Check Your Worldview At the Door

Everybody has a worldview. Whether we know it or not, we all have a fundamental perspective on the world that shapes the way we live.

What I hang on my wall bears witness to the beauty and truth that Jesus Christ has put into the world. The way I shovel snow is a testimony to what I believe about God’s creation and providence. Even the way I play sports reflects the purpose of leisure in an ordered universe.

At the same time, the way other people respond reveals their worldview—their faithfulness in keeping a commitment, for example, or their unbelief in the existence and providence of God. Ideas have consequences. Even ordinary interactions reflect our commitments and convictions about the basic issues of art and science, work and play, family and society, life and death. Whenever we bump into the world, our worldview has a way of spilling out. It comes out in what we think and love, say and do, praise and choose.

Worldviews also have a way of bumping into one another. Some of the examples above deal with conflicting commitments at the level of daily life, but of course different views of the world also have culture-wide influence. Some of the major conflicts in today’s society—between naturalism and supernaturalism, for example, or between freedom and terrorism, or between purity and promiscuity in popular entertainment, or between abortion and the right to life—come at the intersections where worldviews collide, sometimes violently.

The conflict of worldviews calls Christians to thoughtful cultural engagement. In an increasingly secularized society, the followers of Christ often find their ideas under attack. How can we maintain a Christ-centered perspective on the contested issues of our day? How can we think Christianly in every area of intellectual life? And how can we live out a faithful Christian testimony at home, at school, at church, at work, in government, and in the marketplace of ideas? The answer begins with having a worldview like the one introduced in this book: a consistently Christian worldview that shapes our thoughts, forms our desires, guides our words, and motivates our actions.

A worldview—or “world-and-life view,” as some people call it—is the structure of understanding that we use to make sense of our world. Our worldview is what we presuppose. It is our way of looking at life, our interpretation of the universe, our orientation to reality. It is the “comprehensive framework of our basic belief about things,” or “the set of hinges on which all our everyday thinking and doing turns.” More complexly,

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.

Ideally, a worldview is a well-reasoned framework of beliefs and convictions that helps us see the big picture, giving a true and unified perspective on the meaning of human existence. Alternatively, we could say that our worldview is the story we tell to answer questions like these: Why is there anything at all? How can we know for sure? How did we get here, and what are we here for, anyway? Why have things gone so badly wrong? Is there any hope of fixing them? What should I do with my life? And where will it all end?

Worldviews are inherently religious. Because our worldview is at the core of who we are, it always reveals our fundamental convictions, including what we believe (or don’t believe) about God. There is no spiritual neutrality—no view from nowhere. Even atheists and agnostics direct their lives toward some greater purpose. The theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote: “Whether he wishes it or not, man as a free creature must pattern his life according to some chosen ultimate end, must center his life on some chosen ultimate loyalty, and must commit his security to some trusted power. Man . . . inevitably roots his life in something ultimate.” People who say they do not believe in God nevertheless have controlling commitments, which are reflected in how they approach their schoolwork, spend their money, cast their ballots, use their smartphones, and do everything else they do. Whatever is ultimate for us shapes our total identity. “As [a man] thinks in his heart,” the Scripture says, “so is he” (Prov. 23:7 NKJV).

Another way to say this is that everybody worships. Human beings are not merely homo sapiens—people who think—but also homo adorans—people who praise. In an extraordinary address given to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College, the novelist David Foster Wallace spoke with astonishing clarity about the centrality of worship (and its consequences):

There is no such thing as not worshiping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship . . . is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive. If you worship money and things, if they are where you tap real meaning in life, then you will never have enough, never feel you have enough. . . . Worship your body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. And when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally grieve you. . . . Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is . . . they’re unconscious. They are default settings.

The novelist’s words carry special force when we read them in the context of his death by suicide just a few years later. What we choose to worship matters desperately and is always bound up with our entire perspective on the world. This is why a worldview can never be reduced to a set of rational propositions. It is a matter of the heart as well as the head—of what we love as well as what we think. And in the final analysis, the only life-giving worldview is one that leads to the everlasting worship of God.

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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