Michael Horton explains why he wrote The Christian Faith:
For chapter 1: Dissonant Dramas: Paradigms for Knowing God and the World Horton starts by stating: “The opening claim of this systematic theology is that the triune God is the object of theology and that this God is knowable because he has revealed himself to us.” (p. 35) Just as John Calvin did in The Institutes of Christian Religion, Horton starts with knowing God.
To help make sense of the dissonant dramas in our world Horton uses an interesting paradigm from Paul Tillich. Tillich was a German existentialist philosopher and theologian who lived in the 20th century. I have read one of his books but not Theology of Culture from which this paradigm comes. Tillich said that all of the philosophical theories could be grouped under two paradigms: overcoming estrangement and meeting a stranger. Horton adds a third, the stranger we never meet. (p.36) When I first read this I was not sure what he met but as he goes through different narratives (worldviews) I found it to be a helpful paradigm.
Starting with pantheism and panentheism, Horton states that “the first grand narrative erases (or tends to erase) the infinite-qualitative distinction between God and creatures”. The lines are blurred and this starts with a dualism in such writers as Plato. “The divine is somehow buried with us”, and “does not enter into times and places he has created.” This concept of the Creator with creation was part of Greek philosophy and continued in the second century with Gnosticism. Even later in Western Christianity, among the mystics there was this pantheistic bent, which continued with the radical mysticism in the Middle Ages.
Horton views atheism and deism as the stranger we never met. He sees similarities between pantheism and atheism, as they both believe that there is only one kind of reality. “Pantheism assumes that the upper world is real and this world is mere appearance, while atheism assumes that the upper world is real and this world is nonexistent.” (p.40) He offers in chart form these four worldviews and their beliefs about God. He ends this section with “in sharp contrast, the biblical narrative tells the story of the triune God who created all of reality (visible and invisible) out of nothing for his own glory…”
I found this section helpful as I agree with Horton that we see more and more people in 21st century America who are either pantheist, panentheist, atheist or deist. I teach a course for 11th graders entitled “Building a Christian Worldview”. We start with God and creation and discuss what it means to be created imago deo and learn the creation mandate. After much discussion on the concept of worldviews we start with the Ancient Greeks and go through Western Civilization to the 21st century looking at the philosophy of each age and how that is reflected in its literature and arts. We compare these philosophies with a Christian perspective. We see how our culture has gotten to the place it is today.
The goal is for students to take what they have been taught from their parents and their church and be able to use it as they look at different philosophies. They are coming to understand what a Biblical worldview is and solidify what they believe. We want to “see to it that no one takes (them) captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8 (ESV). And we want them to be able to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:5 (ESV).
Having said that though, is that not what we want to be teaching our own children, and for that matter ourselves? Horton has given a helpful paradigm to teach my students and to use myself, so we can discern the narrative of those around us, articulate the truth and dialog and with those who have not met the Stranger. As we dialog with others some may, by God’s grace come face to face with the One who will then no longer be a Stranger.
How did you meet the Stranger?