When Worldviews collide
There was a fascinating exchange that took place between Paul and Festus as the apostle was sharing the testimony of his conversion to Christ. As Paul spoke of Jesus’ resurrection:
Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy! But Paul replied, “I am not insane, Most Excellent Festus. What I am saying is the sober truth (Acts 26:24-25 NLT).
Festus, the Roman governor of Judea, was no slouch. History records that he ruled well. No doubt that he was wise in the governmental structure of Rome and operated proficiently in the world system. On the other hand, Paul was also highly educated. He had been raised in Tarsus of Cilicia, which was known as the “Athens of the East.” Gamaliel, a leading Jewish rabbi, had mentored and tutored Paul as well. In addition, Paul had received revelation knowledge from Heaven.
Of Paul’s intellectual prowess, Oswald Sanders writes:
A present-day parallel to the apostle, it has been suggested, would be a man who could speak Chinese in Peking, quoting Confucius and Mencius, could write closely reasoned theology in English and expound it at Oxford, and could defend his cause in Russian before the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
So why did Festus think Paul was crazy? Perhaps it was because Paul was communicating truth that simply did not fit into the framework or lens through which Festus perceived life. If you talked to a person from the sixteenth century and told him or her that you were going to fly from Paris to London (something common today), they would think you were crazy. Such an idea simply would not fit that person’s perception of reality.
Thoughts on Worldview
This lens, or the way people see the world, is often called a worldview. My friend, Alex McFarland, writes: “A worldview is simply a view of the world. Everyone has one. A worldview is the set of beliefs we hold about the big questions of life.” He then identifies those big questions as, (a) What is real? (b) Is there a God? (c) Where did we come from? (d) How should we live? and (e) Where are we going?
When I first attended university, I noticed that the majority of my professors were not supportive of or affirming toward what I held as a biblical worldview. I majored in religion, and even professors of the Old and New Testaments (in my opinion) did not express a high regard for the integrity, reliability, and the divine inspiration of Scripture. I believe that William Craig Lane concisely stated what I was observing. He writes, “Secularism is a worldview that allows no room for the supernatural: no miracles, no divine revelation, no God.”
When education is permeated with secularism, the Bible is simply seen as a highly fallible product of human thought and imagination. Instead of Scripture carrying the weight of divine authority, human intellect and reasoning reigns supreme. Anything miraculous or supernatural in the Bible, according to this view, is mythological in nature, the fabrication of man’s imagination, and is to be discounted as false or simply as a misunderstanding by pre-scientific people.
It is important to understand that many worldviews have existed (and still exist) throughout human history. Consider how Paul addressed this in the first century:
The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. As the Scriptures say,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and discard the intelligence of the intelligent.”
So where does this leave the philosophers, the scholars, and the world’s brilliant debaters? God has made the wisdom of this world look foolish. Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe. It is foolish to the Jews, who ask for signs from heaven. And it is foolish to the Greeks, who seek human wisdom. So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense. (1 Corinthians 1:18-23 NLT)
Just as Festus thought Paul was insane, Paul notes that the “intelligent” and the philosophers of his day also mocked and belittled Christianity.
God-Followers in the World System
So, what are God-followers to do? I think Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego provide us with an outstanding model. They were young men when the people of Judah were living in Babylonian captivity. These two cultures were entirely different; the Jews were monotheistic while the Babylonians were polytheistic. And yet Daniel and his three friends were thrown into an educational environment that represented a radically divergent worldview.
As they were being groomed to serve in the Babylonian government, the king said, “Make sure they are well versed in every branch of learning, are gifted with knowledge and good judgment, and are suited to serve in the royal palace. Train these young men in the language and literature of Babylon” (Daniel 1:4). What was the outcome? Were they corrupted?
God gave these four young men an unusual aptitude for understanding every aspect of literature and wisdom. And God gave Daniel the special ability to interpret the meanings of visions and dreams. When the training period ordered by the king was completed, the chief of staff brought all the young men to King Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them, and no one impressed him as much as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they entered the royal service. Whenever the king consulted them in any matter requiring wisdom and balanced judgment, he found them ten times more capable than any of the magicians and enchanters in his entire kingdom (Daniel 1:17-20, NLT).
In spite of how well these four Jewish men were favored and excelled, there was conflict. When a decree was issued that all were to bow to the image of Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel’s three friends resisted; they would only bow to the One True God. Later, when a dictate was made that none were to pray except to Darius, “Daniel… went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open toward Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day, just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God” (Daniel 6:10 NLT).
In other words, Daniel and his three friends went through an educational system with an entirely different worldview—an entirely different set of beliefs—and served well within that system even though they refused to compromise their core beliefs. Moses, an earlier biblical figure, “was taught all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was powerful in both speech and action” (Acts 7:23 NLT). If he had not already, Moses would have experienced significant shifts in his thinking and worldview when he later had a profound revelation of “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6 NLT).
As I write this article, I hope you understand that I am pro-education. John Wesley responded to a critic who was downplaying his education, “God may not need my education, but he doesn’t need your ignorance either.” In the process of learning (and hopefully that is a lifelong process for all of us), we need to make sure, though, that we “eat the hay and spit out the sticks” (as my spiritual father often said). We should also carefully follow Paul’s admonition, “I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:4, 8 NLT).
