Book Summary Now Available!

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Available now is my summary of The Universe Next Door by James Sire.  This worldview catalog is part of the arsenal needed  for believers to understand the major beliefs held by both their neighbors and also themselves.

The value of this study is akin to a baseball scout taking the necessary time to understand the opposing team’s ball player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.  After such due diligence is accomplished, the odds of “competing” and “beating” the “opposition” are enhanced.  Too often Christians are bested in the classroom, boardroom, or family room because we have not done our due diligence regarding other worldviews when compared to Christendom.  This book is a remedy for such maladies as Sire notes:

“For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own—why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true” [Opening page]

Summary of Chapter 10: THE EXAMINED LIFE—CONCLUSION (Pgs.192-200)

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            Sire concludes the book by mentioning that worldviews are not as voluminous as one might think, but many of them overlap each other in nuanced forms that make it appear there are numerous worldviews.

           To choose an adequate worldview, Sire rightly points out the need for the following.  First, humility is essential.  We just don’t know everything so it’s important to come with that reality in mind.  Second, there must be intellectual coherence where the laws of logic are rightly applied so falsehoods are avoided.  Third, there must be experiential reality where the data of all reality is considered by what we know through critical analysis and scientific investigation.  Fourth, there must be explanatory power where what is purported to be explained (e.g., human enigmas) are actually explained.  Lastly, an adequate worldview must be subjectively satisfactory whose implications can be lived.

According to Sire, at the end of the day, a worldview can only satisfy if it’s true (Pg.198).  Christianity, says Sire, meets the above mentioned criterions for choosing an adequate worldview and makes most sense of reality as we know it, even though it has its own problems.  Christianity, is not merely intellectual as a worldview, but an encounter with a person—the risen Christ that makes the examined life worth living.

Summary of Chapter 9: THE VANISHED HORIZON—POSTMODERNISM (Pgs.172-190)

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          In this chapter Sire argues that Postmodernism (PM) changed everything starting with the death of God which grounded its’ wisdom and demise in Modernism.  This is because far from being “Post” anything, it’s nothing without Modernism.  What it has accomplished though is taking Modernism’s views to their natural end which failed to meet their own criterion.

To begin with, Sire admits defining (PM) is difficult.  The term was first used to describe architecture.  One definition advanced of (PM) is: it denies there is any one metanarrative that is more credible than another to explain to us the nature of reality (e.g., theism, pantheism, or atheism make part of the whole).

A good way to understand (PM) is to compare it to Premodern and Modern views of reality to grasp its’ significance.  Pre-moderns for example focused on attaining a just society by basing it on the just God of revelation.  Moderns contrarily focused their view of attaining justice through universal reason.  Post-moderns however despair any universal attaining of justice because language is what constructs reality or meaning itself.

Sire continues and explains how the three different views lead to a way of ruling by virtue of their starting point.  Pre-modernism lead to medieval hierarchy, Modernism lead to Enlightenment democracy, and Postmodernism leads to anarchy.

Concerning first principles, Pre-moderns saw metaphysics (being, existence) as the grounds for epistemology (how we know anything); Moderns held that epistemology is the grounds for ontology (the study of existence, being); and Post-moderns hold that epistemology is the grounds for significance but end their search with no confidence in human reason.  The self-refuting nature of (PM’s) many positions is here obvious by their use of reason to make said statement.

Sire continues to point out the self-refuting nature of (PM) positions like its notion of truth that it is forever hidden from us.  These “authorities” are telling us the “truth” that truth is forever hidden from us.

When (PM) says that all narratives are a mask for a play of power, they fail to see that they also are giving us a narrative of reality that according to them also falls into the category of a “play of power”.

Another notion of (PM) is that language is what’s used to construct who people are and what is ethical or not by society.  This ends with a radical relativism that if consistently lived out has as its’ champion the sociopath.

It leads naturally that from this view of language, the discipline that is king is literary theory, rather than theology, philosophy or science.

Sire than considers many of (PM’s) shortcomings not least of which is their denial of any objective truth but act as if it really exists by their writings and “insights” into describing reality, thus elites, not true experts end up ruling everywhere including the sciences (Pgs.184-187).

PM has rightly criticized naturalisms’ too high a view of reason, explained that language can be used to exercise power over people (these are not always negative situations however) but (PM’s) seem to overlook that their own criticism’s also apply to their use of words.

