Previous article in this series: March 1, 2013, p. 248.
The History of the Concept Worldview
I have defined worldview simply as a comprehensive view of the world and how we ought to live in and relate to this world.
As we give our attention to the historical development of the concept of a worldview, we can acknowledge that there has been some attention given this subject—though not called worldview—throughout the history of the church.
We should not overlook the fact that already in the Old Testament, God’s people were set apart as a peculiar people, holy unto the Lord their God. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (). This was rooted in God’s eternal decree of election in Christ, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love” ( ).
The way in which God would have His people express their holiness is seen in the significant truth of the antithesis.
We do not hear much in today’s church world about the antithesis. The very life of the antithesis has been lost in churches overcome by worldliness. But so important has been that truth that God set it before Adam immediately in the first paradise. No less important is that truth today.
Only by a clear understanding of the truth and the significance of the antithesis, and a will to live it, are the waves of worldly corruption kept out of the church and our own families. If we deny our antithetical calling either in doctrine or life, then worldliness will sweep over us, engulfing and destroying us.
What is meant by the word antithesis? While not a biblical word, it expresses a biblical truth. The word antithesis comes from two words—anti which means against, and thesis or that which is set forth. The antithesis, therefore, is a contrasting position, one characterized by holiness unto the Lord over against all that which would oppose Him.
Already in the first paradise God set apart two trees (), placing them before Adam and proclaiming that those trees—the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—demonstrated a fundamental truth of man’s life. Our life and calling in the midst of this world is to be characterized by a sharp contrast in positions.
The positive side of Adam’s existence was to eat of the tree of life, to enjoy the life and fellowship of Jehovah God. He was to live as God’s king-servant in the midst of God’s creation, subduing the earth and exercising dominion over all things and in all relationships of life to God’s glory and in God’s service. Living in obedience to the calling God had given him, Adam would enjoy the favor of His covenant God. That favor was signified in a special way in the tree of life. As a sign of God’s favor, the tree of life was at the same time a sign of that higher aspect of Adam’s life that consisted in the knowledge of and enjoyment of God’s love and fellowship.
Life for Adam implied the favor and fellowship of God his Creator. But the holiness of God requires that for man to enjoy God’s favor, man must faithfully obey God. That truth, with application to the tree of life, is set before us in a different context in the very last chapter of the Bible. We read in, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in
through the gates into the city.” Adam had to know the contrast between life and death. Life is to abide under the favor and in the fellowship of the living God.
To emphasize that truth, and to demonstrate the reality that to live apart from God is death, God also placed the contrasting tree in the midst of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Concerning that tree God said to Adam, “This tree is off limits to you.” “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”—or literally, dying thou shalt die ().
That tree of the knowledge of good and evil represented to Adam this aspect of his calling, that there is always a negative side that sets man’s positive calling in clear contrast. Man must not only positively carry out the calling God has given him, saying “yes” to God; but man must also say “no” to what God forbids.
God has revealed Himself as the God of light, in whom is no darkness at all (I John 1:5). In revealing Himself to Adam as man’s covenant God, taking Adam into His own fellowship and bestowing His love upon him, God determined to reveal Himself as He is—the God of infinite perfections, of perfect holiness. But God also determined that the revelation of His glorious Being would best be shown against the background of darkness, even the darkness of sin and death. Man must understand that life cannot be sustained but by the Word of God’s particular grace, the Word that proceeds from God’s mouth (), the voice that proclaims His love and fellowship.
So God would have His people learn to express that antithesis in all their life. We must learn to live antithetically, the life of pilgrims and strangers, even while carrying out our daily callings. That truth is expressed this way in: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
That antithesis has become much more sharp and much more difficult to maintain in this world that comes under the consequences of Adam’s fall and our guilt and sin. But from the time of the placement of the two trees in the garden, through the giving of the law to His people, and through all His dealings with His
people in the Old Testament, God made clear to them that they were to be a people “set apart.” Their entire worldview was to be distinctive, different from those around them. It was to be distinctive because the entire perspective of God’s people was to be God-centered. Life itself is to be found in God’s fellowship, the fellowship of God’s own covenant life. In that light the people of God would confess with the psalmist, “Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee” (). Knowing God in that way is to see that all of life falls under God’s authority. Every aspect of life is to be carried out in His service and to His glory. That is the privilege of being numbered with His people!
But that fellowship with God and the joy of living to His glory would be possible in only one way. The Messiah, Jesus Christ, had to come to reconcile unto God those who had been hopelessly separated from Him by the fall. So God also gave the law as the schoolmaster to bring His people to Christ (). The law made clear to the church of the Old Testament that fellowship with the Holy One could not come by human works. It could not come by obedience to the law, even though the requirements of the law stood. The total depravity that consumed man as a consequence of the fall meant that salvation could come only by One, the Messiah, Jesus Christ the Righteous, God become flesh to save His people from their sins.
The life of the antithesis, therefore, will be seen only in those who have been made holy in Christ, who have been made new creatures (). So it was seen throughout the Old Testament that only those who laid hold of the promised Messiah by faith, only those who were the true children of Abraham, brought to expression the life of the antithesis.
That was exemplified in the many saints named in Hebrews chapter 11. For even while they carried out their wide variety of daily callings in faithfulness to God, they “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (). They lived, striving to walk in faithfulness to God according to the law that He had given them. That law, while pointing them to their need for Christ, also set before them exactly how holiness was to come to expression in every aspect of life. By the law the Old Testament children of God were taught, not that religion is a separate part of life involving the worship of Jehovah, but that all of life is religious. They were to testify, “Jehovah, He is God. He is the Creator. He is also Lord over all things.” They were to testify of that truth even in their eating and drinking. What God spelled out explicitly for His Old Testament church, He would spell out for His Spirit-filled New Testament church this way: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God” ( ).
The worldview of the Old Testament saints, therefore, not only took into account the instruction of God for their relationships, work, daily callings, moral behavior, civil life, legal matters and economic transactions, and so on. But their worldview was guided by the promise of God that pointed them to the Messiah. And through the Messiah God pointed them to the city that has foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God (). For that they looked. For that they longed—even while living as God’s servants in this temporary dwelling place.