Karl J. Franklin
“In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life.” (Nash, 1992.16) It comprises an underlying framework or conceptual scheme, a pattern or arrangement of ideas that are tested against other schemes. Worldviews are built on the basis of the experiences and influences that occur throughout a person’s lifetime They are in turn represented by various values, practices and opinions. For example, in the West we have beliefs about land and its alienation that are very different from those in counties where people are involved in subsistence agriculture. Nash (1992:27) states it like this:
“Nature in our worldview is seen as the constant adversary. We take from nature, by means of our labor and technology, the resources we consume to insulate ourselves from nature.”
Of course this is not absolute: there are many people interested in “preserving” the environment, including flora and fauna. But as a general rule, we are consumers, not preservers.
In many other societies, however, the people are directly involved with the land in a personal, intimate manner. This may be expressed in various ways, but as one PNG man put it to me, “The Vailala River, she is my mother.” New worldviews arise, such as contemporary postmodernism (Headland 1996) in which generalized frameworks are disregarded as having any ‘truth’ to them.
To understand ourselves and others we need to analyze our respective worldviews, for they are represented by our lifestyle, the way in which we live. Our worldview will also depict our values, representing what is important to us, and what we devote our attention and resources to. Worldviews come into clash regularly in all societies, e.g., in the U.S. ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ are expressions that represent opposing worldviews. In the NT Jesus encouraged (or commanded) his followers to accept a new worldview, one which might represent more accurately a Kingdom-view.
Our cultural values are then represented in our worldview such that, in the West, our culture has certain materialistic and consumer values and we are accordingly influenced by them. These contemporary values comprise the accepted and, often, most practiced and cherished form of our cultural norms. Politicians and economists, for example, convince us that a prime value for our culture is that people must buy and sell in order to “help the economy”. “Helping the economy,” by spending our money, is promoted as a virtue and represents a value in the particular economic system that we are a part of. In the case of the West, the system is some form of Capitalism.
In every culture people operate within a framework where certain things are taken for granted, involving presuppositions that are held about the world around them. Often these are unexpressed, unrecognized, or even unproven. For example, we believe that knowledge is possible, that we can learn, and that this can be proven by our experience. Further, we believe that our experience is reliable and replicable, so that the knowledge we gain is not only possible but helpful. We also hold that the universe is regular in the sense that anyone can study it and that the resulting analysis will have some validity. We take all of this reasoning process for granted, supposing that it is natural in the world, but other worldviews, such as post-modernism, do not hold such views.
Analyzing a Worldview
We may begin by noting that categories of information and experience are important in our culture and that we have defining vocabularies associated with them: education, the legal system, the environment, the arts, religion, politics, are all examples. Each of these domains have particular clusters of lexical items, phrases, idioms, folk definitions, and conventions that are used in any discussion of them. In our Western tradition of classification we have, for example, the notion of dualism, where we discuss and acknowledge contrasts between the body and the soul, leisure and work, arts and science, and so on. Dualism, we should note, arose from Greek philosophy, particularly Plato, and early Christian scholars, such as St. Augustine, added concepts such as the external and the temporal. Aquinas did the same with his treatises on nature and grace. Gradually dualism has led to secularism on the one hand and the spiritual on the other. Once secularism becomes complete, the Gospel will become irrelevant.
In the secular worldview the autonomy of the person is paramount. Descartes, in his continuation of the dualistic paradigm, saw man versus nature, mind against matter. Bacon too bolstered the secular view with his experimental approach and today science exemplifies the modern paradigm, bolstered with the notion of the so-called objective observer. Science is now often viewed as somehow more true than mankind’s inherent view of God himself. Indeed Science (as our cultural god and guardian) has succeeded in casting a personal God out of the objective picture completely. God can only be acknowledged, in this paradigm, as subjective and personal.
Nevertheless, by analyzing our worldview we can realize that when God is left out of the picture, or when he is trivialized as irrelevant to science and the “real world”, we end up with a particular conceptual system that ultimately will not work. All of us need to have some idea of how the contents of our present worldview have been influenced by the thinking of the past. We can then evaluate our present worldview and either improve parts of it or attempt to replace it entirely. There are several tests that can be used in examining our worldview (and of course tests are also a part of our Western educational worldview):
- The test of reason. Is our view logical and non-contradictory? Is it logical to think of a God who created the universe? Is it logical to think that a God with such awesome power is interested in the life of an individual. Are the two notions incompatible? Contradiction and inconsistency are signs of error in a worldview.
- The test of experience. There is, in effect, an inner and an outer world that all humans experience. Is what we learn (the outer world) relevant to what we know (the inner world) about the world around us and what we know about ourselves? We base our logic and our conclusions on our experience. How does our reason match our experience? Have we experienced anything that would tell us that there is a God of the universe?
- The test of practice. We live in the laboratory of life such that we can experience our worldview and learn of its practicality and value to us and others. Believing in God or disbelieving in Him is hardly a new or unique experience. People have thought deeply about God since the beginning of mankind and have experienced His presence in various ways.
