4 Non-Biblical, Non-Christian Views of Reality You Need to Know About
In his new book The Essentials of Christian Thought Roger Olson tells the story of an aunt who was a passionately devoted member of the Presbyterian church. Though she was “one of the sweetest, most intelligent and devout Christian women he has ever had the privilege to know,” there was one problem:
Whether she was aware of it or not, her worldview, her metaphysical vision of ultimate reality, was radically contrary to that of the Bible and Christianity. (108)
This worldview problem is actually far too common. Which is why Olson devotes an entire chapter to non-biblical, non-Christian views of reality. We’ve briefly outlined these alternative perspectives that all Christians should be aware of—so they can avoid the mistakes of Olson’s dear aunt.
Metaphysical Dualism: Manicheism
Recently, I saw this quote on Twitter: “In a Binary World, You Can’t Have Angels Without Monsters.” This tweet captures the essence of metaphysical dualism.
Also known as Manicheism, it “is belief in two equally powerful, equally eternal opposing ultimate realities—one good and one evil” (109). This view has arisen to explain the reality of evil in a good world. Interestingly, Christians also appropriate this worldview when they elevate Satan to equal status with God.
Olson articulates the problem: “If there are two ultimate, absolute powers—forces equal in being, power, and eternity—what makes one of them good and the other one evil?” (111). For Christians there’s only one ultimate reality, Yahweh God. And evil is not a substance or something, but a condition where good and righteousness are absent.
Metaphysical Monism: Pantheism
At the opposite end of the worldview spectrum is monism, “a flexible word used to label any view of all reality as one substance” (112). One popular form in ancient and Western society is emanationism, the belief “that ultimate reality is one substance and all reality is that substance; in addition, finite, physical beings are emanations from that substance who have forgotten their ultimate, metaphysical oneness with the One” (113).
Ancient neoplatonism essentially taught everything emanates from the One, the source of ultimate reality. A philosophical form of Hinduism promotes this sort of non-duality, as well. Absolute Idealism, arising out of Germany, identified God with the universe. Also known as New Thought, “God is the mind of the universe, the only thing that is really real, and matter is an extension of the divine mind” (115).
Olson concludes, “All forms of monism…implicitly if not explicitly deny the biblical idea of God as supernatural and personal. All deny the fixed gulf evident in biblical revelation between God and creation” (117).
Almost Monism: Panentheism
A sort of halfway view between the biblical worldview and monism is panentheism, “any view that denies there is ultimate reality except God and the universe—together” (117). Where as pantheism equates Ultimate Being with the universe, in panentheism they are inseparable and interdependent.
Process theology is a liberal Christian view based on panentheistic metaphysics, in which God and the universe are so together that “God depends on the world for his self-actualization and enjoyment.” Further, “God has no being apart from the world and is not supernatural or omnipotent” (118).
The problem with this Christianization of panentheism is that any sort of Creator-creature distinction is evaporated. It is a “radical denial of the biblical-Christian metaphysic of the biblical narrative in which God is supernatural, omnipotent, sovereign, and self-sufficient” (118).
Naturalism: Atheism and Secular Humanism
The worldview that sits at the heart of atheism and secular humanism is what we call naturalism. This worldview “is any belief that nature—a closed causal network in principle completely understandable by science—is all that exists” (119).
Carl Sagan’s mantra exemplifies the naturalistic worldvew: “The cosmos is all there is, all there ever was, and all there will be.” Underlying all forms of naturalism is the belief that “nature, understood as mathematically describable laws and phenomena ruled by them, is all that is real” (119–120).
It should be no surprise that naturalism is necessarily atheistic, for it denies any divine reality beyond nature. “Atheism is just naturalism in disguise, and if nature is all there is, then there can be no moral absolutes and life has no ultimate meaning” (120).
Likewise, given the worldview elevates humanity over the rest of nature, it is central to secular humanism—which espouses that humanity is merely the product of natural forces, but nature with self-awareness, consciousness, and freedom. “There is no ultimate purpose for or meaning in human life other than what humans themselves create…” (123).
Though naturalism should be self-evidently contrary to biblical-Christian belief, unfortunately it hasn’t been. “Denial of anything supernatural is common in modern Christianity” (125).
“These are the several and perhaps only somewhat consistent metaphysical visions of ultimate reality prominent in the West and impinging on Christianity and Euro-American societies” (127)
Engage Olson’s book to understand these views more deeply, as well as the essentials of Christian thought that contrast them.