R&L: You have described How Now Shall We Live? as “the most significant book” of your career. Why do you feel this way, and what prompted you to write it?
Colson: How Now Shall We Live? is the most significant book I have written because, in my mind, it is the lack of a biblical worldview–a well thought out understanding of how Christianity affects all of life–that results in the church being increasingly marginalized in society. So many Christians see Christianity as merely personal conversion or liturgical experience that they lose sight of the fact that all truth is God’s truth. Ultimate reality is found in Christ, whom the Bible describes as the Logos or plan of creation.
I have been thinking about this book for ten years. Nancy Pearcey, my co-author, and I started writing three years ago when we realized that this message was absolutely crucial for presenting a vibrant Christian witness in the new millennium. Pope John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio describes the new millennium as a “springtime of evangelization”; I think he is correct to say that we have that capability, but the crucial thing will be whether or not Christians are able to present a worldview that is a more reasonable way to order our lives than secular naturalism. Hence the book.
R&L: In the course of your discussion of Christianity as a worldview, you write that “the dominating principle of Christian truth is not soteriological (i.e., justification by faith) but rather cosmological (i.e., the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible).” Could you unpack that statement for us and explain why it is important for the church to hear this truth in the new millennium?
Colson: My statement that the dominating principle of Christian truth is not soteriological but, rather, cosmological is taken directly from Abraham Kuyper. He understood that the sovereignty of God is the overarching truth of biblical revelation. Kuyper, of course, was reflecting on the power of the Calvinistic worldview in the face of what he described as the “revolutionary” world-view that was rising in his day.
Salvation is, obviously, the heart of the Christian message, but starting with salvation is like opening a book in the middle. We first have to see that our God is the creator of the world, that sin was introduced into the world by human disobedience, and that redemption therefore becomes the way we can be restored to a right relationship with God. Salvation apart from an understanding of God’s sovereign work in the world–the fact that he is the God of the whole cosmos–shortchanges the biblical message. Such a shortchanging terribly weakens the church because we become obsessed with mere personal piety and our eternal well-being and ignore God’s commandment to care about all of creation.
R&L: You describe a biblical worldview using three focal points: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. I would like for us to explore each of these concepts. First, how do you understand the doctrine of Creation?
Colson: Creation means that God spoke us and the whole cosmos into being. Christianity proclaims the eternally self-existent God who freely and graciously created all things for his glory and man’s well-being. This stands in stark contrast to the dominant cultural belief “that the cosmos is all there is or ever will be” (Carl Sagan’s famous dictum), that life arose as the result of a chance collision of molecules, and that it has, through an impersonal, unsupervised process, evolved into the world as we know it today. Secularism declares that only matter is eternal in any and all its forms–including human life–and has no purpose whatsoever. Happily, secular orthodoxy is being rapidly and seriously challenged by current scientific developments, more and more of which tend to support the theory of Intelligent Design.
R&L: Next, what do you mean by the Fall?
Colson: The first humans, who were real beings in history, disobeyed God. God created a world that was good and perfect, but gave us a free will, and by exercising that free will in disobedience to God, we introduced sin into the world. This original sin bent and distorted the human condition thereafter. This stands in stark contrast to the modern belief in the goodness of man, a notion embraced by Enlightenment thinkers. It has led to all manner of utopianism, which in the twentieth century has brought tyranny, death, and destruction to much of the world, as well as the erosion of personal responsibility across the board in Western societies. There is no more pernicious doctrine than modern utopianism.
R&L: What is your view of Redemption?
Colson: In Christ we are made new and our sins are forgiven. This is a radical understanding that God sent his Son to die on the cross to pay the price for our disobedience. What has been fascinating to me in the preparation of this book is the realization that only the biblical worldview offers a satisfactory explanation and answer to the human dilemma of sin and suffering. No other worldview offers redemption in the way the Christian worldview does. But Christ redeems the whole person, not just his soul, and sets him on a course of reconciling men and the world back to God.
R&L: In that your purpose in advancing the biblical worldview is to get the church thinking about how to transform culture, let’s look at the one area of culture–economics–in light of the categories of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. First, how should we think about economics in light of Creation?
Colson: God created the world perfect. The first humans were to live in paradise and were given, in the cultural mandate, the task of cultivating the soil; they were also given intellectual tasks, that is, naming the animals. In a sense, God took five days to create the universe, and on the sixth day named humans as his agents to continue the creative process. Thus economics–from the Greek oikonomia, meaning stewardship–viewed from a creational aspect would be carrying out the perfect will of God in developing his creation to ever-higher stages of goodness. This obviously would place a high value on work, and economic pursuits would be directed toward furthering God’s plan by seeking to bring out his goodness in every aspect of life. God created us to live in a completely harmonious community in which we would work to receive the good benefits that God planned for us through the faithful and diligent exercise of our abilities in our own sphere for the benefit of all.
R&L: Next, the Fall.
Colson: The Fall embraced all things, including God’s creation. God proclaimed a curse on the ground. The harmony of God’s relationship to creation was destroyed. Undeterred, God entered into a covenant with men, whereby he determined to renew them unto himself and set them back on a course of being channels of his blessing to the world.
