Reflection: Pastoral Worldviews
My recent series on "Developing a Biblical Worldview" was inspired by the results of a survey conducted by the Barna Research Group. This survey found that only 4% of American adults have a biblical worldview. Now Barna has released the findings of a follow-up survey. As it turns out, only half of Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview.
Barna's report suggests that this outcome may be shocking to people. Perhaps. But it doesn't shock me in the least because, as a Protestant pastor, I know plenty of colleagues who do not share my biblical worldview. I'm not happy about this, of course. But it's a fact of pastoral existence, especially in theologically diverse denominations.
I realize that if you're unfamiliar with denominational life you might expect more from pastors. You may even wonder what explains this odd circumstance. Let me offer an explanation.
Every pastor I know personally believes in the God who is revealed in the Bible and in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. But pastors are human beings who are products of the secular culture in which we all live. Many still tend to think in secular terms, at least in some matters. Their worldviews haven't yet been transformed by the truths of Scripture. In my own case, I began pastoral ministry twenty years ago with a worldview that wouldn't qualify as fully biblical, according to Barna's standards. Yet as I studied the Scripture and served the Lord, my mind slowly changed to the point where I now pass Barna's test. Of course I still have much to learn.
Many pastors, however, remain attached to their modern or postmodern worldviews. And in some cases seminary education doesn't help to relieve them of this attachment. Barna found that seminary-trained pastors are less likely to have a biblical worldview than those who lack seminary training. Again, this doesn't surprise me, because many who teach in seminaries, though they may affirm the essential tenets of Christian doctrine, do not see the world in biblical terms. Professors are, for the most part, products of an educational system that is hostile both to Christian faith and to biblical thinking. I know, because I'm a graduate of such a system. It's awfully hard to be a successful academic - which is what many seminaries want - and also a thoroughly biblical Christian.
Is there hope that pastors will become less worldly and more biblical in their thinking? Yes, there is. On the one hand, I know others who share a journey similar to mine, from a more secular worldview to a more thoroughly Christian one. On the other hand, Barna found that younger pastors are more likely than older pastors to think in biblical terms. The modernist liberalism that snagged many pastors in the nineteen-sixties and seventies has lost much of its appeal.
In the meanwhile, Barna's findings suggest that churchgoers would do well to evaluate carefully everything preached and taught by their pastors. (Yes, I'm well aware of the implications of this statement for my life!) After all, we pastors are human. We make mistakes. So, no matter where you go to church, and even if you're a member of my own congregation, I'd urge you to weigh everything your pastor says in the balance of Scripture. Paul's counsel to the Thessalonians remains absolutely valid today: "Do not scoff at prophecies [or sermons!], but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Keep away from every kind of evil" (1 Thess 5:20-22).
Reflection: Beginning of a Biblical Worldview
So far I have posted ten segments on "Developing a Biblical Worldview in 2004." Though I could keep on going, I think it's time to stop and sum up.
If you are seeking a biblical worldview, begin at the beginning in Genesis, in the first words of the Bible. From Genesis 1-3 we learn the following, all crucial components of a biblical worldview:
1. There is one transcendent, sovereign, all-powerful God who created all things.
2. Matter matters, because God created heaven and earth and saw that all things he created are very good.
3. The image of God as male and female shows us that God is personal (not a thing or an it) and yet transcendent (not exclusively male or exclusively female).
4. The image of God as male and female shows us that we human beings are: uniquely valuable; essentially male or female; meant to share life together in a complementary relationship as men and women; created for life in community.
5. What's really wrong with us is sin, our rejection of God's rightful rule over our lives, seen in actions that disobey God.
6. Sin explains what's wrong in the world. Sin leads to brokenness between humans, between humans and God, and in creation itself.
7. A biblical worldview does not minimize or deny the reality of pain and evil, but even the bad news of Genesis 3 offers glimmers of hope. God has not abandoned his creation or his people, but seeks us out. Jesus will ultimately crush the head of serpent, eradicating both sin and its consequences.
Of course everything I've just said assumes the truthfulness of the Bible. A biblical worldview, reasonably enough, rests upon the Bible, and is adopted by people who accept the Bible's authority and spend time learning its truth. Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of a biblical worldview in today's world is the whole idea of absolute truth.
Yet, I should hasten to add, my belief in absolute truth doesn't imply that I perceive truth in an absolutely true manner. I am a limited and sinful being, one who sees "through a glass, darkly" (1 Cor 13:12, KJV). It's always possible that some of what I've said, even in these last ten posts, is wrong. Thus one who embraces and commends a biblical worldview must do with humility. In the phrasing of a chapter from my book, Dare to Be True, we must "speak gently and bury our big stick," even as we speak boldly of what we believe to be absolutely true.
