“In Christ, all things hold together.” Col. 1:17
In the midst of an increasingly post-Christian West, there is a need to articulate a Christian worldview that can dialogue with and also challenge neighbouring worldviews. This is both an intellectual labour and a spiritual struggle. What follows is an introduction to the basics for a Biblical worldview. While James K. A. Smith has championed the more embodied and comprehensive concept of “cultural liturgies,” Charles Taylor impressed us with the versatility of the idea of “social imaginaries,” and terms like “myth” and “(meta)narrative” have considerable value in revealing the structure of our lives, worldview still has conceptual worth for a student. Worldviews are the more conscious intellectual frameworks of cultural liturgies and social imaginaries. That said, many remain unaware they even have a worldview.
Worldviews are the way we view the world and its moral order. Worldviews assumes what is wrong with the world and what the solution might be. They tell us who we are and where we are going. G. K. Chesterton maintained that while it is important for a landlady to know the income of her renter, it is more important for her to know his worldview. “The most practical and important thing about a man,” he said, “is still his view of the universe.”
Everyone has a worldview–whether they articulate it or not. The term can be a helpful short-hand way of speaking of a person’s “basic beliefs about reality” or their “framing story through which they see the universe.” The word itself is not in the Bible, but the Bible certainly offers the believer a worldview. To intentionally think about your worldview (whoever you are) can be a coherent and consistent way to faithfully engage culture and avoid the pitfall of anti-intellectualism. If you are a Christian, while its true the Bible doesn’t directly talk about every cultural reality we encounter today, a Biblical worldview certainly can be applied to every single aspect of one’s life—and every corner of the classroom.
Let me set up a simple contrast to make it more vivid. Three short words can be used to describe one theme in university culture today: “publish or perish.” Life, in this picture, is about scrambling after seductive but elusive goals with a calculating, competitive eye cast towards others. Being crazy-busy is normal, protecting yourself is an instinctual response in the presence of others, and your long-term security becomes a permanent anxiety.
The Christian worldview is a universe away from that pursuit. It, too, can be summarized in three short words: “love or perish.” Life, in this picture, is about building a culture of generosity around you, a culture that is conscientious about the needs of neighbours, seeks to nurture beauty, and guards what is true; all this, in imitation of the model, master, and messiah, Jesus Christ.
To be brief, five notes on the basics of Christian worldview thinking that we aim to cultivate in Global Scholars Canada:
1. Personal: A Christian worldview arises out of the core of your being, out of your deepest desires and longings. Worldviews always start in the heart. For some, their desire is for money, power, or pleasure–some created thing or person. But when a loving God–the ground of all reality–becomes your heart’s desire your life leaps towards his dream for the world. Everything changes. You change the way you treat others, you change the way you consume things, and your change the way you see reality. This is the Christian worldview: seeing all life through one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and his kingdom of love and peace.
2. Biblical: A Christian worldview arises out of a Biblical framing story. Every people have a story. For Christians, the story comes through the rich and diverse voices of the Bible, which gives us this plot: all things were created good but because of the sin and brokenness that sully the earth, all things need to be restored by God’s suffering, covenant love in Jesus. Think of it in four chapters: creation, fall, redemption, and finally, one day, consummation (or “new creation”). So no matter what topic or issue a Christian engages, there is this initial story that gives it context: it will have some core goodness, be tainted by a shadow of pollution or pain, and have some redemptive possibilities–now and in a new creation to come. Our response to any aspect of culture will thus be characterized by these three corresponding attitudes: wonder at the beauty, heart-break at the tragedy, and hope for what might yet be redeemed.
3. Global and Spiritual: A Christian worldview is cosmopolitan, and compliments many other worldviews. It also has rivals and collides with other views of the world and other spiritual beings. Christians seek friendships and partnerships with those who share their goals and values, working towards the common good of the planet. We are world citizens. But there are other worldviews that clash with our values and goals, and even what the Bible calls “powers and principalities”–both institutional and spiritual–that directly oppose the Christian vocation for life, love, and peace. This is sometimes called the “antithesis” or “spiritual warfare” or just the clash of moral systems in our world. This is not a simple “clash of civilizations” thesis with only two options, but it does suggest struggle, competition, and the need to negotiate and dialogue, and even refresh our own worldview every day.
4. Integral: A Christian worldview refuses the compartmentalization of “sacred” and “secular” things. When your heart wants what God wants, you do not just add prayer and Bible study to your life, although you will do that. The Christian suddenly sees everything with kingdom-of-God-glasses and your whole vision for life can be radically altered. The Christian doesn’t just add a “God-view” and a “Church-view” to their “North American Life-view.” Their whole “World-view” gets a new prescription: whether they are looking at mutual funds, municipal elections, or marsupial survival, the light of God’s desires illumines the reality in a fresh way. The whole world is a burning bush of God’s grandeur. Again, this is the big picture of faith: God’s new world is coming, and it restores every sad and broken thing—from polluted oceans to pornographic art to the panicked human heart—into his new ecosystem of hope and healing. Everything is sacred. It is humans who twist sacred things to serve unholy purposes.
5. Cultural: This worldview is not only therapy for individuals; it’s a new framework for culture-making together. In short, worldviews are lived out and embodied. Jesus is not just Lord of Sunday morning, not just Lord of the human heart, but Lord of the whole universe—geology, dance, and surgery. Therefore Christians seek to be co-workers with God in renewing all things towards God’s original intention, and they do this as a community. Rather than participate in the culture of competition, they pursue a culture of communion, communion with God’s Spirit, his planet, and his church. This shalom—a new world where life flourishes–is our calling and destiny, and is visible to those who have the eyes to see it. We nurture an alternative culture for the common good.
God saves us, but not so we can die and fly to some heaven light years away. He saves us to recruit us for his earthy mission of renewal. As one Chinese professor who recently became a Christian said to me: “This is a theology of life, not a theology of the knife!” Worldview is about imagining another world is possible–a planet better than the one handed down to us. We join Christ in his great renewal project, leaning towards a new creation.
Plantinga, Cornelius. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living. Eerdmans, 2002.
Walsh, Brian and Richard Middleton. Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian Worldview. IVP, 1984. See also Truth is Stranger than it Used to Be and Colossians Remixed.
Wolters, Albert M. Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for A Reformational Worldview. Eerdmans, 1985.