Who is God?
It is hard to imagine a more profound and important question. It is a question that leads to many more questions.
What is God like? How does he exist?
Can we know absolute truth? Or is truth relative?
These are important questions because the correct answers determine who is a Christian and who is not. Simply, we have eternal life only because we know God. And if we know God, then we know who He is and what He is like.
The fundamental importance of this question, “Who is God?” was driven into my heart in 1991 when I met young people in Moscow who had traveled from all over the former Soviet Union to attend a Christian youth conference. Some were from the Far East and had come half way around the world to be there! Many of the students had lived their whole lives in cities that had no evangelical churches. Many had never met true believers in Jesus Christ. The only churches they had ever seen were represented by buildings — the Russian Orthodox churches. For years, most churches had been sparsely attended, even in cities of millions of people, because of atheistic communism. Some students had come from cities in Siberia that were founded after the communist revolution. In some of these cities, there were no churches at all.
For the first time in my life, I met people who had never heard the name of Jesus Christ. They had come into adulthood never having thought much about God. In Soviet schools, God was presented as a primitive myth or superstition. Jesus Christ was presented as a historical person, the founder of a world religion. They did not believe in God because they had never heard nor read anything about Him. In order to preach the Gospel to these young people, they first had to understand the names and attributes of God.
It is hard for a Christian from the West to understand this, but most cultures in the world have not yet been influenced by Christianity. Belief in God dramatically colors our view of the world around us. There are billions of people in the world who either do not know God or have a false idea of God. In the East, people are likely to be influenced by Monism or Eastern mysticism in their idea of divinity. In the West, the average person has become infected by an anti-Christian modernist view. Westerners tend to think of “God” in terms of deism, rationalism, nihilism, or existentialism. Modern philosophy denies the objective reality of God and declares truth and morality to be relative and subject to our personal understanding. Thus God is falsely created in man’s own image.
All the philosophies of mankind ask the same obvious questions about reality. Did something or someone exist before the creation of the universe? In the beginning of time, was there a prime reality, a great uncaused first cause? How did man come to exist in the universe? What is man? How do we know we exist? How do we know what is real? What happens to us after we die? Is there an absolute difference between right and wrong? Where is history taking us?
Man’s philosophies have proposed many interesting arguments and solutions, but most conclude that ultimately we can never know for sure the answers to these questions. Modern philosophy teaches that God is unknowable; there are no absolutes; reality is a matter of individual perception. Without realizing it, most people in the modern world have picked up this relativistic philosophy. They are uncritical, open-minded, accepting of every idea. Life is a process without meaning. There is no ultimate purpose in life. There are no absolutes.
Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that the existence and character of God is knowable and unchanging. We can know God exists, who He is, and what He is like. Truth and morality are based on God’s character and revealed in His eternal Word — the Bible.
When first I came to know God, I realized that He wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, because He was nothing like what I imagined Him to be! When we first come to know God, we need to be reeducated as to who God is and what He is like. Here I will briefly relate the view of God presented by Christianity. I will then offer some brief explanations on how that foundation in our thinking will determine our view of ourselves and the world around us.
The Names of God
“Who is God?” To answer this question, it is logical to ask, “Who does God say He is?” For the answers, we must look to the Word of God. The Bible contains many names of God which give us an idea of His nature and character. God is the same in both the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew and Greek names of God in the Old and New Testaments are intimately related to His nature and character. His names, nature and character are forever unchanging.
This needs a little bit of explanation to the modern mind. In these days, when the majority of people assume God to be a vague, easy-going Benevolence, it is sometimes difficult for people to view the God of the Old Testament, Jehovah, the God of righteousness and moral perfection, as the same God of the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the God of love, who came physically to earth to live as a man and die for us so that our sins may be forgiven. But we see from the Hebrew and Greek names of the Old and New Testaments that He is the same God. We will see this further as we look at God’s attributes.
Old Testament Names of God
‘El or ‘Elohim — “God” or “Gods.” ‘El is used as a prefix to many other names of God. ‘Elohim is the plural name which indicates the Trinity. This is used when God swears an oath, makes a covenant, or calls things into being. It indicates the immutability and agreement of the Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
‘Elyon — “Most High” God. This name points to God’s exalted nature. He is a God who is to be reverenced, worshipped and feared. He is a strong and mighty God.
‘El-Shaddai — “Almighty” God. This names stresses divine greatness, but also indicates power over nature for the good of man or “Providence.” The Almighty makes the powers of nature serve His purposes. This is a source of comfort and blessing for God’s people. This name is often used to indicate that God is a loving Father who enters into relationship and friendship with His people.
‘El-Olam — “Everlasting” God. This is a seldom used name, however, it indicates that God exists for all eternity. He is the God of all ages. The word olam has the sense of something “secret” or “hidden.” Olam is sometimes translated as “forever.” Hence the idea of God existing outside of time in a place man cannot fathom. Since God is forever, this indicates that He is all-patient and all-wise.
‘Adonai — “Lord” God. He is the King, the Ruler and possessor of all creation. This name indicates that God is the controller and boss of His people. When we recognize God as Lord, we are giving up our rights. We are no longer our own. We are bound to do His will and obey His commandments.
Yahweh or Jehovah — “I AM” God. This is the greatest name of God, the one which was held most in reverence by God’s people, Israel. This name indicates that He is the one and only true God. This name was first revealed to Moses in Exodus 3:14. God declared himself to be “I AM THAT I AM” because Moses wanted to tell the Egyptians what name the Hebrew God is called. This indicates to the pagan nations of the world, who worshipped many false gods, that Jehovah is the only true God who exists. In many translations of the Bible, the capital form, “LORD,” is used to indicate Jehovah.
