4a – 5-Fold Development of the Western Worldview

Notes Outline


In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (ESV Genesis 1:1)

A. Historical Development

1. First set forth by Socrates (470-399 BC) and Plato (427-347 BC), the Hellenistic worldview is a form of metaphysical dualism, which divides existence into two distinct realms.[1] For Plato this dualism included the unchangeable, perfect “intelligible world,” which is unseen, and the corrupt, fallen “perceptual world,” which we see around us. The perceptual world consists of imperfect “copies” of the perfect and ideal intelligible “forms.”[2] This basic split in reality is still the bedrock upon which the foundation of the Western worldview rests.[3]


2. One of Plato’s chief pupils at the Academy (f. 385 BC) in Athens was Aristotle (384-322 BC), who in turn tutored a young man named Alexander (356-323 BC).[4] Alexander “the Great” made it his life goal to spread Greek philosophy and culture across the entire world, conquering the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Iranian plateau, Central Asia, and parts of India in only 10 years (333-323 BC). This worldwide conquest ushered in what is known as the “Hellenistic Age” (323-31 BC).[5]

3. One of the first cities that Alexander the Great established was Alexandria (f. 334 BC) in northern Egypt, which became a hub of learning, cultural diversity, and Hellenistic propagation (including the largest library in the ancient world). The primary stronghold of the Western Church began here when a school was established by Clement (c.150-211) and Origen (c.182-251) with the express purpose of assimilating Christianity into Greek philosophical thought. The product was the allegorical or “spiritual” approach to interpreting Scripture.[6]

B. Implications

1. Cosmogeny

a) The practical impact of Hellenistic metaphysical dualism is a radical change in the nature and functioning of that which is invisible to human perception. Ontologically, that which is unseen became ethereal, abstract, insubstantial, intangible, impalpable, etc. Functionally, it became uninvolved with that which is visible, having no practical relation with it.

b) The ultimate product of the Alexandrian School was the relegation and consolidation of the heavens to the intelligible realm. This relegation transformed “heaven” to its present condition in the Western Mind—a distant, detached, and ethereal realm with no real and practical interaction with the “material” realm. Moreover, as the earth was integrated into the perceptual realm, its existential nature became inherently fallen and corrupted, and thus all matter, in and of itself, became “evil.”[7]

“And again he says, ‘We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet Christ in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’ We are therefore to suppose that the saints will remain there [in their progress to heaven] until they recognize the twofold mode of government in those things which are performed in the air… If any one indeed be pure in heart, and holy in mind, and more practiced in perception, he will, by making more rapid progress, quickly ascend to a place in the air, and reach the kingdom of heaven, through those mansions, so to speak, in the various places which the Greeks have termed spheres, i.e., globes, but which holy Scripture has called heavens; in each of which he will first see clearly what is done there, and in the second place, will discover the reason why things are so done: and thus he will in order pass through all gradations, following Him who hath passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, who said, ‘I will that where I am, these may be also.’ And of this diversity of places He speaks, when He says, ‘In My Father’s house are many mansions.’”[8]

2. Soteriology

a) As the nature and functioning of the heavens changed, so did the metaphysical locus of redemption change from earth to “heaven.” As the intelligible realm is the ultimate redemptive end in Platonism, so “heaven” became the ultimate redemptive end in Christianity.

“Having sketched, then, so far as we could understand, these three opinions regarding the end of all things, and the supreme blessedness… we must suppose that an incorporeal existence is possible, after all things have become subject to Christ, and through Christ to God the Father, when God will be all and in all; or that when, notwithstanding all things have been made subject to Christ, and through Christ to God (with whom they formed also one spirit, in respect of spirits being rational natures), then the bodily substance itself also being united to most pure and excellent spirits, and being changed into an ethereal condition in proportion to the quality or merits of those who assume it (according to the apostle’s words, “We also shall be changed”), will shine forth in splendour; or at least that when the fashion of those things which are seen passes away, and all corruption has been shaken off and cleansed away, and when the whole of the space occupied by this world, in which the spheres of the planets are said to be, has been left behind and beneath, then is reached the fixed abode of the pious and the good situated above that sphere, which is called non-wandering (aplanh,j), as in a good land, in a land of the living, which will be inherited by the meek and gentle… which is called truly and chiefly “heaven,” in which heaven and earth, the end and perfection of all things, may be safely and most confidently placed.”[9]

b) Thus, the basic soteriological orientation shifted from earthward to heavenward.[10] As existential righteousness in Platonism is found in the movement from the perceptual realm to the intelligible realm, so existential righteousness in Christianity changed to the movement from the earthly realm to the heavenly realm.[11] In this way, death was no longer the enemy of salvation, but now it was the means of salvation (i.e. entrance into heaven).



