Who is God?

Years ago, J.B. Phillips (1906-1982), an English Bible scholar, translator, author and clergyman who is most noted for his version of The New Testament in Modern English, wrote a small book titled, Your God Is Too Small: A Guide for Believers and Skeptics Alike (first published in 1952). A PDF of the book is available at this link.

Amazon.com gives the following brief description of the book:

Your God is Too Small is a groundbreaking work of faith, which challenges the constraints of traditional religion. In his discussion of God, author J.B. Phillips encourages Christians to redefine their understanding of a creator without labels or earthly constraints and instead search for a meaningful concept of God. Phillips explains that the trouble facing many of us today is that we have not found a God big enough for our modern needs. In a world where our experience of life has grown in myriad directions and our mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and scientific discoveries, our ideas of God have remained largely static. This inspirational work tackles tough topics and inspires readers to reevaluate and connect more deeply with a God that is relevant to current experience and big enough to command respect and admiration. (Quote source here.)

This goes along with the topic of my last blog post titled Worldviews.” In that post I quoted from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, “who has been an officer in the Army, a college professor of English literature, philosophy and theology, the chief editor of InterVarsity Press, a lecturer at over two hundred universities in the U.S., Canada, Eastern and Western Europe and Asia, and the author of twenty books on literature, philosophy and the Christian faith. (Quote source here.)

I was intrigued enough by that article that I went looking for a copy of Sire’s book that was mentioned, The Universe Next Door (5th ed., 2009), and I found it at a used bookstore. This 5th edition of the book “has been translated into over a dozen languages and has been used as a text in over one hundred colleges and universities in courses ranging from apologetics and world religions to history and English literature.” It also gives “easily understood introductions to theism, deism, naturalism, Marxism, nihilism, existentialism, Eastern monism, New Age philosophy and postmodernism, and includes a new chapter on Islam.” (Quote source: back cover of the 5th edition.) The book has sold over 400,000 copies.

In a section titled “Modern Deism” in a chapter titled, “The Clockwork Universe,” of particular interest was the following statement regarding “Popular Deism.” See if this doesn’t ring a bell with much of the general beliefs about God in our culture today:

Popular deism is popular in two senses. It is both a simple, easy-going belief in the existence of an omnipotent, impersonal, transcendent being, a force or an intelligence, and it is a vague belief held by millions of Americans, and I suspect, millions more in the Western world.

In its “cold” versions, God is simply the abstract force that brought the world into existence and has largely left it to operate on its own. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that many well-educated people, especially academics and professionals, would acknowledge the probably existence of such a being but would largely ignore his existence in their daily lives. Their moral sensitivity would be grounded in the public memory of common Christian virtues, the mores of society, the occasional use of their own mind when dealing with specific issues, such as honesty in business, attitudes to sexual orientation and practices. They live secular lives without much thought of what God might think. Surely a good life will prepare one for the life after death, if, indeed, there is such a thing.

In its “warmest” versions, God clearly is personal and even friendly. University of North Carolina sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton recently conducted a massive study of the religious beliefs of teenagers [“Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,” New York: Oxford Press, 2005, pp. 162-163]. Their conclusion was that most of these teenagers adhered to what they calledmoralistic therapeutic deism.” They summed up this worldview as follows:

    1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
    2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most religions.
    3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
    4. God does not need to be particularity involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
    5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

God, ultimate reality, in this view makes no demand on his creation to be holy, righteous, or even very good. “As one 17-year-old conservative Protestant girl from Florida told us [the researchers], ‘God’s all around you, all the time. He believes in forgiving people and whatnot and he’s there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn’t talk back.'” When asked what God is like, a Bryn Mawr College student drew a big smiley face and wrote, “He’s one big smiley face. Big hands . . . big hands.” This form of deism is certainly not limited to youth; it is, I suspect, very much like that of their parents and adult neighbors. (Quote source: “The Universe Next Door,” 5th ed., 2009, pp. 63-64.)

