The Blessings Brought to the World by the Biblical Worldview
Feb. 28, 2011
It’s been two and a half years since I’ve been with you at Tsukuba Gakuen Church, and so it’s great to be with you again and see many people I worked with for so many years. It’s been almost 3.5 years since we left Tsukuba to move to Kansai, and while there is a lot that hasn’t changed much, I notice a lot of changes too. Yuko (Juji) wanted to come this time too, but as was the case last time, the situation simply didn’t allow it. As before, she has to undergo regular hospitalizations to treat her medical condition, and the timing was such that she is in the hospital now. She has maintained correspondence with several people here since leaving, and so part of her heart is still here in Tsukuba.
My job has greatly changed since I was last with you. In the summer of 2009, I left the Buraku Liberation Center to take up a new position as a professor at Kwansei Gakuin University in the Economics Department. As my degrees are in physics and theology, you may wonder how I ended up in economics, but that is the department that was looking for a missionary such as myself, and so that is where I ended up. Needless to say, I’m not teaching economics per se. KGU is a university founded on Christian principles, and each department has a missionary attached to it, and also has a chapel with regular services for the students. Likewise, “Introduction to Christianity” is a required course, where the Bible and Christian history, etc. are taught academically.
During this past year, the Chaplain of the Economics Department has been on sabbatical, and so I had to take over some of his work as well, including teaching one of the classes on “Introduction to Christianity.” As I had never taught this before, I had to devote a great deal of time to preparation each week. While it is not totally outside my areas of expertise, of course, I hadn’t, for instance, studied Christian history since my days in seminary some 30 plus years ago, and so I had to do a lot of study on my own. Moreover, teaching a large class of students a subject they weren’t particularly interested in using a language not my own while making it interesting and stimulating was indeed a challenge. But I think it went rather well, however, and I consider it a very fruitful year.
Well, for my message to you this morning, I’d like to take up a theme that I presented in that university class. I’ve entitled this message, “The Blessings Brought to the World by the Biblical Worldview.” In thinking about what this means, we need to consider how different the world would be today if the biblical worldview had never appeared on the scene. How many “blessings” have been brought to this world through the biblical worldview being adopted? In order to begin our thinking on this, let’s look again at our Scripture reading, “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” These words indicate that while God was blessing Abraham and his descendants, this blessing was not focused on just making them “happy.” Instead, it was focused on making them into a great nation through whom “all peoples on earth will be blessed.” Thus, Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, and since in a spiritual sense we too are “Abraham’s descendants,” this applies to us as well. We also are “blessed to be a blessing.”
This covenant with Abraham can be seen as the central theme of the Bible. This promise from God is being fulfilled in a variety of ways, but each of those fulfillments is in some way because of the promised Messiah. So, let’s consider just how “all peoples on earth have been blessed” because of the coming of Christ into our world. There are, of course, various aspects to this, and they are not simply spiritual and for the afterlife. They also include many things within the present physical world.
This Abrahamic Covenant is reiterated several times during the course of Jewish history as recorded in the Bible. The Jewish people kept forgetting the purpose for which they had been chosen by God, and by the time of Jesus, they had become a very closed society. Thus, Jesus often reminded them of this grave error. For instance, when he went into the Temple and observed in anger what was going on, it says that he overturned the tables of the money changers, driving them out of the temple and saying, "It is written in the Scriptures that God said, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer for the people of all nations. But you have turned it into a hideout for thieves!’" They had forgotten that God’s temple was to be a blessing to all peoples, and that they were supposed to be praying for all peoples on earth.
Likewise, in the vision John had of Heaven, as recorded in Revelations, he said, “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.’” The point I want to emphasize here is that these people would come from “every nation, tribe, people and language.” Thus, again we see that the purpose of God’s covenant with Abraham was that through him “all peoples on earth would be blessed.” In this case, it is obviously a spiritual meaning, as it relates to the salvation of their souls. In order for God to fulfill this vision, he has sent out missionaries throughout the world, but in a broader sense, he is accomplishing this task through the lives of all of his people as we communicate the gospel message through our words and actions.
