The ‘biblical worldview’ doesn’t come from the Bible

Paul at Disoriented. Reoriented has a nice post today on “The Toxic Assumption of the ‘Biblical Worldview.’

He’s reading through the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters, by David Kinnamon and Gabe Lyons of the evangelical Barna Group. Kinnamon and Lyons argue that a greater emphasis on a “biblical worldview” is what the church needs to stop hemorrhaging young people.

As Paul notes, this is a popular slogan, but an empty one. In the white evangelical subculture, “‘biblical worldview’ is something of a code for ‘conservative doctrine’ that treats the Bible as a fully applicable roadmap for life in the 21st century.”

The quest for a bit of content to such slogans often seems futile — a tour through an endless cycle of synonymous ciphers. What do you mean by “biblical”? Conservative. OK, then what do you mean by “conservative”? Orthodox. OK, then what do you mean by “orthodox”? Evangelical. OK, then what do you mean by “evangelical”? Biblical. …

Happily, Kinnamon and Lyons take the unusual step of actually enumerating what they mean by a “biblical worldview,” listing the eight essential vitamins and nutrients they say it must entail.

Unhappily, this list is, as Paul says, “a hot mess.”

Here is what they provide as the eight elements of a “biblical worldview”:

  1. Jesus Christ lived a sinless life.
  2. God is the all-powerful and all-knowing Creator of the universe, and he still rules it today.
  3. Salvation is a gift from God, and it cannot be earned.
  4. Satan is real.
  5. A Christian has a responsibility to share his or her faith in Christ with other people.
  6. The Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.
  7. Unchanging moral truth exists.
  8. Such moral truth is defined by the Bible.

“Faith, hope, and love abide, these three,” the Apostle Paul wrote, “and the greatest of these is love.”

But faith, hope and love do not abide in this “biblical worldview.”

Love — the greatest of these, the most excellent way, the imperative of the greatest commandment and the second which is like unto it — is apparently not an essential element to a “biblical” worldview.

Seriously, what book were these guys reading? Because it sure wasn’t the Bible.

Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God. … Not part of a “biblical worldview.”

For I was hungry and you fed me. … Not part of a “biblical worldview.”

For God so loved the world. … Not part of a “biblical worldview.”

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … Not part of a “biblical worldview.”

Is not this the biblical worldview that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

We could also critique those elements that did make the cut in Kinnamon and Lyons’ list — such as the perverse choice to emphasize Jesus’ moral purity as his most essential attribute, as though this leper-hugging, Sabbath-breaking, woman-touching, dead-embracing friend of prostitutes and tax collectors wanted us to turn him into the standard-bearer for the very holiness-as-avoidance purity system he trespassed and trampled as routinely as breathing.

But there’s no need to nitpick. Kinnamon and Lyons took eight swings at the question of what constitutes a “biblical worldview” and whiffed on love every time. I am agape at this lack of agape.

If “the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches,” then this idea of a “biblical worldview” that hath not love is a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. It is nothing. It gains nothing. Whoever does not love does not know God.

This isn’t complicated. It’s not a trick question.


Love. Love. Love. Love. Love.

Any discussion of a “biblical worldview” has to begin with love. And it has to end with love. Love is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end of it. He said so himself.

I don’t know where Kinnamon and Lyons got their “biblical worldview,” but it isn’t from the Bible.
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  • Kinnamon and Lyons argue that a greater emphasis on a “biblical worldview” is what the church needs to stop hemorrhaging young people.

    Altemeyer had something to say on this too, as to why the church loses young people as much as it does, despite putting so much emphasis on this “Biblical worldview”:

    What then gnawed away so mercilessly at the apostates that they could no longer overpower doubt with faith?

    Their families will say it was Satan. But we thought, after interviewing dozens of  “amazing apostates,” that (most ironically) their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of  truth per se, especially among highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting “the right answer.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it  fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority.

    Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.

  • Meh, my Lutheran church said it was faith, not works. However, they said that if you had faith, you would do works.

    I got more or less the same message in my Lutheran church, though it was more along the lines of “Jesus was nice enough to die for your sins, so honestly, the least you can do is try to be a good person.  Jesus would like that.”  There was also an admission that, sure, you could get away with being a reprobate, technically, but they were pretty sure that if you have faith you’ll feel motivated to do good works.

