What is a Christian Worldview?
The term worldview (Weltanschauung) first appeared in Immanuel Kant’s “Critique of Judgment” in 1790, and describes an individual’s or group’s comprehensive perspective on the nature of reality. Christian philosopher Ronald Nash writes, “A worldview contains a person’s answers to the major questions in life, almost all of which contain significant philosophical content. It is a conceptual framework, pattern, or arrangement of a person’s beliefs.” Simply put, a Christian worldview is a worldview from a biblical perspective.
Studies have shown that the Christian worldview is losing ground not only in our society at large, but also within the Christian community. According to pollster George Barna, only nine percent of Christian adults have a Christian worldview. His study also revealed that only two percent of Christian teenagers posses a Christian worldview. If we understand that one’s ethic is shaped by one’s worldview, it should come as no surprise that many Christians are not acting christianly; their worldview is determining their actions. In other words, people live what they believe.
G. K. Chesterton understood how important one’s worldview is when he wrote, “But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe…. We think the question is not whether [one’s] theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.” Most conflicts between individuals or nations can be traced to conflicting worldviews. There are many in our society who have attempted to pronounce all worldviews correct to eliminate conflict, but this attempt has merely established another worldview—the view that all truth is relative. Even the relativists believe their view of the world is the correct view.
There are many competing worldviews in our culture. A Christian who wants to engage the culture with the truth claims of Scripture should have a good understanding of each of these worldviews: theism (Christianity, Islam, Judaism), deism, naturalism (atheism, humanism, secularism, materialism, nihilism, existentialism), pantheism (New Age, Eastern religions), polytheism, and animism. The default worldview in our culture, especially in our educational system, has become naturalism.
Every worldview differs in the way it attempts to answer certain essential questions: Is there a God? What is the nature of man? What is the nature of reality? How do we know things? What is the meaning of history? How should we behave? Some have reduced these down to four main questions every worldview seeks to answer: Were did I come from? What is the matter? What is the solution? Where am I going? The Bible answers all of these questions.
Since Christianity is a comprehensive worldview, it should affect every area of the Christian life, from jobs to ethics, from art to politics. There should be no separation in the Christian mind between the “sacred” and the “secular.” Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life…” It is only through Jesus that we can posses the right view of the world.
A worldview may be better understood as a comprehensive philosophical lens though which we attempt to make sense of the world. Everyone possesses a worldview (whether he/she realizes it or not), and everyone’s ethic is shaped by his/her worldview. With so many competing worldviews, how can we decide which is correct?
When analyzing a worldview, one must first ask, “Is there a correct view of the world? Is there a particular worldview that is true?” To understand the importance of this question, consider the following summary of a popular Hindu story: There were several blind Hindus that came across an elephant and each described what an elephant was like. One touching the elephant’s leg said, “An elephant is like a tree.” The one holding the elephant’s tail said, “An elephant is like a rope.” Another holding the elephant’s ear said, “An elephant is like a leaf.” One holding the elephant’s trunk said, “An elephant is like a snake.” This story is told to illustrate that no single worldview is totally correct; all philosophies, religions, or worldviews are only partially describing certain aspects of reality. However, the storyteller fails to see that there is one correct, comprehensive view in this story; the view that understands that all of the blind Hindus were describing an elephant. We can call this God’s view.
The foundation of the Christian worldview is that only God has the proper view of the world (He made it, and He alone knows it perfectly) and He has communicated essential truths to mankind through the Scriptures. As Francis Schaffer said, “God is there and He is not silent.” The Christian worldview does not begin with human reason (i.e. Descartes) but with God’s revelation. However, this does not mean that human reason is unimportant.
The first of several possible tests used when analyzing the truth claims of a worldview is the test of reason. Specifically, does the worldview in question violate the law of non-contradiction? For instance, when a relativist says there is no such thing as absolutes, he is violating the law of non-contradiction by making what he believes to be an absolute statement. In the same manner, a skeptic who is certain about his skepticism violates the law of non-contradiction. The presence of logical contradictions should be a red flag and may indicate a fatal error in a worldview.
Other tests include consistency, coherence, comprehensiveness, simplicity, empirical fit, and livability. In his book “Worldviews in Conflict,” Ronald Nash suggests four tests: The test of reason, the test of outer experience, the test of inner experience, and the test of practice. In light of these tests Dr. Nash writes, “When faced with a choice among competing touchstone propositions of different worldviews, we should choose the one that, when applied to the whole of reality, gives us the most coherent picture of the world.”
