Worldview Foundations Part 1: God and Reality

What's Your Filter

Date: September 14, 2014
Study: What’s Your Filter? Christian Apologetics and Worldview
Teacher: Lawson Hembree

REVIEW

Study Thesis: A Christian worldview enables us to look at all of live through scriptural lenses, which in turn equips us to defend the faith, evangelize wisely, critique unbiblical thought that pervades our culture, and bring God glory in all of life.

Worldview Definition: A commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.

Six Reasons to Study Worldviews: 1) to develop ours, 2) to defend the faith, 3) to evangelize better, 4) to identify and reject false teaching, 5) to grow in cultural discernment, and 6) to glorify God in all of life.

Five Worldview Foundations: God, Reality, Man, Morality, Knowledge.

INTRO

In RC Sproul’s book Battle for Our Minds he mentions a big, beautiful Presbyterian church in Los Angeles that was very close to the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake in 1994. The congregation was both dumbfounded and ecstatic to find the building completely intact afterwards, down to the stain-glassed windows. It seemed like a miracle that the building was still standing!  Nevertheless, just to be safe, they called in the engineers to check things out. Upon investigation, they discovered that the whole building had moved off its foundation, making it unsafe and utterly useless. They had to spend millions tearing it down and rebuilding.

Our views of God and reality are the foundations of our worldview. Much like this church building in California, if the foundations are off, our whole worldview has to be torn down and rebuilt; but if it is solid, we should see be able to build a solid, useful structure on top of it.

Main Idea: The biblical consistency of our worldview depends on a correct view of God and his relation to the world.

Today we’ll be looking at the first two foundational elements of a worldview: God and reality, also known as theology and metaphysics.

Theology is simply the study of God. As Christians, this is the heart of our faith: growing in the knowledge of God. Our theology is our worldview. Metaphysics is basically the study of being or reality. Ultimately, metaphysics is about the quest for ultimate truth. RC Sproul writes, “It goes beyond the physical realm that we can see and measure. Thus, metaphysics is a philosophical attempt to bring sense and coherence out of all the incongruous elements of this world” (Sproul, Lifeviews, 99).

At the heart of a Christian approach to metaphysics is the question, “How does God relate to reality?”

IS REALITY OPEN OR CLOSED?  

The foundations of God and reality are closely related to each other. When it comes to the big picture of reality, we essentially have two options: the universe is either an open or a closed system.

An open system is open to someone or something on the outside to act inside the universe.

A closed system is one that is materialistic, one in which matter is all there is. Therefore, there is no one or nothing outside that can intervene.

These two metaphysical views play out in three major worldview paradigms: Christian, modern, and postmodern. The relationship between God and reality is the heart and soul of worldviews: it will show whether or not the God of the Bible is the solid foundation of our worldviews, controlling everything in our lives, or not.

THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW 

The biblical worldview perceives all of existence from the perspective of divine creation, providence, and redemption. As Christians, our understanding of the nature of the universe, of reality, directly flows from our understanding of God. The existence and doctrine of God defines our understanding of reality. In other words, our theology determines our metaphysics.

  1. God is transcendent (above and beyond)
    God’s transcendence means that he is above, beyond, and greater than this creation. God’s being and wisdom are qualitatively different and greater than ours. The difference is not one of mere quantity, as if we could someday become as great as God if we accumulated enough; rather, there is an unbridgeable gulf between God and His creation. As we read in Isaiah 55:7-9, “’For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”  God is above and outside of all creation, indeed of time itself. As we read in 2 Peter 3:8 “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”
  2. God is also immanent (near at hand).
    But the bible also teaches that God is immanent in the world, which means that he is near at hand. We see God’s immanence in Scripture in four ways:

    1. God is immanent in his being (Acts 17:28; Ps. 139:8). David makes this point in Psalm 139 when he writes, “If I go to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.” In Acts 17:28, Paul preached this to philosophers in Athens when he said “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
    2. God is immanent in history by his providential ordering of events. From creation in Genesis to the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation, we see God’s immanence in the redemptive history of the Bible, as God actively and personally carries out His plan among His people under His rule.  This is the storyline of the Bible. Ephesians 1:11 says that God works all things according to the counsel of his will.
    3. God is immanent in the incarnation of Christ (John 1:14). John writes in the first chapter of his Gospel, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The word there for dwelling literally means “tabernacled, set up his tent.”  That’s an amazing claim, that in Christ God truly was with humanity, personally, face to face.
    4. God is immanent by the Holy Spirit. Paul encourages the Ephesians of this spiritual blessing of the indwelling of the Spirit when he proclaims, “Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13b-14, emphasis added). God is immanent, that is, with his people, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