Jehovah Sabaoth — “God of Hosts.” This is a common form of the name of God in the prophetic books of the Bible. This fuller form calls up a vision of the King of Glory surrounded by a host of angels. It is often used in the prophetic books to speak of a victorious God, the supreme King of heavenly hosts, who has triumphed over all His enemies.
Immanu’el or Emmanuel — “God with us.” The word is literally the Hebrew for “with us [is] God.” This name is only used twice in the Old Testament (Isa. 7:14;8:10) and once in the New Testament (Matt. 1:23). It is used to prophesy the coming of Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God as a man, or literally, God with us.
New Testament Names of God
Theos — “God.” This is the common Greek word for any pagan god, but in the New Testament, this form takes the place of ‘El-Yisrael, the “God of Israel” in the Old Testament. Most often it is used with a possessive pronoun, such as “my God,” “your God,” or “our God.”
Kurios — “Lord.” The name is applied to God and specifically Jesus Christ. Kurios takes the place of the Hebrew Adonai and Jehovah. God is the possessor and ruler of all things especially His people.
Pater — “Father.” The name Father is also used in the Old Testament to indicate that God is the Father of His people, Israel. In the New Testament, it points specifically to the first person of the Trinity, the Father of Jesus Christ. It also is used in the sense that God is the Father of individual believers who have been adopted into the family of God. Children of God have the legal rights of sons and daughters and may rightfully call God “our Father.” Pater is sometimes used to designate God the creator of all things.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit — The Trinity is mentioned throughout the New Testament to indicate the unity of the Godhead. The one true God of Israel, ‘Elohim, is the same as God the Father, God the Son Jesus Christ, and God the Holy Spirit.
Scriptural passages that use these names are helpful to understand the context of the meanings. We can also see clearly how the Hebrew names of God in the Old Testament correspond to the Greek names of the New Testament.
The Attributes of God
According to the Bible, God is infinite, personal, Triune, transcendent, immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and holy. Here are some brief definitions of each of these attributes.
God is infinite — He is everywhere. He cannot be measured or understood by finite man. He called all reality into existence. The name, “I AM THAT I AM,” (Exodus 3:14) was given to man to indicate that God exists in a way that nothing and no one else can exist. God is the first cause of all things, the primary reality and the only self-existent being.
God is personal — We refer to God as He not It. He is not simply a force, energy or substance, but a person. God has a personality. God is self-conscious and self-willed. God thinks and acts.
God is Triune — He is not only personal, but actually three persons in one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Within the one essence of the Godhead we have to distinguish three “persons” or personalities who are neither three gods, nor three modes, parts or aspects of God, but coequally and coeternally one God. The Trinity may seem like a mysterious paradox to us, but it is important to understand God as a personal being in eternal relationship with Himself and with man. He is a God who we can know personally. To Christians, He is both our Father and Brother, and His Spirit lives within us.
God is transcendent — He is from another world outside our own. His nature is other-worldly. God is beyond our thinking and imagination. He cannot be represented by anything in our world. He is not like man or anything else He created. He is above all.
God is immanent — He is also with us. God is everywhere. We can sense His presence all around us. God is present in our material world and reflected in the image of man. This may seem to be a contradiction to His transcendence, but God is spiritual and not material. He is with us in a way we do not understand. God is above all things, and at the same time He is in all things sustaining the whole universe.
God is omniscient — He is all-knowing. God sees the beginning and end of history and fathoms all eternity. God is the ultimate source of all knowledge and truth. All truth is God’s truth no matter where it is found. He knew us as individuals, before time began, when we were being formed in the womb, he foreknows all the circumstances of our lives, the time and manner of our death, and where we will spend eternity.
God is sovereign — He is all-powerful. This is a further aspect of God’s infinite nature. God rules over the whole universe and is able to give attention to all details of history. All specific events in the entire universe are under his control. All creation and history are under His authority.
God is love — He is benevolent and good. God’s ultimate purpose towards man and all creation is to favor us and draw us into a loving relationship with Him. He makes the ultimate sacrifice to make this love relationship possible. All His actions towards His people are motivated by this love.
God is holy — He is absolute righteousness. There is nothing evil in Him. He is compared to pure light, which darkness cannot overcome. Holiness is the greatest and all-encompassing attribute of His character. Because God is infinite, it is impossible for one attribute to be greater than another. However, God’s holiness encompasses all His other attributes. He is holy God, holy love, holy sovereign, holy grace, holy Trinity, etc. He is holy in everything He is and does.
Further definitions of God may be given. The Bible gives many names and attributes of God. Since God is infinite, we will never have complete knowledge of Him in this life. But there have been some adequate and succinct statements that adequately cover the names and attributes of God. One of these is found in chapter two of the Westminster Confession:
“There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his won glory, most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal most just and terrible in his judgments; hating all sin; and who will by no means clear the guilty.
“God hath all life, glory, goodness, blessedness, in and of himself; and is alone in and unto himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which he hath made, nor deriving any glory from them, but only manifesting his own glory in, by, unto, and upon them; he is the alone foundation of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom, are all things; and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them, whatsoever himself pleaseth. In his sight all things are open and manifest; his knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature; so as nothing is to him contingent or uncertain. He is most holy in all his counsels, in all his works, and in all his commands. To him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience he is pleased to require of them.
