By / Oct 7

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

As we are using the term in this series, a worldview is a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. 

Almost all of our beliefs and values are built on the foundation of our worldview. But the worldview itself is supported by another foundation, what we could call a “faith commitment.”

Faith commitment as worldview foundation

All worldviews rely on a faith commitment. As Brian J. Walsh and J. Richard Middleton explain, the faith commitment is the way we answer four basic questions:

  1. Who am I? – What is the nature, task, and purpose of human beings?
  2. Where am I? – What is the nature of the world and universe I live in?
  3. What’s wrong? – What is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from finding fulfillment? (In other words, how do I understand evil?)
  4. What is the remedy? – How is it possible to overcome this hindrance to fulfillment? (In other words, how do I attain salvation?)

“When we’ve answered these questions, that is, when our faith is settled, then we begin to see reality in some sensible pattern,” says Walsh and Middleton, “Out of faith [emerges] a world view, without which human life simply can not go on.”

Consider, for example, the “sensible pattern” of reality that the early church experienced after the resurrection of Jesus. The early followers of Christ had to update their previous worldviews to incorporate this new information. In his book The New Testament and the People of God, theologian N.T. Wright summarizes the early Christian worldview using their answers to these four questions: 

Who are we? We are a new group, a new movement, and yet not new, because we claim to be the true people of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the world. We are the people for whom the creator God was preparing the way through his dealings with Israel. . . . 

Where are we? We are living in the world that was made by the God we worship, the world that does not yet acknowledge this true and only God. We are thus surrounded by neighbors who worship idols that are, at best, parodies of the truth, and who thus catch glimpses of reality but continually distort it. . . . 

What is wrong? The powers of paganism still rule the world, and from time to time even find their way into the church. Persecutions arise from outside, heresies and schisms from within. These evils can sometimes be attributed to supernatural agency, whether ‘Satan’ or various demons. Even within the individual Christian there remain forces at work that need to be subdued, lusts which need to be put to death, party-spirit which needs to learn humility.

What is the solution? Israel’s hope has been realized; the true God has acted decisively to defeat the pagan gods, and to create a new people, through whom he is to rescue the world from evil. This he has done through the true King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, in particular through his death and resurrection. The process of implementing this victory, by means of the same God continuing to act through his own Spirit in his people, is not yet complete. One day the King will return to judge the world, and to set up a kingdom which is on a different level to the kingdoms of the present world order. When this happens those who have died as Christians will be raised to a new physical life. The present powers will be forced to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and justice and peace will triumph at last.

Eight basic worldview questions

The answers to those four questions are generally sufficient to reveal the contours of a worldview. How those questions would be answered by a Christian are sufficient to distinguish them, for instance, from the answers given by an atheist. But to uncover more nuanced differences between more similar worldviews—such as between biblical Christianity and Mormonism—we need a diagnostic tool that is more detailed. 

In his book The Universe Next Door, James Sire provides such a tool in the form of “eight basic worldview questions”:

  1. What is prime reality–the really real? — Possible answers are God (theism), or the gods (paganism), or the material cosmos (naturalism).
  2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? — Here our answers point, as Sire notes, to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
  3. What is a human being?  — We might say that a human is an illusion, a complex machine, a “naked ape,” or a person made in the image of God.
  4. What happens to a person at death? — We may answer that after death a person ceases to exist, is reincarnated and returned to life, or enters into another realm or state (such as Heaven).
  5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?  — Our ability to think and reason may align with reality because it was designed by an all-knowing God or our cognitive processes may have developed accidentally through the process of evolution and have no certain claim to being able to determine truth.
  6. How do we know what is right and wrong?  — What is morally right may be known because it is rooted in the character of a beneficent God or it may be mere agreement among humans that was necessary for cultural or physical survival.
  7. What is the meaning of human history? — To this we might answer, says Sire, that the meaning is to realize the purpose of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth.
  8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?  — We can provide abstract or purely intellectual answers to the previous seven questions. But answering this last one reveals whether we truly live out what we claim to believe. As we’ll see in future articles, the failure to properly consider this question leads to syncretism. 

These questions are a helpful tool in analyzing and classifying specific worldviews. But what are the functions of worldviews? That is the question we’ll examine in our next article.

