(Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in the World

One, two, three, four... ten...twenty...twenty-eight!

As I sit to write this review, I find myself surrounded by a great cloud of worldview books. Twenty-eight to be painstakingly exact! Some of these books claim to help one "build a Christian worldview," others seek to catalog and critically analyze unbiblical worldviews, and still others wrestle with the concept of worldview itself, even drawing the discipline into question.

Admittedly, some of these books contributed significantly to my own thinking on the subject, and I'm profoundly thankful to many of the authors who have poked and prodded me toward a more Christian view of the world.

With twenty-eight worldview books on my shelf, I guess I'd be lying to say that I'm not something of a worldview junky. Considering what a Christian's posture to the "secular" world ought to be--the old "What does Jerusalem have to do with Athens?" question--is a subject that has held my fascination for years. But even self-proclaimed worldview junkies have a breaking point! I mean really, do we need another book on worldview? Am I the only one suffering from worldview ad-nauseam?

When I picked up (Re)Thinking Worldview, this was the first thought that entered my mind. But to my surprise, the author and I were kindred spirits on the whole "worldview fatigue" point:

"There were already dozens of exceptional titles on this topic and hundreds of competent hangers-on. Everything that needed to be said about worldviews had already been uttered, emphasized, repeated, underscored, and capped with a series of exclamation marks. What could I possibly add to all that?" (19)

"Exactly," I thought. I like this guy already.

"But I was wrong...there was something more to be said. What is left to contribute to the conversation about worldview? Plenty." (20)

"Really?" I retorted. Maybe my commendation came to soon...

"First, we need to recapture a more complex, nuanced appreciation of what worldview really is...Second, we need to situate worldview in the larger context of lived faith, finding out how all this intellectual labor should affect not only the way we think but also how we act. To do this will require a renewed focus on the biblical concept of wisdom, which is one of those things we tend to talk about rather than practice. Finally, this book will explore the organic connectedness between worldview and wisdom, and how they express themselves in witness." (20-21)

Intrigued by the tall order, I decided to read on... But this better be good!

As indicated in the quote above, (Re)Thinking Worldview is divided into three large sections--worldview, wisdom, and witness. Each of these sections consists of four chapters that help bring definition, distinction, and development to the overall unity of the three sections.

The threefold division is what brings uniqueness to Bertrand's proposal. Rather than seeing worldview, wisdom, and witness as hermetically sealed compartments or even stages of development, Bertrand understands each section as naturally flowing into the other. Worldview, he argues, is best (only?) understood in relationship to wisdom and witness, for wisdom is the natural fruit of worldview and witness is the culmination of both worldview and wisdom.

This design is partly polemical, even if the book never "feels" polemical. Bertrand believes that special interests groups have long employed worldview thinking as a weapon in culture wars. This "hijacking" of worldview to advance particular agendas is part of the reason Bertrand believes young people have become discontented with the subject. To revitalize interest among the young and to distinguish the important place of worldview among disciplines, Bertrand hopes readers will find worldview thinking as a means "...to provide a fuller richer experience of the world..." (14)

In the first and lengthiest section of the book, Bertrand envisions a Christian worldview through several different but complimentary metaphors: pillars, system, and story. This multi-imaging or multi-level approach to presenting worldview helps significantly in establishing the nuances Bertrand wants his readers to appreciate. Using the perspectives of pillars, system, and story, Bertrand does much to help us see the foundational, interconnected, and unified quality of worldview thinking.

Though last among the metaphors, Bertrand sees "story" as primary among the three perspectives. The reason, he claims, is that the gospel is first narrative before it is anything else. In time and maturity, the gospel begins to come to us in systemic and doctrinal terms. Curiously, however, Bertrand seems to back off this conclusion in the final paragraphs of this first section, claiming that maybe we simply "shuffle between the categories all at once in a confusing, organic, Spirit-led way." (106) His final ambiguity at this turn may point to the difficulty in making such determinations about primary metaphors.

Wisdom takes center stage in the second section, and in my opinion, this is the richest part of the work. Bertrand contributes deeply to the subject of wisdom, especially its relationship to worldview. He offers a number of helpful observations and points of instruction along the way that brings clarity at points where he could be misunderstood.