In answer to this rather dicey “feel good” way of viewing God known as “moralistic therapeutic deism” found in popular culture, GotQuestions.org give us a very clear answer from a biblical perspective of who God is. Their answer starts off with the definition of moralistic therapeutic deism (which is stated in the 5 points listed in the above article so I’m not repeating them again here) and continues with the following:

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “moralistic” in that they place a high value on “being good” as found in #2 and #5, above. “Good” is really defined by popular culture rather than the moral imperatives of the Bible. So tolerating behaviors the Bible calls sin might be seen as “good” while calling those behaviors “sin” might be seen as intolerant or hateful, which is bad.

The beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are “therapeutic” in that the primary value is feeling good about oneself as articulated in beliefs #3 and #4, above. God’s “job” is to take care of us.

The authors used the word “deism” because, in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, God exists as the Creator, but He is relatively uninvolved (beliefs #1 and #4, above). Deists have objected to this use of the term because, in true deism, God never intervenes in human affairs. He created us, but He leaves us alone. For this reason, some have suggested that theism would be a better term. Theists believe that God exists and that He can and does intervene from time to time when needed, in answer to prayer, etc.

The most important point concerning Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, however, is not the difference between theism and deism, but how far removed from biblical truth some young people are. The beliefs of MTD are not isolated to Millennials, either. It seems that many people simply view God as a “cosmic genie,” a “divine bellhop,” or a roadside assistance mechanic—you don’t know Him or need to, but you can call Him when you are broken down and He will come and get you going again. The most important thing, according to MTD, is to be good, nice, and tolerant, and God will ultimately receive you into heaven. This view is probably held by a lot of Americans and seems to be becoming the dominant “civic religion,” which emphasizes the horizontal relationships with other people but minimizes a relationship with God. In short, MTD puts humanity at the center and, ultimately, each individual at the center of his or her own belief system.

Biblical Christians will have problems with all 5 key points of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

1. Not just “a god” exists, but the God of the Bible, who has revealed himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Whoever does not honor Jesus Christ as God does not honor God (see John 5:23).

2. God does not just want people to be “nice” but commands that they obey Him. He is the One who defines “good” and “nice.” He calls sin “sin” and promises to judge it (see Romans 1:18–32).

3. The central goal of life is to give glory to God. A by-product may be that we feel good about ourselves, but that is not the goal (see Romans 11:36).

4. Our primary goal as believers is to be constantly in tune with God, following His leading and in daily fellowship with Him. We are to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

5. No one is good enough to go to heaven. All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23); no one is good enough, and that is why we need Jesus. He lived the perfect life that we could not, and He died to pay for our sin so that we might be made acceptable to God. “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by his wounds you have been healed’” (1 Peter 2:24).

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is not an official religion. Probably no one would ever identify himself as a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deist.” The real problem is that moralism is not Christianity, and most people who hold these beliefs are likely to identify themselves as Christians when in fact they are living to glorify themselves! (Quote source here.)

So who is God? The following answer comes from GotQuestions.org:

Who is God? – The Fact
The fact of God’s existence is so conspicuous, both through creation and through man’s conscience, that the Bible calls the atheist a “fool” (Psalm 14:1). Accordingly, the Bible never attempts to prove the existence of God; rather, it assumes His existence from the very beginning (Genesis 1:1). What the Bible does is reveal the nature, character, and work of God.

Who is God? – The Definition
Thinking correctly about God is of utmost importance because a false idea about God is idolatry. In Psalm 50:21, God reproves the wicked man with this accusation: “You thought I was altogether like you.” To start with, a good summary definition of God is “the Supreme Being; the Creator and Ruler of all that is; the Self-existent One who is perfect in power, goodness, and wisdom.”

Who is God? – His Nature
We know certain things to be true of God for one reason: in His mercy He has condescended to reveal some of His qualities to us. God is spirit, by nature intangible (John 4:24). God is One, but He exists as three Persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16-17). God is infinite (1 Timothy 1:17), incomparable (2 Samuel 7:22), and unchanging (Malachi 3:6). God exists everywhere (Psalm 139:7-12), knows everything (Psalm 147:5Isaiah 40:28), and has all power and authority (Ephesians 1Revelation 19:6).

