By Dr. Tim L. Anderson, Professor of Theology
The relatively recent emphasis within evangelicalism on possessing and defending the Christian worldview has spawned an ocean-sized body of literature in the past three decades. All one has to do is to type in “Christian Worldview” on Amazon.com to see this in less than a second. Those seeking to find their way in order to grasp and grapple with this concept discover it to be a daunting task, not only to keep up with the growing number of sources, but to discern their orientation, accuracy and profitability. This article is not intended to be an exhaustive study, but a concise resource to help readers navigate the burgeoning sea of literature. It begins with initial works, and continues with philosophically, scientifically and culturally oriented writings.
Worldview studies from an evangelical Christian perspective have been in existence for quite some time now. To trace the history of this concept is beyond the scope of this survey, but interested individuals should consult David K. Naugle’s Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002). He develops the philosophical history and analysis of the concept of worldview, mostly in Western scholarship. There are several books that can be termed initial studies. These sources often focus on the definition and general parameters of studying worldviews. It can prove helpful to identify some of the initial works and those that have followed.
James Sire’s The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue (IVP, 4th ed., 2004), first published in 1976, has been the standard introduction to the study of worldviews. His seven questions for understanding any worldview are still relevant. The famed philosopher Nicholas Woltersdorff wrote of this on the back cover to the 1988 edition, “If you are looking for an introductory exposition of prominent world views, I know of no better book.”
It is interesting to note that when I was perusing the theology holdings at the University of Regensberg’s library (Germany) two years ago, I was excited to find a copy of this book in English. Sire has since written Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (IVP, 2004) as follow up to The Universe Next Door, wherein he has added four important revisions to his earlier work. He has rightly recognized that a worldview is not just a set of basic concepts, but also a fundamental orientation of the heart. The deepest root of a worldview is its commitment to and understanding of the “really real.” It is also determined by considering behavior. Worldviews are grasped as story, not just abstract propositions.
Norman L. Geisler has been one of the most prolific and influential evangelical authors in this subject area. His famous Christian Apologetics (Baker, 1976) focuses on the development of tests for truth for and within various worldviews. Later he published Perspectives: Understanding and Evaluating Today’s World Views (Here’s Life Publishers, 1984) with William Watkins, which was revised and expanded into Worlds Apart: A Handbook on World Views (Baker, 1989, 2nd Edition, 2003). Geisler’s summary and critique of seven major world views is clearly organized around their understandings of ten universal elements: God, world, God/world relation, miracles, man’s nature and man’s destiny, origin of evil, end of evil, basis of ethics, nature of ethics, and history and its goal.
Another initial work is Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews, (Revised 2nd Edition, Summit Press, 2006) by David A. Noebel, former president of Summit Ministries. This is the basis of Summit’s curriculum. It describes and evaluates worldviews of Christianity, Islam, Secular Humanism, Marxism-Leninism, Cosmic Humanism, and Postmodernism. It is quite extensive. The worldviews are evaluated for their theology, philosophy, ethics, biology, psychology, sociology, law, politics, economics and history.
For many, one of the most significant worldview books today is Nancy R. Pearcey’s Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Crossway, 2004, 2005 Study Guide Edition). She adopts the framework of Creation, Fall and Redemption as the basis not only of the biblical/Christian worldview, but also the story behind all worldviews. Pearcey acknowledges Albert M. Wolters’ Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans, 1985) as an influence for her use of Creation, Fall and Redemption as the structural categories behind her understanding of worldview and her critiques of competing worldviews. Also profoundly influenced by Francis Schaeffer, she stresses the need to understand Western epistemology by incisively showing how most of western civilization has bought into a fact/value dichotomy that robs us of the ability to have objective truth outside of the realm of science. The more popular treatment of the concepts Pearcey develops in Total Truth can be found in How Now Shall We Live? (Tyndale House, 1999) co-authored with Charles Colson. The implications of assessing worldviews, and showing how the Christian worldview is the only one that can be consistently lived out, is worth the price of this book.
Another worldview standard initial text is Gary W. Philips and William E. Brown’s Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Sheffield, 1991, 1996). This helpful overview of the elements of a biblical worldview includes case studies and discussion questions at the end of each chapter. The principles of this work are emphasized at Cedarville University, where Brown is currently president. The book needs updating to address the fact that worldviews are not just a series of beliefs that have expression in culture, but are part of an assumed story. Also, the three classifications of worldviews—Material/Naturalism, Spiritual/Transcendentalism, A Personal God/Theism—are a bit artificial. The examples given either overlap considerably or do not fit neatly in their categories. More specific examples would improve the argument. However, the text is still very practical, with sections on implications for the family, the church and the world.
Mark J. Bertrand’s more recent work, (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway, 2007), provides a fresh, unique and yet readable approach to worldviews. He develops his four pillars of a worldview while retaining the Creation, Fall and Redemption themes of biblical theology, but then stresses the regaining of wisdom as an important biblical and practical mandate. He encourages his readers to engage culture in helpful ways.
