How the Church Builds Faith and Bolsters a Christian Worldview

The wisdom of this world that is not rooted in the Word is ultimately meaningless and misleading. The Apostle Paul exhorts us to “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”[1] And again he says, “You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”[2] People are actually alienating themselves from experiencing a full life of intimacy with God because of blind ignorance and stubbornness toward learning the truth. But we who know better must do away with those weak ways of thinking. Instead Paul tells us to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds.”[3] As followers of Christ we are to submit to this process of trading in our old ways of thinking for the truth and guarding ourselves from being deceived. No better context for this has been devised than the local church. In the church we encounter three ways of knowing that fortify our faith and shape our worldview. In this essay, I will first discuss the formation of a worldview, in general, then, I will turn to how the church can contribute to developing a robust Christian worldview.

Worldview

According to J. P. Moreland,[4] worldview is the “sum total of what a person believes about life’s most important questions.” We cannot choose our worldview because we cannot choose what we believe. Moreland is an indirect doxastic volunteerist, which is to say he thinks we do not have free will over what we believe but only where we choose to place our minds. We cannot will to believe something we do not really think is true. But we can, by experience or exposure to new information, come to believe something is true that we did not believe before. This flies in the face of our modern view of faith as “what we choose to believe even in the absence of evidence or knowledge.” However, it does coincide with a biblical view of faith as “confidence in what we know to be true,” where more knowledge strengthens and enriches faith.

Knowledge

There are three kinds of knowledge that may inform our beliefs and thus shape our worldview. First, there is knowledge by acquaintance, or simple seeing. In this case, thought or language is not required, only awareness. Imagine a child who does not yet have a concept of temperature or a vocabulary to express that something is cold or hot. That child would no less sense and be aware of the chill of a winter’s night. Or what if a missionary tried to preach the gospel in Russian to an isolated African tribe, the people may be able to hear the foreign language but would not have a concept to recognize it as European or have a word to identify it as Russian; much less would they understand what was being said to them. Thus, knowledge by acquaintance is access to facts independent of interpretation. Second, there is propositional knowledge. In this case, thought and language is required in order to judge whether a statement is true or not. Think of a slightly older child with a concept of cold who can judge whether it is indeed cold outside and call it “cold.” Or consider the tribesman who has studied Russian online and can recognize it when he hears it; he may even be able to communicate back. Thus, propositional knowledge is true belief based on adequate reason. Third, there is skill knowledge, or know-how. In this case, an ability or aptitude is required in order to perform a task. For example, a knowledgeable repairman may hear you describe the noise your appliance makes and immediately know what to do to fix it. Thus, skill knowledge is a sort of practical intuition based on ability and experience.

What Comes First?

Moreland maintains that we see things in light of, not through our worldview. Though belief cannot be directly attained, knowledge, which determines our beliefs, can. Therefore, we can have knowledge of reality prior to our interpretation or presuppositions about it. This is because how we see the world is the product of us actually seeing the world, not the other way around. Nevertheless, once we see something in a certain way we tend to limit our awareness of what we see in subsequent looks to what we first saw. We begin to form habits of thinking in what we notice and disregard in terms of facts. In other words, our worldview determines, not what we see, but what we focus on when seeing. For example, when a journalist reports on a wildfire he must decide what the story is. If there is suspicion of arson, he might write the story around that theme and include only those facts that are relevant to his story. Another reporter may be looking for the human interest angle and interview a family who lost their home. Still another reporter may focus on the economic cost of the disaster. Although all the facts are accessible to every reporter, their presuppositions lead them to focus on certain aspects of the event and to disregard others. Thus, what we focus on determines what’s in the foreground and the background of our vision. In this way, we may end up perpetuating and strengthening our particular worldviews. Still, Moreland encourages us that we can change our worldview by repeated exposure to facts.

In summary, we do not directly choose our beliefs. Experience and exposure to facts via three types of knowledge determines our beliefs, which taken together constitute our worldview. Though it does not determine what we see, our worldview often determines what we pay attention to, which limits the forming and refining of beliefs and perpetuates our thinking, good or bad.

