Frame of reference
I am sometimes asked why I prefer the term “Christian” worldview to “Biblical” worldview. It’s a fair question. While I’ve used both terms over the years, and used them interchangeably, I tend to believe that “Christian” rather than “Biblical” worldview is a better way of thinking about the Kingdom of God.
That’s not to say for a moment that I don’t believe the Bible should be the foundation and touchstone for all our worldview thinking. I certainly do. I am and have always been a sola scriptura Christian.
But the Word of God, which He has given us in Scripture, can sometimes be subjected to wrong interpretations and put to wrong uses. This most often happens when believers insist that God speaks directly to them – or their community, church, or denomination – from the Scriptures, without any larger frame of reference to guide their thinking or conclusions.
Thus, people who insist their views on this or that doctrine or issue are soundly Biblical may, in fact, be completely off the mark – a fact they will not be able to recognize apart from engagement with the larger community of Christian thought.
And, lest you should think that I’m overstepping the bounds of Scripture in thinking this way, I will argue, to the contrary, that this is the way Scripture teaches us to get at the truth of divine revelation.
Resolving Biblical differences
Case in point: The first Christian council of Jerusalem, Acts 15.
The Apostle Peter had done something unprecedented. He had gone into the home of a Gentile and proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ, receiving this man’s confession of faith as evidence of the Spirit’s work in his life (Acts 10).
As we might expect, some members of the Christian community were not entirely pleased with this development. They believed that Peter had broken some taboo, which they doubtless understood to be grounded in the Scripture, at least, in their understanding of the Scriptures.
The fact that Peter defended his action by appealing to the Word of God (Acts 11:16) satisfied some, but not all of those who expressed concern. One party continued to hold fast to their own view of what the Bible teaches about such matters, and to cast doubt on Peter’s actions.
By Acts 15 the Gospel was beginning to spread among Gentiles, and the party of those who opposed this development was becoming even more firmly convinced of their Biblical understanding. A council was convened in Jerusalem to address the matter, and elders and pastors came together with apostles to deliberate and decide this question from throughout the lands where the Gospel had taken root.
At the assembly, each side presented its understanding of the Scriptures – its Biblical view. Debate, discussion, testimonies, and questioning followed that, along with additional searching of the Scriptures in an effort to discover more light on the question.
After the discussion appeared to have run its course, James proposed a motion which, he must have considered, captured the growing consensus of the disputants. All present appear to have come to agreement as they shared their views and experiences, searched the Scriptures, and reasoned with one another as a community (Acts 15:22). Peter’s Biblical view prevailed, but only after the Christian community as a whole, represented by its leaders, had affirmed his understanding and action.
Not everyone agreed with this, as Paul’s ongoing struggle with the Judaizers demonstrates. The whole council affirmed Peter’s view, but some who had not been present evidently continued to insist that their Biblical understanding was the correct. Nevertheless, the orthodox and truly Christian position had been established, and Paul could point back to the decision of the council as confirming Peter’s and his own understanding of the Biblical teaching.
A community of the ages
Throughout the ages of Church history Christian leaders, following the example of the council that met in Jerusalem, have gathered as needed to discuss and resolve thorny disagreements over Biblical teaching. Each time they have considered arguments, searched the Scriptures, and availed themselves of the teaching and conclusions of previous generations of Christian leaders.
This is as it should be, since no interpretation of Scripture is a matter of one person’s, or one sect’s, private interpretation (2 Pet. 1:20). The only way to gain a true Biblical understanding is to seek out the voice of God’s Spirit as He speaks in and through the community of believers throughout the ages, comparing divergent Biblical understandings and teachings with the Word of God in order to discern the proper Christian view (1 Cor. 2:12, 13). This is why we cherish our historic creeds and confessions. This is why we look to the heritage of Christian theology and culture – and not simply to the Bible – in seeking to understand the application of God’s Word to theological, cultural, and social questions in our own day.
And this is why I believe the term “Christian” worldview to be preferable to “Biblical” worldview.
We cannot be truly Biblical in our worldview unless we are wholly Christian in seeking the leading of God’s Spirit. And the more we work at becoming wholly Christian the more reliable will be our Biblical understanding of everything God has revealed to us in His Word.
A Biblical worldview requires commitment to the teaching and example of the Christian community throughout the ages. Even the most “sola scriptura” of the 16th and 17th century Protestant reformer would affirm this. As we strive to understand and live our worldview as a distinctly Christian approach to life, we will find that we are actually being more fully – and truly – Biblical in all our thoughts and ways.
Do you agree? Share this article with some Christian friends. Discuss your views of T. M.’s main point: Can we be truly Biblical in our approach to worldview living and thinking if we are not consistently Christian in our understanding of God’s Word?
For an excellent overview of the history of worldview thinking in the West, order Glenn Sunshine’s book, Why You Think the Way You Do, from our online store. You might also benefit from reading the article, “The Importance of Church History and the Christian Tradition,” by Greg Peters.