See below for the fourth part in a series of classes on World View by John Oakes, PhD.
Apologetics and the Christian World View
In the previous three essays, I have attempted to define the idea of a world view and shown why it is an extremely important thing for all of us to think about-in fact arguably THE most important thing for us to think about. In addition, I have proposed a tentative means by which we can determine what is a "good" world view. I proposed three criteria we can use. First, this word view must be true. In other words it must be consistent with what we know. Second it must give satisfactory answers to the big questions people really care about. Third, it must tend to cause those who accept it to be "better" people than they would have been if they had accepted other, competing world views. Having done this, I have attempted to describe some of the most common competing world views to that of Christianity. Specifically, we have looked at Naturalism, Postmodernism, and Eastern religion/philosophy and its cousin, the New Age philosophy/religion. Having defined these world views, I attempted to evaluate them with respect to the proposed criteria for a "good" world view. Obviously, this treatment is not comprehensive. We have not evaluated the world view of the Nihilist (which is somewhat closely related to that of the naturalist), or the Existentialist, the Stoic, dualist, neo-Platonist or of the Muslim. All of these, with the exception of the world view of Islam, can be seen as more or less closely related to the ones we have considered. Time and space are not sufficient for us to cover all of these in detail.
In this, the final essay in the series, I want return to Christianity. We will consider in much more careful detail what the Christian world view really is. We will also analyze this world view with respect to the three criteria I have been using throughout. Many Christian believers may think that the Christian world view is fairly obvious and for the seasoned follower of Jesus relatively little need be said about it. By way of response, let me say that one point of this series of essays is that it is essential for those of us who seek to influence our neighbors to have a solid and deep understanding of both our own and of competing world views. I will make the claim that many Christians do NOT have a sufficiently deep understanding of the world view which they ought to have if they accept, by faith, the biblical view of the world. I make this statement because as I travel around the world to visit more than one hundred churches in dozens of countries, when I ask some rather basic questions about things such as predestination, natural and special revelation, salvation, the cause of suffering and so forth, the answers show a rather disturbing lack of understanding of who the God of the Bible is.
Of course, some will ask "Which biblical world view?" In other words, some claim that there is more than one world view found in the Bible-that one has to choose which of these competing views one will take to be the actual biblical/Christian world view. This is another question which deserves careful and systematic response. Let me say for the sake of this essay that I personally completely reject this view. Although I will not take the time to support the claim at this point, it is my conviction from careful study of the biblical scriptures over a thirty year period that there is a single, consistent, non-contradictory world view and picture of who God is. The God of Genesis is the God of Isaiah is the God of John and of James and Paul.
So, what is the Christian world view? I will attempt to describe it by a series of propositions, each of which will be expanded somewhat, using biblical passages by way of support.
1. The physical world is: a. real b. created out of nothing (ex nihilo) and c. essentially good.
Genesis chapters 1-3 is in my opinion the most brilliant little piece of philosophy I have ever read. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1). As the Hebrew writer put it, "By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible." If this statement is true, then animism, polytheism, pantheism, dualism, naturalism, nihilism, and postmodernism are all proved untrue. Just as significant to the Christian world view is this: not only did God create the physical universe, but this creation was essentially good. The way God puts it in Genesis 1:31, "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good." Eastern philosophy has the physical world to be an ephemeral illusion. Greek philosophy agrees, adding that the physical world is decaying and essentially evil. Naturalism agrees that it is real, but denies that there is a superior reality-that it was created. It certainly is not "good," as such a description in meaningless in a random accidental universe. When God says his creation was good in its entirety, this does not deny the existence of evil. The question of evil will be addressed below.
2. There exists a parallel unseen spiritual reality which is not limited to or defined by the physical reality. Human beings have a spiritual aspect to their nature.