According to the Christian (or biblical) worldview, God created the heavens and the earth, including plants and animals. God also created man in His own image and gave them dominion and stewardship over the earth. The Bible describes a moral and spiritual fall in which the first man and woman used their free will to rebel against God by desiring to be like God. After this rebellion, mankind fell into a moral tailspin; hatred for God and hatred for one’s neighbor (including murder) became commonplace. The solution is redemption and forgiveness of sins by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ. On the cross He bore our sins, suffered, died, was buried, and rose again. Those who trust in Him receive Christ’s righteousness, are restored to a right relationship with God, and will live in His presence forever. Those who trust in themselves will be separated from God forever.
The naturalist worldview postulates that we are a product of blind random chance. Naturalism denies there is a creator (there is nothing outside of nature), so any appearance of purpose or design in the universe is merely an illusion. It affirms that all living things are the result of random mutations happening over millions of years and that mankind is nothing but a cosmic accident. Naturalists believe that although man is basically good, they are rapidly destroying the environment which, if not corrected, will bring an end to life on this planet. The solution is to reshape man’s collective thinking through education, and enforce global environmental laws. There is no afterlife to the naturalist; death is the cessation of existence.
The New Age movement is pantheistic, meaning that everything and everyone is god. The New Age movement is a fusion between western naturalism’s commitment to Darwinian evolution and Eastern religion’s rejection of human reason as the means to understand the world. It asserts that mankind has not achieved ‘cosmic consciousness,’ which is the realization that mankind is god. The solution to achieving ‘cosmic consciousness’ is to open the ‘door’ through drugs, meditation, biofeedback, music, channeling, crystals, spirit guides, etc. In the New Age movement, reincarnation is a positive part of the cosmic cycle of evolution and will end when the collective cosmic consciousness is achieved and mankind realizes they are the sovereign god.
When analyzed through the same grid, these competing worldviews are shown to be vastly different. Even this brief analysis demonstrates the contradictions. Based on the law of non-contradiction, we can draw the conclusion that all three of these worldviews cannot be correct. When the tests of reason, consistency, coherence, comprehensiveness, simplicity, empirical fit, and livability are applied to various worldviews, we can see marked differences between them.
Naturalism is a philosophy committed to a godless universe. It explains the appearance of design and the complexity of life (including minds) as a result of blind random chance, forcing the observer to deny what seems empirically obvious. Naturalism must also deal with the problem of the good—why and how humanity developed a moral conscience and why the good is preferred. Naturalists have no foundation for morality; in fact, a naturalist can certainly live a moral life, but he must borrow the moral categories of good and evil from the Christian worldview. If the naturalist is consistent in his worldview, he would affirm that there is no such thing as good and evil—a position that cannot be consistently held. Any worldview that cannot explain the nuances of human existence such as morality, guilt, love, and reason also fails the test of comprehensiveness.
The New Age movement holds to the idea that the most important conception of humanity transcends the laws of logic. This means the New Age advocate is committed to relativism, which denies the law of non-contradiction. However, when the New Age teacher speaks or writes, she assumes the law of non-contradiction; her point of view is intended to be understood in a non-relativistic way. Shirley MacLaine said, “Everyone has his own truth, and truth, as an objective reality, doesn’t exist.” MacLaine is attempting to make a true statement about the non-existence of truth (she is attempting to invalidate the law of non-contradiction by using the law of non-contradiction). From there, the problems with the New Age movement continue to mount. In the end, the New Age movement turns out to be nothing more than the age-old quest of humanity to be its own god.
The biblical worldview fits the world that we know. It explains why the universe appears to be designed and fine-tuned. It explains why mankind is superior to the animal kingdom. It explains why man is a moral being, knowing the difference between right and wrong; capable of doing such good, but guilty of such evil. It answers the longing in our hearts for forgiveness. It explains death and the desire to live forever. The Christian worldview so empirically fits the world we live in and the needs and longings of the heart that many label this view the product of wishful thinking. However, skeptics need to consider the possibility that the Christian worldview fits so well because it’s true. This does not mean that the Christian worldview is without difficulties. The problem of evil and the sovereignty of God verses the free will of man are examples of some difficulties that have been the topic of conversation for almost two thousand years. None of these difficulties have proven fatal to Christianity; in fact, with serious study some very good answers can be found. When compressive tests are applied to all worldviews, the Christian worldview will rise to the top.
Billy Elkins is the pastor of Trinity Church of Chickasha, OK. He is a graduate of Chickasha High School, has a B.A. in Fine Art from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma, and a Master of Divinity with Biblical Languages from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, FT. Worth, TX. He is currently in the final dissertation phase of a Ph.D. in Apologetics and Philosophy from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY.