Mission not impossible!
Changing the worldview of Eastern mystics
One reason why people do not respond to the Gospel is that they hold a worldview that prevents them from doing so. A worldview is the way a person thinks about the world and his or her place in it, and life as a whole. It comprises beliefs regarding such questions as, who am I? Why am I here? How do I relate to the world around me? What is reality? Why do evil and suffering exist? How do I know what is right and what is wrong? Is there a God? What will happen to me after I die? Traditional Eastern thought on these matters is radically different from Western.1
The Eastern pantheistic worldview2
The most prevalent belief in Asian religions, such as Hinduism,3 Buddhism,4 Taoism,5 Shintoism,6 and modern forms of Eastern mysticism like New Ageism,7 is that ‘god is everything there is’. This is called pantheism. To pantheists, God cannot be separated from the world or the universe, and so God is not a Person, and therefore is not the personal Creator, Lawgiver, Saviour and Judge of the Bible.
In a worldview which says that ‘everything is god’, reality is mystical, spiritual forces underlie everything, and time and space are largely illusory. Man is inside the circle of reality, but is an insignificant part of the whole. His role is to relate harmoniously to nature and to the universe. This is not so much a matter of doctrine as of technique. Not to do so invites misfortune, instead of earning merit. Suffering arises from desire. Peace comes through meditation, by achieving inner harmony, and ultimately from being absorbed into the whole.
In this mystical belief system, man is thought to be basically good. Right and wrong, good and evil, good spirits and evil spirits are not opposed to each other, but are all complementary parts of the whole, and so balance each other. Good spirits must be worshipped in order to bring good luck; evil spirits must be placated lest they bring harm. Thus, adherents may wear lucky charms and worship their ancestors through food offerings, and may also engage in other occult practices.
Sin is conduct that upsets the harmony and disturbs the peace of the whole; it leads to ‘loss of face’.8 ‘History goes in cycles, moving round towards a golden age and then back again into darkness’, and the goal is ‘to escape from the circular process of the wheel of life’.9
The Western evolutionist worldview
In the West, the main non-Christian worldview is atheistic (or agnostic10) evolutionism. This belief system says that everything began with an uncaused big bang, billions of years ago. After many billions of years, life came into being by chance, and since then has evolved into the forms we see today. God is irrelevant, and no longer needed to explain anything.
According to this belief system, man is just another animal. Nevertheless, he is basically good and needs educating, rather than saving from sin or delivering from moral guilt. ‘Right’ and ‘wrong’ are relative terms—decided by man—and so ethical standards are set by social agreement or government decree, not by Christian/biblical morality. There are no absolutes, or accountability to a Judge after death. Reality is that which can be discerned by man with his senses or deduced with his mind. Spiritual forces do not exist. Death and suffering have always been intrinsic to an evolutionary world of ‘survival of the fittest’. History is seen as evolution in action—everything ‘evolved’, including ‘religion’.
The biblical worldview
The biblical (or Christian) worldview derives from what God has told us in His Word, the Bible. This is not the product of meditation or of human reasoning, but of revelation by God. It says that God is the ultimate and eternal reality (Exodus 3:14), and the source of all being. God is infinite and is not limited by or contained within space (1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:24). This is called God’s transcendency. He is present everywhere, including in our world (Acts 17:24–28). This is called God’s immanence. He created all things ‘very good’ by the power of His Word (Genesis 1:1–31; John 1:1–3), so all creatures owe their origin and sustenance to Him.
In this worldview, every person in the world is descended from one man, Adam (Genesis 3:20), whom God made in His own image and likeness (Genesis 1:26–27). Thus Adam had a spiritual nature, which sets him apart from the animals which God had made. Adam rebelled against God’s authority over him (Genesis 3), and thus brought sin into the world (Romans 5:12). Sin is everything in the disposition, purpose, and conduct of God’s moral creatures that is contrary to the expressed will of God. Suffering and death are all part of the curse God placed on the world because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:16–19; Romans 6:23).
We too have all been made in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9), i.e. with a spiritual nature, to have fellowship with Him, and for an eternal destiny. However, because of Adam, we too have all rebelled against God’s will and His rule over us (Romans 3:23), and need to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18–21).
In this belief system, God is spirit—omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent—and God is personal (three Persons). God is holy, and God is love.11 He has set the rules for man to know what is right and what is wrong. We are accountable to Him for the way we live, and we will be judged by Him accordingly (Acts 17:31; Hebrews 9:27).