“In the unity of the Godhead there be three Persons of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The Father is of none, neither begotten nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son.”
To elaborate any further on each of these names and attributes of God is not possible in so small a space. I have given just an outline of the names and attributes of God. There are many more. But these are the ones that are most important because they distinguish Him from the false gods and false worldviews of other religions.
What is a worldview?
A discussion on one’s worldview or “view of the world” may seem out of place in this chapter dealing with the names and attributes of God, but the two are intimately related. Our understanding of God shapes our view of the world. Likewise, our worldview will affect how we see God.
What is this concept called worldview? A worldview is a comprehensive sense of our personal relationship to the world surrounding us. Simply, it is a sense of destiny and purpose.
There are many worldviews confronting people in the world today. Humanism, for example, is a worldview which states that the universe is centered upon man and his achievements. Marxism is a worldview which believes in the inevitability of class struggle based on economic factors.
Major world religions are based upon worldviews. Hinduism is a worldview based upon many deities, and endless life-death cycle and inevitability of human suffering. Islam, on the other hand, is a religion of martyrdom, conquests by force, and police-state enforced modesty. Thus to understand any of these movements and religions, we must understand the worldview they are founded upon.
The importance of worldview cannot be overstated. For any religious movement, it is the motivational factor that causes it to expand, contract, appear or dissolve. Adherents to a particular movement test their worldview by acting upon it and observing the effects. The chart below illustrates:
Any individual’s worldview causes them to act based upon how they perceive their role in the world. This action causes a result which upon observation will either verify or prove incorrect their worldview.
For example, a Marxist believes that class struggle is inevitable, thus he acts to form revolutionary cells bringing disruption to the present system. When the disruption erupts it will verify his worldviews thus spurring him to greater revolutionary activity. This worldview caused Marxism to violently expand both in Europe and Asia. Marxism is now disappearing because it has been proven false based on its results of economic ruin and human misery.
Developing a Christian worldview is of extreme importance in order to advance Christ’s kingdom as false systems collapse under their own corrupted weight. One reason for the decline of Christianity in Western culture is the lack of biblically based worldview. Instead the cultural worldview of materialism, selfishness and greed has become the predominant vision. The first step in addressing this problem is by admitting that by and large the materialistic West has a spiritually bankrupt worldview.
Thus if we were to properly understand the role of worldview, we would understand it as a set of rules that reside at the very core of our being. If our set of values is earthly, carnal and debased, then our actions will reflect this. However, a change in this set of values will bring a change in our actions. If we are taught a biblically based worldview, radical change will take place. Believers the world over will experience revival and evangelism will become more effective than ever.
The chief elements in a Christian worldview are as follows:
1. Christian worldview must be based upon Jesus Christ alone. “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11). Numerous worldviews are advanced, which focus not upon Christ, but upon earthly events. These worldviews will eventually be exposed as false.
2. Christian worldview must express God’s mission for His people on earth. Implicit in this worldview are revival and spiritual awakening as the great means of forwarding God’s purposes on the earth. This will spur ministry to alleviate social ills and utilize ministry to spread the Gospel to all levels of society. Society will then be changed and become more responsive to the demands and claims of Christ.
3. Christian worldview must express Christ in every area of the believer’s existence. Family relationships, work, finance, entertainment, politics, all areas of endeavor must be subject to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ. All things will involve the work of Jesus. If He is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all. All issues must be understood through a Christian worldview. Christianity becomes a filter through which everything from the profound to the ordinary is examined.
Christian Worldview Transforms Culture
The most important force that shaped Western culture is Christianity. It was much more than a “religion” that shaped the worldview of Christians during the first few centuries. There were many religions that vied for the attention of the people and cultures comprising the Roman Empire. A vast array of syncretistic religions and philosophies characterized the Roman Empire. The Western world of the first century was hungry for religion. Yet the classical religions of Greece and Rome did not offer a comprehensive worldview. Many people turned to Eastern mysticism and Greek philosophy and some turned to Christianity.
The Christian worldview rested on belief in an infinite and personal God Who had spoken through the prophets of the Jews and had revealed Himself in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The early Christians had knowledge about God and the universe that rested with revelation and not speculation. They had absolute, universal values by which to live and by which to judge their society. Above all they had value for the basic dignity of the individual based on the belief that each man is unique and created in the image of God.
This worldview collided with force with the basic values and beliefs of Rome. At different intervals in the first three centuries, under ten Roman emperors, Christians were persecuted and put to death by the Roman government. At one point, Christians were accused of atheism (because they did not worship Caesar); cannibalism (because they “ate the Lord’s Body”); and incest (because of “brotherly love”).
The second century Christian apologist, Justin Martyr, offered a defense in a letter to these charges written to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius. According to his own account, Dialogue with Trypho, Justin describes how he had studied one after the other of the philosophical systems — Stoicism, Aristotelianism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism — and then came to Christianity. One day as he stood near the Aegean Sea just outside the city of Ephesus, an old man approached him.
“Does philosophy produce happiness?” asked the old man.
Absolutely,” Justin replied, “and it alone.”
In an extended conversation, the old man suggested to Justin that there were many questions that Plato could not answer, but there is a true philosophy with an explanation for all questions. That philosophy is Christianity. The old man instructed Justin in the teachings of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ. He encouraged Justin to seek God for the opening of his understanding: “For no one can perceive or understand these truths unless he has been enlightened by God and Christ.”
