In Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture Bob Goudzwaard (Free University Amsterdam) and Craig Bartholomew (Redeemer College) provide an in-depth examination and critique of four modern worldviews. These four worldviews are: 1) the classical modern worldview, 2) the structural-critical worldview, 3) the cultural-critical worldview, and 4) postmodernism. In formulating their critique they lean on the work of Philip Reiff on culture and religion, Rene Girard on desire, and Len Goodman & Abraham Kuyper on pluralism. With this arsenal of contemporary thinkers, they proceed to put forth a positive proposal for a worldview which can contend with modern worldviews. This is a worldview which is thoroughly Christian but also fits well within our increasingly pluralistic world.
So what does this proposed Christianity for public life look like? The authors propose that Christianity which will be able to engage in our pluralistic world, and compete among the panoply of worldviews will be marked by the following:
It will be self-critical, willing to take a close look at itself, explore how it has been positively and negatively shaped by modernity, and resubmit itself to the authority of Scripture and tradition.
It will see clearly the relevance of the gospel for the whole of creation, for the whole of society and not just the individual soul or the institutional church.
It will be genuinely committed to the flourishing of all creation.
It will have a preferential option for the poor.
It will take spiritual formation seriously.
It will attempt to “live the solution.”
Their positive proposal is essentially and expansion upon points 3, 4, and 6. The problem of modernity, as they see it, boils down to an interconnectedness between population growth, environmental crisis, material production and consumption, economic crisis, decreasing global security, and deepening world poverty. The four modern worldviews have proposed solutions to these problems, however, they have not only failed to provide an adequate solution, some of these worldviews exacerbate the problems! Their answer to these problems is to set forth a solution in light of Reiff’s work on the sacred in culture, Girard’s work on desire, and the preferred option for the poor. They call this solution an economy of care. An economy of care flips upside down what modernist economies say is the “bottom line”:
Suppose our first priority is not dynamic economic growth but rather the ability to safeguard time, provide justice for the poor, protect and restore the environment, create more opportunities for meaningful employment, and care for the vulnerable. There is nothing to prevent these needs from becoming the starting point in an economic approach rather than expansion of material prosperity at all costs. (235)
They call this approach an “economy of care.” Although it may sound crazy, they are convinced that it is not simply wishful thinking. The authors point to several small scale instances in which an economy of care has worked for local communities. They also point to how an economy of care has had an impact upon the well-being and even economy of Holland. A Dutch study has shown that long term an economy of care would have a more favorable impact than either the market economy or welfare state on 1) employment levels, 2) quality of work, 3) the environment, 4) energy saving, 5) capital transfer to the South, and 6) government deficits. (254) And this economy of care could be implemented if “the Dutch people were willing to maintain average income and consumption levels at their present level and if they agreed to cooperate in orienting society, as a whole and in parts to these broader ends.” (254) All this to say, an economy of care seems not only plausible, but realistic! That is until we start thinking about the sinful condition of humanity. Maybe its my Calvinist bent (or maybe my realism), but I tend to believe that people are actually pretty selfish. Maybe they aren’t selfish with people they love and know, but they are certainly selfish about people that bear no relation to them. Not only that but people have a near future bias. In other words, people are prone to taking actions which serve their near futures rather than their further out futures. This means, that even though it may be irrational, people in general will be less likely to make sacrifices in the near future for the sake of a more secure future further out. Think about how people treat their health. Most people are more likely to not workout now because its painful for the near future even though rationally they know it is best for their far out future. If we can’t even get people to work out, how will we convince people to sacrifice their economic good in the near future for the sake of their far-out future, and more so, for the sake of the far-out future of other generations and of people from other nations and states! There is absolutely no reason to do so. That is, unless, there is a stronger drive compelling them to do so. Something like the gospel. The gospel has the power to reshape our desires, to shift our desires from self-centered and near-future oriented, to other-centered and eschatologically focused. The gospel really does have power. This book shows that the gospel really could have an impact on the flourishing of this world, and if taken seriously, provides a stronger alternative to the current worldview that are available.
Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.
It seems like our culture is obsessed with the legal process – whether its Lindsay Lohan’s latest exploits, arrest, and trial; Oscar Pistorius trial for killing his girlfriend; Amanda Knox on trial in Italy; or the scandalous O.J. Simpson Trial. We Americans love trials (or maybe we just love seeing people get punished…), now W. Mark Lanier a world-class trial lawyers with many accolades capitalizes on our “enjoyment” of trials and the legal process and puts Christianity on trial.
What is this book about?
In Christianity on Trial, W. Mark Lanier follows the format of a legal trial, beginning the book with an “opening statement,” then calling witnesses like Albert Einstein, John Polkinghore, Charles Darwin, Noam Chomsky, and B.F. Skinner among others, and finishing up with a closing statement.
Throughout the book Lanier makes a case for the rationality and reasonableness of the Christian faith. He tackles difficult questions like:
Can God be infinite, personal, and moral?
Do people have an ability to make real choices, or are we simply products of our DNA in combination with out environment?
Is it intellectually honest to believe that the Bible is God’s revelation?
Does the physical resurrection of Jesus make sense?
He answers all of these questions and more, and comes to the conclusion that the biblical worldview makes sense of everyday life; in fact it makes more sense of everyday life than competing worldviews do.
Why Should You Get This Book?
W. Mark Lanier has written a persuasive and engaging account of why we ought to believe that Christianity makes sense. Its full of stories from major trials that Lanier has participated in, its full of fun historical anecdotes, and its full of thorough engagement with philosophical/theological sources. In other words, the book is comprehensive – Lanier leaves no stone unturned in his examination Christianity’s plausibility.
One aspect of the book that I really enjoyed was how nuanced his argument really was. His argument for the plausibility of Christianity relies upon the foundational distinction between direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. I appreciated the fact that Lanier plat out says that there is not much direct evidence for the truth of Christianity, most of the evidence is circumstantial. This distinction is important because many people have (rightly in my opinion) challenged the possibility of making a water tight-knock down flat out argument for the truth of Christianity. Christianity cannot be proved in the sense that the Pythagorean theorem can be proved. The “proof” of Christianity relies upon historical witnesses and the power of testimony. All this to say, I am glad that Lanier recognizes the fact that the case for Christianity cannot be made by purely philosophical arguments.
Who Should Get this Book?
If you are interested in apologetics, haven’t given much thought to why you believe what you believe about Christianity, or are a skeptic I recommend this book to you. If you are in an apologetics small group, or are looking for material to use in an apologetics Sunday School class this book is for you! Lanier’s writing is accessible and entertaining but more importantly his argument persuasive. So if you get a chance pick up this book!
(Note: I received this book free of charge from IVP in exchange for an impartial review.)
Christians throughout history have always read the Psalms as containing hints and clues about Jesus Christ. This however usually boils down to a series of “proof texts” i.e. Psalm 2, Psalm 22, Psalm 72, etc.
N.T. Wright agrees about the fact that the Psalms do in fact point to Jesus.
Everything written about me in the law of Moses and in the prophets and Psalms had to be fulfilled. – Jesus (Lk. 24:44)
However Wright, rightly so, argues that the Psalms are Christological not simply because they contain some texts that point to Jesus, no the Psalms are Christological because they lead us into a worldview that only makes sense if Christ is who he claims to be…
Here is N.T. Wright in his own words:
This is more, then, than simply saying that some psalms are to be seen as Christological, meaning that some seem already to have been looking ahead to the coming of the ideal King or that some were read in that way by the early church. My point is deeper. I am suggesting that the entire worldview that the Psalms are inculcating was to do with that intersection of our time, space, and matter with God’s, which Christians believe happened uniquely and dramatically in Jesus. (TCFS 31)
However the Psalms do more than just lead us into a worldview in which time, space, matter and God collide (i.e a worldview that finds its fulfillment in Jesus); the Psalms tune our hearts to a different story. In other words, we might think of the Psalms as the soundtrack which fills in and makes sense of the story we are actually living in. Ultimately this is the story that Jesus came to complete.