The fact that God, one who is "invisible," created the universe establishes that there is a non-physical reality which is at least in some sense greater than the physical. The physical universe is real, but it is not all there is. Jesus confirmed this idea. "God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:24) Acknowledging that there is a spiritual reality is not the same as dualism. Dualism has the world being governed by more or less evenly matched forces of good and evil. It is also not naturalistic monism, which denies the existence of spiritual reality entirely. We have a soul and a spirit. That we are created "in the image of God" (Genesis 1:27) is a spiritual rather than a physical claim. It is not a statement of our equality with God, but rather a description of our spiritual nature. I have a body, but I am not a body. "I" exist, and "I" am not defined by the chemicals which compose my body. Consciousness is not a mere epiphenomenon as naturalism requires. Our God-likeness has to do with our spiritual nature, our possession of a soul, our inherent understanding of good and evil, our ability to create and to love.
3. The creator of both the physical and spiritual realm is the God who is revealed and who reveals himself in the Bible.
Not only did God create the physical universe (Genesis 1), he also created the spiritual-the heavenly realms. In Colossians 1:15-16 Paul says of Jesus, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers of rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. God has made himself known to his people "from what has been made." (Romans 1:20), but he has also revealed himself and his will in the Hebrew and Greek scripture. Most particularly, he has revealed himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, the image of God. "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son." (Hebrews 1:1-2). No one has ever seen God, but God the only Son who is at the Father’s side, has made him know." (John 1:18) God has revealed himself to us through creation, through the Old and New Testaments and through the person Jesus Christ.
4. Human beings have both a physical and a spiritual nature, but the spiritual nature is more essential as it is eternal.
Our physical nature is obviously more apparent to us than our spiritual nature, but this fact is deceptive when compared to our ultimate reality. Like Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." (Luke 12:4-5) As Paul put it, We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (2 Corinthians 4:18)
5. God cannot be easily defined but he can be characterized by certain qualities. God is love, God is just, God is holy, God is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.
What God is he is fully and infinitely. God is not merely loving: he is love. Love defines and determines all his actions toward us. From a human perspective, this seems to conflict with his justice and his holiness. God is not merely just: he is justice. He is incapable of an unjust act, even if we feel his love and his justice are in apparent conflict. God is holy, in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). These are facts about God. How does this affect our world view? In every way. Every act in our life and in the lives of our neighgors is subject to the justice of God. This has a profound effect of how we view our own lives and how we should respond to injustice. "Do not take revenge,… ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord." If God really is love, then this has an unfathomable effect on how we understand the events which surround our lives. All of them are either caused or permitted by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God who acts toward all out of love.
6. Although all God’s creation, including the physical world is good, evil does exist. Such evil is the result of freedom of will given to created beings and their subsequent decision to use that freedom to "sin" (defined as transgressing the will of God).
This brings us back to Genesis. The story of Adam and Eve is the story of us. God gave us everything for our pleasure and enjoyment. Why? Because he loves us and because he wants us to love him. But what did we all do? We rebelled and chose to do things which are unholy. As Augustine put it, evil is not a thing in and of itself. If it were, that would be dualism. Rather evil is good which has been corrupted by free moral agents. Something which was created for good purposes is turned for evil. Nothing God created is evil, but some of what God created is capable of doing evil. God gave us a choice. He asks us to "choose life" (Deuteronomy 30:19), but many of us choose rebellion. The physical laws which are discoverable by science are not the only "natural laws." There are moral laws as well, and they are as inescapable as the law of gravity. Rebellion against God’s holiness produces suffering in this world (Exodus 20:5-6), both on those who sin and on those around them. This is the answer to the "problem" of pain, suffering and evil.
7. Because of God’s justice and his holiness, those who choose to rebel against him will ultimately be judged and separated from God for eternity.
Not only does our choice to rebel and to sin bring on temporary physical and emotional suffering in this life, it also brings judgment in the world to come. "For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat." (Romans 14:10) "’The Lord will judge his people.’" It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:30-31). God cannot be mocked. He is patient and kind, and he wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4), but "the wages of sin is death." Again, as with all the qualities of God, this fact is unavoidable. God does not change or compromise his holiness.
