Worldview 101 (part 6) - So What?

So, the real question: does all this Worldview 101 stuff really matter in the life of the average Christian? Or is all this talk of esoteric sounding things like "Naturalism" and "Monism" just academic shop talk for self-styled intellectuals? Isn't Christianity simply about loving Jesus with all my heart and trying my best to live for him? How much intellectual, worldview stuff do I really need in order to do that?
Well, a lot actually! As I mentioned before Christiany is much more than just a relationship between myself and God - it's a worldview. The relationship that Jesus enables me to have with God through his death and resurrection becomes the grid through which I learn how the whole world works, and how I fit into it. In other words, Christianity teaches that God doesn't just reconnect me with himself. He goes on to explain all 4 worldview questions: where I came from, what's wrong with the world, what he's doing to fix it, and what the purpose of my life is in relation to all that.
But many Christians today haven't realized that their own faith is a worldview. For various reasons depending on faith tradition, Christians of all stripes tend to see their faith as a purely personal and private matter. The Faith is understood to be dealing with the individual and God, having little or no relationship with the world around us. Instead, American Christians increasingly adopt a secular framework for understanding life, and trying to make their sacred beliefs fit in to that framework. And the results are beginning to show.
Here's a current example: we evangelicals are typically the most theologically conservative group in the nation, holding the Bible to be the innerant message from God which is the final authority on all matters of life. Yet a recent survey from the Pew Research Center indicated that 57% of American evangelicals now say they don't believe Jesus is the only way to God, despite clear Biblical statements to the contrary. 57%!! That's more than half! Shocking, isn't it!?! Actually, such news shouldn't be shocking. For several years now, respected pollsters at The Barna Group have been telling us that less than 10% of Christians (and less than half of all Protestant pastors!) have a biblical worldview.
But how do we explain so obvious a contradiction amongst evangelicals? How can so many Americans simultaneously claim the Bible is absolutely true and life's final authority, yet deny some of it's clear teachings? Personally, I think explaining the contradiction is pretty straightfoward. First, very few Christians understand biblical theology at all. And no wonder - apparently most of their pastors don't either! One wonders how the sheep are supposed to get fed if the shepherds don't even know where the grass is.
But there's another reason that I think is even more responsible: we American Christians have largely accepted the mental framework of our secular culture, and we then filter what Bible doctrine we learn through that framework. In other words, rather than adopting a Biblical worldview we've unwittingly accepted a secular worldview and then tried to understand our faith through that grid. And it's not working.
The Pew survey above is a great example. As mentioned previously, the prevailing worldview in America today is Postmodernism, with its concept of Tolerance. Many American Christians base their worldview on Tolerance. So when the Bible seems to say something that goes against Tolerance, the more deeply held idea will win out. Put another way, I can choose to look at Tolerance through the lens of the Bible, or I can look at the Bible through the lens of Tolerance. Apparently, 57% of American evangelicals choose the latter approach.
And that is why worldviews matter. If I'm not aware of the ideas prevalent around me I will absorb some of them uncritically into my own personal worldview. And some of these ideas are contrary to Scripture. The Christian life is a call to serve truth in a truth-denying world (as Jesus did before Pilate), to serve people in a self-absorbed world (as Jesus did in the Upper Room), and to live for God in a hyper-individualistic world (as Jesus did in Gethsemane). But we can't live Jesus' life apart from Jesus' teachings.
Worldviews matter because we'll never be able to live like Jesus until we learn to think like Jesus. And we'll never learn to think like Jesus until we learn to identify our own individual worldview, and then allow Jesus to begin supplanting it with his own. Only then we will experience what the apostle Paul described as putting off the old man and putting on the new man, with the result that the whole man looks more and more like Jesus every day.

