Worldviews ~ 20100103 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

01/03/10 – Worldviews

At the start of a new year I like to take some time to think about the big picture overarching most important things. I like to spend some time evaluating and ask questions like 'Why do we do what we do?' or 'Why do I believe what I believe?' or 'What are the most important things that I believe?' and 'Do I feel and act consistently with what I say I believe?'

Today I'd like to think through our worldview together. A worldview is how we make sense of reality. It gives us the big picture and answers questions like 'Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here? How do we know truth, and right from wrong? What happens when we die?'

My worldview is the lens through which I view reality. I wear eyeglasses (or contacts). I spend a lot of time looking through my glasses, but not much time looking at my glasses. But it is helpful at times to look at my glasses. Often when I do, they are so dirty that I wonder how I was ever able to see through them. Or, if I put on the wrong glasses, reality will look very distorted and I will have a very difficult time navigating through life. It is helpful to step back periodically and evaluate the lens through which we view the world, make sure it is the right lens, that it is free of clutter, and that I am living consistently with it.

To better understand my own worldview, it will be helpful to compare and contrast some of the major divergent worldviews. My belief is that there are right and wrong ways to view the world, true and false, correct and incorrect. And I believe the right, the true, the correct way to make sense of the universe is that the creator of the universe has communicated to us the truth about himself and the true meaning of events and the purpose of existence. I believe the right worldview is the biblical worldview, and that we will do well to continually test our own conceptions of reality against what is revealed to us in the bible, and continue to adjust our worldview so that it is more in line with God's words.

But we will start with some other non-biblical worldviews and work our way back to the biblical world view. We'll be painting with a broad brush and looking at some of the major concepts of major world views.

We'll start with Naturalism. Naturalism is an understanding that the physical or material universe is all that exists. Matter is eternal. There is no spirit and there is no god. The universe is a closed system of cause and effect. Man is the chance product of a biological process of evolution. Human beings are merely complex machines. Personality is an interrelation of chemical and physical properties. There is no such thing as right and wrong. Truth or reality is defined as that which can be observed with the five senses. Death is the extinction of personality and individuality. Naturalism is an atheistic worldview.

Monism or Pantheism is the belief that only the spiritual dimension exists. All else is illusion. Life is god. Everything is a part of god, and god is in everything and everyone. God is eternal, impersonal, and unknowable. Man, as part of ultimate reality. Man is spiritual, eternal and impersonal. Individuality is an illusion. There is no objective standard for right and wrong. Truth is an experience of unity with the oneness of the universe. We must get in touch with the divine that is within us. The ultimate goal is to escape from the material and realize one's oneness with the cosmos. Through multiple attempts or trials all life is progressing toward perfect harmony with the universal force. Time is not real and history is cyclical. Examples of the pantheistic world view are Hinduism, Buddhism and the New Age

Polytheism is the belief that many spirit beings govern the world. Material things are real but have spirits associated with them. Man is a creation of the gods. Life goes well when we avoid irritating the spirits or when we appease them with sacrifices. A specific tribe or race may have a special relationship with specific gods who protect them and can punish them.

Cosmic Dualism is the belief that there are two independent divine beings or eternal principles, one good and the other evil that create constant tension and balance in the world. Mankind is ultimately good and must use free will to choose the good over the evil so that good ultimately triumphs.

Postmodernism is more of an anti-worldview. We all create our own reality. There is no absolute truth. Tolerance of other views is the highest good. The feeling of the individual is all-important. You can pick and choose what you like from all the different worldviews.

Monotheism or Christian Theism is the belief that an infinite personal God exists. The infinite personal God created a finite material and spiritual world. Mankind was created to be a reflection of the infinite God, to display the glory to God. We can know truth because God has chosen to communicate true things about himself and reality with us. He has given us the five senses and the ability for rational thought. The basis for right and wrong is in God himself, who is the ultimate standard of right and whose character we are to reflect. Man was created good, but chose to rebel against his good Creator and the reflection of God became distorted. God himself came as a man to accurately display the character of the infinite God and give himself to rescue and restore fallen mankind.

When we ask: 'What is the ultimate reality?' Naturalism responds that the material universe is the only reality. Pantheism responds that the spiritual reality or life force is all that exists. Polytheism sees many spirit beings behind the real material world. Christian Theism sees God as the ultimate reality and he created a real world with both material and physical aspects.

When we ask: 'Who are we? Where did we come from? Why are we here?' Naturalism responds that we are a highly complex combination of molecules that came into being through an infinite combination of time and chance. We are a meaningless accident. We have no ultimate purpose. Pantheism responds that we are part of the life force of the universe that is constantly being recycled. We are moving toward perfect harmony with the universal force and our individuality is an illusion that will be absorbed back into the life force. Polytheism answers that we are a creation of the gods and are here to pay homage and meet the needs of the gods that are competing for our allegiance. Christian Theism answers that we are the special creation of a loving personal God who created us to reflect his glory and enjoy his presence. Even though we rebelled, he sacrificed himself to rescue us and restore us to a right relationship with him.

