For Christians, what is the proper role of worldview thinking, analysis, and conversation?
With Praxis Circle being about “building worldviews to renew a free and good society,” that’s the question I’m examining in this post.
My answer: I think it’s absolutely critical for evangelical success and the Great Commission (Matthew 28), particularly when engaging Zoomers, Millennials, and Religious Nones.
However, it is not “the answer.” The fundamentals of what it is to be Christian have never changed, which are reviewed in summary fashion as this article proceeds.
I’ve studied worldview carefully as an academic discipline now for nearly a decade and have noticed that many professional Christians (ministers, clergy, theologians, and Christian media figures) and laypersons have problems with any worldview approach to Christianity for several basic, and, yes, solid reasons.
In short, Christian worldview approaches are often seen as (1) not personal enough relative to God and others, or (2) too academic, theoretical, lofty, or disconnected from common sense.
We noticed criticism early this year with Russell Moore’s article in Christianity Today, “We Are Not Our Worldview” (April 20, 2023). I discussed many of the criticisms of worldview thinking in our 2023 e-book on worldview, What is a Worldview? Please see Chapter 4: Why is Worldview Study Controversial? (beginning page 39). We began a dialogue among Praxis Circle Contributors in our Orbits blog series with Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things magazine, with his post “Christ is Not a Worldview” (August 21, 2023).
In response, Contributor Jay Ford, recently retired professor at Wake Forest University and former head of Wake’s Religion Department, offered an Orbits statement saying that Christianity is just like any other of the world’s major religions, such as Buddhism and Hinduism which he taught at Wake Forest, and that worldview analysis is important to understanding all religions.
We also reprinted in full Tim Keller’s critique of worldview thinking that appeared in his Forward to J.H. Bavinck’s Personality and Worldview, a 1928 Dutch publication recently translated into English. In just three pages Dr. Keller summarizes common critiques of worldview and resolves them. Like Francis Schaeffer, Keller was an advocate of worldview thinking in the global public square, believing it indispensable to his 21st century urban ministry in a secular, postmodernist age.
Finally, Contributor Hugh Whelchel offered an Orbits post with perhaps the key to Christian worldview thinking: “Worldview: Put Your Heart Into It” (July 19, 2023). Like anything else involving the heart and mind, prudence (including wisdom, balance, and timing) is absolutely necessary to make any worldview application effective.
Knowledge and Worldview
What humans know from the past remaining in consciousness (via memory, whether or not recorded in writing or other media) either was experienced in the past or is based on evidence found.
We can keep such generated knowledge to ourselves, but to relay it to others, we must use language. Reason and language filtering through feelings and emotions always lead to description and interpretation through aspects of worldview or metaphysical presupposition, which then influences belief.
As an example, when we read the Sermon on the Mount, we imagine and interpret it. Following are three cinematic interpretations from The Greatest Story Ever Told, The Passion of the Christ, and The Chosen. Each involves personal experience via Matthew (written into Matthew 5-7) translated via each Director’s interpretation (George Stevens, Sr., Mel Gibson, and Dallas Jenkins) to influence belief and, inevitably, worldview—whether the viewer is theist or atheist.
Worldview Definition and Application to Christianity
While we’ve offered various definitions of worldview many times before, a definition here might be in order.
One’s worldview is the metaphysical lens through which each person views the outside world. It’s one’s philosophical, theological, and practical disposition toward reality that guides much, if not most, of thought and action.
Individuals may operate from one or in-and-out of several, and all academic pedagogies operate within worldviews in creating and passing on worldview knowledge. In that sense, worldview analysis might be the omnipresent and even omniscient academic discipline. Worldviews develop within individuals and are shared in groups (circles).
In sum, worldview-guided thinking and behavior interacts with reality (praxis) to develop and change in shaping culture, politics, governance, and private relations of all kinds. Our name, Praxis Circle, is meant to represent a place where friends can build their own worldview(s) to renew free and good society. As an organization, we embrace operating from Judeo-Christian worldview in an ecumenical way.
Clearly, worldview thinking, discussion, and argument convert very few to Christianity, though there are notables like St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, and Dr. Stephen Meyer (our new Contributor being rolled out this month) where worldview considerations were vital in conversion or, perhaps, returning to the fold. The more intellectual or educated the person, the more important worldview dialogue will be.
However, first and foremost: Christianity is singularly about God’s grace and one’s personal relationship with Him, the person-God Jesus Christ.
