Some years ago the concept of a worldview became popular. I am not sure who first coined this term. I get the feeling Francis Schaeffer may have made it popular but I am not really sure. All I know is that the terms has run through a number of expressions and now seems, at least to me, to be spent and less useful.

About twenty years ago a Christian theologian defined a worldview as "A broad conceptual synthesis which forms one’s perspective on the whole of reality." So far so good. The problem is that the "broad conceptual synthesis" has become more and more narrow as various cultural apologists have tried to use this term to define themselves and their ministries.

All Christians should have a Christian worldview, if by this term we mean a broad way by which we understand the created order and sin, fall and redemption and then order our lives by it. But this is not new in any real sense of the term. The early church had a worldview in this sense. So did the Protestant Reformers and so does the Catholic Church for that matter.

What troubles me about the common evangelical use of the term "world-view" is that it is now stands for some of the most sectarian and narrow interests imaginable. Calvinists especially like to use the term and thus often make it virtually synonymous with their particularly Calvinistic view of the world. Certain narrowly defined groups and ministries have various "Christian World-view Conferences" or ministries. It is a veritable buzz-word. The term is used to designate one group as holding a more consistent world-view than another group. Therefore, I have concluded that the term is almost useless now given the way it is being used and so narrowly defined. I could well be wrong about this but I would be interested to know what others think when they hear people use the term constantly.

A recent brochure on a forthcoming worldview conference promotes the event by telling me that I will be helped to think about how the Christian faith "applies to all of life." People__18__2
It also promises me that there are "answers from the Bible and every Christian can be equipped with them." The purpose of the training is thus to equip people to stand firm in a culture that is hostile to Christ. The entire brochure seems to be about learning various arguments and how to defend positions that are against the culture. Often these arguments are even aimed at other Christians as well.

My understanding of the truth as it is in Christ is that living truth is meant to make us worshipers of Jesus and the people of his kingdom. We are his witness (collectively and personally both) to the world, not simply a special interest group that can stand firm against it. When so much stress is placed on "standing firm" this generally means you are going to get a load of intellectual stuff that will push you further and further from being a missional Christian in the culture.

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  1. Steve Scott March 25, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    John, I don’t have a problem with the term “worldview”. But if it truly applies to “all of life” (and I believe it does), it must be noted that any individual or group of people, due to their finite abilities as men, cannot possibly have all the answers. Or even most of them. Wisdom is a huge subject and as Solomon pointed out, we can answer a fool according to his folly, or refrain from it, depending on the situation. What the sectarians don’t understand is that if Christ trusts us with applying His word to all of life, then THEY must trust the rest of us as well.
    Sure, there is a lot of ignorance in God’s people (there always has been), and education is a way to help with that, but God doesn’t work excusively with our knowledge. He uses the (intellectually, etc.) weak to confound the wise. God builds His kingdom through us, not because of us.

  2. Roger March 25, 2008 at 5:16 pm

    Being a missionary overseas, it does seem to me that a lot of leaders Stateside get caught up in pet terms. I believe the post on worldviews is right on in showing how that is done. It sure isn’t as easy as some make it to agree on one particular worldview, or a one size fits all Christian worldview. Thanks for your helpful insight.

  3. Anthony March 25, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    I completely agree that the term “worldview” is problematic, but it is a hard one not to use. I often encounter Xians who are both interested in and who could use instruction in working out the implications of the Gospel for the whole of life, particularly as that relates to a critical engagement of the larger culture/s we find ourselves in.
    When speaking of “a broad conceptual synthesis” the critical question is: “what are the necessary presuppositions that form the foundation of this synthesis?” As you indicated, often people will confuse what is necessary with what is particular to their own denominational confessions.
    In working out a Xian worldview, I tend to resort to the creeds, particularly the Nicene Creed, as it is a document that emerged at time when there was more of a visible unity within the Church, and I would assert that it adequately defines an orthodox boundary. However, being Anglican, where there tends to be an emphasis on sacramental spirituality, I also formulate my response to culture by unpacking the spiritual significance of material things.
    Beyond the divisions, and the particularities of various traditions and denominations, there does seem to be a “Mere Christianity”. In some ways, magazines such a Touchstone and First Things express this, even while they dialogue and express points of difference.