Justin then describes his response: “When he had said these and many other things which it is not now fitting time to tell, he went his way, after admonishing me to meditate on what he had told me, and I never saw him again. But my spirit was immediately set on fire, and affection for the prophets, and for those who are friends of Christ, took hold of me; while pondering on his words, I discovered that his was the only sure and useful philosophy. Thus it is said that I am now a true philosopher.”
The false charges against Christians were refuted by Justin. But in the end, Justin was not successful in promoting tolerance for the Christian faith among the Roman rulers; he became a martyr in 167 AD.
The sporadic persecutions of the Christians which occurred under the Roman Emperors did not occur simply because the Christians worshipped Jesus Christ. There were many gods in the Roman world. The reason that Christians were killed was that they refused to also enter into the unity of the Roman state by worshipping Caesar. Christians worshipped Jesus as God; they worshipped the infinite-personal God only. They allowed no mixture; all other gods were seen as false gods.
No totalitarian government, such as Rome, could ever tolerate those who have an absolute standard by which to judge the state’s actions. But Christians had an absolute in God’s revelation. Christians had an absolute, universal standard by which to judge the morals of the individual and the laws and acts of the state. For this, they were considered enemies of the state.
Any nation, state or government, that continually breaks Gods moral laws, will ultimately be destroyed within history. When the breakdown of Rome finally came, Christianity thrived. During a time of turmoil, frequent wars, and intellectual discontinuity in the advance of learning, Christianity extended a tremendous civilizing influence on the northern tribes of Europe through extending the Christianized art forms; medieval economic teaching which exalted the virtue of honest, well-executed work; an impressive network of church hospitals and charitable institutions; and impressive architecture.
*What is the true nature of history?**
History must always be interpreted on the central principle of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In history, we see a war between the Christian idea of God and man and the many competing false ideologies, philosophies, religions and political structures. The resulting picture of this competition is the true nature of history.
Unfortunately, most people, because of their innate morally depraved thinking, can neither explain nor understand the conflict of these kingdoms. Most are willfully ignorant of history as a whole, let alone history from a Christian perspective. They regard history as a long-forgotten high school subject, rather than what it is if interpreted properly. If history is understood at all it is usually in a materialist, rationalist sense. The events of history are unrelated. Man has no origin as a creation of a holy and loving God and thus has no ultimate destiny.
Although man was originally created in the image of God, through sin he has been robbed of his birthright. Fallen man has no understanding of his past, present and future glory. Only the Holy Spirit of God can illuminate us as to the truth of God, the purposes of God in history, and the destiny of God’s people for the future. A proper view of history can not only give us a view of God’s plan of salvation throughout the ages, but can give us a vision of the final defeat of all competing worldviews and the victory of the plan of God on earth.
This will give us a confidence and sense of destiny even amidst chaos. We will be encouraged to rise up and fight against evil. We will have some hope see the tide of ignorance, apathy and failure turned in our generation.
The truth of history can be understood in the following points:
1. History is controlled by Jesus Christ. This eliminates worldly, humanistic views of history, as well as cultic views and the wild conspiracy theories so popular today. History revolves around the expressed image of the Father’s glory, Jesus Christ and His finished work on the Cross (Col. 1:16).
2. Not only is history subservient to the glorious Christ, He is the essence of history. His purposes in the earth, alone, are worthy of consideration or value to the believer. While all believers “live and move and have their being” in Christ, even the idolatrous mass of humanity today are subject to His awesome, history-controlling power.
3. Christians are to understand what God has been doing in history and align themselves with it. We can live out this view of history in a practical way. The Bible calls the purpose of the Church in history the “Great Commission.” Jesus Christ has allowed the Church to participate in this glorious vision of fervent missionary activity, reaching every nation and ethnic group with the testimony of Christ and His kingdom.
There will be great expansion of knowledge of God through Holy Spirit inspired preaching. Sometimes persecution and violence will result, but in the long run great numbers of souls will be saved. Large amounts of people will be visibly brought into the Church. This revived and awakened Church will continue to confront idolatry, sin, and corruption in every generation, until a great reformation of humanity occurs. It will one day be apparent to all the nations of the world that Jesus Christ is the Lord. He will rule as King over the nations.
We are seeing in our day the beginnings of this world-wide, all-encompassing spiritual awakening. Jesus Christ gave the Church all power and authority to teach the full testimony of God to all the nations of the earth.
History has a meaning as surely as our individual lives have meaning. There is an ultimate end of history to be accomplished by God. Throughout history, we see that tyranny and evil have sought to oppress those who stood for liberty and truth. Tyranny and evil sometimes look as though they are winning, but the battle belongs to the Lord. Ultimately, God wins in time and history. Men die, generations come and go, but truth marches on through wars, massacres and bloodshed. Even in the darkest times, the truth is always advancing. The human race will one day see a Christian society that will be inexpressibly wonderful and glorious. This is the purpose of history.
War of the Worldviews
The following are the major categories of the most widespread false worldviews which compete with Christianity. Virtually all worldviews, philosophies and religions can be placed under one of these headings: Christianity, Non-Christian Monotheism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Polytheism, Monism, Eastern Mysticism, or New Age philosophy.
Epistemology is the study of human belief systems, the nature and limits of human knowledge, analysis of why we belief the way we do, and whether truth is attainable through human reason and knowledge. To become “epistemologically self-conscious” is to become aware of your belief system; to become more consistent in the implications of your beliefs; and to realize that your beliefs and ideas have consequences.