Simply stated, there is no replacing person-to-person Christian contact or witness, exposure to the Bible and Gospel, virtuous personal and community leadership to model Christian belief, attending worship services and participating in the sacraments, helping the poor and disadvantaged, and, in general, being there for family, friends, loved ones, and others in time of need.
We’re called to strive to be perfect like Christ. Being a man in the image of God, Who is The Creator, for many reasons means first and foremost being a husband and the best father one can be; being a woman in the image of God, again, a small “c” creator like the husband (and clearly the one with the most at stake physically) means being a wife and the best mother one can be. Husband and wife become parent co-creators (as one) through their married lives and, as applicable, with and through their children.
The first of the Ten Commandments say honor God, and the bottom of the traditional first tablet says honor parents, due to their similar roles in creative love. While there are many fundamental roles available to Christians, doing the role of parents well for most is the essence, and even lion’s share in time and energy invested, of Christian life; good and strong families build civilizations.
People become Christian when God’s grace overwhelms them and when Christianity finally satisfies a personal thirst for strength, truth, goodness, beauty, healing, salvation, forgiveness, mercy, hope, or love.
Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. Love God and your neighbor. Model God’s grace and your love of God with your own service and charity. Such is the fundamental, indispensable, and vital work good Christians do. It is what caused Christianity to grow from a small sect with members fearful for their lives to by far the largest religion in the world, still growing at a remarkable pace.
The West Has Changed and So Must Evangelicals
The fundamental problem, however, is that the percentage of North Americans and Europeans who have a university or higher level of education has increased significantly since World War II, and that militant secularists of many kinds have increasingly chased Christianity and other religions out of the public square. In fact, beginning in full force in the 1700s and accelerating in the 1800s and 1900s, secularism became as or, in a few instances, more evangelical than Christianity in seeking converts.
An approximate milestone occurred in 1804 when Napoleon crowned himself emperor with the Pope looking on from the sidelines, by some accounts glad to be there: the Man God Narrative (MGN) was entering its full formula to challenge Judeo-Christianity’s Creator God Narrative (CGN) in the West. This is the West’s “line of scrimmage” today.
Since the early 1800s, atheism, taking its original form in secular Christian-influenced humanism, has produced many ideological derivatives, most recently cultural Marxism, identity politics, and postmodernism. It is even moving past humanism now from variations of the MGN toward the desecration of man himself through various forms of transhumanist materialism or nihilism. Human nature even unites strands of Islam and other religions against Jews and Christians in an “unholy” alliance with atheist cohorts, based on the underlying principle “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”
Early on, mostly in Europe, new secular ideologies attacked Christianity by trying to undermine its Biblical truth claims—the Garden of Eden, the Tower of Babel, the Flood and Ark, the Exodus, the countless miracles, the Resurrection —with all of these events being portrayed as myths; they never happened, so Judaism and Christianity are false. Even those sympathetic to Christ like Thomas Jefferson were cutting out the parts of the Bible that didn’t personally suit.
Over the last hundred years, however, Leftward secular ideologues have amped up and shifted course to attack the very pillars of Western metaphysical worldview itself—truth, God, morality, natural law, the nature of man, institutions of family and society, social mores and virtues, principles of governance, the historical record and narrative, and beauty. Militant secularists will do everything in their power to debunk religion and are completely unconcerned, if not contemptuous, of truth, objectivity, evidence, balance in presentation, or practicality. As long as the suggested solution fits the ideology, it doesn’t matter at all if it’s never possible to achieve.
Religions, particularly Christianity in America, are being driven out of schools, businesses, the media, and the public square, surviving quasi-peacefully only in the privacy of one’s mind or in a seemingly shrinking number of Godly churches. Even admitting one is religious, traditional, or, God forbid, “conservative” has serious risks and takes guts. The risk of being attacked, falsely discredited, smeared, shunned, canceled, or losing one’s job or friends is great.
It’s well out in the open now that schools, nonprofits, and media companies actually train teachers and students how to deconstruct and discredit time-tested beliefs and narratives generally and widely accepted just 20 years ago. They’re trained specifically in how to brainwash young minds into opposition to truth and practicality itself.
Required: New Evangelical Thinking and Methods
In recent decades, this onslaught has had a devastating impact on the continuously-needed regeneration and spread of Judaism and Christianity in Europe and America. Skepticism toward the Bible is so high now that it’s often not useful to Christians when approaching those with a secular mindset. A particularly poignant example might help here.
