John Stonestreet, Executive Director of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview, examines the deterioration of morals in the culture and encourages Christians to better understand biblical truth and model it to a desperate world. (Part 1 of 2)
John: What kind of glasses are you wearing? I'm not talking about eyeglasses, but the kind of lens that you use as you look through the culture, as you look at the culture and you examine the world and make value judgments? This is "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and Jim, this should be a very interesting conversation.
Jim: Well, John, this is one that really cranks me up, because we're talking about how we should live in this world as Christians and not be consumed by it, but what is our view, our perception of the world we live in and how do we act in it? And this is something I enjoy speaking about. Our guest today is John Stonestreet and he has a gift for communicating on this kind of topic. We call it "worldview." Some people are moving away from that terminology, but it's how you view the world, if that helps you better understand that. But as Christians, there's very particular ways that God expects us to think through issues, to behave on His behalf. And we want to talk about that today. I think it's gonna be very interesting.
John: Uh-hm. John is the executive director of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He's the cohost of "BreakPoint," the radio feature and director of the Centurions program—a busy guy. He's (Laughter) also a senior content advisor for Summit Ministries here in Colorado Springs. And they've worked for decades with college students, to develop their worldview.
Jim: John, let me welcome you to "Focus on the Family."
John S.: Well, thanks, Jim, John. Great to be with you guys.
Jim: Let me ask you this. What's it feel like to take over from Chuck Colson?
John S.: (Laughter) Well, thanks for that lead-off question. (Laughter) Chuck was larger than life. I count it as one of the great privileges of my life to spend the last two years of his life working directly with him. And Chuck got worldview. He really believed that one of the most important things Christians needed to do to follow Jesus is to think like Jesus thought about the world, have the right set of glasses. He was great. We miss him a lot.
Jim: We do, and he was such a statesman. He was so kind you know, after transition here at Focus on the Family. He'd come in and have lunch with me. He called me about once a month just to say, "How're you doin'?" I was thinking, my goodness! With his schedule, why would you do that, Chuck? And uh …
John S.: Well, he was that way, you know.
Jim: He was.
John S.: Chuck just looked after people and I--
Jim: He did.
John S.: --I meet people all the time all over the place who say, "Chuck called me when I wrote this book." And "Chuck encouraged me this way." He was very serious about the life of the body of Christ in the culture. And he, of course, every day in "BreakPoint" made people think cultural thoughts from a Christian worldview.
Jim: And you're continuing that tradition. That's why it's so good to have you here today.
John S.: Thank you.
Jim: Let's talk about that area. Why did Chuck care about that? Why should all of us as Christians care about how we collectively in the Christian community think about the world we're in and exhibit uh … you know, God's attitude in the culture?
John S.: Well, you know, several decades ago, there were several thinkers, I mean, guys like Francis Schaeffer and Lesslie Newbigin and even before that, guys like James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, who started to realize that the basic understanding of the world that the larger culture held was beginning to dramatically shift.
It used to be that people kinda had the same definitions of words like "truth" and "love" and "freedom" and "God." It used to be that people kinda thought we lived in the same world, right? Now you can flip back and forth between FOX News and CNN and realize that people think we live in different worlds, right? You can listen to Oprah's description of reality and Richard Dawkins' description of reality and Jim Daly's description of reality. They're not just disagreeing on particulars. They're disagreeing on really the scope of reality.
And so, the question of your worldview is, really that question, what world is it that we think we live in? Now for Chuck, this journey started … it was just part of his own personal story, really.
John S.: I mean, he came out of prison, deciding to go back in, you know, because of the Watergate-related charges having just come to Christ a few months before going to prison. Wanted to go back and share his faith in the prisons. And then he started to ask the question, why are so many more people going to prison? He used to talk about this all the time. When he left prison in the '70s, there were 200,000 individuals incarcerated in the United States. Today there are over 2 million.
John S.: And so, he started to ask, why are so many more people violating our community rules and standards?
Jim: Well, that's a good question. What's the answer?
