You are on page 1of 8

Worldview Primer

What is Worldview and Why is it Important?


© 2007 Freddy Davis

Why Should I Even Be Interested in Worldview?

When the average person hears the word “worldview,” it probably doesn’t register as anything particularly im-
portant for a Christian to be concerned with. In fact, it is a good possibility that you, yourself, fit into this cate-
gory. Even the word itself sounds rather academic and philosophical.

Admittedly, at first blush, it doesn’t seem to have much relationship to the everyday life of real people at all.
But in our modern world, that perception is dead wrong. It certainly used to be that this topic didn’t have much
relevance to everyday Christians. But our culture has radically changed. And if we want to avoid having society
cast our faith into the dustbin of irrelevance, we need some new tools to help us understand and deal with this
new reality.

It is true that the idea of worldview was originally coined and used among academics who wanted to study the
interaction between various cultures and belief systems. But what began as an academic pursuit has become a
practical necessity. In a world that is rapidly shrinking because of the incredible advances in transportation and
communication technology, the practical implications which emerge from an understanding of worldview are
enormous.

In the Christian realm, it used to be that overseas missionaries were pretty much the only people who had a rea-
son for wanting to know about worldview. After all, they were the ones who had to deal with people from other
cultures and with other belief systems. But that is simply not the case any more. Other cultures and belief sys-
tems are everywhere, having filtered into the very fabric of modern American society. Initially, these influences
were limited to people who were born in foreign lands. But in our day, even native born Americans are so di-
verse that we are forced to work cross-culturally in virtually every area of life. Diverse subcultures and belief
systems have become a part of the very framework of the country.

For Christians, this brings us to a choice. We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that this kind of plu-
ralism doesn’t exist, or we can take Christ’s commission to be witnesses seriously and learn the things that are
necessary to be effective in this new environment. Sure the idea of worldview is a newcomer on the scene. But
the fact is, the face of modern society is also new. If we don’t adapt and learn how to effectively share a witness
within it, we might as well give up on the idea of participating in the work Christ has called us to do.

Contact MarketFaith Ministries


312 Anton Dr. Phone: 850-383-9756
Tallahassee, FL 32312 info@marketfaith.org Fax: 850-514-4571
http://www.marketfaith.org
1
What Has Gone Wrong?

There is no doubt about it, things are different. As recently as two or three generations ago it used to be that
America was considered by nearly everyone to be a Christian nation. But that is hardly true any more. That
seems rather strange in some ways because there are still a lot of churches around, and a very large percent-
age of people identify themselves as Christians. On the other hand, relatively few seem to have any confi-
dence at all in asserting their faith as the Truth that everyone ought to follow. Instead of being the front line
in the spiritual war between good and evil, our churches have degenerated into spiritual bomb shelters where
we can retreat from the barrage of non-Christian rhetoric that we face out in the world.

George Barna is a Christian pollster who researches the attitudes of Americans concerning spiritual matters.
One of his recent studies indicated that "most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs, largely be-
cause they do not possess a coherent Biblical worldview. That is, they lack a consistent and holistic under-
standing of their faith.”

Even if that is true, is it really that serious? Well, let’s put it this way, it is only serious if we consider confi-
dence in our own personal faith to be important. Barna concludes in his study, “To give purpose to the spiri-
tual lifestyle of Americans, there are few tasks more important than helping Americans develop a Biblical
view of life. Otherwise, millions of people, including many within the youngest generations, will conclude
the Christian faith does not represent deep, consistent truths about the spiritual and natural world" (You can
read the full article, called Barna's Annual Tracking Study Shows Americans Stay Spiritually Active, But Bib-
lical Views Wane, at www.barna.org). In other words, if we do not learn how to articulate our faith as THE
TRUTH in our current pluralistic world, then our beliefs will become increasingly unimportant to us and pro-
gressively more irrelevant to those who do not know Christ.

At this point, we will assume that you are interested enough in the topic of worldview to want, at the very
least, a basic grasp of the concepts. With that assumption in place, we will move forward with an introducto-
ry explanation.

