Rev. Tim Boyle Preaching – The Heritage of the Biblical Worldview

This Sunday, February 4th, Rev. Tim Boyle will be preaching at our online 10am Japan time worship service. The message is titled, “The Heritage of the Biblical Worldview.” (The transcript is attached below.)

The liturgist will be Steve Eskildsen, our organist is Kazuko Sacon and the slides are prepared by Misae Urata and Ann Tang. Ruth Ingulsrud will give the children’s message with help from her puppet friends.

The hymns will be:  “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty” — “When Peace Like A River” — “Be Still My Soul.” The scripture readings for this Sunday are: Psalm 103 and James 5:7-11. 

The Heritage of the Biblical Worldview

In the message God has laid on my heart to share with you today, I want us to take a look at the Judeo-Christian heritage as a whole and how that has radically affected the development of the entire world. Likewise, I want to tie that to the plan and purpose of God in creating this world for us to live in and to develop the character God envisions for us.

Among the many aspects of this we could contemplate is the virtue of patience, particularly as it relates to patience in suffering, but I hope that you won’t think that is something that applies to this sermon itself, as you “patiently suffer” through it!  I hope to bring you a word of encouragement based on the encouraging words that God speaks to us through this amazing letter James wrote so long ago.  Two questions that arise from our Scripture reading this morning are: Why is it to our benefit to be patient and to trust in God’s timing, and why is it that we shouldn’t “grumble against each other” while we wait upon the Lord?  

As we begin our thinking concerning these questions, I first want to introduce the concept of “worldview” and what that means.  I would imagine that most of you have at least heard the term before and have a general understanding of what it means.  Basically, one’s worldview is the philosophical framework one subconsciously uses to try to make sense of the world as one experiences it.  It is literally one’s “view of the world.”  

Everyone has a worldview — even if they are not conscious of what that worldview is and wouldn’t be able to explain what makes up their worldview to someone else.  You cannot help but have some sort of organizing concepts and principles you use to put together your understanding of what reality is.  This, of course, begins from childhood and gradually develops and gets more sophisticated as one matures.  And yet even for those of us who are the most careful thinkers, there will always be a certain amount of inconsistency in one’s worldview, since no human has a complete understanding of reality.

Likewise, it is important to note that while it is not a simple thing to do, one can even radically change one’s worldview to something that more consistently explains the world as it really is.  That is, in fact, what Christian conversion is: namely, when you first accept Christ into your life as your Lord and Savior, your worldview undergoes a radical transformation — or at least it should.  Of course, that is something that in reality takes a lifetime to accomplish, as we all have aspects of a “worldly worldview” that remain attached to and often compromise the truly biblical worldview God desires us to have.

When you really get down to the basics, in the ancient world, there were only two fundamental worldviews: the biblical worldview and what I term for lack of a better label, the “ancient worldview.”  There were, of course, many variations of the “ancient worldview,” but they all held in common the idea of continuity between the physical world and the world of the gods.  All natural phenomena, as well as the events that occur in human society, were viewed as mere reflections of the world of the gods and were thought of as being controlled by the gods or by events that occurred in the unseen realm of the gods.  All ancient worldviews, other than that of the ancient Hebrews, were polytheistic in orientation — and even the ancient Hebrews often fell back into that polytheistic mode in their struggle to come to terms with the biblical worldview God was revealing to them thru his prophets.  

It was only the worldview revealed in the Bible that held that there is only one actual God and that that one God is utterly transcendent from the world he created.  Of course, God is everywhere present within the universe he created, but he is in no way confined to or limited by that creation.  God is not the cosmos and the cosmos is not God.  God has created everything in the physical realm for a purpose, and unlike all other ancient worldviews — which viewed time as cyclical, analogous to the cycles of nature — the biblical worldview sees time as a linear progression of cause and effect moving towards the goals God has foreordained.

The various creation myths of the ancient Near East all involved fanciful tales of primordial chaos monsters producing various gods and goddesses that in turn produced humans and brought a degree of order to the world they lived in.  It is common today to hear the biblical creation story being referred to as “myth,” and I suppose that if you have a broad enough definition of that word, I don’t particularly object to the term.  In fact, the Japanese word for “myth,” “shinwa,” literally means “god talk,” and in that sense Genesis definitely is “shinwa”— God talk!  Nevertheless, when we use the English word “myth” today, we generally mean a made-up story with no basis in reality.  And Genesis is certainly not that.

