The Biblical Worldview (Against All Others)

Introduction

Let me begin with a few lines from T. S. Eliot:

Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death, But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information? (Choruses from ‘The Rock’)

I want to add to this the words of Jesus in John 8:12:

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

We live in a world suffused with the information of which the poet speaks, and much of it trivial. If we don’t prioritize correctly we will never be wise. But what information we prioritize depends much on how we view our lives and our world. Some questions are bigger and more solemn than others. It is a shame when men and women settle for explanations which do not explain; answers which do not answer. The ‘choice’ of worldview is a determining choice.

Before I launch fully into my talk I want to make 2 clarifications:

  • No Neutrality: Everyone has an angle (Dawkins, Krauss, etc., are classic examples of no neutrality). All assertions about reality and ethics are to a large extent controlled by prior beliefs. These beliefs emanate from the picture of the world which a person holds in their heart. So for someone to claim that their outlook is neutral while that of those who disagree with him is biased is both naïve and absurd. We all have our biases, and these must be declared so that they can be compared. To ignore them or to forget about them is a form of self-deception.

Many atheists I’ve dealt with seem to hold the attitude, “Let the Xtian give up his biases; I’ll stick with mine.” (By bias I mean “an opinion or inclination towards something.”) Not all biases are bad. E.g., a bias for an umbrella over a paper bag when it’s raining outside.

  • A Proper definition of ‘Faith’ – “persuasion of Divine truth” (J. Frame). It is common for New Atheists to wrongly define faith as “belief in something without evidence.” (The multiverse hypothesis would exemplify this definition).

This definition of faith is nonsense. In the Bible, “through faith we understand…” (Heb. 11:3). Though there is such a thing as blind faith, this is not the biblical understanding. Faith is not credulity. Scripture tells us to “prove all things.” (1 Thess. 5:21). Faith is never blind, it is always reasonable, and, indeed evidence based. Blind faith can be coerced. True biblical faith cannot be coerced. Faith properly defined is essential to all knowledge.

You don’t have to be a Christian to see this. Renowned physicist Max Planck said,

Anybody who has been seriously engaged in scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: Ye must have faith. It is a quality which the scientist cannot dispense with. (Science, Faith and Revelation, 350)

This is because, as physical chemist and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi noted, “all acts of knowing include an appraisal by the knower” (Personal Knowledge, 17). And as Polanyi said further on in his book ,

No intelligence, however critical or original, can operate outside [of] a fiduciary framework.” (Personal Knowledge, 266)

The Puritan William Gouge wrote, “Faith is in the understanding.” Faith is implicit in all understanding! Faith is thinking God’s thoughts after Him. Any view of biblical faith which opposes it to reason and evidence is a red herring.

The Bible says and Polanyi explains, faith is necessary to know. Faith in God anchors both mind and soul.

What if we try to exclude God from our attempt to explain the world?

Just here let me introduce a quotation from the French post-modern critic Roland Barthes, from his The Death of the Author: “to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God.” Barthes said there is no such thing as a fixed meaning of a text (or the world). Meaning is assigned, not by the author (or God as Author), but by the reader.

Of course, in order to believe what he said what have you got to do? —believe Barthes, the author!

1. A Place To Stand: We all have a perspective

So I am here to talk about the biblical worldview, and in doing that I shall be commenting on other outlooks. A worldview is the lens through which a person views reality. It is a commitment or inclination of the heart. To qualify as a worldview, any picture of life should be able to comment on and offer explanations of our varied experience, and then to put the pieces together. In other words a worldview must tackle the array of data to do with ourselves, our environment, and our beliefs: it must deal with God, Man and the World.

A worldview must confront the big questions about purpose and significance. E.g., Is the world an illusion? Are my experiences unreal? Or is the world uncaused, unguided and therefore purposeless. Or is it created? And if so, by Whom? And why is there is nagging sense that things are not the way they ought to be? The contemporary artist John Mayer caught some of this when he wrote, “Stop this train. I wanna get off and go home again. I can’t take the speed it’s movin’ in. Honestly, won’t someone stop this train?”

