The Danger of Christian Worldview

I have a lot of interest in Christian worldview. From a strictly financial, personal perspective, that interest has carried a hefty price tag (the cost of my degree in Apologetics and Worldviews). Let this cost alone speak for me: I am an advocate of a Christian worldview.

But I also believe that there is a danger associated with a Christian worldview. Let me clarify: it is not the worldview itself that is the danger. Rather, the danger is the possibility that we might become so caught up in embracing, promoting, and arguing for a Christian worldview, that we reduce the Christian life to a way of seeing the world, or a set of values. In fact, the Christian life is more than adopting a Christian worldview. The Christian life must be understood essentially as our relationship with God through Christ, as proclaimed in the gospel.

Worldview scholar David K. Naugle expresses this very concern near the end of his excellent book Worldview: The History of a Concept. He puts it better than I can, so I’ll quote him here:

It is . . . possible for Christian worldview advocates to cultivate an immoderate enthusiasm for their biblical systems with their cultural and apologetic potential and to become forgetful of the God who stands behind them. It is a grave mistake to confuse or substitute a proper relationship with the trinitarian God for the crafting and promulgation of a Christian [worldview].

You might recognize a similarity between this danger and the danger inherent in confusing the role of faith and works. The gospel teaches us that, while a right relationship with God is not a result of our good works, it will result in our good works (Ephesians 2:8-10). Similarly, a person’s relationship with God does not consist in his or her holding to a Christian worldview, but that person will develop a Christian worldview as he or she grows in a relationship with God.

This is why I believe that Christian worldview discussions must be framed in the context of the gospel, in both spirit and emphasis. If we preach a Christian worldview, if we constantly highlight the philosophical clashes between our secular society and Christianity, and meanwhile fail to preach Christ (who demands faith and repentance) we might find ourselves in a subtle drift toward an “intellectual legalism.” Under this legalistic mindset, we might feel morally satisfied in maintaining and proclaiming Christian values perspectives, while failing to letting Christ be Lord of our hearts (1 Peter 3:15).

Worldviews are the products of people’s hearts, not just of their minds, for from the heart flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). Therefore, a change of heart is the foremost need. Of course we must continue to present and argue for a Christian view of life and the world—the only view, I believe, which is intellectually coherent and existentially satisfying.

But Christ came to save people’s souls, not just their worldviews.

James Orr: Pioneer in Weltanschuuang

As David Naugle explains in his book Worldview: The History of a Concept, James Orr stands as a pioneer in using the concept of Weltanschuuang to commend the Christian faith. Orr recognized something that many of his peers didn’t—that fighting with secular ideologies over particular truth claims was not gaining ground for the reason that these particular differences were merely outcroppings of massive underlying and antithetical perspectives.

Naugle explains, “While defending Christian doctrines atomistically may have its place, [Orr] believed that the worldview concept enabled him to deal with Christianity in its entirety as a system” (Worldview, p. 7). Of course, seeing Christianity as a total-life impacting “system” is as old as Christianity itself. Yet what Orr had struck upon was the discipline of bringing the concept of worldview to bear upon this system to make explicit its undergirding assumptions, and to provide way to contrast those with the assumptions of conflicting ideologies.

Orr’s groundbreaking innovation opens the door for Christian apologists to commend the Christian faith, not only as a head-to-head combat with unbelievers that marshals propositions, evidence, and argumentation, but also as an “ecology” of sorts—a world of interconnected ideas into which we may invite the unbeliever, thus demonstrating not only the truth, but also the beauty and goodness of the Christian faith in all its implications.

At this point, someone may object that putting it this way makes Christianity less about personal conversion to faith in Christ, and more about accepting a particular set of ideas. However, it is exactly the centrally personal component of Christianity that gives rise to the importance of worldview. Indeed, a person does not embrace Christianity truly without embracing Christ personally—that is, turning in faith to him. In Orr’s words:

“He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is 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. This forms a ‘Weltanschauung,’ or ‘Christian view of the world,’ which stands in marked contrast with theories wrought out from a purely philosophical or scientific standpoint” (Orr, On the Chrisitan View, p. 4).

God’s Omnibenevolence and the Problem of Evil

The doctrine of God’s omnibenevolence (God’s complete goodness) raises the problem of evil.

The classic formulation of this problem is the apparent incompatibility of the three propositions: 1) God is wholly God, 2) God is all-powerful, and 3) evil exists. If God is wholly good, he would want to prevent gratuitous evil; and if he were all-powerful, he would be able to prevent gratuitous evil (evil with no justifying cause). Yet evil still exists. Therefore, the Christian idea of an all-powerful, omnibenevolent God appears to be incoherent in a world in which evil exists.

On a philosophical level, this problem is fairly simple to explain. The objector has failed to make explicit a proposition that is unprovable, yet essential to the success of the argument: that is, that there is at least one instance of evil that is gratuitous. In other words, for any instance of evil that appears to be gratuitous, God might have a reason leading to a greater good of which we are currently unaware. Yet to have this knowledge, the objector must have omniscience.

The person who wishes to demonstrate the incoherence of the idea of God based on the existence of evil also faces the problem how where he or she got the idea of evil in the first place. Objectors to Christian theism would like to say that the existence of evil makes the concept of God incoherent. Upon further analysis, however, it becomes apparent that if God did not exist, the concept of evil itself would become incoherent. Therefore, by making his or her argument from evil, the atheist or skeptic has secretly imported some idea of absolute good.

Without God, you can’t have absolute good. And without absolute good, you have no right to speak of evil.

Choosing a Worldview

Right inside the front cover of the book The Universe Next Door (5th ed.), James W. Sire has written these words:

For any of us to be fully conscious intellectually we should not only be able to detect the worldviews of others but be aware of our own–why it is ours and why in light of so many options we think it is true.

Sire is saying that intellectual maturity comes in knowing what you believe and why you believe it. For the Christian, this means that we will not only be aware that many do not believe as we do, but that we grasp why–among so many other ways of believing–we have chosen to believe in Christ, and all the implications of that belief.

Near the end of his book, Sire gives four characteristics of an adequate worldview–four criteria by which we may evaluate whether a worldview is worth believing. I think these characteristics are helpful if they are prefaced with two important qualifications.

First, my being a Christian is not merely a matter of “choosing” a worldview. It is far more than that. It is a personal relationship with Christ–a relationship for which it can be truly said I was “chosen” (Ephesians 1:4).

Second, this relationship does not depend on my ability to defend it intellectually, since “the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16). While it is intellectually defensible, I can be legitimately convinced of my relationship with Christ apart from intellectual argumentation.

With these two qualifications in mind, here are Sire’s four characteristics of an adequate worldview, which I have reworded as questions:

1. Does this worldview possess inner intellectual coherence?

2. Does this worldview comprehend the data of reality?

3. Does this worldview explain what it claims to explain?

4. Is this worldview subjectively satisfactory?

When you judge the major worldviews by these criteria, Sire explains,

“all but theism were found to have serious flaws. If my argument has been correct, none of them–deism, naturalism, existentialism, Eastern pantheistic monism or New Age philosophy, nor the postmodern perspective–can adequately account for the possibility of genuine knowledge, the facticity of the external universe or the existence of ethical distinctions. Each in its own way ends in some form of nihilism.”

Again, while being a Christian does not depend on one’s ability to defend Christianity intellectually, Christians who want to mature in both their worship and witness should seek to explore the grandeur, coherence, and satisfaction of what it means to believe in Christ. We should not only know what we believe, but understand why we believe it.