Saturday, March 17, 2018

at Mere Orthodoxy Jake Meador writes about the tedium of worldview analyses

 
 
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In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.
 
Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:
 
We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.
 
Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.
 
The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.
 
I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.
 
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In short, my concern with this sort of worldviewism is that I think it leaves us with a much less interesting world and a savior who does not seem to love it nearly as much as the God of the Bible is said to love the world. And that picture is a real barrier to evangelism. But more than that it is a barrier to worship because it creates divisions within our minds that should not exist and deprives us of the chance to see the face of God in unexpected places.
 
Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”
 
Having read Mere Orthodoxy over the last ten years my first thought was to wonder whether or not Mere Orthodoxy itself hasn't been a purveyor of a kind of relentless worldviewist approach to public discourse that it could benefit from shaking off.  I admired Schaeffer in my teens and early twenties but here in the middle of middle age find myself trying to articulate a case that the net cumulative impact of Francis Schaeffer's post-van Til worldviewest approach to apologetics and cultural discourse has been to stunt evangelical and Reformed cultural thought for possibly half a century.  As I've written a few times before, if Schaeffer's work were used as a starting point for actual scholarly and artistic activity that would be one thing but worldview jargon tends to be invoked readily and glibly to say that this or that person, cultural item or meme reflects a "postmodern" worldview without any attempt to even explain if that means anything but with all the force of meme level moral posturing on the part of the author(s) who put forth the meme-worthy  or meme-aspiring content. 

During its roughly two decade run Mars Hill had a lot of people who left what they considered legalistic fundamentalist backgrounds and in the culture of Mars Hill many felt, for a time, there was something really liberating about being able to be a Christian while also drinking alcohol, having sex (in marriage) and watching R-rated movies.  Someone over at the Boar's Head Tavern proposed that more college students rejected the Christian faith because they wanted to drink, smoke and get laid than ever really had a struggle with the theory of evolution.  There are, obviously, those who can, would and will say evolution was why they abandoned Christianity, just as many more will be able to cite the existence of evil. 

And when the heart commits to a path presuppositionalist apologetics won't accomplish anything, just as evidentialist aplogetics won't accomplish anything.  The heart is deceitful above all things, who can understand it?  This iis a subtextual problem in a lot of worldview cultural punditry, a tacit or even explicit claim to understand the heart in an abstracted, idealized way.  It's not the domain of worldview Christians, though.  The new atheists can be thought of as a kind of secularist counterpart to the worldviewest Christian polemicist, both are the sorts of people where a kind of orthodoxy is paramount but an orthodoxy in which the impact on how you treat people is not necessarily the litmus test compared to public testimony.  In the era of #MeToo there aren't any "good" teams as more headlines and investigations come to light.  Secularist and atheist societies and scientific communities can be at least as egregiously sexist and predatory toward women and men as fundamentalist religious communes. People who attain almost any level of celebrity in some media context can feel at liberty to be as abusive in practice as they may have been tempted to be in their hearts.  What the worldview riff will do is insist that those people are merely reflecting their worldview rather than suggest that there are a lot of irresponsible people who do not know or care how to responsibly use mass and social media for the record in public discourse. 

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