World View for The Nations
Udo W. Middelmann
The Francis A. Schaeffer Foundation
Chalet Les Montaux, CH 1882 Gryon, Switzerland #41 24 498 1656
A good part of he past fifteen years I have spent on the road. Walking across mountains and in large cities, on the Alto Plano in Bolivia, in the barrios of Lima, sitting in the round houses in Africa and the refugee camps in Thailand brings you face to face with a greater reality of life.
When I stopped on the road I was facing city officials, administrators with their rules and regulations, even members of the military in some odd country. Often their power was greater than their imagination or compassion, their mental world or their skill to make life bearable in the community.
There were efforts to teach Russian teachers in the outer provinces and republics about the basic components of Biblical Christianity, which followed four years with Food for the Hungry, a Christian relief and development agency. In that assignment a more Biblical approach to human and economic development, somewhat scarce even among many Christians, was brought to American, European and national staff.
In my mind and life I was and am driven by an effort to help us understand the particular perspective in the Bible, which God the Creator gave us to shed light on all of life. Not only are origin and purpose of the human being explained. We are also given very specific instruction about the world we live in and how to survive in it while we look forward to that time of shalom. That time of peace and righteousness we no longer have now after the fall. We cannot bring it in ourselves, though many are tempted to try and produce great human horrors. It escapes us until the return of the true King.
Being on the road involves much travel, which I have always enjoyed. It has also exposed me to many divers people. I have slept in odd places, including Minnesota basements, where one can feel safe from tornadoes. I have eaten the strangest foods and drunk peculiar drinks. But it has always nurtured my own curiosity, that boy- scout instinct, to find how people live and continue, and to glory in the wonder of our unity as human beings. There are many rich and beautiful and surprising expressions of tastes, traditions and perceptions in the human family. What people do to create, to sustain and to embellish life is a full expression of the Biblical affirmation. Man is not foremost a part of earth, of nature. Men and women have been made in the image of the creator. Ourselves creative, struggling, to do indeed what is good and right, in order to be able to not merely pass through history, but to live.
For most people perhaps all those impressions and observations of what people do remain forever only anecdotal, the kind of things they like to take pictures of. The sights are colorful, people are clever and observations can be instructive. Sooner or later, in any case eventually, as you get closer to people, you realize that their cultural expressions in life come from both joy and fear, wisdom and stupidity, kindness and cruelty.
Jesus himself participated in the cultural expressions of his own time. He attended weddings, assisted at a funeral, when he raised Lazarus from the dead. (Of course it also meant that Lazarus had to die a second time). Jesus describes both work and worry for the background of his teaching on knowing and trusting God rather than men, history or traditions. He eats with both saints and sinners. He addresses both Jews and Samaritans.
And yet, he does not just leave us with a multiplicity of human creative variations, but rather sends us into all the world to teach and to make dicisples.
Thereby he does not only let us affirm what people do, anecdotally, to participate in it as part of the freedom we have in Adam first and then also possibly in Christ. He also sends us out to teach, to change and to transform, where these patterns and habits of life are the result of fear and false perceptions.
Most treatises on this subject have dealt with the need for personal piety, moral courage in the midst of much evil, and loving service. Occasionally one might find a hint that there may be other elements we must consider as well, when we observe cultural features in human experience which contribute not only to human greatness, but to human misery as well.
Mother Theresa is often recognized as a marvelous woman, whose compassion knew no end, when it came to accompanying people through the remains of life into death. Yet it should also have been
noticed that she failed to point out sharply enough how much Hinduism itself is the producer of the tragedy in the lives of those whom she kindly helped to die. Had that been a part of her mission, she would have been able to do even more for her charges. For a Christian does not merely provide for the needs of the dying. In their life men and women and children already deserve deliverance from fatalism that is born of the inhuman perspective on gods and nature, on human beings and even reality itself that is the fruit of Hinduism.
Then perhaps she would have pointed out not only Ghandi's influence in the movement towards Indian independence from Britain, but also his extremely harmful teaching on the economic and social development of India. We would have recognized that he not only did good things, but that, in affirming Hitler's antisemitism in his writings, Ghandi was often utterly wrong. His non-violence towards the British did nothing to diffuse the violence of his Hindu world view towards human life.
