Late last week, I was able to present at a Teacher In-Service for Cornerstone Christian School. The topic I was asked to teach on was "The Importance of the Christian Worldview." After studying for the talk and interacting with the teachers, I'm as convinced as ever that Christians need to understand what worldview is, why a Christian worldview is so important, and how we grow in our understanding (and embodiment!) of the Christian worldview.
This topic breathes purpose and perspective into how we think about the different "arenas" of our lives (e.g. jobs, entertainment, family, etc), and it prompts us to think well about God and His Word, the Bible.
Keep reading to see the talk I gave (in a somewhat modified, abbreviated form) on Christian worldview. At the very end of this post, I've included an "answer key" version of the handout I made available to the teachers.
What Is a Worldview?
The best way to begin thinking about worldview is to picture two items: a set of eye-glasses, and a compass. A worldview melds both of these things together. Like eye-glasses, a worldview gives us a lens through which to see and perceive the things around us. And like a compass, a worldview provides direction - a sense of the way we ought to be going.
In their book The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview, authors Walsh and Middleton offer a definition of worldview that shares lots of similarities with our "eye-glasses and compass" image. Listen to what they say a worldview is:
Books on worldview often then include a number of questions that - when answered - reveal our worldview. Here are some examples of questions that help us "get at" worldview:
And the big thing to note is that we all answer these questions in some way. Even if our responses are unconscious and feel only-half formed, we still think something in response to each of these questions. And those responses accumulate to form our worldview. And that means that everyone has some sort of worldview by which they see and understand and move through the world. Going back again to our initial image, everyone is wearing some set of "eye glasses" through which they see the world, and everyone is trying to follow their "compass" as they move through the world.
So in the midst of all the worldview one could have, why is valuing and cultivating a Christian worldview important?
Why is Valuing and Cultivating a Christian Worldview Important?
Let me offer three reasons that the Christian worldview is important.
1. Becuase the Christian faith is true and all-encompassing.
This point might sound simple and straightforward to some, but we nevertheless need to start here and appreciate this. The Christian faith is true. In an age that shies away from making truth claims, we need to maintain and proclaim that Christianity is true. We need to be able to explain WHY we think Christianity is true, and we need to do so in a winsome, gracious, and gentle way (e.g. 1 Peter 3:15), but none of these important qualifiers change the fact that we need to maintain the truth of Christianity.
And because Christianity is true, we need to value everything the Bible reveals to us as it's responsibly read and faithfully obeyed. This truth that Christianity reveals to us isn’t just some idea that we assent to, or something we’re indifferent about. This truth is a reality we live into. The truths of the Christian faith should stir something in us, and engage us at a deep level. The truths of the Christian faith should shape our worldview.
Let me try and show what I’m talking about this way: For Christmas, my boys got two 1000-piece puzzles. One puzzle was of four dogs swimming, and the second puzzle was a Star Wars Episode VII puzzle. Now imagine that we dumped all the pieces of the "swimming dogs" puzzle out onto a table, and then - instead of putting the "swimming dogs" box top in front of them - we put the Star Wars Episode VII box top in front of them. Just think about how frustrating that would be, if my boys tried to assemble the individual pieces they had in front of them, but they had the wrong picture in mind of what those pieces created, and what they were for!
When you're working on puzzles, assembling the pieces the right way has everything do to with making sure you have the right "big picture" in mind! The same is true for worldview. As we "assemble the pieces" of our lives (i.e., as we answer questions like the ones listed above), we need the right "big picture" in front of us! The Christian worldview is important because it puts the correct box top and the correct picture in front of us! We can now assemble all the pieces of our lives in a way that fit together into one beautiful, coherent picture!
All of this leads me right to the second half of the point we're talking about: The Christian faith (and the Christian worldview) is all-encompassing. This approach to Christianity challenges the way religion is sometimes approached. A lot of times we hear that religion is OK, as long as it stays private and personal - as long as it doesn’t “bleed” out to your public life. There’s a lot to comment on about this mentality (for e.g., even the suggestion that religion should be private is in itself a worldview that is making public claims!), but the big thing I’m going to point out here is that the truth of the Christian faith won’t allow some “privatized” form of religion to rule the day. The Christian worldview doesn’t just touch on one small area of our lives; the reality of who God is and who we are and what God is doing in the world and what that means for us has implications for every part of our individual lives on the micro scale, and all of life on the macro scale.
From the beginning of the Bible to the end, we know the story that Christians are part of is all-encompassing. And cultivating a Christian worldview helps us see this. Even the language of “worldview” shows us this is our view of the world, and it needs to be that comprehensive. It’s a view of the world - and it informs both our understanding of the way the world is and the way the world ought to be.
Thinking in terms of Christian worldview and cultivating a Christian worldview is important because it helps tease out how Christianity intersects with the world - with science and entertainment and politics and education and philosophy and psychology and so much more. Developing a Christian worldview helps us take all the pieces of our lives and put them together into a coherent, compelling whole.
Let's move on to a second reason why cultivating a Christian worldview is important.
2. Because alternatives exist, and they're everywhere.
What I'm trying to get at here is this: If the Christian worldview doesn’t shape and narrate our lives, something else will. The question isn’t “Do I have a worldview?” but “What worldview do I have?” And in our globalized, pluralized, technological world, never has there been more exposure to alternative and competing worldview as there is today.
