Theology, the Christian Worldview, and Life

Discussion in 'The PuritanBoard Theological Journal' started by Me Died Blue, Sep 21, 2007.

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  1. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    What significance does the concept of a worldview hold for life? If people answer that question by saying, “None,” thinking it is just “complex philosophy” that has no relevance to real life, all they have actually done is revealed something about their own hidden worldview. Their statement shows that they essentially believe the affairs of life can be sufficiently lived-out and solved without getting into deep thought about the various facets of their meanings, causes, purposes and implications. The irony, however, is that such a belief is in fact an underlying part of a distinctive worldview, regardless of whether or not people refer to it by that term; for a worldview is simply the way people view, interpret and explain the nature of life, truth and everything in existence—or, in a more simplistic way, their view of the world.

    Because of the inevitably central part the concept of a worldview plays in living out life in action and thought, it is imperative for Christians to know and apply a distinctive worldview of their own. Christ said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”[1] That shows how essential it is for Christians to know just with what their own “house” is made—in other words, to know the essence of their own worldview. That will enable Christians to fully and effectively carry out their most important God-given tasks, summarized by Christ: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[2] With those two chief tasks in mind, we will further consider the importance of a Christian worldview by examining the nature of such a worldview, what is required for such a worldview, and its various implications. Those considerations will in turn point back to how a solid Christian worldview is essential for Christians to carry out those two main tasks, and how it enables and equips them to do so.

    In the contemporary Church, there is a widespread interest in things like Christian political activism, Christian events and organizations beyond church services, cultural influence, prayer rallies and reaching people for Christ through missions and evangelism. Yet all too often in our day, there is an apathetic disregard, and sometimes even a contempt, for theological and doctrinal study and meditation, which are thought by many to only be for pastors and religious scholars to study themselves, being too “technical” or complex for the average believer to consider or understand. Furthermore, theology is also thought by such people to be pragmatically irrelevant to their lives, including both their personal relation to God and to others. In exploring the meaning and implications of a Christian worldview, one goal of this essay will be to demonstrate that such a mindset of well-meaning Christians reflects not merely a problem, but a massive inconsistency and contradiction, and one that would make living the Christian life impossible if fully lived out—for as English Puritan William Ames is known for saying, “Theology is doctrine or teaching of living to God.”[3]

    Foundational to the Christian worldview is the certainty that believers are given and must realize with respect to its truth and its effectiveness for life. The Apostle Paul put it well when he spoke of “all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”[4] The Christian Scriptures are replete with further reiterations of that point, with various emphases. It is declared that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of true knowledge, and that all who practice it have a good understanding.[5] Paul likewise declares that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I [God] will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?”[6] He goes on to say that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”[7] Even from that small sample of such passages, it is clear what a full extent of certainty Christians are assured and called to take hold of in Christ.

    In light of the certainty Christians are assured with respect to their unique worldview, it is imperative that they know what that certainty is based upon, and how to obtain and utilize it. Jesus referred to Himself as “the way, and the truth, and the life.”[8] That statement reveals many things about the nature of the foundation on which the Christian worldview must be built. First, Christ tells us through the statement that He is the very key to having true life—thus, anything we use to further the task of living out the Christian life in its fullness must be rooted in Christ, since He Himself is the essence of that life. His statement also tells us that He is the essence of all truth as well. In other words, outside of Christ, there can be nothing but falsehood and deception. The fact that both of these things—life and truth—are equally identified as being found in Christ reveals something important about their relationship to each other as well: namely, that they are inseparable, and thus that the truth brings life, and that life cannot exist without the truth. Christ’s identification of Himself as “the way” summarizes the function of those two things in relation to Him. It shows that He is the very means by which they exist and operate—in other words, He is the way to obtain life through truth. That fact informs Christians of the importance of having a definite and sound worldview in order to truly live life, and of the authoritative, transcendental role that Christ must inevitably play in defining that worldview. That is what Jesus meant by saying that one who hears and acts upon His words is like one who builds his house upon a rock, which illustrates both the need for such a rock as well as the necessity of that rock being Christ.