Every worldview begins with some “self-evident” truths, premises, presuppositions or “unprovable facts” that undergird the entire philosophy. Every argument, belief or philosophy is based on certain presuppositions, which in turn may be based on prior presuppositions. Ultimately, there is one or a few presuppositions — unprovable premises or postulates — that must exist as the prime reality from which reality is explained and understood. Man is a creature who must believe in order to know, and who must know in order to think and act. Belief in something without proof must always presuppose knowledge, thought and action.
*Worldview: Questions and Answers**
The following are questions to be considered. These questions are inescapable. Throughout history, theologians and philosophers have grappled with these questions. They have proposed many answers, but all answers tend to fall into several broad categories. Your answers to these questions will determine what type of worldview you hold. By answering these questions, you will show yourself to be a Christian, a Monotheist, a Deist, a Naturalist, a Nihilist, an Existentialist, a Polytheist, a Monist, an Eastern Mystic, or New Age.
1. What is first cause? That is, who or what existed first among all things in the universe?
2. What is the nature of reality and the world we see around us?
3. What is man?
4. What is man’s relationship to the first cause and the world we see around us?
5. What is the nature of man?
6. What happens to us after we die?
7. Is there a difference between right and wrong?
8. What is the meaning and purpose of history?
Here I have given the answers that correspond to a Christian worldview.
1. In the beginning was God. He created the universe out of nothing.
2. God created a universe that operates with order in compliance with unchanging natural laws.
3. God created man in His own image.
4. God communicates with man through His Word, which is infallible.
5. Though man was created in the image of God, he fell into sin. Now God is redeeming certain men and women through the work of Jesus Christ.
6. At death, those who are redeemed by Jesus Christ enter into eternal life or heaven. Those who remain in sin enter into eternal separation from God or hell.
7. Ethics is a system of moral laws based on the character of God who is holy and loving.
8. History proceeds in a linear manner. God has sovereignly ordered the major events of history to lead mankind into God’s ultimate destiny.
Christianity is the only epistemologically consistent worldview. That is, its presuppositions are consistent with its conclusions. In Christianity, there is a perfectly logical philosophy by which to explain and understand every area of human life.
I put the following worldviews in a specific order because it is possible to demonstrate that each worldview listed here naturally succeeds the prior one. As the “believer” becomes more epistemologically self-conscious (consistent with his own belief system), he sees the eternal contradictions in his false worldview. As he draws conclusions that disprove the premises of his worldview, he is forced to abandon it in favor of another worldview that is based on these new conclusions. He will hold that belief until he sees the inherent inconsistencies. And so on. The result is to be forever in a state of paradigm shift, to exchange one philosophy for another whenever the evidence seems to contradict the current model. The ultimate state of the worldly-wise philosopher is to believe a little bit of everything. Eventually, he will be forced to admit that consistency of belief is impossible, or he will repent of vain irrational thinking and humbly and rationally embrace a thoroughly Christian worldview.
The worldviews competing with Christianity offer only inconsistency. I will here define each competing worldview or philosophy, list the presuppositions of each and briefly explain why each is ultimately inconsistent with its own premises.
Monotheism — Besides Christianity, Judaism and Islam are the world’s two other monotheistic religions, teaching that there is one God. Judaism and Islam differ from Christianity in teaching that Jesus Christ was a great prophet or teacher, but not the Son of God. Both Jews and Muslims object strongly to the doctrine of the Trinity. Jews and Muslims accept the Old Testament as being the inspired Word of God. Muslims also accept the New Testament and the Koran (the writings of the prophet Mohammed) as inspired of God. The Christian, Jewish and Muslim worldviews are very similar, in terms of God, the creation of the world, man, the fall of man, ethics and history. The main inconsistency is what to think of the man Jesus Christ. For the Jew, His death on the cross is a stumbling block. The time and place of the promised Messiah’s birth, many incidents of His life, and the manner and circumstances of His death were foretold by the Jews’ own Old Testament Scriptures. For instance, the detailed descriptions found in Psalm 22; Isaiah 53; and Daniel 9, specifically point to the only person in history to fulfill the biblical prophecies about the Messiah — Jesus Christ. The Jews do not recognize Him, even though He fulfilled these prophecies to the letter. For the Muslim, Jesus Christ is an enigma. He is revered as a “great prophet,” a good man who nevertheless claimed to be God. According to Islam, such a claim must be blasphemous coming from a “mere man.” Yet the Muslim ignores this inconsistency.
Deism — This is simply a belief in a God, or a Supreme Being of some type. A Deist does not believe that Jesus Christ is God and does not accept the Bible as the Word of God. For a Deist, Truth is self-evident and discernible to the rational mind. Some religious philosophers during the time of the Renaissance, such as René Descartes, wanted to completely abolish the Greek philosophical worldview, which relied on presuppositions that were unprovable. Descartes proposed a universal picture of the world, based on human reasoning and mathematical proofs. Deism proposes a “clockwork universe” originally created by God or a Supreme Being, but left to run on its own according to universal natural laws. Truth is understood through the existence of natural revelation, natural law and the “necessity of reason.” Protestants of the Enlightenment era, including John Locke and David Hume, recognized that God and God’s Truth were revealed in nature. They believed that the character of God could be understood through both natural law and biblical law. Locke and Hume argued that since man was created in God’s image, man was able to grasp biblical truth through human reason. Deism took the argument a step further and proposed that natural revelation was the only standard and denied the necessity of the Bible altogether. Thus the necessity of reason gave way to the sufficiency of reason. Deism then became a broad term use to describe the group of Enlightenment era philosophers — from Locke and Hume, who were orthodox in the central tenets of the Christian faith — to François Voltaire and Thomas Paine, who were openly hostile to Christianity.
