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Shaping a Christian Worldview: An Introduction (Part I)

By David S. Dockery 

 

            One of our local newspapers recently ran a series of articles focusing on the rise of crime in our region.  Each author addressed the crime issue from the standpoint and perspective of economic deprivation.  After reading the articles I thought I must be missing something.  One approach was anthropological, another sociological, another economic—each dealing with systemic issues, which I do not doubt for a moment exist.  But missing from the articles was any sense of responsibility.  Crime was discussed without raising the issue of morality.  I could not believe it.  Then it dawned upon me that there were diverse worldviews at work.

Everyone Has a Worldview

            A Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.”  Water is the sum and substance of the world in which the fish is immersed.  The fish may not reflect on its own environment until suddenly it is thrust onto dry land where it struggles for life.  Then it realizes that water provided its sustenance.   

            Immersed in our environment, we have failed to take seriously the ramifications of a secular worldview.  Sociologist and social watchdog Daniel Yankelovich defines culture as an effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront human beings in the passage of their lives.  A genuine cultural shift is one that makes a decisive break with the shared meaning of the past.  The break particularly affects those meanings that relate to the deepest questions of the purpose and nature of human life.[i]  What is at stake is how we understand the world in which we live.  The issues are worldview issues.  Christians everywhere recognize there is a great spiritual battle raging for the hearts and minds of men and women around the globe.  We now find ourselves in a cosmic struggle between a morally indifferent culture and Christian truth.  Thus we need to shape a Christian world and life view that will help us learn to think Christianly and live out the truth of Christian faith.[ii]   

            The reality is that everyone has a worldview.  Some worldviews are incoherent, being merely a smorgasboard of options from natural, supernatural, pre-modern, modern, and postmodern options.  An examined and thoughtful worldview, however, is more than a private personal viewpoint, it is a comprehensive life system that seeks to answer the basic questions of life.  A Christian worldview is not just one’s personal faith expression, not just a theory.  It is an all-consuming way of life, applicable to all spheres of life.

Distinguishing a Christian Worldview 

            James Orr, in The Christian View of God and the World, maintains that there is a definite Christian view of things, which has a character, coherence, and unity of its own, and stands in sharp contrast with counter theories and speculations.[iii]  A Christian worldview has the stamp of reason and reality and can stand the test both of history and experience.  Every chapter in this book is predicated on a Christian view of things, a view of the world which cannot be infringed upon, or accepted or rejected piecemeal, but stands or falls in its integrity.  Such a wholistic approach offers a stability of thought, a unity of comprehensive insight which bears not only on the religious sphere, but on the whole of thought.  A Christian worldview is not built on two types of truth (religious and philosophical or scientific), but on a universal principle and all-embracing system that shapes religion, natural and social sciences, law, history, healthcare, the arts, the humanities, and all disciplines of study with application for all of life. 

            James Orr in 1891[iv] and Abraham Kuyper in 1898[v] brilliantly articulated a Christian worldview at the turn of the 19th Century.  James Sire, C. S. Lewis, Carl F.H. Henry, Francis Schaeffer, Arthur Holmes, and Charles Colson, among others, have articulated well the essence of a Christian worldview in the 20th Century.  The purpose of this book is to articulate a Christian worldview for the 21st Century, with all of its accompanying challenges and changes, and to show how such Christian thinking is applicable across the educational curriculum.  At the heart of these challenges and changes we see that truth, morality, and interpretive frameworks are being ignored if not rejected.  Such challenges are formidable indeed.  Throughout culture, the very existence of normative truth is being challenged. 

            For Christians to respond to these challenges we must hear afresh the words of Jesus from what is called the Great Commandment (Matt. 22:36-40).  Here we are told not only to love God wholeheartedly with our hearts and souls, but with our minds as well.  Jesus’ words refer to a wholehearted devotion to God with every aspect of our being, from whatever angle we choose to consider it—emotionally, volitionally, or cognitively.  This kind of love for God results in taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5), a wholehearted devotion to distinctively Christian thinking (or as T. S. Eliot put it, “to think in Christian categories”).[vi]  This means being able to see life from a Christian vantage point; it means thinking with the mind of Christ. 

