What Is Worldview?
The need for American Christians to understand the concept and implications of worldview is actually something that is fairly new. Up until the last two to three generations, this kind of knowledge was useful only to academics or for those who worked in places where they had to interact with people from other belief systems (such as international missionaries).
Worldview is, basically an in-depth look at the concept of belief. But it is not belief on a level that most people are familiar with. In most people’s vocabulary, beliefs relate to the faith system that an individual is consciously aware of – usually their religious affiliation.
But there is a set of assumptions (beliefs) below our conscious beliefs which allow us to make sense of the world. Without these underlying assumptions, our stated faith doesn’t even make sense. For example, if a person believes that God does not exist, talk of God is rather meaningless. The conscious belief for Christians is that the God of the Bible actually is a real person that we can know in a personal relationship. The underlying, unconscious assumption that allows this to make sense is that there exists a supernatural reality beyond the material universe. It is this underlying set of assumptions which is the domain of worldview and the thing that modern Christians must come to understand.
The reason it was not important in previous generations was that there were so few people in American culture who did not believe in God. Since pretty much everyone held the same set of worldview assumptions (that God exists), being consciously aware of one’s worldview presuppositions was not that critical. When you talked to people about Christ, they automatically knew what you were talking about.
That has changed in modern culture. Around the 1960s and 70s, a tipping point was reached in which a Naturalistic worldview took over prominence – a set of beliefs which assumed that there is no such thing as a supernatural reality. In addition to this shift in the belief climate, there has also been a massive influx of immigrants from places where non-Christian belief systems dominate. So, between the shift inside the existing culture and the imported beliefs from without, Christians now find themselves in a situation where they frequently interact with people from other belief foundations.
There are two primary needs which have emerged within the Christian community as a result of this change. Let’s first identify these needs, then go into a little more depth regarding what we can do to address them.
The first need has to do with the confidence we have about our own faith. When everyone pretty much believes the same thing (that God exists), there is less reason to question the validity of our own faith foundation. In fact, the very thought that God does not exist would hardly even be entertained. But with the prominence of other beliefs asserting entirely different realities, Christians who do not have a firm grasp of why the Christian faith is the truth can easily be led astray. And, indeed, this is happening at a very alarming rate. There is profound evidence that the Christian faith is the truth. And this evidence can give us strong confidence to stand strong in our faith. But relatively few Christians have knowledge of this. The place where this knowledge comes to the forefront is in an understanding worldview.
The second need has to do with our witness. When we want to share a witness with someone who already believes in God, it is easy to just begin sharing the gospel message. But what about those who don’t believe God exists, or who believe in many gods, or believe in a Far Eastern pantheistic reality? Just pulling out the gospel message and sharing it likely won’t even make sense to these folks.
So, let’s look a little deeper at how to address these two needs. This will, hopefully, help us grasp why modern day Christians need to get up to speed on the important topic of worldview.
Helps Confidence in Our Faith
In previous generations of Americans, it never dawned on the average person to even consider the possibility that God was anything other than the God revealed in the Bible. This belief was the basis for the founding of our nation and the beliefs and values taught in the Bible were the fabric from which the very culture was created. Even people who didn’t go to church and who lived lives quite contrary to biblical values, still pretty much operated from Christian worldview concepts.
Fast forward to today, however, and we see a very different dynamic. I believe it can safely be said that American culture is now post-Christian. While there are still a lot of true Christians and the trappings of our Christian heritage are still rather prominent, the major institutions of the nation, and indeed a very large percentage of the nation’s population, now operates by worldview assumptions which come from another source.
So, how does this affect Christians? The truth is, the great majority of people who claim to be Christians are not really conversant with their own faith, much less the faiths of those they interact with in society. On top of that, non-Christian worldview assumptions are so pervasive in the culture that many of them have even weaseled their way into the belief foundation of Christians. When that happens, a great deal of confusion begins to appear. A couple of examples of this might be Christians who claim to also believe in the theory of evolution or in the Far Eastern concept of karma. The fact is, both of these concepts are completely incompatible with Christian Theism. As such, people who try to hold onto their Christian beliefs while adding in these other non-Christian ones, must maintain contradictory beliefs at a worldview level. This kind of internal dissonance cannot help but reduce one’s confidence in the truth of any Christian beliefs they might have. And since worldview beliefs are generally unconscious, the average Christian doesn’t even know why they lack confidence in their faith, much less what to do about it.
An understanding of worldview fixes this problem. By understanding the various worldview possibilities, it becomes possible for Christians to clarify their own beliefs and grasp the beliefs of others. It also gives us the ability to know “why” the Christian faith is the truth about reality and other belief systems are not.
Helps in Our Witness
A sense of the necessity for doing evangelism has been around in the Christian church from its very beginning. As a result, different ways of sharing the faith have emerged through the ages – everything from preaching in churches, to open-air evangelism to one-on-one witnessing.
Generally, doing evangelism before large groups is the domain of the “professional.” Personal evangelism, on the other hand, is something that every true believer should sense the need for. To help facilitate this process, personal witnessing methodologies have been developed over the years.
One of the most prominent (and perhaps the oldest) method is to use the Bible directly and show people verses which explain how to be saved. The “Romans Road” is probably the most well known, but there are others. In more recent times, people have developed booklets (such as The Four Spiritual Laws and Steps to Peace with God) that people can use as a tool.
These methodologies are fine as far as they go, but virtually every one of them begins in the same place – with the assumption that the person listening to the presentation already believes in the God of the Bible.
That simply is not the case anymore! Increasing numbers of people do not begin with the assumption that the God of the Bible is the true God or even that he exists. As such, we need to have a different approach to sharing the gospel – one which begins by discerning the foundational beliefs of the person to whom we are witnessing.
This is where a knowledge of worldview comes into play. In order to be able to share effectively with those who do not start with a biblical worldview, we need to know what they do believe in order to bridge the gap in a way that will make sense to them. It is, in some ways, difficult for Christians to shift our way of interacting with non-believers from the way we grew up doing it, but it is a necessary change. An understanding of worldview has now become an essential tool for those who wish to effectively share their faith with those who don’t know Christ.
How Do We Get this In-depth Understanding?
It is one thing to finally grasp the concept that an understanding of worldview is the key to strengthening our faith life and witness. It is another thing altogether to incorporate this understanding into our lives. I wish it was possible to just hear a worldview presentation or simply read a book and all of a sudden get it. Of course, these things are critical parts of the puzzle, but mastering worldview concepts is no different than anything else in life you wish to master. It takes diligent effort over a period of time.
Think of something you are very good at. How did you get proficient? Did you just take a class and all of sudden you had it? No! You had to learn, practice, learn some more, practice some more, then get experience out in the real world – probably over a period of years. And you will need to do the same with worldview training. There are many great resources to read and training opportunities to participate in. Then, you have get out there and interact with people to understand how to apply this knowledge in real life.
At this point, I want to encourage you to make a decision and a commitment. The decision is that you will begin putting attention on mastering the concepts of worldview. The commitment is to actually follow through with the decision and begin studying and applying the principles in your life. If you will diligently do this, I guarantee that your confidence in your personal faith in Christ and your ability to share a witness will become stronger than you ever imagined possible.
© 2012 Freddy Davis