A Biblical Worldview? No Thanks!

A Biblical Worldview? No Thanks! May 7, 2018
Courtesy of Pixabay

There are many Christian phrases that make me recoil in agony. In fact, a short time back, I wrote an article on some of the ones I find most cringeworthy. You can read it here. One I didn’t cover, however, is the phrase “biblical worldview.” So, that is what I am going to focus on in this piece.

To start, I really don’t even know if such a worldview exists. Sure, many Christians, being the self-referential creatures of certainty that we tend to be, argue that the proper worldview is a biblical one. But when we dig into what the Bible is and is not, this seems like a meaningless statement. For instance, are we really going to sit here and think that folks like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses—assuming these were real people and not just archetypal figures—had the same view of the cosmos as Jesus or Paul? Or that their theologies were all the same? Are we honestly going to hold fast to the belief that the writer of Deuteronomy, for instance, had the exact same views as those of the prophets, or of Jesus, or of Paul, or of Peter, or of James? Or even that two brothers, Jesus and James, shared the same views? Or that John the Baptist and Jesus did? Or that Peter and Paul did?

Get real! That is just silly.

But we are prone to act silly, aren’t we?

And in our silliness, we conjure up this notion that there is a biblical worldview. This is not without danger, though, because throughout the whole of the Bible—no matter which canon you subjectively hold to—there are a lot of bizarre ideas that have been used to cause real sociological harm throughout the eons.

Here are but a few of them:

  1. That Slavery is Okay

Yes, that’s right, a prima facie reading of the Bible could lend one to believe that the abhorrent practice of slavery is just fine and dandy. Some passages where this occurs includes, but is not limited to, Exodus 21:2–5, 7–11; Leviticus 25:44–46; Ephesians 6:5–8. And wouldn’t you know it, Christians have, in turn, used these texts to argue for slavery in the modern age. In fact, here’s what the first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention, as late as the 19th century, had to say on the matter:

“The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.”

Ouch.

But he’s right. As the Scriptures clearly state, holding slaves is not only said to be divinely mandated, but is then lived out in real time. This is a major problem, is it not? (And if not, then methinks you are speaking from a place of privilege—like I’m sure the uber-white former South Carolina Baptist president was—and you may want to reassess things.)

  1. That Violence is Okay

Obviously, anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that it is a bloody book. Commands of genocide? Check. Commands of infanticide? Check. Commands to force rape victims to marry their oppressors? Check. Commands to kill mouthy children? Check.

We cannot escape this reality. Those things are in the Bible and they are here to stay. However, should we really be using these texts to justify our own violence? Should we really allow such violence to pervade our world? God, I hope not. That’s not a world I really want to live in, even if “the Bible clearly states.”

  1. That Being Anti-Gay is Okay

I know this one is going to rub some people the wrong way. But I feel it must be included. Why? Because for too long the Church has caused great harm to the LGBTQ community. We’ve shunned them. We’ve kicked them to the curb. We’ve trodden all over them . . . all in the name of “loving the sinner, hating the sin.”

Enough, already!

And look, I know that the Apostle Paul may have been against “homosexuality.” I don’t think he was but for the sake of argument I’ll just assume I’m wrong and give those who do the benefit of the doubt here. My question then is: So what? Didn’t Paul also think that it was dishonorable for men to cover their heads and women to uncover theirs whilst praying? Last I checked, plenty of guys wear hats to church. And even more women don’t. Hence, it seems safe to say that even the most conservative of Christians admit that some of what Paul had to say was in regards to his current cultural context.

Anyway, at the end of the day—and as the Bible clearly states—what matters most is how we love others and God. Full stop. And sure, if that is what is meant by having a “biblical worldview,” then that is something I can get on board with. The problem, though, is that this view is not necessarily uniquely “Christian.” The last I checked, many within the Buddhist faith, for example, love as well as or even better than many Christians. So do many of the Baha’i faith. So do many Muslims. So do many Jews. So do many atheists.

That is why the phrase “biblical worldview” is essentially meaningless. It can mean so many different things to so many different Christians that it seems like a completely vacuous statement, a vapid platitude we tell ourselves and others in order to feel certain about our so-called “correct beliefs.” That’s how I see it at least. And perhaps I’m wrong; I don’t know.

Let me hear your thoughts. Agree or disagree, it’s all good in the hood.

Until next time.

