Worldview – A Christian Definition
Worldview – Where did the word and concept come from? Immanuel Kant first used the word weltanschauung, from which we derive “worldview” in English, in a passing reference in Critique of Judgment. In a reference that Wolters calls “unremarkable,”1 Kant’s new word initiated a way of thinking about beliefs that found wide acceptance in German philosophy and which has become a particularly significant development in Christianity, especially in the latter part of the twentieth century.
The worldview concept has been embraced by Christians, especially “evangelicals,”2 and has become the key subject of a variety of books, conferences, websites, programs, classes, and ministry organizations. Many authors agree with Nancy Pearcey that the use of the concept has increased in evangelical circles,3 and in a wide variety of ways. The wide usage of this word in both academic and popular settings has created a need for clarification as to how this concept is, and should be, perceived and employed.
Worldview – A Christian Crisis
In his book on the history of worldview David Naugle writes, “Conceiving of Christianity as a worldview has been one of the most significant developments in the recent history of the church.”4 This is a somewhat ironic statement, considering that many books and other resources that deal with the concept begin with the assumption that Christians lack, but really ought to have, such a worldview.
For example, Christian pollster George Barna suggests that fewer than 10% of adults who identify themselves as “born-again” Christians hold to a Biblical worldview, a striking statistic, considering the mild requirements of what he suggests constitutes a Biblical worldview.5
An often-quoted line in Christian worldview books is from Harry Blamires, “There is no longer a Christian mind.”6 Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, in a line reminiscent of Francis Schaeffer, state that the “church’s singular failure in recent decades” has been the failure to understand Christianity as a total worldview.7 Still, the continued proliferation of worldview studies among Protestant evangelicals, perhaps because so many believe that it is lacking, is unparalleled among non-evangelical Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox Christianity as well as other religions.
Worldview - Why it Matters
The concept of worldview is treasured by Christian “worldview advocates”8 for at least three reasons. First, worldview is seen as a, if not the, crucial and most useful starting point for understanding the world of ideas and cultural expressions, as well as responding to these in a particularly Christian way.
Arthur Holmes, for example, writes that the need for Christian worldview is the need to “ferret out the influence of non-Christian assumptions and bring distinctively Christian presuppositions to bear in their place.”9 Phillip Johnson suggests, “A fine education in worldview analysis is as basic an element of a modern Christian’s defense system as a shield was in the days when a prudent traveler needed to be prepared to repel an attack by sword-wielding robbers.”10 According to James Olthius, “Conflicts in life and the sciences, we are discovering, come down to differences in underlying worldviews.”11 For David Naugle, understanding the concept of worldview is necessary because “all knowledge in human and natural sciences are characterized by interpretive dimensions dictated by a worldview.”12 Elsewhere, he suggests that worldviews are at the heart of the post-Cold War “Clash of Civilizations” that Samuel Huntingdon wrote about in 1998, as well as the “Clash of Orthodoxies” that Robert George argued for in 2001.13 David Noebel cites George and several other sources, both friendly and unfriendly to Christianity, to support his argument that worldviews are at the heart of the cultural conflicts in contemporary Western civilization.14
Second, and perhaps more fundamental, evangelicals who embrace the worldview concept do so because they believe they must. In other words, Christianity as they understand it offers, and even demands, a complete worldview that is to be defended, accepted, and/or rejected as a complete system and not in a piecemeal fashion.
This was the starting point for claims made from the outset by both Orr and Kuyper in their respective lecture series; this is significant given that so many contemporary worldview writers rely so heavily upon them. According to Orr, “He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of redemption, to a view of the purpose of God in creation and history, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity.”15
For Kuyper, Christianity offered a “life system,” which “is not to be invented nor formulated by ourselves, but is to be taken and applied as it presents itself in history.”16 Gordon H. Clark concurs, “Christianity has, or one may even say, Christianity is a comprehensive view of all things: it takes the world, both material and spiritual, to be an ordered system.”17 Albert Wolters argues for this in terms of the scope of creation: because Christianity claims that all things were created by God, therefore the scope of the Biblical claims about the fall and redemption ought also to be understood comprehensively as well. Therefore, Christianity demands that sort of comprehensive view of things.18
Worldview – The Way We Live
Finally, Christians who embrace the worldview concept do so because of their belief that worldview is such a fundamental part of human nature that every person has one whether he realizes it or not.
