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