Worldview 101 (part 5) - Postmodernism and the New Tolerance

In the process of writing the wrap-up post for Worldview 101 it occurred to me that one other perspective deserves a brief mention due to its prevalence in America today: Postmodernism. This isn't a really coherent view of life like some of the other worldviews I've written about. Nevertheless the collection of basic ideas we call Postmodernism is extremely popular in America today, particularly among younger and college educated people, and it's becoming more widespread every year.

Postmodernism is really the grandchild of Naturalism rather than a totally unique worldview. Some thinkers took the ideas of Naturalism to their logical ends, such as the belief that there is no higher reality beyond matter and energy and thus there is no meaning or truth (a belief called "Nihilism"). Postmodernism rejects Naturalism's confident assertions about the nature of reality, and questions whether we can truly know anything so certainly.

As a worldview, Postmodernism can be described using the 4 worldview questions:

1. Origin - where did we come from and thus what are we?
The true nature of reality is hidden. Exactly how we got here and what we are is not knowable with any certainty. In fact, if any absolute truth is out there at all we can't know it for sure. Consequently, the "truths" we think we know aren't really true. One of the main goals of Postmodern thinking is to jolt your sense of what is real. This can be seen in the "Postmodern architecture" photo above, wherein the building doesn't appear to be a basic rectangle sitting straight up and down as we all "know" buildings must. And the bizarre goldfish picture (right) is trying to do the same thing by blending categories that we all think of as separate (a bedroom and a goldfish bowl).

Where did the "truths" we think we know come from? They're just social constructs. That is, people we respect (our parents, religious leaders, historical figures, etc.) have created their own stories that give meaning to human events, but they're just stories. (Was the European settling of of America the dawn of a new age of freedom or the death of freedom? Depends on who's story you listen to: the European's or the Apache's...)

2. Problem - what's wrong with the world?
In a word: metanarratives. That's a fancy way of referring to any over-arching story or idea that ascribes meaning to human existence. For example, "America is a shining city on a hill, a beacon of liberty" is a metanarrative. It's a story Americans utilize to give our nation meaning. But of course, the Postmodernist will point out that that the Sioux and Choctaw didn't see it that way when they were rounded up into refugee camps.

You see, to Postmodern thinkers, all such metanarratives come from people and people alone. They're not actually true, they're just someone's opinion; one group's made-up beliefs that are used to dominate and subjugate another group. These metanarratives are only power trips: heavy clubs used by people to beat others into submission. And when two different overarching stories collide, bloodshed results; whether it's white America vs. Native America, or the Palestinain Arabs vs. the Jews, or even "the Hatfields vs. the McCoys."

Incidentally, as with all worldviews, the Bible lays out a metanarrative: Christianity's compelling picture of God's plan to redeem the earth. But Postmodernists are more likely to see that story as the source of Old Testament era genocide and the modern-day Arab/Israeli conflict than the life-giving, meaning-producing explanation of history we Christians understand it to be.

3. Solution - how is the problem fixed?
End metanarratives. Give everyone the ability to construct their own individual story which will give them their own "meaning," but do not allow anyone to apply a metanarrative to the rest of the world. (Interesting how Postmodernism reacts against much of Naturalism, yet ends up sounding a lot like it...) Humanity is simply here, and as long as we are, we should stop trying to force our preferred meaning-stories onto other people. Only then will we enjoy some kind of peaceful existence.

4. Purpose - why am I here?
Stop asking stupid questions. Since there is no truth or meaning that we can really know, there is no real "purpose" for humanity. You construct your own story to make whatever you want of your life, I'll construct mine, and let's just agree to leave it at that.


An important connection exists between postmodernism and the modern-day concept of "Tolerance." Classical tolerance is a good thing: it's basically the idea that in a pluralistic society wherein people disagree, we should all choose to disagree agreeably. In other words, we respect other people's right to hold different views, and we hold respectful (even if sometimes passionate) debates about truth. This classical tolerance is what the American political system was built around.

