Worldviews Have Consequences

By Dr. Everett Piper
President, Oklahoma Wesleyan University

How do we know which arguments are right and which are wrong? How can we distinguish between claims that are accurate and those that are mistaken? How do we determine what is true and what is false?

Now before we go any further let me say this: Congratulations if you even care. For in a post-modern culture where over 60 percent of Americans say they don't believe in any absolute standards of right and wrong and that all “truth claims” and all moral judgments are relative, it is encouraging to find a remnant wishing to pursue truth rather than construct it. I think you should be applauded if you are eager to debate the veracity of certain ideas. You are already halfway home while others haven't yet even begun the journey.

But I digress. Let's get back to the question. How do you assess arguments for truth?

To set the context for an answer, I think we should first acknowledge the negative. There are certain methods of debate that we should beware of because they often lead down the wrong path - to darkness rather than light - to dishonesty rather than candor.

First, beware of arguments that shoot the messenger and, thus, obfuscate the message. This is an age old fallacy of diversion that goes back to the days of Socrates. It is technically called the argumentum ad hominem which means an “argument addressed to the person” instead of the issue. In other words, you attack the antagonist rather than address his or her ideas. When you see someone attempting to brand liberals as “loons” or conservatives as “fundies” it is a dead giveaway. When a politician calls those who disagree with him ignorant or when a professor labels opponents as “fools” you know the argument is more about political agendas, personal attacks, and protecting opinions than about rational debate. Beware of these tactics. They rarely lead you to your goal of deciphering fact from fiction.

Another tactic to beware of is that of assumption. When a person says something is true you can't assume it is so. This is a non sequitur which means that the conclusion doesn't necessarily follow from the argument. It is perhaps the most common of all fallacies, so common we often fall prey to it unknowingly. A pastor makes a claim so we accept it as fact. A professor denies something so we assume he is telling the truth (primarily because we lean in his direction politically and we want to agree with him).

But our experience has shown us time and again that trusting personal claims is not a good measure of truth. Hitler told Chamberlain that he wouldn't invade Eastern Europe. Nixon denied complicity in Watergate. Clinton said he “didn't have sex with that woman.” Ward Churchill claimed he didn't plagiarize and Eric Pianka (despite the testimony of multiple students, colleagues, interviews, and audio recordings) now denies he has called for forced sterilization and the massive depopulation of the human race. Simply saying something doesn't make it so. History has taught us that truth must be grounded in something more stable than mankind's proven propensity for deception. Haven't we learned that in order to trust we must first verify?

So how do we do this? In the midst of conflicting statements how do we verify what is true and refute what is false? How can we have confidence in what is really honest and trustworthy?

Perhaps the answer lies in paradigms and not people - in guiding ideologies rather than fallible men and women. Here is a question: Are we missing the forest for the trees when we listen to ad hominem attacks and non sequitur arguments; arguments that presuppose name-calling; arguments that assume a statement is true just “because I said so?” Do we get distracted by fallacies and miss seeing the facts?

In our pursuit of truth we must look past the distractions of people and instead look to the power of ideas. The specific ideas associated with a given worldview set the context for us to assess the truthfulness of that worldview's proponents. Marxism set the stage for Stalin's deception. Nazism was the predicate for Hitler's military subterfuge. The ideological consequences of Darwinism as espoused by Pianka are, likewise, unavoidable. If men and women are of no greater intrinsic value than other forms of biological matter then there is no reason to argue for our existence versus that of a lizard or a virus. Survival of the fittest is the optimal value. Morality has no meaning and humanity's belief in truth is merely unscientific self-deception, and “un-Darwinian” (as declared by Richard Rorty, himself a noted Darwinist).

Worldviews have consequences. Some admit truth exists and that we are obligated to pursue it and speak it. Other worldviews boldly state that there is no such thing as truth; that a religious moral compass is the opiate of the masses; and that “survival of the fittest” is the only built-in ruling law of nature and of man. All other “laws” are merely the sum total of one organism jockeying for power over another.

If your goal is to find what is true, you might just be better off looking at ideas first before you listen to people. Perhaps guiding worldviews and their proven consequences are the best starting point for assessing sincerity and answering the question - What is the truth?


Between Two Extremes: Liberalism & Fundamentalism

By Michael Craven

The latter half of the 20th century has seen the emergence of two extremes in the American Church and its relationship to the culture – liberal revisionism on the one side and conservative fundamentalism on the other. Both, I contend, have hindered the work and ministry of the Church. One renders the Christian faith meaningless while the other makes it irrelevant.

