A Christian worldview (2) fall

The Bible presents a narrative of Creation, Fall and Redemption.  A story of what our world is like and what God is doing in and through it. We might expect, then, that academia, as an enterprise located in God’s creation, fits into this narrative. In Anthony’s recent post we saw that Christian academics have the privilege of studying God’s multifaceted creation “to unearth some of the riches that God has made possible in this created order, and to put those treasures on display for the benefit of everyone, and for the glory of God.” After the biblical narrative sets up our task as creatures, however, we learn that our task and the rest of the created order are “subject to frustration” (Gen 3:17; Romans 8:20). This is known as the Fall.

The Fall affects the task of Christian academics. Not just because the thing we’re studying (creation) is fallen, but also because we ourselves (the studiers), as part of creation, are fallen. This prompts the question: in what ways is the task of the Christian academic affected by the Fall? I think there are at least two answers to this.

1) Idolatrous worldviews

First, the Fall means that we seek alternative worldviews.

At the Fall man fell into sin. I agree with Tim Keller that sin can, ultimately, be characterized as idolatry. He writes,

[s]in isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than God. Whatever we build our lives on will drive us and enslave us. Sin is primarily idolatry.[1]

In this case any worldview that takes a part of God’s creation and makes it ultimate is an idol. Take scientism. Scientism sees that we can understand the world in new and interesting ways though scientific study and then makes that the arbiter of ultimate truth. So, the worldview goes, if a certain truth-claim cannot be explained by the natural sciences or fails to offer itself as explicable by the sciences then it cannot be considered as truth.

We must be aware that there are idolatrous worldviews that we, and members of our universities, colleges and departments, may turn towards. While these may offer valid truth claims that can help with the task of understanding God’s creation, they can also be subversive: they can make claims that ultimately distort truth, thereby disrupting the academic task to unearth some of the riches that God has embedded in this created order.

 2) The noetic effect of sin

The Fall also makes our task as intellectuals hard.

The Bible tells us that sin affects all of creation – including our minds (Rom 1:18). This is easy to forget. Whether in the lab, giving a paper, conversing in a seminar or writing up our theses, it’s tempting to think that we can have exhaustive knowledge of our subject area. Or at least assume that we carry out our task unhindered by any limitations on our cognitive faculties.

But the reality of the Fall requires us to realise that while understanding can be gained and insights made, our knowledge will only ever be creaturely and the workings of our minds, this side of resurrection, will only ever be fallen and broken. This should give us great humility when it comes to engaging in the academic task. We cannot know creation fully (i.e. from God’s perspective) and neither can we know it without hindrance from the Fall. So we must be aware that our work may, and probably will at some point, contain logical fallacies, false claims and other errors.

The Fall, and its effects on research, stands as the dark backdrop to the exciting potential for redemptive work by Christian academics. But you’ll have to await a forthcoming post for that.

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[1] http://www.monergism.com/postmodernidols.html [accessed July 2014]

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