Monday, May 26, 2014

Book Highlight: Grand Central Question

Chapter 1:  Grand Central Questions

As we continue our highlighting of Abdu Murray's book Grand Central Question, Chapter 1 begins with just a few of the numerous central questions of life that every major worldview seeks to answer:  What accounts for human suffering? Where is God when tragedy strikes? Do people have objective value? With the help of Ravi Zacharias, Murray filters out four main questions under which all other life questions fall. They are as follows:

1. What explains existence? Or, is there a God?
2. Is there an objective purpose and value to human existence?
3. What accounts for the human condition?
4. Is there a better life or a salvation from our present state?

A worldview should address all the central questions of life or else it is not a full view of the world. Murray also notes that “any worldview worth believing should also be internally consistent as it answers these questions…[it’s] answers to one set of questions (say, answers to questions about human origins) should not contradict its answers to another set of questions (say, answers to questions about meaning and purpose)” (p. 31). 

But what is a worldview? Murray provides James Sire's definition of a worldview as:

a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or a set of presuppositions…that we hold…about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and have our being (pp. 30-31).

Murray then umbrellas all major views and religions under these three worldviews:  naturalism, pantheism, and theism.

To be worthy of our attention each of these worldviews must provide clear answers to the four fundamental questions mentioned above. However, each of these worldviews places emphasis on answering one of these questions and claims to answer that one question better than the others. Murray calls this a worldview’s Grand Central Question. How a worldview answers its Grand Central Question defines it and determines how well it answers the other fundamental questions cohesively. The book is Murray’s exploration of how each of these three worldviews answers its Grand Central Question and how the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth answers that same question.

Secular Humanism  

Murray will be examining naturalism through a secular humanist lens as it is its most influential form.  He writes:

The humanism in secular humanism refers to the objective meaning and value of human beings. It is the affirmation of human dignity and value. The secular in secular humanism refers to the idea that human dignity and value can be realized without reference to any higher power or transcendent being (pp. 35-36).

Thus secular humanism’s Grand Central Question is number 2


Pantheism means “all is God.” Therefore distinctions between the divine and nondivine and between individual persons or things are considered to be illusions. Further Murray writes:

Pantheism’s most prevalent forms are Hinduism, Buddhism and their Western counterparts, which include New Age beliefs, Scientology and the so-called New Spirituality…Nearly every pantheistic religion or view espouses some form of reincarnation and a cyclical view of death and birth (p. 37).

Murray examines pantheism broadly and its Grand Central Question is number 4.


Due the rate of its growth and its influence, Murray selected Islam to represent theism in his examination. He was born into Islam and followed it for much of his life. He writes:

Islam is a staunchly monotheistic religion. Monotheism, called Tawhid by Muslims, is a key doctrine of Islam. Tawhid is not just the idea that there is only one God, but also that the one God is indivisible and does not exist as a “godhead”… For Muslims, doctrines like the Trinity and the incarnation of God in Christ are anathema, because they diminish God’s greatness by suggesting that which is unthinkable. To even conceive of God as existing in a differentiated state or as a being who dwells in bodily form with his creation is to conceive of a less-than-perfect God, a God who is not great (p. 38).

Therefore, Islam’s Grand Central Question is number 1.

The Christian Gospel

Christianity does not focus on one Grand Central Question, but provides a central narrative. Murray writes:

This narrative is that the triune God purposefully created humanity to be in relationship with him, but humanity rejected that relationship and thus rejected its very purpose. But God redeems humanity through his incarnate Son, Jesus, restoring the relationship and thus restoring our purpose (p. 39).

The gospel’s answers to all of the Grand Central Questions derive from this narrative.

Murray also provides a summation of the analysis of there worldviews that takes place in the book:

Where secular humanism seeks to provide an answer to the question of human purpose in a way that satisfies reason, the gospel offers a rational answer that also provides a sense of existential fulfillment. Where pantheism offers a means to escape from the human condition by relying heavily on mysticism, the gospel faces the human condition by undergirding spirituality with realism, evidence and God’s compassion. And while Islam expresses its idea of God’s greatness in pure reverence and obedience, the gospel highlights God’s greatness by espousing a consistent theology that is supported by history and philosophy (pp. 39-40).

Stand firm in Christ,

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