Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Ken Boa on Christianity in a Secular Culture

  • Cheryl Johnston Crosswalk.com Spiritual Life Editor
  • Published Dec 07, 2001
Ken Boa on Christianity in a Secular Culture
I had the privilege of meeting with author and speaker Ken Boa this summer in Atlanta to discuss his latest book, Faith Has Its Reasons: An Integrative Approach to Defending Christianity, Christianity's place in a secular culture, and how Christians can present their faith to non-Christians without forgoing sensitivity, creativity, and intellect. Part 1 of this two-part interview focuses on Christianity in a secular culture.

CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: Where does science meet faith?

KEN BOA: There are four different views. Science as being contrary to Christianity is one, or another view is that it's not just in conflict, but that they're talked about as two different areas. There's some that say that science and faith work very well together. Some are more cautionary. I'm actually very excited about where science is going. I just did a Monday night study, on science and Scripture, an eight-part series, on molecular biology to cosmogony. I think it's an exciting place, time, to live because we live now in a culture, in a world, where technology is driving us to a greater realization that the world really is exquisitely crafted, beautifully designed, rich in information, both in information-rich macro-molecules, as well as the information in the fine-tuning of the cosmos and the irreducible complexity of living systems and the systematic or the whole idea of specified complexity of the information that's in the human genome, in proteins, even on a simpler level on large-scale systems, and it's exciting. Maybe it's this, that my suspicion is that God seems to increase the evidence as disbelief increases.

And what's happening here is that we had such a wealth of scientific affirmation of the validity of the Christian worldview as we have had in the last 40 years, both in astronomy and molecular biology and on every level. I find it an extraordinarily exciting time in which we live, and I love the intelligent design movement, the whole idea of the wedge that people are calling, that Phillip Johnson describes as ... fitting the wedge into academia by showing that, really, the idea of chance and ... are flawed. That they're not sufficient to account for the rich complexity, that information that we see in systems, and that the idea of design need not be overtly religious. It's just the idea of intelligence, just like we do forensic pathology to determine, "Is this thing accidental or was there intentionality behind it?"

Just like Lewis picked up Richard Baxter's idea, that puritan divine idea of "mere Christianity," and then popularized that, let's find what we have in common and be charitable to our brethren who are in other rooms off that hall of Christianity. There are different rooms where there are fireplaces and hearths. Pick where we can sit and enjoy, that we can be charitable with one another. Let's focus on what we have in common. Same here, this intelligent design movement. Whether you hold to a young earth or an old earth, or wherever you are in this, we call all to agree that this is an information-rich world and that reveals purpose and design and order. And so, it's exciting to me to see kind of a potential for convergence from the things we share in common along those kinds of lines. There will always be some differences of opinion as to the details, but ... science, in my view at least, can be reliable. As long as I do not embrace the illusion that science and naturalism should be wedded.

There is a danger of moving into "scientism," by conflating the scientific method with a naturalism, with a naturalistic philosophy. That's a mistake. It's not needful, never was needful, but people have made this assumption that when we do science, we embrace a naturalistic philosophy, and the idea of design is thrown out of court. Now, there's no good scientific reason for, nor is there any philosophical reason for, rejecting it. It's a presupposition, I think. It's a wonderful area and I enjoy the growing body of literature. And many, many believers are on the cutting edge of some of this material. So, it's exciting.

CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: I get the impression that in past generations, there were more people actually interested in theology and in doctrine and batting around ideas with friends. That's seldom seen or done now, and the higher you go in education, at least through public universities, the fewer Christians you find when you enter master's and Ph.D. programs. Is that because fewer intellectual people are now Christians or because Christians are not pursuing higher education?

KEN BOA: That's a good question. I'm happy to say that, in certain disciplines, there has been a nice direction, movement, where Christians are beginning to gain some ground that was lost. I think a large part of what you just described is the loss of a prevailing Christian worldview. And academia itself has gradually, since the Enlightenment, embraced a secular perspective that says, basically, starting with theism -- they didn't want to go right to the full-blown atheistic concept -- so, starting with that idea that the hypothesis of God is not strictly necessary, "We can do it without Him," and then to the point where now there's a hostility toward that idea [of God]. The university gradually became more secularized and more pluralistic, and in that culture then, Christianity became marginalized, and then, also, Christians kind of had a circle-the-wagon mindset, particularly in the early part of the 20th century, where they said, "Those modernists, those liberals," and there was kind of an anti-intellectualism that many times took place. The more evangelical Christian seminaries divorced themselves from the more liberal seminaries, and it was kind of a "we versus they" mindset.

