At Veritas, we strive to help our students seek out truth. While we teach all subjects through a biblical worldview, it is our hope that our young people will ask the tough questions that help them form for themselves the foundation of how they will learn and live throughout their lives, and that ultimately this quest will lead them to choosing a Godly, bibical basis. We recognize the importance of understanding how we - and those around us - interpret our world. As such, this post, written by Veritas parent and Master of Divinity student at Capital Seminary Herb Suereth, offers some insight for parents on how to determine what one's own worldview is, and why it's important to understand.
Worldview is a term that can have a very fuzzy definition for many of us. We hear ideas about different worldviews and maybe even specific elements of worldview as they pertain to pop culture and media with their analyses of current events. But what does the term really mean? Does it pertain to philosophy, religion, science, or even diet? The short answer to all of those is absolutely. To help clarify our understanding of worldview, I would like to present an introduction into a deeper knowledge of this concept and why understanding it not only matters, but is vital for relating to the people we share our world with. Let’s commence with dipping our toes into the vast ocean of the topic that is “worldview."
When anyone is beginning an introduction to worldview, the first place to start is by asking questions. These questions help to determine an individual’s worldview as well as provide further definition. Let’s begin with the primary question to ask when determining worldview.
Is there a higher power in the Universe?
This question may not seem like a difficult or probing one. In fact, it can be answered with a one word response: “yes” or “no.” However, the implications are immense regarding which side of the fence you are on. If the answer is “no” then what is the ultimate authority? Who, if anyone, are you ultimately responsible to? In reality, the logical answer is that there is no one to whom the individual is responsible. Typically, this person sees themselves as completely autonomous. They must use their own reason to determine truth and meaning in this world.
For the individual who does acknowledge a higher power, the complete opposite is true. Truth doesn’t exist solely in one’s interpretation of their world, but rather there is an ultimate truth that comes from the higher power. These individuals may choose to whether or not they will seek the truth, but at their core they acknowledge that they are not completely autonomous individuals.
An important item to note at this point is that worldview is almost never applied consistently. A consistent application of one who acknowledges a higher power would never attempt to be autonomous in ways that the higher power doesn’t allow. This is inconsistent with that worldview. Likewise, for someone who does not believe in a higher power to be consistent, they must never accept truth outside of their own understanding. Everything must pass through their filter and be interacted with tangibly. There cannot be a trust of others' truth because they must view it through their own filters. This is an important distinction and one that you will see played out more and more as we proceed.
Where did our world come from?
This next question begins to separate both sides out a little more than before. For the non-higher power crowd, we begin to see ideas of Darwinian Evolution, Alien Seed Theories, and the Big Bang for starters. There is usually a reliance upon empirical data and observable facts that explain the origins of life. Many will also admit to apathy toward the answer. It’s not an important question for them to answer.
Those who huddle in the higher power group tend to gravitate toward their individual faith's expression of the beginning of the world. In the West, this is typically a creator who makes the world and creation. The Eastern religions have much more spiritual and mystical explanations for the beginning of the world. This does not imply that there is blind acceptance of this group to their faith’s historic confession. It can and usually involves some integration of empirical data and scientific theory to enlighten or even fully define.
This question will usually keep those in line with the ideas of the previous question. What I mean by that is, people will consistently have theories based on their belief in a higher power or not. Taking that understanding into this realm is not difficult in terms of consistency, however the next question will begin to divide both houses.
What is the purpose of man?
This is the one that illuminates much of the inconsistencies present within people’s individual worldviews. Religious sects can’t really come to terms with this across their spectrum. Christians have trouble agreeing between the Westminster Confession’s assertion of “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever” and the megachurch seeker model that emphasizes the Great Commission as the primary purpose of man. This is most assuredly not exclusive to those who believe in a higher power. Arguably, those who do not have even more wide ranging definitions for the purpose of man. Typically, there is a humanistic aspect, although nihilism – the rejection of all moral and religious principles, even to the point of believing life is meaningless - is always there in the background. Purpose can practically range from furthering the race to removing oneself from this world in order to avoid meaninglessness. While this has the most iterations thus far, it also has the most inconsistencies as well.
Arguably, this is where intrinsic “cards are shown.” Inconsistencies are interesting to observe and critique. We see people who show no proclivity toward a higher power and yet still pay respect to others. How can that be? If there is no one else to answer for our actions, what keeps us from doing whatever we want to whomever we want? Is it for self-fulfillment? Perhaps, but at what point is that still necessary? What about law? What is the purpose of laws if there is no higher power to whom we are ultimately be responsible? These are all questions and ideas that raise many of the inconsistencies to the surface.
So why is this important? Why does it matter if I believe one thing and someone else believes another? Can’t we all live together in this great big American dream? Of course, as Christians, we must strive for peace and unity. This is not the point of studying worldview. What is important is to see the implications of a consistent worldview on either side of the first question. One will lead down the path of seeking the truth in regards to the higher power and their purpose for life and the other will lead toward anarchy as truth becomes irrelevant, since there are as many versions as people. I am employing hyperbole here, but hopefully it drives the point home.
We know as Christians that God is plain and evident to all people through Creation and their obedience of the law. This does not mean that we should not engage with those of opposite worldviews. Quite the opposite. It means that we should employ a deeper understanding of worldview when engaging others. It means that we should be aware of who is educating our children in light of their worldview. It means that in the wake of this past election when our country seemed to be severed in two that we understand why and are motivated toward mending the rift.
This is a topic with much more depth available than presented here. If you enjoy reading, the following was helpful to me in my quest for more information:
This book is an excellent primer into worldviews and many different examples of them
James W. Sire's The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog
Nancy Pearcy does a fantastic job of using worldview analysis to make assertions about modern American Evagelicalsm in her book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity.
If you enjoytheology and listening to podcasts, Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has a daily feed where he analyzes the worldview presented in current events not only in the US, but around the world. It’s called “The Briefing” and you can listen in here.