Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What Drives You? Does Christianity Capture Your Head But Not Your Heart?

See if this feels familiar: you know what kind of person you want to be, and why you believe in it. But as you take stock of the past week, you are uncomfortably aware that many of the things you have actually done don't line up with who you want to be or what you believe is right. And let's not even mention the past year. Mostly little things, perhaps (so you tell yourself), but a person's reputation and the effect you have on other people is made up of little things. Someone once observed: "Nothing ever changes us except the things we do every day." We know intuitively that when our actions keep differing from our beliefs, something is not right.
This is one of those problems that is common to every man and woman. Even Paul the Apostle expressed how exasperating and discouraging it can be: "For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing." (Romans 7:18-19). Let me compare two powerful answers to this dilemma.
A Solid Worldview May Not Be Enough

One way that Christians have helped each other confront this problem is emphasizing a conscious worldview that considers how Christianity relates to everything we do, and what that means about how we should act. A worldview is something everyone has even without thinking about it; we all have basic beliefs about reality and what life is about that drive our decisions and our priorities even when we don't think about why we're doing them (here's a more thorough definition). Your worldview generally determines how you will respond to new information or choices. For instance, if you believe at a fundamental level that a meaningful life can only be achieved by making enough money to be able to influence politics and social change, then even when you aren't thinking through those assumptions, you will typically make decisions that prioritize earning money and advancing your influence and power. Sometimes you may not even connect those decisions with the ultimate goal of influencing government and society; but because you had settled in your mind early on the idea that this is what makes for a successful life, it's second nature for you to see any option that increases your money and power as the naturally desirable choice. Those goals have become synonymous in your mind with "value" or "good." Your worldview has shaped the choices you make even when you aren't thinking about why you make them.
Emphasizing a Christian worldview (or biblical worldview) typically means challenging people to examine their underlying beliefs and assumptions about what is good and what life is about, and then training Christians to be conscious about centering their priorities on the things that God has taught us to value. It means lining your beliefs and priorities up with what Scripture reveals about God's priorities and how He wants us to act, and it also means recognizing that God's purpose for your life encompasses everything you ever do. A genuine Christian should be taking the lead from God's word in every area, not simply areas that seem "religious." Worldview is a comprehensive answer to all the questions of life, not a set of rules that apply only in certain circles or subjects. The goal is to make sure that a Christian will recognize decisions and patterns of behavior that are inconsistent with God's character and His commandments, so that we can avoid those actions and choose ones that honor God.

Are You Ruled By Worldview or Desire?

There is a lot of value to worldview theory and teaching. I listed some great examples of how to teach and study a biblical worldview at the end of this post. But even knowing the right thing to do is often not enough. So you should get to know one of the most helpful and insightful critics of worldview approaches: James K.A. Smith, a professor at Calvin College. Smith has observed that what drives our decisions is more often desire than worldview. He has illustrated that even when people hold firmly to a biblical worldview, they often act against that worldview because of their desires.

This is extremely valuable, because it reveals that changing what you believe about life isn't enough to clean up your behavior. You also have to transform and reform what you love. The best place to dig deeper into this is Smith's fascinating new book, "You Are What You Love." Another of Smith's insights is that even Christians with a biblical worldview may have cultural practices and habits that essentially fuel and serve their contrary desires. We may not simply be acting against what we believe; our habits may also be feeding and nurturing even more powerful resistance to doing what is good. Christian bookseller extraordinaire Byron Borger summarizes Smith's reasoning:

"Christian formation that only teaches data -- Bible truths or worldviewish principles or theological doctrine, no matter how right or profound or astute --  but doesn't really shape our deepest desires, loves, priorities and such isn't going to be truly transformative. And in fact, our Christian worship practices may be "thin" and less influential, while our secular cultural liturgies may be "thicker" and truly impact how we see and feel about the world." (Borger, BookNotes column (scroll down a page)). In other words, we may be practicing a way of life that actually promotes and feeds our worship of things other than God.

You may have heard similar thoughts before, but part of the goldmine in Smith's work is his labor to identify and uncover these "cultural liturgies" and to help us discover patterns of genuine worship that need to be woven into our lives. The concept may sound simple, but the heavy lifting is in the application. Borger commends Smith's books for "deep and wise visions of spiritual imagination and how worship, among other things, effects our human flourishing and the tone of our discipleship." And Borger's crowning point is that Smith's work, so far embodied in two large and widely-acclaimed volumes, is distilled down in this upcoming book You Are What You Love so that Christians who don't have the time to read an academic textbook can glean all the best parts. (As a bonus, Borger's BookNotes column is one you should save for regular reading if you care about feeding your mind - he really knows his Christian authors and books.)

So sharpen your worldview so that you can recognize if your choices are out of step with the character and wisdom of God, but dig deep into James Smith and similar authors who help shape your heart so that you will not only know the good you ought to do, but you will have the desire to do it too.

Worldview Training:
Worldview Academy and PDF of Concepts in Curriculum on Christian Worldview
(Re)Thinking Worldview: An Interview with Mark Bertrand
The Colson Center for Christian Worldview and Christian Worldview Journal
Francis Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? 

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