Worldview Thinking Reconsidered

At first I put this post in a comment below in the great dialogue James started over worldview. Then I realized it was a very long post and that this is MY BLOG! ;  ) so I figured I’d pull rank and post it here. Hope you don’t mind.

I have to chime in on this worldview discussion because I have a complicated relationship to this notion of worldview. To reduce it to something more or less simple, let me put it this way:

There are two very distinct ways of viewing “worldviews” and in the end neither is up to the task of thinking in the most Christian way possible. Before you disembowel me, please permit me an explanation.

I grew up reading Lewis and Schaeffer, as did most thinking Christians of my generation. Schaeffer popularized the term worldview among Christians and did a great service in doing so.

However, since then, I have, because Lewis and Schaeffer set the pattern for me, studied a good bit of philosophy and the history of what calls itself philosophy. I have learned that the term worldview comes from the German word “weltanschauung”, which was coined by, I believe Schopenhaur in the 19th century.

The reason he coined the term was because he was a proto-radical relativist who did not believe the cosmos was knowable directly, that all our knowledge about God and metaphysics is culturally conditioned, and that there is nothing we can do to overcome that condition. Everything we think about is determined by our “worldview.”

In other words, the concept of a worldview itself arises from a radical relativist worldview.

Schaeffer took this word, I believe from Van Til, and used it to awaken Christians to the narrowness of their thinking. Christian fundamentalism had taken everything that the Bible didn’t make a direct comment on and regarded it as either threatening or irrelevent. To caricature, they did not let their thinking affect their view of the world – or if they did, they eliminated vast swaths of that world from their view.

Schaeffer showed that, in fact, the arts and politics and philosophy etc. etc. all were expressions of a worldview, a perspective. He helped Christians see that their worldview also had things to say beyond John 3:16.

As one who was at least encouraged if not awakened by Schaeffer’s writings, I am profoundly grateful.

But now that Christians have entered the public square again, I believe we need to reach a new level of clarity on this idea.

A worldview is a practical fact of existence. We all wear our tinted glasses. However, to the Christian and to the classical philosopher, reality, morals, and what we now call aesthetics are knowable and known – directly and personally. We don’t need to be reduced to a Perspectivism. We only need to admit that we have perspectives.

But Plato, Aristotle, St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine and the church fathers all demonstrated that we can rise above our perspectives and see truth, goodness, and beauty itself and that we can measure the quality of our lives and words against these ideals.

When we reach this point, the term worldview can be applied, but only if we slightly alter, or at least focus, its meaning.

In its historical essence the terms speaks of a radical Perspectivism that I believe is unsound and inconsistent with the Christian tradition.

In its practical use, it points to the reality that a set of internalized beliefs really does affect the way we think about and act in relation to every thing.

The only terms adequate to describe the level of knowledge that serves as the foundation for all our thinking and action are either theology, philosophy, or metaphysics.

So for practical purposes I don’t oppose the use of the word “Worldview.” But for philosophical and theological reasons, I would urge people to move beyond it and use terms that are more precise and appropriate for this more precise and much more difficult level of thinking.

This is a difficult matter and requires great precision and discipline of thought, so I hope I have at least approximated clarity in my efforts. I welcome questions that will force me to greater clarity.


6 Responses

  1. I think you have missed the point of worldviews here. A worldview is all that encompasses a view of the world- be that theoretical, practical, sociological and philosophical. It would also include a ‘way of being’; in fact, a way of being would be closer to a definition of worldview rather than your suggestion here.

    You should look into Martin Heidegger for further clarification.

    • Philosopherguy,

      Perhaps, but please note that I’m responding to a historical development of the term as used by our man Schaeffer and the popular use of the term by Christians.

      What I’m contending against or resisting is the relativization of Christianity by a careless use of the word.

      Relativism always leads to tyranny, so I don’t want Christians to become any more relativistic than they already are by using a word unreflectively.

  2. I’ll throw another consideration in. While I teach apologetics-and half the course is a worldview course (Total Truth, Revolutions in Worldview, etc)- I make a clear distiction between having a worldview and being part of Christ’s Body, the Church. We too often think that “Christianity,” a set of beliefs, determines our associations. But really, Body life is primary. Not a disagreement, but a futher consideration as to the importance of worldview thinking. When Christ said to go into all the world baptizing and teaching “everything I commanded,” He was speaking, I think, of a way of being and not a way of thinking, primarily. Worldview is important, but not central.

    (and I have not commented on your point, sorry, but I do think your point is a worthy consideration)


    • Ed

      In fact, what you are getting at aligns quite well with my point. Worldview tends to have to do with rational thought. Knowledge of truth goes way beyond that. It is the pure in heart who see God.


  3. Would “first principles” be a more suitable term?

    • Martin,

      Yes and no. It still focuses too much on a rational paradigm – or at least it seems to. A worldview is slipperyer (how the heck do you spell that word?!) than that. But to the extent that first principles actually govern our thoughts and actions, I’d accept it. Except that it’s a term and not a name.

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