John S.: Well, it was interesting. He often would point at a couple Jewish researchers who looked at all the different causes, you know. We often hear it's, you know, due to poverty, due to lack of education. And here was the breakthrough answer. It was a lack of moral training in the morally formative years. In other words, they didn't understand the right values. They weren't trained in those values from an early age. And that has to do with worldview. What do you think is right and wrong? What do you think is true? What do you think is real? All of that is connected. And so, Chuck really started to talk about worldview.
Jim: Well, when you look at it, that can sound very academic.
John S.: Right.
Jim: It can sound like what they should be teaching at a Christian university. But for moms and dads raising kids, like John and me--
John S.: Uh-hm.
Jim: --you know, in that junior high space, even elementary and high school. It's important for them to begin to understand these things. Why does the world act the way the world acts? And as a parent, that's why this topic is critically important to understand how to teach your children to discern these things. Would you agree?
John S.: Oh, absolutely. Listen, Jim, I mean, you know, you and John, myself, I'm in the same situation.
John S.: I got three little girls.
Jim: How old are your kids? Yeah.
John S.: Like my girls are 9, 7 and 5. (Laughter) And so, that means my house is dominated by Disney princesses.
Jim: Do you have a girl dog, by the way?
John S.: (Laughing) No, but he's neutered. (Laughter)
Jim: That's just not right.
John S.: No, I know; I know. I'm completely outnumbered. But you know, they live in a culture and the culture teaches 'em certain things, for example, about love, that love is something you just fall into and therefore, you fall out of it. And that sounds kind of great for a Disney movie, but when you live that out in a culture, then you have skyrocketing divorce rates, plummeting marriages rates and also skyrocketing cohabitation rates. So you know, one of the great things to understand about worldview thinking, is that ideas have consequences.
Jim: Right. It's not rocket science and I want to tease this out a bit, because it seems that things are so convoluted today, that even within the Christian community, we're kinda losing ourselves in the fog.
John S.: Uh-hm.
Jim: What I mean by that is when we talk about right and wrong. The institutions that have served us so well over the years—the family, government to a degree, church certainly, schools—it tended to reinforce those moral values that you talked about before, being honest, giving yourself up for others and doing a good deed. We talk about the 50s and how, you know, it was never really that good and that may be true, that we idealize some of those things. However, it's critical for us to think this through. You have a breakdown in the culture in these institutions, where that kind of moral principle is now … there's multiple shades of it, edges of it. It's not as clean and pure as it once was.
And then kids get confused and lost in that. They don't know what's right and wrong. Adults don't know often what's right and wrong. Isn't it that simple? We're just not teaching children any longer about what is right and what is wrong?
John S.: I think so, yeah. And I think maybe the other way I would nuance that is just to say, it's not only what's right and wrong, but why is it right and why is it wrong? You know, even in a culture that often disagreed on certain specifics of right and wrong, there was still kinda this baseline understanding of the way the world worked, you know, for example, that morality really wasn't up to each individual person to just follow their own heart, like almost, you know, every movie tells us to do. Well, what if everyone did follow their own hearts?
So, it's not just knowing what's right and wrong; it's why is it right? Why is it wrong? And that goes back to what, you know, the illustration, John you used at the beginning of glasses.
John: Uh-hm, yeah, the lens.
John S.: Yeah, lenses aren't things we look at. They're things we look through and that's our most kind of deeply held belief, our belief glasses; they're our lenses. What do we believe to be true about God? What do we believe to be true about human value? What do we believe to be true about right and wrong? And where do those beliefs come from? Now a lot of us get our belief glasses like we get a cold, right? And we just live in a culture and they just kinda stick to us.
Jim: Somebody puts 'em on.
John S.: Somebody puts 'em on, right. You know, maybe it's a movie, TV show, government, whatever. And so, one of the most important things parents, I think need to do with children is to back up at every possible opportunity and ask that question: Is that true? And how do you know? Is that true? And how do you know? And have conversations about things that seem normal, because what seems normal may not be normal.
