I’d like to make two points about the term “worldview.”
First, many Christians refer to a “Christian Worldview” but they do so in error.
And second, most people don’t realize that the term is a bad one. It is a manifestation of a particular worldview that is in opposition to a “Christian worldview.”
Worldview: What it isn’t
Some Christian preachers, bloggers, and authors use the term “Christian worldview” to mean social conservatism. They seem to imply that having a Christian worldview means practicing abstinence until in a heterosexual marriage and, also, to not getting an abortion or smoking. Many others believe a Christian worldview means having a social consciousness that leads you to help the homeless, the refugee, or the at-risk teen. Others reduce the Christian worldview to purchasing decisions–-they have a hybrid car and eat free-range chickens.
Christian morality, social activism, and purchasing decisions may be manifestations of a Christian worldview, but they don’t constitute the worldview. Our worldview is much bigger and much deeper than that.
Janes Sire’s definition of worldview is a good one.
A set of presuppositions or assumptions held consciously or unconsciously, consistently or inconsistently, about the basic make up of reality. — James Sire
A Christian Worldview
The term “Christian” worldview can be problematic because, some argue, that there is not one “Christian worldview.” But I don’t think there are as many as some suppose. There aren’t as many Christian worldviews as there are denominations, for instance. Most of the things that differentiate one denomination from another are more superficial than worldviews, which are in deeper regions.
Riffing off of the four worldview questions offered by Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton in The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview,
- Who are we?
- Where are we?
- What is wrong?
- What is the solution?
N. T. Wright offers a summary of how the early church answered these questions:
Who are we? We are a new group, a new movement, and yet not new, because we claim to be the true people of the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator of the world. We are the people for whom the creator god was preparing the way through his dealings with Israel. To that extent, we are like Israel; we are emphatically monotheists, not pagan polytheists, marked out from the pagan world by our adherence to the traditions of Israel, and yet distinguished from the Jewish world in virtue of the crucified Jesus and the divine spirit, and by our fellowship in which the traditional Jewish and pagan boundary-markers are transcended.
Where are we? We are living in the world that was made by the god we worship, the world that does not yet acknowledge this true and only god. We are thus surrounded by neighbours who worship idols that are, at best, parodies of the truth, and who thus catch glimpses of reality but continually distort it. Humans in general remain in bondage to their own gods, who drag them into a variety of degrading and dehumanizing behavior-patterns. As a result, we are persecuted, because we remind the present power-structures of what they dimly know, that there is a different way to be human, and that in the message of the true god concerning his son, Jesus, notice has been served on them that their own claim to absolute power is called into question.
What is wrong? The powers of paganism still rule the world, and from time to time even find their way into the church. Persecutions arise from outside, heresies and schisms from within. These evils can sometimes be attributed to supernatural agency, whether ‘Satan’ or various demons. Even within the individual Christian there remain forces at work that need to be subdued, lusts which need to be put to death, party-spirit which needs to learn humility.
What is the solution? Israel’s hope has bee realized; the true god has acted decisively to defeat the pagan gods, and to create a new people, through whom he is to rescue the world from evil. This he has done through the true King, Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, in particular through his death and resurrection. The process of implementing this victory, by means of the same god continuing to act through his own spirit in his people, is not yet complete. One day the King will return to judge the world, and to set up a kingdom which is on a different level to the kingdoms of the present world order. When this happens those who have died as Christians will be raised to a new physical life. The present powers will be forded to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, and justice and peace will triumph at last.
[From N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 369-70.]
These, according to N. T. Wright, are the basics of THE Christian worldview–it was the understanding of the original authors and audience of the New Testament gospels and letters. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that Wright is right. Not every Christian holds to this worldview. This is largely because we are always influenced by other worldviews–pagan ones. The Medieval church was shaped by non-biblical ideas. The Reformers were influenced by Renaissance values. Today, the dominant worldviews are Modernism or the ideas lumped under the moniker, “post-modernism.” The influence of these is all over the church.
How do we purge the idolatrous ideas of our worldview? For one thing, we need to read, or at least have pastors who read. In “On the Reading of Old Books, C. S. Lewis says
It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least
read one old one to every three new ones.
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.
And of the modern books, some of them should be written by N. T. Wright.
The Problem with the Term Worldview
The term “worldview” is a Modern term. Although Modernism is waning, it is still very influential in our culture, especially in conservative Christian circles. Modernism puts a lot of stock in human Reason.
When Reason is the measure of all things, it is separated out from everything else and then elevated. From this height, detached Reason will analyze and judge all other things. It is the subject, and everything else is the object of its scrutiny.
The term “worldview” is decidedly Modern. Notice the implied subject “viewing” the named object–the world.
The term “worldview” suggests a radical separation between subject and object. Built into the term is the implication that one can view the world as an objective detached observer–an observer who is uninfluenced by the forces of worldview. This is impossible.
So the term is a bad one, but what do we use instead?
Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor uses the term “social imaginary.” This is much more descriptive, but it’s not nearly as catchy as “worldview.”
So, I suggest you do what I do. Use the term worldview, but always accompany its use with a wince.