What’s the Big Deal About Worldview

By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2005
First Peter 2:21 says that: Jesus is our example and we should “follow in His steps”. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that we should love others “as He has loved us.” But before we can love and act like Jesus we must learn to think just like Jesus. Learning to think like Jesus is tantamount to developing a biblical worldview.

What’s the Big Deal About Worldview?

Introduction: Why do we need to develop a biblical worldview?

First Peter 2:21 says that: Jesus is our example and we should “follow in His steps”. Jesus said in John 13:34-35 that we should love others “as He has loved us.”

Question: How can we love and act like Jesus if we don’t learn to think like Jesus? We must first learn to think just like Jesus before we can begin to act like Jesus.

Learning to think like Jesus is tantamount to developing a biblical worldview. According to a survey conducted by George Barna, the following have a biblical worldview: 1% of Roman Catholics; 4% of Americans; 9% of “born-again” Christians; 50% of Protestant pastors.[1]

What is a Worldview?

It is the mental framework by which we perceive reality, make sense out of our life and the world around us. It’s both prescriptive (what should be) and descriptive (what is). It is a concep­tual scheme into which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and evaluate reality. Many disagreements among individuals and groups can be traced to competing worldviews. One of the reasons that some people reject the Gospel is that they have an anti-Christian conceptual scheme in some form or fashion.

The word “worldview” actually comes from the German weltanschauung, coined by Immanuel Kant in 1790. It refers to how one looks at the world and life, and how that view influences the way one lives. Everyone has a basic perspective—convictions, axioms, presuppositions that help him interpret reality and make ethical choices. It is the sum total of what we believe about the world. We usually don’t examine them; many may be subconscious.

A worldview basically is the philosophical/religious orientation of a person. It deals with the basic questions of human existence. John Calvin said that all people are incurably religious. Religion in the broadest sense of the term is that to which you are ultimately committed. In that sense, there is no such thing as a non-religious person.

What is a biblical worldview?

A biblical worldview is based on our belief in the authority of Scripture. Someone with a biblical worldview believes that his or her primary reason for living is to know, love and serve God. When we believe that the Bible is true, then we allow it to be the foundation of everything we think, say and do.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedi­ent to Christ.”

Why is it important to view Christianity as a worldview?

Our major task in life is to discover what is true and then to act in line with that truth. Truth is found only in relationship to God and His revelation. God’s revelation in Scripture is intended to be the basis of all of life. While all truth is God’s truth, Jesus Christ claims to be the embodiment or personification of truth. Genuine Christianity is more than a personal and saving relationship with Jesus; it is more than just a set of isolated doctrines. It is a way of seeing and understand­ing all of reality; it is a worldview. Understanding Christianity as a worldview will help us to better understand and evaluate the merits of the Christian faith and other points of view. Many ele­ments of any worldview are philosophical in nature; therefore it is vital that Christians become more conscious of the importance of philosophy. Christianity has an intrinsic connection to philosophy and to the world of ideas. Though philosophy and religion use a different language and may end up with different conclusions, they often ask the same questions. It is important to understand Christianity as a worldview for three reasons:

  1. It enables us to make more sense of the world we live in and order our lives more ratio­nally.
  2. It enables us to understand the forces hostile to our faith, thereby better enabling us to share and defend the faith as well as positively impacting upon our culture!
  3. Just as we can harm ourselves when we violate God’s physical laws, so we can also harm ourselves when we violate God’s moral laws.

We seek to co-operate not conflict or contradict with God’s laws. (No transgression of God’s moral law is without painful consequence.) Understand and cooperating with God’s laws is what the Bible calls wisdom. To be wise is to know reality and then to accommodate oneself to it. Those who refuse to accommodate themselves to reality are foolish and stubborn and are swimming against the stream of the universe—spitting in the wind, coloring outside the lines. To deny God is to blind ourselves to reality and the inevitable consequence is that we bump up against reality in painful ways. Christians live happier, more fulfilled and more productive lives!

Why is our worldview so important

Just as the proper eyeglasses can put the world into proper focus, so also, the correct worldview can function in much the same way. Consistent godly (biblical) thinking will lead to consistent godly living. We cannot act like Christians if we first do not think like Christians. Our worldview lies at the root of all our values, priorities and choices. It impacts every aspect of our lives: how we spend our time, our money, how we interact with people in public and private, how we order our priorities and even how we perceive God.