Who is God? – His Character
Here are some of God’s characteristics as revealed in the Bible: God is just (Acts 17:31), loving (Ephesians 2:4-5), truthful (John 14:6), and holy (1 John 1:5). God shows compassion (2 Corinthians 1:3), mercy (Romans 9:15), and grace (Romans 5:17). God judges sin (Psalm 5:5) but also offers forgiveness (Psalm 130:4).

Who is God? – His Work
We cannot understand God apart from His works, because what God does flows from who He is. Here is an abbreviated list of God’s works, past, present, and future: God created the world (Genesis 1:1Isaiah 42:5); He actively sustains the world (Colossians 1:17); He is executing His eternal plan (Ephesians 1:11) which involves the redemption of man from the curse of sin and death (Galatians 3:13-14); He draws people to Christ (John 6:44); He disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:6); and He will judge the world (Revelation 20:11-15).

Who is God? – A Relationship with Him
In the Person of the Son, God became incarnate (John 1:14). The Son of God became the Son of Man and is therefore the “bridge” between God and man (John 14:61 Timothy 2:5). It is only through the Son that we can have forgiveness of sins (Ephesians 1:7), reconciliation with God (John 15:15Romans 5:10), and eternal salvation (2 Timothy 2:10). In Jesus Christ “all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (Colossians 2:9). So, to really know who God is, all we have to do is look at Jesus. (Quote source here.)

So who is Jesus Christ? Again, GotQuestion.org answers:

Unlike the questionDoes God exist?” [click on that link if you want to know the answer] very few people question whether Jesus Christ existed. It is generally accepted that Jesus was truly a man who walked on the earth in Israel 2000 years ago. The debate begins when the subject of Jesus’ full identity is discussed. Almost every major religion teaches that Jesus was a prophet or a good teacher or a godly man. The problem is that the Bible tells us that Jesus was infinitely more than a prophet, a good teacher, or a godly man.

C.S. Lewis in his bookMere Christianity” writes the following: “I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.”

So, who did Jesus claim to be? Who does the Bible say He is? First, let’s look at Jesus’ words in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one.” At first glance, this might not seem to be a claim to be God. However, look at the Jews’ reaction to His statement, “‘We are not stoning you for any of these,’ replied the Jews, ‘but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God’” (John 10:33). The Jews understood Jesus’ statement as a claim to be God. In the following verses, Jesus never corrects the Jews by saying, “I did not claim to be God.” That indicates Jesus was truly saying He was God by declaring, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). John 8:58 is another example: “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born, I am!’” Again, in response, the Jews took up stones in an attempt to stone Jesus (John 8:59). Jesus’ announcing His identity as “I am” is a direct application of the Old Testament name for God (Exodus 3:14). Why would the Jews again want to stone Jesus if He had not said something they believed to be blasphemous, namely, a claim to be God?

John 1:1 says “the Word was God.” John 1:14 says “the Word became flesh.” This clearly indicates that Jesus is God in the flesh. Thomas the disciple declared to Jesus, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). Jesus does not correct him. The apostle Paul describes Him as, “…our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The apostle Peter says the same, “…our God and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1). God the Father is witness of Jesus’ full identity as well, “But about the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever, and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom’” (Hebrews 1:8).Old Testament prophecies of Christ announce His deity, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

So, as C.S. Lewis argued, believing Jesus to be only a good teacher is not an option. Jesus clearly and undeniably claimed to be God. If He is not God, then He is a liar, and therefore not a prophet, good teacher, or godly man. In attempts to explain away the words of Jesus, modern “scholars” claim the “true historical Jesus” did not say many of the things the Bible attributes to Him. Who are we to argue with God’s Word concerning what Jesus did or did not say? How can a “scholar” two thousand years removed from Jesus have better insight into what Jesus did or did not say than those who lived with, served with, and were taught by Jesus Himself (John 14:26)?