    Since Jesus is the established foundation on which Christians must build their worldview, what is the necessary means by which they must do so? In other words, how are Christians to go about building such a certain worldview that is dependent upon Christ? He Himself gave the answer: While talking to His disciples shortly before His ascension, “Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”[9] After reaffirming His supreme, transcendent authority, Jesus charged His Apostles to teach all future believers all that He had commanded them. Thus, it is through them that His truth is to be made known to all believers, and He guarantees to be with them in their making such known. Those points are further reiterated by Christ many times. He tells the Apostles, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.”[10] Elsewhere He tells them that “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”[11]

    The Apostles recognized and reaffirmed that very same fact throughout their writings, for Peter spoke of “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”[12] The Apostle Paul likewise stated that “we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”[13] The Apostles also recognized certain writings by each other as being Scripture by nature,[14] and in their latter days they spoke of “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints,”[15] in reference to the truth that the Apostles had made known to the Church in response to the Spirit’s revelation. The abundance of such passages shows the self-attesting finality and authority of the Apostles’ inspired writings that were preserved, and that they are counted as being Scripture of the same nature and level as the Old Covenant Scripture which Jesus repeatedly affirms.[16] Paul summarized the whole truth about the Scripture, saying, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”[17] Thus, in light of Christ’s self-proclaimed authority as the foundation of the Christian worldview, it is clear how His words endorse the Old Testament Scriptures and the Scriptural writings of the New Testament Apostles as being the ordained means by which God’s truth is carried on to all His people.

    Rather than thinking of the above analysis as a collection of detailed facts that only ministers and theologians need dwell on, it is crucial for all Christians to realize how integral that concept of Christ’s own assurance of the Bible’s timeless authority and perfection is to their worldview. The entire body and full substance of the Christian faith is taken from the Scriptures, which are the only reliable, objective source a Christian has whatsoever with which to distinguish their worldview from any of the world’s countless subjective philosophies. Thus, if the books of the Bible were merely put together by men, and their sum was not ordained as well as assured by God, then Christians would not merely have a weakened worldview, but they would in fact be left with no basis for a worldview at all! That is why the nature and place of the Scriptures is so applicable to every real part of the Christian life, since none of it would be possible or meaningful without them. In light of that, it must be recognized that those claims about the Bible are doctrines, and that the above process of arriving at the necessary conclusions regarding them is engaging in theology. As we further consider the nature, meaning and purpose of having a distinctively Christian worldview, as well as look at equally key parts of such a worldview, the absolute necessity and applicable relevance of theology and doctrine in the lay-person’s life should become increasingly clear.

    In demonstrating the centrality of Scripture in the Christian worldview, we have already looked at Christ’s self-attested nature as the fullness and ultimate foundation of that entire worldview. After all, what a Christian is, in the most basic sense, is a follower of Christ. Thus, it is naturally essential, in order for Christians to have any understanding of or use for their worldview, for them to understand the most basic nature and role of Christ. The theological term for that study is Christology, and while many believers may be unfamiliar with that term, a good understanding of that which it refers to is crucial for developing a true Christian worldview and knowledge of God, and thus for having any kind of relationship with God. That points back to the importance of such theology in carrying out the great commandment of truly loving God with all our beings. Let us therefore make clear two of the most basic things any Christian must embrace about Christ in order to consistently maintain a Christian worldview:

    The Apostle John describes Him as follows: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”[18] That passage is foundational for understanding Christ in His most basic nature, which is fully God and fully man. Understanding that principle is key to realizing why we can even hope to personally relate to and come before God, for it is at the base of our spiritual communion as finite beings with the infinite Being. Although we often take that for granted, think about how inconceivable the abstract idea would be of the finite having full communion with the infinite—but because we have Christ, the personal God-man link, we likewise have a basis for that hope.

