In an episode of “The Briefing,” yesterday Dr. Al Mohler of Southern Seminary reflected on the death of the renowned physicist Stephen Hawking. You can read a full transcript of the eight minute segment on Hawking using the link above.

Here is how the episode was summarized on Mohler’s Facebook page, which I think is broadly representative of what Dr. Mohler said on the show:

We believe that Stephen Hawking and all of his brilliance was simply evidence of the fact that he was a human being made in God’s image but a human being who died without God. That’s the great tragedy but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries.

Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something significant about the meaning of his life. At the end of the day, the secular worldview can provide no argument for why the life of Stephen Hawking was ever significant nor your life nor my life. Only the biblical worldview can answer that question and it does profoundly answer that question.

The thing that struck me when a friend showed the post to me is this: If you swapped “Oppenheimer” for “Hawking” and, on the Facebook post, changed the name and photo from Mohler to Francis Schaeffer you could show the entire post to someone, say that Schaeffer wrote it on the occasion of Oppenheimer’s death in 1967 and… it’d be believable.

I love Schaeffer so I don’t mean that purely as criticism of Dr. Mohler. If we must talk like an evangelical from the 1960s, Schaeffer is a very good one to choose. And yet when you read that take on Hawking’s death, the tedium of it still comes across.

Earlier this week we published an essay Susannah wrote interacting with the new film version of A Wrinkle in Time. In it, she talked about how the example of Madeleine L’Engle made it, somehow, “OK” for someone like her—a lifelong New Yorker with absolutely no Christian background—to become a Christian. The things that she did know, that the world is beautiful and seems to hint at something beyond, that people are remarkably talented and capable of great things, and that creation can delight us through the unexpected, unasked for surprise, were all there in L’Engle too and… L’Engle was a Christian. So she could be too.

This, of course, is very similar to the conversion accounts of two other writers I admire—Sheldon Vanauken and C. S. Lewis. For both of these men, the surprising brilliance of Christian writers helped them come to faith and then adjust to being, unexpectedly and somewhat reluctantly, Christian themselves. But even more important was the fact that the Christianity that both of these men encountered (at Oxford, in both cases) was not scared of the world nor was it concerned with somehow one-upping the world. It was, rather, deeply at home in it, fascinated by it, and convinced that the truth of Christianity did not negate the truths they came to prior to conversion, but somehow enriched them.

Incidentally, despite his reasonable appropriation by the worldview crowd, Schaeffer himself was much closer to the Christianity of Vanauken and Lewis than he was the Christianity of the culture warriors. Though he never fully emancipated himself from his generation’s version of culture war-ism, he worked, through L’Abri, to articulate this same sort of Christianity, not a Christianity that divided the world up into teams with rigidly defined worldviews that dictate how they see the world and relate to one another, but a Christianity that says with Capon that the road to salvation does not run from the world, but through it.

To put it as simply as I know how, the problem with the worldviewism on display in Mohler’s comments about Hawking is that they leave no room for the “yes, and” affirmation of faith that we find in Lewis and Vanauken: Yes, this intuition you have about the world is true and I can tell you why that is.

Instead, there is simply the rigid division of human beings into competing teams which subscribe to competing worldviews, such that the only way to move from one team to another is by rejecting wholesale your former worldview and taking on a new one. And for many people, Susannah among them, that move feels like a total erasure of the self, a loss of all the things you recognize as making you who you are, all the things you love and that give you joy—your family, your favorite books, your favorite memories spent with your friends (none of whom are Christian), the experience of hearing a beautiful symphony and knowing that the world is good.

It seems to say that the only way to come to Jesus is to set all that aside. And, of course, there’s a way in which that is true—he who does not love me more than father or mother is not worthy of me—but that call is never a call to reject creation in its entirety or to reject the gifts given to us in it. It is, rather, a call to understand those affections in relationship to the claims of Christ’s lordship which means, first of all, recognizing them as gifts given to us by a God who loves us and loves the world–after all, he’s the one who made the things we’re enjoying.

In short, my concern with this sort of worldviewism is that I think it leaves us with a much less interesting world and a savior who does not seem to love it nearly as much as the God of the Bible is said to love the world. And that picture is a real barrier to evangelism. But more than that it is a barrier to worship because it creates divisions within our minds that should not exist and deprives us of the chance to see the face of God in unexpected places.

Earlier this week I got coffee with a friend I hadn’t seen in years. Like me, he grew up in an abusive fundamentalist church which left him with plenty of baggage to work through over a number of years. As we talked, the conversation turned to the work of Jordan Peterson and to a debate that my friend had seen in which Peterson and William Lane Craig, the renowned Christian apologist, argued over the possibility of meaning in human life. I said to my friend that several Christian friends of mine watched the debate and were far more impressed by Peterson than they were Craig. My friend nodded. “Peterson doesn’t care about winning,” he said. “Craig wanted to a win a debate. Peterson wanted to pursue truth.”

