Learning to Love: Christian Higher Education As Pilgrimage
The Seamless Life: A Tapestry of Love and Learning, Worship and Work
Interpreting Your World: Five Lenses for Engaging Theology and Culture
Knowledge for the Love of God: Why Your Heart Needs Your Mind
Toward the end of the previous century, Dana Gioia broached the question whether poetry, which had fallen on hard times with the reading public, could ever again matter.1 Although there were plenty of poets, numerous poetry journals, respectable poetry publishers cranking out new collections every year, and no shortage of poems to ponder, no one beyond a small elite of poets and critics was paying attention. The poetry elite persisted in their fervent endeavors. Plenty of prizes, fellowships, opportunities for readings, workshops, gatherings, MFAs, and quarterly periodicals kept poets so busy at their work that they failed, or refused, to notice that the reading public did not share their enthusiasm, in large part because they could not understand their message.
It’s fair to ask whether something like this describes the present state of Christian worldview thinking.
Although writing about Christian worldview can, in varying forms, be found in Christian literature from the earliest days of the movement, only during the last generation has a significant and robust effort—in publishing, conferences, websites and podcasts, and secondary and higher education—achieved a kind of steady boil. Christian universities have incorporated worldview studies into their required curriculum. Christian publishers continue bringing relevant books—such as the four we will consider in this review—to the reading public. Conferences, online courses, dedicated ministries, and popular speakers and writers abound. Those who are involved in worldview discussions are animated, excited, and encouraged.
But, given the paucity of evidence of any increasing presence of Christian worldview living within the Body of Christ, we should ask, a la Gioia, whether Christian worldview can matter. Worldview remains a hot item among a select cadre of believers today. But the fruit of those important conversations has yet to affect in observable ways the people who occupy the pews. A pervasive materialistic and individualistic lifestyle, supported on the pillars of a variety of flawed worldviews, continues to shape the lives of multitudes of believers. The message concerning the Kingdom of God and its power for making all things new—the heart and core of Christian worldview—has but little impact within the larger believing community.
Meanwhile, worldview publications, conferences, and websites flourish, attracting enough people to sustain the effort, but without much to show in terms of results on the ground. What Benjamin P. Myers observed concerning modern poetry could perhaps be said of today’s Christian worldview movement, that it has become “a mystery religion meant only for the few.”2
Do not misunderstand: We need all this thinking, writing, teaching, and speaking about Christian worldview. We need more of it, in fact. The believing community must be challenged to rise to the full potential of righteousness, peace, and joy; beauty, goodness, and truth; every thought and worldview taken captive for obedience to Jesus Christ; and the banner of Christ’s sovereign and holy rule hoisted over every arena of human life and interest.
But the challenge of Christian worldview must, first, reach the members of Christ’s Body. They must be helped to understand this message in familiar terms, so that it captivates their imaginations, moves their souls, transforms their everyday disciplines, and emboldens and equips them to live for God’s glory in all their most quotidian situations and activities.
We have not yet begun to realize that kind of impact.
But this does not mean the effort has been a failure or that we should take down the tents, turn off the mics, and shut down the presses on Christian worldview. We must continue and increase the effort already underway to establish a Biblical life-platform for the church. But we need to think more carefully and work more intentionally to bring the excitement, prospects, vision, and hopes of the worldview community to the larger body of believers worldwide.
To achieve this, we must focus our resources and efforts on two parallel objectives. First, remembering that Christian worldview should play out in the world, we must discover more effective ways of bringing the message of Christian worldview to believers whose mission fields consist of their daily lives. We must carry the conversation from the college classroom or worldview conference into the learning centers of the local church, there to equip the saints for ministry and Kingdom living in all the places, details, and relationships of their lives. And second, we must recover and more emphatically pursue the spiritual resources and focus which alone can sustain a broad-based and grassroots Christian worldview effort. Only as we increase in our vision of Christ and His Kingdom will our love for Him grow, impelling and encouraging us to strive more earnestly for the prize of our heavenly calling. The more we see Jesus the more we will love and serve Him, and the more our Christian worldview will become a present reality. The books reviewed in this essay can help faculty especially in that effort. Each offers solid Christian worldview vision and instruction; each can fill a niche in the effort to make Christian worldview more of a boots-on-the-ground movement, especially for students in higher education; and each can be used to equip students not only for understanding the issues of Christian worldview, but for living the challenge of it and teaching others to do so as well.
