So what? Applied Biblical Worldview: Essays on Christian Ethics, by Dr. Christopher Cone, answers this philosophically significant question by examining worldview foundations and ethics implications for Christians and non-Christians alike. Building with a Biblical framework, several key areas are considered including: individual conduct, life and death, gender, sexuality, marriage, parental relationships, church function, economics, government, social justice, environment, pluralism, and the future.
As this young millennium advances, so does secularism with its suspicion of Christians and Christianity. Whereas Judeo- Christian values inarguably played an integral role in the founding and early life of America, the influence of those values are seemingly decreasing even as secular axioms take center stage. This is not a book intended to lament that shift (though I believe that shift is worthy of lament in many respects), nor to concede to it. Neither does this book represent a call to arms for the reversing of secularization.
Instead, this book is simply intended as a reminder, to Christian and non–Christian alike, of vital and diverse contributions that Biblical Christianity makes to any society. For the Christian reader, I hope the book serves as a reminder of the societal responsibilities that accompany spiritual commitment, and for the non–Christian, as a reminder that Christians who cling to their Bibles need not be considered enemies or obstacles to be overcome.
Perhaps the skeptical reader will recall any number of evils historically accomplished in the name of Christianity. When all is said and done, empty religiosity will have been a catalyst for much destruction. On the other hand, I suggest those same evils – oft justified as religious or grounded in religion – are in fact wholly inconsistent with and unjustified by Biblical Christianity.
I recently had opportunity to address a group of philosophers regarding the importance of presuppositions for considering ethics. I was struck by the conciseness of one gentleman’s comment in response. He said, “The Greeks and the Romans were making great progress until they were interrupted for a thousand years by the Christians.” His pithy comment represents, I think, the sentiments of many presently considering the role of Christianity in society. I answered that much of what he was considering to be “Christian” really didn’t bear any resemblance to Christ, and was more political usurpation of Christian themes than application of Christ’s teaching.
In light of these important historical observations, I cannot advocate for Christianity in general as being advantageous to society, since the word has been often co– opted and redefined from its first use in Acts 11:26 – and in many cases bears no resemblance to the One for whom it is named. On the other hand, Biblical Christianity is something worth understanding and appreciating.
This discussion can’t advance much further without some explanation of what differentiates Christianity in general from Biblical Christianity, so, first, some definitions. Bertrand Russell suggests that a Christian is one who “must believe in God and immortality,” and “must have at the very lowest the belief that Christ was, if not divine, at least the best and wisest of men.”(Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian and Other Essays on Religion and Related Subjects (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1957), 14.)
Russell’s is a broad definition that describes a great many people. The Bible, however, offers a more narrow description. Around A.D. 43 in Antioch the term Christian was first used to describe disciples of Jesus (Acts 11:26). At that point in time the term disciple was used to describe those who had believed in Jesus Christ (11:21), who were committing themselves to learning and growing (11:26), and who were giving willingly of their own means to provide for fellow believers who were going through difficulty (11:29). Christians, in this context, were identified by three distinctives.
First, they understood that they had a new position in Christ. They had believed in Jesus, understanding what was proclaimed (11:20) about who He was (God incarnate, the Son of God) and what He did (came into the world to pay for sin by His death and was raised from the dead, so that mankind could have new life and peace with God). They had a repentance (change of mind, from unbelief to belief) that “leads to life” (11:18).
Second, they understood the importance of continual learning and remaining true to the Lord (11:23, 26). They showed an ongoing commitment to what Paul had earlier described as being transformed by the renewing of the mind (Rom 12:1-2) and letting the word of Christ richly dwell within them (Colossians 3:16).
Third, they responded with action when confronted with the needs of others (Acts 11:29). They showed that their claims to be newly and rightly related to God were not for show, but rather they understood that being “in Christ” meant they had a responsibility to love like He did.
As Russell’s definition illustrates, the term Christian today has so many applications, it is with difficulty that we assess the beneficence of Christianity to society. But if we understand the term in the context as it is presented in Acts 11, we recognize it is not unspecific, but rather is very focused on three distinctives: (1) positional newness of life in Christ, (2) personal commitment to growth according to God’s word, and (3) practice that reflects the character of Christ. It is this kind of Biblical Christianity that makes vital contributions to any society. As Paul observes in Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self–control; against such things there is no law.”
No law, indeed, because these are all beneficial aspects of culture and society, and no sane society would outlaw the very qualities necessary for the existence of society itself. Further, if a person claims to follow Christ, that person ought to demonstrate these qualities in every area of life. The Bible wasn’t written simply to produce good citizens – there are certainly grander themes evident in that book. Nonetheless, followers of Biblical Christianity ought to contribute substantially and tangibly to the society around them, and should recognize they ought not seek an exit from the world (though one will find them soon enough), but instead they should show commitment in fulfilling the stewardships with which they have been entrusted.
They should do these things not first from loyalty to society, but from loyalty to God. Biblical Christianity does not allow for the isolation of spirituality from other areas of life, but rather makes everything a spiritual enterprise that is done in obedience to the Bible. Consequently, the follower of Biblical Christianity should be committed to obedience in all areas, including those pertaining to society. The question, then, is simply this: What are the implications of Biblical Christianity for society? The pages that follow suggest that Biblical Christianity represents both great responsibility and tremendous blessing for any society.
Righteousness exalts a nation…(Proverbs 14:34a)