However, Postmodernism swept in and, like a parasite, latched onto classical tolerance and morphed it into something new and more sinister. The New Tolerance essentially means no one can disagree. Because truth isn't there in Postmodern thought everyone's view is just "their take," and thus no more valid than anyone else's view. In other words, no one's ideas are any better than anyone else's ideas because there is no standard by which to measure "better," there is only opinion. Consequently debate (even respectful debate) is meaningless, since the point of making arguments is to persuade people that your view is more "right." The Postmodern world is a value-free and truth-free world of nothing but individual opinion - utterly meaningless.

And the only "sin" one can commit in this amoral world is to disagree with someone else, because disagreement is seen as a form of coercion: forcing your own metanarrative on someone else. Thus the "Tolerance police" take zealous offense at anyone's claims of truth, seeing such claims as "oppression" and hostility. Thus "Tolerance" has gone from the concept of respectful debate to the concept of no debate allowed.

In a nutshell, I think postmodernism has identified a real problem but has come up with a terrible solution. It is true that various "metanarratives" have been used throughout history in horrible ways. But it does not follow that all metanarratives are equally horrible. Nor do I see any reason to believe that the amoral, value-free world of postmodernism, with it's chilling effect on honest debate, can protect the principles and values that make human life worth living.

Nonetheless, Postmodern-fueled Tolerance is a potent force in America today, even affecting huge numbers of Christians, as we'll see in the next and final post of this series.

Worldview 101 (part 4) - New Age

The third widespread and influential worldview in America is a little slippery and more difficult to define than the other two, but its impact can't be denied. "The New Age" is a label we put on a wide variety of different belief systems. These systems share a common root despite their differences, and that root doesn't come from America or from anywhere in the Western world; it comes from the East. In fact, New Age is essentially Eastern religion dressed up in Western clothes.

This Eastern worldview is called Monism. As the name suggests Monism is basically the belief that all is one. This is virtually synonymous with Pantheism - the belief that everything is God. The main idea is that there really are no distinctions (differences) of any kind: there is no right and wrong per se, just different sides of the universal oneness. There are ultimately no individual people either: we're all part of the cosmic oneness, and our belief that we're distinct individuals is an illusion. It's a difficult worldview for us Westerners to grasp, but millions of people in other nations think this way. And increasingly, so do Americans as various Eastern concepts are "smuggled in" and dressed up in Western clothes via New Age beliefs.

As with all worldviews, Monism/New Age can be understood via the 4 worldview questions:

1. Origin - where did we come from and thus what are we?
We are all part of the great universal oneness. Everything, from people to animals to trees and rocks are all ultimately just expressions of the universal reality. Sometimes referred to as "god" or even "God," the universal oneness is not a person as in Christian thought. Rather, Monists see "God" as just mankind's attempt to re-connect with the cosmic oneness of which he ultimately is a part.

2. Problem - what's wrong with the world?
In a phrase: the illusion of distinctions. The problem with the world in Monism is that so many people are unenlightened: they don't yet realize that they're not distinct individuals. They haven't yet grasped the truth that they're part of the great oneness of the universe. Consequently, everyone runs around looking out for "#1" (himself) which is continually throwing everything out of balance. The details on how this works out will vary widely depending on which Monist/New Age belief system you examine, but at the root that's the understanding of the world.

3. Solution - how is the problem fixed?
Simple: obliterate distinctions! Get as many people as possible to realize the truth of the cosmic oneness. Dispel the illusion of distinction, so more and more people can get in touch with the great Oneness of the universe. Eventually, when enough people do so it will usher in a New Age (hence the name) of human existence. It will be utopia.

How does one get in touch with the cosmic oneness? There are hundreds of different ways, depending on who you talk to. Examples include things like,

  • Eastern mind-emptying meditation
  • the use of cosmic-energy-focusing crystals
  • astral projection
  • yoga (can be more than just good exercise!)
  • radiating "light"
  • channeling astral/spirit guides.

But again, no matter the particulars the ultimate goal is the same: to transcend this shadowy existence where people are imprisoned by the illusion of distinctions, and become free to merge with the vast cosmic oneness.

