“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Jesus, Matthew 7:15-21).

The Barna Group, an evangelical research company, recently released the results of their “worldview survey.” As reported in April 2009 Campus Ministry Update from Ivy Jungle, the survey showed “that only 9% of adults have a ‘biblical worldview’ as defined by believing that absolute moral truth exists, that the Bible is totally accurate in all the principles it teaches, the reality of Satan, the sinless life of Christ, the belief in an all knowing, all loving, God who created the world and rules the universe today, and the belief that a person could not earn their way into heaven.  Overall, only 9% of respondents held all the beliefs for a ‘biblical worldview’…. Young adults (18-23) were least likely to hold a biblical worldview, with only one half of one percent in agreement with all of the statements.”

With such narrow parameters, the results are not surprising. What is it with self-assured, self-righteous people who have to draw the circle of orthodoxy with such a small diameter that it excludes even most people who would call themselves “Christian,” much less followers of other faiths or no faith at all? It must be so very satisfying to them to go to bed at night secure in their grasp of “truth” and believing that God favors them above all others because they hold tightly to a set of doctrines.

My problem is not so much with the doctrines proposed in the cited survey. Sufficiently nuanced and interpreted, I could affirm all of them. My concern instead is that the list doesn’t reflect some very important aspects of biblical thought. Notice that other than a reference to the “sinless life of Christ,” Jesus is not mentioned! For me, he—his teaching, his death, his resurrection—stands at the center of Scripture and thus certainly must be the focus of any “biblical worldview.”

So, I want to suggest my own measures of whether someone holds a “biblical worldview.” Consider these possibilities, a very small sample of what could be included:

  • all people are made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28);
  • human beings are to be responsible stewards of creation (Genesis 2:15);
  • the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it (Psalm 24:1);
  • God makes his sun rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45);
  • anyone in any nation who does what is right is acceptable to God (Acts 10:35);
  • God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God (1 John 4:16b);
  • whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (Mark 10:15);
  • with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:2);
  • God desires mercy and not sacrifice (i.e., ritual action), the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings (Matthew 9:13; Hosea 6:6);
  • God wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4);
  • what is good, and what is required of us, is do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8);
  • God is not far from each of us (Acts 17:27);
  • evil is real and strong but can and will be overcome (The Apocalypse of John).

But really, why make lists at all? I get the idea that people who make subscription lists and call assent to them “faith” or “being biblical” haven’t actually read the Bible or at least the book of James. Simply accepting some proposition intellectually (assensus, in the classic taxonomy) is not faith. James wrote: “You believe God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19).

Intellectual assent doesn’t guarantee that your life will reflect what you believe. That was James’ point. Belief that is true faith issues in action. As an old Presbyterian (USA)standard holds, there is an inseparable connection between truth and duty. So if you subscribe to a narrow list of fundamentals or some other roster of “right” belief, as Barna used in his survey, you will likely display intolerance, smugness, prejudice, arrogance, and even cruelty in your relationships. Not exactly gospel values! But if the major and minor doctrinal bodies orbiting your spiritual sun have wide trajectories, then you are more likely to live with peace, love, and justice toward your neighbors.

And that’s what I consider a “biblical worldview.”

© 2009 Tom Cheatham

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