Peace.

About
Matthew J. Distefano is the author of four books, including the recently released "Heretic!: An LGBTQ-Affirming, Divine-Violence Denying, Christian Universalist's Responses to Some of Evangelical Christianity's Most Pressing Concerns," out now on Quoir Publishing. He also co-hosts the Heretic Happy Hour podcast, is married, has one daughter, and likes to spend his free time hiking, gardening, and cooking. You can read more about the author here.

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  • WisdomLover

    I don’t know that the phrase “worldview” is meant to refer to a comprehensive set of beliefs that the adherents of that worldview agree about.

    I mean, it could be that.

    But it could also be a set of a few beliefs (or even one belief) that all adherents of the worldview accept and that all recognize as having fairly comprehensive consequences…though some may be quite difficult to discover. In this way the agreed upon truths serve as a common ground which the adherents of the worldview recognize they can refer to in arguments to settle disputes among themselves.

    Thus two individuals can both have a Biblical worldview, but disagree about some propositions because, while both agree to the authority of Scripture, both have not drawn the same conclusions from that agreed upon common ground.

    I don’t know whether this means that Martin Luther and Moses agreed upon a Biblical worldview or not. You’d need some fancy argumentation just to get the term “Bible” to refer to the same thing for both men. But I think it is fair to say that Martin Luther and James Boyce both have a Biblical Worldview…though they disagree on quite a lot.

  • Good points. It just seems that if “biblical worldview” can mean directly opposite things, then why use it at all? For example, if my “biblical worldview” is derived from the overarching metanarrative that I see in the Bible — that is, the move away from a sacrificial/retributive/Janus-faced theology to a non-sacrificial/restorative/”God IS Love” theology — but some other Christian’s “biblical worldview” is derived from their view that the Bible is the “inerrant Word of God” — which lends one to believing in a highly sacrificial/retributive/Janus-faced God — then what meaning does “biblical worldview” really have? And who gets to say whose “biblical worldview” is the correct one? Is it not all just a case of then being really self-referential?

  • WisdomLover

    I would think that a Biblical worldview is just that, a worldview based on the idea that the Bible is authoritative.

    And my point is that those who accept a Biblical worldview accept the consequences of that. That doesn’t mean they cannot disagree and argue with one another, because human beings can make all sorts of mistakes in drawing consequences. It may happen that you draw a correct inference and I draw an incorrect one and we disagree for that reason. Why shouldn’t that happen? When I make an arithmetic error I’m drawing an incorrect inference from the axioms of arithmetic. Why shouldn’t I be able to draw an incorrect inference from Biblical truth? Likewise, why shouldn’t you be able to draw a correct inference from Biblical truth? That would be sufficient to explain our disagreement, I should think without any need to say that we have differing worldviews.

    It may also happen that we disagree because we both draw incorrect, but incompatible, inferences. If I say “2+2=3” and you say “2+2=5”, we’ve both drawn incorrect inferences from the axioms of arithmetic. It seems that things could go the same way with Biblical teachings. We could disagree because we’re both wrong in incompatible ways. And again, it seems that this can happen without any need to say that we have differing worldviews

    OK, we might indeed have differing worldviews, but that doesn’t simply follow from the fact that we disagree about a little or even about a lot.

    I guess we can say this, when people disagree about what the Bible says at least one of them is, though possibly both of them are, wrong. And this may be the case even if both people view the Bible as authoritative.

    As for who gets to say who is correct, isn’t that a rather fatuous question?

    I mean, who gets to say that your sum is correct?

    Anyone gets to say it. In saying it they may themselves be correct or they may themselves be incorrect. I guess we just have to keep arguing until we get tired or come to agreement.

    It seems to me that the same goes for Biblical interpretation.

    I certainly don’t think we need a Pope if that’s what you are driving at. FTR, I don’t think we need a Pope of Arithmetic either.

  • But hasn’t Protestantism become a religion of millions of personal Popes? Maybe having the Bible as the authority isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. And whoever said the Bible should be the authority? I thought Christ was the authority? Anyway, thanks for the comments.

  • WisdomLover

    Catholicism is a religion of millions of personal meta-Popes (because if anything needs interpretation more than the Bible, it’s the Popes).

    We can’t escape the need for interpretation. We can’t escape from the fact that each person, though possibly aided and informed by others, has to do it for themselves in the final analysis. And we can’t escape from the fact that, even though each person has to interpret for themselves, they can be objectively wrong.

