Introduction to Grace

 

Today we begin a new Circling Series on perhaps the most important and mind-blowing concept in the history of God, man, metaphysics, physics, worldview; you name it. And that topic is Grace. In the past our Circling Series has covered other “small” topics (as Eric Metaxas would say, whom we just interviewed last Friday, by the way) as Reason, Truth, and God. Our objective in Circling posts is to help you reflect more on big worldview topics with the goal of framing and building your own worldview and, in the process, developing an improved understanding of others’ worldview.

Simply put, we believe this can bring meaning, purpose, happiness, and peace to life and to those around you. While understanding the worldview discipline doesn’t always work to achieve happiness or these other ends and while enhanced worldview understanding is certainly not at all essential to a good life—indeed, it can make you crazy in a fun kind of way—it’s the risk we all take with greater knowledge and personal experience in a world of out-of-control technology, shattered morality, mass disorientation, and accelerating violence. (Right now, see: Ukraine, Israel, and college campuses across America . . . even as exams and graduations approach.)

We need more imaginative thinking and renewed, constructive social action.

Before we begin directly on the Grace topic, however, let’s ask the question: If you believe in God, what does God look like?

Our last post in the three-part Circling Series on God, entitled Our Personal God, featured the picture shown at top here of a father and son. Of course, what you think about what God looks like or whether human beings can even see or sense God at all depends on whether you are a theist (believe in the supernatural) or a naturalist (believe in no God or gods) and then, what type of theist you are. Some theists believe God is everywhere in everything and others believe God has no interest or involvement with the world at all.

Some definitions of the word “religion” restrict religion to theistic belief (they do not allow materialists to believe in, say, an immaterial “mind”, and do not classify ideology as “religion”). So, given that a common definition of religion is theistic belief, you’d have to be religious to consider how God appears or about God’s other humanly knowable attributes. On the other hand, if you are an atheist, then you likely believe that man is the highest evolved life form, which implies that you as a human being best embody God Him-, Her-, It-, or Themselves. You and humankind are as of now the most sovereign, creative life forms known in the universe.

This distinction involving “Who is sovereign, God or man?” represents the fundamental and unbridgeable dividing line among Western worldviews referred to here at Praxis Circle as the Creator God Story (CGS) versus the Man God Story (MGS). As an example, see the middle of our post linked here. St. Augustine would have called this distinction the City of God versus the City of Man, as explained by PC Contributor Charles Mathewes here.

Polytheists of Ancient Greece or Rome imagined many gods visually in human and other forms and every other sensing way above the clouds moving back and forth between their own world and human existence. The gods took various forms in this world as they pleased and influenced human life in almost every way imaginable. They had good and evil characteristics. Most worldviews have creation stories, and the Ancient Greek and Roman gods seemed to exist inside time and space just like human beings.

Many such “pagan” religions are alive and growing today, and many scholars of religion see the West returning to a pagan orientation, while also ditching the idea that humanity will ever go fully secular or atheistic (as many believed until late in the second half of the 20th century). With every passing year, it looks increasingly like the Secularization Thesis is dead, a relic of “modern” days gone by.

Today, we are proud to say that Praxis Circle video library now has over 1,500 video clips. We catalogue these clips by topic, and we count over 25 clips where we discuss “Grace” directly and indirectly with our Contributors. While we’ve addressed this important topic in many prior posts, we have not treated it systematically like we are doing in this Series.

As you might know, as a theological or philosophical concept, the word Grace lends itself to many definitions depending on the word’s context and orientation. However, without beating around the bush, we will try to define Grace for you right now in this paragraph. Let’s assume the universe is already created and humanity is indeed alive on earth (two assumptions most of us would agree on), one could define Grace this way: “God’s interaction with man and the world over all of history, including every passing moment now.”

If you want a better definition from one who has dedicated his life to Grace and believes that the importance of Grace to humankind is, to use a business man’s analogy, as location is to real estate (The secret to life? Grace, Grace, and Grace), take 2:04 minutes and watch the Reverend John Miller define Grace in the clip at the top here.

His definition: “Grace is the godliness of God.”

In other words, it’s just Who God is and, most important, what God does.

