Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What is Water?

If you want to know what water is don't ask a fish.
I am constantly intrigued by the concept of "worldview". I forget where I heard this statement about fish and water but I love it. It demonstrates so well our relationship to our worldview... most of the time we don't even recognize its existence. Yet our understanding of the way the world works affects absolutely every area of our lives; especially the way we view God.

James W. Sire is one of the leading authorities when it comes to understanding our worldview. In his book "Naming the Elephant", Sire tells this story to highlight the role of worldview in our lives: (I am, of course, only briefly summarizing his story)

One day a little boy come to his father and asks, "Dad, what holds the world up? Why doesn't it fall down?" The father, chuckling at this childish question, gives his son a childish answer, "A camel holds up the world, son." The boy is temporarily satisfied with this answer, after all, camels can carry all sorts of things. But soon the son comes back with another question. "Dad, if the camel holds up the world, what holds up the camel?" The dad, for lack of a good answer keeps going with his theme and says that a kangaroo holds up the camel. Again, the boy is only temporarily satisfied and soon comes back asking what holds up the kangaroo. Well, of course an elephant holds up the kangaroo. And what holds up the elephant? Now the father is done playing this little game and so he ends it by answering: "The elephant goes all the way down."

Naturally, we all ask the question, "all the way down to what? What is the bottom?" At some point each one of us has to give a similar answer; but what is it? What is our elephant? What is our way of getting to the bottom? And what is the bottom?

For years many Christians' elephant was the phrase "because the Bible says so". When they lacked any "real" answer they would simply say "God" or "Jesus" or "the Bible". Is this sufficient? When we are faced with questions that we honestly can't answer is it fair to ourselves, others, and God Himself to give quaint "Sunday school answers" like "because the Bible says so"?

While I am personally uncomfortable with these "Sunday school answers" I am comfortable resting in the fact that in Christianity God has provided us with a complete worldview. This is all explained in Sire's book "The Universe Next Door". According to Sire (and I am inclined to agree), no other worldview can satisfactorily answer the essential questions of a worldview. In Christianity, God answers all the questions of the nature of reality, knowledge (epistemology), and identity.

Is "because the Bible says so" a fair answer? Upon what basis can this statement be authoritative?
In your opinion, how aware are we of our own worldview?
How have our western worldviews effected Christianity in the west?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I've never claimed to be good at mathematics.

If you have never read "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams you should. Aside from the fact that it is probably the only book that I have read and laughed out loud while reading, this book is an incredibly witty look at nihilism. This is where I get my amazing math skills from.

In one of Adams' books the people of the universe decide once and for all to find out what the answer is to "the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything." So they create a supercomputer (nicknamed "Deep Thought") to solve the meaning of life. After 71/2 million years of calculation Deep Thought comes up with the answer: 42. The people of the universe then have to create another supercomputer (the planet Earth) to find out what the proper mathematical question would be. Earth comes to the conclusion that the original question was... 6x9=?

So there you have it. The meaning of life is: 6x9=42. Both question and answer are inane. One of Adams' characters (Prak) explains this mathematical and philosophical oddity by saying, "I'm afraid... that the Question and the Answer are mutually exclusive. Knowledge of one logically precludes knowledge of the other. It is impossible that both can ever be known about the same universe."

This is the conclusion that Adams reached. Douglas Adams was a life long advocate of evolution and a self-proclaimed "radical atheist." He recognized that the logical outcome of belief in Naturalism is Nihilism (a denial of the possibility of knowledge). If you believe that life happens by accident and then search for the meaning of life you have a question and answer that are mutually exclusive (6x9=? and 42). For someone that didn't believe in an answer and thought that asking the question was pointless, Adams spent a lot of time searching for both.

This is the world that we live in. Most people claim to have either the question or the answer. Many of us claim to have both the question and the answer... but do they line up?

Many people who do not believe in a "Christian" God look at Christians and are confused. In Adams' words, why would "otherwise rational... intelligent people... nevertheless take [the existence of God] seriously." I think, in situations like this, it may be that the questions and answers don't line up. But that's because Adams was either asking the wrong question or getting the wrong answer.

What are your experiences with Nihilism (there is no meaning/purpose in life)?

Do we, as Christians claim to have the question (6x9=?) or the answer (42)?

How can we bridge into an increasingly Nihilistic world?

Is "Marvin the Paranoid Android" funny or irritating?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

"I do believe... help my unbelief"

As a postmodern Christian I take great comfort in Mark 9:24. In this passage a desperate father comes to Jesus with his son asking for healing. He asks Jesus "if" He can heal his son. Jesus replies that "all things are possible to him who believes" (9:23). The father, desperate to believe but unsure if he does cries out, "I do believe; help my unbelief."

Often this is the way I am in my Christian life. I know what I believe (or should believe) but when I actually deconstruct my own actions or motives my own belief/faith (same greek word; 'pistis') is questionable. I am left with the reality of my own unbelief ('apistis'). This is why Jesus' response is so comforting; he heals the man's son. Jesus accepts this man's desire to believe as belief. This is what the postmodern Christian needs to grasp. Our salvation does not solely rest on our belief/faith but on Christ's faithfulness.

In my third year at Bethany College I read a textbook in my "Contemporary Thought" class. This book was "The Myth of Certainty" by Daniel Taylor. The book wrestles with what it means to be an intellectually honest Christian in the church. At a surface level, the contemporary church has a lot for a postmodern critic to deconstruct. When some of these critiques are justified how do we as Christians respond? How do we live when we are split between in the intellectual and Christian worlds? Why are these two worlds supposedly exclusive from each other? If you've ever wrestled with these questions this is a book that you should read. I found it very helpful.

Here's where you can respond:

Have you ever gone through times of doubt? What was/is of help for you?
How can we as thoughtful, reflective Christians live in a postmodern world?
If intellectual honesty requires that we admit the possibility that we may be wrong how do we reconcile this with a life of belief/faith?