The Disciplines of Knowing: The Sciences (5)
We’ll need to be careful here.
…for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” Acts 17.28, 29
Religious, but misguided
Paul’s encounter with the philosophers in Athens can be instructive for us as we turn to consider the best ways of benefiting from science in our pursuit of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It’s clear from here and Titus 1 that Paul was well-versed in the pagan philosophies of Greece. In verse 28 he cites one Greek poet (Epimenides) and quotes another (Aratus). He has already commended the Athenians for their “religious” approach to life and knowing (v. 22); and now he shows that he approves the conclusions of two of their best thinkers. At least, as far as those conclusions go.
But they don’t go far enough. Paul used the references to pagan thinking to connect with his audience, but he moved on to anchor his testimony in Scripture and drive his argument toward Christ and the coming judgment. The Greek poets reached their conclusions through reason, which they exercised within the givens of their contemporary worldview. Beginning with their own observations of the world, and relying on reason and discussion, they made assertions that were correct, but misguided. Within their system of thought, Zeus would have been the focus of their observations, but Paul did not allow their remarks to remain captive to a false worldview. He immediately changed the focus of those remarks from Zeus and the Greek worldview to God and the Biblical worldview.
Most of what you will engage from the realm of science is like this. Science operates within a given worldview, and that worldview has no place for God. It begins in man and his reason, engages the world by observation and experimentation, and proffers conclusions within an “under the sun” view of the cosmos. Scientists make many excellent and useful observations, leading to valuable products and technologies. But merely serving the interests and needs of human beings, or even of the world itself, does not go far enough in making right use of the creation. As we read about science, watch programs and videos about science, talk with our children about what they’re learning in school, or venture out with a guidebook to identify the flora and fauna of our world, we want to harvest and value the true insights of science, and take those insights beyond their secular confines into the realm of Christ and His glory. For only then will science be of value to us in our pursuit of the knowledge of Christ.
The Christian “circle of knowledge”
Christians operate within a different “circle of knowledge” than those who do not have faith in God. The assumptions, convictions, and values that define our worldview are 180 degrees away from those that define the worldview of secularism and naturalistic science. We acknowledge that secularists are very religious – they have their own gods and disciplines for pursuing them. And we acknowledge that, by God’s common grace, even unbelievers have been able to make remarkable and useful discoveries.
But our goal in life is to glorify God in everything we do (1 Cor. 10.31). We are those who possess eternal life, which is the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ (Jn. 17.3). We are called to increase in the knowledge of Christ (2 Pet. 3.18), to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10.3-5), and to think with the mind of Christ at all times (1 Cor. 2.16), so that Christ may increase in us, and we may decrease (Jn. 3.30).
Thus, when reading about or otherwise engaging the world of secular science, we want to bring the findings of the thinkers of our day into the circle of Christian knowledge – the Christian encyclopedia – so that we mine those resources for what they can teach or show us about our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the Treasury of all wisdom and knowledge; thus, we expect whatever we may learn about this world to yield some insight about Him, that our love for Him may increase, and that we may serve Him by every good gift that He bestows from whatever source.
We are not blind to the false assumptions of secular science: matter is eternal; chance rules the world of matter; existence and life have no final purpose; evolution is the driving force in all life; human beings are the interpreters of the cosmos; there is no spiritual realm. It might seem strange or unlikely that people so firmly committed to such ideas can achieve anything worthwhile, but they do. This is possible only because, in the final analysis, unbelievers deny the assumptions they protest to believe, and they operate on assumptions that are revealed in the Word of God – that life has meaning, the cosmos is an orderly place, acquiring true knowledge is possible, reason can be a reliable tool, and so forth.
What we want to do is take the good work of science and, by bringing it within the circle of Christian knowledge, liberate it from its secular shackles so that it may fulfill its appointed purpose of glorifying God (Ps. 148) and of leading us to a richer, fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ.
Put on your thinking cap
So how can we do this? How can we engage science, by all the means available to us, and come away from that encounter having made some increase in the knowledge of Jesus Christ?
First, concentrate on understanding. Ask questions. Assume you have something to learn, something that will open a window onto Christ and His glory. Don’t feel like you have to doubt or deny every conclusion or argument presented by the secular worldview. Be aware of them, but don’t waste your time arguing; concentrate on learning. Make sure that you can articulate the main points you find in your own words, and try to see their value and validity, as far as they go.
Maintain an attitude of prayer, asking the Lord to guard you from false paths and to point you toward insights that may help you know, love, and serve Him better. Talk with the Lord about your observations. Do they bring to mind any relevant passages of Scripture? Jot them down, or at least, let them factor into the process of your observing and reflecting.
Remember that God commands all creation to praise Him (Ps. 148), and the primary way that happens is when we who know the Lord draw out from His creatures the glory He has hidden in them (Prov. 25.2). Look for something for which you can praise the Lord – something that makes you think of Him, that reminds you of something Scripture teaches about God, or some way the Scriptures use the item you’re observing. Tell the Lord how you can see Him and His glory in the object or subject of study. Relate it to other things you’ve observed or studied, and give praise to Christ Who upholds all things by His Word of power (Heb. 1.3).
The more you observe, reflect, pray, and relate the things your engagement with science yields, the more insights you will have through which to see refracted the work and glory of Jesus Christ. Don’t feel like you have to refute all the false notions you will encounter. It’s only what we should expect from people who pursue the quest for knowledge “under the sun”.
Whatever glimmer or glimpse the Lord reveals to you of Himself, delight in it, seek to learn more about it, look to other resources that can add to your understanding, give thanks and praise to God for it all, and seek ways your increased knowledge of the Lord can lead you to more consistent and fruitful service in His Name.
1. Why do we expect science to yield insights to help us know Christ better? Can you think of some examples?
2. How does Paul’s experience in Athens guide us in this matter of learning from unbelieving worldviews?
3. What do we mean by the Christian “circle of knowledge”? How does this relate to using the mind of Christ?
Next Steps – Transformation: Make some engagement with science today, and use it to praise and glorify Jesus Christ. Share your experience with a friend.
T. M. Moore
Science has been taken captive by the secular temper of the times, and we need to understand how this has happened. Our book, Understanding the Times, is a valuable guide to understanding the world we live in and how we as Christians can understand how to live in it. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
- T.M. Moore
- February 10, 2020
We're taking every thought captive for Christ.
The Disciplines of Knowing: The Sciences (5)