To a Deist, God is the transcendent First Cause who created the universe, but left a well-ordered world to run on its own. God is not immanent or personal; He is not providential or sovereign over human history. All events in the universe are determined by cause and effect, and not predetermined by God. There are no miracles. All historical events are a result of natural laws at work. Human beings, though creations of God, are intelligent, moral agents endowed with free will. Man himself must function as a cog in the “clockwork” universe; he cannot have a relationship with God. Man is basically good; not innately evil. The world is not fallen or abnormal; it is a perfect reflection of the nature and character of God. This point is an important departure from the Christian worldview. A Deist believes that knowledge about a perfect God can be derived from nature, which is also perfect. Since the material world is perfect, ethics, law and morality can be seen in nature. Christianity does not discount the revelation of nature in addition to biblical law, but since the world is fallen and imperfect, God gave man special revelation of Truth in the form of the written Word of God. Deism discounts special revelation from God and relies solely on the sufficiency of nature and human reason. The afterlife, if it exists at all, is completely separate from the natural world. We are rewarded and punished through the consequences of natural laws in this life. Deists might believe in heaven as a reward for man in the afterlife. Yet Deists doubt the existence of an eternal hell, since no man is completely evil. History is linear and determined by natural causes, in which God does not ever supernaturally interfere.
Naturalism — The great inconsistency of Deism is that it agrees with Christian theism by presupposing a universe of order and reason created by God. Deism admits that man was originally created by God, but man is treated as though he is a product of this universe. If man is a personal being, then must not God also be personal in nature? If man is created in the image of God, then must not man be ultimately accountable to God’s law rather than nature’s law? Naturalism solves this problem by removing God from the picture altogether. Deism can thus be understood as the bridge between theism and naturalism. According to naturalism, man is a product of nature. He evolved from a lower organism, the universe itself was either preexistent or it came into being on its own. Origins and evolution must be explainable through consistent natural laws. Humanism, modernism, determinism, scientism, Darwinism, Marxism and Freudianism are each variations on the naturalist worldview.
Humanism is the belief that man is the ultimate being in the universe. Modernism the idea that man will inevitable solve any problem through the natural course of human progress. Determinism is the philosophy that all events are interdependent, not only determined by cause and effect, but that knowledge of reality can only be understood when viewing the whole universe in this manner. Scientism is the belief that measurable natural laws based on cause and effect determine the outcome of all physical events in the material universe. Scientism is also the belief that empirical facts can be determined either through observation or experimentation with known and controlled variables. In other words, all sequences of cause and effect events are reproducible, with the consequences of reaction always following certain circumstances or actions.
Darwinism synthesizes known scientific laws into a theory of total organic evolution; that man evolved from a lower animal, which in turn evolved from a single cell organism. Darwinism ultimately proposes that a complex universe evolved from a primitive state or that came into existence out of nothing. Marxism proposes an evolutionary and deterministic view of society, with mankind evolving into a communist utopia dispensing with the need for religion and private ownership of property. All social history is viewed as a struggle between economic classes; human history is driven by an undefined force leading society to a state of worldwide communism. Freudianism proposes a human psychology based on evolution and determinism. Freud speculated that since man was the product of sexual reproduction of lower animals, all human intelligence is a sublimation of the sex drive. Sex is the drive behind all human endeavor, since reproduction of a species is always the goal of deterministic evolution.
All naturalistic philosophies rely on the following beliefs. Only matter exists. Nature exists. God does not exist. The universe is based solely on cause and effect. The universe is orderly even though it was not a created by a higher intelligence. Human beings are products of nature. Although conscious rational beings, human beings are not fully able to understand the complex interaction of physical and chemical properties that make up the universe. Determinism is the basis of all human knowledge. Death is final. There is no afterlife. History is a series of causes and effects with no ultimate purpose and no divine destiny. Ethics are a deterministic invention of human thought.
The great paradox of naturalism is that man is a rational being — the highest animal created by natural forces apart from God — yet man has no control over his own destiny. If man was determined by the natural forces of the universe, then even man’s philosophy of naturalism was determined by these forces. If man is merely a thinking machine, then how can man know that his thoughts are correct? The presupposition that man’s view of the universe has any more validity than the conscious understanding of a rock is the great flaw of naturalism. The design and order of the universe may just as well be an illusion of our consciousness, which is nothing more that material actions and biochemical reactions. Deterministic philosophers ultimately saw this contradiction and struggled unsuccessfully to prove that man can know anything for certain.
Charles Darwin recognized this problem when he wrote in his Autobiography: “The horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would anyone trust the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?”
Nihilism — If man’s perception of reality is subject to his own mind, isn’t it just as likely that reality itself is an illusion? If man’s rational mind is nothing more than sensation and perception, then it is just as likely that nothing really exists except the illusion of reality. Nihilism, the belief in nothing, really isn’t a philosophy at all, but more a feeling of despair. A Gnostic claims that “to know” is salvation; an agnostic claims that “no knowing” is possible and salvation is meaningless. Nihilism is a worldview that leaves everything to chance. There is no possibility of knowing anything to be real, or knowing any “higher law” to teach us the standard of right and wrong.
