The term, worldview is growing in popularity in both Christian and secular circles alike. As this term finds its way into sermons, essays, church mission statements, and Christian school assessment tools, it is important to answer, “What is a worldview?”
A worldview is a pattern or framework of ideas and beliefs that both shapes our view of the world and frames how we should live in it[i]. Whether they know it or not, everyone has a worldview. Some strive to understand the very foundation of the universe, whereas others do not even realize there are crucial, fundamental questions about reality whose answers will affect every decision they make.
There are several different schools of thought regarding how many fundamental questions/assumptions make up a worldview. Despite the variation in number, several themes remain consistent:
- Origin: Where do we come from?
- Identity: What does it mean to be human?
- Purpose: Why are we here?
- Morality: How do we know what is right or wrong?
- Destiny: What happens when we die?[ii]
The answers to these five questions will vary person to person and depend on how each one perceives reality. For example, a person who holds a naturalistic worldview would describe the nature of reality with answers such as:
- Origin: An accidental, random chance, mutation-driven, natural process where all life has evolved from a common ancestor.
- Identity: Humanity is simply the highest evolved animal. There is only the natural world and we are conditioned by our environment and genetics to behave/act a certain way.
- Purpose: Since life was an accident, there is no “greater” purpose for anyone or anything. Therefore, the meaning of life is self-derived and usually centers on survival of the fittest.
- Morality: Because the creation of life was accidental, there is no designer, supreme law-giver. or absolute moral law . The laws of science govern the natural world but humanity has no set of rules to determine right or wrong. This leaves humanity with a couple of “moral” options: totalitarian dictatorship where the strong impose their desired moral law, pure relativism where anyone can do what they want, or utilitarian social contracts where people agree to follow predetermined rules that benefit all people in the society.
- Destiny: Since there is only the natural world, when you die you simply cease to exist. Your physical body decays and is used as energy for the next generation. There is no afterlife and there is no soul that continues without the body.
However, a person who holds to a Biblical worldview would describe the nature of reality with answers such as:
- Origin: A special creation by the divine Creator.
- Identity: Man is created in the image of God and shares His ability to understand reality, think, love, choose, live eternally, etc. While created in perfection, sin has marred this image and enslaved humanity. Those who have accepted Christ as savior are now free from the bondage of sin, but still battle the effects of sin’s curse which will not be eradicated until death or Christ’s return.
- Purpose: Man has been created to be in relationship with the Creator; to love Him and be loved by Him. God has given man certain tasks; some to humanity as a whole (cultural mandate[iii]) some to individuals (gifts, abilities, talents, a specific plan for each person[iv].) Man’s ultimate goal is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever[v].
- Morality: God, by His very nature, has determined what is right and wrong. That which is in line with the nature of God is good and everything else is wrong. For example, lying is bad because God cannot lie. It is contrary to His nature. God has revealed His law both in His written word and by imprinting it on the hearts of man[vi].
- Destiny: If a man has accepted Christ’s free gift of salvation by His work on the cross, then eternity will be spent with God in Heaven. If he has rejected Christ’s gift then he spend eternity apart from God in hell.
Clearly these two sets of answers are drastically different and describe two completely different realities. This leads to the second aspect of a worldview. Based on the answers to these five questions, a worldview prescribes humanity’s actions here on earth. Actions are based on values and values are based on one’s understanding of reality; their worldview[vii].
For example: If man was a special creation of God, created in God’s image then all humans hold inherent, infinite value; neither social status, wealth, nor ability matter when it comes to the value of a human life. Man’s purpose is to glorify God by loving Him and loving others[viii] as well as using the gifts and talents God has given him[ix]. It is wrong to treat people poorly because they are different,[x] and God’s Word calls us to take care of the sick, the widowed, the orphaned, and the foreigner in our city[xi]. Upon death, man will leave the pain and suffering of this broken world behind and go to spend eternity with God[xii]. Because of these fundamental beliefs, taking care of the sick and outcasts just makes sense. Mother Teresa is a wonderful example. She took care of the leprous outcasts because she knew they were still infinitely valuable and worthy of love. Also, her work glorified God as she used her gifts of mercy and love to care for these people[xiii]. Fear of death would have been irrelevant because this life is but a vapor[xiv] compared to eternity. Self-sacrificing actions make sense from a Biblical worldview.