Again Wright in his own Words:
The story the Psalms tell is the story Jesus came to complete. It is the story of the creator God taking his power and reigning, ruling on earth as in heaven, delighting the whole creation by sorting out its messes and muddles,its injuries and injustices, once and for all. It is also the story of malevolent enemies prowling around, of people whispering lies and setting traps, and of sleepless nights, and bottles full of tears… and of course the Psalms tell the story of strange vindication, of dramatic reversal, of wondrous rescue, comfort and restoration. (TCFS 31)
The Psalms lead us to see the world as a place where time, space, and matter collide with God. The Psalms are the soundtrack to the story which tells us about a reigning God, a beautiful creation, what life is supposed to be like, malevolent enemies attacking God’s people, the suffering people endure, and how God rescues and redeems his people. In other words the Psalms prepare us to “understand” who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do. We could say that the Psalms tune our hearts to the Gospel.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – St. Paul
Without a doubt Aaron Aronofsky’s rendition of the Noah story falls short of the glory of its telling in the book of Genesis. At times it cheesy, at times its confusing, at times it doesn’t make sense, and at times it feels like I am watching a 1980’s claymation film (the Watchers were rendered horribly). However I (unlike many Christians writing about this movie) understand that Aronofsky and co-writer Ari Handel aren’t trying to stick with the biblical story. Both of these writers take creative liberties by including accounts from pseudepigraphal Jewish writings and on top of that they consider themselves to be engaging in the Jewish practice of Midrash while telling this story. All that to say, I don’t care if they added stuff, I care that they did a poor job carrying out some of these additions.
Most Christians out there are bashing this film. It seems like they really hate it. I on the other hand loved the movie. Was it biblically inaccurate? Heck yes! Was it theologically true? At its deepest core it was.
Noah is theologically accurate.
Let me go ahead and share with you two reasons why I think Noah theologically accurate and let me conclude by sharing why I think this film will actually do more for the sake of God’s mission than many Christian movies do.
Two theological truths that I think the film portrayed accurately.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We evangelicals have done a good job of emphasizing this truth. Our liberal friends haven’t done such a great job – they tend to have a more positive view of human nature – and our secular friends, well…. They don’t have any conception of the innate sinfulness of human beings.
Throughout the movie, Noah tries to get people to understand that human beings really are sinful. He tries to show his family that we really have turned out back on our creator, that we really have decided to set ourselves up as kings and queens over and against the creator. Noah really understands the depths of our sins, even while his family refuses to see it. One key scene that shows this is when Noah refuses to rescue Na’el and lets her get trampled. Ham is understandably upset, because this girl was going to be his wife. He doesn’t understand how Noah could be such an evil man. He yells at Noah telling him “how could you let her die, I know her, she was good!” But Noah knows better, all have sinned. All are worthy of God’s wrath. None are good and none seek God. Even though she might not have been as blatantly evil as the rest of the humans, Na’el certainly was not good. She was sinful and she is part of the reason why God had to start over with the human race.