We need an accurate worldview for the following reasons:

  1. To unify thought and life—consistency between thinking, speaking and acting.
  2. To define what constitutes success—identification of the good life.
  3. To find hope and meaning in life—to understand the purpose of life.
  4. To guide our thinking and our actions—proper direction. It helps us…
  5. To function in a diverse culture by understanding other worldviews.

We are faced with a smorgasbord of worldviews, all of which make claims concerning truth.

Worldviews are so much a part of our lives that we see and hear them daily whether we recog­nize them or not. Every aspect of our culture is affected by worldviews. If we ignore their impor­tance, we do so to our detriment. What is considered “politically correct” is a reflection of a particular worldview.

Our worldview directly impacts on our beliefs and indirectly on our feelings and actions. A personal worldview is a combination of all you believe to be true and becomes the driving force behind every emotion, decision and action. Your worldview affects your response in every area of life. What could be more important?

What are some tests for evaluating a worldview?

  1. It should be rational; it should not ask us to believe contradictory things. In logic this is called the law of non-contradiction.
  2. It should be supported by evidence that is consistent with what one observes; i.e., Chris­tian Science—this world is a dream—not real.
  3. It should give a satisfying comprehensive explanation of reality. In other words, it should account for the most facts in the best way.
  4. It should be able to explain why things are the way they are; i.e., it should be able to ex­plain a Mother Theresa and an Adolf Hitler.
  5. It should provide a satisfactory basis for living—an accurate map for navigation. It should help us to find our way in the world.

What questions can we ask to help us discern various worldviews?

  1. Why is there something rather than nothing? Can something create itself? Can something come from nothing? Or, did someone create it?
  2. How does one explain human nature? Is human nature basically good, bad or neutral? In what ways are people similar or different?
  3. What happens to a person at death? Does the body simply decay and decompose or is it reincarnated or does it go to heaven or hell?
  4. How does one determine what is right and wrong? Is morality relative or absolute? Is it determined by God, the group, or the person?
  5. How does one know what one knows? Is our knowledge limited to the five senses? What is the place of reason and revelation?
  6. What is the meaning of history? Does life have any meaning or purpose or is it absurd? How will history be consummated?

What are some examples of different worldviews?

Secularism, Humanism, Pragmatism, Pluralism, Hedonism, Positivism, Modernism, Postmodernism, Nationalism, Feminism, Behaviorism, Pacifism, Liberalism, Deism, Nihilism, Existentialism, Christian Theism, Naturalism and The New Age Movement.

How important are one’s assumptions or presuppositions?

Truth is based on what God is and says and forms the basis of our assumptions. We all make assumptions; we all hold a number of beliefs that we presuppose or accept without con­clusive support from other beliefs or evidence. These assumptions are necessary if we are to think at all. Augustine said that, “We must believe something before we can know anything.” Whenever we think, we take certain things for granted. The consequences of our presuppositions can be very significant. For example, do we assume that the material universe was cre­ated or do we assume that it always existed? The assumptions that we make are often unex­pressed, sometimes unrecognized and often unproved. The most important assumptions are the beliefs we have about God, man and the world. These assumptions form a perspective, which influences how we interpret, events, circumstances and experiences. These basic as­sumptions provide the boundaries within which all other beliefs are held.

Further, basic assumptions or presuppositions are important because of the way they deter­mine the method and goal of thought. They can be compared to a train running on tracks that have no switches. Once a person commits to a certain set of assumptions, the direction and destination of his thinking is determined. Any worldview contains basic assumptions about the nature of reality in an attempt to make sense out of our world. The assumptions that we make clearly color every aspect of our worldview. Our assumptions affect our perception and under­standing of the world in which we live. We are all familiar with the expression “garbage in, gar­bage out.” If you start with the assumptions of a particular worldview, you will end up with the conclusions of that worldview.

The non-Christian has great difficulty acting in a consistent fashion with his presuppositions because they do not reflect reality. For example, it hard to consistently live as if everything is morally relative. Only the Christian can act consistent with the Christian worldview because his assumptions are consistent with the way the world really is. The assumptions that we hold determine our perception and the distinctions that we recognize. Assumptions are what we believe to be true, but we do not comprehend all truth; however, our assumptions are founda­tional to our ability to make distinctions.

What are some of the basic elements of a worldview?

