why do I do these things to myself?

This Saturday, I am attending a Truth Project training simulcast at a local church.

"But, Sherri," you may well ask, "Why? You have a degree in philosophy and another in literature, and you have made it your business to focus on issues of culture and worldview. You have already taught a worldview course at your church, using a syllabus of your own design. Moreover, you have a well-known aversion to all things related to Focus on the Family. Why on earth would you need training from the Truth Project people?"

The answer is I do not need training in worldview, but several members of my parish think they do. Certain signs have led me to believe that the Truth Project's materials are going to make their way into the life of our parish, whether or not I have anything to do with it. So, I consider it my responsibility to vet the Truth Project to my satisfaction and issue the appropriate warnings and correctives where necessary.

The more I browse the TP site, the more I am anticipating spending a great deal of Saturday either grinding my teeth in frustration or resisting the impulse to curl into a fetal position. I have not ruled out bringing along a flask.

From the 'About' section of their site:

The Truth Project is a DVD-based small group curriculum comprised of 12 one-hour lessons taught by Dr. Del Tackett. This home study is the starting point for looking at life from a biblical perspective.

Gee, all this time I thought looking at life from a biblical perspective came from READING THE BIBLE.

But let's get real, shall we? At the beginning of the same page, we read that

In a recent study, the Barna Research Group revealed a stunning statistic that continues to reverberate throughout the evangelical world. Only 9 percent of professing Christians have a biblical worldview.

Because of this, today's believers live very similarly to non-believers. A personal sense of significance is rarely experienced, we spend our money and time on things that fail to satisfy and we begin to wonder what life's ultimate purpose really is. We are, in short, losing our bearings as a people and a nation.

As a people and a...nation? Which nation? Why, the USA, of course! The Barna survey they quote was a national survey, which means that nine percent figure is misleading. It does not take into account the fact the 60% of the world's Christians live outside Europe and North America. Take, for instance, the church currently offering our parish episcopal oversight, the Church of Nigeria, which boasts 17 million Christians. That's one denomination in one African country. In case you hadn't heard, Africa, and the rest of the global south, is the future of Christianity. These people are taking on hardships and challenges most American Christians can't-- or won't-- imagine, and their churches are growing while they do it. Take, for another instance, Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda, who survived the 1994 genocide (although many of his flock and family did not) to found the Sonrise orphanage for children of victims. I could go on, but I won't just now.

My point here is that the Truth Project's premises, from the outset, seem a touch narrow in vision and, well, filled with unexamined assumptions.

The twelve lessons they offer range from Potentially Good to Cringe-Inducing.

Potentially Good:

Lesson 11 - Labor: Created to Create

Contrary to a great deal of contemporary popular opinion, work is not a "curse." God Himself is active and creative, and He calls man to share in the joy of His activity and creativity. Labor, economics, media, and the creative arts all have a role to play in magnifying the glory of the Creator.

Hey, that's a good start, although I'm unclear on what exactly they mean by "economics" in that context. Presumably I'll find out.

Lesson 6 - History: Whose Story?

Does the past have an objective actuality and significance? Or does it, as postmodernist philosophy asserts, exist primarily inside our heads? This tour considers the meaning of history as God’s story and shows us why remembering is so important.

Which "postmodernist philosophy?" The very nature of postmodern thought is fracture and multiplicity. There's no one monolothic postmodern philosophy, unless it's the article of faith that monolithic philosophies are inherently untrustworthy-- what Jean-Francois Lyotard called "incredulity toward meta-narratives." When we start tossing around terms like "postmodernist philosophy" without bothering to indicate which one we're talking about, that makes me wonder if we even know which one we're talking about.

Even More Cringe-Inducing:

Lesson 5 - Science: What is True?

Science, the "systematic study of the natural world," brings to light innumerable evidences of Intelligent Design. But Darwinian theory transforms science from the honest investigation of nature into a vehicle for propagating a godless philosophy. (Part One)

A careful examination of molecular biology and the fossil record demonstrates that evolution is not a "proven fact." Meanwhile, history shows that ideas, including Darwinism as a social philosophy, have definite consequences – consequences that can turn ugly when God is left out of the picture. (Part Two)

First of all, science and epistemology? Two very different areas of study. They have some overlap, but each is in itself a huge area to consider in light of one's faith and understanding. But of all the huge areas of science to think about, we get the narrow slice that deals with evolution, and it is evidently so important that it gets two whole sessions to itself, the only topic so honored in this curriculum.

Which is very telling. The Truth Project does not seem to me to have as its goal the study of other worldviews in order to gain empathy and build relationships. Nor does it seem to me to be propagating a merely biblical worldview. The Truth Project aims to inculcate in its students a specific set of answers to a specific set of questions, so that they may then congratulate themselves on having a biblical worldview, and more confidently enter into debate with those who would take issue with any of the given answers. This looks to me like very intentional reinforcement of certain cultural identity markers, such that, in a world with Big Bad Scaries like multiculturalism and postmodernism, hosts of American evangelicals can soothe themselves that they are the good guys: whew! I am one of Us, not one of Them! And I have the 12 DVD set from the Truth Project to prove it (and Focus on the Family has my $179)!

Of course everyone is culturally situated and the proper study of worldview, like the proper study of anything else, involves not a removal from one's cultural context but the finding of a way forward in and through that context. My biggest problem with the Truth Project is not its situatedness within Western Christianity, or even conservative American political discourse, but rather its cheerful ignorance and/or disregard of that situatedness.