There is another scene that perfectly captures this truth. Naameh goes to Methuselah and asks him a favor (don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you). She pleads with Methuselah, telling him that her sons really are good, she can see it in them, yes they have some flaws, but deep down inside they are good people. Methuselah gives her a cryptic response to her request – essentially he tells her that she doesn’t know what good really is. Interestingly enough, Methuselah doesn’t call the kids evil, but he doesn’t call them good either.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Noah knows this, he sees Romans 1:18-32 on full display when he goes into the human camp. And in a Black Swan type moment, Noah sees himself in the humans and their actions. This is a turning point in the movie, some want to say that Noah snaps and has gone crazy. I like to believe that he has seen the depths of our depravity and knows that the only thing we deserve is death. While on the Ark, Noah explains to his family that they all must die, he isn’t going to kill them, but once they land they must all bury eachother. Maters get complicated when Shem and Ila have twin daughters. As a result Noah believes that his responsibility is to kill the two girls. This is probably the most intense gut wrenching part of the movie. Noah seems crazy, the viewer begins to dislike Noah, he has gone from being a hero to being a villain who desires to kill babies. Much like Pharaoh or Herod the great, Noah has joined the ranks of those who practice infanticide. Naturally the audience will turn their back on him – babies are good, they haven’t sinned, they are innocent – yet Noah has seen something that everybody else has not yet seen, that evil lies within all of them. Naameh is selfish, Ham is disobedient, Japeth is covetous. Essentially, some people have their behaviors under control, but at our depths we are depraved. Original sin lies in all of us. And we deserve death. Yet something happens to Noah and he refuses to kill the two girls. Later on, he is asked why he didn’t kill them. How does he answer that question? Does he say that he finally realized that there was good in all of us? No. Does he say that he saw that they had not yet sinned? No. He says he felt love. Love! Love was the reason why he had mercy on them. It wasn’t because they deserved it. It wasn’t because they were actually good deep down inside. His love made them worthy of living.
Noah paints a beautiful picture of the gospel!
This is the gospel at its core! Humans are totally depraved, we are infected with Original sin, and we deserve to die. Yet God loves us and has mercy on us. Its God’s love for us, and his love alone that motivates him to rescue and redeem us. Sin still deserves death, but instead of us having to die. God sends his son to die in our place.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever would believe in him would not perish but have eternal life.
Mercy is the result of God’s love. Mercy is not based off anything within us. That is why God’s mercy is an act of grace.
We need to take care of creation.
I have heard some people complain that Noah was one long, big budget PETA add. Maybe they are right. But what is wrong with that? The director knows that evangelical Christians are going to flock to this movie – even if they don’t like it – here is his chance to speak to this particular audience, which traditionally has been averse to any sort of message that implies we ought to take care of creation. Sorry fellow evangelicals, but its true – thankfully it’s beginning to change, even Gospel Coalition is moving in this direction!
Throughout the film we are presented with two opposing camps – Noah and his family vs. Tubal Cain and the humans. They both hold to opposing ideologies – Noah thinks humanity’s purpose it to take care of and preserve the creator’s work. You see this in early in the movie, where Noah is collecting lichens and when he teaches his son not to unwisely pick the flowers. He mentions that the flowers aren’t simply there for our sake, they have inherent value. On the other hand Tubal Cain and the humans see creation as an endless bag of resources to be exploited and used. Everywhere they go, the humans strip the land clear of resources, making the land incapable of future production. Much like 18th and 19th century colonizers (even 20th century corporations) there is no regard for human life and human practices – the bottom like is “you have something we want” and we will get it at all costs, even if that means the destruction of another group of people’s way of life. Thankfully some people have drawn attention to these evil practices (at least when it comes to human beings) but companies continue to trample over other parts of creation in the name of development i.e. corporate greed. In the movie this ideology is most clearly articulated when Tubal Cain is having a conversation with Ham while on the Ark. Tubal Cain tells Ham that the Creator has commanded humans to “be fruitful and multiply and have dominion over the creation” – creation was created for humans, they must make creation submit to their purposes. In addition to this, Tubal Cain says that the creator has left humanity to fend for itself – Tubal Cain and his humans live in a deistic world.
