During my recent trip, I heard the beginning and ending of an address by Nancy Pearcey to a group of Christian day school teachers. Pearcey is the co-author of Total Truth (which I am sure makes some excellent arguments) and is recognized for her insight into confronting modern culture with a Christian worldview. She began her lecture by relating a recent e-mail conversation with a self-professed “fundamentalist, dispensationalist seminary professor” who said he “didn’t even believe in all this worldview stuff.” She did not offer much detail about the professor’s point, but it was immediately clear that she viewed his argument with some incredulity and that it would serve as the foil for her discussion of misconceptions about worldview.
Although I don’t have enough context to know exactly what the professor was intending to communicate, I suspect that I would agree with much of it. All this trendy talk of “worldview” is well-intentioned, but, I believe, misguided.
The Christian mantra is that we are “in the world, but not of it.” We ought to invade the world, not evade or pervade it. Yet it seems that a variety of factors springing from the fundamentalist/neo-evangelical controversy of past decades have pushed many Christians to one of two extremes—world evasion and world pervasion. Too many professing believers either run from unbelievers or simply act like them. I have heard youth leaders and young people themselves say, “I don’t know any unsaved teenagers.” That kind of reality reduces conviction of the responsibility to invade the world in order to conquer it with the gospel to mere theory.
Those who have made “worldview” a buzzword among evangelicals are critical of this state of world evasion, and their criticism is just. When she says, “We are still coming out of this fundamentalist era when we isolate ourselves rather than bringing Christianity into the world,” Pearcey is wrong to suggest that fundamentalism is equivalent to isolationism, but she is right to the degree that fundamentalists do isolate themselves.
Adaptation to or conciliation with modern culture are not the alternatives I’m suggesting. Seeing evangelicals jump predictably on the every cultural bandwagon that rolls around the bend grows wearisome. Remember all those predictions that “The Passion of the Christ” would change the world? Yeah, me too. I think everyone remembers them but the people who pronounced them. You’ll remember who they are because they’ll be the same ones saying the same things about “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.”
The worldview alternative purports to strike a balanced view, ambitiously setting forth to win culture. “We are called to have an impact on culture,“ Pearcey said. Now, it is impossible to deny that if all Christians lived like first century Christians, our culture would be impacted. But is impacting culture what we are called to do? How do we “win culture”? Through politics? By infiltrating Hollywood with Christians? By creating a separate culture that tracks a couple decades behind the culture of the world? I cannot remember much in Scripture about winning culture, but battling spiritual powers and evangelizing unbelievers seems to be a fairly consistent theme. Maybe I’m missing something, but political influence, movie production, and even slick apologetics strategies do not strike me as promising platforms for proclaiming the gospel and bringing in the kingdom. It seems as though worldview in this mindset has ceased to be something that results from the work of the gospel, and has become the gospel itself.
So I’m uneasy. I’m uneasy because the distasteful options that have been most common—isolation from the world and solidarity with it—are now augmented by a third that seems just as misguided. As C. S. Lewis said it, “We will never save civilisation if civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else even more.” What do we want? A nice, shiny, Christianized culture? Yikes, I’m scared to think what a mess we would make of that project. Or maybe it's more important to win Christ or those who need to know Him. We can and must find beachheads to invade.