A Biblical World View that Speaks to Our Culture

Fifth in a Series on Central’s Core Values,
Delivered February 14, 1999 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Acts 17:24-34
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth
and does not live in temples built by hands.
25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he
himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
26 From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole
earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they
should live.
27 God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find
him, though he is not far from each one of us.
28 `For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets
have said, `We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being
is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill.
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people
everywhere to repent.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has
appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but
others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.”
33 At that, Paul left the Council.
34 A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius,
a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of
others.

What kind of Valentine would James Carville send to Linda Tripp? He pretty much had that opportunity this past Friday morning on the Today Show. He was interviewed by Katie Couric immediately following an interview with Linda Tripp. Katie Couric asked James Carville what he thought of Miss Tripp, and Carville began to hem and haw and he was obviously restraining that Carville-like propensity to rip into somebody. He said, “Oh Katie, I knew you were going to ask me this! It’s Valentine’s Day! Let me just say that Linda Tripp and I have different world views.”

Everybody has a world view. The way you and I look at life. The way we perceive things. Everyone has a lens that we look at the world through. And the way we look at the world makes all the difference in the world how we define reality, and how we talk and act and how we treat each other. Everybody has a lens through which they interpret how the sun shines, and why bad things happen, and what life is really all about, and what their place is in the universe. Everybody has a world view.

We Christians are called to have a Biblical world view. Which means that we interpret all of life through the lens of God’s Word, which we believe is the infallible, inspired Word. Not everybody has that view, but we as Christians are called to have that Biblical world view. Here at Central Presbyterian Church we say that our fifth Core Value is a Biblical world view that speaks to the culture around us. That Core Value is based on two other Core Values: Value Number 2 which says that we believe the Bible really is the very Word of God, and Core Value Number 4 in which we say that part of our mission is to carry out the Great Commission. And to do that, that means we need to engage the non-Biblical culture around us. But how do we do that? How do we bring a Biblical world view to bear upon a world that certainly is not in sync with that view?

In this morning’s New Testament text, you and I are confronted with a prime example of an individual who takes a Biblical world view and engages the surrounding culture with that. So I would invite you to turn in your Bibles with me to the 17th Chapter of Acts as we begin to read at the 24th verse. Here we find the Apostle Paul in Athens, Greece up on Mars hill in the Areopagus going toe to toe with the cultural elite of his day.

This is the Word of God. The 17th chapter of Acts, beginning to read at the 24th verse, and we jump in right in the middle of Paul’s sermon as he presents a Biblical world view to those Athenians. Hear God’s Word from Acts 17.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything. Because He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man He made every nation of man, that they should inhabit the whole earth, and He determined the time set for them and the exact places that they should live. God did this so that men would seek Him, and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move, and have our being, as some of your own poets have said, we are His offspring. Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance. But now He commands all people everywhere to repent, for He has set a day when He will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him, Jesus, from the dead. When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others of them said ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ At that, Paul left the council. A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Demaris, and a number of others.”

Join me as we pray: And now Father, as my words are true to your Words, may they be taken to heart, but as my words should stray from your Word, may they be quickly forgotten. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

This whole culture and world view thing is really sort of a Catch 22. How you and I look at the world is largely shaped by the culture around us, and our culture is largely shaped by our world view. You and I as Christians really need to understand this whole culture thing. You and I are immersed in culture, just like a fish is immersed in water. The culture around us is made up of the sum of everything that is out there. You need to know that culture is not a neutral thing. It is a part of the Creation. It’s a part of the fallen creation. The danger for you and me is to become so attached and so enamored with the culture around us that we actually become captive to it. When that happens, the first victim is our world view. We begin to get out of touch with reality – with God’s reality.

How do we make sure we don’t get into that trap? How do we break this Catch 22? The way to do it is to initially base your world view on something from outside of the culture. In Scripture, God comes to you and me, from outside of time and space and human ideology, and He gives you and me the lens through which we can rightly see what is real and true. To have a Biblical world view is to view the entirety of life through the lens of God’s Word. Now Paul had a Biblical world view, and he winds up on Mars hill in Athens engaging the non-Biblical culture around him with that Biblical world view. But he is only able to do that because Paul has immersed himself in the Word of God. Paul has been a life long student of the Bible, and that has shaped his reality. And here at Central Presbyterian church, we say “Yeah, we’ve got a Biblical world view.” But the truth is, folks, many if not most Christians today are tremendously undereducated when it comes to the Bible, thus depriving them of the critical tools they need to bring their faith in a relevant way to engage the culture around them.