- The test of faith. It is possible to believe in something that we cannot see, although we must be able to imagine it. Yet faith seems to be a capacity that God grants to humans such that it can be expressed through reason, experienced in daily life, and evidenced in other people. Some things can happen only in respect to faith, or in response to it.
A Secular Worldview
Dominant in our Western culture are the values of materialism, consumerism, hedonism, and individualism. Indeed, they are inextricably linked in our cultural experience. As individuals we want to want to not only conquer the material world, but also to utilize it for our benefit and enjoyment. We also want to realize our full potential, to explore our options, to experience what seems best for us. And what seems best is mostly revealed to us by the high priests of materialism, by the media creating an insatiable desire for things that only money can buy. We therefore need to work and work hard to get more money so that we can buy more things because we are taught that the accumulation of things leads to enjoyment. And even if there is not enjoyment, there is recognition and status such that, for example, the value is inherent in maxims like, “the one with the most toys wins.”
The most persistent and striking aspect of a secular worldview is the absence of God and the presence of evolution, or more accurately, that evolutionary forces replace any need for God. And although these forces are not worshiped in a religious sense, they are afforded the same status as decrees or pronouncements from High Priests in a religious order, in this case academicians of stature. Various evolutionary matters are simply held to be true in the secular worldview, just as God is held to be true in the Christian worldview. Not only are biological and other forms of evolution held to be true, they are claimed to be historical by virtue of the evidence that disciplines, (such as archaeology and paleontology), gather and to which anthropologists turn for their support. It is therefore “proven” than man descended from some lower order of Primates and that language evolved due to a series of ecological and environmental conditions. The problem of when exactly such and such a primate became a human is always the subject of debate and conjecture, but the assumption holds in secular worldviews: humankind must have evolved from animalkind. There can be no other recognized explanation in secular science and its academic world.
Given such an assumption, the problem of how language, social organization, political structures, economic developments and religion came about is again theoretically simple, even if the explanations are not: they evolved, or in some cases devolved, only to evolve again in some other form. This is because, in the secular worldview, everything has to be historically connected to simple rather than complex items that somehow benefited from the forces of evolution – principally natural selection — and its outcomes . And yet no-one can be certain exactly how any of this actually happened because evolution itself is the result of natural forces that are random, self-selecting and self-rewarding. If something ‘works’ and is ‘functional’ then the species somehow decides (although there is of course no mental process involved in the forces of mechanistic evolution) to ‘select’ that which reinforces it and get rid of that which is detrimental to its development.
Thus the gods of our age are embedded in the technical aspects of science. Science alone can tell us how life develops because science alone claims objectivity. And because science can describe what happens in DNA and the human genetic code, science is then somehow able to claim credit for making it happen. It is similar to explaining that the historians who write our history books may therefore claim that they are responsible for observing some force called history, rather than the actual events that the historians wrote about. At the same time, there is no random or real thing called ‘science’ or ‘history’ that is responsible for anything. Both are simply vehicles through which to view what has happened or is supposed to have happened (depending how far ‘back’ one goes in interpretation, or ‘forward’ in predictions).
There are, nevertheless, certain things that all worldviews have in common. Some of these are the so-called natural laws: gravity, electromagnetic fields, healing of the body, the gradual depletion or running down of the universe’s substances, and other “regular” matters as well.
A Christian Worldview
A Christian worldview must consider several important concepts, namely God, reality, knowledge, morality, humankind, and the labels or names that are attached to classifications of things in its worldview. We will examine several of these briefly.
God. What do we believe about his nature, his existence, his-preexistence? How does this affect our lifestyle and the values of things in our life? God is not to be confused with his creation. We can enjoy creation because it is part of what God has done, but we are not to worship it.
In our view of God, what do the terms holiness, justice, love, grace, trinity, incarnation, etc. mean to us? The basic and fundamental proposition from which concepts like these arise is that God has certain characteristics. We can know who He is and why He exists because of what is recorded in the Scriptures. Our worldview about God is not formulated in a vacuum. It has not been simply left to our imagination. We are told who God is in the Scriptures and we interpret causation on the basis of His presence in ouir lives and in the universe.
Reality. Do things exist and, further, how do we know? Is there purpose in the universe, or are we the subjects of an impersonal and mechanistic set of forces, put into operation by chance? Can there be any reality prior to creation other than God? Is creation ordered to reflect divine activities or was it random and circumstantial? As Christians, we reject and avoid the postmodern conclusion that there is no reality other than what we ourselves create. Reality exists because God exists.
Knowledge. Why do we assume that there is reason and common sense? Can there be truth apart from what God reveals? That is, can anyone discover truth apart from a revelation from God? What is essential, in terms of knowledge, for Christians to hold about revelation from God? Why is some knowledge innate, that is it does not arise from the senses, but is somehow intuitive (or in animals, instinctive)? Is God an innate concept in the human mind from birth? If not, why do we ask such questions as, ‘Who am I?”, ‘Why am I here?’, or ‘Who/ What is in control?’ Knowledge is personally directed in a search for meaning and reality, both found in God.
