Worldviews: What They Are and Why They Matter
So how do we get our worldview? Initially we inherit it, we are taught it by our parents, family, friends, teachers, television, etc. We acquire our worldview without consciously thinking about it. So long as it works well enough, we will see no reason to change it.
This does not mean that worldviews can never change. Although they are more like computer operating systems than software programs, they are not like Read Only Memory files that can never be changed. They are more like Random Access Memory. They can be critiqued—and they can be changed. People do it everyday.
How does one critique a worldview? According to its adequacy. How does one test a worldview for adequacy? Several questions must be considered:
- Is the worldview coherent? Does it fit with all or most of what we know, or think we know? Does it contradict itself?
- Does the worldview seem to correspond to our experience of reality? Does it seem like the world really is the way the worldview says it is?
- Is the worldview comprehensive? Does it account for all the available facts? Coherency is much more easily attained if one disregards some data, but the conclusion is more likely to be flawed.
- Is the worldview consistent? Does it prescribe a way of life that one can actually live or does it sound suspiciously like a conspiracy theory?
- Is the worldview worthy of our commitment? There must be some existential value to a worldview. If it is unappealing we simply will not embrace it. This is no real problem, though, as there are few if any things more valuable than truth.
So, how should we understand the Christian worldview? The Christian Story can be summarized in three words: Creation, Rebellion, and Redemption.
- Creation: A good God created a good world.
- Rebellion: But human beings rejected God and things went terribly wrong. The results of this rebellion are still felt today.
- Redemption: God goes to work setting his world right. He does this through his Son, Jesus, the one around whom the entire worldview ultimately revolves.
The first thing that strikes us about this worldview is that God is the Creator of the universe. This is an amazing idea. It is certainly not the by-product of Greek philosophy. Most, if not all, of the pre-Socratic philosophers believed that matter was eternal. Plato and Aristotle affirmed types of theism, but the gods they believed in were merely shapers or organizers of eternal matter—unlike the God of the Bible they did not create ex nihilo, out of nothing. This is a uniquely Judeo-Christian idea.
Furthermore, the fact that God created a good world implies that we must be concerned for the welfare of the world. Indeed, God commanded the first man and woman to be stewards of his creation. Stewards are not owners, instead they are managers of what has been entrusted into their control. They answer to an owner. We are thus not free to use God’s world any old way we want—we will give an accounting to our Creator for our use of his resources, which he has placed under our care.
Beyond this we are created as relational beings. Scripture declares, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). The most important word in the Bible is thus relationships. The greatest commandment, to love God with all that we are—heart, soul, mind, and strength—is a relational commandment. The second, to love your neighbor as yourself, is also a relational commandment. The second relates to the first. We show how much we love God by how much we love each other. We are thus not free to hate or abuse or destroy our fellow creatures made in God’s image, regardless of how pleasing or convenient it might be for us to do so.
This basic relationality entails another responsibility to God—we are to live in community. The man and the woman are not simply to live with each other, they are also to be fruitful and to multiply. In other words they are to live within a community of others—and to spread the vision of God throughout the world. This is why Jesus creates a new community in the Church and symbolizes it by selecting 12 apostles, who mirror the 12 tribes of Israel, and gives us a ritual meal, which mirrors the Passover Seder, symbolizing the deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt.
In this way the Christian worldview answers the first two worldview questions: “Who am I?” and “Where am I?” I am a creature loved by my Creator, who has made me to care for the world he has created and to relate to him and also to my fellow creatures.
Human beings rebelled against the Creator and freely chose to disobey his command. This is still our Father’s world, but now it is a fractured world. This does not mean that we are no longer made in God’s image, but that image is now distorted. As a result our best inclinations are clouded by sinful and selfish desires. We thus live distorted lives, which are incapable of providing us true satisfaction. This rebellion is rooted in a desire to be our own gods. The tempter assured the woman that by eating the forbidden fruit they would become like God. Note that it was only after rebelling that our parents hid from their Creator. Relationally we are broken and everything we touch becomes infected as a result. We thus tend to abuse the world’s resources rather than preserving them; we make weapons of war rather than instruments of peace. In rebellion we raise ourselves up as creators with a little “c” who define our own realities. This rebellion infects cultures as well as individuals. So the Christian answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” is answered: “We have rebelled against our Creator and are reaping the fruits of insurrection.”
Note that evil is an ever-present issue for every worldview. All worldviews must give their answers as to the nature and source of evil as well as providing a solution. The Christian answer to the worldview question, “What’s wrong?” is that “We are the origin of the problem.” The problem from its inception is moral. It is not simply a matter of knowledge but also one of desire, it is not primarily a problem of the head but of the heart.
The Christian answer to the question “What’s the solution?” is the Gospel. God acts to address evil through the Cross, taking our punishment upon himself. And God himself defeats evil through the resurrection of Jesus.
I must say a word here about the suffering of God. The idea that God does not suffer is not a biblical idea—it is in fact a Greek philosophical idea that has caused many problems for Christian theology. I am a Perfect Being theologian. God is the greatest possible being. He cannot become greater than he is or less than perfect. But the inability to suffer is not a great-making property. A being who cannot suffer, a Creator who cannot feel the pain of his creatures, a Father who does not suffer when his children hurt, is not a great being. Scripture does not proclaim such a deity.
The Christian worldview is thus a worldview of Redemption. God offers us a restored relationship with himself through Jesus. But this relationship does not come cheaply on God’s part—it costs him his Son.
Nor does this relationship come cheaply on our part. It demands certain things from us. Those who believe in Jesus are committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of Redemption, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity.
The Christian worldview does not provide us all the answers to present suffering but it does provide us with the ultimate answer. There is still much suffering that no human, even no Christian, can fully understand. But in the death and resurrection of Jesus evil was addressed and defeated. And when Jesus returns, evil will finally be fully eradicated and there will be no more pain, no more tears, no more suffering, no more death (Rev. 21:1-4).
The Christian worldview demands some things of us at this time.
- We must worship our Creator and Redeemer because he is worthy.
- We must share the good news of what he has done for us.
- We must be his ambassadors, caring for the hurting in this world.
But these demands are not unreasonable, and in obeying we find our true selves along with peace, joy, and deep existential fulfillment. The Christian worldview is far better than any of its competitors.