Josh McDowell is one of the most experienced and successful Christian Protestant evangelists. Last year he and Thomas Williams released How to Know God Exists: Solid Reasons to Believe in God, Discover Truth, and Find Meaning in Your Life (2022). How to Know God Exists is a Christian worldview book written to strengthen believers against the world now hostile to religion described above and to attract the growing numbers mostly, completely, or just publicly outside the faith. The book includes many accounts of the extreme damage militant secularisms, intolerant of Judeo-Christian worldview and morality, are inflicting on the West.
In the preface, McDowell and Williams openly admit that the book relies primarily on non-Biblical arguments in presenting its case. They believe this approach improves their arguments for their intended audiences:
Lest you fear that we are about to bombard you with Bible verses and Scripture proof texts to support our claims, we assure you that we will not. In fact, you may find this to be one of the strangest Christian books you’ve ever read. Nowhere in these pages do we support our arguments with biblical references. We realize that biblical proofs would be meaningless if you are skeptical of religion. Instead, we make every attempt to rely solely on reason, observation, evidence, and common sense in supporting our propositions and reaching our conclusions . . . As we tackle head on the questions that people of all generations are beginning to ask, we trust that it will help you find stability in a society rapidly descending into chaos. More importantly, we believe that it will reassure you that God does indeed exist. (pages 4-5)
And this book is by the author of Evidence That Demands a Verdict (First Edition 1972, Revised Last 2017), Evidence for the Historical Jesus (2011), and More Than a Carpenter (2009). While only an anecdote when referring to the work of one man, How to Know God Exists speaks volumes in approach, as well as content.
If cultural and human relations prevent us from quoting Scripture, talking about Jesus, public or private prayer outside church or home, or inviting someone to church, then how can we respond in bringing the Word to our fellow man. The answer?
Well, there are several key answers, and I do not have room here to cover those that come to mind.
Clearly, though, we need to learn how to defend and, more importantly, advocate positively for Christian worldview basics. In addition, we need to learn to do so with a skill and force equal to or greater than those atheists now very well-trained, skeptical, aggressive, and often violent. It is an extremely difficult challenge because they are unbounded by truth—with all thought servant to their will.
Recent events in the Ukraine and Israel have starkly reminded Americans that our nation is riddled now with internal secular foes who are as militant and dangerous as external enemies in China, Russia, Iran, and Gaza. To disregard this is delusional. We must train ourselves in truth, reason, God, morality, natural law, science, anthropology, family, governance, history, and beauty—all related and founded since 0 A.D. in Judeo-Christian worldview.
Additional Advantages: Worldview Supplements Traditional Efforts to Spread the Good News
Once the worldview task is undertaken and mastered, the pathway becomes straighter and the load much lighter. Why? Because this is what truth does: Light eliminates darkness; goodness scatters evil. Christianity is true, not an ideology. In its presence, wickedness crumbles and clamors to leap to its death.
Again, initially, argument, philosophy, theology, and related subjects win few converts. However, worldview analysis does reinforce against retreat and allows for gaining ground by taking the offensive in a firm, kind, and confident way. It fertilizes soil, constructs a cultural background or milieu that opens doors, and sets a backdrop for positive responses over time. Better worldview analysis, understanding, and presentation creates mutual understanding while minimizing anger, offers common ground where differing parties can meet without being threatened, and often attracts sympathy or makes progress possible later on.
Worldview approaches are not reactionary. Today is a time of great change in the West. Worldview is forward-looking with immense respect for the past, God’s past with man, that calls for and produces new narratives, solutions, and institutions based on old truths—truth itself being changeless.
Once someone becomes open to truth, reason, compassion, morality, and God (each of these five words being of the Christian god’s essence), it becomes much easier to get her or him to consider the Bible and its narrative—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—and to suggest church or assisting in charity.
We are clearly redeemed and in a restorative mode, likely with as many epochs before as behind us.
Worldview discussion is essential for changing and enhancing lives today. That is why McDowell and Williams focus primarily on truth, morality, and God without turning directly to the Bible.
Fortunately for Christians and Jews, God designed the world in truth with an overwhelming amount of evidence of Himself and morality in our lives every day and everywhere all over the world. When a pathway is created for Christian worldview presuppositions, the Bible and the Gospel become welcome for a lifetime of gladness, joy, love, and service when finally opened and read.