  • jamesprobis

    Honestly, I think “agape” is a big part of the problem. By which I mean the nitpicking invented terminology Christianity uses when plain English would work. But you can’t use plain English to denounce love while pretending to celebrate love, so you have to invent mind-numbing technobabble that you can split hairs about.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Serious question. Is “Jesus Christ lived a sinless life” a Biblical statement? Is there a proof text for this?

  • Jenny Islander

    I thought we Christians borrowed the analysis of love from a pagan Greek philosopher.

  • Yep:
    “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15

    There are others too, I think, but I can’t remember where. I found that one by searching for “without sin” in the NIV.

  • Jenny Islander

    And I was taught that both are true.

  • Guest

    “Agape” is a Koine Greek loanword, not an invented word.

    Greek had several nuanced words for different kinds of the thing we call “love” in English, and they are used to differentiate between, say, unconditional love for your fellow humans and romantic love for your wife.

  • Sgaile-Beairt

     agape = koine greek, three syllables, means “divine love’ in christian circles, has for a long long time, whne i was assistng youth ministry 20 yrs ago it was old news.

  • Kubricks_Rube


  • I was taught a progressive message. My grandfather was a member of the Communist Party, my mother told me there was no hell, I was taught “we are all one in Jesus Christ” (like it or not), women and men are equal, racism is evil, it’s okay to have sex before marriage, contraception is very good, abortion is acceptable, it’s our job to take care of the environment, there’s nothing wrong with being a sexuality other than straight, help the poor and the sick and the disabled, violence is always wrong, Hindus and atheists go to heaven too, etc. It was pretty much Fred Clark’s message, except with an explicit “sex before marriage is more than perfectly fine, it is recommended” rider. 

    It wasn’t that I was better because I believed in Christ. Both the Lutheran church I was raised in and the liberal Baptist-ish church of my grandparents that I often went to taught that, since I knew Jesus’ message, and I had enough to eat and clothes to wear and a roof over my head, I was *much* worse than everyone who did not have those things if I did not follow it every waking moment. (Also, that I should probably feel guilty about my dreams, too.) If I did follow it, I was better, but that was due to God, not to me. Every good thing was from God; every bad thing was my own fault. And to prove I was better than my enemies, and that therefore God was not horribly disappointed in me, I had to forgive them. More than that: I had to go out of my way to give everyone the benefit of the doubt no matter what. And as with all philosophies that rest on the idea that you’re better than those people over there, there’s always a tension: am I really? 

    It wasn’t the Christian idea of salvation I rejected. I was agnostic about that nearly my whole life. I figured, whether Jesus was divine or not, everyone went to heaven, because the alternative made  zero sense. What I finally rejected, and what led me to realize that religion was an unnecessary postulate in my life, was the philosophy — forgive everyone, do not judge, always do unto others as you would have them do unto you — because it was hurting me. In my life, Christianity was making me passive and self-hating. Besides, I realized that the supposed comfort that I was a better person than the people hurting me was no comfort at all. Allowing myself anger, allowing myself to not forgive — that freed me. It canceled my enemies’ emotional power over me.

  • Jenny Islander

    Yeah, that one made me blink.  What, Satan is a primary deity or something?  Even the very stiff and conservative Lutheran pastor who led me through confirmation class felt comfortable explaining the different Christian opinions re personified evil.  He said plainly that  you don’t have to believe that evil has a name, only that there is an inclination to evil abroad in the world, which anybody can plainly see just by cracking a history book.

  • Makabit

    I once read a delightful list of  ‘ways a Christian woman ends a relationship’. My favorites were: “I feel called to the ministry…somewhere very far away from you,” and “Of course I love you, but it’s just agape between us now.”

  •  “Agape” is Koine Greek. You know, the language that the New Testament was written in. I hope you’ll excuse them “inventing” a word to use in place of “plain English”, as it would be another twelve hundred years before someone invented the “plain English” word love.

  • stardreamer42

    And yet, according to what many churches teach, temptation is itself sin — that whole “adultery in your heart” thing. Is this another place where they aren’t really paying attention to what the Bible says, or another case of doublethink belief, or what?

  • stardreamer42

    “It reminds me of hearing Republican Party leaders talk about how they
    need to change their “message” and “tone” after getting shellacked in
    the 2012 elections without seeming to understand that voters have
    decisively rejected their policies.”