So, let’s take a look at just how the coming of Christ has had the result of “all peoples on earth being blessed.” There are, of course, numerous angles to this — and not just in a spiritual sense for the next life, but physically on earth as well. Likewise, in the spiritual sense, there is both the individual level of the salvation of one’s soul, but also the broader sense of immaterial effects upon society, and this is what I want to focus on this morning.
In my classes, I emphasize the concept of “worldview.” One's worldview includes such things as one's values, but it is much broader than just that. It is how we understand the world around us and how we try to make sense of it. Most people don't consciously think about it, but everyone has a worldview of some sort that tries to answer for them such basic questions as where we came from, why we are here and what happens to us after we die.
If the polytheistic worldview that dominated the ancient world was “the only game in town” — in other words, if the biblical worldview had not appeared on the scene — it is clear that the modern world we live in today would not have come about. We can, of course, only speculate as to how different the world would be today if the biblical worldview had never been, but when one considers all of the systems and concepts that had to have the biblical worldview in place in order for them to even get started, the differences would indeed be dramatic. The very foundation upon which the biblical worldview rests is the notion that human beings are “created in the image of God,” and from this foundation, the concepts of human dignity and human rights naturally follows. Thus, if the biblical worldview had not prepared the way, we can conclude that such concepts as the United Nations “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” would not have come about. Thus, if there had been no biblical worldview, our world would today be a vastly different place. Numerous aspects of modern society that we take for granted owe their very existence to the foundation that the biblical worldview provided.
In preparation for my class, I read this really excellent book entitled “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success.” Written by Rodney Stark, a social scientist at the University of Washington (since moved to Baylor University), it persuasively lays out the evidence to support his surprising conclusion. In his conclusion, he states the following: “Christianity created Western Civilization. Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls. Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists. A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos. A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth—a world truly living in ‘dark ages.’ The modern world arose only in Christian societies. Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a ‘secular’ society—there having been none. And all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries.”
Needless to say, his conclusions are quite controversial, but he has the evidence to back them up. We don’t have time to go into this in the kind of detail I would in a university lecture, but I do want to briefly share with you what his rationale is in saying this. The most important point here is that the polytheistic worldview that dominated the ancient world inhibited the birth of modern science. There is, in fact, a very close relationship between the biblical worldview and the beginnings of modern science. If the basic principles of the biblical worldview had not been available to serve as its foundational premises, then science as we know it could not have even gotten off the ground. Likewise, modern society and the technology it is based upon would likewise have not have come about.
Scientists today who are doing their science from the standpoint of a secular, materialist worldview think that their research has absolutely nothing to do with God or the biblical worldview, but in actuality, the very origins of the enterprise they are involved in has that as its basis. One may not be able to see that in the daily work of science, but without the basic premises of the biblical worldview, science would have never gotten off the ground.
So, why is that the case? It’s because it is only after one comes to the realization that the natural world operates according to rational, logical, natural laws instituted by a single creator that one can recognize that the natural world can actually be understood. All other ancient worldviews had as a basic premise that natural phenomena were under the control of various gods or were the result of events that were happening in the realm of the gods. Let’s look at one easily understood example of this thinking. The Japanese word for “weather” is “tenki,” which is made up of two characters, “ten” for the “heavens” (or gods) and “ki” for “feelings.” You aren’t, of course, going to find this explanation in a Japanese language dictionary, but it seems obvious that the choice of this combination of meanings comes out of the ancient worldview that postulated that the weather was a manifestation of the “feelings of the gods.” If a storm or other unfavorable weather situation occurred, it was because the weather gods were angry about something. Thus, if one’s understanding of the world is limited to this framework, there is no way that one could come to the realization that such natural phenomena are under the control of natural laws that human beings have the possibility of being able to understand. It simply wouldn’t occur to people, and so their entire energy would be focused on using various rituals and incantations to try to placate the gods they believed controlled such things — which is exactly what we see in history. Thus, it is very difficult to imagine how humans could have broken out of that without some starting point such as the biblical revelation that would allow them to see that the natural world is governed by understandable laws that can be utilized to predict future conditions within the natural realm, which is the very basis of modern science.
