Is worldview relevant for the life and the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church? Or is it a needless theoretical distraction from our global mission of proclaiming the gospel? If worldview does matter, what difference does it make whether our worldview is biblical rather than theistic?
Let us review the meaning of worldview and then address its impact upon the theology and the life of the Adventist Church. My purpose is to demonstrate that worldview is vitally linked with theology and life, and also that it must be biblical rather than theistic.
We can define worldview in various ways. Ronald H. Nash suggests: "A worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life."* In more elaborate fashion, it is possible to suggest that a worldview is an ensemble of ideas about reality that, because of their general nature and broad scope, condition the entire range of human thought and action.
Think of worldview as a pair of eyeglasses. As eyeglasses allow the individual to perceive reality, worldview allows us to see, or understand, the teachings of Scripture. This analogy underlines the fact that worldview functions as the ultimate presupposition involved in the process of thinking and interpreting the Bible.
Worldview also is like a computer program that allows us to interpret the entire range of biblical data without eliminating any piece or ignoring the natural connections. If we extend this computer analogy, we could say that the hardware corresponds to the hu man brain. The software program to ran the computer corresponds to the worldview. The data being processed or interpreted comes, in our case, from Scripture. The outcome the computer produces—for instance, a printout— corresponds to theology and preaching.
The theistic threat
In contrast to a worldview rooted in Scripture there is the theistic worldview, descended from Plato and Aristotle. In the theistic worldview God limits His activity to the heavenly sphere while humans perform their will on earth. This separates God from the human scene, contradicting the basic biblical view that God dwells and acts within human history. A basic incompatibility is established between the heavenly and earthly orders.
However influential the theistic worldview may have become within modern theological circles, Adventism must reject it to avoid the following pitfalls:
Secularism. As theology becomes assimilated to mainline religious thinking, the process of secularization that such a trend has already brought to most denominations will find no restraint to its universal expansion. Nevertheless, some Adventist thought leaders might argue in favor of secularizing our theology and practices to match the already secular mind of some in our congregations. When it comes to evangelism, they suggest that reaching secular-minded persons requires us to alter our basic outlook and behavior in order to persuade the culture of our times. This is the same argument many Christian theologians have espoused for centuries. It limits the Bible to the role of an honoris causa in the life of the church. Human opinion then replaces the Word of God, which has been entrusted to our corporate stewardship.
Internal divisions. Adopting the theistic worldview would unleash a chain reaction. Theology would depart from Scripture and pay obeisance to the ideas of human beings. The next step would be the fragmentation of our church, as the divisions that the theistic worldview has produced in Christianity are reproduced in Adventism.
Such fragmentation is already occur ring within our church. Perhaps some Adventists consider internal divisions as a healthy expression of diversity. But while genuine diversity is healthy and to be encouraged, we must avoid any divisions in our foundational structure of thinking and acting.
Growth decline. If Adventism adapts its teachings to the theologies of Christian denominations working within the same theistic worldview, it necessarily follows that we will not only have the same problems they have but also will become stagnant in our growth. If our theology becomes basically identical to that of other churches, why invite any body to be "Adventist"? Instead of proclaiming biblical truth, the mission of the church would then be reduced to social involvement, political activism, and the like.
Why is the growth of the Seventh-day Adventist Church stagnant or not as energetic as it should be? Deficiency of consecration? Absence of the Holy Spirit's power? Shortage of methods and human resources? We have emphasized these factors for years. Could it be, after all, that the factor we have been dismissing all along is the real reason for our calling as ministers? Could it be that a clearly developed theology firmly and faith fully grounded in divine revelation as given to us in Scripture is a necessary condition for the reception of the Holy Spirit, the growth of the church, and the accomplishment of its final mission? I am not saying that it is the only factor involved. I am suggesting only that it be a necessary one.
We cannot systematically neglect a biblical worldview and still expect God's blessings on our human ideas, imagination, and culture. Now is the time for our church to go back to Scripture as seriously as our pioneers did.