Why is the question over Jesus’ true identity so important? Why does it matter whether or not Jesus is God? The most important reason that Jesus has to be God is that if He is not God, His death would not have been sufficient to pay the penalty for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Only God could pay such an infinite penalty (Romans 5:82 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus had to be God so that He could pay our debt. Jesus had to be man so He could die. Salvation is available only through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ deity is why He is the only way of salvation. Jesus’ deity is why He proclaimed, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). (Quote source here.)

And there you have it–who God is, who Jesus Christ is, and whether we choose to believe it to be true or not true. As Revelation 1:8 states: I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God . . .

Who is, and Who was . . .

And Who is to come . . .

The Almighty . . . .

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by Newsboys:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

Worldviews

“We live by what we believe, not by what we can see.” ~2 Corinthians 5:7 NCV. In Max Lucado‘s latest book, Anxious for Nothing: Finding Calm in a Chaotic World(2017), he makes the following statement regarding our belief system:

Your belief system is your answer to the fundamental questions about life: Is anyone in control of the universe? Does life have a purpose? Do I have value? Is this life all there is?

Your belief system has nothing to do with your skin color, appearance, talents, or age. Your belief system is not concerned with the exterior of the tent but the interior. It is the set of convictions–all of them unseen–upon which your faith depends. If your belief system is strong, you will stand. If it is weak, the storm will prevail.

Belief always precedes behavior. For this reason the apostle Paul in each of his epistles addressed convictions before he addressed actions. To change the way a person responds to life, change what a person believes about life. The most important thing about you is your belief system. (Quote source: “Anxious for Nothing,” page 22).

Our beliefs come from our worldview, so let’s define what is meant by “worldview.” The following is taken from an article titled What’s Your View of the World? (Part 2) in a three-part series published in 2006 titled, What’s a Christian Worldview? by Dr. Del Tackett, former president of the Focus on the Family Institute and a former Senior Vice President of Focus on the Family, creator of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project, and professor:

What is a Worldview?

Charles Colson said a worldview is “the sum total of our beliefs about the world,”1 while James Sire says it is our “set of presuppositions . . . about the basic makeup of our world.”2Webster defines it as “a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world.”3 A worldview is something much deeper than your personality or how you hold a golf club. It defines your beliefs about reality and your outlook on life.

In order to better understand the concept, it’s important to know that there are two different kinds—or two “levels”—of worldview. Allow me to explain.

Formal Worldviews

A formal worldview is a major system of ideas that orders human hearts and minds. To visualize this, picture a bookshelf with twenty or thirty books on it. Some are old, some are new. Some are thick, others thin. Each book has a title: Christianity, Islam, Marxism, Pagan Mysticism, etc.

If you were to study them, you would find that each builds a case that the things it claims are true (its “truth claims”) accurately reflect reality. Some are better defined than others, but each one asserts that it has discovered or crafted the real truth about everything important in life. Marxism, for example, basically claims that the secret of life lies in economics and, as a result, reality consists in the clash between those who control the means of production and those who don’t.

A formal worldview is usually comprehensive in scope, offering its proponents a lens they can look through to formulate universal beliefs about life, from philosophy to science, from anthropology to politics, from economics to social order.

Personal Worldviews

If we camp out on this definition, we might begin to think that our personal worldviews are in one-to-one relationship with the established formal worldviews. We would be wrong. There is a huge difference between a systematic set of truth claims and the complex, fragmented, and elusive beliefs of most human beings.

If someone claims to be a Marxist, what does that mean? Can we assume that his personal beliefs exactly match the Marxism book on the shelf? Or what if someone claims to be a witch? It’s hard to say what that means in terms of her assumptions about life. Likewise, when someone says, “I am a Christian; therefore, I have a Christian worldview,” it’s not necessarily true.

Late in 2003, pollster George Barna attempted to determine how many Americans held a “biblical worldview.” He asked people questions taken straight from Scripture, to find out if they really believe what is written there. The results were dismal: Only four percent do. When he looked at the born-again believers in America, the results inched up to an anemic nine percent. How can this be? Instead of adopting the formal framework of a biblical worldview, it seems that “Christians” have accepted a hodgepodge of individual truth claims that come from everywhere.

