Archive for the ‘Tri-Perspectivalism’ Category
I’ve been pretty surprised at the rate at which new cultural orthodoxies have been formed over the course of my lifetime but particularly the last decade. This post serves as an attempt at dissecting how cultural orthodoxies form and serves to appreciate the complexity of their genesis. There is too much reductionistic thought out there about how cultural shifts occur and most of it centers on just one or two cultural factors and fails to take into account the massive web of multiple reciprocities that is this thing we call culture. Most of the current cultural commentary picks two or three sources as the root causes. Typically the cited sources are institutional – the (liberal) media, corporations, the current political milieu, or highly organized elite power brokers. I think these things have certainly played a role, even key roles, into the cultural shifts that we have seen. That said, I think these views are pretty reductionistic and fail to understand the complexities the constitute culture. As Justin Holcomb has said, “The most powerful aspect of culture is that which we do not think or reason about.” My main point in this piece is that the forces, elements, and ingredients that cause cultural change are very complicated and cannot be boiled down to just a few people, tribes, or institutions.
First, we need to understand what elements of culture are at work, both conscious and unconscious:
There is a constellation of at least 8 things that add to the formulation of cultural dogma – NOTE: 5 of these 8 are directly taken from a presentation delivered by Justin Holcomb and represent heavily thoughts from UVA’s department of Sociology (particularly that of James Davison Hunter) and also that of Christian Smith (Notre Dame)).
1. Artifacts: iPhones, iPads, or other iDevices that unconsciously reorder how we interact with stimuli or information. Artifacts can also be cultural icons such as the Cowboy, Bald Eagle, or Coca-Cola. Artifacts unconsciously impact how we think and interact about our world.
2. Language: Language is the carrier of culture… this is why terminology, accents, vocabularies, technical terms, pronunciations, and word meanings can very heavily geographically even within the same linguistic system. The use of the various aspects of language heavily determines tribal identity.
3. Beliefs, Symbols, or Ideas: these comprise some of the commonly held notions, brand identities, or thoughts of a people group or tribal faction.
4. Social Forces (aka Deep Structures) – Note the first 6 are from Justin Holcomb:
- The Therapeutic – the making of everything as not anyone’s own ultimate responsibility and the centrality of personal happiness of the goal of the individual
- Consumerism – the commodification of things that should not be commodified
- Pluralism – the acceptance of mutually exclusive systems of thought as being equally valued and/or true
- Secularism – the intentional lessening of religious authority in a culture
- Democritization of knowledge – consensus is king and if the consensus doesn’t agree with you, bludgeon them until they do
- Post-Modern-Pragmatism – this is my own personal soap box on the mis-labeling of all things post-modern and what we really mean when we say the term “post-modernism”
- Globalism/Mobility – this also relates closely to the rapid rise of urbanization, the velocity of ideas, the fluidity with which people change geographic location, and the role of the worldwide marketplace and supply chain
5. Institutions: politics, education, economic, spiritual, media… etc.
7. Elites: these can be media, political, athletic, celebrity, or other cultural curators and definers. One could categorize these as being the heads of various institutions (#5 above), but elites are more individuals than groups and seem to transcend even the institutions that gave them their platforms.
8. The Marketplace: dollars (or perceived dollars) can be the most significant voters of cultural change and this can happen on both the macro (Mozilla) and micro levels (Worldvision).
