JESUS AND THE BIBLICAL WORLD VIEW
by Jack Cottrell (Notes) on Saturday, September 8, 2012 at 2:34pm
QUESTION: Why are so many pious-sounding yet false doctrines held by so many people, and thought to be based on the Bible?
ANSWER: OK, I admit it. I made up this question myself, just to give me an excuse for writing what follows. It does relate, however, to some recent comments related to the upcoming (Nov. 2012) election.
I am coming more and more to realize that one of the most prolific sources of doctrinal error, or one of the biggest hindrances to sound theology, is the earnest but misguided desire to make Jesus the center of everything. I understand why a sincere, pious Christian would want to do this. After all, Jesus is the source of our salvation, and thus we want to honor him and glorify him and lift him up above all things. As Paul said, “Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:11).
And so, in their sincere effort to uniquely exalt Jesus Christ, some assume that he is the central hub around which everything else rotates. To put it another way, they assume that all other doctrines are derived from Christology and fit within the framework of the doctrine of redemption. They proceed as if Jesus, and all things relating to salvation, are the foundation and touchstone for one’s world view. They assume that all knowledge begins and ends with Jesus, that all truth-claims must be measured and evaluated in the light of Jesus, that all moral decisions must be based on Jesus, that all human relationships must be defined by Jesus. Their entire world view flows from Jesus and rests upon Jesus; everything in their world view somehow is an aspect of Christology.
Some who are reading this right now are saying, “Amen! That’s the way it should be! That’s exactly what I believe!”
If that is the case, then—I’m sorry, but you are seriously wrong. I should probably have said that more gently (and some would add, more relativistically or tolerantly). But I believe I have to make this as clear and blunt as possible: the Christocentric approach to reality, to truth, to life, to theology, and to the Bible is simply wrong. And when this basic error is accepted, it spawns all sorts of other false doctrines.
At issue here is the nature of our world view, i.e., our idea of how all truth ultimately fits together into one comprehensive and consistent package. The crucial aspect of our world view is its proper starting point. We could say that the obvious choice for this starting point is God: “In the beginning, GOD!” (Gen. 1:1). That would be correct; but we must narrow this choice down just a bit for it to be very helpful. And so we then ask, what aspect of God’s works is the necessary starting point that enables us to understand the rest of his works? And the one right answer to this question is: CREATION. “In the beginning, God CREATED!”
I am here affirming two things. First, Christianity—the Christian faith, the Bible—is a world view. The Bible is not just about Jesus and salvation. It covers everything that exists and everything that happens in this universe. Second, the Biblical world view rests upon one specific foundation, namely, the fact of creation as affirmed in the Bible’s very first verse: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” The most basic, the most fundamental, the most comprehensive truth is that there is a Creator-God who brought all things into existence out of nothing. He made them with a specific nature (including free-will beings and natural laws possessing relative independence), and he made them for a specific purpose (to glorify himself and to share his goodness).
This is where the Biblical world view begins. This is the framework into which everything else fits and from which everything else finds its meaning. This is the foundation upon which all other knowledge is based, and in reference to which all other works of God must be understood. Creation explains redemption, not vice versa. God is Creator before he is Redeemer. Nothing can ultimately be understood apart from creation, but many things can basically be understood apart from redemption, and thus apart from Jesus.
What sorts of things exist in our world—and thus are part of our world view—solely because of creation? Here are some: the human race, including our nature as human beings; reason and the laws of logic, which are part of God’s essence and have been shared with us who are made in his image; ethics, morality, and the moral law as such; human labor and our responsibility to work to unfold the potentialities of the universe; marriage and family relationships; authority and submission in these and other relationships.
This is important: these things have originated and have their meaning not from Jesus and not from his work of redemption, but from God’s original creation of the universe as described in part in Genesis, chapters one and two. All of these would be a part of God’s created universe even if sin had not entered and thus even if a Redeemer (Jesus) had never been needed and had never existed.