  4. Jay W. March 26, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Respectfully, worldview is extremely important, and a ‘take-a-stand’ mentality is necessary in today’s world as it always has been in order to refute false ideology, rebuke brothers and sisters in Christ and hold each other, our leaders and those who influence us through media, school, etc. accountable to living lives and promoting values that mirror the entirety of God’s word and not only the limited new testament portions that focus on grace, compassion, love, mercy, etc.
    Im not sure why there is this new push in certain wings of evangelicism for this sort of non-confrontational take on Christian involvement in society. Jesus certainly had no problem talking openly about the exclusivity of Christianity – the necessity that people believe he ‘was who he said he was’; the reality of hell and the reality of that ‘the path to life is narrow, few will find it’. Paul had no problem telling churches to kick out members who refuse to acknowledge major sins as sins (and rather attempt to incorporate them into the church). Why today; when the world so eagerly embraces so many wrongful lifestyles and pragmatic approaches to morality, should we not be willing to speak out vocally and consistenly about these and proclaim right as right and wrong as wrong according to the clarity of God’s perfect word, the bible, provided we do it from a standpoint of concern?
    After reading a few of the blogs on this site, i surmise it’s writers are largely of the neo-evangelic (or emerging church)pursuasion. Without dragging on here, may I suggest checking out some of Charlie Campbell’s stuff on emerging church at alwaysbeready dot com.
    Thanks for reading.
    Jay W.

  5. Adam S March 28, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Jay seems to be an example of why some of younger Christians are resistant to worldview language. I am not that young (35) and wouldn’t consider myself Emergent. I attend a nominally SBC church and have an MDiv and worked for an SBC association. But very often, when I hear people talking about toeing the line to a worldview they are not talking about broad ideas in theology or about major areas of faith, they are talking about small areas of culture or relatively minor issues of theology. I lean baptist, but I am resistant to people insist that Christians baptized as infants need to be re-baptized. I am against abortion, but I think that working through the courts to make it illegal is a waste of time and energy. I do not think we should ordain practicing homosexuals but the campaign against basic marriage-like rights (visiting in the hospital, inheritance, etc.) just makes us look mean and doesn’t do anything to protect heterosexual marriage.
    In summary, people may believe my worldview is broken or missing, but I think I have a clear view of the world and in many cases I think “the church” is fighting areas that just don’t matter, or matter less than the areas that they are not fighting.

  6. Gene Redlin March 28, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    When it comes to these things regarding what our world view is I suspect it has more to do with the lens we see thru.
    I am frankly puzzled and dismayed by those who name the name of Jesus and yet have a culturally palatable view of what is going on around them.
    This is more than WHAT WOULD JESUS DO. This is what does the Word of God clearly define as right and wrong. In those areas there can be no relativism.
    In areas where it is not clear, then I would say, let’s let mercy be our guide.
    But, if we as Christians are unable or unwilling to rehearse again those clear admonitions in the word of God against known sin and evil, then who will.
    That is the worldview I would hope to have. My guess is it will rub society and culture the wrong way much of the time.
    So did Jesus. In that way, what Jesus would do is what I would do.
    So, let’s be careful not to let the world squeeze us into it’s mould.
    WE are to be salt and light. I don’t believe we are as we should be. Certainly not as Jesus was (and is).

  7. George C March 30, 2008 at 11:19 pm

    I think the limitation of words like worldview and missional and others like them is that for the most part it is human nature to be lazy and prejudice and try to put people in a category so they are easier to deal with.
    Language comes with all of the assumptions of the people that are hearing the words and while we do of course need labels we should be slow to resort to the narrowest possible definition or most “negative” one when there is much room for variance between the people that might own the same label. Maybe getting to know people would be a good option instead.
    As far as the antagonism and the negative type of take a stand sort of attitude goes, I think a lot of it is motivated by arrogance, fear, and ignorrance.
    Too many Christiana act as if owning a bible and putting faith in God gives them the same basis for confidence (in their understanding of truth)that the Apostles had.
    If we are honest and admit that there is a big gap between what we KNOW and what we BELIEVE, then there is no possible way to approach people who hold a different worldview than by reasoning with people through humble persuasion. Unfortunately too many of us cannot tell the difference between what we KNOW and what we BELIEVE.

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