Liberal revisionism has capitulated to contemporary culture and with it many truths of the historic faith. Liberal revisionism ultimately renders the Christian message meaningless by reducing Christ to anything you want him to be – there is simply no authority in this view beyond your own preference and cultural whims. My concern herein however is not for liberal revisionism but conservative fundamentalism, which has become the predominant view. Additionally, unlike liberal revisionism, conservative fundamentalism remains Christian but a distorted version of it that is often difficult to distinguish. A recent conversation with Os Guinness offered this insight:

Fundamentalism has become an overlay on the Christian faith and developed into an essentially modern reaction to the modern world, a reaction that tends to romanticize the past … and radicalize the present, with styles of reaction that are personally and publicly militant to the point where they are sub-Christian or worse.

I think Os puts this well when he describes fundamentalism as “an overlay” which, as a result, has captured the thinking of many unwitting Christians. This is frequently expressed in terms of conservative politics, Christian nationalism and what one Evangelical writer revealed when he referred to the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount as “Americanisms.” Being Christian and being American are often thought to be synonymous.

Practically, these expressions are manifest in the almost exclusive reliance upon coercion and politics as the means and method of bringing culture under the influence of biblical principles. The idea is that if “we” can only capture political control we can bring about cultural change in a way that recovers biblical values. Cal Thomas refers to this as expecting the “Kingdom of God to arrive on Air Force One.”

This is, in large part, inspired by a romantic, but inaccurate, view of the past in which we believe that America was once a distinctly “Christian nation” and from the time of our founding has suffered the linear descent from once Christian to now secular. There is no doubt that secularism has achieved its pinnacle in our time, however this does not mean that Christianity was the singular prevailing reality that occupied its place prior to this point. More accurately, the Church in America, much like the Israelites of the Old Testament, has been cyclical with periods of spiritual apathy punctuated by periods of great Awakenings and faithfulness. A serious survey of history will quickly confirm this. Consider that on the eve of the American Revolution, church attendance in this country was less than 10 percent, significantly lower than it is today. Nonetheless, driven by a romanticized view of the past, there is the desire to recover this past but this is often nothing more than a conservative social/political movement with a shallow Christian identity.

To be sure, Christians should be involved politically. This is part and parcel of being a good citizen within a democratic republic. However, Christianity is not nor ever should be defined politically—it is and always must be defined theologically and confessionally. This is where these two extremes share an equal role in undermining the Church’s mission. While liberal revisionism errs in defining Christianity culturally, conservative fundamentalism errs in defining Christianity politically, which is often limited to nothing more than conservative political positions. To be sure, these may tend more toward biblical values than the liberal position but neither political expression is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. They, in and of themselves, are not the source of truth—they are merely political positions that must be tested against the truth of Scripture. Ironically, politics has never changed culture as politics is a reflection of culture not vice versa.

The ultimate effect of conservative fundamentalism upon the Church is one of cultural irrelevance. Fundamentalism tends to see the world as something to oppose rather than to engage and influence. As a result there naturally follows a disregard for anything deemed “worldly” and this includes among other things, intellectualism. Fundamentalists will say “The only book I need is the Bible” and thus remain uniformed about the world and incapable of meaningful influence. This same attitude is expressed toward the study of theology and Church history, which results in a sophomoric theology -- wholly inadequate to shape a coherent biblical response to the complexities of life and culture.

Fundamentalism inevitably reduces the Christian faith to a simplistic set of behaviors and the emphasis tends toward legalism and personal piety -- it remains a private belief and not a public truth to be pressed into every aspect of life and culture. Additionally, with the emphasis on external behaviors, (i.e. sin management) there is little effort applied in the converting the human heart and mind with all of its wretched attitudes. This theological myopia has been central to the deplorable lack of a consciously Christian life and worldview among so many professing Christians as documented by George Barna and others.

Additionally, this “opposing” posture is inherently adversarial, inciting an “us versus them” mentality rather than an “us for them” attitude. This mentality can even be seen in much of the Church’s approach to evangelism, which often treats the gospel message as an argument to win. In such a state, the Church is polarized against the culture and the “Good News” is reduced to a “sales pitch” often relying on high pressure and committed to closing the deal. In many instances the gospel is subtly defined in terms of “happiness,” which is not even the true gospel. Gone is the demonstration of the gospel where the Christian is encouraged to “love his neighbor” and then through the course of a, possibly long and at times difficult, relationship, disciple him or her into the truth. This is the Great Commission and it remains unchanged to this day.

Fundamentalism is not only antagonistic to the world but often toward other Christians as well. Fundamentalists tend to view anyone outside their particular tradition or beyond their theological distinctions with suspicion at best or as outright unbelievers at worst. The result is increasing division within the Body of Christ over what often amounts to non-essentials.

