You may have noticed a pattern in many of the cultural debates swirling around social media. You and many other like-minded people have a strong position on an issue, which seems so obviously right to you that you wonder how anything could think differently. But then you read the posts or blogs of others who take the opposite position. They are just as convinced of the rightness of their position; you can sense how they are similarly mind-boggled how any sane person could not see how obviously right they are. Regardless of which side of the cultural divide you are on, I am guessing you have probably observed this phenomenon.
The root issue is that we don’t simply disagree on this or that position. We have a radically different framework through which we understand the world. Your worldview matters and often determines your conclusions before you even get to your points. Understanding the role of a worldview can give us a better understanding of what is really going on and can help us who follow Jesus as we attempt to navigate the waters of our post-Christian culture.
Let me give you an example. Imagine that you have played soccer all of your life. You are a student and devotee of the beautiful game. Then you meet people from another country who play a game, which on the surface looks a lot like soccer: the field, the ball, and the goals are the same, and eleven players are on the field. You think you are ready for a rich experience of cross-cultural competition. But then as soon as you begin, one of their players picks up the ball with his hands and throws it to another teammate, who catches the ball with her hands and begins to run with it. After a few more passes, one of their players runs towards the goal and throws it past your goalie. They begin to celebrate as your team throws up your hands in shock and disgust. Then the argument ensues. Your team declares that the goal is not allowed because of the most blatant handball violation in the history of the sport. They look at you with a dumbfounded glare and wonder why you wouldn’t use your hands? Not only are hand skills an essential part of their sport, they are the most coordinated part of your body. You are never going to settle the argument. Your points are not going to convince them, and they are certainly never going to convince you. Do you see the problem? You’re not simply disagreeing about one specific application of the rules—you are playing a different game. You have a fundamental conflict over the point and the purpose of the game you are playing.
In a similar way, many of our conflicting opinions boil down to a radically different understanding of the world. A Christian worldview begins with the supreme role of the Almighty and Sovereign God. He created all things, including us, for his purposes, and he has graciously revealed himself and his ways to us in the Bible, which is our clear and absolute authority. Because of the universal human rebellion against God that resulted from the Fall, we have many desires and actions which are wrong and require repentance. The only solution to our broken state is the good news of Jesus Christ, because in the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus, God made the way for us to be reconciled to him. In this life, God gives us the freedom to choose our own path. Yet this world is not some empty slate which we get to construe however we wish. We live in his world—he is God and we are not. Each one of us is ultimately responsible to him, and he will be the judge of us all. Since God has designed us, the only way human beings can truly flourish is to submit to his ways. So for example, love must be in line with his revealed truth for it to be truly loving.
Many people have a fundamentally different worldview. This common framework in Western culture can be referred to as secular or, as the philosopher Charles Taylor has coined, exclusive humanism, which for the first time in human history finds meaning and significance apart from any appeal to the divine or transcendent. For some, any idea of God is nothing but a superstitious fallacy from ages past. To point to an authoritative sacred text is a blind and irrational traditionalism (they wonder who could be so foolish). Others maintain some vestige of a belief in a god and may even still call themselves Christian, but this is not the God of historic orthodoxy but the modern god of secularism. This god does not interfere much with our lives other than to make us happy and help us when we get in a bind. They may still use a Bible verse or two for inspiration, but there is no sense of a god who makes any hard demands of us. After God has been deposed, this belief system places us as supreme. What is most important is our authenticity in choosing and living the life we want to live. Most of the rules that society tried to enforce in the past are really not issues of right and wrong; they are merely some group trying to oppressively control others. Since self-expression is the highest of goals, you are free to do whatever you want to do regardless of what someone else thinks. In fact, for anyone to even question your choice is judgmental and bigoted. YOLO. This secular worldview places a great deal of confidence in the advances of science and human progress. So when we notice that we now believe something which is at odds with what most people throughout human history have believed, it does not cause us to pause and question our belief. Instead we confidently assume that we now know so much more than any previous generation did. We can make the world a better place as we overcome the backwardness of history. In the end, the march of progress ensures that love wins.
See the problem? We are not simply disagreeing about a specific cultural issue. We are seeing the world from within very different frameworks. From within a Christian worldview, to move away from clear biblical teaching and ethics is an arrogant and foolish step, which will always eventually bring more human suffering. But from within a secular worldview, we are free to decide and remake the world to whatever we want it to be. To limit this personal freedom is forcing your view on others. As the charge is often made, why are you trying to legislate your morality? We may find ourselves on the same field, but we are playing a different game.
The question for you is which of these two worldviews, or any other, do you submit to? What is your authority? What values and framework has your allegiance? On what basis do you determine right and wrong? There is no getting around the fact that you are submitting to something.
Seen in light of the Bible, the challenges of secular culture are nothing new. It really has been going on from the beginning, right back in the Garden of Eden, through the Tower of Babel, and at every historical stop along the way. Human beings have always wanted to take God’s place for ourselves. We don’t want anyone to tell us what to do, even if he is our Creator. But by so doing we forfeit ourselves from the source of true life and leave the only One who can lead us to true human flourishing. Plus in the end, God will have the final say. Choose your allegiance wisely.