I am not at all, in any way, recommending separating the tools of worldview thinking from the Bible, the Gospel, the Church, fellowship, or charity. Instead, I have only illustrated separating them to highlight the point that worldview is now an absolutely necessary tool for reaching many secular and young people at home in America and all over the West.
We Boomers erred in permitting radical secularists to take control of the commanding heights of American culture now succeeding in brainwashing our children and young adults for at least the last 10 to 20 years. As a result, many need to gain an understanding of God and truth before being able to see Him at all, God and truth being one and the same.
Russell Moore says, “We are not our worldview.” No, of course not. We are children of God. We are persons created in the image of God. Rusty Reno says, “Christ is not a worldview.” No, of course not. Christ is the Messiah— the God-man who was born to bring salvation to humanity. Jay Ford says, essentially, Christianity presents a worldview, and that worldview is an important avenue of inquiry. We need to consider worldview fundamentals in order to meet halfway our fellow man wherever we find him all over the globe. Most important, Hugh Whelchel drew us closest to Christ, saying Christ wants our hearts, the essence of Christianity.
And I would add: this is how God designed the world. It is imbedded in the CGN.
Yes, of course: Christianity is a monotheistic religion that demands 100% of its followers and shapes the way they think and love— like the world’s other major worldviews or religions, but with significant differences, many of them irreconcilable. All human beings, whether religious or secular, must rely on faith in shaping belief, and there are no exceptions. In that sense, all humans are religious including atheists, and all good religions that last offer complete worldviews.
I have my own criticisms of worldview thinking, and several are mentioned, again, in What is a Worldview?, Chapter 4: Why is Worldview Study Controversial? The tone there is intended to be more breezy than completely serious here. Clearly, it’s very dangerous and probably not “conservative,” or at least Kantian, to think that there is any summa thinking available to the human mind. And certainly, from our Christian God’s perspective, that is laughable.
Perhaps most important, the danger Christians scholars or laypersons, such as myself, run into in either using worldview analysis or talking it down too much is sounding completely elitist in suggesting we are more in touch with how to do Christianity “the right way.” Such a tone is reminiscent of the Pharisees, no matter how well-intended or law-fearing many of the Pharisees Jesus encountered no doubt were.
On the other hand, for all the reasons mentioned here, I believe worldview thinking and training is essential to the growth of Christianity today.
Worldview analysis developed over at least 200 years in the West just as the Western Academy was centralizing a global perspective toward the world’s religions and cultures that were often radically different from their own Judeo-Christian experience. For this reason, Christians led and still lead the globe in worldview thinking, and we should not give up our advantage. We should double down and press forward. This is the mission of Christ Himself, and it started in full force with St. Paul. Again, Christianity is truth.
A man was born into the world approximately 2023 years ago and changed it forever in approximately 30 years without traveling far from home or writing down a single word. Humanity came to Him. We are entering the season of the year that always brings these facts back into a foremost position in our minds, hearts, and actions. Many view the Sermon on the Mount as the true beginning of Jesus’ ministry and the Gospel’s core (prior to the Resurrection). Christ will reign over all in the end. Christianity is about my, your, and our relationship with Him.
Christ transformed global worldview for eternity. Yes, this is beyond question to me, but that is not yet true for everyone; far from it. The title of this post summarizes my own worldview. It’s a full worldview that should shape 100% of my life. It did not exist prior to Christ. Jesus of Nazareth produced a religion that in time became known as Christianity, and it is now the largest global religion in the world by a significant margin, approximating roughly 30% of the world’s population.
But of course it is not everyone’s religion and worldview, with all of the other most popular religions or worldviews being significantly different (including the most popular secular faiths).
To further Christ’s work in the 21st century (to evangelize as he did and as the Gospel requests), Christians must master Christian worldview thinking, the key worldviews in America, Europe, and around the world (as needed), and the fundamentals of truth, reason, logic, and all the worldview fundamentals.
We must never seek to impose our will concerning religious beliefs because God made all in His image free to choose. The essence of God and Christianity is love, and love is impossible without freedom. This was the West’s primary new insight around 1500 that began early modernity.
Indeed, over the last 200 years, Christians developed worldview thinking precisely to serve Christ our Lord to the maximum degree possible. As each of us comes to experience our talents, to hear our calling, and to focus on God’s many blessings, Christ’s worldview remains—as it always has been—our holy duty and sacred task to follow.