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Probe Ministries: Why Worldview?
Wednesday, August 22, 2012 1:05 PM

 

Written by Don Closson

Introduction

Probe has called itself a worldview ministry since its birth in 1973. When my wife and I joined Probe in 1986, the term “worldview” meant little to our friends and family; they supported our work with Probe mainly because they knew that we were passionate about our faith and that the ministry involved defending Christianity on college campuses. Since then, the concept of a Christian worldview has become popular among evangelicals, resulting in numerous publications and worldview ministries.

Download the Podcast My introduction to the idea of a Christian worldview was through the works of Francis Schaeffer. Although the specific term “worldview” was not used much by Schaeffer himself, he presented Christianity as an all-encompassing system. What attracted me to the Christian faith was Schaeffer’s worldview approach. Christianity was not just a series of propositions or church program, or even just a gospel message; it was about all of life. This idea had a great impact on many baby-boomers who lived through the turbulent 1960s and were searching for meaning and purpose.

The concept itself is simple. Think back to what it was like as you woke up this morning. As you opened your eyes you began to experience sights and sounds that your brain needed to interpret. This process of interpretation begins with a framework of beliefs that act as a lens to the world around you. This set of beliefs is your worldview. James Sire says in his book The Universe Next Door that “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” A worldview is made up of answers to the basic questions all humans face. Is there a God? What does it mean to be human? How do I know right from wrong? The way we answer these questions shapes our reality and provides context for our thoughts and actions.

For a Christian, a worldview involves more than just theological answers to these questions. Nancy Pearcey writes that “Genuine worldview thinking is far more than a mental strategy or a new spin on current events. At the core, it is a deepening of our spiritual character and the character of our lives. It begins with the submission of our minds to the Lord of the universe—a willingness to be taught by Him.”{1} Pearcey rightly notes that the foundation of any worldview is its assumptions about God. How we answer the God question affects how we answer all the other questions of life.

 

The History of the Concept

In his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Samuel Huntington writes “In the post Cold-War world, the most important distinctions among peoples are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural. Peoples and nations are attempting to answer the most basic question humans can face: Who are we?”{2} In other words, what is our worldview?

The idea of worldview in Western culture begins with Immanuel Kant’s introduction of the German word weltanschauung in a published work in 1790.{3} Kant only used the word once, referring to humanity’s intuitive understanding of the surrounding world. But others, especially German philosophers, took the idea and ran with it.

In his Philosophical Letters, Friedrich von Schelling wrote that “the chief business of all philosophy consists in solving the problem of the existence of the world.”{4} Heidegger later added that the basic question all of us face is, “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”{5} A long list of philosophers, theologians, and poets eventually joined the discussion which peaked in the early 1900s.

At about the same time, the idea of worldview or weltanschauung entered the evangelical mind through the writings of James Orr. He used the term as a tool against dramatic changes that had occurred in Europe and America during the late 1800’s. Philosopher David Naugle writes that “During Orr’s life the West was undergoing its most catastrophic cultural transition, passing through what C. S. Lewis has referred to aptly as ‘the un-christening of Europe,’ leading to the loss of the ‘Old European’ or ‘Old Western Culture’ and to the advent of a ‘post Christian’ age.”{6} Orr understood that it had become necessary to present Christianity as a complete worldview over and against the worldview being developed by an increasingly naturalistic modern society. He presented his ideas at a lecture series at the United Presbyterian Theological College in Edinburgh in 1891, and later published them in The Christian View of God and the World. 

Building upon the theological foundations of John Calvin, James Orr, along with the Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper, set in place a firm foundation upon which other well-known Christian thinkers added to. Gordon Clark, Carl Henry, Herman Dooyeweerd, and Francis Schaeffer all contributed to the argument that Christianity is best understood as complete vision of life. Their goal was the same as the apostle Paul’s when he wrote to the church at Corinth, to encourage believers that “whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”{7} 

 

Benefits of Worldview Thinking

What are some of the benefits of worldview thinking?

In his book Worldview: The History of a Concept, David Naugle argues that “Christianity is uniquely capable of satisfying the standard tests for truth that philosophers have devised and applied to any network of beliefs.”{8} Christianity is coherent and comprehensive, its parts fit together well, and it takes into account all of our experiences as human beings. It also performs well in what is called the correspondence test for truth. Christianity rings true when its claims about human nature and morality and its other worldview components are compared to the world around us; it corresponds well with our daily experiences in the world.

Naugle also argues that the “God-centered conception of a Christian worldview spares believers from a naïve fideism, a scandalous anti-intellectualism, and a cultural obscurantism.”{9} In other words, a comprehensive Christian worldview does not reject reason or science. Within this worldview all truth becomes God’s truth and Christians have nothing to fear in participating in the investigation of our world and universe with non-Christians. It also helps us to avoid an unnecessary separation from the culture that God places us into; in fact, the Bible sends us into the world and encourages us to be salt and light. A correct understanding of the Christian worldview should give believers a cognitive confidence, an apologetic strategy, a cultural relevance, and a sound, spiritual basis for life in the coherent picture of God’s larger story.

A healthy Christian worldview helps believers to avoid dividing the world into the sacred and secular; instead one learns to see all of life as part of God’s creation and possessing a sacred aspect. Our culture has a tendency to separate facts and values; it claims that only science creates facts that are to be universally acknowledged while moral values are personal and limited in scope. A Christian worldview recognizes that biblical values are meant for all people everywhere and are not limited by culture or time.