In the proper study of worldview (as defined by ME), one of the first steps is to ask yourself questions that make you aware of your own assumptions and limitations. I don't see that anywhere on the Truth Project's site. I'm hoping to be pleasantly surprised on Saturday. But I'm afraid I won't be.


Bea said...

Ooh, my (brand new) church is doing the Truth Project too, and I've been debating joining a small group, just because my teeth are not yet sufficiently ground.

Peter said...

Yes, epistemology (what is truth and how can we know it) is critical and many scientists have issues about the possibility of "knowledge" outside of science. But approaching a practicing scientist with a worldview that is as hostile to science as this project implies will win no converts, change no minds, and make no friends. I hope they are more tactically wise in the training than they seem to be on the web site.

Rob Marus said...

As difficult as it is to see you willingly attend a rally for a Republican presidential candidate, I'm thankful to see that you still disagree with at least some of FotF's insidious agenda.... ;-)

Veronica MItchell said...

I get nervous anytime someone uses the phrase "biblical worldview." I get the point - they mean a life lived in submission to scripture. I believe in that too, but "biblical worldview" implies that there is only one worldview in scripture (there's not) and that everything about it should be emulated (it shouldn't). I usually find myself muttering under my breath about slavery, polygamy and monarchic dictatorships.

Just the evolution thing in the flyer would have sent me running.

Julia said...

I too have an aversion to all things Focus on the Family, despite my childhood of being sent to worldview summer camps and the like. Picture 12-year-old me asking, "But WHY is a democratic republic what God wants?"

Recovering Sociopath said...

Rob-- don't worry, the suffering will be good for you. If it helps, you can tell yourself that I attended as an exercise in anthropological observation. :)

Kimberly said...

My assumption, without having read anything about it except for your post, is that this is designed for a fairly narrow set of people: those for whom philosophy, science, and/or epistemology are not high on the list of "things studied" as well as those who want to give some "teeth" to their belief that "the scripture is right."

For those people, of whom I suspect that there are a great number, the Truth Project appears to be a very fine start.

Keep in mind...boomers designed this. Boomers that are "rebelling" against that which was taught when they were coming of age: that truth is relative. It strikes me that VAST majority of boomers who became Christians feel a GREAT need to dig their heels in whenever anyone says things like: "gaining empathy and building relationships" or "finding a way forward in and through [one's cultural] context."

IMHO, as irritating as some things can be, I think FOTF has done more good than harm, and THAT is saying a lot these days.

Kimberly said...

And, re: Peter's comment, I think hostility to science is predicated on the notion that scientists are "out to get us" (I use quotation marks far too frequently). Which isn't true. But, the unthinking and maniacal assertion that a Darwinian explanation for origins is the ONLY explanation that is 'scientific' and therefore valid is the only opinion that is circulated in the lower levels of academia.

If one ever tries to bring up any evidence that is contradictory to the Darwinian explanation of origins in elementary, middle, high school, or even college, that person is scoffed at and ridiculed as an ignorant doofus. The reality is what the TP identifies, that a Darwinian explanation makes a whole lot of things more palatable for people than any kind of special creation. Of course, continuing on my diatribe: those scoffers are Boomers, too...just unconverted ones.

Ghost Writer said...

The major problem with people who have such a knee-jerk reaction against evolution is that they have NO idea what Darwin actually said. Yes, he had issues with God, losing his faith entirely after a lifetime of debilitating pain and the death of his darling ten year old daughter, who was the light of his life. However, Darwin never said we were descended from monkeys; he merely said that humans and monkeys had a common ancestor.

Besides, the progression of evolution that Darwin suggested follows the progression of creation in the Bible. There is no reason the two cannot coexist. The problem is that creationism should not be taught in public schools. It is not my job as a teacher to tell any student, be he Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, or Wiccan, who or what to believe in.

Evolution at its basis is incontrovertible. Genetic mutation happens. Species change. Humans engineer this in selective breeding of traits in plants and animals. Nature (God, whatever) does the same, so people living in warmer climates generally having darker skin than people who live in, say, northern Europe. We're still the same creature; we have just adapted to our living situations.

Frankly, the backlash against evolutionary theory is baffling to me. Even at my most religious, I never had a problem reconciling science and faith.

jculver said...

Hi there -
A mutual friend, Patton, referred me to your Truth Project post because his church is considering beginning it, and I'M right in the middle of it: my small group is watching video #2 this Friday. Glory be.

Thus, I've been awaiting with curiosity your follow-up post to the training. Jamie Smith's "Who's Afraid of Post-modernism" is a very nice supplement to viewing of the Truth Project, as is Newbigin's stuff.

Everyone ELSE in my small group is eating this stuff up, which perhaps was also the case at your training. Like you said, I'm worried that it creates a sort of good guy/bad guy dynamic, or what Merold Westphal calls the "Fonda Fallacy" - because the U.S. was EVIL in Vietnam, the N. Koreans were GOOD. Instead, worldview might be better used to examine ourselves?

Anyway, keep up the blogging! I blogged about a slightly similar issue at http://jculv.blogspot.com/2008/06/moreland-vs-pomo.html

Take care -

Layngster said...

You may be right on some of your observations, and are certainly right on some of it. But for all the self-examination you encourage others to apply, you could practice some yourself. You come across like a clanging symbol. I agree that the western church establishment needs to be challenged; I'm similarly inclined and called. As much as you believe that you speak the truth, you do so with a distasteful arrogance and are missing the love. Beware, for your own sake, that you don't become the clanging cymbal.