brainSome History of the Ideas That Affect Our View of the World and of God’s Workings


This is my perspective regarding the place and implementation of clarified discernment in my own Christian life and in my field of ministry.  It encompasses my motivations (historical, philosophical, and theological) as well as plans to further this in both my own life and in the local church.  This clarified discernment is the development of a Christian mind which, as much as possible, is aware of and can behave apart from the world’s methods of reason and justification.

The area where I minister in our local fellowship is in Christian education, specifically adult education.  The philosophy of Christian education that I bring has a sort of “tool box” approach.  All believers are in need of the full set of spiritual “wrenches” for living the Christian life.  These tools include that broad scope of knowledge, practice, and discipline for knowing the Word, understanding the Word, applying the Word, and living the Word in that full and rich relationship which God intends.  (Of course all of this within the framework of the sufficiency of Christ’s work and dependence on the promptings of the Spirit.)  As with all disciplines, practice begins with these two things:  Intention and knowledge.  The world is filled with good intentions but few who have been instructed in following through on a path to where the Lord might take them.  Coupling that with a proper knowledge base we then have a working foundation for building Christian disciplines.  This intends to make our work both “thick” and “rich.”[1]

We are all able to think as Christians to some degree.  We are all aware, for the most part, of what is right and wrong from a Biblical frame of reference.  We have a functional Christian ethic which guides our belief and behavior.  We may also be ready and able to answer ninety-nine percent of all ethical questions through our informed Christian ethic.  There are difficult questions which challenge our belief system and we respond as best we can.  Yet we sit perplexed with that one percent unanswered.

That final one percent ought give us some pause.  It should raise serious questions in our minds regarding the capacity of our ethic.  Does the Christian ethic have the capacity to answer the dilemmas of the human condition?  Is so, it possible that our Christian ethic has been contaminated by a worldly way of thinking, a situation of which we might be totally unaware?  When we are more fully aware of our historical and theological context then we can better assess and change to answer the challenges before us.

We can begin with the assumption that the first question receives a “No” response.  This assumption is not without foundation.  We have a basis in revelation and within this revelation we have both example and principles available to us.[2]  What we may be lacking is the necessary framework in our thoughts and commitment which would allow us to leverage revelation in the best possible manner.

The second question, which dovetails with the first, is the question of the integrity of our world view.  This is where we confront our humanness and sinfulness.  In humanness is the incapacity to fully understand all of the intricacies of revelation.  Even if we were not fallen we remain less than God and incapable of attaining the desired moral and ethical perfection.  The limitation of our fallen humanness is reflected in one of the terms for sin – missing the mark.  Not only do we miss the mark but we are also incapable of even hitting the mark.  We can not hit the mark of moral perfection.

Likewise the noetic effects of the fall affect our capacity to fully frame revelation as we ought.  Even so, revelation is clear enough that we can understand matters of right and wrong, lest we become pessimistic in this area.  What has happened to us is that revelation, as we perceive it, has become confused with current secular thought to a degree greater than we might think.  It is my observation that this has happened while we remained unaware of its presence and influence.

The General Issue:  Revelation versus Reason

We live in the world of the rationalist[3].  We live in a world which has been built around the capacity of human beings to discern and solve their own problems.  It is assumed that the human condition might be cured of its ills were we to apply our minds and our pocket books to actually do it.  We live in the era of human progress – the “progressive” movement that we hear about today.  It is a view which, on its surface, many believers reject.  We believe in human fallenness and our incapacity for intrinsic moral goodness.  At the same time many believers accept some progressive premises without question.  We may often partner with progressives under their banner for their goals and never bring the gospel into the discussion.  Whether we are aware of it or not, we have this propensity to substitute something else for the thoughts which God intends[4].

Progressive pragmatism is a reaction to Christianity.  The idea that the human mind can understand, can explain, and can solve all problems it faces comes out of the rationalist movement.  The movement rose to popularity after the Thirty Years War devastated the European continent, especially Germany.  Because of the involvement of the church in these wars, the relationship of church and state was brought into focus as the problem.  The nature of the church and revelation was brought into question.  The nature of knowledge through theology was brought into criticism.  Skepticism became the rule of the day.  It also became part of Christian thought and theology.[5]

It is an irony that this modern approach was founded on the principle that religious knowledge is not real whereas scientific knowledge represents reality.  This was later fulfilled in logical positivism, which is observed by philosophers for its neo-Platonist narrative.[6]  The consequence was the separation of knowledge of the material world from knowledge of revelation.  Revelation took, at best, a lower place on the hierarchy of knowledge because it seemed less verifiable, at least by empirical standards.

