Friday, August 8, 2008

The Transforming Vision

The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View
By Brian J. Walsh & J. Richard Middleton
Downers Grove: IVP, 1984
Book Review by Jadi S. Lima,

“This book, then, is a passionate call to Christians to be of one heart and mind, and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord in all of life.” Thus said Mr. Wolterstorff in the foreword of this book. Back then in 1998 when the first time I read this book, its call coming out loud. It came to me that a journey to understand Christian Worldview is not a mere intellectual fascination. Indeed, worldviews are not systems of thought, like theologies or philosophies – they are perceptual frameworks (p. 17) that direct all areas of human life. I found it as a bridge between general theories and particular everyday living. The author structured the book in four parts: What are worldviews (ch. 1-2), The Biblical Worldview (ch. 3-4), The (Biblical Analysis) of Modern Worldview (ch. 6-9), and The Biblical Worldview in Action (ch. 10-12).

What are Worldviews?

The analysis begun with case study of concrete practices in everyday life of a young Singaporean bachelor, child-rearing practices in Japan and Canada, and the contrasts of the view concerning land held by North America’s dominant culture and its native Indian culture. The authors tried to show what is worldview and how does it direct our lives by showing that worldviews are more than systems reducible to theoretical description (p. 29). A worldview is more than a mere abstraction.

The authors used Mr. Olthuis’ distinction (actually coming from Cliford Greetz) between worldview as a vision of life, and also always a vison for life. Worldview as ‘what is’ and ‘what ought’. It determines how do we see the world, distinguish what is valuables from what is not – and as a consequence: what is worth doing and what is not. In short, it provides a model of the world which guides its adherents in the world (p. 32).

Worldviews are founded on ultimate faith commitments, that is, the way we answer four basic questions facing everyone (p. 35):

1. Who am I?
2. Where am I?
3. What’s wrong?
4. What’s the remedy?

The answers of these questions lie deep in our religious core (ie: heart). Sometimes it is explicitly realized, but most of the times it is subconsciously held (p.35). Our ultimate faith commitment as confessing-believing creature shapes the contour of our worldview. So, doubts and skepticism that bring faith-crisis will eventually shakes our being and living in the world. Angst will remove the ground from our feet. Worldview is not philosophical or theological system, but it is the foundational to such a system (although never exhausted in it) (p.35).

In this book Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton also supply us with criteria to judge and choose between different and conflicting worldview. Those are (p. 37-39):

1. Reality: Does the worldview accomplish what a worldview ought to accomplish? Does it elucidate all of life or just open up (or even overemphasize) some aspects of life while ignoring others? Since God created the whole reality as a coherent meaning, a worldview that does not integrate and elucidate God’s creation as it really is cannot lead to an integral and whole way of life.
2. Love and Justice: Does the worldview sensitizes or desensitizes us to issues of love and justice? Does it ever challenge evil in our life?
3. Internal coherence: Does it internally coherent or just some self-contradicting fragments brought together?
4. Openness: Does this view bring life or death, blessing or curse? Open life or closing it down? (Deut 30:15-20). And implicitly, does it recognize its own limitations and open to learn from other visions of life? A good worldview is not ideology.

For Christians, the ultimate criterion by which we judge our worldview is the Bible. Our worldview, faith confession, and theories must be judged and guided by the Scripture. That is the reason why this book tries to construct a biblical worldview as the pathway for our walk with God (p. 39).

The Biblical Worldview

Basically, Walsh-Middleton structured the presentation in this part according to biblical Creation-Fall-Redemption ground-motive.


There will be huge difference in our way to see and shape the world once we take seriously the biblical proclamation, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The Christian worldview doesn’t properly begin with Christ and salvation (soteriological issue), but with God and creation. We can’t make sense of salvation, redemption, and reconciliation (‘what’s the remedy’) without first have an idea about ‘what is sin?’ (‘what’s wrong’). And we can’t really understand what sin destroyed, depraved, or distort without having the right idea about what good was it in the beginning (‘where am I? and who am I?’), ie: the biblical view on creation (p. 43-44). God created this world by His word (Gen 1-2, Ps 33:6-9) and by His wisdom (Prov 8). The first metaphor indicates God’s mighty power and sovereign will, while the second indicates the brilliance of His plan and design (p.46-47). The Bible never discussed creation in an abstract, speculative manner, but with a sense of awe before the Lord’s amazing power and glory. The tone here is worship. So, the story of creation is not an industrial report of ‘design planning and mass-production’ of the universe. “Creation is essentially constituted as a response to the laws of God,” said Walsh-Middleton (p.49-50). In the contrary to Deism, biblical drama of providence pictures God as a faithful King who keep His promise with His creation to sustain their existence. God’s covenant bonding is not limited to His people only, but extended to the whole creation (p. 50-52). However, human beings is a special kind of creature. Although we are here to serve the King just like the rest of the creature, but like none other, we were made in the image of God. Along history theologians and philosophers alike debating over the meaning of the term, but alas, many interpretations of it have been influenced by non-Christian philosophy (p. 52-53). Walsh-Middleton believe that we are suppose to correlate it to two important biblical notion: 1) our dominion over creation and 2) our religious choice to serve God or idols. Our ‘dominion’ over the earth should not be interpreted as ‘exploiting’ the planet. But, it is to be read as ‘developing and preserving’ the creation. God put us here to ‘cultivate’ the garden. To ‘cultivate’ is to ‘culture’ it, ie: to shape it according to a plan. In other words, to be an imago Dei is to make history. God’s command to develop the creation also means to cultivate human relationships, institutions, art, advertising, and many other things in human life (p. 55). But, the development never meant to be unbridled. We must be a responsible steward over God’s creation.


