One of the first questions I ask a Christian leader when I start working with them is “What are you trying to achieve?” When they have finished outlining their intended journey I ask another question, “How is it going?” Most leaders are trying to achieve specific outcomes without an understanding of the influences of history, culture and philosophy and so what they are trying to achieve often doesn’t happen.
Dr. Norman Geisler combines history, culture and philosophyinto one and calls it our worldview. ‘The truth is that a worldview is like coloured glasses; it colours everything at which we look. It is a grid through which one views all of life. As such it helps form our thoughts and decisions. The tragedy is that most people do not even know what their worldview is, how they got it, and how important it is in their lives’.
Because we behave as we believe, our worldview guides and informs our decisions and actions. Sometimes the lens brings clarity, and at other times it can distort reality. A seemingly rational worldview can be true, partially true, or entirely false.
This is a complex area because it is here we often face the syncretisms of Christian faith/belief with the culture and philosophy of a specific time period. This has been a problem in each era of the history of the Western church. In the Common Era (100-600) Christian faith was viewed and expressed through a Platonic grid. The Medieval Era (600-1500) expressed faith through the Aristotelian system of philosophy. The Reformation Era of thought was filtered through early Cartesianism while Modern Era thought has been filtered through Cartesian rationalism. Now we are face-to-face with the Postmodern Era of thought and the cultural forms it will bring to society.
The use of cultural and philosophical trends as a channel/grid for truth has always been a part of historical Christianity. The statement, ‘the message remains the same but the method of expressing the message is constantly changing’ may be true, but history shows that both the message and the method combine to affect the practice or outworking of our faith and often the cultural/philosophical method takes precedence.
Cultural and philosophical contextualisation is essential to the mission of the Church and it has been and always will be a struggle to incarnate faith into distinct periods of history. When Christianity has done this successfully in the past, it is not long before that era ends and another era begins. Those who remain committed to the old approach subsequently freeze the style of the particular period in which it originated and transfer it into the new era.
Robert Webber explains the situation using the Modern Era (1750-2000) as an example: ‘Modern era evangelicals have identified with the Cartesian emphasis on reason and the empirical method. These culturally defined evangelicals have used the modern paradigm of thought to develop a particular kind of evangelicalism encased in a culture that elevates reason and the attainment of propositional truth. They have created a culturally bound evangelicalism embedded in the modern paradigm of thought.
The current dilemma for modern evangelicalism is that the twentieth-century cultural paradigm in which their evangelical faith was explained, proclaimed, and defended has come to an end. Because there is now a new cultural paradigm, the old wineskins are collapsing. It is not the faith that needs to be changed but the paradigm or the wineskin in which Christianity is communicated.
What is happening now around the world is a new awakening. This awakening is happening concurrently with the beginning of the twenty-first century. Some are resisting this change and insisting on the preservation of the old paradigm. Others are rushing to make alliances with the new cultural conditions without carefully considering how the Christian faith, grounded in Scripture and informed by the history of the church, should be translated into a new cultural context’.
All of us come to faith with a set of philosophical beliefs, some of which will inevitably clash with what Jesus taught. Part of our journey as disciples of Jesus is to bring our beliefs in line with His beliefs instead of trying to bring what He has said into line with what we believe.
To make disciples of Jesus in this emerging era, I believe we must be ‘grounded in Scripture and informed by the history of the Church’ as we adjust our practice, rather than simply succumbing to a wholesale adoption of an emerging philosophical and cultural context.