This is the first installment of a series of posts, introducing terms and ideas that may be unfamiliar to many but are increasingly necessary for the thinking Christian to understand.
At first glance, worldview seems like an arcane topic reserved only for the more philosophically minded. Discussing worldviews can get tedious and sometimes downright arbitrary. However, worldview thinking is becoming increasingly necessary for Christians to understand the world around them properly.
The term worldview refers to a person’s general concept of reality. It is general, being the perspective from which a person approaches every aspect of life. It is a concept, existing as a set of ideas that precede further thinking and action. It deals with reality, viewing the ultimate state of everything as it truly is.
Simply put, our worldview is the way we view the world.
Our worldview consists of what we acknowledge as ultimate reality, whether that is a personal God, or a universal spirit, or the material universe. Our worldview is how we make sense of our experiences and assign meaning to them. Our worldview is largely responsible for why we think and act the way we do.
Our worldview will determine how we answer life’s biggest questions.
- What is real? – Our answer depends on what our worldview says about the nature of reality.
- Who am I? – Our answer depends on what our worldview says about our identity.
- Why am I here? – Our answer depends on what our worldview says about our purpose in life.
- How do I know what is right and what is wrong? – Our answer depends on what our worldview says about morality.
- Where am I going? – Our answer depends on what our worldview says about our destiny.
We may not spend time on a regular basis, thinking through these questions. However, because these questions are so basic to our lives, forming a worldview to live by is inevitable, whether we know it or not. To quote Francis Schaeffer, “People function on the basis of their worldview more consistently than even they themselves may realize.”
Research psychologist Artur Nilsson agrees.
While it is true, I believe, that most persons do not have an articulated and organized philosophy of life, everyone does have a worldview. But we’re not typically aware of our worldviews in our daily lives. They’re so basic to our thinking that they become invisible to us. They present themselves as the obvious truth. We use them to think, perceive, and act in a largely habitual and unconscious way, but we rarely reflect upon them.
So, here’s the thing…
How beneficial would it be if we were to think deeply about our worldview and worldviews in general? What if we intentionally curated and cultivated the way we think about the world around us? What if we took up the task of worldview thinking?
After all, we are what we think. (Proverbs 23:7)
Ultimately, the question is not whether we have a worldview, but how well formed our worldview is.
I submit that a fully formed worldview will include at least four components:
- A meta-narrative that acts as the overarching story of everything.
- A belief system that builds the fundamental ideas we have about reality and existence.
- A life commitment that establishes a direction for the way we live.
- A community that forms the identity and meaning we shared with others.
That is not to say that we have the opportunity to create our own version of the world and view it however we wish. Continuing Schaeffer’s quote from earlier, “The problem is having, and then acting upon, the right worldview…” (emphasis mine). So, what is the right worldview? He specifies, “[T]he worldview which gives men and women the truth of what is.”
In other words, our job is to find and embrace a worldview that corresponds with reality, independent of our attitude towards it. We should want a worldview that allows us to view the world as it really is.
For us Christians, Christianity is not simply a religion (although it is that). It is our worldview. It is not only meaningful to us; it gives meaning to everything around us.
C.S. Lewis put it this way, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
Because everyone has a worldview, just about everything can be analyzed through worldview thinking. Artists do not create without their worldview. Government officials do not legislate without their worldview. Therefore, everything from art to politics can be—should be—thought of in terms of worldview thinking.
Worldview thinking is important for several reasons:
1. Personal Consideration
James W. Sire, who advocated worldview thinking throughout the late twentieth century, wrote:
One of the most important uses of worldview analysis is self-analysis. To become conscious of your fundamental nature of reality, to be able to tell yourself just what you believe about God, the universe, yourself, and the world around you—what else could be more important?
Ideas have consequences. Furthermore, the bigger the idea is, the bigger the consequences are. It is therefore impossible to exaggerate the effect our worldview has on our life. Examining our worldview allows us to see the direction our ideas are taking us.
Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While this is manifestly true for everyone, the axiom runs deeper for the Christian. For us, the unexamined faith is not worth having.
The Apostle Paul tells us, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves.” Note the emphasis: it is not so much that we should examine the faith, but that we should examine our faith. We ought to check every idea we have against the truth of God’s Word. We ought to ensure that we view the world the way God intends. After all, he created us with the ability to do so.
We ought not to take worldviews for granted, if for no other reason than because they are what make us who we are.
2. Personal Evangelization
Earlier this month, my church had a missionary present his work in Nepal, working with Tibetan people in a city close to the border of the two countries. During a Q&A session with a few dozen teenage boys, I as the moderator asked what the biggest cultural shock has been for him. He told us that in a word, it was the worldview.
He went on to give the example of John 3:16, a typical starting point for American believers sharing the gospel with American nonbelievers. To the Nepalese Hindu or the Tibetan Buddhist, the first phrase, “For God…,” would need clarification since Hinduism has thirty-three million deities and Buddhists technically have none. It gets even more complicated at “so loved” since both of these pantheistic religions see love as an adverse distraction from spiritual enlightenment. Even more difficult is trying to get those seeking to escape endless reincarnation to see “everlasting life” as a good thing.
The bottom line is if you want to evangelize someone with a Hindu or Buddhist worldview, John 3:16 is not a great place to start.
Closer to home, the American Culture & Faith Institute recently found that only about 10% of U.S. adults have a definitively Biblical worldview. What is even more jarring is that only 1 out of 5 adults who say they have a Biblical worldview actually do. Long gone are the days when Christians could assume that a person with whom they share the gospel has a worldview in which the gospel makes sense.
Nevertheless, we can remain unashamed. What the gospel has to offer is precisely what all other worldviews are missing. The Biblical worldview gives rationality where there would be none otherwise. It gives meaning where there should be none otherwise. It gives hope where there could be none otherwise.
We ought not to take worldviews for granted, if for no other reason than because ours has what all others are missing.
3. Cultural Interpretation
Why are scientists so respected in the West? Why are family elders so respected in the East? Why do we vote the way we vote? Why do we laugh at what we laugh at? Why do cultural trends come and go?
In a word, worldviews.
Theologian and philosopher James Anderson put it this way:
Worldviews operate at both the individual level and the societal level. Rarely will two people have exactly the same worldview, but they may share the same basic type of worldview. Moreover, within any society, certain worldview types will be represented more prominently than others, and will therefore exert greater influence on the culture of that society.
As a worldview grows in influence, or rather when people who ascribe to a particular worldview grow in influence, the culture at large begins to take shape around them. Therefore, as we watch the culture around us, we must watch carefully for the worldview implications in all that we see. From news headlines to TV show titles, 140 characters to 300-page novels, a worldview is laying just below the surface of each.
Watching for worldview implications gives us greater insight into the causes and effects of cultural changes. It enables us to challenge negative trends and allows us to celebrate positive trends. Most importantly, it empowers us to offer the true alternative.
We ought not to take worldviews for granted, if for no other reason than because they allow us to see culture for what it is.
Dr. Anderson gives an illustration, stating, “Worldviews are like belly buttons. Everyone has one, but we don’t talk about them very often.”
Perhaps because we are afraid of what might be in it? I suppose you can take the metaphor any direction you like. But, he continues, “Or perhaps it would be better to say that worldviews are like cerebellums: everyone has one and we can’t live without them, but not everyone knows that he has one.”
A Christian should know they have a worldview, and like a cerebellum, they should use it to coordinate and regulate their thinking and actions according to God’s Word.
 Francis Schaeffer, Complete Works, Volume 5, p. 252.
 James Sire, Naming the Elephant (InterVarsity Press, 2004), p. 138.
 James Anderson, “What in the World Is a Worldview?: Part 1” (https://www.crossway.org/articles/what-in-the-world-is-a-worldview-2/)
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