Life on a Smorgasbord

Look back at the bookshelf for a moment. On the end, you will find another, very large book titled “Miscellaneous.” In here we find all of the unconnected truth claims that simply float around our culture. They may be distant cousins or distortions of a formal worldview or unexamined claims that don’t at all reflect reality.

For example, if you listen carefully to what people are saying and read between the lines, you will hear this belief: “I am stupid and worthless.” Where did that come from? I can think of several “formal” worldviews that give rise to this truth claim, but not directly. People in our culture are perhaps more influenced by these miscellaneous truth claims than by any formal worldview.

So what’s wrong with that? To begin with, living with a hodgepodge of unexamined beliefs makes our lives purposeless and fragmented. On top of that, when our beliefs don’t accurately represent reality, we end up acting in ways that hurt ourselves and our relationships.

I challenge you to examine your worldview. Do your personal beliefs really come from a biblical framework, or are they collected from various belief systems and your own (perhaps inaccurate) interpretation of reality? If we say that our God, in Jesus, is truth, we would do well to live lives that are based on the truth He has revealed to us in his Word. (Quote source here.)

The following is taken from Part 1 in the series titled, “What’s a Christian Worldview,” by Dr. Del Tackett:

What’s a biblical worldview?

A biblical worldview is based on the infallible Word of God. When you believe the Bible is entirely true, then you allow it to be the foundation of everything you say and do. That means, for instance, you take seriously the mandate in Romans 13 to honor the governing authorities by researching the candidates and issues, making voting a priority.

Do you have a biblical worldview? Answer the following questions, based on claims found in the Bible and which George Barna used in his survey:

    • Do absolute moral truths exist?
    • Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
    • Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life?
    • Is God the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and does He still rule it today?
    • Is salvation a gift from God that cannot be earned?
    • Is Satan real?
    • Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people?
    • Is the Bible accurate in all of its teachings?

Did you answer yes to these? Only 9 percent of born-again believers did. But what’s more important than your yes to these questions is whether your life shows it. Granted, we are all sinners and fall short, but most of our gut reactions will reflect what we deep-down, honest-to-goodness believe to be real and true.

How does a biblical worldview get diluted?

Here is the big problem. Non-biblical worldview ideas don’t just sit in a book somewhere waiting for people to examine them. They bombard us constantly from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books and academia.

Because we live in a selfish, fallen world, these ideas seductively appeal to the desires of our flesh, and we often end up incorporating them into our personal worldview. Sadly, we often do this without even knowing it.

For example, most Christians would agree with 1 Thessalonians 4:3 and other Scriptures that command us to avoid sexual immorality, but how often do Christians fall into lust or premarital and extramarital sexual sin? Is it simply because they are weak when tempted, or did it begin much earlier, with the seductive lies from our sexualized society?

Why does a biblical worldview matter?

If we don’t really believe the truth of God and live it, then our witness will be confusing and misleading. Most of us go through life not recognizing that our personal worldviews have been deeply affected by the world. Through the media and other influences, the secularized American view of history, law, politics, science, God and man affects our thinking more than we realize. We then are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

However, by diligently learning, applying and trusting God’s truths in every area of our lives — whether it’s watching a movie, communicating with our spouses, raising our children or working at the office — we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unrelenting tide of our culture’s non-biblical ideas. If we capture and embrace more of God’s worldview and trust it with unwavering faith, then we begin to make the right decisions and form the appropriate responses to questions on abortion, same- sex marriage, cloning, stem-cell research and even media choices. Because, in the end, it is our decisions and actions that reveal what we really believe.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). (Quote source here.)