The late Robert Webber identified this in his recent Who Gets to Narrate the World? Contending for the Christian Story in an Age of Rivals. Listen to how he starts the book:
This book addresses the most pressing spiritual issue of our time: Who gets to narrate the world?
Now let's be clear: The reality of alternative worldview isn’t something to be threatened by or get anxious about (the 1st century world in which the gospel first spread was very pluralistic as well, and the gospel is still the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes, cf Romans 1:16!), but we do need to acknowledge it, and factor it in as we pursue faithful gospel witness.
The question we need to ponder is this: How do we embody the Christian worldview, and value it, and promote it, and do so in a world where others hold to very different worldviews? Thankfully we’re not left to guesswork on this, but we have examples from God’s Word showing what this sort of biblical worldview looks like in competing cultures, in a very “boots on the ground” way (think of Daniel as a premier example, or read the New Testament with an eye on this question).
This brings us right into a third reason why cultivating a Christian worldview is important.
3. Because of the difference the Christian worldview can make.
The New Testament is full of examples where we see the Christian worldview intersecting with the larger world. So let's look at a few passages in the New Testament and see what they can tell us about two things:
(When I teach through this, I break students up into groups and they work through this exercise together. They read through the passages, and then see what sorts of observations they can make - directly from the passage they read. The two questions they're looking to answer as they read are the ones listed above: (1) How doe the Christian worldview take shape in this passage? And (2) How does the Christian worldview make a difference in this passage? Some passages will deal with one of these questions more than the other, but I encourage students to keep both questions in mind for each passage and see what they can observe. After 10-15 min, we then get back together and share what we've learned.)
Here are the passages I have students read and respond to:
The bottom line? The worldview of the earliest Christians - and the way they lived that worldview out - made a difference in how the world viewed them. The same can be true today.
And the difference-making influence of the Christian worldview is evident throughout history as well. Education and hospitals and social justice and civil reforms - so many of the healthy things that have happened in these fields can be tied back to Christians who are living out the implications of their Christianity. They're living out their worldview in the arenas of life in which they find themselves! For more on the difference-making influence of Christianity throughout history, I encourage you to check out any of the following books:
All right - we've seen what a worldview is and why cultivating a Christian worldview is important. Let's move to our final question: How can I cultivate (and embody!) a Christian worldview?
How Can I Cultivate (and Embody!) a Christian Worldview?
1. Renewed minds.
A first way we cultivate a Christian worldview is through renewed minds. Christian worldview is always more than the cognitive element, but this doesn't mean what we fill our minds with is unimportant. The cognitive element (what we believe is true) lays an important foundation on which we grow in the Christian faith. We see this point clearly in Romans 12:2: "be transformed by the renewing of your minds." This is why I'm such a huge fan of education and learning.
And so let me bring up something really basic but really important: The final source of truth for a Christian worldview is the Bible. This is the final authority to which we must look, as we answer the "worldview questions" listed above. The Bible is the ultimate source by which our minds are renewed.
As important as renewed minds are, we can't stop there. Cultivating a Christian worldview includes more.
2. Authentic worship.
Discipleship (and cultivating a Christian worldview) isn't only about what you LEARN, it's also (and more fundamentally) about what you LOVE. Listen to what James K.A. Smith has to say about this in his Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation:
Or a little further down:
3. Transformed actions.
As we've seen the Christian worldview renews our minds and fuels our worship. And the Christian worldview drives our actions. It actually influences the way we live and what we do and how we spend our time. There are all sorts of qualifiers that could be attached to "transformed action": Christian action needs to be faithful, and noticeable, and courageous, and wise, and more.
But the big thing I want to reinforce is the importance of lifestyle. If we don’t allow the impact of a Christian worldview to reach our actions and influence the way we actually live, then our supposed Christian worldview is actually working against itself.
4. Three more thoughts related to the "How?" (Or, how do we do the "how"?)
First, this starts with ourselves (but it doesn't stop there). In other words, make sure you “own” this personally. And make sure to keep doing what you’re already doing - pass this along to other believers and those who are receptive to the gospel. Do this in every way you can - both in more formal settings and in informal interactions.
Second, stay vigilant with “connect the dots” - for yourself and for others. Help people see all the connections between the truth and revelation of God’s Word, and how that intersects with everyday lives and interests. Some of this might seem obvious, but don’t let that keep you from pointing it out.
And third, let’s stay winsome. It’s common now to talk about America as a post-Christian country. In many ways Christianity is working from the margins, and not the center. Rather than getting defensive or anxious about this, let’s remember that oftentimes Christianity has had its most distinctive moments when it’s been in Bethlehem and not Jerusalem, if you understand what I’m saying. Let’s stay faithful and winsome, and fix our trust on God.
The Christian worldview really is important. Living in light of that worldview really is important. Taking steps to continually develop that worldview really is important.
My hope is that this overview of the Christian worldview breathes both purpose and perspective to integrating your Christianity into the various arenas of life in which you live. I hope it also builds resolve into your own personal commitment to be growing in your understanding of a Christian worldview, and in your resolve to embody that worldview in a noticeably changed lifestyle, for the good of others and the glory of God.
Directly below I've included a PDF of the "answer key" to the handout I made available to teachers as I walked through this material. This may give you another visual angle on this material that can be helpful.
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