The Genesis story is fundamentally different from any of the creation myths that surrounded ancient Israel.  It is true that it employs various myth-like symbols, such as the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” and a “serpent” that communicates verbally to the first human beings, but Genesis portrays creation in an entirely different way to that of any of the other ancient stories.  For one thing, Genesis portrays creation in terms of specific events in real space and time, as opposed to a “once-upon-a-time” type of non-historical, primordial world.  Eden was meant to be understood as a real place somewhere in the general region of the Near East.  From all the evidence we do have, it seems likely that it was in the Persian Gulf area, which during the last ice age was above water but is now under water.  While we can’t be sure of the exact location, the main point I’m making is that it was meant to be understood as a real place in real time.  Likewise, while there are certain aspects of the story that are a bit difficult for us to understand in terms of modern science, the entire creation scenario is remarkably consistent with what we now know to be true from the study of the natural world.  Most notably, of course, is the biblical claim that God created the entire universe out of nothing as he “spoke” it into existence at the beginning of time as we know it. 

The science of the early 1900s was basically stating the same thing as the ancient creation myths, in the sense that the science of the day held that the universe was eternal and that our world today came out of preexisting matter (though, of course, without the various mythological chaos monsters).  Now, however, we know that the Bible had it right all along.  There was a definite beginning to space and time and all the matter and energy it contains, as it simply came into being out of non-existence for no discernible reason — that is, no physical reason that we can measure or understand scientifically.  That, of course, is the essence of the “Big Bang” theory for the origin of the universe, and if there was a “Big Bang” (which all the evidence points to), then it follows that there had to be a “Big Banger” — some entity transcendent to our universe that is powerful enough to explain the effect.  Only the God of the Bible fits that description.

Likewise, recent theories for the origin of modern humans are coming surprisingly close to that of the Genesis story, and the two progenitors of all humans are even referred to as “mitochondrial Eve” and “Y-chromosomal Adam.”  While there is still a deep commitment to naturalism on the part of those who control much of the scientific enterprise (which requires them to believe that we gradually evolved from previously existing animals), the actual evidence is far more easily explained by the biblical model — namely that modern humans suddenly appeared on the scene quite recently (on the order of 50 or 100,000 years ago) somewhere in the general region of the middle east or northeast Africa.

As we think about the legacy left to the world by the biblical worldview, I cannot stress enough the importance of this basic difference between the biblical worldview and all other worldviews — be they some form of ancient polytheism or modern scientific naturalism.  We can only speculate as to how different our world would be today if the biblical worldview had never appeared on the scene.  When you consider the various institutions and concepts that required the biblical worldview to even get started, the differences are profound indeed.  The historical evidence proves that much of what we take for granted in the modern world owes its genesis to Genesis and the rest of the Bible.  

Several years ago, Rodney Stark, a social scientist from Baylor University, wrote an excellent book entitled “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism and Western Success,” and it persuasively lays out the evidence to support his conclusion, with which I wholeheartedly agree.  He states the following: “Christianity created Western Civilization.  Had the followers of Jesus remained an obscure Jewish sect, most of you would not have learned to read and the rest of you would be reading from hand-copied scrolls.  Without a theology committed to reason, progress, and moral equality, today the entire world would be about where non-European societies were in, say, 1800: A world with many astrologers and alchemists but no scientists.  A world of despots, lacking universities, banks, factories, eyeglasses, chimneys, and pianos.  A world where most infants do not live to the age of five and many women die in childbirth—a world truly living in ‘dark ages.’  The modern world arose only in Christian societies.  Not in Islam. Not in Asia. Not in a ‘secular’ society—there having been none.  And all the modernization that has since occurred outside Christendom was imported from the West, often brought by colonizers and missionaries.”

Needless to say, his conclusions are controversial, but he has the evidence to back them up.  To give you an idea about how that works, let’s take the example of the birth of modern science, upon which rests basically all our modern technology and the society it supports.  Secular scientists may suppose that their work can get along just fine without any reference to God or the biblical worldview, and in the sense of doing their everyday science, that is generally true as far as it goes.  But the problem with that way of thinking is that science itself could never have even got started without the prerequisite of the biblical worldview — namely the understanding that the natural world is governed by rational laws instituted by a single Creator. 

All other worldviews believed that natural phenomena are controlled by various gods or are the result of events that happened in the unseen realm of the gods.  Thus, the idea that humans could discover laws that govern the natural realm and actually use those laws to understand nature and predict what might happen in the future simply did not occur to anybody outside of biblical revelation.  Such an idea was antithetical to their basic worldview. 

