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And He Himself gave some to be....evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ...
- Ephesians 4:11-12

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Location: The Hill Country of Texas

Pastor - Providence Reformed Baptist Church
Director - TIME in the Word Ministries

Friday, February 03, 2006

Defining Worldviews - Existentialism

TIME in the Word - Daily Devotional
Together for Inspiration, Motivation, and Encouragement

Verse of the Day - Romans 10:16-17
But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

Daily Scripture Reading - Psalm 8

Puritan Catechism
Question #14 - What is sin?
Answer - Sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of the law of God (1 Jn. 3:4).

Devotional Thoughts
So what exactly is a worldview?

We have progressed through the mire now and are nearing depths of incredulity as far as what the mind of fallen man can come up with to try and explain reality, truth, and right and wrong. Starting with Deism, we saw what happens to a worldview when you take God out of the picture. Oh, He is there, just not involved or active or relevant other than to explain how we got here. Truth is reduced to scientific facts. But the questions that Deism could not answer gave way to Naturalism, where all that matters is matter. There is no God, no Creator, no first cause - just nature. This system though cannot deal with settling the differences between right and wrong. That lead the way for Nihilism, which states matter of factly, that our faith is best placed in nothing. Life as a machine in a closed system of meaningless incomprehensibility, cause and effect left to chance, with no discernable purpose. Hence, no right or wrong, no truth or lies, no rhyme or reason.

There. Feel better about humanity? After all, there is no such thing as a bad boy - right?

But just wait. Our next "grid" developed as a result of the fact that ordinary men and women just cannot take Nihilism and remain sane. There is nothing worse to a rational person than to remove all meaning.

As an illustration, there is a story told of a Nazi Commandant who had the prisoners in his concentration camp work all day to move dirt with shovels and wheel barrows from one end of the camp to the other. The next day, he would have them move it all back. Day in and day out. It was meaningless! And it started to drive people mad. The prisoners were literally losing their minds in the morass of meaninglessness.

This is a dark illustartion of what a Nihilistic worldview will do to those who hold it. Meaninglessness makes people go berserk.

On the lighter side (I can't leave us with that cloud hanging) have you ever seen my dad's favorite movie? From which lines are quoted and applied to any situation at random throughout life as though the movie speaks to us wherever we are and whatever we face? You know the movie. "I can eat 50 eggs." "When a man's momma dies, he gets rabbit blood in him. And he wants to run." "What we have here is a failure to communicate." "Yes, boss." You remember Cool Hand Look, don't ya?

Remember the scene where Luke (Paul Newman) is digging a hole as punishment. When he gets the hole dug, he is asked by his "keepers" in prison, "Why is all this dirt on the Bosses yard?" So Luke diligently fills the hole back up. At which point in time he is asked, "What is all this dirt doing in Bosses hole?" You get the idea. It's maddening!

So what is a fallen world to do if there is no hope and no meaning? Enter the "brightest minds" and "brilliant thinkers" and we have a new philosophy through which to filter reality.

Existentialism

The leading philosophers of the day decided and determined that while there may not be meaning in the universe, in order to survive and thrive, we could make our own meaning. There is no meaning out there - but we can make things meaningful in here (pointing at head).

Existentialism can be summarized as the worldview that says we can make meaning in this world, but that meaning doesn’t come from the objective reality. There is no real meaning in the world. The only meaning that can be had in life is meaning we make for ourselves. The idea of the Existentialist is that people make themselves who they are, and decide what they mean to the world and what the world means to them.

And, as Dr. Duncan points out for us, there are really two schools of Existentialism. And this is important. Because after Deism, these systems of thought rejected the idea of God. But now, one school of Existentialism continues in this path and rejects the existence of God while there is another school that embraces Existential thought while believing that there is a God!

Let's examine briefly how Existentialism in these two schools of thought influences the secular and the Christian world around us.

Existentialism without God

The Atheistic Existentialist agrees completely with the Nihilist. But then takes one step further than the Nihilist is willing or able to go - we exist, and so we must provide the meaning of life. We are here, so let's decide why we want to be here and that gives us meaning. Then we won't go mad!

And here is the root that sets the Nihilist and the Existentialist apart - the Nihilist says we are a machine in a machine in a machine. We are robots, pre-programmed and destined to do what we were caused to do (cause and effect based on chance, remember). But the Existentialist says, yes we are machines in a machine in a machine - BUT, we have free will! We can make our own meaning, change our own destinies, nothing is predetermined, and we are free to choose to do whatever it is that we want to do!

And "my choices" give meaning to who and what I am! Free will is sacred. A doctrine to die for. I can pull myself up by my own bootstraps. I can be a self made man. I can do whatever I put my mind to doing. "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I can be a hero!

This takes the meaninglessness and madness of Nihilism and places self in the center of the universe. Life is all about what I can make it. I am what I make myself to be.

