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Christian Worldview and Life

Barna has released a new study on Christian worldview.  His study reveals that only 9% of American adults have a Christian worldview and only 20% of born-again American adults.  To make things worse, only 0.5% of 18-23 year-olds have a Christian worldview.  This has staggering implications for our faith and life.

It is important to begin with Barna’s definition of a Christian worldview, and then we’ll get directly into the implications:

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.

Barna then describes how a lack of Christian worldview leads to unbiblical living (such as media use, profanity, gambling, alcohol use, honesty, civility, and sexual choices) because a worldview impacts all of these areas.

Barna is correct.  Our worldview drives our lives.  And we as parents, pastors, teachers, and mentors have often failed to pass along a distinctly Christian worldview to all generations.  We, by the enabling of the Holy Spirit, need to do better.

But here is the question: isn’t it possible to possess a Christian worldview according to Barna’s definition and still live unbiblically?  I think so and I see it in my life, the lives of Christians around me, and the lives of Christians throughout history.  So what’s missing?

Here is where Dallas Willard comes in.  Dallas Willard suggests that we have emphasized faith in Christ (expressed above) to the exclusion of obedience to Christ.  Now certainly, we must emphasize that salvation is by God’s grace through faith alone.  However, Willard believes that we have failed to emphasize the fact that true faith is evidenced by true obedience.  He says, “confidence in the Christ is, correctly understood, inseparable from the fulfilling of the law.”

His The Divine Conspiracy is a study of the Sermon on the Mount.  Far from being an unattainable, lofty idea, Willard believes that the lifestyle represented in the Sermon on the Mount is attainable.  As Jesus warns at the end of the Sermon, we must DO what he has taught.  Here Willard quotes Bonhoeffer, “The only proper response to this word which Jesus brings with him from eternity is simply to do it.”

So Willard’s challenge to us is to abandon a worldview where “having faith in Jesus has come to be totally isolated from being his apprentice and learning how to do what he said.”  So here is how he concludes:

“We know that one is not saved by keeping the law and can think of no other reason why one should try to do it.  This leaves us caught in a strange inversion of the work of the Judaizing teachers who dogged the footsteps of Paul in the New Testament days.  As they wanted to add obedience to ritual law to faith in Christ, we want to subtract moral law from faith in Christ.  How to combine faith with obedience is surely the essential task of the church as it enters the twenty-first century.”

So does Barna’s definition of a Christian worldview fall short?  Must we include the belief that Jesus enables and expects his followers to live a lifestyle consistent with the Sermon on the Mount?

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  1. March 18, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Why would the definition change? Barna already includes “the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches” as part of a Christian Worldview. It’s not the definition that is the problem, it’s the application of the worldview in which we profess belief.

    It seems to me that if we include obedience as an indicator of belief (which we should), than Barna’s numbers would be even lower.

    Maybe Michael Spencer’s not that far off in his predictions on the demise of Evangelicals.

  2. Brian McLaughlin
    March 18, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    I agree that the numbers would be lower. However, it is always possible to believe in a principle but not live the principle. For example many may say: “In principle lying is bad, but sometimes it is helpful so occasionally I lie!” Some of the concerns of emergent are that we believe the right things but don’t live the right way. Barna’s definition of worldview focuses solely on belief.

    I think we agree, we are just saying it a different way.

  3. jlemke
    March 18, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    I’m with Jeff. I almost said as much earlier, but he said it so much better than me.

    It hinges on your definition of belief. To Jeff and I, belief requires action. For example, someone like McLaughlin says, “I believe that plane can fly.” Then someone, like McLaughlin, doesn’t get on the plane. So he doesn’t truly believe it.

    It’s legitimate to define belief without action – experientially, lots of people (even me on occasion) will do it. For example, I believe a ladder to my roof is safe but still won’t go up to my roof 🙂

  4. Brian McLaughlin
    March 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Oh I truly believe they can fly, I just also truly believe they can crash!!

    Like I said, I think we all agree. The only difference is that you two say the word “belief” implies action. I agree that it is implied in the biblical definition, but I wonder if it would be helpful to be more explicit about it because, frankly, a lot of people don’t make the connection. For example, a lot of people in the US (to the tune of about 92%) “believe” in God but does this belief truly impact 92% of our population? I’m not sure. So our only difference is I wonder if we need to be a little more explicit in defining belief in terms of action as well.

    This is why “loving God, loving others” is the simplest and most profound definition of the biblical worldview. And, again, love requires action or it isn’t love (i.e. God sent his Son…)

  5. mikewittmer
    March 19, 2009 at 7:07 pm

    I agree with all of you and Willard, but I want to add this question: how low would the percentage be if Barna used the Kuyperian worldview of creation, fall, and redemption? I think that this lies at the heart of the Christian worldview, and few are even aware of it, let alone trying to live it.

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