The rest of this post and the next two posts in this Grace Series will place Grace within our PC Worldview Schema, offer more granularity about how Judaism and Christianity see Grace, and contrast these views with other religions and naturalist worldviews. We hope by the end of the Series you will agree that one cannot have a good worldview without having a thoughtful position on Grace. Like every fundamental metaphysical consideration, it starts out simple . . . sure enough . . . but gets complicated quickly, when entangled with everything else human beings face. (But that’s Grace, too!)

Well, what would you expect from God?! The All Knowing, Powerful, and Loving Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

 

Praxis Circle’s Ten Worldview Concepts

 

We have studied the worldview academic discipline continuously for ten years, and we practice what we preach. In other words, we have taken this philosophical and theological concept—worldview—developed over the last approximately 200 years in the West, and developed our own worldview schema. Worldview thinking extends into the halls of literally every academic disciple in every university, and it applies such human knowledge via praxis to ongoing, shared, and practical human experience. We all exist as thinking, social creatures in a human circle of continuous praxis. It heavily influences our worldviews and life’s results as we go.

After an extensive period of worldview research, we presented in a post the Three Basic Worldviews shown in the chart below. It categorizes the most popular worldviews around the world into three categories: Mindism, Dualism (the three Abrahamic monotheism’s are here), and Materialism. (Footnote: These are not rigid categories. Example: Some Christianities see ultimate reality as purely spiritual—Mindism—and others reject Dualism. Yet, we believe Christian “orthodoxy” recognizes the material and the spiritual, and is thus dualistic. The important worldview point is that we must be attuned to word definition to have a productive discussion with others, especially those with opposing worldviews, about the mental lens being used to see the world, called worldview.)

We also determined that the most important metaphysical pillars of worldview thinking across the globe were these eight (research reveals three on the low end to the mid-teens on the high end): Truth, God, Miracles (Grace), Space-Time, World, Human Being, Morality, and Governance. Each worldview has a way of thinking about each of these elements, and each worldview itself tends to integrate them into an ongoing human narrative. Our Circling Series is addressing each of these Worldview Pillars systematically. Again, we’ve already addressed Reason (we felt that was necessary prior to addressing the threshold Truth pillar), Truth, and God, with Miracles or Grace being the topic at hand today.

Each of these Eight Pillars deserves definition, and we would not expect you to understand fully what each entails without an explanation.

Three Basic Worldviews Diagram

 

“Wait a minute,” you are probably saying. “The subtitle here says ‘Ten Concepts,’ and the chart above only has eight.”

Well, what we are trying to do is take the complicated concept of worldview and make it increasingly simple for you. To accomplish that, we have developed a more basic scheme (see “Ten Worldview Concepts” diagram) that represents the Christian worldview, though it can be used to think about every worldview. If you understand that, you can use it as a tool to examine and qualify every worldview, from, let’s say, Buddhism in any of its basic forms to nihilism.

Ten Worldview Concepts Diagram

We must admit we made two errors in our presentation of the Three Basic Worldviews above: We left you and me out of it (we are now in the center of The Circle in our current diagram), and we neglected to account for beauty, one of the three transcendentals (truth, goodness, and beauty). We have since added beauty and placed it in the supernatural circle,  though it underlies all three circles (Supernatural, Natural, and Human Relations), as does goodness and evil, depending on your worldview.

In sum, we are using this post to revise our PC Worldview central reference point to the “Ten Worldview Concepts.” As a further aside, we are also in the process of designing a whole educational program around this diagram to teach worldview thinking and writing a business plan to support it. Again, we do not expect you to understand the new diagram in full without more explanation. Still, much of it is self-evident, so we hope it can still help you without a full explanation now as you go forward.

Before turning to our last point about the topic at hand, Grace, and concluding this post, we should mention James Sire’s revised definition of worldview (revised since his first book on the subject in 1977) offered in his book Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (198 pages) in 2015:

“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” (page 141)

We have placed the words “a fundamental orientation of the heart” in bold italics above to emphasize that this was James Sire’s primary revision of his prior definition, again from 1977, that had stood the test of almost 40 years. A valid and important criticism of worldview thinking is that it can be overly rational . . . or that it can suggest humans control their behavior more than they do, using reason more to rationalize past actions, rather than steer current or future behavior. Without getting into an extended discussion on this point (like we do with our next Contributor to be introduced next week, Jonathan Haidt), let us say we agree completely with this criticism. And yet, nonetheless, worldview acts as a conscious and unconscious governor of our thoughts and actions.