c) According to Platonism, being the ultimate and perfect intelligible Form, Jesus could never logically return to the fallen perceptual world, since it is inherently corrupt. Thus, a literal Second Coming to the earth became as impossible as ash returning to wood after being consumed by fire.[12]

3. Eschatology

a) Classical/historical premillennialism was the only view of eschatology for at least the first 200 years of the church.[13] However, after Origen’s hermeneutic became widespread by the 4th century, this belief came under scrutiny, and Augustine (354-430) was the first to make a logical and systematic application of Hellenism to eschatology.[14]

b) Since it was impossible for the perfect Christ to return to the corrupted earth, the Millennial Kingdom (Rev. 20:1-6) must be reinterpreted as “spiritual.” Thus, the 1000-year reign of Christ began when Jesus ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9), after which He would return and gather his church to “heaven” before the final judgment (i.e. “post-millennialism”).[15]

c) After the failure of Jesus to return at 1000AD, the church reapplied the Hellenistic hermeneutic to Augustine’s postmillennial Kingdom, making even the number 1000 spiritual.[16] Thus, Christ will reign in heaven for an undetermined amount of time before He returns. This belief, which is still common in the church today is called “a-millennialism,” though it is simply “spiritual postmillennialism.”[17]


d) Thus, most people in the Church today assume a form of neo-christoplatonic eschatology, with a general framework for the future of their existence is as follows:

(1) Church age (Christianization of entire earth)

(2) Second coming of Christ (heavenward resurrection of the dead)

(3) Great white throne day of judgment (destruction of material heavens and earth)

(4) Recreation of immaterial heavens and earth

(a) Perpetual worship, with a harp, on a cloud, etc.

(b) Ownership of a large house, city of gold, eternal bliss, etc.

e) Since the end of salvation is the eternal existence of the soul rather than the resurrection of the body, missions/evangelism is generally “psuchocentric” (Gk. psuche), i.e. “saving souls” for an ethereal heaven and from the ethereal Day of Judgment.[18] Jesus is thus “the way to heaven,” rather than the first to be raised from the dead.

“Only our redeemed spirits can live in a spiritual realm like heaven. Therefore, the life we know now as spiritual reality will continue in heaven, but we shall not need or desire the things associated with our present physical bodies, simply because we shall not possess physical bodies in heaven.”[19]

f) This eschatology is the ultimate reason for the loss of missiological focus during the 2nd and 3rd centuries of the Church. Moreover, the source of apathy and indifference towards missions and evangelism in the Church today is actually the result of bad eschatology, rather than an overemphasis on the subject.[20]

[1] Though few frame Western philosophy as essentially demonic, Tertullian (c.160-230) speaks of the demonization of Socrates as though it were widely known and commonly understood, “Socrates, as none can doubt, was actuated by a different spirit. For they say that a demon clave to him from his boyhood…” (Tertullian, “It is Not to the Philosophers that We Resort for Information about the Soul But to God,” A Treatise on the Soul, Chapter 1; available from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.iv.xi.i.html.)

This no doubt refers to the “inner voice” that Socrates frequently relied upon, which he referred to as the “Daimonion” but has been modernly equated with the conscience. However, Socrates claimed divine inspiration from the Daimonion (Phaedrus, 242) and related to it as a “monitor” assigned uniquely to him among humanity (Republic, 496). Having never heard of the Daimonion, Socrates’ fellow Athenians regarded it as a new divinity, and Xenophon equated it to divination (Memorabilia, IV.3.12).

Generalizing some passages in Xenophon and Plato, where Daimonion is employed metaphorically, as a symbolic expression for the inner conviction, “the attempt has been made to deliver Socrates from an embarrassing and, for a wise man and pattern of virtue, unworthy eccentricity by explaining the Daimonion as a figure of speech.” [K. Joel, Der Xenophon-tische und der echte Socrates (Berlin, 1893), 67; as quoted in Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. II (Harper, 1971), 591.]

[2] Plato’s most commonly quoted illustration is the “Allegory of the Cave” (Republic 7.514a–520a), which is related to his “Metaphor of the Sun” (507b–509c) and the “Analogy of the Divided Line” (509d–513e) which immediately precede it at the end of Book 6. The common theme in these parables is the “sun,” a metaphor for the source of illumination, which he held to be “The Form of the Good,” generally interpreted as Plato’s notion of God.

