The Biblical Worldview of History: Developing the Biblical Story-Installment #2
Updated: Apr 1
Roger D. Duke
This is installment #2 of a series that was an article in The Journal of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary Journal, Volume 7, Spring 2020
PROMINENT VIEWS OF TIME
A Naturalist’s View of Time
According to James Sire, naturalism’s “prime reality is matter. Matter exists eternally and is all there is. God does not exist.”[i] Carl Sagan also confessed, “The Cosmos is all there is or ever was or ever will be.”[ii] The premise, “The cosmos exists as a uniformity of cause and effect in a closed system.”[iii] Hence, “It is not open to reordering from the outside—either by a transcendental Being (for there is none) or . . . by self-transcendent or autonomous human beings.”[iv]
Even some educators submit to naturalism’s premise:
We see the universe as a continuity of space, time, and matter, held together, as it were, from within . . . God is not “outside” time and space, nor does he stand apart from matter, communicating with the “spiritual” part of man. . . . We must find some way of facing the fact that Jesus Christ is the product of the same evolutionary process as the rest of us.[v] [vi]
Sire notes, “Most scientists [and academics] who are naturalists accept some form of evolutionary theory.”[vii] Axiomatically, they have no need of a God who created. Naturalistic science has so infected the halls of the academe, it has even influenced some teaching of Christian theology.
Russ Bush rejects this dogma out of hand: “‘Naturalism’ is the belief that in the final analysis, nature is all that there is, and that ‘nature’ is essentially unmodified by anything other than itself. In other words, nature itself is thought to be the ultimate reality.”[viii] Nature is the only entity dynamic and active in naturalism not the creator God of Biblical revelation.
[Naturalism] claims that life on earth arose from natural substances by natural selection for natural ends. There is no reality that can properly be called supernatural. Spiritual realities, according to naturalism, are either illusions or else they are merely complex or unusual natural realities.[ix]
In naturalism, matter exists eternally. God does not exist. Therefore, one who does not exist could not create time.
A Circular View of Time
According to Sire, the Eastern Pantheistic Monist [x] believes “Time is unreal” and “History is cyclical.”[xi] Early Indian philosophy explicitly states this doctrine. The “Vedas from the late 2nd millennium BCE . . .[assert] the universe goes through repeated cycles of creation, destruction, and rebirth.”[xii] This process is the referred to as the “Wheel of Time.” [xiii]
This “wheel . . . concept is found in Hinduism and Buddhism as well as in the beliefs [of the ancient] Greek[s]."[xiv] Early Greek philosophers “generally believed that the universe (and therefore time itself) was infinite with no beginning and no end.”[xv] Wheel circularity “was coupled with a belief in an endlessly repeated cycle of rebirths and reincarnations for individuals.”[xvi] There was a cyclical understanding of time embedded within their understanding of the after-life, referred to as reincarnation or the transmigration of the soul.[xvii]
The concept that cycles are endlessly repeated springs from the observation of repetitive natural phenomena such as day-and-night, the motion of the tides, the monthly cycle of the moon, and natural cycle of the seasons.[xviii] Eastern Monistic philosophers generally agree that time is continuous and cyclical:[xix]
Time and history . . . are merely an illusion. Time doesn’t exist. History is cyclical and ebbs and flows without meaning. Thus, the task of the Pantheistic Monist is to transcend history. Images of a great wheel or circle are invoked when speaking of history, without any real meaning or purpose attached to it other than to emphasize the oneness of all.[xx]
When defined in these terms, their “God is the one, infinite-impersonal, ultimate reality.”[xxi] The “god of the cosmos . . . is all that exists; nothing exists that is not God.”[xxii] Since, in this view, God and time are one and the same, time itself is eternal with no creator.
A Linear View of Time
Oscar Cullman argues:
Time is the means . . . [by] which God makes use in order to reveal his gracious working. . . . [Time] is thought of as a straight line, not a circle. [Biblical] mention is made of a
“beginning” [arche] and an “end” [telos].[xxiii]As soon as “beginning” and “end” are
distinguished, the straight line is the more suitable illustration.[xxiv]
The Judeo-Christian understanding is radically different from naturalism and the circularity modes. Carl F. H. Henry argued, “In a world where others interpreted all that happens as cyclical process, the Hebrews [and Christians] with their awareness of God’s active revelation in external human affairs instituted the very idea of history.”[xxv]
“History was linear . . . not cyclical,” according to Francis Schaeffer. “There is a flow to history that shows a continuity from before the beginning when God the Trinity communicated and planned the creation of man in His image.”[xxvi]
Schaffer goes on to write, "the infinite God has . . . created a significant History. He can tell us of future events as well as past events. History is going someplace; it is not a series of endless cycles. History as we now know it had an absolute starting place at the creation, and it flows
As David Dockery states, “In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, he is working out his ultimate purposes for humanity and the world.”[xxviii]
God accomplishes this work in time.