Let me give you an example. Studies show that two-thirds of committed Christians say that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Now tell me, what is shaping their world view, the Bible, or culture? Or how about us? How do we define what makes life truly meaningful? Do we take our definition from Scripture, or from a world that says what makes life really meaningful is to be happy? God’s happy when we’re happy.

How in the world are you and I in a real, effective way, able to take our Biblical faith and engage a post-modern, egocentric, post-Christian, techno-geek culture without it getting the best of us? Well, I’ll tell you: the same way Paul addressed a pre-modern, egocentric, pre-Christian techno-Greek culture there on Mars hill. You immerse yourself in the Word of God. You become a life long student of the Bible, and you make a commitment – a commitment that you are going to place God’s Word above every other thing in your life in terms of the lens through which you will view life. And if you and I don’t do that, then forget about having a Biblical world view.

I am first and foremost a scientist. I was a research scientist before I went into the ministry. I think like a scientist. There came a time in my life after I became a Christian when I had to say, “Am I going to go with a human endeavor (which is what science is) or am I going to step out in faith and place the Word of God above science as the primary lens through which I view my own life and the world around me?” I made a commitment to place God’s Word above everything. I was worried about all the conflicts that I would encounter. Would I have to check my brains at the door and just deny a lot of things? I still stay up with a lot of scientific journals. No, I don’t have to check my brains at the door. What I find is that much of science is getting off its high hobby horse and realizing that it is not such a closed system out there after all. I have yet to find that if you wait it out, anything in Scripture is a discrepancy with what we learn in the scientific world around us.

Biblical world view. But you know, there is also a lot of talk out there today about culture wars. And sadly, a lot of Christians are buying in to that kind of terminology, that kind of ideology. Paul stands on Mars Hill in Athens not seeing the Greeks as his enemy – he is standing on Mars Hill bringing a Biblical world view to those people there out of love for them, because he cares about them. And yet there are a whole lot of Christians out there who view the non-Biblical culture around us as the opposition. My friends, when you and I begin to see Atheists and New-Agers and proponents of abortion or champions of sexual licentiousness (be it homosexual or heterosexual); if we begin to view drug dealers and people like that as the enemy, then we have bought a world view from the culture around us, not a Biblical World view.

Paul stands on Mars Hill and he sees that location not as a battlefield but as a mission field. You and I are to love those people who have a non-Biblical world view. At the 8:30 service we commissioned Andrew Brooks to go to Puerto Rico. As I speak, Jill M. is in Kazakhstan ministering, the Hungerfords are on their way to Africa. Why? Because they hate those people over there? Because they want to go over there and beat up on them? We don’t commission people to do that, folks. They are heading for those mission fields out of hearts broken in love – love for God and love for people who have non-Biblical world views, and they are going to hopefully and helpfully show them a better way of looking at the world.

Those folks are not our enemies. Satan and his legions are our enemies. Folks who have a non-Biblical world view are held hostage to Satan. We as Christians bring a Biblical world view to bear on the culture around us because we are on a loving, liberation mission to hopefully free people up to become all that God really wants them to be. To become in touch with reality.

Let’s shift gears for just a moment. I want us to consider six key principles that you and I need to put in place in our lives if we are going to really bring a Biblical world view to bear upon the non-biblical culture around us. There are six key principles that arise right out of this text. Principle number one is this: as Christians, we are not to circle the wagons and to go into a defensive posture. We are to go right to the heart of the non-Biblical culture around us. Paul doesn’t stay back in Jerusalem. He goes to the Areopagus there on Mars Hill in Athens. He takes on the very cultural elite of that day. And he does so why? Because he knows the Christian faith is true – he’s met Jesus Christ at more than second hand. And he knows the Christian faith can hold its own on a field like that. And it can, friends. For 2000 years the Christian faith has won some of the greatest minds to Christ. For 2000 years the Christian faith has been an anvil that has worn out countless hammers of human ideology. The Christian faith can hold its own.

Principle Number 2: You and I are to bring a Biblical world view into the marketplace of ideas. We are not to ram it down anybody’s throat, we are not to force it upon anyone. Paul, on Mars Hill, floats a Biblical world view out there and asks others to consider it. To consider it, to take a look at it. We don’t need to be defensive. It’s all up to God anyway to bring somebody to Christ. He puts it out there.