8. The solution to evil and its eternal consequences is provided by God through the atoning substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
This is the essence of the gospel. As was prophesied, "the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) "By his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5). "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8). God’s holiness and justice were not superseded or violated in this substitutionary death. "He did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies the man who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:26). Biblically, this is a theological fact. How does this affect one’s world view? If this is true, then everything is different. Suffering makes sense. The existence of evil makes sense. Our innate and universal sense of justice makes sense as well. Yet, we can live as free men and women, not using our freedom as an excuse to do evil, but giving us the freedom to love and serve others (paraphrasing Galatians 5:13-15) without living in constant fear of judgment when we fall short, as we inevitably will do.
Is This a "Good" World View?
In describing the Christian world view, some might choose to emphasize certain points more and others less than I have, but this seems to reasonably well summarize how the Bible describes the world. Having done this, we will now proceed to do the somewhat subjective job of asking whether, by the criteria described above, this is a "good" world view.
Is it True?
First, is it "true?" By this I mean, is this world view consistent with what we know? I am not asking whether we can provide a mathematically precise, scientific, logical "proof" of the truth of the biblical world view. This is obviously not possible.
Is the physical world real? I will challenge the post-modernist or the practitioner of Eastern religion on this question. I say it is real. A wise Christian philosopher once challenged his Hindu friend to prove his own confidence that physical reality is not real by allowing him to strike him with a club. The guru politely declined the opportunity to show confidence in his own philosophy. Science has shown that this "illusion" is surprisingly, uncannily consistent and predictable. Fantasies and illusions are rarely so predictable. Our naturalist friends may be out on a limb when they say there is no evil and no justice, but surely they have it right in this. The physical world is real.
Is it good? Given the existence of disease and natural disasters it certainly is reasonable to question the claim that physical creation is "very good" as God says in Genesis. My response is that creation is very, very good. Physicists tell us that the universe we live in is absolutely, spectacularly fine-tuned so that advanced life forms can exist. If any of more than two dozen parameters which define how the universe functions were changed by even a small fraction, we would not be here. To avoid the obvious implications, naturalists have speculatively proposed there is an infinite number of universes, and we are lucky to live in the right one. Lucky indeed! Suffering brought on by earthquakes may be troubling, but without plate tectonics (and their associated earthquakes) the earth would be sterile and we would have virtually no atmosphere. Bacteria cause disease, but without this marvelous creation we would have no nitrogen in the soil and no oxygen in the air. God’s creation is spectacularly wise and good. To those who do not agree, I challenge them to conceive of a better set of working physical laws and then to bring their conception into existence.
Is the physical reality the only one, or is the Biblical world view correct when it describes a co-existent spiritual reality? This is harder to prove. Yet there are a number of things which are true which point in this direction. We are self-aware. We are "conscious." We are able to understand the universe. The universe itself exists and was created. All of these and many more point toward a non-physical creator and a non-physical nature for human beings. Naturalists may choose to dismiss the reality of beauty, of love, of natural human rights, of conscience (not to be confused with consciousness), of good and evil and many other things, but very few people can really accept that these things are not real. Their existence implies there is a spiritual reality. Perhaps it is true that the majority does not determine truth, but very few believe they are a body (rather than they have a body) and the vast majority of all who have ever lived agree that there is a spiritual reality. The biblical view that there is a spiritual reality which supersedes the physical agrees with what we know.
Is it true that evil exists? And if so, what is the cause of this evil? Whether or not North Korea, Iran and Iraq were, in fact, an axis of evil as George Bush claimed is debatable, but the existence of evil is hard to deny. Sexual abuse of children, murder, genocide, warfare for selfish ends and arrogance-all of us recognize that evil is very real indeed. Ignoring this fact is a poor way to make it go away. Even arrogant atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, while denying the existence of evil wax poetical in complaining about the evil done in the name of religion. The Bible claims that God did not create evil. Like it says in James chapter one, those who sin should not claim that God is tempting them because God does not tempt us to do evil. Evil is the result of those who choose to rebel against God’s laws. Until someone can legitimately show to me that anything God has done is evil, I will stand by the claim that creation is good and evil in this world is the corruption of what is good by morally free agents.
