It’s not a very satisfying revenge, but an authoritative proofer nixed my favorite phrase in a little paragraph I just wrote for my current project at BJU Press, one focused on biblical worldview and the CFR metanarrative. This phrase must see the light of day—or, well…, the murky light of an obscure blog! See if you can guess which phrase it was…

You can only know a pole is bent if you have some idea of what it looked like when it was straight. And that’s why the Creation, Fall, Redemption metanarrative of Scripture is so important. It tells us that every created thing was originally good, and it gives us guidance as to what that good looked like (what we’ve called “creational norms”). This guidance is something other prominent worldviews out there fail to give.

Here are just two examples:

  • Classic secularism (see Government unit) steadfastly refuses to describe what the ideal world would look like (what the pole looks like when it isn’t bent). They point out that different cultures and religions disagree over the shape of the perfect world, and if you try to claim that your view is right, someone else will just come along and offer a different opinion. Then you’ll have a fight on your hands. Better not to talk about the pole.
  • In philosophical materialism, matter is all that exists. Who can say which states of matter are “good” and which are “bad”? They’re just there. They’re just obeying physical laws; they’re not guided by any intelligence. Birthday parties happen, genocide happens. The Big Bang giveth and the Big Bang taketh away. Blessed be the Bang.

But the Bible gives us the power to make moral judgments, in part because it tells us that the world has a structure, and a good one. It isn’t just churchy, religious stuff that can be good (that’s the way other religions tend to view the world). No, the New Testament says that “everything created by God is good” (1 Tim. 4:4). Mere stuff can be good. Not neutral. Good.

Homosexuality and Worldview

making gay okayI’ve spent the last year and a half immersed in understanding the Christian worldview and explaining it to twelfth graders. The last few days I’ve done a lot of writing on homosexuality (after many years of reading on the topic in articles and books), and I just came across this quote in a review of Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior is Changing Everything. I believe this is profoundly true, and an extremely important insight:

At bottom in the debate over same-sex “marriage” are two opposing views of reality. On one side you have a vision of reality where nature “is teleologically ordered to ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are” (xi). On the other is the view that things in themselves do not have a “teleologically ordered” purpose but rather can be made what they are by an act of the will. Thus, as Reilly astutely observes, the same-sex “marriage” debate is about more than just marriage. “Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the Nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance” (xii).

“Two opposing views of reality”? Isn’t that a little extreme? Am I just trying to inflate the importance of my view in order to rally the flagging faithful? No—I don’t expect the faithful to care much about this argument. But I still think it’s important.

after virtueOne of the most difficult books I ever got through was Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. What kept me going was a desire to see the best of human attempts to ground human morality. Having battled through, and having taken extensive notes, I believe a re-read would be much easier, because he really does make one big point. And that point is similar to the quotes you read above. The Enlightenment project failed to give us a consistent basis for morality, so we must recover, MacIntyre says, the (Aristotelian) view that everything, even cultural institutions, has a “teleology,” a built-in purpose or end point. Life is a quest to discern the best telos for any cultural practice and then use that telos to generate the virtues necessary to achieve it. MacIntyre thinks this approach to morality will deliver

a rationally and morally defensible standpoint from which to judge and to act—and in terms of which to evaluate various rival and heterogeneous moral schemes which compete for our allegiance. (xviii)

But though MacIntyre converted to Catholicism around the publishing of After Virtue (which was published by Notre Dame University Press), I searched his book in vain for a distinctively Christian grounding for morality—or some other ultimate point of view from which to evaluate rival moral schemes. I came up empty-handed. Lots of genuine insights just floating around (MacIntyre is excessively smart and occasionally hilarious), that’s all. He argued (pp. 218–219) that people cannot know their telos from the beginning. They have to discover it. And all cultures are in the same boat:

A living tradition … is an historically extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part about the goods which constitute that tradition. (222)

I don’t see any signs that such intercultural arguments are arriving at a consensus, do you? Whose justice is truly fair then? Which rationality is reasonable? I haven’t read MacIntyre’s book purporting to tackle those questions. Perhaps he succeeds there.

Here’s my answer to the problem of ultimate moral grounding: without an Absolute Triune Person, there’s no such thing. But if He creates—and tells us that His creation was “very good,” and appeals to that creation throughout His written revelation as a standard by which we judge the way things ought to be (1 Cor. 11:1ff.; Matt. 19:4)—then anything found to be creational is therefore normative. Though there was a fall to mess things up (including our capacity to judge what’s truly creational and what’s fallen), there can be and is a natural law. There is a teleological order, too, because God in His grace (according to Scripture) has decreed an end for His creation: grace restores nature; it will all be redeemed. We’re not on a quest for a telos. We know it. It’s union with the divine in a New Earth.

To say “It doesn’t matter what I do with my body” is to say, “I define reality in my world; I choose my telos under no authority but my own.” You cannot practice or defend homosexuality and have a Christian worldview; you’ll be denying clear (I persist in saying it’s clear) divine revelation to the contrary in both your Bible and your body. Indeed, if you won’t read your Bible, read your body: God has instituted a created order which we twist at our peril.* Pro-gay Christians are giving up more than at first appears—and that’s saying something.

