The Bible’s “warfare worldview” and our “worldview warfare”
by Ken Myers
On Volume 60 of the Journal, I talked with David K. Naugle about his award-winning 2002 book, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans). Most of that book examines the history in question in philosophy and the social sciences. In a late chapter, Naugle offered “Theological Reflections on ‘Worldview’,” which included some discussion of “Issues of Sin and Spiritual Warfare.” That section of the book begins with a long discussion of Romans 1:18–32, which is followed by these paragraphs:
“Romans 1 paints a disturbing picture, yet it seems true to life. From Paul’s perspective the human heart is intuitively aware of God and the manifestation of his power and glory in his handiwork. But because of sin-induced corruption, it disregards this intuitive awareness. Yet its native religious impulses prompt it nonetheless to manufacture alternative faiths and philosophies in place of God and the truth. It reconceives religion and reinvents reality industriously, and is responsible for the existence of a multitude of fallacious worldviews in any culture at any time. But these bogus visions of the heart are subject to a forthright apostolic critique. They are an exercise in speculative futility. They cast men and women into profound spiritual ignorance. They are confused with wisdom (and vice versa). They terminate in moral reprobation as divine judgment. These idolatrously based belief systems, in their futility, darkness, foolishness, and depravity, make up what the New Testament calls ‘worldliness.’ As Craig Gay asks, could it not be true that ‘worldliness rests not so much in personal temptations to debauchery, but instead lies in ‘an interpretation of reality that essentially excludes the reality of God from the business of life’? In other words, worldly behavior is the eventual outcome of worldly views that dot the cultural landscape. Therefore, the origin and multiplicity of relativistic worldviews are rooted in the depravity of the human heart as explained by the theology of Romans 1.
“This picture of the human condition is intensified by the fact that the Bible reveals that the entire creation and its human stewards are caught up in the midst of a spiritual war of cosmic proportions. It pits God and the forces of good against Satan and the powers of evil. These finite powers that insanely oppose the infinite God were originally made by him and had to be good, even as he is good. Romans 8:38–39 indicates that angels, principalities, and powers are among the divinely ‘created things.’ Colossians 1:16 teaches that Christ as the agent of creation is responsible for the existence of the entire cosmos, including ‘thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities.’ In short, God through Christ created the whole realm of reality, including the company of the angels. Though they received their being, purpose, and power from God, these spiritual creatures turned against him in a mysterious and monstrous act of pride and rebellion (e.g., Isa. 14:12–14; Ezek. 28:11–19; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). Motivated by fierce animosity, they became his resolute enemies, intent upon subverting his divine authority and destroying all his works. They are good creatures gone bad, and now in an attempt to certify their autonomy they engage God and the angels of light in a fierce fight for universal domination. As the pinnacle of God’s creative work, the human family is directly implicated in this battle of the ages. Not only are all people affected by it — caught in its crossfire, so to speak — but they are also participants in it, aligning themselves consciously or unconsciously with and fighting for one side or the other, depending upon their spiritual orientation. Thus humankind has to struggle not only with an inherited internal depravity, but also with temptations and assaults from without that reinforce their fallen condition. How difficult it is, therefore, to know God and view the world aright!
“Under the vice [sic] grip of the disenchanted worldview of modern naturalism and scientism, many have relegated this scriptural depiction of angels, Satan, the demons, and spiritual warfare to ‘the dustbin of superstition.’ There is no doubt, however, that what Gregory Boyd aptly calls ‘a warfare worldview’ permeates biblical revelation, is foundational to its message, and has been essential to Christian theology throughout the history of the church. Marshaling impressive evidence from cultures worldwide, Boyd [in his 1997 book God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict] demonstrates that Western secularism is perilously unique in its elimination of the ‘warfare worldview’ from its cultural consciousness, especially its biblical version, which he describes in these terms: ‘God's good creation has in fact been seized by hostile, evil, cosmic forces that are seeking to destroy God’s beneficent plan for the cosmos. God wages war against these forces, however, and through the person of Jesus Christ has now secured the overthrow of this evil cosmic army. The church is the body of Christ has been called to be a decisive means by which this final overthrow is to be carried out.’
“‘The world is a battle zone,’ Boyd says, and that ‘is why it looks that way!’ Now assuming the veracity of this perspective, I submit that central to the ‘warfare worldview’ of the Bible is a ‘worldview warfare.’ A worldview warfare is a warfare over worldviews; that is, a megabattle between the forces of light and darkness over the identity or definition of the universe. A key stratagem of the devil, who is the father of lies (John 8:44), is to conceal the true nature of things through the proliferation of multiple cosmic falsehoods in order to secure the blindness of the human heart and its ultimate spiritual perdition (2 Cor. 4: 3–4). In the conflagration that has engulfed the universe, the truth about reality is satanically enshrouded in darkness, and a multitude of idolatries and fallacious conceptions of life, counterfeiting as wisdom and enlightenment, are put in its place. The truths about God, creation, fall, and redemption must forever be banished from human consciousness. What better way for Satan to deflect the light of truth than by corrupting it and replacing it with false visions of realty that dominate the cultural landscape? The control of the zeitgeist, or the intellectual and spiritual climate of the age, is a most effective means of controlling what goes into the hearts of men and women, shaping their interests and ruling their lives. Worldviews are the basis for a zeitgeist and are at the center of this process. If this big-picture strategy succeeds, then there is only an occasional need for personal temptation to sin. How people get their jollies is of little interest to Satan if he has already captured and misdirected their hearts.
“This proposal that a ‘worldview warfare’ is a critical component of the ‘warfare worldview’ of the Bible has been supported in an influential way by Heinrich Schlier [in his 1961 book Principalities and Powers in the New Testament]. On the basis of Ephesians 2:2, he proposes that a worldview, or what he calls the ‘spiritual atmosphere’ of a culture, is the ‘principal source of his [Satan’s] domination.’ In this text, he believes the meaning of the word ‘air’ in the expression ‘the prince of the power of the air’ is best interpreted appositively by the phrase following it, ‘of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.’ Thus he suggests that the ‘air’ is not only the literal realm in which Satan exercises his powers (in accordance with Jewish understanding), but it also refers in context to the universal spirit which fosters rebellion and unbelievers. Therefore Schlier thinks it has significant sociocultural meaning. ‘It is the general spiritual climate which influences mankind, in which men live, which they breathe, which dominates their thoughts, aspirations and deeds. He [Satan] exercises his ‘influence’ over man by means of the spiritual atmosphere which he dominates and uses as the medium of his power. He gains power over men and penetrates them by means of this atmosphere, which is his realm, the realm of his power. If men expose themselves to this atmosphere, they become its carriers, and therefore contribute to its extension.’
“Ephesians 6:12 would seem to reinforce this interpretation with its reference to the struggle ‘against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.’ Also, in 1 Corinthians 2:6 Paul implies that there is a wisdom of this age and of the rulers of this age which stands in sharp contrast to the divine wisdom in Christ which he proclaims. Schlier notes, however, that this is not the devil’s exclusive method of control, for he attacks natural life at every level and can even inflict physical harm quite apart from such socio-spiritual concerns. Still he is convinced, based on the authority of the apostle, that the ‘spiritual atmosphere’ is Satan’s principal source of domination, a concept which functions very much like a Weltanschauung.”