If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.

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Posted by Jake Meador

Jake Meador is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy and sons Wendell and Austin. Jake's writing has appeared in Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play.

  • Ian

    This is what I have consistently found so irritating about Mohler as talking head: his ceaseless conspiracy theorizing about “the world.” “Instead what you’re going to see is a secular world trying to find a
    secular reason to celebrate a secular thinker and to say something
    significant about the meaning of his life.” As though the world knew full well that the cosmos is charged with the glory of the triune God but desperately has to deny this every moment the truth might rattle out. It’s absurd and it militarizes the boundary line between those who profess Christ and those who do not yet profess him.

    • hoosier_bob

      I agree completely. If anything, this demonstrates why we must judge Christianity as false, and to view it as a retardant to moral progress.

    • Cal P

      As much as I despise Al Mohler and the fruits of Worldview teaching more generally, and I think yours (and Jake’s) criticism is warranted, I think the alternative is just as bad. This valorization of an independent, autonomous, sphere of human cultural achievements, valuated on their own or “natural” terms, is a bit naive to say the least. It ignores that our cultural consummerism depends upon a global capitalism that strips many such “cultures” of their fangs, so we can ooh and ahh. Such a posture is akin to the Trudeau family trip to India. Even Hoosier_Bob’s evaluation of Japan depends upon carving out a particular section of Japanese history, ignoring the fact that modern democratic Japan emerged from an American imperium, after the East Asian Prosperity Sphere was obliterated.

      Woe be to Christendom as hellspawn, and why I’m much more preferential to this liberal stance, one of the clear benefits of the post- Reformation stalemate, it’s not something to take too seriously. And, I think it’s pretty clear that Scripture predicts false world orders that appear in the name of Christ but do Satan’s work. That’s not a blemish on Christianity, except for those, like Moehler, who believe that there is some golden age of Christian nationalism to get back to.

      • Ian

        Cal-

        I’m with you all the way, but I’m not advocating an alternative of valorized, autonomous reason. I don’t think that’s possible but I also don’t think what I’m critiquing in Mohler necessitates such an alternative. Without making this too lengthy I would say that there is a sapiential and technical wisdom God’s image bearers are endowed with that pertains to the world and is capable of producing genuine knowledge even if the epistemological starting point of that wisdom is confessing Christ as Lord. So yes, this produces a frame that is internally self-consistent but belongs to a larger paradigm that does recognize the ubiquitous lordship of Christ. I suppose it’s like the internal coherence of an ecosystem which, for fullest perspective, has to be understood on a global scale to see all of its ramifications.

      • hoosier_bob

        I confess that I was overgeneralizing. I was also reacting to my first few hours of being back in our “Christian nation” following time in Japan. And, yes, modern democratic Japan owes its existence to the West. Even so, Japan integrated those principles into its social fabric in a way that left much of the feudal system intact. It’s not inaccurate to describe modern Japan as employing a kind of industrial feudalism. Moreover, there’s nothing inherently Christian about democracy. Look at Russia.

        I bring up Japan, though, because it is a good counter-example to the evangelical effort to Christ-splain everything in a way that’s only convincing if you have a very limited experience of the world. While I was waiting for a connecting flight in DFW yesterday, I listened in on three evangelical SBC mega-church associate pastors talk. I was struck by how parochial their vision of the world was. Evangelicalism makes sense if you’ve never known anything but Plano, Marietta, or Naperville.

        It’s also interesting to me to observe how white evangelicals insulate themselves in a way that ensures that they don’t have to confront serious objections. For example, I missed getting a business-class upgrade by one person, and had to sit next to someone. It was a businessman (and evangelical Christian) from suburban Dallas who had spent 40% of his time in Japan for the past 15 years. During the course of our conversation, it became painfully obvious that he was clueless about daily life in Japan. He spoke almost no Japanese, and couldn’t even pronounce place names using proper Japanese phonetics. He doesn’t even know how to use the train because he drives everywhere and pays for parking. For him, suburban Dallas is normative, and, despite living in one of the most developed countries in the world, ignores the way it operates and insists on trying to carve out a Dallas-like existence in Tokyo. These are the kinds of people to whom Mohler’s Christ-splaining makes sense. But it’s hard to see that as a good thing.

        • Cal P

          If you want to pick a more compelling example, Chinese history is far more removed from Western influence and almost no Christians (with the exception of the Syrians during the Tang dynasty. But the thing is that if you look at that history, you see the exact same things one finds in Western imperial history. There are even rival church-state equivalents when Daoists and Buddhists competed for imperial privilege.

