SEAN MCDOWELL BLOG
Why Would a Medical Doctor Switch Careers to Teach Students Worldview? His Story.Posted August 18, 2016 by Sean McDowell
Recently I had a chance to interact with Dr. Erik Strandness, a worldview educator from Spokane, Washington. His story instantly intrigued me! After all, you don't hear about many medical doctors leaving their profession after two decades to teach worldview to high school students (Hint: He didn't do it for the money).
Check out the interview below, because Dr. Strandness has both a compelling story and some helpful insights about teaching apologetics and worldview today. And if you enjoy the interview, consider getting a copy of one of his excellent books: The Director's Cut: Finding God's Screenplay on the Cutting Room Floor or his most recent book Cry of the Elephant Man: Listening for Man's Voice Above the Herd.
SEAN MCDOWELL: Your life took a pretty dramatic turn when you left medicine and began pursuing a career as a Christian worldview educator. What caused you to change directions?
DR. ERIK STRANDNESS: I was raised in a Christian home but tended to treat my faith like a fire alarm I only pulled when my life was engulfed in flames. You could say that I was living the classic sacred-secular divide. Things began to change roughly 20 years ago when I moved to a new community with my wife and children and joined a church that was alive with the Holy Spirit. I became a leader in a small group ministry, but found this a bit of a challenge since my knowledge of Christianity was meager at best. I had to start doing some serious reading so I would be knowledgeable enough to lead discussions and create Bible studies.
It was a very exciting time of spiritual growth, but it wasn’t until my agnostic brother-in-law asked me to explain Christianity that things really began to change. I felt completely inadequate to give him a reasoned explanation for the hope that was in me. I found this situation intolerable because it was at odds with the way I practiced medicine. I would prescribe medications and employ medical technologies based on time-tested, peer-reviewed scientific literature, but here I was practicing my faith based on personal anecdotes and untested theories. I had to ask myself how I could, in good conscience, prescribe Christianity to others if I hadn’t personally tested it in the laboratory of life. My brother-in-laws simple question turned my life upside down, and I became obsessed with trying to organize my faith in such a way that I could walk someone through it, step by step, from the existence of God to Jesus as savior.
MCDOWELL: In your books, you adopt what you call a “bottom up” approach to apologetics; what does that mean and why do you think it is relevant to the cultural challenges facing Christians today?
DR. STRANDNESS: My brother-in-law had no Christian background so I had to formulate my apologetic argument from the “bottom up” by finding life experiences we held in common and then connecting them to Scripture. St. Paul was inspirational in this regard because, as the apostle to the Gentiles, he frequently spoke to the Biblically challenged and knew that to be an effective evangelist he had to find the common ground that would leave them without excuse. In the first chapter of Romans, Paul described what a “bottom up” apologetic should look like, For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. (Romans 1:19-20)
I think we too often make a top-down case for our faith by offering philosophical and theological arguments for God’s existence when a far more powerful apologetic can be found in our shared experiences of the natural world. We often speak of the book of nature and the Bible as two independent sources of testimony about God, but Paul considered them a seamless whole. While many people may not understand God’s saving grace, they are daily immersed in his common grace. Since He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust, we have been given a wonderful opportunity to stand in the apologetic sun and rain and talk about the weather. I would argue that the book of nature and the Bible are not two separate books at all, but rather the preface and narrative of the Greatest Story Ever Told. Since our culture is becoming less Biblically literate, even amongst evangelicals, the traditional apologetic appeal to Scripture is falling on deaf ears. We need to reacquaint people with the preface of God’s natural world so that they will be curious enough to read the rest of the story.
MCDOWELL: Is there a common apologetic thread that winds through your books?
