The essential task of the Christian university is to communicate and live out a Christian worldview. The same could be said—though often it is not said—in the context of training ministers in missions contexts around the world. Worldview is a term that gets thrown around a lot, and in some popular discourse it seems to mean “a view of the whole world” — something one might get from taking a round-the-world tour or a missions’ trip to Latin America. In philosophical language, however, a worldview is more than just seeing the world. It is the conceptual framework through which one views the world, no matter where the person who holds it has traveled or lived. When people do not have a coherent worldview, they compartmentalize their lives and separate their spiritual life from other elements of life. Even ministers of the Gospel can find themselves living one way at church and another way at home. A unified, coherent worldview ought to guide our thinking about all things.
In Genesis 19:30-38 we find the story of “The Debacle of Lot’s Daughters.” The story is shameful and embarrassing, and it is hardly ever preached. It concludes the sorry tale of Lot, a man the Bible generously calls “righteous,” but one who chose to raise his family within a context of shocking wickedness. Genesis tells the story of Abraham’s bargaining with God to try to save the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the angelic visitation to Lot’s house, the wicked attempts of Sodom’s people to savage and rape the angels, the forced exit of Lot’s family from Sodom, the disastrous nostalgia of Lot’s wife and her death on the road out of Sodom, Lot’s diversion to the small town of Zoar, and finally, his reduction to caveman status in the mountains. Attend to the word of God in Genesis 19:30-38:
30 Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He and his two daughters lived in a cave. 31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to lie with us, as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then lie with him and preserve our family line through our father.” 33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and lay with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I lay with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and lie with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went and lay with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up. 36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi; he is the father of the Ammonites of today.
In this passage, we see what happens when human beings develop an utterly corrupted and collapsed worldview. Lot’s daughters, through a combination of bitter personal losses—including their mother and their fiancées—through an utterly corrupt and fallen environment, a habit of tolerating extremely evil behavior in their neighbors, and a twisted concept of God, Lot’s daughters came to hold an utterly collapsed worldview. Like a black hole into which a whole universe had collapsed, their physical and social world had been reduced to a small cave in the mountains. When people’s worldview has collapsed, their judgment is impaired. The girls’ decision to bear children through their father was reasonable in terms of the false worldview they had fallen into, but wrong with respect to the real world. People aren’t stupid—they are stained and stifled and stunted by sin.
Centuries after the writing of Genesis, Socrates told a story known as the Allegory of the Cave. He proposed a cave in which people had been bound in a seated position so that they could only see the wall in front of them. Since their birth they had only seen the projected shadows of puppets moved in front of a great fire behind them, and since that was all they had ever been exposed to, they thought that the images they were seeing everyday was the totality of the world. In more modern terms, we would imagine them watching a movie screen, or perhaps in post-modern terms, the false, computer-generated world of “The Matrix.” Socrates went on to describe what would happen if one of them got loose and discovered that the world of the shadows was a sham. Though stiff and sore from the long inactivity, he might make his way up the steep and rugged ascent to the mouth of the cave. Socrates imagined his wonder as he would be dazzled at the realities of the world outside the cave. He even imagined that, after some time in the bright new world of reality, he would feel pity for those still living in the cave and return to tell them the truth about their world of shadows and illusions. Sadly, Socrates noted that the cave-dwellers would ridicule him and put him to death for denying their realities.
Unlike Socrates’ story, there was nothing allegorical about Lot’s daughters. Their debacle was all too real, and their lives were severely stunted by their collapsed worldview. Like Lot’s daughters, many people live in a world of shadows and illusions rather than thriving in the Light of God’s Truth, because their fallen and collapsed worldview distorts the reality of God’s wonderful creation and his gift of life and redemption and purpose.
In the actions of Lot’s poor, morally stunted daughters, we can see the elements of a collapsed worldview. First, their immediate surroundings were their whole world. They could not imagine living anywhere except that cave. They remind me of some people I once met in New Jersey who used to brag that they had never crossed the river to visit Philadelphia, proud that they had never been outside of the county they were born in. Perhaps Lot’s daughters thought that the world outside the cave had been destroyed or was in danger of destruction. Indeed they had left the small town of Zoar out of fear that it would be destroyed as Sodom and the cities of the plain had been. Perhaps they were unwilling to leave their father to seek out a larger world. In whatever case, they clearly saw no options outside the cave.
Second, the people around them were the only people they could imagine. They could not conceive that there were other young men to marry, and they desperately impregnated themselves to the shame of a pathetic, drunken father. Like them, many people latch on to the first friends who come along, the first mate who presents himself or herself, the first oppressive employer who will enslave them for wages. They cannot imagine that better friends, a kinder spouse, an empowering employer could ever come into their lives. The people who sit in the cave with them in thrall to the flickering images of pretense are the only people they have seen, and the only companions they can imagine.
Third, Lot’s daughters viewed themselves in small and desperate terms, and could see no one’s needs but their own. They had no self-respect, no self-esteem, and therefore, little true regard for others. Their actions resulted in the final destruction of every last shred of dignity that remained to Lot after the loss of his home in Sodom.
Fourth, their view of God only provided for judgment, since they had never discerned anything else from God’s hand. People who have never recognized the blessing and grace of God in the world typically give God no gratitude for air and water and the beauty of the earth, the comfort of friendship, nor the glory of intellect. They only see God’s judgment on sin and they resent God’s resistance to anything they want, either denying God’s existence or God’s goodness.
