Many Christians approach life as if it is made of bits and pieces of unrelated reality. They struggle to see the relationship between seemingly contrasting categories. In fact, Christians often have been taught that the Bible addresses exclusively spiritual issues while some other standard should be used to govern how we should think about secular matters such as law, economics, politics, education, and business. This type of thinking might lead a businessman or scientist into believing that he is involved in “secular work” while a minister or missionary is engaged in “full-time Christian service.” Under such a system, religion would be kept out of anything that is not directly related to church work and the Sunday morning worship hour. This is not the biblical view.
Both [John] Calvin and [Martin] Luther insisted that “secular” vocations were as important as “religious callings” and that it is possible to serve God in any honest and useful job. Calvinism encouraged diligent work and thrifty habits in worldly duties as a way of promoting the general welfare and glorifying God. This “Protestant ethic” was especially endorsed by Puritanism and applied to scientific work. This was reinforced by attitudes of self-restraint, simplicity and diligence. The study of nature was divinely sanctioned since it would reveal God’s handiwork and exemplify orderly activity. The Puritans believed science could work for the glory of God and the benefit of society.1
For the Christian, the construction of a worldview was comprehensive enough to embrace all of life with the Bible being the governing instrument that gives meaning and direction to areas of discovery like science, politics, economics, and law. No area was excluded. This included the intellectual life (what a person believed was true about himself and his place in history); the physical (how a person treated or mistreated his body by eating, sleeping, and exercising); the social (how he interacted with friends and enemies, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak); the economic (why he worked and how he spent his wages); and the moral (what ethical guidelines and obligations directed his thinking about justice and issues such as abortion and euthanasia).2
The Puritans were famous for attempting to develop a comprehensive biblical worldview. They applied Scripture to work, marriage and sex, money, family, church and worship, education, politics, social ethics, and social action. “Puritanism was a movement in which the Bible was central to everything.”3
The early Puritans demonstrated their belief in a comprehensive biblical worldview in the educational institutions they developed. Harvard College, founded in 1636, six years after the arrival of the British Puritans, had as its purpose the following: “Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ at the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” There was no true knowledge unless a student compared it with the testimony of Christ in the Bible.
An example of a Christian who worked to apply the Bible beyond the narrow confines of Christian piety was Cotton Mather (1663-1728). In fact, Mather saw the development of scientific discovery as an outgrowth of piety. He received his M.A. from Harvard at age 18 and joined his father in his Boston pastorate. He was widely regarded as the most brilliant man in New England. He wrote nearly 500 books and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. Scientist as well as pastor, he successfully introduced smallpox inoculation during the 1721 epidemic, and had his house bombed for his trouble. Mather “did not share the medieval belief that this world does not matter.”4 For Mather and others like him, a worldview that had God and the Bible at its center was the only worldview that could make sense of the world.
As we are about to embark once again on a new year, our thoughts should turn to how God’s Word can and should impact all of life. This means thinking multi-generational. The Bible commands us to “disciple the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20). This means more than getting people saved for the next life; it includes getting them saved–“made whole” in every way–for this life as well.
- Joseph Spradley, “A Christian View of the Physical World,” in Arthur Holmes, ed., The Making of a Christian Mind: A Christian World View and the Academic Enterprise [Downers Grove: IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985], 68. [↩]
- W. Andrew Hoffecker, “Preface: Perspective and Method in Building a World View,” Building a Christian World View: God, Man, and Knowledge, 2 vols (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1986), 1:ix-x. [↩]
- Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints: The Puritans As They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie, 1986), 13. [↩]
- Gordon W. Jones, Introduction, in Cotton Mather, The Angel of Bethesda, An Essay Upon the Common Maladies of Mankind [Barre, MA, Barre Publishers,  1972], xi. [↩]