The tattered worldview.

Conversation with two friends has recently led me to consider whether that my central personal-existential problem is that I lack a cohesive overall framework for interpreting the world, or at least of man and society.

Following certain late Dutch theologians, one might be tempted to say that "Everyone has a worldview." Right. In fact, the whole idea of "worldview" is, for my money, eminently deconstructable. It is essentially a creature of the nineteenth-century and its desire to elide hard compartment distinctions in favor of an all-encompassing unity. (Think Mendelssohn's violin concerto.) Reformed theologians today, especially, like to speak of "worldview" because they want to rebel against the Enlightenment"s compartmentalization of the disciplines, which effectively marginalized theology as a collateral science. This compartmentalization was itself, in turn, a revolt against the old scala naturae, which posited theology as queen of the sciences and philosophy as its ancilla.

Accordingly, it is really not necessary that "everyone have a worldview"--at least not in the sense that the worldview rubric is somehow indispensable for relating theology to the rest of knowledge. Indeed, I think that one can argue rather well that the worldview rubric has some unhealthy side effects: specifically the erosion of good category distinctions between say, ethics and physics. On the popular level, this is reflected in the heavy-handed moralistic presentation of the sciences in most Baptist curricula, to give an example.

Perhaps most importantly, the Faith doesn't really require that one have a worldview as such. Look at the creeds. They don't make claims about the nature of reality or even of truth in as many words. They do make a set of specific claims about the Persons of the Godhead in terms of creation, incarnation, resurrection, and final judgment. Furthermore, when Paul asks us to take every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, he is speaking in martial-political terms: he is making claims about the Son's identity as Lord over thought, not about thought per se.

So perhaps I can rationalize not having a full-orbed world-and-life view, if you understand my above caveats. Existentially, what gives occasion to this suggestion is the fact that I don't feel very confident at all about having much of a worldview lately. There was a time in which I didn't feel at all this way. I was proud to have an aggressive, triumphalistic worldview. It's not that I've been there, done that. No. I still actually have a fairly robust philosophy of history. And I have a solid, orthodox Christology. But about the larger questions of theology, literature, and politics, I've become fairly agnostic. Is democracy really an a good form of government? Was FDR entirely unjustified in what he did? Should the state intervene in the economy at all? Are wars of religion justifiable? Is the rule of faith inclusive of soteriology proper? In what sense is sola scriptura correct? Do believers alone possess just title to things? Is natural law really so separate from a regime of theonomy? Should the Church be autonomous of the Emperor?

I used to think I had fast answers on all of these things. It was a matter of applying the presuppositions prejudices of my worldview and finding Bible verses to proof it. Now, I have come to see that many of the teachings which people around me cherish so strongly are have not those grand pedigrees or justifications which they suggest. Take the Neomarxist critique of the traditional family: in reality, yes, there was real oppression of women, but mostly in the context of a nineteeth-century struggling with the Enlightenment's negation of femininity as hyperemotional and nonrational. Or take the Reformed and Baptist custom of preaching very long rhetorical sermons: in reality, this comes from the Humanists' interest in promoting civic virtue through public rhetoric in Renaissance Florence by rediscovering classical oratorical models; it has no parallel at all in the Bible, except perhaps in the epistles of Paul: indeed, biblical examples consistently illustrate dialogic teaching building off of Q & A.

I have committed myself to what is really the equivalent of intellectual philology--that is, to tracing the history and genesis of discrete ideas. The immediate effect of this work is to undermine my confidence in the sort of round, cohesive integrity claimed by various intellectual systems, from Platonism to Calvinism to Utilitarianism. Instead, bodies of doctrine emerge as structural creations erected as additions or new construction on a much-rebuilt site.

To be continued . . .

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