Rave? Rant? The State of Evangelicalism in America
Chuck Colson, always a provocative writer and thinker, has posted a most challenging and unsettling piece today about the evangelical church in America. It's worth a careful read and plenty of reflection.
The Pastor's Study: Well-Known Gentleness
As the Apostle Paul draws to a close his letter to the Philippians, he offers the following advice: "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near." (Philippians 4:4-5, NRSV) What does he mean in calling us to have our gentleness be well known? Why does gentleness matter?
The Greek word translated as "gentleness" (epieikes) appears infrequently in the New Testament. When it is used, it is contrasted with such qualities as pugnacity, quarrelsomeness, and harshness (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 3:2; 1 Pet 2:18). Gentle people seek peace rather than conflict. Though they may speak the truth with conviction, they don't use words to wound, but to communicate and heal. If we are gentle, it doesn't mean that we will back off from our convictions or give in so as not to hurt feelings. But we will refrain from unnecessary harshness in the hope of bringing people along rather than turning them off.
Why should we be gentle? Paul does not provide a reason in Philippians 4. But James explains that divine wisdom is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy" (3:17). If we want to be like God, especially if we seek to grasp and dispense God's truth, then we ought to imitate God's own gentleness. In one of his other letters Paul refers to "the meekness and gentleness of Christ" (2 Cor 10:1). As we treat people with grace-filled gentleness, they will see Christ in us.
I think we often fail to be gentle in our speech because we mistakenly believe that conviction must come across with resolute harshness. But unkindness is both unnecessary and unproductive. Fighting words rarely change minds, and they often harden hearts. If we want to persuade those who disagree with us, we should opt for firm but gentle speech.
In my book Dare to Be True I tell a story that illustrates wonderfully Paul's call to well-known gentleness. Let me reproduce it here.
"During my college years, I witnessed an excellent example of this Christ-like gentleness. Os Guinness was delivering a number of well-attended public lectures on the Christian faith at Yale University. The crowd, comprising both Christians and non-Christians, responded to Os with respect whether or not they agreed with his views. Except for one man. At the close of the first lecture, the man stood up and made a short speech that attacked Os and his ideas. The speaker's words and tone were rude. When he finally finished, all eyes turned upon Os. I was ready for him to skewer this man with his incisive intelligence. But, to my surprise, Os began by finding something in the man's speech with which he agreed. Then on the basis of this common ground, Os carefully explained the difference between them. He was calm and not at all defensive. His kindness toward his assailant was so undeserved and gracious that it impressed us all. I'm quite sure Os's demeanor encouraged unbelievers in the audience to listen even more sympathetically to his lectures. I determined that Friday evening that I would try to be like Os."
"Why did Os Guinness explain the hope within him in such a gentle and respectful way? I'm sure he did this in part out of his commitment to obey the Scriptures. I expect that he also knew that a gentle response would win the audience's favor, no matter what its impact on the angry man. But, more than this, Os was confident in the truth. He knew that divine truth didn't warrant a tirade. If anything, the quietness of his response accentuated the power of the truth he uttered" (Dare to Be True, p. 106)
I still try to be like Os Guinness when I speak, though I often fall short of his example. Nevertheless, Philippians 4:5 urges me not to give up: "Let your gentleness be known to everyone." Indeed!
Reflection: Glimmers of Hope
In Part 9 we examined Genesis 3, seeing in this chapter the devastating results of sin. God made the world good, but sin broke God's creation. Because of sin, we struggle with brokenness between people, brokenness between people and God, and brokenness in the created order. That about sums up our sorry lives.
For the most part Genesis 3 focuses on what's wrong, but it offers glimmers of hope. The first comes in verse 9, when God calls to the man and the woman who have hidden themselves from God. In this simple action we see something profoundly important about God. Though the Lord could have rejected the first humans, though he had every right to exterminate them, instead he seeks them. Thus right in the beginning of the human story we see a picture of a God who pursues us graciously. Later in Scripture God will fill out the details, revealing himself as a Shepherd who seeks and saves those who are lost - including you and me (see Ezek 34:16; Luke 15: 3-7).
The second glimmer of hope in Genesis 3 comes when God curses the serpent, the satanic figure who led the man and woman to sin. In this denunciation God says, "From now on, you and the woman will be enemies, and your offspring and her offspring will be enemies. He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel" (3:15, NLT). Throughout the ages, Christians have seen in this verse the first hint of messianic prophecy. Jesus, the offspring of woman, will one day crush the head of Satan. (If you see Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ, watch for how he incorporates this image from Genesis 3:15.)
