Saturday, June 2, 2012

A Review: The Center of a Christian Worldview

This week, we are reviewing a series of essays in the Baptist Messenger (BGCO newspaper P.R. publication) on the concept of Christian worldview.  Five of the 6 commentaries are written by new (Whitlock-era) religion faculty and administrators.  Other posts in the series include:
This is the only article in the Baptist Messenger's worldview series not written by an OBU professor or administrator.  I don't know anything about Prof. Wilder or his work other than what can be gleaned from his online SWBTS profile.  As post-Takeover SBC seminary professors go, he's definitely one of the legitimate ones committed to scholarship over Baptist politics.  He is a member of the mainstream Society of Biblical Literature, which fundamentalist "scholars" regard as apostate.  But he hasn't been involved with the SBL in over a decade, instead aiming his scholarship mostly toward evangelical and fundamentalist publications and conferences.  On a personal note, Wilder's son will be attending Union University in the fall.  (Which brings up an interesting idea: Just as fewer OBU ministry and religion grads than you would expect go on to the post-Takeover SBC seminaries, I bet shockingly few SBC seminary professors send their children to OBU -- but that's another question for another day.)

After the absolutely shameful treatment Randall Lolley, Roy Honeycutt, Russell Dilday and other SBC seminary administrators and faculty received from fundamentalists in the Takeover years, I have a build-in prejudice against people who have chosen to affiliate themselves with these institutions in the post-Takeover era.  But Prof. Wilder was studying in the U.K. and teaching at Midwestern seminary (the "least bad" of the 6 SBC seminaries, I'm told) during those years.  He's only been at Southwestern since 2010.  Hey, everyone needs a job -- even Baptist academics whose careers unfortunately (and by no fault of their own) overlapped with the SBC's deliberate degradation of its own educational institutions.  I wouldn't work for (SWBTS President and original SBC Takeover architect) Paige Patterson for all the gold in China.  But I'm going to give Wilder the benefit of the doubt.  He's done significant service to Baptists and to his profession over many years.

His worldview essay is concise, clear, and about what you would expect.  Wilder refers back to essays by Tawa Anderson and Stan Norman to help bring some internal coherence to the series.  In opposition to previous essays that regard the Bible, not Christ, as God's supreme revelation, Wilder maintains that Christ is at the center of the Christian worldview.  Sensibly, he qualifies this by saying "a thoroughgoing view of the world must operate from a biblical standpoint."  At the end, however, Wilder ups the ante on Bible-as-revelation: "The will of God is grounded in and upon the written revelation of the Bible."  It seems like a lot of Baptist leaders today want to demote Christ from the Trinity and put the Bible in his place (ESV or HCSB translations preferred).  Still, I think Wilder finds a better balance between God, Christ, and Scripture than the others, who seem to say "God so loved the world that He gave us the Bible, and whosoever reads it the same way I do is a real Christian."

Another subtle but significant difference in Wilder's writing is his occasional use of the indefinite article: "A Christian worldview."  He lapses into "the Christian worldview" later on, but he seems willing to at least partially acknowledge that there is no one definitive "Christian worldview," and nowhere does he imply that he has a monopoly on how to define it.  So, that's refreshing.

Wilder contrasts "a Christian worldview" with a variety of other philosophies and -isms.  But he maintains that if we do not adopt a Christian worldview "we will follow whatever system or combination of beliefs are trendy, meet our needs or satisfy our desires or passions, and they are usually those which hold us least accountable for our actions and decisions."  This statement is pretty surprising and even insulting.  First of all, the prevalence of "cheap grace" in contemporary evangelicalism makes the idea that no one outside the Christian fold has any notion of moral or ethical accountability completely laughable.  Furthermore, this kind of holier-than-thou attitude is precisely the kind of thing that drives people away from Christianity.  Many (if not most) non-Christians live with a very deliberate and rigorous moral seriousness.  It's beyond insulting (and factually untrue) to imply that they are unaccountable hedonists living according to the whims of their desires and "trendy" belief systems.

To his credit, Wilder locates Christ at the center of the Christian worldview.  You'd think this would go without saying, but with today's en vogue Southern Baptist intellectuals, nothing surprises me anymore.  Yet Wilder emphasizes Jesus' death, apparently to the exclusion of his life and teachings (at least in this brief essay): "I would maintain that it is the person of Jesus Christ and what He has done on the cross that leads us to see the world from a Christian perspective."  Personally, I'd like a Christian worldview to at least acknowledge major emphases of Jesus' teachings: neighbor love, the kingdom of God, the Sermon on the Mount, etc.  But in today's SBC, if you have the audacity to insist on the teachings of Jesus, they just label you a liberal and cast you out.

Thank you, Professor Wilder, for contributing to the Baptist Messenger "worldview" series.  We're reviewing the series in the context of our ongoing concerns about OBU's troubling new direction, mutually draining relationship with the BGCO, and true mission and calling in the context of post-Takeover Baptist higher education.  Since you're only tangentially involved in our specific concerns, we trust you will take our comments with a grain of salt and hopefully some grace.  Best wishes to you in your life, teaching, and ministry.


  1. Rhetoric like this, insisting that only a Christian worldview can provide a moral anchor and implying that any other worldview leads inevitably to nihilism and amorality, matches the SBC's gradual slide into sectarianism.

  2. Chris how do you speak for baptist? In a lecture,you gave on youtube you admit your a Methodist and were a baptist in name,only.


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