The problem with commonly used phrases is that they often go undefined. One such phrase used in the Church today is worth examining, lest it be spoken and its meaning only assumed, is when someone refers to a “Christian” or “Biblical worldview.” It is often cited by pastors, and it is assumed that those reading the article or listening to the sermon understand what he is referring to. But as public Christianity continues to be deprived of its power by those who claim it for themselves but deny the outworking of its teachings (we’ll call such Christians “progressives”), it is critical that those who continue to claim and proclaim Christ do so with adequate knowledge and complete confidence. Hence this essay, the first in a six-part series, seeks to make it clear what this pastor means when he refers to a “Christian” or “Biblical worldview.”
My goal is to hit the highlights of what a Christian worldview is and encourage Christians to be more bold in applying and promoting it. However, I am not interested only in laying out academic definitions to sociological realities. Thus, for example, I am not interested in what a “majority” of Christians believe, how segments of the Christian population tend to vote, or what silly trends are sweeping the evangelical church. I want Christians to understand the radical nature of his or her worldview, to imbibe how foreign it is to the world in which we live, and to be empowered to defend it.
For too long, Christians in the West have assumed their worldview was shared by most everyone else, save for the fringe atheists. Those days are over. The Christian worldview is clearly under assault, and this is clearly being played out in many arenas of life. For example, our “political” debates are less about policy and more about how one sees the world, as we aren’t really arguing overtax rates anymore but bickering over what gender is.
And it would be silly (or possibly insane) for Christians to hope that their fellow citizens will share their policy beliefs if they don’t even share their Christian convictions. Hence, when it comes to the two biggest social issues of our day, it would be foolish of me to think I could convince my neighbors to agree with my understanding of abortion and marriage, if they do not first share my Christian worldview.
So while I do not claim to be an infallible interpreter of 2,000 years of Christian tradition, I believe I am on safe ground when I offer the following parameters for a Christian worldview. (Henceforth, I will use the terms “Christian” and the “Biblical worldview" synonymously.)
The Centrality of Sacred Scripture
When it comes to a Christian worldview contra mundo, all debates are ultimately debates about authority. So understanding the Christian worldview must begin with a defense of the Bible as God’s revelation. Of course, this was a point-of-view that needed little defense only a few decades ago. But as historical criticism and the rise of individual autonomy chipped away at the authority of the Bible (or, really, the belief that the Bible possessed authority), the Church has had to convince her remaining adherents to ignore the noise and keep the Bible first and foremost as their source of authority.
Obviously, this does not mean that the Bible is the only source of authority the Christian consults, as, for instance, we do not learn how to do calculus in Leviticus. But it does mean that if we want to know about God, we trust that the Bible has told us all we need to know- not everything about him, but everything we need to know about him. The endless parade of alternative spiritualities, sociological studies of the evolution of religions, commentaries by rabbis, priests, and pastors, or simply the claims found in other “holy books” cannot compete with the Bible. True, Christians do not always agree and some Christian traditions - the Roman Catholic tradition, for example - would not limit their authority to “Scripture alone” in the way that the churches of the Reformation have.
Thus any Christian - to be a true Christian - must depend on the Bible and limit their sphere of influence to the Bible. I don’t believe the Roman Catholic Church teaches anything in their Sacred Tradition that is in opposition to the Bible, even if some Protestants would make that accusation. Nevertheless, for all Christians, only the Bible is said to be “God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). Christ appeals to the Old Testament as God’s Word, “And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God…”(Matthew 22:31 ESV- emphasis added). And Paul’s writings are said to be Scripture by Peter: “…as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16).
Discerning and Living Out a Biblical Worldview
Given how much of the Bible claims to be the very words of the same God who created the world, there can be no doubt that the Bible either is the revelation from God or something else entirely. The Bible is either the way we know what God actually thinks about things (to put it pedantically) or it is an elaborate hoax, created for the purpose of amassing power, establishing law, or subjugating others. (I mean, why else would someone make up holy texts out of whole cloth?)
But if it is not a hoax, then that means the Bible offers insights into the person who created all that we can ever experience. Even the parts that we are not particularly fond of…yes, even those that tell us something about our creator and judge. When God establishes harsh penalties for moral infractions, that tells us something about God, even if those penalties are no longer to be carried out today. When God delivers the Israelites from the Canaanites, it tells us something about God. When God dies on a cross and rises from the dead, that tells us something about God. When God declares his sovereignty in all things, that too tells us something about God.
While the Bible does not tell us what to do in every circumstance, a Biblical worldview acts like an invisible force field, beyond which we dare not travel. When the Bible speaks about a matter clearly, it takes precedence. Where it is not clear, the Christian does his best to determine the best course of action based on what is clear in the Bible. The Christian limits his source of authority to the Bible every chance he can. And it is that discipline of limiting our thoughts, words, and deeds to what has been revealed to us by God– a very contra mundo sentiment in an age of abundance - that most unusually marks the Christian in the world today.
Sure, one can imagine someone boasting in ignorance that because “the Bible says so, that’s good enough for me,” but this limits the helpful insight that legitimate historical criticism can bring to the text. And of course, there are issues on which the Bible does not speak. But a Biblical worldview means consulting the Bible first before employing other authorities, including worthwhile authorities like philosophy, experience, or self-reflection.
Holding Fast to Scripture in Shaping Our Worldview
In the end, the Christian needs to be comfortable with the fact that an unbelieving world will always consider the Christian a fool for staking his soul on the words of Scripture. There is no apologetic for manuscripts, internal consistency, historical or archaeological evidences, or contemporary historical sources that will convince the unbeliever that the Bible is anything but a collection of Bronze Age wisdom texts at best. The Bible simply is a supernatural document that tells a supernatural story.
If a Christian is ashamed of that, and hopes to escape the supernatural nature of the Bible by telling a history-only story, it won’t work. Christians can either accept that the Bible really is the revelation from God, trust it, and use it, or else they can just donate it to Goodwill with the rest of your unread fiction. Being embarrassed by the Scriptures and their supernatural source is the end of anything that could remotely be called a Christian worldview. You either believe the Bible is the Word of God or you are engaged in sociological studies at best. Limiting how you see the world by the words of Scripture may seem embarrassing (by the world’s standards) but is the most important position held by any Christian.
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