By / Aug 10

Every four years, the summer Olympic Games take center stage. And while impossible-to-believe feats of strength and athleticism, camaraderie, and sportsmanship regularly wow its global viewership, the Olympic platform has sometimes also thrust prevailing social and cultural issues to the foreground. In some ways, the Tokyo Olympics may have done so more than ever.

As a prime example, one of the cultural issues that took center stage this summer was the transgender debate, seen most notably in the participation of Laurel Hubbard, a 43-year-old weightlifter from New Zealand who competed in the women’s heavyweight competition. Though admittedly reluctant to be a mouthpiece for the transgender community, Hubbard, who formerly competed in the sport as a male, has garnered a great deal of attention and sparked significant controversy by participating in Tokyo’s games.

Much of the conversation on this particular controversy revolves around the question of fairness. Namely, is it fair for a person who has undergone a so-called gender transition, especially from male to female, to compete athletically in their “new” gender classification? But while the issue of fairness is critically important in sports and athletics, the truth is that fairness is downstream from the real crux of the issue. At root, the issue at hand is whether we, as a society, will continue to recognize and accept objective truth. 

A web of delusion

We are suffering from a self-deception of our own making. The widespread acceptance of transgenderism reflects the fact that our culture has traded objective truth for subjectivism. In effect, we have crowned the self the ruler of truth. And in the midst of this, Sir Walter Scott’s memorable line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave,” has become uncomfortably poignant. Our culture has woven a destructive web of delusion, allowing feelings to supplant facts and preferences to replace realities.

Human beings do not decree what is or is not true. We are not God or gods. As limited and finite beings, our duty is much more modest. We recognize truth. We share truth. We stand for truth. But we do not fashion or alter what is true. And in our culture today, perhaps our hubris and propensity for exceeding the boundaries of our own authority is nowhere better displayed than with regard to gender. 

Rejecting reality

In the case of Laurel Hubbard, we are witnessing the downstream consequences of our culture’s rejection of objective truth. Hubbard’s example demonstrates just how quickly we’re beginning to encounter the consequences of decades of emphasis on self-supremacy and self-actualization. 

Any rational person can acknowledge that it is generally unfair to ask biological females to compete against biological males in physical athletic competition. This is especially true when the activity is weightlifting. The reasons why are self-evident but bear repeating. Males and females are distinct. Among other things, males and females have different musculoskeletal makeups: “Muscle size and bulk is less in women, due to the effects of the normal sex hormones. Men, given their greater levels of testosterone, have larger and stronger muscles, with a greater potential for muscle development.” Importantly, these physiological distinctions are not able to be altered apart from serious medical intervention — and even then clear differences persist.

The decision to allow Hubbard to compete against biological females because of Hubbard’s current female “gender identity” reflects just how deeply we’ve imbibed this cultural delusion. There is no doubt that Hubbard, and many others, experience true feelings of gender dysphoria, “a condition where a person senses that their gender identity (how they feel about being male or female) may not align with their biological sex and experiences emotional distress as a result.” Indeed, such people deserve tremendous mercy and compassion. But validating an identity that is not merely flawed but antithetical to Hubbard’s true identity is neither merciful nor compassionate. It is a rejection of reality and a repudiation of the concept of objective truth.

Eroding the foundations

When it comes to sex and gender the answer is not to capitulate to the winds of culture. Instead, it is to affirm that which is apparent by observation, attested via biology, and most importantly revealed in Scripture. It is no accident that the first pages of our Bible clearly describe God’s pattern for human beings in the words “male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). And it is equally important for Christians to affirm that gender is inextricably linked to sex. Regardless of whether a person may “feel” like a man or a woman, their gender is not determined according to feeling but according to a fixed and objective reality. Only males are men; only females are women.

Athletic competition reveals these distinctions acutely. Men and women typically compete in separate categories to ensure a fair and equal playing field. One need not subscribe to the Bible’s view of anthropology to recognize this. We can recognize the injustice of allowing biological males to compete against biological females because alongside our innate sense of fairness is our perception of these biological distinctions. 

