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Posted: 10/10/06

What is a Worldview, and Why is it Important?

By Kerby Anderson



            At Worldview Weekend, we are always using the word "worldview." So you would think everyone would know what a worldview is. I have found that is not exactly the case. Many people do not understand what it means, and fewer still understand why it is important and how it can be used to evaluate the multitude of complex issues we deal with in society.


            What is a worldview? There are many definitions that have been proposed. One of the best books on the subject of worldview is by James Sire, editor of InterVarsity Press. His book, The Universe Next Door, defines a worldview in this way: "A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world."[1] In essence, it is how we view the world through our assumptions. These assumptions are like glasses that color our view of the world. In the 1960s, many of the kids were wearing rose-colored glasses. These affected the way they viewed the world. A worldview is like that. It conditions the way we perceive the world.


            Another definition is offered by Gary Phillips and Bill Brown. They say: "A worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world and second, an application of this view to life. In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world."[2] So a worldview is not only the way we perceive the world and interpret it, but is also provides the framework for how we apply what we know to the world around us.


            If we think of a worldview like a set of glasses, then we can see that a worldview should also have the correct "prescription" for making sense of all the data. Just as it is important to have the correct prescription for your eyeglasses, so it is also important to have a proper view of the world.


            Unfortunately, most people have not given much thought to their worldview. They collect ideas and assumptions almost unconsciously and do not really think about the need to properly form their worldview. Philosopher Arthur Holmes says the need for a worldview is fourfold: "the need to unify thought and life; the need to define the good life and find hope and meaning in life; the need to guide thought; the need to guide action."[3]


            We also need a proper worldview to deal with the diverse and complex culture that surrounds us. We are faced with a virtual universe of worldviews, which all make competing claims concerning truth. In this sense, a worldview is like a map that helps us navigate the intellectual and philosophical terrain around us.


            Worldviews are an integral part of our lives. News programs, movies, television, music, magazines, newspapers, education, science, art are all affected by worldviews. If we ignore the importance of worldviews, we do so to our detriment.


            What are some worldviews? A Christian worldview is based upon a theistic foundation. In other words, it rests on the belief that an infinite-personal God created the universe. Human beings are created in God's image, but also have a sin nature. At death we either experience eternal fellowship with God or eternal separation from Him. We learn about God and His character from revelation (the Bible and Jesus Christ) and apply ethical guidelines based upon the Bible and God's character.


            The dominant worldview for the last century has been naturalism. Its origins go back to the 17th century and grew in prominence during the Enlightenment. It is the foundation for such other philosophies as Humanism and Marxism.


            In the worldview of naturalism, God is irrelevant. Most naturalists are either atheists or deists. Moreover, progress and evolutionary change are inevitable. Third, humans are autonomous. That is, they did not owe allegiance to God, but instead make their own decisions and plot their own direction. Additionally, education is the guide to life and the means by which to build a just society. Finally, science is the ultimate provider both for knowledge and morals.


            After World War II, naturalism began to be replaced by postmodernism. Postmodernism has been a reaction to naturalism and specifically against Enlightenment rationalism. This era formed the intellectual basis of what we call modernity. Postmodernist believe that ultimately knowledge was reduced to computation, and something was lost. They believe that truth is not discovered but created. In a sense, each of us has a particular view of the truth, but no one has absolute truth.


            Postmodernists also believe that truth isn't found in the individual mind, but in the group. One writer said, "Truth consists in the ground rules that facilitate personal well-being in community and the well-being of the community as a whole."[4] Ultimately the individual is expected to conform his/her thinking to the larger group.


            Another worldview is pantheism. This is the foundation of eastern religions (Hinduism, Buddhism) and the New Age Movement. What are the basic tenets of this worldview?


            First is the belief in monism: all is one. Pantheists believe there are no ultimate distinctions between humans, animals, or the world. Second is a belief that all is god. All of life has a spark of divinity. Another tenet is human divinity. After all, if all is one and all is god, then each of us is god. Fourth, human beings must discover their own divinity by experiencing a change in consciousness. Finally, this is ultimate perfection is accomplished by reincarnation. This is done through indefinite cycles of birth, death, and reincarnation in order to work off our "karma."


            When we understand these basic worldviews, we can begin to identify how various ideas and issues are related to one another. A Christian, a naturalist, and a pantheist will view issues like abortion, stem cells, homosexuality, racial relations, and government programs in very different ways. Identifying the worldview of a particular position provides a better understanding of the world and helps us see where we need to work on developing a Christian worldview and response to these issues.



[1] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1988), 17.

[2] W. Gary Phillips and William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 29.

[3] Arthur F. Holmes, Contours of a Worldview (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 5.

[4] Stanley J. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 14.

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By Kerby Anderson

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Re: What is a Worldview, and Why is it Important?
Posted On: 10/13/06 09:55:37 AM Age 58, VA
This was a very informative article, making the 3 worldviews that you have described very understandable. I can also now understand postmodernism, which has infiltrated the Church through the Emergent Church and I can also see clearly how Post- modernism and pantheism, indicative of the New Age, are merging right before our very eyes into what will be known as The One World Religion, because in addition to believing that All IS ONE, New Agers are strong believers in the power of the group's thinking things into existance, or in other words "Think Peace." They believe that when the world's group consciousness is for Peace, then we shall have Peace on Earth. Postmodernists also believe in the power of the group's thought. They will merge and True Christianity will stand alone!

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