The problem (at least the problem addressed here) is the question of knowledge and fact.  It is about how we interpret information and how we view God’s creation.  Are we interpreting reality around us in a manner informed by revelation, or are we presuming to view facts atomistically?  The former would reflect the reformed approach and the latter would tend toward the rationalist’s method, though it does appear to affect some segments of theology.

The Specific Issue:  Theology Contaminated with Neo-Platonism

Theology is done by theologians.  When any of us reads the Bible we are doing theology.  We interpret the material we read and give it application to our lives.  We practice both theoretical and practical theology every day.  We are all real theologians.  But given the difference that exist between us and the issues we face in the world, it seems that there is something more to the situation.  Why do we interpret the Bible the way we do?  Why do we apply Scripture the way we do?  What thinking do we bring to the table that causes this?

We cannot, of course, answer these questions in a broad manner.  The specific issue here is how our thoughts, and thus our theology, might be contaminated with a world view which goes unrecognized.  It does not take much effort to identify the presence of this neo-Platonism in a great deal of theological material.  After that comes the task of cleaning up our theology and thus producing a more Christian mind – a stronger Christian world view.  With this should come the matching Christian behavior.

Neo-Platonism may be observed by its divide between information and senses, a divide which often results in conflict between the parties.  The Bible maintains an alternative, a connection between our senses and the world around us.  Hebrews 5:14 notes that we must have our senses trained.  Many today will might read “senses” in terms of “conscience” and go no further.  But we forget that this is involves more than an unconscious reaction to good and evil.  It involves thoughtful choices on moral matters.  The term for “senses” (αἰσθητήρια) has first to do with intent rather than reaction.[7]  It is about habit.  This sets the Christian response mechanism apart.  We are to be driven by a mind that is intentionally active instead of being a passive responder.  A suitable modern term for the Christian might be “sensibilities” as we are attempting to re-couple intent and response.

Examples of the influence of secular thought (neo-Platonism) influencing theology can be identified with ease.  Francis Chan, in Crazy Love, creates a class conflict (p. 88) between rich and poor out of Jesus’ confrontation of rich men in Luke 18 and 19.

When talking to a wealthy person who wanted to go to heaven (and doesn’t that describe most of us?), Jesus said, “‘sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  The come, follow me.’  When he [the rich man] heard this, he became very sad, because he was a man of great wealth.  Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard is it for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:22-24).  He says it’s as hard as a camel to go through the eye of a needle — in other words, impossible.  But then Jesus offers hopeful words: “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (v. 27)

In the very next chapter, as Jesus enters Jericho, we see exactly how the impossible becomes possible with God.  There, the wealthy tax collector Zacchaeus gives half of his money to the poor and pays everyone back four times what he has defrauded them.  And Jesus declares, “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9)

The impossible happened that day — a rich man received salvation!

Mr. Chan describes the actions in a materialistic fashion and in the framework of conflict.  Wealth is identified with evil and poverty with good.  Charity is not only identified as good, but even as a work sufficient to earn salvation.  The conflict between social classes is likewise clear.  Rich people are apparently more evil than are those who are not wealthy.  In the end his exegesis wrong because his framework for interpretation is wrong.

The division between thought and feeling is fundamental to Mormonism where a sense about something may be decided based on the “burning in the bosom” completely apart from, and often in direct opposition to the facts[8].  Yet despite the polytheism of this cult there are many believers who welcome Mormons as “Christian” based on politics, not on theology.

Toward Resolving the Issue:  Training the Christian Mind

There are no simple solutions to training the mind to think biblically.  There are no simplistic formulas or clichés that one might place in a sermon or lesson which, when heard, will change the audience.  This situation did not arise overnight.  There are disciplines in the Christian life which are critical for developing a mind which is committed to Christian thought.  These are life disciplines, not weekend programs or material for revival events.  Bringing these into focus involves unifying the educational program of the local church, and almost certainly more.

