The Past and the Future
In a time now almost forgotten, the world was in a state of change. What we now call “Culture Wars” was in full swing though the only words used to describe it were phrases with terms like “turmoil” and “unrest”. The United States was at war in Vietnam and at home. A new generation, that missed world war II didn’t see the point in interfering with yet another world power devoid of democracy at the cost of American lives and prosperity. And so the country suffered on in internal conflict.
In the midst of the 60’s and 70’s, a new generation of Christian leaders, who saw the need for change, but who also saw value in traditional religious norms, began to make a series of drastic and subtle changes to the way they lived out their faith publicly. The leaders of this movement are well known to us now; people like Billy Graham and Carl F. H. Henry who led the way for others like Jerry Fallwell, Albert Mohler, and James Dobson. These leaders, reacting against the Christian Fundamentalist movement, which believed in a strict separation between the church and modern culture, sought a new way to engage our world. They looked for ways to holistically engage culture without losing a foothold in their traditional Christian heritage and, because of this, a number of interesting things came about. Among these are the mass creation and rise of “The Christian Right” (political), “Contemporary Christian Music” (cultural), as well as a resurgence of “Christian Bible (and Liberal Arts) High Schools and Colleges” (educational), (For more on the neo-evangelical movement see: http://www.theopedia.com/Neo_evangelicalism)
A massive change to the Christian movement like this, however, was not without it’s consequences. Along with this newer and stronger push for Christians to engage with culture came the question all Christians with this goal must ask: “How?” The question “How can we be in the the world, but not of the world?”, began to be pursued not only as a personal and existential question, but also as a discipline by Christian scholars in Universities and colleges across the country. Leaders in Christian Institutions like Liberty in Lawrenceville, VA, Moody Bible College in Chicago, Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, Bryan College in Dayton, TN and others began to answer this question through the creation of a new hybrid field of study. This field, combining the merits of philosophy (both modern and ancient), theology, psychology, (the then still budding field of) sociology, and a mediated approach to the analysis of popular culture sought to help a new generation find answers to their questions by offering a holistic way of thinking. Utilizing these fields of study, and, ultimately, offering a new way for young people to “View the world” was the beginning of what was eventually came to be called “Christian Worldview”.
As a side note, it should be said that this is also the beginning of the modern apologetics movement as well. And while these two have been likened over the course of the last 35 odd years, they, fundamentally, represent different christian movements with different cultural goals. Where as the Apologetic movement constantly seeks to stand in opposition to the voices of non-christian thinkers, scientists, and writers, the worldview movement was created to help (mostly) young people interpret culture through the lens of a Christian faith. While the education of people (especially students) represents a common goal between apologetics and worldview, their primary difference rests in their posture toward the world. (As a side note, it is this writer’s opinion that whenever Worldview studies leads to outspoken conflict with the outside world of contrary ideas, as it often times and should rightly do, it has entered into the realm of apologetics).
So then, what purpose, apart from apologetics, does the Christian Worldview movement serve? Primarily, the Christian Worldview movement started with the central goal of education. Worldview instructors saw that where Christians were failing in the education of their children in the areas of foundational ideas, purpose, and life direction, an increasingly secular public education system was stepping in to “foot the bill”. Leaders in worldview studies, who had originally created programs and content only for students in Christian universities, quickly transitioned to reach even younger audiences and created all sorts of methods to reach them and speak to their education level. Groups like the Bryan College Worldview Team (Started in 1988) traveled to students between the ages of 13-18 in an attempt to influence young Christians before they enrolled in public universities. It was the hope of Worldview instructors that Christian students who decided not to attend Christian universities might still be prepared to engage secular philosophies.
A secondary, but still important purpose of the Worldview movement is its service to the Christian community as gate keeper between well established Christian communities and the rest of culture. In this place Worldview leaders and teachers do the, oftentimes, long and difficult work of interpreting cultural shifts and changes and delivering their findings to their otherwise occupied Christian brothers and sisters. This work has often led to explosive popularity for leaders within the Worldview movement over the last 25 – 30 years, especially within those same “well established communities” like homeschool co-ops, mega-church networks, and conservative evangelical Christian schools.
Not surprisingly, changes in culture, generations and Christian culture have led to the relative decline of the “Worldview” concept. Even among communities who once regarded Worldview studies as the end all of Christian education, worldview has become relegated to a part of standard curriculum rather than a movement of young cultural influencers as it once was. Part of this decline is due in large part to the reality that the Worldview movement’s original goals have been all but reached. Worldview leaders sought a world where all young Christians were educated to a level at which they could engage with and hold their own in conversations about important topics. Since the inclusion of worldview curriculums into mainstream Christian curriculum ten to fifteen years ago, this goal is well on its way to being accomplished. Another reason for the decline of worldview comes in the form of generational shift. Worldview was built on the back of a comparative ideology realized in the belief that if all of the world’s religions were compared side by side, Christianity would come out on top as both the one that made the most sense, and the one that most adhered to reality the way that we experience it. As a cause of concern for the Worldview movement, this most recent generation (Generation iY, Mosaics, Millennials, etc.) has experienced one of its largest shifts from past generations in the area of religious affiliation. Rather than adhering to a certain religion well established in the world’s religious cannon, young people are choosing to “make their own religion”. This phenomena, called “Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism” by Christian Smith and others in their groundbreaking study “Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (2005)”, sites both a growing moral ambiguity, and the equalization of all belief systems as this shift’s main causes. A comparative approach to grounded belief systems is of almost no use to students who will be talking with peers who don’t believe there is any use for a grounded religious affiliation at all. Regardless of the cause of this phenomena (a subject that would need another essay of this length), the question must be asked: does the Christian Worldview movement still have a place, if its main goal, the education of students on the relevance and truth of different world religions, isn’t still considered important by a new generation of young people?
The answer to this question for those who understand the meaning and importance of the movement, must, of course, be yes. How this movement can continue to be a part of the education of Christian youth, however, remains, for the time being, still up in the air for most Worldview leaders. We can, as some have, continue to teach comparative Worldview, fighting to prove the value of holding to traditional Christian values in the midst of a world of ambiguous belief systems. We can, as others have, take a step farther back and show the value of the Christian belief system through the lens of this generation’s value system: individual (and communal) experience & unconditional compassion. Or we can step even farther back and walk our beliefs rather than talk them, inviting students into our space to step along side us as we try to live out the difficulties of a well-rounded and gospel-centered approach to everyday living. Because of our desire to reach students where they are, and our passion for worldview traditions like education and cultural engagement, here at Medici Project, our belief is that we need to do all three.