What is a Worldview?

Let’s start with a simple definition. A worldview is the set of assumptions that people make about the nature
of reality. Now this probably does seem a little philosophical and esoteric, but let’s take a moment to break
the definition down and you will see that it is not nearly as abstract a topic as it might appear on the surface.

Let’s begin with the word “assumptions.” In general, what is an assumption? An assumption is nothing more
than a belief that a person takes for granted. There is typically no attempt to try and justify an assumption
because, at the most fundamental level, it appears to be true and obvious. What happens is, as people orga-
nize their lives, they do it around a set of beliefs that seem so obvious that they don’t even need to be ques-
tioned. In fact, they seem so obvious that those holding them are sure that everyone else must understand life
the same way they do. So, when they see other people acting in ways that contradict those beliefs, they don’t
even perceive that the other person might be operating off of an entirely different set of beliefs. Rather, they
perceive the person to be simply acting contrary to what “everyone knows is right.”

But, why is it an assumption? Why can’t our beliefs be said to rest on “fact.” We will deal more fully with
how to get at worldview beliefs in a few moments, but let’s make one quick clarification. Every worldview is
a faith position. It is impossible to answer the kinds of questions that worldview asks based on scientific ob-
servation or direct human experience. There is evidence that can be brought to bear to support a given point
of view, and we can evaluate the evidence to see whether or not any particular faith position is reasonable.
But every worldview, by definition, is based on a set of faith assumptions. (Note: It is outside the scope of
2
this primer to explore the particular evidence related to the various worldviews. However, let it be noted that
the evidence for the Christian faith is very strong and the evidence against every other belief system is equal-
ly compelling.)

The second part of the definition relates to the phrase “nature of reality.” Now this phrase, too, probably
sounds a bit philosophical. But once again the meaning is quite practical and down to earth. Here is the idea.
The entirety of reality is structured in some objective way and is not structured in any other way. This actual
structure is what we refer to as reality. We can also refer to it as Truth (with a capital T). Truth, in its most
fundamental form, relates to the set of beliefs that most closely lines up with how reality is actually struc-
tured. The further any set of beliefs moves away from that actual structure, the further its adherents are from
living a life that is lined up with reality. (Just as a quick aside, it is absolutely possible for people to live their
entire lives based on an understanding of reality that is not the Truth – and billions of people around the
globe do just that.)

Now, as we put the whole definition together, we can see the big picture relating to worldview. It is a faith
position which is the organizing principle for an individual’s understanding of how the real world operates.
As we live life, we think and act based on this set of beliefs without ever questioning whether or not we are
right – and perhaps without even realizing what our own basic beliefs are.

Why Is Worldview Important?

Before we go any further, we need to ask the question, “Why is worldview important?” The answer is, “It
sets the boundaries within which people live their lives.” In a way it is like an athletic field. Our worldview
draws a line around our lives and we live within those boundaries. We recognize that there are places outside
of the boundaries, and that some people do operate there. But that space is understood to be out of bounds
and anyone operating there is believed to be living illegitimately. Perhaps a couple of examples will help
clarify this.

1. If a person believes, at a worldview level, that there is a God and that there is such a thing as an eternal
heaven and hell, that person will, typically, do all they can to figure out what they need to do to go to heaven.
They will, then, live their lives in a way that will help them get there and avoid things which would lead
them to an eternity in hell.

2. If a person believes that human beings are simply a product of natural evolutionary forces and are nothing
more than the animal species with the most highly developed brain, then abortion becomes nothing more
than the elimination of a blob of unwanted tissue. It would not, then, be considered “outside of the lines” for
a person with this belief to terminate a pregnancy or advocate it for someone else.

Obviously, these are only two examples. There are probably hundreds of others we could give. The point is,
though, people will think and act based on what they believe at a worldview level. This principle not only
plays out in the life of an individual, it plays out in society, as well.

