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Christian Worldview: Viewing the World through Christian Eyes

February 8, 2008

While we are in this world, we will want to be of this world. Our flesh craves the world, and will not stop loving the world until the day of adoption (Romans 8:20-23). So long as we are in the flesh, we will long to be of the world.Â

I recently read David Brainerd’s diary and journal, as edited by Jonathan Edwards. One (among many) of the thoughts that grabbed me as I read was Brainerd’s desire to be rid of his sinful flesh. As holy a man as Brainerd was, he still struggled with his flesh. Never was that struggle more apparent than when David Brainerd was preparing to leave civilization as he knew it, and head into the wilderness to preach the gospel among the American Indians. In his diary entry on Wednesday, February 2, 1743, Brainerd relates his struggle.

Having taken leave of friends, I set out on my journey towards the Indians, though I was to spend some time at East Hampton on Long Island, by leave of the commissioners who employed me in the Indian affair; and being accompanied by a messenger from East Hampton, we traveled to Lyme. On the road I felt an uncommon pressure of mind; I seemed to struggle hard for some pleasure in something here below and seemed loath to give up all for gone. Saw I was evidently throwing myself into all hardships and distresses in my present undertaking. I thought it would be less difficult to lie down in the grave; but yet I chose to go rather than stay. Came to Lyme that night.

I suppose that at some level we can all relate to Brainerd’s struggle. At some time or other, when we see that we must give up all for Christ, we will struggle with our flesh’s desires to keep hold of some. In this way, Brainerd is just like us.

When Brainerd actually suffered some of those “hardships and distresses” that he was dreading, we find that his feelings about them had changed.  He thought he would struggle.  Instead, he rejoiced.  Consider this entry, from November 22, 1744,

Such fatigues and hardships as these serve to wean me more from the earh, and, I trust, will make heaven the sweeter. Formerly, when I was thus exposed to cold and rain, I was ready to please myself with the thoughts of enjoying a comfortable house, a warm fire, and other outward comforts. But now these have less place in my heart (through the grace of God), and my eye is more to God for comfort. In this world I expect tribulation; and it does not now, as formerly, appear strange to me. I do not in such seasons of difficulty flatter myself that it will be better hereafter, but rather think, how much worse it might be; how much greater trials others of God’s children have endured; and how much greater are yet perhaps reserved for me. Blessed be God, that He makes the thoughts of my journey’s end and of my dissolution a great comfort to me, under my sharpest trials, and scarce ever lets these thoughts be attended with terror or melancholy; but they are attended frequently with great joy.

As we see Brainerd’s progress on his pilgrimage (which is, by the way, one of the great blessings of his diary), one statement stands out above all others as to how Brainerd viewed the world. Occasionally, we question the various amusements, entertainments, and diversions that we allow ourselves to enjoy. Should we be doing this? Shouldn’t we be “out soul winning?” Shouldn’t we be working? And yet we find, as we pass through this vail of tears, that from time to time we must find activities that take our mind away from our labors.

David Brainerd has often been criticized for his Stoic approach and melancholy spirit in the ministry. And yet, in reading his own thoughts and goals, we find that Brainerd learned to rest, learned the necessity of rest, and learned to rest for a particular purpose. Consider this entry from April 30, 1745,

…But of late, I have seen it my duty to divert myself by all lawful means, that I may be fit, at least some small part of my time, to labor for God.

And here is the difference between my present diversions and those I once pursued, when in a natural state: Then I made a god of diversions, delighted in them with a neglect of God, and drew my highest satisfaction from them; now I use them as means to help me in living to God, fixedly delighting in Him. Then they were my all; now they are only means leading to my all. And those things that are the greatest diversion, when pursued with this view, do not tend to hinder, but promote my spirituality; I see now, more than ever, that they are absolutely necessary.

Such a view of the world can only come as we see the earth as the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. Such a view of the world can only come as we see that all that is made is made for God’s glory, including ourselves. In a nutshell, this is the Christian worldview… that “man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Only as we see that all things were made by him and for him will we see the world through Christian eyes. Only as we see that He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, for He has created all things, and for His pleasure they are and were created, only then will we view the world through Christian eyes.

From time to time, the word “worldview” gets tossed around. The simple definition of “worldview”, as we have implied, is “one’s view of the world.” While this definition sounds simple enough, the serious student of such things as “worldviews” will want a more precise and thorough description.

Theologians tell us that a worldview is made up of three elements, or what we might call “views.” The technical terms for these three elements are metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. In laymen’s terms, they correspond to one’s view of reality, knowledge, and ethics. And before delving any further into this important issue, permit me to credit those who have helped me to a Biblical understanding of this issue. This writer very gratefully acknowledges the influence of Van Til on this issue, along with John Frame’s very helpful book The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God. Nor am I shy to acknowledge that I have been greatly helped by Chris Schlect’s simple little syllabus The Christian Worldview and Apologetics. So, with the credits firmly in place, and without further ado, allow me to break down the foundations of a Christian worldview.