    Understanding how the dual nature of Christ bridges the gap between our finiteness and God’s boundlessness, Christians must still ask the question of Christ’s basic function in their worldview and His central reason for coming to earth—in other words, for what purpose are Christians guarding and spreading their distinctive worldview? One important answer to that question is seen in John the Baptist’s words as he introduced Jesus: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”[19] That description of Jesus paves the way for one of the central pillars of the Christian worldview: the Gospel. As John the Baptist stated, Christ has a purpose to take away the sin that has corrupted the world.[20] He can do so because He was perfect, not deserving any punishment Himself,[21] and thus “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.”[22] This is wonderfully elaborated on by the Apostle Paul: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”[23] The Gospel is so central to the Christian worldview that anyone who does not recognize it does not in fact understand or know Christ at all—for as He said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”[24]

    In light of Christ’s important role as the bearer of sin for God’s people,[25] another question that a Christian worldview must naturally answer is, “What is sin?” Simply put, the Bible presents sin as the violation of God’s Law.[26] That then raises the logical question of what the essence of God’s Law is, which has tremendous implications for the eternal and present relevance of the Christian worldview. One biblical summary of the Law was already mentioned above, in the basic commands to love God and love others. The Ten Commandments also serve as such a summary,[27] in addition to various commands and examples throughout Scripture.

    There are three “uses” of the Law that have historically been held in Protestant theology:[28] The second is to restrain or influence common society against the effects of sin. Some of that will naturally occur even with everyone as passive, incidental observers of the Law, since all men are created in the image of God and see the essence of His Law in creation. Also, one of the most readily-embraced tasks among contemporary Christians is their responsibility to be a Godly influence upon their own external environment. That is indeed a biblically noble cause, for it is the fruit of sanctification and obedience to the second great commandment of loving one’s neighbor as oneself. But oddly enough, one of the most neglected and even shunned concerns is the authority and relevance of God’s Law, even in Christians’ own lives, with them often viewing it as “legalistic” or “impractical.” Yet that is spoken of as the third use of the Law: as a guide to Christians to show what will naturally come of their personal thoughts and actions as a result of the Gospel in their lives. It serves that purpose because ultimately, God’s Law is the only standard that can logically account for that process in a non-arbitrary way. As Dr. Cornelius Van Til often said, “There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy.”[29] Likewise, the means by which that process will happen in Christians’ lives begins with the first use of the Law: to expose and convict sinners of their fallen condition and hearts, for only then can they possibly see their need to be redeemed from anything, and have their hearts changed to embrace the Gospel.

    Furthermore, another thing that has a significant effect on people’s approach to all three uses of God’s Law (as applied by the Holy Spirit) is their view of the doctrine of God’s providence, which is the belief in His sovereign working together of all events for the good of His glory, kingdom and people,[30] giving Christians hope that their worldview really does present a message of power that is guaranteed to succeed in God’s timing. Without that foundation of God’s sovereignty and providence, one could only hope that the Law would ever have any of the aforementioned effects at all.

    That foundational focus on God and His nature again point back to the primary purpose and task which we were created: to love God, for the display of His glory, since He is supreme and good. Thus, in addition to our relation to other people as guided by the Law and empowered by the Gospel, our continual view of and relationship with God Himself is even more important. That points to the importance of worship, which is central to the biblical worldview and life in both the Old and New Testaments, and has always been so throughout the history of the Church. Some Christians believe that worship is not really important, especially compared with external concerns of living, since they think it does not really have any actual or practical effects like the latter does. Many others do not intellectually hold that view, but still essentially neglect the importance of worship as if they did. The only way worship would not hold actual, meaningful importance, however, is if God Himself is not truly real, and Christianity is just a system made up to help get people along by its supposed external effects of some of its principles. But if that were the case, there would not even be any real basis for coming up with those principles, much less expecting any effects from them. So if the Christian worldview in its substance and effects is to have any meaning whatsoever, the reality of God and thus the importance of worship must be acknowledged. Throughout Scripture, He has laid out and demonstrated the ways in which He desires to be worshiped,[31] and the changed hearts of true believers will naturally have a desire to do so.[32] In fact, the reformer John Calvin referred to the proper worship of God as one of the two chief things through which Christianity has a standing existence, alongside the source of salvation.

