If you are a Christian, have you ever wondered how life would be if you chose to an Atheist or if you were born in a Muslim family? If you are not a Christian, what would change if you had embraced Jesus as Lord and Saviour?
Hi, my name is Terence and I’m your host for Reading and Readers, a podcast where I review Christian books for you. Today I review “What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions” by James N. Anderson. 112 pages. Published by Crossway in January 2014. This book was awarded World Magazine’s 2014 Popular Theology Book of the Year. It’s available for USD7.99 via Amazon Kindle and free via Faithlife for the month of May. Yes, for a limited time, you can get this book for free through Faithlife, so just stop whatever you are doing and do that.
Before There Were Game Machines
Before Gameboys, I played game books. Game books are page turners, literally.
You are a warrior searching for treasure in the forest. A troll ambushes you. What do you do? To fight, turn to page 10; to flee, turn to page 37. You turn pages to eventually know how your story ends.
Story books give you immersion. Game books give you immersion and decisions. Can we use game books, not to explore a make-believe world, but to explore beliefs and worldviews?
You are a man, a woman, searching for meaning in the world. A Professor of Theology and Philosophy ambushes you. What do you believe? Is there a God? If you say yes, turn to page 10; if you say no turn to page 37. You turn pages to eventually discover your worldview.
Who was that Professor of Theology and Philosophy who ambushed you? The writer of today’s book, Dr. James Anderson, a Professor at Reformed Theological Seminary, is also an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He has two PhDs. The first PhD was in computer simulation. The second PhD explored the paradoxical nature of certain Christian doctrines and the implications for the rationality of Christian faith.
With the power of his two PhDs, Dr. Anderson has seen a million possible worlds, a multiverse of madness, and reveals that there is only one worldview that truly explains the reality you and I live in.
A Million Possible Worlds But Only One Is True
The first cosmic question he throws at you is: “Do you have the Power to Make Free Choices?” In just 200 or so words, Anderson takes is a head-spinning philosophical question and breaks it down to a street level. The chapter begins: “Chips or salad? Diet Coke or Dr Pepper? Dine-in or take-out?” He continues to give us just enough background for us to understand and attempt the question, “Do you have the Power to Make Free Choices?” Yes or no. Turn to the corresponding page.
Once you have made your choice, you are set on a pre-determined path that branches off into more and more questions until you reach a destination. That destination is 1 of 21 listed worldviews. Based on your choices, this is what you believe. Or is it?
Let’s do one question in depth to see how this book works. Let’s consider: “The Knowledge Question”. “Is it possible to know the truth?”
Anderson sets up the question:
Most people would agree that we have intellectual faculties, such as reason and perception, that allow us to investigate matters of interest to us and to discover the truth about those matters. Even if we don’t have absolute certainty about most things, we can still know a great deal about ourselves and the world around us by using our intellectual faculties in responsible ways.
Later he writes:
Other people, however, take a much lower view of the human mind. They insist that even if there is objective truth about important matters, no one can really know what it is. Everyone has his own opinions, and some of those opinions may happen to be true, but no one’s opinions are more or less reasonable than anyone else’s. Certainly no one has any right to say she knows the truth. We’re all mired in ignorance, and the sooner we accept that the better.
The question is: “Is it possible to know the truth — at least some truth?”
If you say yes, go to this page. If you say no, go to that page.
What is your answer? I know your answer is yes, of course it’s possible to know the truth or some truth, but just for fun, out of curiousity, let’s explore the other answer. What if it’s not possible to know the truth.
I turn to that page and I am greeted in big letters, “Worldview: Skepticism”. Anderson explains that Skepticism is attractive because it’s humble to say, “I don’t know” but skepticism is wrong because it’s hubris to say, “Nothing can be known”.
First, what you say is not consistent with how you live. If you truly believe that there is no possibility to know things, then “our everyday decisions and actions would be pointless and worthless”.
Second, it is self-defeating. “If you want to be a consistent Skeptic, you should be as doubtful about Skepticism as you are about everything else.”
Do you want to re-consider your answer? That’s easy because every worldview ends with an invitation to go back to the earlier question. Before I knew it, I finished the book, meaning I went through every possible path in the book. It’s been a long time since I finished 100% of a game.
Choose Your Worldview
I could read out all the questions you would encounter in the book but that will just spoil it, it would kill the fun. Not knowing what questions will come up is part of the reading experience. The experience of surprise and delight.
“Oh, I didn’t expect him to ask this question.”
“Hmm… if I answer it this way, what will be the outcome?”
“I didn’t realise if I believe in this, then it also means I believe in that.”
Anderson is giving me enough rope to hang myself with, meaning his questions prompts answers where I incriminate myself. What I claim to believe is inconsistent with how I live.
In the hands of another author, you might feel bullied by the incessant questions and manic compulsion to take a position but in the hands of James Anderson, it is all in good fun. It is a game. An intellectually satisfying puzzle where you can trace the logical cause and effect every step of the way. When he asks a question, he doesn’t stack the deck to make you choose ‘the correct answer’, the Christian answer, but he poses it in such a way that all the choices are reasonable.