Another point that backs up this conclusion is that in the biblical worldview, with the exception of the times God intervenes in space and time to perform supernatural miracles, cause and effect are entirely within the world we live in, and thus we can study and understand them. In all other ancient worldviews, however, there was no such connection between cause and effect. The ancients saw the effects within their world, but the causes were understood to be outside of this world, and were thus within the realm of the gods. Thus, the causes were seen to be outside the realm of human understanding. Since this ancient worldview is antithetical to this foundational principle of modern science, it’s difficult to imagine how it could have gotten off the ground unless the biblical worldview first took root someplace.
This is the reason that in ancient civilizations such as in China, India, Egypt and Greece, science never got started. In all such ancient civilizations, it’s true that they made great advances in such things as buildings, monuments, etc., but these were based in mathematics, which is something that is not so dependent on worldview. No matter how one views God, the realm of the gods, or whatever, 2+2 is still going to equal 4. Thus, there was room even within the polytheistic worldview for development in things based in mathematics. The way towards a scientific understanding, however, was blocked, and so while mathematics could develop, technological advance was pretty much limited to accidental discoveries for which there was no scientific, theoretical understanding. In other words, when something useful was serendipitously discovered, limited technological advances could be made in a practical sense, but there was no effort made to understand the theoretical basis and mechanisms behind those advances. The modern scientific enterprise is the system that ties all of that together, and this could not come about without the appropriate worldview that allowed it. Thus, to use one example, that is why you could have astrologers in the ancient world, but that didn’t develop into true astronomy.
From this one example, I think that you can see just how it is that the appearance of the biblical worldview had such a profound impact on the world and how “all nations were blessed.” As I mentioned earlier, there are many other aspects as well, such as human rights and ethics. The concept of human beings having intrinsic value stands on the foundational concept of their being created in the image of God. It is this concept, then, that human rights are grounded in, and so here again, it is the biblical worldview that provided the necessary foundation for this to develop.
Our conclusion, then, is that just as God had promised Abraham, it was to be through his descendants — through the worldview revealed through them — that “that all nations on earth were blessed” spiritually, socially and materially. This is, of course, an ongoing process, and so people today — even if they deny the very concepts the biblical worldview entails — are being blessed by its legacy, even though they are unaware of it. This is what we might call “passive blessings.” But there are also “active blessings,” and so it is on this thought that I want to close.
Those of us who are “descendants of Abraham through faith,” and who are blessed materially, intellectually, spiritually and, perhaps, in a variety of other ways that don’t come to mind are also “heirs to the promise.” But it’s important that we recognize the reasons behind those blessings. It is not because God thought we were more worthy and deserving of the blessings he has given us than other people are. When it comes to salvation, nobody is deserving of this blessing based on anything they can do. It is only by God’s grace that anyone can be saved, and his one and only provision for that grace is through the sacrificial death of Jesus in our place and through his resurrection.
That, of course, is the ultimate blessing — and the only one that matters in the final analysis — but all of the temporal blessings we have in this life are part of the mix as well. And in the ultimate sense, those blessings too come by the grace of God. He has blessed us immensely, but he wants us to pass those blessings on in some form to those who are in need. We are “blessed to be a blessing,” and that is the note I want to end on. We live in a world filled with people suffering in one way or another who really need a “blessing” from those in a position to help. There are many ways we can pass on blessings to others, and so I simply encourage each of us to prayerfully consider how we can daily be a blessing to others. Remember, you are “blessed to be a blessing.”
As a closing prayer, I want to pray the well-known “Prayer of Peace” of St. Francis of Assisi, as it is a model for how we can be a blessing to others. Let us pray.
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,