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Chapter 1

INTRODUCTION TO WORLDVIEWS
Introductory Assignment:
Write five truths or beliefs about life that you learned early from your parents about how life
works.
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

Someone recently asked me, How in the world did our nation end up in the shape that its
in? His question was more rhetorical and was not seeking an actual answer, but an answer is
possible. To some, our nation is making progress in breaking free from our Christian heritage. To
others and probably many of my readers, the country is going in the wrong direction.
Where we are today did not occur over night or by accident. We are living in the wake of
what happens when a nation embraces ideas and explanations about life that are not accurate. In
our nations case we have seen a postmodern worldview become prevalent. The irony with
postmodernism is its core tenet that no big stories or metanarratives exist and ultimate reality is a
fantasy. In other worlds, there is no such thing as truth that applies to everyone. Rather, we need
only to rely on our perceptions about life as the only legitimate view of life. So, postmodernism is
a philosophy that touts as it core belief that applies to all that no beliefs exist that apply to all.
Every worldview provides an interpretation and narrative about life. Based on this
narrative our worldviews provide guidance for our lives and influence the choices that we make.
Cultural worldviews influence the values and morals of society. We have seen a shift in our country
away from values and morality based on absolutes to relying on individual judgments or the will of
those in power to determine good and evil.

Before we explore the history of worldview development in this country and in Western
Civilization we need to lay basic tenets for our study. We will do this by answering some basic
questions:

Why study worldviews?

What are presuppositions?

What are worldviews?

Does absolute truth exist or do we only have perceptions?

Can was suspend truth temporarily?

Why are perceptions so important?

How do worldviews develop?

Why study worldviews?

What is dualism?

What does it mean to think Christianly?

What is the nature of truth?

Why are perceptions of reality often unreliable?


WHY STUDY WORLDVIEWS?

Why study worldviews? Worldviews is perhaps one of the most important subjects that
anyone can study. Our worldviews influence the way we think and the actions we choose. Our
worldviews help us make sense out of life and give us guidance through life. Our worldviews consist
of all of the beliefs and assumptions (i.e. presuppositions) that we hold to be true about the world.
The danger is that we tend to assume that our presuppositions are accurate or consistent with
reality. In fact, our presuppositions can be inaccurate and may be nothing more than perspective or
perception.
Probably most of us are familiar with the purpose of the Global Positioning System (GPS).
GPS has become so popular that many smart phones include a GPS app. The app
serves as a modern version of a compass and is used when seeking directions to
locations. I have come to rely heavily on the GPS function in my phone. Much of
my experience using my GPS app has been positive, which reinforced by
confidence this app.
However, a GPS is only as reliable and accurate as the information entered into the app. On
a recent trip my wife and I decided to do some sightseeing in an unfamiliar city. I entered a
location in the system, but I did not check to make sure the information was accurate. My phone

instructed me through a series of turns like a mouse running through a maze. The final
instructions were to drive straight ahead for 200 miles.
My initial reaction was What? and I finally checked my phone. My GPS was operating on
inaccurate information. It picked up a location by the same name as the location we wanted to visit
but it was located in another state. I stopped and regrouped. I entered our hotel into the GPS and it
carried us back with to a familiar landmark. The experience taught me the importance of relying on
accurate information when seeking direction.
Our worldviews are like a GPS because our presuppositions that comprise our worldviews
provide direction as we face the unfamiliar twists and turns of life. Nancy Pearcey describes
worldviews as a mental map that helps navigate the world effectively.1 Our worldviews rely on
the database of presuppositions that we accumulate over the years. The problem is the
presuppositions we rely upon may not be accurate. If we rely on inaccurate information then we
will end up in the wrong place.
The natural and rational response should be a desire to test the accuracy of our
presuppositions. The good news is we have a reliable standard of truth that we can use to measure
the accuracy of our presuppositions. Unfortunately, a person can choose to ignore the absolute
standard of Gods revelation of truth and choose another unreliable standard of truth. The Bible
deals with the subject of truth in a number of places. One of my favorite passages on the subject of
truth is Proverbs 23:23.
Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline, and understanding.
Proverbs 23:23
What does this verse mean? The truth requires that we seek truth and this will cost us
effort, time, and study. We must know where to search for the truth. We need to be careful not to
sell the truth by compromising or rejecting what we know to be truth. The benefit of buying the
truth is we gain wisdom about life, we develop discipline, and we acquire an understanding of how
life works in terms of reality.

Nancy Pearcey, Total truth: Liberating Christianity from it Cultural Captivity. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004), 23.

WHAT ARE PRESUPPOSITIONS?