            The beginning point for building a Christian worldview is a confession that we believe in God the Father, makes of heaven and earth (The Apostle’s Creed).  We recognize that “in Him all things hold together” (Col. 1:15-18), for all true knowledge flows from the One Creator to His one creation.

            A worldview must seek to answer questions like:

            Where did we come from?
            Who are we?

            What has gone wrong with the world?

            What solution can be offered to fix it? 

            In addition, a worldview must seek to answer the key questions of life, whether the general implications or specific applications.  It is to these foundational questions and attending issues that we now turn our attention.      

We Believe in God, Maker of Heaven and Earth:  A Worldview Starting Point

A worldview must offer a way to live that is consistent with reality by offering a comprehensive understanding of all areas of life and thought, every aspect of creation.  As we said earlier the starting point for a Christian worldview brings us into the presence of God without delay.  The central affirmation of Scripture is not only that there is a God but that God has acted and spoken in history.  God is Lord and King over this world, ruling all things for His own glory, displaying His perfections in all that He does in order that humans and angels may worship and adore Him.  God is Triune; there are within the Godhead three persons:  the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  

            To think wrongly about God is idolatry (Ps. 50:21).  Thinking rightly about God is eternal life (John 17:3) and should be the believer’s life objective (Jer. 9:23-24).  We can think rightly about God because He is knowable (1 Cor. 2:11), yet we must remain mindful that He is simultaneously incomprehensible (Rom. 11:33-36).  God can be known, but He cannot be known completely (Deut. 29:29). 

            We maintain that God is personal and is differentiated from other beings, from nature, and from the universe.  This is in contrast to other worldviews that say God is in a part of the world, creating a continual process, and the process itself is God—or becoming God.  God is self-existent, dependent on nothing eternal to Himself.  God is infinite meaning that God is not only unlimited but that nothing outside of God can limit God.  God is infinite in relation to time (eternal), in relation to knowledge (omniscience), and in relation to power (omnipotent).  He is sovereign and unchanging.  God is infinite and personal, transcendent and immanent.  He is holy, righteous, just, good, true, faithful, loving, gracious, and merciful.   

            God, without the use of any preexisting material, brought into being everything that is. Both the opening verse of the Bible and the initial sentence of the Apostle’s Creed confess God as Creator.  Creation is the work of the Trinitarian God.  Creation reveals God (Ps. 19) and brings glory to Him (Isa. 43:7).  All of creation was originally good, but is now imperfect because of the entrance of sin and its effects on creation (Gen. 3:16-19).  This is, however, only a temporary imperfection (Rom. 8:19-22), for it will be redeemed in the final work of God, the new creation. 

            The Creator God is not different from the God who provides redemption in Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit.  God is the source of all things.  This means that God has brought the world into existence out of nothing through a purposeful act of His free will.  A Christian worldview affirms that God is the sovereign and almighty Lord of all existence.  Such an affirmation rejects any form of dualism, that matter has eternally existed, or that matter must, therefore, be evil since it is in principle opposed to God, the Source of all good. 

            A Christian worldview also contends that God is set apart from and transcends His creation. It also maintains that God is a purposeful God who creates in freedom.  In creation and in God’s provision and preservation for creation, He is working out His ultimate purposes for humanity and the world.  Human life is thus meaningful, significant, intelligent, and purposeful.  This affirms the overall unity and intelligibility of the universe.  In this we see God’s greatness, goodness, and wisdom.   

Who Are We?  Where Did We Come From? 

            God has created us in His image and likeness (see Gen. 1:27).  At first this might appear to refer to our physical makeup, meaning that we look like God.  This, however, is not what the Bible means by the terms “image” and “likeness” of God. 

            Some have suggested that the “image of God” is what enables humans to relate to one another, while others have suggested that it has more to do with personality, spirituality, or rationality.  It is best not to choose only one of these options.  Rather, because men and women are created in the image of God, they possess rationality, morality, spirituality, personality, and the ability to relate to God and other humans, while rightly exercising dominion over the earth and the animals (see Gen. 1:27).  At first this might appear to refer to our physical makeup, meaning that we look like God.  This, however, is not what the Bible means by the terms “image” and “likeness” of God. 

