The Myth of Personal Convictions

by Gary Brumbelow

Maybe because of the inevitable criticism, we Christ followers are sometimes hesitant to bring our Christian worldview to the marketplace of ideas. But that reluctance betrays a misguided notion: that the biblical positions we profess belong to us. We are shy, maybe, because we wrongly think the criticism is being directed at us for our personal beliefs.

Harry Blamires made this point in The Christian Mind (Servant Books: 1963).

A man’s religious convictions and understanding of the truth are not private possessions in the sense that his suit and the contents of his note-case are private possessions. … Your beliefs, as a Christian, are not yours in the sense that you have rights over them … the very fact that nowadays we look upon convictions as personal possessions is a symptom of the disappearance of the Christian mind. p. 40

In that view of things, a Christian can agree with the complaint last August from New York Times editor, Bill Keller, as the Republican primary campaign was getting underway. He challenged the notion … that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain ….

To be sure, Keller’s column has generated deserved criticism for a “condescending attitude” and for the Times’ unequal treatment of evangelicals vs. other kinds of Christians (as well as Christians vs. other faith adherents). He observes that

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life.  … Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity — and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism — which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

Mostly, Christians will disagree with Keller. His description of Perry’s and Bachmann’s faith as “fervid” is inaccurate and unfair. As is his implication that the “most conservative wing of Catholicism” confuses fact and fiction. He also seems ignorant of the fact that everyone has religious convictions; religious belief is a universal human phenomenon, not peculiar to followers of Christ.

We who profess to believe in the Great Commission must consider that the public square will be shaped by the most compelling religious conviction. Will it be our winsome witness to Truth, or the falsehoods of the religions of atheism or Islam? Or those of a third system, more troubling for its counterfeit Christian cloak, which Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton call Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, “a combination of works righteousness, religion as psychological well-being, and a distant non-interfering god“?

Yet, notwithstanding our points of disagreement with Keller, his criticism of Christians for treating our faith as a “sensitive, even privileged domain,” is an echo of Blamires, who puts it this way:  One of the crucial tasks in reconstituting the Christian mind will be to re-establish the status of objective truth as distinct from personal opinions. 

In his new book, Emancipating the World: A Christian Response To Militant Islam and Fundamentalist Atheism (YWAM Publishing, due out in May) Darrow makes a parallel point to explain why societies like Japan and Singapore, which have never been characterized as “Judeo-Christian,” have nevertheless prospered.

The answer to this is that moral principles and laws do not “belong” to Christians and Jews. They are transcendent laws that belong to all humankind. When people or nations appropriate these laws, whether they are believers or not, they will reap positive consequences. Yet Jews and Christians, God’s covenant people, have a fundamental understanding because they have received God’s revelation in creation and in his word.

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1 Response to The Myth of Personal Convictions

  1. I remember getting an email asking me to contact the FCC because of something inappropriate that had happened on television. (The Janet Jackson thing maybe?)

    It was interesting to me that the “call to action” wanted me to contact the FCC and complain that I was “offended” by the content of whatever show it was.

    I wondered at the time “why don’t we contact the FCC and complain that the content was inappropriate and wrong?”

    Here is my favorite quote from this article (quoting Blamires): “One of the crucial tasks in reconstituting the Christian mind will be to re-establish the status of objective truth as distinct from personal opinions.”

    I have often told my friends “who cares what I think. The real question is “what is true?”

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