The biblical worldview makes sense of our experience as humans in a multifarious environment, and it all starts with the biblical God. The God of the Bible is the great Fact underlying every other fact. All goodness, truth, knowledge, power, justice, beauty, purity, and love comes from Him. The Bible declares “God is love.” He is referred to as “the God of all Truth,” as “the Almighty,” “all [Whose] ways are justice,” etc. As the Psalmist puts it, “all our springs are in Him.” We see ourselves and life rightly when we ourselves in relation to Him. In His light we see light (cf. Psa. 36:9).

God transcends His creation but He acts within it. He is both transcendent and immanent, He is Lord above and within the world. (“Know therefore today, and lay it to your heart, that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” – Deut. 4:39). Creation has been made with its own integrity. Yet all our abilities are derived, just as all our knowledge is derived. Knowledge itself, in the biblical worldview, is that which corresponds to the reality which God has made. Complete objectivity, therefore, is only possible to God, yet objectivity is attainable to humans. Further, God has made the extended world for us and made it amenable to us: we are told to investigate the world analytically and ethically; to do science and to treat other creatures with care as custodians of the earth, under God’s eye.

2. The Place We All Stand: Everyone Stands within the Biblical Worldview

When I say that we all stand within the biblical worldview, I know that I have some explaining to do. I want to say right away that I am not claiming that we all acknowledge this. In fact, the Bible says we act to suppress the knowledge of God. But it protrudes here and there since it must. For God must be already there in order for anything else to be there. Cornelius Van Til called God “the precondition of intelligibility.” He meant that the existence of the God of the Bible was necessary in order for us to assert anything about anything – even if that assertion is false. Hence, the Christian-biblical worldview is the environment in which we all live, even though many of us wish it were otherwise, and try to construct other “explanations” for things like love, truth, justice, logic, number, information, good & evil, the external world, consciousness & personhood, etc., or even if that means throwing up our hands and saying (in something akin to blind faith) “it’s just there.”

Let me give a few examples of this suppression of truth:

  • A solipsist is someone who denies the reality of anyone or anything but their own existence. As such they are exceedingly rare creatures! I once spoke with someone who told me he thought that solipsism was the most rational philosophical position to take. I asked him who he thought he was talking to?
  • So, many Hindus believe the external world isn’t real. They believe all is one. Yet in propagating it and its central doctrine of reincarnation Hindus actually presuppose the objective reality of an external world to be re-born in to (e.g there is the cycle of samsara and there is the transcending of it). They believe their views are reasonable, although they must hold that the laws of reason are essentially unreal since these laws of logic make distinctions between things, which is a denial of the monism that undergirds much Hindu belief.
  • A church member called me last week after she had been talking with a friend who held Panthesitic New Age beliefs which deny the existence of evil. She told me she had asked her friend about the Holocaust and was told that it wasn’t evil, just necessary. I think a worldview which denies evil is obstinately myopic. It is a denial of the world.
  • Naturalistic materialists may tell us that we are mere bio-chemical machines with no freewill, just dancing to the music of our DNA, but they will take those “machines” to a graveside, to a Shakespeare play, or to the coffee house, or to the university (where they got this stuff from), or even to events like this; and they believe they are free to agree or disagree with other people’s viewpoints. They believe that their views are rational, despite the fact that they must hold that the non-physical laws of thought evolved as our brains evolved, and point towards, not truth, but merely pragmatic ‘aids’ to survival. Laws of thought require a mind to think them. The brain is not the same as the mind. Intentionality and consciousness are not reducible to the laws of physics. As one of my favorite writers, David Bentley Hart, observes in showing up the obvious difference: “Software no more ‘thinks’ than a minute hand knows the time or the printed word ‘pelican’ knows what a pelican is.” (The Experience of God, 219)

These are accounts of the world. But as G. K. Chesterton put it, these worldviews are, “complete in theory and crippling in practice.”

I say that there is a cognitive dissonance here. Many worldviews just cannot be lived out in the real world. But this dissonance too is explained by the biblical worldview, namely, the sinful suppression of the knowledge of the Creator, and the replacement of the biblical-Theistic picture with another picture (an idolatrous one).