Existentialism with God

Now the frightening truth is that here in the other school, on the other side of the Existential road, we bump in to Theistic Existentialism. All of this plus God. Here we get a mindful of Bultmann and Barf, I mean Barth. They taught that God exists, as a Trinity, as Sovereign, as involved and personal, and as good. He reveals Himself to us, and gives us the opportunity to know Him. Well, so far so good, right? Sure......but, as several writers point out, the Theistic Existentialist adds four things to this premise:

1. We cannot know God through reason, knowledge, or facts. We can only know God through faith. This sounds almost okay, but something smells fishy, and not in an ICTHUS kind of way. We do come to know Christ by faith, but it is a faith informed by the Word of God, it is faith IN Christ, not faith ABOUT Christ. But the faith this system holds forth is a faith without reason, a blind faith! And in reality, according to Scripture, there is no such things as blind faith. Blind faith is as effective as dead faith! It is useless. And yet, they make such a break between faith and reason that faith becomes irrational. Reality becomes a matter of what we believe, instead of what is true.

2. Life is relational, not rational. The best example I read of this is the idea that sin is not breaking God's law (rational), it is betraying God (relational). So instead of a breech regarding the Word and character of God, sin becomes a weakness, a betrayal, a mistake, good intentions gone wrong. True Christianity teaches that breaking the Law of God does impact the relationship with God negetively, but Existentialism removes reason and standards and truth and leaves us only with a life of trying to make the most of our relationship with God - without any standard or blueprint to follow! They forget that Christ said, "If you love Me, keep My commands." You cannot have the realtionship without the rational.

3. Situational ethincs set the framework for knowing right and wrong in this system. Instead of black and white, hard and fast rules, we have all sorts of shades of gray. We determine meaning. And the situation determines whether or not something is right or wrong. An example, the Bible is clear that it is wrong to tell a lie. Yet the situational ethicist gives us a dilemma. A man breaks into your house late at night. He has a gun. You are alone in the living room where he has just climbed through the window. Your family is in the back of the house asleep. The thief asks "Are you alone in the house?" What do you say? Well the situational ethicist says that in this case, to protect the life of your family, it is right and okay to lie to the man and tell him you are all alone and that there is nobody else in the house.

Now this is important and practical, so pay attention. Those who hold to a worldview tainted by Existentialism would excuse sin. They even introduce the idea of being forced to choose the "lesser of two evils." But wait a minute. Let's think about this rationally and Biblically. The Bible says it is a sin to lie. It commands that we think and speak the truth. So can we ever make the case that it is right to lie? No, we cannot. And in this scenarion, what the sitautional ethicist is always missing (the results of a truly narrow mind) is that you have more than 2 options. He thinks you either lie, or you blurt out that the rest of the family is sleeping in the back of the house. But why do you have to do either? There are other options. The most popular with me and my friends in the South would be to simply wipe the sweat off our brow, pull out our own gun, and make him holey. I might also lure him into the kitchen and club him with a chub of frozen meat purchased at Costco. Defending the life of my family is no gray area!

But seriously (my friends know I was serious), but seriously, any time we take a situation and narrow it down to 1 or 2 options we force the issue and make a truly rational decision impossible. The circumstance does not dictate whether something is right or wrong. The Word of God makes that determination and we must live in obedience to that Word.

4. The last addition from Theistic Existentialists is that facts don't matter, only the message communicated matters. So while the Bible tells us Jesus performed miracles, the Existentialist tells us miracles are impossible and that God just used known scientific principles to make it look like a miracle - after all the effect is more important that the event. Hence we get the idea that the Israelites did not cross the Red Sea, it was a 6 inch deep Reed Sea. And the water in the Nile did not turn to blood. No. Instead a volcano erupted and the ash turned the water red and killed the fish. For the Theistic Existentialist the facts are irrelevant, only the story to be told is important.

And where do we end up - whether the Existentialist believes in God or not, we arrive at the view that we make our own meaning. The world is meaningless until we make it meaningful. It is up to us, we decide, we make it real, we give it meaning, we do it!

What a man centered worldview!! And yet look at how deeply these roots go into the Evangelical world. It is the story, not the facts; feelings, not the truth; it is up to you to pull yourself up by your own boot straps to be a self made man; it is all about what you find meaningful; it is about what you can do for God instead of what God can do through you; it is all about positive thinking; it is all about shaping your reality with your "words of faith." We exist so that we might make free choices based on blind faith. The blind leading the blind. They never see the roadside warning, "Ditch Ahead."

The Bible

So how do we respond to this worldview? How do we scrape the elements of it that we find in our minds out? How do we get past this irrational faith based on feeling? We must return to the Word of God. The Existentialist needs to hear and believe and obey this truth: It is God who gives meaning and defines reality. We do not save ourselves, we do not make ourselves what we are, we do not chose our date of birth, date of death, or our pathway in between. He sets our path. He causes us to be born. He gives and takes life as He pleases. And He knows our days before there is even one of them! He is the Potter, we are the clay!

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

He is the Potter. He is God. He decides what to do and when to do it, and He is not dependent upon us for anything. God does not have needs. He does not lack anything. There are no deficiencies, no short comings, no faults. We are right back at needing to see God for Who He is!

