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The high cost of a consistently biblical worldview |
One of the greatest needs Christians have is to develop a distinctly biblical view of the world. We have already discussed this in terms of the scope of our worldview—the need to apply biblical thought to every area of life. The discussion must also extend to the nature and quality of our worldview as well. How the Bible applies this may just surprise or challenge you in some ways.
One of the greatest problems many Christians do not even know they have is interpreting Scripture and God’s creation through worldly eyes. I am not talking only about compromised Christians, worldly Christians, liberals, etc. I am talking about good, honest, conservative Christian folk. Me, you.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s clear when liberals and progressives do this—and they do it all the time. Despite the refrain we often hear—don’t mix religion and politics, “separation of church and state”—liberals only say that when the Bible works against them (which is often, to be clear). When they can try to justify government programs to redistribute wealth in the name of social welfare, “compassion,” etc., they do not hesitate to preach about how many times the Bible tells us to help the poor. More recently, it hurts the mind to see how badly some will twist Scriptural admonitions to love your neighbor in efforts to advocate for homosexual marriages.
The same can be true when it comes to other forms of liberalism or socialism: environmentalism, welfare, employment, wages, labor unions, education, feminism, and much more.
In such cases, however, we can easily see how they twist Scripture to fit their worldly agenda. They interpret the Bible based upon their agenda, or worse, what the Bible itself calls our “deceitful lusts” (Eph. 4:22). This is backwards. Biblical worldview means having the Bible interpret the world, not the world interpret the Bible.
This view, however, also gives us a general principle that cuts both ways—all ways, in fact. Merely quoting the Bible for your position does not mean you have a Biblical worldview. Proof-texting, while necessary, is not sufficient. We also need to understand those Bible passages and concepts in the way that the Bible itself understands them. A biblical worldview means not only quoting the Bible, but letting the Bible interpret the Bible for us. It means letting the Bible set its own terms of understanding for its language, imagery, history, ethics, future, and more.
If we don’t read the Bible like the Bible, then our biblical worldview will risk having the same type of humanistic input that comes from liberals and progressives. This problem may arise for us in different areas and in different ways, but it is definitely still a problem for us.
Letting Humanists Lead
There is nothing clearer than that the writers of the Bible spent the vast majority of their Spirit-inspired time in other biblical texts, and that background formed their intellectual and spiritual worldview. The historical books, poetry, and prophets of the Old Testament constantly have reference to the books of Moses. The New Testament writers constantly refer to Old Testament laws, testimonies, and prophecies. The earliest of the early church as well, in the book of Acts, follows this model.
The church since then has not always been so consistent and faithful. Very early on, the chief writers and apologists find inspiration in pagan ideas from the Greeks, Romans, and unbelieving Jews. There is a ton of literature tracing the influence of Plato, Stoic philosophers, and others on the thought of these men.
Before long, many topics in Christian writing and church discourse bore the evidence of this influence. The church embraced the domination of pagan law (Roman civil law), empire, monasticism, asceticism, formalisms, ornate rituals, bureaucratic hierarchies, and many other foibles derived from pagan influences.
In the Medieval era, this error was multiplied when the works of Aristotle were synthesized with church teachings. One philosopher once said that the whole history of philosophy is nothing more than footnotes on Plato and Aristotle. We can without much exaggeration add that the history of Christian philosophical, political, and social thought is nothing more than a baptized version of those same footnotes, over and over.
Likewise, during the same time, the law of Justinian (baptized Roman law, again) was resurrected and led to a Papal legal revolution that still affects many nations, institutions, and international bodies today, including our own nation in many ways. In addressing even some of the more severe aspects of this law—even the Reformers of the 16th Century deferred to the pagan standards and said law could not be tied down and limited to biblical standards. As a result, many people were executed by Roman Catholics and Protestants alike over religious beliefs.
All of this came about by allowing pagan thought to set the terms of the interpretation, understanding, and application of Scripture. Yet all of this was done in the name of the Bible, and was all said to have biblical sanction in some way. How could this be the case?
Instead of rejecting both non-Christian sides in each debate and formulating a standard from the Bible on its own terms, key figures herded to one side or the other out of some tribal loyalty or fear of allowing rivals to gain ascendancy. The Bible was relegated to a pretext for gaining power; yet the Bible was quoted on all sides all the time. Very often, the parties who were most on the side of freedom and right on important issues were considered unorthodox (or were unorthodox) on some points (often ecclesiology or sacraments) and were summarily dismissed, called heretics, and executed by both sides—while both added biblical quotations to their versions of orthodoxy.
This same problem is why, for example, the southern slaveowners in America at the time appeared to many of their peers, and many others besides, to have the moral high ground. They did nothing more frequently and earnestly than appeal to the surface reading of many Bible passages. For their case, it was Bible, Bible, Bible. Many people don’t know this fact, but it is true. It was widely perceived before the Civil War, and by many afterward, that the slaveowners had won the debate over the Bible.
