Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Collapse of the Christian Worldview and the Need for Cultural Apologetics

Since the central idea of cultural apologetics is that it seeks to correct a person’s worldview, this begs the question as to how much this brand of apologetics is actually needed today in America. Research done by Barna seems to confirm the priority of cultivating biblical worldviews in today’s Church, which involves learning to think like Jesus because the biblical ideal is that followers of Christ would both act and think like Jesus. Thus thinking like Jesus is an integral component of the Christian life because “behavior stems from what we think - our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions.” According to Barna’s research, most people do not possess a Christian worldview as the following survey reveals:

"Only 9% of born again Christians have such a perspective on life. The numbers were even lower among other religious classifications: Protestants (7%), adults who attend mainline Protestant churches (2%) and Catholics (less than one-half of 1%). The denominations that produced the highest proportions of adults with a biblical worldview were non-denominational Protestant churches (13%), Pentecostal churches (10%) and Baptist churches (8%)."

The survey also concluded that one’s worldview definitely impacts behavior. The survey found that

"upon comparing the perspectives of those who have a biblical worldview with those who do not, the former group were 31 times less likely to accept cohabitation (2% versus 62%, respectively); 18 times less likely to endorse drunkenness (2% versus 36%); 15 times less likely to condone gay sex (2% versus 31%); 12 times less likely to accept profanity 3% versus 37%); and 11 times less likely to describe adultery as morally acceptable (4% versus 44%). In addition, less than one-half of one percent of those with a biblical worldview said voluntary exposure to pornography was morally acceptable (compared to 39% of other adults), and a similarly miniscule proportion endorsed abortion (compared to 46% of adults who lack a biblical worldview)."

As one reviews these alarming statics, one may wonder how pastors have allowed such a predicament to take hold. After all, they are the ones who are called to oversee, love, and protect the flock.

Yet, one major problem is that many Protestant pastors do not possess a biblical worldview either. In another study by the Barna Group, the researchers found that only 51% of protestant pastors possess a biblical worldview. What is most shocking about this data is the criteria that was used to define biblical worldview in the survey. The criteria included “the accuracy of biblical teaching, the sinless nature of Jesus, the literal existence of Satan, the omnipotence and omniscience of God, salvation by grace alone, and the personal responsibility to evangelize.” In light of these results, Barna concluded that the reason for the abysmal statistics regarding biblical worldview among the laity was directly related to the lack of a biblical worldview among the clergy. “’The most important point [of this study],’ Barna argued, ‘is that you can’t give people what you don’t have.” Thus, an important factor in the cultural demise of the church cannot be ignored: the absence of a biblical worldview among the laity lies at the feet of the clergy. This downfall of pastoral integrity is crippling the Church and must be addressed.

What brought about such a change, or, to be more precise, what cultural lies have been believed by the Church that brought about such demise? To be sure, there seems to be a complete inability within the body of professing believers to discern the prevailing philosophies that undercut the Christian faith. Some of those philosophies stem from modernism, while other prevailing philosophies find their genesis in postmodern thinking, and it is important to understand both. Modernism is a child of the Enlightenment where reason reigned supreme. It came to become a cultural movement that put man at the center of all things. It propagated the idea that man, through his own ingenuity and harnessing of nature, could bring about a utopian ideal, a perfect society of sorts. That is, if only people would shed their allegiance to religion, and triumph reason in its place. The American church has, by and large, committed their allegiance in many ways to this philosophy. Relying on management techniques, church growth techniques, and humanistic psychology that stem from an over reliance on man’s ingenuity rather on the power of God’s Spirit and His Word have created a serious problem. Such a commitment has caused many Christians in our day to “follow the modernistic impulse that compels them to trust first in technology, the ingenuity of man, human reason, and the false assumption that progress is perpetual and even upward.” In other words, what the church has produced is religious humanists rather than biblical disciples.

The central core of modernistic thinking is Enlightenment rationalism and evolutionary naturalistic materialism. During the period of the Enlightenment several thinkers converged to erect a new way of thinking about the world. It was understood that the primitive religious worldview that governed the thinking of the masses was deemed superstitious and antiquated. In its place, reason was established as the epistemological grid one used to attain knowledge. Gone was the thinking of the primordial Dark Ages and the dawn of progress had now arisen. Reason instead of religious revelation was the prime source of authority. Modernity had become critical of traditional institutions and systems of belief. Rationalism together with Empiricism was now what governed knowledge acquisition.

Enlightenment thinking continues to reveal itself in many forms in American culture, one of which is its distain for religion. Norman Malcolm’s statement characterizes this pretentious attitude regarding religion: “In our Western Academic philosophy, religious belief is commonly regarded as unreasonable and is viewed with condescension or even contempt. It is sad that religion is a refuge for those who, because of weakness of intellect and character, are unable to confront the stern realities of the world.” Such values are exemplified in many areas of influence in America such as the media, the halls of learning, politics, jurisprudence, and has filtered down to the home. The ramifications have been brutal. This thinking has led to an extrapolation of a moral law from society that is rooted in religion, and has been replaced with a politically correct moral framework. Such an ethos has made a tremendous effect on how people view sex, marriage, gender, as well as a whole host of other categories.