Beyond sports, we can only guess just how damaging the eradication of these boundaries will be for both individuals and our society as a whole. What we do know is that this widespread rejection of objective truth will continue to erode the foundations upon which our common life is built. As Christians, we must strive resist the tides of culture and hold fast to the truth about what it means that God creates human beings as either male or female. These distinctions are critical, not merely to preserve the wonder that captivates us at the Olympic Games but to honor the pattern of God’s design for those he created to reflect his image back into all creation.

By / Dec 18

There is a war on Christmas. But it has nothing to do with whether or not retail cashiers say, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” It does not have anything to do with Christmas slogans printed on cups or whether there are Christmas trees at the courthouse or not.

The problem is that we often think the battle we face is defending our right to experience cultural Christmas sentimentality. Sentimentality is a feeling, a mood, it is not something for which we have to sacrifice or suffer. It is something that we expect others to provide for us.

The real war on Christmas is that too many of us do not think Christmas is war.

John's Gospel does not focus so much on what happened when Jesus was born but what it means. John does not begin his account in Galilee but in eternity past. John portrays Jesus as the decisive turning point in a great cosmic spiritual war. The conflict began, “In the beginning,” when the serpent in the Garden of Eden questioned the word of God, and Adam and Eve obeyed his voice. God’s response to the fall into sin was the gospel promise of seed born of woman who would crush the head of the serpent and his parasitic kingdom (Gen. 3:15).

When John begins his gospel account, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1), he is unmistakably marking Jesus, the uncreated Creator, as the agent of new creation. The decisive Word who “became flesh and dwelt among us” was the fulfillment of all the previous prophetic words of God in the Old Testament (John 1:14; Heb. 1:1-2). A new creation is needed because the old created order is fallen and in rebellion against the Creator. Just like the original creation, the new creation brings “life” (John 1:4) and “light” (John 1:5-6). John uses the language of warfare to declare, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome [seized] it” (John 1:5).

Jesus is “the true light, which gives light to everyone” but “the world did not know him” and “his own people did not receive him” (John 1:9-10). The Gospel writer also notes that John the baptizer came to “bear witness about the light” (John 1:9), which means John began his gospel in eternity past, before the created order, and now he points to a particular historical period around AD 29 when the events were unfolding. When Jesus the Word was born and “dwelt [tabernacled] among us” (John 1:14), he fulfilled all to which the tabernacle and its sacrificial system pointed.

Jesus did not simply bring revelation from God; he is revelation. Jesus did not simply bring truth; he is truth. Jesus did not simply bring a way of grace; he is the way. The incarnation of Christ is not sentimentality—this is war. The only hope for every person in the world is the new creation ushered in by the incarnate Christ. He brought a new Messianic age with a new covenant; he was the new and ultimate Adam, temple, prophet, priest and king. Christmas is the decisive answer to the first gospel promise (Gen. 3:15) and is an eschatological blast of the trumpet in the battle plan of the kingdom of Christ. Without what we celebrate at Christmas, there is only creation chaos, spiritual death and darkness, and a global spiritual orphan crisis.

Because Christ came, we have “the right to become children of God” if we receive him and believe in his name (John 1:12). This spiritual adoption in Christ is characterized as a new birth, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). In the incarnate Christ, who came to be crucified and subsequently resurrected, we see sovereign grace, eternal truth, and the glory of God.

Inasmuch as we are faithful witnesses who testify to the true light of the world, we engage in the warfare of Christmas.

But if we ignore the real battlefield and act as though we are called to defend cultural Christmas sentimentality, we have declared war on Christmas.

On a recent trip to Israel, I met an evangelical Arab Christian, who serves at an evangelical college right in the heart of Bethlehem—the birthplace of Christ. It is a difficult life for Palestinian Christians who live under Israeli occupation in a primarily Muslim community that is full of tension and violence. The seminary professor leaned over to me and said, “Do you see that man over there? I said, “Yes.” He said, “His name is Jihad. His family is Muslim, but he is a Christian.” The professor laughed and said, “You ought to see him try to get through customs at the airport!”

Think about that, an Arab man living in Bethlehem, with a Muslim family, living in a Muslim community, under Israeli occupation, whose name is Jihad, who is a faithful Christian. That did not happen because of sentimentality; it is the result of gospel triumph in spiritual war. All I can think to say in response is Merry Christmas.