Now let’s take a look at this Biblical world view that Paul brings to Mars Hill. Look at your text. The first thing that Paul says in verse 24 – he goes right up against the pantheism of that day, and he says there is only one God, one God who made everything. And you know what that means? That means the world, and you and me, are not accidents. And he goes on to say that this God is the sovereign Lord of everything. He is the owner of Creation. That ought to affect the way you and I treat God’s creation. The way we take care of this world It ought to make a difference in the way you and I look at our possessions. Do they really belong to us if God is Lord and sovereign over anything and everything?

He goes on to say that all of life, in fact every breath that you and I take is from the hand of God himself. Look at verse 26 – he hammers home here a Biblical world view that shoots down racism. The Greeks were ethnically arrogant. They thought they were at the top of the heap. And Paul reminds them right here in this text that they are blood kin with everybody else on the planet. And my friends, the only hope that you and I have today to combat racism is a Biblical world view just like we find here in this text before us.

Paul goes on in this text to say that one day, all of time and history is going to come to a close and that every human being will stand before Almighty God as judge. There was a story out of the old west about a little baby left in the back of a buckboard wagon while his mother went in to quickly buy something. Somehow the horses got loose, they bolted, and took off. A young cowboy saw what was happening, hopped on his horse, raced after the buckboard, leaped onto the thing, brought the buckboard to a halt and saved the life of that infant. Well, that child grew up to be an outlaw, robbed banks and killed people until one day he was caught and was brought before the court. Lo and behold he is standing before the judge, and he recognizes the judge’s name. The judge’s name is the same as the name of the man he had heard about that had rescued him when he was an infant.

He asked the judge, “Did you ever rescue some kid in a buckboard?” The judge said, “Yes, I sure did.” “Well, the guy says, I’m him.” The judge says, “My goodness,” and runs down and hugs him. And the outlaw is thinking, “Man, I’m home free now!” And so he says, “I plead the mercy of the court – you saved me once, I know you will do it again.” And the judge says, “Then I was your savior. Today, I am your judge. I sentence you to be hanged.”

Friends, it is like that with Jesus Christ. He has flung the doors of unconditional grace wide open to all of us and bids us come – it doesn’t matter who you are. I don’t care what you’ve done, I don’t care how worthless you think you are, I don’t care what sins you have committed, I don’t care which socio-economic class you are, I don’t care what race you are, Jesus’ arms are bigger than you and your sin, and He invites you to come. The way is open. But the Bible is true. It says one day that door will close, and then He will be our judge. If you are outside of a relationship with Christ, then that’s really serious. That’s why Paul ends his world view in this text by saying that everyone is called to repent, which means literally “change your mind.” Change your world view in light of the truth of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I said there are six principles. We’ve only covered two. Principle Number 3: to engage the non-Biblical culture around us we need to look for points of contact. Another way of saying it is that we need to “plunder the Egyptians.” Look for truths in the culture that we can use as vehicles to carry the gospel. Verse 28 in your text. Look at it. Paul quotes two pagan Greek poets. For me, this says, ” Hey Ron, you need to be reading a lot of non-Christian literature.”

I really believe that we need to listen to non-Christian music. Why? Because the bane of the Christian church is that we often times run around answering questions that nobody’s asking. But when we are in touch with non-Christian literature, non-Christian music, that’s where the questions are that the non-Christian culture is raising. And we learn to speak their language. But be careful – culture is seductive. You can get sucked in unless you are at the same time immersing yourselves in the Word of God.

Most of our world views are being formed much more by television, much more by movies, than by the Bible. And so it is dangerous to live on the edge of trying to witness to a culture that has probably got more ammo against you than you’ve been storing up for your own stability. So you’ve got to be careful. But we’ve got to learn to speak their language to make those points of contact.

A fourth principle here: we are to go up against the idols of culture. Look at verse 29 in your text. Paul shoots their idols down. He says, “God can’t be boxed up in shrines and temples! You can’t make stuff out of wood and gold or anything else that represents God! The only true God must reveal Himself to us, we can’t form His image. He reveals what His image is like.” And then he fires a deadly shot at one of their chief idols, the idol of agnosticism. How many of us sit around and say, “Well I’m not sure that’s true. The resurrection, the virgin birth, I want to remain agnostic on that.” Paul in verse 31 says all people have the proof in the resurrection of Jesus Christ which basically is saying that agnosticism is no longer a viable alternative for anyone. The Greeks had their altar to an unknown God, “We’re not sure he exists, but in case he does, we want…” Paul says, “Let me tell you about the God who does exist, and you can know Him, and you’ve got all the proof you need in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

