Thinking Christian

Thinking Christianity for church, home, and community

“The Problem of Moral Revival”

Posted on Sep 11, 2010 by Tom Gilson

Sarah J. Flashing took an insightful look at “The Problem of Moral Revival” on the Evangel blog last Wednesday, including this:

An explicitly Christian worldview has not been welcome in the marketplace of ideas for some time. As a result, believers have caved to society’s demands for a secularized message under the guise of “public language,” an attempt to give the appearance that morality can be dislodged from its worldview foundations. This enterprise has been anything but successful….

The recent conversation over Glenn Beck’s appeal to the generic god of conservative values has shown that the problem is not so much with Glenn Beck as it is with a church un-phased by the dismantling of her worldview. She is a church afraid to make claims on the nature and foundations of morality. What’s worse is that she is a church that has actually been duped by her own strategy because the public language once used to bandage the moral hemorrhage of society is now core to the belief system of these well-meaning Christians. The doctrine of God no longer is foundational to the message but is viewed more as an impediment to results.

She’s right. If we Christians are going to be convincing on issues of morality (or any other), we need to bring our whole understanding of reality with us into the conversation. Brad Bright says it this way: God is the issue. Alvin Plantinga said something similar in his influential “Advice to Christian Philosophers:”

It isn’t just in philosophy that we Christians are heavily influenced by the practice and procedures of our non-Christian peers. (Indeed, given the cantankerousness of philosophers and the rampant disagreement in philosophy it is probably easier to be a maverick there than in most other disciplines.) The same holds for nearly any important contemporary intellectual discipline: history, literary and artistic criticism, musicology, and the sciences, both social and natural. In all of these areas there are ways of proceeding, pervasive assumptions about the nature of the discipline (for example, assumptions about the nature of science and its place in our intellectual economy), assumptions about how the discipline should be carried on and what a valuable or worthwhile contribution is like and so on; we imbibe these assumptions, if not with our mother’s milk, at any rate in learning to pursue our disciplines. In all these areas we learn how to pursue our disciplines under the direction and influence of our peers.

But in many cases these assumptions and presumptions do not easily mesh with a Christian or theistic way of looking at the world….

And thirdly, here, as in philosophy, Christians must display autonomy and integrality. If contemporary mechanistic biology really has no place for human freedom, then something other than contemporary mechanistic biology is called for; and the Christian community must develop it. If contemporary psychology is fundamentally naturalist, then it is up to Christian psychologists to develop an alternative that fits well with Christian supernaturalism-one that takes its start from such scientifically seminal truths as that God has created humankind in his own image.

The point is that Christian ethical thinking is specifically Christian ethical thinking: not in the sense that it is privately Christian, but in the sense that its public and universal truth is inextricably tied to the public and universal truth of Christianity. As one stands, so stands the other. We need not let ourselves be enticed away into “assumptions and presumptions [that] do not easily mesh with a Christian or theistic way of looking at the world.” We can and should make our whole case for the moral truths in which we believe, and our whole case includes our entire understanding of God as revealed through Scripture.

Common human conceptions of right and wrong provide one source of moral knowledge. There is an argument for ethics to be drawn from “natural law,” without reference to Scripture. For the sake of finding common ground, it’s perfectly fine to include these non-revelational sources in our discussions with unbelievers. But as Sarah Flashing wrote,

Moral revival must not be separated from spiritual revival. Questions of morality must always point back to a rational justification and worldview. To begin the process of morality at the point of values guarantees a clash of worldviews where Christianity is merely on par with her competition. But where the moral life of the follower of Christ begins is in commitment to her God, not to the comforts of a culture that thrives in the impact of Christian values without commitment to the triune God of Scripture.

2 Responses to “ “The Problem of Moral Revival” ”

  1. “An explicitly Christian worldview has not been welcome in the marketplace of ideas for some time.”

    Why? What have Christian leaders done to remove our worldview from ideas?

    History provides many answers: Inquisitions, hypocrisy, abuse, judgmental, etc. No wonder so many have left as there is striking similarity of some Christians and their leadership to the Pharisaical structure during Jesus’ time.

    Concerning our Civil War, author Louis Menand writes in his Preface to his book titled: The Metaphysical Club,

    “To some of them, the war seemed not just a failure of democracy, but a failure of culture, a failure of ideas. As traumatic wars do – as the First World War would do for many Europeans sixty years later, and as the Vietnam War would do for many Americans a hundred years later – the Civil War discredited the beliefs and assumptions of the era that preceded it. Those beliefs had not prevented the country from going to war; they had not prepared it for the astonishing violence the war unleashed; they seemed absurdly obsolete in the new, postwar world… There is a difference between an idea an an ideology.”

    Some current Christian leadership (as the Pharisees and Sadducees of old) only “market” their (I repeat “their”) ideology which is a heavy yoke. So for a Christian moral revival, those who communicate a worldview of Christianity (an ideology) must communicate the value of the ideas behind the system.

  2. SteveK says:

    I am glad you write often about the topic of morality, comparing and contrasting what moral reality looks like within the context of various worldviews. The moral reality of a theistic worldview – specifically, Christianity – shines the brightest because it is the reality most recognize by experience.

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