Alex Sosler’s Learning to Love is the place to begin. His book is directed at rising college students. Sosler explains that going to college is a pilgrimage toward love. In college, students learn to love—ideas, vocations, worldly indulgences, and more. But Sosler, following Paul (1 Timothy 1:5), insists that the proper end of this educational journey is love for God and neighbors. Whatever we do in college, it must equip and move us to Christian love more truly and consistently. Ordering our lives by and for love, and knowing how to expand the resources of love, is the main end of a student’s life. Love entails “discerning what is lovely and deep versus what is ugly and shallow (ordering), as well as growing in your appreciation of what is lovely (expanding)” (7).
Sosler defines worldview as “how we tell the story of the world” (105), and he regards the effort to gain a Christian worldview as seeking “a sacramental imagination” (109). In terms of the educator’s task, teaching and learning entail rethinking what we are attempting in the classroom (118). He outlines the Christian worldview in the familiar terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration; but he insists that acquiring a Christian worldview is not merely an intellectual challenge. He traces the ascendancy of the mind as the focus of higher education from the Enlightenment to the present, but he argues that merely acquiring “big brains” must not be the goal of teaching and learning. Engaging our minds for Christian thinking is important, Sosler insists, but it’s not the whole story.
He sorts contemporary higher education into a series of “cities,” each focused on a different objective: success, authenticity, “big brains,” and so forth. Christians who attend such institutions must make sure they are imagining the world as Jesus is remaking it, lest they fall into one of the other “social imaginaries” higher education promotes. The Christian liberal arts college aims at growing and equipping students for love. This requires plenty of knowledge, rightly understood. Knowledge is a gift of grace, and learning must be both spiritual and practical, issuing in wisdom for everyday living.
He insists that college should lead us to examine our lives in the present and take up the pilgrimage for becoming lovers of God and neighbors in whatever vocation to which God calls us. Education should be a form of worship because through it we are seeking to be more like God. As we study and learn this way, we’ll be more likely to care about what God cares about and live as Jesus does. Christian worldview living will flow supernaturally from that.
Sosler’s book includes chapter summaries and questions for discussion. His writing is clear, winsome, and concise. Learning to Love would be an excellent resource for high school seniors, first-year college students, youth workers and campus ministry staff, and Christian college faculty.
Steven Garber’s The Seamless Life is one of the most distinctive books on Christian worldview I have read in years. As he explains, “This is a book about vocation, but a different book, a book of essays and photos” (2). He explains that the ability to see our lives holistically—as valuable to God, to the others, and to ourselves—is the deepest meaning of vocation and a reflection of our true humanity (2). His stories, photographs, and meditations help us in the task of re-imagining our lives as citizens in the Kingdom of God, understanding the forms wisdom can take, and applying wisdom in the “proximate” (at-hand) callings of our everyday lives.
Garber’s book is divided into two sections. Part 1, “At Work in the World,” offers glimpses into various fields of endeavor and shows how people approach their work with a re-imagined Kingdom consciousness. He asks, “What if we decided that good business necessarily requires a more complex bottom line, a rethinking of the very purpose of business? What if doing well and doing good were a seamless reality?” (7) This is the theme of the thirty-five stories and vignettes in this book, looking at our daily lives—our learning and our work—not as fragmented but seamless, as the garments of righteousness ought to be. All legitimate vocations can be approached in this way (19). Garber’s examples, mostly drawn from his own life and ministry, can sharpen our focus in the reimagining process.
He distinguishes between our occupation—what we do for a living—and our vocation—our calling from God to serve Him in every aspect of our lives. Vocation must guide occupation if we are to be agents of grace in the world. Vocation “is a word about the deepest things, the longest truths about each of us: what we care about, what motivates us, why we get up in the morning” (21). Such matters, re-imagined from a Kingdom vantage point, take on an importance far greater than we might otherwise think. All work has meaning and can fulfill a mission from God when it is pursued as part of one’s calling from the Lord. This holistic vision, that combines both occupation and vocation, can allow us to see all of our efforts, even in ordinary places, as sacramental (47).
Part 2, “Making Sense of Life,” continues the thrust of Part 1 and encourages the development of a re-imagined “metanarrative” large enough to encompass and redefine every aspect of our lives, but which also includes the reconciliation of all things to God through Christ (111). Garber’s stories illustrate his teaching and can thus be very helpful in the re-imagining process. As I read this book, I kept thinking about J. I. Packer’s exhortation for believers, especially those in the final third of life: There is always something new to learn and always someone you can lead.3 Christian worldview is lived in the spheres which God has appointed to us (2 Corinthians 10:13–18), according to the callings He has given us, and before the people proximate to us at any moment. Garber’s book would make an excellent resource for adult study groups, as foundational reading for a student conference on vocation and work, and for pastors and teachers in local churches, whose calling it is to encourage and equip the saints for ministry in every vocation and occupation of life.