Jim: In your book, Making Sense of Your World, which by the way, is a great read and I'd encourage everybody to pick it up and you could do that through Focus and John, you'll have details--
Jim: --about that. But in the book, I think you make a comparison there about Disney and Disney movies. You just mentioned it, so this would be a good time to elaborate on that. I found it very insightful, the subtlety of how that has changed over time.
John S.: You know, this is personal to me, which is kind of embarrassing to say, since--
Jim: Well, you have three girls.
John S.: --but I've got three girls. I mean, we actually did Disneyworld this year, all right. And I'm still exhausted, but even the princesses, you look at the princesses, which apparently has been the most successful marketing campaign in the history of the universe, is the Disney princess movement. They dominate everything, but not all those princesses are the same.
Jim: Name the names.
John S.: Yeah, well, Ariel. We don't like Ariel in our house, you know. I mean, Ariel, basically follows her heart and everything works out in the end.
John S.: You know, in this most recent iteration, which I like a lot better, Frozen, although the song, "Let It Go" is in everyone's head--
John: Thanks for bringing it up--
John S.: --incessantly.
John: --by the way.
John S.: Yeah, sorry. Yeah, now it's in all of our heads again. In the movie Frozen, you follow your heart and you actually face the consequences for that decision, right. So even …
Jim: That's a good theme.
John S.: There is a good theme to it. It's interesting. That song, "Let It Go," which again, has dominated the culture, that song is sung at a time of the lead character, who is following her heart, the lyrics actually say, "No wrong, no right, I'm just gonna do what I want." But when she does it, she almost ends up hurting and killing the ones that she loves."
You go back to the original fairy tales, you know, which a lot of these Disney movies were based on and they're giving a moral picture of the universe where you follow your heart against what's right and there are some severe consequences for those you love. It was much closer to reality than kind of the whitewashed, you just look inside and everything's better.
Jim: How do we overcome that influence? The power of media, the power of entertainment is so strong. You know, being a dad of two boys, you with three girls, John, you've got six kids, three grown.
John: Three each, yeah.
Jim: Three still at home. How do we engage it so that we can really help our kids discern right from wrong, that they have an understanding of right and wrong?
John S.: Right. I mean, it's such a challenge. I know some communities, Christian communities attempt to just stay away from it and turn it all off and …
Jim: That doesn't work very well.
John S.: Well, it doesn't. I mean, we were serving breakfast to my kids the other day and my 5-year-old pops up after my wife put on a praise song. And my 5-year-old pops up, "Mommy, is that Justin Bieber." (Laughter) Like, we never had a Justin Bieber (Laughter) song play in our house. But you know, you can't hide it, you know, hide from it. That's kind of the point.
Jim: You've gotta teach them how to discern.
John S.: You've gotta teach it. I love the strategy that Jesus used, which was question asking. I think parents probably will get a lot further down the road in discernment, teaching their kids discernment, by asking great questions. Here's my favorite: What do you mean by that? Because at the base of our beliefs are definitions—definitions about truth and love. We talked about that earlier.
C.S. Lewis said that the most dangerous ideas in any society are not the ones that are being argued, but the ones that are assumed. The ones that are just coming at us and, you know, who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in a movie? So, if we stop and say, "What do they mean by that? What do they mean by that statement? What do they mean by 'love' in this movie? What do they mean by truth? What do they mean by man? What do they mean by woman?"
And you start to reveal the messages that are behind it. And essentially, you give them what Nancy Pearcey called, "a baloney detector," right?
John S.: So that they're not just taking things at face value. They're learning to question themselves by being questioned.
Jim: And that's true of the church, as well. I mean, broadly we've got to be discerning with what is happening within churches. What are those biblical and maybe unbiblical things that we're embracing? When you look at it within the Christian church, how do we get led astray from a biblical worldview?