On an individual level, if a person’s worldview does not match up with the way reality is actually structured,
that person’s life will have a lot of inconsistencies and the person will not live as fulfilling a life as is possi-
ble.

On a societal level, the laws and values of the dominant worldview will be outwardly expressed in society.
For instance, if militant Islamic beliefs are dominant, the society’s children will be encouraged, even through
the educational system, to hate Jews and Americans. If Christian beliefs are dominant, the children will be
taught to love one another.
3
How Do You Get at People’s Worldviews?

This, now, brings us to an important question. Since these worldview beliefs are so foundational and below
the radar, how do we bring them to the surface so that we can understand them? To do this, all that is neces-
sary is to ask seven simple questions. As you will see, these questions do not have answers which can be sci-
entifically measured. No matter how much we wish it were so, no one can claim that their belief system is
based on scientific fact. They are faith positions based on a set of assumptions, as we saw earlier. We must
gather evidence for the Truth of any worldview system from some other place.

As we look at the questions, it should be noted that each worldview will answer the seven questions differ-
ently. The set of answers that a particular worldview gives defines specifically the faith assumptions of the
worldview. A little further along we will look at the ultimate outcomes of each worldview. But for now, let’s
just look at the questions they must answer.

1. What is the nature of ultimate reality?


This question deals with a worldview’s teaching of how reality is structured. It describes whether or not there
is a supernatural part of reality and, if there is, how it is structured and populated.

2. What is the nature of material reality?


Question two explores the nature of the material universe. It answers questions related to its structure, as well
as how it came into being and how it is sustained.

3. What is a human being?


Every worldview sees humans to be a certain kind of creature with particular characteristics. This question
delves into the particulars of the nature of humanity.

4. What happens to a person at death?


This question elicits a worldview’s belief about whether or not there is an afterlife and, if so, what it is like.

5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?


Question five deals with the question of human knowledge. Specifically, what is it that gives human beings
the ability to self-consciously acquire and use knowledge (an ability that is unique among all creatures on
earth) .

6. How do we know what is right and wrong?


Every worldview has some means of understanding and establishing standards of morality. Different world-
views have entirely different ways of approaching this issue.

7. What is the meaning of human history?


This final question asks whether or not there is any meaning associated with the existence of mankind on the
earth and, if so, what that might be.

What Are the Basic Worldviews?

Now that we have identified how it is possible to find out what each worldview believes, we can move on to
identifying the worldviews and their basic assumptions. By way of introduction, there are four basic world-
views. And even though there are hundreds of different belief systems in existence, every one of them
emerges out of these four worldviews. The four are Naturalism, Animism, Far Eastern Thought and Theism.

4
Each worldview answers the seven questions in completely different ways. By finding out how a person an-
swers the questions, it is possible to get a handle on his or her worldview, no matter what it is. We won’t take
the time, here, to specifically spell out the answers that each worldview gives to all seven questions. That
would take too long. But we will lay out a summary of each one which emerges from answering the ques-
tions. Let’s take a quick look at how each of the four worldviews understands reality.

Naturalism
Basic Assumption: There is no supernatural existence. The only thing that exists is matter which is eternal
and evolving.
Associated Belief Systems: Secular Humanism, Atheism, Agnosticism, Skepticism, Existentialism, Marxism,
Positivism/Scientism, Postmodernism

Animism
Basic Assumption: The universe contains both material and immaterial parts. Spirits exist in a separate place
from physical beings, but they interact with each other in a symbiotic relationship. Humans on earth offer
sacrifices and perform ceremonies which benefit the spirits, and they, in turn, take care of the needs of hu-
mans on earth.
Associated Belief Systems: Japanese Shinto, Witchcraft/Wicca, Astrology, Native American Religions, For-
tunetelling, Spiritism, Voodoo

