1.0 out of 5 stars
A Well-Crafted Deception
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on December 31, 2017
I will provide a short summary of my review for those who wish to know the essentials and are time crunched. Following this will be a longer review that will examine a few specific chapters and their summation.
Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford, at the time of writing both professors at Azusa Pacific University, attempt to tackle the problem of deceptively hidden worldviews that cling to those who are walking the Christian walk. While the book is engagingly written, the authors fail by being uniquely selective in what worldviews to discuss, while concurrently masking their own philosophical predilections. For example, they leave out such critical worldviews as Collectivism and Welfarism. It would appear that such oversight was not a mistake, for within the text one finds both direct and indirect comments that reflect positively on these worldviews omitted, providing hints of their true agenda. In addition, they totally neglect to discuss Islam as a worldview, of crucial importance to the Western world.
The book is obviously about worldviews the authors deem to be incorrect, and yet they offer no definitive reason why a Christian worldview should be chosen. Instead, they offer vague prescriptions and shibboleths while skirting any tangible facts for one to grasp. Moreover, their analysis of some of the worldviews are faulty, contain critical philosophical and historical misinterpretations or outright errors of fact, all in their effort to indirectly instill into the reader the notion that a collectivist/socialist worldview is indeed Christian.
It would appear that the primary goal of the work is to lower the status of the Bible as a work in which one can find guidance for cultural renewal, morals and law. Instead, there is a push to renew tradition as a key developer of truth, coupled with reason that can even contradict clear Biblical warrant, a process that devolves into Rationalism. Such Rationalism can then reach out to appropriate its political/economic cousin in socialism to help create a ‘better world.’ While the authors attack the Enlightenment as non-Christian (which it indeed is), they proceed to embark on concepts and ideas that are actually outgrowths of that era. While not as egregious as some books of this genre, it’s serious enough to merit pointed critical review.
Also, the book is a disappointment as an academic project, and how it got published by IVP Academic is difficult to understand. The book has no index (not unusual for most Christian books, and even those with indices are typically mediocre), but worse it has no footnotes nor even a bibliography. For all intents and purposes, the authors wrote it off the top of their heads, and the errors that pop out make such a real possibility.
Why should this be called a well-crafted deception? The authors hide their agenda within the text, unwilling or unable to speak plainly as to what they are really after. By using such code-talking, they can get readers to insert some of their own concepts, thereby gaining reader buy-in to the other parts of the narrative. This is careless at best and dishonest at worst.
A Look at a few of the Chapters in Detail
Chapter 4: Nationalism
Nationalism is a hot-button topic, especially today (Dec 2017). However, the key problem for the authors is that they confuse nationalism with Caesaropapism, or the worship of the State. One can be a localist or internationalist and still worship the State, with such worship taking the form of obedience to all laws regardless of the injustice imposed by them and viewing the state as the granter of all good things. It must first be noted here that from a Biblical worldview, justice is defined in God’s terms as revealed in the revelation we have at hand, being the Bible. Without it, we have no authoritative conception of justice save for the rule of the powerful mandating their own rules and taboos. This is a concept the authors never delve into nor do I think they even understand it; they use nice sounding phrases but never provide real definitions as to their meaning, which becomes a form of code-talking where the reader can put into the text their own definition even as the author uses sleight of hand to alter that meaning in other parts of the text. Such code-talking disarms the casual reader and makes them vulnerable to accept other aspects of the book that might normally contradict the reader’s concept of truth, etc.
Of course, when bringing up nationalism, the authors naturally bring up the Nazis (p 64-65). They remind us that the “N” in Nazi stands for “nationalist,” but fail to mention that the word “Nazi” was gutter shorthand for the “National Socialist German Workers Party” (the German word “national” is pronounced “not-zee-a-nal”), and that the second word in that mantra is “socialist.” When one studies the 25 Points of the Nazis we find a strong affinity for the socialism practiced in a host of other nations. The Nazis were first and foremost socialists… they chose nationalism to set themselves apart from their rivals in the SPD and KPD so as to win elections. Therefore, the authors fail to see the importance that socialism played in the Nazi version of nationalism, because that version was Caesaropapist in orientation. For that matter, Germany was national socialist before the Nazis became cool, having one of the most extensive social welfare systems in the world by as early as 1906.
Regarding the church’s engagement with the Nazis, the authors make erroneous summaries of how church leaders engaged with their government, having no knowledge of the backstory involved. But of course, without footnotes and a bibliography, we have no way of knowing if this was just bad writing or lack of real research, and to go into such analysis here would make this review far too lengthy.