If we’re going to know what to do in re-imagining our world and redeploying ourselves for Christian worldview living, we must make sure we understand the times in which we live. Justin Ariel Bailey’s Interpreting Your World provides five “lenses” for thinking about our world that can help us prepare to carry out the vocations of our lives. Citing James K. A. Smith, Bailey argues. “If everyday practices are the true site where spiritual formation (or deformation) occurs, the remedy is to expose secular liturgies, even as we try to renew sacred ones” (133). Or, as Garber and Sosler might put it, we live our worldview in those proximate spaces where, having re-imagined our world, we now want to recreate and restore it.
This requires that believers “live what we know, while listening to and learning from the various fields we’ve explored. We can’t help but interpret the world, but we can become more skillful interpreters” (138). The “fields” or “lenses” through which we look on the world will help us understand the times and know better what we must do to live out our calling for the King- dom and glory of God. Bailey proposes five such “lenses”: considering the meaning of things, identifying expressions of power, discerning ethical and moral dimensions, noting religious or faith convictions, and appreciating aesthetic views and practices. Ideas and practices that fit these categories thread through every worldview. Our duty is not to shun the world but to embrace it as Jesus did, to be careful observers, ask good questions, listen attentively, and use the mind of Christ to understand what we must do to love God and our neighbors in every situation. At all times, Scripture provides the controlling narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation through which we interpret our world (143).
Bailey calls his readers to take up the work of theology, which provides direction for our lives, creates proper affections, empowers us to see truth, and promotes virtuous Christian practices that are beautiful and nourishing, not only for ourselves but for our communities as well (14). Theology must not be left for the specialists, although we need plenty of specialists working diligently in every branch of theological study. Bailey sees theology—our daily, disciplined pursuit of the knowledge of God and His glory—as an integrative discipline that enables us to discern the worldviews of those we are called to love with respect to meaning, power, morality, faith, and aesthetics. The goal is not to pass judgment on our neighbors but to understand them, so that, by understanding, we may humble ourselves to seek the best ways of serving them with the grace and truth of God.
This book provides helpful questions at the end of each chapter so that readers can review and reflect on what they’ve read and consider what kinds of practices might be required of them to apply the teaching of the chapter. A conclusion and an appendix help in pulling the book together and demonstrating how to understand the times through the template Bailey provides.
We must translate into practice whatever we are learning, and all our practices must assume one or another form of love. But if we are to do this, Timothy Pickavance argues in Knowledge for the Love of God, we need to develop a deeper relationship with God through Jesus Christ by encountering Him in creation, the church, and in Scripture (7). While every worldview teacher would agree with this statement, this aspect of Christian worldview typically receives slight or passing mention, if not short shrift, in books, blogs, podcasts, courses, and conferences. Worldview leaders assume and even mention the necessity of growing in Christ—as do all the writers cited herein—but they very seldom walk us through what that requires. Faculty members who use this or any of these books should think carefully about how to help students apply the underlying disciplines and practices that lead to worldview thinking and living.
Knowing Jesus means acquiring certain knowledge, exercising our minds at full capacity to lay hold on Christ and live for His glory. Pickavance insists that “the life of the mind is essential for devotion to Christ” (11). He explains that knowledge about God and about God’s creation leads us to a deeper knowledge of God (137). He challenges the idea that science is the proper touchstone for all knowing. At the same time, he rejects the idea that science and faith are in an inevitable conflict (88). There is more to know than science can investigate and more ways of knowing than science can employ.
Pickavance argues that we can only achieve reliable knowledge as we “abide with God” by immersing our hearts in the stories of Scripture. True knowledge, as we acquire it, will enhance our love for and worship of God, and this, in turn, will motivate a greater desire to serve Him in every area of our lives.
He observes that, as important as the mind is for nurturing a Christian worldview, knowing is not simply an intellectual task. It involves our emotions as well. He does not elaborate on this idea except to observe that “emotions, at the very least, position us to encounter certain evidence. Since what is reasonable to believe will depend on what evidence we have, what is reasonable to believe will depend in part on the contours of our emotional life” (128). If our emotions are directed to increasing devotion to Christ, the truth we seek will become illuminated by the direction of our desires. Such knowledge of God will lead the believer more deeply in the Trinitarian life, and it will provide a defense against contemporary confusion (145).
All the books in this review share several themes. I will mention four which are explicit and two which are more implied.
First the explicit: All the writers are convinced that we must continue to work for a Christian worldview. With this we can all agree. We are the beneficiaries of such a great salvation, exceedingly abundantly more than we have ever dared to ask or think. It’s time we stepped out of the storm-tossed wreck of our black-and-white narrow view of the faith into the technicolor world of the greater possibilities of the Christian worldview. Each of these books makes a solid contribution for that ongoing journey.