Far Eastern Thought


Basic Assumption: The essence of all existence is the impersonal life force. There are pieces of that life force
which are not merged with the central core, but which are constantly working their way toward it with the
ultimate goal being to merge with it. All of life in the physical universe is nothing more than pieces of that
life force which are working their way, through successive material incarnations, toward unity with the main
body. The lower the life form, the further it has to go. The process is for the life form, at whatever stage, to
live its life the best is can. If it does well, it will move up to a higher form in its next incarnation. When it
makes it to the highest level and does well, the material reincarnations will cease and the life force merges
with the impersonal main body. The essence of this worldview is pantheistic and monistic.
Associated Belief Systems: Hinduism, Hare Krishna, Transcendental Meditation, Buddhism, Taoism, Jain-
ism, Sikhism

Theism
Basic Assumption: There is an infinite and transcendent (supernatural) God who is the Creator and Sustainer
of the material universe.
Associated Belief Systems: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, The Way International, The Unity School of Christi-
anity, Children of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism

Hybrids
There are some belief systems which are a little harder to categorize. That is because they have taken ele-
ments from two or more worldviews and attempted to combine them. The big problem with this is that every
worldview literally contradicts every other worldview. As a result, every hybrid belief system creates irrec-
oncilable contradictions within itself. To deal with this problem, they simply ignore the contradictions. There
are a number of groups which have managed to grow large enough to become recognizable hybrid belief sys-
tems.
Associated Belief Systems: New Age, Satanism, Scientology, Bahai, Confucianism, Christian Science, Uni-
tarian Universalists, Unification Church/Moonies

Relational Revelation
Let me state up front that Relational Revelation is not actually a worldview, in and of itself. Rather, it is the
form of Theism which represents Biblical Christianity, and which Christians understand to be the Truth. It is
5
included here simply as a means of giving a reference point. It is easy to see where our Christian faith differs
from other completely different worldviews, but we need to make a couple of important distinctions to sepa-
rate it from other forms of Theism.

Basic Assumption: There is a personal, infinite, transcendent God who is the Creator and Sustainer of the ma-
terial universe and who is revealed in the Bible.

What Effects Do the Different Worldview Approaches Have on Society?

Since each worldview is expressed concretely in life through the individuals who follow them, it is important
to understand the implications of the various worldviews on society. Let’s look at each worldview and ex-
plore the implications.
Naturalism
Since there is no supernatural being (no God), the only way life could come into existence is by natural evo-
lutionary means. And, since there is no personal supernatural being, all of morality is strictly determined by
humans – who are the only beings capable of comprehending a need for it, and the only ones with the ability
to set up rules for society to live by. Individuals and societies determine their own moral values. If the condi-
tion or situation changes, there is no compelling reason why the values and rules can’t also be changed.

As a result, people who hold a Naturalistic worldview promote an “anything goes as long as it doesn’t de-
stroy the species” kind of approach to life. Just to give a few examples: there is no such thing as sexual im-
morality, there is no particular family organizational pattern which is better than any other, and a fetus is
nothing more than an impersonal blob of tissue. Under this worldview, “the ends justifies the means” and
those with the power make the rules (the law of the jungle).

Animism
The world, and life in general, are not moving toward a higher destination, so the tendency is simply to live
life one day at a time and accept things the way they are. Whenever something goes wrong, the assumption is
made that some god is displeased. The important thing, then, is to figure that out and try and appease the of-
fended god. It doesn’t occur to anyone to use some other means to try and improve life. Left to themselves,
Animistic cultures tend to remain living in primitive circumstances with very little societal advancement.

Far Eastern Thought


The primary impact of Far Eastern Religions on culture is to promote a type of passivism. Since every incar-
nation places a person in their proper place on the wheel of reincarnation, it is not proper to try and put one-
self into a different place in life. The ultimate result, then, is some form of a caste system where everyone
knows their own place in life and accepts it. The main effort in life is to live good enough to move to a higher
level in the next incarnation.

Theism
Theism basically lends itself to an impact on culture that is both moral and positive. However, most forms
result in a legalistic approach to living life and developing one’s culture. The moral order ought to be a cer-
tain way because it has been revealed in the law or put forth by the prophet. The way things ought to be are
specifically prescribed. As a result, individual life and society tend to become very rigid and legalistic. Indi-
viduals strive to do the right thing in life because it is considered their duty.