In the biblical worldview, with the exception of the times when God miraculously intervenes from beyond space and time, cause and effect are entirely within this world, and thus can be studied and understood.  In all other ancient worldviews, however, cause and effect are separated; the effects we see are in this world, but the causes are outside of this world in the unseen world of the gods, and thus they are forever beyond our understanding.  

This, of course, was true in ancient Japan as well, and I like to use the example of the weather, which in Japanese is the word “tenki.”  This word is made up of two characters, “ten” for the heavens (or gods) and “ki,” meaning “feelings.”  Thus, the concept behind the creation of this word to express the concept of the weather was “the feelings of the gods,” and that was based in the idea that the weather is controlled by how the weather god feels at any particular time.  Storms or other unpleasant weather is the result of the weather god being angry about something or because of its struggles with other gods, and so the only thing one can do is to try to placate the angry gods with sacrifices and magical ceremonies to try to influence them to give you good weather. 

It doesn’t take much insight to see how such a worldview would short-circuit modern science from even getting off the ground, and this is why ancient societies outside of Christendom never developed scientific thought.  It wasn’t until the 16th century in Christian Europe that all the prerequisites for the birth of modern science came together, primary of which was having a biblical worldview.  In addition, you also needed a society and economy that allowed some people to focus their efforts in observing and understanding the natural world.  That is why essentially all the early scientists were devout Christians.  Science has tended to abandon its biblical roots, but that is a fairly recent development foisted on society by those who simply don’t know their true history.

Well, up until now, this sermon has perhaps sounded a bit like a university lecture, and so I want to bring it back to our Scripture reading and how the words of James apply to us today, especially from the standpoint of worldview.  Coming back to the question I posed at the beginning of this sermon, “Why is it to our benefit to be patient and to trust in God’s timing?”  The key to understanding that is in the biblical worldview.  Why is it that we even exist in the first place?  It is because God created us in his image with a specific goal in mind.  We are eternal beings who will exist eternally after our physical lives are over.  Our time here on earth is for the purpose of preparing us for what God has in mind for our eternal lives in the “new heavens and new earth” that he will create once the purpose of this universe is completed.

An atheist looks at life very differently, since, if there is no God, then this physical life we briefly possess is all there is.  Once you die, that is the end of your conscious existence, and so getting your “fair share” out of life is of utmost importance.  Likewise, the things that happen to you in your brief life take on supreme importance.  From the standpoint of eternal life, however, whatever happens to you in this short period of time we live on earth seems rather minor — but if that is all there is, then those events become paramount indeed.  

I don’t mean to imply that the biblical worldview is saying that the events that happen to us in our earthly lives and our response to those events aren’t important, for they certainly are.  It’s just that we can have a very different perspective on them from that of someone who thinks that this life is all there is.  Could an “atheist bible” (if there were such a thing) say, “Be patient and stand firm?”  Certainly not in the sense it’s meant here, nor could it add the reason, “because the Lord is coming near,” since there is no “Lord” to come near in the first place.  In that worldview, it all depends on you, and with so much outside of your personal control, it is all a “crap-shoot” anyway.  Life is a lottery, and it is not fair.  Bad things happen, and that’s just tough luck.  In fact, the problem of evil and suffering is the argument atheists bring up as their prime reason for rejecting the kind of God the Bible portrays.  They claim that if such an all-powerful, loving God really existed, he wouldn’t allow such evil and suffering to exist.  

Well, we don’t have time to go further into that issue this morning, and so I want to focus back in on what “being patient” really means.  We started out with the contrast between the biblical, monotheistic worldview and the array of polytheistic, mythical worldviews that made up everything else in the ancient world.  To this, I added the relatively recent atheistic worldview as a third option.  In fact, those three are the only possible options when it comes to the existence of God or gods.  Either there are none at all, there is one and only one God, or there are gods in the plural.  So, let’s see what “patience” means from these 3 general perspectives.

From an atheistic perspective, being patient is strictly pragmatic.  You exercise patience only as a tool to help you get what you want.  It is not a virtue to develop, along with the other “fruit of the Spirit” listed in Galatians 5 (namely, love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control).  Since your few years here on earth are all there is, you focus in on your own wants and desires.  There is no incentive for self-sacrifice, since that would result in something being subtracted from your “fair share” of life.  An atheist may claim that he gets satisfaction from sacrificing for the good of others, but to do so is to borrow from the biblical worldview, since such a virtue has no rational basis in an atheistic worldview.