The reality of God’s judgment on evil and his grace and mercy for those who repent is proved by the history of Israel. The support of this claim would require much reference to history, quoting from biblical prophecy and description of historical foreshadows in the Old Testament. I have published a book on this subject for those interested in pursuing it further (From Shadow to Reality http://www.ipibooks.com/). God told his people in Deuteronomy 28 that if they did not obey the Lord and carefully follow his commands, he would drive them to a nation unknown to them-that they would suffer at the hands of their enemies, and would be scattered among the nations. They did and He did. God judged his people at the hands of Assyria and Babylon. He also told them that if they were to repent, even if driven to the farthest part of the world, he would bring them back and bless them in the land he gave them. They did and He did as he had promised. He provided Cyrus to set his people free and send them back to build Jerusalem. The story of Israel is the story of rebellion and judgment, followed by repentance and salvation. Rebellion produced slavery, but when God’s people cried out for mercy, God always sent a savior to save them-whether the savior was Joseph, Moses David or Cyrus. Jonah’s rebellion brought on the sentence of death, while his repentance led to salvation. God prophesied that salvation will come through one who will be pierced (Isaiah 53:5) and through one who will be crucified (Psalms 22:16). He even predicted that a savior would come to Jerusalem to atone for wickedness in about AD 30 (Daniel 9:24-25 and see my book Daniel, Prophet to the Nations). That God will judge his creation for wickedness and that he will provide salvation through the death of Jesus Christ is difficult to prove mathematically, but the history of Israel and fulfilled prophecy makes the reality of this claim a reasonable conclusion.
Is the Christian world view true? What I can say with confidence is that it agrees with what we know to a degree which is demonstrably much greater than any competing world view.
Does it Answer the Questions People Care About?
Second, does the Christian world view answer the questions people really care about? How did I get here? (God created us) Where am I going? (to eternal honor or shame) What is my purpose in life? (to know God and be known by him) What is my value? (Jesus died for us) What is my relationship with the ultimate reality? What is the right thing to do? Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Why is it that we exist? Why is it that we can understand the universe? The Biblical world view addresses the problem of sin (Romans 7:24-25). Not only does it tell us why there is suffering, it also tells us what to do about it (Matthew 9:35-36). The Biblical world view even makes sense of death. "Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?" (1 Corinthians 15:54-56) The objective truth of all these biblical answers is something which can be debated. Some might call all this wishful thinking. What cannot be denied is that the Christian world view provides reasonable and satisfactory answers to every one of the important questions common to man. No other world view, be it human philosophy, Eastern religion or any other comes close.
Does One’s Acceptance of This World View Make Us Better People?
In my earlier essays I addressed the question of whether alternative world views make one a better person. Each world view has at least some things which commend it. However, in every case, we were left with serious questions. Naturalism denies the existence of absolute moral truth. Like postmodernism it leave us without a standard for how we should treat one another. Eastern and Greek philosophy deny the goodness of the physical creation and teach dispassion rather than compassion. Muslim theology, with its emphasis on fate and predestination removes human responsibility for our fellow humans to some extent. Let me state my conclusion on this question right at the start. I can say with great confidence that both in theory and in practice, the Christian (and the Jewish) world view is superior to all others in its effect both on humanity as a whole and on individual people. The positive effect of Christianity is certainly not left for one’s life after death.
In the Christian world view every single human being has an unlimited value. The Son of God died to redeem us individually. All people are of equal value and importance in the eyes of their Creator, even if some are given different roles. "You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:26-28) Looking from our Western perspective in the 21st century, it is difficult to grasp how radical a statement this was in the 1st century. If one investigates history, one will discover that it was Christian ethics which led to the idea of human dignity and human rights. Where did the idea that "all men were created equal" come from? Of course the Bible was way ahead of the framers of the US constitution on this one, as full and equal rights were not given to slaves until 1863, and to women until well into the twentieth century. Slavery has been an ever present institution from the dawn of human history. It was men and women who acted out the Christian world view who turned this upside down. William Wilberforce was not alone in pushing the abolition of slavery out of his Christian convictions. Jesus Christ was a revolutionary in the way he treated women, the poor, the diseased, the deformed and those not of his nationality.