One last item regarding worldviews comes from an article titled 8 Questions Every Worldview Must Answer,” by James W. Sire, PhD, a Christian author, speaker, and former editor for InterVarsity Press:

If a worldview can be expressed in propositions, what might they be? Essentially, they are our basic, rock-bottom answers to the following questions: 

    1. What is prime reality—the really real? To this we might answer: God, or the gods, or the material cosmos. Our answer here is the most fundamental. It sets the boundaries for the answers that can consistently be given to the other six questions. This will become clear as we move from worldview to worldview in the chapters that follow [see “The Universe Next Door,” 5th Edition, by James Sire]
    2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Here our answers point to whether we see the world as created or autonomous, as chaotic or orderly, as matter or spirit; or whether we emphasize our subjective, personal relationship to the world or its objectivity apart from us.
    3. What is a human being? To this we might answer: a highly complex machine, a sleeping god, a person made in the image of God, a naked ape.
    4. What happens to a person at death? Here we might reply: personal extinction, or transformation to a higher state, or reincarnation, or departure to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
    5. Why is it possible to know anything at all? Sample answers include the idea that we are made in the image of an all-knowing God or that consciousness and rationality developed under the contingencies of survival in a long process of evolution.
    6. How do we know what is right and wrong? Again, perhaps we are made in the image of a God whose character is good, or right and wrong are determined by human choice alone or what feels good, or the notions simply developed under an impetus toward cultural or physical survival.
    7. What is the meaning of human history? To this we might answer: to realize the purposes of God or the gods, to make a paradise on earth, to prepare a people for a life in community with a loving and holy God, and so forth. 
    8. What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Within any given worldview, core commitments may vary widely. For example, a Christian might say, to fulfill the will of God, or to seek first the kingdom of God, or to obey God and enjoy him forever, or to be devoted to knowing God or loving God. Each will lead to a somewhat different specific grasp of the Christian worldview.

A naturalist might say to realize their personal potential for experiencing life, or to do as much good as they can for others, or to live in a world of inner peace in a world of social diversity and conflict.

The question and its answers reveal the variety of ways the intellectual commitments are worked out in individual lives. They recognize the importance of seeing one’s own worldview not only within the context of vastly different worldviews but within the community of one’s own worldview. Each person, in other words, ends up having his or her own take on reality. And though it is extremely useful to identify the nature of a few (say, five to ten) generic worldviews, it is necessary in identifying and assessing one’s own worldview to pay attention to its unique features, the most important of which is one’s own answer to this eighth question.

Within various basic worldviews other issues often arise. For example: Who is in charge of this world—God or humans or no one at all? Are we as human beings determined or free? Are we alone the maker of values? Is God really good? Is God personal or impersonal? Or does he, she or it exist at all? When stated in such a sequence, these questions boggle the mind. Either the answers are obvious to us and we wonder why anyone would bother to ask such questions, or else we wonder how any of them can be answered with any certainty. If we feel the answers are too obvious to consider, then we have a worldview, but we have no idea that many others do not share it. We should realize that we live in a pluralistic world. What is obvious to us may be “a lie from hell” to our neighbor next door. If we do not recognize that, we are certainly naïve and provincial, and we have much to learn about living in today’s world. Alternatively, if we feel that none of the questions can be answered without cheating or committing intellectual suicide, we have already adopted a sort of worldview. The latter is a form of skepticism which in its extreme form leads to nihilism.

The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such questions. We will adopt either one stance or another. Refusing to adopt an explicit worldview will turn out to be itself a worldview, or at least a philosophic position. In short, we are caught. So long as we live, we will live either the examined or the unexamined life. (Quote source here.)

A song sung by Michael Jackson (1958-2009) titled, Man in the Mirror,” came to mind as I finished writing the above information on worldviews. His song, “Man in the Mirror,” peaked at #1 in the United States when released in January 1988 as the fourth single from Michael Jackson’s seventh solo album, Bad (1987) (source here). I’ll let the song and the words speak for themselves (YouTube video is below, and lyrics are available at this link). I’ll end this post with a few words from the song . . . .

If you want to make the world a better place . . .

Take a look at yourself . . .

And make a change . . . .

YouTube Video: “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

So Goes The Culture

Girl surrounded by books

I cannot remember the books I’ve read
any more than the meals I have eaten;
even so, they have made me.”
~Ralph Waldo Emerson 

I remember the day in 2011 when Borders, a major player among bookstore chains, declared bankruptcy and closed its doors for good. At the time it was my most favorite “go to” bookstore, and the company’s CEO, Mike Edwards, stated at the time of its demise, “working at the company in it final days ‘was like finding out your best friend has cancer and there’s nothing you can do. We were in perpetual crisis’” (quote source here). Book lovers everywhere understand his words. Good books are very much akin to best friends to those of us with an insatiable desire to learn and experience what others have written and experienced themselves.

