or want to believe but based on what we truly believe. If we aim to transform how this generation lives, we need to help them adopt a biblical worldview and then apply that worldview to their life and relationships.

Consider an example of how I tried to do this recently in my own family. My 15-year-old son wanted to see the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, which tells the story of the rock band Queen. I hesitated because the film is PG-13 and contains a message about sexuality that concerns me. Yet after some thought, and research on the film, I came up with a compromise: I would bring him and a friend if they would talk with me about the movie afterward.

He agreed. We went to the movie and then came home and discussed it at the dining room table for about 30 minutes. I didn’t lecture them, but simply asked questions about their impressions, insights, and how we can think about the movie Christianly. My goal was to build a relationship with my son and his friend and also to seize the opportunity to have a meaningful discussion with them about faith.

There are many other ways to do this, but the principle is simple: Truth is best taught to this generation through relationships. If we care about Gen Z, we must step into their worlds and be willing to sacrifice our priorities to get to know them so they can come to know our Savior.

By / Jul 15

Dan Darling interviews Greg Forster about his book “Joy for the World” and what Christian culture engagement looks like in an increasingly post-Christian America and the value of our work.
 

By / May 11

The Supreme Court of the United States just heard oral arguments on gay marriage. If they rule, as most court observers expect, to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, pastors and church leaders will face a new reality.

Two wrong approaches to culture

As discussion and debate on gay marriage has played out in the larger culture and in the church, there are two equally wrong approaches among Christians. First is the retreat from biblical orthodoxy, either explicitly through hermeneutical gymnastics or implicitly by pretending that if we offer a nicer, easier Christianity, our conflicts would melt away.  

Secondly, there is an equally wrong approach that frames the issue solely in terms of “taking our country back from the elites,” as if this is simply a matter of winning a few elections and rolling back the progress gay rights advocates have made in the last decade. I’m a believer in good government and think Christians should be active at all levels, both working and voting for good leaders.

But neither retreat nor recovery reflect an honest view of culture as it is today. What’s more, I’m afraid pastors who adopt one of these two attitudes are failing their people.

Developing an exile theology

This reality has become more acute to me in the last few years, especially as I’ve been engaged in focused study on the New Testament and church history. I’m particularly arrested by the book of 1 Peter. Here the Apostle, sensing a cultural shift that (history tells us) eventually led to increased marginalization, persecution, and even death for Christians, prepares his people for living as exiles or sojourners.

I wonder if Christians are ready for this kind of reality. For so long, we’ve lived under the protective umbrella of religious freedom and in a majoritarian Christian environment. We are not used to living as a distinct minority—as the Church has existed for most of its history and as the Church exists in most places around the world.

I’m not cheering for a post-Christian society. I think this sets up negative structures that imperil human flourishing. Because I love my neighbor, I will continue to work for good marriage and family policy. I’ll still fight for justice for the unborn, the trafficked, and the economically disadvantaged. I’ll still work to help equip and influence civic leaders who apply the gospel to public service. As citizens of a representative republic, we must steward well our role as citizens who shape government.

But if pastors, ministry leaders, and lay leaders take their role seriously, they need to rethink the way they talk about the culture to the people they lead. If we are not teaching a proper “theology of exile” as Peter gives us in his Holy Spirit-inspired letter, we’re not obeying Christ’s command to “feed the sheep.” We’re giving them sour milk instead of meat, tickling their ears with what they want to hear instead of telling them what they need to hear.

Viewing our culture correctly

We fail by acting as if the cultural skirmishes are all a big misunderstanding, by genuflecting at polling data that tells us about the unpopularity of orthodoxy. If people leave church thinking that if they would just be a little nicer, their neighbors would not think biblical sexuality so strange, we’re setting them up for a confusion and failure that harms gospel witness.

Jesus perfectly articulated truth and grace and was rewarded with an ignoble crucifixion. The Apostles preached the gospel and were martyred. The early church fed the poor, cared for the diseased, and forgave their enemies—and were still fed to the lions. Christians should be civil and kind because this is a gospel trait, but not because they are under the illusion that their civility will earn them intellectual points from the culture.

We also fail our people by clinging to a nostalgic view of America that longs for a return to some halcyon days of old. A biblical anthropology doesn’t allow us to think the New Jerusalem came and left in the 1950s. Mankind has always been depraved; it’s just that the sins took different forms. Earlier generations rightly valued marriage and family but were tragically wrong on race.

This utopian longing won’t be met by looking at history through rose-colored glasses. Heaven is not in some American time capsule. Our future, as it has always been is in a city whose builder and maker is God (Heb. 11:10). Until then, the Kingdom breaks through in small doses, as God’s people live out the gospel in their communities and as the Church reflects, in part, a full reality we see in Revelation.

So Christian leaders should do as Christian leaders have always had to do: prepare their people for faithful gospel living in a culture that won’t understand a worldview that has, at its center, a dead man who rose again and is at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

It is this worldview that helps us go into the world and make a difference, succumbing neither to a hand-wringing outrage nor a backpedaling capitulation. Instead, we go out in the joy and power of the Spirit, realizing we are not called to minister in the culture we want, but to the culture that is.