In its simplest definition, a worldview is a story about the world, a story that carries within it a set of basic beliefs about the most fundamental issues in life. Francis Schaeffer defined a worldview as “the grid through which one sees the world.”
A worldview answers fundamental questions such as: Where did the world come from? Why is the world full of evil? What is a human being? What is the meaning of life? What is the difference between right ways and wrong ways of living?
Each of us has a worldview, even if we are not consciously aware of it or are unable to articulate it clearly. Each of us is also aware that certain other people possess worldviews very different from our own.
So, worldviews matter, and they matter for everybody. For Christians, therefore, it is absolutely vital not only to have a crystal-clear understanding of the biblical worldview but also a readiness to explain why it is true to reality.
What is the Biblical Worldview?
There are two basic ways of articulating the biblical worldview with clarity. The first way is to organize it by means of story, revealing its narrative coherence. The second way is to organize it by means of categories, revealing its systematic coherence.
Biblical Worldview via Story
When we organize it by means of story, we follow a simple pattern evident in the Bible’s dramatic narrative: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration.
Creation. In the beginning, an all-powerful, all-knowing, loving God created matter out of nothing and then shaped that matter into the world in which we now live. He created the world to operate according to predetermined natural laws, and he created human beings to live according to predetermined moral laws. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, able to know and love God and each other in a way that the animal and plant kingdom cannot. At the time of creation, the world ran perfectly, according to God’s wise design.
Fall. However, the story quickly takes a dark turn. The first human couple, Adam and Eve, decided to rebel against God and flout the moral law. They wanted to be God instead of loving and serving God. When they chose to rebel against God, they introduced sin and evil to the world. Ever since that time, God’s good world has been twisted in wrong directions by sin and evil.
Redemption. Yet, God still loved the world and the humans he created. Instead of destroying the world or discarding human beings, he entered into the world to save us from our sin and guide us on how to live in a suddenly sin-ridden world. At first, he entered into our world by revealing himself to the first couple and Moses and the prophets, but later entered the world decisively in the person of Jesus Christ who died and rose again on our behalf.
Restoration. When God entered the world through Jesus, he promised to return one day to rid the world of sin and its consequences and to consummate his kingdom. In other words, he will restore the world to his original intentions: a world characterized by universal peace, justice, flourishing, and delight.
Biblical Worldview via Systematic Categories
When we organize the biblical worldview by means of category, we take the basic truths embedded in the biblical story and organize them systematically into categories. One way of doing so, as exemplified in James W. Sire’s The Universe Next Door, is to employ the following categories:
- Supreme Reality: God is an infinite and personal Being who transcends the world but at the same time acts within it. He is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good.
- The World: God created the world out of nothing and designed it to operate by natural laws, except in situations where God suspends those laws momentarily via miracles.
- Humanity: God created human beings in his image; thus, we are personal, spiritual, rational, moral, creative, and linguistic.
- Death: For each person, death is a gate to life with God or a gate to separation from him.
- Knowledge: God endowed human beings with the ability to know God and to gain knowledge about the world around us.
- Morality: The moral law is transcendent and absolute, applying to all people of all times in all places. It is based on God’s good character.
- History: History is meaningful because it is a sequence of events in which God will ultimately fulfill his purposes for the world and for humanity.
This is a systematic worldview rendering of the Christian faith, elucidating the basic beliefs of Christianity. Taken together, these categories result in a lens used to view the world as informed by the infallible word of God.
Why Haven’t I Traded in the Biblical Worldview for a Different One?
The biblical worldview differs in one way or another from other worldviews such as atheism, pantheism, polytheism, nihilism, and existentialism. This fact raises the question of how a person could embark upon a worldview “comparison and contrast” for the purpose of deciding which worldview gives an accurate rendering of reality.
It should be noted that there are, in fact, some good “litmus tests” for worldviews. In fact, three litmus tests are especially helpful: logical coherence, empirical adequacy, existential viability. Christianity passes all three of these tests, and other worldviews do not, which is why I haven’t discarded the Christian faith in favor of a different set of basic beliefs. Although we don’t have the space in this web article to compare and contrast the biblical worldview with other worldviews, it is helpful at least to summarize briefly the three tests.
The first test is logical coherence. For this test, we ask, “Do the basic beliefs of Christianity cohere with one another?” If the answer were, “No, some of the beliefs contradict one another,” I would be forced to look around for a worldview that wasn’t riddled by internal contradictions. But, as I have studied the Christian faith for decades now, I am more and more amazed at its seamless coherence.
The second test is empirical adequacy. For this test, we ask, “Do the basic beliefs of Christianity make sense of the world outside of us? For instance, do they make sense of history and science?” If the answer were, “No, history and science disprove basic Christian beliefs,” I would have to discard my worldview. But, in fact, history and science provide ample proof of the basic tenets of Christianity.
The third test is existential viability. For this test, we ask, “Do the basic beliefs of Christianity make sense of the world inside of me?” If the answer were, “No, Christianity doesn’t help me make sense of my hopes and desires, or my pain and suffering,” I would have to find a better worldview. But, in fact, the longer I live, the more amazed I am at how Christian belief makes sense of the deepest aspects of my inner life.
Why Does Worldview Matter?
Thus, in a world full of conflicting visions and competing belief systems, the biblical worldview matters.
When we take the biblical worldview seriously, it becomes the cognitive filter through which we sift the ideas of this world. We intuitively filter the ideas we encounter, the movies we watch, and the websites we frequent through the grid of Christian belief, similar to the way a sieve filters the impurities out of flour before baking. This is what Paul intended when he instructed the Corinthians to “take captive every thought and make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).
Worldview also operates as a dual-function fertilizer/poison that aids in our spiritual health. When we immerse ourselves in the biblical worldview, we find that it enhances the growth of our character strengths; and at the same time, it inhibits the growth of our character deficiencies. This is the process to which Paul refers in Romans 1-3 when he describes the way a wayward heart attaches itself bad basic beliefs and bad living, while a godly heart attaches itself to good beliefs and actions.
Finally, the biblical worldview functions as the foundation upon which we should build our life’s “house.” When our basic beliefs are solid, we can build our lives upon them and weather whatever storms may come. Conversely, when our basic beliefs are flawed the foundation of our lives is shaky, and ultimately, the “house” of our lives will collapse. This is the situation to which Jesus refers when he encourages us to build our house on a foundation of rock rather than sand (Luke 6:48-49).
Future generations in the church will be directly impacted by the priority we place on worldview development. It is vital that Christians today not only have a clear understanding of the biblical worldview but the ability to explain why it is true to reality. In this cultural moment we must be reminded of this mandate from the Apostle Paul: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).