Because I would like to be a Christian in the total and complete and ultimate and ideal sense of the word, I value history. Fearing a chronologically provincial mind, I try to spend as much time as curiosity demands and responsibility allows outside my own time zone.
As a result, I tend to see the present as fluid and even a little blurry, while the past shows a little more stability even in what appears like a whirlwind of change. Perhaps the fluidity of the present is nowhere more evident to me than in the way people think. I know – or rather, I feel in my bones – the way ideas are planted and uprooted, movements rise and fall, and trends come and go.
Yesterday my dear friend whom I love, Andrew Pudewa, introduced me to a friend of his whom I am pleased to have finally met, David Quine. What a mind he has, going straight to the core of the matter at hand and applying his worldview. And that word is why I opened as I did and then talked about David Quine.
Worldview. For the last 30 or 40 years we’ve seen it all over the place. Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til aroused evangelical Christians through the framework of worldview to realize that Christianity was not a secular spiritual teaching about heaven, but a complete view of reality. And what a service they performed!
It seems to me that the last 20 years or so have seen a renewal of energy among Reformed Christians and that Francis Schaeffer’s work is at the very least a critical element in that renewal (I’d be interested to know if my Reformed friends agree with those propositions).
But it extends well beyond the Reformed, if for no other reason than that Francis Schaeffer was so kind and generous in his teaching and serving, to the wider evangelical community and, perhaps surprisingly, even to some Roman Catholics. During the 90’s, Mr. Quine suggested, the word “worldview” could be seen all over home school conventions.
Now, he says, the word is disappearing. I was very surprised, since I saw John Stonestreet’s Summit Ministries table and he was awfully busy throughout the conference, and I know that Leigh Bortins’ Classical Conversations continues to enjoy explosive growth (over 25,000 students this year, perhaps 40,000 next).
Even so, Mr. Quine was suggesting that the concept of worldview had taken on the status of a fad in the 90’s (I don’t think he used that word, but I don’t remember the exact word he used), and that now the fad was fading.
I don’t know if Mr. Quine is right, as the future is even blurrier and more fluid than the present. But his suggestion brought me up short because it was so surprising. (It also made me wonder about something else, namely, to what extent are home school conventions bellwethers or even harbingers of the evangelical Christian mind?)
Words: they come and go, they rise and fall, they glow and they fade. But truth is eternal. The gap arises from the weakness of our perceptions, concepts, vocabulary, and hearts which allows a chasm of infinite divide between our minds and the Truth that satisfies them.
Given this chasm between our souls and the Truth, how should we think? How can we develop a Christian mind? In a way, it seems like a logically insurmountable problem. We have to think about how to think in order to learn how to think. But we can’t think outside of the way we think.
But maybe that isn’t true. I don’t know. I don’t know why it should be. It seems like an awfully dogmatic position to hold, to say that we can’t think outside of the way we think, outside of our presuppositions, or whatever. I never cease to be amazed by the way the human mind transcends its context and circumstances to rearrange itself to new contexts.
But maybe even that isn’t the point. I’ve been continually drawn to two passages lately that are all about thinking. The first is, of all places, in the book of James. The second is the first letter that Paul wrote to the church in the cultural hub of Corinth.
I can’t quote the entire letter to Corinth, so I won’t make an effort to, though I would encourage you to read it a few dozen times asking yourself what it says about thinking. But here’s what James had to say:
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.
But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth.
This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic.
For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocricy.
Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
James 3: 13-18
I’ve long felt that history and human culture offer no more radical revolution than that offered by the Christian gospel. Imagine a community devoted to the idea that wisdom is first pure, the peaceable, gentle, and willing to yield.
These are not characteristics of uncertainty and timidity and weakness, but of wisdom. I’m not sure they work well for marketing and advertising, but they would save the world. The world desperately needs the fruit of righteousness, but it won’t be produced through protests and picketing and the anger of man. It will be sown in peace by those who make peace. And the time between sowing and reaping will try the patience of us fools.
That is one reason why the word “gentle” is so important. It seems to me that gentleness expresses Wisdom in at least two ways, the first being perhaps more obvious. That is, the Wisdom from above is gentle, and therefore it makes gentle the person it inhabits, in its relation to other people.
The second application might be less obvious. You see, the Wisdom that is from above is simply gentle. Gentleness is a characteristic or a quality of Wisdom. It is always gentle, by nature. So we see the second application of the gentleness of Wisdom in its relation to reality, to truth, to things.
What I mean is this: the Wisdom from above does no violence to the nature of things. It is receptive to the truth outside of the mind and welcomes it as a friend and intimate. When it speaks of trees, as Solomon did, Wisdom does not impose its own worldview on the tree. Rather Wisdom “listens” to the tree as the tree expresses its nature.
When it learns from history, Wisdom learns gently. It does not impose its own theories on history, but it lets history tell its story. Wisdom is meek and humble before the facts, never disturbed by them, because facts always embody truth and Wisdom loves truth as its own life.
When it learns from literature, Wisdom receives literature without partiality and without hypocrisy, even, amazingly, without envy and self-seeking.
It does not demand a cash value for time spent, nor does it impose a literary theory from the outside on the literature. It does not read literature with a tribal mind, agreeing with kin and denying the opponent the right to speak. And it never would ask literature to be anything other than literature.
It does not read with envy or magisterial motives. The Wisdom from above studies everything with a gentleness that arises from its confidence in the Truth and that sees everything as a good gift that comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights.
The Wisdom from above does not fear things. Not even man made things. It knows that only God can create, that all that God makes is by nature good, that when we know the nature of a thing we are able to identify its corruptions, and that when we can identify a things corruptions in the light of its goodness it poses no danger to Wisdom.
That is why the Wisdom that is from above is first pure. And to the pure, all things are pure.
And that is why the goal of Christian education is not moralism or knowledge of content, but “Love, from a pure heart.”
And the only way to cultivate love from a pure heart is with the gentleness of wisdom, both in regard to the student and to the study.