    There is so much overlap between the two groups now that this doesn’t surprise me in the least.

  • “Agape” not only is not “invented terminology”; it does, in fact, mean something more specific than “love”. Complaining about it is sort of like complaining about “stream” when we have the word “river” already.

    English is very terrible about words for love. We’ve got… oh, one. Other languages have more. I wish we’d snarf pretty much all of them. 

  • AnonymousSam

    Hmm… not to pick, but do you think Fred is that way? Passive, not allowing himself to be angry?

    I can see where it went wrong for you, but I think a part of it was not having the perspective yet to see that forgiveness isn’t something that you should grant arbitrarily to anyone who wrongs you or others, much something you should blame yourself for if you are unable to provide. I’m pretty sure we’ve discussed that here on more than one occasion.

    Personally, dropping out of the hypothetical “what would have been better/what could have been?” discussion, I’m glad you found something that worked for you, regardless of what led you to it. I often wonder whether I would be different if I hadn’t hated Christianity so much for so long, and then I think, “I’m not so bad now, so apparently it worked out well enough.” Wherever you go, there you are.

  • Jenny Islander

    IIRC, there are four.  Eros is a yearning to be closer, not necessarily sexually; it can also mean crushes, hero worship, etc.  Fervent fans are experiencing eros.  Storge is affection, fondness, familiar/familial love, a natural, animal feeling–puppies and old dogs have it too.  Philia is friendship, and was classically considered the best and purest love between two people because it is the least physical.  (Nowadays the opposite view is more prevalent, hence fannish shipping wars.)  Agape is unconditional love, charity, love that outpours without end, the love of God.

  • Doublethink, I’d say.

    Re the “adultery in your heart”:
    “Lust”, in this case, is not intended to mean just looking at someone and thinking “wow, she’s hot”. It’s much more of an objectification thing. That being the case, temptation to sleep with someone – even adulterously – isn’t sinful; treating them (even in your thoughts) as nothing more than a body you could do things to is sinful.

  • Makabit

    “I am FILLED with Christ’s love! You are just jealous of my success in the Lord.”

  • Thanx! I knew it also meant something like that, just pronounced dif-fer-ent-ly.

  • Helps if you grew up in Lake Woebegon.

  • Makabit

    I used to teach “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” to my junior class. It’s a great piece. It’s hard to teach in a Catholic school, though. The kids think it’s blasphemous.

  • Makabit

    English doesn’t have just one word for ANYTHING.

  • jamesprobis

    I am aware that agape is from the Greek. I am also very aware that Christians will blather on about agape while denouncing love. And I am damned well aware that Christian agape is ANYTHING BUT unconditional love.

  • Foelhe

    I don’t think forcing Christians to use the word “love” fixes any of those problems, though.

  • jamesprobis

     It makes their hypocrisy more apparent. It prevents the hairsplitting “hate the sin” bullshit. Christians resort to obscure terminology to obfuscate their meaning in a desperate attempt to pretend to themselves that the vile hatred they spew is “love”, let them try to do that using common language.

    It’s a cheap rhetorical trick to dazzle the easily fooled.

  • Christians … pretend to themselves that the vile hatred they
    spew is “love”

    Gosh. Thanks.

  • Foelhe

    … Again, I really don’t see how.

    It’s possible I’m not familiar with this rhetorical trick, though. I can’t remember anyone ever explicitly saying they’re against love. And in honesty, I can’t imagine that going over well even if the person in question is using agape to contrast it.

    If they did, it would be easy enough to contrast “love” and “false love” or “selfish love” or something equally ominous. Why wouldn’t they just say that instead? I don’t know, if you could give me examples I might be better able to grasp your point, but as it is I’m not seeing it.

  • jamesprobis

     Don’t fucking cherry pick and remove context from what I said. I am very clearly referring to anti-gay Christians, and their supposed love is nothing but the vilest hatred. If you count yourself among their number You are an enemy of humanity and an enemy of love. If you don’t count yourself among their number, well congratulations on nitpicking and whining about any and all objection to Christians bigotry- people like you are the reason Christianity has a bad name.

  • jamesprobis

     Pretty much every anti-gay Christian ever will claim their vile denunciation of the love between two people is OK because they are objecting to eros, rather than agape. I have personally heard this argument many times. As though demanding a person never love and be loved in return is somehow an expression of unconditional, selfless love. As though destroying families were an expression of unconditional, selfless love.