Culture is not only anecdotal, observed from the outside as different ways of doing things. It is it also an expression of correct or incorrect, true or false, human or inhuman ways of dealing with the real situations of life. For culture is more than anecdotal. Besides being an expression of marvelous creativity, showing the real diversity of persons and habits in different contexts, it is more interestingly an expression of world views, of values embraced and pursued. Culture not only involves different perspectives, but often also irrational and inhuman perspectives on the basic problems of life itself.
How do you look at birth and death? What is the place of man and woman? What is the role of the individual and the group? By whose authority is law made and why should it be obeyed or disobeyed? What is the place of work and leisure, of faith and fate? The God of heaven or the gods of the earth and their spirits in the earth? Of BEING, existence itself in the ultimate unity of things or of being human according to the scriptures?
The different answers to these basic human questions also contribute to culture, to life's patterns, to the way we deal with all areas of life. When we understand that culture describes how people 'do' their life, we must also consider whether it ought to be done this way for the people's sake. Then we will see more readily the devastating, inhuman effects of non-Christian social customs, political systems and religions.
When most of us have been exposed to Christianity in the West in your studies in America or in Europe or somewhere else, we must realize that what is Western is not indigenous to us. The view of the West in its good elements (such as rationality, work and science, accountability, compassion, grace) is itself a result of a transformed culture.
For that reason the anthropologist is easily disappointed. He can no longer study an original Saxon tribe in the original. There are no more indigenous Lombards to study. The Slavs no longer exist in their cruelty of the sixth century. There are no more true Goths, who destroyed the Roman empire with their pagan forces in the fifth century. There are no more Huns, except in the name of the country Hungary.
These cultures have all been transformed by Paul crossing the Bosperus, by Peter marching to Rome, but Ireneus settling in Lyon and by English and Irish monks coming to 'destroy' the perspective and culture of the Germanic tribes, including the cutting down of the famous oak. St. Boniface showed that a tree was only a tree, not the habitat of an insulted pagan spirit.
The European culture, in its better elements is the result of people not going home and doing what they have been used to doing in their traditions. They stepped out of the again-and-again mentality characterized by repetitions from age to age. After the arrival of Christianity they did not assume that old cultures and traditions are always only good, even sacrosanct, and therefore have a right to exist. For cultures and traditions which lead to utter inhumanity, fear and undignified human existence do not share the view that people are image bearers of the God of heaven, the God of the Bible, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Outside of Christianity, even in Greece of the philosophers or in the Rome of Roman law and empire people are seen as the result of fate, in the flow of things through time, or merely participating in Being itself.
One of my children used a textbook on African history, in which the first chapter taught that Christianity came to Africa as a European import. I objected to this on educational grounds. That analysis did not do justice to history and contradicted geography. It did not shed light on the real world. For in the second chapter a map of Africa included Saudi-Arabia, so that Islam could be designated as an indigenous African religion.
Many of you would rightly protest that. We should all protest on the basis of geography, not feeling or ethnic distinctives. For the division between Asia and Africa runs up the Red sea, not through the Persian gulf. The book, however, wove political ideology into an educational system which is deeply anti-Christian by saying that Christianity is of European origin and, in the modern discussion, for Europeans only.
This it is, however, most definitely not. For Christianity is foreign to all of us. It does not commence with our faith. It is not special to a culture. Instead, where it is believed in action, Christianity from God and worked out around Jerusalem transformed pagan culture into what is known as European culture.
God created us, responded to Abraham's faithfulness and sent prophets to confirm a covenant with him. That treaty regards Israel as the chosen people, through whom God's truth and plan for all nations would become specific in history, i.e. historical. Through the arrival and work of the Messiah all nations on earth should be blessed. The knowledge of God and the forgiveness of our sins have their focus in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In him we find historical grace available to each of us from any tribe or nation. Jerusalem, not Rome, Moscow or California, is the heart of nations. That is where God placed his name, where Christ died for our atonement and where the resurrected Lord will return again.