Education in the local church has a history of being surface material.  Children go through Sunday School making paper cut-outs and reading the same stories over and over.  When they get to high school they begin to drop out.  There is nothing there because there was nothing there before that point.  Education before the high school years needs to be revisited.  Our educational curriculum must be replaced.

High school educational material must take on a stronger tone.  An offensive apologetic which attacks the ways of the word with the truths of the Gospel and other matters of Christian ethics and thought will allow the student to thrive not only in secondary school but also in college and later.

Various solutions have been proposed.  There is the classical catechetical approach as practiced in “reformed” circles.  These place an emphasis on the doctrines of the church, such as the Westminster Catechism.

Among fundamentalists there is the “local church Bible institute” (LCBI) which goes even further.  The LCBI attempts to integrate a rich Biblical knowledge into participants to prepare them for ministry.  One example is Lehigh Valley Baptist Church[9] which places its emphasis on Biblical studies and pastoral ministry.  This solution follows a pattern seen in previous decades with the “Bible institute movement” of the late 19th and early 20th centuries[10].  (This includes my alma mater, originally Grace Bible Institute in Omaha, NE.)

There is also home schooling and private Christian elementary and secondary schools.  These give children a “hot box” environment for training and education.

It is my opinion that these solutions, for the greater part, accomplish only half of what they need to fulfill.  The Biblical knowledge is, as I have observed, done quite well.  But the context of the Christian mind and learning to think in a manner which is intentionally contrary to the rationalist approach is generally missing.  Few include any philosophy courses, either continental or analytic, which set the Christian world view apart and so help the student clarify his/her world view in precise terms.

Also necessary is a richer apologetic.  Current trends in apologetic, at the local church level, center about a collection of facts which intend to “disprove” secularism, evolution[11], and other challenges[12].  A few have adopted a “world view” approach to emphasize the distinct truths of Christianity[13].  Though there are other apologetic approaches[14] the evidential appears to dominate.  But evidentialism as an approach requires a great deal of expertise and little of that is available in the local church.

The larger institutions become dedicated to either groups outside of the local church, or do not cover the greater quantity of local church membership.  They concentrate on professional ministry to the exclusion of building a fully educated and fully trained local church.

The alternative which I am pursuing is the potential for a periodic “institute” that operates as an intensive.  For one year, two nights per week, take both the youth group and interested adults through a curriculum which will include original languages, philosophy both continental and analytic, exegetical practice, teaching skill development, and a host of other necessary skills and disciplines necessary for effective ministry.

This type of solution is not practical within any smaller fellowship.  But it is within the grasp of a fellowship of churches in close proximity which would be willing to work together in spite of their doctrinal distinctives.  Of course the degree of distinction between groups might preclude practical manageability.  It would be difficult to choose between a Baptist and someone from the OPC instruct on either baptism or eschatology.  Still both would present a very compatible soteriology – Christ’s work plus nothing.

On matters of philosophy and world view the differences will also vary greatly.  For many from the fundamental/fundamentalist heritage the study of secular philosophy is treated as superfluous and even damaging to faith.  Likewise a VanTilian epistemology differs enough from analytic epistemology that instruction in apologetics will require either a multi-faceted approach or a narrowing to an agreed-upon sacrifice for the sake of the calendar.

In most all situations it appears that there is going to be a need to adapt to the restrictions of the calendar.  This is the case for both matters of scope and the issue of coordination with other fellowships.  Yet the opportunity exists for local churches to go further in the process of training believers.  We would do better to have 10 distinct but highly trained Christian instructional systems in a city putting out dozens per year who are able to defend the faith and more effectively present the gospel than to maintain our current situation.

In the end, what I am striving for is to produce Christian minds which might escape our current trappings.  The end produce should be a more militant presence of the Gospel and the Christian mind.

[1] “Thick” reflects J. P. Moreland’s (The Kingdom Triangle) integrative approach to the Christian mind and “rich” is to suggest a question of scope in its application to education and training.

[2] I Corinthians 2:16 sets the wisdom of God apart from the wisdom of the world and also establishes the presence of the Holy Spirit as the “mind of Christ” in the believer.  The carnality of Corinth was that the flesh was set against the Spirit as evidenced in the practical ethic of dispute resolution (chapter 6).  In their case the wisdom of God was unknown to them unless it was sought by the Spirit accompanied by this mind committed God and controlled by the Spirit.

