Yesterday, I received "Sample Pages" of the first chapter of our soon-to-be-published Christian Worldview textbook (aptly titled An Introduction to Christian Worldview: Pursuing God's Perspective in a Pluralistic World) from our editor. It is truly exciting to see the project coming together, and I was motivated to share a few thoughts that are in the textbook, in a different format. What follows is a slightly revised version of an article originally published in The Baptist Messenger, a weekly publication of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, in May 2012.
The Importance and Impact of Worldview
Three friends went on safari in the Serengeti, and observed the majestic beauty and diversity of the African wild. The first friend, John Luther, commented boldly: “Is not our God truly amazing?! The Lord has created an amazing array of creatures and landscapes that sing His praises and declare His glory.”
The second friend, Charles Dawkins, immediately responded: “An amazing array of creatures, to be sure. But you err, my good man, in ascribing their existence to a Creator. No, these animals are the result of unguided, purposeless random mutation and natural selection. We too are the product of a godless evolutionary process.”
The third friend, Shirley Chopra, serenely replied: “I pray you both would be enlightened to the full reality disclosed by our animal brothers and sisters. For they bear the same spark of divinity that lies within you and I. Do you not sense them calling out to you, seeking to communicate with your spirit?”
The same animals, the same nature preserve – the same objective truth. Yet three friends have different perspectives as to what those animals represent. Why? Simply put, John, Charles, and Shirley are experiencing a clash of worldviews.
Worldview is the conceptual lens through which we view our world. Worldview contains a set of fundamental assumptions and understandings about life, the universe, and everything. James Sire defines worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”
Our worldview answers four fundamental questions about reality.
1. What is our nature? Who am I? What does it mean to be human? What distinguishes us from other creatures? Are we the product of random mutation and natural selection, or are we the handiwork of divine creation? Are we purely physical, material beings; or do we have an immaterial soul?
2. What is our world? What is the nature and character of the world? Is the world ordered or chaotic? Is matter eternal and uncreated, divine and co-eternal with ‘god’, or limited and created? What is “ultimate reality”? Is the universe all that is, all that ever was, and all that ever will be? Does God exist; if so, what is God like?
3. What is our problem? What is wrong with us, and how can it be solved? Why are things not the way they ‘ought’ to be? Is it sinful rebellion against God? Ignorance, religious superstition, and lack of education? The illusion of personal desires? How can we go about solving the problem?
4. What is our destination? Is there any meaning and purpose in life, or are we random creatures in a purposeless, meaningless universe? What happens to us after we die? Is physical death the end of human existence? Are we absorbed into an impersonal ultimate reality? Are we judged at the throne of God Almighty for an eternity in heaven or hell?
What is our nature? What is our world? What is our problem? What is our destination? Every person possesses a worldview which provides an answer to these four core worldview questions.
Everyone has a worldview, and worldviews answer these four fundamental questions. So what? Why does worldview matter? Simply put, worldview matters because it affects everything that we think and do—most importantly, worldview determines our “pool of live options.”
The pool of live options is our set of possible explanations for a given event. Whenever possible, we interpret events in a way that fits with what we already believe. Thus, when we encounter something new, we interpret it through our worldview, which provides a pool of live options. For example, imagine that Aunt Rose is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her family prays for God’s miraculous healing. Weeks later, the doctors find her to be free from cancer. How do you explain what happened? Simple: God healed Aunt Rose out of His compassionate mercy in response to His children’s prayers. For the atheist, such an explanation is not possible—it lies outside the pool of live options. Either the initial diagnosis was mistaken, or some treatment rid her body of cancer, or there is some unknown natural explanation for her healing. Whatever the case, Aunt Rose was not the recipient of a divine miracle—God does not exist to perform such miracles, and therefore it cannot be the explanation.
There are many different worldviews out there (Christian, Muslim, Atheist, Buddhist, Hindu, Existentialist, New Age, etc.). So how do we know whether someone’s worldview is true—that is, if they see the world the way the world really is? (See Romans 12:2; Colossians 2:8) How can we check our own worldview eyesight? I offer three suggestions.
1. Internal Consistency (logical coherence). Does the worldview make sense with itself? Some worldviews contradict themselves: for example, the belief that it is absolutely true that there is no absolute truth.
2. External Consistency (fits reality). Does the worldview make sense of the real world? Some worldviews deny fundamental reality: for example, the belief that evil and suffering is an illusion.
3. Liveability (subjective satisfaction). Does the worldview make life liveable? Some worldviews deny meaning and purpose in life. Such a worldview cannot fulfill the inherent need of human beings to live a meaningful life.
Worldview is the conceptual lens through which we interpret the world around us. It provides answers to the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything. Worldview affects the way that we live and move and think. It is, therefore, crucial that we examine our worldview, to ensure that we see the world the way God does.