Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Worldviews, Evolution and Slippery Slopes

A few years ago the church I attend established a number of home groups focused on strengthening our understanding and application of a biblical worldview. They used a series entitled The Truth Project (www.thetruthproject.org), created and supported by Focus on the Family. The series is quite well done and impressive—convincing in fact. The presenters argue how a biblical worldview begins with a foundation of certain beliefs about God, truth and humanity, on which are then built the biblical view of things such as politics, economics, history, art and a wide range of other topics. They show this visually as a facade like that of a classic Greek building, with the foundation supporting columns on which rests a beam with niches for various topics, all covered by a roof. I came away from watching the series feeling like I had a nice grasp of what a biblical worldview looked like. For me there weren't any particularly new elements, but the series brought them together in a nice synthesis. The way they present the structure, if you remove any one element of it, the whole structure faces the danger of collapse. The direct analogy of course is that our society is increasingly removing or modifying elements of this biblical worldview and the whole “house” of our Western Judeo-Christian culture is now threatened.

Now, some years later, I'm beginning to question many of the presuppositions and arguments made in this series. I do not have the full series at hand to review and examine more critically, so I will not try to argue with specifics from the series but from general points that they made. First of all, I wanted to put the word “biblical” in quotation marks every time I used it in the first paragraph, because I really think this word has become attached to far too many things. Although she takes the subject in a somewhat different direction, I credit this post by Rachel Held Evans with stimulating much of my thinking on this issue.

I was raised in a circle that treated the Bible as God's answer book to everything. It was in essence not only the book that showed us the path to eternal life, it was the guidebook to every question, the ultimate key to organizing our lives. But is that what the Bible really is? Can it realistically fulfill this role? I rather doubt that at this point. Given that sincere Christians often disagree (at times vehemently) on key issues (not just theological), it seems dubious to me that we can speak of a truly “biblical” understanding of most questions that face us as humans. Is there really a “biblical” politics? Would that look more republican, democrat, libertarian or other? Is multi-party democracy more “biblical” than divine-right monarchy? What about economics? Many of those around me advocate unhesitatingly for capitalism as the clear “biblical” economic system. Never mind, as Evans points out in her article, that this system didn't even exist in Bible times.

I think that much of what the Truth Project advocates as a “biblical” worldview is really a classical Western worldview. Some of it has been influenced by the text of the Bible, though even in this it derives from a particular interpretation or set of interpretations. Much of it derives far more from Greek philosophy than the Bible. Even more it represents a particular Western cultural worldview than an inherently biblical one. This is not to say that the Western cultural worldview cannot be argued for and defended (or argued against and attacked). I am simply arguing that to assert that this worldview is THE biblical worldview is erroneous, false, and misleading.

I understand better now why the advocates of this worldview are afraid. As I said, they see their worldview very much as a cohesive, interlocking structure. Remove one piece and the whole building is in danger of collapse. In their minds this is precisely what is happening in the United States today. (I dare say that most of those behind the Truth Project would say that Europe has long ago abandoned this worldview and is now paying the price.) Therefore out of fear they must try to promote and rebuild this worldview so that their ship doesn't sink (to switch metaphors). What is more, since they tie their worldview to their Christian faith, to see the worldview crumble is to see their faith crumble as well. No wonder they feel such a strong need to defend it. As Evans writes in her book Evolving in Monkey Town: “for fundamentalists, Christianity sits perpetually on the precipice of doom, one scientific discovery or cultural shift or difficult theological question away from extinction.”

What if, by contrast, our faith is much more fluid? I'm not advocating for a completely undefined faith. But what if our faith is far more adaptive and flexible than we have tended to perceive it? “Fortunately,” writes Evans in her book, “the ability to adapt to change is one of Christianity's best features.” For this reason she describes herself as an evolutionist, arguing that: “I'm an evolutionist because I believe that the best way to reclaim the gospel in times of change is not to cling more tightly to our convictions but to hold them with an open hand. I'm an evolutionist because I believe that sometimes God uses changes in the environment to pry idols from our grip and teach us something new.” I imagine that her use of the word evolutionist makes some people uncomfortable. It made me uncomfortable until I understood what she is saying. Then I began to become an evolutionist as well.

I'm beginning to see faith not simply as a set of propositions that one must assent to (without, however, abandoning the idea of absolute, propositional truth) but as a journey; a journey toward Christlikeness; a journey of discovery in which God guides and directs us by the written text of the Bible, by the community of sinner-saints around us and by the agency of his Holy Spirit. I'm finding there are a lot of people on this journey. Some might accuse us of abandoning our faith; of making it personal and subjective. I don't think that is the case, at least not for many of my fellow sojourners. Rather we are seeking to understand what it means to be Christ-followers in the modern world, faithful to God's Word in Jesus Christ in the context of the 21st century. I guess, like Rachel Held Evans, I have stepped onto the slippery slope. It is not as solid, secure and well-defined as the structure of the “biblical worldview.” But as she says: “Now, I have to keep a very close eye on Jesus, as he leads me through deep valleys and precarious peaks.” Let the journey continue.

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