I recently had lunch with a friend who was anxious to tell me about an experience he had. He told me about a business trip he had just taken which took a most unpredictable turn. After the business of the day was over, he and some of his colleagues went out to eat and enjoy the sites of the city to which they had traveled for their business. He shared with me that during their time together, the conversation turned from the superficial to those topics which are not supposed to be discussed in “polite company” – politics and religion. As they talked, issues such as the nature of homosexuality and the morality of capital punishment arose. My friend recounted his utter amazement that rational people could hold such diametrically opposed points of view. He did not think that everyone in the world must agree with him, and yet he was taken aback by the fervency and presumptuous nature with which his colleagues held their opposing positions. This gave me the opportunity to talk with him a little bit about worldviews.
What in the world is a worldview? A worldview is merely one’s philosophy of life – a way of looking at the world around you. And, everyone has a worldview. It may be very complex or quite simple, but we all have one. Perhaps it would be helpful to offer two illustrations of how a worldview functions to make this a little clearer. Think of the cover of a puzzle box. If you were to dump all the puzzle pieces on the ground without seeing what the picture looked like, you would have a pretty hard time putting the puzzle together. Well similarly, life presents us with thousands of questions and issues which are like pieces to a puzzle. Without the right worldview to follow, you will not know where the pieces fit.
Or, think of a worldview like a movie script. The late Francis Schaeffer said that life is like entering a very long movie that has already started and then learning that you have to leave before it ends. In such a situation we would be clueless without some help. Schaeffer suggested that the Bible gives us the script of the whole movie. Therefore, even if we have missed the first part of it, and even though we will have to leave before it is over, we can still see how we fit into the whole picture. Having the proper worldview helps us pursue a consistent and meaningful life. Furthermore, if the Christian is going to reach out to an unbelieving world, then it is essential that he or she have a proper Christian worldview.
What makes up a worldview? Well, there are several important elements that comprise it. Though there is not enough space here to be comprehensive, I do want to briefly mention five of the most important ones.
The first aspect of a worldview is your view of God – does he exist? is God personal or impersonal? is there only one God or many?
Secondly, a worldview addresses the issue of purpose and ultimate things – such as: are miracles possible? is the universe all there is? is there objective meaning to life?
The third area a worldview deals with is in the arena of knowledge – how we know what we know. The Christian, for example, appeals to Scripture as the final authority. Others may appeal to the scientific method while others may be directed by intuition. Each person lives each day according to the way he or she views knowledge – whether they recognize it or not.
Fourth is the issue of ethics. How do you make moral decisions? Are you bound by what God has revealed or only by what the laws in your culture allow? Are some acts really wrong or merely products of cultural convention?
The last major element of a worldview has to do with the nature of humankind. How do you view humankind? Are we basically good? Are we basically sinful? Is there such a thing as sin? Are we grown up germs caused by evolution or do we have real purpose and design?
These are the significant elements which make up one’s worldview – and again – we all have a worldview whether or not we are conscious of it.
However, though there are differing and even contradictory worldviews, the Christian believes (ought to believe) that not all worldviews were created equal. While our country affords the right to hold whatever view one desires, this should not be mistaken for a declaration that all views are true or valid. Indeed, the Christian view is precisely that other beliefs and practices that contradict the Christian worldview are false and ultimately harmful to the individual or group embracing them.
So what are we to do? Well, Christians have been given their marching orders from Jesus Christ who said that they are to be witnesses for him – to be salt and light to a dark and decaying world. We are to present and represent his truth in a loving, yet unyielding way. How are we to undertake such a task?
If you were to become a missionary to another country, you would, no doubt, prepare yourself by learning about that culture and its people. You would learn about their beliefs and their practices. In short, you would attempt to equip yourself with the necessary tools needed to reach those people for Christ. The same is true in our culture as well. The United States is ranked fifth of those countries where Christian missionaries are sent. This is our backyard. Thus, it is important to understand that our country also has a unique culture that needs to be studied so that the missionary enterprise may be done competently and fruitfully.
Toward that end, there are two main purposes of this feature: first, to provide Christians with the essential equipment to reach our culture for Christ. That “equipment” is knowledge – knowledge of the times in which we live. Knowing the times in which we live is a very big deal in Scripture. Jesus regularly chastised the Pharisees for not being able to interpret the signs of the times. In the Old Testament, the Tribe of Issachar was praised for being a student of its culture and interpreting the times for the sake of God’s people. We are continually exhorted in Scripture to remain vigilant so that we will not be taken in by wolves in sheep’s clothing. God’s covenant children are constantly being urged by Christ and his apostles to be ready and capable witnesses for the Kingdom of God. As salt and light, Christians are called to serve as ambassadors to a world in need of the love and truth of Christ.
The second goal is to share the Christian worldview in a clear way to those who may not yet be Christians, but who would like to hear what Christians really believe, and therefore, have some substantive food for thought.