  1. The fact of the matter is that something exists; the universe is rational and predictable. Why? Where did it come from?
  2. Second, all people have absolutes. Everyone has an ultimate object of loyalty—a true reference point of reality. For some this is God. For others man is the measure of all things.
  3. Two contradictory statements cannot be right. This primary law of logic is denied by many. Ideally speaking only one worldview can correctly mirror reality.
  4. All people exercise faith. All of us presuppose certain things to be true without absolute proof—inferences or assumptions upon which a belief is based.
  5. Our worldview includes ourselves, our relationship to God, others and the world in which we live, as well as our understanding about how to rectify what’s wrong with the world. A well-rounded worldview includes beliefs in the following areas:
  1. God (Theology)
  2. Reality (Metaphysics)
  3. Creation (Cosmology)
  4. Knowledge (Epistemology)
  5. Morality (Ethics)
  6. Human Nature (Psychology)
  7. Redemption (Soteriology)
  8. Purpose (Teleology)
  9. The Future (Eschatology)
  10. Ideals (The way things ought to be)

(See Appendix A for a more detailed break down of this question)

What is the single most important ingredient is our worldview?

The biggest factor is our understanding of God. Who is our ultimate object of loyalty? “What comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us” (A. W. Tozer). (Note: our most important value is the source of our core values—those values which are most important to us.)

How is it most frequently developed?

George Barna has made the following observations:

  1. While everyone has a worldview; only a few have a coherent one or are able to articulate it.
  2. Most people don’t think their worldview is a central defining element in their life, but it is.
  3. They spend surprisingly little time intentionally considering and developing their worldview.
  4. Most people develop their worldview through unconscious evolution and social acceptance.
  5. Americans rarely interact with each other on a substantive level regarding matters and issues that relate to worldview development and clarification. They seldom talk about it.
  6. They have little idea how to process the interaction or how to progress from their existing position, consequently they fail to develop or more realistically refine their worldview.
  7. They do not know how to integrate core biblical principles to form a unified and meaningful response to the challenges and opportunities of life.[2]

Are there any non-rational foundations of rational thinking?

One cannot ignore the personal dimension in one’s acceptance and evaluation of a worldview.

For example, human beings are never neutral with regard to their attitude toward God. We either worship the one true God and serve Him, or we involve ourselves in gross idolatry. We cannot change our worldview without first changing some of our basic assumptions about life.

How can we determine if we have a biblical worldview?

Can you answer all the following questions in the affirmative?

  1. Does absolute (moral) truth exist?
  2. Is absolute truth defined by the Bible?
  3. Did Jesus live a sinless life?
  4. Is God the all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator of the Universe, and does He still rule it today?
  5. Is salvation a free gift from God that cannot be earned?
  6. Is Satan a real being that exists and is at work in the world?
  7. Does a Christian have a responsibility to share his faith in Christ with other people?
  8. Is the Bible accurate in all its teachings?

Only 9% of “born again Christians answered “yes” to all eight questions therefore only 9% have a biblical worldview. Our actions reveal what we believe to be real and true.[3]

How does a biblical worldview get diluted?

We are all constantly bombarded by non-biblical worldview ideas from television, film, music, newspapers, magazines, books, advertisements and secular academia. Because of our intrinsic sinfulness, these ideas seductively appeal to our sinful nature and we often incorporate them into our personal worldview, often without out even knowing it. Paul said, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (12:2).

Romans 12:1 says, “…Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold…” (J.B. Phillips) Most people go through life not recognizing that their personal worldview has been deeply affected by the world. The secular humanistic view of the world affects our thinking more than we realize. We then are taken “captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which de­pends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (Col. 2: 8).

What is our calling as Christians?

Our calling is not only to order our lives by divine principles but also to engage the world. We are to fulfill both the great commission and the cultural commission. To engage the world re­quires that we understand the great idea that compete for people’s hearts and minds. It is great ideas that inform the mind, fire the imagination move the heart and shape the culture. History is the recording of the rise and fall of great ideas (worldviews) that form our values and move us to act. While the battles may involve specific issues, the war is for competing worldviews—be­tween the Christian worldview and the various secular and spiritual worldviews arrayed against it. This is what we must understand if we are going to be effective in evangelizing our world and transforming our culture.

What can we do in pursuing a biblical worldview?

By diligently learning, understanding, assimilating and applying God’s truths in every area of our lives, we can begin to develop a deep comprehensive faith that will stand against the unre­lenting tide of our culture’s non-biblical ideas. As we trust and obey biblical truth, empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, we will begin to make wise decisions, which will result in virtuous actions. We will be able to form appropriate responses to questions on abortion (sanctity of life), same sex marriage (sanctity of sex), moral relativism (sanctity of truth), etc. In the end, our decisions and actions will reveal what we ultimately believe, for good or ill.