4. Purpose - why am I here?

The purpose of life is to transcend this prison-like existence and merge with the Oneness. And to help as many others as possible do the same. The goal is to open as many peoples' eyes as possible and free them from "primitive" religions (like Christianity) and dead Naturalism (which denies the existence of any cosmic Oneness) so that they too can transcend this confining life. By so doing, The New Age of human existence will begin.

Monism in America
It's interesting to see how such a non-American way of thinking has become influential in America. Typically, Eastern Monist ideas get combined with Western individualism to form a whole new belief system: The New Age. Americans are urged to tap into "higher power" via spirit guides or crystals to achieve their own individual goals. Or they're told to reach within themselves where they'll discover a previously unknown power source deep inside - an idea that appeals strongly to the individualistic, "I gotta' be me" mindset of postmodern America.

Yet regardless of whether the power comes from the cosmos or from within the person, the promise is the same: that such power will enable people to break free from all the negative influences that imprison them, be that illness, poverty, depression, low self-esteem, or addictions. Some motivational speakers (not all) fall into this category, and millions of books which advance these ideas are sold every year from the Self Help sections of American bookstores.

All of these these are particular forms of the same basic view: Eastern monism, re-spun to make it palatable to a Western audience. And while few Americans buy into the entire worldview of Monism, huge numbers of us are working these ideas into our personal worldviews via books, speakers, celebrity personalities and other gurus.

In the final installment of Worldview 101 I'll try to draw this all together and suggest what difference it might make in a Christian's life.

Worldview 101 (Part 3) - Christianity

This entire "Worldview 101" series can be seen here, or viewed individually: part 1 touched on what a worldview is and why it matters, and part 2 looked at the popular worldview known as Naturalism. This post discusses Christianity as a worldview.
Yes, Christianity is more than a religion and it's more than a relationship - it's a worldview. The Bible presents much more than just how to have a relationship with God or how to get one's spiritual needs met. It unveils a comprehensive view of the world, and answers all of life's big questions. Including the 4 key worldview questions:
1. Origin - where did we come from and thus what are we?
Several important themes are embedded in the Genesis creation account that tell us who we are and what our world is like, including...
...God is creator. The implications of this seemingly simple statement are vast. God's nature and character are the standard by which reality is measured. This is the basis of Christian morality (the difference between right & wrong) and our place in the universe (second to God).
...Image of God. Humanity is the only created thing that bears the image of God himself. We were made by him uniquely to reflect his nature. This sets us apart from plants and animals at the most basic level, and forms the basis of Christian ethics (how we should behave).
...Order. The repeated patterns in Genesis 1 show a world of order, not chaos. This forms the basis of wisdom (learning how to live successfully in this world) and science (unlocking the secrets of the world).
...Hybrid nature. God made Adam of physical stuff (dust) yet breathed the breath ("spirit") of life into him. Mankind is thus a hybrid creature, part physical and part spiritual. Unlike the worldview of Naturalism discussed before, Christianity sees the soul, mind, and conscience as real parts of a human being, not illusions.
...Commission. God gave humanity a job in Genesis 1:28, which is to serve as his stewards, caring for and developing the world he created according to his intentions. This responsibility forms the basis of a Christian view of the purpose and meaning of life.
How many important concepts flow from the simple statement, "God made us!"
2. Problem - what's wrong with the world?
In a word, rebellion. We weren't satisfied to function within our God-ordained place in his great, delicate, orderly machine called the world. We sought to usurp his place, to be our own god who determines his or her own destiny. In effect we told God to get lost, to go jump in a lake. The Bible calls this sin.
And that rebellion broke God's created order. Like a failed bearing in the heart of a motor that wrecks the whole thing, our rebellion disrupted, distorted, and threw off all of the beautiful harmony of God's good world, and at bottom that's why there is so much pain, sickness, and suffering in the world.
3. Solution - how is the problem fixed?
God set out to put the world to rights again - a mission that climaxed at Jesus' death and resurrection. Thus the path to solving our problem, as CS Lewis put it so well in Mere Christianity, is to recognize that I'm a rebel who needs to lay down his arms. I must surrender control of my life, my "right" to be my own god, and let God once again be God. The Bible calls this repentance. If I do so, in grace he will accept me and I can be reconciled to him. I will not only enjoy that reconciled relationship with God now, but I have a future to look forward to, consisting of a New Earth that is re-made according to the plan he originally started with.
Note the contrast here between Christianity and Naturalism. Naturalism says the way to fix our problem is to give everyone maximum autonomy - to increase their ability to be their own god. Christianity says that will only make things worse, since that's what got us here in the first place. Rather, the way to fix the problem is to surrender my autonomy to God, who loves me and rightfully deserves my allegiance. You could not find two worldviews more diametrically opposed to one another.
4. Purpose - why am I here?
Christians have a specific life purpose and a more general one - and they're related. The specific purpose is one evangelicals are familiar with: we are representatives of Jesus sent to tender his offer of reconciliation ("ministers of reconciliation," Paul calls us in 2 Corinthians 5:20).
But our general purpose as human beings has never changed. We are still God's stewards, as a race caring for, developing, and ruling over his created order according to his intentions, just as Genesis 1:28 says. This prompts a Christian to live a life that lines up with God's priorities in the world such as:
  • caring for the earthly environment even as we live off it,
  • advocating for justice and defending the defenseless, be they sexual slaves in Asia, the forgotten poor in backwater nations, or the unborn,
  • developing and strengthening cultural forms such as better government systems, legal systems, and family units,
  • creating art, and pursuing truth and understanding through various sciences (physical, social, and theological),
  • and much more.
In short, the Christian life is infused with meaning and purpose. And unlike the "purpose" one invents for oneself in the framework of Naturalism, the purpose and meaning found in Christianity is real.
The Christian faith is about more than just my personal relationship with Jesus, though it is certainly about that. It's also about understanding God's redemptive plan, and where we fit into that plan so we can live accordingly. In other words it's a worldview - rightly understood, it's God's view of the world.
Next up, and last on my list: Monism (a.k.a. The New Age)

