Uhm…What’s a Worldview?

The concept of worldviews was popularized by philosopher Immanuel Kant, and it didn’t take long for others to jump on board in secular/religious circles. While, some might laud Kant for this gem of a philosophical find, the fact is worldviews have always been in existence…even if people did not identify them in common parlance. Every person on the planet has one, but not everyone is aware of what one is.  Whether you deny it, are aware of it, or acknowledge that you have a worldview is of little relevance…there is no escaping looking at the world in which we live (reality as we see it) without one.  The human mind is organized in such a way that we adhere to propositional truth, yes even you relativists out there are stuck in the conundrum of believing in irrefutable truth(s) though you may spend most of your life denying it. And then, that propositional truth has a direct bearing on our living activity.

Well, maybe you’re wondering…

  • “What is a worldview?”
  • “If I have one, how does it function?”
  • “What is it founded upon?”
  • “What is it made up of?”

Or perhaps this last one…

  • “Why should I even care?”

Why should I even care?

Allow me to answer the last one first.  We are by nature communicable creatures.  Having meaningful conversation/interaction is only possible if we take the time to consider how others think.  Learning what a person’s worldview is enables the individual greater perceptional depth, and helps prevent (it does not stop) speaking past the other individual. If you are a Christian, then this is even more vital as you attempt to bear witness for Jesus Christ.2

What is a worldview?

Like a lot of things in this life, it really depends who you ask.  If I were writing a research paper, my prof would demand that I cite some other authority rather than give my opinion.  I’ve been performing at that level for many years now, and I am so thankful that is almost done.  A worldview used to be written this way: “world and life view.” This marrying of words into one succinct term has two concepts in mind.  The first is in relationship to how you think (i.e. a conceptual tool). The second is in relationship to how you live (i.e. a practical tool).  It seems that many people will lean heavily upon the first, but few consider the second.

What I’ll do, is give you my definition in the bullet point below, but if you would like to hear how others smarted than me have explained the concept, I’ll give you a few citations from various Christian philosophers in the endnotes section below.1

  • A worldview is… “Our conception of the world around us, stemming from an authoritative source that we submit to, affecting all areas of activity in our life.”

From a more technical aspect a worldview is a network of presuppositional fragments that when joined together offer you a conceptual lens to view reality as a whole, curbing behavior.  Therefore, all facts are interpreted, organized and assimilated into living one’s life.

How does a worldview function?

Well, it has already been hinted at that a worldview is more than a mere mental exercise. Worldviews not only shape the way a person thinks about reality, but how they live in that reality as well.  To say that a worldview merely addresses the thoughts of the person, but those same thoughts have no bearing on the activity of that person is naïveté.

Early on in my Christian education there was a debate in our systematic theology classes over which takes precedence: orthodoxy or orthopraxy?  Orthodoxy pertains to correct thinking; whereas, orthopraxy speaks of living.  Orthodoxy is rooted in doctrine and orthopraxy is rooted in practice.

Orthopraxy adherents argued how one lived was more important than what one believed.  This was used to safeguard any deviations from traditional orthodox thought (i.e. an excuse to stray a bit to the right or the left and not be held accountable for deviating).  Orthodox adherents argued the opposite that life is lived based off of one’s beliefs.  This too was used to safeguard any deviations from traditional orthodox thought (i.e. to be able to identify errors in thought, in order to protect others from wrong living).

Orthopraxy adherents were convinced that a faith based on absolute truths, propositionally stated, leads to a dull, heartless expression.  In their mind orthodoxy necessarily leads to a cold and calculated faith that lacks genuine warmth and love. Unfortunately, what they failed to realize in the debate (perhaps because they were in the majority?) is that the Bible does not present the two—head and heart—in an antithetical relationship.3 In Hebrew thought the mind pertained to more than just a dry rationalism/logic.  To speak of the heart biblically means the whole inner man; which encompasses a person’s mental and emotional acumen. The heart, is the inner spirit of man, the seat of his/her consciousness.

Sorry, but I need to deviate from the current path a moment on a rabbit trail; albeit, an important one.