Evolutionary thinking, undergirded by naturalism, has also wielded tremendous power in our day. It is the starting point for defining reality. So entrenched is the philosophy that Senator Rick Santorum (Rep., PA), proposed an amendment to a Senate Bill that congress was considering. The amendment stated,

"(1)Good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why this subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject."

One would think that such a benign statement would not create any stir from science educators. Yet, this was not the case since “the amendment included no provisions for implementation or enforcement and hence would not require or fund educators to do anything in particular.” The scientists rejected the idea that there was a scientific controversy because they felt it would give credence to the Intelligent Design movement as a legitimate form of science. The scientists were so committed to a naturalistic philosophy that they did not wish to leave any room for debate about the subject. This is why Phillip Johnson has worked feverishly to reveal the philosophical presupposition of naturalism that is espoused by scientists, and has petitioned others to join the fight. The ramifications of naturalism and its promotion of a naturalistic ethic have been disastrous in that it completely undercuts the Christian worldview.

Another ramification of evolutionary thought is a loss of meaning. If evolution is correct, as Richard Dawkins points out in his book Out of Eden, this means that “in a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” Dawkins reveals a worldview that perpetuates hopelessness and meaninglessness. However, a counter perspective, this one by Blaise Pascal, offers a different worldview; one that is rooted in the Christian faith.

"When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity that lies before and after it, when I consider the little space I fill and I see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant, and which know me not, I rest frightened, and astonished, for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there. Why now rather than then? Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time have been ascribed to me?"

Postmodernity, on the other hand, has erected its own godless philosophies. In its reaction towards modernism, this movement sought to correct its abuses. When modernism asserted that one could have absolute assurance of knowledge, postmodernism countered with the idea that one could not be assured of anything. Modernism posited that man could perfect himself and bring about a grand utopian society, whereas postmodernism recognized the abysmal failure of such a proposition. Yet, despite its legitimate critique of modernism, the answers that it proposed have been damaging to the Church. What Postmodernism did was offer “a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, the self and other notions.” Among those lies that were concocted, a few have been particularly devastating to the cause of Christ.

One of the many lies offered by postmodernism was originally offered by Jacques Derrida in his advocacy of deconstruction which is currently used as a tool for analysis in the academy and elsewhere. He believed that all beliefs bring with them biases and a priori assumptions that need to be deconstructed. For instance, when an author writes a book, he brings with him biases that need to be unearthed. This, in turn, transfers the meaning of the text from the author to the writer. “Thus, according to Derrida, we are each left with our own interpretations, so there can never be any uniform understanding of the writer’s original intention.” Everyone constructs their own meaning resulting in an absence of absolute truth. Yet, Derrida “was never interested in destroying objective meaning, but reconstructing it.” However, Derrida’s commitment to conventionalism and prospectivism overrode his intentions. The results of the aforementioned philosophies resulted in the loss of meaning because these two philosophies adhere to the idea that “all meaning is relative to culture and situation. There is no meaning prior to language” as well as the idea that “all truth is conditioned by one’s perspective.” Therefore, though he may have not intended to destroy objective meaning, he certainly has played a large part in doing so. This way of thinking has had a direct impact in America and on the American church.

Another key figure that has had a tremendous effect on postmodernism is Michel Foucault. Foucault reacted towards modernism’s assertion, first offered by Francis Bacon, that “knowledge is power” which spoke of man’s victory over nature. Foucault reacted to this idea by “by reversing the order.” He advocated the idea that “power creates forms of knowledge, and power ultimately explains the nature of supposed knowledge.” Thus any claims to truth are masks of power. Therefore, when the history of religion is presented, it must be done with the thought in mind that previous history was written by the victors and the oppressed societies and cultures were unfairly marginalized. Therefore, the job of the historian is to rewrite history so as to give a voice to the oppressed cultures that were marginalized by ignoring all their faults and, conversely, to vilify the imperialistic powers. Christianity, it is seen by most, is one of the sources of oppression. Therefore, when Christianity is presented in a high school or college textbook, it is presented in such a way that its faults are magnified, and it’s many accomplishments and benefits are ignored or distorted. Whereas other faiths such as Islam have their faults conveniently airbrushed away, and replaced with a carefully crafted Islamic apologetic. Truth is then distorted, and, in its place, is a secular progressive, adolescent idealism. Because of this idea’s success, any claims of truth are rejected out of hand by the person steeped in postmodern philosophy.

Works Cited

Barna update “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical effect on a Person’s Life” The Barna Group, December 1, 2003 (Accessed June 24, 2010).

Barna update “Only half of Protestant Pastors have Biblical Worldviews” The Barna Update, Barna Research Group, January 12, 2004, (Accessed June 24, 2010).

S. Michael Craven. Uncompromised Faith: Overcoming our Culturalized Christianity. (Colorado Springs: Nav Press, 2009), 31

Jay W Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Madison: IVP Academic, 1998), 12

Philip Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate (Madison: InterVaristy Press, 2004), 31

Blaise Pascal, Pensees (Penguin Classics, 1995)

Geisler, Norman Baker Encyclopedia of Apologetics, (Grand Rapids: Baker Press, 1998),

Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism, (Grand Rapids: IVP Books, 2000), 30

No comments:

Post a Comment