Theology Thursday: Plantinga Helped Center God’s Story in My Life and Teaching

Cross Set Against A Blue Sky

John Lennox said, “Worldview is the story we live from.” N. T. Wright (1992) identified “story” as one of the key expressions of worldview.1 And Dallas Willard (2009) identified three key worldview stories in our culture: the theistic story, an example of which is the Christian story; the nirvana story, often represented by Buddhist teaching and/or New Age beliefs and practices; and the naturalist story, also called the secular story.2

It is not unusual for people to unconsciously mix the stories and experience a bit of confusion and chaos as a result. Personally, I was raised primarily in a secular story and became a Christian when coming into adulthood. As a result, I have wrestled to clarify and purify my worldview story ever since. Someone who helped me with that in a significant way is Alvin Plantinga.

In This Article:

Plantinga the Philosopher

Alvin Plantinga was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize in 2017. This award acknowledges people that have made an “outstanding contribution in affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” A philosopher nominating Plantinga for the Templeton Prize expressed that Plantinga’s work dramatically transformed the intellectual-spiritual space in philosophy.3 Modern philosophy, as with many academic disciplines, has generally been guided by the secular story. Plantinga catalyzed a movement toward expressing the academic discipline of philosophy within the Christian story. His efforts and example have informed my approach to teaching worldview, and my life experience as a Christian.

Reason and Worldview Stories

While teaching the Christian worldview, I raise questions about other worldview stories. I provide different options to my students by describing the primary worldview stories of our culture, especially the secular story and the Christian story. We consider all of the worldview story options as if they are valid approaches to life and reality. Then I show how my Christian worldview story fits reality better than the other worldview stories.

The Problem With Reason

I often use reason for my primary appeal in support of my conclusion. Reason is based on evidence and convincing arguments. Placing reason as the justification for faith in the Christian worldview above other worldviews is a bit of a fraught path. Reason has the capacity to provide notable but limited support for any worldview. And the facts and evidence my students trust, about any topic including Christianity and science, are often unreliable and certainly not terribly comprehensive.

While I believe that the Christian worldview story is the most reasonable and rational story, human reason is not really the ideal starting point for knowing the truth. Human capacity through reason, when placed at the center of a search for God and truth leaves a lot of gaps. It also seems to rest on a secular foundation and appeal to a secular story.

It is interesting to note from a naturalistic and secular perspective the trustworthiness of the human capacity occasions debate. Darwin himself acknowledged a source of the debate as he recognizes what is referred to as Darwin’s doubt. Darwin’s doubt places the human mind along a continuum with the mind of the monkey through his evolutionary theory. Given that source, why should we expect humans to produce reliable and true beliefs about reality?4

Reason and the Christian Worldview Story

From the Christian story, reason is a great servant, but when it is used as the centerpiece or starting point of knowledge it is circular and human centered. This is a bit of a problem when coming from a worldview that places God as the creator, sustainer and sovereign of the universe. By invading the secular story, in order to reveal the Christian story, inconsistencies seem inevitable. Mind you, in the Christian story, reason has a wonderful and significant role in life in God’s kingdom; but suggesting that it is the primary, much less the only foundation of believing in Christ, is another story.

Including Properly Basic Beliefs about God in the Foundation for Knowing

Plantinga reorients the conversation in philosophy, worldview and life around the reality that we live in God’s universe as described by the Christian worldview story. In Plantinga’s reformed epistemology, God is the starting point, reflecting Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If we start with God, and we live in God’s universe then it makes sense that certain beliefs are warranted and certain assumptions about the state of things are rational.

Human reason can be valid if people are designed to be able to know the truth given the right conditions. We can know God and many things in our universe in a properly basic way without an appeal to reason, the same way we know other people, and the way we know that the past and the external world is real. Our spiritual and physical senses correspond to the truth God desires us to know regarding him and his creation. The Spirit gives us faith among other gifts to believe and follow Christ and enter fully into the Christian story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration. Using properly basic beliefs that include God in their foundations provides a rational approach to the Christian worldview story.

Contributions From Plantinga’s Teachings

Alvin Plantinga connected some of the dots for me by helping to clear away some of the weeds and debris due to the secular story impinging on my Christian story, especially around reason and knowledge. In the past, I have been guilty of mixing the secular and Christian stories and often unintentionally. This hindered my confident affirmation and enjoyment of God and his promises, and I think skewed my teaching of Christian worldview.

Since engaging Plantinga, I am more likely to recognize that I live and teach in God’s universe where he is the creator, sustainer and sovereign; and I have a good and powerful Father; a savior in Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God who died on the cross and rose from the dead, and the Holy Spirit dwells within me and affirms truth, sealing it with conviction in my heart. God is active in his creation, and he hears the prayers of his people. I believe that I can know this to be true, and it is reasonable.

Life is good.

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1 Wright, N. T. (1992). The New Testament and the people of God: Christian origins and the question of God, volume 1, London, Fortress Press e-book.

2 Willard, D. (2009). Knowing Christ Today: Why we can trust spiritual knowledge. New York, NY: Harper One.

3 Plantinga Videos. (2018). Plantinga Videos

4 Plantinga, A. (2011). Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism. Oxford University Press, USA.


Approved with changes by faculty for the College of Theology on July 26, 2023

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.