          Evangelicals like the ones you describe are indeed naive because they do not appreciate the very roots upon which their nation stands. The problem is not that Japan seems to be good as many supposedly Christian nations, but that so-called Christian nations are just as evil, wretched, conniving, and necessitarian as non-Christian ones. The check and balance of power, whether it is different factions at court, or a single governing power whose hold on power is tenuous and requires juggling different peoples, stops what would otherwise spiral into the equivalent of Babylon. The goods and evils mix, usually for deluded or contrary intentions, within every nation. But the people of God, the Christians of Christ’s churches, stand in a complex paradox being both inside and out. Hence, modernity’s wave of alienation, sucking the life out of many traditional cultures, or retooling them to fit the needs of the market, have a beneficial effect, even as they are soul-sucking nonetheless.

          • hoosier_bob

            But one need not capitulate to neo-liberal ethics to judge Mohler as a hack or a fraud.

          • Cal P

            No, of course not, but that’s because he resembles a washed up court magician that even pagans, in ages of de- and re-sacralization, knew to laugh at.

            Per your comment on losing a reason to be, I’ve found Pascal’s approach (not his wager, but in the Pensees) to a natural theology a more substantial apologetic. If you can get through difficult and unnecessarily obtuse prose, Ephraim Radner is a brilliant author.

          • Cindy Dufty

            Japanese Christian theologian Kosuke Koyama described the story of Israel as a story of “a limping dance between God and Baal” and so it often is for the church in its various cultural-political contexts.

    • Patrick Sawyer

      Actually, the “world” DOES “know full well that the cosmos is charged with the glory of the triune God” This is the explicit teaching of Romans 1:18-23 (among other texts). Moreover, Mohler knows this text and its manifold implications and it undergirds part of his analysis regarding Hawking. I would also suggest that Mohler’s comments may seem harsh to some because Hawking has become such a sympathetic figure in our society. He is a cultural icon in certain ways. Such romanticization obscures the brutal reality of his current state and the egregious effect his contributions have had in numbing and dulling our collective consciousness to the actual and absolutely critical reality that “The heavens declare (Heb: caphar – to shout and recount repeatedly, over and over again) the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Mohler was simply not seduced.

      • Ian

        No, the world doesn’t know and that is not the explicit teaching of Romans 1:18-23. Yes, that is how it is deployed often, but that paragraph serves a different purpose in the epistle than its use by apologists like Mohler. People the world over aren’t lying that when they profess no knowledge of the triune God. Psalm 19:1 likewise isn’t admissible as evidence for Mohler’s brand of apologetics because that statement is the confession of faith of one who already belongs to the covenant and thus sees the world in this way. This isn’t something that can be read off the surface of the world. The temporal sequence in Galatians, for instance, collapses if Mohler’s and Van Til’s approach holds true (“now that you have come to know God…”).

        • hoosier_bob

          Well said.

          I came to embrace Christianity largely based on that apologetic. In the past few years, I’ve gradually come to reject that apologetic. But I haven’t discovered anything to replace it. Since rejecting the evangelical apologetic (for the reasons that you suggest), I’ve continued to embrace Christianity because it still seemed to make better sense of reality than any alternative religious formulation. But I’m not sure that I really believe that. I feel like I’m still holding onto Christianity out of a kind of socio-cultural inertia. It’s the option that offers me the greatest transactional efficiency in my sociology-cultural context. But I’m having a hard time seeing any other reason to practice Christianity. The evangelical apologetic is attractive because it provides a simple narrative to explain why one believes. The problem is that it’s little more than a marketing gimmick, which doesn’t even find support in Scripture. But is there any cogent alternative apologetic? Or should I just embrace Christianity because that’s what people of Northern European descent do in this current cultural moment?

          • Ian

            Thanks for the candor, hoosier_bob. I don’t think we have to scramble for a new apologetic to replace this Van Tillian one, I am persuaded we (I’m going to include you within the evangelical canopy here because at very least you were rooted here once and I still want you in!) should grow into a greater confidence in the gospel and the God it reveals vastly more reliably than the creation does. The created order is pretty awesome, I concede, but we’re not sure exactly which bits don’t work the proper way so reasoning from the way x works in the world to how God is isn’t very reliable as a method. But I know the Creator of all that is is also its Redeemer and therefore there is some broad coordination that we can trace between the human condition in history and the God who is committed to that creation. That doesn’t map out an a priori schema that can explain absolutely everything ahead of time, but I think it was a mistake to ever look for such a thing in the first place. “The best apologetic is good dogmatics.” I don’t think you should cling to being a Christian for any other reason than that the God who made all things has assumed the condition of the creatures he has Covenanter himself to and is determined to restore. Strip away all the detritus of the Religious Right or any such garbage and the thing that remains is the God of the gospel who claims you, hoosier_bob, in love. That God is worth the perpetual hernia that negotiating crummy politics and unrecognized privileges entails.