As Naugle writes, “the notion of worldview has a mysterious way of opening up the parameters of the Bible so that believers might be delivered from a fishbowl-sized Christianity into an oceanic perspective on the faith.”{10} The concepts of creation, sin, and redemption take on a broader and more comprehensive meaning. Understanding the Christian worldview helps Christians to break free from their cultural constraints and to see their faith as world-sized rather than being bound by their church’s four walls.

 

Cautions and Temptations

In the last fifty years the concept of worldview impacted evangelical thinkers Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer, among others, and has become the focus for numerous ministries. Now that we’ve seen some of the benefits of this apologetic tool, we should turn to consider some cautions regarding its use.

The first danger is a philosophical one. The worldview concept sprang from a distinctly modern view of the world, a view that sees “nature itself as something to be known, represented, used, and discarded as needed.”{11} Thinking "worldview-ishly" is an attempt to analyze a particular way of seeing reality and, in the process of doing so, one is required to objectify the world to some degree. This is contrary to the historic Christian ideal of seeing the universe in relation to its creator. The church has always described the world in sacred rather than materialistic language. The danger in using this term is that Christians might be tempted to see the world more in a secular philosophical setting than within the proper model of biblical stewardship.

A number of theologians have voiced cautions about using any language that is not “biblical” in helping to better understand our Christian faith. Martin Luther warned that “There is a danger in speaking of things of God in a different manner and in different terms than God himself employs.”{12} Karl Barth adds that “The true God and His activity can never be perceived within the framework of a general philosophy.”{13} He goes on to say that a worldview can never “substitute for genuine faith in the pure Word of God as the divine self-disclosure and exclusive source of an encounter with the living Lord.”{14} These cautions must be taken seriously. We need to be careful that we are not living by a foreign frame of reference and squeezing the Scriptures into a man-made mold.

Finally, there is a spiritual danger. Even with good intentions, we can end up mistaking the means for the end. C. S. Lewis once remarked, “There have been men before now who got so interested in proving the existence of God that they came to care nothing for God Himself.”{15} 

We can become so enamored with our worldview system and the potential it has to change culture and point others to God that we become forgetful of the God we are called to worship. Just as systematic theologies should never replace the Bible itself, the worldview concept cannot be used as a replacement for the gospel. We are called to worship God and to have a relationship with Him, and not merely to believe in a list of propositions or ideas about God.

Even with these cautions, the worldview concept can be an effective instrument for broadening the faith of Christians and help them to share that faith with their neighbors.

 

Summary

What role can worldview play in building the confidence of believers and in communicating the gospel to unbelievers?

The idea of worldviews helps to inoculate Christians against the popular concept of religious pluralism in our culture. When one can see for oneself that the religions of the world have mutually exclusive answers to the basic worldview questions regarding ultimate reality, the world, human nature, and the question of good and evil, it is less tempting to think that somehow all religions are the same or that choosing a belief doesn’t matter. Understanding other worldviews can help us to realize that every human perspective is built upon faith in a set of presuppositions, even scientific naturalism. This knowledge can help Christians to be more confident when they profess the uniqueness of Christ and the exclusive nature of the gospel.

Possessing a mature Christian worldview also provides a grid for analyzing the culture we live in. Everything from the education we receive to the entertainment we consume comes with a worldview perspective and often contains a not very subtle attempt to change the way we see the world. Knowing this should help Christians to filter out ideas that are not biblical and to be more resilient against emotionally manipulative works of art.

One of the most important aspects of worldview thinking is that it provides a language for cross cultural dialogue and evangelism. A Christian can inquire about another person’s worldview in a way that doesn’t cause defenses to rise in the same way that asking about someone’s religion can. And although we know that the Bible is the Word of God by the testimony of the Holy Spirit, worldview language can help us to show that Christianity is true to others without having to first prove the authority of the Bible.

Finally, once the worldview framework is understood and adopted it can provide a structure for a lifetime of learning. Even though grade-schoolers can be taught the basics of the Christian worldview, graduate level material can be assembled to help fill in and give texture to the framework. The question of what the Bible teaches regarding human nature alone can raise enough issues for many years of study, covering everything from free will to gender roles.

Christianity, conceived in terms of a worldview, can help give confidence to the believer and provide a language for entering into deep conversations with unbelievers that can lay the groundwork for sharing the gospel. The worldview concept is a tool that we can use to become a more effective ambassador for Christ.

Notes  

1. Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 24.
2. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (Simon & Schuster, 1996), 21.
3. David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002), 59.
4. Ibid., 60.
5. Ibid., 61.
6. Ibid., 6.
7. 1 Corinthians 10:31b
8. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, 340.
9. Ibid., 341.
10. Ibid., 342.
11. Ibid., 332.
12. Ibid., 336.
13. Ibid., 335.
14. Ibid.
15. Ibid., 337.

© 2007 Probe Ministries


 

 

About the Author  

Don ClossonDon Closson received the B.S. in education from Southern Illinois University, the M.S. in educational administration from Illinois State University, and the M.A. in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. He served as a public school teacher and administrator before joining Probe Ministries as a research associate in the field of education. He is the general editor of Kids, Classrooms, and Contemporary Education.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565

info@probe.org
www.probe.org
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