What is this? The obvious answer is a cat. Why is this answer obvious? At some point you
learned that this animal is a cat. This was a piece of knowledge. Knowledge that was learned from
those you trust and is reinforced by those around you. As some point someone taught you that this
was a cat and the general consensus is this is a cat. This knowledge is also a presupposition. A
presupposition is a truth-claim that we assume is accurate and consistent with ultimate reality. This
presupposition is part of your worldview.
Our presuppositions are assembled by our minds into a network of personal knowledge that
helps us understand the world around us. This collection of presuppositions form our worldviews.
We naturally accumulate personal knowledge as part of natural human maturation. This knowledge
provides us a tool for making sense out of life and determining an appropriate response. Personal
knowledge basically comes through three sources:

Beliefs we learn from those we trust (interpersonal knowledge)

Beliefs we learn through formal education (factual knowledge)

Beliefs we deduce through our experiences (experiential knowledge)

We naturally assume that our personal knowledge is accurate because it is consistent with
our experience and we trust the authority of the sources that taught us this knowledge. The danger
is that our presuppositions may be inconsistent with truth and reality and acting on these
inaccurate presuppositions can be the source of many of the problems we face in life.
I often use the example of procrastination with students. Some students believe they can
put off a significant assignment or study for a test until the last possible minute. Perhaps they
experienced success in the past when procrastinating so they assume success will be repeated in
the future. The fallacy in their thinking is the assumption that their circumstances will always
conducive to waiting until the last minute. Then, something happens and they do not complete the
assignment or they fail a test. Reality has revealed the error of their thinking. Wisdom would dictate
that the student learn from the experience, but many do not make the connection. If the belief and
behavior do not change then the experience will be repeated.

Our behavior is often the tool that reveals the accuracy of our presuppositions. Why? Our
actions are influenced by what we believe. The desirability of the consequences of our actions can
reveal inaccurate presuppositions.
WHAT ARE WORLDVIEWS?
We have explained the importance of worldviews. Perceptions may or may
not conform to reality. Why? Our perceptions are rooted in our worldviews. What is a
worldview? Numerous definitions have been offered for worldviews. For instance:

Charles Colson defines worldviews as the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the
big picture that directs our daily decisions and actions.2
James Sire provided a more academic definition of worldviews as a set of
presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the
basic makeup of the world.3

What themes do these definitions have in common?


Worldviews are comprised of beliefs and assumptions we assume to be true about life
These beliefs and assumptions motivate behavior and influence our choices
Our worldviews provide direction for life.
The definition we use for worldviews I offer in class is:
A worldview is a systematic collection of presuppositions about God, others, ourselves, and how
life should or seems to work for us.
DOES ABSOLUTE TRUTH EXIST?
One piece of the foundation we cannot overlook is the issue of absolute truth. Does absolute
truth exist? be accumulates by watching others we trust, It is possible that our knowledge or
presuppositions may be accurate or inaccurate when it comes to truth provided that we have
concluded that absolute truth exists. The choice to believe something is true does not make it true.
Actions based on beliefs that are not true typically result in negative consequences.
The presupposition of this course is that absolute truth exists and can be known. Truth has
been revealed. Absolute truth is transcendent meaning it does not change and applies to everyone.
Dallas Willard captures the importance of knowing the truth with this statement:

2
3

Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale Publishing, 1999), 14.
James Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 1988), 17.

Our beliefs and ideas orient us in action toward our world and our future. If they have this
property of truth, our actions will be more successful in terms of our objectives and possibly
in terms of our well-being. All of this is, once again, something children learn while quite
young. Action in terms of beliefs or ideas that are not true lead to unhappy outcomes. Our
beliefs are the rails upon which our lives run. We believe something if we are set to act as if
it were so. But if our beliefs are false, reality does not adjust to accommodate our errors. A
brief but useful characterization of reality is as what you run into when you are wrong that
is, when our corresponding beliefs are not true. That can be fatal and often is. Truth is quite
merciless, and so is reality.4
Truth does not conform to what we want to be true. My experiences and intentions may
seem authoritative to me but these actually have no bearing on the truthfulness of our beliefs. We
often learn quickly if presuppositions are accurate if the consequences are immediate. For example,
a child learns quickly not to touch a hot iron if the iron burns them. I found this out firsthand as a
child when a hot iron fell on my arm. Since the consequences were immediate and painful my
mother never had to warn me not to touch a hot iron again.
CAN WE SUSPEND TRUTH TEMPORARILY?
The accuracy of our presuppositions may be more difficult to determine if the consequences
are delayed or never experienced by one responsible for the action. This is what happens when we
are able to suspend truth. For example, I will quickly see the inaccuracy of my presupposition that I
can fly like Superman if I jump from the roof. However, we can suspend the law of gravity
temporarily in an airplane.
Airplanes fly because they can temporarily suspend the law of gravity. The ability to
suspend the law of gravity means some other law must be temporarily greater than the standard.
The law of gravity would be the standard because it applies to all and represents a norm for the
earths design. Airplanes suspend the law of gravity through the physics of thrust and lift, but an
airplane cannot fly forever. At some point the law of gravity will resume and the plane will descend.
The same is true with our presuppositions. Individuals and society at large can embrace
presuppositions and promote behaviors that violate the laws God revealed and made part of
creation. The consequences of doing so may not be immediately experienced and some may never
be experienced by the one responsible for the action though someone will incur the consequences
at some point.
The negative consequences accumulate even though they may go unobserved for a while. At
some point the consequences reach the point that the circumstances are unavoidable. Im reminded
of the passage in Genesis 15:16 when God told Abraham to not destroy the Amorites because their
cup of iniquity was not yet full. The NIV uses the phrase, for the sin of the Amorites has not