The fifth principle is to expect mixed reactions. Look at verses 32 through 34. The first reaction is that a bunch of them sneer at Paul – they reject him outright. But you know sometimes those are the people closest to the Kingdom – they are the ones most pierced by the gospel. The ones I really worry about are the people who are terminally polite. They say, “This is interesting, we’d like to hear about it, but some other time.” But then, there are also some people who have a tremendous, life shattering, world altering paradigm shift. They come to faith. In fact two of them are named – a guy named Dionysius, who is part of the Areopagus, part of the cultural elite. (By the way, you know how you can tell if you are part of the cultural elite? I can give you a test. You can try it when you go home today. Put on the William Tell Overture, and if you can listen to the entire thing without once thinking of the Lone Ranger, then you are one of the cultural elite). These folks change from a non-Biblical world view to a Biblical world view. They go from illusion to reality, they go from eternal death to eternal life. Mixed reactions.

Final principle: keep moving. We’re told that Paul, after his time on Mars Hill, takes off. The culture is constantly changing and we have to stay on top of it. Paul was called to do his thing. He said what he was called to say. He did what he was called to do. And then he headed out of there. You and I need to keep moving, sowing the seeds of the gospel, promiscuously, and letting the Lord take care of the rest.

Biblical world view. What it really boils down to is this: Do you and I interpret the world through the lens of Scripture, or do we interpret Scripture through the lens of the world? It is only when you do the former that you can ever have an authentic Biblical world view. If you do the latter (I don’t care how committed you are to the Word of God) if you do the latter, you are always going to go down a blind alley.

You and I as Christians, as Central Pres-type Christians, we’re called, I believe, to live on the cutting edge of bringing that Biblical world view to head on engagement with the non-Biblical culture around us. And as I said, it’s dangerous. We’ve got to be immersed, anchored to God’s Word to do that, because the culture is seductive. But I think we are called to do it if we are really going to move people toward Christ.

My favorite poem is by the late Sam Shoemaker. For me, anyway, it brings this whole thing home, and I want to share it with you. Sam Shoemaker was a pastor in Pittsburgh. The poem is entitled “I Stand by the Door.” By the way, it is going to be in the bulletin next week, a number of people at 8:30 asked for it, so you will be able to get it next week in the bulletin.

I Stand By The Door

I stand by the door
I neither go too far in nor stay too far out
The door is the most important door in the world
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use in my going way inside and staying there
When so many are still outside and they, as much as I, crave to know where the door is
And all that so many ever find is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men with outstretched, groping hands
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door, yet they never find it.
So I stand by the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world is for men to find that door –
The door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands and put it on the latch –
The latch that only clicks and opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door
As starving beggars die on cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter
Die for want of what is within their grasp
They live on the other side of it, live because they have found it
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it
And open it and walk in and find Him.
So I stand by the door.
Go in great saints, go all the way in
Go way down in the cavernous cellars and way into the spacious attics
It is a vast roomy house, this house where God is.
Go into the deepest of hidden casements of withdrawal, of silence, of sainthood
Some must inhabit those inner rooms,
And know the depths and heights of God
And call outside to the rest of us how wonderful it is
Sometimes I take a deeper look in, sometimes venture in a little farther
But my place seems close to the opening
So I stand by the door.
There is another reason why I stand there –
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God in the zeal of His house devour them
For God is so very great and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia and they want to get out
“Let me out!” they cry, and the people way inside terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled for the old life
They have seen too much.
Once taste God and nothing but God will do anymore.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are to leaving
Preoccupied with the wonder of it all
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door but would like to run away
So for them too, I stand by the door.
I admire the people who go way in,
But I wish they would not forget how it was before they got in
Then they would be able to help the people who have not yet even found the door
Or the people who want to run away from God again
You can go in too deeply and stay in too long and forget the people outside the door
As for me, I shall take my old accustomed place
Near enough to God to hear Him and know He is there
But not far from men as to not hear them and remember that they are there too.
Where? Outside the door.
Thousands of them, millions of them
But more important for me, one of them, two of them, ten of them
Whose hands I am intended to put on the latch
So I shall stand by the door and wait for those who seek it.
I had rather be a doorkeeper, so I stand by the door.

Join me as we pray.
Lord God, would that we would be your faithful doorkeepers, bringing a Biblical world view on the cutting edge of a very non-Biblical culture that surrounds us. Lord may you stir up in each of our hearts such an unconditional love for those who have yet to find the latch, that we would be willing to risk all as Paul did, as St. Valentine did, in order that people might come to you and find eternal life, now and forever more. And we ask it in Jesus’ name and for His sake, Amen.