Beyond Worldviews

This P.S. is by Vinoth Ramachandra, who will be giving the Catherwood Lecture on 26 June. For further details see 'What's On'
Abraham Kuyper famously stated “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not say ‘Mine!’” He popularized the idea of a uniquely “Christian worldview” - that since Christians have fundamentally different views of reality and of humanness from non-Christians, and thus see the “world” through different “lenses”, they should create a uniquely Christian scholarship in their intellectual endeavours.  A distinctive “Christian biology” no less than a distinctive “Christian philosophy” or “Christian economics”. I have never been persuaded by this. It seems to ignore what Kuyper elsewhere recognised as God’s common grace (another Calvinist emphasis) – that all people everywhere, Christian and non-Christian, share in the Creator’s creational blessings and creative gifts. Moreover we share a life largely in common with others, responding to common needs and challenges. The Christian scholar aims in her scholarship, not so much to be distinct as to be faithful to Christ. If, in her faithful scholarship, she is led to say things that are truly distinctive, well and good. But, if not, that may not necessarily reflect a lack of Christian sensibility. Often Christian scholarship will gladly endorse what others may have been saying as true or right or just; while also exposing, illuminating, challenging and judging beliefs and practices that distort or conceal important aspects of reality. The world being what it is, and humans being what we are, we should expect much overlap, and even be prepared to learn from others on the way. Pick up a book claiming to describe “the Christian worldview” and it will quickly be obvious where the author lives and to which socio-cultural group he belongs. Since the majority of these come from a suburban, middle-American context, it is not surprising to find the American Dream insinuating itself into “the Christian worldview”. One finds relatively few Kuyperite “worldview” enthusiasts joining the Occupying movement, exposing the hypocrisies of immigration policy or campaigning against the use of drones. Does a Nepali Christian farmer see the same “world” as a Christian banker in Tokyo? How about a Christian corporate lawyer on Wall Street and a Christian factory worker in Detroit? Worldviews (or interpretive frameworks) function as “operational maps”. Our deepest operational beliefs are not necessarily those we state, but those we think we have no need to state- because we take them to be universal. The Church historian Andrew Walls points out that while God as Creator may be acknowledged by all African Christians, in their “operational religion” far more attention is paid to territorial divinities who control the land, or to ancestors who maintain the family and the clan, or to intermediary beings of some kind than to God. On their worldview maps, therefore, God appears relatively small, the other entities significantly larger. I have never seen the place of ancestors (“the cloud of witnesses”, Hebrews 12:1) ever discussed in teaching about “the Christian worldview” in Western church or seminary circles. Nor the centrality of economic justice, hospitality to outsiders and ethnic reconciliation. Clearly Christians whose “worldview” has been shaped by one context will have a somewhat different operational map of reality from Christians whose worldview has been shaped within another. There is no one single Christian worldview, but a variety- all changing and growing even as they share some “family resemblances” that enable them to be identified as Christian. At the same time, Walls observes that “Christian worldviews may have important elements in common with non-Christian worldviews of the cultures from which they come- features that will differ from those on the worldview maps of their fellow Christians of another cultural background.” And I would add “social and historical background.” Hence the need to converse across our differences and divisions. Vinoth Ramachandra.

Vinoth Ramachandra lives in Sri Lanka and is IFES secretary for dialogue and social engagement. This post is edited with permission from one of his blog posts.  He blogs at http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/     

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One Response to Beyond Worldviews

  1. Puran Agrawal says:

    Vinoth Ramachandra (VR) is right to point to the notion of God’s “common grace.” One of its implications seems to be that there is no need for a distinctively Christian biology, chemistry or economics or any other academic discipline as both Christians and non-Christians scholars share “in the Creator’s creational blessings and creative gifts” and both are engaged in discovering truths in their respective fields. This conclusion, however, ignores another notion, that of Sin and its pervasive effects.

    All have sinned and are fallen short of the glory of God! This means that every scholar has an in built tendency to distort God’s truths, especially when such truths concern one’s philosophical and ideological perspectives. If a brain scientist is purely concerned to find out, for example, how the human brain functions in a mechanist manner, then the conclusions he comes to may not vary much whether he professes to be a Christian, or a Hindu, Muslim, or an atheist. But once he/she begins to investigate the implications the mechanistic functioning of the human brain has on issues such as whether human beings have genuine freedom or whether human beings possess mind independent of the brain mechanism, then religious or non-religious faith will make a great deal of difference in terms of the conclusions one comes to.

    The continuing debate among the Christians over The Theory of Evolution provides a good illustration of the importance of one’s worldview. For committed atheists, as Richard Dawkins boldly claims in his highly popular book The God Delusion, the current neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution provides the final proof for the non-existence of God. Then there are theistic evolutionists who are equally convinced that there is no conflict between the biblical account of the origin and the nature of the universe and that of the neo-Darwinian evolutionary account. . Finally, there are the die-hard creationists who not only find the biblical creation account greatly opposed to the neo-Darwinian evolutionary account but attribute the increasing secularism of the Western culture over the last century or so to the pervasive and pernicious influence of the evolutionary ideology, especially among the intelligentsia and those who occupy the spheres of influence. All three groups, it needs to be noted, base their arguments and conclusions on the same scientific facts, with a few exceptions.
    I conclude by pointing out that continuing debates in economics, politics, and social sciences seem irresolvable because the same facts are interpreted from different worldview perspectives, debates about, for example, whether religion should be totally kept out of the public spheres, whether un-fettered free-market capitalists system is compatible with the biblical teachings, whether increasing number of criminal activities can be attributed to one’s genes and/or environment rather than free choice, and debates about abortion, euthanasia, sex outside marriage, the relevance or increasing irrelevance of marriage in producing and maintaining a stable and happy society. I whole-heartedly agree with VC on one point, however; the majority of books which advocate the Christian worldview betray the writers’ socio-cultural upbringing and the socio-economic environment they belong to. But this does not in any way, I strongly believe, undermine the continuing importance of thinking issues facing us in world-view terms and the need to articulate as genuine a Christian worldview as possible. I would recommend two books as to how this can be done: Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Reason within the Bounds of Religion.
    Puran Agrawal

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