Dallas Willard, A place for truth: Highlights from the Veritas Forum (Downers Grove, IL InterVarsity Press), 16

reached its full measure. We can read into the passage that the cup was full for some of the other
tribes in Canaan and so judgment was inevitable.
In some instances people are not allowed to experience the consequences of their actions.
Others step in and incur the consequences on themselves. At some point the ability to shield others
from the consequences of their actions will diminish or may go away altogether at once. This is the
situation when people often hit bottom.
For example, God has revealed the laws that tend to produce prosperity in life. Individuals
and societies can refuse to abide by these economic laws. For a while there may be a sufficient
number of individuals to prevent the full impact of the negative consequences. In time though, the
entire economy will be experience the negative consequences of violating Gods economic laws.
We have already mentioned that the human tendency is to our version of reality is accurate.
Our version of reality reflects our story and experiences, but our reality may be consistent, partially
consistent, or entirely inconsistent with ultimate reality. Ultimate reality will eventually press in on
our lives usually through circumstances.
WHY ARE PERCEPTIONS SO POWERFUL?
Look at the picture, what do you see? Some see a candlestick. Others see
two faces. Another possibility is the reflection of a face. Which answer is correct?
All of the answers are correct. The picture actually has no true meaning except to
say that perception is reality for the viewer. All of these images can be seen in
the picture so to ask, What do you see? is a question about your perceptions.
Everyone has a worldview. Our worldviews influence our perceptions of things. We
naturally assume that our perceptions are accurate because they reflection our presuppositions and
personal knowledge. Presuppositions are beliefs and assumptions we have learned from others or
through our experiences and we assume to be consistent with reality or at least our reality. We
could say that our presuppositions reflect our personal knowledge.
Our worldviews assemble our presuppositions into a cohesive network that provides an
efficient way to understand the world around us. Richard DeWitt described our worldviews as a
system of interconnected, intertwined, and interrelated beliefs.5 DeWitt goes on to describe
worldviews as being like a spider web where each belief affects other beliefs.
Peripheral beliefs like the outer edge of a spider web can be changed without changing the
entire structure of the worldview. However, a change in core beliefs causes the worldview to break
apart and paralyzes the person until a new worldviews can be created. For instance, if someone
changes their favorite sports them the decision will not affect the persons overall worldview. If

Richard DeWitt, Worldviews: An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Science (West Sussex, UK: John
Wiley/Blackwell Publishing, 2010).

someone was an atheist and came to faith in Jesus Christ then the persons entire worldview would
come under pressure to change to a new core philosophy.
HOW DO WORLDVIEWS DEVELOP?
Our worldviews are comprised of a systemic collection of presuppositions.
Presuppositions are the beliefs and assumptions that we rely on as true because we borrowed these
beliefs from those we trust or we acquired these assumptions based on our experiences especially
early in life. Worldview formation begins early in life mainly through our interactions with the
external world.
Developmental psychology suggests that views of self and the world begin to form early in
life. Developmentalist Erik Erikson is well known in the field of psychology for his
developmental stages across the life span. His first stage, Trust vs. Mistrust, proposes
that trust in others begins during the first 18 months of life in response to the quality
of care and other interactions with parents or caregivers. Trust develops when
parents or caretakers are available and provide quality care. Mistrust develops when
parental care is absent or unpredictable.
Our worldviews can change with age though some estimate that the foundational beliefs of
worldviews are in place by the age of 13.6 Random beliefs are not very helpful. We need some way
of assembling these beliefs in a systematic way. God designed our minds to naturally increase our
efficiency in interpreting information that we encounter around us and determining how to
respond to that information. Our worldviews make this possible because they assemble our
presuppositions in a mental structure or database that makes the presuppositions easily accessible.
Our core beliefs influence the structure of our worldviews because these beliefs represent
ultimate reality to us. Every worldview at its core assumes something represents the ultimate
authority in defining reality and serves as the organizing principle under which all other
presuppositions are understood. This organizing principle is actually the answer to a theological or
philosophical question What is the first cause of creation? The answer will always be a faithbased answer because no one version of the origins of all things can be proven emphatically. The
answer to the first cause question is the ultimate authority that we rely upon in how we live and
how we govern our lives.

