Jeff Myers on understanding the times

Q&A | What Christians—and everyone—should know about the six major worldviews today
by Warren Cole Smith
Posted 8/11/15, 12:38 pm

Summit Ministries, a Christian worldview and apologetic ministry based in Manitou Springs, Colo., has trained more than 50,000 high school and college students. Jeff Myers became president of Summit three years ago, taking over the reins from ministry founder David Noebel. In the early 1990s, Noebel wrote a book called Understanding the Times that is now used at Summit, at Christian schools, and in the homeschooling community all over the nation. We had this conversation in Myers’ home in Manitou Springs, right across the street from Summit’s headquarters. 

You’ve just released a revised and updated version of Understanding the Times. Can you tell me about the history of the book? The phrase “understanding the times” comes from 1 Chronicles 12:32 where the tribe of Issachar [was] said to be men who understood the times and knew what Israel ought to do. Shouldn’t we as Christians be ones who understand the times in which we live and know what America ought to do? David Noebel’s idea was every worldview out there is a religious worldview. We lived in a rule-governed universe, and in rule-governed universes, patterns emerge, so people are consistent.

Whatever you develop as your theology is going to be the basis of your philosophy and your ethics and pretty much everything else in life, and you can make predictions based on these. … David Noebel put all this together in this book, Understanding the Times. It has sold probably 500,000 copies, largely used in Christian schools by hundreds of thousands of young people learning a biblical worldview as part of their Bible curriculum. Now we have the opportunity to update it, put it into a brand new format, bring in all the new facts and arguments made by each worldview and really make it something that every Christian family can have on their shelf as a way to quickly reference what’s actually happening in the world and why.

You say early in the book that your view of God determines your view of the world. What do you mean by that? If somebody believes God is a personal God who is relational, then one of our purposes in life is to be relational with one another, to form a community. But half the people who believe in God today believe God is a cosmic force. A person is someone you love, a force is something you use. If you start off with that different of a definition of God, you’re going to arrive at very different conclusions, not only about [what] to do personally in your life, but what the government ought to do, what society ought to do, what we ought to do about criminal justice and poverty and everything else.

Talk about some of the individual worldviews discussed in the book and why you limited it to those six. We have the biblical, Christian worldview. Then we have five worldviews that I think of as counterfeit worldviews in that they try to replace Christianity, but their answers are insufficient. They give a shriveled view of reality. The first and probably the biggest one in the United States of America is secularism. Secularism simply says whether God exists or not is irrelevant to anything that is important in life.

The second worldview, probably, as far as being widespread in the world today, is Marxism. About one out of five people in the world today live under a Marxist regime. Almost every other country has people who’ve been influenced by Marxist thinkers who are trying to change public policy. 

A third worldview is new spirituality. In Manitou Springs, Colo., where Summit Ministries is located, this is worldview you see—new age, new spiritual, Zen Buddhism. All of these different ideas all just converging together to try to make a new American worldview that says our goal in life is to search for higher consciousness. If we do that, and we all do it together, then we can bring world peace. 

An additional worldview is postmodernism. … The way I think of it is, Marxists broke postmodernists’ heart, and they haven’t dated anybody since. It’s a critical worldview. It just looks at everything and says, “Well, you know, there’s no truth actually out there, and all the arguments you’re making for your truth are just cynical arguments because you’re just trying to claim power over everybody else.” Postmodernism is this very dour view that looks at everything from a critical stance and proposes no solutions. 

Then, finally, you have Islam, which is a growing influence in the United States of America, a growing influence in Western Europe, probably the second largest worldview in the world. … You take all six of these together and you’re covering, probably, 95 percent of the people in the world. … If you want to understand the times in which you live, the world in which we live today, you’ve got to understand something of these six different worldviews.