Second, we need to understand what some of our cultural orthodoxies (dogmas) happen to be:
(Note – I have in view here principally the West and specifically the American cultural context)
-“The highest moral good lay[s] in personal self-fulfillment” – see George Marsden’s book, The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: the 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief – WSJ review here
-Public conversation (or dialogue or discourse) is only to be about facts and not beliefs – in other words it is taboo to talk about God
-Marriage is fundamentally about (romantic) love
-Homosexual behavior is to be accepted at least as non-abnormal and in some instances as normative
-What doesn’t hurt other people is morally permissible
–Authenticity to self and personal happiness are very important virtues and perhaps the highest of all the virtues
-Personal happiness is ultimate
-Sex is principally intended for pleasure
-Be good (in your own eyes) in order to be self-actualized (happy)
-The subjective individual self, in combination with the herd (read: democritization of knowledge), is the greatest interpreter, curator, and judge of what is true, good, and beautiful (over against history, data, or external authority)
Third, we need to understand the interplay of the cultural elements with the culture, our tribal faction, and ourselves
Velocity of ideas:
Before movable typeset, ideas and culture were principally only shared along trade routes. Those trade routes which were often roads or nautical routes were the only means by which one culture (or tribe) might cross-polinate another group. This made the velocity of ideas was much slower than in post-industrial and pre-internet age. Another complexity to the transmission of ideas dealt with low levels of literacy and significant linguistic barriers that existed for millennia. Oral traditions can travel remarkably quick yet must gain certain thresholds of cultural penetration in order to take route and multiple through generations. The paradigm shifts in the transmission of ideas were principally the Gutenberg printing press, transportation advances (cars, planes… etc.), and communication revolutions (radio, television, satellite, internet, web 2.0). These paradigm shifts in transmission of ideas has radically increased the velocity of ideas. In the modern era, ideas can travel at nearly limitless speed, spread through thousands of seemingly disparate and unconnected networks or tribes, and reach saturation levels significant enough to change public opinion, shape political policy, or even to overthrow governments (ie. Twitter and the Arab Spring).
Cultural Interaction is Determinative of Belief:
Humans naturally gravitate toward like kind and like minded. That said, there is significant interplay between what we believe and how you come up with what you believe. Orthodoxy (right beliefs) affects orthopathos, (right emotions) affects orthopraxis (right practice), affect orthodoxy, affects orthopraxis, affects orthodoxy… ad infinitum. So how we interact with culture – whether we engage it, critique it, or embrace it will impact consciously or unconsciously what we believe. You can evidence this very clearly with radically undercontextualized and/or cultish groups like the FLDS or the Westboro Baptist folks.
Unconscious Cultural Elements:
The seven cultural elements listed above are constantly influencing our lives in good ways, bad ways, and every shade of grey in-between. Most of this influence is unconscious, subconscious, selectively ignored, or down played as not playing a role in what we believe. I have had several hundred conversations with people about what they believe. In an overwhelming number of such instances, people believe the set of ideas that justify their wants, desires, and passions. In these instances the horse was the wants, desires, and passions of the heart that drove the cart of the justifications, rationalizations, and knowledge of the head. In other words, people seek evidence, truth, arguments, facts, and knowledge about their beliefs after those beliefs are formed by their belief system (secular, religious, philosophical, or other). There are notable exceptions, but this seems to be more normative than not. Most folks could not even name a single thinker, writer, philosopher, sacred text, or cultural element that was the genesis of their most central tenets, dogmas, orthodoxies, or beliefs.
That said, some of these cultural elements above are very conscious. These elements are the ones that tend to get the most ink spilled about them. It is usually institutions and elites that get the most attention and the usual scapegoats for when their is some rising cultural dogma that is contrary to our own tribal orthodoxy. I do not wish to downplay the role of celebrity, elites, the marketplace, and institutions of all kinds in the formulation of new cultural dogmas. The role of these conscious elements has been well noted in the sexual revolution, the rise of feminism, the rise of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, and have shaped the battle lines on other issues like abortion, gender, and sexuality.
Concluding thoughts: If you have bought into the idea that the contours of the cultural landscape are complex and inter-related, then I hope that you might be willing to think and interact on those contours with more deftness and in a manner than is more winsome. I would hope that you would be able to identify more readily some of unconscious elements that comprise the invisible hand of culture. Be patient with people who do not understand or do not care that they hold numerous mutually exclusive ideas in their worldview. Have compassion on the culture for it is harassed and helpless:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:36
For further reading:
Culture Wars, James Davison Hunter
Intellectuals, Paul Johnson
Total Truth, Nancy Pearcey
Social and Cultural Dynamics, Pitirim Sorokin
To Change the World, James Davison Hunter
Desiring the Kingdom, James K. A. Smith
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame
This lecture is an explanation of the Protestant Christian worldview from Genesis to Revelation. Audio is available here.