Our religious choice to serve God or idols has brought us to the condition we called ‘fall’. We chose idols and reap the consequences. This is our answer to the second worldview question, “What’s wrong?” Although it seldom concerns modern Christians, analysis of the nature of idolatry is essential to our understanding about the fall and imago Dei (p. 62). What is idolatry? Basically it is the usurping of God’s place and ours with idols. Our religious nature will not allow us not to worship. If we are not worshipping God, then we are surely worshipping other things, ie: creation. The consequences is disastrous. Injustice and other evils will follow. Idolatry is also usurping our place. The very word for ‘idols’ in Hebrew is also the word for ‘image’. Idols or image means representation. Even in the ancient world, people didn’t think that an idol to be an actual god. Instead, they believe it as a visible embodiment of their god, representing his/her power and majesty (p. 64). So, we human as imago Dei means, we are to visibly represent God with the totality of our life. Therefore the Neo-Calvinists battle cry, “Life is religion!” The sin of idolatry is not in trying to make God visible (indeed, this is the very task of we humans), but in false worship (wrong object of worship, ie: idols) and false imaging (it is human being itself who have to be the idols/image of God, not any other things) (p. 64-65). We must choose between worshipping God or idols. There is no abstain here. If all aspects of our lives are not an expression of our love for Him,they will express rebellion against Him (p. 69). The fallen condition of the creation means sin is no longer just a created possibility, but it is a present fact. Satan is actively enticing this universe’s inhabitants to treason against their Rightful Ruler (p. 70). As C. S. Lewis said, “Every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.”


One day Satan will be defeated, evil will be no more, and the creation will once again flourish with Shalom. Walsh-Middleton made a clear and concise summary of redemptive history by each covenant God gave from the time of Noah to Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God once again redoing the act of creation and reverse the destructive process that going so far as a result of our rebellion against the Creator. Satan was defeated, the war has won by our Messiah, yet the battle is still going on. The imago Dei restored once again by the work of the Spirit. It means as the steward of God’s creation we are to cultivate this world for God’s glory. Every aspect of the creation is renewed. Just as sin has ruined every aspect of creation, the redemption also left nothing untouched by the grace. Walsh-Middleton likened this to electrical circuits. In the analogy, the cables are the structure of creation; while the electron flow is the direction of creation as obeying their Rightful King or disobey Him. I found the metaphor to be very useful to explain the C-F-R plot in the christian worldview as opposed to other, dualistic, pagan/secular worldview. The question is not which area in life is holy (or unholy), but which direction is holy (or unholy). Since the formation of history is keep going, no matter the fall misdirected it, we are now encounter cultural formations. These formations, in most of the case are mixed-bag of good and evil. So, our task as believers are to discern what part of the cultural formations is creatonally good, and which other parts are misdirected, therefore is evil (p. 90).

The (Biblical Analysis) of Modern Worldview

In this part Walsh-Middleton tried to exorcise dualism from the way we see reality. The dualism’s split-view of reality had effectively crippled Christians from shaping the world according to God’s will. As Jim Wallis’ notes, “There is little evidence in the way Christians live to support our claim that the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Rather, the evidence would suggest that, in most churches, the culture of economic, political, and military systems of United States is at hand. The question must be asked why the churches do not live by their confession.” (p. 94). Walsh-Middleton point to some forms of dualisms, such as sacred/secular, vita activa/vita contemplativa, inner-life/external-life that fragmented our life and therefore limit God’s redemptive activity to small areas of our lives. Other areas are left untouched by the radical transforming power of God’s word. How can this happen?