For example, according to Wolters, worldviews are essential since “we are inescapably creatures with responsibility who by nature are incapable of holding purely arbitrary opinions or making entirely unprincipled decisions.”19 Michael S. Palmer claims that everyone who has the capacity to consider worldviews has one, whether they actually ever consider it or not.20 Norm Geisler and William Watkins suggest that everyone sees through the framework of a worldview, lives by it, and even dreams within it.21
Compliments of John Stonestreet at Summit Ministries.
1 David Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman’s, 2002), 59.
2 The author focuses on “evangelical” Christians throughout this article to designate those Protestant individuals and movements who emphasize conversion, the Bible, and evangelism, and who “descended” from the revivals in the colonies and Great Britain in the eighteenth century. See Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 15-21.
3 Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2004), 17. See also, Naugle, Worldview, xiii; Andrew Hoffecker, “Introduction” in Hoffecker, ed. Building a Christian Worldview, vol. 1, God, Man, and Knowledge (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1986), vi; James Sire, Naming the Elephant (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 23.
4 Naugle, Worldview, 4.
5 George Barna, “Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview” [online] (2002, accessed December 2005); available from
Barna identifies a Biblical worldview as holding to the following: 1) Absolute moral
truth exists, 2) The Bible is the source of that truth, 3) Jesus lived a sinless life, 4) God created the universe and continues to rule it, 5) Salvation is a gift from God, 6) Satan is a real living entity, 7) Christians have a personal obligation to share the Gospel, and 8) The Bible is accurate in all of its teaching. Similar opinions are voiced by Worldview Weekend (www.worldviewweekend.com), Summit Ministries (www.summit.org) and the Nehemiah Institute (www.nehemiahinstitute.com).
6 Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant, 1978), 3. For example, see W. Gary Phillips and William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Chicago: Moody, 1991; reprint, Salem, Wis.: Sheffield, 1996), 13.
7 Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale Publishing House, 1999), xii. Pearcey’s respect and reliance on Schaeffer is quite evident, and explicitly stated, in Total Truth, 49-57 and 393-396.
8 This is a term employed by David Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Religious Worldviews of Our Day and the Search for Truth (Eugene, Or.: Harvest House, 1991), 9, and Robert Patrick Lovering, “The Concept of Worldview in Contemporary Philosophy of Religion” (Ph.D. diss., University of Colorado, 2001), 9. It refers to the broad range of Protestant evangelicals who endorse and/or rely heavily on the concept of worldview in their writings. It is important to note that although these three reasons can be found in a wide selection of Christian worldview writings, not all advocates of worldview would agree to or understand each of these reasons in the same way.
9 Arthur Holmes, Contours of a Worldview (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1983), viii.
10 Foreword to Pearcey, Total Truth, 12.
11 James Olthius, “On Worldviews” in Stained Glass: Worldviews and Social Science, ed. Paul Marshall, et al (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1989), 26.
12 Naugle, “The Age of the World Picture: Hermeneutics and Weltanschauung Theory.” [online] (2002, accessed November 2005); available from http://www.dbu.edu/naugle/papers.htm. Similar statements can be found by Hoffecker, Building a Christian Worldview, x-xi.
13 Naugle, “Clashing Civilizations, Culture Wars, and the Academy.” [online] (Lecture delivered at Southern Methodist University, September 30, 2003, accessed November 2005); available from http://www.dbu.edu/naugle/papers.htm. See also Samuel P. Huntingdon, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998) and Robert P. George, The Clash of Orthodoxies: Law, Religion and Morality in Crisis (Wilmington, Del.: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2001).
14 David Noebel, “Worldviews in Conflict.” Unpublished speaker notes from Summit Ministries Summer Leadership Conferences (2005).
15 James Orr, The Christian View of God and the World (New York: Scribner, 1897; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 1989), 4.
16 Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman’s, 1931; reprint, Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman’s, 2000), 11-12. See also Peter Heslam, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 92-95).
17 Gordon H. Clark, A Christian View of Men and Things, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1952; reprint, Unicoi, Tenn.: Trinity Foundation, 1998), 9.
18 Albert Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdman’s, 1985), 57.
19 Ibid, 4.
20 Michael S. Palmer, Elements of a Christian Worldview, ed. Michael S. Palmer (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1998), 24-25.
21 Norman Geisler and William D. Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on Worldviews, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1989), 11-15.
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