Wednesday, February 5, 2020
A Trip Around the Worldviews: Christianity
I am going to bookend our final stop on the Trip Around the Worldviews, with thoughts from one of the greatest Christian thinkers of the past century, C.S. Lewis. Regarding the Christian worldview, he wrote, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I can see it, but because by it I see everything else."1 To Lewis, not only are the propositions of Christianity true, but a Christian worldview enables him to have a clear perspective of reality. The Christian worldview enables him to answer life's big questions in a way that is internally coherent, consistent with human experience, and intellectually satisfying.
Foundation of Christianity
In the Christian worldview, the one true God has made himself known. Broadly, God has made his nature known through general revelation, that is the vastness, beauty and intricate order of the universe clearly reveal an omnipotent and omniscient creator. Furthermore, all humans “show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.” (Romans 2:15). In other words, our consciences show that we innately identify right and wrong, suggesting the need for a transcendent moral law giver.
General revelation should be sufficient for humans to know God and live righteously before him. Unfortunately, due to our sinful nature, no human is able to accomplish this of their own strength and effort. Through special revelation, God more precisely reveals his character and his plan to save us from the preceding predicament. The Bible – which is a divinely inspired collection of histories, poems, songs, biographies, prophecies, and letters – details God’s power, sovereignty, holiness, mercy, righteousness, compassion and love. It also explains the triune nature of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The life and ministry of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, which is recorded in the four gospels, provides a fuller revelation of God’s nature and plan of salvation. When asked to show the Father to the disciples, Jesus responded, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9). Although the gospels provide more clarity on these topics, the revelation is not something completely new, but a consummation of God’s plan from the beginning. When Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection, he explained that they should not have been surprised by the recent events because “everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44).
God’s plan of salvation, which is foreshadowed throughout the Old Testament, was accomplished through Jesus’ death by crucifixion and subsequent resurrection. This good news, or gospel, forms the foundation of the Christian worldview. Entire books have been written to expound upon the depths of the gospel, but in short, the good news is the answer to the following question: How can sinful people have fellowship with a holy, just God? “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and the just punishment for these transgressions is eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23). Yet, God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). As a result, God demonstrates his justice in punishing sin through Christ's attoning sacrifice and his mercy in forgiving repentant sinners though faith (Romans 3:25-26). This free gift of salvation is available to all who “declare with [their] mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in [their] heart that God raised him from the dead.” (Romans 10:9). The Christian worldview is built upon the foundation of this good news.
Origin – How did we get here?
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” (Genesis 1:1). Christians who hold to both the reliability and inerrancy of scripture defend different literal interpretations of scripture as to exactly how this occurred. However, describing the differences between and various merits of young Earth creationism, old Earth creationism, and theistic evolution is beyond the scope of this post. The important similarity is that the universe is not the random result of time, chance and matter, but the intentional product of an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator. Even with our limited view of a fallen creation, we can agree with God’s assessment of creation when he said, “It was very good.” (Genesis 1:31).
General revelation provides incredible, I would say even undeniable proof, that the cosmos was intentionally created. It is common to hear that science is proving that God does not exist, but I would claim that it is supporting the exact opposite hypothesis. In the last century, scientists have learned that the universe is exquisitely fine-tuned and that even miniscule changes to the initial conditions of the universe and the natural laws which govern its interactions would have resulted in a universe that would have no possibility of supporting complex life.
Here are just a couple examples. Stanford theoretical physicist Leonard Susskind explains, “If the value of [the ratio between electrons and protons immediately after the Big Bang] deviated more than 1 in 1037, the universe, as we know it, would not exist today.” He continues, “If the ratio between the electromagnetic force and gravity was altered by more than 1 in 1040, the universe would have suffered a similar fate. The nature of the universe (at at the atomic level) could have been different, but even remarkably small differences would have been catastrophic to our existence.” Since probabilities multiply, the chance of a randomly created universe becomes exponentially more remote as more fine-tuning conditions are discovered. This realization led atheist astronomer Fred Hoyle to concede, “A commonsense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”3
Identity – What does it mean to be human?
The answer that Christianity provides to this question separates it from the other worldviews that we have examined. In fact, I would argue that most of the other worldviews we have examined are borrowing capital from Christianity by living as though humans have intrinsic, inherent value that is to be honored and protected. Christians have no need to live contrary to their worldview in this regard because “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27). Human worth and dignity does not need to be socially constructed or artificially pursued, but is rooted in God’s very act of creation.
What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Does it mean that we ourselves are gods, as suggested by new age spirituality? No, the Bible clearly proclaims that there is only one true God. However, in some senses, humans are the only animals that possess some of the qualities of God’s nature. Humans enjoy beauty, create works of art, think rationally, and possess an inherent sense of justice.
Additionally, we bear God’s image by representing or reflecting his nature to the rest of the world. John Piper puts it like this: “God created us in his image so that we would display or reflect or communicate who he is, how great he is and what he is like. Here’s the picture in my mind. I was created like a mirror. And a mirror that was supposed to be 45 degrees with the clear reflective side pointing upward so that as God shone on it at the 45 degree angle, it would bounce off and it would make a 90 degree turn and be reflected out into the world.”3
Morality – How should we live?