The distinction in how one person’s heart functions versus another’s is determined by the Spirit of God. Does He (the Holy Spirit) dwell there, then that man will not be consistently cold and calculated in the faith lacking love; for such a heart is filled with the love of God and is therefore equipped to love God with his/her whole heart, and their neighbor as themselves.

That individual will bear the following qualities as an outpouring of God’s love in his inner being:

  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5.22-24).4

Whereas, the opposite is true for the heart that is not empowered by the Holy Spirit:

  • “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7.21-23).

The reason this is true, according to our Lord? Using a fruit tree as an analogy, he says the following:

  • “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6.43-45; Gal 5.19-21).

Back to the path…

A worldview functions in two ways: 1) how one thinks, 2) how one lives. The two cannot be separated.

Worldviews are foundationally based: What are they founded upon?

When I diverged on my little rabbit trail, we see now that the rabbit knew where he was going. The issue concerning worldviews is a foundational one.  Remember in my definition I stated that a worldview “[stems] from an authoritative source that we submit to.” All worldviews make a final appeal to the cornerstone of their faith.  I realize that might cause some readers to pause. Perhaps you believe you do not have faith.  Well we can talk about what you might mean by “faith,” but the fact remains that all people have faith, just like all people have worldviews. This is demonstrated by your submission to what you deem authoritative. In other words, what you trust in.

Contrary to popular opinion faith is not a “blind-leap,” or a wishful “hope.”  We are not talking about blowing out birthday candles here.  True faith, properly defined is an internal and external commitment to a variety of beliefs based upon a metaphoric cornerstone—i.e. foundation. In my next post, we will begin to unpack this more fully.



1 This is not an exhaustive list, but should suffice for providing the reader with a wide spectrum of scholarly thought:

  • Norman Geisler and Peter Bocchino: “a worldview is analogous to an intellectual lens through which people view reality and that the color of the lens is a strong determining factor that contributes to what they believe about the world…[this] philosophical system…attempts to explain how the facts of reality relate and fit together.” Unshakeable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions about the Christian Faith (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2001), 55.
  • Mark Bertrand: “A worldview is an interpretation of influences, experiences, circumstances, and insight…an interrelated series of interpretation…a method of interpreting…The task of every worldview is to see the world as it is, to correct your vision. The test of a good worldview will be whether it brings reality into sharp focus or leaves things blurry.” (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 26, 27.
  • Greg L. Bahnsen: “Each worldview has its presuppositions about reality, knowledge, and ethics; these mutually influence and support each other. There are no facts or uses of reason which are available outside of the interpretive system of basic commitments or assumptions which appeal to them; the presuppositions used by Christian and non-Christian determine what they will accept as factual and reasonable, and their respective presuppositions about fact and logic will determine what they say about reality.” Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended (Powder Springs, GA & Nacogdoches, TX: American Vision & Covenant Media Press, [2008], 2011), 28, Adobe Digital Editions.
  • Vern Sheridan Poythress: “Many basic assumptions about the nature of the world fit together to form a worldview. A worldview includes assumptions about whether God exists, what kind of God might exist, what kind of world we live in, how we come to know what we know, whether there are moral standards, what is the purpose of human life, and so on.” Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 21, PDF e-book. Italics in original.

2 Art Lindsley opines, “It is good to be able to state the other person’s position to his or her satisfaction not only so that you might more effectively counter it but to be fair. We value the dignity of people made in the image of God.” True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 50.

3 Dennis P. Hollinger identifies “three types of faith: head, heart and hands. [When] taken alone, these types are deeply flawed and inadequate, for thought, passion and action separated from each other are in conflict with the way God created us. Such a separation is inconsistent with what Jesus demonstrated in his own life.” Head, Heart & Hands: Bringing Together Christian Thought, Passion and Action (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 15. While much can be said about what Hollinger has written, I think it is an over analysis on his part to separate the “head and heart,” in light of how Scripture views the two.  All that is necessary for a complete faith (i.e. holistic) is an understanding that the heart’s (the seat of the human spirit) commitment to God and His Word enlivens both the mental/emotional capabilities of mankind in order to exercise godliness in living.

4 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).