          • hoosier_bob

            I agree that the Gospel narrative reveals God in a much more reliable way than observation of the created order. But belief in the Gospel narrative doesn’t get you very far in ordinary human endeavors, or at least not as far as Mohler supposes. The created order presents a wide array of natural and human phenomena that embody a certain beauty. And while that beauty is indeed a dim reflection of the glory of the Creator, we do better at appreciating that beauty when we use a language that is more fitting to the phenomena themselves. In such cases, evangelical Christ-splaining is actually a hindrance. Believing the Gospel narrative does not help much in trying to master the Japanese language, for example. You do that by digging in and immersing yourself in the structure and logic of the language. In fact, in my anecdotal experience, white evangelicals pick up new languages and adapt to cross-cultural experiences wish far greater difficulty than their their non-Christian counterparts. I think that’s because evangelicals tend to overestimate the value of Christ-splaining in acquiring wisdom and knowledge. Or it tends to lead them to discount the contributions of those who do not profess explicit belief in the Gospel narrative. In other words, they tend to view the familiar (American suburbia) as somehow normative because of its association in their minds with the Gospel narrative. In that sense, it fosters a kind of false privileging of the familiar that implicitly dehumanizes and devalues the unfamiliar.

            I never fit neatly into that subculture. But my mainline-ish upbringing didn’t give me a rubric for understanding why I was a Christian. We went to church for the same reasons that the Japanese go to the temple and the shrine. The evangelical apologetic gave me a way to explain why I was a Christian. But that’s about the only problem it solves. In many other ways, it gets in the way of becoming an astute and wise observer of the world around us. So, I’ve come to reject it. It’s been good to do that, and to make an explicit rupture of my prior connection to evangelicalism. But I now feeling I’m back to where I was in my 20s when I unwisely embraced evangelicalism.

        • Patrick Sawyer

          Ian, a few things. It seems you (and to some extent it seems hoosier_bob, although I suspect you two are in different places epistemologically) have ascribed to me a hard presuppositional apologetics. That is not where I am. While presuppositional appologetics is largely the way to go, a full apologetics understanding must incorporate and weave in certain and important nuances about truth and reality that an evidentialist approach to apologetics supplies. Such a perspective, which is my perspective, gives general agreement, as far as it goes, to your statement that “people the world over aren’t LYING when they profess no knowledge of the triune God”. But such a statement needs qualification and that is where our divergence lies. Nuance is needed. First, some may actually be lying. But second, and to your point, many who reject God do so with “integrity” relative to their surface commitments and understanding about truth and even do so at the beginning stages of their subconsciousness. Hardly anyone doubts this. Even most hardcore presuppositionalists would admit as much. Certainly Mohler would agree with this.
          This reality however is along side (and importantly, doesn’t negate) the willful suppression (by all) of the Truth of God seen and displayed in the creative order. This suppression is ontological, that is, part and parcel to being human and is therefore real, actual, and genuine. Consequently, we are worthy of being righteously held accountable for our suppression and we are.

          Here is a weak analogy that gets partly to the point: I have a friend who deals with some significant depression. He accounts me as his best friend and knows that I care for him deeply. When he is in his worst state, he believes that everyone is against him and no one cares for him. In those moments he often says things to me such as: ‘no one cares for me, no one loves me’. In those moments he truly believes what he is saying. But he is incorrect. I remind him during those times, ‘But you KNOW that I love you. You KNOW that I care for you’. And he DOES know it. He just can’t access what he knows in those moments. And if in those weak moments he pulled out a gun and shot me; he would be held accountable for failing to access and understand what he does in fact know, that I love him and was seeking his good. Now again, this is a weak analogy and is fraught with issues if we unpacked it fully but hopefully you see my point, at least to some extent.

          Ok, let me also say that obviously there is not a 1:1 correspondence between knowing God through creation and knowing God through Christ. Not in any way, shape, or form. But this has no bearing on the accountability an unbeliever faces in her/his suppression of the truth as understood in Romans 1.

          Also, based on what you have said, part of your exegetical thinking is just incorrect when it comes to Romans 1 and Psalm 19. The context is obvious and self-evident to the understanding of the passages. Nevertheless, that is not of significant concern to me. In the context of a comment section on a website, I’m content with leaving it that we are just in different places.