A. Ex Nihilo
B. Out of God’s pleasure
C. Creation was good
D. Man made in image of God: male and female
E. Cultural Mandate
F. The task given Adam was to make the whole Earth like Eden by:
“numerically and geographically expand God’s image over the face of the
- Covenant of Works (Hosea 6:7)
- Adam is Federal Head (Rom. 5:12-21)
- Blessings for obedience; curses for disobedience
a. Blessing – Life
b. Curse – Death
c. Divine benevolence, Human loyalty
- Serpent tempts Eve, questions God’s goodness
- Adam was there and doesn’t say anything
- All humanity fell in the Fall because of Adam’s representative nature
- All creation fell and feels the frustrating affects of the fall
- Proto-Euangelion – Gen. 3:15-20
- Seed of the woman vs. Seed of the Serpent
A. Covenant of Grace
1. Noah – establishes stability on the Earth (Gen. 6, 9)
-Baptism: deliverance from waters of judgment
2. Abraham – establishes promised offspring who will bless all nations (Gen. 12:1-3; 15; 17), (Gal. 3:16)
3. Moses – establishes law and order above natural law (Ex. 19-24)
-“I will be your God and you will be my people”
4. David – establishes eternal king/throne (Psalm 89)
5. Christ – fulfillment of the covenant of grace (Jer. 31; Ezek. 36/37)
B. Historical Summary
Creation, Fall, Expulsion, Cain/Able, Flood, Babel, Shem
Abraham moves, Abraham/Lot, Abraham/Melchizedek, Abraham Covenant, Abraham buys land in Canaan/Eden
Isaac, Jacob/Esau, Jacob/Israel, 12 Sons, Joseph into Captivity, Famine
400 Year Enslavement/Exile, Moses/Pharaoh, Passover, Egypt to Sinai
Sinai, Law at Sinai – Tabernacle, Priesthood, Purification, Yom Kippur, Feasts: (Sabbath, Passover, Sabbatical year/Jubilee, Weeks, Tabernacles)
Wilderness Wanderings, Encampment at Canaan, Canaan Conquest/Joshua, Jericho vs. Ai, Land Divided
Judges-Ruth – ‘Everyone did what was right in his own eyes’ (Judges 17:6)
Eli, Samuel, Rejection of YHWH as king, Saul
David – covenant – line/throne, unification, conquest (iron), Bathsheba
Solomon – Temple, wealth/wisdom, Phoenicians, foreign wives/gods
Divided Kingdom – Rehoboam (S – Judah), Jeroboam (N – Israel/Ephraim)
North – Babsha, Omri, Jehu, Ahab/Jez/Baal vs. Elijah, Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II, 3 kings – Menaham, Pekahiah, Pehah, Hoshea… Assyria/exile
South – Jehoshaphat, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Manassah, Josiah – Amon/Jeremiah, Jerusalem Sacked – 586
Cyrus’ Decree, Return from Exile, 2nd Temple/Wall (Ezra-Nehemiah),
-Nahum – God’s wrath on Nineveh
-Zephaniah – The Day of the Lord
-Habakkuk – Resolving questions about God’s justice
-Joel – Day of the Lord is both near AND future
-Lamentations – God as source of both good and hard providence
-Obadiah – pride goes before a fall
-Ezekiel – Judgment and restoration of Judah
-Daniel – God’s rule and care for his people
-Haggai – setting priorities
-Zechariah – God’s restoration of zion
-Malachi – Honoring God
400 years of silence
6. 3 fold office: Prophet/Priest/King
1. Virgin birth
2. Hypostatic Union – God/man
4. Law – civil/ceremonial/civil
5. Penal Substitution – great exchange – my sin for his righteousness
8. Enthronement – Intercession
1. Redemption of all of creation
2. Redemption of the church
Here is a link to an incredibly helpful tri-perspectival church leadership diagram. I think the assessment is pretty fair all the way around.
You will never have more discretionary time than while in college. This is a critical time for you to develop your character and mind. This is a list of what I think are the most important books to work through during your time as an undergrad. These books focus on developing your heart to affection (orthopathos), renewing your mind to truth (orthodoxy), and provoking your hands to kingdom work (orthopraxis). Take 10 books a year and devote 30 minutes a day – you’ll finish the list, perhaps even early.
Note: I have listed them in order of how I think they should be read and not necessarily in order of how good they are. For sake of space, I am not going to do a writeup on each of these. If you have a question(s) about a book(s), just post in the comments.
1. Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper
2. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
3. The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer
4. Designed for Dignity by Richard Pratt
5. The Fuel and the Flame by Steve Shadrach
6. Tell the Truth by Will Metzger
7. The Master Plan of Evangelism by Robert Coleman
8. Holiness by J.C. Ryle
9. The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable by F.F. Bruce
10. Universe Next Door by James Sire
11. Knowing God by J.I. Packer
12. Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey
13. Redemption Accomplished and Applied by John Murray
14. Pensees by Blaise Pascal
15. No Place for Truth by David Wells
16. The Cross of Christ by John Stott
17. Culture Wars by James Hunter
18. Let The Nations Be Glad by John Piper
19. Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame
20. Desiring God (or something else more substantial) by John Piper
21. The John Frame Trilogy: Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Christian Life by John Frame
22. The Clash of Civilizations by Samuel Huntington
23. Christ of the Covenants by O. Palmer Robertson
24. Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe
25. Religious Affections by Jonathan Edwards
26. Love the Lord Your God With All Your Mind by J.P. Moreland
27. Darwin on Trial by Phillip Johnson
28. Rise of Christianity by Rodney Stark
29. Church History in Plain Language by Bruce Shelley
30. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem
31. How to Read the Bible for All its Worth by Fee and Stuart
32. He Gave us Stories by Richard Pratt [there is a nice summary here]
33. Institutes of Christian Religion by John Calvin
34. Confessions by St. Augustine
35. Warranted Christian Belief by Alvin Plantinga
36. Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche (I included this book because it is important for us to study antithetical works, I will make a list of books like this one later)
37. What is a Healthy Church Member by Thabiti Anyabwile
38. Habits of the Mind by James Sire
39. Why We’re Not Emergent: From Two Guys That Should Be by Ted Kluck and Kevin Deyoung
40. Baptism and Fullness by John Stott
What books would you add?
Frame is comprehensive in laying out the foundation for how we know God and how we live in light of the Scriptures.
2. Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem [y, l, e, p, s]
A highly readable systematic theology.
3. Reformed Dogmatics vols. 1-4 by Herman Bavinck [p, s]
A solid Dutch Reformed work, translated well in English. It is a pretty technical read but worth the effort.
4. Institutes of Christian Religion (2 vol.) by John Calvin [e, p, s]
Calvin’s classic, need I say more?
5. Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof [e, p, s]
Fairly readable and thorough systematic.
6. Salvation Belongs to the Lord by John Frame [y, l, e, p, s]
This is Frame’s mini-systematic, a good first systematic.
7. Institutes of Elenctic Theology by Francis Turretin [p, s]
Want to read the text that John Calvin’s seminary used? Charles Hodge/Old Princeton also used this text.
8. The Christian’s Reasonable Service (4 Vol) by Wilhelmus A Brakel [l, e, p, s]
Thanks to Reformation Heritage Books you can now actually find these books in the same place. He was a Dutch Pastor who wrote this 4 volume systematic theology for the people in his church.
9. A New Systematic Theology Of The Christian Faith by Robert Reymond [e, p, s]
Reymond has written a sound Presbyterian systematic theology.
10. Christian Beliefs by Wayne and Elliot Grudem [c, y, l, e, p, s]
This book is a heavily condensed version of #2 on this list. I included Christian Beliefs because the text is understandable to all people of all ages. I think it is important to have at least one book that covers all ages.
Honorable Mention: Christian Theology by Millard Erickson [y, l, e, p, s]
(c=children; y=young adult; l=lay leader; e=elder; p=pastor; s=scholar)
I see a place for all the apologetic schools in defense of Christianity. There are some that are firmly entrenched in their particular school or tradition, and for the most part I understand where they are coming from. I happen to think the presuppositionatlists are head and shoulders above the other schools and I happen to agree that their approach is the most Biblical, and therefore the most God glorifying. However, I see a lot of value in the classical and evidentialist schools and I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. From a personal perspective, intelligent design, the teleological argument, and the ontological argument had a profound impact on my life.
I think the main value of evidences are to bolster pre-existing faith by showing that our faith is not unreasonable, unjustified, or unwarranted. I think the main value of presuppositional apologetics is calling all non-Christian worldviews to task over the fact that they hold mutually exclusive propositions and cannot account for all things.
Perhaps its a silly analogy, but I liken apologetics to the three phases of football: offense, defense, and special teams. The presuppositionalists are on the offensive challenging false notions in other worldviews. The classical and evidentialist apologetists are defending the reasonability of the Christian faith. Then there are guys like Blaise Pascal, and Alvin Plantinga that specialize in kickoffs, punts, PATs, and field goals. Together they present a coherent, consistent, and believable Christianity that makes sense of existence intellectually, emotionally, and experientially.