Worldview Politics

As I have come to understand it, a Reformed world-and-life-view is a hard outlook to acquire. It starts and requires regeneration by the Holy Spirit, or so it would seem since a worldview is a basic reality to a person’s existence. Seeing through the glasses of faith, accordingly, requires having faith, something that comes only through effectual calling. This worldview also needs doses of philosophy and theology so that viewers of the world have the intellectual equipment to construct the theories and apply truth to real life. A worldview goes so deep, as readers of Machen keep reminding me, that even the great Westminsterian would say that “two plus two equals four” looks different to a Christian compared to a non-believer. (Though it is still unclear whether all settings in life – from the family dining room to the halls of Congress need to bear all the weight of such metaphysical significance. For instance, does the unbelieving cashier need to admit her reliance on borrowed capital before I receive my change? I don’t think so.)

Since a worldview is such an acquired taste, I have found it unendingly odd to see people without a Reformed world-and-life-view defending those political candidates and their intellectual influences who possess a Reformed world-and-life-view. I find this particularly odd since the proponents of worldview would typically regard those without a worldview as being at odds with their understanding of total truth. I am referring in particular to recent posts by journalists and religious historians who discount the dominionist spin that is still being put to Michele Bachmann and Francis Schaeffer. (Truth be told, I talked to one of these authors – Charlotte Allen – for the better part of an hour while she was preparing her column. And I was frustrated to see that the illumination I may have offered did not make a dent in her aim of discrediting the bias of liberal journalists. She even took down the exact title of my recent book to include in her column. Oh, the missed fame! Oh, the loss of royalties!!!!!!!)

No matter what the folks without a correct worldview make of Francis Schaeffer’s ties to dominionism, it is hard to read his account of the antithesis and find trustworthy people like Ross Douthat, Charlotte Allen, and Matt Sutton who apparently do not have either the faith or the theological and philosophical training to attain to a worldview.

Here’s one example from How Should We Then Live?

. . . in contrast to the Renaissance humanists, [the Reformers] refused to accept the autonomy of human reason, which acts as though the human mind is infinite, with all knowledge within its realm. Rather, they took seriously the Bible’s own claim for itself – that it is the only final authority. And they took seriously that man needs the answers given by God in the Bible to have adequate answers not only for how to be in an open relationship with God, but also for how to know the present meaning of life and how to have final answers in distinguishing between right and wrong. That is, man needs not only a God who exists, but a God who has spoken in a way that can be understood. [81]

I wonder what Douthat, Allen, and Sutton think about the power of their own intellects as they survey the reactions to Bachmann and Schaeffer. Or have they been checking their perceptions against the pages of holy writ?

But if the non-worldviewers are a little uncomfortable with Schaeffer’s distinction between the Bible and autonomous reason, they might experience real pain when reading his application of the antithesis to the American experiment. About the Moral Majority he wrote in A Christian Manifesto:

The Moral Majority has drawn a line between one total view of reality and the other total view of reality and the results this brings forth in government and law. And if you personally do not like some of the details of what they have done, do it better. But you must understand that all Christians have got to do the same kind of think or you are simply not showing the Lordship of Christ in the totality of life. [61-62]

It does seem strange that a Reformed world-and-life-view would find its fulfillment in a political organization comprised of Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Jews, and headed by a fundamentalist Baptist. But we are talking about the United States, which H. L. Mencken called “the greatest show on earth.”

Schaeffer did not stop there. He also argued that the United States was the fruition of the gospel:

The people in the United States have lived under the Judeo-Christian consensus for so long that now we take it for granted. We seem to forget how completely unique what we have had is a result of the gospel. The gospel indeed is, “accept Christ, the Messiah, as Savior and have your guilt removed on the basis of His death.” But the good news includes many resulting blessings. We have forgotten why we have a high view of life, and why we have a positive balance between form and freedom in government, and the fact that we have such tremendous freedoms without these freedoms leading to chaos. Most of all, we have forgotten that none of these is natural in the world. They are unique, based on the fact that the consensus was the biblical consensus. And these things will be even further lost if this other total view, the materialistic view, takes over thoroughly. We can be certain that what we so carelessly take for granted will be lost. [70-71]

Again, I wonder where Schaeffer’s defenders fall on the spectrum of the two competing worldviews, and how much they actually embrace the biblical consensus that allegedly informed the work of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Ben Franklin.

The problem here is not that people should consider Schaeffer to be scary. Like many of his defenders have said, either explicitly or implicitly, he really didn’t mean what he seemed to say. He was not really so intolerant as his antithetical outlook demonstrated. He did not want a theocracy. But if that is so, then just how important is this worldview thing? If it results in high-falutin’ rhetoric and pragmatic reality, then what is the point of promoting all of those books and institutions that teach a worldview?