Worldview 101 (part 2) - Naturalism: A Wasteland of Death

Having briefly talked about what a worldview is and why it's important, I now want to get practical. What "worldviews" are really out there, how do they look, and how do they work in real life? I'm going to outline the 3 most influential worldviews in America today (Naturalism, Christian Theism, and Monism) using the 4 key questions, and then contrast them with one another.

The first worldview to address is Naturalism. This worldview has nothing to do with loving nature or the outdoors! Rather, Naturalism is the belief that the physical world ("nature") is all there is. It's the assumption that there is nothing beyond matter and energy; no spirit world, no supernatural, no immaterial. Thus there is no God, nor spirits of any kind - which also means that human beings do not have a "spirit" or "soul" of any sort. A human is a complex machine, a biochemical meatbag. And that is all.

Here's just one recent example of Naturalistic thinking in action. Recently I received the latest copy of The California Monthly, the alumni magazine for UC Berkeley (GO BEARS! Sorry, that just slipped out unexpectedly...) One of the feature articles described the amazingly advanced brain research the university is doing, including research on consciousness. They're essentially asking the question "how does this electrochemical, biological machine called the brain become self-aware and conscious?" Their current hypothesis (brace yourself): consciousness is an accidental byproduct of the brain's complicated electrochemical activity. Do you see the Naturalistic assumptions? I can identify a few: 1) the brain is only a physical machine, 2) there is no soul or mind, so 3) consciousness must be an illusion, and 4) must be an accidental byproduct of what's real: the physical, chemical processes in the brain.