We have briefly considered the subject of worldviews. Let’s return to one of the definitions we started with: A worldview provides a model of the world, which guides its adherents in the world.

  1. If our model for the world includes an infinite personal God, as in Christian Theism, that belief should provide guidance for one’s life.
  2. If our model rejects God, as in Naturalism, again such a belief serves as a guide. Or…
  3. If our model asserts that we are all part of god, as in New Age Pantheism, yet again our life is being guided by such a conception. These examples remind us that we are living in a culture that puts us in touch constantly with many and varied ideas. They can’t all be true.

How can we apply this article to our daily lives?

  1. Some of us may be confronted with the need to think more deeply than ever before.
  2. Some of us may need to purge those things that are contrary to a Christian worldview.
  3. Some of us need to better understand how our thinking is directly related to our living.
  4. Some of us may need to better understand that the abundant life is found only in Christ.
  5. Some of us may need to let God guide our thoughts more completely. And—
  6. Some of us may need to let God’s wise and loving principles more fully guide our actions

Paul’s admonition to the believers in ancient Colossae couldn’t be more contemporary or helpful in light of our discussion. He wrote, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2: 8).

The Bottom line: What measures are you taking to develop a biblical worldview?

Appendix A: What Are the Major Elements of a Worldview?

A well-rounded worldview includes beliefs in the following areas:

1. God (Theology)

The most important element in a worldview is what it says or doesn’t say about God. Worldviews differ greatly on this matter. Some important questions to ask are:

  • Does God exist? If so, what is the nature of God? Is there only one true God?
  • Is God a personal being?—The kind who can know, love and act?
  • Is God an impersonal force or power? Do atheists exist or is the term an oxymoron?

Calvin said that man is incurably religious. There really is no such thing as an atheist. Every­body worships someone or something. Whatever that object of ultimate concern; it will be our god. People worship things, ideals, others, or themselves instead of God.

2. Ultimate Reality (Metaphysics—Cosmology)

Metaphysics deals with what constitutes Ultimate reality. Questions in this area include :

  • What is the relationship between God and the universe?
  • Is the existence of the universe a fact? Are God and the world co-equal and interdependent?
  • Is it best understood in a mechanistic (non purposeful) way?
  • Is the universe a closed system? (No miracles)
  • Can someone outside the system circumvent natural law? (Miracles)

3. Creation (Cosmology)

Cosmology has to do with the study of the universe and how it came into being.

  • Is the universe (matter) eternal? Or did it have a beginning? If so, when? How?
  • Did an eternal, personal, omnipotent God create the universe?
  • How old is the universe? How is it sustained? By what laws does it operate?
  • How, when and why was the earth created? Is it unique?
  • What is the nature and purpose of the universe? Or is there one?

4. Knowledge (Epistemology)

This area deals with the question, how do we know what we know? Some questions in this area include :

• Can we trust our senses?

  • What are the proper roles of reason and sense experience in knowledge?
  • Are our intuitions more or less dependable than our sense experience of the world?
  • Is truth relative or must it be the same for all rational beings?
  • What is the relationship between religious faith and reason?
  • Is the scientific method the only or best method of knowledge?
  • Is knowledge about God possible? If so, how?
  • Can God reveal Himself to human beings? Is so, how?
  • Can God reveal information to human beings?

5. Morality (Ethics)

The area has to do with how do you determine right from wrong? Some important questions in this area are:

  • Are there moral laws that govern human conduct?
  • Is morality relative or absolute? Why or why not? Are moral laws discovered or created by people.
  • Is God or man the source of morality? Can the same thing be right for one person and wrong for another? What is the relation between ethics and the law of non-contradiction?
  • Does morality transcend individuals, cultures and history?

6. Human Nature (Psychology)

This question deals with the true nature and make up of humankind. Some questions in this area include :

  • Is man simply a product of time plus chance?
  • Is he the creation of an infinite, personal God?
  • Is man created in God’s image? If so, what does that mean?
  • Is man simply another animal controlled by his instincts?
  • If so, how can he be held responsible for anything?
  • Is our nature any different now then when we were first created?
  • Does human nature change? What is wrong with man?
  • Is our main problem ignorance or something else?

7. Redemption (Soteriology)

The subject deals with how to solve man’s most basic problem. Questions in this area in­clude:

  • Is there such a thing as sin? Is there a need for salvation?
  • Was there such an historical event as the fall? What provision has God made for it?
  • Where were the effects of the fall and how can they be reversed.
  • Is there something we can do to save ourselves?
  • Is there something God has done to provide a way for us to be saved? If so, what?