We do not have to make meaning. We have been created in the image of God and He has decided what life and reality is and what we are to become. He gives meaning to what is and what will be, and He never changes.

Perhaps because this worldview has so impacted the church through liberalism this is a hot topic for me. Just as Spurgeon fought the "downgrade" to liberlism in his day so we too much fight the pragmatists and those who look outside the Bible to make their own meaning. God tells us what is right and what is wrong. He tells us what He expects of us. It is right there, in black and white.

We combat this system by getting back to the Bible and taking a leap away from blind faith. We inform ourselves from the Word of God about His will and His way. We read, memorize, and meditate on the Word of God in order to be able to discern false teaching. We must never sacrifice the truth or the facts in order to tell a good story!

Really this boils down to ones view of Scripture. Has the Bible been given to us so that we might use it to pull ourselves up and stand on our own two feet? Or does the Spirit use the Bible to pull us out of the grave and place us on the rock? What is success? It is found only one place, meditating day and night on the Scriptures.

Consider, even beyond knowing or discovering the driving purpose of our life, however many days that is supposed to take (hint: 40 days with 12 baskets left over - jk), we must understand the purpose that we have been given the Word of God.

As the elders of our church wrote years ago:

Scripture is and claims to be divine rather than human in origin. Manuscript and archeological evidence proves its reliability. More than 2,000 specific prophesies have been fulfilled, proving its divine authorship. The Bible was written over a span of 1500 years by forty different human authors employing many different forms of literature in three different languages on hundreds of subjects and yet there is one consistent, non-contradictory theme that runs through it all: God's redemption of mankind.

Scripture clearly claims to be God's word (Heb.1:1-2, 2 Pet.1:20-21). All Scripture is God-breathed (2Tim.3:16). The Old Testament is referred to as "the oracles of God" (Rom.3:2). Scripture plainly states that the teaching of the apostles is to be received "not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God" (1Thes.2:13).

The Bible is not a mere book. Scripture is God's word. Therefore, the nature of Scripture reflects the nature of God. For instance, Scripture is eternal. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever" (Isa.40:8). That "forever" does not simply mean as long as men publish Scripture but means for all eternity even after the end of the age at the passing away of heaven and earth. Jesus says, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words shall not pass away" (Mat.24:35). Scripture is not only eternal but also perfect. "The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Ps.19:7). Scripture is pure. "Every word of God is pure" (Prov.30:5). God is holy and, therefore, Scripture is holy. The gospel of God was "promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures" (Rom.1:2). Scripture is sacred, being "the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2Tim. 3:15). Scripture is living and active and able to judge the secrets of men's hearts. "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb.4:12). Scripture is not only true but, all the more, is truth. Jesus, who said, "I am ...the truth" (John 14:6), also said to the Father, "Thy word is truth" (John 17:17). Scripture is eternal, perfect, pure, holy, sacred, living, active, able to judge hearts, and is the truth. What a person thinks about God's word ultimately reflects exactly what a person thinks about God. A high view of Scripture demonstrates a high view of God just as a low view of Scripture exposes a low view of God. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1:1).

God's purpose for the Holy Scriptures is to make Himself and His will known to men, to actively carry out His redemptive work in the hearts of men, and to judge men's souls. While God reveals Himself in His creation (Rom.1:20) and grants everyone an innate sense of His existence and character (Rom.1:19), the special revelation He gives us in Scripture is necessary for salvation (2Tim. 3:15). Without special revelation, we are lost. There is nothing within man himself or that man can understand from nature that gives him what he must know to be saved. Even unfallen man had to receive the special revelation of God's word in the garden. He could not arrive at or discern it on his own, even in his pristine state. In sacred Scripture "is the power of God for salvation" (Rom.1:16). This is why the church from the very beginning has spent its time, money, and, in many cases, human lives in bringing God's word to unreached people. Scripture says:

Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?" (Rom.10:13-14)

God's living word reproduces new life in believers (Luke 8:11,15). Scripture "converts the soul" (Ps.19:7) and "performs its work in you who believe" (1 Thes. 2:13). It will never fail. Jesus says that "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail" (Luke 16:17). God's word accomplishes what God desires. God Himself says, "So shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isa.55:11). God's word not only converts the soul but also sanctifies the believer (John 17:17). Scripture teaches, reproves, corrects, trains and equips (2Tim.3:16-17). Scripture judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb.4:12) and, according to Christ, will be "what will judge him at the last day" (John 12:48).


Links for Further Study
This week I will be providing links that you can use to study each daily topic in more detail if you have the desire and the time!

Martin Luther on The Bondage of the Will
Jonathan Edwards on The Freedom of the Will
Dr. John MacArthur on Spurgeon and the Downgrade

Bible Reading For Further Study

Recommended Songs for Worship

The first line of this hymn, Holy Bible, Book Divine is so relevant to our study this week:

Holy Bible, book divine, Precious treasure, thou art mine;
Mine to tell me whence I came; Mine to teach me what I am.


(we will pick up with this study on Monday and finish our look at defining worldviews through the week next week.)

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