Is Misreading the Bible Neutralizing Christians?
For more than 40 years I have been trying to get Christians to understand that the Bible applies to all of life. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920), homeschooled by his father, minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, prime minister of the Netherlands, editor of the newspaper The Standard, president of the Free University of Amsterdam, founder of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, and prolific author, said, “there is not one inch of creation of which Christ doesn’t say ‘Mine.’”1
There are many Christians who see no direct relationship between their Christian faith and education, business, economics, politics, and everything else. It’s not that they are hypocrites. It’s more likely they were taught the Bible does not apply to their larger world, certainly not when it comes to this world topics because there is said to be a fixed sacred-secular divide. Pastors do not address politics from the pulpit because Jesus didn’t get mixed up in politics; there’s a separation between church and state; our citizenship is in heaven; politics is dirty; you can’t impose your morality on other people; we don’t want to offend people; we’re told not to judge; we are to render to Caesar the things that are Caeser’s, but we often forget that even Caesar is to render to God what belongs to God (Matt. 22:21). And what belongs to God? Everything!
As a result, Christians often adopt the broader culture’s version of the role that the State is semi-divine, and we must always do its bidding. The thing of it is, we don’t live under Caesar, and the reason we don’t is that Christians and other liberty-minded people worked against the political status quo and created a new form of civil government called the Constitution of the United States.
How did we get like this? There are numerous Christians who believe that a personal, private faith is all the Bible requires. Os Guinness described this as “The Private-Zoo Factor,”2 a religion that is caged so that it loses its wildness. When true Christianity is applied to any part of the world, it blossoms far more fully and colorfully than we ever could have imagined.
When pagans stopped believing they lived in “an enchanted forest” and that “glens and groves, rocks and streams are alive with spirits, sprites, demons” and “nature” that “teems with sun gods, river goddesses, [and] astral deities,”3 at that moment the world and everything in it changed.
Everything seemed possible within the boundaries of God’s providence and law. A Christian worldview made science possible rather than a god and civil government ministerial rather than messianic. Stanley Jaki, the author of numerous books on the relationship between Christianity and science, comments:
Nothing irks the secular world so much as a hint, let alone a scholarly demonstration, that supernatural revelation, as registered in the Bible, is germane to science. Yet biblical revelation is not only germane to science—it made the only viable birth of science possible. That birth took place in a once-Christian West.4
Over time, Christianity ceased to be a comprehensive, world-changing religion. “[W]here religion still survives in the modern world, no matter how passionate or ‘committed’ the individual may be, it amounts to little more than a private preference, a spare-time hobby, a leisure pursuit.”5 Theodore Roszak used an apt phrase to describe much of modern-day Christendom: “Socially irrelevant, even if privately engaging.”6 It wasn’t always this way:
The Bible, both the Old Testament and the New Testament, comes out of the background of a Hebrew mindset. The basic idea behind the Hebrew mindset is that God and accompanying spiritual principles permeate all of life here on earth…. I believe one of the causes of [cultural disengagement is a Greek mindset], which tells us Christians should be concerned about saving souls and going to heaven rather than paying much attention to material things like transforming our societies.
[James Davidson] Hunter, to the contrary says, “Most Christians in history have interpreted the creation mandate in Genesis as a mandate to change the world.”7
As long as Christianity remained nearly exclusively “privately engaging,” the secularists had no interest in disturbing the giant that now sleeps or waits expectantly for Jesus to return and “rapture” them to heaven.
The following is a response to my recent article “Is the Doctrine of the Rapture Keeping Christians from Changing Society.” It’s typical of the types of letters I get from Christians have imbibed a form of Gnosticism.
Sure we should vote, be good citizens, and help people. But our call is to make disciples not transform society.
Then he quoted John 18:36: “Jesus answered [Pilate], ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.’”
