A worldview is defined as “a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it.” Such a worldview gives us four categories that theologians commonly use to understand human experience:
Creation: the way God created the world and everything in it, including the people he made in his own image, with the ultimate goal of displaying his glory;
The Fall: the way we turned away from our creator, choosing to live for ourselves rather than for our Father’s glory, and thus came under the condemnation of a righteous God in a sin-cursed world;
Grace: the way God is working to save his people from sin and death through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his Son, and then transforming our lives by the power of the Holy Spirit; and
Glory: the way God is fulfilling all his purposes for his people through the present and future preeminence of Jesus Christ over the everlasting kingdom of God.
Once we understand this four-part explanation of human experience—learning how to do what the poet T. S. Eliot called “thinking in Christian categories” —we can apply it to every area of life. In doing so, we gain God’s perspective on why any particular thing was made in the first place (creation), what has gone wrong with it (the fall), how we find its recovery in Jesus Christ (grace), and what it will become in the end, when everything is made new (glory).
These four stages of human history tell a complete and unified story that stretches back to before the very beginning and leans forward into eternity. God has always intended to make a beautiful place for the people he loves and to live with us there. I say “always,” because the Bible describes eternal life as something that God “promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word” (Titus 1:2–3). Although that purpose seemingly has been frustrated by human sin, God is still working his plan—the eternal plan of redemption.
The story that the Bible tells about salvation is not simply one story among many stories or a tale that is part of some larger narrative. It is the story of all stories: the love story that begins and ends with the glory of God. It is also the story we live. We find our story within God’s story and our narrative within his master narrative. In doing so, we find our purpose within his purpose and our mission in pursuing his mission.
The God Who Is There
Before we tell the story of the Christian worldview, we need to meet its Author. In doing so, we learn the answer to a couple of crucial questions that every worldview must answer: First, what is the fundamental reality? Second, how can we know that fundamental reality (or anything else, for that matter)? The place to begin answering these questions is where the Bible begins: “In the beginning, God . . .” (Gen. 1:1).
Every worldview has an integrating idea. The basic idea behind deism—which may be one of the most common worldviews in America today—is that a transcendent God made the universe but then more or less left it to run on its own. God is a creator but not a provider, and we are left to make our own way through life. Marxists and other materialists believe that there is no God at all, only the natural universe. People are merely bodies, not souls, so there is no transcendent basis for ethics. Buddhists believe that human beings must endure their earthly fate as they wait patiently to enter the state of nirvana. And so forth. These are only examples; readers will need to look elsewhere for a catalog of other worldviews or a full explanation of what they teach. But suffice it to say that every worldview is animated by its central idea or driven by its main story line.
What unifies the Christian worldview, by contrast, is not merely an idea, but the being and character of Almighty God. The Bible does not present God as the conclusion to some logical proof, or as a mystery beyond our comprehension, but treats his existence as the basic premise upon which everything else in the entire universe is built. God is always our ultimate frame of reference, the supreme reality at the center of all reality—the be-all and end-all of everything. Therefore, whatever else we include in our worldview will need to be understood with reference to God.
Christians believe that by denying the existence of God, atheism gets things wrong from the beginning. So does secular humanism, or any other worldview that puts the self at the center of the universe. We should not begin with ourselves at all, but with God, whose existence and nature are “the independent source and the transcendent standard for everything.” We start with God and work from there on up. Otherwise, the consequences are devastating, morally as well as intellectually. The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky was right when he said, “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted” —including many things that are evil or cruel.
So we begin with the existence of God. However, mere belief in God is not enough. If there is a God, then we must believe in the God who is really there and not in some other deity. Most world religions believe in God (or gods, as the case may be), but their definition of deity may or may not stand within biblical boundaries. Furthermore, many people who say they are religious do not have a coherent definition of God at all, and thus their lives are prone to superstition. Or if they do have a clear definition of God, it springs more from their own desires than from divine revelation.