The biblical worldview begins with good news: the good God created all things good, including human beings. But the worldview also incorporates bad news: human sin and its consequences. Yet planted within the bad news are the seeds of the best news of all, the revelation of a God who seeks and saves the lost, the gospel of Jesus Christ who will one day solve the problem of sin. The rest of the Bible fills out this story of how God makes right that which sin made wrong.
In my last couple of posts I examined the heavy topics of sin and its sorry results. We live in a broken world and that brokenness surrounds us.
Now we have proof!
Grand Prize -- Label on a bottle of drain cleaner: "If you do not understand, or cannot read, all directions, cautions and warnings, do not use this product." Reminds me of the brail instructions on my drive-up ATM machine. Great for blind drivers.
A runner up -- A treble-barbed fishing lure with the warning: "Harmful if swallowed." Would somebody please tell that to the fish?
A warning on a household iron that reads, "Never iron clothes while they are being worn." But what if you want to smooth out your skin at the same time?
A cardboard sunshield for windshield warns, "Do not drive with sunshield in place." I've actually seen this one. It takes away all the fun, of course. Won't bother the blind drivers that use my ATM, however.
Label on sleeping pills offers this caveat: "Warning: May cause drowsiness."
See what I mean? The world is a broken place. Not only can you get hurt if you iron your clothes while wearing them, but if the iron manufacturer doesn't warn you about this, they may get sued. As silly as all this stuff seems, it actually illustrates the brokenness of our world quite nicely.
My next post gets back to the more serious issues of our broken world and the hope we find even in the sad story of Genesis 3. I hope you enjoyed this diversion.
Thanks for your support of this website! In the three weeks of its existence there have been over 3,000 visits! I especially want to thank those who have helped to get out word of this site to the blogging world: Hugh Hewitt, Todrakes, Broken Masterpieces, Pastor2Youth, Evangelical Outpost, Damascus Road, and Neophyte Pundit.
Reflection: A Broken World
In my last post I asked the question: What's really wrong with us? Genesis 3 answers that question with in one word: sin. Our core problem as people is our rebellion against the rule of God in our lives, which is expressed in specific acts of disobedience.
Genesis 3 helps us to understand how sin infects the whole of human existence, how it breaks apart that which God had made so perfectly.
Immediately after the man and woman eat the forbidden fruit, they see themselves in their nakedness and seek to hide themselves from each other. This is a fitting picture of brokenness between people. Whereas God's intention for the man and woman was a life of unhindered intimacy, sin shreds human relationships. In place of harmonious partnership between the sexes, now there will be deceit and domination.
Before long God comes to visit the first humans. But they scurry off to hide from God. Whereas they once experienced fearless openness with God, now they are afraid. What a sad picture of brokenness between God and people. Sin keeps us from experiencing the kind of intimacy with God that God had intended, and that our hearts still desire.
Human sin also leads to brokenness in the created order. The woman will still bear children, but only with great pain. The man will still till the earth, but it will put forth thorns and thistles to make work hard. Every time you find weeds in your garden, or every time your job drives you crazy, this is a reminder of sin's pernicious power.
Sin leads to pervasive brokenness throughout creation. What God had made good is now corrupted. Things aren't the way God had meant them to be. The goodness of creation remains, but not perfectly.
The essential goodness but pervasive brokenness of this world is a key element of a biblical worldview. It helps us to understand what's wrong in the world, why this world is so often filled with pain and sadness. Perhaps one of the hardest questions for any Christian to answer has to do with human suffering. If God is good and loving, why do people suffer? There is no easy answer to this question, but every biblical answer rests upon the fact that the world is broken. Although encompassed within God's ultimate plan, things are not working as God had intended.
Once we grasp the brokenness of the created world, we'll be able to understand the moral emptiness of one of the most common arguments for approving homosexual activity. This argument claims that homosexual desire is genetically determined and, therefore, acting upon that desire is good. God made homosexuals, it is claimed, and therefore homosexuality must be part of God's good creation. Even if we assume that homosexual desire comes primarily from one's genetic makeup - a claim for which there is scant scientific evidence - that tells us nothing about whether it's right for someone to act according to this desire. Our genes are part of the broken world. Just because I was born with certain proclivities does not mean they are right. Certain people may be genetically disposed to violence, alcoholism, or cancer - for which there is considerable scientific evidence - but this doesn't mean we ought to endorse these realities. People who are violent, alcoholic, or sick with cancer need healing, not the false gospel that "God made them that way."
Genesis 3 helps us understand the brokenness of our world, not to mention our own lives. It help us to see things - to have a worldview - that deals truly with real life. Christians don't pretend that pain isn't real, that suffering is illusory. Rather, we believe that it is a sorry result of sin.
