“Whether we realize it or not, all of us possess a worldview. We make one of two basic assumptions. We view the universe as an accident or we assume an intelligence beyond the universe who gives the universe order, and for some of us, meaning to life. ” — Dr. Armand Nicoli, The Question of God
This post comes from the first in a series of talks I’ve recently given on the topic of worldview at my local church. This series has grown out of 20 years of experience teaching a class for high school Seniors. It has been a challenge to boil an entire school year’s worth of material into a six week series of 30-40 minute talks. It is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, though–and it has been a great blessing!
Let’s begin with the word itself.
Dallas Seminary professor David Naugle, author of Worldview: History of a Concept (2002), locates the origins of the term “worldview” in German philosophy’s Weltanshauung (Kant, Fichte, Shelling, Hegel, et. Al.), a word used to describe “a set of beliefs that underlie and shape all human thought and action.” Christian applications of the concept first appear in the writings of Scottish Presbyterian theologian James Orr (1844-1913) in The Christian View of God and the World (1893).
Dutch Reformed statesman, theologian, and educator Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920), addressed the topic systematically in his 1907 Stone Lectures at Princeton (revisited in the 1998 book, Creating a Christian Worldview). Finally, the concept gained a wider popular audience through the late-2oth century ministry of American Presbyterian theologian and apologist Francis Schaeffer (1912-84) and his classic work, How Should We Then Live?
A good working definition of “worldview” might be: a defining and interpretive narrative used to explain/understand the world and your place in it. It “reflects, interprets, and assigns value to reality, providing a model of the world that guides in the world” (Fr. John Oliver, “Hearts & Minds” podcast). Your worldview does not just inform, it motivates and directs your beliefs and actions. “How we see determines who we are” (Fr. John again). Prov. 23:7 (NASB): “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.”
Listen to Fr. John Oliver’s podcast episodes on Worldview at http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hearts_and_minds/the_christian_worldview
Here’s my personal definition: your worldview is the “story” you believe about who you are, why things are the way things are, and what really matters in life. All worldviews 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?)
The Worldview “L.E.N.S.”
Keeping in mind the fact that worldview not only informs but also motivates human behavior, worldview education becomes a tool for “navigating the complexities of modern life” (the tagline for one of my favorite online journals, http://mercatornet.com). I see this task as a four-step process.
LEARN the human story in order to understand the human condition (cultural literacy), so we can . . .
ENGAGE the world from an informed perspective (call to action), helping us understand . . .
NEEDS that exist in your sphere of influence (call to compassion), so we can propose and pursue . . .
SOLUTIONS that truly understand the problem and offer genuine hope to people (call to recovery), allowing us to be “salt and light” in the world!
Too many times Christians tend to start at the end of this process, pointing the finger at what’s wrong with the world before taking the time (and doing the hard work of study) to learn why things are the way they are. True and lasting solutions to cultural and social problems must come from understanding how things got to be the way they are first.
Consider the example of Paul in Athens in Acts chapter 17. Before telling the gathered philosophers on Mars Hill where they were wrong and how things “really were,” he first took the time to observe and understand their culture and history. He begins by recognizing their piety, then uses that as a starting point for telling them the true story behind their “unknown god.”
The call to be “salt and light” to the world begins with being informed and engaged agents of cultural influence and change. We need to keep in mind the story we know about why things are the way they are so we can help our culture recover its true story. J.R.R. Tolkien, in his essay “On Fairy Stories,” speaks to this need: “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.”
We also must be steadfastly committed to the Biblical account of the human story as the truth about the reality of all things. It is not merely one religious interpretation of reality among many others. We do not get to decide the nature of reality ourselves; we find the reality of God in His Creation and in His Word, and we align ourselves with it.
The Biblical account of the human story communicates God’s true intentions for humanity from Genesis through the Gospel and the Great Commission. Human disobedience allowed sin to set humanity on a path of progressive (and often destructive) self-determination. God’s grace provides the only means of personal redemption, cultural recovery, and the recognition of His Sovereignty over all things.
Finally, the Biblical account of God’s revelation of Himself and His Truth through the Jewish Witness and the Christian Gospel is faithfully depicted and foundationally essential. Institutional Judaism and Christianity, as “world religions,” express and extend God’s revelation into culture. But we must also humbly recognize that, because of the fallen nature of the world and their human leaders, religious institutions (and individual believers) have often failed to represent God’s Truth faithfully. Such failures do not, however, negate the Truth of the biblical account of God’s revelation.
We cannot allow fears that our culture is beyond redemption to cloud our vision for the people all around who have lost their story. The challenge of Romans 1:16 must always be before us: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.”
Because God created us in his image and likeness, we are blessed to share in the multi-faceted gifts we’ve been given by Him so we may fully know and engage our world. Each week in this series we will look at various ways knowing and embracing the Truth of God’s Story about the human identity, condition, and destiny. Coming up . . .
- “Once Upon a Time” – understanding the world through the imagination
- “Making Sense of Things” – understanding the world through senses and experience
- “What’s on Your Mind?” – understanding the world through reason, logic & intellect
- “How Do You Feel About That?” – understanding the world through feelings and emotions
- “Truth Be Told” – understanding how the Gospel resonates with and redeems all the above and how we, as the Church, all called to be “salt and light,” bearing and embodying God’s Truth in our fallen world.