Walsh-Middleton then analyze Western cultural history to track down every turn that brought this dualism to the way we Christians see the world. Beginning with Plato and Plotinus dualism between form/matter (that manifest in the their dualistic anthropology-spirituality of body/soul opposition) that influence early church fathers as Justn Martyr, Origen, Basil, and finally the great st. Augustine himself (p. 108-112). As the father of Mediaeval culture, Augustine positivize his Platonic dualism in many areas. Notably in the ecclesiastization of the era (p. 110-111). Life, under the influence of Augustine is oriented to the vertical, internal, eternal, spiritual, heavenly, and ascetic. Together with Augustine’s tendency to stress our falleness, this other-worldly ascetism left very litte room for economic, technological, and scientific developments.

The other half of Middle-Ages witness the renaissance of Aristotle in the work of Thomas Aquinas. Unlike Plato and Neo-Platonisms that have a negative view on the material world, Aristotelianism (and its Christian baptizer, Thomas Aquinas) open up rooms for horizontal-natural side of life (p. 112). Unlike Augustine, st. Thomas stressed the goodness of creation rather than the ugliness of its fall. But the problem with Thomism is its ‘double-decker’ view of reality. The redemption (‘grace’) is just ‘added up’ (donum superadditum) at the top of natural creation. Body, material goods, and ‘secular work’ is not viewed as inherently evil, but just ‘not as important as’ the spiritual ones. Although st. Thomas’ dualism is of different type than st. Augustine’s, but it still limit the scope of Christ’s redemption. In this case grace doesn’t make too much difference to natural world. This dualism opened the door to secularism. If Christ has practically nothing to say to our everyday-secular side of life, then those side will open itself to other voices. In this case, the guidance of Aristotle and later to the leads of the secular humanists. In other words, the Christians open itself to the double allegiance. Jesus is the King for our ‘spiritual life’, while Mammon is our Master in the ‘secular areas’ of life. It is Thomas that open the gate to modern-atheistic secularism.

How did Thomistic dualism give a way to modern secularism? It is Pico della Mirandola’s Oration on the Dignity of Man (1487) that retelling the story of creation in different tunes. There, he pictures man as homo autonomous, free to determined his own position and course of actions. From that time being, the mediaeval answer of ‘who am I?’ and ‘where am I?’ had changed forever. Man become god unto himself, and nature become the wild expansive arena for his exploration. The mediaeval dualism of grace vs. nature gave way to modern humankind’s (individual) freedom vs. deterministic nature. History witness a brand new worldview that never been existed before. Two tendencies were listed by Walsh-Middleton: empiricism and mathematical rationalism. The modern worldview has a peculiar way to see empirical world. Unlike the ancient Greeks that derive science from the ‘rational order’ of ideal realm, or the Schoolmen that see goodness of natural world as a pointer to ‘higher realm’ of supernature and God. The way Francis Bacon in his Novum Organum treated man, the natural world, evil, and salvation shows us the difference. Bacon define the fall of men as the fall from innocence and dominion over nature. The ‘what’s wrong?’ question is fragmented into two realms – moral and physical. The earlier is solved by religion and faith, while the latter by arts and sciences (p. 120-121). Bacon’s empirical method will unlock the key to understand natural law and once again gives us power to dominate natural world. Together with Bacon, Descartes’ prepared the foundation of modern Newtonian view of the universe (the mechanistic universe bounded by rigid law of cause-effect).

Walsh-Middleton also clarify the confusion caused by some claims about the influence of Christian’s belief in the founding of modern view of the universe. The logic is quite straight. Since the Christians belief in a rational God who created a rational universe, it is this idea that enabled modernity to have their rationalistic science. The logic is flawed however. It is not exclusively Christian to have an idea of a rational universe. The ancient Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Babylonians, and other Near Easterns have an idea of regular and structured universe. And it is essentially Greek, not Christian, to understand the universe as rationalistic. So who was the main contributor to laid the foundation of modern science? Hooykaas said that the building materials of modern science (logic, math, and the view of a rational cosmos) were coming from the Greeks, while the vitamins for healthy growth came from the biblical concept of creation (p. 127). The positive appreciation of the cosmos definitely did not come from the ancient Greeks or the secular humanists. It actually came from the Reformator’s emphasis on the goodness of the created cosmos and our cultural mandate to develop it.

The modern-secular worldview’s innovation is to free human beings from any dependence to anything above her. For them, humankind themselves is God. Even the Greek view held that man was divine by the virtue of his (educated) reason that participated in (or conformed to) the eternal logos (p. 128). Man, finally is the measure of all things. We are becoming a law upon ourselves (homo autonomous). But, this is a pretended autonomy. Actually, we are hoping, trembling, and fascinated before the unholy trinity of our age: Scientism, technicism, and economism.

Science reveals to us the knowledge of the wild natural world structures. Once the ‘secret’ known, we can easily tame the cosmos. For modern man, ignorance is the original sin and salvation coming from education. “Knowledge is power,” said Bacon. With scientific method the (pretended) Almighty Man get his Omniscience. We must distinguish modern man’s obsesssion with science from his Greeks predecessors. While the Greeks seeks harmony with logos, the modern man seeks control. His obsession is actually to be in control.