    You are right that Christ is the authority, the Bible draws its authority from Him. It is because He endorsed the OT that the OT has authority, and it is because He promised the Apostles that they would remember all His teachings, supernaturally aided by the Holy Ghost, that writings written or endorsed by Apostles (that is to say, the NT) have authority.

    I rather suspect, though, that if you are skeptical of the idea of the Biblical Worldview, you should be at least as skeptical of the idea of the Christian Worldview.

  • A J MacDonald Jr

    You have the same low opinion of the Bible Jim Jones had… and that should concern both you and your readers… Jim Jones’ beliefs about the Bible https://ajmacdonaldjr.wordpress.com/2018/05/05/jim-jones-beliefs-about-the-bible/

  • The OT has authority only insofar as the overarching metanarrative points to the Suffering Servant as the telos of the story. It doesn’t mean everything in the whole of the OT is theologically accurate.

  • WisdomLover

    Christ and the Apostles quoted pretty liberally from the OT. They sure seemed to think that the whole thing had authority.

    By what authority should we think that the OT only has authority insofar as the overarching metanarrative points to the Suffering Servant as the telos of the story.

    For starters, I’m not sure that I know what that even means. Can you explain it? Do you mean that we must view the OT as being about Christ (as Jesus seemed to be claiming on the Road to Emmaus)?

  • Well, while they quote from it, it certainly seems clear that they exegeted it in a specific way. Cf. Luke 4:18-30, referencing Isaiah 61:1-2; Luke 7, referencing Isaiah 29; 35; 61:1-2; Galatians 3:13, referencing Deuteronomy 21:23.

  • WisdomLover

    Of course they did…no debate there. I would assume that they were in a privileged position to exegete it correctly.

    This is one of the main arguments, for example, for the full deity of Christ…That the New Testament authors quote OT texts about YHWH, but put Christ in the place of YHWH in their application of the text.

  • It would behoove you to take a course in logic because you constantly use fallacies in your argumentation.

  • Kevin K

    If you get your morals from the bible … well … stay away from me and my family. Thanks.

  • Love your enemies is cool. Some of the rest? Well, that’s another story.

  • I guess, although there seems to be a theological progression as to when Jesus became God in the Gospels. (C.f. Ehrman)

  • WisdomLover

    Not sure what you mean by “a theological progression…in the Gospels”.

    Do you mean that people didn’t believe that Jesus is God until later? I’d say that the OT texts quoted by the NT authors give the lie to that, whatever Bart Ehrman may think. Or are you making a claim that Jesus was a Man first and then became God at some point? Or what?

  • I’m saying it took folks a while to get to the place where they could say Christ was face to face with God before the beginning. Historically speaking. You may not care what Ehrman’s research shows, but I do. I don’t jump onto his conclusions (that there is no God), but I don’t have to agree with everything the man believes in order to glean some good historical data.

  • Kevin K

    I actually don’t think it’s OK to tell someone to love their enemies. That sets up a completely unfair standard that’s impossible to hold to. (And though I know this is not your particular philosophy…) It also sets up a standard for post-death “judgment” that would consign each and every one of us to the pit. Which then becomes a way to actually create enemies in the here-and-now. So…no…I don’t love my enemies, nor do I expect them to love me.

    I think the OT verses about loving your neighbor (aka, treating one-another with mutual respect) are better. The NT invention was to expand that prescription beyond the boundaries of the in-group. “Who is your neighbor” was the question…the answer being “the one you treated you kindly.” If you do that, you avoid creating enemies in the first place.

    But, of course, you can’t really claim that as a Jewish invention. Virtually every ancient (or modern) religion and/or system of ethics has espoused that as a meta-ethic.

  • WisdomLover

    John was crying to prepare the way of the LORD…but that turned out to be Jesus. Jesus is the LORD. He is YHWH. That’s the import of the passage.

    You think Mark didn’t mean that? Didn’t know he was saying that?

    Of course he meant that. Of course he knew what he was saying.

    That equation of Jesus and YHWH occurs in all four gospels. You think none of them meant it? None of them knew what they were saying?

    What seems more likely is that it took people a while to work up the nerve to say that Jesus is not YHWH. Then there had to be a fight in which it was made clear and settled.

