Worldview: the L.E.N.S. of Life

I’ve taught a class for high school seniors for nearly 20 years, called simply, “Worldviews.”  Since it seems my time teaching this course “in class” has come to an end, I’ve been working on something of a “highlights” version to present in serial form here, a little at a time.  For some of you it will be a trip down memory lane; for others it will be a new experience.  Hopefully for all there will be something of value you can use

For those who have taken this class over the years, you should recognize a lot of the basics which have always been the focus of each semester.  But you’ll also notice a lot of new stuff that I’ve integrated over the past few years, particularly the “L.E.N.S.” approach and a great deal of new supporting video material.  Before we begin, let me acknowledge some general sources which have helped shaped this class (click on the source to find out more details; add these to your “Worldviews” libraries!)

Sophie’s World: a novel about the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Philosophy for Beginners by Richard Osborne and Ralph Edney

The Journey by Peter Kreeft

videos from  The School of Life

Now, let’s start things off with a quote  to set the stage for our guiding vision for the class:

“We need recovery—a regaining of a clear view.  I do not say ‘seeing things as they are’ and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say ‘seeing things as we are (or were) meant to see them’—as things set apart from ourselves.”—  J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy Stories”

A “worldview” reflects, interprets, and assigns value to reality.  There are, and have always been, a multitude of worldviews offering “answers to the Big Questions of life.”   We will spend our time together surveying the philosophies, religions, and ideas that influence most worldviews.   The biggest question we’ll tackle is this:  are worldviews mere constructs—“in the eye of the beholder,” so to speak?  Or, as Tolkien infers, is there a way of “seeing things as we were meant to see them”?

If all goes well, you won’t be left like poor Jeremy (in the comic below) wondering what life is all about.  You will understand (if you want to).

Zits (c) Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman

What is a Worldview?

“A worldview provides a model of the world which guides [us] in the world” —  Fr. John Oliver

A lot of really smart people who write about  the idea of “worldview” have come up with a wide varitey of definitions for the word.  Here are a few (from David A. Noble’s “Understanding the Times” curriculum, a pioneer in worldview education):
  • “The term worldview refers to any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement, or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God and the world.” — David A. Noebel, Worldviews in Collision
  • “A world view is . . . an interpretive framework through which or by which one makes sense of the data of life and the world” — Norman L. Geisler and Wm. D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: a Handbook on Worldviews
  • “A world view is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, constistently or inconsistently) about the basic make-up of our world.” — James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: a Basic Worldview Catalogue

Note some of the key words in these definitions that express the essence of worldview: overarching, understanding, interpretation, presuppositions (I particularly like Dr. Sire’s use of qualifiers in parentheses!).  The bottom line is that everyone has a worldview, whether they know it or not.  Some writers, particularly philosopher Peter Kreeft and apologist C. S. Lewis (and cartoonist Charles Schulz in the comic below) use the term “philosophy of life” or “personal philosophy” to communicate the same idea.  From now on, I’ll use the simple abbreviation “WV” instead of the whole word.

Here’s my personal “definition”:  WV is “a defining and interpreting narrative used to explain/understand the way things are, why they are that way, and why it matters.  It is the story you believe about who you are, why you are, and what life is really all about.” (in other words, “What’s your story?”)

Father John Oliver (quoted at the top of this page) gives some insight into what makes the Biblical WV unique from all others in his Hearts and Minds podcast.  Listen to this episode titled “The Christian Worldview”

Here’s a few key points from Fr. John . . .

  • a WV is not reality; it reflects, interprets and assigns value to reality
  • a WV “provides a model of the world which gudes [us] in the world”
  • “who ware are determines how we see”

So . . . a WV is not just a “mindset”–it is also a “heartset”!

“Peanuts” (c) Charles Schulz
All WVs address three “Big Questions” about the human experience, either explicitly or through passive implication:

  • The Question of Human Identity (Who are we? What makes us human? Where do we come from?)
  • The Question of Human Condition (Why are we here? How should we live? Who decides things?)
  • The Question of Human Destiny (What gives us meaning, purpose, direction? Where are we going?)

As we encounter various WVs on our journey through cultural history, always take time to consider how any particular WV answers, ignores, or even dismisses the three “Big Questions.” But it is important not to merely consider the answers, but also the implications and consequences of any particular answer.  What does this answer say about us?  How does it impact how we live?  Where will it take us?  Most importantly–Is this really who we want to be; how we want to live, where we want to go?  WV is not just a framework through which we “see” the world; it shapes our perceptions and understandings of every part of the human experience.  Our WV does more than just inform us—it also directs us.

Frank and Ernest (c) Bob Thaves

WV as the L.E.N.S. of life . . .

To sum things up in a nice catchy acronym:  WV is the “L.E.N.S.” through which you “see” life and “act” accordingly . . .

LEARN the human story in order to understand the human condition (this is a call to cultural literacy).  Identify essential components and interpret influential expressions of any WV.   Then you are able to . . .

ENGAGE the world from an informed perspective with purposeful action (a call to action).  Use your knowledge to formulate a personal WV and develop WV “habits of life.”  Then you can identify . . .

NEEDS that exist in your sphere of influence (this is a call to compassion).  Identify and examine ways in which people and culture suffers from the consequences of misguided WV thinking, misunderstanding of human identity.  Then you can propose and pursue . . .

SOLUTIONS that truly understand the problem and offer genuine hope to people (this is a call to recovery).  Identify and implement purposeful personal strategies and cultural interactions that positively impact your own spheres of influence (school, work, church, family, city, etc.).  Be “salt and light” as a “culture maker” and “faithful presence” in the world!

Next up:  Five Themes that will be the framework for upcoming lessons

About Rick D. Williams

Teaching and writing have been my life's work for over two decades as a journalist and educator. My degrees in History were earned at Illinois State University, and I've done additional graduate work at Lincoln Christian Seminary and Urbana Theological Seminary. Over the years I’ve led conference workshops and authored articles and book chapters on topics ranging from religious education and international student ministry to state and local history.
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