The problem that really needs some ‘splaining is not whether Schaeffer is scary but the strange disparity between the deep-down diving nature of worldview – it is part and parcel of new life in Christ – and how easily accessible it is, and even attractive, to those without such a worldview. A high octane version of worldview should reveal and make poignant the discrepancies between the lost and the saved, between the philosophically initiated and the believing simpletons. But it does not. A worldview, even of the antitheticial variety taught by Schaeffer, is for non-worldviewers like a puppy mutt – maybe not the first choice to take home from the pound but still a cute dog. Was the antithesis really supposed to be so easily domesticated?

Of course, I understand the angles that historians and journalists have in this contretemps over Bachmann. A writer like Douthat – whom I admire greatly and read for profit – may not qualify as a Kuyperian or neo-Calvinist-lite – but he can see the value of evangelical readers of Schaeffer to electoral politics in the United States. He also sees a way to point out the bias of liberal journalists, such as when they score points against Bachmann’s spiritual influences but not against Obama’s. All is fair in the coverage of religion and politics.

But the reception of Schaeffer and the watering down of worldview sure does cheapen what was supposed to be such a distinct and unique part of Reformed Protestantism. I wonder why more worldviewers are not objecting to the debasement of their valuable coin.

10 thoughts on “Worldview Politics

  1. In related news, Kinky Friedman supports Rick Perry:

    “God talks to televangelists, football coaches, and people in mental hospitals. Why shouldn’t he talk to Rick Perry? In the spirit of Joseph Heller, I have a covenant with God. I leave him alone and he leaves me alone. If, however, I have a big problem, I ask God for the answer. He tells Rick Perry. And Rick tells me.”


  2. I’d imagine that Schaeffer made change using the “borrowed capital” of Hindi-Arabic numbers which include a zero, a feature lacking in the old Roman system of Western Christendom. Pearcey admits she’s borrowed a bit of capital from German Idealism.

    “The antithesis” may be a neat apologetic trick if you can get your opponent to agree to it, but seems like a category mistake when take into the realm of ‘splaining how societal habits and technologies develop.

    I wouldn’t venture to say where the balance of trade lies in all of the “capital borrowing” between believers and unbelievers, but appreciate how you show its incoherence with any strong view of “the antithesis.”


  3. Darryl,

    “… the strange disparity between the deep-down diving nature of worldview – it is part and parcel of new life in Christ – and how easily accessible it is, and even attractive, to those without such a worldview. A high octane version of worldview should reveal and make poignant the discrepancies between the lost and the saved, between the philosophically initiated and the believing simpletons… the watering down of worldview”

    Is this another of the inevitable ups and downs of cultures and societies or do you see it as a unique note of our era? Why does it matter? How have churches dropped the ball? And is this something for Christians to directly address and counter in the public square, or rather by churches more faithfully adhering to the faith once delivered?… both?



  4. Dr. Hart, I’ve been doing some reading in early American history (specifically I’ve been reading through John Fea’s bio of Philip Vickers Fithian) and have been contemplating on the philosophy of John Witherspoon. Do you see the Common Sense philosophy of yester-year’s Presbyterians as a valid alternative to the worldviewism that’s so prevalent today? What problems do you perceive in Common Sense? (I’ve read Marsden’s essay about the fall of the evangelical academy in “Reckoning With the Past,” perhaps you could interact with his arguments there?)


  5. I would love, love, love to see someone, for once, engage with the peculiar brand of charismatic that has been part of Bachmann an Perry’s support. Thinking here of men like Lou Engle and Mike Bickle. Instead we’re arguing over Rushdoony. Granted, he was part of Lizza’s sloppy piece, but Rushdoony and van Til aren’t palling around with Newt Gingrich.


  6. I don’t mean to pile on posthumously, but I find Schaeffer to be the pinnacle of pseudo-intellectualism. Our church showed How Then Shall We Live to the HS SS and I had blood running down my chin. It took all the restraint I possessed not to scream.

    As with Obama’s tangential identity with liberation theology, I tend to dismiss Perry’s brand of evangelicalism and even associations as a matter of Southern politics and the fact that in the South some of the nuttier variety aren’t quite so nutty amongst the noise of dispensationalist and premills. However, Bachmann appears a true believer. I base this on nothing but intuition.


  7. This Wednesday 2:00 – 4:00 PM
    A Conversation with Doug Wilson and John Piper
    – The Supremacy of Christ in All of Life: The Pastor and His Worldview

    But what if the pastors call plumbers with the wrong w-v?, or what happens if these plumbers are not epistemologically self-conscious about the possibilities inherent in the pluralism of w-vs?

    Is being against having a w-v a w-v? When did it happen that you could not choose not to have a w-v?
    Did Warfield and Hodge and Machen have the same w-v?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.