Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 02/12/2008 by Mark Tubbs.
Recommended. An invitation to a new view of worldview, chockfull of stylish writing and quotable passages.
In Rethinking Worldview, J. Mark Bertrand has written an expansive book…a witty book. He has written a literary book, and a provoking book. An erudite book and a fascinating book. I think my brain hurts.
If you didn’t catch it, the first lines of this review are a hat tip to the first lines of Peter Leithart’s book Against Christianity, which in turn plays off the first lines of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. While I hate to be a wet blanket, it might behoove the potential reader of Rethinking Worldview to brush up on literature before taking on this book. Bertrand is not simply comfortable in the literary realm; he inhabits it, as any true writer does. By his own admission, Bertrand is first and foremost a writer of fiction. I am convinced that his vocation as fiction writer is in large part what made reading this non-fiction book so enjoyable.
I am also convinced I cannot do justice to this book in a mere review. Had we but world enough and time, as well as web space, I might be inclined to take a prismatic look at the book: firstly as a Christian non-fiction book of the ‘Christian Life/General’ variety (a catch-all publishing-marketing category I deny Bertrand’s book fits neatly into), secondly as an introduction to general philosophy, thirdly as a topical commentary on certain biblical narratives, and lastly but not least, a call to a new view of worldview studies. Bertrand has even sprinkled a generous dash of autobiography into the mix.
If I have given the impression that this book is only for the literati, it’s not. And it’s certainly not restricted to those who have pre-thought about worldview and are therefore now permitted to re-think it. Truth be told, my personal exposure to worldview, as well as apologetics (both of which figure quite heavily into the book), have been very limited. So while I picked up this book with trepidation, its sweeping sub-titular promise of ‘learning to think, live, and speak in this world’ was ample attraction to crack its spine (I jest) and devour its contents.
Bertrand opens the book claiming an artistic sensibility rather than an academic one, declaring a lack of expertise in any one area. He hopes the book “will open up unexpected vistas” and encourages the reader to ingest the Scriptures alongside Rethinking Worldview, thereby rooting the book squarely in biblical territory. We can therefore be fairly certain that the ‘unexpected vistas’ Bertrand anticipates will not stray from the pages of the Bible. Rethinking Worldview definitely isn’t short on doctrine, but it’s not the hit-you-over-the-head kind. Bertrand freely admits where his theological and intellectual allegiances lie – be warned, he’s not afraid of labels. But there’s never an inkling of superiority in the text, which is as it should be, since Bertrand is trying to usher the reader towards a humbler, holistic – and dare I say, humane – approach to worldview. His nudging is always in concert with, and never opposed to, the fundamental doctrines of the faith. The biblical passages he brings to bear on his insights (or more accurately, the biblical passages that have informed his insights) never pop up extraneously; rather, they are seamlessly woven into the text and appear only in appropriate and helpful places. Bertrand never shoehorns a biblical reference into the text for the sake of having a biblical reference.
The book is neatly divided into three sections of four chapters. Each section corresponds with the three concepts of worldview, wisdom, and witness. In the first section, Bertrand provides a cursory history of worldview studies. He points out its successes and its flaws, the major flaw being that worldview study has become pedantic, didactic, simplistic, and overconfident. Bertrand then invites us to consider the topic of individuals’ ability to change worldviews, and not only to change, but to metamorphose into an increasingly Christian worldview.
The second section accesses biblical teaching on the kind of godly wisdom derived from faith and obedience. Bertrand insists true God-given wisdom – the type that allows a truly Christian worldview to form – is only available through faith in the one true God. We cannot believe in a generic ‘God’ and claim true faith; therefore we cannot claim true wisdom, and it follows that we cannot claim an accurate, biblical worldview. Chapter 7, my favorite chapter by far, employs the Turkish sack of Constantinople in the fifteenth century as an extended metaphor for strengthening and defending our worldviews. This chapter also exhibits Bertrand’s storytelling acumen. Even through crime fiction isn’t my shtick, I’m quite tempted to spend some time at ThePatternOfWounds.com reading his most current novel.
The third ‘W’ concept in the book is witness. According to Bertrand, witness is not automatically synonymous with evangelism. Witness always includes the euangelion – the good news – but witness is much more. Close to the end of the book, Bertrand takes the opportunity to present the Gospel in a comprehensive and compelling way, noting that both believing and failing to believe are both faith commitments. Neither is morally neutral. He concludes the book with a call to Christian to regenerate the Arts, because the Arts are no more neutral than beliefs are.
Although I’ve read and reviewed many excellent books recently, none was quite as enjoyable as Rethinking Worldview. The weave of theology and philosophy and pedagogy and story was a delight, which made wading through the obligatory abstract worldview theory much less daunting. If this review is guilty of anything, it must be the omission of so many fine quotes from the book – which should encourage you to read it for yourself. Locating a truly literary author who writes sophisticated non-fiction is more difficult than one might think (Penguin’s A History of Reading by Alberto Manguel comes to mind, and Kris Lundgaard shows literary flair in P&R’s Through the Looking Glass), so my only complaint about this book and this author is that there’s only one of each.