Friday, March 08, 2013

The Flexibility of a Christian Worldview

I'm reading The Unintended Reformation with the Monday reading group and will probably post about it regularly for the next month or so.  I came across a good point today that I wanted to emphasize:

"Because the central claims of Christianity were not based or dependent on any philosophy but rather on God's putative actions in history, inherited assumptions and practices provided a framework for the testing, debate, and discriminating assimilation of philosophical ideas compatible with the faith" (39-40).

Brad Gregory is talking about the late Middle Ages here and about how Christian thinkers could appropriate elements from Platonism, Aristotelianism, Stoicism, even Epicureanism without also adopting their clearly non-Christian elements.  It is also true that "inherited assumptions and practices" at that time would have included a good deal of Roman Catholic ritual and tradition.  One of the reasons the Anglican church can house such a diversity of belief (from charismatic to evangelical to Anglo-Catholic to Sea of Faith non-literalists) is because they all share the liturgy in common.

All of that is introduction. What I want to jump on is the "because" part.  The central claims of Christianity are based in God's actions in history, not on a philosophical system.  This fact has historically made it possible--and I believe continues to make it possible--for there to be some flexibility in the philosophical framework within which Christian faith is housed.

Are there some basics to a Christian worldview?  Yes, I believe there are.  For example, a Christian worldview believes in a God that literally exists, created the world, and acts in the world.  But the basics are event-focused and a relatively short list.

What this means is that those who talk extensively in terms of biblical or Christian worldview are really doing what Augustine did with Platonism or Thomas did with Aristotelianism or Luther or Calvin or Van Til have done.  They are not presenting the biblical or Christian worldview but presenting a Christian worldview that places the core events into some philosophical framework that is not actually part of the core.

5 comments:

Sermons by Pastor Rob Henderson said...

Not only am I a pastor in the Wesleyan Church but I am also a citizen of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians here in Michigan. What fascinates me are so many correlations within several of the "tribal traditions' of worship and Christianity. The more involved I become with my Tribe through volunteer and ministry work the more I've been learning.

For example, in a funeral for a Council leader's mother they had a pipe ceremony. I was invited, as the pastor of the service and family/friend, to participate. I declined.

However, during the ceremony the carrier explained that tobacco was not intended to be used for pleasure but for prayer. The smoke of the pipe, he said, represents our prayers to Creator God.

During that moment I was struck with the picture of Revelation 5 and the censors of smoke that surround the throne that are the prayers of the saints. And as the funeral home filled with smoke- and staff opened windows and doors- I thought of Isaiah 6

American Indians were not nearly the savages they were made out to be. Their traditional worship seems from being pagan. I'm far from understanding the details but do know enough not to present a judgmental attitude in my zeal to protect Christian traditions. If the Catholics were able to make significant inroads with the Indians, so can we.

Great article. Thanks so much for helping me stretch my thinking.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And then, there is Karl Jaspers..I am chewing on him, sometimes with delight, and sometimes with skepticism....

I think if we are really honest, then, questions will always be a part of "the human experience", not certainty. Each person must apprehend his own life in pursuing his own ends, as people will disagree with what to do with and about doubt.

A "Christian worldview" has propositions that are "supposed certain facts" about history that cannot be collaborated in real time. And yet, those that would not "submit" to these "facts" will be judged as "arrogant". Is it not presumptuous to assume propositional stance towards "Man"? Is "Man" a universal or a particular? Is "Man" to be "useful" to "God's Kingdom" or an end in himself?

A "Christian worldview" seems to use man as a means, instead of an end, even though there is conviction about "the love of God" for the individual. Man, as a means, does not register as loving the individual himself, apart from "his purpose", in agendas. All of it all sounds too Calvinistic to me!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Your post states;"The central claims of Christianity are based in God's actions in history, not on a philosophical system."

Philosophy has been useful for eons to promote an understanding of "the world". Philosophy was used to "root" an understanding of "Physics" to Metaphysics via Aristotle. The Church, who held the reigns of Power used natural theology to explain an understanding of the world. Scientists, observing the world and experimenting in the world, came to understand that approaching the world through the "proposition" of the metaphysical was presumptuous and attempted to incorporate scientific understanding into theology.

Christian History was the development of the Church within a Judaic context. But, just as natural theology was undermined by scientific observation and experimentation, so was Church History questioned in the Enlightenment, where Reason replaced Tradition.

Nothing is understood apart from philosophy. History itself is approached through a bias or "frame". Today's post-modernity tries to make anyone's viewpoint valid. But, in this attempt, history is a questionable subject, as it becomes a specified and personalized subject (perspectivism). A subject where "human identity" is of primary value (women's studies, African American history, Native American history,etc.). The problem is that egalitarianism makes no claims upon "truth" or objectivity. Teaching becomes fragmented into a cultural milieu, where anything goes and everyone's opinion is just as valid. This might be good for diplomacy and communication theory, but how are the social sciences to be understood and "framed" in perspectivism, where no judgment can be made? And when judgments cannot be made,due to consideration for perspectivism, can "Law" stand? Whose viewpoint will "rule" a particular society? One's philosophy about the Constitution will reveal the answer to that question. Or will it bring up more questions......?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

After the fall of Rome, Augustine used Platonic philosophy to develop a "new hope" for Christians. The supernatural world was to "overcome" the natural world.

After the development of the printing press and the Reformation, everyone came to have access to "God's Word" and were no longer dependent on Priests to define Tradition. Tradition became defined on a particular denomination's understanding of the Text. The Text became "Supernaturalized" and Personalized in reaction to Liberalism's Naturalized and Transcendent claims (Schleiermacher) in the Fundamentalist's movement.

In Scripture, even Paul used Stoic philosophy to transmit "his message" to those that were more libertine, than he felt appropriate.

Therefore, philosophy rules the minds of men and creates a "frame" for human understanding and action in the world.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The split between the Eastern Church and the Western Church was due to the a philosophical disagreement about the Holy Spirit and Monotheism. I think it also touched on man's nature, too. These issues were based on "supernatural" (exclusivity) claims, versus natural ones.

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