See the online article, Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians Over the Past 13 Years by
The Barna Group, accessed 7/10/14 from http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/21-transformation/252barna-survey-examines-changes-in-worldview-among-christians-over-the-past-13-years

WHY STUDY WORLDVIEWS?


Our worldviews provide a sense of direction. As Pearcey stated, worldviews are mental
maps.7 Albert Wolters suggested that since we are rational beings we need some creed
to live by, some map by which to chart our course.8 The accuracy of the information in
our mental maps is a significant concern. For instance, if I want to travel to New York,
but my map is for Texas I will end up in the wrong place. Since we rely upon our
worldviews for direction and guidance in life, the accuracy of our worldviews is a
paramount concern.
Worldviews Govern Our Lives
Why study worldviews? First, we rely on our worldviews for direction and to govern our
lives. If absolute truth exists as Christianity teaches that it does then it is possible for our
presuppositions to accurate or inaccurate, true or false when it comes to absolute truth. If we rely
on presuppositions that are inaccurate or false we can be the source of much of the trouble we
experience in life. Simply choosing to believe something is true does not make it true.
Worldviews Answer Important Questions
Second, our worldviews help us answer the most important questions about life. Pearcey
identifies three broad questions that every worldview answers.9 The questions reveal a simple
three-point outline: Creation, Fall, and Redemption.

Creation How did it all begin? Where did we come from? Who are we?

Fall What went wrong? What is the source of evil and suffering?

Redemption What will fix the problem? How can the world be made right again?

We could offer a 4th point to the outline following Redemption. The 4th point, Restoration,
acknowledges the biblical teaching that creation is in the process of being restored to Gods original
design.

Restoration Where is history going? What will be the culmination of history?

The core points identified by Colson, Pearcey, and others can be broken down into
questions with greater specificity. The following list of questions will be used in this course.

What was the first-cause of everything?

Who am I?

Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth.


Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Grand Rapids, MI:
Eerdmans, 1985), 4.
9
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth.
8

Why are we here?

Where is history going?

What matters most in life?

Who are what is in control?

Who or what determines ethics and morality?

Worldviews Are Weapons in the Culture War


Third, we are engaged in a great culture war that has been underway for over a century. The
intensity of the culture war increased significantly towards the end of the twentieth century. We
will discuss more about the culture war in a later lesson. For now, keep in mind that the thrust of
the forces opposed to the influence of the Judeo-Christian tradition in culture and public policy are
taking every advantage possible to defeat and remove the Christian influence from the American
culture psych.
Christian Smith and Melinda Denton provide us with a glimpse of how the culture war is
They surveyed the religious beliefs of teens from a cross-section of denominational
backgrounds. The findings were presented in five statements.
going.10

1. A God exists who created and orders the world and watches over human life on earth.
2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other.
3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about one- self.
4. God does not need to be particularly involved in ones life except when he is needed to
resolve a problem.
5. Good people go to heaven when they die11
Smith and Denton summed their findings by describing the religious views of those
surveyed as Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism. Moralistic means that the key to having a good and
fulfilling life is to be a good and moral person. Therapeutic means that a core value of religions
should be goals associated with a sense of peace and well-being such as personal happiness, feeling
good, and a sense of security. Deism means that God exists and defined moral order in the world,
but he is not personally involved in the lives of people unless needed to resolve our problems or to
meet one of our therapeutic needs.

10

Christian Smith & Melinda Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers,
(Oxford Publishing, 2009)
11
C. Smith * M. Denton, Ibid, p. 46-47.