To summarize, the Christian worldview teaches that God created the universe, is distinct from the universe, is infinitely greater than the universe as its source and ruler, and that he is also present in the universe, actively rules over and superintends the universe, and that he is personally present with his people in the Holy Spirit.

  1. God reveals Himself both in Nature and Scripture.
    Not only is God transcendent and immanent, but also as Francis Schaeffer puts it, “God is there and He is not silent.” In other words, God communicates with us.
  2. God communicates about Himself in Nature (Psalm 19:1). David proclaims God’s revelation in nature in Psalm 19:1 when he rejoices, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”. This is known as the doctrine of “general revelation”. God speaks generically to all mankind about his “eternal power and divine nature,” which, according to Romans 1:20 are evident in creation.
  3. God communicates about Himself in Scripture (Hebrews 4:12). As for Scripture, remember the words of Hebrews: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword…” This is the doctrine of “special revelation.” In Scripture, God speaks about His character, his covenant, and most importantly about Jesus Christ.

When it comes to reality, Christians believe that it is meaningful to talk of a supernatural or metaphysical order, but that is not a far-off and aloof place of no relevance to us.  For an obvious example, Christians believe that miracles, understood as God’s sovereign intervention in the normal physical laws of the universe, are possible, making Jesus’ miracles and resurrection not a difficult article of faith.  If you believe in an open universe, believing in a specific example of it, like Jesus turning water into wine, is not challenging to your intellect or faith.  For another example, Christians believe God orders the universe even in non-miraculous ways, making daily prayer and petition to Him meaningful and useful.

THE MODERN WORLDVIEW

The two faces of modernity, the Enlightenment and Romanticism, were defined by their view of knowledge. Enlightenment thinkers believed reason alone was the valid path to knowledge; Romantics said intuition or passion was the valid path. Both believed it was through one or another aspect of our inner being that we gained knowledge, where Christians view knowledge about God as a gift received through faith.

What implications does this have for the modern view of God and reality? Like the church building mentioned at the beginning, in a very short time, the foundations of entire worldviews shifted. Modernism attempted to offer all the truths, meaning, purposes, and structure Christianity offered, but grounded it not in God but in man. These truths were to be discovered not through revelation but through reason or intuition. The theologian David Wells aptly describes the Enlightenment as a Christian heresy, and the same can be said of Romanticism.

In the biblical worldview, God is the infinite, personal, Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos. In the Modern worldview, God is “reduced;” He begins to lose his personality, and becomes more of an impersonal being, though He remains Creator and (by implication) Sustainer of the cosmos. It is a short trip from there to postmodernism, in which humans become less and less concerned about the character of a clock-maker who seems very disinterested in human affairs.

  1. This view of God finds concrete expression in Deism, the religion of the Enlightenment. Deism was invented by Lord Herbert of Cherbury, a 17th Century British aristocrat, who wrote a book partially entitled: On Truth, as it is distinguished from Revelation, implying that revelation and truth are different, and incompatible, things.
    Deism holds that God exists and created the world, but denies that He is actively and continually involved in the world or that He has revealed himself especially in acts of self-expression. God is the divine clockmaker, who crafted and wound up the grand clock—the universe—and now is letting it run on its own. Deists believe that God is real, but that He is far-off and aloof, irrelevant to humans. In Diesm, God is wholly transcendent.
  2. Romanticism is the opposite heresy: it posits an entirely immanent god called Nature, Manifested in both physical nature and human nature, Nature is seen as the locus of truth and is wholly within the world—indeed, it is nothing but the world experienced as a whole. So then “god” comes to be identified completely with the world. And because the nature-god was not outside the world, but wholly within it, we come to know him by communing with Nature.

Romantics believed we should commune with both physical nature, which resulted in idolizing creation, and human nature, which resulted in their prizing of human passion and human intuition.