The brokenness of our world and our own hearts also gives us a longing, a longing for repair, for wholeness, and ultimately for God. Genesis 3, though primarily a passage that give us the bad news, also hints at the good news yet to come. To this I'll return in my next post.
Reflection: Yet Another Reason to "Dare to Be True"
Yet another falls! Last week, the highly-touted USA Today reporter Jack Kelley resigned in the midst of scandal. For months Kelley denied allegations that he had been less than truthful in his reporting. But finally he admitted that he had been deceptive in the investigation of accusations against him, having asked a source to misrepresent who she was to USA Today investigators. "I resigned because I felt I should no longer work at USA Today because of what I'd done," Kelley said.
Kelley's case is reminiscent of the Jayson Blair scandal of 2003, where a reporter for the New York Times resigned because he had fabricated "facts" in his stories. But this latest downfall is ever more troubling for a couple of reasons. First, Jack Kelley was a highly-regarded reporter, indeed a Pulitzer prize finalist in 2002. Second, he was an outspoken evangelical Christian, who had entered journalism because "God called me to proclaim truth."
Whenever a brother or sister in Christ falls in this way, especially in such a public arena, it hurts. It hurts not only that individual and his family, but it hurts the body of Christ. Sadly, Jack Kelley knows this. That's why when he resigned he apologized publicly not only to USA Today, but also to his wife and his pastor. I must say that I appreciate the way in which, in the end, Mr. Kelley acknowledged his error and took responsibility for it. This is rare in our day.
The sad story of Jack Kelley reminds us of several things that we must never forget. First, Christians are called to be people of truth. We are to speak and live truthful lives.
Second, this is hard to do. We live in a spin-saturated world, a world in which deception has become increasingly common. If we examine our own behavior carefully, the vast majority of us will find that we also have fallen short of truthfulness. Our errors haven't been as public as Jack Kelley's, but they haven't been any less wrong. So, before we cast our stones at Jack Kelley, we should consider our own lives. I expect there won't be too many rocks flying in his direction.
Third, nevertheless, Christians need to strive for truthfulness in every dimension of our lives. It's essential to our personal integrity, not to mention our witness in the world. We live in a day when people are starving for truth. They are looking for people whom they can trust. Our truthfulness will in fact help people find what they need most of all - a truthful relationship with the God of Truth.
Fourth, given the world in which we live, not to mention the state of our own hearts, truthful living requires courage. In the apt phrase of the seventeenth-century British poet George Herbert, we must "dare to be true."
Hat tip to Christianity Today's blog for first bringing this story to my attention.
Reflection: What's Really Wrong with Us?
If, as we've seen so far, God created the world good, and created humankind in his own image, then why are we so messed up? Why do we suffer from sickness and hatred and sadness? What's really wrong with us?
The world provides lots of divergent answers to these questions. Modern day gnostics would say: "Your basic problem is ignorance. If you only had the right knowledge, then you could be set free. You need to know that, at the core, you are divine. Then everything will be fine." Others recognize that knowledge alone won't save us. "You need to exercise your will and take charge of your life. You need to decide to break free from the constraints of your life." Still others blame society or government for our personal ills. "You are a victim," they claim, "and things won't be right until the oppressors make things right. You can't do it on your own." And on, and on, and on.
A biblical worldview includes a diagnosis of what's really wrong with us. It isn't primarily a matter of ignorance, or weak will, or victimization. Our root problem is sin.
Genesis 3 tells the story of the first human sin. The man and the woman choose to disobey God. They do what God said not to do, thus rejecting God's rightful rule over their lives. We, like the first humans, do the same, again, and again, and again. Sin is what's really wrong with us.
As you'll see in my next post, sin leads to a plethora of other problems. But before we get to the implications of sin, it's essential that we acknowledge the fact of sin and its foundational importance. Most religions and philosophies offer salvation that doesn't deal with our sin. Thus they don't solve our root problem. From a biblical perspective, only that which deals with sin will allow us to experience life as God intended it to be.
Christians believe that Jesus is God's solution to the problem of sin. Yes, Jesus came to reveal God to us, but that's not his primary purpose. Yes, Jesus taught us how to live better lives under God's kingdom, but that's not his primary purpose either. Bottom line, Jesus came to eradicate sin and to restore us - and creation - to what God intended. (For more detail on how he accomplished this, see chapter 8 of my book, Jesus Revealed.)
As you confront today's marketplace of gurus hocking their philosophical and religious wares, pay close attention to their understanding of the primary human problem. Do they take sin seriously? The answer, outside of Christian orthodoxy, is almost always "No!"
Only those with a solid biblical worldview can see that our real problem as human beings is sin. And only those who know the whole biblical story will understand that the solution to this problem has come from God, in Jesus the Savior.