Note that these are all assumptions, derived from a Naturalistic worldview. In other words, never has a scientific experiment proved the non-existence of the soul. Nor could it. The soul's non-existence is simply assumed. This is the worldview of Naturalism operating before our eyes, and coloring the way these scientists do science.

By the way, there's a delicious irony in the fact that these scientists are using their own conscious thinking processes to prove that conscious thinking is just as illusion. It's a self-refuting proposition: if conscious thinking is an illusion, then why should we trust their research (i.e. their conscious thinking) which tells so?

Like all worldviews, Naturalism can be described using the 4 worldview questions:

1. Origin - where did we come from and thus what are we?
No one really knows where life originated, but once the first living cell arrived we evolved according to some Darwinian mechanism. Thus, a human being is fundamentally no different than an ape, an earthworm, a dandelion, or a bacteria. We are all just machines - biological machines that happened to evolve. Thus life has no true meaning: we simply are. Nor does human life have any special value - we're just matter & energy like everything else. This view has all sorts of frightening implications for things like meaning and ethics...

2. Problem - what's wrong with the world?
Naturalism's view of origins is sort of like a nuclear bomb, laying waste to all questions of purpose, meaning, and morality. Thus questions like this one have no real answer: a logically consistent Naturalist (a very hard thing to find, by the way) simply says the world is what it is - there's no sense in saying it's bad or evil.

Still, Naturalists are just like everyone in that they have opinions on how to make the world a better place. The problem that needs fixing, according to Naturalism, is mis-used power. In the absence of morality and meaning, power is all that's left to discuss. Who is going to get to do what? And everyone has a different view of the best allocation of power. Naturalism-influenced dictators like Hitler believe their regime or race should have all the power. Modern-day secular Naturalism says every individual must have maximum power. This is the only way to improve the world. Which leads to...

3. Solution - how is the problem fixed?
In a word? Choice. The problem of mis-used power is best fixed by allowing maximum individual autonomy. Remember that in this framework there is no absolute standard - no higher meaning or purpose. We simply are, and so the best thing to do is let everyone be exactly what they want to be. Of course that doesn't work in the extreme - it's anarchy. So most every Naturalist favors some limitations on individual freedom for purely pragmatic reasons. But how much, where, and why? There is no basis for consensus here, only (you guessed it) power: whomever has control of the influence in a culture will get their ideas across.

Naturalism's focus on limiting power is what gave rise to worldviews like Marxism: if we just make sure everyone is treated absolutely equal, then we'll usher in a new utopia of human existence. While the state was to be the arbiter of fairness for Marx, today we've learned to mistrust the state because it has...power! And that power can be abused. So secular thought in Western societies now revolves around maximum individual autonomy, which is the only real value in Naturalism. And it trumps all other values, which explains Naturalism's accommodation to issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. Should individual autonomy be limited even slightly to maintain standards like the value of human life or the institution of marriage? Not if you think those standards are just made up by someone else. And that's precisely what a Naturalist thinks, because no standard is really real - every concept of right & wrong is just someone's opinion.

4. Purpose - why am I here?
In the case of Naturalism, this is an utterly meaningless question. Dr. Will Provine (a strident atheist) made this point articulately in Ben Stein's film Expelled - there is no meaning or purpose for life in Naturalism. You and I are just pebbles, washed up on the "shore" of existence by the blind forces of chance, time, and natural selection. And life has no ultimate meaning: even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat!

Thus the best we can do is invent our own "meaning." In other words, you make one up - you pretend your life has a meaning of your own choosing. But the mentally strong realize that, of course, this meaning isn't real. And your destiny? Annihilation. Once you're gone, you're gone. You cease to exist, and your material body (which is all you are, remember) will dissipate back into the earth.

In conclusion, the important point is to recognize that this view, like all worldviews, is an assumption. The basic assumption of Naturalism has been taken in hundreds of directions by people throughout history, but the root is always the same: the barren, stark view that the material world is all there is. Like an intellectual nuclear bomb this view lays waste to all of the things that make life worth living: our concept of meaning and purpose, of love, of beauty, of the value of life, and of right and wrong. In the framework of Naturalism, these ideas are all figments of our imagination. And he who has the most power, wins.

