Professor Jay Wegter, in his review* of this book, was impressed by the amount of cultural analysis and worldview information packed into little more than 200 pages. The authors’ purpose is “to seek to carry on in the worldview-conscious tradition of James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, whose aim was simply to shine the brightest possible light on the Christian church’s mission in the public life of culture” (p. XIII). While this may have been the aim of the authors I believe their understanding of worldview and missions is actually shaped far more by Lesslie Newbigin, the former officer of the World Council of Churches and missionary to India. Newbigin is mentioned on at least 18 pages and is footnoted 31 times. Given Newbigin’s associations and influence on the emerging church this should send up red flags to anyone reading this volume. This does not immediately imply that the authors’ or Newbigin’s views are wrong, but that that there is a particular understanding of Christianity that must be realized if one is to discern what is being said.
On a positive note, Wegter rightly observes
The book contains a valuable section on the meaning of worldview as well as a convincing explanation of how fully our worldview shapes our decisions and conditions our entire interpretation of life (pp. 12-30). The authors give a caution along with their endorsement of the value of biblical worldview—but of all places, the caution comes from Roman Catholic mystic Thomas Merton (Contemplative Prayer). [Still] the portions on the foundations of biblical worldview were very helpful. Christ as Lord of all and central to our biblical worldview were persuasively written (pp. 32-33). In addition, the material on God as Author of the creational order and Structurer of reality were very useful as well.
The authors offer “four signs of the times:” 1) The rise of postmodernity, 2) consumerism and globalization, 3) the renascence of Christianity in the southern hemisphere, and 4) the resurgence of Islam (pp. 105-126). Much of this material is helpful but I found it incredible that the authors lump all branches of Christendom into the same pool and declare “Christianity” dominates in the southern hemispheres and even more incredible that they view these Christians (which are largely composed of Roman Catholic and various branches of Pentecostalism, including prosperity gospel proponents) as “predominantly an orthodox, conservative Christianity with a high view of the Bible” (p. 120). This is an indefensible position by any standard.
This raises questions as to how the authors understand the gospel. They write, “The gospel is the message of the kingdom… The good news that Jesus announces and enacts, and that the church is commissioned to embody and make known, is the gospel of the kingdom. We make a grave mistake if we ignore this, the central image of Jesus’ proclamation and ministry” (p. 2)… [The gospel] is God’s message about how He is at work to restore His world and all of human life (p. 4)… “[S]alvation is restorative: God’s saving work is about reclaiming His lost creation, putting it back the way it was meant to be” (p. 51).
I agree with Wegter who in his review laments the absence of penal substitution in the authors’ gospel message,
I can appreciate the stress upon ultimate restoration and kingdom living as a needed corrective to private, pietistic Christianity; but what is disconcerting is the absence of substitutionary atonement in this model of gospel proclamation… The authors go on to say, “It certainly is true that Jesus’ death is for us, but this is too narrow a version of the truth. In the biblical drama Jesus dies for the whole world, for every part of human life, for the whole nonhuman creation. The cross is an event whereby the course of cosmic history is settled” (p. 56). “The mission of the church is to make known a comprehensive restoration” (p. 57). Admittedly, the cosmic effects of Christ’s work are often neglected in evangelicalism. But, this reviewer would not want to see propitiation as the heart of the gospel of Christ de-emphasized and the gospel of restoration as the new gospel center.
This understanding of the gospel is rooted in the so-called cultural mandate (pp.16, 41, 44-45, 65-66), which is the belief that the church has not only been given the Great Commission, but also retains the mandate given to Adam in the Garden to subdue and rule over the earth (Gen 1:26-28). No discussion is given about whether the cultural mandate, which is never repeated after the Fall, is still a God-ordained agenda for mankind. I maintain that it is not. But much of Living at the Crossroads is contingent upon this idea coupled with the belief that Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God was initiated at the coming of Christ and our task now is to work with God to restore His rule over all of life (pp. IX, 1, 32, 52-59, 63, 107, 127, 133, 135). No interaction with the New Testaments texts in which Jesus says the kingdom is near, not here, is ever given. Nor is there any mention of Acts 1:1-8 where it is abundantly clear that upon Christ’s ascension the kingdom was not yet on earth. The authors assume throughout that salvation is the restoration of the original created order, but no discussion is offered concerning passages such as 2 Peter 3 and Revelation 21 which seem to indicate not a restoration but a complete destruction of the existing physical universal and a new creation.
Wegter observes that the authors believe, “Engaging culture (redeeming culture) is described as “highly contextual” and best carried out by means of “perspectives on public life” (pp. 139, 146). These perspectives on public life are as follows: business, politics, art, sports, scholarship, psychology, economics, and education. The implicit message is that culture will be redeemed as Christians make a faithful contribution to and impact on each of these disciplines.” The authors clarify their position when they state that the church cannot build or usher in God’s kingdom, but can make it visible by its actions (p. 60, cf. pp. 142-143, 176-177).
Wegter is concerned, as I am, that
If an unbeliever were to read the book, it might leave him with the impression that by adopting God’s creational plan for every area of life, he would be a true Christian. Without a strong emphasis on the condition of the sinner, the need of regeneration, and the finished work of Christ, by default we are left with a social gospel—even if that is not the intent of the book. The final 50 pages would have been so much stronger if the power of God in the gospel were put on display and expressed as the means by which sinners are changed. Without the message of the cross being central and the sinner’s necessary response of faith and repentance, the cultural mandate can easily regress into social reform. The church is called to proclaim Christ crucified and risen for helpless and rebellious sinners. Our gospel has penal substitution at its core. In our efforts to engage our culture, let us never forget that culture is redeemed by the conversion of sinners—one at a time by the blood of Christ.
The authors are at their best when it comes to explaining the development of worldviews historically and connecting the dots between what we believe today and the philosophies of the past. And I believe they are on target when they identify consumerism as the dominate worldview of our day (p. 118). As such, I believe this book can be of value to critical thinkers who have a firm grasp of Scripture but need a refresher in worldview issues and the use of worldview as a framework for evangelism. But the concerns mentioned above should be evaluated seriously.
*Jay Wegter’s full review can be found in the Journal of Dispensational Theology, Volume 40.