Worldview Teaching of James Orr

QUESTION: Worldview Teaching of James Orr


When James Orr delivered the Kerr Lecture is 1891, he appropriated the idea of worldview and applied it to Christianity. Although Christianity had been seen holistically by many before him, he was the first to specifically utilize the English translation of weltanschauung which, as already noted, had become a significant concept in German philosophy. Living during the time some had called the “un-Christening of Europe,”1 Orr noted that there was a growing confidence in the coherence of the universe and the ability to achieve a synthesis of knowledge about the universe, and that Christianity would stand or fall according to its ability to answer challenges that were comprehensive. Christianity, also, had a “worldview”2 in that sense, and Orr asserted that it should be talked about as such.

Further, Orr saw it as the natural tendency of humans to theorize towards a comprehensive view of things, and practically to seek answers to ultimate questions of origin and destiny.3 Worldviews, to Orr, were human nature. Additionally, Orr believed there were four advantages of thinking of Christianity in this way: (1) it would highlight the differences between Christianity and modernist views; (2) the debate over miracles would be reconfigured from particular miracles to the nature of reality; (3) it would alter the Christian’s approach to other worldviews and the truth that is found in those views; and (4) it would tie the Old and New Testaments together.4

Worldview – The Influence of James Orr
Orr’s influence can be easily traced. The title of Clark’s book A Christian View of Men and Things suggests that he was influenced by Orr’s The Christian View of God and the World, and was even attempting to take Orr’s work further. To Clark, only the Christian worldview could adequately explain the way the world is, offer legitimate meaning and hope, and support the existence of truth that is attainable.5 Through Clark’s influence, the language of worldview gained further momentum. For example, Ron Nash, a student and admirer of Clark, utilizes the language of worldview in many of his books and has influenced other students to think along those lines as well.6

More prominent in Orr’s legacy is Carl F. H. Henry, who pointed to the influence of Orr as key to his worldview approach. This is evident in Henry’s masterful God, Revelation and Authority.7 Although it would be hard to fully measure the influence of Henry on twentieth century evangelicalism, it can certainly be seen in David Noebel’s contribution to worldview thinking, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Worldviews.8


Rendered with permission from the book, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews (Rev. 2nd ed), David Noebel, Summit Press, 2006. Compliments of John Stonestreet, David Noebel, and the Christian Worldview Ministry at Summit Ministries. All rights reserved in the original.

1 See Naugle, Worldview, 6.
2 Orr, A Christian View, 8-9.
3 Ibid, 6-7.
4 See Naugle, Worldview, 11-12.
5 Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, 218.
6 Most significant are Worldviews in Conflict and Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1968). Nash’s influence can be seen in Phillips and Brown, Making Sense of Your World.
7 See Naugle, Worldview, 15.
8 For example, Noebel, Understanding the Times, 12, 25, 89-90, 166-167.

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