After the two World Wars of the 20th century, Europeans had come to realize that rational natural science often compounded the problem of existence. Science did not provide all the answers. Stalin then made it difficult to believe in Marxism as a fitting social philosophy. When artists saw the difficulty of rationalism, they invented surrealism as an art form, as a reflection the absurdity of the modern world. Humanism had provided only alienation and anxiety. Despair seemed to be part of the human condition.
Nihilism is the absence of a philosophy. To the nihilist God is dead. Truth has no meaning. No philosophy is valid. Knowledge, ethics, history, beauty, reality, life and death have no purpose. There is really no such thing as an eternal purpose or divine destiny in a purely rationalist system. The naturalist turns to nihilism once he realizes that rationalism gives man no reason to believe his own thoughts.
In Thus Spake Zarathustra, Friedrich Nietzsche offered this piece of evolutionary perspective: “What is the ape to man? A figure of fun or an embarrassment. Man will appear exactly the same to the superman.”
Nihilism is nothing more than naturalism brought to its logical conclusion. A consistent naturalist who presupposes that knowledge and reason are possible has virtually no way to prove it. At least he cannot explain why he is conscious of his own thoughts and reasoning. He is forced to concede “nothingness.” The consistent naturalist also is forced to concede that ethics — as a system of consequences resulting from moral actions — exists. However, if God does not exist, then man is never guilty of having violated any “higher moral law.” He is left only with “feelings of guilt.” But what use does guilt serve? Man ought to deny those feelings of guilt if possible. Yet the feeling of having done a moral wrong persists in people everywhere. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “All men live lives of quiet desperation.” There is no possibility of transcendent forgiveness in a universe without God. These feelings of guilt can lead only to the despair of nihilism.
The nihilist is like the person who climbs to the top of a hill at night and stares into the starry universe. When he asks a non-existent Supreme Being, “What is the meaning of life?” there is absolutely no reply. Man innately senses that he must have a purpose and destiny, but naturalism offers no answer except eventual annihilation. Since man is an innately moral creature, the loss of meaning leads to hopelessness or nihilism.
Of course, nihilism as a consistent philosophy is impossible. From meaninglessness nothing at all is logical — or else everything is logical. Nihilism is a belief in nothing. Yet to affirm that “nothing exists” is to affirm a belief in everything that is able to be known. An atheist who believes in “no god,” first affirms the concept of God, and then affirms that he must know everything in order to know for sure that God does not exist outside the realm of his knowledge. But for a finite mind to know everything is impossible. Thus nihilism can never be a belief, but only a feeling of the despair of meaninglessness. The fact that man is prone to these psychological and emotional disorders is in itself a motive to seek meaning, value, beauty, virtue, destiny and purpose. At best nihilism can only affirm that there are deep questions that challenge the hearts and minds of men — but there are no easy answers.
Existentialism — The idea that there is no absolute truth, that all morality is relative has become the prevalent philosophy of the 20th century. “There are no moral absolutes, only moral interpretations.” — “Whatever is right or wrong for you is your own standard of morality.” — “Do your own thing.” “Truth is whatever you believe in.” — “Whatever feels good do it, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else.” — “Life is what you make of it.” —“Everything is subjective.” These popular statements are just expressions of existentialism.
When one denies objective truth, the problem of human existence is intensified. René Descartes demonstrated that the subjective “I” is self-aware, when he postulated: “I think therefore I am.” But everything else within us and without us — our feelings, perceptions and thoughts — can be doubted. Yet we are stuck with these feelings, perceptions and thoughts. So affirming that external reality exists is a lot easier to cope with than embracing the impossible nihilistic worldview. Existentialism can at least be systematized to answer the great philosophical questions.
The existentialist affirms that the material universe exists; but God does not exist. The universe exists as a logical order of causes and effects. Human knowledge is divided into objective and subjective understanding. Human beings exist, but man’s existence precedes his essence. In other words, we each define who we are in our own minds. Each person determines his own reality and destiny. The objective external world is real. However, man often perceives the world as illogical and absurd. Man’s perception of the external world is reality. Man creates subjective value and meaning to counter the absurdity of the objective world. This delusional self sees external events as connected; man creates cause and effect in his own mind where it doesn’t really exist. History is viewed as linear, but it reaches no end or purpose. Ethics are an invention of the delusional mind.
The existentialist recognizes that the world is fallen and abnormal and that man is fallen and abnormal too. Therefore, whenever man creates his own meaning out of a world in a state of chaos, his mind becomes chaotic and delusional. But the delusional mind that creates the illusion of reality must really exist. That leads to further problems for the existentialist. The existentialist encounters inescapable paranoia, anxiety, fear, and even “nausea” when he realizes that the responsibility of creating meaning, a sense of mental sanity and salvation lies within a mind that is delusional from the beginning. The existentialist never knows for certain which reality is the real reality.
It is worth noting that modern philosophers who have self-consciously attempted to embrace existentialism were ultimately unsuccessful in trying to work out a system to explain human existence apart from God. Some ended up proposing a “Christian” existentialism which blended the presuppositions of Christian theism with the concept of objective and subjective existence. The others either committed suicide, became insane, or lived with a conscience wracked with guilt and despair. Ironically, the more earnestly man tries to deny the existence of God, the more he becomes obsessed with the idea of God and religion. He may deny God in word, but he is constantly shaking his fist at God in conscious hatred.
