For some, the topic of history may seem a little strange to deal with in a discussion of worldview. But, believe it or not, different worldviews actually understand the nature of history in entirely different ways. History deals with the topic of time and purpose, and the various worldviews look at the nature of history based on very different presuppositions.
As we examine the way the different worldviews portray history, we very quickly come to a place where we must deal with what exists as objective reality, as opposed to what does not. We seem to live life in an objectively real world which operates in time moving from past to present to future. And, in fact, everyone, without exception, lives life as if this is true. But does that actually reflect reality? And if it does, is there any meaning associated with it? These are the questions that the various worldview positions try to answer and, interestingly, the answers are very different based on the doctrines of the different worldviews.
How Do the Four Worldviews Approach History?
Before looking specifically at the how Biblical Christianity views history, we will take a moment to examine how the four worldviews understand it. At that point we will have a way of evaluating our faith in relationship to the other faith positions which are prominent in society.
In Naturalistic thought, history has no transcendent meaning because nothing exists outside of the natural universe. History becomes simply the progression through time of the material universe moving from the past to the present to the future. Mankind is seen to be progressing to higher levels through history, but this is understood to be strictly the result of evolutionary progression as a natural animal, not by means of any kind of intentional meaningful process.
Animism has no concept of a purpose in history whatsoever. Animists do recognize the existence of an objective historical framework which moves from past to present to future, but it is simply a meaningless progression. Human and spirit beings are believed to have existed from the beginning, continue to exist in the present time and will exist into the future. The focus of Animism, as it relates to time, is simply the operation of events in the present. It has no particular meaning, it just is.
Far Eastern Thought
History in Far Eastern Thought is represented as cyclical rather than linear. FET belief assumes that everything exists in the context of eternity. Time is ultimately an illusion which renders the concept of history meaningless.
Of course, Far Eastern Thought adherents do recognize that material existence appears to operate in a linear fashion regarding our perception of time. That being said, the stress is not on time moving forward in a linear fashion. Rather, the focus is on the pieces of the impersonal life force which inhabit individual life forms as they cyclically reincarnate in their trek to join together with the ultimate expression of the life force. This trek is viewed as evolutionary in nature, but is a spiritual evolution rather than a physical one.
Time, in Theism, is focused on the accomplishment of the purpose of God. In this worldview, history is seen as a purposeful, non-repetitive sequence of events which began in God’s creative activity and which is moving toward the accomplishment of his purpose for the creation. Of course, the purpose that is fulfilled through the course of history will be different based on the purpose of the particular God being dealt with in any specific belief system. But the centrality of the fulfillment of a purpose will always be in play.
Christianity and History
When it comes to the Christian worldview, the concept of history is a critical element. In fact, if a person truly wants to understand the Christian worldview, they must believe that God is an objective person who is revealed in the Bible. The Biblical worldview also asserts that God created an objective world in which he operates in relationship to mankind through a literal historical process. The Christian faith does not see the work of God as simply a spiritual phenomenon. When God created the universe, he created an actual physical entity which moves through time to accomplish an objective purpose. The people he created are actual physical beings who operate in a physical world and their lives play out in a historical context.
But not only is it humanity that is affected by history, God’s redemptive plan unfolded in history, as well. The history that is dealt with in the Bible represents actual historical people and events. In the history of the nation of Israel God is revealed as a person who works in a historical context to bring salvation to mankind. On top of that, the Bible reveals that God himself stepped out of eternity and into history when he came to earth as a human being – the man Jesus Christ. The profound implication of this is that either Christ is a historical person and the Bible is a historical document or the Christian faith is false.
The Bible and History
As we look at the claims of Christianity, it quickly becomes evident that the validity of our faith rests firmly on its historical foundation. Either Jesus was a human being who walked the earth and provided for an actual salvation by this physical death on the cross and his resurrection, or the Christian faith is false. Either the Bible is an accurate historical record or the Christian faith is false.
After looking at the evidence, Christians can confidently assert that the Bible does contain an actual historical record of the events it deals with. There are a couple of significant lines of evidence which back up this confidence.
First of all, there has never been a single archaeological discovery which has refuted anything written in the Bible. Considering the amount of material that is contained in the Bible and the amount of archaeological research that has been done, this is quite a remarkable record. There certainly are things in the Bible which have not been confirmed by archaeology, but no finding has ever been discovered which contradicts the Biblical account. Cities are where the Bible describes them to be and events occurred as they are recorded.