DR. STRANDNESS: In order to utilize a “bottom up” approach to apologetics we need to understand how the Bible explains the connection between a spiritual God and a physical world. The vast majority of people believe that the physical world speaks to them in spiritual ways, but haven’t really asked themselves who is doing the speaking. Genesis is profound in this regard because it describes a God that uniquely created through speech. If we dissect the act of communication we see that it is quite magical; we begin with an immaterial thought that is converted into physical sound waves, received by another person, and then reconverted back into the original immaterial thought. The Bible describes the thought of a spiritual God, spoken into physical existence, and then rethought by creatures created in His image. Since we are all image-bearers, we are all capable of understanding the words God spoke into creation; therefore we have experiential common ground with every human being on the planet. As we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words, therefore the problem isn’t a lack of creational text, but rather its proper interpretation. It is fascinating to think that God spoke and filled the universe with His words. Man, at the Fall, then employed sinful syntax and distorted those words. God then sent His Son, The Word, to restore His original Garden Grammar. I think this Biblical truth suggests that it may be more appropriate for us to talk about a Christian Wordview rather than worldview.
MCDOWELL: Can you give me an example of what that common experiential ground looks like and how you would use it to make a Biblical connection?
DR. STRANDNESS: I remember visiting Key West on a family cruise, after a long day of sightseeing we noticed a crowd gathering on the dock and wondered what was happening. We quickly realized they had all huddled together to watch the sunset. After the sun dropped below the horizon, the crowd erupted in applause. Here we were, an ethnically diverse collection of human beings united by the universal language of natural beauty. Humans usually only applaud when they witness the work of an artist, and here on this dock in Key West, we had all unwittingly engaged in an act of corporate worship. God’s beautiful thought became a physical reality and was rethought by a diverse crowd of image-bearers who couldn’t help but give His divine idea a standing ovation. We all heard God’s “very good” words that day, the heavens declared, and that particular group of image-bearers couldn’t help but listen.
MCDOWELL: The intersection of faith and science is currently a hot apologetic topic, how has your experience in medicine shaped your understanding of this debate?
DR. STRANDNESS: I think physicians occupy a unique position in the scientific world because they not only treat physical disease but also encounter spiritual turmoil. I have been with many families as they mourned the loss of their babies. While the room is usually very quiet as physical life ebbs away, the spiritual air is whipped up into a cacophony of questions: Why did God take my child? Are they in a better place? Will I ever see them again? They weren’t grieving over deceased chemicals, because matter cannot mourn the loss of matter, but rather they were sad because a kindred spirit had moved away. Basic scientists, secluded in their laboratories, may conclude that the world is just matter, but if they entered the real world of human disease they would soon find that it comes with some heavy spiritual baggage.
I also noticed that the longer I practiced medicine, the more I began to feel like I was a tinkerer in somebody else’s workshop. I didn’t create the factory in which I worked, but I seemed to be reading from its owner’s manual. While the fine-tuning of the universe is powerful evidence for the existence of God, I find the fine-tuning of the human body to be even more compelling.
I have come to the realization that the faith - science debate has failed to address the elephant in the room, the debaters themselves. The discussion will be incomplete until we hold up a mirror and ask ourselves the far more profound question of why a group of spirit endowed biological machines are arguing about it in the first place.
MCDOWELL: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young Christians today as they try to navigate a largely secular culture, and how do you think your brand of apologetics can help steer them in the right direction?
DR. STRANDNESS: I believe that postmodernism is the biggest cultural challenge facing our youth today because it denies the traditional apologetic appeals to universal truth and authority. The only thing that could be considered a postmodern truth is the centrality of personal experience. A “bottom up” approach to apologetics, with its emphasis on common human experience, therefore serves as the perfect foundation upon which to build a Biblical worldview for the postmodern crowd. The beauty of focusing our apologetic efforts on the preface to God’s story is that everyone has already read it; they just need someone to motivate them to turn to the next page. While our postmodern friends may dismiss the Bible, they cannot dismiss their experience, and if we can get them to see that the Bible is really just written verification of the oral contract God spoke into creation long ago, then we may just be able to get them to sign on the dotted line.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D. is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.