[3] “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” [Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology (1929); corrected edition, ed. David R. Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (Free Press, 1979).]

[4] Aristotle, however, disagreed with his teacher concerning the world of forms, arguing that all matter is real in and of itself. He argued that the universals (i.e. “forms”) did not produce the particulars (i.e. “copies”), but rather the universals were found in each particular. In other words, all that exists is matter, and there is no unseen metaphysical reality. This view would ultimately triumph in the resurgence of Aristotelianism during medieval scholasticism, which produced the infant form of “naturalism.” Thus, in a broad way, the struggle between Aristotle and Plato is still seen in the modern struggle between naturalism and supernaturalism.

[5] “Hellenistic” simply refers to Greek culture after the time of Alexander the Great; from Gk. Hellenikos, from the root Hellen, meaning “a Greek [person].” (Online Etymology Dictionary, Douglas Harper ed., “Hellenic,” available from http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=Hellenic.)

[6] Platonic ideas began making inroads into Christian theology through the writings of Philo (ca. 20 BC–AD 50). An Alexandrian Jew, Philo admired Greek culture and was enamored with Plato’s philosophy. He was also proud of his Jewish heritage. In his desire to offer the Greeks the best of Judaism and the Jews the best of Greek philosophy, he allegorized Scripture. He did so in contrast to the literal interpretation of many rabbis. Philo’s ideas caught on, and Alexandria became the home of a new school of theological thought.

Though the Alexandrian School was challenged in its mission by the Antiochian School, which espoused a common sense, literal interpretation, the “spiritual” interpretation of the Bible became prevalent by the time Constantine took over the Roman Empire (324), which ushered in the age of the synthesis between church and state and sealed the Greek philosophical worldview in the mind of the Western Church by creedal orthodoxy. The Church’s greatest theologians of the Medieval Ages, such as Augustine (354-430), Gregory the Great (540-604) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), were thoroughly Hellenistic in their worldview and Alexandrian in their hermeneutic.

In truth, an entirely new worldview was birthed in Alexandria, the progeny of a union between the Hebraic and Hellenistic worldviews. This new worldview has been termed “Christoplatonism,” since it retained some aspects of both classical Judeo-Christianity and classical Platonism [see Randy Alcorn, Heaven, (Tyndale House Publishers, 2004), 459.]. However, Christoplatonism developed over the centuries in tandem with Naturalism, culminating with Deism during the Enlightenment and finally parting ways with the advent of Darwinism. Thus, Christoplatonism’s modern descendant would be better termed “Christonaturalism.”

[7] The logical application of this led to many of the heresies of the early church (e.g. Gnosticism, Marcionism, docetism, Manichaeism, Arianism, etc.). Marcion (c.110-160) was the most well known of the Gnostics and the first to challenge the Church on a widespread level, while other important early Gnostics included Basilides (c.100-160), who founded a school of Gnosticism in Alexandria known as the Basilidians, and Valentinus (c.100-160), who was born in Egypt, trained in Alexandria, and founded a school in Rome after his failed candidacy for the bishopric of Rome (according to Tertullian, Adversus Valentinianos, IV).

Tertullian thus blasts any and all compromise with Greek philosophy: “These are ‘the doctrines’ of men and ‘of demons’ produced for itching ears of the spirit of this world’s wisdom… Indeed heresies are themselves instigated by philosophy. From this source came the Aeons, and I known not what infinite forms, and the trinity of man in the system of Valentinus, who was of Plato’s school. From the same source came Marcion’s better god, with all his tranquility; he came of the Stoics. Then, again, the opinion that the soul dies is held by the Epicureans; while the denial of the restoration of the body is taken from the aggregate school of all the philosophers; also, when matter is made equal to God, then you have the teaching of Zeno; and when any doctrine is alleged touching a god of fire, then Heraclitus comes in. The same subject-matter is discussed over and over again by the heretics and the philosophers; the same arguments are involved… Unhappy Aristotle! who invented for these men dialectics, the art of building up and pulling down; an art so evasive in its propositions, so far-fetched in its conjectures, so harsh in its arguments, so productive of contentions–embarrassing even to itself, retracting everything, and really treating of nothing! … What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from ‘the porch of Solomon’ [where the Apostles taught, cf. Acts 3:5], who had himself taught that ‘the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.’ Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.” (Tertullian, “Pagan Philosophy the Parent of Heresies,” Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 7; italics mine; available from http://www.tertullian.org/anf/anf03/anf03-24.htm#P3208_1148660.)