Another example of an initial work in worldview literature is Michael W. Goheen and Craig G. Bartholomew’s Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Baker Academic, 2008). These authors have succeeded in laying the conceptual foundation of the elements of the Christian worldview as the biblical story and fundamental Scriptural beliefs. They also bridge the gap by contextualizing the biblical foundation in light of Western culture and postmodernity. It is practical, calling believers to a relevant witness and impact on society.
Finally, one of the best of the most recent initial works is Douglas Huffman’s contributions and editing of essays in Christian Contours: How a Biblical Worldview Shapes the Mind and Heart (Kregel, 2011). The book provides a good overview of the benefits of previous evangelical studies on foundational definitional and practical issues of worldviews. Huffman’s emphasis on the Christian’s personal responsibility to develop and share the biblical worldview is clearly one of its strengths. Since Huffman is a Biola University professor, it is not surprising that the tone/argumentation of the book is philosophically oriented. The arguments are strong, though some of the concepts and terminology may be unfamiliar to some readers. However, as an initial work, it is extremely valuable in its interaction with contemporary thought forms, which for today’s “cultured despisers” are often philosophical in nature.
It should be apparent at this point that evangelical works on worldview, even these initial ones, vary considerably. They contain similar principles, but are framed differently based upon the growth and refinement of worldview as a concept. Worldviews are not only sets of beliefs, assumed and unconscious, that determine how one will view themselves and everything around them. Worldviews are also stories that explain the elements of reality and the historical process in which all of humanity participates. The Bible’s storyline of Creation, Fall and Redemption is one of the most helpful ways to grasp the Christian worldview and, moreover, to compare and contrast it with others. It is at this point that the Christian can clearly bring the gospel to bear on any worldview.
The philosophical approach to worldview is crucial. There is a profound need for Christians to articulate their own worldviews with clarity and nuance. The principles and overall framework of the following works and others like them must be part of the thinking Christian’s worldview and interaction with others. Philosophy has always addressed the broader worldview questions, and yet the principles of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics have not typically been made available to a Christian audience beyond the scholar, seminarian or philosophy major. However, Christian philosophers are now helping to articulate the comprehensive, consistent and coherent nature of the Christian worldview.
The older work of L. Russ Bush, A Handbook for Christian Philosophy (Zondervan, 1991), is still a very helpful introduction to Christian philosophy, in particular because it takes the time to address the concept of worldview up front. It is accessible to the novice, and contains one of the more helpful glossaries.
Ronald H. Nash’s significant evangelical introduction to philosophy, Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (Zondervan, 1999), not only has excellent chapters on histories of philosophers and important problems in philosophy, but also features chapters on the significance of understanding worldview thinking. Nash’s philosophical approach is obvious in his Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Zondervan, 1992). He develops the Christian way of viewing God, self, and the world, and tests the perspectives of other worldviews in light of these. It is a clear, accessible and helpful volume.
The most extensive philosophical resource in this area is J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig’s Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (IVP, 2003). This weighty, comprehensive introduction to the Christian worldview has been written from their expertise as the two of the most preeminent Christian philosophers today. It is especially valuable for upper division and masters level university students.
Philosophy and the Christian Worldview: Analysis, Assessment and Development, edited by Mark D. Linville and David Werther in the Continuum Studies in Philosophy of Religion, is a collection of essays dealing with philosophical issues related to the elements of the Christian worldview. It challenges secular and pluralist arguments and assumptions. The drawback of this serious volume is most of the essays are beyond the reach of many lay Christians who do not have background in philosophy.
The labors of the philosophy of religion have helped the church to have a rational response to some of the most profound religious questions in the history of mankind. One needs only to recall how atheists have framed the problem of evil and suffering to deny the existence of God in order to appreciate the need for Christian philosophical worldview.
Another approach is to view worldview studies in light of insights from disciplines apart from the humanities, such as anthropology and psychology. One helpful example of the anthropological viewpoint is found in Paul G. Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Baker Academic, 2008). This monumental work, by the renowned missiologist who taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, is a must read for anyone wanting to grasp the multifaceted nature of worldviews around the globe. He shows the intricate nature of a worldview, and that it is a serious mistake to fail to recognize not only its principles, but its expressions as well.
Charles Kraft’s Worldview for Christian Witness (William Carey Library, 2008) is a unique approach in the anthropological vein, a 608-page resource for those seeking to not only understand but also instigate change in worldviews cross-culturally. His emphasis on spiritual power as necessary for change is important. However, as a proponent of the signs and wonders movement, his over-extension of supernatural power as a connecting point between the Christian and other worldviews can distract from the heart of the gospel, and reduce it to a power encounter.
After years of teaching a class at Harvard on the subject, psychologist Armand M. Nicholi wrote the very insightful and creative The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (The Free Press, 2002). He evaluates the spiritual and naturalist worldviews through Lewis and Freud respectively. These truly significant men discuss many of the same worldview topics, and so engage the reader both in the philosophical debates and their lived experiences. A 3-hour and 45-minute DVD produced in 2004 offers another presentation of these perspectives, including docudramas and a lively discussion group led by Nicholi himself. It is very helpful and well done.