The authors highlight key points of belief, saying “if you believe these things, you might be a nationalist” (trans: a Nazi). One particular item, number 3 to be precise, is a strawman, saying that if you think the U.S. Constitution should never be changed, or the Declaration of Independence has eternal principles, then you are some kind of Nazi. I have never in all my years of teaching, ministry, and historical work, ever encountered anyone who believes this (the constitution after all has an amendment process). Of course, there are Christians that believe that Biblical principles can be found in these documents, but this does not mean they accept it as equal in inspiration to the Bible. Regarding the founders, the authors reiterate the notion of the political left that the founding documents of the U.S. are based on Enlightenment thought and that the founders were largely deists (pp 69-70), a point that does not stand up to historical scrutiny.
Laced throughout the text are concepts that reflect the true worldview of the authors, in essence making them internationalist collectivists and socialists by default. This can be discerned regarding one of the points of nationalism (as they define it) that they like. For example, they laud nationalism as a way to provide for such things as “educational opportunities, health care and services that advance the well-being of citizens.” (p. 72) In other words, the authors support forced redistribution of wealth under some kind of guise of Christian “giving,” a concept that cannot be found in the U.S. constitution (despite the arguments of those wanting to expropriate Article I, section 8).
Internationalism in and of itself is not wrong; if Christ ruled on earth, we would have an internationalist system of government under God’s moral law. But currently we don’t, and the authors are apparently opposed to God’s moral law in the public sphere, citing it as some form of “exceptionalism” (what they shame-label the Puritans for after arriving in North America p. 62). The idea of a “nation under God” is foreign to the authors, because the authors have jettisoned God’s moral law as revealed in Scripture. If one cannot have a “nation under God,” then they can’t have a “city under God,” a “business under God,” or even an “individual or world under God.” Thus, they go back and forth between the mere notion of a nation state and one that practices Caesaropapism and can’t seem to make up their minds what the true problem is, short of the apparent need to create some form of internationalist socialist utopia. Chapter 4 is entitled “Nationalism: My Nation, Under God.” But a more accurate analysis, dealing with Caesaropapism, should engender the subtitle, “My Nation and its Leader is God.”
Chapter 5: Moral Relativism
When dealing with moral relativism, the authors chide many Christians as legalists, that legalism “in its broadest definition, says that moral truth is contained in laws that should direct our behavior (p. 85).” Reflect on that for a moment. If their definition is true, then Jesus was Himself a legalist and then some… consider how he made the law “you shall not commit adultery” even more stringent in His best-known sermon. Rather, legalism properly defined is when a person takes their personal foibles and taboos and elevates them to holy law. In this regard, the authors are the consummate legalists, because by rejecting God’s moral law as revealed in Scripture the only thing one has left are the personal taboos of the rich and powerful who will enforce THEIR form of law. When dealing with moral relativism, the authors sound a lot like Joseph Fletcher, the author of the now classic work “Situational Ethics.” They do understand that moral relativism has problems, especially on what basis one creates justice, but then they do something utterly inane by equating justice with fairness (p. 95). Really?
The authors chide Christians who claim that they have some “God’s-eye view” of moral knowledge, but totally forget that we do have at least good insight through the revealed word of God on a number of key moral issues. In this regard, the authors strive to lessen the importance of Biblical truth by essentially saying that we cannot really ever understand it. Worse yet, the authors subtly reveal their masked agenda when they speak of the need to have more flexibility for “complex issues” such as “immigration law, divorce, economic justice, stem-cell research…. (p. 98),” all hot-button issues of the socialist element today. After all, what IS “economic justice?” In the eyes of the envious, one can say that if you make more money than they, you are an exploiter of the poor and need to “economic justice” applied to you… that is, having your income redistributed.
As one reads this particular chapter, they need to ask if the two authors apply such loose moral thinking to their own marriages (assuming they
are married). After all, they say that when people disagree with them on moral issues, they should “still respect their ethical impulses (p. 99.” They claim that Christians should still take stands on what they believe, but what they believe is negotiable within the confines of granting credence to the opinions of others regardless how outlandish they may be. This is even more egregious when the authors state that somehow “tolerance has a place in God’s nature.” First, tolerance is never presented as a moral construct in the Bible, and the notion of hell completely negates the idea that God is tolerant of evil. The authors never clarify this point, because quite frankly it appears that they don’t want it clear. This is quite frightening.