Next up: Christian Theism. In the meantime, a question for you: where do you see evidence of Naturalism in the way people think today? Post a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Another Good Question - Why I'm Not "Shack"-ing Up

OK, I've received my third or fourth independent inquiry for my perspective on the novel The Shack, and since there's that level interest I want to share a couple thoughts. If you haven't heard of it, The Shack is an unusual piece of fiction that has caught fire and sold well, despite the fact that its author is not a professional writer. I'm honestly not clear as to why it's been so popular -- then again, I have no idea why the Tickle Me Elmo doll went platinum a few years ago either! Perhaps trying to figure out why popular things get popular is a vain attempt at chasing the wind.

Except that books which purport to say something about God aren't as benign as Sesame Street dolls. As I noted just last week, books are an important part of our spiritual growth, because they speak to us. Good writing, especially good fiction, draws us in at an emotional level, bypassing the more critical faculties and resonating with us at a deep, visceral level. Ideas and impressions get absorbed into our view of life, sometimes without the benefit of critical analysis.

That's what makes fiction so powerful. As a preacher I know all too well the power of a good story or a poignant word picture to drive a point home. But it's precisely because I can wield that power when I preach that it's incumbent upon me to be as sure as I can possibly be that the point I'm driving home is accurate, and true. I have to study diligently to understand the truths of the Bible before I drive them into the hearts of my hearers with moving illustrations. The same standard applies to authors - especially authors of Christian fiction.

Good Christian fiction will always start with revealed truth, and then seek creative ways to expound, illuminate, and display that truth. It's disciplined imagination: seeking to advance the truths of Scripture and sound theology for the good of readers. On the other hand, one of the marks of poor Christian fiction -- in fact, of poor Christian thinking in general -- is that it doesn't start with the Bible-revealed God as the center. Instead it starts with man, and man's experience. It then moves outward seeking to fit God into that experience in ways that the individual feels will be meaningful.

Which brings me to The Shack. This is a raw, visceral dialogue between a man in deep pain and the three persons of the Trinity. In other words, the author uses his imagination to picture what God is like - a laudable aim in itself, but problematic in this case because the effort isn't disciplined to sound theology (as this review makes clear). Nor is anyone pretending it is. One reviewer said "People are not necessarily concerned with how orthodox the theology is. People are into the story and how the book strikes them emotionally..." In cases like this, one doesn't need to read the book to know that it isn't disciplined to sound theology. Parts of it are probably fine, while parts are wrong.

This leads me to a sincere question for Christians: then why read it? This question is not rhetorical, it's honest. Since the book will fill my mind with several images of God that do not line up with what he's said about himself, why fill my mind with it? Why not read engaging, well-written fiction that is disciplined to Scripture like that of C.S. Lewis or Randy Alcorn? If an allegory is a must for you, consider Alcorn's Edge of Eternity or Lewis' The Pilgrim's Regress. Lewis openly based the latter title on the all-time Christian classic allegory The Pilgrim's Progress.

Which reminds me of another thing. When Eugene Peterson (author of the Bible paraphrase The Message) recommended The Shack, he gushed that the book would have the same impact as The Pilgrim's Progress did in it's day. Dr. Petersen should know better. The Pilgrim's Progress is the best-selling Christian book of all time next to the Bible and has not once gone out of print for over 300 years. No matter what one thinks of The Shack, it stretches credulity to suggest it will still be in print even 30 years from now, much less 300. Let's not get too caught up in the hype here Eugene; or am I just chasing the wind again?

