bartholomew - again

I don't tend to buy books according to topic - but by author. And then each year I try to expand my list of favourite authors.

2011 has been the year of Craig Bartholomew. Earlier this year I reviewed his remarkable commentary on Ecclesiastes. On a recent trip to Cambodia I read Living at the Crossroads: an introduction to Christian worldview - a book co-authored with Michael Goheen.

Goheen & Bartholomew had already co-authored The Drama of Scripture: finding our place in the Biblical story. These two books form a superb combo on biblical story and christian worldview. One follows the other so naturally. My mind drifts across to theological colleges around the world and the possibilities of a course with these books as the basis - a course made easier because the authors have constructed websites to go with each book, adding resources of all kinds. What an act of refreshing servant-hearted generosity! For the biblical story book, look here - and for the christian worldview book, look here. Clicking through the ppt slides provides a quick tour of the books - and check out all the articles they have collected ...

Anyhow - back to Living at the Crossroads. The idea behind the title is that "the people of God live at the intersection of two stories, both of which claim to be true and comprehensive" (8) - the 'western story' and the 'biblical story'. Drawing frequently on Lesslie Newbigin's analysis, they argue that the church tends to compromise, "allowing the biblical story to be subsumed within the modern scientific story" (9).

First up there is a chapter explaining 'worldview' with a focus on the history of the concept and the five objections to it from within the Christian community which then draws forth a better description: "worldview is an articulation of the basic beliefs embedded in a shared grand story that are rooted in a faith commitment and that give shape and direction to the whole of our individual and corporate lives" (23). Here there is a move away from the overly rationalistic definitions of yesteryear and on towards a more 'storied' and all-of-life understanding.

Then the two stories at the crossroads are engaged. The biblical worldview - rehearsed as creation, sin, restoration, consummation (31-66): "to look at the world through Scripture is to look at the world through three lenses at the same time: as something created by God, twisted by sin, and being redeemed by the work of Christ. Remove any one of these lenses and the biblical worldview is distorted. This is like an LCD projector that requires three glass panels - red, yellow, green - through which the video signal passes. All are needed to give proper colour..." (63).

After this attention shifts to the Western story - traced as it is through all kinds of stages: Greco-Roman Paganism; some input from the Gospel; Medieval Synthesis between the Gospel and a 'Platonized' Christianity; Renaissance when humanism is 'born again'; Reformation; Scientific Revolution; Enlightenment and the conversion of the West to a new faith - "faith in progress, faith in reason, faith in technology, faith in a rationally ordered social world" (92-96); Age of Revolution when society is brought into conformity with Enlightement faith; a Romantic reaction; and then Late Modernity with the gains and decline of Liberal Humanism of our current times. All in all, a quick story from the 6th century BC to the 21st century AD in 39 pages!

After this analysis the book takes off in three closing chapters.

In Chapter 7 the authors ask "what time is it?" as they discern four currents in our current time which just must be discerned clearly by those wanting to live at the crossroads: (a) the rise of postmodernity; (b) consumerism and globalisation; (c) the renascence of Christianity in the southern hemisphere; (d) the resurgence of Islam. The West needs to wake-up in a hurry to recognise that "postmodernity is not the only game in town" (108).

In Chapter 8 they explore what "faithful, relevant witness" at the crossroads looks like as they go in search of 'a comprehensive vision of cultural engagement'. Basically it is salt and light re-envisioned and invigorated as they call for a "critical participation" (132). But the helpful feature is that they turn to a businesswoman, a PhD student, a social worker, a teacher, an athlete, and a politician to provide illustrations of the points they are making. And what must be avoided is withdrawal (a bit like the error of the Essenes), accommodation (like the error of the Sadducees) and dualism (akin to the error of the Pharisees) - and there is certainly no room for the approach of the Zealots either:  "using every possible means, including violence, to usher in the kingdom in their own strength" (145).

In Chapter 9 the principles are applied to SIX areas of public life: Business (146-150), Politics (150-153), Sports and Competition (153-156), Creativity and Art (156-161), Scholarship (161-165), and Education (165-173). The application and earthing of the principles of Christian worldview in these everyday areas of life is superb. The Business section touches down in free trade and fair trade; Politics tackles Romans 13 and reminds readers that "the church is a theocracy, but the nations in which Christians live are not " (150) ... and then the way "Scholars should work to uproot theories from their idolatrous soil and replant them in the soil of the gospel, where they can bloom more fruitfully (164)" - before concluding the chapter with a sustained discussion on public schooling, Christian schooling and home schooling (worth the price of admission, let me tell you!).

The book concludes with a 'Pastoral Postscript' in which the plea to remember the priority of being in community, of being sustained by a vigorous spirituality, of joining with the Spirit in what is his work in the world, and finally, of the need "to engage the powers in the public square in hope" (176).

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