I think now there is, happily, a movement toward recapturing ground. I think, for example, people like some of these philosophers at Notre Dame and so forth, Austin and Plantinga, Waltersdorf and others, are at some cutting-edge thinking in the area of epistemology and the philosophy of religion. The same thing is happening in some of the sciences as well. So, I believe Christians are beginning to say, "Hey, we've given up too much and we can get back into the marketplace." That's where ministries like [that of] Ravi Zacharias are trying to say, "Hey, we have something to say." Or Colson, with his whole Wilburforce Forums and his whole idea of, "Let's get back into the university. Let's challenge these assumptions and let's argue that the Christian worldview can stand up on its own against the secularized viewpoint." And I think that there has been, in education, in media and in entertainment, a kind of a divorcing of our thinking from a Christian worldview. And people too passively bought into that. So, I was happy to see that more and more good quality literature is being addressed by, and written by, Christians in various disciplines, and I think that that's a trend. We'll see more of this in sociology, in philosophy, in biology, and in other areas as well, genetics and astronomy.

So, I hope to see that reversing. 'Fraid it probably won't ever go back to the halcyon days when these universities, like Harvard and Princeton and Yale, were originally founded with the vision of training people for the ministry. Yeah, it's naive to suppose we'll go back to that, but I think we can begin to develop more of a credibility. But the natural reality is in a secularized worldview, most of the "intellectuals" will be people who are educated away from a Christian perspective. And that's just the nature of that. There seems to be a genuine, a basic, you might say, an inverse proportion between education and commitment to Christianity, but it doesn't have to be that way.

CROSSWALK.COM'S CHERYL JOHNSTON: It's currently very difficult for Christian musicians, outside of the gospel industry, and for Christian authors to get represented by secular labels and publishing houses. What do we, as Christians, do? Do we continue to exist side-by-side and build the Christian commercial industry greater and greater? Or do we, as Christians, keep trying to be represented and published by mainstream labels and houses, perhaps by getting better?

KEN BOA: Good question. I think there are maybe two strategies one can take. On the one side, Christian publishers, I think, at least some of them, are becoming more aggressive at creating crossover materials so that they get into the ABA market more and more, and that's a helpful movement. And more and more are trying to strategize by having arenas of distribution that will enable them to get into broader markets.

That's very healthy, so that Barnes and Noble, and the Walden and B. Dalton stores, are now getting more and more ... more of these Christian publishers are getting some placement in those, as well as in places like Sam's ...

That's a good thing. But, in addition to that, I think it's healthy for authors to try to create books that can stand on their own and that can reach, both in fiction and in non-fiction, a market through the secular publishers. There they need to be more discreet. They may need sometimes to be a little bit more indirect, and I think that can happen. I think it's very healthy for people to try to get themselves involved in some of the more secular houses and so forth, and I think that's a good trend as well.

Lewis talked about the idea of a Christian writer. C.S. Lewis was saying that it's not that they have to write overtly. It's not that they have to write on Christian topics, but that they have a Christian perspective and that they do their work well. If it's in literature or whatever the area is, they do it with excellence and that's the Christian dimension to it, whether in art or music. And he was a marvelous example of that, when you think of his technical material, for example, The Discarded Image, or you think about his volume on the Oxford History of English Literature, his 16th Century tone there on that area or the Allegory of Love. These were marvelous books that, frankly, evince a Christian worldview, not overtly, but rather through the quality of the technical display that he shows his mastery of his field, an understanding of the material, but still argues cogently for an understanding of that image that was discarded and how that . . . at least shaping . . . provides a unifying vision for the world, but without being pushy, without overdoing it. And I think, sometimes, we maybe try to prove too much or push too much. So, again, "the salt and the light," the idea of being a pervasive influence, but sometimes more subtle approaches can be valuable.