  • I think it took folks a while to realize when this happened.

  • Either way, I think Jesus is what God is like in human form. Which is why I don’t think all the depictions of God in the OT and some of the NT is rubbish.

  • WisdomLover

    You don’t think they are all rubbish?

    There see, we agree about something.

  • Oops, typo. Some is rubbish.

  • I mean, cutting off your wife’s hand after she grabs your attacker by the nuts? Because God said? C’mon, let’s be real…

  • WisdomLover

    I don’t see a depiction of God in that passage.

    Deuteronomy is a divinely inspired volume, but it was inspired through Moses at the time of the Exodus in what appears to be an entirely ad hoc way. That’s the way the vast bulk of these ordinances appear. They are recordings of what was adjudicated on a case-by-case basis. The reason they’re part of Scripture is that the judge was a prophet or appointed and overseen by a prophet. The great prophet of the OT.

    I’m not sure what specific case motivated that rule. I’m pretty sure that that punishment would only be administered by some appointed executioner after some sort of trial, not (per your picture) by her husband in the middle of combat.

    Also the passage doesn’t actually refer (per your picture) to a fight involving deadly weapons. It looks more like the case involved was just two Israelite men hitting each other. If it was just two untrained Israelite men hitting each other, that would be unlikely to kill. The wife’s attack actually could kill. I suppose that, in that context, the wife’s attack might be considered disproportionate to the threat faced by her husband.

    Even so…I admit that the punishment does seem harsh to me.

    Usually the word that is translated in Deuteronomy 25:12 as “cut off” is translated as “cut off”. But there are a few places where the translators say “cut” or “cut in two” or “cut in pieces”.

    In contrast, the word that is translated in Deuteronomy 25:12 as “hand” often means “palm of the hand”, “hollow of the hand”, “sole of the foot”. Sometimes also, it is used in a context where the palm or inner surface of the hand and fingers is what would be involved (even though only a hand is mentioned). For example, it’s used to speak of giving a cup into someone’s hand.

    The idea seems to be that the word often refers to a surface of a member, not the entire member. The idea that the palm would be cut off doesn’t make much sense. Yes, I suppose you could flay the palm off, but I don’t think that’s what we’re looking at here. Flaying as a form of torture appears to have come along later.

    On the other hand ;-), if you were to say that the palm was cut in two, that would suggest a slash in the palm, not a full amputation of the member.

    That would seem, still harsh, but a lot less harsh.

    Bearing in mind that they might not have had a system of humane centers of rehabilitation, maybe that was the best alternative form of punishment available. Frankly, I’d rather have the palms of both hands and the soles of both feet slashed that to spend one day in our humane centers of rehabilitation.

    Having said all that, the pros translate the passage as if it refers to the full amputation of the hand, so I think that’s probably the most likely translation…as harsh as it seems.

    I do think that the rule also involves, at worst, the hand that actually grabbed the nuts…not (per your picture) the opposite arm above the elbow.

    The picture is funny in its absurdity though.

  • The picture is not a theological truth haha. It’s just silly.

  • WisdomLover

    True dat.

  • Joanna Mandell Tipple

    Excellent analysis of why it is absurd to talk about living via the “biblical world view.” At this point, when someone makes a comment along those lines, I ask them if they are planning on living as a 1st century Palestinian. In other words, will you/r wife live elsewhere during her period? Will you not hold or engage her? Will you be wearing this and not that? So, yes, I think you laid out the case for refraining from talking about living with a biblical worldview. Thank you.

  • The Mouse Avenger

    Well, to be fair…for much of his life, Jim Jones actually appreciated much of what the New Testament had to say, & did his best to live by it. 🙂 And believe me…I should know! I’ve studied Jim Jones & the Jonestown story for years.

  • Everett Kier Jr

    I wouldn’t expect it from a progressive as the Bible is simply the musings of man such that the view of any time period is all that is within our ability to formulate.

  • Nick G

    Is that your view, or the view you are attributing to “a progressive”*?

    *It is, after all, well-known that all progressives agree with each other about everything.

  • Nick G

    Tsk, tsk! He’s cut off the wrong hand!

  • Tim

    Of course, “biblical worldview” is just fundiegelical code for a certain set of presuppositions that the American ‘evangelical’ churches give mental assent to.
    But you’re right, all you have to do is poke the idea gently with a stick to see that it is utter nonsense.