Scientific approaches are valuable in that they offer the fruits of descriptive observation. Anthropology and psychology contribute much to our understanding of human behavior on multiple levels. They also help demonstrate the depth and breadth of a worldview beyond the conceptual. The practice of a worldview is manifested in personal practices and—of equal importance—cultural structures. The Christian seeking to make inroads into another worldview must practice patient research and prayer. However, the ultimate value of scientific approaches must come in the theological assessment of beliefs, behaviors, motivations, and practices. Cultural relativism, for example, is an inadequate response to the cultural diversity described for us in the behavioral sciences.
Culturally oriented worldview studies have emerged as a significant portion of the literature. Amazon’s search key for this approach is “Christian Worldview Integration.” One of the earlier accomplishments is R.C. Sproul’s Lifeviews (Revel, 1986). Sproul provides an accessible and practical worldview resource showing how major philosophies that flow from secularism affect the way Americans think and act. His ultimate purpose is found in the cover’s subtitle, “Make a Christian impact on culture and society.” The approach to culture-oriented worldview books centers not only on understanding culture, but also impacting it for Christ.
A helpful recent work that emphasizes Western culture is Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford’s Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives (IVP, 2009). The authors discuss individualism, consumerism, nationalism, moral relativism, scientific naturalism, the New Age, postmodern tribalism, and salvation by therapy. The book stresses the importance of developing the Christian worldview, while also presenting a Christian apologetic designed to counteract these non-Christian thought structures.
For many, the driving force behind the call to impact one’s culture is the Reformed “Cultural Mandate.” Jonathan Morrow, in Think Christianly: Looking at the Intersection of Faith and Culture (Zondervan, 2011), assumes this mandate when he states, “But what many of us don’t often think about is the fact that before Jesus ever spoke those words (Matt. 28:19-20), or even needed to become incarnate to redeem us and entrust us with this global calling, we already had a Great Commission. This mandate is rooted in God’s original intent for humanity and was given before we fell into sinful rebellion against our creator.” He then cites Genesis 1:27-28 and italicizes, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” He adds, “Notice the social and natural dimensions of this statement.” (44).
Similarly, Nancy Pearcey acknowledges the influence of Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper behind her belief that all of creation needs to be placed under the Lordship of Christ, including all aspects of society. On Genesis 1:27-28, she states, “This passage is sometimes called the Cultural Mandate because it tells us that our original purpose was to create cultures, build civilizations—nothing less” (Total Truth, 47). She adds that when we obey it, “we participate in the work of God Himself, as agents of His common grace” (49), because “God Himself is engaged not only in the work of salvation (special grace) but also in the work of preserving and developing His creation (common grace)” (48-49).
There is much to commend the Christian fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate, for without it one cannot advance the Lordship of Christ and the glory of God in the world. However, it should not be the ultimate focus, apart from fulfilling the Great Commission centered on evangelism and discipleship. Without the reconciliation of fallen humanity to their Creator, the creation with its cultures cannot be transformed to advance God’s kingdom and reflect His glory.
Evangelical cultural-oriented Christian worldview works find their apex in the Christian Worldview Integration Series edited by J.P. Moreland and Francis Beckwith. The integration of biblical truth to form the Christian worldview is the focus of all of this series. Garrett J. DeWeese, in his volume Doing Philosophy as a Christian (IVP Academic, 2011), argues that there are two types of integration: personal and conceptual. Both are necessary for developing and living out a comprehensive, coherent and consistent Christian worldview. Furthermore, because the Bible is true when rightly interpreted, the Christian cannot help but be committed to integration. At the same time, Christian discipleship affects the holistic nature of our character and as well as our vocation (10-12).
The works in this series address a broad spectrum of conceptual and cultural/vocational themes: Education for Human Flourishing: A Christian Perspective (2009) by Paul D. Spears and Steven R. Loomis; Psychology in the Spirit: Contours of a Transformational Psychology (2010) by John Coe and Todd W. Hall; Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (2010) by Francis Beckwith; Authentic Communication: Christian Speech Engaging Culture (2010) by Tim Muehlhoff and Todd V. Lewis; Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace (2011) by Kenman L. Wong and Scott B. Rae; and Christianity and Literature: Philosophical Foundations and Critical Practice (2011) by David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory Maillet. A main draw back to these volumes is the stress on influencing the academy. The scholarly tone is quite significant. However, this series offers a helpful example of what reflective Christians should be doing in all areas of life.
The relatively recent wave of emphasis within evangelicalism on possessing and defending the Christian worldview is obviously a good thing. Hopefully, this body of work is inspiring believers to grapple conceptually and personally with their own worldviews, and to evaluate how accurately and completely they match up with the truth of Scripture.
Great summary, Tim. I particularly appreciated your concise evaluation of the cultural mandate issue within worldview discourse.
I have facilitate “The Truth Project” numerous times, and I am currently presenting it in OSP to about 30 inmates. I have found that a number of concepts presented in that video series, is a modernized presentation of Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvanism. I have often wondered if Dr Del Tackett, as was Nancy Pearcy, was also influenced by Kuyper. I have found him to be well worth reading. “The Work of the Holy Spirit” is a good place to start for a comprehensive worldview.