Relational Revelation
As with most other forms of Theism, Relational Revelation lends itself to an impact on culture that is both
moral and positive. It does all of this, however, in a way that puts a priority on a personal relationship with
God as the motivation for fulfilling his purposes. It is not just the end result that matters, but the means by
6
which the outcome is brought about is also vital. The means are conveyed through God’s revelation (the Bi-
ble) and by personal instruction from God as he interacts with individual human beings by his Spirit.

Why Is an Understanding of Worldview Important for the Individual Christian?

At the beginning of this worldview explanation, it was noted that even though the idea of worldview seems
very philosophical, it actually has very profound practical implications as it relates to our Christian lives.
These implications play out most obviously in two distinct areas – (1) our personal faith life and (2) our wit-
ness. Let’s take a moment and spell this out.

Our Personal Faith Life


While virtually all Christians believe and profess that we can know God in a personal relationship, all too
often our actual life experience does not reflect what we confess. Our tendency is to get all wrapped up in
ourselves and our own life activities so that God becomes more of an abstract idea rather than a person with
whom we concretely and personally interact.

An understanding of worldview principles, as it relates to our own personal faith, has the potential to change
that. It helps us not only to understand who God is, based on what the Bible teaches, but gives us a specific
means by which we can profoundly tap into a real and personal relationship with God. This will cause our
faith to become personal and vibrant, as opposed to impersonal and dutiful.

Our Witness
For most people, the very idea of giving a witness brings forth images of an uncomfortable confrontation
with a non-believer in which a person shares a gospel message and forces a decision. First, let’s be honest.
Knowing how to do this is an essential tool for every Christian. After all, we are commissioned by Christ,
himself, to share the gospel message.

The main problem, though, is not in sharing the message. Rather, it is in the approach we take when we do it.
For the most part, Christians are not equipped with the knowledge they need to help them deal with the many
situations they confront as they try to share a witness. The main problem Christians run into is that people
who have a different worldview from their own will probably not clearly understand the witness if the mes-
sage is not put into a context that the listener understands.

Understanding worldview completely solves this problem. There is not a belief system in the world that is
outside of the understanding of individual Christians if they have a little bit of background in worldview.
While every bit of knowledge we can gain is helpful, it is not necessary to become an expert in apologetics
and world religions.

The fact is, we are commissioned to share the gospel and we live in a society where non-Christian belief sys-
tems abound. Worldview Witness Training gives us the tools to share our faith with virtually anyone with
complete confidence.

Conclusion

Obviously, this primer only touches the surface. But it at least points us in the right direction as we confront
a world which is lost without Christ, and as we face a society which is being shaped by forces which work
against God’s ways and purposes. It is our prayer that this introduction will help you refocus your life to be-
come more effective in living out your faith in the world, and in sharing Christ with those who need him.

7
If you would like to delve deeper into understanding worldview, let me make a few simple recommendations
for you.

1. Check out the MarketFaith Ministries website at www.marketfaith.org. It is full of free resources which
discuss the various issues related to worldview.

2. Sign up for Worldview Made Practical – the MarketFaith Ministries free e-letter. This newsletter is pub-
lished twice per month and contains fantastic articles which relate to the practical implications of worldview.
You can sign up free at the MarketFaith Ministries website.

3. Consider the possibility of having Freddy Davis, Executive Director of MarketFaith Ministries, come to
your location and present a training seminar. There are several different seminars which deal with the various
worldview issues discussed in this primer. You can find out more details about these seminars at the Market-
Faith Ministries website.

4. Finally, feel free to contact us directly. We can be contacted at:


MarketFaith Ministries
321 Anton Dr.
Tallahassee, FL 32312

Phone: 850-383-9756
Fax: 850-514-4571
E-mail:info@marketfaith.org
Website www.marketfaith.org

We look forward to hearing from you.