Worldviews: Born-Again and Unbiblical? – Part I

Several days ago, I posted a blog with questions / topics proposed by an ABI Facegroup member. This post deals with one of those topics – “worldview.”

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It would be natural to expect that Christians would have most of their values, morals, ethics – their overall philosophy of life – to be informed and shaped by principles found in the Bible. However, apparently such an assumption would be inaccurate based on the the results of a survey published by the Barna Group on March 6, 2009.

The survey reports that only 9% of all Americans hold a biblical worldview – which is perhaps higher than one would expect (depending on the definition of “biblical worldview”). However, the alarming (if not completely surprising) statistic is that less than 20% of self-identified born-again Christians hold a biblical worldview.

What is meant by “worldview?”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online) defines it with the German word “weltanshauung” – and weltanshauung is then defined in this dictionary as:

a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint

Another online dictionary gives the definition in two senses:

1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

The Barna report, cited above, notes the following concerning “biblical worldview” as used in the survey:

For the purposes of the survey, a “biblical worldview” was defined as believing that absolute moral truth exists; the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches; Satan is considered to be a real being or force, not merely symbolic; a person cannot earn their way into Heaven by trying to be good or do good works; Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and God is the all-knowing, all-powerful creator of the world who still rules the universe today. In the research, anyone who held all of those beliefs was said to have a biblical worldview.

From a biblical perspective, this isn’t a particularly demanding set of criteria and reflects a basic philosophy of life that anyone should theoretically embrace if they choose to be identified as “Christian” in any meaningful way. And because this definition of “biblical worldview” is so basic, the fact that many who identified themselves as born-again Christians rejected any of the above criteria is significant.

Obviously (and thankfully), one does not have to be a theologian to enter into a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. However, there is a problem if we consider ourselves to be born-again, yet do not have a biblical worldview.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul’s discussion of the wisdom of God versus human wisdom, is essentially one of competing worldviews. In this context he writes:

But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corintians 2:14, NKJV)

In other words, for some, spiritual truth is beyond their grasp – which would obviously make it impossible to have a thoroughly biblical worldview.

Prior to this, Paul writes:

For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:11-12, NKJV)

Paul seems to directly connect the possession of a biblical worldview with possessing the Spirit of God. And only those who are born again are indwelt by the Holy Spirit.

Therefore this passage raises a couple of important questions that all must consider, including professing Christians:

1) If we do not have a biblical worldview does this have any potential implications concerning our spiritual condition?

And the corollary:

2) If we consider ourselves to be born-again Christians do we actually have a biblical worldview?

In considering these questions, we should probably also recognize that a genuine test for a biblical worldview should be rather more comprehensive and stringent than that used by Barna. On the one hand, this raises the bar in evaluating one’s personal worldview. On the other hand this potentially reduces even further the percentage of those who could be considered to hold a biblical worldview.

How could someone consider himself to be a born-again Christian and yet not have a biblical worldview? And are there philosophical and / or theological trends within American Christianity that allow or even create such a situation?

We will consider these and other questions in the next post on the subject of “Biblical Worldviews.”

Dave James
Ministry Coordinator

9 Comments
  1. I agree with this 100% and it should be preached from the pulpit. This is not something most people are getting from those with higher offices.
    At conversion when we receive the H.S. our bodies become the “Temple of the H.S.” who leads and directs our lives all during our time while on earth and brings us into the fold when we pass from this life to eternity. I am proud to say that I am being perfected daily through Bible study with the H.S. opening new things that will help me conform to his image.

    David, I am happy to see and hear people who are reaching out to others with this wisdom. Keep it up as time will prove this is the right road for new believers as well as all informed believers.

    Harold Rhoads

  2. Thank you, Harold.

  3. Your post offers another occasion to consider the content of a Christian worldview and the significance of having or not having a thoroughly biblical one. This is a key issue for us as Probe since our goal is to spur Christians on to think biblically about life and the world (another way of saying “have a Christian worldview”) and to offer guidance in the pursuit.