            Some have suggested that the “image of God” is what enables humans to relate to one another, while others have suggested that it has more to do with personality, spirituality, or rationality.  It is best not to choose only one of these options.  Rather, because men and women are created in the image of God, they possess rationality, morality, spirituality, personality, and the ability to relate to God and other humans, while rightly exercising dominion over the earth and the animals (see Gen. 1:26-28; Ps. 8). 

            We must be cautious in our thinking so as not to imagine the image of God as only some aspect in men and women, but to see that humans are in the image of God.  By this we mean that nothing in us is separable, distinct, or discoverable as the divine image.  Each person individually and the entire race corporately are the image of God, but no single aspect of human nature or behavior or thought patterns can be isolated as the image of God.  Since men and women have been created in the image of God, they are the highest forms of God’s earthly creation.  All other aspects of creation are for the purposes of serving men and women and are thus anthropocentric, or human-centered.  Yet humans have been created to serve God and are thus theocentric, or God-centered.  Thus a Christian worldview helps us fulfill our responsibility for God-centered thinking and living. 

What Has Gone Wrong with the World? 

            Even though men and women are created in God’s image, the entrance of sin into the world has had great and negative influences upon God’s creation, especially humans created in God’s image.  As a result of sin, the image of God, though not lost, is severely tarnished and marred.  The role of exercising dominion (see Gen. 1:28) has been drastically limited by the effects of sin on humans and the course of nature.  The ability to live in right relationship with God, with others, with nature, and with our very own selves has been corrupted.  Ultimately all are spiritually dead and alienated from God (see Eph. 2:1-3).  This does not mean that we are all as bad as we can be, but that not any of us are as good as we should be.  We are therefore unable to reflect properly the divine image and likeness (see Rom. 1:18-32). 

            It is important to see that the fall into sin (see Gen. 3) was not just a moral lapse, but a deliberate turning away from God and rejection of Him.  The day that Adam and Eve disobeyed God they died spiritually, which ultimately brought physical death (see Gen. 2:17).  Sin’s entrance has brought about a sinful nature in all humanity.  Therefore men and women are not simply sinners because they sin, but they sin because they are sinners.  People thus think and act in accord with their fallen natures. 

            This idea is most significant when reflecting upon our relationship to God.  Because of the entrance of sin into the world and our inheritance of Adam’s sinful nature (see Rom. 5:12-19), we are by nature hostile to God and estranged from Him (see Rom. 8:7; Eph. 2:1-3).  We have wills that do not obey God, eyes that do not see, and ears that do not hear because spiritually we are dead to God. 

            While we function as free moral agents with a free will, our decisions and actions are always affected by sin.  In seeking to understand what has gone wrong with the world, we recognize that human choices are negatively influenced by sin.  In regard to our relationship with God, we do not genuinely repent or turn to God without divine enablement because we are by nature hostile to God. 

            Any articulation of a Christian worldview must wrestle with the problem of sin.  The result of sin (what theologians call depravity) refers to the fact that all aspects of our being, including our thinking and emotions, are negatively influenced.  People still do right and good things as viewed by society, but these thoughts and actions, no matter how noble or benevolent, fall short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23).  We can affirm that people choose to do good, but a Christian worldview helps us distinguish between the good and the ultimate good, which is the goal of pleasing God. 

            Answering the question about what has gone wrong in the way we have does not mean all are totally corrupt.  Factors such as environment, emotional makeup, heritage, and the continuing effect of our having been created in the image of God, influence or limit the degree of our corruption.  Yet, a Christian worldview recognizes that all types of immoral actions, whether lying, murder, adultery, seeking after power, homosexuality, pride, or our failure to love one another, are related to our alienation from God.  All in this world are estranged from God.  The good news is that our sin was judged at the cross of Jesus Christ.  He has regained what was lost in Adam (Rom. 5:12-21).  The grace of God has provided restoration for believers and has brought about a right relationship with God, with one another, with nature, and with ourselves. 

What Solution Can Be Offered? 

