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Engaging with Thinking Going On in the World

See also talk on Engaging With Secular Thought
and Bridging the Sacred-Secular Divide.

Because the New View sees the whole world and its potential as important in God's cosmic plan, and recognises that all people operate within that world, it has a basis for understanding in what ways it is valid to engage with thinking that emerges from all people.

Specifically, it holds that the operation of thinking (a) discloses some truth about the creation (b) contributes something to humanity's mandate to shepherd the rest of creation for its own sake. This is so even though it might be carried out by non-Christian or even anti-Christian thinkers. But also, all thinkers will distort this to some extent.

So those who are guided by this New View, and are called to undertake thinking, can and should engage with the world's thinking. The engagement can be seen as 'shepherding' the thinking of the others (not for our sake but for its own sake; see Radah). It should have at least three characteristics:

In this way, we can see the world's ideas as contributing to God's cosmic plan, even in spite of the wishes of some thinkers! (Compare Tolkien's Silmarillion, where God tells the Enemy that all the latter tries to do in despite will eventually prove "tributary to My glory".)

Engagement is harder work than the three alternatives commonly adopted by Christians (ignoring, opposing, uncritically accepting; see below), but it can be done. C.S. Lewis was one who tried - and succeeded to a marvellous extent; read his Pilgrim's Regress. Herman Dooyeweerd was a philosopher who tried to do this in philosophy. I have tried to do this in the field of information systems; see my book Philosophical Frameworks for Understanding Information Systems, and my paper Enriching Humanist Thought presented at a conference of Reformational Christians in the Netherlands in 2005. But engagement need not be of these intellectual kinds. I add examples later.

The main point is this: New View thinkers can make an authentic contribution to the world's thinking, not opposing or replacing it but rather enriching it. In so doing, we are harnessing this thinking for God's Cosmic Plan, shepherding ways of thinking so they flourish rather than stagnate. But also we are bringing the Lord Jesus Christ into the lives of these other people, so that at the very least they will know that God's Kingdom has come near to them. The Apostle Paul's desire was to 'bring every thought into captivity to Christ'; 'captivity' might not be the best word, except that the way the cosmos is designed is so that it works best when it is surrendered to Christ, who is Love.

Human Activities

What types of human activity might God's people engage with? Not just the religious and moral activity, but with all types. Here are some examples:

Business         Economics         Politics
Transport         Courts & police         Health
Education         Science & Research         Media
Leisure         Art         Sport
Socialising         Voluntary work         Home life
Gardening         Nature watching         Agriculture
Technology         Accounting         Construction
Environmental care and responsibility
... and many more.

Under New View we can engage with the everyday experience of each of these. Not just as a potential opportunity for evangelism, not just as a 'necessity' for a healthy and abundant life, but we can engage with it as it is. Because every human activity can be part of our shepherding the rest of creation, which is humanity's task of representing God. Every human activity is meant to be developed in a certain way.

Under New View we can engage with the academic discourse of each of these, with attempts to understand it and be a recognisable discipline. As such, each human activity is centred on a certain aspect or sphere of meaning and law. A useful list of such aspects is the suite devised by Dooyeweerd. Each defines a distinct science.

Development of each activity is not for its own sake. Development is not to aim to optimise that activity. But rather, development of each activity is for the sake of all the other activities, so all together they contribute to what God intended. Egbert Schuurman suggested this for the activity of technology: technology should not be guided by the norms of technology itself, but rather by the norms of all other aspects such as those of aesthetics, justice and faith.

Traditional Approaches

Traditional and even some new forms of Christianity have no sound basis for engaging with the world's thinking, or ideas that emerge from it. So we find:

New View tries not just to overcome the problems of these, but rather to provide a positive incentive to, and reason for, engaging with the world's thinking and activity, which is honest and well-founded rather than with any hidden agenda. It is perhaps not alone in this attempt, but it might be rare in that the attempt harmonises with, and is a natural outcome of, its central ideas. So nothing needs be bolted on to its theology to allow for or encourage engagement.


These pages present 'New View' theology. Comments, queries welcome.

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Created: 23 November 2008. Last updated: 18 December 2008 human activities; better ending; some rewriting. 8 July 2012 link to engage.secular and ssd; environmental.