Which Worldview Glasses are 20/20?
Reviewed by Bob Passantino
© Copyright 2002 by Bob Passantino.
Don’t let the title of this book put you off. It is not an introduction to biblical
interpretation or hermeneutics. Instead, Christian philosopher Paul Copan discusses
the fact that everyone has a pair of glasses through which they view the world – a
particular set of presuppositions, an interpretive framework or paradigm; in short, a
worldview. Copan challenges the reader (whether Christian or non-Christian) to
test his or her own worldview, recognize its inadequacies, and make adjustments
more in accord with reality. By doing so, Copan argues, skeptics of Christianity
will find their objections are often mistakes in reasoning rather than viable
challenges to Christian truth. Copan’s book breaks down into three main
categories: (1) truth and reality, (2) worldviews, and (3) the Christian worldview in
In some ways, this book is similar to Lee Strobel’s successful The Case for
Christ and The Case for Faith. In other ways, most notably in his philosophical
approach and careful examination of foundational presuppositions, this book is
complementary rather than overlapping or repetitive. It is a supplement to Strobel’s
books as theology at its practical best.
Paul Copan is on staff with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and holds
an M.A. and M.Div. From Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Ph.D. from
Marquette University. This combination of a firm academic background and
experienced interaction with non-Christians makes the book satisfying both to the
armchair philosopher and the Christian frustrated by challenges from non-Christian
The reading level of the book requires some familiarity with theological and
philosophical vocabulary and a basic understanding of the laws of thought and
rational argumentation. In its subject matter, it stands alongside William Lane
Craig’s Reasonable Faith or J. P. Moreland’s Scaling the Secular City, but Copan’s
prose is far easier to understand and his arguments presume less background on the
part of the reader. Like Craig and Moreland, Copan is not Calvinistic in his
approach. This means that some arguments, carefully argued from Scripture, will
appear novel to some readers. (The majority of the historic Christian Church has
not held to a deterministic worldview, despite the teachings of the later Augustine,
Calvin, and other Reformed theologians. Copan is neither new nor alone in his free-will defense, following the twelfth century’s Anselm and others.)
Among the issues Copan’s book deals with are truth and relativism, reality
and illusion, the eternality of God, resurrection and reincarnation, reconciliation of
human free will and responsibility with divine foreknowledge and predestination,
the problems of evil and hell, religion as wish fulfillment, the logic of the Trinity and
the Incarnation, the temptation of Christ, Genesis and science, Old Testament
directives regarding genocide and slavery, alleged contradictions among the
Gospels, and New Testament usage of Old Testament passages.
Copan’s approach is useful especially in the chapters that answer typical
challenging questions regarding the biblical God and scriptural statements and
teachings. I was recently asked about the skeptic’s familiar contention that the God
of the Old Testament, in ordering the destruction of idolatrous nations and
condoning slavery, was no better than a genocidal Hitler or Pol Pot. I gave a
detailed answer based on a number of arguments I had read and considered, musing
to myself that it would be good to have this kind of answer available in one compact
resource. Shortly after, I obtained Copan’s book and found my wish answered in
chapters 18 and 19, “How Could a Loving God Command Genocide?” and
“Doesn’t the Bible Condone Slavery?” His historical and exegetical insights affirm
the moral purity of the God of the Old Testament in light of these challenges. Good
answers such as the ones Copan provides reveal the moral character of the biblical
God as far more just and unchanging than any other religious or non-religious
While Copan clearly contrasts his understanding of Scripture with Calvinism
and also with young earth creationism, he does not do so with malice,
misrepresentation, lack of respect, or egoism. For example, Calvinists will disagree
with his free-will defense for the problem of evil and his positing of “class election”
as the resolution to the tension between human responsibility and divine
predestination. The Calvinist must admit, however, that Copan has been polite in
his disagreement and that he rigorously, logically, and scripturally presents his
views within a relatively limited space.