[8] Origen, De Principiis, Book II, chapter 11; italics mine; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_IV/Origen/Origen_De_Principiis/II/Chapter_11.

[9] Origen, De Principiis, Book II, Chapter 3: “On the Beginning of the World, and Its Causes”; italics mine; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_IV/Origen/Origen_De_Principiis/II/Chapter_3.

[10] “For which reason, now, we may also see of a truth that all the doctrines of the Jews of the present day [referencing the bodily resurrection] are mere trifles and fables, since they have not the light that proceeds from the knowledge of the Scriptures; whereas those of the Christians are the truth, having power to raise and elevate the soul and understanding of man, and to persuade him to seek a citizenship, not like the earthly Jews here below, but in heaven.And this result shows itself among those who are able to see the grandeur of the ideas contained in the law and the prophets, and who are able to commend them to others.” (Origen, Against Celsus, Book II, Chapter 5; italics mine; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_IV/Origen/Origen_Against_Celsus/Book_II/Chapter_V.)

Tim Warner likewise summarizes, “The idea of a heavenly destiny was common in the first century among pagans schooled in Greek philosophy. It entered Christianity gradually, after the deaths of the Apostles, through the incorporation of elements of Gnosticism. The Gnostics taught that matter was evil, and the creation was a mistake, made by a lesser god who sought to imprison mankind in physical bodies, and demand their worship. Christian Gnosticism held that Jesus came from the supreme God to free mankind from this evil physical realm, in which he had been trapped by the lesser god whom the Jews worshipped. Jesus’ mission was to show mankind the way to a higher heavenly reality (not atone for sins). Salvation was attained through levels of ‘gnosis’ (the Greek word for ‘knowledge’). Through the attainment of supernatural knowledge of various mysteries, converts were supposed to advance through stages (helped along the way by certain spirit guides) until one reached the ‘pleroma,’ the Gnostics’ version of ‘heaven.’ Since the material world was evil, Gnostics denied the resurrection of the body as well. Being freed from the bonds of earth and the material cosmos, so they could soar into the heavens, was the hope of the Gnostics.” (“Origins of the Heavenly Destiny Concept: Greek Mysticism and Gnosticism,” The Pristine Faith Restoration Society; available at http://www.pfrs.org/pd/06.html.)

[11] The logical conclusion is thus the destruction of the perceptual realm (later to be identified as the “natural” realm), as is reflected in a multitude of modern theologies and hymnologies, e.g. “When the material world perishes, we shall find ourselves in the spiritual world; when the dream of life ends, we shall awake in the world of reality; when our connection with this world comes to a close, we shall find ourselves in our eternal spirit home.” [James M. Campbell, Heaven Opened (New York: Revell, 1924), 114-15.]

[12] Moreover, as the Church’s worldview changed, so did its understanding of the fundamental problem of existence. Instead of rebellion and resultant alienation from God being the base issue, ignorance and resultant confusion became to source of man’s imperfect state. Thus, the goal of fixing of man’s imperfect state (i.e. salvation) was attained by means of learning information unto enlightenment instead of repentance unto acknowledgement of God’s governmental authority. This method is still the primary means of salvation in the Western Church. Thus, its ministers have generally become dispensers of information instead of preachers of the gospel, demanding a response to the governance of God.

[13] This is primarily an argument from omission, since there are simply no other eschatologies spoken of by the earliest church fathers. However, many are clearly premillennial—e.g. Papias, Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Methodius, Commodianus, and Lactanius (see Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001).

Justin Martyr went so far as to suggest that anyone with a different viewpoint was heretical, “Moreover, I pointed out to you that some who are called Christians, but are godless, impious heretics, teach doctrines that are in every way blasphemous, godless, and foolish… For I choose to follow not men or men’s doctrines, but God and the doctrines delivered by Him. For if you have fallen in with some who are called Christians, but who do not admit this truth, and venture to blaspheme the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; who say there is no resurrection of the dead, and that their souls, when they die, are taken to heaven; do not imagine that they are Christians… But I and others, who are right-minded Christians on all points, are assured that there will be a resurrection of the dead, and a thousand years in Jerusalem, which will then be built, adorned, and enlarged, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah and others declare.” (Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter 80; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ante-Nicene_Fathers/Volume_I/JUSTIN_MARTYR/Dialogue_with_Trypho/Chapter_LXXX.)