          Finally, in reference to what you hinted at and to what hoosier_bob more explicitly indicated, I haven’t embraced an apologetic that provides a simple narrative to what I believe. In fact. nothing could be further from the truth. I’m a professor at a large state university in the social sciences. I teach from many different angles that things are complex and nuanced and often appear “messy” and are certainly less linear and binary than people often suppose. While there is a lot that could be said here regarding how people get derailed when confronted with the above reality (people often feel enlightened, like they have found something others haven’t and now have deeper understanding, when actually the opposite is happening), suffice it to say that I agree that a simplistic approach to these things is insufficient and untenable.

          Ok, this will be my last comment on this post. Thanks for the engagement. Best…

          • Cal P

            I do think we tend to over-emphasize the conscious component of a lie. As St. Paul saw it, burying the truth ‘is’ embracing a lie. As you well know, many social scientists, suffering under the bludgeoning of guild-mentality and the pressures of academic prestige, tend to overlook, explain away, or misrepresent inconvenient facts in pursuit of a theory or model. Or adhering to a certain set of beliefs, and functionally acting to the contrary, could also be construed as a lie. As far as I know, Patricia Churchland still teaches, writes, and publishes even though consciousness is an illusion of neurons firings.

            When properly understood, the noetic effects of sin help understand the moral failings people might properly live under, without ascribing them a personal, conscientious, active role. I can be guilty for the crimes of a nation, not because I actively did any of them, but because I profited from them and live in ignorance to them. Even though most Americans would refuse to think that such a way is just, we still teach WW2 as the collective failing of the German people.

          • Ian

            Of course, I fully agree with all of the above, but that “knowing” of God is something other than the Van Til/Mohler version of Romans 1:18ff. I refuse to acknowledge a fully-orbed knowledge of God that comes apart from God revealing Godself because the alternative is bifurcating God into a deus revelatus and a deus absconditus and that simply is not an option is Jesus truly is the exegesis of God (cf. John 1:18). I’m comfortable with all human beings rebelling against an objective constraint imposed from without upon their dispositions/wills/ambitions and even a nebulous awareness that they are moral beings in an ordered universe accountable to a transcendent ground, but not with a pre-revelatory familiarity with the triune God.

  • Michael Farley

    I don’t understand how the analysis follows from Mohler’s comment. Mohler’s statement directly implies that Hawking’s life had immense value, and his comment was that a secular philosophy cannot account for that fact that everyone agrees on. In other words, Mohler is saying “YES, Hawking’s life was filled with value and brilliance, AND the Christian story can tell you why that is.” He also goes on to say that the secular story cannot tell us why that is, but that’s not antithetical to the affirmation. Schaeffer did critique, too. I am not always thrilled with Mohler’s tone on everything, but I don’t see how your analysis follows from the quote with which the article began.

    I also do not agree with your statement about the Craig/Peterson debate. Your analysis critiques Craig’s intention:”he just wanted to win a debate,” which suggests that Craig is a sophist who does not personally care deeply about truth or the people with whom and to whom he is speaking. I have read and listened to enough of Craig’s work to know that that is very wrong. Perhaps it would be more fair to say that Peterson focused on speaking with empathetic solidarity with a suffering person while Craig focused on the philosophical questions and ideas. Even if more and better pathos would make Craig a more effective speaker on these sorts of very personal, existential issues (and I think that’s true), his more logos-centered response is not a defect of personal intention, as if he does not care about people or truth. The problem with Peterson was the opposite: lots of pathos, but he did not really answer
    the philosophical question posed to him very well.

    • Ian

      I think the analysis followed from Mohler’s statement overall. I point you towards Al Mohler’s summary of the Ham/Nye debate four years ago:

      “The central issue last night was really not the age of the earth or the
      claims of modern science. The question was not really about the ark or
      sediment layers or fossils. It was about the central worldview clash of
      our times, and of any time: the clash between the worldview of the
      self-declared “reasonable man” and the worldview of the sinner saved by
      grace.”

      Mohler erases the possible input of any source that is not explicitly Christian from the outset. The “but that’s not what you’re likely to read in the obituaries” faults non-Christians for not rooting his significance in the triune God, but… why would they? It’s that “they have to find reasons” that is so absurd and (I think) insulting.

  • hoosier_bob

    This is probably the first time that I agree with you. In large part, Mohler demonstrates the failure of the Christian worldview to account for the success of those who aren’t Christian in their endeavors.

    I’ve spent the past few weeks in Japan working from my firm’s Tokyo office. The Bible suggests that we should judge the truth of a teaching by its fruit. In other words, if Christianity is indeed true, Christian societies ought to be superior than non-Christian societies. This is not the case. The apogee of Western Christianity is the election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency. After all, Trump’s victory rested solely on the vote of Christians. The veracity of the Christian faith is coterminous with the veracity of Donald Trump.