The Path of Digression
Oftentimes, there is a digression that takes place when individuals or institutions start out spiritually alive, but then lose their spiritual fervor to false intellectualism. Whenever people exalt human reasoning above divine revelation (the Bible), there is going to be a consequence. For example, it was recently announced that Harvard University, one of the most highly respected and prestigious educational institutions in our nation, now has an atheist serving as its chief chaplain.
While “atheist chaplain” may seem oxymoronic to some, it makes perfect sense and is even commendable to a secularist. When the authority of the Bible is discounted, a lot can be condoned and even applauded that would otherwise seem nonsensical. Even more amazing, though, is the digression of Harvard’s position today compared to its original core values and the entire impetus for its creation.
Harvard was founded in 1636 with its primary purpose being the training ministers for the proclamation of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible’s authority and integrity were so highly regarded by its founders that the following were among the “Rules and Precepts” that were established in 1646 for the students of Harvard.
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 to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him (Proverbs 2:3).
Every one shall so exercise himself in reading the Scriptures twice a day, that he shall be ready to give such an account of his proficiency therein, both in theoretical observations of the language, and logic, and in practical and spiritual truths, as his tutor shall require, according to his ability; seeing the entrance of the word giveth light, it giveth understanding to the simple (Psalm 119:130).
The motto of the university, established in 1692, was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae,” which translated means “Truth for Christ and His Church.” A plaque remains on one of the gates at Harvard which provides greater insight to its original purpose:
After God had carried us safely to New England, and we had built our houses, provided necessaries for our livelihood, reared convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the civil government; one of the next things we longed for, and looked after was to advance learning, and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the dust.
Did you catch that? Harvard was founded so that when the present generation of ministers passed away, there would be an educated clergy to carry on the work of the gospel in America. That rising generation of ministers would be taught to honor the Bible as God’s holy word, to worship the Triune God, and to proclaim the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
I know that those who hold a secular worldview would applaud Harvard’s advancement toward “open-mindedness” and plurality of viewpoints as a good thing, but those who hold a biblical worldview would see it as a most unfortunate digression from the faith. Granted, not every Christian would embrace all of the tenets of Calvinistic Puritanism which were held by many in Harvard’s early days but lapsing into Unitarianism (which denies the authority of Scripture and the Deity of Christ) and into secularism did not constitute positive steps in whatever adjustments might needed to have been made.
When I attended my first few years of university in Indiana, my faith was not shaken when some professors made certain denigrating statements toward the Bible as God’s word, but I was concerned about other impressionable students who may have been weak or shallow in their faith. Further, those who were already entertaining or entrenched in skepticism would have found great encouragement to wholeheartedly embrace secularist viewpoints.
It is vital that Christians not simply be taught what to believe, but why we believe. When believers have been well taught, they should be able to articulate:
Why they believe in God the Creator
Why they believe in man’s fallen nature
Why they believe mankind needed be redeemed
Why they believe Jesus Christ is God’s provision for man’s salvation
Why they believe in the reality of Heaven and Hell
If we only associate with people who believe as we do, such knowledge may not seem as important, but if we are going to interact with those holding other viewpoints, it is. Five times in the book of Acts, we read that Paul “reasoned” with different groups of people about the truth of the gospel.Peter admonished, “Always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, but with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15 NASB).
It is noteworthy that Peter said that all discussions in which we explain our faith should be done with “gentleness and respect.” Our goal is not to win arguments, but to win hearts. While we share the truth, love must be at the forefront. The fruit of the Spirit should always be evident in our lifestyles. Some people may mock you for believing that God created everything out of nothing, that Jesus was born of a virgin, that God raised him from the dead, and that heaven and hell are real. However, it is important for you to treat people of differing beliefs with kindness and respect, even if that same courtesy is not extended to you.
Many of the ideas and perspectives in this article come from the overall field known as Apologetics. This is not “apologizing” for your faith, but rather, refers to making a reasonable defense and commendation of biblical faith. If you have never studied Apologetics, I have listed a few resources below that you might want to review. Not only can such a study help you communicate respectfully and intelligently with others, but it can strengthen your own faith. I pray that you can say along with John Bunyan, “What God says is best, is best, though all men in the world are against it.”
Resources for Further Study:
The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity (And How to Effectively Answer Them), by Alex McFarland
The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, by Gary Habermas
Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions,by Peter
Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels, by J. Warner Wallace
Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World, by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell
I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek
Jay Stillinger is a pastor-friend in New York who did a video series entitled “Foundations for Defending the Faith” as a part of completing his M.A. in Apologetics. You can view this series at https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLi-87gRaOkXY0qkawRkdlnDkx–zqNHxN.
1 Oswald Sanders, Dynamic Spiritual Leadership: Leading Like Paul (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1999), Kindle Edition, loc. 202.
2 Alex McFarland, Worldviews Comparison (Carol Stream, IL: Rose Publishing, 2021).
4 William Craig Lane, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), Kindle edition, 16.