The reality of a truly biblical worldview was much different, as the basic laws of God undercut the entire slaveocracy in many ways. But a faithful commitment to those basic standards required too much sacrifice and individual commitment across the board for both major sides. The status quo remained to varying degrees acceptable for everyone except the radical abolitionists. (Today we rightly remember them as heroes.)
The same problems can be seen in all ages, including our own. We do the same thing when we make knee-jerk defenses of one political party or another out of fear and loathing of the other, and cover that decision with a veneer of Bible. I’m sure most readers will agree with that when we leave it in the abstract, but when we add names like Obama, or Trump, Lee, or Reagan, it gets a little more real, and the excuses come: we’re not electing a pastor! Look at what good he did! Etc.
We do it when we make “salt and light” excuses for using government schools, or when we refuse to call abortion “murder” and to hold the perpetrators and accomplices accountable to that standard.
We do it when we allow pagan standards to define the roles of men and women in society or family. We do it when we accept wars of aggression and interventionism in foreign policy. We do it when we accept government interference in the money supply and banking. Yet we dare say “under God,” or, “In God we Trust.”
We must also be clear even in very conservative Christian areas that the Bible must speak for itself. The young earth, creation science movement, while correct, nevertheless exists largely as a reaction to unbelieving scientific attacks on the faith. While correct as it goes, it has taught us to read Genesis 1 scientifically, and this greatly limits our worldview. There is so much rich theological imagery and symbolism embedded in just that first chapter, and it is used all through Scripture to highlight nearly every aspect of theology, judgment, ethics, activism, redemption, the future, and more. Again, we do not only need to apply the Bible to this area of life, but we need to remember to let the Bible speak fully on its own terms as well. Do not let the errors of the pagans limits what we get from Scripture, or how we apply it to life.
Another area this problem is evident is in the modern, virtual industry of Bible commentaries. Nearly all of it has come in reaction to the wave of anti-biblical criticism that came out of Europe, mainly Germany, in the 19th Century. Conservative writers moved to get just as educated and meet skepticism with conservative answers in kind. They succeeded, and much of what they wrote is great, but the whole enterprise suffered in that it let the liberals and skeptics set the terms of the discussion, and we still toil under the burden of it.
Hardly a commentary can be written these days which does not contain hundreds of pages of detailed argument proving who actually wrote it, when it was written, where, what textual evidence there is, etc., etc. As a result, pastors, seminary students, and Christian readers end up reading endlessly about the Bible and not so much the Bible itself, its own language, or its interpretation of itself.
Of course, there are exceptions in all of this, but it is also, of course, human nature to believe that we and our favorites in each case are among the exceptions. An honest look at ourselves and our comfortable Christian existences would reveal how often we have been affected ourselves.
The Bible has its own language and imagery by which it speaks. It speaks of stars falling and moons turning to blood. It speaks of sacrifices to God as “ascensions.” It speaks of lights shining in darkness, gardens being made wastelands (and vice versa), monsters and wild beasts, weddings and brides, dirt men, the blood of grapes, and much more. It speaks of jewels, fabrics, animals, cherubim, firmaments, lights, altars, tools, razors, bread, wine, strong drink, “corruption,” doves, seas, rainbows, birds of prey, locust, stones cut out without hands, and much more—and all of these have theological import we must not miss for the kingdom.
There is a reason Jesus often said such crazy-sounding things. He spoke of rivers of water flowing from people’s bellies and he did so at a specific time—the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. The people did not understand. There is a reason he said people must eat his flesh and drink his blood. People turned and left him. There is a theological reason Jesus cleansed the temple twice. On the second time, people arrested him and crucified him.
When Stephen was later arrested, he was accused of trying to overturn the establishment religion: its traditions, its narrative, its temple, and its law (Acts 7). Stephen responded to each of the charges by rehearsing the biblical truth and affirming it—as it now stood in Christ. This was not good enough. He turned the tables on his accusers by pointing out it was they—the entire Jewish Sanhedrin from all over the region—who had ignored the biblical worldview as the Bible taught it, in Christ, and instead clung to their own trusted traditions.
What had they done? They had conformed Scripture to their traditions, instead of reforming their traditions to the Bible. Biblical worldview meant changing their whole way of life. The price of consistency was too great for them. But the call to a biblical worldview mean there was no neutrality: they had to make a choice. So, they murdered Stephen instead.
We need to get this right. We cannot allow even the strongest and most powerful traditions of our own time—religious, familial, cultural, or political—to affect our understanding of the Bible. We must seek the Bible for our standard, and allow it to speak on its own terms, no matter what the consequences for our own comfortable worldview may be.
This is very difficult to do for most people—most Christians, in fact. We may have decided long ago to apply the Bible to every area of life, but we may not be ready to allow the Bible to transform every area by its own standards. We make little exceptions and rationalizations for our party loyalties and worldly favorites. An honest look at the Bible, however, often demands a change, an action, a sacrifice on our part.
That is the path of faithfulness. Are we willing to go where it leads?
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