Finally, they could only see their future in terms of their present. They could not conceive that their future could be better than their present circumstances, so they desperately grasped at any thin and bruised reed of support they could find to get them through their misery.
A Christian of Biblical worldview is very different. Far from being a collapsed worldview, it is an all-embracing worldview that is bigger than the world itself. Based on what the Dutch Neo-Calvinist philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd called a biblical “ground motive, ” a Biblical worldview sees the world through the lenses of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. The world was created by an all-powerful and all-benevolent God who pronounced the world to be good, created humanity in the divine image and likeness, and gave us a good and noble mission to reproduce, migrate, and take dominion over all the Good Earth he had endowed us with. It recognizes that through human disobedience to God, people fell into sin against God’s will and brought great pain and evil into the world. But it also sees the world as the object of God’s redemption, declaring from the earliest pages of Genesis the permanence of God’s love for humanity and God’s plan to redeem the fallen. God desires to love and redeem people. We are God’s children whom God desires to reconcile, and not to judge. I Cor 5:17
Accordingly, a biblical worldview begins by seeing God as a God of Love and Blessing. Abundance and prosperity and friendship are ultimately the will of God for all of us, and we can be assured of God’s good will toward us, even when we may be facing hard times or even divine judgment.
Second, it sees our current location and our lot within it as changeable. The whole world belongs to our Creator and Father, and it belongs to us through God’s promise. We are not limited to our immediate surroundings, and we are not doomed to remain in the humble circumstances into which we were born or into which we may have fallen. The whole world is our field of dominion, and we are more than conquerors through the One who loved us.
Third, the people around us now are not the only people in the world, but rather the beginnings of an ever-larger network of friends. Other people are targets for God’s redemption and are ours to know and to bless. We are not orphans, but members of a great global family of God. We have friends, even brothers and sisters, in all the nations of the earth. We never need to be desperate for relationship, since every human being is a potential new friend and brother or sister.
Fourth, our self-image is not based on our sinfulness, nor our failings, nor our circumstances. We have identified with the person of Jesus Christ. We have seen ourselves crucified with him on the cross as he took our judgment upon himself. We have seen ourselves raised to life with him in his resurrection and victory over death. Our destiny is to be seated together with him in high places. We are not trashy, desperate losers, but rather, we are God’s chosen and precious people. We have not been born, as Patsy Cline famously sang, to lose; we have been born again to win.
Fifth, our future is better than our past. The Bible declares to us that if God be for us, no one can be against us. It promises us that neither life nor death, neither present nor future, neither any other created thing can separate us from the Love of God nor from the future God has prepared for us. Ultimately, we have the promise of eternal life together with God, and our victory has been assured by the triumph of Christ over Death, Hell, and the Grave. We have nothing to fear, and everything to gain.
Obviously, there is much more to say about a Christian Worldview, and it will take months to work through the materials that have already been set aside to consider. But the contrast between a sin-spoiled worldview that has collapsed into self and situation, and the expansive worldview of biblical truth, is seen powerfully in a comparison between Abraham and Lot’s daughters:
- While they saw God as a cruel judge, Abraham saw him as the source of all blessing and received the promise of God of a better life.
- Where they saw the impossibility of escape from their cave, he obeyed the voice of God calling him to leave his father and mother and go to the land God would show him, seeing by faith a new home in a distant land.
- Where Lot’s daughters saw no possibility of meeting people outside their immediate relations, Abraham obeyed God’s command to offer Isaac, his only legitimate son, as a sacrifice to God, believing that God could either raise him from the dead or provide other sons. Indeed God did provide another Son, but Abraham’s son was not to be sacrificed. By faith Abraham saw sons and daughters as numerous as the sands of the sea, and by God’s grace those sons and daughters became a real and powerful race of people in the world.
- While Lot’s daughters saw themselves in desperate terms and lacked almost any self-esteem, and respected the needs of no one but themselves, Abraham had the faith to call himself “Exalted Father” when he had no sons, and “Father of Many” on the mere basis of God’s promise. His self esteem was high, and he received from God the promise that not only would his needs be met, but that he would become a blessing to all the families of the earth.
- While Lot’s daughters in their youth saw no hope for a better future, Abraham in his old age lived as though he were young. His future was better than his past.
One of the primary values of theological training is the opportunity it gives to confront the lies that have been spoken over students in the past with the Truth of God. The society around them does not view the world from a Christian ground-motive. Dozens of other worldviews compete for their minds, subtly and not-so-subtly distorting the truth and taking them captive to ideas that deny the knowledge of God. As Paul said to the Corinthians, we should say to our students:
The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. NIV
As students judge every philosophy, all science, every work of art, every dream of their hearts, every concept of their selves against the measure of the Truth of God’s word, they will see the world more clearly. They will see more freedom. They will see their horizons expand. And they will find themselves going boldly into all the world with Good News to share about the true nature of things. They will learn to see reality as God sees it. As Arthur Hugh Clough wrote in the mid 1800’s in the poem Dipsychus:
Why will you walk about thus with your eyes shut
Treating for facts the self-made hues that flash
On tight-pressed pupils, which you know are not facts?
To use the undistorted light of the sun
Is not a crime; to look straight out upon
The big things that stare one in the face
Does not contaminate; to see pollutes not.
As we go beyond the mere communication of ministry techniques and form the minds of our students in a comprehensive Christian worldview, we will train them to Go Out, and face the world with eyes made open by God’s truth. They will confront the harshest realities with the singularly most gentle and violent solution—the Cross of Jesus Christ—and in that sign, see the victory of God.