R&L: Last, what is the redemptive perspective of economics?
Colson: As part of his covenant, God prescribed the law to his covenant people. His law was to be the basis of a new society in which men–having been delivered from captivity by God’s covenant grace, would live in grace and truth out of gratitude to God and according to his statutes. The economic aspects of his law clearly are a reflection of his standard of justice in a fallen world. Private property is to be respected (note that two of the Ten Commandments deal with private property). The requirements of restitution found in Exodus 21 and 22 reflect a high regard for the preservation of private property as well as for individual dignity. At the same time, there is to be social justice. Landowners are to reserve a portion of their harvest (called gleanings) for the poor. Just wages are to be paid, and just balances are to be maintained in the marketplace. The poor and needy are to be protected from oppression, and the industrious faithful are to be rewarded for their labors. So, in the Old Testament, we see a pattern for God’s economic plan.
Through redemption, we are restored to our pre-Fall state, albeit imperfectly. This does not mean we will not continue to sin or experience the consequences of the Fall, but it does mean that our mandate for the cultural commission has been returned to us. So we are to work in ways that glorify God and bear his righteous standards.
Thus it is that Christians are to be instruments of economic justice and to bring moral truth to bear in economic relations. The fact is that economics in a fallen world cannot be just unless it is balanced with a biblical understanding of morality, which is why the Christian plays such a vital role in formulating economic policies in a just society. It is important to note, at the same time, that the Bible does not present a philosophy of economics that can simply be imposed on or introduced to a society apart from the whole framework of redemption provided for in God’s covenant. Biblical economics will succeed only when it is pursued by redeemed men, men who love God supremely and who love their neighbors as themselves.
R&L: What would the application of these three motifs look like in the secular public square?
Colson: Look at capitalism unfettered by moral restraints, and you will see that it, like any other economic system, can be exploitative. It is the Christian who brings balance and moral concerns from revelation to bear on public policy. The Christian worldview speaks out against the corruption and ills that tend to be winked at in our day. It insists that the needy be cared for out of a motivation of love, not guilt. It requires justice, restitution, and reconciliation in matters of crime and punishment. It argues for self-giving as opposed to self-serving in all things. In the Christian view, we also find a very high view of work. Work is done to the glory of God with excellence and with a view to the benefit of ourselves and others.
R&L: Earlier this year, Paul Weyrich shocked and dismayed many conservative evangelicals when he argued that they “need to take another tack” and “look at ways to separate [themselves] from the institutions that have been captured by … enemies of [their] traditional culture.” From the framework of Christian worldview thinking, how do you respond to such calls of radical separation from our culture?
Colson: I could not disagree more with my esteemed colleague Paul Weyrich. The fundamentalist movement of the Christian church made a grievous mistake early in the twentieth century by withdrawing from the mainstream of society and building its separate, parallel institutions. That decision, as much as anything else, is responsible for the secularization of modern American life, as Francis Schaeffer argued eloquently in The Great Evangelical Disaster.
There is also a note of despair in the counsel that Weyrich gives the Christian world, that the culture war has been lost and we thus should abandon the field of battle. Despair is a sin, for it denies the sovereignty of God. Christians must never abandon the field of battle.
Further, such counsel is wrong because it comes at the very moment that cultural indicators are beginning to show a distinct shift. For example, reductions in crime, teenage pregnancies, and abortions are healthy signs. Christians must not disengage from the culture. This is a time for us boldly to proclaim Christian truth and thus help bring about what John Paul II foresees for the third millennium–a springtime of Christian evangelization.
R&L: Writing about ecumenism, you note that, “focusing on worldview … can help build bridges” between Protestant evangelicals, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox believers. Can you explain, on the basis of your participation in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, how you have seen the biblical worldview promote such church unity?
Colson: Father Richard Neuhaus and I saw that Christians from both the Catholic and Protestant confessions are defending the same worldview; we therefore thought that we should join together to seek common ground wherever we could find it, to engage in dialogue to better understand one another’s traditions and points of view, and to work toward a common witness in the world. That conviction was at the root of Evangelicals and Catholics Together in 1992. We subsequently have issued two statements and engaged in extensive, ongoing conversations. I firmly believe that we are finding unity together as brothers and sisters in Christ. By focusing, as Kuyper recommended, on the sovereignty of God and the larger issues of life in a postmodern world, we have been able to join hands at many points, discovering in the process that we have more in common than we suspected, yet holding on without compromise to the distinctives that make us evangelicals and Catholics. This is precisely what Kuyper called for in his 1898 Stone Lectures at Princeton: that we should join together in defense of the great confessions and creeds that unite us against the forces of pantheism (I would say, today, against the forces of secular naturalism).
We are seeing great results from our work, which is gaining acceptance among evangelicals and Catholics alike. In Ireland there is a group very much like ours in this country. In South America the Catholic bishops are meeting with Pentecostal leaders for open dialogue and are even beginning to issue some joint statements. Cardinal Cassidy from the Vatican has urged the various synods to study the ect documents and to be aware of the progress that has been made in agreements on such matters as salvation.
I think this is a God-ordained movement and that it will continue to bring Christians together in defense of the fundamental truths of the faith.