What is a worldview


and why would I want one?


Chris Gousmett




What is a worldview?

What is a worldview and why is it important? In order to get us started thinking, we can for the moment define a worldview as

"the comprehensive framework of one's basic beliefs about things and their relationships."
To think about:

Name some of the "things" about which it is possible to have a belief, then distinguish them into trivial and significant beliefs.


Basic beliefs

Worldviews deal with basic beliefs, not just any belief. That is, what we believe is fundamental about the world, not just anything about the world.

Thus we speak of a worldview as entailing "basic" beliefs about things: matters of general principle or ultimate questions, issues of real importance to human life.

These "basic beliefs" form a framework or pattern; they hang together in a certain way. They are not

arbitrary

or

d i s c o n n e ct e d.

To think about:

How are these things related to each other? Is there a framework or structure which holds our beliefs in coherence?

Worldviews

A worldview is the basic perspective we use to understand the world around us and our experience of it. This is not the same as saying that "everyone has a philosophy." Nor is a Christian worldview the same as "theology." But what you define a worldview to be depends on your worldview, your philosophy or your theology.




What you think a worldview, or philosophy, or theology is, is also a theological, philosophical and worldview question!

The important thing to note is, that we cannot engage in doing philosophy or theology unless we have a worldview. Similarly with all other academic disciplines: we cannot study the world unless we have a starting point - that is, some basic belief which is not questioned, on which we base our investigations to begin with.

We will define a worldview in the following way:

A worldview is an everyday, ordinary-language description of the world, that shapes and guides our lives, helping us to understand, explain and explore the world around us and everything in it, and how these are all related to each other, by giving us a way in which we can see them. In this sense then, it is

"the comprehensive framework of one's basic beliefs about things and their relationships."
All of us live out of a worldview perspective, even if we do not realise it, or are unable to articulate it if asked. What indicates our worldview is not necessarily how we react to individual events or specific situations, but the overall pattern or character of our lifestyle.

Our ultimate destination in life, not the transient deviations along the way, is of decisive importance and betrays what worldview we hold.

Our basic beliefs emerge whenever we enquire about concrete issues in life:

Our responses to these issues as these, and many others as well, arise from our basic beliefs about things, that is, our worldview. Having a worldview is simply part of being human.

To think about:

  1. What is the dominant worldview in your society?

  2. How can we communicate our distinctive Christian worldview to someone who has had no contact with contemporary Christianity (i.e. not just historical or cultural contact)?

The four worldview questions

Discerning the worldview which drives different people is possible through examining the way in which they approach the ultimate questions of life. The four ultimate questions which worldviews deal with are defined by Walsh and Middleton as:

  1. Who am I? - what is the nature, task and significance of human beings?

  2. Where am I? - what is the origin and nature of the reality in which human beings find themselves?

  3. What's wrong? - how can we account for the distortion and brokenness in this reality?

  4. What's the remedy? - how can we alleviate this brokenness, if at all?

These ultimate questions are questions of faith and the answers we give arise from our ultimate commitment in life - that which we would stake our lives on. The answers that are given by different worldviews can be compared as follows:



The four worldview categories

Pagan: rejects Godís revelation in favour of the fruits of human religious imagination (myth). Revived as the New Age movement. Humanist: founded in the product of rational thought subject entirely to human control. No revelation; religion is a human construct. Christian: rooted in Godís revelation to us and under Christís lordship. Synthesis: a combination of Christian and pagan or humanist views.

1. Who am I?


PaganHumanistChristianSynthesis
I am a spirit from another world needing to be enlightened so as to pass on to a new reality. My need for spiritual self-fulfilment is paramount. I am a rational being in control of my own destiny and with no limits to my achievements. I am not responsible to any god or external law. I am created by God in his image, called to serve as his steward with charge over the rest of creation. I am accountable to God. I am a mixture of natural mortal body and a spiritual immortal soul destined for heaven.

2. Where am I?

PaganHumanistChristianSynthesis
The world is magical, full of spiritual powers we can control by ritual and worship. The divine forms part of the world of nature. The world is governed by natural forces, controlled by scientific technique. It has no "spiritual" side and there is no God in control. The world is Godís creation, governed by the laws God has established, prepared as the home of all living things. The world is Godís creation but governed by natural laws. It includes both rational and spiritual parts.

3. Whatís wrong?


PaganHumanistChristianSynthesis
We have lost our sense of being one with nature because of scientific views of the world. We are out of synch with our true spiritual selves. We have given in to irrational beliefs (religion, superstition) and do not live according to rational decisions. We have rebelled against God and rejected his law for our lives. Evil and sin entered the world through our rebellion. We have forgotten to nurture our spiritual side, focusing solely on our natural side. We have become unbalanced.

4. Whatís the remedy?


PaganHumanistChristianSynthesis
We need a new sense of being one with nature, to recognise our divinity and come into harmony with the powers that control the world. We must save ourselves, dealing with our problems through education, science and technology, and in rational behaviour. We need to be saved through grace in Christ, and a new obedience to God and his law. We must be accountable to God for all that we do. We need to repent and be saved so we can find moral standards in this life and eternal life in heaven after death.


To think about:

Take one of the basic issues above and say how this question would be answered by each of these groups.



Suggested reading:

Walsh, Brian and Richard Middleton. The transforming vision: shaping a christian worldview. Downers Grove: IVP, 1984.


Wolters, Albert. Creation regained: Biblical basics for a reformational world-view. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.


See also our full Bibliography of books on Christian worldviews.


© Copyright: Christian Faith and Action Trust, 1997.

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