Back in Black: It’s Thursday But Friday’s Coming!

Black Friday is the high holy day of conspicuous consumption. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the day that we look toward God in gratitude for his provision. Instead we glut ourselves and whet our appetites for a day at the mall. It is the Friday after Thanksgiving when most retail stores go from being in ‘the red’ (owing) to ‘in the black’ (turning a profit). We awake from our tryptophan-induced slumbers to hunt for the best prices, the biggest and best Christmas gifts (some of which are for ourselves).  We will push carts through the crowd and will maneuver to get what we want. We will hunt for the gifts that say, “You are special and we love you” at the least personal cost to us. Nothing says I love you like a new blender for $14.99

In previous years I have abstained from Black Friday, at the very least avoiding big stores and shopping malls.  This year I am working at a hardware store and have set up the displays for tomorrow’s sale. I am complicit in the mass consumption.  Others will participate by going to the mall or big box stores because of the promise of the best prices (or best shot of getting the item you want).

I find the name ‘Black Friday’ ironic. There is another Friday we call Good where the sun disappeared from the sky, the ground shook and God died. We call that Good Friday because through such a death God opened up the way to new life for humanity. A day of buying and selling of goods, we call Black Friday and the name communicates more than the move from credits to the debits. Black Friday has left an indelible mark on our souls.

In Desiring the Kingdom (2009) James K.A. Smith explores how the ‘liturgy of the shopping mall’ both reflects what matters to us and shape what matters to us (93).  The telos of the mall is antithetical to the Kingdom of God and represents an alternative vision. Smith observes that the mall’s version of the Kingdom carries  an implicit notion of human brokenness (I’m broken, therefore I shop), a strange configuration of sociality (we size up people based on our own shopping habits), promises the hope of redemption through consumption (always something newer, better, shinier), and provides an unsustainable vision of human flourishing (96 ff).

Smith uses the mall as an example of a secular liturgy. His project  is to get us to pay attention to our practices of worship and the implications for Christian education (and formation). My question is, if Smith is right about the mall both reflecting what matters to us and shaping what matters to us, what does it say about us that we begin our Advent season every year with a day of mass-consumption? If our participation in Black Friday shapes us into good consumer capitalists, how are we being shaped as citizens of God’s Kingdom? What practices nourish us? Where can we find an alternative vision of the mall?

Black Friday has muddied our souls and still many of us will brave crowded parking lots and long lines tomorrow. No judgement. If you come into my store tomorrow, I will sell you a power tool you don’t need for someone who doesn’t really want it. I want you to know that consumerism is a lie which subverts the truth and dulls your senses. Shop if you must, but guard your heart.

Christian Contours: Worldview for Shapely Christians (A book review)

If you were lucky enough to attend a Christian college (or Homeschool High) you probably are familiar with the importance of”the Biblical Worldview.” Basically, a worldview is a conceptual framework which includes all the beliefs we hold as true (our view of the world). In Christian Contours: How a Biblical Worldview Shapes the Mind and Heart, the faculty of Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota (a Christian college), under the editorial direction of former colleague, Douglas Huffman (now at Biola University, another Christian college), flesh out what the Biblical worldview is, its importance and how we may live faithfully, formed by our Christian convictions. This book provides an accessible guide to major issues and they do an admirable job of presenting a unified argument (no small feat, as there are ten authors in total). Bellow I will offer a brief summary of the book’s contents followed by my comments.

Christian Contours is divided into two parts. In part one, Randy Nelson, Douglas Huffman, Walter Schultz and Paul Kjoss Helseth present an overview of worldview thinking and their conceptual framework for defining and addressing the Biblical worldview. In chapter one, Randy Nelson articulates the beliefs that he sees as forming the essential core of a worldview: Theology, Anthropology, Ethics, Soteriology, Epistemology (29-30). It is through these beliefs that we perceive and process reality, which in turn affect how we live. To be a Christian means we embrace the Biblical worldview (that is, the Bible informs and shapes beliefs in any of these areas).In chapter two, Huffman argues that there is one single unified biblical worldview, despite the plethora of denominations and theological viewpoints (from a standpoint of metaphysical realism). In chapter three, Schultz relates the concept of truth to God’s Knowledge of himself and creation and argues that worldviews are only true insofar as they agree with God’s knowledge. In chapter four, Huffman and Helseth present the Biblical worldview under the rubric of core beliefs that Nelson articulated in chapter one (they acknowledge that a biblical worldview can also be presented in a narrative form, or a creedal way).

Part two focuses on contemporary challenges to living from a Biblical worldview. In chapter five Daryl Aaron talks about the need for intellectual humility when two or more Christians striving to live out the biblical worldview come into inevitable conflict. Mark Muska talks about maintaining a personal Biblical worldview despite our inconsistencies (stemming from submerged beliefs). Ardel
Caneday addresses the challenge of pluralism (chapter 7) while James Raymo and Dale Hutchcraft challenge readers to Evangelize and invite others into the Christian worldview (chapter 8).

Besides these parts, Huffman writes a brief conclusion and there are two appendices and an annotated bibliography for thinking through the Biblical worldview as it relates to various academic disciplines. I particularly enjoy good bibliographies and found this one to be helpfully constructed.

As someone passionate about faith and learning and wanting to see people embrace a meaty faith, I think this book makes a valuable contribution to the literature on the Christian worldview. It challenges Christians to not compartmentalize their faith, but to think Christianly (biblically) about all of life. To this end, I think this book will prove a valuable resource for Christian academics (Christian colleges), apologetic minded organizations, and for theological minded Christians who are eager to connect faith to life.

However, I am also suspicious of the worldview project for ways in which it privileges the intellectual and cognitive side of Christianity demoting behavior and desires to a secondary status, easily brought inline by right thinking. James A. K. Smith of Calvin College (a Christian College) offers a critique of worldview thinking which I think is apt here:

First, this focus on a Christian worldview as a system of beliefs and doctrines marginalizes or ignores the centrality of distinctly Christian practices that constitute worship–arguably the single most important thing that Christians do. From most expositions of “the Christian worldview,” you would never guess that Christians worship! From the pictures of Christians implied in worldview-talk, one would never guess that we become disciples by engaging in communal practices of baptism, communion, prayer, singing and dancing. Second, this focus on beliefs is inattentive to the pedagogical significance of material practices. The cognitive-centric approach exhibits a fixation on the cognitive region, a kind of tunnel vision that is narrowly focused on the mind. Because of this, the body–and all the things associated with the body, like the imagination–don’t really show up on the radar. (Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview and Cultural Formation, 64).

As unfair the authors of Christian Contours may find this, I don’t think they really escape Smith’s critique. Huffman et al. claim that the Biblical Worldview shapes mind AND heart(notice the order), but there is almost no discussion of the affections, except as a secondary consideration. Similarly they fail to account for the ways our practice opens us up to new beliefs (rather than just worldview controlling practices) Sometimes truth is in the bones before it is in the brain.

This doesn’t invalidate many of their fine and helpful observations and arguments. Instead I think that a book like this which addresses Christian beliefs is best read by practicing Christians well-formed by worship, liturgy and practices.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.