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In Kingdom Triangle, J. P. Moreland shows that, instead of retreating from the dual onslaught of naturalism and postmodernism, Christianity offers the only solid basis for a life with richness and meaning. Many “evangelicals” advocate blending Christianity with one of these impoverished worldviews as the only way for the Church to survive. Moreland’s critique of these views is extremely well done.
Chapters 1-4 form Part 1, entitled “Assessing the Crisis of Our Age.” Chapters 5-7 form Part 2, entitled “Charting a Way Out: The Kingdom Triangle.” The book also contains a forward by Dallas Willard, as well as a Conclusion and Postscript by J.P. Moreland. In addition, 15 pages of annotated bibliography and 8 pages of endnotes augment the text.
In Chapter 1 Moreland discusses the current status as “The Hunger for Drama in a Thin World.” Moreland says, “The current addiction to the cult of celebrity and professional sports, along with our preoccupation with happiness, tells us something about our true nature and the bankruptcy of our culture” (p. 21). This bankruptcy results from the loss of belief in things we cannot detect with our five senses, along with a pursuit of happiness as the main goal of life. Moreland then introduces George Mavrodes’ concept of thick and thin worlds. A “thin world” is “one with no objective value, purpose, or meaning. It is a world that is just there; it wasn’t made for some purpose” (p. 26). A “thick world” is “one in which there is such a thing as objective value, purpose, and meaning. In a thick world, some things really matter and other things don’t” (p. 29). Moreland concludes, “One burden of this book is to show what happens when the Christian worldview is replaced with naturalism and postmodernism, both of which present us with a thin world” (pp. 29-30).
Moreland provides 5 questions for evaluating worldviews:
- What is real?
- What are the nature and limits of knowledge?
- Who is well-off? What is the good life?
- Who is a really good person?
- How does one become a really good person?
In Chapter 2, Moreland focuses on naturalism, which he says is the dominant worldview of Western culture. He writes, “The first component of naturalism, then, is the belief that scientific knowledge is either the only kind of knowledge there is or an immeasurably superior kind of knowledge” (p. 41). The news media frequently describe scientific knowledge as more substantial than someone’s mere religious feelings and beliefs. Moreland states, “The widely accepted intellectual authority of science, coupled with the belief that Intelligent Design theory is religion (rather than science), means that evolution is the only view of the origin of life that can claim the backing of science” (p. 45). Moreland’s analysis clearly shows the inability of the naturalist worldview to provide for a thick world. I found this section to be one of the best written in the book and extremely helpful in providing the reader with a way to make an intelligent critique of naturalism. Moreland concludes, “In light of these five questions, naturalism is exposed as the shallow, destructive fraud that it really is. By contrast, the worldview of Jesus provides deep, satisfying, true answers to these questions” (p. 59).
Chapter 3 provides a similar analysis of postmodernism. Moreland admits that postmodernism is a diverse, hard-to-define movement. He bases his analysis on the elements he finds most pervasive across this movement and reviews the factors that led to the formation of postmodernism as a reaction to the bankruptcy of naturalism. He states,
Knowledge is an important basis for acting with authority. We allow dentists and not lawyers to fix our teeth, not because the former have a set of sincere beliefs, but because they possess the relevant knowledge. It is crucial, therefore, for Christians to pay close attention to views about the nature and limits of knowledge inside and outside of the Christian community. (p. 66)
Moreland stresses this because many Christians today are reacting against naturalism by fleeing to postmodernism and not paying any attention to the claims and limits of knowledge that postmodernism makes. Moreland offers three core characteristics of postmodernism: “a rejection (1) of objective truth construed as a correspondence with reality, (2) of the rational objectivity of reason, and (3) of the reality of simply seeing and the human ability to be aware of and know reality directly” (p. 67).
Another insightful passage describes the distinction between “psychological objectivity” and “rational objectivity.” Many postmodernists reject objective truth because they confuse these two different types of objectivity. Psychological objectivity is the absence of any bias toward a topic. We would agree with postmodernists that on topics in which one has an interest, it is difficult, if not impossible to be psychologically objective (and Moreland points out that it is not always desirable to be objective in this sense if one has previously studied an issue and come to certain conclusions). However, even if we cannot have psychological objectivity, we can have rational objectivity. “Rational objectivity is the state of having accurate experiential or cognitive access to the thing itself” (p. 79). In other words, you can tell what constitutes good reasons, or good evidence, from bad. By failing to differentiate between these two forms of objectivity, postmodernists throw out all objectivity, including belief in objective truth. Moreland concludes that “postmodernism is the cure that kills the patient, the military strategy that concedes defeat before the first shot is fired, the ideology that undermines its own claims to allegiance” (p. 88).
In Chapter 4, Moreland reviews how we got to where we are, or as he says, how we went “from drama to deadness in five steps” (p. 91). He continues as follows:
The secularized perspective is constituted by two worldviews—naturalism and postmodernism—which agree with each other over against ethical monotheism…about one important point: There is no nonempirical knowledge and no objective immaterial world. (p. 91)
Moreland then identifies five paradigm shifts that took us from the thick world of theism to the thin worlds of the secular, leaving us in a world with “a cultural milieu that lacks the resources needed to resist the drift towards the proliferation of empty selves” (p. 105).
