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Shortly after Nebuchadnezzar assumed the throne in 605 B.C., the Babylonian Empire began attacks on the nation of Judah and overthrew Jerusalem in 597 B.C. In the coming years, they deported the leaders of the nation, destroyed the Temple and initiated the 70-year-long Babylonian Captivity of the Judeans that is detailed in a large chunk of the Bible. The book of Daniel offers an insightful glimpse into the stories of devout Jews who remained faithful to God even within the midst of captivity in a nation rampant with all kinds of foreign gods and laws mandating worship of these gods. The tension of serving the monotheistic God of Abraham while living in a society that does not captures the attention of many of the Major Prophets, and the idolatrous following of foreign religions and cultures is the foremost sin of the Israelites.
In the mythology of the Mesopotamian region, Marduk was supreme god of all the deities. According to myth, this double-headed sun god made his home in Babylon, which was literally referred to as the center of the universe. The son of Marduk was Nabu (or Nebo), who was worshipped as the god of wisdom, of learning and writing, and of science – essentially the Babylonian predecessor to the Greeks’ Hermes. Nabu was extremely popular in Babylon and temples dedicated to him could be found in every major city. Isaiah 46 singles out both these deities, Bel, the title for Marduk, and Nabu, calling them false gods not to be worshipped.
These stories of ancient Israel obviously lay the foundation for the teaching of the New Testament and, I believe, offer a helpful backdrop for those of faith in any age. The gods of pride and arrogance, just like the false gods of Babylon, were condemned by New Testament writers, and Paul declared that searching for knowledge and wisdom outside of God is foolish, that the wisdom of God turns upside down all worldly knowledge. It could be said when we pursue knowledge apart from God or worldly wisdom as the foundation for life, we are worshipping in spirit the same god of Babylon, the false god of wisdom, Nabu.
Still, how does that relate to contemporary Christianity here in 21st century America?
There is a crisis at hand; American Christianity is shallow – and the reality of that is hitting hard. So much so, that mainstream denominations are scrambling for ways to remedy the startling numbers of teenagers who grow up in church but abandon their faith and standards once they enter college. The answer: Worldview training – preparation to defend against secular teaching.
The latest trend to make positive waves in the conservative evangelical community is called “worldview education,” with curriculums such as Worldview Weekend, Charles Colson’s “How Now Shall We Live,” Understanding the Times, Summit Ministries, Worldview Academy, etc. The idea is that universities are destroying faith, so we should school our children, train them with the proper worldview, and then send them out like an army to defend Christian thought. It isn’t just a small ghetto of evangelicals that are doing this. Spurred on by the popularity of books like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ,” the consensus among the leaders of conservative evangelicalism is that worldview training is the solution.
While it may be misguided to put too much stock in Christianized philosophical education and reasonable apologetics, the pursuit of these things, especially within the cultural context of evangelism, is an education to be encouraged. The predicament occurs when you set apologetics and philosophy up as the response to faithlessness. It was Martin Luther who famously said, “Reason is the devil’s greatest whore.”
The problem with trusting too much in reason, I believe, is twofold: First, Christianity is not reasonable. Paul himself declared the things of God to be foolish. To attempt to make the doctrines of Christianity reasonable from a human perspective and seek to “prove” things like creationism, Adam and Eve, and Christ’s resurrection have more to do with a man-centered ego-trip than piety. Second, the basis for faith is not a vast knowledge of Christianized Western thought, nor talking points from Ray Comfort’s ridiculous televangelism program. Yes, as Peter wrote, Christians must always be prepared to give an answer for their faith, but the grand rhetorical arguments of the greatest apologist shouldn’t be the foundation for our faith.
The point is this: Christian faith is deeper. While by day, one may be winning all the arguments in favor of conservative Christianity, by night, alone in the darkness and quiet of life, what is the reason for hope? It surely isn’t the vast array of enlightened Christian thought, but the supernatural peace and hope of glory in Christ. We should pursue knowledge, apologetics and have a worldview, but that shouldn’t be the basis for faith, lest we worship a false Babylonian god of wisdom. Faith and the Word is all the church has ever had, and it’s all we’ll ever need to fight the tide of unbelief.