A Biblical World-View: What Do You Believe?
What does it mean to have a biblical world-view? Most Christians would say that they understand the importance of having a biblical world view. However, most Christians who have been raised in a western culture do not realise that their world-view also includes many of the philosophies that have shaped western civilisation for centuries. In fact, western civilisation is like a huge sponge that has been absorbing different philosophies over thousands of years.
Today we live and swim in a soup of competing and, sometimes contradictory, belief systems. Everyone believes in something - even an atheist has a belief system. Everyone has a system of belief and it forms the basis of how they think and view the world. Not many of us are theologians or philosophers, but we all have a world-view!
The Greek civilisation contributed much to the formation of western civilisation. Greek words and concepts still form the basis of many English words that we commonly use today. From the moment that we learn to speak we are beginning to absorb elements of the way that ancient Greeks viewed the world. The Greeks were known for their religious myths and their view of the cosmos was dualistic: They saw the spiritual world was as inherently good and separated from the physical world, which they saw as inherently evil. Some of this thinking also found it's way into Western European Christianity. Images from Greek and Roman mythology also found their way into Western Christian symbolism. When you see angels represented as babies with wings you can be sure that this did not have it's origins in the Bible! These cute little archers already existed as pagan deities in Greek and Roman mythology as Eros and Cupid. If you really want to offend me, just send me a Christmas card depicting these little guys as angels!!
The Greeks were also renowned for their rational thinking. Whilst not many people seriously believe Greek mythology today, the philosophies of the great Greek thinkers remain with us. Whilst being rational is very good (certainly better than being irrational!), rationalism is a philosophy that asserts that reason is the only sound basis for interpreting reality and truth. Rationalism generally discounts faith, spiritual discernment and divine revelation as valid ways to understand and interpret the world.
The daughter of rationalism is scientific rationalism and is the belief that only a reasoned, methodical, scientific approach can provide a valid basis for understanding the cosmos. Scientific rationalism has a predisposition towards unbelief in things that cannot be placed in a test-tube and observed under controlled conditions. Scientific Rationalism permeates the whole western world and perhaps forms the greatest obstacle to faith for people in countries with a Western European heritage. Scientific rationalism actually programs people to not believe in what we cannot see, observe or prove scientifically. Scientific rationalism is the reason why so many people in the west find it very difficult to believe in miracles, whilst in many tribal cultures people believe in miracles much more easily.
Whilst science prides itself on its objectivity, scientific rationalism will generally favour unproven scientific theories or pseudo-scientific speculation in favour of divine revelation. Classic examples of this are the Theory of Evolution and The Big Bang theory. One spin-off of scientific rationalism is the amount of faith that people today tend to place in the scientists themselves. Not all of us can be scientists and so many people will place an undue level of confidence in the opinion of scientists to interpret the world for us and tell us what we should believe. The very statement, "Scientists believe..." is often enough today to sway people's opinions and beliefs, regardless of whether of not the science is found to be sound or not. Scientists today hold the place in society that was once occupied by prophets and priests, and yet their world-views are primarily materialistic.
Materialism is the belief that nothing exists apart from matter and that all that exists and happens can be attributed to material causes (related to scientific rationalism). However, materialism is also commonly understood as being the practise of giving undue importance to material things. Related to this is...
Consumerism - the modern obsession with the acquisition of material 'things' is the engine which now drives the global economy, is fuelling the unsustainable consumption of resources and is creating many environmental concerns. Until the world comes to grips with the need for sustainability, consumerism may well drive the world faster towards the brink of many environmental disasters... especially with China now coming online as a major industrial nation demanding more and more of the world's resources and producing more pollutants.
Hedonism is the belief that the pursuit of pleasure is highest good that can be pursued. This forms the basis for so much activity in the western world. Many Christians today would say that they reject such a philosophy, and yet when most believers spend more time and money on recreation and entertainment than they do on engaging in or supporting world missions, one has to question what they really do believe!
Capitalism and Communism, quite apart from being highly organised political systems they are, at their heart, philosophies that seek to resolve how resources should be managed for the benefit of any given population. In simple terms, the philosophy of capitalism focuses on the opportunistic acquisition and innovative creation of wealth, whilst the philosophy of communism concerns itself more with the equitable distribution of wealth. Both philosophies do have some biblical merit... and both have had serious problems with the way that they have been implemented in the world and have been the cause of much suffering and injustice.