I find it fascinating that Tubal Cain uses explicit biblical language – he quotes the cultural mandate – and he twists it be an excuse for the way they are treating the Creator’s work. I cannot count how many times I have heard Christians say similar things; creation was made for our sake, we need to take dominion, creation is unruly we must make it submit, etc. Honestly I believe that dispensationalism is one major reason why this sort of belief has flourished, but more importantly (and I think Aaronofsky really is on to something) it is a deistic and now atheistic worldview that set Christians up for a lack of compassion towards creation. I find it historically fascinating that the rise of deism coincided with the rise of colonization, exploitation of native peoples in the name of “civilizing” them, and the industrial revolution. In a world where there is no sense of responsibility towards God, in a world where we think God has left us to our own devices, everything become acceptable – the first thing that goes from our sense of morality is our duty and responsibility towards other parts of creation, the second thing that goes is a respect for human rights, the last thing that goes is belief in God.
All this to say, Aaronofsky and Ariel correctly interpret the cultural mandate – Creation was not made for humans, humans were made to take care of and cultivate creation so that all of creation might be offered up as a sort of “living sacrifice” bringing glory to God. As John Walton has pointed out, creation was one big cosmic temple, our job as priests and kings is to take care of that temple, making sure that it is developed in a way that brings God the glory he deserves.
The Missional Implications of this Movie
Without a doubt culture in general has lost its belief in the concept of original sin. I venture to say that American culture in general has lost the concept of sin in general. Yes people make mistakes, people err, but deep down inside people are actually good. That seems to be the prevailing view of our culture. Even in preaching, some Christians refuse to use the word sin – they call sin being dysfunctional. (Sin is no less than dysfunction, but it surely is way more than just dysfunction). Noah is countercultural in this sense – American culture tends to believe that people really are good on the inside and that the most important thing is “love.” Noah destroys this worldview. In the movie there are three positions regarding sin –
Tubal Cain & the Humans who revel in their sin and see themselves as simply being humans. Their sin has almost reached an animal like state. They rape they pillage, they have no regard for human life or for creation. Their animal like state is graphically portrayed in the scene where they slaughter an animal and feast on it like a pack of rabid heyenas.
Naameh and her family who know that there is evil out there, but don’t seem themselves as a part of it. Naameh and her family believe that love is the bottom line, and that everybody has the capability to be good. This is the prevailing belief in our culture. Sadly though “love” is not the full orbed biblical sense of love, its more like feelings of benevolence. Naameh loves her children, but even then, her love for them is more about her than about what is best for her kids. In this worldview, the moral thing to do is the thing that is most kind (aka “loving”).
Noah who sees how low human beings can go when they pursue sin and when they forget their creator. As I argued for above, Noah has a biblical understanding of sin.
So what is the missional impact of this film? It vividly portrays human sinfulness. In a culture that has forgotten what sin is or has chosen to believe that sin is merely some outdated religious concept we need more art (film, books, stories, songs) that reminds us that sin is real and that the capability for doing terrible things lies dormant within all of us.
What Noah does, is that it opens up a conversation about sin with non-Christians. Non-Christians will be forced to ask themselves – why does Noah believe that even the kids are sinful? Is he some religious fanatic? Or are there reasons why he holds on to this strange belief? Are we capable of being like Tubal-Cain and the humans?
When they see the movie, Non-Christians might not understand why Noah takes such an extreme view regarding sin. Yet Non-Christians will certainly be moved by the scene where Noah enters the human camp. That scene is graphically brutal – it portrays how hideous human immorality (sin) really is.
All that to say, I think that the major value in this film lies in the conversation it creates about human sinfulness. This film is also capable of helping non-Christians believe in a concept of sin.
Finally, this film also has apologetic value. It shows that care for creation has a biblical basis. It shows that the destruction of creation is a distortion of biblical truth.
I know that this review was sinfully long, but I think we Christians need to do more than asses a movie based upon whether or not it is “biblically accurate.” When evangelicals think about the Bible they often stay very surface level (I immediately think of Wayne Grudem’s systematic theology), this means that they ignore deeper philosophical and worldview issues. We tend to do the same thing when thinking about cultural artifacts (movies, books, music, etc.) We need to do some deeper thinking – we can’t simply judge a film on whether it followed the biblical passage – we must ask ourselves “does this film portray something true about our Christian worldview?” If so then we must be open to admit that that film has some sort of value.