10

Needless to say, as Smith and Denton pointed out the condition of


Western Christianity is poor at best. Francis Schaeffer warned about the
advance of secularism in our culture years ago. Schaeffer contends that prior to
1913 the predominant cultural worldview in the United States was more or less
consistent with the Christian worldview especially in the belief in God and his
moral order for humanity.12 In other words, the predominant cultural worldview in American
culture accepted the existence of absolutes.
The acceptance of absolutes was a given and often required little in terms of a logical or
rational argument. Schaeffer suggest that the shift away from a belief in God and the absolutes was
due in large part to the absence of Christian ministers and thinkers who trained Christians to
develop their skills in apologetics so they could answer the difficult challenges to the Christian
worldview that came from Naturalism and Postmodernism.
WHAT IS DUALISM?
Those who have little commitment to Faith often call for a dichotomy in life between the
sacred and the secular. A dichotomy as a division into two contrasting things or parts13 The
cultural dichotomy Christians encounter today began in earnest in the 20th century.
This cultural dichotomy also known as dualism is based on a culturally created division
between the sacred and the secular. The sacred and the secular function independent of each other
and produce a fragmented life. The sacred includes issues considered by some to be non-rational
such as religious beliefs or spirituality, values, and meaning in life. The secular emphasizes
Naturalism and Humanism.
Naturalism is the belief that truth and reality are confided to the natural realm and reason.
Reason can only be found in tangible evidence. The American Humanist Association defines
humanism as a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs,
affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the
greater good of humanity14
The premise is that matters of faith are at odds with the rational and has no place in the
public sphere of a persons life. The public sphere is the areas of life that involve our public life
where certain culturally-approved behaviors and beliefs are required. The sacred sphere is the
private part of life. Schaeffer described the sacred part of life as the realm of meaning or values.15
This private realm contains our personal convictions and religious beliefs. This sphere is
unwelcomed in public life in a secular culture.

12

Francis Schaeffer, Trilogy: The Three Essential Books in One Volume, (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990).
The American Heritage Dictionary [online].
14
See the online article, About Humanism by the American Humanist Association, accessed on 7/10/14 from
http://americanhumanist.org/Who_We_Are/About_Humanism
15
Schaeffers discussion of spheres can be found in Nancy Pearceys, Total Truth.
13

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One of the patriarchs of modern Christian worldview study was Francis Schaeffer (1912
1984). Schaeffer described this tactic of pushing Faith out of the
mainstream of cultural thought and practice using the imagery of a twostory house.16 The top story is the realm of faith and religious beliefs.
This realm is reserved for ones personal life and has no place in areas of
life that are unrelated to religion or spirituality.
The bottom story was the realm of the rational and we could add the culturally acceptable.
This is the realm of life that should influence how we live in our normal and everyday lives. The
presuppositions associated with the lower level are considered to be superior to those of the upper
level. For instance, how I live on Sunday can vary greatly from the way I live Monday through
Saturday including my value system. Each level tends to foster its own value system and lifestyle.
Schaeffer goes on to use another analogy in explaining the attempt to make dichotomy
normal. He used a dividing line that he called the line of despair. Above the line is presuppositions
that are consistent with a Christian worldview and below the line is presuppositions that reflect
naturalistic humanism or postmodernism. All that falls below the line represents various cultural
shifts that have resulted in negative consequences for cultures.
Dichotomy may have become normal, but this is contrary to practicing true Christianity
because the Christian message provides a comprehensive system of truth and worldview that
applies to all of life and society. What opened the door for the dichotomy view of life? The past
failure of many Christians to demonstrate a consistent Christian worldview to all of life has resulted
in the loss of the Christian mind in our culture.17 Christian mind means there are no shared or
commonly held biblically based assumptions in our culture that apply all of culture such as
economics, education, etc.
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO THINK CHRISTIANLY?
For Christians to be effective in advancing the Christian worldview, we have to become
skilled in making a defense for our beliefs (i.e. apologetic) that matches the needs of the audience.
We must begin thinking Christianly18 Thinking Christianly means that Christian truth describes
ultimate reality for all subject matter. Christians will only be as influential as their ability to
demonstrate that thinking Christianly results in a quality of the life that exceeds living out of the
lower story and below the line of despair that Schaeffer described.19
Thinking Christianly means more than trying to be religious or moral and trying to force
others to do the same. The old days of most people having at least a basic exposure to a Christian
worldview. We are in a similar situation as the Apostle Paul when he made his presentation of the
Gospel to the Gentiles.

16

Francis Schaeffer, Trilogy


Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 34
18
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth, p. 34
19
Francis Schaeffer, Trilogy: The Three Essential Books in One Volume (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1990).
17

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The Gentiles were those ethnicities in the Mediterranean world who were not of Jewish
descent. The Gentiles had little to know knowledge of Judaism and most were well-versed in Greek
culture and philosophy. Paul understood that thinking Christianly for the Gentiles required a
comprehensive Christian worldview that applied to every aspect of life. Most of Pauls letters were a
combination of Christian teachings and practices. These elements formed the Christian worldview
taught by Paul.

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