The various battles we find ourselves continuously embroiled in – be they political, ideological, cultural or social – all finally come down to one chief conflict: a war of worldviews. Behind the many skirmishes and battles lies a war of worldviews. Only when we understand the underlying clash of worldviews will we be able to make sense of the various conflicts being waged around us.
In order to make the case for the importance of worldview thinking, I will be drawing upon the insights of others. Thus what follows is more a string of quotations than a major thesis on the topic. Many great minds have gone before, describing what the worldview battles are all about. Their collective wisdom thus will comprise much of this discussion.
What is a worldview?
It is best to begin by asking just what a worldview is. Very simply, it is the way we view the world. Just as a person with corrective glasses has a very different view of the world than when those glasses are off, so too we all have quite differing views of the world, based on the worldview that we hold to.
Now admittedly most people do not have a well-thought out worldview. Indeed, most people simply have inherited their worldview from their parents or their culture of birth. Thus a person born in India is likely to have an Eastern worldview, particularly that of Hinduism.
Likewise, a person born in Europe is likely to have a secularist/naturalist worldview, while a person born in Pakistan is likely to hold to an Islamic worldview. Worldviews, therefore, are most often a matter of accident, not of conscious choice.
As Francis Schaeffer used to put it, most people catch their worldviews (or presuppositions) much as they do German measles – that is, quite by accident. But some people, especially as they get older, may not only become clearly aware of the worldview they are holding, but may in fact abandon it or exchange it for another.
A properly thought through worldview will deal with all the big questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is my purpose or meaning? Why is there suffering in the world? How can things be made right in the world?
And a good worldview should exhibit at least two features: internal consistency (it should be coherent and not contradictory) and experiential relevance (it should correspond with the world we live in, or fit reality). Not all worldviews pass these two tests. I would argue that Biblical Christianity in fact best meets these two criteria (but that is the subject of another article).
So a worldview is the framework by which we make sense of the world. Or as Ronald Nash has put it, a worldview is “a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life”. And the various ways we deal with the big issues of life is what causes the main fault lines in our world today. As Charles Colson says: “The world is divided not so much by geographic boundaries as by religious and cultural traditions, by people’s most deeply held beliefs – by worldviews.”
The importance of a biblical worldview
Given that the world is divided into various worldview camps, it is imperative that the Christian not only understand his own biblical worldview, but also understand the worldviews of others, in order to more effectively reach them.
As Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it, “I am convinced that the most effective defense of the faith and offense against falsehood must be based on an examination of worldviews.” He continues, “Every questioner has a worldview. If you do not appeal to the legitimacy or the illegitimacy of the worldview, you will never give satisfactory answers to the skeptic. In short, apologetics may begin in specifics but inevitably moves to the general, which then explains the specifics.”
We not only need biblical worldview thinking to deal with those outside of the church, but we need it for those within as well. We need to develop a biblical worldview to inform ourselves as to what our calling and purpose is; to help us see our mission as God sees it. And we need to develop a biblical worldview in order to see Christ’s reign spread throughout the world.
Because we have not been thinking in terms of an overarching biblical worldview, we have not seen the big picture, and we have often lost our way. As Schaeffer once remarked, “The basic problem of the Christians in this country in the last eighty years or so is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”
In 1940 T.S. Eliot spoke of the need for Christians to think in worldview terms: “The purpose of a Christian education would not be merely to make men and women pious Christians. A Christian education would primarily train people to think in Christian categories.” Or as Charles Colson has said, “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.”
Also back in 1940, Dorothy Sayers recognised the importance of worldview thinking. She spoke of how the “rival philosophies of humanism, enlightened self-interest, and mechanical progress” had badly broken down. She continued, “The thing that is in danger is the whole structure of society, and it is necessary to persuade thinking men and women of the vital and intimate connection between the structure of society and the theological doctrines of Christianity.”
Extending the lordship of Christ
The biblical worldview deals with every aspect of life. Unfortunately many Christians have had a rather narrow focus as to what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. But the lordship of Christ is meant to extend to every area of life. As Paul reminds us in Colossians 1:20, Christ seeks to “reconcile to himself all things”. All of creation is affected by the Fall, and all of creation is meant to be reclaimed in Christ.
As Marianne Meye Thompson notes in her commentary on Colossians: “Through the cross God does not simply deal with the situation of the individual, but undertakes to bring wholeness to the whole world. The predicament of humanity and that of the cosmos are intertwined: both are in need of being rightly reordered by God, and neither will be so in isolation from each other.”
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright argues the same thing in his recent book on biblical eschatology: “The work of ‘salvation’ in its full sense, is (1) about whole human beings, not merely ‘souls’; (2) about the present, not merely the future; and (3) about what God does through us, not merely what God does in and for us.”
And Charles Colson takes a very similar approach: “God cares not only about redeeming souls but also about restoring his creation. He calls us to be agents not only of his saving grace but also of his common grace. Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.”
D.A. Carson rightly remarks, “Christianity does not claim to convey merely religious truth, but truth about all reality. . . . “[The biblical] vision of reality is radically different from a secularist vision that wants Christianity to scuttle into the corner of the hearth by the coal shovel, conveniently out of the way of anything but private religious concerns.”
The battle against the secular humanist worldview is undoubtedly one of the major battles we face today. Thus we must know what we believe, and why, and we must know what the competing worldviews are about as well. But knowledge alone will not save the day. The biblical worldview must be both believed in, as well as lived out, on a daily basis.
As Schaeffer reminds us, “As Christians we are not only to know the right worldview, the worldview that tells us the truth of what is, but consciously to act upon that worldview so as to influence society in all its parts and facets across the whole spectrum of life, as much as we can.”
With the battles raging all around us, we need more than ever to both understand and defend the biblical worldview, but to see it lived out in its fullness to the glory of God. After all, our purpose as believers is to seek to fulfil what Jesus prayed for in Matthew 6:10: “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”.