“Worldview” language is very common among Christians, and particularly common among Reformed Christians. But what are we talking about? Where did this way of talking come from? And where is it going?
“And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 28-31).
A Brief History of the Word:
Worldviews are inescapable, and every tribe, nation, and people in the history of the world have always had them. But we started talking about it in the late 18th century. The first person to use the word (Weltanschauung) was the philosopher Immanuel Kant. But he simply meant “sense perception of the world.” But the word caught on, and almost immediately after this, other philosophers picked it up and began using it in a sense more familiar to us—meaning “framework of assumptions about the world.” Throughout the course of the nineteenth century, the idea was important to philosophers like Hegel, Kirkegaard, and Nietszche. But conservative Christians soon picked up the idea to advance the idea of a fully-orbed Christian take on the world. This was done by James Orr and Abraham Kuyper, carrying over into the early twentieth century. The most recent round of play was initiated by Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s, who was largely responsible for making the word and concept a commonplace in evangelical circles. But as we have worked with the word, some important qualifications have been made.
A Worldview Wheel:
It is crucial to emphasize that this is an illustration, a parable, a metaphor. It is not a schematic diagram, or an attempt to scientifically dissect what a worldview cell looks like under a microscope. Another concern may be that it appears to be an illustration that is dangerously “evangelical,” which is fine so long as you remember it.
Apart from the grace of God in Christ, effectually applied, men are inveterate idolators. This means that if the axle is broken, it does not matter how solid the spokes are in theory. In practice, the wheel won’t turn—and eventually, the people will trade the whole thing in for something that will turn.
Each of the Spokes:
It is commonly assumed that a worldview simply consists of “what and how you think.” And thus it is assumed that you can therefore get a Christian worldview out of a book, or send your kids to two weeks of intensive worldview training in the summer. Such things are not necessarily bad, but what is bad is the idea that a worldview consists of nothing more than propositional answers to questions. These things are not necessarily bad because you can fashion a spoke out of a book—but not the whole wheel.
—this is the element most people think of when they think worldview. How do you answer the ultimate questions? What do you think is true about the world? Example: “Christian, what do you believe?” “I believe in God the Father Almighty . . .” Competing example: “All that appears to be reality is actually maya, illusion, and everything is ultimately one.”
—how do we actually live? How do you conduct business? Do you work hard? How do you educate your kids? Do you live in kindness? What kind of clothes do you wear? What kind of music do you sing and listen to? Example: “We would really love to have wine at our wedding . . .” Competing example: “Do you have any of those mudflaps with the silhouette girls on them?”
—what kind of story do you tell yourself? Where do you and your family fit into the story? Who are your people? What relationship do they have to all God’s people? Example: “The Puritans came to New England because they wanted freedom to worship . . .” Competing example: “Many millions of years ago, the primordial ooze was poised for a major breakthrough . . .”
—how do you summarize and ritually enact your commitments? Example: The act of reciting the Apostles’ Creed. Competing example: Saying the Pledge of Allegiance at every basketball game.
A worldview is a communal thing. An infinite number of detached ideas from an opinionated individual will not stack up to a worldview. Remember that the greatest commandment, identified as such by Jesus, was a commandment given to Israel. It clearly had ramifications for each Israelite, but it was a command given to the people of God collectively.
Another related issue is the fact that the communal nature of worldviews (and the g radual progress of the gospel through the world) means that American Christians (for example) will share many overlapping elements of their worldview with non-Christian Americans. Catechesis: who is your president? Lifestyle: where did you buy your garden hose? Narrative: are you going to shoot off fireworks on the Fourth? Symbol: standing for the national anthem.