In these posts I’m not going to try to repeat what Wolters said—you just read that—but to try to pick out key ideas and explain and defend (or critique!) them. I’m going to say what I would say if the ACPADI Book Club/Βλογάπη Book Consortium were meeting in my living room.
Clearing Away Objections
Let me first try to clear away a few objections readers in the Club may have:
- Wolters opens by citing some names we don’t normally cite (Vollenhoven, Bavinck, Kuyper, Dooyeweerd) and appealing to a few people we know but don’t talk about much and may even be wary of (Irenaeus, Augustine, Calvin, Tyndale) (pp. 1–2). I’d suggest that the problem is largely ours, not his, because (assuming that your background is similar to mine) historical theology is something we don’t give sufficient attention to. Old dead people have a lot to teach us; they are God’s gifts to us according to Eph 4:11–16; 1 Cor 3:22.
- Wolters does come from a different world within Protestantism—a world based in Grand Rapids—and we need to be prepared to adjust to a slightly different lingo. However, note that on page 7 he very clearly says, “Our worldview must be shaped and tested by Scripture…. A good part of the purpose of this book is to offer help in the process of reforming our worldview to conform more closely to the teaching of Scripture.” This is familiar talk. We’re on the same page with the essentials.
- When I first encountered the ideas in this book several years ago, my initial reaction was to say, “Aren’t we a little off course? Why so much effort polishing the brass on a sinking ship? Aren’t souls the only things worth redeeming?” His ideas sounded at the same time theonomic/postmillennial (“Let’s take over the culture!”) and new-evangelical (“Let’s engage the culture!”). I had given in to the very pressure Wolters mentions on page 7:
There is considerable pressure on Christians to restrict their recognition of the authority of Scripture to the area of the church, theology, and private morality—an area that has become basically irrelevant to the direction of culture and society as a whole.
Wolters does not say in this book, “Let’s all send the Democrats to Siberia and take over the US government!” He doesn’t say, “Let’s all become beatniks, smoke heavily while reviewing raunchy French films from the 60s for the New Yorker, and take over the art scene!” All he’s said so far, anyway, is that God’s word is relevant to the direction of culture and society as a whole. Do we have a problem with that? If God has norms for how individual people ought to behave, why not norms for groups of people? Is God indifferent to “labor, social groups, and education” (p.8)? If we don’t let God speak to the areas of life that we view as “secular,” then some other worldview will; some other allegiance will take precedence.
As for worldviews, Wolters makes several key assertions about them in this chapter that we have to retain:
- They tend to form a system.
- They deal with basic beliefs about things.
- They are pretheoretical.
- Everyone has one—everyone has to have one just like they have to have food.
One of Wolters’ real strengths in this book is his ability to tick off a number of different real-life applications quickly—watch for these throughout the book. I think there’s a lot of wisdom in them. The paragraphs on the bottoms of pages 4 and 5 are good examples. He is suggesting that there is a Christian view of inflation, film censorship, military conscription, counterculture, crime, taxation, etc. There are many other views on these matters, of course, and those views themselves stem from people’s worldviews.
One Small Disagreement
I want to register one point of disagreement that I’m not sure is full disagreement. Wolters says that feelings cannot lay claim to knowledge (p.3, first par.); and if I read him right, he says that worldviews are beliefs, not feelings. Following John Frame, I don’t think those two aspects of human personality can be so neatly divided. One’s worldview is, finally, based on one’s loves: love for God or love merely for self. And my beliefs have an inescapable element of feeling in them. I say I “know” something when I feel “cognitive rest” about it.
Biblical Theology and Worldview
Wolters hints on page 9 at what I regard to be one of the most important ideas in my life at the moment: a worldview tells a “metanarrative,” a story about where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going—and so does the Bible. So the story of the Bible makes up our metanarrative, our worldview. Wolters doesn’t expand on this much (that’s one of the reasons for the postscript he coauthored with Michael Goheen), but he says, “It is essential to relate the basic concepts of ‘biblical theology’ to our worldview—or rather to understand these basic concepts as constituting a worldview” (p.9). We’ll talk more about this!
Now you talk! What questions and comments do you have? What did you like? What did you dislike? What did you learn?
Note: NEW RULE! You can’t comment unless you have read the chapter!