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Worldview conferences are springing up all over. This is a good thing. We’ve moved from Immanuel Kant’s philosophically formulated Weltanschauung1 to James Orr’s “view of the world”2 to Abraham Kuyper’s “life-system” to the Dutch Reformed “World-and-Life-View” to simply Worldview. For this, Christians should be thankful. The gospel, the “good news,” is about the full view of the kingdom, both in its comprehensive (the Bible speaks about everything) and personal applications (individual Christians should apply the Bible to every area of life). The gospel is more than getting people saved for heaven (although it is about that); it’s about total transformation, a down payment, if you will, on the fullness of the kingdom in the here and now. Think of King Midas. Everything he touched turned to gold. In a similar way, everything the Christian touches should reflect kingdom reality. How does a person’s new life in Christ transform, reform, or reconstruct what it comes in contact with, and it should come in contact with everything?
While there has been a great deal of talk about a Christian worldview in the past 100 years or more and lots of conferences that claim they are teaching a Christian worldview, there is also a great deal of schizophrenia. I expressed my frustration with this aspect of Christian worldview rhetoric in three chapters that were published in Theonomy: An Informed Response. Worldview advocates that I sat under in seminary claimed that they had a plane (a worldview) that could fly, but no one ever saw it fly. And when other worldview advocates tried to take it out for a test flight, they were told that it needed more work. Two things kept the worldview plane grounded. First, there was an unwillingness to look at the whole Bible to see how it might be applied to today’s world. Second, an eschatology of inevitable decline short-circuited any possibility of success. Worldview talk became just that—talk.
Similar to the way ancient pagan civilizations, including Greece and Rome, experienced a stillbirth in science because the ideological glasses they were wearing did not allow them to see the world as a distinct creation by God with fixed laws rather than an emanation from God with ever-changing forms, modern-day Christian worldview thinking has an inherent stillbirth factor built in. Every time some progress is made in defining a cultural problem that needs to be fixed in a biblical way, someone will enter the stage, take his position behind the podium and state in unequivocal terms, “This is all true, but Jesus is coming back soon!” The amazing thing is, the two messages are often presented at the same conference!
There’s a long history of this schizophrenia found among amillennialists, premillennialists, and pietistic postmillennialists. Writing in the Introduction to Carl Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, which was published in 1947, Harold J. Ockenga, who helped to found Fuller Theological Seminary and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, as well as the National Association of Evangelicals, wrote, “A Christian world- and life-view embracing world questions, societal needs, personal education ought to arise out of Matt. 28:18–20 as much as evangelism does. Culture depends on such a view, and Fundamentalism is prodigally dissipating the Christian culture accretion of centuries, a serious sin. A sorry answer lies in the abandonment of societal fields to the secularist.”3 Like many of his Neo-evangelical associates, Ockenga (1905–1985) was premillennial,4 but not dispensational. The same was true of Francis Schaeffer. Ockenga warned evangelicals “that in its current state, fundamentalism could never win America. It was divisive and utterly incapable of ‘cooperative action’; and it stood aloof with a negative social ethic ‘in an hour of crying social problems.’”5 These New Evangelicals saw eschatology as a factor in the older fundamentalist belief that the end of the world was inevitably imminent. “[Carl] Henry, Ockenga, and some of the highly educated younger evangelical spokespersons, while remaining premillennialist in a general sense, abandoned the central dispensationalist preoccupation with reading the prophetic signs so as to indicate that the present was incontrovertibly the end time.”6 Henry (1913–2003) emphasized that he believed “that the current crisis was a sign of the end only of Western culture rather than of the entire world.”7 While “fundamentalism was not wrong in assuming a final consummation of history,” Henry stated, “but rather in assuming that this is it.”8 The attempt to shift evangelicals away from the dispensational variety of premillennialism to historic premillennialism has been thwarted by the popularization of the genre by books like The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and the multi-volume Left Behind series (1995–2007) and admired and trusted prophecy advocates like Billy Graham9 and Chuck Smith, to name only two. Not only couldn’t the New Evangelicals break the back of the dispensational paradigm, they capitulated to the notion that public education was, to use the words of Ockenga, “the bulwark of democracy.”10 Of course, this is a blind spot that has affected the church generally and cannot be blamed on eschatology.
Unfortunately, many Christians who claim to be involved in “worldview ministry” are schizophrenic. Brannon Howse who heads up Worldview Weekend brings in a group of speakers to warn of the dangers facing society and then he brings in another batch of speakers telling the same impressionable and eager audience that the rapture is near. Here’s an example. Brannon Howse writes: “Socialism is Here and Tyranny is to Follow If We Allow It.” This is “Item # 1.” Here’s the title of “Item #2”: “Jesus is Returning in Our Time: The Key Sign” by Dr. David R. Reagan. If Jesus is returning in our time, then there is no “if we allow it.” It’s inevitable, and we should embrace it because Jesus is going to rescue us from hell on earth. Schizophrenia!
First-century believers could have offered good evidence that there was little chance for the gospel to have an impact on the status quo of religious and civil oppression in their day. How could a small band of men led by a fisherman and a tentmaker and living under occupation ever conceive that their circumstances would change let alone lead to the transformation of the world? To add to the improbability, soon after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, one of their own was killed by the religious establishment (Acts 7:54b, 60). What did God do? He converted the man who led the persecution and made him a missionary to the Roman Empire! (9:1B31). After Stephen’s death, James, the brother of John, was executed by the local civil governor (12:1b,2), and Peter was arrested and thrown in prison. What did God do? God struck Herod dead: “He was eaten by worms and died” (12:23). Through tradition we learn that every apostle, with the exception of John, died a martyr.
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The Roman Empire was the major kingdom force in the first century, and the church was considered a historical footnote by the historians of the day. What happened? The historians are footnotes, time is still measured by the birth of Christ,11 and Rome lies in ruins, while the church of Jesus Christ circles the globe. If God accomplished all of this with a few disciples with little or no social influence and no political connections, why does it seem incredible to accomplish something similar with hundreds of millions of believers today? Is the devil any more powerful? No. Is the gospel any less effective? No. What has changed?: The beliefs, attitudes, and actions of today’s Christians.
1 Welt is the German word for “world,” and Anschauung is the German word for “view” or “outlook.”
2 James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World as Centering in the Incarnation Being the Kerr Lectures for 1890–91 (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1897), 3.
3 Harold J. Ockenga, “Introduction,” Carl F. H. Henry, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1947), xiv.
4 Harold J. Ockenga was an advocate of the mid-tribulational view.
5 Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 187.
6 George M. Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 76.
7 Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 77.
8 Carl F. H. Henry, “The Vigor of the New Evangelicalism,” Christian Life(January 1948), 30, 32. Quoted in Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism, 77.
9 Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992 and Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, [1977, 1991]).
10 Quoted in Louis Gasper, The Fundamentalist Movement (The Netherlands: Mouton & Co, 1963), 111.
11 Even the dodge of BCE and CE follow the birth of Christ as the reference point.