Archive for the ‘Kingdom Triangle Discussion’ Category

A couple of weeks ago (I don’t seem to be very punctual with doing series posts) I posted on chapter 1 of Kingdom Triangle: Recovering the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power by J.P. Moreland.

Now we look at Chapter 2, “The Naturalist Story” as we go on in this series.


Moreland states right in the beginning:

It is sometimes said that Western culture is living off the borrowed capital of a Judeo-Christian worldview and the loan is past due.

He states that there are two reasons why it is important that followers of Christ realize that this statement is true.

One reason is that people will not look for a reason to satisfy the debt until they realize they are in debt.  People will not embrace the way of Jesus, Moreland contends, if we allow culture to be dominated by elements which reduce following Christ to something that is done in private only.  What is needed?

… a Christian community filled with disciples with eyes to see where the ideas of culture are moving, how they impact the cause of the gospel, and how we can bring a Christian worldview to bear on them.  A good place to start developing those eyes is getting a vision of the intellectual debt our culture owes to a Christian worldview.

Moreland also goes on to say that Christ followers need more courage in the public square and to be confident that what we offer is true, reasonable (our faith should be reasonable, not irrational) and critical for the issues that are front and center in our culture.  Moreland also states that when we understand how powerful and pervasive a Christian worldview is, Christians can gain confidence that is attractive.  It is that type of confidence that is needed to bring honor to Jesus.

Moreland explores the worldview of scientific naturalism (or naturalism for short) – it includes three key elements.

  1. a theory of the nature and limits of knowledge.
  2. the Grand story, a creation story about how everything came into existence, a story described in natural scientifc terms with a central role given to the atomic theory of matter and evolutionary biology.
  3. a physicalist view of reality, according to which everything that exists is either physical or else it depends necessarily on the physical for its emergence and continued existence.

Naturalist epistemology basically believes that whatever exists should be knowable by third-person scientific means.  Scientific knowledge is either the only kind of knowledge out there or it is vastly superior to any other forms of knowledge.  It is the scientific epistemology of naturalism that is pervasive in the university, the public schools, and the media.

This epistemology makes its mark in the origins debate.  Most who hold to the scientific epistemology of naturalism believe that the physical cosmos is all there is, was, or ever will be.  They believe this because they believe it is their “creation” story that has the backing of science.  You can see the backlash of this belief with the Theory of Intelligent Design, which is automatically labeled “religion masquerading as science.”

This leads then to the naturalist’s view of reality

The picture of reality that results from this creation story (which is, in turn, the only story alleged to have the support of scientific ways of knowing) is physicalism: The physical, material cosmos is all ther is, was, or ever will be.  Everything exists is either physical or can be show to emerge of necessity from the physical when it is in a suitably complex arrangement.  The naturalist view of reality is either reductionist ore eliminativist: What you cannot reduce to (identify with) the physical you must eliminate, pretend that it does not exist.

This view doesn’t adequately account for the world as it currently is though.  It doesn’t explain consciousness, it doesn’t explain secondary qualities (like colors, smells, tastes, sounds, & textures).  It also doesn’t explain goodness, rightness, beauty, and intellectual properties.  It doesn’t even account for the conditions for our existence. 

Naturalism ultimately doesn’t explain the meaning of life, and that essentially makes it a thin worldview.  Because with out meaning there can be no drama.  Naturalism fails to give a “rich, objective meaning to life that can be known and realized in our lives” as a result of not measuring up to the following factors.

  1. It lacks free will to ground responsibility, creativity, praise, and blame.  Freedom is incompatible with one’s actions are being determined factors that are outside their control.
  2. It lacks the ability to grasp that real intrinsic value that can be known and factored into our lives.
  3. It lacks the ability to acknowledge the reality of evil, provide an explanation of its origin, and offer hope that it is ultimately redeemed and defeated.
  4. It cannot affirm that human beings have equally intrinsic value simply as such.
  5. It leaves no room for teleology (things that happen for a purpose or future goal) and a purpose in the cosmos relevant to human life.
  6. It lacks a satisfying answer to the question, “Why should I be moral?”

Naturalism and the five crucial questions:

  1. What is real?  It implies that the physical world is all there is.
  2. What are the nature and limits of knowledge?  It occurs only within the bounds of our senses and the scientific method.
  3. Who is well off?  What is the good life?  The good life is whatever you freely choose for yourself, like a life of social recognition and success (which is likely financial, academic or artistic success).
  4. Who is a really good person? A really good person is one who is true to his or her own ideals and is tolerant of others.
  5. How does one become a really good person?  Hardly any advice given on how to become a good person.

Comparing this to the worldview of Jesus, Moreland claims:

In light of these five questions, naturalism is exposed as the shallow, destructive fraud that it really is.  By contrast, the worldview of Jesus provides deep, satisfying true answers to these questions.  For Jesus, the basic reality is the Triune God and his wonderful Kingdom.  We have knowledge of a wide variety of things, including theological and ethical knowledge.  The well-off person is anyone who is alive in the Kingdom of God, irrespective of his or her life’s circumstances.  The good person is the one who is pervaded with agape love and who manifests the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Gal. 5:22-23).  The way to become a good person is to enlist as an apprentice of Jesus in Kingdom living.