When I have free time, and I’ve had a lot of free time during these past almost six years of perpetual unemployment, I’d rather be roaming around in a library or browsing the shelves and discount tables in a bookstore than doing just about anything else. There is something about bookstores that just pulls me in like a magnet. And used bookstores, especially, contain some real gems often at greatly reduced prices that one won’t often find, even on discount tables, in a regular bookstore. In fact, just yesterday I found tucked away on a high shelf in one of my favorite used bookstores, BrightLights Books, a gem of a book on a topic that I have often expressed a fair amount of passion for in many of my previous blog posts.

The book is titled, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (2004, 2005) by Nancy Pearcey, who was born the same year I was born and received her bachelor’s degree from the same place I did–Iowa State University. However, the comparison stops there except for her passion, which is also a passion of mine, of “liberating Christianity from its cultural captivity.” Nancy Pearcey is currently Professor of Apologetics, Scholar in Residence, and Director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist University.

So often, as has been the case here in America for quite some time now, we tend to separate the secular (e.g., things that are not regarded as religious, spiritual, or sacred; and not pertaining to or connected with religion”–quote source herefrom the sacred (e.g., devoted or dedicated to a deity or to some religious purpose; consecrated; pertaining to or connected with religion”–quote source here). Even among those of us who call ourselves Christian there is often a distinct line that we draw, whether conscious or unconscious, between what we do with our time during the week as opposed to what we do with it for two or so hours on Sunday morning (or whenever we attend worship services inside a church building with others). Indeed, part of the crisis we encounter in our current culture is the fact that once we get out of our “Christian settings” and we are surrounded by the rest of society (e.g., work places, for example, unless one works in a specifically Christian setting), one can’t often tell the difference (in words or in actions) between those with Christian beliefs from anyone else. And the outward proclivity to “be nice and act nice,” at least on the surface, is no indication of genuine Christian faith. Anyone is capable of being and acting like that.

In the introduction to Pearcey’s book, she states the following:

“The gospel is like a caged lion,” said the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon. “It does not need to be defended, it just needs to be let out of its cage.” Today the cage is our accommodation to the secular/sacred split that reduces Christianity to a matter of private personal belief. To unlock the cage, we need to become utterly convinced that, as Francis Schaeffer said, Christianity is not merely religious truth, it is total truth–truth about the whole of reality (pp. 17-18).

Regarding this secular/sacred divide, Pearcey states:

On a global scale . . . the secular/sacred dichotomy is an anomally–a distinctive of Western culture alone. “The sharp line which modern Western culture has drawn between religious affairs and secular affairs is itself one of the most significant peculiarities of our culture, and would be incomprehensible to the vast majority of people.” In order to communicate the gospel in the West we face a unique challenge: We need to learn how to liberate it from the private sphere and present it in its glorious fullness as the truth about all reality.

The first step in the process is simply identifying the split mentality in our own minds, and diagnosing the way it functions. The dichotomy is so familiar that Christians often find it difficult even to recognize it in their own thinking. This struck me personally when I read about a survey conducted a few years ago by Christian Smith, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina (and himself an evangelical believer). The results of the survey highlight both the good news and the bad news about American evangelicalism (pp. 69-70).

worldviewThe good news is that the survey found that evangelicals are highly committed to their faith, but when asked to articulate a Christian worldview perspective in other areas in their lives–work, business, and politics–they had very little to say and seemed unable to translate a faith perspective appropriate for the public square (p. 70). Some of the results of the survey are cited on pp. 70-73. Pearcey states the following at the end of the review of the survey results:

Before we can even begin to craft a Christian worldview, we first need to identify the barriers that prevent us from applying our faith to areas like work, business, and politics. We need to try to understand why Western Christians lost sight of the comprehensive call God makes on our lives. How did we succumb to a secular/sacred grid that cripples our effectiveness in the public sphere? To break free of this destructive thought pattern, we need to understand where it came from, identify the forms it has taken, and trace the way it became woven into the pervasive patterns of our thinking. We will discover that, from the beginning, Christianity has been plagued by dualisms and dichotomies of various kinds. And the only way to free ourselves from dualistic thinking is to make a clear diagnosis of the problem (p. 73).