So, perhaps there's a sort of a two-pronged approach, getting a wider readership through ABA and other points of distribution and also this other strategy I think can be valuable. Why is it that Christian authors cannot write the best books on certain areas, whether it's psychology or physics or genetics or fictional literature? There's no reason why. Frankly, if we think about it, we well know that the greatest music, architecture, art, philosophy, drama, literature, have all been inspired by Christian vision. In fact, it's tragic when you go, say, to Europe or England, in particular, and you see that their greatest achievements were inspired by this Christian vision. And now what's taken place since the Enlightenment, in contrast, is vastly inferior in many cases. What happened? Why not return to that idea? What inspired this vision? What was this discarded image? There needs to be an understanding that the Christian vision can inspire greatness. Sadly, I think the world often associates it with "schlock" and "kitsch," to use a couple of good Yiddish words. Sometimes those words work better than anything else.

The association with Christianity, with the popular media, for example, is not always something ... Frankly, if that was my only exposure, I'd say, "Frankly, I have enough trouble of my own. I don't need to get into that stuff." So, I think there's a need for excellence and quality, rather than doin' something in a second-rate way. And I think more publishers are beginning to catch that idea. Why should a Christian film, why should a Christian book be inferior? It's interesting, some of the greatest films these days are by Iranians and Chinese directors. They're far more subtle and beautiful, and it's interesting; you don't have a Christian worldview informing them. In the West, we come up with these pyrotechnics and these massive budget films to try to evoke interest and so forth. These other films have a greater sense of humanity and of relationships. Why is that? What happened? How is it that this Christian vision somehow got lost in the shuffle? We have to go to other directors to find that kind of a vision. A beautiful film that I just saw last year called The Color of Paradise -- here's an Iranian director coming closer to what I would say is a Christian vision. In fact, if I were [a Christian director], ... I would have been proud to have created that film.

He doesn't talk about Allah; He talks about God. It's a powerful film ... [with] ... a Christian vision. It just happens to have not been done by a Christian director. It's more Christian than many films that are overtly Christian. So, what's wrong here? Where's the loss of subtlety, of beauty, of truth, of something that's exquisite and understated? There needs to be a return to that kind of a thing in all those areas. And, again, more and more people are catching on to that.

I was so stunned by The Color of Paradise about a blind boy who wants to see the face of God; it's a marvelous image. No actors, they're just real people in this village. And this father is not blind, but he's morally and spiritually blind, and it's this wonderful contrast here. I was so taken by it that I rented a film that he had done earlier, Children of Heaven, just to see that.

So, you know, you can rent these things and see them, and it's good to keep up with them and see what's coming along. I try to keep up with those things, as well as more traditional films. I just saw a Chinese film called, The Road Home. And again, a marvelous film. Then, the next day, I saw A.I. And it was an interesting ... A.I., this massive attempt to get us emotionally attached, didn't work for me at all. But then I see The Road Home, this marvelous, subtle, underplayed Chinese film that just immediately grips your heart. No violence, no sex, no language problems, just a wonderful story about a man's parents, going back to when they first met.

It was just a marvelous image here of how a subtle story can be woven together that grabs the heart, and then to see this other, and you realize, The one, again, is closer to the spirit of the gospel, as it were, than the other, and yet it's not being written, done by Christians.

So, it's interesting. What makes a film Christian? There's a vision; there's a way of seeing; there's a way of approaching; there's an integrity. It's not just the subject matter, as you well know. Rembrandt's paintings [for example] -- when we have more overt subjects like the return of the prodigal son -- [he created] such a marvelous painting. But, then you see some of his other landscapes and his self-portraits and so forth, and you realize they, too, have a very Christian vision underlying them. And he saw no sacred/secular distinction, no need for a dichotomy there.

I think that there's a value for a unified vision that sees all truth as God's truth.

Dr. Kenneth D. Boa is the president of Reflections Ministries. He has authored numerous books including Pursuing Wisdom and The Art of Living Well (both NavPress) and is a contributing editor to the Open Bible, the Promise Keeper's Men's Study Bible, and the Leadership Bible. Dr. Boa earned a B.S. from Case Institute of Technology, a Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. from New York University, and a D. Phil. from the University of Oxford. He resides in Atlanta, Georgia.

You can purchase Faith Has Its Reasons here from Christian Book Distributors.