    By contrast, Japan has achieved a relatively orderly democratic system without Christian influence. A Japanese Trump is almost inconceivable. That suggests to me that Japanese religious practices must be more true than Christianity, as they do a better job of accounting for the human condition than Christianity.

    • Cindy Dufty

      I envy you hoosier_bob getting to be in Japan in spring and there are so many provocative points in your comment that I wish we could sit down for a few hours in a kissaten to discuss them. To be brief, after 22 years living in Japan I’m back in the U.S. and making a nuisance of myself touting the benefits of Japan’s more communal/less individualistic take on modernity – i.e. a working national health system, great public transportation, Confucian ethic of considering others as more important than yourself (sounds like something St. Paul advised), strict gun control.
      But the heart killers of bullying (through senior adulthood), no second chances or grace for the shame of failure, gossip and jealousy, suspicion of “outsiders”, sexual harassment etc. do not seem to have apparent remedies within the culture. Looking for the “leaven” affect Jesus said his followers would exert, especially as a distrusted small minority with no secular power, there’s plenty of evidence for that from Japanese history the last 150 years. From the pioneers of women’s higher education, to opposing sexual slavery, divesting oneself of privilege to live with despised slum-dwellers, championing civil rights for the outcasts in Japanese Buddhist social structure, to land re-distribution after WWII, adopting orphans, opposing re-militarization, volunteering after disasters etc/ etc. you’ll find Japanese Christians in the forefront. Look up Gunpei Yamamuro and Toyohiko Kagawa for a start,
      And, I agree it would be more difficult for a totally unqualified populist to be elected as PM in Japan, but that’s due to 2 factors – 1) their parliamentary system of government which I am currently in deep envy of and 2) braggarts have not been admired or trusted. Currently, human rights activists, which includes all of the churches, are more concerned about the threat to freedom of speech, free association and religion represented by the 2017 Act on Punishment of Organized Crimes.
      Great post Jake and great discussion.

      • hoosier_bob

        なるほどね。

        It’s a mixed bag. It does better on many points, but does worse on others. Unfortunately, I had to return before 花見.

        • Cindy Dufty

          Sorry you missed the height of hanami. I had read C.S. Lewis’s take on the Tao, AKA Natural Law, in Abolition of Man long before going to Japan and that was a great help in appreciating the ethical imperatives most treasured in that culture. Perhaps part of what John means by “the light that lights every person coming into the world.” After the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011 it was strange to encounter the question from American Christian Facebook friends “Since the Japanese aren’t Christian why aren’t they taking advantage of the disaster to loot and riot?” But a chance to try to complexify their worldview, a good calling for former missionaries like myself.

          • hoosier_bob

            I was asked the same thing by some white evangelicals. But, yes, it’s almost inconceivable that the Japanese would loot and riot in such circumstances. The culture certainly has its imperfections, as you rightly note, but it has its benefits. In no major city in America would you send your 7-year-old alone onto the subway to go to school. But young children ride the subway alone every day throughout Japan.

            And, yes, Japanese Christians are remarkable. They are a remarkable example of how Christians practice something akin to the Benedict Option. Of course, Dreher didn’t feature them in his book because acknowledging the merits of non-white Christians isn’t really Dreher’s thing. But Japanese Christians indeed embody the Gospel far more consistently than white evangelicals in America.

    • C.T. Casberg

      …the modern nation-state of Japan is a Western creation, born out of the defeat of the violent and cruel Japanese empire.

    • Empty

      I can’t resist. I have to take the bait.

      This makes no sense, dude. Have you ever read about World War II at all? Are you going to tell me that Donald Trump, as bad as he is, is worse than Unit 731? You can’t just point to America and say, “Christian America -> Trump -> Bad” and point to Japan and say “Shinto / Yamato damashii -> Japan right now -> Good!”

      Have you ever read anything about western church history? As important as understanding Trump is to understanding modern American evangelicalism, you can’t arbitrarily make one perverted President the sole outcome of two thousand years of millions (billions?) of individual Christians interacting with their societies. Besides, the ways in which America is a Christian nation is extremely complicated and very, very, very different from what Christian nations looked like just a few hundred years ago.

      History is so much more complicated than that! If you form your opinion of history and world culture this way, it’ll blind you to what is actually good or bad about Christian or American or Japanese worldviews and cultural practices. I for one think anyone has a lot to learn from Japanese society (aesthetics, health practices, honor emphasis, all kinds of social virtues) but you have to admit that it works both ways. How much of the Japan that you live in is molded by American / Christian / western markets, wars, thinkers, media?