Assimilation to the ecumenical movement. If Adventism adopted the theistic worldview, its theology would assimilate to traditional or current trends. Forgotten would be the biblical doctrines that originated this movement. If this scenario takes place, it should not surprise us to hear poignant arguments addressed to this body in favor of joining the ecumenical movement.
Impact of the biblical worldview
It is not enough for Seventh-day Adventists to reject the theistic worldview. We must faithfully apply the biblical worldview to the life of the church. When we do, we may expect the following outcome:
Holiness. Secularization results from the adoption of the theistic worldview; holiness results from faithfulness to the biblical worldview. Christianity then appears as a transcendent option for our present history and culture rather than the reflection of every new social and cultural fashion. Holiness follows in personal experience through the faith-filled act of surrender to the Holy Spirit's promptings. The personal experience of holiness as healthy separation from the world can occur only when theology also is separated from the ideology of the world and is faithful to Scripture.
Internal unity. A deliberate search for, and adoption of, the biblical worldview is a necessary condition for taking "captive every thought" "to make it obedient to Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5). —— Christian unity is a unity not only in action but also in mind and thought (see 1 Cor. 1:10). Adventism cannot attempt to achieve internal unity by just working at worship, action, and mission while failing to address the level where unity is grounded, namely, in thinking. The biblical worldview becomes the in dispensable tool for grounding the internal unity of the global church. However, unity of thinking is not enough. Unity of surrender to the Lord of thinking must be an ongoing reality in the church. As each of us submits to the thinking of Christ, internal unity will become a reality.
Growth explosion. The identification and utilization of the biblical worldview in the process of understanding Scripture will open the gates of God's treasure house. The richness of biblical gems so far neglected will empower the missionary task of the church around the world.
How can the corporate church help the global and local communities in the task of proclaiming the gospel to the world? Generally we have answered these questions in a practical way. We have pointed to successful communication skills and more efficient equipment as the answers for a successful global mission. Another familiar approach suggests the need to strengthen the spirituality of our lives. After all, we assume that we know we have the truth. What we need are not more theological studies, we say, but more consistent lives and better ways to express the truth that we already possess. But the question must be asked: Does the present generation of Adventists know the truth? Many Adventists know the truth only in a superficial sense, thanks to the impact of the theistic and other worldviews among us. Think about it. Pray about it. Do something about it.
Alternative to the ecumenical movement. When the biblical worldview replaces the theistic worldview, the vast richness of divine truth is made available to everyone as a real alternative to the ecumenical movement. As we know it today, the ecumenical movement is the necessary outcome of pursuing Christian theology under the requirements of the theistic worldview. Conversely, the adoption of the biblical worldview and its consistent application to the life and mission of the church will not only prevent believers from joining the ecumenical movement, but create a formidable alternative to it.
A clear choice
In summary, on one side we can dis miss the worldview issue as another theoretical nonessential to the life and mission of the church. This attitude flows from simple inertia that holds that if we continue the usual routine but pray a little harder or try something a littler newer, problems will be solved. This is the easier route. It requires neither effort nor the investment of time and money. As tempting as it might seem, this alternative will lead Advent ism to assimilate the theistic "~~" worldview of mainline Christianity or some version of the naturalistic or pantheistic worldviews. This is the course some Adventists are exploring at present. If we allow it to continue unabated, the secularization of the church will accelerate in the years to come.
On the other side, Adventism might make a bold move and break away from administrative inertia and cultural determinism. The issue regarding our worldview and its hidden effect on us could be considered essential to the life and mission of the church so as to be included in its permanent agenda. Retrieving the biblical worldview into the conscious life of the church will trigger a chain reaction that, among other things, will include strengthening the internal unity of the remnant church and intensifying her global mission beyond a simple growth explosion into the eschatological pouring of the Holy Spirit (Rev. 18:1).
The future of Adventism depends on the direction we take today. To make no decision reinforces the status quo, which in the end will bring Adventism to absorb the theistic worldview and the chain reaction that it stimulates.
Adapted from a presentation to the 1995
Annual Council session.
* Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict:
Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand
Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), p. 16.