Chapter 6: Scientific Naturalism
When speaking about Naturalism vs. Science, the authors state that Christians confuse naturalism with science, and thus “incorrectly react by rejecting science itself (p. 105).” The authors state correctly that naturalism is a worldview that accepts only the physical matter of the universe as real. However, the authors become really confused when they try to discuss science. For example, they declare that if Christians deny the scientific method for “creating and predicting certain products or events, we just end up looking silly (p. 106).” What rejected science are the authors speaking of? Is it aerodynamics? Metallurgy? Propulsion? Volcanology? They never tell us, but there are hints contained in the debates of our current day, with one leading contender being the Biblical rejection of species evolution and the acceptance of a young earth, both generally contradicted by the “science” accepted by many today. The other would be the use of stem-cells from aborted fetuses. However, the latter does not look too silly to the general public as there has been a pretty lively debate regarding the sale of body parts to create stem-cells, so species evolution and an earth billions of years old is almost certainly implied here. Why can’t they address such issues openly?
Indeed, this is another form of code-talking, for the authors can get the average person to say, “I’m no flat-earther. Of course I accept science.” The problem here is that species evolution and its kissing cousin, a very old earth, does not adhere to the scientific method in having results that others can replicate. For that matter, species evolution and “old earth creationism” is much like the authors’ text: without footnotes or even a bibliography it is next to impossible to understand the origin of their opinions and own worldview, other than interconnecting philosophical nuances. Yet, because species evolution and a very old earth is the mantra of the academic elite, the authors apparently believe that Christians should accept it to avoid ridicule and not look “silly.” At least the authors accept the concept of creation ex nihilo, something many on the Left reject (p. 116).
When evaluating a Christian worldview at the conclusion of their work, the authors contend that tradition should play a much larger role in the determination of truth, and they use the development of the New Testament as their playing field to gain acceptance for such a notion, stating that Christians have used tradition to determine what books should go into the Bible. However, this is a far cry from accepting traditions that involve concepts foreign and even contrary to Biblical belief. For example, around AD 180, Irenaeus, as the Bishop of Lyons, openly opposed the eastern church in its attempt to mandate the precise date when all Christians should celebrate Paschal (what is now typically called Easter today). Irenaeus’s entire point of view was based on the idea that where the Scripture is silent, the church should be silent, at least from the perspective of trying to force other bodies of believers to accept non-Biblical ideas as truth.
Rather than through tradition, the New Testament underwent what we today call the peer review process of scholarly works. In this case, church leaders of various backgrounds and levels of authority engaged in peer review (not tradition), guided by the Holy Spirit, to determine which documents were best to include in the canon. This is a far cry from “tradition” determining the quality and efficacy of Biblical texts.
It is apparent that one of the key goals of the book is to lower the status of the Bible by emphasizing other ways to develop “truth.” There is nothing wrong with traditions per se, and logic (human reason) has been given to us so we can “handle accurately” the word of truth. However, traditions and reason alone should not create the equivalent of Biblical truth, nor should they be allowed to contradict clear Biblical standards. Regarding the most hot-button moral issues of today, the Biblical documents are very current and up to date as to how they should be dealt with. If there really is a God in heaven, and if He is even close to what the Bible describes Him to be, then great care should be exercised regarding the liberties some take when dealing with the moral law contained within.
The conclusion the authors offer is vague as to how to appropriate God’s rule in our lives, or even if the Biblical “story” is true (p. 201) They essentially state that Christianity’s competitors “have no precedence for hoping things can get better,” (p. 203) and yet they have already discarded the idea that applying Biblical moral law and principles can actually create a better culture and society. To them, one key issue is that Christianity, unlike the other worldviews they surveyed, has a creation account, and as a consequence the history of these other worldviews is replete with “strife, warfare and death.” (p. 203) And while there are plenty who would say that the Christian world has seen plenty of these things, it is of interest that the authors neglect to deal with the Islamic worldview, for Islam has a creation account as well. And yet, the history of Islam is replete with “strife, warfare and death” on a massive and even modern level.
While “Hidden Worldviews” is an interesting excursion into some of these areas of thought, and while the authors do make some good points, the hidden agenda within “Hidden Worldviews” is of considerable concern and negates the good that is contained in the text. Added to this are the errors of interpretation and historical fact and one must be dismayed that this book is used as a text in many Christian colleges.
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