I recently came across this article citing a Barna survey that only 17% of Christians (or those who claim to be Christians) have a biblical worldview. Now, the idea of a biblical worldview needs unpacking a bit. I plan on launching a series called Bible in a Nutshell in which I want to show the cohesive story of the Bible. I think this is important as it directly links to this question of what makes a Christian a Christian.
What struck me about this survey is this statement here;
The percentage being so low means practicing Christians have accepted many more worldviews including ones based on other religions—especially when it comes to millennials and Gen Xers.
What is a worldview? Just as it suggests, it’s the framework by which we view the world, how we make sense of it in terms of its existence and purpose. I think this definition from pretty much sums it up.
A “worldview” refers to a comprehensive conception of the world from a specific standpoint. A “Christian worldview,” then, is a comprehensive conception of the world from a Christian standpoint. An individual’s worldview is his “big picture,” a harmony of all his beliefs about the world. It is his way of understanding reality. One’s worldview is the basis for making daily decisions and is therefore extremely important.
How we define a Christian worldview has everything to do with how we define Christianity. How we define Christianity must relate to it’s author, who is Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus and what did he come on earth to do?
While this might seem mundane and basic to some of you reading this, the truth is this Barna study is quite revealing about the way people define Christianity and develop a worldview based on that belief. It’s not surprising to me that the results of the study go on further to suggest that many have developed an unChristian worldview and call it Christianity;
Based on the study, 61 percent of practicing Christians strongly agree with at least one of the ideas of “new spirituality”—that everyone is praying to the same god/ultimate being, regardless of the name they use for it (28 percent); “that meaning and purpose come from becoming one with all that is” (27 percent); and that good deeds are rewarded with good and bad deeds receive bad in turn (32 percent).
In places like United States, and particularly in the Bible Belt, it’s pretty easy to claim Christianity. It’s easy to say the right things about Jesus, go to church, and even quote Bible verse or two. And here’s something else, too. Especially, in the last 100 years or so, Christianity has been framed by privatization of sorts laid on the foundation of individualism. We use language like having a personal relationship with God or Jesus being a personal savior. Theological innovators might even create new definitions and new words that sound spiritual but disconnected from a Christian framework. But when your individualized opinions take precedent, then exceptions can become the norm. This idea that we can create our own personalized faith works fine within a cultural context that embraces Christian tenets and exhibits Christian virtue but not so much within a post-modern context where we can craft our own version of Christianity according to our own existential truth and have that be perfectly acceptable.
So these results do not surprise me. But, no matter how far any society deviates from a foundation of the historic Christian faith and accompanying virtue, the reality is Christianity does have a well defined belief foundation apart from which Christianity does not exist. No matter how much people might use the language of Christianity, the proof is in what they actually believe. When I look at the foundation of Christianity according to God’s self-revelation in Scripture based on a holistic treatment of Scripture and the historical trek of Christianity, I believe these three questions here can be revealing.
1. Who do you say Jesus is? Is Jesus some kind of personal talisman, some kind of historic figure that gives us examples to live by or do you believe he is the Son of God, who reveals God? In Matt. 16:13-20, Jesus confronts Peter and asks “who do men say that I am?” Peter’s response is quite instructive for how we evaluate the true Christian faith. His response was not ‘you are our personal savior’ but ‘you are the Christ the Son of the living God.’ Peter wasn’t reducing faith to a private experience but a public proclamation of the one sent by God according to his plan and purpose from the kernel of a promise given in the Garden of Eden, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15). Though God’s good creation had fallen into sinful despair, he would rescue and redeem it. Peter understood this. He had the backdrop of the Old Testament promises hinged on God’s sovereignty over his creation, anchored in covenantal promises to be God to his people. “Christ the Son of the living God” meant that Jesus wasn’t just some spiritual talisman or model to live by that we use for a better life now according to our terms but the giver of life according to God’s terms. Peter was acknowledging that the framework of the whole world rests on the character and nature of God and that Jesus fulfills that purpose.
Now, I get that education levels vary and that acknowledgement of Jesus will not entail every jot and tittle of his work and person. But there is at least some acknowledgement that Jesus is sent from God according to HIS plan and purpose, that his death, burial and resurrection means something more than just another way for us to have some form of spirituality to feel good about life. It means our recognition that his sacrificial work on the cross means forgiveness of sins, the passing from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of Christ, and reconciliation with God (Col. 1:12-14). In that, we recognize that we can’t create Jesus to be who we want him to be but acknowledge who he proclaims to be. It is through this lens that Christians view the world.
2. Where is your affection? But there is something else to note about this exchange between Jesus and Peter. Jesus says, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). Our ability to see who Jesus is rests solely on the power of the Holy Spirit to open our eyes. Why? Because our spiritual deadness disables us from really seeing the beauty of the Lord (Eph 2:1-3). It is this enablement that can even produce genuine faith in Christ, “no one can say Jesus is Lord except in the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12:3). By acknowledging Jesus as Lord and Christ, it is the Holy Spirit that baptizes us into his kingdom (Gal 3:27), unites us to Christ and makes us alive to Christ (Eph 2:5). This means we are no longer governed by the nature of Adam to do as we please, but governed by the will of the Father to live for the second Adam, Jesus the Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit. We get a new orientation, a desire to follow Christ, to learn of him, to acknowledge him and to please him. No, we won’t do it perfectly. We will stumble and fall. We will experience periods of complacency. We might even go into periods of sinful rebellion. But there is at least a heart realignment to no longer live for ourselves and a conviction when we are off track.
It is very telling for me when someone who claims to be a Christian, adopts the language of Christianity but has no interest or desire to follow him, to seek him or to live on his terms. A disinterest in Bible reading and church gathering is a pretty good sign as is creating syncretistic philosophies to accommodate what we want to believe to do our own thing. In other words, it’s very possible to sound Christian but really follow unChristian and anti-Christian philosophies because of a heart not really united to Christ.
3. Where is your fight? Like it or not, we are all born natural enemies of God. The sin that entered the world because of one man’s disobedience has affected us all (Rom. 5:12). This sinful nature subjects us to reject God’s law (Rom. 8:7) and means that you have no part of Christ (Rom 8:9).
How does this play out? Most obviously, when it comes to God’s revelation in Scripture. When God’s infallible word hits the unrepentant heart it hardens it and provokes a fight. The enemy of God will resist God’s character and commands and find clever ways to repudiate it even while seemingly upholding a love for the Bible. This moves beyond just diverse interpretations of doctrinal positions that have plagued Christianity for centuries, but an abject disapproval of God’s triune character and work.
Contrarily, the Christian life is one of submission, aptly noted in Phil. 2:4-8;
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The Holy Spirit implants this kind of submissive attitude in our heart since he is the one who brings the presence of Christ to it. The heart oriented towards Christ might encounter tussles with self-will and self-interest, with pride and self-importance and sometimes for lengthy periods. And it’s a safe bet that heart united with Christ will indeed encounter bristling with Scripture, when the rub of God’s character meets with those stubborn areas of the flesh. But the key difference is what we do with that fight: we’re either fighting against sin or fighting against God. The latter will be quite telling. And that fight will work it’s way out into how we view life.
The bottom line is that if we call ourselves Christians, we must invest in a healthy dose of Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthian church: examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5). That examination is not based on an internal diagnosis based on how we feel about God but rather an acceptance of who God has revealed himself to be according to Scripture, according to the historic witness of faith and according to what must be believed in order to say one is Christian. Otherwise, there’s a strong possibility you might be in that percentage of people who claim Christianity but espouse and live anything but.