The former concepts of naturalistic and circular time have ethical and eschatological implications which cannot be discussed here. The Judeo-Christian doctrine of time also has its own innate ethical and eschatological understandings. If mankind is created Imago Dei—as the Judeo-Christian worldview declares—a moral obligation has been instilled in him by the Creator. He is the one “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13) eschatologically. Even a cursory reading of Scripture leads to a conclusion that history is not cyclical or random. Clearly biblically history is linear with what Dockery calls “a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1).”[xxix]
Human history will come to an end where it began, on the earth. Christianity at its very core is historical; it has a beginning and it has an ending.[xxx] Dockery maintains, “God has acted decisively in history, revealing himself in specific acts and events. Moreover, God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion.”[xxxi]The God who acted in past events will act in history once again and bring time to a consummate end.[xxxii]We know not when it may end or the particular circumstances surrounding the eschaton.[xxxiii]
Dockery goes on to affirm that Christians believe, “We do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land. We pass to that which is nevertheless certain of occurring because God is behind it and is himself the One who tells us it will come to pass.”[xxxiv]
[i]James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 68. [ii]Carl Sagan, Cosmos(New York: Random House, 1980), 4; quoted in James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 68. [iii]Sire, Universe, 70. [iv]Ibid. [v]David Jobling, “How Does Our Twentieth-Century Concept of Universe Affect Our Understanding of the Bible?” Enquiry (September-November 1972): 14; Footnote # 13 quoted in James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5thed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 71. [vi]On a personal note: As an alumnus of Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary, I am proud to have been taught that the Scriptures as given in the Old Testament and New Testament canons are the Inspired, Infallible, and Inerrant Scriptures as “breathed by God.” [vii]Sire, Universe, 81 footnote. [viii]L. Russ Bush, III, “Naturalism: A Worldview,” North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, March 3, 2016, https://www.namb.net/apologetics-blog/naturalism-a-world-view/ [ix]Ibid. [x]Sire, Universe, 144. This concept is basic to Hinduism and Buddhism of time. [xi]Sire, Universe, 158. [xii]“Philosophy of Time,” Exactly What is Time? (blog), http://www.exactlywhatistime.com/philosophy-of-time/ancient-philosophy/, retrieved June 21, 2019. [xiii]Ibid. [xiv]Ibid. [xv]“Philosophy of Time,” Exactly What is Time? (blog), http://www.exactlywhatistime.com/philosophy-of-time/, retrieved June 21, 2019. [xvi]Ibid. [xvii]“Transmigration of Souls,” The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed., Encyclopedia.com (June 24, 2019), https://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/philosophy/philosophy-terms-and-concepts/transmigration-souls [xviii]“Philosophy of Time.” [xix]Ibid. [xx]Jamie Bennett, “Eastern Pantheistic Monism’s Answers to Sire’s Seven Worldview Questions,” Jamie Bennett: Defending Biblical Truth in a Disenchanted World (blog), May 5, 2019, http://jamiebennett.net/eastern-pantheism-answers-to-sires-7-worldview-questions/. [xxi]Sire, Universe, 149. [xxii]Ibid. [xxiii]Terms transliterated. [xxiv]Oscar Cullman, Christ and Time: The Primitive Christian Conception of Time and History, rev. ed., trans. Floyd V. Filson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1964), 51. [xxv]Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 2, God Who Speaks and Shows: Fifteen Theses, Part One (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1976), 253. [xxvi]William H. Burnside, “Francis Schaeffer’s Philosophy of History,” Contra Mundum No. 2 (1992): 1. Also available online at https://www.contra-mundum.org/cm/features/02_schaeffer.pdf [xxvii]Francis Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer, vol. 3, A Christian View of Spirituality (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1982), 159. [xxviii]David Dockery, “The Importance of a Christian Worldview,” The Gospel Project (guest blog post), October 21, 2013, https://www.gospelproject.com/the-importance-of-a-christian-worldview/ [xxix]Ibid. [xxx]Ibid. [xxxi]Ibid. [xxxii]Ibid. [xxxiii]Ibid. [xxxiv]Ibid.