To recognize that human beings are passionate creatures whose feelings and emotions play a central role in most human behavior, we added the Beauty pillar as described and diagrammed above. Many stimuli go straight through our senses to hardwire bodily in immediate ways, skipping the conscious mind in current time altogether. Indeed, this phenomenon might be the most important human experience of all, and we believe it would be best represented in a positive way with the term Beauty. Of course, many of these experiences do not involve beauty, goodness, happiness, or pleasure at all, but the exact opposites.

In any case, we need to heed Mr. Sire’s own definitional revision and recognize the importance of feelings, emotions, empathy, compassion, and passion in our diagram as self-evident (without intermediating consciousness) influences on human life and action, and we have placed that entire burden on the Beauty worldview pillar. And, as mostly theists here at PC, we chose to place it as emanating from the Supernatural realm . . . just like everything else here in the universe.

 

God’s Presence in Our World

 

You have probably noticed that we use the word “Grace” and “Miracles” interchangeably. Many, like Eric Metaxas, again, interviewed last week, regard all of creation as a miracle and see God coming to us in this world and acting in it as miracles. In this sense, miracle is not defined as naturalists do: any event that science cannot explain as a function of materialist causes. In other words, an impossibility or extremely low probability event. No, water or light itself, with all its astounding properties, commonly strikes astute theists worldwide as jaw-dropping miracles.

And what about human beings ourselves as imago Dei miracles? (But we digress.)

Materialism Diagram

The simplest way to illustrate Grace is to remind you of the well-known diagram of materialism shown here. If you are a naturalist or a materialist like, say, Charles Darwin, then you believe all that exists is matter, perhaps in current scientific terms: matter and energy. There is the Natural Order of the universe (and perhaps other natural orders including other, yet as undetected, universes), and there is nothing else. This schema is often represented by this diagram. (Credit to a now deceased, great pioneer of worldview thinking translated to the masses, Ronald Nash.)

While naturalism or atheism might be correct, it represents the ultimate in imposing a glass ceiling on creative human thought and possibly human experience. Most theists believe it’s obviously wrong on all counts.

In contrast, the theistic view of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) believe that there is one God who created the world Who exists outside of time and space, who is necessarily uncreated. Abrahamic theists believe God exists in a different realm, call it ultimate reality or a supernatural order, and created the world (His first act of Grace) and continues to sustain and shape it, with full knowledge of where it will go until the end of human time (if any).

Theism Diagram

Within this worldview, God continuously enters and exists inside the Natural Order, as represented in the theism diagram. If you are looking for a really basic way to think about Grace, that diagram is it. While Reverend Miller in the clip at top describes Grace as “the godliness of God,” that godliness includes God’s being in truth, love, all-power, goodness, mercy, and forgiveness. To have those attributes requires God to be in our world not out of human logic, but out of God’s very being.

So there you have an introduction to the most important concept you can ever think about—that we know of!!  

Concluding Homework Assignment

 

We look forward to our next two posts in this Circling Series on Grace, where we’ll take our description of Grace into more detail across theistic worldviews. Until then, consider this homework just for fun.

Please read Det Bower’s post entitled Grace Unlimited and watch the short video below (6:31 minutes) describing the Old Testament story about the victorious Syrian and pagan General Naaman (from II Kings 5) that Mr. Bowers refers to in his post. It will get your mind directed on Grace across worldviews and across important related issues that will carry you all the way through our two remaining posts in the Series. Det’s descriptive words to introduce the post are the following:

“Grace is the expression of God’s goodness, Jesus’ glory and the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace is the gift of the Trinity to an undeserving people. Their grace toward saints cannot be calculated by any earthly metric – but it is experienced by a humble and contrite people.”

 

 

Have a great weekend. We need more Grace!