  • Foelhe

    (Crap, you edited while I was responding.)

    I’m not Christian, but I have been known to use the word agape from time to time. It’s more precise. Granted I was raised Christian, so I might have gotten the word from Christian culture, but it’s useful and worth adopting. And I’m too much of a semantics nerd to complain when people use a precise word over a vague one.

  • I am very clearly referring to anti-gay Christians, and their supposed love is nothing but the vilest hatred.

    Actually, you’re not “very clearly”. That was kinda my point.

  • jamesprobis

     (Crap, you edited while I was responding.)> sorry about that.

  • Foelhe

    You really need to explicitly say these things when you’re talking about how much a group sucks. I wasn’t even totally sure you were talking about gay rights until this post.

  • jamesprobis

    I edited my post and added the last two paragraphs. But I have to ask what exactly you thought I was talking about when I specifically mentioned the “hate the sin” bullshit. Frankly I think the first paragraph makes it abundantly clear I am talking about anti-gay bigots.

  • Foelhe

    That was my guess, I just wasn’t sure. You specifically said that you didn’t like Christians who stood against love. Gay rights was the safe bet, but there are a lot of topics some Christians take stances on that could’ve fallen under that argument.

    My point, though, was that it’s hard to be clear you’re only talking about anti-gay bigots when you don’t even say that gay people are who you’re talking about.

  • Not from over here. As someone raised in Christian culture, I have heard “love the sinner, hate the sin” applied to almost every so-called vice I can think of. It’s not something that’s going to make me jump straight to gay rights – because, honestly? the first thing it makes me think of is alcoholism.


  • Hmm… not to pick, but do you think Fred is that way? Passive, not allowing himself to be angry?

    Nope. The Christianity he was brought up in was different. Also, he’s a man, and was a boy. Girls and women have a much harder time giving themselves permission to be angry, because society says they are always wrong to be.

  • You keep saying things you posted were clear that were anything but, claiming you didn’t say things you did very clearly say, and yelling at people who respond to the things you said as if they should be responding to something else entirely. 

    “Gay rights” are not the only love in the world that a certain SUBset of Christians opposes. Not by a long shot. So no, you were anything but clear.

  • AnonymousSam

    Fair point about sex and permissible emotional displays. At least when you finally felt allowed to express anger, it was ultimately to your benefit. Many people wind up bottling up their anger to the point that bad things happen when it finally comes out.

  • Rebecca

    “I am agape at this lack of agape.”
    Beautiful. I know we say this all the time, but you should have a book… :D

    @Jenny Islander: wait, Christians also talk about yetzer hara?

  • I think you do good works because they need doing. Hungry people need food. Cold people need a coat. Thirsty people need a drink. That’s true, whether there is a God or no.

    If good works are connected in any way with salvation, then other people become a means to an end. And I can’t see how using other people as a means to an end can be moral.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I can actually see works-produced-by-faith as possible without treating people as means instead of as people. If you’re saved, it’s because you’re the sort of person who sees that these things need doing and then does them. Salvation doesn’t come from good works, nor good works from salvation, but they both come from the same thing, which in this is probably God.

    I’m not sure where in this people fall who do good works sometimes but are selfish other times–which is all of us who aren’t working ourselves to death to help others; selfish is not inherently bad.

  • English is very terrible about words for love. We’ve got… oh, one. Other languages have more. I wish we’d snarf pretty much all of them. 

    That is a big pet peeve of mine.  English has a lot of words, a lot of ways of expressing things with different degrees of subtly and meaning which can make for some great poetry.  However, there are certain concepts that it just cannot handle well.  We have very few words to describe love, despite love being a many splendored thing with quite a few gradients and variations that often need linguistic distinction.  

    Interestingly, English does have quite a few words to describe intellectual deficiency on the part of another person.  I think that maybe says something unpleasant about the kind of environment we inhabit.  

  • Well, close enough, though even Lake Woebegon would seem like a bustling metropolis compared to where I did grow up.

  • people like you are the reason Christianity has a bad name.

    No, I’m fairly sure that’s still the bigots’ fault.

    Also: this is why precise language is a good thing. Avoids confusion, y’see.

  • The_L1985

     Er, no, that’s ancient Greek.  The language the NT was originally written in.