    Hopefully the above sample of some of the integral components of a Christian worldview and how they fit together has at least begun to illustrate the importance of studying and applying theology for every believer. One potential error that could prevent some Christians from making that connection is to think of such basic doctrines as being largely unchallenged by everyone claiming to follow Christ. They must realize, however, that every fundamental doctrine of the biblical worldview has been attacked in every era by those claiming to embrace such a worldview. In the early Church, the eventually-condemned heresies of Arianism and Pelagianism within the visible Church denied Christ’s eternal nature and man’s fallen sin nature, respectively. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church has challenged the full sufficiency of Scripture and the completely free nature of gracious salvation in Christ ever since the Reformation. Some contemporary examples include Mormons distorting the nature of Christ while claiming to follow Him, Arminianism denying God’s providence and sovereignty, and small movements within orthodox denominations continually attempting to redefine salvation. The point is that in one way or another, the key components of a biblical Christian worldview always have been and always will be challenged in this lifetime, and it is therefore crucial for all Christians to understand the theological ins-and-outs of their worldview in order to keep it pure; accurately reflective of God's glorious nature and truth, and thus also effective and truly relevant to our present and future lives as God intended.

    1. Matthew 7:24-25. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.

    2. Ibid., 22:37-39

    3. It should be noted that this is a broad definition of “theology,” referring to the study of all Christian doctrine as well as its application; “theology proper,” on the other hand, is another sense in which the word has historically been used, referring strictly to the more narrow study of God’s own nature (similar to “anthropology” with respect to man).

    4. Colossians 2:2-3

    5. Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10

    6. 1 Corinthians 1:18-20

    7. Ibid., v. 25

    8. John 14:6

    9. Matthew 28:18-20

    10. Ibid., 10:40

    11. John 14:26

    12. 2 Peter 1:20-21

    13. 1 Corinthians 2:13

    14. 2 Peter 3:15-16

    15. Jude 1:3

    16. Matthew 5:17-18; Luke 24:44-45; Romans 15:4

    17. 2 Timothy 3:16-17

    18. John 1:1, 14

    19. Ibid., v. 29

    20. Romans 3:23

    21. 1 Peter 2:22-23

    22. Ibid., v. 24

    23. Ephesians 2:4-9

    24. John 13:8

    25. This should be qualified by also noting His other central roles. His role as our sin-bearer Who makes us righteous before God is biblically identified as the office of High Priest. Yet the other two roles He serves are those of Prophet, being the essential Word of God to His people (John 1:1; Matthew 5:17), and King (John 18:36-37), gloriously ruling over His people and all of creation (Matthew 28:18).

    26. Numbers 15:22-23

    27. In looking at the Ten Commandments as listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, one will observe that the first table of them concerns our relation to God, and the second concerns our relation to each other, just as in Jesus’ shorter summary.

    28. The order by which they are named here is how the Reformed and Presbyterian churches have historically spoken of them; Lutheran churches have spoken of the first and second uses in the reverse order.

    29. The word “theonomy” has taken on a more specific meaning since Dr. Van Til used it here; but he was simply using it to refer broadly to the ways or principles of God in a general or even philosophical way.

    30. Romans 8:28

    31. That God alone tells us how He is best and most wonderfully worshiped is demonstrated throughout Scripture, such as in Deuteronomy 4:15-18 and Leviticus 10:1-3. This has sometimes been called “The Regulative Principle of Worship,” and although it is concerned chiefly with the glory and pleasure of God, it in turn results in the best for His people and their hearts as well.

    32. David’s writing of many of the Psalms serves as an excellent example of that natural desire.
     
  2. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    I originally wrote this essay on January 31, 2005, but have recently made significant additions and revisions to it in several places.
     
  3. Me Died Blue

    Me Died Blue Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Comments, questions or critiques? (Or, "Questions, concerns, complaints?" as my philosophy professor always said!)
     
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