Just as Enlightenment thinkers used reason to access a wholly transcendent god, Romantics used feeling or intuition to access a wholly immanent god.

Here’s the practical implication of both streams of Modernism: modernists believed that mankind is already in communion with God by virtue of his reason or intuition and therefore needs no redemption. This is a crucial turning point because it utterly destroys any sense of mankind’s plight in sin and need for a savior.

THE POSTMODERN WORLDVIEW 

The Christian worldview maintains a direct relationship between God and the natural order. The brief transition, known as the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century and the Romanticism of the nineteenth, obscured both the distinction and the link between the supernatural and the natural. Postmodernism, by contrast, simply believes the question of whether or not God exists is irrelevant. It considers the idea that God or anything supernatural interacts with the world to be laughable. Moreover, Postmoderns believe that it is essentially impossible to define “reality” or give it any exact content.

Using our box illustration from above, Christians believe in an open box, Moderns believe in a closed box, and Postmoderns simply deny that there is a box. Or, if there is a box, we can’t really know that it is there, or that it’s really a box, and not something else. In any case, Postmoderns say that drawing a boundary line around reality contradicts its nature as chaotic and indefinable. If you ask someone what they believe about reality and they answer “You can’t really know for sure about that kind of stuff,” or “That stuff doesn’t really matter,” you’re talking to a Postmodern.

Here are four varieties of Postmodern metaphysics:

  • General Postmodernists- postmodernists are those who face the meaninglessness of life and decide to jest, mock, and be merry, “for tomorrow we die.” Their reaction to the “failed” ideologies, religions, and philosophies of ages past is to celebrate them, relive them, make fun of them, respect their strength as “strong stories” but nothing more, and blend them together in a cacophony of contrasting symbols with no actual message or point at the end of the day.
  • Existentialism- existentialists believe there is no box, no God, and no discernable reality. Our purpose in life is to bewail the meaninglessness of human life in despair while attempting to create a shred of human dignity.  The Biblical response to existentialists is the book of Ecclesiastes.  Christians can affirm that indeed “the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.  ‘Meaningless, meaningless,’ says the Teacher, ‘Everything is meaningless,’” (Ecclesiastes 12:7-8) but that there is hope, joy, and meaning in God.
  • Deconstructionists- deconstructionists find meaning in a meaningless universe by mounting cultural, theological, and political resistance against Modernists and Christians/Theists. They are intensely suspicious of anyone who claims to believe anything, know anything, or have discovered any kind of truth. They make a practice of “deconstructing” or taking apart other people’s beliefs. They argue that all claims to knowledge or truth are merely attempts to seize power over others, that all metanarratives are tools of oppression, and that the meaning of life consists in the endless play of one inherently meaningless system of belief against another.
  • Nihilism- nihilists (like founder Nietzsche) have famously argued that since “God is dead” and reality isn’t definable, we ourselves should act like gods and treat reality like a work of art left to us to craft and mold. Nietzsche argued that those who can summon the greatest will to power will triumph in imposing their aesthetic on the world.  This take on metaphysics is blasphemous and recapitulates Satan’s original sin of attempting to overthrow God and take his place (Isaiah 14:13), but in one sense it is not ambitious enough.  Nihilists want to act like gods without believing that there are any.  In contrast, the Bible says that God has “given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and that we are literally “sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3:26).  There is a real God, and he invites his people to fellowship with him.

CLOSING

In review, the Christian worldview believes in a God who has supreme authority and is intimately involved in His creation. Modernism began when authority was moved from God to man. Postmodernism began when man rightly began to doubt that he deserved that authority, but refused to return to God as the ultimate authority.

In Modernism, we find thinkers who have boundless faith in the capacity of human beings to find truth through our own reason or intuition. Postmodernists are rightly very critical of that idea, but instead of returning to faith in God’s revelation, they have given up on the pursuit of truth altogether. They choose to believe either that truth cannot be found or that there is no truth to find.

APPLICATION

  • Read Ecclesiastes this week. How might Solomon respond to a Postmodern individual?
  • Put three columns on a sheet of paper (Christian, Modern, Postmodern). As you watch movies and the news and read books and articles this week, put a mark in the worldview column that you think the source/author/director holds.

RESOURCES
Apologetics and Worldview, Lesson 3. Capitol Hill Core Seminars
The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire

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