John S.: Well, first of all, I think if we're not aware that discipleship is partly forming a worldview, then what we do is, we just kind of decorate Jesus on top of the worldview that we have. And this is why, Jim and you and I did radio broadcasts for "BreakPoint" on Irreplaceable. I loved Irreplaceable so much, because I feel like, for a long time we've kinda decorated Jesus in the church on a definition of marriage that we got from the culture, that marriage primarily is about furthering our personal happiness, not an act of holiness, not an act of procreation, not an act of building--
John S.: --society, commitment, right. And so, to back up, in the church and to question what's going on and teach discernment as a key part of Christian discipleship, something we've gotta do and you know, it's something that if you go back to the classic thinkers from Augustine and City of God, that's exactly what he's doing in City of God. That's what Chuck Colson was doing in How Now Shall We Live? That's what Francis Schaeffer was doing in all of his books, right; it's fleshing out, looking at the culture from a Christian worldview and seeing it through the lens of the Gospel.
Jim: And tryin' to live a life that pleases the Lord. I mean--
John S.: Right.
Jim: --that's what we're tryin' to do, hopefully as Christians. Why isn't it enough for people to simply believe in God? I mean, some of the most difficult people to talk about spiritual things with, to mention Jesus, to talk to them about what Christ did for us, dying for our sins, are the good people that are morally good--
John S.: Right.
Jim: --people. Sometimes they're really good. They're better than many in the church. Why is it not as easy as just weighing our rights and our wrongs and God will sort that out and let me come in, if that's the way it goes?
John S.: Well, I'm tempted to give the correct answer to every question in this show, which is "worldview," right? (Laughter) But I think one of the most important things again goes back to definitions. What do they mean by "God," when they say I believe in God?
I once had a conversation with a woman on an airplane and and she said, "I can't believe you believe in God." I said, "Well, what do you mean by 'God,' when you can't believe that I believe in Him?" And she said, "Well, a grumpy old man with a beard in the sky, who can't wait for you to do something wrong, so he can strike you with a lightning bolt."
John S.: I thought, wow, that's--
John S.: --a pretty thoroughly--
John S.: --well- … (Laughter). I don't believe in that God. I'm not gonna defend Him, right, I mean, and so, that's the thing, is a lot of people think God is the big brother in the sky, the Santa Claus in the sky. So, without a clear understanding of who God is, then God becomes one of those beliefs we add to our life.
Now if you go through the Scriptures, God is never an add-on belief. He's what philosophers would call "a controlling belief," a central belief. In other words, what you believe about God, determines what you believe about everything else.
Jim: The world.
John S.: That's right. What you believe about God is the foundation of your worldview, because it shapes what you believe about human beings, right? Is God a human invention or are humans a God invention?" These are two very different realities we live in, depending on which one of those is true.
Jim: Going back to your encounter and probably, you've had more than one encounter like that, where a person has a dim view of God, speak to that person listening right now that might be in that same place. You know, they're listening. They've tuned in to "Focus on the Family." They like the marriage and parenting discussion. They may not have a deep relationship with God or any relationship with God. Speak to that person. What does it mean to connect with God?
John S.: Right. Well, the thing is, we know that God is. The Bible begins, "In the beginning, God." So, in one sense, it's so important that we get God right. And if God is, then we are reliant on Him to reveal Himself to us. So, get the message from the Scripture.
I remember when I had this conversation with this woman on the airplane. We went back and forth on a lot of issues and she couldn't believe, for example, that God would let women and children suffer. And I said, "Well, wait a minute. Let's talk about the 20th century where there were governments that were set up that were atheistic. There were whole systems of culture that was set up to deny God's existence. And that led to an awful lot of bloodshed, as well.
John S.: "Doesn't that point to something deeper about the human condition? That we actually need Someone to help us do good? We need Someone to help us do right? And the Scripture gives us a God Who not only has these standards of right and wrong, but who Himself came in the form of Jesus Christ to make us new. And if we want to know who God is, the Scripture points us to Jesus Christ. Who was Jesus? He was the Godhead, dwelling in bodily form."
John S.: And Jim, let me just add this, as well, because at one point in the conversation, I stopped and I said, "Now where did you get your ideas about God? Or when did you stop believing in Him?" And this woman was elderly. She was actually in her late 80s. And she said, "You know, when I was a young child, my earliest memory was going to Poland to visit my relatives before World War II and they were Jewish." And you can guess the rest of the story. She became an atheist, because of the evil that she sensed in her own family.
