This is the third and last (some are saying “how long O Lord”) of a series of blogs on Christian worldview. I defined what is meant by worldview, by integration of worldview in academic disciplines, the role of presuppositions as a starting point, the elements of any worldview and the issues of the relationship of general to special revelation as well as interpretation of Scripture. Here I will continue my brief expansion of the elements of an explicitly Christian worldview, using as my framework the seven “crucial questions” of life. I began with the question, What is real?, that is, the question of ontology. I will now discuss the remainder of the questions and then finish with a few final issues.
- How do we know what we know? Or Can we know anything? (Epistemology)
This is the thorniest question of all, and scholars have wrestled with it for centuries. I could get us bogged down in highly philosophical questions, and they do have an important place, but I must say at the beginning that Scripture is not particularly “self-conscious” or “self-concerned” about such questions. It simply asserts what it asserts. It asserts what is truth and intended as truth without any question as to how one can know that it is in fact truth. It says, for example, in many places, “God is X,” of “God did X,” and there is no concern at all as to whether this “God” actually exists. He is presupposed.
But this will not satisfy everyone. Some will ask, How can I know whether Scripture is true? If knowledge is defined (rather awkwardly at times) as “justified true belief” or “warranted belief,” one may ask what warrants or justifies our accepting what the Scripture asserts to be true as true. Note: Sometimes Scripture states things that are false, but Scripture itself is simply recording what others said or did, and it is still truthful in its recording of the event. Nevertheless, I have said above and reiterate, I take the Scriptures as the “ground” of knowledge, the “boundary conditions” within which all asserted knowledge must remain. I cannot “prove” this in any” empirical way, and if I tried I would run up against the very weakness of empiricism (the so-called scientific method), that no matter how much evidence one can muster to try to verify the truth of any statement, it cannot verify it absolutely, and that is because the method itself is limited in what it can accomplish. I might be able to falsify a statement. I might try to find evidence to try to verify my attempted verification, but that would lead into an infinite regress. Or I might simply give up and become some form of skeptic. None of these options really gets us anywhere.
Moreover, if I begin with God, the “ontological Trinity,” and His revelation, I am able to show why any other worldview fails to be internally consistent and why it fails to correspond to reality. So, yes, I choose to presuppose that very thing—God in Trinity and His self-revelation in Scripture. That becomes the foundation for any knowledge that claims to be knowledge. I will be criticized for this position by rationalists and by empiricists, and even by Christians cannot accept this starting point because they think it is circular. I would like to respond to those arguments, but that will have to wait. For now, the beginning and limit of all knowledge is special revelation.
- What is right and wrong? (Ethics)
This is the question of whether an action is either judged to be sinful or not sinful, to use theological language. To be clear we are dealing with actions, not dispositions (though of course dispositions or motives are also important). If we accept Scripture as our foundation, then it follows that the standard for right and wrong is found, directly or by deduction, from that same special revelation. General revelation sometimes reaches the same conclusions as special revelation, but it cannot be accepted as self-attesting, and must be judged by Scripture. Special revelation is quite comprehensive in its treatment of ethics, but as always, the interpretation of that data is to be done judiciously.
- What is human nature like?
Here again, we address a crucial question among crucial questions. On the answer to this question rests the normative elements for nearly every discussion of politics, economics, law, and even psychology (and more). Is human nature fixed or plastic? Is it inherently bad, good or neutral at birth? What is the role of one’s environment in relation to any “nature”? Do humans have any nature at all at birth (existentialism)? Scripture is clear on this question: Humans, though created in the image of God (imago Dei) and not losing the image altogether at the Fall, are after the Fall, born with a sin nature, or a “natural” predisposition to sin. In other words, humans are all “ontologically” bad, though not equally bad, at birth. Why everyone is not all bad all the time is something of a theological problem, but has been answered with reference to common grace or simply a vestige of goodness.
Now that the answer is that humans are sinful, we may ask, in that light, how we ought to design a government, an economy, a legal system, how should we address psychological problems (I did not say psychiatric problems), etc. We think about each of these with the presupposition of human sinfulness, and the possibility of corruption, evil actions, immorality, ethical lapses, and other problems resulting from the human condition. And we must think about institutional design in light of the possibility that those in power are also human, and therefore sinful. This is therefore a hugely important question.
- What is our summum bonum (highest good) or purpose in life?
This question has a sub-question: What is the good in general? Once we answer that, we can say what our highest good as humans ought to be (whether it is or not is a different question). The good has been defined by almost every major and minor philosopher in history, and some approximate the Biblical answer. But if we want the fully consistent answer we must again go to Scripture, summarized by the verse: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (Mark 12: 30). In other words, our highest good is to comprehensively love God. This also means glorifying God in our lives. There are many “goods” that are legitimate, but always within limits. But to love God is the highest good. It defines our purpose in life. And it also defines and measures all other good.
- Does God exist and if so, what is He like?
At first glance this might seem to be a purely theological question, unrelated to a general discussion of worldview. But if we either deny God’s existence or make Him out to be other than His true nature, we undermine the self-revelation in Scripture as untrue. So He must exists in ontological Trinity and He must be as special revelation presents Him, in all of His attributes.
If we do not worship God as God, as He has revealed Himself, then we may fall into the worship of other gods, including such “gods” as the self, the state, pleasure or material goods. So the focus on the one true God keeps us properly grounded, not to mention properly happy.
- Does history have purpose or meaning?
The obvious answer, if we accept special revelation, that it does and that its meaning or goal or telos is found in Scripture, as God reveals Himself and His providential movement of people and events for His own, sometimes inscrutable, purposes. There was a definite beginning of human time and there will be a definite end, with the central event of time to be found in Jesus Christ Himself. There is no second-guessing the overall movement of history, no adoption of false frameworks such as a Hegelian dialectic, or a “chaos” theory, or a cyclical theory of history. History is linear and God is its mover, from first to last, exercising sovereignty over all events and human lives through time, moving all these to their proper end in Christ or to judgment.
As succinctly as possible I have laid out a Christian worldview framework. From these answers to the crucial questions, one can develop questions about to “micro” level of a discipline, its specific elements, and define the entire discipline in terms of what it ought to look like in terms of a Christian worldview. Practitioners should not be disturbed by this seemingly unusual approach to the substance of all knowledge. Admittedly, I have had to be somewhat simplistic in my treatment, due to space constraints and my desire to make this initial foray understandable to any reader. There are still many very fine works on the subject available and I will post a list of some later. For now my hope is that someone or someones will read this and be stimulated as I was some 36 years ago, and themselves pursue the Christian worldview in their own field with passion and true knowledge.