We are always told that Russia has its own kind of Christianity. Moscow sees herself as the third Jerusalem We should kindly point out the absurdity of this claim. If anything is really true in any area, like gravity or cause and effect, it is not limited by national boundaries. The God of heaven is not the bearer of a nation's flag.
In Kenya's Kitui province I asked a principal of a school and village elder why he had not encouraged the creation of a water cistern in the face of certain times of drought, as the Western missionaries and a Dutch doctor had done for his patients. I was told that "they had done it, because they are from the West. We live in our traditional patterns, absorbing the rain in the two rainy seasons. When the river dries to a trickle and then gets shorter, the cattle follow the receding water, the parents their receding cattle and the children their wandering parents. We have always done this."
I tried to point out that planning and building the cistern has nothing to do with being 'Western'. The reason for building cistern comes from the understanding that we are not children of circumstances, not to be directed in our life by natural conditions. Instead, we take our cue, the understanding of the purpose of life, our moral orientation from Scripture itself. The God who speaks there and gives information about the world he made and whether anything or what went wrong with it since creation is not "Western". It is rather that 'the West' is itself the result of people finding this God alone believable, truthful and rational about all of life in the real world. He is the God of the universe, the only possible explanation for both the uniqueness of real people as people and for the reality of the world around us in its form, rationality and wonder..
Therefore, in whatever cultural context you were raised and with which you now have profound familiarity, you affirm the tremendous variety and gorgeous beauty of human creativity. Yet faced also with human cruelty, with richly imagined ways to hurt and to exploit other human beings, you also need to be very analytical to understand how much of that variety is in fact not an expression of joy, but instead of fear, pain and hate, of power leading to exploitation. Many of the practices repeat the cruelty of nature and conform to base instincts more than chosen respect or even love. They reflect a religion and gods who do not care, who do not give answers, who rule over the tragic part of human suffering.
In order to see this and to effect a change against inhumanity, a necessary transformation needs to take place.
Jesus sends us out into the world to all nations to teach and to make disciples. A disciple is one who adopts the discipline of the task, of life or of what is required in the form of creation This involves putting ourselves and others under the discipline of correct thinking, of obedience to God's word, of the discovery of who the God is, that really exists out there.
There will be a marked contrast to the fears of the spirits in China, or the traditionalism and patriotism in Russia, where patriotism has been horribly exploited to demand support of the worst inhumanity and slaughter. Then the Biblical invitation to genuine individuality will be distinguished from individualism in our modern American society. Neither is the collective, the community or people power in any form necessarily an expression of the Savior's will.
We should notice that only where Christianity has been taught, embraced, enjoyed and lived do we find such an amazing readiness to review and to critique, to examine and to transform, hopefully beginning with ourselves and the world around us. No Islamic culture has ever produced a truly democratic form of government. There is only one view, the view of Allah. He is in control, even in control of your thinking. The Qu'ran can only be read in Arabic, it can not be translated without loss. Its teaching is not a matter of truth and accurate understanding, but of repetition and obedience.
Self-criticism, transformation, struggling for what is true, good and beautiful are only finally possible within what the Bible talks about as our responsibility to love the Lord and to obey him. When Jesus spoke to woman at the well he said to her that true worship is not a question of being on this or that mountain. It is in truth, because God has spoken truthfully. He gave us truth, which involves a wise discernment from falsehood. An intellectual effort and activity is required. It has something much to do with thinking, comparing, contrasting and discerning what is true.
Worship is also in spirit, because it is not localized, mechanical, not geographical. Worship is firstly an activity of our mind, heart and soul, in which we also recognize that we are more than matter. We are real persons who chose to love and communicate with the known God of the Bible.
There is a great need to transform cultures whenever cultures are an expression of flawed and inhuman world views. In the New Testament Paul and Jesus speak against the influence of Greek philosophy, specifically the Gnostics. Jesus debates with the Pharisees, who held to a wrong understanding of Judaism. Jesus was not marginalized in his society to pursue his own vision of things and to be able to enjoy and benefit from religious freedom. He took part in the common occurrence of discussion among the Pharisees and Sadducees. He was one more debater, but presented them with the truth anchored in the word of God and in the reality of history.