[3] Hurst, John F., History of Rationalism Embracing a Survey of the Present State of Protestant Theology.  Hurst provides an historical and philosophical explanation of the rationalist movement with an emphasis on both theology and the changes to various nations and cultures.  The rationalist movement brought and end to the dominance of Christian theology in government and substituted for it a neo-Platonism with its accompanying issues.  Much of this discussion is driven by principles derived from Hurst’s material.

[4] Taylor, Charles, “Reason, Faith, and Meaning,” in Faith and Philosophy, Vol. 28, No. 1, January, 2011. He began with this:

There are two connected illusions, it seems to me, which have become very common today. The first consists in marking a very sharp distinction between reason and faith — even to the point of defining faith as believing without good reason! The second is to take as a model what I want to call “disengaged” reason. And these two are tightly linked.

This situation leaves the believer in a quandary.  In the US we grow up and are education in this faith-reason dualism.  Getting past this and back to a unified and uniquely Christian world view and epistemology should be, in my opinion, one of the primary targets of a rich Christian education.

[5] Sarah Coakley ( “Intorduction: Faith, Rationality, and the Passions,” in Modern Theology, 27:2, p. 217) suggests error in an overly-specific blame placed on Enlightement ideals or on modernity.  Yet she acknowledges the level of historic credibility here.  This examination is not so much about blame as it is about the results and the nature of the issues we face.

[6] Suppe, Frederick, The Structure of Scientific Theories, University of Illinois Press, 1977, p. 8ff.  Suppe explains the history of logical positivism and its foundation in neo-Kantian and post-Hegelian epistemology where the sense and the object are completely separated.  Ernst Mach’s positivism went a step further by attempting to remove a priori elements from theory structures.  These proved useful until the development of theoretical areas as we see in subatomic studies and cosmological which entirely preclude empirical methods.  These are based on models, frameworks for observation and analysis, rather than on direct physical testing.

[7] TDNT 1:187ff.

[8] Taylor deals (p. 12) with the problem of senses and reactions isolated from knowledge:

This is what the disciples at Emmaus knew, when they said to themselves “did not our hearts burn within us?” (Luke 24:32).  They meant: we ought to have known.  Our hearts were recognizing the truth, even while we were resisting it.

But again, this sounds paradoxical.  Does this mean that ultimately we judge by brute reaction?  We feel this is good so we judge it good? Does reason have no further rule here?  On the contrary.  Just as in the case where we are trying to understand people very different from us, there can be reasons to mistrust our reactions.

In other words, just having the feeling that X is important doesn’t resolve the issue.

The practice of many Christians may be to behave in the same way as those in cults – to isolate faith from thought in a destructive fashion.


[10] Thigpen, Jonathan N., “A Brief History of the Bible Institute Movement,”

[11] I have gotten great mileage of late by dealing with evolution from two perspectives.  The first is that there is more than one evolutionary model (PE, UG, Syn, PG, Neo-Darwinsim, classic Darwinsim) and that these models are in exclusive conflict.  The second is that directionality has its history in 19th century progressive/postmillennial sensibilities.  Directionality explains why things seem to be getting better.  It is a religious and progressive concept and has no place in proper science.  The challenge which I leave the evolutionist with is simply to clean up his science and see what remains.

[12] The problem with this approach is that it assumes facts can be interpreted apart from revelation.  It hints at the very neo-Platonism which confronts us and appears to be a compromise of framework.

[13] World view apologetic places its emphasis on a Biblical framework for looking at the world.  It is intended as a framework for the evidence-based approach and as such is a component of evidential apologetics.

[14] My approach is presuppositional for multiple reasons.  The first is that the truth of the Gospel and history and God’s existence (Heb. 11:6) are the starting point for the believer, and these are only arrived at by way of the Spirit’s work.  The second is that much of evidentialism is defensive (though I have been pleased to see W. L. Craig employ VanTil’s TAG).  The declaration is made that the secular world view is wrong so Christianity is more likely to be right.  Finally, presupp is able to avoid the neo-Platonist framework that separates “fact” from “faith.”  Though presupp is imperfect it appears at least to be proper and is a step in a better direction.