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Global worldviews: the tasks of Christian culture-makers in the 21st century

Updated: Dec 31, 2021

In just a few words, Prof. Mary Poplin cites Dalai Lama in answering the question beautifully: "Can a person be a Christian and Buddhist at the same time?"

Professor Mary Poplin is a serious scholar and her talk was both informative and provocative, especially for those who are interested in comparing different worldviews against the Christian worldview. Prof. Poplin sees worldviews as operating systems of the mind which are far more powerful and efficient than modern computers. They shape what we think is plausible and reject what does not seems plausible. She expounds four global, dominant worldviews and explains how the Christian worldview would be interpreted differently or even contradicted by the other three secular worldviews.

The four global worldviews are: (1) Material Naturalism; (2) Secular Humanism; (3) Pantheism; and (4) Monotheism- such as Christian Theism. While we may share some versions of one or more of these worldviews, we are often unconscious of their differences. But Prof. Poplin argues that the first three global worldviews are quite different from the fourth one.

For instance, material naturalism holds the belief that all that exists in the world is ultimately reducible to material phenomena. It rejects any miracles that could ever happen and counters God as creator of the world including the creation of human beings. Similarly, secular humanism holds the belief that human beings are alone in the world and must act responsibly by forming their ethics solely from their human experience, science and human reason. Secular humanists do not rely upon any gods or supernatural forces to solve their problems or provide guidance for their conduct. Hence, it contests the identity of Jesus as fully human and fully God. Pantheism, on the other hand, holds the belief that everything in the universe is a manifestation of a universal spirit. It claims to be all “spiritual but not religious”, but it denies that the Holy Spirit is above all other spirits in the earth and the universe. Whereas the Christian worldview affirms that the Holy Spirit was in the beginning an animating force in God’s creation, and remains an animating spirit of God’s truth and power on the earth. No other spirit is as pure, true or powerful. The Holy Spirit is also the source in human beings of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. In short, the Christian worldview transcends other secular worldviews by providing a higher rationality of the reality of life.

What about the tasks of Christian culture makers in the 21st century? Quoting from Lesslie Newbigin who says: “The Christian claim is that though the Christian worldview can in no way be reached by any logical step from the axioms of [the other worldviews], nevertheless the Christian worldview does offer a wider rationality that embraces and does not contradict the rationality of [other worldviews]”, Prof. Poplin moves on to suggest that the Christian culture makers can discern a higher rationality and seek a new culture and language about reality. Hence, she proposes that it should be the mission of Christian university/college to build up a community of Christian scholars who would engage in dialogue with people of other global worldviews. Several things Christian university faculty and scholars could work together- to work out a higher rationality, to re-create a new culture and language through research and publications, and to run programs to teach Christian worldview and be engaged in dialogue with people of other secular worldviews.

Professor Poplin also shared with us two of her recently published books, namely: Is Reality Secular? Testing the Assumptions of Four Global Worldviews (Illinois: IVP Books, 2014), and Finding Calcutta: What Mother Teresa Taught Me About Meaningful Work and Service (Illinois: IVP Books, 2008). In the first book (2014), she expounded an important Christian intellectual voice regarding the reality of Christian worldview, and she made a good case that Christianity is not just a better theory or worldview, it is a reality.

Summarized by:

Dr. Ng Tze-Ming, Peter

Senior Researcher

Lumina College Research Institute


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