Sire points out that the “truth question” is very uncomfortable for (PM’s) and it should be pressed.  Moreover, their negative view of reason should be considered in light of their use of reason to advance their position.  That is, they employ their negative view of autonomy by using said autonomous human reason.  It’s just self-refuting.

Finally, Sire concludes that (PM) is not so much a worldview, but a parasite on worldviews and it’s not surprising therefore that this position lacks confidence in truth, a trust in reality or hope for the future.  Pessimism, nihilism and anarchy result if this thought of (PM) is followed to its natural conclusion.         

 

Summary of Chapter 6: BEYOND NIHILISM—EXISTENTIALISM (Pgs.94-116)

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Sire argues that existentialism arose as a response to nihilism.  This view of reality comes in atheistic and theistic forms.  After the horrors of WWI people needed answers to make sense of all the evil experienced.  Sartre and Camus gave aid through their literature.

Atheistic existentialism (AE) presupposes naturalism’s world of only matter in a closed system of cause and effect where choices are real but for humans they’re only imagined.  Thus, for (AE) one goal is to derive meaning from non-meaning seeing that matter doesn’t “care” about meaning, matter just is.  Much of what transpires is what Schaeffer describes of the Upper/Lower story of reality (Pg.98), where values are subjective and unverifiable, as opposed to science which is objective and verifiable.

Humans determine their essence by actions, not by some intrinsic quality (E.g., image bearers) and thus are free to choose their own destiny as kings of their subjective world.  True here is the mantra; conceive, believe, achieve.  For the (AE) death is the pinnacle of absurdity rather than a signpost pregnant with meaning (E.g., God’s judgment for rebellion).

Ethics is a bit of a conundrum for what isought to be, because we determine what meaning is.  Hence, when one chooses it’s never to do evil, but always to perform the good.  If this is the case, then what defines the good, the sociopath?  When ethics is ultimately grounded in the creature rather than in the Creator, relativism is spawned and makes life absurd.

Theistic existentialism (TE) arose from Kierkegaard’s response to the dead orthodoxy of his day which touted the keeping of rules over the nurturing of a relationship with God.  This view thus started its’ focus on how humans relate to God and the cosmos, not with God and how all of creation is to properly relate to Him (Pg.107).

Reading through some highly abstract positions was somewhat of a bore but from this view came the movement known as Neo Orthodoxy (NO) which among other things emphasized either (according to Sire) Pelagianism or a hyper Calvinism.  Many (NO) don’t believe in the historicity of biblical accounts but rather see them as mythical and symbolic.  Much of this came from German “scholarship” that imbibed naturalism as a fact (Pgs. 113-115).  This chapter was by far the most difficult to follow because of the subjects’ writers deep abstraction.  Nevertheless, I can see residues of this theology with many of my church friends.

Summary of Chapter 4: THE SILENCE OF FINITE SPACE—NATURALISM (Pgs.52-73)

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            According to Sire, Deism is the isthmus between theism and naturalism.  Naturalism affirms that matter is eternal, God does not exist, and the cosmos is in a closed system (I.e., no outside forces can interfere with nature like a “miracle”).  Humans are thus nothing more than complex machines in a “monistic” framework of matter and when death beckons, human identity is forever extinguished.  This position also removes meaning from history (really all of life) and many turn to nihilism (I.e., life is meaningless) as a result.

What ends up happening, is that people become the architects of what meaning in life is; not some extrinsic being.  When this occurs, human beings are the measure of all things, thus ethics and truth become relativized and living out the implications of said state of affairs creates many inconsistencies and practical contradictions such that what is, ought to be.

As architects of what determines meaning, naturalism’s child “secular humanism” affirms human value from a physicalist worldview, but the problem is that one does not get values from the physical world; it comes from an immaterial reality.  Sadly, this problem of contradiction is ignored.

There’s also Marxism, which Sire affirms comes in varied forms be it a democratic or a totalitarian packaged worldview.  Marxism considers the meaning of life from an economic locus where people are mere subjects of their environment (Influenced by philosophers Hegel and Feuerbach).  Marxism’s goal for history is utopian, its’ atheism is reductionist, it loathes capitalism, it fails to factor in human sin, and considers the redistribution of wealth as a virtue.