Do those worldviews shift overtime, or have you found that this model has remained fairly static? Some of these worldviews last for thousands of years. Hinduism, maybe, is one of the world’s oldest religions and very well-developed and well-thought, thousands of years old. Secularism as a worldview probably began with the enlightenment. Marxism began in the 1800s. Each of these worldviews, though, in its current manifestation, seems to have a lifespan of a couple hundred years. Marxism is just as influential in much of the world today as it’s ever been, but as Americans we’re kind of euro-centric. We see fewer Marxist countries in Europe, and we think that since Europe is the center of reality to our way of thinking, which is not a correct way, we think, “Oh, it must be going away, so Marxism must be dead.” …

The idea of Marxism is that the rich people are rich because the poor are poor. There’s only a certain amount to go around. The rich people have stolen it from the poor people, [so] the poor people need to revolt. That idea of revolution as the basis of life is still the basis of a lot of thinking on university campuses today. Every student going off to a university will run into that worldview.

Secularism is an interesting one. David Noebel talked about secular humanism, which was a particular philosophy of secularism. A lot of people said, “Well, I’m not a secular humanist. I’m not a member of that club, the American Humanist Association, so that doesn’t fit me.” All the secular humanists died and all of their intellectual offspring, so to speak, call themselves secularists. It did change a little bit, but the fundamental principal that God is irrelevant to anything that’s important in life is just as much a part of that worldview as it was in the 1700s when Rousseau was advocating the same thing.

Your ultimate position is that the Christian worldview best explains the universe. That’s exactly right. We use four tests of whether a worldview fits what’s really real. Is it reasonable: Can you explain it logically? Does it fit the test of the outer world: Does it make sense of things we see around us? Does it make sense of the inner world—our hopes and fears and our disappointments and our dreams and all of those things? Then finally, the test of the real world: Can we actually live this out? When you look at these different worldviews you realize, “Wow, secularism does explain a lot of things, but it doesn’t explain enough.” 

I’ll give you a quick example. The secularist worldview is primarily materialist. It says only the material world or the physical world exists. … All through Scripture, you see that both the material world and the immaterial, or the spiritual world, exist and they interact with one another in such a way as to create this profound understanding of life.  You take away any idea of the spiritual, it’s like trying to engage in reality with one arm tied behind your back. Secularism, can explain a lot about the material world, but because it denies the spiritual, denies the supernatural, it doesn’t explain what really makes life meaningful for real people who live in the real world. …

In any one worldview, if they just take one point, they might take their very best debating point and throw it out there, all the Christians say, “Oh gosh, that’s really hard to respond to.” If you line the worldviews up side by side and look at them categorically and exhaustively, you realize there’s not even a close competitor to a Christian worldview in explaining reality as God made it.

Let me ask you a bottom-line question here, Jeff. You know there are over a billion people who are Muslim in the world. You mentioned the Marxist worldview is one-fifth of the planet, so that’s over a billion people that are living under that worldview. The secular worldview might even be bigger because here in the United States we have many hundreds of millions of people who probably have a secular worldview of some kind or another. The odds seem to be stacked against the Christian worldview right now. Are you hopeful? I’m hopeful. I know that sounds crazy to people who look at the odds stacked against us, but no matter what happens, we live in a world in which Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again from the dead. My judgments about whether I think what we’re doing will succeed, aren’t as important as God’s instructions to be fruitful, multiply, to fill the Earth, to subdue it, to disciple all the nations to obey God in every area in which Jesus Christ has authority.

Here’s the fault line I’m noticing in society: I am having more conversations now than 10 years ago, even than two years ago, with everyday people who are coming to me saying, “Okay, I got a question, I need to understand this.” When I was in college, if you said, “I want to talk about God,” people would just laugh at you. Now everybody wants to talk. “Hey, what about this, what about that?” I think the opportunities for Christians are present in ways they have never been present before. 

Biblical truth is true. There are grains of truth on the sand and the shore of every worldview, but my main impression writing this book was, I feel sorry for people who embrace these other worldviews. They’re shriveled. They’re counterfeits; they’re not the real deal. Biblical Christian truth emerges in a new, shining, exciting way. I think with the number of Christians we have in the world, this could be one of the greatest times in the history of the church.

Listen to Warren Cole Smith’s complete conversation with Jeff Myers on Listening In.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren is vice president of mission advancement for The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and the host of WORLD Radio’s Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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