Jim: Yeah, if God were there, He wouldn't allow that.
John S.: He wouldn't have let that happen, right. And now she's nearing the end of her life and it was funny. She told me about the her neighbors who always help her fix up her house before hurricanes come through in Florida. And so, you have some people being hand and feet of Jesus right there to her. And we've got to able to speak truth and we've gotta be able to live truth to people like this woman.
John: Well, we're tackling some big issues and life questions here on "Focus on the Family" today with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly and our guest, John Stonestreet. And if you'd like to explore this further, we have a lot of good questions and plenty of good answers, as well for you at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Jim: John, you mentioned Irreplaceable. That's the movie that we released a while back and now we've got The Family Project curriculum available for small group, for churches, for home and we can talk about that at the end, John. It really is the "why." We're trying to tackle the big question of giving you perspective as a married couple, why it's important to love each other and why it's important to lay down your life for each other really. And today in that culture, it's more and more difficult, because we're so self-focused, even within the church. It's seeped in. It's gushing in. And sometimes we lose our way in that way, that we don't want to sacrifice, because we want to be happy.
Talk about marriage in the culture. It seems to be the main point of contention, how you define it. You talk about changing definitions, that's a glaring example, where people now have a variety of opinion[s] on what marriage is really about.
John S.: Jim, it's probably the most glaring example, but again, I think it's also true, too, that our confusion about the definition of marriage goes even deeper than that. It goes to our confusion about the definition of what it means to be human. If we're made in the image and in the likeness of God, you go back to the Garden and you see how God created man and woman to image Him separately and then in a special way, to image Him together.
And so, Adam and Eve were now gonna image Him and produce other Image-bearers. And so, you have this special creation of the human person by God, given the institution of marriage to allow them to fulfill their purpose of filling and forming and showing God's rule across the face of the earth, to spread the Garden out over the entire earth. I mean, it's a beautiful, huge vision of what it means to be human and what it means to be married.
Well, somewhere in the middle of the 19th century, we started to question, the question of origin, right? Where did everything come from? Did God make it? Or is God a human invention? And if God's a human invention, can we explain scientifically the world without God?
Well, that idea had consequences, you know, with kind of a naturalistic godless Darwinism, had stayed in biology, it wouldn't have been a big deal. But it didn't stay in biology. What's true in biology or what's perceived to be true in biology, then spreads to sociology and anthropology and all the other big "ologies" that we learn about in college.
John S.: But ideas have consequences for real people. They have feet. So, those theories that well, humans are uh … you know, evolved. We don't have a design. Well, it's pretty soon you're gonna apply that to sexuality. Instead of sexuality having a contextualized purpose within the human experience, sexuality becomes a private moral choice.
Jim: Let me give you an example on how that plays out practically. I remember when I wrote the book, ReFocus--
John S.: Uh-hm.
Jim: --I was doing a book signing at a bookstore, not a Christian bookstore, a secular bookstore. And the owner of the bookstore asked me if I would do it and I was glad to do it, share the Gospel. I mean, why would a Christian say no? But in the audience of 40 or 50, there was somebody who thinks differently--
John S.: Uh-hm.
Jim: --about our definition of marriage and they challenged me. They put their hand up. I called on 'em. They asked this question. They said, "You know, when are Christians gonna get over their archaic understanding of human sexuality and kinda get up to the 21st century?" And I'm smiling the whole time and I could tell it's irritating him. And you know, he said, "Why are you smiling?" And I said, "Well, you made me the author of the Book." (Laughter) I mean, that's really kind of you or at least the editor. I'm not that. I'm a follower of what's in the Book, which I believe is written by the hand of God through man. But that, you know, the reality is, I can't redefine that. There's many things I'd like to erase in the Book, as well, but I'm not the editor. God is Author, Editor and the last opinion on these things."
