A BIBLICAL WORLDVIEW IN A MODERN WORLD
Jen has an interesting post on a topic that has long interested me, the difficulty of maintaining a traditional religious worldview in today’s culture:
[A]t the Young Life conference last week Chuck Colson talked to us about how important it is for youth ministers to be teaching teenagers how to have a Biblical worldview, especially before they get to college. Because we all know that most colleges are going to challenge, even deny the validity of, conservative, traditional, Biblical values and thought. [links omitted]
Having spent much of my life, and all of my teaching career, in the Deep South, I’ve heard many stories of churches getting young people about to head off to college together and telling them, in effect, not to let their secularist professors brainwash them.
Jen points to a longer post by Joe Carter, which in turn links to ongoing debates on blogs I’m unfamiliar with, questioning an assertion made on one of those blogs that the vast majority of Americans who call themselves “Christians” don’t actually believe these things:
–Absolute moral truths exist.
–Such truth is defined by the Bible;
–Jesus Christ lived a sinless life;
–God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today;
–Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned;
–Satan is real;
–A Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people;
–The Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.
Without survey data at hand or a sufficient command of the literature, I’ll not take those points one-by-one. But I would assert that, just from my observation, very few Americans–indeed, very few Southern Baptists–really believe most of those things. They might profess them, but simply observing their lives makes it evident they don’t really believe them.
To keep it mainly on the social-cultural plane, I’ll restrict my remarks to two of those tenets: “God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today” and “The Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.” Let me dispose of the last one first, since it’s simpler. Many if not most Christians believe in the big picture teachings of the Bible, especially the New Testament. But very few Christians and, indeed, few American Jews, actually practice most of the teachings of the Old Testament (the rigorous dietary rules being just one example). Virtually none of them believe the world was literally created in six days or that Eve was made from Adam’s rib, for example. They tend to treat these sort of things as allegorical rather than literally true.
“God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today” is much more interesting. Certainly, this is a core belief of not just Christianity but of Judaism and Islam as well. But very few modern adult Americans literally believe in an omniscient, omnipresent God that rules the universe. Not really.
Most Christians, like most non-believers, violate the letter and/or spirit of biblical teaching on a pretty regular basis. Not so much the murdering, stealing, and other big ticket Commandments, certainly, but many of the lesser Commandments, the Golden Rule and all manner of lesser sins*. The vast majority of Christians have sex long before they’re married, since their sex drive kicks in around 13 and marriage is postponed into their mid-20s or later. Now, if they believed God was literally watching them, would they do it? Let me ask it in another way: If they believed their mother was in the room watching, would they do it? Some professed Christians commit adultery. Would they do it if they believed their spouse was in the room watching? Christians sometimes bear false witness against their neighbor. Would they do it if they believed their neighbor was in the room listening?
Indeed, I’d guess a significant plurality of American Christians are, to coin a phrase, “Howard Dean Christians.” They believe in being nice to people, helping their neighbors, doing good works, living a decent life, and all the rest. But they don’t have a deep sense of the supernatural, mythological aspect of the faith. Nost Americans who call themselves Roman Catholics are what used to be called “cafeteria Catholics;” they pick and choose from the teachings of their church that they like and ignore the rest. They think the Pope is a really sweet man who deserves a lot of respect, but they don’t really think he’s the Vicar of Christ or the infallible interpreter of the will of God. Many of the taboos of Christianity simply no longer make much practical sense in the modern world, and most modern people have discarded them.
None of this is to say that Christians are bad people or even hypocrites in any conscious sense. Most Christians–and I’d argue, most other people–try to behave decently and struggle with our natural impulses to do otherwise. It’s just that modernity, almost by definition, creates a non-mystical mindset that makes fundamentalism a poor fit.
*I’ll concede that the idea that sin is hierarchical is controversial. I have no theological position on this, just a practical, secular one.
Update (2257): All of the above excepting Stephen Baldwin, of course.