Next, all the books in this review take the Scriptures as their starting point for Christian worldview thinking. Again, this is essential. Only in the light of God’s Word will we be able to discern His light as it shines in the vocations, occupations, proximate relationships, and life spheres of our world (Psalm 36:9). The Scriptures are meant to equip us (2 Timothy 3:15–17), not merely to inform or impress us. But until we come to them seeking Jesus, we will not gain the equipment we need for taking every thought captive to the Savior and doing everything for the glory of God (John 5:39).
Third, all the writers argue—some more than others—for a Christian worldview that plays out on the ground, in everyday life. We know that worldview must not be the province of a few. We are not seeking to create an elite, an “inner ring” of folks in the know. Our writers want readers to understand their message and put it into practice. Christian faculty share in the responsibility to help them do so, both by their example and by thoughtful practical application.
Finally in the explicit themes, all the books acknowledge Jesus as the truth we must strive to know, love, and serve. In the light of John 14:6, how could they not? I rejoice that these writers point us to Jesus and insist that He is the fount, focus, and fruit of our labors. But we need to do more than just point.
Two implicit themes also emerge from these books. First, all the books assume that everyone already knows how to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Almost no attention is given in any of these books to the disciplines and practices that lead us to greater fullness in the knowledge of Christ. We must not assume that the students who read these books will be well grounded in these. It is unlikely that many of them will understand what the writers mean by such ideas as “ordering our lives,” “re-imagining a sacramental world,” “giving themselves to being common grace,” “seeing seamlessly,” “weaving webs of vitality,” “knowing Jesus,” being “devoted to Jesus,” “abiding with God,” so that we know more of the “fullness of God and His Truth.” These are important ideas for all believers, yet the practice of them is sorely lacking in our churches. Faculty members who assign these books might include supplemental readings from throughout the history of the Christian movement to guide students into those disciplines and practices that can help them gain the benefit these books can provide.
Second, these books further the notion that doing more and more of what we’ve been doing for the past generation will cause Christian worldview to finally trickle down to the those of us in the pews. The arguments so eloquently pressed in these books have been visited again and again over the past generation. It’s important that we keep these arguments current and that we expand and improve them as we are able. The books reviewed above do not simply repeat familiar worldview themes; they clarify, expand, and in certain ways improve them. It would be helpful, as faculty members use these books, to guide students, not only in understanding the arguments but in practicing the disciplines that enable Christian worldview living.
These last two themes, while implicit, represent two great shortcomings of the Christian worldview movement. “Worldview” gets some of us excited about the truth, indignant about the abuse thereof, and happy to learn new perspectives on and initiatives for the truth. But only some of us. We must work to change this. Much benefit and encouragement are to be gained from reading books like these. Read them and use them in your classroom. Encourage students not only to master the arguments of these books but to work hard at acquiring the disciplines that support Christian worldview thinking and the practices that express it. Equip students to make it part of their personal vocation to bring the glories, prospects, and realities of Christian worldview to the people Jesus sends them to day by day. And above all, work with them to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus and put on the Lord Jesus Christ in every situation, and for the praise and glory of God in all they do. If more of us lived the Christian worldview, we might infect more of our fellow believers to do the same.
The conversation on Christian worldview could be greatly enriched if advocates gave more attention to helping readers learn how to increase in the fullness of God. Until the books we write, the conferences we conduct, the ministries and websites we support, the speakers we admire, the schools we recommend, and the coursework we assign make more concerted and practical efforts to teach us how to live in the Kingdom of God, the fruit of Christian worldview thinking will continue to be minimal. Christian worldview advocates must continue to explore the horizons, parameters, prospects, and promise of our great salvation. But unless they teach us—patiently, consistently, and specifically—how to follow Jesus in our daily lives, worldview will continue to be a mainly intellectual field, a mystery religion, for a small but gifted elite.
Faculty members in Christian institutions are strategically placed to help worldview thinking break loose into the churches, where faculty and students are members. How we teach worldview will depend on how we live it ourselves and on what we envision our students doing with the readings and coursework we assign. What faculty teach and students learn can have a powerful impact in helping church members realize more of the fullness of Christ, the promise of the Kingdom, and the power of the Gospel. But this will only be so if we live and share our worldview as broadly, eagerly, consistently, and effectively as we teach and discuss it.
Cite this article
- Dana Gioia, Can Poetry Matter? (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 1992).
- Benjamin Myers, A Poetics of Orthodoxy: Christian Truth as Aesthetic Foundation (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2020), 109.
- I. Packer, Finishing Our Course with Joy: Guidance for Engaging with Our Aging (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2014). Packer unpacks these two points throughout his book.