Of course, Christians are not the only good people in the world, but it is worth asking where humanists, atheists and others got their ideas of what is "good." Is it possible that they hijacked it from Christian ideas? History certainly hints at this conclusion. Jesus said that the entire Law is summed up in the command to love God and to love one another as oneself. This idea of the centrality of our need to love and be loved comes from the Christian world view. Why? The reason we were created is because of love and for love. According to the Christian world view, we are valuable beyond comparison. Jesus implied that a single soul is more valuable than the entire world (Luke 9:25). This world view which gives the individual person unimaginable dignity, yet which calls all of its believers to pour their life out in love to others has to be the best of all the competing pictures offered by religion and human philosophy in the effect it has on those who accept it.
The Christian world view tells us that suffering is not inherently evil. In fact, suffering is good for many reasons. It makes us stronger, it helps us to understand and experience joy. When we suffer because of our own sin, it trains us to change, it helps us to know Jesus, and when we respond to suffering in a godly way, it allows us to glorify God. So suffering is not evil, but the Christian world view nevertheless impels those who accept it to respond to suffering with compassion. Why? Because of love, of course. James tells us that "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:27). "Does it make you a king to have more and more cedar? Did not your father have food and drink? He did what was right and just, so all went well with him. He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me? Declares the Lord." (Jeremiah 22:15-16)
Jesus was perhaps the most compassionate man who ever lived. "Jesus wept." (John 35) Why? Because Lazarus had died? No, as he was about to raise him from death. He wept because Mary and Martha wept. "When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them." (Matthew 9:36). Like I already said, Christians are not the only loving people in the world, but when they are selfish, greedy or arrogant they are violating the direct command and example of the founder of their movement. I have visited Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim countries. In most of these countries, the Christian groups, even though a small minority, do most of the benevolent work in these societies. Why? Because of the Christian world view and the personal example of Jesus of Nazareth. Besides, those who accept the Christian world view believe that they will be held accountable for putting its tenets into practice. Accountability can be powerful motivation. These other religions either tell us that suffering is an illusion or that it is God’s will. Does accepting the Christian world view cause one to be better for it? The answer is that if it does not, then very obviously that world view was in fact no accepted by that person. I do not want to disrespect any world religion or philosophy and I know that many who accept these as their world view are sincere and want to do right. Besides, there is at least something to be commended in all these philosophies, but the example of Jesus, the teaching of Christianity, the world view of the Christian and the facts of history lead me inexorably to the conclusion that of all the well-known world views, the Christian one is by far the best at making its believer a better person by almost any accepted measure. Why? Because the basic ethic of this world view combines fantastic personal dignity with love, unselfishness, and unstinting service for others.
Have Christian believers ever violated the ethic implied in their world view? That is an easy question. Yes. Has evil been done in the name of Christianity? Yes, but in has never been done because of genuine Christianity and those who divide, hate, steal and abuse the poor and needy are by that very action rejecting the Christian world view.
The Christian world view is superior to all others on many grounds. First, it, more than any other, is most consistent with reality as experienced by real people every day. Second, because it provides rational, reasonable and helpful answers to the important human questions, and third, because those who take this world view not only as a philosophy but as a way of life are made to be the best possible human beings that they can be. Let us accept, embrace and teach the Christian world view with the authority of its creator and greatest example, Jesus Christ.
John Oakes, PhD August, 2009
 Admittedly, this "answer" is rather simplified. For example some suffering is the result of natural physical laws acting in a way which God has established. Therefore, not all suffering is the result of sin. Things do happen in this world which are not the will of God, as he clearly does not will us to hate and to kill.