Of course, this is the subject of the rest of Pearcey’s excellent book which includes a study guide in the 2005 edition. In the many endorsements for the book, the following statements reflect on its research and readability for the average person (in other words, the reader won’t get lost in a lot of academic jargon and will, in fact, find it to be quite fascinating, enlightening, and informative):

“Lucid, easy to understand. . . . For all of it’s intellectual and theological sophistication, ‘Total Truth’ is written in a way that the average layperson will understand and appreciate.” ~World

“Easy to read, well-documented, sometimes provocative. . . . A superb worldview lens through which we can see things more clearly. All who read it will live their lives differently.” ~Becky Norton Dunlop, VP for External Relations, the Heritage Foundation

Dr. Timothy Keller, founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, and Chairman of Redeemer City to City, which starts new churches in New York and other global cities, is another prolific author of many books and articles on a variety of Christian topics to include the relationship of Christians to their culture. In an article published in 2006 titled, A New Kind of Urban Christian,” published in Christianity Today, he states:

The relationship of Christians to culture is the singular current crisis point for the church. Evangelicals are deeply divided over how to interact with a social order that is growing increasingly post-Christian. Some advise a reemphasis on tradition and on “letting the church be the church,” rejecting any direct attempt to influence society as a whole. Others are hostile to culture, but hopeful that they can change it through aggressive action, often of a political sort. Still others believe that “you change culture one heart at a time.” Finally, many are attracted to the new culture and want to reengineer the church to modify its adversarial relationship with culture. Many in the “one heart at a time” party play down doctrine and stress experience, while some in the reengineering group are changing distinctives of evangelical doctrine in the name of cultural engagement. That is fueling much theological controversy, but even people who agree on the need for change disagree over what to do to our doctrine to reach the culture.

Indeed, how Christians interact and/or reach out to their culture is a complex matter. Keller does stress that while none of the strategies he mentions above should be abandoned, he also stressed that we need a new and different strategy as explained in his article (click here for article). Specifically regarding the worldview of work, Keller states:

Most fields of work today are dominated by a very different set of answers from those of Christianity. But when many Christians enter a vocational field, they either seal off their faith and work like everyone else around them, or they spout Bible verses to their coworkers. We do not know very well how to persuade people of Christianity’s answers by showing them the faith-based, worldview roots of everyone’s work. We do not know how to equip our people to think out the implications of the gospel for art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship. Developing humane, creative, and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel can be part of this work. The embodiment of joy, hope, and truth in the arts is also part of this work. If Christians live in major cultural centers in great numbers, doing their work in an excellent but distinctive manner, that alone will produce a different kind of culture than the one in which we live now (quote source here).

One of the key points he makes in his article is this statement:

We must neither just denounce the culture nor adopt it. We must sacrificially serve the common good, expecting to be constantly misunderstood and sometimes attacked. We must walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents (quote source here).

Jesus Christ made the following statement to his disciples which extends down through the ages to us today who claim to follow him (John 15:18-25):

 If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father as well. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. As it is, they have seen, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’

Once again as Keller states, We must neither just denounce the culture nor adopt it. We must sacrificially serve the common good, expecting to be constantly misunderstood and sometimes attacked. We must walk in the steps of the One who laid down his life for his opponents (quote source here).

With all the complexities involved in living in the midst of our culture, we need to keep our focus always on the One who we claim to follow. For the Christian, there is no separation between the secular and the sacred. We either serve God or we serve self no matter the setting or who we are with or what we are doing. And it really boils down to who we love the most–ourselves, or Jesus. . . .

We cannot serve two masters . . .

So who will it be?

YouTube Video: “He Reigns” by the Newsboys:

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