8. Purpose (Theology)

This area deals with the purpose for which we were created. Some important questions in this area include :

  • What am I here for? Is there any meaningful purpose in life?

• Are we simply here to grab for all the gusto we can get?

  • If there is no ultimate purpose to life, does it really matter how we live?
  • How meaningful is life without a significant purpose in life.
  • Does my life really matter? Can I make a difference?
  • Is my life of any temporal or eternal consequence?
  • If I am only a product of evolution what meaning can my life have?
  • Am I responsible for determining the ultimate purpose of my life?
  • Does God love me and have a wonderful plan for my life? If so, what?
  • What will determine if my life is ultimately in vain?

9. The Future (Eschatology)

This area deals with the end of history, as we know it. Questions include :

  • Where is history going? Is there any ultimate purpose in the universe?
  • Is there life after death? If so, what kind of future will I have?
  • Do my actions in this life affect the quality of my existence in the next life? Are there any other factors that can influence the outcome?
  • Is death simply the extinction of by being and the beginning of decomposition?
  • How will human history be consummated? With a bang or a whimper?
  • Is God in control of the universe and has He said how it will end?
  • Does God have an over-all purpose that he is working out and will bring to fruition?

10. Ideals (The way things should be)

Can things be better that they currently are? Do we have ideals or a vision of how we think the world should be? Should there be less selfishness, less stupidity and less corruption? Should there be more just and less poverty? Should people make fewer excuses and accept more responsibility? Should people be more loving and less hurtful toward others? Should there be more justice and less injustice? How do we explain the disparity of the way things are and the way they ought to be? Each worldview has a different explanation of this disparity.

Conclusion

Whether we know it or not, whether we like it or not, each of us has a worldview. Worldviews function as interpretive conceptual schemes to explain why we see the world as we do, why we often think and act as we do. Competing worldviews often come into conflict. These clashes may be innocuous or they may result in a major war between nations. Competing worldviews is the cause of many of our disagreements. Worldviews are double-edged swords. They can greatly help or hinder our efforts in understanding God, the world and ourselves.

Appendix B: The Foundation of a Christian World View

Developing a Christian World View, in part, involves asking and answering the most basic questions of human existence from a Biblicalperspective. Specifically, how would the Bible answer the following questions?

  1. Does God exist? If so, what is He like?—The question of theology.
  2. How do you know what you know? —The question of epistemology.
  3. Why is there something rather than nothing? —The question cosmology
  4. Where did I come from? —The question of origin.
  5. Who am I? —The question of identity and relationships.
  6. How can I explain human nature? —The question of the imago dei.
  7. What went wrong? —The question of the nature of evil.
  8. How can it be fixed? —The question of redemption.
  9. How can I know right from wrong? —The question of morality.
  10. What am I here for? —The question of purpose.
  11. What happens when I die? —The question of immortality
  12. Where am I going? —The question of destiny.
  13. What is the meaning of history? —The question of eschatology.

Appendix C: The Gospel of the Grace of God as Revealed in Jesus Christ

3 Worldviews Religion Christianity Irreligion
Moral inclination— Moralistic-legalistic Moral-gracious Hedonistic-relative
Righteousness— Self-righteousness Christ-righteousness Unrighteous
Truth and Grace— Truth without grace Full of Grace with truth Grace without truth
Acceptance w/God— Through attainment Through Christ Human nature good
Divine attribute— Justice Holiness & Love God is all loving
Relation to Christ— Rejects the Savior Accepts the Savior Rejects the Savior
Lordship— Self in control Jesus is Lord Self in control
Takes pride in— Religion Christ Worldly pride
Relation to Jesus— Misuses Jesus Understand-accept Rejects Jesus
Holy and gracious— Misses God’s grace Affirms both Miss God’s holiness
Relation to Culture— Cultural Imperialism Cultural Flexibility Cultural Relativism
Grace and sin— Rejects grace Affirms both Rejects sin
Seeking God— Seek God wrongly Seek God rightly Don’t seek God
Values— Not based on grace Biblical values Only relative values

Notes:

  1. “A Biblical Worldview Has a Radical Effect on a Person’s Life,” http://www.barna.org/ FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=154
  2. George Barna, Think Like Jesus (Integrity Pub., 2003), pp. xviii-xix.
  3. Ibid., p. 28.

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