According to the sociologist Christian Smith, today a majority of young Americans are adopting a “creed in which an undemanding God exists mostly to solve problems and make people feel good, a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist, on call as needed.” Such a god is always available to meet needs and satisfy desires but never presumes to make demands or require sacrifices.
A notable example of a self-made deity for post-Christian times comes from an interview with the actor Chad Allen, who described how his own view of God reinforced his personal lifestyle:
I judge all my actions by my relationship with god of my understanding. It’s very powerful, and it’s taken its own shape and form. And I am very much at peace in the knowledge that in my heart God created this beautiful expression of my love. . . . It is a deep-founded, faith-based belief in god based upon the work that I’ve done growing up as a Catholic boy and then reaching out to Buddhist philosophy, to Hindu philosophy, to Native American beliefs and finally as I got through my course with addiction and alcoholism and finding a higher power that worked for me.
By contrast, the Christian worldview does not begin with God as we would like him to be—the “god of my understanding.” Instead, Christianity begins with the God who is really there. It’s not about us; it’s about him.
When we say “God,” we mean the God of the Bible, in all his perfections, and not the god of the Koran, the Bhagavad Gita, or any other religious text. While other religions may portray certain aspects of his divine nature, only the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments give us the full picture of God. The God of the Bible is all-knowing, all-present, all-powerful, and all-sufficient. He alone is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his wisdom, power, holiness, goodness, justice, truth, and love. He has revealed himself as “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Ex. 34:6–7). The biblical God is utterly and absolutely sovereign. He controls all things at all times and in all places, freely ordaining whatever comes to pass (Eph. 1:11). He is a God of pristine holiness, who punishes sin with righteous justice. He is also the God of crucified love, who has a plan for redeeming his people in Christ—the God who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
What else can we say about the one true God? He is “the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God” (1 Tim. 1:17), who deserves all worship and eternal praise. He rules all nations and loves all the peoples of the earth. He is a deity of such powerful affection that nothing will ever be able to separate us from his love (Rom. 8:35–39). His highest end is the manifestation of his glory—the greatness and majesty of who he is, as revealed in what he does.
This one true and living God is triune. As the story of salvation unfolds, we discover that he is one God in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Here we encounter a profound mystery, which distinguishes Christianity from other monotheistic worldviews such as Judaism and Islam. The Bible everywhere insists that there is one and only one God. Yet the Bible also reveals this God as a holy fellowship of three unique, distinct, and eternal persons. The true God is a tri-unity.
Even if the Christian doctrine of the Trinity can never be fully understood, it can be stated in seven simple propositions: (1) God the Father is God; (2) God the Son is God; (3) God the Holy Spirit is God; (4) the Father is not the Son; (5) the Son is not the Spirit; (6) the Spirit is not the Father; (7) nevertheless, there is only one God.
In his treatise On Christian Doctrine, the great North African theologian Augustine used somewhat different language to express the same eternal truths:
The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and each of these by Himself, is God, and at the same time they are all one God. The Father is not the Son nor the Holy Spirit; the Son is not the Father nor the Holy Spirit; the Holy Spirit is not the Father nor the Son: but the Father is only Father, the Son is only Son, and the Holy Spirit is only Holy Spirit.
Although the doctrine of the Trinity can be stated in propositional form, the Trinity itself is no abstraction. On the contrary, the triune God is the lover at the heart of the universe. From everlasting to everlasting, there is one true God who exists as an intimate fellowship of three coequal and eternal persons—a God who finds infinite delight in the glory of his own being. The sovereign creator is also the eternal lover, who enjoys community as well as unity within the Godhead.
This triune God—the God of eternally loving relationships, who created us for community—is the one in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28). This is the God, said the apologist Francis Schaeffer, who is there. And because he is there, he must be at the center of our worldview, as he is the center of everything else. The Christian worldview steadfastly maintains that God is the “ultimate reality whose trinitarian nature, personal character, moral excellence, wonderful works and sovereign rule constitute the objective reference point for all reality.” Nothing can be understood apart from God, writes John Piper, “and all understandings of all things that leave him out are superficial understandings, since they leave out the most important reality in the universe.”