The Seven Questions That Define a WorldviewDuring my overseas missionary career, while I lived in Okinawa, I got into scuba diving. Okinawa has to be one of the best places in the world for that activity. In most places around the world, avid scuba divers have to travel significant distances and have access to a boat in order to have any kind of variety at all in their diving experiences. But not in Okinawa. There were numerous places all around the island which were suitable for diving. Almost all of those places could be accessed directly from shore, simply by swimming out a short distance.
On top of that, different parts of the island provided dramatically different diving experiences. Some places had many varieties of coral and tropical fish. Other places had underwater coral walls which dropped off straight down sixty to one hundred feet. There were places where there were giant underwater boulders and caverns, gradually sloping washtub hills and enchanting rock formations.
The sea life there was also fascinating. Besides the colorful fish and coral, there were snakes, eels, crabs, lobsters, urchins, sea cucumbers, starfish, many kinds of plants, clams and a good variety of other shelled creatures. A lot of the sea shells found in the waters around Okinawa were fairly common and not particularly interesting to collect. But there were some spiral shells and other small shells that were very colorful and ornate.
The ones of these that I found were mostly dead – the creatures that once inhabited them already gone. Occasionally, though, I would find one that was alive that I wanted to take home with me and prepare as a trophy. However, you had to be careful with these. Some of them have poisonous stingers that are retracted into the shell but are thrust out when they are threatened. It was necessary to be careful how you picked these up and also how you transported them.
Of course not all shell creatures were poisonous this way, but if I wanted to be sure I was safe, I had to learn what to look out for when handling the shells. There were certain spiral shapes in particular that were important clues.
Discovering Worldviews Around Us
As we seek to interact with people who have other worldviews, we also need to be careful. Some of these folks are very militant and are actually out to try to do harm to Christians. But that is actually not the case with most. More often than not, they don’t, themselves, know anything about worldview and are just trying to get along in their own lives. In these cases, it is important for us to be careful as we interact with them so that we do not become a stumbling block. Regardless of the particular attitude of the individuals we engage in life, we need to be able to understand where they are coming from in their beliefs so that we can be the best witness possible.
So just how do we identify the basic beliefs of an individual at the worldview level? It is actually not nearly as difficult as it might appear on the surface. While the whole concept of worldview may seem a bit philosophical and esoteric, when you start getting down to specifics it is actually quite practical and reasonable.
There are several different approaches that various philosophers have identified to get at worldview. That being said, they all ultimately address the same issues. To me, the easiest and most comprehensive approach is the one used by Dr. James Sire in this book, The Universe Next Door. In this groundbreaking work, Dr. Sire proposes seven questions. By answering these seven questions, it becomes very easy to get at the worldview assumptions of any person of belief system. Below we will go through the seven questions and identify the kinds of answers that each worldview would give.
1. What is the Nature of Ultimate Reality?
This first worldview question relates to the very nature of reality in its entirety. The main focus of the issues it raises involve whether or not there is such a thing as the supernatural. If there is, what is it like. It deals with such questions as:
- Is there a God or not? If there is, what is that he like? If there is no God, what is the origin of material reality?
- Are there multiple gods? If so, what are they like?
- Is there a personal element to ultimate reality? If not, what is the nature of impersonal reality?
2. What is the nature of material reality?
There have been those who have questioned whether or not the material world we live in really exists, and have posited that it is an illusion in one form or another. However, since it is the physical world that we live our lives in, most people assume that it actually does exist. That being said, not everyone agrees as to the nature of the material world. In fact, every worldview has a different perspective about it. Different worldview possibilities include:
- It is created or uncreated?
- It is orderly or chaotic?
- It is subjective or objective?
- It is personal or impersonal?
- It is eternal or temporal?
3. What is a human being?
The nature of worldview is such that it might seem strange to many people to even ask a question like this. We all have an underlying presupposition about what a human being is and we simply assume that everyone else understands it in the same way we do. That is simply not the case. Different worldviews hold entirely different understandings about it. And the reason it is important is because different understandings result in different ways of valuing and treating other people.
Some of the different possible answers posited by various worldviews concerning the nature of a human being include:
- A highly evolved biological machine.
- A god or potential god.C A form of energy which shifts forms through successive existences.
- A person made in the image of God.
4. What happens to a person at death?
Every worldview has its doctrine related to the afterlife. While the practical implications of this may not, at first glance, seem to be that profound, those implications actually run very deep. For instance, if a person believes there is no after life, why is there any reason to refuse oneself anything in this life. Of if a person believes that they will get 72 virgins if they die as a martyr, why not go for it. Here are some of the answers that various worldviews give concerning life after death.
- People cease to exist.
- Individuals are transformed to a higher state.
- People reincarnate into another life on earth.
- People depart to a shadowy existence on “the other side.”
- Individuals enter into the spiritual realm (heaven, hell, or other place) based on how life was lived on earth.
- People enter directly into heaven.
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?
It is interesting to think that different people might actually have a different way of conceiving of human rationality. After all, we all have to use it even to discuss the topic of knowledge. In spite of that, the different worldviews actually do have different ways of understanding it – from considering it to be an illusion to thinking of it as an objective reality and places in between. These are some of the ways that various worldviews deal with the issue of knowledge.
- Consciousness and rationality developed through a long process of evolution.
- There is no “reason” that human beings are able to have knowledge. That is just the nature of our existence.
- Knowledge is an illusion.
- Humans are made in the image of God who, himself, has knowledge.
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?
As we look around the world at the differences in various cultures, one of the things that jumps out quickly is that there are certain moral principles that are almost universal. Questions related to honesty and integrity, sexual issues, how we should treat other people and so on are integral parts of virtually every society. Even when individuals or societies don’t seem to follow the principles, they will still tell you that they exist. The search to identify what is right and wrong and to give reasons for why morality should be dealt with certain ways is an integral part of every worldview. Here are some of the ways that various worldviews deal with this issue.
- Right and wrong are strictly products of human choice.
- Right and wrong are determined by what feels good.
- A sense of right and wrong was an evolutionary development as a survival mechanism for the species.
- Right and wrong are learned by experience as we learn what pleases the gods.
- We are made in the image of God whose character is good and who has revealed what is right.
7. What is the meaning of human history?
Some may wonder why the issue of time is included in the questions about worldview. Actually, the focus is more on the issue of meaning than it is on time. It is just that the meaning is set in the context of time. The search for meaning may be the most profound issue that human beings deal with in life. It is so profound that some people even choose to end their lives because the cannot manage to find a reason to continue on. Different worldviews have different ways of addressing this question. Some of the various worldviews deal with this by asserting:
- There is no innate meaning to human history. Meaning is what humans make it to be.
- Time is an illusion.
- Meaning involves realizing the purpose of the gods.
- Meaning results from discovering and fulfilling the purpose of God.
Using the Questions
It is important to understand the nature of these questions so that they can be useful in helping you more effectively interact with people who believe differently than you. First, you need to understand that typically you will not just sit down with someone and ask them the seven questions. If you do have the opportunity to do that, there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But the questions are not ends in themselves. They are only tools of understanding. Getting the answers does not provide a witness.
But if you do know the Truth of Jesus Christ and why you believe it, it lets you know the kinds of issues you need to address with them in order to share a witness. Knowing the necessary starting point gives you the ability to form the kinds of relationships which will allow God to use you effectively in building his Kingdom.
© 2006 Freddy Davis