Morality. Why are some actions considered as right and others as wrong? Why is there a universal principle that considers acts like murder to be morally wrong ? What place does moral or cultural relativism play in the picture? Are there universal moral laws? What about specific moral applications, of moral rules? Are these principles universal, even if somewhat vague? Why does love seem more appealing than lust in a system of ethics? In situational ethics love may lie, steal, fornicate, blaspheme, or do whatever is convenient and satisfactory at the moment. Why do we hear the rider added, “as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone”? Love in and of itself is insufficient to provide moral guidance. It requires specification in terms of rules and principles. God alone provides a model of love that is universal in application and scope.
Humans. Are we free to do what we wish or is life, or are parts of it, in some sense, determined for us? What are the views that people hold on death and existence? Why is punishment necessary? Pascal wrote that “[man] is the glory and the rubbish of the universe”, suggesting that someone could tell the difference. Christians would claim that people’s actions and motives can only be understood in terms of the doctrine of sin because apart from God each human is a divided self. Our sinful appetite is never satisfied. Realizing this, we are driven, in the words of Kierkegaard, into the arms of the Father. We are truly human, rather than animal, when we acknowledge the existence of God.
As Christians we have experienced a change in our conceptual system. Generally conversion means that an old way has been discarded and a new direction has been taken. We take on a different view of God, of truth, morality, our fellow human beings, even the natural world around us. We renounce our idols and recognize that all aspects of life have been given their proper place. We attempt to respond to God’s norms, to sacrifice for the common good. We begin to see worldview categories, such as economics, in terms of stewardship responsibilities. We also come to see how individualism promotes greed, self-interest, and the exploitation of other people.
A Biblical worldview is based on creation, indeed we must have a covenant with it. In the background of creation is God, with his images ruling over the earth. We acknowledge the fall has affected these images and we understand and have experienced how idols usurp God’s place. Ultimately, we can only become reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
On the academic front we Christians acknowledge that University studies are taking place in a declining culture, without absolutes, proudly proclaimed as post-modernism. Theories that were developed in contexts for particular disciplines are rejected as unnecessary and as having rigid autonomy. We accept philosophical paradigms that have influenced the academic disciples as having validity, but must recognize them as only a shadow of the truth of God. As Walsh and Middleton say (1984.179) “… all cultural life consists of fallible instances of God’s law.” Christians are to reject natural determinism and so-called scientific explanation of our existence and place God at the apex of all our reasoning and thinking.
Contrasting Two Worldviews
It is obvious that my own worldview as a Christian is incompatible with the evolutionary worldview, at least as I have represented it in the chart below. Don’t scientists “believe” in chance? Don’t they have complete “faith” in something that is supposed to be random and which they can understand only in retrospect. And yet the fully committed evolutionist claims that he cannot believe in a God who allows pain and suffering, despite their own belief that – given time and chance – anything can occur. And when pain does occurs, Evolution is not to blame, God is to blame and therefore not to be believed. A curious argument against God, isn’t it? Or have I misunderstood their argument against God on the basis of pain and suffering?
|Always existed||Postulated about 150 years ago|
|Reveals Himself||Dug up|
|The Living Word||Dead bones|
|The Living Stone||Dead strata|
|Purpose is to know and enjoy Him||Purpose is survival|
|The Creator||The circumstance|
|Sovereign will||Chance and Fate|
|Moral law||Social acceptance|
|Became human||Became animal|
|Requires obedience||Requires interpretation|
|Created man||Created a system|
|This is why…||This is what…|
|This is when||This, it seems|
|God speaks, knows||Evolution argues, postulates|
|Requires faith||Requires experimentation|
|Satisfies mind and soul||There is no soul|
|Heart, mind, and soul||Intellect, emotion, the spirit of the age|
|Life ever after||Nothing hereafter|
|Fearfully and wonderfully made||Environmentally adapted to chance stimuli|
|Reveals himself||Discovers itself|
|Looks forward||Looks backward|
|A revelation||A proclamation|
|Angels and prophets||Scholars and scientists|
|Body of Christ||Body of Academia|
Information for this essay comes from a variety of books that discuss worldview from a Christian perspective. In particular, see:
Franklin, Karl J., ed. 1987. Current concerns of anthropologists and missionaries. Dallas: The International Museum of Cultures.
Grunlan, Stepehen A. & Marvin K. Mayers. 1988. Cultural anthropology: a Christian perspective, 2nd Ed., . Zondervan
Headland, Thomas N. 1996. “Postmodernism and reason in the balance.” Notes on Anthropology 21.7-13.
Nash, Ronald N. .1992. Worldviews in conflict: choosing Christianity in a world of ideas. Zondervan.
Stipe, Claude E. 1987. “Criticisms of Missionaries: Anthropological vs. World Views.” In K. Franklin, ed., pp. 55-66.
Walsh, Brian J. and J. Richard Middleton. 1984. The transforming vision: Shaping a Christian world view. InterVarsity Press. .
[First Draft, January 1999]