Over the last year I’ve been in countless conversations about politics, covid, race, theology, the environment, etc. In many of these conversations, my dialogue partner makes mention of a Christian worldview. A Christian worldview is a distinct way of viewing the world, of viewing life. I am convinced that in most of my conversations with fellow Christians, we would agree almost entirely on what defines a Christian worldview – God as Creator, the world as providentially ordered, mankind as sinful and depraved, Jesus as the incarnate Word and the only hope of humanity, the end of history culminating in a new heavens and a new earth, and the supremacy of the truth revealed in God’s word. That’s the rough outline.
Where I sense we often disagree is how this worldview is used.
Many utilize a Christian worldview like a scientist might use a Geiger counter. If you aren’t familiar, a Geiger counter is a device that detects radiation. The needle twitches, the meter makes a distinct sound (at least in the movies), and the people using the device know to run away when the meter detects dangerous levels of radiation. In a similar way, some Christians use a biblical worldview to detect trace amounts of untruth – claims that don’t align with a biblical worldview.
Other Christians use the biblical worldview like a filter, say a water filter. A filter does it’s job when it separates out particulate while also allowing the clean water to go through. In this analogy, the filter has two jobs. First, it must filter out contaminants, if it doesn’t, it isn’t working. But equally important, the filters second job is to allow clean water to go through. If it doesn’t allow the clean water to pass through, it has failed at its job. Likewise, a functioning worldview will take in competing systems of thought, filter out what is erroneous AND allow truth to pass through.
Here’s how the difference can play out in a conversation.
FilterChristian: I read this challenging book by AuthorXYZ recently.
GeigerChristian: oh, you can’t trust AuthorXYZ, they’ve bought into WrongPhilosophyABC. We must reject WrongPhilosphyABC because it is antiChristian and build on unbiblical concepts.
FilterChristian: oh, I agree we can’t accept AuthorXYZ in total. Yes, they do buy into WrongPhilosophyABC and yes, I see that WrongPhilosophyABC was built on unbiblical foundations. Still, there are grains of truth in his system that we should take notice of. They raise important questions, and while their answers are mostly wrong, they do contain insights we can learn from.
GeigerChristian: no, no, no. It’s wrong, so there is nothing to learn from them. We must reject WrongPhilosophyABC and anyone who drinks from that well.
FilterChristian: I don’t understand this. For example, I think Darwin was wrong in his conclusions, but was he wrong about the beaks of finches? Can’t I reject his unbiblical views of the origins of man and still learn something about finches?
GeigerChrististian: No. We need to reject Darwin and every one who accepts his premises. You can’t learn anything from Darwin that you can’t learn from someone else with more biblical foundations.
FilterChristian: I don’t accept this. I can learn from Darwin, filter out what is bad, and add his insights about finches to my store of knowledge.
GeigerChristian: You’ve drank the Kook-Aid. It will erode your confidence in Scripture and you’ll be liberal in 5yrs.
Ok, my fictitious dialogue is overly simple, but you get the point. And I’ve had this dialogue several times recently. Replace Dawrin with Marx or DiAngelo or or Delgado or Tisby or NT Wright or any number of other authors who are deemed to have unbiblical theories, foundations, or conclusions.
If it’s not obvious, I’m a FilterChristian. I use my Christian worldview to filter out what is bad in whatever I’ve evaluating, whether it be Darwin’s Origin of the Species, Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, Marx’s Das Kapital, Tisby’s How to Fight Racism, Delgado’s Introduction to Critical Race Theory, or NT Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. In each example, there are parts I reject because of the Christian lens through which I evaluate. But, there are also insights into our world, fallen humanity and it’s fallen systems, or the apostle Paul that I can glean from the men who may be very mistaken in the conclusions.
I think a FilterChristian approach honors the fact that all truth is God’s truth. Moreover, it recognizes common grace. Sam Storm explains, “Common grace includes all undeserved blessings that natural man receives from the hand of God: rain, sun, prosperity, health, happiness, natural capacities and gifts, sin being restrained from complete dominion, etc.” To his list we could add “intellectual insight” and more. Yes, the human intellect is fallen, but the impact of the fall “is being restrained” by God’s grace, so that while we are capable of justifying horrific evil via our powers of reason, we are also capable of finding cures for wasting diseases and putting men on the moon.
In addition, in seems to be the pattern we see in the Bible. Moses learned from the his Egyptian teachers. Daniel and his friends learned from their Babylonian captors, even though they were pagan, and their pagan religions infected their science, their culture, their philosophy, etc. Paul could quote from pagan poets and philosophers. He ran them through his worldview filter and spit out the bones, but could accept what was amicable to a biblical worldview, even quoting it in what is now the canon of God’s revelation.
I suggest we use our Christian worldview, a robust, biblical understanding of God’s world and the way God governs it, to filter out error and absorbing truth, not as excuse to run away from everything that is sub-biblical.