Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Review: Christian Worldview and Divine Revelation

This week, we're reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger by OBU's Whitlock-era religion hires.  You may find the original article for this review here.

Unsurprisingly, this article is a pretty straightforward introduction to the concept of a Christian worldview. The author argues that worldview is something which comes from God-- by means of revelation, which he defines as the Bible. A worldview, the author continues to say, is like a pair of glasses. It does not change our surroundings but allows us to see other things clearly, as they really are. Thus, it is important to stand on the truth of scripture as the foundation for our lives. The author gives another image, that of a puzzle. The Bible is like the picture on the box and everyday we put in more pieces as we put together the puzzle. But we have to be careful not to get mixed up with pieces from other puzzles. The author finishes by concluding that our theology determines our worldview and the Bible determines our theology.

As a student of theology, I am encouraged endlessly to "think theologically" about all aspects of life. (It's even something of a joke at Brite, how much of a catchphrase that is.) So that aspect of worldview, I understand. And quite right, as Christians, our theology determines much of how we see the world.

What is interesting to me in this article is that there seems to be only one way to understand scripture, and one type of Christian worldview.

I began to understand more of the author's theology when the second word of the article reminded me that God is indeed male. (For those of you keeping score at home, a masculine pronoun was used for God 10 times in this short 950 word piece.)

For those of you who are convinced that I am a feminist nit-picking because I am left with little else to quibble with, I assure you, that is not the case. First, the implied "worldview" the author seems to be advocating for all Christians follows the usual post-Takeover route to being oppressive to women. (Oh, and look for that pattern throughout the series.) 

Secondly, the use of the masculine pronoun emphasizes something I said yesterday; this is evidence of the echo chamber. Again, as a student of theology, I can tell you that no one is going to publish anything that uses masculine pronouns for God unless they are evangelical. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with being evangelical (although I maintain the language is oppressive), I'm just saying that maybe the author is talking only to an increasingly insular subset of Christians.

Further, the author proves to have continued the trend of the post-Takeover 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. In 1963, the BF&M maintained that "The criterion by which the Bible is to be interpreted is Jesus Christ." But this sentence was removed in the fundamentalist-inspired 2000 revision. Thus, Jesus is no longer the fullness of God's revelation, but God is found in the words on a page.

Don't get me wrong. I have dedicated my entire life to understanding those words on the page. But the Word of God (capital W intended) is Jesus Christ, the Word became flesh. I am not saying that the author would not affirm that Jesus is indeed the fullness of God's self revelation. I am only saying that he presents the only necessary revelation for a worldview to be the Bible.

Suddenly, it is no longer sufficient for Jesus to be the Truth (John 14.6) but we can only stand on the "inspiration, authority, and total truthfulness" of scripture. Now, I'm not disagreeing with any of those things, I'm simply pointing out that pragmatically, it makes a huge difference whether one is standing on Jesus as the Truth or upon affirmation of the words on the page.

The problem with saying there is one Christian worldview and that it is based on scripture is that scripture has been understood so variously throughout our history, that statement is impossible. When someone says, "The bible says...(x, y, z)..." what they really mean is, "My interpretation of the bible is... (x, y, z)..." There is no such thing as objectivity. And so even though the Bible may be inspired and authoritative and totally truthful -- none of us know what it means. 

200 years ago, people (even Southern Baptists) held up the Bible and proclaimed that God did not intend for the races to mix in marriage.

At some point we need to acknowledge that that was our action based on words in our holy book-- and that we messed up. We read it wrong. All of us did. And certainly we haven't figured it out between now and then.

We all see in a mirror dimly, we all know only in part (1 Cor. 13:12).

If the Bible was easy to understand, why would we have seminaries? And why would we have so many denominations? All of those splits have come from different ways of understanding the same words on the page.

So, I am skeptical of an author who claims that the Bible is like glasses that make us see everything else more clearly. Surely, that is my experience sometimes. But so often, I read the Bible and it makes everything more complicated.

I am 100% agreed that all aspects of my life and thought life ought to be put under the lordship of Christ. But I am not sure what that means all of the time, and I don't think that anyone else does either. Last time I checked, all of us had a really old book that didn't come with any other instructions than read it, try your best, and trust God -- because God is faithful.

Claiming that one way of reading that book is authoritative is not the firm foundation we need. 

I like the metaphor of the puzzle. But if the image on the box is God -- that's a box I'm not going to see this side of glory. So I'll just trust that the pieces that fit belong in the picture.


  1. The problem with the 1963 BF&M Statement on scripture is that liberals would take it to say "well my Jesus allows for this and for that". Paul made it clear in Romans 10:17 "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." We see evidence today of people taking parts of Scripture and using them to justify what they want. For instance I heard a sermon not long ago on Acts 10 which called for all people to be included in the church even those who are living a life of sin. That view totally contradicts 1 Corinthians 5 which called for church discipline in the case of the immoral man.

  2. You should be careful in contending that the only people who use masculine terminology for God are evangelics. I attend an evangelical seminary and you would be hard-pressed to find a theologian or biblical scholar here who would support that notion, or use masculine categories as the sole description of God. I highly enjoyed this entry, just wanted to push back a bit.


  3. I tell my students that their spines should buckle every time they hear the phrase "the ________ worldview," as in "the Christian worldview," "the biblical worldview," etc. There is never just one. When you say "the Christian worldview," you are borrowing the authority and legitimacy of Christianity and applying it to your particular understanding of it. The history of the Church reveals numerous worldviews, all sharing certain traits but all also different from one another. The features of "the Christian worldview" as this article articulates it are not necessarily those of every Christian worldview in history; in fact, it is a uniquely Modern understanding of the Bible as a stable source of objective facts, set over against the ambiguity of material existence.

  4. Britt-- appreciate the feedback. You're definitely right, not all Evangelicals would use masculine language alone for God-- and I count myself to be one of them! Thanks for pointing out where I could use more nuanced language. I meant to say, this practice is only deemed acceptable anymore within the Evangelical world, not that the entire Evangelical world did so. Of course, there are many forward thinking Evangelicals-- thus, Save OBU. :)

    Chirs-- thank you for these worlds as well. You got to the heart of what I was trying to say much more quickly than I ever could have.

  5. I think you are ignorant of what the bible really says when you say,"Last time I checked, all of us had a really old book that didn't come with any other instructions than read it, try your best, and trust God -- because God is faithful"
    God's word tells us to Meditate day and night (Joshua 1:8, Psalm 1:2, etc..). No where does it say for us to just read it. If we are to just read it then that would mean God expects us to just figure it out on our own. I'm sorry, but that's not how God works.I also can't try my best because if I do, I'll fall. In scripture we see many instances where man tries, and he simply screws up. Look throughout the Old Testament, whenever David tried, he lost faith and stumbled. When we keep our faith in the creator and trust Him, we will not fall into sin.
    It is important to understand that OBU is Southern Baptist. The majority of Southern Baptists are conservative theologically. If there is anything wrong with OBU is it is too liberal. I had several professors there who denied the authority of scripture. I had one who was a Universalist. The good thing about OBU is it is becoming more theologically conservative.


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