We conclude, then, that the most fundamental point of reference for our world view and thus for all doctrine is the original creation of our world by the transcendent Creator-God. Does that mean, then, that Jesus and redemption are the second most fundamental point of reference for our world view? Actually, no. Jesus is not even the second layer of truth and reality that colors everything else. What is? Nothing other than SIN! With what is called the Fall, i.e., the entrance of sin into the world in Genesis 3, the creation itself was fundamentally altered (see Gen. 3; Rom. 8:19-22).
This means that there is a whole category of things in our world view that must be understood on the background of creation but more immediately in reference to the Fall. These things include the curse upon the human race, summarized in the reality of physical human death but also including the “lesser” deaths of such things as mental disorders, genetic defects, and diseases. They also include the curse upon the physical world as a whole, as seen, e.g., in what we call “natural” catastrophes. Also, the Fall has resulted in the universal moral corruption of the human race, and a world in which we are constantly surrounded by sins of all kinds.
Here I will mention one more aspect of our world view that was possibly introduced as a consequence of the Fall, namely, human government. Human government was definitely introduced into the world by God (Rom. 13:1-4), but I am not sure whether he established it in connection with the creation itself (for which a good case can be made), or in connection with the Fall. Certainly it took on a different intensity as a result of the Fall, even if it was present (in God’s intention) at the creation. One thing is sure: human government is a divinely-given and necessary part of our world, totally apart from any consideration of Jesus and his redemptive works.
What we have seen so far is that many, many things in the Biblical world view can and must be understood first of all in reference to God’s original creation of our universe and his intensions for it. Second, many aspects of our world view can and must be understood in connection with the Fall and the ongoing presence of sin and its consequences in the world.
Only now does God’s redemptive activity, centering around Jesus, enter the picture and become a part of the Biblical world view. Even before creation, God in his foreknowledge knew sin would enter the world and that redemption would be needed, so it was part of his plan all along. But redemption was not the beginning point of his plan; God did not create the world just so he could redeem it. (Some have actually taught this.) He created the world for a specific purpose apart from redemption, but because of sin he now can complete that purpose only by means of redemption.
Thus everything about redemption, including everything about Jesus of Nazareth, is the Creator’s response to the whole cluster of problems caused by sin. Jesus is the means by which God is now pursuing his original purpose for creation. We do not interpret creation and its products in light of redemption, but vice versa. We do not interpret sin and its results in light of redemption, but vice versa.
This is part of the background on which Christians should choose the way we will participate in the political process (i.e., choose how we will vote). For example, we should not think that the physical nations and governments of this fallen world should somehow be “born again” after the pattern of the church or the Kingdom of God as it exists today among men. Human government is a completely different breed of cat. It has its own divinely-given purpose, but it can fulfill this purpose even in the hands of sinful, unregenerate men. Its intended function is not complicated: keep human beings from violating the rights of others. Government’s intended task is only to keep order in this present world, not to prepare anyone for the eternal Kingdom to come.
The church as Christ’s Kingdom on earth operates according to the loving and gracious side of God’s nature, and seeks to spread faith, hope, and love. This is not the job of government. Government operates according to the other side of God’s nature, i.e., his holy justice and law, including punitive wrath upon evildoers. (On these two sides of God’s nature, see Rom. 11:22.)
We simply must stop trying to squeeze governments into the mold of the church. Governments occupy a completely different niche in the total Biblical world view. Their leaders are not role models, spiritual guides, or teachers of doctrine. Earthly rulers are not required to believe any particular doctrines. Their authority to protect justice and punish injustice comes from God regardless of their religious beliefs. Earthly kingdoms are appointed by God to keep order while his own spiritual Kingdom progresses (1 Tim. 4:1-4). We must not regard governments as evil as such (though in practice many are), nor must we expect them to be led by the Spirit of Christ. Both of these approaches are wrong.