When we ask 'How do we know truth, and right from wrong?' 'What happens when we die?' Naturalism responds that everything that is can be known through the five senses and scientific inquiry. When we die we cease to exist. Pantheism says that we pass beyond rational truth and morals as we realize our oneness with the cosmos. At death we come back to continue our progress toward unity with the universal force until that unity is reached. Polytheism teaches that we learn the will of the gods through a visionary that the gods communicate through. It is most important to please or appease the gods with whom we have to do whether those gods be good or evil. Our future rests with the whim of the gods and is based on our performance. Christian Theism teaches that the personal God has left his fingerprint on all of creation, and has verbally communicated to us in the Bible. Morals are based on his own perfectly holy character and nature.

Christian Theism is taught from the very first words of God's revelation:

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

God existed independent from the physical universe, and brought the universe into existence by his word. God is personal and moral (it was good). God created all reality both spiritual and physical.

Paul catalogs the degeneration of worldviews in Romans 1. The gospel or good news is wrapped in its own worldview. Paul is not ashamed and eager to preach for several reasons: it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe; in it the righteousness of God is revealed to those who believe; and in it the wrath of God is revealed to those who suppress the truth.

Romans 1:15 So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

There is one God. He is a moral God who loves the right and hates the evil. He will punish those who reject his authority, and yet he is merciful to save all rebels who believe in him.

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. 26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. 29 They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

There is one God, and he has revealed himself to his creation. He has displayed his eternal power and divine nature through the things he has made. But foolish rebellious mankind exchanged the glory of the real immortal God for a worship of his creation. This could take the form of polytheism or pantheism or naturalism. And these philosophies dishonored God, neglected to thank him, exchanged his glory, exchanged the truth about him for a lie, refused to acknowledge him and ceased worshiping him. This shift in worldview was not inconsequential. This shift had immediate radical moral consequences, and eternal consequences as they are judged to be 'without excuse'.

Look over at Acts 17, where Paul confronts some of the worldviews of his day head on.

Acts 17:16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”––because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.

Let's understand the audience that Paul is addressing. It seems the city was almost postmodern in that it included a smörgåsbord of worldviews. Everyone was after something new.

The city was full of idols, which indicates a polytheistic culture. The people thought he was a preacher of foreign divinities – that he brought his own territorial or ethnic god with him. He also conversed with Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

Epicureans – followers of Epicurius; an atheistic philosophy devoted to the pursuit of sensual pleasure; especially the enjoyment of good food and comfort. There are no morals or absolutes – whatever feels good, do it!

Stoics – followers of Zeno; believed that everything is determined, they taught that logical thought reflects the cosmic reason; happiness and wisdom is attained by restraining all emotions. Deny all feelings!

And it says that he reasoned with the Jews in the synagogues. Jews were militantly monotheistic – they believed in only one personal and infinite God. But Paul preached Jesus and the resurrection. Paul was also strictly monotheistic, but his monotheism was a Christian or Trinitarian monotheism. There is only one God, but he exists in the three distinct persons of the Father, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.

22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Paul's approach is very interesting. He starts with their polytheism and seems to embrace it. They have altars for every conceivable god. But Paul moves beyond and above their polytheism and seeks to restore a vision of the one true God. He says that there is a God who is over all their gods. He is Lord of heaven and earth, creator of all things, he is self-existent and self-sufficient, the life-giver. He is over not just one race or one location but over every nation of mankind. He is spirit, everywhere present; far superior to all the images they have made. He is a just judge, who in the past has overlooked your ignorance, but he will judge in righteousness. And his focus is on Jesus and the resurrection, Jesus the man God has appointed to stand in our place and take our punishment on the cross. Jesus, the man God has appointed to judge the unrepentant Christ rejecting world in righteous fury. Jesus, the man who claimed to be God, one with the Father, equal to the Father. The Father confirmed the truth of his testimony by raising him from the dead.

Paul is confronting the naturalistic live for the pleasures of the moment atheism of the Epicureans. He is confronting the pantheistic notions of the Stoics. He confronts the polytheistic idolatry with a God who is superior to and over all their idols, and he confronts the Christ rejecting monotheism of the Jews with the message of a crucified Messiah who claimed to be God and was raised from the dead. And Paul was not unclear on what he expected of those who held to a different worldview. He did not leave them the postmodern option of relative truth that respects the beliefs of others and denies any possibility of hard factual absolute objective truth. He says 'in the past God has overlooked your ignorance.' That's not a very loving thing to say! Or is it? The exchanging of the glory of God and the darkening of foolish hearts in ignorance is without excuse and will be judged. So he brings a message of absolute truth into a relative society and says that God 'commands all people everywhere to repent.' If you are in the God dishonoring futile thinking mind darkening state of a different worldview, God demands that you repent. Change your mind. Turn from darkness to light and from lies to the truth. Your worldview had moral and eternal implications and God demands that you conform your perception of reality to his reality that he declares in his word.