On the other end of the scale, “patience” from a polytheistic standpoint is mere fatalism.  Hinduism is a good example of this.  One’s position in life (what caste you were born into) and what happens to you in life are due to your “karma” from previous lives, and so “being patient” means to just accept your status in life and make the best of it without trying to change it.  Ethics are entirely relative, as a multiplicity of gods makes it impossible to believe that the world has an ethical foundation.  Actions that would be pleasing to one god are almost certain to be displeasing to some other god, as the various gods have different wishes and desires.  Since no one God brought the universe into existence, no specific god’s character is reflected in the universe.  

How very different both of these are from the biblical worldview.  God’s very nature is reflected in what he has made, and it is that which forms the basis for ethics and virtue.  The primary reflection of God’s nature is in human beings, as we are the only creatures created “in God’s image.”  When it comes to patience, it is God who is our model.  How incredible is the patience with which God treats humanity!  The various gods conjured up by rebellious humans are notably impatient — just like we humans are!  But God showed not only his incredible love, but also his incredible patience for us in that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  That is the primary reason we should also “be patient.”  Not only do we love because “God first loved us,” but we are also to be patient with each other (and not “grumble against each other”) because God has first been patient with us.

When James used the word “grumble against,” he likely had in mind the “grumbling against God” by the Israelites during their wilderness experience.  If they had been ready to enter the “promised land” right after coming out of Egypt, God would have led them straight up to Canaan.  But they weren’t ready, and so God first had to teach them dependence on him through 40 years of wandering through the desert — and that includes patience!  In a similar way, God is preparing each of us in this life for the life he has waiting for each of us in his eternal kingdom.  “Being patient” and “waiting upon the Lord” are among the many virtues God, in his patience, is trying to develop in each of us.

There is so much more we could delve into this morning, but our time is up.  And so, I want to close with the words James records after he mentions the Old Testament prophets and Job as examples of “patience in suffering.”  He closes that paragraph with these words, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  Boy, do I need to hear that over and over!  It is that compassion and mercy that results in God being so patient with me, a weak and impatient human being.  I think I’m a more patient person that I was when I was younger, but I still have such a long way to go.  And I would imagine that many of you feel the same way — not only about me, but about yourselves as well!  So, as we close, let’s hold onto those words.  “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  That is part of the very character of God, and it is what he is trying to develop in us as well.

As our closing hymn, I’ve chosen “Be Still, My Soul.”  You’ll notice that in the very first verse, after declaring that “the Lord is on thy side,” it encourages us to “Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain. Leave to thy God to order and provide.”  What we need, of course, is to learn the virtue of patience in general as we learn to wait upon God and his timing for his great plan for each of us.  And we can do that because, “The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.”  May you all experience that compassion and mercy as you allow God to develop patience in your soul, along with love, joy and the other fruit of the Spirit.  

Let us pray:

Our heavenly Father, we are filled with gratitude for your many blessings, beginning with the gift of life itself.  We thank you that you have been patiently working in each of our lives to develop the characteristics you want us to have.  Perhaps one of the hardest for us is the virtue of patience, and so we ask you to continue your work in our lives to develop the virtue of patience, along with all the other virtues we are working towards.  Help us to help each other to develop Christian character as we live our daily lives.  For it is in Christ’s name that we pray.  Amen.

WTUC Sunday Worship Zoom Link:

Meeting ID: 840 9415 4793

Passcode: 583756

About Our Speaker: 

Tim Boyle is a native of Arizona and earned a B.S. in physics from Arizona State Univ. and received an NSF fellowship at Florida State Univ. to get a PhD in weather science.  That, however, was interrupted by the draft and the Vietnam War. God used that, however, to direct his steps into going into the ministry.  Tim received M. Div. and D. Min. degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary. Tim first studied Japanese at the East-West Center in Hawaii in 1967-68 and then served as a short-term missionary for 3 years on the northern island of Hokkaido from 1971-74. He married Yuko, a native of Japan, in 1974 before entering seminary. He is a member of the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Tim and Yuko (Juji) Boyle were first appointed to serve in Japan in 1982 by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) in a joint appointment with the United Methodist Church. Their first assignment was to a rural church in Hokkaido, and then from 1986, they served for 21 years at the Tsukuba Christian Center in Tsukuba Science City. His last assignment until retirement in 2016 was as a professor at Kwansei Gakuin Univ.  They presently reside in the Penney Retirement Community in Florida and spend their summers in Japan.

We hope that many of you will be able to come and worship with us!

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