      I do think you are right though in so far as those who hold to a non-Christian belief system can do a much better job of accounting for the human condition, in certain respects and especially in certain geographic and cultural situations, than American evangelical christians. The question is determining what those respects are, and why. The common American evangelical anthropology & political philosophy should not be taken as the standard belief of all christians, or what christians will ultimately believe in the future. For example, if this blog succeeds in catching the ear of a large number of evangelicals, then they will adopt a different anthropology and political practice.

      Believe it or not, evangelicalism may survive the presidency of Donald Trump.

      • Cal P

        Read above to Hoosier_bob’s response to my comment above. The general point, and I agree, is that Japan has appropriated Western forms and applied them selectively for their own purposes. If we think that is inherently Christian, then you must believe we’re all Pagan because Western culture, from art to philosophy, still depends upon the Greeks.

        But I always find the condemnation of Trump here an amusing phenomenon. I think Evangelicals have way more blood on their hands for voting for Reagan, Bush I and Bush II, let alone contenders like Dole, McCain, or Romney, than Trump.

        • hoosier_bob

          My point is that, if worldviewism is indeed correct, then it is fair to judge the merits of evangelicalism by the overwhelming embrace of Trump by evangelicals. I don’t necessarily believe that because I believe that worldviewism is a load of crock and that its proponents are hucksters.

      • hoosier_bob

        My implicit point is that worldviewism can’t account for the overwhelming evangelical embrace of Trump unless it accepts that embrace as a necessary outcome of Christian belief. Evangelicals tend only to apply worldviewism selectively and in self-serving ways. It’s more of an advertising gimmick than a serious effort to persuade someone of the merits of the Gospel narrative.

  • C.T. Casberg

    Tedium is the proper term for it. I’ve given up on the bag of rhetorical tricks we largely call apologetics. It’s such a dull and lifeless framework. There’s no beauty or grace in that.

    What’s worse is when opponents (atheists and the like) adopt the same framework but come at it from the other side, and then we’re all mired in this godawful paradigm and I’d rather jump out a third story window than have one more tedious debate.

  • David Graham

    Hello Jake,

    I appreciate your main point and have experienced this tedium often. (I recently took a Christian worldview test online…I thought I was a bona fide evangelical but it turns out I’m less than 50% Christian.) I have three additional thoughts:

    1) I wonder if the problem is a function of unimaginative, sectarian worldview analysis rather than the thing itself. I know of self-described apologists, for example, who seem increasingly aware of the power of story, as opposed to a bare bones propositional approach. I also know of more ecumenically friendly folks who engage in worldview-like analysis less adversarially.

    2) I wonder whether some of this is simply a matter of taste. As I moved through theological education, I slowly grew tired of analytic philosophical methods, especially when used in a primarily deconstructive way. (Having developed an interest in theological exegesis, I sometimes cringe at how philosophically-trained apologists use Scripture.) But there was a time when I very much benefited from them. I suppose they can sometimes bring clarity for newer Christians and help the church think through specific issues where mass confusion prevails.

    3) I think it’s worth stating that this approach to engagement is responding to a real cultural antagonism. That doesn’t excuse its tedious, reactionary tendencies. But when you contextualize it sociologically, it at least make sense: a community trying to maintain itself by clarifying its distinctives as precisely as possible. And it’s also worth pointing out the inadequacies of the opposite trajectory. I’d rather my kids to be taught by an worldview apologist than a creative but vague, indecisive theological leader or a charismatic priest of moral therapeutic deism.

    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

  • Ryan Compton

    I appreciate all the comments and I can see where both sides are coming from here. I think one thing to note is that the idea of “being in the world but not of it” is inherently full of a tension. There will always be people on different degrees of the spectrum and I believe in this life only Jesus can hold the perfect middle.

    But some other things I was thinking about. One thing we can’t forget is how much St. Paul had harsh words for the actions on non-believers and those who would defile the Gospel. So there is a division of some sort set up between Christians and the world. The same could be said the salt and light parables and many other biblical passages. So in that sense Mohler is right, there is a distinction.

    As far as the success of secular or non-Chrisitian cultures in “getting it right” more than Christians: I think there is a tendency in some circles to begin to equate what I might call “earthly success” or positive cultural influence as something that necessarily follows the presence of Christian faith. While of course Christians can, and by defintion should, be blessing their society I fear some have placed too much of an emphasis on this as the measuring stick of whether Christianity “works” or not. James Davison Hunter’s “To Change the World” (2010) is one example of where I think someone has gone to far in this direction. We can’t forget how many instances we have those who would be deemed weak or unsuccessful being the very people through which God’s kingdom was breaking in in the New Testament. What we don’t see is changes in government policy, human rights laws, increases in technology and things of this sort. Or take Paul in Corinthians and how they saw him as weak and that all if his “failures” led them to ask him for references. We can’t forget how the God through the Gospel turns the world’s wisdom on its head. “The first will be last and the last will be first.” Once again I am not denying that Christians should participate it in making the culture around them flourish, but its a tension. And success in this way does not validate or invalidate the truth of Christianity nor is it the main point of Christianity.