Liberalism won’t press the kingdom in the culture because it has surrendered to the culture; it is of the world, and Fundamentalism won’t because it is not in the world but rather opposed to it. What is needed is a return to the historic Christian position of being in but not of the world. This position requires that we do the hard work of renewing our minds to form a coherent and comprehensive view of life and reality through the lens of a distinctively Christian worldview—being confident in the Truth. It also means that we endeavor to understand and engage the culture in a humble and intelligent way so that we might reach the lost and suffering with the reality of Jesus Christ.

S. Michael Craven is the Founding Director of the Center for Christ & Culture, a ministry of the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families. The Center for Christ & Culture is dedicated to renewal within the Church and works to equip Christians with an intelligent and thoroughly Christian approach to matters of culture in order to recapture and demonstrate the relevance of Christianity to all of life. For more information on the Center for Christ & Culture, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.battlefortruth.org


A Theology of Suffering for a Self-Obsessed Culture

By Paul Edwards

Contemporary culture is, in the words of the late author and social critic Christopher Lasch, a “culture of narcissism.” Tragically, the American church is not immune to this virus. For today the lifestyles and longings of many modern day followers of Christ often bear no appreciable difference from that of our non-Christian neighbors and co-workers.

At some point during the last quarter century it became all-too-common to stop proclaiming a gospel directed at people’s real spiritual needs and instead focus on the wants and desires of potential church goers. More than mirroring the first century church, this conduct reflects the way Starbucks markets overpriced coffee to potential consumers.

For example, conventional wisdom in evangelicalism today is that suffering is the exception, not the norm for the believer. Moreover, if a Christian does suffer it is quite possibly because of sin in his or her life. Many segments of the American church—immersed in a culture of happy, prosperous consumers—have failed their constituency by not faithfully proclaiming what the Bible says about the reality of suffering.

But suffering in the Christian life is the rule, not the exception. From the day Christ called us to follow Him he fully disclosed two prerequisites: denying ourselves and taking up our cross. When Saul of Tarsus was converted on the road to Damascus, he didn’t experience a Benny Hinn-esque healing. On the contrary, God blinded him, left him in that condition for days and sent a reluctant evangelist by the name of Ananias to inform him of how much he would suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 9:15-16).

And suffer he did. Consider what Paul endured: five times beaten with 39 stripes, three times beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked three times, a night and a day floating in the sea, danger of all kinds, weary and in pain, hungry and thirsty, naked and cold. And to add insult to injury God refused to answer his prayer for healing from whatever was ailing him—a thorn in his flesh. Paul was told to be content with grace in the midst of his sufferings (2 Cor. 11-12).

How did Paul respond to his sufferings?

I will glory in the things which concern my infirmities (2 Cor. 11:30).

I am now ready to be offered and the time of my departure is at hand …henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto them also who love His appearing (2 Tim. 4:8).

The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work, and will preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom: to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Tim. 4:18).

How could Paul rejoice in his sufferings and give glory to God? The answer lies in a full reading of 2 Timothy 3-4, written in prison just prior to his execution. Note the use of the word “love” five times in these two chapters: lovers of self (3:2); lovers of money (3:2 - “covetous” in some translations); lovers of pleasure (3:4); love his appearing (4:8); loved this present world (4:10).

One of the five loves mentioned stands in stark contrast to the other four: loving the appearing of Jesus Christ.

When we live in anticipation of seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: enter into the joy of your Lord,” we can endure suffering. Why? Because such a focus helps us realize that the worst thing that happens to us here and now can never separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. With our focus not on self but Jesus, we more fully realize the truth of 2 Corinthians 4:17: “Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, works for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

The tragedy is that much of contemporary evangelicalism has sold the future and eternal “weight of glory” for the immediate and transient satisfaction of “your best life now.” As a result, when Christians encounter difficultly they are ill-prepared to deal with it biblically: the storms come, the winds blow and “Cultural Christian” is blown away because there was no firm, biblical foundation for life (Matt. 7:24-27).

In contrast, the English Baptist John Rippon wrote in 1787 of the believer’s firm foundation:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
is laid for your faith in his excellent word!
What more can he say than to you he hath said,
to you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

In Jesus we have a foundation not only for this life, but for all eternity. Therefore, come what may, the Christian can proclaim, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:26).

Paul Edwards is the host of “The Paul Edwards Program” and a pastor. His program is heard daily on WLQV in Detroit and on godandculture.com. Contact Paul at paul@godandculture.com.