Leaning on Solomon, the Apostle Paul, and the book of James, Bertrand spends time defining what wisdom is, what it is not, and from where it comes. He exposes the "diviners" impulse that lies beneath many searches for wisdom and sheds much light on the all-important relationship between virtue and wisdom. Bertrand argues that in the thick of battle, we need not only good minds but also good wills. This is why he suggests that wisdom is essentially the ability to respond or act righteously in given circumstances. This is not to say the mind is uninvolved, only that wisdom is the work of taking thoughts captive (worldview) and employing them in holy living.

As an aside, this may be the reason that Christian educational approaches do not often fail in raising smart Christians but do fail in raising wise ones. Bertrand reminds us that there is no equal sign between information and wisdom. This is why wise Christians pray. They know that wisdom comes from fearing the Lord, knowing our place before him and our responsibility to Him.

Though I will not take the time to chase this rabbit here, Bertrand makes a very interesting distinction between two opposite stances that Christians often choose in relationship to the world (152). Knowing that entire books have been written on this subject, and entire periods of history are marked by this discussion (stretching back to the time of Tertullian, if not before), I would advise you looking elsewhere for light on this discussion. Bertrand's abbreviated treatment, though helpful for what it is, leaves much to be desired.

In the final section of the book, Bertrand introduces the concept of witness. He defines witness as "the sum total of our expression, what we say and what we don't, what we do, who we help, and who we harm. Our actions and reactions, taken as a whole, constitute a message to the world we live in." (182) Gospel tracts and door-to-door evangelism aside, Bertrand is interested in the full scope of our lives. Nothing, he would argue, lies outside the purview of witness.

In keeping with many voices, Bertrand wants to see Christians move from consumers to contributors (witnesses). To be a contributor, one must make "truthful, positive attempts to shape culture." (187) Following quite naturally, Bertrand connects contributor to creativity, believing that in sub-creating we exemplify the work of God and display his character--we "bear witness," if you will. This means, among other things, being creative in the ways we defend our faith and use our imagination. We shouldn't look for silver bullet arguments that will solve all our apologetic problems, Bertrand argues. Instead, we should be creative in our answers to questioners, and be sure our "solutions" actually respond to their objection(s). In addition, our art or imaginative expressions should not stoop to the level of sermonizing, but must create an experience of the truth. In art, we provide an opportunity for person and truth to meet, a place where the participator can "try truth on" and feel experientially its impact.

Taking Binx Bolling from Walker Percy's Moviegoer as an example of unbelief, Bertrand calls Christians to humility by reminding them that they cannot save anyone. No matter how "persuasive" we believe our witness to be, unbelief is a spiritual problem that suppresses the truth, sees God as enigmatic, and rejects proof to the contrary. As Christians, we must take comfort in God's sovereignty over salvation and know that he will use our witness, in His own time, to draw unbelievers to Himself.

At the outset of this review, I confessed my own doubts regarding the need for another book on worldview. Well, I'm glad to confess now that the problem was with me! Having plumbed the depths of Bertrand's work, I have been reminded, educated, convicted, and challenged. Bertrand provides a comprehensive and convincing presentation of this important subject while simultaneously avoiding the narrow special interests that mark many worldview proposals.

Amazingly, I never sensed I was being sold some neatly packaged argumentation that emphasized "solutions" and ignored inconsistencies or mysteries. Rather, I believe I had the unique opportunity to walk alongside a man who wonders Christianly as he wanders through all the intersections of life. Among recent contributions of this kind, (Re)Thinking Worldview is most assuredly a mark above. Leaving hardly a stone unturned, Bertrand proves to be an able guide through the sometimes murky waters of worldview, wisdom, and witness--and he does so as a man who strives to take his own thoughts captive, exercise wisdom in fearing God, bearing witness for Christ. A man who practices what he preaches...a rare combination indeed.

J. Mark Bertrand / Wheaton: Crossway, 2007
Review by Nate Shurden, Assisant to the Editorial Director, reformation21