By assuming the contemporary scientific consensus on the age of the earth
and yet defending the explicit statements of the Genesis creation accounts, Copan
shows that one cannot point to the alleged age of the universe as a contradiction of
Scripture. He also shows that holding an old-earth view does not relegate a
Christian to unorthodox views on inerrancy. In fact, his approach to Genesis even
allows for a more literary application of Genesis than most evangelical Americans
know, effectively removing the battle between young-earth creationists and old-earth creationists from the literature of Genesis into a purely scientific arena.
In chapter 15, Copan presents a fairly complex psychological
philosophical argument for the nature of Christ’s temptation in the Garden of
Gesthemane, arguing that Jesus may have been unaware that he could not sin. This
gives full force to the lure of temptation without compromising His divinely sinless
nature. Where I disagree with Copan is in his assumption that Jesus was in some
human way expressing a reluctance to go to the cross. Instead, I (and J. O.
) see Christ’s experience in the garden as affirming His commitment to die
on the cross even if the Father had to preserve Him for that sacrifice supernaturally
through special sustenance
or even perhaps resurrection.
His approach is within
orthodoxy and is logically consistent and possible, even though I think there are
more rationally simple approaches (see, e.g., my articles
Not My Will But Yours Be Done: Did Jesus Want to Avoid the Cross?,
Did the Father Leave the Son on the Cross? , and
What Does the Bible Mean by Temptation?).
Copan will stretch his readers’ thinking with some of his uncommon ideas,
especially in chapters 13 (“How Can God Be Three and One?”) and 14 (“Isn’t the
Idea of God Becoming a Man Incoherent?”). I appreciate seeing these thoughts in
print for popular consumption, and both chapters make valid, rational, orthodox
arguments for the Trinity and the Incarnation.
Many of the issues discussed in That’s Just Your Interpretation are treated in
other books, some more simple and some more complex, but Copan’s addition to
the literature on the subjects gives even the most well-read person a fresh look,
sometimes with a creative approach not seen anywhere else. For example, his
refutation of pantheism, the subject of chapter 5 (“Everything Is One with the
Divine, All Else Is an Illusion”), not only includes nine objections to pantheism or
monism but also concludes with a suggestion that the Christian “contextualize the
gospel for Eastern cultures whenever we can.” In doing so, he cites commonalities
that can provide a springboard for nonthreatening discussion:
• The Ultimate Reality is spiritual.
• There is unity to the whole universe.
• There is justice at the heart of the universe.
• There is a passion for freedom and liberation of the soul from death.
• There is a tremendous cost (discipleship) to living for religious devotees (57).
Copan points out that “it is not only what we affirm that is important; it is also
important how we do so.” His example is one I have rarely seen in a basic
apologetics book, but I value it, having discussed the Christian faith with many
pantheists or monists, including my brilliant philosopher sister-in-law who has
devoted her life to a Hindu guru in India.
History is cyclical for the Hindu, not linear as Westerners commonly
understand it. Obviously, this presents a problem for Christians when
attempting to connect with Hindus, for the Christian faith is a historical
one. For the Hindu, to say that our faith is historical implies that it had
a beginning and may have an ending; on the other hand, Hinduism is an
eternal and enduring religion. Many prominent Hindu thinkers believe
the Hindu god Krishna of the Bhagavad Gita is merely legendary and
not historical. It is not essential to the devotee of Krishna that he was
incarnated (as an avatar) in history (57).
Readers will appreciate Copan’s contrast between the typical Hindu opinion
of the eternality of Hinduism and the reality of its historical development and
between the typical Hindu assumption that Christianity is “recent” and “limited by
time” and the reality of the eternal message of God’s loving sacrifice that reconciles
us to Him, manifest in the historical Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection.
This challenging but eminently approachable exploration of the Christian faith
counters the most common false worldviews of our time. It occupies an important
place on my apologetics bookshelf, and it should on yours as well.
A similar approach appeared earlier in James Oliver Buswell’s Systematic Theology of
the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1962,1963), II:28ff.
As an angel did immediately (see Luke 22:43-44 cf. Heb. 5:7).
As Abraham was confident God would do for his son Isaac if Abraham had actually
sacrificed Isaac (Heb. 11:19).
Copan notes that his ideas are sometimes exploratory and suggestions (see 108 and 135).