The willful death of modern rationalist and existentialist philosophies have led us to the idea of postmodernism. This is an “anti-philosophical” worldview. The postmodernist concludes: “We can’t go any further without starting over. What is left? It’s all been done before and thought of before and we still have not secured our salvation.” In this sense, postmodernism appears to retreat into nihilism once more, but postmodernism is ironically attacked from the rear by another irrefutable paradox: “Once a man believes in nothing, soon he will believe in anything.” Postmodernism thus opens the door to Eastern Monism.
Monism or Eastern Mysticism — Eastern mysticism correctly understands that the logical process of reason is powerless to give final satisfaction to man’s deepest spiritual needs. In Western rationalistic terms, to know reality is to distinguish one thing from another, to categorize it, and recognize its distinct relationship to other things. In the East to know reality is to pass beyond individual consciousness. The goal of life is to realize the oneness of all, and be one with all. Monism is the belief that all is one. There is no difference between God, a person, a horse, a tree or a rock.
Monism can be summarized as follows. The soul of the individual is the same as the Soul of the universe. Some spiritual beings are more at one with the cosmos than other things. There are many paths to the One. To be one with the universe is to empty one’s self. To reach this state of oneness is to pass beyond human knowledge; and to pass beyond any difference between good and evil. Death is the end of individual existence, but to achieve nothingness is to reach Nirvana. Time is unreal. History is cyclical.
This worldview came to great popularity in the West during the 1960s and ’70s partly through its promotion by popular superstars such as the Beatles. In 1967, Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote “I am the Walrus” which opened with the line: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” Mass murderer Charles Manson adopted the Monistic worldview of the Beatles, and at the LaBianca murder scene in 1969, he instructed his followers to write in blood on the refrigerator door the words, “Helter Skelter,” a song title from the Beatles’ White Album. The oneness of right and wrong became a reality for Manson. He defended his actions by saying, “If God is One, what is bad?” Dostoyevsky said, “Anything is permissible if there is no God.” But anything is also permissible if everything is God. There is no distinction between good and evil.
New Age Philosophy — Eastern Monism spawned the New Age movement, which is a philosophy that combines elements of Eastern mysticism (that are easiest for Westerners to understand) with rationalism. Rationalism and humanism do not answer certain spiritual questions. New Age pretends to answer these questions.
New Age philosophy is extremely diverse, but can be summarized as follows. Each individual is God. As more individuals come to realize their divinity, the closer we will come as the human race to realizing the “New Age.” The universe is unified, but is expressed on two planes: the visible universe accessible through ordinary consciousness, and the invisible universe accessible only through altered states of consciousness. The goal of New Age philosophy is to reach “cosmic consciousness,” a state in which time, space and reality disappear. Physical death is not the end of the individual self. Death is just a transition to another form of life through reincarnation. Altered states of consciousness, projections of the soul out of the body, and mind training are used to reach a state of cosmic consciousness.
The popularity of New Age philosophy is one indication of the disintegration of Western culture. As information and travel between East and West becomes more fluid and as the prevailing humanist philosophy of the West is collapsing, Eastern philosophy is rushing in to fill the vacuum. The swing to Eastern mysticism has come at a time when Christianity is weak at the places where it would need to be strong to withstand the East. New Age philosophy is now a rising worldview in Western thought.
However, this discussion of Monism and New Age philosophy ends here, since we will examine these worldviews in more detail in chapter seven.
What is Truth?
What is Truth? How can we know anything to be true at all? The Bible, the Word of God, offers an infallible set of presuppositions about God, the nature of man and the universe from which to construct a comprehensive worldview. Christianity is the only consistent worldview that provides these answers.
The Christian apologists of the first few centuries of the Church were not afraid to debate the philosophies of the day in order to show the superiority of the Christian system. Modern man has not yet offered any philosophy to contend with the wisdom and truth of Scripture. Preaching the Gospel, in the words of the Apostle Paul, is “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Cor. 10:5,6).
Whenever a Christian preaches the Gospel, he transcends his own understanding of Truth. In a certain sense, all the Truth we need to know is within us once we are born-again. The Holy Spirit lives within us and teaches us all things. “But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him.” (1 John 2:27). The Word of God that is written in Scripture also lives within us. The Word, Jesus Christ, lives in us through the Holy Spirit. It is impossible for an unregenerate soul to comprehend the Word of God. Only if a man is born-again can he begin to fathom the mysteries of the Word. Mysteries are revealed to him as Truth evident to his mind, but comprehended by the Spirit. Thus the spiritual man believes and knows Truth inwardly, rather than thinks about Truth externally. Logic and reason certainly exist in the written Word of God, but it is necessary that the written Word resonate with the Spirit. Anointed preaching of the Word speaks to the spiritual man at the core of his being.
All true preaching of the Word is prophecy, because the Holy Spirit speaks through us — although the natural mind is engaged and we may “see as through a glass darkly” (1 Cor. 13:12). Hearers of the Word may understand as words are spoken to them by the Holy Spirit. That is what true prophecy is: the Word of God anointed by the Holy Spirit and revealed in the hearts of those to whom God chooses to speak. It is hoped that the biblical Truths presented in the rest of this book will resonate with Truth already within you through the Holy Spirit.* Editor’s note: I have made use of the writings of Ron Auvil whose material has been edited and paraphrased in the sections: “What is a Worldview” and “The True Nature of History.” I have made use of James W. Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door, to provide the outline for summarizing the major worldviews.
A wonderful compilation and summation.