*I love all practicing homosexuals, and a few in particular. I always feel the need to add this disclaimer: I want to retain the right to love a gay family member, say, while disagreeing with their most cherished beliefs—just as they want the freedom to do with me. Acceptance of my worldview will necessarily eliminate some or all of the things they hold most dear. All I’m saying is that, mutatis mutandis, asking me to change my view on the morality of homosexual acts will do the same for me. I don’t want a culture war, but clearly this is why we have one. No, the sky did not fall when the SCOTUS declined to hear those cases on gay marriage recently. But it creaked horribly.

The Declaration of Independence Proves to Be An Illusion


Satan led humankind into covenant disobedience. He tempted humankind to reject the rule of Yahweh and to issue their “declaration of independence” from their Creator. The consequences are devastating. When communion with the Creator of life is broken, death inevitably results. Life is no longer whole but broken. Personal, interpersonal and social breakdowns abound because life is severed from its source. Moreover, the declaration of independence proves to be an illusion. Rather than finding autonomy, we find that we are still servants—bound to a despot who rules over a kingdom of slaves.

—Walsh and Middleton, The Transforming Vision, 70.

George Marsden on Point of View

71weanT3+QL._SL1500_I’ve been thinking a good deal about what George Marsden wrote—in a book I have thoroughly enjoyed (two chapters to go and I’m really eager to see what he says in the final one):

Let me say a word about point of view. One of the conventions of the mid-twentieth century was that authors and teachers normally did not identify their points of view but spoke as though they were neutral observers speaking on the basis of universal reason. Such practices reflected standards that went back to the eighteenth-century enlightenment, in which one was to hold forth on most topics on the basis of objective standards rather than from the point of view of one’s particular faith….

In recent decades there has been greater recognition that, although there are common standards for rational discourse, arguments, and evidence, there is no one standard, underlying set of assumptions, including beliefs about the ultimate nature of reality and values, that all rational educated people can somehow be presumed to share. So, although many still follow the old convention of posing as though one were objective, it has become more acceptable these days to help out the reader or listener by identifying one’s fundamental viewpoint from the outset.

My own point of view has been shaped most basically by my commitments as an Augustinian Christian. Those commitments involve a recognition that people differ in their fundamental loves and first principles, and that these loves and first principles act as lenses through which they see everything else. At the same time, all humans, as fellow creatures of God, share many beliefs in common and can communicate through common standards of rational discourse. Furthermore , even though I am an Augustinian Christian, I am also shaped in part by many other beliefs and commitments that have been common in America in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. One of my goals in life has been to understand such characteristic American beliefs and to critically and constructively relate them to my religious beliefs. This book is an instance of that project. Much of it is about understanding a fascinating moment of the American experience, but that account leads to critical analysis and reflection on the question of the place that religion should have in that culture.

I hope that readers who hold other points of view, whether secular or religious, can nonetheless learn from what I present here. Although I write from a specific point of view, I do not differ from other writers or public intellectuals in that respect; I differ only in that I identify my viewpoint more explicitly than some of these other writers do.

George Marsden, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief. Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

I’m not sure I’d want to speak of “common standards of rational discourse” shared by believers and unbelievers. As Steven D. Smith has shown, secularism provides a standard that public discourse cannot live up to, a baseline standard that excludes Marsden’s point of view—in what sense are the two sharing common standards?

By God’s common grace, I think they do, but only because it’s impossible to completely ignore the created order we all have to live in. There’s no denying that Christians and non-Christians do communicate, do often understand one another. One of the most eloquent statements of the gospel I’ve ever read came from an openly unbelieving academic. He understands the message of the gospel; he just doesn’t receive it.

What really grabbed me about Marsden’s comments was his life project of intellectual self-examination. Because of the Spirit, because of the Bible, because of the created order providing general revelation, I believe that truly true knowledge is possible in this world. So is confidence. Despite all the legitimate postmodern insights into the social construction of reality, despite my belief in not just my finitude but my fallenness, I can know truth.

Review: What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions

What's Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life's Big QuestionsWhat’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions by James N. Anderson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a unique book, a choose-your-own-adventure book—yes, just like the ones you read when you were a kid, but written as non-fiction on an excessively serious topic: worldview. The author asks binary questions on major issues—is there a God? Yes or no?—and asks you to follow your train of tihnking to dead ends he creates when he offers a critique of the worldview you most likely fall into.

I like this book for what it is: a novel approach to Christian apologetics that I do believe I could hand to an unbeliever who is thoughtful—but not abundantly so. That is, I’m not sure this is the book for the philosophy major at State U; Anderson didn’t aim it that high. It’s for someone who probably hasn’t thought about his worldview as a worldview, someone who doesn’t realize that his characteristic answers to worldview questions are gelling into something sort of coherent.

The value of the book is its brevity: I read it as fast as any book I’ve ever read. It flowed very naturally and quickly. The detriment of this book is, also, its brevity: dedicated adherents of any given worldview will feel that their viewpoint was dispatched with too few shots fired.

And I’m certain any of those adherents could turn around and level the-problem-of-evil (or evolution, or empirical pluralism) at Christianity and feel they’d successfully bumped off Anderson’s worldview at least as well as he dismissed theirs.

But I think Anderson really does get to the heart of the various worldviews he tackles. Without listing every possible objection to each of them, he narrows in on the really big problems. Like, if skepticism is true, how can anyone know it? And if relativism is true, how can we say so without being guilty of claiming an absolute?

A little afterword answers a few objections to Anderson’s overall method, but he never really does get around to advancing a specifically Christian apologetic. That doesn’t seem to be the purpose of the book. He’ just knocking down other worldviews—graciously, I thought—to prepare for further discussion of the Christian worldview.

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