In Contributor Hugh Whelchel’s post last week, “Worldview: Put Your Heart Into It”, Hugh uses a quote from Tim Keller’s 3-page foreword in Personality and Worldview (by J. H. Bavinck), in which Keller admits in May 2022 that worldview has lost its luster for many in the U.S. church. (Personality and Worldview‘s English translation was just released this year, ninety-five years after its original 1928 Dutch publication.)
While Personality and Worldview itself is a fantastic primer on worldview that offers, yes, new perspective—even being “prophetic” as its editor and translator, James Eglinton, mentions—we believe this new English version is worth the hardcover price of $27.15 just for Keller’s exceptional foreword. (James Eglinton’s editor’s introduction is exceptional, as well.)
Not only is Keller’s foreword one of the last pieces published before his death, it thoughtfully summarizes the most common hesitations people have about worldview study and the benefits it provides. Crossway (Wheaton, Illinois) has given us permission to publish Keller’s entire foreword as it appears below.
We hope Dr. Keller’s words will leave you more encouraged, invigorated, and inspired about building your own worldview. Your worldview is far more than “bullet points on a blackboard.” It’s the reason you’re there with your outstretched hands and hugs.
Essentially, as one of the world’s top evangelical Protestants in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, Dr. Keller recognizes the issues for Christians “worldview” presents, while whole-heartedly endorsing a worldview approach as critical to personal Christian development, spreading the Gospel, and defending Christianity globally.
We are well aware of the hesitations around worldview and outline most of them in our free, recently published e-book What is a Worldview: A Primer to Prepare You for Better Engagement with the World. Chapter 4, entitled Why is Worldview Study Controversial?, mentions some the most basic points Dr. Keller captures in short, elegant form.
Also, recently, Russell Moore, the editor of Christianity Today, expressed some of the same hesitations in his article “We Are Not Our Worldview.” Moore emphasizes Bavinck’s distinction between “worldvision” and “worldview” in which world vision is the set of beliefs we are by necessity born into via our family and culture, versus the more detailed and sometimes different worldview individuals develop throughout adulthood.
We’ll save our full response to Moore’s thoughts for another post, but we will say this now—while every person is certainly very much more (as a human being made in the image of God) than his or her worldview, a person’s worldview is a huge part of who they are that cannot and should not be ignored.
Worldview is where the theological and philosophical action is in culture, politics, and life today, now more than ever. Worldview analysis won’t solve our problems, but it focuses the light, narrows the options, and illuminates the best pathways forward for all concerned.
Keller defines worldview “like a map, never fully finished in this life, in which we work out the implications of Christianity for every area of life in our time and place.”
Shouldn’t we care about the map we’re drawing? Shouldn’t we make sure this map lines up with truth, reality, beauty, and goodness? Isn’t this what radical secular culture in the West attacks most at the foundational levels today?
Clearly, our time and culture demands ongoing worldview thinking and even training, always informed by the heart (as Hugh emphasizes) in our last PC post. Everyone recognizes we are neck deep in a battle of ideas, and Christians in America and the West seem to have been losing ground since the 1960s.
No, ideas are extremely important. They define and guide our actions as Christian Doers of the Word. Christians lead best by Christian just and charitable example; yes, this is where Grace leads and follows best, always with us.
We hope you enjoy this worldview critique and endorsement, and we are extremely grateful to Crossway for allowing us to share it in full with you.
I could not be happier that Johan Herman Bavinck’s Personality and Worldview has been made accessible to the English-speaking world. It is an important work, perhaps even what we call a “game changer.”
The idea that Christian beliefs constitute a unique worldview— through which we view all reality and because of which we work distinctly in every area of life—has been influential in the United States for at least a century, as James Eglinton notes in his introductory essay. But the concept of worldview has lost its luster for many in the US church. I’ve spoken to numerous young Christians who want to lay it aside. Why? Because they say it is
- too rationalistic: It casts Christianity as a set of propositions or bullet points conveyed by argument in a classroom. The emphasis on worldview can give the impression that the work of the kingdom of God is mainly an intellectual or scholarly project. The role of imagination and story on worldview— or their function even as worldview—is simply not considered.
- too simplistic: The emphasis on the coherence of worldviews (“that these beliefs always lead to these outcomes”) does not account for the reality that people are happily inconsistent and seem to live out of a patchwork of somewhat incoherent beliefs and worldviews.
- too individualistic: “Worldview thinking,” at least as it exists now, seems to ignore the profound role of community and culture on us. It implies that we are primarily the product of our individual thinking and choices. In this the current concept of worldview may be more American than biblical. We don’t see that worldview is the product of communal formation and of the common stories that our community uses to make sense of life.
- too triumphalist: The emphasis on the antithesis of believing and unbelieving starting points, of foundational beliefs or presuppositions, can lead to a sense that we have all the truth and no one else has any at all. And in its worst usage, all sorts of contestable cultural and political opinions can be claimed to be simply part of the “biblical worldview” and therefore beyond questioning.
B. H. Bavinck’s Personality and Worldview addresses these concerns and provides a far more nuanced understanding of worldview that, in my opinion, largely escapes these critiques.
His emphasis on worldview’s relationship to personality shows that worldview is much more than a set of bullet points on a blackboard. This approach guards against seeing worldview as a mere intellectual framework passed on by intellectual means. Personality and Worldview casts worldview as not only something that forms but also something we deploy in becoming more thoughtful and “objective” in our formation.
His unique contribution—the distinction between a “worldvision” and a “worldview”—explains why so few people live out of a consistent and coherent worldview. The worldvision (or world “mindset” or “mentality”) is a set of basic intuitions picked up from our environment, consisting in simplistic and reductionistic ideas through which we view reality as through spectacles. A worldview, however, is more like a map, never fully finished in this life, in which we work out the implications of Christianity for every area of life in our time and place.
Bavinck’s emphasis on psychology entails community formation (though he often leaves that implicit). Personality and Worldview in many ways reflects the psychology of an earlier time, and yet it recognizes that our “personality” is not only, as Eglinton explains, the result of “the idiosyncrasies of [our inborn] temperament[s]” but “a set of intuitions about the world formed in all individuals by their family and home environment, their teachers and education, and the broad culture within which they live.” Here Personality and Worldview anticipates Charles Taylor’s concept of worldview as a “social imaginary”—the way a community of people learn to imagine the world.
Finally, the Bavincks’ emphasis on worldview as what James Eglinton, Gray Sutanto, and Cory Brock have previously described as mapmaking is a crucial idea. Developing a worldview is an effort to transcend the limitations and reductionisms of our worldvision. If a worldview is something we painstakingly work out our whole lives, several things follow:
- Worldview is not in this metaphor a finished weapon to be wielded against opponents—it guards against triumphalism in that regard.
- It’s always somewhat unfinished and growing. That is humbling as well.
- A Christian in Indonesia would not be developing the exact same map as a Christian in Scotland. If you are applying the Christian’s doctrines to all of life, the questions and issues one faces will differ in different places. As such, although Personality and Worldview doesn’t say this explicitly, it gives us the basis for the thought that there may be overlapping and noncontradictory but somewhat different Christian worldviews in different cultures. That also undermines triumphalism.
For these reasons and more, I am so grateful for James Eglinton’s translation of Personality and Worldview and his introduction. Read them both carefully, and think out the implications for how you are understanding and practicing your faith in the world today.
New York City
Taken from Personality and Worldview by By J. H. Bavinck, Translated by James Eglinton, Foreword by Timothy Keller, Copyright © 2023, pp. ix – xii. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.