During the 18th and 19th centuries, it was the Christian worldview that dominated every cultural institution - every aspect of culture in America was influenced by Christianity and largely led by Christians due in large part to the educational systems of their day, which were profoundly Christian in their worldview. Every university established within the first century of American independence was done so by the various Protestant denominations or the Catholic Church. The Congregational Church founded Yale in 1701 and Harvard as far back as 1636. The Baptists founded Colgate, George Washington University and Wake Forest, to name a few. This commitment to intellectualism, scholarship, and academia was a fundamental part of the Church and central to the religious culture. The fact is, "in the 18th and 19th centuries, religious thought and institutions in America were dominated by an austere, learned, and intellectual form of discourse that is largely absent from religious life today." Simply contrast the theological arguments and representation of the Christian faith by men such as Jonathan Edwards with some of the more prominent television evangelists and preachers today.
In New England in the 17th century, the literacy rate was between 89 and 95 percent, while in England it was only 40 percent. Laws were passed in almost every town requiring the maintenance of a reading and writing school which was almost always operated by the local church. "In all such laws, reference was made to Satan, whose evil designs, it was supposed could be thwarted at every turn by education." This commitment to education in colonial America was driven largely by the Church, being regarded as one of its principal ministries.
This was not an unintentional act by a culture that happened to be religious. This generation of believers understood and fulfilled their biblical mandate to exercise dominion and they did so with determined effort. They understood that Christians had a duty in a literate world to be among the intellectual elite and that by being educated they would shape the culture. However, when we as Christians cease to integrate this commitment to communicate and advance the biblical perspective in an intelligent, reasonable and persuasive way relative to every area of life and culture, we inevitably surrender dominion. This is exactly what has taken place over the last century in America.
The culture that confronts us today, and in particular the sexualized culture, is not merely the result of growing immorality; it is rather the inevitable and predictable consequence of the withdrawal or lackluster demonstration of Christianity in a formerly Christian culture. By failing to maintain a comprehensive understanding of biblical truth and its application to all of society and life, the leaders of the culture changed and along with them the social and moral philosophy that now shapes American public policy.
By unwittingly withdrawing Christian principles from public life we surrendered control of the culture to fundamental secularists who are now determined to remove all remnants of Christianity from public life. This is why the Ten Commandments are being removed from public buildings, why the public schools now have "winter holiday" instead of Christmas and why our courts can legitimize abortion, same-sex marriage, and euthanasia, to name just a few. This should not surprise us. What else should we expect from those with a worldview antithetical to Christianity? It is this same condition that accounts for the obvious demise of sexual morality, conflict over right-to-life issues, the breakdown of family and marriage as socially esteemed institutions, and the erosion of corporate and civil ethics.
Christians must understand that by neglecting the intellectual aspect of Christian life, the mind remains to some degree in captivity to Satan and the world. We may feel like Christians, but we think and therefore act similar to the world. How can such people transform the culture for Christ when they themselves look and act so comfortable in a godless culture? More importantly, how can we live in accordance with biblical principles if we don't know them? In our ignorance we often end up conforming Christ to our lives and not conforming our lives to Christ. To demonstrate the deplorable intellectual state of the Church in America and the overwhelming dearth of doctrinal knowledge, simply consider the following research results from a 2003 Barna study.
"Only 4% of [American] adults have a biblical worldview as the basis of their decision-making."
George Barna, the nation's leading researcher on American spiritual life said this in describing the results:
"Sadly, few people consistently demonstrate the love, obedience and priorities of Jesus. The primary reason that people do not act like Jesus is because they do not think like Jesus. Behavior stems from what we think - our attitudes, beliefs, values and opinions. Although most people own a Bible and know some of its content, our research found that most Americans have little idea how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life. We're often more concerned with survival amidst chaos than with experiencing truth and significance."
In addition, Barna reports that only 51 percent of the country's Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview. However, what is even more disturbing is how basic the criteria used to define a "biblical worldview" was in each of these surveys. Here are the seven criteria used in Barna's evaluation.
1. Believing that absolute moral truths exist and that such truth is defined by the Bible.
2. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life.
3. God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe and He stills rules it today.
4. Salvation is a gift from God and cannot be earned.
5. Satan is real.
6. A Christian has a responsibility to share their faith in Christ with other people.
7. The Bible is accurate in all of its teachings.
Only 4 percent of American adults and 51 percent of protestant pastors agreed with these seven statements - in a nation where 85 percent of the people claim to be Christian!
This is basic Christian orthodoxy and essential tenets, not a worldview in the proper sense of the term. Remember that a worldview explains the origin of man and his purpose or meaning, the problem of evil, and offers a plan for redemption or a solution to this condition. A Christian worldview could be better defined as a Christian philosophy of life in which people understand all of reality and nature in connection to the revealed word of God. A Christian worldview properly understood is when people interpret the universe and everything in it under the direction of God; our ideas of truth, beauty and goodness all originate in God. When mankind fell, we chose to do without God in every respect. Humanity sought and continues to seek their own ideas about truth, beauty and goodness somewhere beyond God, either directly within themselves or indirectly within the universe about them. This is the condition of every Christian mind prior to regeneration. Again, this is why Romans 12:2 tells us to "not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind." Your mind is an essential instrument in the life-long process of sanctification.
In other words, instead of continuing to interpret the
universe and everything in it from our point of reference, we now,
as new creations, seek to reinterpret everything we have previously
understood under the direction and authority of God from His perspective
Part 2 of 5, to be continued..
This essay is available in the 27-page booklet, The Christian Mind: The Key to Cultural Relevance and Renewal by S. Michael Craven by calling the National Coalition at 513-521-6227
Copyright 2006 S. Michael Craven, All rights reserved. For reprint permission contact Philip Barnett at [email protected].
S. Michael Craven is the vice president for religion & culture at the National Coalition for the Protection of Children & Families and leads the work and ministry of Cultural Apologetics. Through the Cultural Apologetics ministry Michael works to equip the Church to assert and defend biblical morality and ethics in a manner that is rational, relevant and persuasive in order to recapture the relevance of Christianity to all of life by demonstrating its complete correspondence to reality. For more information on Cultural Apologetics, additional resources and other works by S. Michael Craven visit: www.CulturalApologetics.org
Michael lives in the Dallas area with his wife Carol and their three children.
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