According to Moreland, the way of Jesus in comparison with naturalism is “the only game in town!”  What do you think?

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Today I want to begin a series of posts dealing with Kingdom Triangle by J.P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University.  The three points of the triangle are: Recover the Christian mind, renovate the soul, and restore the Spirit’s power.

Chapter 1 is entitled “The Hunger for Drama in a Thin World”


Chapter one is about our desire for drama.  We like it.  We crave it.  We desire it.  We’ll do much to have it.  Often times we fall short.  It fuels our passion for great movies, good novels and exciting sporting events (or… artsy stuff too I suppose).  We watch, read and attend, but then go back to a life that quite frankly seems boring and dull.  J.P. Moreland writes:

It is precisely this convergence of two factors – a persistent hunger for drama and a feeling of boredom with our own lives – that creates and addiction to dramatic stories, media-driven celebrities, sports, or other vicarious substitutes for our own authentic drama.  This tells us two things: We were made for greatness, but there is something about our culture that undermines both its intelligibility and achievement, (pg. 21).

Herein lies the problem – we live in what Moreland describes as a “sensate” culture in the West.  This is where people only “believe in the reality of the physical universe capable of being experienced with the five senses.”

Contrast that with an “ideational” culture which embraces not only the sensory world, but goes further and accepts the idea that an extra-empirical, immaterial reality can be know as well.  This would consist of spiritual and abstract things.

Out of this sensate culture comes the rejection of any empirical knowledge not gained by “hard sciences”.  Non-empirical claims are regulated to the level of private feelings.

Moreland also notes that there is a three-way struggle between three prevalent worldviews: ethical monotheism, postmodernism, and scientific naturalism.

Scientific naturalism takes the view that the physical cosmos studied by science is all there is.  It has two basic components – a view of reality and a view of how we know things.  Postmodernism represents a form of cultural relativism about such things as reality, truth, reason, value, linguistic meaning, and the self.  To someone who holds a postmodern view there is no such thing as objective reality.  Under the influence of naturalistic and postmodern ideals, Moreland contends, many people no longer believe that there is any meaning to life that can be known.

The pursuit of happiness becomes the focus of life, but people who live this way, who live for happiness become “empty selves.”  A question lingers when the focus is on this pursuit.  Where’s the larger purpose?  Drama is lacking.  This leads to what Moreland calls, “a thin world,” a world where there is no objective value, purpose or meaning.

The implications of this world according to Moreland are:

  • Nothing is important enough to rise above the level of custom.
  • Absent of objective and ultimate meaning and purpose and value there can be no real drama in a thin world.
  • No objective difference between Mother Teresa and someone who devotes his life to being the best male prostitute he can be.

In contrast, a thick world is a world in which there is such a thing as objective values, purpose and meaning.  In this world some things matter and others don’t.  Some things are right and others are wrong.

There is one worldview that is true and therefore superior to all others – thick or thin – and it provides the only hope of living in a thick world, I’m speaking of a Judeo-Christian worldview – more specifically, the worldview of mere Christianity, (pg. 29).

Moreland contends the centers of power in Western culture and dominated by naturalism and postmodernism, they can not sustain the drama necessary for their own work to have the meaning they so desperately desire.  Western culture lacks the resources necessary to diagnose and properly solve the serious spiritual, economic, political, and moral problems of the age.

In a thin world, religions is not the sort of thing that can be true.  Religion is merely a cultural, social phenomenon to be analyzed by sociologists.

So understood, religion is a hobby to be subsumed under the demands of secular democracy, not something to be taken seriously, (pg. 31).

Moreland claims that the only way the we can break free of the confines of a thin world and experience the riches of the only thick world that is true is to reject naturalism and postmodernism in favor of the perspective of the Kingdom of God and the worldview of Jesus Christ and Scripture, (pg. 32).

There are five questions that Moreland states should be put to any worldview:

  • What is real?
  • What are the nature and limits and knowledge?
  • Who is well-off?  What is the good life?
  • Who is a really good person?
  • How does one become a really good person?

Some Thoughts

We can see the reality of the worldview battle when we look at the origins of life debate – proponents of evolution dismiss the theory of intelligent design saying it lacks “hard sciences”.

I also have seen the reality of “empty selves” with kids that I have worked with in detention.  The pursuit of happiness, of immediate gratification, has left kids shallow, empty.  It is often at that time where they realize that there has to be more to life than this endless pursuit.  That was true of me when I was in college and realized there had to be more to life than what I was experiencing.  It was then I started looking into the claims of Jesus Christ.

Your Turn

Why do you think we crave drama?  Do you agree or disagree with Moreland when he says that true drama is impossible in a thin world?  Why?  How would you answer the five worldview questions in light of your worldview?

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