The blog below is written by Contributor Hugh Whelchel. He was recently the Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) and is the author of How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical of Work and All Things New: Rediscovering the Four-Chapter Gospel. To watch his Praxis Circle interview, click here.
A powerful scene at the end of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was not in the movie. After the ring is destroyed at Mount Doom and the eagles rescue Sam and Frodo, Sam wakes up from his sleep in Rivendell, surprised he is alive and surprised to see Gandalf standing at the foot of his bed.
He gasps, “Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
Sam’s question has three possible answers: yes, no, or I don’t know. The one you chose depends on much more than Tolkien’s story; it depends on your worldview.
For an evangelical in the twenty-first century, a Christian worldview typically refers to a biblical framework of ideas and beliefs through which one interprets and interacts with the world. This intellectual framework can be transferred intellectually in a classroom, book, or YouTube video.
But does this definition miss an important section of our worldview? Tim Keller writes in the Foreword of Personality and Worldview:
“…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.
Part of the problem can be found in the favorite verse for most Christian worldview studies; Romans 12:2:
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing, and perfect will.”
In the original Greek verse 1 (“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.”) and verse 2 are all one sentence. The Apostle Paul intended the two actions to be tied together. Yes, worldview is about renewing our minds, but this is only a part of what we are required to do.
To “offer our bodies as a living sacrifice” is an action that originates in the passion of the heart, not the mind. And the Apostle Paul suggests that it must come first because it supplies a powerful commitment that gives traction to verse two.
Unfortunately, we all know someone with a solid worldview and then one day throws his marriage, family, and everything else away for another woman. The problem wasn’t his worldview but his need for a heartfelt commitment to the biblical framework he embraced.
There is a seminary whose motto is “A mind for truth. A heart for God.” This mirrors the idea in Mark 12:30-31, where Jesus declares the most important commandment is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The scripture is clear; we must include the heart when we think about worldview.
The problem is the heart does not respond to intellectual propositions like the mind. The heart responds to stories. And in the Holy Scripture, we have the greatest story ever told.
Scripture opens with the Creation account in Genesis, explaining the beginning of all things. It ends in Revelation with an account of the total renewal and restoration of all creation. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible explains all of history. N. T. Wright, in his book The New Testament and the People of God, writes that the divine drama told in Scripture “offers a story which is the story of the whole world. It is public truth.”
Michael W. Goheen suggests the biblical meta-narrative, or the larger over-arching story of Scripture, makes a universal claim of truth for all humanity, calling each one of us to find our place in God’s story. He writes:
“The question is not whether the whole of our lives will be shaped by some grand story. The only question is which grand story will shape our lives. Of the one who has heard Jesus’ call to follow him, the call comes with a summons to enter the story of which he was the climactic moment—the story narrated in the Bible. It is an invitation to find our place in that story. The issue is urgent: only then can we submit to Scripture’s authority; only then can we understand our missional identity; only then can we resist being absorbed into the dangerous idolatries of our time.”
Christians can answer Sam’s question, “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” with a resounding yes because we know the end of the story,
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (Revelation 21:3-5)
We must include the heart in any discussion about a biblical worldview because it provides the motivation to embrace a moral framework that gives direction and purpose to our lives. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:5). The more we love Jesus (an action of the heart), the more we will keep his commandments—including the renewal of our minds.