John S.: And see, that's sucha radically different view of truth and reality that most people think, because they think that we have our different truths and our different realities, because if it's true, there's actually evidence of it in the real world.
Jim: It's self-evident.
John S.: It is self-evident. And so, when someone says, "Well, why do you believe in that form of marriage?" All the sociological data and you guys went through all of this in Irreplaceable, as well as in The Family Project, point to that, this design of one man-one woman is best for children. It's best for society. It's best for civilization.
You know, Jim, you just brought up the question of authority and that's where the difference of worldview lies. Who's the authority? Is this a world that I make and I perceive? Or am I getting my worldview from the revelation of God? Is it His world or is it my world?
And that's why that kind of debate in the middle of the 19th century about origin was really a critical one and it started to spread. It started to spread in terms of how we understand sexuality, how we understand government, how we understand society, what we think is wrong with the world. How do you fix it? That's one of the key questions of world view and so, the authority thing is huge.
Jim: It is almost humorous to think of the Old Testament, where it says that there's nothing new under the sun.
John S.: Uh-hm.
Jim: And it's true.
John S.: It's very true.
Jim: We think we're brilliant, that we've come up with some new fandangled way to express ourselves physically or something like that. It's been goin' on for thousands of years. It's not new. And we're right back to the same old argument. God, we want to be in control. Talk about again though, how that seeps into the Christian church and how do we fight that temptation? Let's look at marriage again. I mean, when you look at same-sex marriage, that's a symptom. The core issue is the breakdown of true marriage and what happened there. Talk about that history.
John S.: So glad you said that, because that's very, very true. Same-sex marriage is absolutely a fruit; it's not the root. It's not the cause of the crisis of family. One of the things that Chuck would say over and over and over and it's forever and just kind of imbedded in my mind to see him kinda with that fist shaking, going, "It's about truth, true truth." And what he meant was, Christianity is true whether no one believes it or not--
John S.: --because Christianity is the way the world is. And when churches kinda go with the culture in order to be palatable, in order to be winsome, but not truthful, that's one of the ways that we can be taken captive, what Paul says, "by hollow and deceptive ideas that depend on the tradition of men." So, we gotta back up all the time, back, to the Scripture and say, "What is true? What is true? What is true?
Jim: Hm. Those are strong words and things that we need to think about, John and not be lazy, if I could say it that way. And I'm that way sometimes. I like to relax. I like to go campin' with the kids. But we need to spend some time reflecting on where we're at in culture, what we're about, what we believe and communicating that to those around us, most importantly, our closest loved ones, our family members, our kids. And I so appreciate you expressing that today. There is much more to cover. I'd like us to go through some other topics of interest and importance. Can you hold on and let's continue next time?
John S.: Absolutely.
Jim: Let's do it.
John S.: Thank you, Jim.
John: Well, John Stonestreet has left us with a really good thing to think about: what is true? And as we've been mining that concept, we've been addressing a number of the things in his book, Making Sense of Your World. And what a lively discussion to challenge us, to make us think through what we believe.
We'd like to invite you to contact us or visit us online and engage in seeking biblical truth about marriage and parenting and we've got a lot of follow up for you. And as a starting point, just ask for the new DVD set, The Family Project from Focus on the Family. Jim mentioned this earlier. We're really excited about it. The Family Project is a 12-session, small-group experience. It's designed to help you gain a new appreciation for why family matters. And it'll also energize you to develop a lasting positive legacy for your family. Call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or find details at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . And when you make a donation to Focus on the Family today, of at least $100, we'll send that DVD set to you as our way of saying thank you for taking a stand for the family and supporting us.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and made possible by generous listeners like you. On behalf of Jim Daly, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back next time, when we'll continue with John Stonestreet and have more trusted insights and advice to help you and your family thrive.
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John StonestreetView Bio
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center which seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending the Christian worldview. The Center was begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a radio broadcast called BreakPoint, of which John now serves as co-host. John is a popular public speaker and the co-author of four books including A Practical Guide to Culture and Restoring All Things. He and his wife, Sarah, have three daughters and recently welcomed a baby boy in to their family.