With the exception of Islam, the other worldviews that we have examined propose a relative view of morality. It is easy to wax eloquent about relative morality and to hold a relative view on current hot button issues such as sexuality and gender identity, but it is difficult for a person to consistently uphold relative morality. Was the Holocaust morally evil and should its perpetrators be held morally responsible for their deeds? The best relative morality can do is to say that it violates one's personal preference or a community’s agreed upon moral values, but it cannot say that it is an objectively evil act. If a horrific crime were committed against one’s family, I suspect that most people would condemn the act as objectively wrong and demand justice. Relative morality won’t take you there, but the objective moral standards provided by the Christian worldview provide the foundation that supports this natural response to injustice and evil.
As explained earlier, God’s moral standards are written on our conscience. For the Christian, this explains why basic moral standards are agreed upon across culture and time. Through the Bible, God has more fully disclosed his moral standards, which are rooted in his character. We should pursue justice because God is just. We should be honest because there is no deceit in God’s character. We should pursue holiness because God is holy.
Despite popular misconception, Christian morality goes beyond following a list of rules. Certainly, there are explicit standards that are elucidated in scripture, but ultimately all of these commands can be reduced to two: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40). While the Bible doesn’t provide an answer for every moral question that one could face, moral actions will always demonstrate a love for God and a love for others. However, it is important to note that the Christian definition of love is different from our current culture’s definition.
Meaning – Why are we here?
At some point in life, every person wrestle’s with the following question: Is there any meaning to this life? The Christian worldview answers with a resounding yes, and the answer lies not within ourselves, but in glorifying our Creator. The Westminster Catecheism asks: What is the chief end of man? The answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. Scripture affirms this purpose. Through the prophet Isaiah, God calls, “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:6-7).
Christians specifically glorify God by sharing the gospel across the world in both word and deed. Believers have been given a mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). While not every Christian may be a professional evangelist and church planter like the Apostle Paul, we should share his desire to bring glory to God and to share the gospel with others. Paul shared with the church in Ephesus, “I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20:24).
Destiny – What happens to us when we die?
Suppose that someone was convicted of a horrendous crime and stood before a judge for sentencing. Imagine the judge said, “I know that what you did was evil, but you have basically been a good person and I trust you won’t do it again, so you are free to go.” We would condemn this judge as unjust and demand justice for the victims and their families. Yet somehow, this is how we expect the righteous creator of the universe to act.
God is just and holy. He must punish sin or he would be an unrighteous judge. At the same time, God is merciful and desires to show compassion to unworthy sinners. How can he maintain his justice yet show mercy to those who have transgressed his law? The answer to this riddle converges at the cross of Calvary, where God’s righteous judgment is poured out as Christ carries the sins of the world and his free gift of forgiveness is made available to those who would trust in Christ for salvation.
In an age of gray, the exclusivity of Christianity can be unpopular, but the Bible clearly reveals that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through [him].” (John 14:6). At its root, all sin is against the infinite creator of the universe. After committing a horrible succession of sins that severely affected the lives of others, David confesses, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.” (Psalm 51:4). Each person will either pay the just penalty for their sin, eternally separated from God, or will receive the free gift of salvation through faith in Christ and enjoy fellowship with God for eternity in heaven.
Although unpopular in this day and age, this teaching is clear throughout scripture and conforms with our innate sense of justice.
As we draw our trip around the worldviews to a close, it is important to return to the original purpose of this journey. The purpose is not to criticize individuals, but to take a birds-eye view of how different worldviews perceive reality. Remember, even if you don’t identify with any of the worldviews described, you still have a worldview because you have personal answers to life’s big questions, even if your answer is one of agnosticism. It is a shared human experience to wrestle with these questions.
I also hope that this exploration helps us to see the forest through the trees. It is easy to get bogged down on debates over specific issues. However, I think it is equally important to evaluate whether our worldview both conforms with the true nature of reality and supports the manner in which we live.
To review, let’s look at just three questions. Do humans have inherent, intrinsic worth and value? Are there actions that are truly "wrong" and should people be held accountable for such actions? Is there any real purpose to our lives? If you answer in the affirmative to any of these questions, I am afraid that secularism, new age spirituality, Marxism, and post-modernism simply will not support that view. Proponents of such worldviews have to borrow from a theistic worldview to provide a foundation for such answers. The exquisite fine-tuning and order of the universe further supports a theistic worldview as it seems clear that the universe was created with a specific purpose and intention.
This narrows us down to two major worldviews that are coherent and consistent with how people actually live: Christianity and Islam. However, as described in an earlier post, there are important and significant differences between Christianity and Islam. Despite the desire of religious pluralists, they simply are not compatible.
So how should we differentiate between the two? Which describes the true nature of reality? What if neither is true? Fortunately, Christianity provides a litmus test in the resurrection of Christ. The Apostle Paul recognized that the resurrection is the lynchpin of Christianity, writing, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If Christ’s has risen from the dead, Christianity is true, but if he has not, then it is a falsehood that should be rejected.
The answer to this question is worth pursuing and a series of posts on evidence for the resurrection will be forthcoming this spring. I would encourage every person to diligently investigate this question for themselves. The answer to life's last big question, our ultimate destiny, is to important to not seek out whether Christ has indeed risen from the grave. As often is the case, C.S. Lewis sums things up beautifully: "Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important."4
1) Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory. New York: Macmillan Publishers, 1949. 140.
2) Hoyle, Fred. "The Universe: Past and Present Reflections." Engineering and Science, November, 1981. 8–12.
3) Piper, John. What Does It Mean to Be Made in God’s Image? August 9, 2013. Retreived from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/what-does-it-mean-to-be-made-in-gods-image
4) Lewis, C.S. “Christian Apologetics.” God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2014.