The “worldview” culprit
July 9, 2013
The popular expression of “Christian worldview” or “biblical worldview” can be serviceable as a shorthand for “how I view the world in the light of Christ and his gospel.” However, more often than not, “worldview” is a convenient circumvention of responsible intellectual inquiry and dialogue. It is in this sense that I have criticized worldview-ism on this blog. It is a cover for the anti-intellectualism that lingers in evangelical circles. Furthermore, it underwrites the doctrinal laziness that invariably accompanies such worldview amaurosis. Thereby, dogmatics becomes a mere repristination of past accomplishments when a supposedly Christian worldview dominated.
In its more extravagant forms, “worldview” can service a wide array of Christian foundations, as Vern Poythress (of WTS) has done for both logic and the authority of Scripture, as well as a book on science with no science.
So, I was happy to read Paul McGlasson’s insights on the phenomenon of worldview-ism in the church today. This is from the soon-to-be-published first volume of his projected five-volume systematic theology (from Wipf & Stock):
The Bible may not say what we at first expect, whether our inclinations are conservative or liberal; but it is our expectations which must give way to something infinitely more valuable than yet one more liberal or conservative platitude. The Bible may not proclaim what we first desire; but it is our desire which is ultimately absorbed by a divine satisfaction qualitatively greater than all possible human fulfillment.
On the other hand, the logic of Scriptural freedom in the church has eroded considerably on the religious right. The culprit is the now almost universal notion within conservative evangelical circles of a “Christian worldview” into which the Bible itself is inserted. Though often portrayed as a traditional idea, the fact is clear that the very notion of a “worldview” did not come about until the Enlightenment philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Only on the condition of the possibility of a transcendental Self is the idea of a worldview even meaningful; nor was it ever asserted before Kant. The first observation therefore that needs to be made — contrary to expectation, certainly — is that the use of “worldview” language among Christian conservatives is an embrace of the Enlightenment, certainly not traditional church doctrine.
[Paul C. McGlasson, Church Doctrine: Volume 1: Canon, Cascade Books, pp. 34-35 from an uncorrected manuscript, which may vary from the final edition once it is published.]
This is just a small excerpt from a larger discussion. My own inclinations are definitely conservative, as should be no surprise to readers of this blog, and therefore this challenge from McGlasson is worth heeding, lest cultural values displace the ability of Scripture to challenge us to obedience. To be sure, McGlasson is equally dissatisfied by the left’s own unique form of cultural pandering.
Yet, I am not certain that we can actually transcend entirely the “conservative” and “liberal” ideologies, as McGlasson repeatedly contends (with the help of Barth’s rejection of natural theology). To my mind, it is not likely that both are equally offensive to God’s law, even if both have an abundance of cultural idols. Thus, it may be that obedience to God requires a certain identification with one or the other, or a mix, of cultural ideological positions.
For some of us, this would be “conservative” more than “liberal.” For others (including many other “Barthian” bloggers!) this would be more liberal than conservative, while remaining cognizant of the temptress of cultural idolatry.