There are few terms that have as much cache these days as “worldview.” If you turn on the news or peruse the blogosphere you are likely to hear or read about clashes between worldviews, the importance of having a correct or Christian worldview; or maybe even the danger of the bogey-man of a secular or humanistic worldview.
While these are important things, what concerns me most is that 95% of those using the term “worldview” don’t know what it actually means. I sincerely want you to have a Christian worldview, but before you can you need to know what a worldview is.
A worldview is the overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world. It is a collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. It is also known as Weltanschauung. (A comprehensive conception or image of the universe and of humanity’s relation to it).
A world view is the filter through which all of life is viewed, it is the comprehensive system that governs all of our interactions with the world around us. Every world view, christian or otherwise, has the same basic building blocks.
The Absolute – The absolute in a worldview is the most essential object or concept. The absolute may be a male or female god, a Soul from which all souls derive, a nonpersonal reality, a human being, the community, an absence of any ordering reality, or it can even be the self.
A Conception of The World – What does the world consist of? Is the world good, bad, or neutral? How many realms of reality are there? Is there a spiritual as well as a physical ream?
A Conception of Humans – Who are humans? Where did they come from? Are humans different from animals? Are they here by accident or design? Do humans have a soul?
The Problem for Humans – Every worldview defines the major problem for humans: Sin? Ignorance? Disharmony with nature? Disharmony with the universe? Poverty?
The Solution for Humans – Worldviews all offer solutions for the problem of the human condition: Salvation (and how is salvation achieved); harmony with the universe; harmony with other humans; education; wealth redistribution?
Community and Ethics – Who is the community? What kind of behavior is approved? What elicits disapproval? What is prohibited? What is compulsory?
Interpretation of History – All worldviews attempt to explain certain key questions: How we got here (origins); Why we are here?; and / or What does the future hold?
The Nature of History – All worldviews have a dogmatic view of the nature of history, either as cyclical or linear.
- Cyclical view – Events of life happen in repeatable stages (like the four seasons or days of the week).
- Linear view – All events happen for a reason. History is headed for an ultimate completion point.
Rituals and Symbols – Every worldview has rituals and symbols that are essential rites and visual representations that depict the story of that worldview.
Life after Death – All worldviews attempt to explain what happens to people after they die. Is there an afterlife and what is it like? Is physical death final? Is there reincarnation?
Relationship to Other Worldviews – All worldviews have views on what to think about competing systems. Is only one worldview correct or are all (or many) equally valid? Should you seek to convert those who disagree? Should you eradicate or marginalize those who disagree?
Of course each of those basic components can and usually do have many sub-components and layers, but if any one of them is missing, it is not truly a worldview. The reason that this is important is that if as Christians we are going to engage other worldviews we need to have one ourselves, as well as a proper framework to understand others (notice I didn’t say our enemies).
To that end I would challenge us all to make sure that we have a fully developed worldview. Furthermore I would challenge us to dispense with over-simplified us and them thinking and to develop the habit of using this worldview grid to better understand those we interact with. They are the mission field and they are worthy of the effort.