    :Lastly, as far as the supposed goodness of cultures like Japan. Yes, they may have a lot of laws and ways of life that line up with a Christian worldview, but God is always about heart change. I think if you were to look below the surface Japanese culture deals just as much as any other culture in the world with issues like pride, selfishness, etc. The recent buzz surrouding Jordan Peterson is a similar case. He may be getting certain things right that some Christians are getting wrong. But we can’t over-inflate this. The Christian faith has never fundamentally been about our knowledge or actions (though it should rightly affect these things) its about the heart. And once again I am sure if you look beneath the surface Mr. Peterson still deals with same sin issues we all do despite whatever wise things he may say from his mouth. And in that way he still stands condemned before God. That is the offense of the Gospel right? You can do all the right stuff (whether people or nations) but if you aren’t professing Christ, and your heart isn’t broken and humbled by his love, then in some way, in the end all your works will burn up like a house made of straw.

  • Salvatore Anthony Luiso

    Regarding “If there is a defining problem with a certain brand of reformed evangelicalism, it is that we care more about winning—winning debates, winning political campaigns, winning institutional battles—than we do about simply pursuing the good, the true, and the beautiful.”: Hence their strong support for the presidential candidate of 2016 who promised that if he became president Americans would be winning so much they would become bored with winning?

    “We’re going to win. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at trade, we’re going to win at the border. We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning, you’re going to come to me and go ‘Please, please, we can’t win anymore.’ You’ve heard this one. You’ll say ‘Please, Mr. President, we beg you sir, we don’t want to win anymore. It’s too much. It’s not fair to everybody else.’” Trump said. “And I’m going to say ‘I’m sorry, but we’re going to keep winning, winning, winning, We’re going to make America great again.”

    –“Trump: ‘We’re going to win so much, you’re going to be so sick and tired of winning'”, by Tim Lutey, the Billings Gazette, May 26th, 2016

  • mike sugimoto

    I appreciate your discussion on FAS and world view. What the world viewers often miss is that FAS considered human beings to be a bundle of contradictions; their world view being one baseline only but not the exclusively defining summation of an individual life. Man is bigger than his world view.

    The other difference between Mohler, perhaps, and FAS is that the latter demonstrably and publicly loved the non-believer. He saw truth as a form of beauty, unlike much of today’s tendency which regards story as a form of beauty.

  • Lightning McBean

    Nice post. Thanks for this.

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  • accelerator

    Hawking’s is a sad case, and I doubt any Christian can weigh in on honestly on him without sounding a bit wooden. Mohler could use some good PR advice. But otherwise, his plight is understandable. In the end the evangelist’s understanding IS sort of wooden. There is Heaven, and there is Hell, and you go one place or the other, and Jesus is the determining factor. At least in historic evangelical theology. A life may have tragedies, but a life without God IS a tragedy. That’s Mohler’s point, and one people concerned as much with soteriology as poetry have to grapple with. Schaefer did as well, and his son writes about the palpable sense of dissonance he felt. Orthodoxy sort of leaves us stuck with it, unless you want to move into Catholic quasi-universalism, a “no one really know” sort of respectful detachment that’s perfectly valid as an option but not as evangelical orientation. L’Engle was a Christian, but from interviews also hardly comes off as an evangelical. So maybe the beef is with approach, and maybe it is at rock bottom about doctrine, and maybe the two are very, very hard to separate. Especially in the new world of media, where I doubt even a Billy Graham could have survived. One comment here wrote “As much as I despise Mohler…” Despise?! People like that would probably have despised the Apostle Paul.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I don’t know if you’ve checked out the Reasonable Faith podcast episode where WLC recaps and reflects on this debate, but it’s definitely uncharitable to reduce him to “only cares about winning.” WLC is a remarkably generous, kind guy, he just has a very different style from Peterson. In fact, in the debate he was quite warm towards Peterson and sought common ground. On this podcast, he continues to affirm what he found to be of value in Peterson’s contribution, but also discusses how he would like to help him by offering him a way to ground the transcendent moral values he can’t deny. Craig is a scholar, and as a scholar his desire is to encourage, improve and solidify Peterson’s ideas, not to knock them down in some tribalistic display.