Technology brought power at the tips of our fingers. Science embody itself in technology to give omnipotence to the homo autonomous. Machines are the extension of the (false) gods to control the wild, wild world, so we can realize the (false) prophecy of unbounded, unending progress. But, later the machine grew so powerful, until it overwhelmingly control the life of his own masters. It grew so big, his appetite for power dries up our resources very, very quickly.

The third god of modernism is Economism (or, Capitalism). Adam Smith, the father of classical capitalism put his faith on the good (but invisible) hands that regulate the market for the good of all. The lust for profits, once a deadly sin in middle-ages era, now becoming the carrot that lure us to a better tomorrow. Result? A quantum leap in the ‘standard of living’ – but is not (and cannot) for the most of the earth’s populations.

Now, at the end of modernism (this book was written at 1983-1984, prior to the fall of Berlin Wall) people realize that the unholy trinity is ‘running out of gas’. We are headed energy crises, world financial crises, social unrest, war, etc. The modern idols has proved itself inadequate. How can Jesus, through his body brings healing is discussed in the next part.

The Biblical Worldview in Action

In the last three chapters of the book Walsh-Middleton tried to sketch a direction (not a blueprint – see p. 151) for a truly Christian response to cultivate the culture. They stressed that a truly Christian response must be radical and comprehensive. We cannot limit our response to some areas, while naively ignoring others (eg. reject abortions but agree to increasing military expenditures; ‘against’ degradations of morality, but practically silent about the triumph of economism as King in society that often leads to it – see p. 150). This radical re-directing of society means we have to be totally change our way of doing and being. “True cultural renewal is possible only if we abandoned our idols, recognize the multidimensionality of life, respond obediently to God’s norms for our lives and engage communally in cultural renewal,” said Walsh-Middleton (p. 163). Only if we renounce the idols of scientism, technologism, and economism that a cultural renewal can begin (p. 152). We must reject to see life as ‘no more than…’ (reductionism). As a consequence, we must admit that there’s a multi-aspect creational law. We must respect this law in every aspect of life. And we surely cannot do these things alone. The cultural mandate is a communal calling.

One of the most strategic place to subvert the modern-atheistic empire is in the training center of their priest, that is: the universities. In this place, usually many of the (modern) professors are blind to their own religious commitment. Dooyeweerd, Kuhn, Polanyi and some other thinkers open our eyes about this fact. “The question isn’t really one of ‘integrating’ faith and scholarship. Faith and scholarship always are integrated. The question is which faith?” (p. 172). Scholarships are always be done on a set of philosophical framework that itself guided by a pretheoretical worldview. So, to do a genuine Christian scholarship, a truly Christian philosophical framework is required. As Wolterstorff said, “The Bible doesn’t provide us with a body of indubitably known propositions by reference to which we can govern all our acceptance and non-acceptance of theories.” (p. 172) The way from biblical vision of life to a detail of scientific analysis is mediated by a philosophical paradigm. We need to develop such a theoretical framework – one which is sensitive to and rooted in the biblical worldview (p. 173).

“The beginning of a Christian philosophy is the perspective that everything, including humans and their theories, is subject to and exists only in response to God’s creational law (or word).” (p.175-176) To understand this creational law, we must observe the creation. But, there’s a problem with this. First, Since the creation is fallen, we have to discern the effect of the fall from the creational law itself. Second, we must not confuse law/order of the universe with logic (which is just one of the many aspects of reality). To say that our universe is ordered is not the same with saying that our universe is rational/logical. Logic itself is a part of God’s creation and therefore bounded by the creational law. Third, since we the observer is a part of our universe we observe – we must admit the limitation of our horizon of knowing. Dooyeweerd pointed to the problem of explaining reality as homo autonomous observing mechanical-rational universe. Modern dualism of freedom/determinism is haunted by absurdity. When we deify logic, human freedom itself is threatened by the rigidly mechanical conception of reality. As a result, scholars tried to stop the encroachment of determinism by splitting the academy into Geisteswissenschaften and Naturwissenschaften. The earlier is trying to understand humanity through their works, while the later’s goal is to explain natural phenomena by its rigid mechanical laws. Is scientific theory God’s law itself? The answer is no. Scientific theories is a provisional-theoretical approximations of God’s norm. The norm itself must be distinguished from concrete reality. The norm is universal, while the concrete entities are particular. “While God’s law are universal, creation itself bursts with uniqueness and individuality. While God’s law does order creational life, it leaves room, especially in human life for differing responses. God’s law for our cultural life is a calling to which we respond, not a deterministic force.” (p. 178)

The christian philosophy Walsh-Middleton talking about actually is Dooyeweerd’s cosmonomic philosophy that tried to be non-reductive and radical. More about Dooyeweerd later.

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