One final thought: I've heard it suggested that the allegory in The Shack (such as God the Father appearing as an African American woman) is no different than CS Lewis picturing Jesus as a lion in the Narnia series. Actually, it is a very different thing. Lewis never intended Narnia to be a direct allegory (word picture) of biblical truth like The Shack is. Rather, it's a fantasy adventure story with Christian thematic elements in it - a very different thing. What's more, Lewis' Jesus-like character Aslan, even though he's not a direct allegory, nonetheless stays disciplined to the Bible by using an image Scripture itself uses (a lion). I might choose to picture the Father as an African American woman, or as a talking toadstool for that matter. But it's not difficult to see which of the three best reflects God as he revealed himself in the pages of Scripture.

In the final analysis I think this book's popularity is yet another sign of our feeling-oriented, anti-intellectual times. We get excited about anything that makes us feel, and we're bored with God's description of himself and his plan in the Bible (bored with what God said! Wow...) And I'm a bit concerned about young believers being drawn in to it's sometimes unbiblical pictures.

We live in a time where truth is seen as passe. It's a time when even Christians - we who claim to personally know The Truth - show signs of postmodern thinking by how little we value theology, and how much we embrace (and create hype surrounding) anything that makes us feel. It's a time when Christians should be at the forefront of wedding passionate feeling with Biblical truth. In a nutshell, that's why I encourage Christians to spend their reading hours on books that are far more worthy of their time. And it's why I personally won't take the time to read The Shack.

Why bother?

Worldview 101 (part 1) - Why Worldview Matters

We all have one, but it’s largely invisible. It determines our values, molds our perceptions, and profoundly shapes every decision we make. Yet we’re rarely, if ever, aware of it.

Our worldview is simply our basic assumptions about how the world works, and how we fit into it. The key word there is "assumptions." You see, while we each hold a web of beliefs regarding how the world works, these beliefs are held so deeply that we’re not even aware of them any more than a fish is aware of the water it swims in.

In this way a worldview is much like a pair of sunglasses. As a teenager I was fond of ruby tinted, blue-blocker sunglasses. Right after I put them on everything appeared reddish, but the effect didn’t last long. Soon I was seeing the blue of the sky and the green of the grass normally (or so I thought) and I would eventually forget I even had the glasses on. Until I took them off, that is. Then that blue sky suddenly looked really blue, and boy that green grass was green! The sunglasses were affecting how I perceived the world around me, even when I wasn’t aware of their effect. Our worldview functions the same way, tinting our view of everything around us even though we’re not aware of it.

A worldview consists of many assumptions, but they can be summarized with four key worldview questions:

  1. Origin – where did we come from?
  2. Problem – what’s wrong with the world?
  3. Solution – how do we fix it?
  4. Purpose – why am I here?

Every worldview answers all four questions, albeit very differently. The answers we give to these questions form the basis of our personal worldview. And for a Christian, becoming aware of our own worldview is critical for at least three reasons:

First, Biblical Christianity is a worldview: it's God’s worldview. Christianity was not given to man in order to simply fulfill our spiritual needs. Rather, even a cursory read of the Bible shows that it offers answers to all of life’s biggest questions. In the Bible, God is offering us a pair of glasses that will help us see the world with 20/20 clarity. In other words, if I don’t understand what a worldview is, I may never fully understand my own faith.

Second, it’s vital to spiritual growth. For the Christian, spiritual maturity is about much more than learning Bible stories. It’s about becoming like Jesus in how we think, feel, value, and act. Understanding my own worldview gives me the opportunity to compare it with the Bible’s. But if I’m not aware of my own worldview, I run the risk of unintentionally re-interpreting the Bible through a pair of glasses I don’t even know I’m wearing.

Finally, it’s essential to the task of witness. Learning how worldviews work is a lot like learning to speak another language. It helps me translate Jesus' offer of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) into terms that someone with a completely different worldview is more likely to understand.

Worldviews matter - a lot! My next few posts will look at how the Bible answers the four key worldview questions, and contrast those answers with some of today’s other popular worldviews.

Because in the Christian life, few things are more important than comparing my view of the world and how I fit into it with Scripture.

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