Clear Christian Bias
But reasonable does not mean it’s true. People have reasons to believe that the Earth is flat, that doesn’t mean it’s true. If you are worried that Anderson’s book ends up like one of those small group session where everyone shares an opinion but nobody has a conclusion, then be assured that Anderson has a conclusion.
As Anderson tells us upfront, everyone has biases. Anderson is a seminary professor and an ordained minister, but more importantly he is a Christian so he can’t and mustn’t end on all religions are true, all paths lead to God. That’s pluralism, by the way, not Christianity.
His Christian bias shows up not just in what he considers as the correct worldview, it also comes up when he evaluates other worldviews.
Anderson asks, “Can a God that is less than purely good be worthy of the title ‘God’?” In another place, he asks, “Would a God who is neither personal nor perfect be worthy of our love and our worship?” These are Christian presuppositions.
If I was a non-Christian, I would argue, “Why not? Why can’t God be flawed like the Greek or Norse gods. Why should God desire our love or worship? It is what it is.”
Hang on, would a non-Christian even open this book? It’s so obviously a Christian book designed to challenge our worldviews. That sounds as enticing as jumping into a pool of thumbtacks.
Boundary Markers For Non-Bigots
The appeal to non-Christians here is truth packaged in an interactive back and forth with a friendly tone and intellectual honesty.
He sets up the question as briefly and as fairly as he can, then responds to your answer by admitting the attractiveness of the position but also the problems that arises.
If you are not a Christian, you might object that Anderson has exaggerated the problems. But you can’t expect too much from a short 100 page book that covers Atheism to Unitarianism. Or you might object that it’s too simplistic or your worldview is not covered or some other objections. To his credit, Anderson pre-empts many of these objections in the Appendix of the book including a straightforward answer to those who question the Christian bias in the book.
The intellectual honesty is not just in how he brings out opposing views and at the same time asserting his own convictions. That is hard to do but perhaps harder now than ever is being able to set boundary markers without being called a bigot. Is it possible to draw a battle line without engaging in battles?
Yes, if you role play it. The same way how gamers can take turns playing Terrorists and Counter-Terrorists. So in a unique way, the format of the book allows non-Christians to explore worldviews, maybe discovering their own and understanding others, without being defensive or antagonistic about it.
After finishing the book, I wondered whether a “Choose Your Adventure” approach could be used to explore the different cults and denominations within Christianity. But how would you arrange the cults and denominations so that you could separate them with one big question after another. What is the one question that would separate Roman Catholics from Baptist? Or one question to distinguish Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons. It’s not easy to design a series of questions that would gradually put each group in its rightful place.
After thinking how difficult, if not impossible to do it for groups within Christianity, I gained a new appreciation for Anderson’s success here. He makes it look so easy.
For The Explorers Among You
I mentioned at length how non-Christians would receive this book because I think the book’s format makes it a curious novelty for even the most hostile reader. Let’s turn now to the Christian.
Christians in general will like the book because it affirms what you always believed to be true and it’s always nice to have our Christian biases confirmed by err… other Christians.
But I want to zoom in to a particular sub-group of Christians that I think will greatly benefit from this book. The people who grew up in Christian homes, Sunday schools, youth meetings, and churches who feel like they never had a real choice in what to believe. They are taught, some would say brainwashed, that other worldviews, beliefs and religions are not just wrong, but evil.
Then they meet people outside of church who are kinder, smarter, more sincere and more open than the people they know in church. Maybe they have a reverse Road to Damascus encounter, a pagan epiphany. There is no progress for the pilgrim. They deconstruct their faith. They conclude that Christianity is irrational. They come out of the church and celebrate their de-conversion.
What if before all that happened, they were able to explore other worldviews without feeling conflicted about reading the Quran or listening to Richard Dawkins. Maybe by making it forbidden, the church has also made those worldviews attractive and more powerful than they really are.
This book allows you to enter so-called forbidden worldviews. You pick up a worldview, just as you would play a role in a game. And as you run through this simulation, you see how it ends and thus you save yourself from what was at first an enticing worldview, but in reality an intellectual, spiritual anti-climatic dead end.
This book is good for the Non-Christian to enter the worldview of the Christian and see how Christianity does make sense and it is beautiful. It is also good for the Christian to simulate an alternate worldview without losing the soul.
This is a Reading and Reader’s review of “What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions” by James N. Anderson. 112 pages. Published by Crossway in January 2014. This book was awarded World Magazine’s 2014 Popular Theology Book of the Year. It’s available for USD7.99 via Amazon Kindle and free via Faithlife for the month of May.
If you like another book to share with non-Christians, turn to Episode 47 of Reading and Readers and listen to my review of “Why Believe?” by Neil Shenvi.
If you want a big book answer to the Free Choice question, you can turn to Episode 7: “Providence” by John Piper.
If you want to read something different, perhaps how to read the Bible in more than one way, subscribe to Reading and Readers to get the next episode where I review “Five Models of Scripture” by Mark Reasoner, a book free from Logos for May. So get in May, without delay.
Thank you for listening. Bye bye.