Patriotism and Nationalism are philosophies related to the way individuals regard their citizenship. Whilst the basic demands of good citizenship presents no challenge to people of faith, it can present serious problems for believers if their country calls for an allegiance which challenges their obedience to Christ. For early Christians deciding their allegiance was a costly choice, although in some ways a much simpler one: the Roman Emperor actually claimed to be a god, just as the North Korean leader Kim Jong II, does today. But in the western world today, knowing where the demands of the State conflict with one's allegiance to Christ can be a much more complicated and divisive issue among believers.
Can we proudly wave our nation's flag when our governments participate in the economic and military oppression of people abroad? Or when our taxes are used to subsidise the slaughter of the unborn or incarcerate refugees who have fled in fear of their lives from persecution and oppression in other lands? As Dietrich Bonhoeffer concluded during the Nazi era, sometimes godly patriotism does require conscientious dissent, even if it means going against the flow of popular opinion and the views of other Christians, or even disobeying the laws of the land. How is it that a great Christian nation that gave us the Great Reformation also gave us the Jewish Holocaust? The sad answer to that is that many people, when challenged to declare their allegiance to the Kingdom of God, will for reasons of either fear or slow seduction, choose allegiance to this world instead.
Humanism is essentially the belief that man does not need to believe in God to advance, therefore any choices that need to be made will not take into consideration anything that the Bible has to say. This philosophy is deeply entrenched within our governments and our secular welfare and education systems. Humanism has no higher revelation to call upon and as a consequence will continually contradict itself in muddled attempts to establish a new morality that excludes God. This is why hospitals will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment to save the lives of prematurely born babies or to surgically intervene on babies due to be born with birth defects, whilst at the same time, and in the same hospital, will also perform medical procedures to terminate the lives of babies that would otherwise have been born healthy. No wonder the Bible says that 'the fool says in his heart there is no God'. Whilst atheism asserts that there is no God... humanism asserts that man has either replaced God or doesn't need him, which is just as foolish.
Various forms of spiritualism have undergone a revival of interest since the 1960s, partially as a result of widespread disillusionment in the West with archaic lifeless religious formalism. Because the Western Church has failed to effectively counter the philosophical onslaught of scientific rationalism, hedonism, humanism and materialism, it was widely perceived as being outdated and irrelevant. Because people's innate spiritual hunger persisted, New Age spiritual beliefs flooded into the West to fill the spiritual void. But it was not because they presented a more helpful or plausible message - some of their beliefs are quite unbelievable and patently ridiculous - but they attracted interest because they encouraged people to explore their personal spirituality in a manner that the Church had long failed to do. It was only in the 1970s that the Charismatic Renewal and Pentecostal Revival movements ushered in a new contemporary and highly experiential form of Christianity which saw many people find spiritual authentication in a personal relationship with God. But this new surge of church growth has levelled off for a number of reasons that are yet to be fully understood. Early indications are that more and more Christians are simply not attending church regularly but are maintaining their faith through less formal personal networks of relationships with other believers. This drift away from institutionalism is a global trend and is also one of the characteristics of post-modernism.
This lists of philosophies and 'isms' could go on and on, and in each of them there are elements of both truth and error. But it is important that we realise what we are contending with when we attempt to share Christ with our neighbours. It is not merely that we believe in God and that they do not - it's that they already have a highly ordered set of assumptions and beliefs that are preventing them from considering Christ. Sometimes people will not even be fully aware of what they believe until they are encouraged to discuss their beliefs. As the first step in sharing your faith with others, why not spend some time first getting to know what they believe? Most people will appreciate having that opportunity and will generally respect you much more and allow you share your own spiritual journey with them. At the end of the day it is not our knowledge of worldly philosophies that will break through to others, but the genuineness of our love and the authenticity of our testimony that the Holy Spirit will use.
Having a Biblical world view is learning to know the difference between what our culture says and what God actually says. It's about laying aside our basic assumptions and commonly held beliefs for long enough to let God speak to us afresh. It is about seeing the world and everything in it the way God sees it. It is about allowing the Word of God to shape and form the whole basis for the way we think, being careful not to just pick the bits that affirm our previously held beliefs. It's about letting God challenge us and change our minds.
Many Christians are ineffective in communicating their faith because they themselves are bound by the very same erroneous beliefs that bind others. For us to grow in our faith we need to understand that we have all been infected by these worldly philosophies and that we need to seek the renewal of our minds according to God's word. Only when we understand the truth and strip away the false beliefs that have bound us can God use us as instruments to truly set other people free. Remember, Jesus said, "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free. If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed".
Allan Weatherall is editor and publisher of Worldview Interactive magazine.
Saturday, November 18, 2006 printer friendly version | 12122 reads
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