Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Theistic Existentialism of the Emergents and the Patriocentrists: Revisitng Worldview as One Recovers from Cultic Christianity

Before moving on to new territory, I want to finish up some loose ends related to both patriocentricity and the emergent church. Both groups share a foundational problem from my perspective, one that also sometimes challenges my own life by virtue (?virtue?) of coming of age in what was quickly becoming a post-Christian culture. That problem is “Theistic Existentialism” by virtue of the fact that their religions see man as central to life rather than seeing God as central to life. It is a subtle distinction but an important and an original one, dating back to “You shall be like God.”

These matters discuss issues related to “WORLDVIEW,” and I am almost reluctant to use that term anymore. I’ve talked with several mothers over the past few years who feel that the term has been used to barrage and berate them within the patriarchy movement and within patriocentricity. One mom told me that she said she hates the term now and cringes when she hears it. This “hijacking” of so many other terms like this, terms that have been turned into though-stopping clich├ęs or buzz terms that shut down critical thinking through the cultic technique of loading the language. Terms like worldview have become cult programming for some, much like seeing the Queen of Hearts or like hearing one’s full name spoken in a particular way in the two film versions of the “Manchurian Candidate." The stimulus (the word “worldview”) becomes associated with punishment, an expected response or shame induction for many people who have escaped and renounced patriocentricity. (And note that the term “patriocentricity” came about to differentiate it from the legitimate term “patriarchy” and all that it represents.)

First, I would like to point out what worldview is from one of my favorite books on the topic that condenses the various worldviews that are out there, James Sire’s “The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.” My copy is an “updated and expanded version,” but I know that it’s been updated and re-released at least once since I bought this copy in the late eighties. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like 21 years ago…

So, to hopefully redeem or rescue the term worldview from cultic Christianity, I would like to point out Sire’s very simple seven questions describing what worldview actually describes. The list appears on page 18 of my edition of the book.

  1. What is prime reality – the really real?
  1. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
  1. What is a human being?
  1. What happens to a person at death?
  1. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
  1. How do we know what is right and wrong?
  1. What is the meaning of human history?

On page 19, Sire offers some other ideas that expand upon this list:
Within various basic world views other issues often arise. For example: Who is in charge of this world – God or humans or no one at all? Are we as human beings determined or free? Are we alone the maker of values? Is God really good? Is God personal or impersonal? Or does he exist at all? . . .

The fact is that we cannot avoid assuming some answers to such questions. We will adopt either one stance or another; refusing to adopt an explicit world view will turn out itself to be a world view or at least a philosophic position. In short, we are caught. So long as we live, we will live either the examined or the unexamined life. It is the assumption of this book that the examined life is better.

So for those who have emerged from any ideology, system of thought or belief or cultic version of Christianity itself, these very questions demand to be answered. That can prove to be painful; so many people shrink back from this task in avoidance. As I heard Don Veinot say HERE, “The plain things are the main things.” Because aberrant Christianity refocuses on matters that are not the main things and are hence not so plain, even the reading the Bible, the source of our healing, can be a terrifying process. Getting back to a place of safety and trust, coming out of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, involves answering questions about worldview. In that sense, cultic Christianity becomes a very effective weapon, making every source of healing for the Christian a source of pain while challenging one’s trust in the basics: trusting the body of Christ, trusting the Word of God, trusting one’s own ability to put both into perspective, and making one’s worldview truly one’s own. Cultic Christianity becomes the perfect weapon against intimacy with God, the Body of Christ and one’s confidence in self, alienating a person from health.

So, if you find the process of re-examining things difficult, remind yourself that you are well on your way to healing. If you’ve been in any manipulative relationship that asks you to absorb someone else’s legalistic views, re-evaluating that you are and what you believe becomes an intimidating process. If you find that most of your faith was not based upon faith in what the Bible actually says clearly and plainly but rather on someone else’s legalistic interpretation of it, the hard questions of worldview and the religious ones that follow it demand re-evaluation, and they demand your answers rather than your group’s answers. They may turn out to be answers that are “Theistic Existentialist” answers (what Sire names them in his book) where you accommodate God in your life rather than entering into life in Him (as the New Testament admonishes).

This is not what “Christian Theism,” should be (the term Sire uses for the Christ-centered ideal Christian worldview), but if it is where you are, you can start the process of working out your own salvation with fear and trembling before God. But when you’ve honestly assessed where you stand before God and in relation to the Word, your faith becomes your own. You can focus your energy and devotion on your relationship with God (who we know through the Word of God) rather than spending all of your energy trying to measure up to someone else’s opinion about how the Christian life should work and how it should look based upon signs associated with external measures of faith.

Because of our sin nature, and the carnal influences that we are always subject to in this life, I believe that “Theistic Existentialism” becomes the place where most Christians fall by default when their focus migrates away from the plain and main things elements of Christianity. I believe that over time, patriocentricity became diverted on to the peripherals that were of concern to the men that governed it, projecting their own carnal concerns on to the Body of Christ. In so doing, they became theistic existentialists where Christ falls second to concerns of family and of men. The emergent church seems to have started from an existentialistic place, putting the things of God into perspective based upon how God fits into man’s world.

And when I am not where I should be in my faith and do not make the continual effort to submit to God, choosing rather to live by my own desires first, I also become a Theistic Existentialist. I don’t directly choose to be like God and follow it up with an action like unto eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, I just live in a manner where I behave as though I am like God. Then I wake up and tremble in reverence before a Holy God, repenting of my wandering away like a theistic existentialist sheep gone astray. I know who the Shepherd is, I want to serve the Shepherd and I love him, but I have turned to my own way, making myself the center of the universe. And the Shepherd comes after me. May I always hear His voice and respond to his call by running back into His open arms.

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
Isaiah 55:6-7

Excerpts taken from James Sire's
InterVarsity Press, 1976 first ed,
quotes appearing here from the 1988 edition