            At the core of a Christian worldview is the foundational truth that Jesus Christ’s life and death exemplified divine love and exerted an influence for good and sacrifice.  More importantly, Christ’s death provided for sinners like you and like me a sinless sacrifice that satisfied divine justice.  This incomprehensibly valuable sacrifice delivered sinners from their alienation and reconciled and restored sinners from estrangement to full fellowship and inheritance in the household of God. 

            Christ’s work on the cross provided atonement for sin (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10; Heb. 2:17).  Jesus not only provided atonement, but also redemption.  Jesus Christ has broken the power of sin, guilt, death, and Satan, bringing about a people who have been bought with a price (see Col. 2:15; 1 Pet. 1:8-19). 

            Jesus’ work on the cross has made it possible for those who have been redeemed by placing their faith in Him to be reconciled to God.  Believers in Christ no longer stand under God’s judgment. Jesus’ reconciling work involves bringing humanity out of alienation into a state of peace and harmony with God.  Our separation and brokenness created by sin has been restored and healed in Christ.  We have been delivered from estrangement to fellowship with God.  God now accepts us and treats believers as children rather than as transgressors (see 2 Cor. 5:18-20; Eph. 2:12-16; Col. 1:20-22). 

            Central to this Christian worldview message is the resurrection of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 15:3-4).  The resurrection establishes Jesus’ lordship and deity, as well as guaranteeing the salvation of sinners (see Rom. 1:3-4; 4:24-25).  The resurrection provides new life for believers enabling them to see, think, and live anew. 

General Implications of a Christian Worldview 

            A Christian worldview becomes a driving force in life, giving us a sense of God’s plan and purpose for this world.  Our identity is shaped by this worldview.  We no longer see ourselves as alienated sinners.  A Christian worldview is not escapism, but is an energizing motivation for godly and faithful thinking and living in the here and now.  It also gives us confidence and hope for the future.  In the midst of life’s challenges and struggles, a Christian worldview helps to stabilize life, serving as an anchor to link us to God’s faithfulness and steadfastness. 

            Thus, a Christian worldview provides a framework for ethical thinking.  We recognize that humans, who are made in God’s image, are essentially moral beings.  We also recognize that the fullest embodiment of good, love, holiness, grace and truth is in Jesus Christ (see John 1:14-18). 

            A Christian worldview has implications for understanding history.  We see that history is not cyclical or random.  Rather, we see history as linear, a meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God’s purposes for humanity (see Eph. 1).  Human history will climax where it began—on the earth.  This truth is another distinctive of Christian thinking, for Christianity is historical at its heart.  In the sense that according to its essential teaching, God has acted decisively in history, revealing Himself in specific acts and events.  Moreover God will act to bring history to its providential destiny and planned conclusion. 

            God who has acted in history in past events will also act in history to consummate this age.  So when we ask, “How will it end?” we do not simply or suddenly pass out of the realm of history into a never-never land.  We pass to that which is never the less certain of occurring because God is behind it and is Himself the One who tells us it will come to pass. 

            Developing a Christian worldview is an ever-advancing process for us in which Christian convictions more and more shape our participation in culture.  This disciplined, vigorous, and unending process will help shape how we assess culture and our place in it.  Otherwise, culture will shape us and our thinking.  Thus a Christian worldview offers a new way of thinking, seeing, and doing, based on a new way of being. 

            A Christian worldview is a coherent way of seeing life, of seeing the world distinct from deism, naturalism and materialism (whether in its Darwinistic, humanistic, or Marxist forms), existentialism, polytheism, pantheism, mysticism, or deconstructionist postmodernism.  Such a theistic perspective provides bearings and direction when confronted with new age spirituality or secularistic and pluralistic approaches to truth and morality.  Fear about the future, suffering, disease and poverty are informed by a Christian worldview grounded in the redemptive work of Christ and the grandeur of God.  As opposed to the meaningless and purposeless nihilistic perspectives of F. Nietzsche, E. Hemingway, or J. Cage, a Christian worldview offers meaning and purpose for all aspects of life. 

"Study is a specific kind of experience in which through careful observation of objective structures we cause thought processes to move in a certain way . . . When done with concentration, perception and repetition, ingrained habits of thought are formed."
-Richard Foster; Celebration of Discipline