God is necessary:

  • Logic/Reason — precondition: God who is immaterial perfect rationality
  • Morality — precondition: God who is righteous
  • Truth — precondition: God who is unchanging Truth
  • Uniformity — precondition: God who upholds regularity (providence)
  • Love — precondition: God who is Love and demonstrates it
  • Personality — precondition: God who is Personal
  • Relationship — precondition: God who is social
  • Science — precondition: God who gives skills & conditions for analysis
  • History — precondition: God who created & guides with a telos in view
  • Hope — precondition: God who raises Christ from the dead
  • Meaning & Significance — precondition: God who made us in His image

Now, you take God out of all this and all these things cry out for an explanation. They hang like half-inflated balloons, untethered from a central hub which lends them value and coherence (recall my quotation of Barthes earlier!). They are needing to be related to each other, and to us!
Therefore, it is not the case that deciding to disbelieve in God leaves a person with nothing to prove.
It is rather the case that there is an immense about of work to do to make sense of oneself and the world without the biblical God (a job which I say is impossible to complete — see Rom. 1:18-22). The canvass must be completed, but how?

In Scripture Creation leads to purpose and order. I teach the Bible Story as “the Creation Project” – a project to be consummated; a project full of hope. There is a Creation Mandate for us to explore the world and to analyze it — to do science. All the founders of modern science believed this creation mandate. It is simply wrong to think you can exclude God and not pay the price. For example, if you were walking down a dark alley and you saw a group of young guys coming towards you, wouldn’t you be relieved to see them carrying Bibles in their hands?

Listen to these words by atheist philosopher Jurgen Habermas:

For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical re-appropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance,… everything else is idle postmodern talk.

We have built on a Theistic foundation. But the Bible Story records the entrance of sin and death which mark our independence from God and the misuse of God’s gifts, from love and reason to community, and the natural world itself. You cannot make sense of things without the God of Scripture. Logic, consciousness, the necessity of a second and third person perspective, number, truth – these cannot be traced back to nothing. Neither can they be grounded in a capricious or absentee deity. Neither can they be explained in terms of illusion.

We live in the west in an age of scientism — the naive belief that science can answer every question and that any question it can’t answer isn’t a proper question. Today’s intellectual climate is like a sitting room where only the naturalists are allowed to sit in the chairs, then anyone who is not sitting in a chair is told (in the name of tolerance) to leave. MIT Nuclear Physicist Ian Hutchinson calls the belief that all knowledge comes from the natural sciences “a ghastly intellectual mistake” (Monopolizing Knowledge, ch. 1). It again is self-evidently false, since the dictum “all true knowledge comes from the natural sciences” is not a statement testable by the natural sciences. Scientism is the cultural imperialism of the Western academic world.

And what about our inability to live up to even our principles? What about all the thoughts we have had which we knew were wrong and harmful? Envy, lust, ingratitude, pride, dishonesty, partiality, anger, cowardice, malice, greed, etc., we’ve all felt them. These things come from within us and express themselves in our lives — in some more blatantly then others. We are part of the problem. How then are we to be the cure? No, we “suppress the truth in unrighteousness,” and on our best days we know we do. And in all this there is a message. It concerns the sacrificial love of God.

In closing I want to refer to the 8th chapter of the Gospel of Mark.

  • Jesus encounters Pharisees who disingenuously ask for a sign (Jesus is exasperated)
  • Then Jesus gets a little frustrated with His disciples because they don’t grasp His true identity
  • And then Jesus is asked to heal a blind man; and at first He only half-heals him. He asks the man, “What do you see?” The answer was “I see men as trees walking.” That’s how we often see others. But the Bible tells us that we are made in the image of God! The story goes on to relate how Jesus completely healed the man, and it says, “and he saw all things clearly.”

Religion opposed and killed Jesus. His followers sometimes don’t have their heads in the game. The biblical worldview corrects both of them.

They say “love is blind.” But love is not blind. Loves knows! Love sacrifices. It is sight-producing! God is love. So we look unto Jesus. Jesus says in John 8:12,

I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.

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