Christian Whirledview: Viewing the World through Worldly Eyes
Christopher Hitchens says that Christianity is bad for the world. In response, believing apologists have rightly asked Hitchens what warrant he has for saying that anything (including Christianity) is bad. Bad is a moral claim. Given atheism, what warrant is there for saying that one thing is bad and the next thing good? On what ground does Hitchens say that atheism is good and Christianity bad?
One answer he gives is “innate human solidarity” â€“ in other words, what most people think is right. If we mostly agree that a thing is right, then it must be. For the time being at least. But that is not his final answer. His final answer is this: Human morality evolves. So, for the time being, what everyone thinks is moral should be considered moral. But that could all change tomorrow. Essentially, Hitchens (and others of his ilk) say that moral claims are not absolute. They are “mental constructs” — ways of understanding the world and human behavior, without any real sort of judgement (except, of course, when one deals with Christianity).
The unbelieving worldview sees the material world as the ultimate reality, and all existence evolving from that. We can only know what we can sense, what we can prove empirically, or perhaps what “makes sense” to us in a rationalistic sort of way. The Epicureans run the world, and “if it feels good, do it” is still the rule of the day.
Never is the contrast between the worldview of the believer and the worldview of the unbeliever more plain than when a faithful Christian meets an atheist. Their respective views of reality, of knowledge, and of morality will contradict directly on every point. The unbelieving atheist interprets the world without reference to God. He presumes that there is no God, and from there interprets the world for himself. On the other hand, the believer presupposes God, and accepts Godâ€™s interpretation of all things in the world.
When it comes to worldviews and their cultural effects, the contrast should be evident. If God is the absolute and ultimate Creator, then God interprets the world for us, and declares what is right and what is wrong. Since the unbeliever denies that God created all things, he also denies Godâ€™s authority in anything. If God has no authority, then man is the authority, and cultural norms set the boundaries for right and wrong. ((It should be noted here that if the unbeliever is correct, then there really is no such thing as “right” or “wrong,” nor could we make any sense of such a discussion. Truly, consistent atheism must proclaim that “right” is merely another way of saying “I like it” and “wrong” means “I donâ€™t like it.”))
Since we are discussing a theology of culture, it is good and necessary that we lay out the two poles of how one might view the world. But we must also remember that God has, by His grace, moved the believer from the South Pole to the North Pole. And in our pilgrimage, some are straggling. My intention then is to expose our attraction to mud puddles, despite Godâ€™s deliverance from the miry clay.
Man fell autonomously. In the Garden, Godâ€™s authority was self-evident. The LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. Then, the LORD God proceeded to plant a garden in front of Adam, so that Adam saw firsthand the work of God as Creator. The LORD God created this garden for Adam, and then placed him in it, with instructions. The LORD God instructed Adam to dress the garden and keep it, and then the LORD God commanded,
Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
As an eyewitness, Adam saw that all of reality came from God. Adam received his knowledge directly from God, and Adam knew right from wrong because God commanded him. Adam understood Godâ€™s absolute authority as the Creator of all things to set down laws and enforce them. In other words, in his innocence, Adam had a Christian worldview.
But, there in the midst of the garden, in close proximity to the tree of life, was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree, through the suggestions of that old serpent, lured Adam away from the Christian worldview. You see, God revealed good and evil to Adam. But the serpent promised Eve that if they would eat of that tree, they would be as gods, knowing good and evil. In other words, the serpent promised Eve the ability to interpret the world independently of God. Eve was deceived, but Adam was not. In his autonomous quest for his own interpretation, Adam willfully disregarded Godâ€™s command, claiming the right to decide for himself. ((Anyone who has read Cornelius Van Tilâ€™s The Defense of the Faith will recognize my source for this analogy, which I gratefully acknowledge.))
Since the Fall, men have repeated this sequence over and over repeatedly. In fact, every time a child is born, the pattern is repeated. Every one of us has fallen the same way. Autonomy ruined man, and the quest for autonomy keeps him in ruins.
As a father, I have marveled to watch this pattern repeat itself in each of my five children. Almost as soon as they are capable of free movement, they begin to want their own way. When they can grab with their hands, they grab what is forbidden. When they can crawl with their legs, they crawl to what is forbidden. Recently, we noted this same inclination in our youngest son. He is relatively uninterested in touching, let alone playing with, any of the toys that we permit him to have. He wants the things that we have forbiddenâ€¦ the cupboards and knickknacks that we have commanded him not to touch. Those are the things he insists on having.
This should not surprise us. When we tell our toddlers “no,” we resist their autonomy. We should not be surprised that they find words like “no” to be offensive. They are in a natural state. We go astray as soon as we be born, speaking lies. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
This, by the way, is why we need a Savior. We need a Savior because we are alienated from God, because we are enemies in our minds, because we have gone aside, because we do not seek God. We need a Savior to be wounded for our transgressions, to be bruised for our iniquity, to bear the chastisement of our peace, and to heal us with his stripes. And, when Christ saves us, we are new creatures. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.
Yet, we are tempted when we are drawn away of our own lusts and enticed. Like Adam in the garden, we ourselves are faced on a daily basis with the allurements of the world. In our quest for a Biblical approach to culture, we would do well to remember that worldliness comes from lust. And our lusts, we could say, are our autonomous desire to decide for ourselves.
Ultimately, this is what happens whenever we take a neutral approach to the things of the world. Neutrality is one way that we strive for autonomy. If we take a neutral approach to our culture, if we avoid taking sides, if we ignore our Christian commitments in our approach to our culture, then we act as if we are lord, instead of acknowledging the Lordship of Christ in everything.
In the Garden, the LORD God commanded a particular approach to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But the serpent presented another argument. The serpent avoided making the “authoritative” demand that God made, at least on the surface. The serpent merely invited Eve to step back and consider some other information. Eve was invited to consider both sides â€“ the arguments of Jehovah as Lord and Creator, and the arguments of the serpent â€“ before making a final decision. When Eve stepped back and evaluated the two opposing arguments, the very moment she stepped back to do this, she set herself up as the judge between right and wrong. Eve viewed the two claims as being of equal merit and equal authority, and considered herself, at that very moment, to be the ultimate authority.
And this is exactly what happens whenever Godâ€™s people take a neutral approach to culture. We see Godâ€™s commands regarding the world, and we note Godâ€™s authority to make such demands. Rather than submitting to Godâ€™s rightful authority as Lord and Creator of all things, we instead determine to look at other arguments and decide for ourselves “objectively.” At the very moment we do this, we decide by lust, rather than by submission to our Lord. Autonomy turns the Christian worldview into a whirled view of the world. We view the world through worldly eyes. And when this kind of sinful autonomy dominates our life, the love of the Father is not in us.
There is much to consider in this very important discussion of the Biblical approach to culture. But first, the foundations must be laid in the truly Biblical worldview. If we are to approach our culture Biblically, we must not approach as the Judge. We must not attempt to interpret our culture independently of God. We must not strive to be as gods, knowing good and evil. We must not make for ourselves a false idea of morals and knowledge. The world has already been interpreted for us. Judgement has already been cast. We must receive that judgement, the judgement of the Righteous Judge, we must accept it, and we must submit to it.
(1) It should be noted here that if the unbeliever is correct, then there really is no such thing as “right” or “wrong,” nor could we make any sense of such a discussion. Truly, consistent atheism must proclaim that “right” is merely another way of saying “I like it” and “wrong” means “I donâ€™t like it.”
(2) Anyone who has read Cornelius Van Tilâ€™s The Defense of the Faith will recognize my source for this analogy, which I gratefully acknowledge.