The fact is humanity is much more than a brain and the desire for meaning and purpose is a relentless issue in life that always pricks the human soul.  Despite its many metaphysical, epistemological and ethical problems, naturalism holds sway for many because it’s viewed as objective and without bias, for it’s always looking for the truth with no “axe to grind”.

Summary of Chapter 3: THE CLOCKWORK: DEISM (Pgs.40-51)

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            Deism according to Sire came about as a response to: internal strife within Christendom; and resulted in a view of reason that trumped any revelation, thus making autonomous human reason the ultimate reference point.

Deism’s God is not personal, but an unknowable architect of the universe, who wound up the creation and left it alone to govern itself.  The major tenets of Deism are:

First, God is utterly transcendent and not personal; second, creation runs itself deterministically; third, while human beings are personal, their decisions are not significant because somehow they are not self-determined; fourth, there’s a denial of the Fall and sin, so what is, ought to be.

Moreover nature tells us what we need to know about God, He does not write books.  He’s a designer but not a lover or judge; fifth, ethics reveals nature so what is ought to be, thus there’s a denial of right and wrong good and bad; sixth, the course of history is linear but predetermined at creation, thus Deist’s are not interested in history for God’s knowledge is had through nature, not any of God’s acts in the past; seventh, there’s a denial of the incarnation.

Interestingly, many religious pluralists hold to many of these tenets not least of which is the denial of the incarnation.

Summary of Chapter 2: A UNIVERSE CHARGED WITH THE GRANDEUR OF GOD: CHRISTIAN THEISM (Pgs.20-38)

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In this chapter Sire points out that up until the 17th century intellectual strife was “in house” between Christians but the Enlightenment changed that forever.  Christianity and Western civilization were hand and glove such that the cradle’s milk began with theistic presuppositions (Pgs.22-23).

Christianity was the meteor that dented the world with its view of reality starting with how we viewed human beings: Since God is a personal God; those created in his image are also personal creatures, not chance accidents.

The universe contra naturalism is not a closed system but one that is open meaning that both divine and human decisions significantly shape the present and the future (Pgs.26-29). Consider the quote on page 29 regarding human longing and how God fulfills it.

Our epistemology is also grounded in the God of creation.  That’s why we can know anything about reality as it truly is (pg.30).  The Fall demonstrates the significance of human decisions then and now (pgs.32-33), our ethics are grounded in God and history is linear which means that it’s filled with purpose even though much of it we don’t get.    An excellent overview of the Christian worldview.

The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog

51WMWG0MWVL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_There’s much talk about worldviews these days and rightly so, for if we are going to do our apologetic work faithfully as Christ’s representatives we’ll need to familiarize ourselves with our neighbors beliefs which come from their view of reality.

Worldview thinking considers the big ideas that govern individuals and nations.  I thought it profitable to consider James Sire’s book on the topic for it’s brevity, clarity and organization.

If you’ll recall, Os Guinness’ book dealt with the art and science of Christian persuasion; Alister McGrath’s book dealt with a general view of apologetics and emphasized the importance for each individual to formulate their own approach.

Now, James Sire’s book is a catalog on what a worldview is and the differences that obtain when human beings are trying to make sense of death and dying, purpose and meaning, laughter and grief, love and hate.  As with the previous books, I’ll be offering weekly summaries of this book’s chapters with the hope to entice you to pick up a copy and read it yourself.  If however you don’t then may the brief summaries I provide be useful to you and Christ’s kingdom.

Introduction: the value of this study is akin to a baseball scout taking the necessary time to understand the opposing team’s ball player’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. Such due diligence increases the odds of “competing” and “beating” the “opposition”.  While the aforesaid may be crude and offensive, in the world of ideas it’s true.

Too often Christians are bested in the classroom, boardroom, or family room because they have not done their homework regarding other worldviews.  When opportunities arise to witness fear, rather than courage manifest.  Sometimes we fear sounding stupid; being offensive; or even fear being unable to answer the challenges leveled against the Christian faith.  This book is a remedy for such maladies as Sire answers the following questions:

What is prime reality, the real?  What’s the nature of external reality—the world around us?   What is a human being?  What happens to persons after death?  Why can we know anything at all?  How do we know what’s right and wrong?  And what’s the meaning of human history?

A great read friends.