Notice that Jesus did not say that His kingdom was not OVER this world. The Greek literally states, “My kingdom is not from here.” His kingdom is transformative by changed hearts, minds (Rom. 12:1-2), and work (Col. 3:23). His kingdom does not advance like the armies of Caesar. There is no military force. The armor of God is of a different substance (Eph. 6:10-20) for this-world battles.
Everyone is living in the midst of God’s kingdom whether they acknowledge it or not (Luke 17:20-21). Jesus is the King. In what is called the Great Commission, He said: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). Contrary to popular opinion, Satan is not in charge of this world. He’s no more a god (2 Cor 4:4) than a stomach is a god (Phil. 3:19). Satan is a limited creature who needs to blind people to get them to follow him (2 Cor. 3:14; 4:4). The significant word is aion that means “age.” That age was in the process of passing away (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:26). Those blinded were holding on to the elements of the Old Covenant that were passing away (Heb. 8:13). That old “world” was “passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31; 1 John 2:17).
To support his claim that discipleship does not include changing the world where we live for the better, he supplied the following Bible verses:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life — is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
The issue is loving the world not being involved in the world. The same is true about money. Money is not evil, but the love of money is (1 Tim. 3:8; 6:10; Col. 3:5; Titus 1:7). “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:34). The world is not evil, otherwise, as Jesus prayed for His disciples, “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15). Jesus goes on to say, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (17:18). The world created by God is “good” (Gen. 1:31). Sin did not change God’s opinion:
For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5).
The best things in the world are the result of applying God’s Word to every area of life. The worst things in the world take place when people deny God and break His laws. For nearly 2000 years Christians have applied the Bible to every conceivable area of life. They haven’t done it perfectly, but when they have done it faithfully, the world has gotten better.
In his book The Book that Made Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilization Vishal Mangalwadi shows how worldviews matter, and how it was the Christian worldview that created the idea of cultural exceptionalism. He begins by describing a 1982 conversation he had with a Sikh gentleman who was returning to England after visiting his parents in a Punjab village in northwest India.
He explained to Mangalwadi that doing business in England was easy and profitable. The man could not speak English very well, and yet he was a successful businessman. Mangalwadi wondered, “How could someone who spoke such poor English succeed as a businessman in England?” So I asked, “Tell me, sir, why is business so easy in England?” Without pausing, he answered, “Because everyone trusts you there.”
Later in the same chapter, Mangalwadi tells the story of the time that he and his Dutch host went to a dairy farm to get some milk. There was no one to greet them or take their money. He and his host opened the tap, filled the jug, put the money in a jar, and took their change. Here was Mangalwadi’s reaction:
“I couldn’t believe my eyes. ‘Man,’ I said, ‘if you were an Indian, you would take the milk and the money!’ [His host] laughed. But in that instant, I understood what the Sikh businessman had been trying to tell me.”
Mangalwadi pulls all this together with an astute observation:
“How did ordinary Holland become so different from our people in India and Egypt? The answer is simple. The Bible taught the people of Holland that even though no human being may be watching us in that dairy farm, God, our ultimate judge, is watching to see if we obey His commands neither to covet nor steal. According to the Bible, ‘Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account’ [Heb. 4:13].”
If you want to see cultures change, then it’s necessary to get to the root of the problem – a person’s worldview.
- Quoted in Douglas Groothuis, “Revolutionizing our Worldview,” The Reformed Journal (November 1982), 23. [↩]
- Os Guinness, The Gravedigger File: Papers on the Subversion of the Modern Church (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 79. [↩]
- Nancy R. Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science: Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 23–24. [↩]
- Stanley Jaki, “The Biblical Basis of Western Science,” Crisis 15:9 (October 1997), 17–20. [↩]
- Guinness, The Gravedigger File, 72. [↩]
- Theodore Roszak, Where the Wasteland Ends (New York: Doubleday, 1973), 449. [↩]
- C. Peter Wagner, Dominion! How Kingdom Action Can Change the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Chosen, 2008), 40, 41. [↩]