Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Can a Worldview Be Christian? No!

In the last post we noted Tillich's seperation of the eternal truth proclaimed by the Church from the temporal situations in the cultures to which it is preached. The entailment of that separation is that to mingle the eternal with the temporal is to confuse the "kerygma" with the "worldview" of the person preaching the "gospel." But confusing the things of God with the things of "man" is idolatry.

That is deliberately provocative, but with this end in mind. Perhaps you, like I, know persons--whole churchs with respect to some issues--who question whether, or more likely how, a person can be an evolutionist, or a conservative, or a liberal, or a relativist, or pro-gay, etc., and a Christian. The impression I usually get is that in fact a Christian who says that kind of thing believes that a right thinking person can't, but that some people are so muddled that they get a pass. And in my experience most Christians are mild-mannered enough to hear such things, smile, and walk away from a potential argument, even though they are bothered by such "worldview" militancy.

My point here is that we shouldn't walk away from this kind of thing. That is, we should engage in a kind of anti-worldview militancy with respect to understanding the gospel. For if we understand that there is a distinction of the kind Tillich makes, then we can't make truths bound to our historically-mediated understanding criteria of fidelity to the eternal truth we claim it is the duty of the Church to preach.

Now, despite my belief in militancy over this point, I want to be nice. But it's tough: Does any sane, informed person think that one's opinion on relativity, or evolution, or heliocentricity--or any historically conditioned belief--is part of the gospel? Well, perhaps a few; but then, they are so muddled that they get a pass. For being nice, that's the best I can do.

True, marvelous books have been written on whether there is such a thing a "Christian philosophy," and the point is well taken that we must try to think as Christians. (Gilson's The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy contains an excellent chapter on the question.) But my rejoinder to those who would stop there is that you aren't thinking enough. We can't stop at any point and say, "Eureka! My view of Christian faith is final and perfect." That would be idolatrous, not to mention crazy.

We must make a distinction between the gospel which is the message of the Church--the kerygma--and the way the churches at any time express it and think about it. If not, there are a great many things that a great many Christians have thought and expressed over the last 2,000 years. Do you really want to be saddled with them all?

If not. A criterion is needed. The critirion will be the subject of the next post.


Richard Beck said...

Great post. I heartily agree.

Tracy Witham said...

Thanks for saying so--and I don't mean to imply that you didn't really mean it. I was afraid that jumping your platform without your permission, well, that it was a mistake. So I'm releaved to have the nice comment.

Under the Eagle's Wing said...

I have read Tim Keller's book The Reason for God (once through and again in parts)and see in your posts the same themes and thoughts.
Thank You I look forward to reading more of your insightful comments. John

Jason Coriell said...

I'm reading along and am getting it.

JUSTIN said...

I already like this series of posts. I am having a conversation with a friend over this exact thing (I think). He is afraid I am being swayed from the "truth"; I say I am trying to peel away the baggage well-meaning men have piled onto the basic truth of the good news. This is very timely and relevant, at least for me.

Tracy Witham said...

John, Jason, and Justin,

I'm going to tie things together at the end with some notes from Augustine's Confessions. He argued along these lines 1,600 years ago, after having come out of Manichaeanism, where the situation was much like it is today in Christian fundamentalism. It's nice to be able to lean on the most influential post-canonical writer in this, and it strikes me as so odd that his position isn't more widely known...

Anyway, I really appreciate the comments, and the tip on THE REASON FOR GOD (though I don't really need another book to feel guilty for not having read :-)), and am very much encouraged to hear that people are thinking and talking about this.