This is the second post in a 5-part series (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, Part 5) by Dr. James N. Anderson, associate professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the author of What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (excerpt).
In my introductory article I introduced the concept of a worldview and the role that worldviews play in our lives. In this post I want to outline five reasons why it’s important to be worldview-aware.
1. Worldviews serve as the necessary foundation and framework for our thoughts and actions.
Have you ever watched a house being built? No doubt you noticed that a house has two essential components: its foundation and its frame. These two components furnish the house with its basic stability, shape, and structure. A similar principle applies to your thought-life: it needs foundational assumptions and a framework of guiding principles to provide your thinking with a basic stability, shape, and structure. For example, you cannot reason intelligibly about your experiences without some basic presuppositions about what your experiences are, where they come from, and what principles of reason you can apply to them—even if you take those presuppositions for granted and don’t consciously reflect upon them.
2. Our worldviews are the single greatest influence on the way we interpret our experiences and respond to those experiences.
How is it that people who live in the same neighborhood, with very similar experiences of the world around them, can come to such radically different conclusions about the world and how we should live in it? The primary reason is that those people have different worldviews.
Take just one example. There are many people who think that the scientific evidence supporting the Darwinian theory of evolution is overwhelming and beyond dispute, such that anyone who doubts that theory must be (to use the memorable words of Richard Dawkins) ignorant, stupid, insane, or wicked. Yet there are just as many people—I’m one of them—who think that the scientific study of organic life points in a very different direction, namely, to the existence of an Intelligent Designer behind the natural world. What accounts for this sharp disagreement? Is it because one side has access to a mass of evidence that the other doesn’t? Is it because one group is more familiar with the scientific data than the other?
No, those can’t be the reasons. The scientific evidence is publicly available. It’s out there for anyone to examine and evaluate. There are very intelligent and well-informed scientists on both sides of the debate. The explanation for the sharp disagreement doesn’t lie in the evidence itself but rather in the interpretation of the evidence—and that interpretation is determined, more than anything else, by the worldviews of the people interpreting the evidence (specifically, whether their worldview allows for intelligent supernatural causes).
3. Christians are called to think Christianly.
As Christians we’re called to submit the entirety of our lives—including our thinking—to God and his revealed word (Matt. 22:37-38; Luke 11:28; Rom. 12:1-2; Josh. 1:8). We should use our minds in a distinctively Christian way, aiming to think God’s thoughts after him, and to interpret our experiences of God’s world in conformity with God’s word (John 17:17; 2 Cor. 10:4-5; Col. 2:6-8). One significant way in which we can fulfil this calling is by self-consciously embracing and developing a biblical Christian worldview, seeking to apply it consistently to every aspect of our lives.
4. Every religion reflects a worldview and every secular ideology reflects a worldview.
There are a bewildering number of religions represented in the world today (most estimates put the number in the thousands) and the differences between them can be very striking. But all these religions have at least one thing in common: each represents a distinctive take on reality—a particular way of viewing the universe and our place in it. In short, every religion reflects a particular worldview.
And what’s true of religions is also true of secular (non-religious) ideologies such as Darwinism, Marxism, Existentialism, and Postmodernism. Each one has its own distinctive take on reality: on what is ultimate, what is good, what kind of beings we are, and how we should live.
5. One of the most fruitful and effective ways to engage with non-Christian religions and ideologies is to think of them in terms of the worldviews they reflect.
Christians aren’t called to live in Christian ghettos, engaging and interacting only with fellow Christians. Rather, we’re called to engage with people who don’t share our distinctive faith, practices, and fundamental commitments. But how can we do so fruitfully and effectively?
If everyone—whether Christian or non-Christian, whether religious or non-religious—has a worldview which serves as the foundation and framework for all of their thoughts and actions, shaping their interpretation of the world, it makes good sense to engage with them at that foundational level. If we’re going to engage effectively both with individual unbelievers and with non-Christian belief-systems, it makes good sense to do so in terms of their underlying worldviews.
James N. Anderson (PhD, University of Edinburgh) is associate professor of theology and philosophy at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, and an ordained minister in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. He is a member of the Society of Christian Philosophers, the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion, and the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He is the author of What’s Your Worldview?: An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions (excerpt).