Secondly, the Bible was written by eyewitnesses of the historical events. Many skeptics have tried to question whether or not the authors of the Biblical texts were really the people they claimed to be. They have tried, relentlessly, to show that the texts were written generations later by non-witnesses. But the textual evidence is overwhelming. Based on a massive number of manuscript fragments dating back as early as the first century A.D., we can be confident that the New Testament writings were done by eyewitnesses and that the copies we have are accurate. A similar situation exists regarding Old Testament manuscripts, as well.
The Historicity of Christ
This brings us to another, related, issue. Was the Jesus who is described in the Bible an actual, historical person? Cutting right to the chase, we can confidently assert that indeed he was. If, as evidenced above, the Bible is a reliable historical document, then certainly Jesus was an actual historical figure.
Of course we would expect the Bible to treat him that way, but we also find references to Jesus in the writings of secular historians of that day. Historians such as Josephus and Tacitus make reference to him in ways which attest to the fact that he was an actual man who lived during the time of Annas the Jewish high priest and Pontius Pilate.
Today, no competent scholar would deny that Jesus was an actual historical person who walked the earth. There are, certainly, detractors who deny that he was God in the flesh, but certainly not that he was a man who actually lived.
The Resurrection and History
It is one thing to question the historical existence of the man, but what about the resurrection? If the resurrection was not an actual historical event, Christianity cannot be true. What evidence exists that Jesus’ resurrection from the dead actually happened historically?
As far as the Biblical perspective, there is no question that the writers intended for us to understand the resurrection to be an actual historical event. This event is spoken of prominently in the context of historical figures and happenings. The Bible also talks about eyewitnesses who actually interacted with Jesus after his resurrection, over 500 in all. These witnesses recognized the resurrected Jesus as a historical person whom they followed even more fervently after they witnessed the resurrection – even to the point of being willing to die for their faith.
The fact of an actual historical resurrection is of ultimate importance to the Christian faith. That Jesus was able to resurrect himself from the dead is the essential evidence that he was, in fact, God, and that he had power over sin and death. If the resurrection is not an actual historical fact, the Christian faith is not true. This is the reason that skeptics put out so much effort to try and discredit it.
Purpose in History
In the Biblical worldview, history is not simply a meaningless linear sequence of events. There is an actual purpose that is being carried out in it.
This purpose begins in the creation. God had a particular purpose in mind when he created the material universe, and that purpose is related to his desire to have a being with whom he could enjoy personal fellowship.
That purpose is exposed dramatically in the fall, as mankind sinned and created a problem which broke fellowship with God and put a roadblock in place which interfered with the fulfillment of that purpose. If the material universe did not have meaning and purpose, God would not have had any reason to try and restore it. But he did. He was not about to allow his purpose to be thwarted, so he instituted a means whereby the fall could be reversed. This means was not an instant fix, but is being carried out through a historical process.
The redemptive process whereby the fall could be fixed was also ultimately accomplished through a historical event – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a result, not only is the overall story of God’s work in the world meaningful, every moment that we live is pregnant with purpose as we carry out the redemptive process in our lives.
In order to understand this history, though, we have to move beyond a simple understanding of God’s working in the historical process. There is an actual end that he wants to accomplish. That ultimate goal is that every human who will acknowledge Christ as Savior and Lord will personally fellowship with God throughout eternity. This fellowship not only makes history meaningful in a generic way, but makes it meaningful to us personally as we come to know him.
Linear Conception of History
One more point that needs to be made about a Christian understanding of history is that it is linear. That is, it is conceived of as having had a beginning in God’s creation and is moving toward a specific end. In the process of going from beginning to end, the historic events are following a non-repetitive course. This approach to history leaves us with a purposive, goal-directed interpretation of history. God is directing it and we are able to understand his direction and align our lives with it.
The Christian understanding of reality is firmly grounded in actual historical events and is backed up with profound evidence from archaeology, and from the science of understanding Biblical manuscripts. It is rooted in the purpose of God and gives us insight into his purpose for humanity. Any attempt to discount or discredit the actual historical aspects of the Christian faith literally flies in the face of that faith.
This has profound implications for the Christian life, as well. If God is working out his redemptive plan through the course of history, it is imperative for Christians to be a part of that by understanding both God’s plan and their place in it. Living life based on human philosophy and self interest puts us in a position of living life outside of God’s purpose as it plays out in history. It is only as we truly understand the Biblical mandate and conform our lives to it that we are able to live out the Christian faith in our lives.
© 2010 Freddy Davis