On the opposite extreme is the classic study of the ideology of the Nazi Regime. Nazi ideology claimed a natural origin of man making him nothing more than a highly evolved animal. According to Nazi ideology and Hitler specifically, the Aryan Race was the greatest race, superior to all other ‘races’ of man. Hitler believed in a hierarchy of human races which had Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and several others at the bottom. These groups were so low that he believed they were “sub-human.” As a result, these sub-humans were no better than lab animals to be use as test subjects or vermin to be exterminated. In Hitler’s mind, this was not immoral because these humans were not “persons[xv].” The outcry of the dissidents fell on deaf ears because Nazi ideology held to societal relativism. This means that the society would establish moral law by majority rule resulting, in this case, in the systematic killing of nearly 11 million people[xvi].
Clearly, the differences of the worldviews held by Mother Theresa and Adolf Hitler resulted in a drastically different approach to how they lived their lives. Their fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality were the basis of their value systems which became the basis of their actions.
It is important to note that it is possible for people to live inconsistently. Some may call themselves Christians but not believe in a Biblical worldview. Likewise, while a non-theist may have no logical reason to believe in an absolute moral standard, they may still believe it is true. Many naturalists have a strong moral compass and yet the Crusades were led by people claiming Christ but not living out a truly Biblical worldview. As Christian writer John Stonestreet says, “You may not live out what you claim, but you will live out what you believe.[xvii]”
Worldviews are the foundations of values and actions. They are the patterns or frameworks of ideas and beliefs explaining the nature of reality and prescribe how humans should act. A worldview sits at the core of a person’s being as it fundamentally creates their very identity, aspirations, view of what actions are acceptable, etc. Everyone has a worldview because everyone has some set of beliefs that govern what they do. It is important that all people, whether Christian or otherwise, identify these key beliefs and confirm that they match reality. To act on beliefs that are contrary to reality could be catastrophic.
Written by: Ben Futoran
[i] Stonestreet, J. (n.d.). Perspective: Biblical Worldview: What it is, and What its Not. Retrieved August 20, 2015, from https://www.colsoncenter.org/the-center/columns/call-response/14732-perspectives-biblical-worldview-what-it-is-and-what-it-is-not
[ii] Stonestreet, J. (Director) (2014, June 2). Ideas Have. Summit Ministries Summer Conference. Lecture conducted from Summit Ministries, Manitou Springs.
[iii] Genesis 1:28
[iv] Jeremiah 1:5;
[v] Question #1. (1804). In The Westminster Assembly’s Shorter catechism. Newburyport [Mass.: Printed by Angier March and Ebenezer Stedman.
[vi] Romans 2:14-16
[vii] Stonestreet, J. (Director) (2014, June 2). Ideas Have. Summit Ministries Summer Conference. Lecture conducted from Summit Ministries, Manitou Springs.
[viii] Matthew 22:37-39
[ix] Matthew 25:14-29
[x] Luke 10:25-37
[xi] Deuteronomy 26:12
[xii] 2 Corinthians 5:8
[xiii] Mother Teresa. (2015). The Biography.com website. Retrieved 11:30, Aug 23, 2015, fromhttp://www.biography.com/people/mother-teresa-9504160.
[xiv] James 4:14
[xv] Bergman, J. (1999, November 1). Darwinism and the Nazi Race Holocaust. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
[xvi] Noebel, D. (n.d.). Resources: Essays – The Worldviews of Destruction in the 20th Century – Summit Ministries. Retrieved August 20, 2015.
[xvii] Stonestreet, J. (Director) (2014, June 2). Ideas Have. Summit Ministries Summer Conference. Lecture conducted from Summit Ministries, Manitou Springs.