Jesus also stood up to the Romans. When Herod invited him for lunch and asked to have him perform a bit, Jesus responds by saying that he was not going to the house of "that fox." He countered the dance and festive meal, during which John and Baptist was murdered, with the feeding of the 5000 and the teaching of the true bread from heaven, which God gives in Christ.
Jesus transformed his culture, where it contradicted both word and work of God. In Ulan Ude, one of the Mongolian provinces in Russia's East, I was invited to toast 'bottoms up' a number of times during each meal, without which, so I was told, we will not have a long life, our wishes will not come true and we will not understand each other. I refused, tasting instead a little at a time. My host referred to his tradition and customs. I responded with references to both to my tradition of soberness and to the need to transform a 'traditional' drinking pattern which has led to so much pain, distrust and human hurt in his society. We must not even become prisoners to politeness!
Such freedom and courage to challenge inhuman views is rooted in the awareness that what we believe is not our personal faith. It is the truth of the universe. The Bible does not invite us to a personal development as a primary concern, but rather as a person God addresses us as individuals with names. It should help us to live as persons before God.
I am afraid that when people speak of their personal relationship in our modern language fads they mean their private relationship. In fact, it should describe a relationship as between people, using our minds, our tears and our laughter, using our discussions, our pleading with God and arguing with other human beings to discover what is involved in being realistic and moral in God's world.
How do I live as a person in God's universe? How do I become that living sacrifice, that intelligent person instead of a repetitive mechanism, who needs to discover that perfect, wonderful and glorious will of God? What is holy and pleasing to God, as Paul says? What was on the mind of God when he created us, how should we live then as people? Certainly not as animals, which live by instinct.
Paul's teaching in Saloniki, the old Thessalonica, gives us strong indications of how Christianity changes cultures. When Paul spoke there he covered the whole spectrum of life between just three weekends, as we are told in Acts 17. He did not just say:" Find Jesus and experience what the Spirit will tell you." There is instruction about personal piety and morality, about relationships between men and women. There is instruction about the relationship between the individual and society. He gives further instruction about life itself, about our work and responsibility in society. And finally our relationship to life's tragedy is touched on, when we are told that we weep, but not as those who have no hope. The horror of death, its animosity is recognized and conquered.
Here is a whole world view of life presented, not just some faith in Jesus Christ. God revealed both word and fact in history, so that we would be able to live as persons rather than as slaves of circumstances, children of traditions or merely embraced by nature as nature is.
What then is that Biblical world view that should transform and has transformed, so that we no longer find indigenous European cultures looked at with marvelous scholarly precision.
The Biblical view of the world begins with the existence of a real and eternal God. A person exists forever, who thinks, feels and creates. That God has a mind, expresses feelings and passionate emotions. The world does not start on the basis of eternal energy, forces or mathematical law. God is the creator, but also the judge. He is our heavenly father, and therefore he will also discipline. He is moral, but he also has to endure what he has made.
He has made an unfinished creation, so that we would keep working in it. He did not create every possible genetic structure, every possible situation. He has left creation, its multiplication, embellishment and the diversification to the human being. Man is given dominion over the garden, to tend it and to multiply in it. God has defined creation from the beginning. He created a world of real differences between light and darkness, land and water, people and things, in which every human being in any shape or form, color of skin or degree of physical perfection is a human being.
Thus we do not become human beings, we are human beings. Nothing born from a woman is something other than a human being by definition. Independent of whether you are liked or one of the sports idols, you are a human being from the beginning.
The Bible emphasizes that we are individual persons and accountable. We are not just in a collective, though we have parents and neighbors, whom we may not like (but you have them), but whom we are to honor and respect. This does not mean that you necessarily like and obey them.
We are persons in history, but history is not a closed book. Rather its pages are written by our choices and actions of God. We are not in a fatalistic prison of history, in which events occur and we suffer them in piety. There is instead a history in which I can argue with God, as Jeremiah did, or Moses, of Job and Jesus Christ. Paul complained about being beaten and used the occasion to get a free pass to Rome, where he would appeal to the emperor the soldiers' unlawful treatment of a Roman citizen.
There is no call for a resignation to history. Things have not always been this way. I am not too small to provoke change through courage, moral orientation and imagination. For what happens is not only in the realm of the possible, but often also against that which is moral and should not happen.
This brings us to the third element of a Biblical view of the world. We no longer live a a good world. Here the Bible is unique. It alone affirms a rotten situation that is not God's work. Alone in the Bible we are encouraged to complain about things from a moral position. I do not have to blame God for death, injustice and sin. I do not have to practice spirituality as an exercise. To be spiritual is to live by God's word, to look at all of life critically and to evaluate it with compassion, kindness and patience, but also with courage and imagination.
You will notice that Deut 8:3 does not merely tell us to 'live by every word from the mouth of God' in relation to spiritual instruction about salvation or the covenant promises of God. A few verses further on we are told to look for the copper under every hill and the iron under every mountain. We are encouraged to discover under the surface things we do not see with the naked eye, to see what else is possible in order to make human existence more bearable.
From this perspective the missionaries and the doctor in Kenya built water tanks. They see themselves as children of God, not a part of the African landscape. For that reason the Jew in Israel will not live in the desert, but will seek to make it bloom, somehow find water, change the genetics of trees to make do with less water. By contrast the Islamic mind sees in desert also the will of God. To him it is blasphemy to disturb nature, to analyze it scientifically and to find ways to repair damages. Such activities contradict the perfect mind of Allah. They follow and express the mind of God.
The fourth element is the discovery that God has spoken in language to be understood, with grammar that makes sense, with words that have definitions. I am not free to read out of the text a blessing, when it states a judgment. The Bible is not a quarry for uplifting verses, when in fact I need intelligent instruction. I need definitions as well as encouragement from God. Revelation of the Bible appeals to our minds, intelligence and thoughts and gives ideas and answers to life's basic questions.
We do not find genuine multi-party forms of government or democratic institutions under religious or political dictators, while Christianity creates an attitude of truth seeking, debate and gutsy discernment between life's offerings. In a our world dangers lurk on every side. The discovery of truth is of primary importance
God created us to live as whole beings. Life is affirmed, while death is a tragedy. It is the enemy until Christ returns and therefore not to be accepted as final. To live without the body is to be less than fully human. Even the saints in chapter 6 of Revelation plead with the Lord :How long, o Lord, until the blood of the martyrs is avenged and this insanity and the consequence of sin will be removed.
Next, the Bible speaks about truth that can and must be examined. It claims to be true not as a proposition to be the word of God, but because it speaks about the universe as it is. The author himself speaks, without having to take an authoritarian position. God is not authoritarian, because he can be argued with. He knows what he made and he defines it and describes it. God is not to be feared because he has a title, position or age, but because he is truthful.
Seventh, life is to be filled with hope. The crucifix, a symbol of Christianity in many regions, is a sign of Roman Catholicism, where you are little more than a terrible sinner. The fear of death shape your thoughts. Crucifixes in churches in South America, in Bogota, Lima and La Paz, in the Philippines, in Rome emphasize your unworthiness, not the victory of Christ.
Central to a Biblical view is the hope, the courage to dare, the delight to explore, to debate and to find out more about how to be a person in God's world and to live by his word. Here is the intellectual and moral/cultural root system for the arts and sciences, the debates and policies, the concerns for people and the compassion for the needy which so strongly mark the world shaped practically and to a large extend by Christian teaching through the centuries.
When Wilberforce spoke of his desire to change the manners of people in England, he not only had in mind such virtues as punctuality, cleanliness, manliness (i. e. being human rather than an animal) and education, he also meant to find a perspective in the Bible that would denounce slavery, would speak for property, for the rule of law and for those aspects in society that make being human more possible.
Christianity is not western. It is most amazingly the work of God during history in the minds and manners of human beings. Where it has affected them, it has changed their culture. That must not been a revolution, but a compassionate declaration of the Lord in heaven. He is my Lord, even if it means contradicting gently (over a cup of tea, sitting on the floor, discussing much of life for days), the traditions and religions which have produced such inhumanity, economic poverty, political horror and finally such personal resignation around the world.