[14] Though generally a follower of Origen’s allegorical interpretation (cf. On Christian Doctrine, Preface), Augustine toned down the system to make it less objectionable to orthodox Christians (see Phillip Schaff, “Preface to Augustine’s The City of God,” in The Post Nicene Fathers, Vol. 2, p.5). On many points Augustine seems orthodox, and though giving lip-service to the resurrection of the body (cf. City of God, 20.6-14; 22.5-21; On Christian Doctrine, 1:19-21), he sees heaven as the ultimate end of salvation (cf. City of God, 11.1; 14.28; 19.10-11; 20.14-27) and thus assumes a heavenly resurrection (cf. City of God, 13.22-23; 22.3-4). Heaven as the ultimate destiny of the saints is the staple of the amillennial view that grew out of Augustine’s allegorical approach to Scripture.

[15] “It is then of this kingdom militant, in which conflict with the enemy is still maintained, and war carried on with warring lusts, or government laid upon them as they yield, until we come to that most peaceful kingdom in which we shall reign without an enemy, and it is of this first resurrection in the present life, that the Apocalypse speaks in the words just quoted [cf. Rev. 20:1-6]. For, after saying that the devil is bound a thousand years and is afterwards loosed for a short season, it goes on to give a sketch of what the Church does or of what is done in the Church in those days, in the words, ‘And I saw seats and them that sat upon them, and judgment was given.’ It is not to be supposed that this refers to the last judgment, but to the seats of the rulers and to the rulers themselves by whom the Church is now governed. And no better interpretation of judgment being given can be produced than that which we have in the words, ‘What ye bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and what ye loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’” (Augustine, City of God, Book XX, Chapter 9; italics mine; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_City_of_God/Book_XX/Chapter_9.)

[16] Though it is universally acknowledged among historians (but little spoken of) that there was mass movement across Europe of conversion to the Christian faith just before the turn of the millennium, it is fiercely debated as to why it happened [see Richard Fletcher, Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity (Henry Holt, 1998); James Reston, Jr., The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 A.D. (Doubleday, 1998); John Man, Atlas of the Year 1000 (Harvard Univ. Press, 1999).]. Commonly known as the most influential theologian in church history, among Catholic and Protestant theologians alike, it seems obvious that Augustine’s theology, especially his literal postmillennial eschatology, would be the driving force behind the millennium craze.

[17] Though some in modern times have identified themselves as “postmillennial,” it is a logical impossibility, since there was only one 1000 year window (0-1000AD) to be a postmillennialist (unless of course you identify the beginning of the Millennial Reign as something other than the ascension of Christ). Modern postmillennialists believe that the forces of Satan will gradually be defeated by the expansion of the Kingdom of God on the earth throughout history, by means of the Church Christianizing the entire earth, until the second coming of Christ. Thus, since modern postmillennialists and amillennialists both believe in a non-literal “millennium,” postmillennialists have begun to distinguish themselves from amillennialists by labeling themselves as “optimillennialists,” in contrast to “pessimillennialists.”

Modern optimillennialism is further divided into two main groups: 1) “pietistic postmillennialism,” which has dwindled since the 19th century, believes the world will be Christianized through worldwide revival, and 2) “reconstructionist postmillennialism,” with leaders such as Rousas John Rushdoony, Gary North, Kenneth Gentry, Greg Bahnsen, etc., believes that the world will be Christianized through theocratic social and political reform.

[18] Thus, existence is often pictured as snatching people (i.e. souls) from a house enveloped in flames (i.e. body/earth), and anything outside of leading people to a point of decision through praying “the sinners’ prayer” (i.e. “ticket to heaven”) is seen as superfluous, analogous to “straightening deck chairs on the sinking Titanic.” Moreover, since “heaven” is the ultimate redemptive end and since everything and all activities on the earth are going to be destroyed, the logical application is to focus on activities of the soul, which has birthed many Western Christian proverbs, such as, “He is so heavenly minded that he is of no earthly good,” etc.

[19] Arthur E. Travis, Where on Earth is Heaven? (Nashville: Broadman, 1974), 16.

[20] As most clearly defined by Augustine, the Church universal became the manifestation of the Kingdom of God in the physical realm: “Therefore the Church even now is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, even now His saints reign with Him…” (City of God, Book XX, Chapter 9; archived at http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_City_of_God/Book_XX/Chapter_9; see also Chapters 6-10). Thus, the eschatological hope of the Kingdom was uprooted and planted in this age in context to fallen and wicked men. As the Church became the means of God establishing His dominion upon the Earth, with the pope as the “Vicar of Christ”, the imitation of and unification with the Roman Empire was inevitable.