God is in sovereign control of history, which centres upon His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ—the Creator who took on human nature (John 1:14; Galatians 4:4). Being sinless, Christ was able, because He is God, to pay the penalty for our sins, through His death on the cross. He rose from the dead, enabling Him to be our Mediator, High Priest, and Advocate; and the Resurrection validated his claims. His death is effective for all who are willing to receive the free gift of salvation. God, in His love, has thus provided the only way for Him to justly forgive our sin (because the penalty has been paid), to deliver us from guilt, and to restore us to a right relationship with Himself (1 John 1:9).
Portrait by John G. Murdoch
It is obvious that the evolutionary worldview and the biblical worldview are mutually exclusive—each totally opposes all the tenets of the other. Thus the concept of theistic evolution (‘God used evolution’) is the ultimate oxymoron.
Pantheism and origins
Most pantheistic religions are evolutionary in their cosmology. They deny the idea of God as transcendent Creator and as immanent, loving Redeemer. They may teach that matter is eternal, or that it created itself, or that the forces of nature, sometimes personified as gods and goddesses, acted upon the universe to bring it into its present form. Taoism expresses its pantheism in terms of two primary elements Yin (meaning: water/female/dark) and Yang (meaning: fire/male/light). Hinduism teaches that everything evolved from the basic material stuff prakriti.
Pantheistic religions have readily absorbed Darwinism. Since these religions include evolutionary aspects, so-called ‘scientific’ evolutionism has been easily added to their belief systems.
A Christian missionary/evangelist may get a Hindu or a Shintoist (for example) to recite the ‘sinner’s prayer’ or undertake some other procedure of evangelism, and think that he has made a convert. However, the ‘convert’ may merely have added Jesus Christ to the plethora of gods/spirits he or she already reveres, perhaps as an extra ‘insurance policy’.
God is the ultimate and eternal reality, and the source of all being.
Why does this happen? The reason may well be that the missionary has not set out to change, or even address, the worldview of the person concerned (particularly with respect to the meaning of ‘sin’), but only to obtain an oral assent to his own presentation of the Gospel. To a Westerner, the word ‘Yes’ means ‘I agree’, whereas to an Asian it may mean only ‘I hear what you are saying.’ Thus the person may still retain his or her pantheistic worldview, in which sin is not regarded as an offence against God.12
Likewise, in the West, when a Christian seeks to present the Gospel to a non-believer, he needs to realize that the non-Christian will probably have a ‘religious’ worldview (strongly affected by the atheistic/agnostic evolutionary mindset), which is a huge barrier to the acceptance of the Gospel. This is because this humanist mindset is antagonistic to faith, not only in the truth of the Word of God, but also in its authority (i.e. man’s need for it). Thus, if what the first book of the Bible, Genesis, plainly says about God the Creator is deemed to be incorrect, why should anyone consider what the rest of the Bible says concerning God—as the Saviour who died on a cross, or as the Judge of all the earth? (Cf. John 3:12).
|EASTERN MYSTICISM||EVOLUTIONARY HUMANISM||CHRISTIANITY|
|‘God’ is ‘everything there is’.||God does not exist (except as a figment of imagination).||God is Creator, Lawgiver, Judge and Saviour.|
|Reality is mystical.||Reality is what we can observe.||God is the ultimate reality.|
|The physical world is illusory.||The physical world is real.||The physical world is real.|
|Origins is not important. There was no beginning.||Everything began with a big bang (if there was a beginning at all).||God created everything by His Word.|
|Man is insignificant.||Man is just an animal.||Man is made in the image of God.|
|Right and wrong are complementary parts of the whole; no absolutes.||Right and wrong are relative; no absolutes.||Right and wrong are defined by God in the Bible.|
|Sin: causing disharmony.||There is no such thing as sin.||Sin: disobeying God.|
|Life’s goal is to escape from life.||The goal is to pass on one’s genes.||The goal is to please God.|
|‘Salvation’ comes through many incarnations.||Salvation: not needed.||Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ’s death (for sin) and Resurrection.|
|Holy books: Each Eastern religion has its own, e.g. Hinduism: the Vedas and the Upanishads.||Darwin’s Origin of Species.||The Holy Bible.|
The biblical worldview alone answers the questions that other religions raise but cannot solve, such as, who is God and what is He like? How do I get peace of mind about all the wrong things I have done? Why did Jesus Christ need to die for my sins?
For the Christian missionary/evangelist this means:
- He must hold the biblical worldview without reservation. He cannot change it in any way (e.g. by introducing theistic evolution or progressive creation/billions of years) to try and make it conform to the worldview of anyone he is speaking to. In short, he must accept the total authority of the Word of God.
- He needs to ascertain the worldview of the person he is trying to win. He must then be able to logically uphold and defend the biblical worldview against the arguments of the other worldview(s), and be able to answer the questions of seekers and sceptics. In short, he needs to replace the person’s evolutionary pantheistic or atheistic worldview with the biblical worldview.
