Goheen, Michael W. and Craig G. Bartholomew. Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008. (205 pages) Reviewed by Josh Laxton.
Worldviews are like birthdays– everybody has one. However, worldviews are much more important than birthdays because they are a way of trying to explain the most basic, comprehensive, foundational religious beliefs one has about the world. They also provide meaning, thereby shaping the life of an individual or community. Therefore, a foundational question for believers in the twenty-first century is: How does a Christian worldview intersect with a postmodern Westernized worldview? It is this question that Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew tackle in their book, Living at the Crossroads. Their work is meant to be an introduction into the topic of worldview.
The genesis of their book addresses how the Christian worldview must begin with the gospel (1). To clarify, they argue that the gospel is not just an announcement about a religious experience or a future salvation in another world, but is about the God of the universe and how he moves throughout the history of the world (2). God’s movement throughout history is an alternative worldview among a plethora of contemporary worldviews, namely the postmodern Western one. Living at this crossroad presents challenges to missionary encounters; such challenges being compromise, unfaithfulness, syncretism, or reductionism of the gospel. It is the goal of these authors to present a definition and explanation of the Christian worldview and a critique of the Western worldview– in hopes that it will aid the church in fulfilling their missional call of living and proclaiming the gospel in a biblically faithful way.
Origins of Worldview
Goheen and Bartholomew define worldview as: “An articulation of the basic beliefs embedded in a shared grand story that are rooted in a faith commitment and that give shape and direction to the whole of our individual and corporate lives” (23). They give credit to James Orr and Abraham Kuyper who appropriated the worldview concept for Christians. They also highlight James Sire’s work on worldview, where Sire argues that worldview is a matter of the heart operating within a grand story about the world, and expressed in the way we live (18). The development of a Christian worldview is paramount, especially with the aim to have a missionary encounter with modern Western culture. Developing such a worldview is one way Goheen and Bartholomew believe Christians can mediate the most basic categories of the gospel to all of life, thereby equipping the church for its missional task (30).
Biblical Worldview- Creation, Sin, and Restoration
According to Goheen and Bartholomew, creation, sin, and restoration become the framework for developing a Christian worldview. A Christian worldview begins in the book of Genesis, where God creatio ex nihlio (created out of nothing) the created order. His creation is good and ordered. His prized creation was humanity, whom he created in his own image. God bids man to continue to carry out his work in developing creation through the cultural mandate (44). Soon after, God’s good creation is tainted and twisted due to the rebellious treason of man. The entrance of sin does not diminish the goodness of God’s creation, but distorts and damages it. With creation on the fritz, God unleashes his redemptive plan. This plan is progressive, restorative, and comprehensive (51). Goheen and Bartholomew argue that the mission of the church is to make known God’s comprehensive restoration by launching themselves out into all nations and cultures, making disciples within these milieus and embodying the good news in every part of creational life. This vision for restoration calls for grace infusing nature, by which the church does not seek to only evangelize and do missions for the sole purpose of “seeing people saved,” but seeks to be the first fruits, instruments, and sign of the soon coming consummated kingdom of God.
The Western Story
The story of the West, according to the authors, finds its genesis in two particular periods, The Renaissance (“born again”) and the Enlightenment (“light of the world”). Although the Renaissance and much of the Enlightenment were cloaked in religion, they fed the tendencies of freedom, autonomy, individualism, and science– science being the body of knowledge that would become the primary methodology by which to gain more knowledge. Humanity during these eras slowly evolved to take the place of God and his gospel through scientific reason. The core beliefs of the Enlightenment were: faith in progress, reason, technology, and a rationally ordered social world. This new Enlightenment faith replaced God and Scripture, and this replacement led the famed philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, to coin the famous phrase, “God is dead.”
The Enlightenment came to affect and be applied to the whole of life: political, social, economic, and familial. However, in the recent century there has been a rejection of the Enlightenment ideal based upon the failure in its promised progress. In a worldview that put its faith in human and scientific reason to better the world, the world has continued to see poverty, environmental decay, proliferation of weapons, psychological problems, and social and economic ills. Therefore, the present time in the West is filled with fascination and complexity (126). It is fascinating and complex in that we live in a culture that still operates according to Enlightenment thought, and also because the present bears the marks of: postmodernity, consumerism, globalization, rapid spread of Christianity (in the southern hemisphere), and the resurgence of Islam (108-09).
The Worldview of our Culture
Living in such a complex, interesting, yet muddled time, how does the church respond and live at the crossroads of modernity and postmodernity? Goheen and Bartholomew conclude their works with two chapters articulating the answer to this question. They begin with theory and conclude with application. First, in order to live faithfully at the present crossroads, believers must remember that Jesus is Lord and that his gospel and salvation is comprehensive in scope and restorative in nature (127). Beginning with Jesus and the gospel story (Creation, Fall, Redemption/Restoration) leads the church in critical participation (affirming and rejecting) of culture. Living this way is not without its dangers. So in order to counteract the dangers of individualism, avoiding the marginalized, triumphalism, and compromise, Goheen and Bartholomew exhort believers to be faithful witnesses by: living in community, being merciful to the marginalized and oppressed, embracing suffering and being tolerant, and seeking to be filled with the Spirit of God. If the church is faithful in living out and proclaiming the gospel worldview among people of a similar, but completely different worldview, cultural change, transformation, and restoration becomes hopeful.
Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew have brilliantly written a work articulating a Christian worldview and how Christians can contextualize this worldview among the crossroads of opposing worldviews. Their strength lies in their passion for the church to recover the comprehensive redemptive vision of the gospel, as well as their call for the church not to withdraw from the culture, but to encounter it missionally. To equip the church for cultural engagement, Goheen and Bartholomew do an excellent job expressing the present culture and providing the background of how our modern and postmodern culture has evolved. This is a strength in and of it self to cover much philosophical and historical ground in a handful of pages. This book is much needed in churches today, so that they can understand the comprehensive scope of the gospel and how God desires to redeem and restore all of creation, not just individual souls. I believe this biblical truth has the potential to lead to another Great Awakening in the West– an awakening in all of creational life.