In his helpful book Worldview: The History of a Concept, David Naugle traces the development of the evangelical embrace of the concept of “worldview.” First used by Immanuel Kant, weltanschauung became a fad topic for the subsequent generation of German philosophers.
A little over a hundred years ago, theologians James Orr and Abraham Kuyper “spoiled the Egyptians” by redefining and then claiming the worldview concept to talk about the battle between Christianity and “modernism” (i.e. secularism or atheistic humanism). The only strategy worth embracing, they suggested, was returning to a full understanding of Christianity which saw all of life and the world from Christian assumptions. At the time, they were speaking to a church that had embraced tenants of German pietism, American “holiness”, and liberal theology – all of which (though in very, very different ways) limited Christianity to speaking only to personal lifestyle choices and “spiritual matters” – with nothing to say on issues of science, “fact”, culture, or reason.
It was slow going, but it is hard to deny that the worldview concept has caught on. Somewhere in the late 20th century, the teaching of Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, David Noebel, and more recently Chuck Colson connected. The word “worldview” is actually popular these days!
(A brief excursion… The worldview concept still seems largely absent in the local church where Christianity often is relegated to only the “spiritual” stuff: personal salvation, private morality, and our “experience with God.” In his book and elsewhere, Naugle rightly notes that while worldview has caught on in educational institutions and para-church groups, worldview has not escaped its reputation as being “too intellectual” and moved into the local church. Thus, we are currently in a strange place as far as all this goes. There are numerous books, websites, programs, conferences, camps, studies, etc on worldview – just do a google search for “Biblical worldview” or “Christian worldview” and you’ll see what I mean. On the other hand, I am consistently amazed at how revolutionary the idea is for so many people who attend our Summit programs, or who sit in the pews at churches where I speak, or who attend conferences where I give seminars.)
Of course, popular can be good, bad, or both. Herein lies my grief. Words that become popular (1) cease to be carefully and consistently defined, and (2) become culturally captive. Worldview is no exception. Since Orr and Kuyper, worldview has been well-used by Christian thinkers in an apologetic sense (“Christianity is true!”), a comparative sense (“Christianity is better!”), and a constructive sense (“Christian assumptions should shape our view of everything!”). The best books do all three – i.e. Noebel’s Understanding the Times and Phillips and Brown’s Making Sense of Your World.
Today, however, “worldview” is far too often a mere catchword, a word hijacked so one may complain about everything they don’t like about the world, the church, and other Christians — without being bothered by any substantial reasoning from distinctly Christian assumptions. For example, the blogging phenomenon makes anyone with a computer into an expert — whether they have wisdom and understanding or whether they merely hold a grudge or have an axe to grind. Despite the ease of “getting our ideas out there,” I cannot see how “worldview” blogging somehow justifies being lazily simplistic in analyzing ideas, non-Biblical in confrontation, or intentionally incomplete (or even misleading!) in our caricature of another’s views.
The important contribution of worldview thinking has always been its potential to engage ideas at the level of fundamental assumptions — i.e. what are the basic ideas about life and the world upon which we should build our view of life and the world as Christians? Where are our foundations unbiblical? And, what are the basic mistakes others make in their assumptions? When we fail to start here, our cultural engagement becomes reactionary rather than sharp and thoughtful. Reactionary thinking is always oriented around the mistake rather than the truth. Os Guinness has suggested that this is one of the fatal flaws today that guts the church’s ability to really live out the Gospel in modern culture.
Reactionary thinking is a huge problem in the world of Christian blogging. It is far too common to find the setting up and beating of “straw men” positions in the guise of “defending the truth”, the declaring of guilt-by-association in the name of “maintaining purity”, the utilizing of shoddy thinking while pretending to offer strong arguments, and the intentional misleading of readers on another’s views in order to proclaim “see, I told you they were dangerous.”
The result ranges from the embarrassing to the dishonest. In the last few years, I have seen Christians practically argue for modernism while trying to argue against postmodernism, call one of the great critics of postmodernism a closet emergent, misquote a Christian leader’s recommended book list to make it appear as if he recommended the ideas of new age thinkers, and justify uncharitable blogging practice by offering an interpretation of particular Scriptures on confronting believers that is completely foreign to any interpretation in church history.
My prayer is that Summit will continue to offer the best Christian worldview resources available without forgetting that our worldview applies to our means as much as it does our message. It would be a shame if the worldview concept lost its credibility due to being abused and wrongly applied. So, if we are ever guilty of these sorts of injustices, please let us know.