First, a worldview consists of one’s view of the makeup and structure of reality… a worldview is one’s view on what is real, what makes it real, why it is real, and so forth. How you go about determining what is real and what is not real, and how an item ‘became’ real demonstrates one part of your worldview.

Secondly, a worldview consists of one’s view of the nature and justification of knowledge. How do we know a thing? What can be known, and what cannot be known? Is there even such a thing as “knowledge?” What is it to “know?” The answers you give to these questions demonstrate the second part of your worldview.

Thirdly, a worldview consists of one’s view of moral claims and their justification. Is there a “right” and a “wrong?” What is right? What is wrong? What makes one thing right and another thing wrong? How are we to make such distinctions, and what warrant is there for any such distinction?  Your worldview will determine your answers to these questions.

Though we separate the parts in order to understand what constitutes a worldview, we must also understand that the three views function together. One’s view of reality necessarily affects his view of knowledge and morality. One’s ethic is inseparably linked to his view of reality and knowledge. One’s understanding of knowledge cannot be separated from his view of reality and morality. The three work together to form one’s view of the world.

Nor is it possible to go through life without a worldview.  Worldview is inescapable.  Even a blind man has a worldview.  He is viewing the world through some sort of filter.  Certainly, some are unaware that they have a worldview, just as some are unaware that they have a liver.  But whether you are conscious of it or not, your worldview goes on working.  Your worldview guides you in your approach to the ultimate questions, and you either hold your worldview consistently, or inconsistently.

The world has produced all sorts of unbelieving worldviews. These various worldviews have created or invented all sorts of unique ways to deny the ultimacy of God. It is beyond the scope of this particular post to delve into the inconsistencies of the various unbelieving worldviews. Suffice it to say that it is impossible for a man to hold a truly consistent unbelieving worldview, and continue as an upstanding citizen.  But my purpose is not to address the variety of unbelieving viewpoints and their inconsistencies.  Rather at this point, the goal is to lay out a sketch of the Christian worldview.

The Christian worldview begins by acknowledging that in everything, God is ultimate. Theologians have called God the “Uncaused Cause.” God has caused everything, but He Himself was not caused. We might be tempted to say that God caused Himself. While this might help us understand what we mean by “Self-existence,” it is not entirely accurate to say this. God is. God needed no cause. He is absolute, and sufficient.  There was not a time in eternity past when God needed to cause Himself.  God needs nothing.

As such, God created all things. All that is in the world, whether it be material or immaterial, began with God. Nothing exists independently of Him. He alone is “uncaused.” That means that nothing else besides Him exists of its own power. And, that includes knowledge.

From this understanding of reality (that is, that all reality exists, either as a part of the nature and essence of God, or else as created by God) comes our view of knowledge and knowledge claims. God is the ultimate cause, and God is the ultimate revealer. God knows everything, not as observer, but as Creator. God knows Himself perfectly. He is not learning about Himself, nor does He discover important things about Himself. God does not discover new things in His creation. God knows these things ultimately and perfectly.

Man knows what God reveals to Him in nature or in Scripture. Nor can man know anything apart from this revelation of God. Our knowledge, like our existence, must come from God. In this, we must understand that the way we know is different than the way God knows. God knows originally, and this way of knowing is impossible for man. We know what God has revealed to us. And we must acknowledge that if God does not want us to know a thing, it is not difficult for Him to keep it hidden from us. In fact, there are plenty of things that God has revealed to us that remains a mystery to us.

The third element of the Christian worldview stems from our understanding of existence and knowledge. Existence comes from God, and so does knowledge. Therefore, morality exists because God gave existence to it. We can know right from wrong because God has revealed what is right and what is wrong. Morality is not an independent force, up for discovery and interpretation based on the whims of the immoral majority. Ethical claims can only be justified by appealing to the Righteous Judge, who says “Thou shalt” or “Thou shalt not.”

This month’s theme on JackHammer deals with the issue of Christianity and culture. While the material covered in this particular post is very basic (and probably not unfamiliar to any who have given even a minimal amount of thought to the idea of ‘worldview’), nevertheless it is essential to our understanding to the relationship between God’s people and the world we live in.

We are in the world, but we are not of the world. And yet, our flesh lusteth against God’s Spirit.  This was David Brainerd’s struggle, and it is ours.  If we are to see the world as Brainerd learned to see it, we must learn to look through Christian eyes.  We must see that God is ultimate, and we are not.  We must understand the world Biblically. Â

Understanding the world Biblically means that we do not judge the Bible by our culture. We judge our culture by the Bible. We do not look at the Bible through our culture. We look at our culture through the Bible. We do not understand the Bible culturally. We understand the culture Biblically.

In other words, the Bible defines what is right and wrong about our culture, and not the other way around. We have a standard, and we hold that standard up and use it. We look at everything through the filter of the Word. May we learn to do so consistently.

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