Over the last few days (with a few interruptions in between) we have been comparing Jonathan Edwards with Benjamin Franklin. So far we have seen how different they were in their religious upbringings, their attitude towards tradition, and their views on virtue. Today we wrap up this series by comparing their views on science and the universe.
Benjamin the Scientist
As a kid you grow up learning that Ben Franklin was a scientist…. you probably learned that he conducted experiments with lighting. But Ben’s fascination with science isn’t reduced to the tales we learn as a children, Ben was an actual scientist. Check out what the Franklin Institute has to say about his fascination with weather patterns:
In 1743, Ben observed that northeast storms begin in the southwest. He thought it was odd that storms travel in an opposite direction to their winds. He predicted that a storm’s course could be plotted. Ben rode a horse through a storm and chased a whirlwind three-quarters of a mile in order to learn more about storms.
He was much like modern day storm chasers. But he also dabbled in a bit of oceanography.
Since Ben spent so much time sailing to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean, he became very interested in both ocean currents and shipbuilding. Ben was actually one of the first people to chart the Gulf Stream. He measured its temperature on each of his eight voyages and was able to chart the Stream in detail.
As you can see from both of these examples (and his famous electricity experiment), Ben was very much into mechanical science. He was highly influenced by the deistic Newtonian science of his day.
The logic behind Newtonian science is easy to formulate, although its implications are subtle. Its best known principle, which was formulated by the philosopher-scientist Descartes well before Newton, is that of analysis or reductionism: to understand any complex phenomenon, you need to take it apart, i.e. reduce it to its individual components. If these are still complex, you need to take your analysis one step further, and look at their components. (Francis Heylighen)
In essence, Newtonian Science, and the Newtonian Worldview is a worldview characterized by apersonal forces, reductionism, determinism, and materialism. There is no room for agents with wills, hence there is no room for a personal God to be involved with the way the world works. This was how Benjamin Franklin approached science.
Jonathan Edwards the Scientist
Jonathan Edwards was also fascinated by Newtonian Science. Early on in his ministry Edwards wrote, and hoped to publish, a paper on the “wondrous and curious works of the spider.” In it he describe the behavior and mechanics of spider’s movements. He tried to publish it in the London Royal Society’s journal, “Philosophical Transactions,” which was headed up by Newton himself. However someone else beat him to the punch and submitted a paper on spiders right before he did.
Like Franklin, Edwards was an amateur scientist in his own right (in that day almost all scientist were amateurs), however his view on the nature of science and the universe vastly differed from that of Franklin. Here is what Marsden has to say about this:
Edwards saw that the universe was essentially personal, an emanation of the love and beauty of God, so that everything even inanimate matter, was a personal communication from God… Edwards started with a personal and sovereign God who expressed himself eve in the ever changing relationship of every atom to each other. This dramatic insight would be the key to every other aspect of his thought. (A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards 21)
The fact that Edwards was a personal God communicating himself behind every aspect of creation was Edwards motivation for doing science. When he was studying how spiders move he was studying how God interacts with his creation, when he was studying natural phenomenon he was watching how God communicates with his creation. But maybe more importantly, when Edwards was doing science he was seeing how all of creation reveals Jesus Christ.
Check out what Edwards has to say about how creation reveals God:
I expect by very ridicule and contempt to be called a man of a very fruitful brain and copious fancy but they are welcome to it. I am not ashamed to own that I believe that the whole universe, heaven and earth, air and seas, and divine constitution and history of the holy Scriptures, be full of images of divine things, as full as a language is of words; and that the multitude of those things that I have mentioned are but a very small part of what is really intended to be signified and typified by these things.
May we have Edwards’ eyes to see God revealed in all of creation.