- He needs to understand that evolution is either the basis of, or has been assimilated into, practically every anti-God religion world wide. He therefore needs to learn and use some of the simple arguments from science that refute evolutionary thinking.13
The evolutionary worldview and the biblical worldview are mutually exclusive—each totally opposes all the tenets of the other…
The biblical example
When the Apostle Paul sought to evangelize the idol-worshipping Greek philosophers of his day at Athens (Acts 17:16–34), he was addressing evolutionary polytheists and pantheists. The Epicureans believed that everything in the universe arose from a blind interplay of particles; the Stoics were pantheists and believed that ‘reason’, in the form of fate, governed all that happened.14 Paul first challenged and sought to change these two worldviews, before he referred to Jesus.
His approach was, after establishing a point of contact by referring to their ‘unknown God’ (v. 22–23):
- There is one, and only one, true God—He is Lord of Heaven and Earth (vv. 23–24).
- This God is the Creator—the world did not make itself (v. 24).
- Life comes from God—He gives all men life and breath, and everything else (v. 25).
- Their evolutionary worldview was incorrect—we are all descended from one man whom God made (v. 26).
- Their polytheistic/pantheistic worldview was incorrect—if they were God’s offspring (as they acknowledged), then God could not be made of gold or silver or stone, a product of man’s design and skill (v. 29).
- Repent! Only then did Paul go on to tell them that this personal Creator God commands all people everywhere to repent, because all mankind is accountable to Him and will one day be judged by the Man (Jesus Christ) whom God raised from the dead (v. 30–31).
Paul’s ‘creation evangelism’ was effective—it produced at least six converts (Acts 17:34), and in due course a church was established at Athens. Its first bishop is believed to have been one of these first Pauline converts, namely Dionysius.
This pattern of ‘creation evangelism’ from the Word of God should be regarded as a divine blueprint for the evangelism of Eastern pantheists and polytheists, as well as of Western atheists and agnostics, today.15
References and notes
- Monotheistic orthodox Judaism has a historical belief in Genesis; however, it does not accept the Gospel (yet!). Return to text.
- This section adapted from Lane, D., One world two minds: Eastern and Western outlooks in a changing world, OMF International, Colorado, USA, 1995. Return to text.
- Although Westerners may label Hinduism, with its millions of gods, as polytheistic, Hindus see their gods as being various forms of a single supreme being, Brahman, essentially identical with the universe and so pantheistic. Return to text.
- In Buddhism, the final cause is the principle of karma—cause and effect. See Smith, A.G., Buddhism: through Christian eyes, Overseas Missionary Fellowship, Colorado, USA, pp. 40ff, 2001. Return to text.
- Asian religions tend to be syncretistic. ‘In China Buddhism, Confucianism [the way of life taught by Confucius (551–479 BC)], Taoism and folk religion are so blended that a clear differentiation is hard to make.’ Smith, A.G., A primer on Buddhism, East Asia’s Millions, 2nd Quarter, p. 7, 1999. Return to text.
- Shintoism is the indigenous pantheism of Japan that predates Buddhism; it views nature as the dwelling place of the deities. It ascribes divine attributes to every being, so has some eight million gods. Taylor, J. and Trevor, H., Making friends with Japanese, ISCS and OMF, p. 17, 1997. Return to text.
- Judaism and Islam are monotheistic, not pantheistic, so much of the following discussion does not apply to them. Return to text.
- In Hinduism, taking any form of animal life is ‘sin’. Buddhism similarly prohibits life-taking, but regards it more as ‘negative merit’ or ‘detrimental karma’. Return to text.
- Ref. 2, p. 31. Return to text.
- Agnosticism is the belief that God cannot be known because man cannot know anything beyond the world of natural phenomena, and so the concept lies outside the reach of human intelligence; cf. atheism, which denies outright the existence of God. Return to text.
- John 4:24; Exodus 3:13–15; Jeremiah 23:23–24; Isaiah 46:10; Jeremiah 32:17; Isaiah 6:3; 1 John 4:8. Return to text.
- This is probably one reason also why some ‘converts’ don’t continue on. Return to text.
- E.g. Sarfati, J., Refuting Evolution, Creation Ministries International, Queensland, Australia, 1999. See also Batten, D., (ed.) et al., The Creation Answers Book, Creation Ministries International, Queensland, Australia, 2006. Return to text.
- The Epicureans sought happiness through bodily pleasures. For the Stoics, happiness lay in emulating the calm and order of the universe by enduring hardship with fortitude and a tranquil mind. See Grigg, R., A brief history of design, Creation 22(2):50–53, 2000. Return to text.
- See also Grigg, R., Should missionary societies have a position on creation/evolution? Creation 12(3):42–45, 1990. Return to text.