Hearing through the Church

“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”[5] We start to believe the things we hear, so we need to be careful that we are hearing the truth on a regular basis. It just so happens that the Church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”[6] I want to suggest three ways participating in a body of believers builds our faith and strengthens a Christian worldview based on the three categories of knowledge presented by Moreland.

The Holy Ghost: Knowledge by Acquaintance

The Spirit of God is alive! And we have access to His power and the manifestation of the kingdom all around us. Likely the most common way to experience God is in the congregation of the saints. When we gather together to praise Him, He makes His presence known to us in various ways. Our spirits sense Him near, filled with joy or peace. Our bodies sense a warmth and experience His healing touch. Our souls are refreshed by the healing power of His spoken Word. Our hearts are encouraged by the grace of God’s people praying for, loving and serving one another. We see instant miracles and witness the slow growth of changed lives. For all these reasons and more we cannot afford to not gather together. In all these ways, regular corporate worship is vital to the building of our faith because it gives us direct knowledge of the presence and power of God.

The Good Book: Propositional Knowledge

“But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil.”[7] The writer of Hebrews is talking about the faculties of the mind. We are supposed to train our minds, literally to exercise naked. That is, we are to cast off any hindrance to disciplining our minds. Instead of being dull, we are to be sharp; instead of being slow, we should be quick; instead of being lazy we should be disciplined. “Now, discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”[8] We train our minds by practicing habits of the mind. The NIV says we train our minds by “constant use” of them.

This kind of mental training is a central part of what we do when we gather together for worship. Sermons, classes and small group studies are full course meals, with both spiritual milk and solid food. We walk away having tasted again the goodness of God through His Word. And no one expects to sit passively in a pew and receive the Word intravenously. We take the time to chew on the truth so we can digest it better. Beyond our regular gatherings, we learn good Bible study skills and engage in spiritual disciplines that enrich the life of the mind. As we saturate our minds with the truth of Scripture we are better equipped to be students of culture and Christian worldview thinkers in our academic and business fields. The teaching of sound doctrine, in a way that transcends mere self-help and sloganeering, trains us to think through and articulate our faith in any context.

The Body of Christ: Knowledge of Skill

“God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well.”[9] Everyone in the church already has certain gifts, or skills. It is only a matter of recognizing, developing and fanning those skills into flame. Every Christian has a useful place in the Body of Christ. Some of us are skilled in the area of speaking, and so we counsel, preach, prophesy, teach, lead and encourage. Some of us skilled in the area of serving, and so we cook, clean, plan, organize, give, pray and meet needs. When we use our gifts to build one another up we are vessels of God’s grace to others. We strengthen each other’s faith as we come alongside them. And the world sees what Christians can be by our love for another. It’s an amazing thing to see God at work through His people!

And so through the experience of God’s Spirit, training in His Word, and the ministry of His people we gain knowledge of who God is and who we are in Him. We exchange the philosophies of the world for Christ-centered truth. The case for faith gets stronger as our beliefs are informed and reformed by the facts that we encounter. The result is a genuine and robust Christian worldview.

[1] Colossians 2:8, New International Version
[2] Ephesians 4:17-18, English Standard Version
[3] Ephesians 4:23, English Standard Version
[4] J. P. Moreland, class lecture, Spiritual Formation and the Life of the Mind, Biola University, October 26, 2006.
[5] Romans 10:17, English Standard Version
[6] 1 Timothy 3:15, New International Version
[7] Hebrews 5:14, New Revised Standard Version
[8] Hebrews 12:11, New Revised Standard Version
[9] Romans 12:6, New Living Translation

Advertisements

One thought on “How the Church Builds Faith and Bolsters a Christian Worldview

  1. In lieu of articulating anything of thoughtful substance, I will simply say that this is foundational to the renovation of the heart. That is, one must make a conscious effort to allow for the ideas of Christianity to become one’s beliefs.

    Like

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s