What is a Christian to do?
Such is the dire state of our world. What is the Christian to do? In the next three chapters, Moreland offers his prescription. The three legs of the Kingdom Triangle are, Chapter 5: The Recovery of Knowledge, Chapter 6: The Renovation of the Soul and Chapter 7: Restoration of the Kingdom’s Miraculous Power. While the first four chapters were well written and thought out, the same cannot be said for the remaining three chapters. In Part 1, Moreland clearly identified the urgent need for the unification of fact and value on an objective basis. In Part 2, however, instead of turning to the objective base, Scripture, Moreland too often turns inward, substituting subjectivity for objectivity.
Chapter 5 comes the closest to establishing an objective basis, for here Moreland issues the call for the Church to recover the knowledge we possess, and even more importantly, recover our confidence and certainty in our knowledge. Moreland provides nearly six pages of Scripture quotations showing that the concept of knowledge and knowing, is pervasive throughout the Bible. He then provides a helpful discussion of the kinds of knowledge we possess and the relationship between certainty, confidence and knowledge. Moreland concludes,
It is crucial that we call the Christian community back to its place in the world as a group that, on the basis of revelation in creation, religious experience, and, most importantly, the inerrant Word of God, presents religious, ethical, and other forms of knowledge to the world. Our religion is a religion of knowledge, not private faith, and we must teach people the ins and outs of knowledge as part of the recovery of our heritage as the sons and daughters of God. (p. 130)
Careful readers of this last statement will note that Moreland deliberately includes other sources of knowledge apart from Scripture. It is true that the Church has historical knowledge of what it has taught in theology, as well as regarding morals and spiritual living. However, every other religion can make claims to the same types of knowledge. What Christians uniquely have to offer is the revealed Word of God, the Holy Scriptures. As I read through these last few chapters, it seemed that Moreland drew more heavily from non-Scriptural sources than from Scripture. He fails to see that apart from Scripture, and the transcendent truth claims found therein, we have nothing more to offer the world than anyone else.
Chapters 6 and 7 show the effects of this elevation of the non-scriptural. In Chapter 6 Moreland shows that while naturalism and postmodernism leave empty souls, Christianity produces living souls. To that I would sound a hearty “Amen!” However, what Moreland goes on to set forth as the renovation of the soul would lift us no higher than ourselves. First, he contrasts the empty soul understanding of happiness as pleasurable satisfaction, with the classic concept of happiness. He then states,
In [Jesus’] words we encounter the classic concept of happiness, one embraced by Moses, Solomon, Aristotle, Plato, the church fathers, medieval theologians, and many more…. According to the classic sense, happiness is a life well lived, a life of virtue and character, a life that manifests wisdom, kindness and goodness…. The New Testament enriches this classic sense by calling it “eternal life,” understood as a certain quality of life and fleshed out as a life that approximates Jesus’ life and character. (p. 144)
To me it seems almost blasphemous to equate Plato’s idea of happiness with the New Testament concept of eternal life.
Chapter 6 also contains a section entitled “Cultivating Emotional Sensitivity to the Movement within Your Soul” (p. 155) where Moreland shows his attachment to the Spiritual Formation movement of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. Instead of turning to Scripture to become convinced of God’s goodness, Moreland suggests a meditation exercise. How am I to learn true knowledge about God by meditating on my feelings? Instead of turning inward, I need to turn upward in praise at what God has revealed about Himself in the Scriptures. Yes, a biblically centered Christian life includes a vibrant emotional life of joy and praise, but these emotions occur as we respond to Scripture.
In Chapter 7, Moreland states that the way to reclaim our age for Christ is to return to the miracles Christ did when He walked on the Earth. In the saddest sentence in the book, Moreland confuses miracles as signs confirming who Christ was with the very Gospel itself.
While justification by faith is essential to any understanding of the gospel, in the last forty years there has been a recovery of a broader gospel that Jesus and his apostles preached, a gospel within which justification is embedded: “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people” (Matt. 4:23). … Paul flatly states that “the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power” (I Cor. 4:20). An important arena in which this power is manifested is in healing, demonic deliverance, and divine interaction through dreams, visions, words of knowledge/wisdom, and prophetic utterances. (p. 173)
Moreland has apparently overlooked the powerful historical example of the Reformation in developing his Kingdom Triangle. While the Radical Anabaptists were advocating a form of renewal of spiritual sign gifts, including prophecy, the Reformers were adamant about finding the voice of the Living God in the words of Scripture alone. Unless we subject ourselves to the rule of Scripture, we have no basis to minister to the world around us.
Moreland’s diagnosis is correct, and you will profit much from reading chapters one through four, and much of chapter five. I cannot recommend the solutions of chapters six and seven.