    I agree that Barna’s definition is lacking. Just what a biblical worldview should contain is apparently open to debate! We’ve used Sire’s framework for a long time.

    If a person doesn’t have a complete Christian worldview, does that mean the person isn’t saved? I think you’d agree it does not. When we get down to the fundamental issue of a person’s relationship with God, I don’t think it’s even helpful to speak in terms of worldview; specific beliefs and commitments have to be considered. In fact, I’m moving more and more to the place of thinking that worldview is too abstract to be very useful in people’s lives except in reminding them that Christianity covers all aspects of life and thought. Could the word even be off-putting, making Christianity sound like just a collection of truth claims? Sire himself took a turn toward the personal when, in the 4th edition of his Universe Next Door, he inserted into his earlier definition (“A world view is a set of presuppositions [or assumptions] which we hold [consciously or subconsciously] about the basic makeup of our world.”) the phrase “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as . . .”).

    Older scholars used the phrase “world and life view.” Adding “life” expands the concept to issues beyond beliefs about the nature of things that can be considered at arm’s length. I haven’t found where James Orr used that expanded phrase, but his enlarged definition of “worldview” includes such matters. If any of your readers aren’t familiar with Orr’s work “The Christian View of Life and the World,” I urge them to read through the first chapter. It is rich. I’ll close with a quote from page 4.

    “He who with his whole heart believes in Jesus as the Son of God is thereby committed to much else besides. He is committed to a view of God, to a view of man, to a view of sin, to a view of Redemption, to a view of the purpose of God in creation and history, to a view of human destiny, found only in Christianity. This forms a ‘Weltanschauung,’ or ‘Christian view of the world,’ which stands in marked contrast with theories wrought out from a purely philosophical or scientific standpoint.”

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Rick.

    I know that “worldview” as a term seems to be falling out of favor in general – and for several reasons – including those you cite.

    However, I don’t think it is a problem to discuss it or actually to bring it back into the discussion. Rather, I would say it is both relevant and vitally important.

    I agree that there is not a necessary correlation between one’s worldview and their personal relationship with the Lord in terms of salvation. (We don’t have to be a theologian – or philosopher – in order to be saved.) However, in terms of fellowship and discipleship, a person’s worldview is significant. In fact, I would argue that it is everything – because God has provided us with revelation that is specifically intended to shape and mold the way we think and act.

    To put it another way, our worldview informs and directs the way we think, speak and act – and the way we think, speak and act reflects our worldview. Our worldview will always be in flux as we are being conformed to the image of Christ – but we should be striving to achieve a biblical worldview through our knowledge of God’s word and through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

    I find it interesting that as one who generally holds to the Lordship view of salvation, you would tend to see a dichotomy between one’s faith and one’s worldview (at least if I’m understanding you correctly) – especially if one does not hold to regeneration preceding faith.

    Again, thanks for the interaction!

    Dave

  5. My concern is mainly with the connotations of “worldview” and the effective use of the word because of them. I’m not at all questioning the importance of holding a view of life and the world that is fully informed by Scripture and (historic) Christian theology. So I wouldn’t say there’s a dichotomy between them. As important as a biblical view of life and the world is for fleshing out our beliefs, especially by contrasting them with others, a fully formed worldview isn’t required for salvation.

    The word is useful to point to the comprehensiveness of God’s claim on truth. It’s use becomes problematic if one gets the impression that Christianity is constituted by holding to a collection of beliefs. One of the weaknesses of evangelicalism at times has been intellectualism. This isn’t to diminish the necessary “believe thats” of Christianity. Also, since people list different components in their formulations of Christian worldview, a person can be left wondering just what a person has to believe to be a Christian. For example, I noticed that Barna, while saying salvation doesn’t come by works, didn’t say clearly that it comes by faith in Christ. Sire makes no mention of how salvation is appropriated either. Is that an important component of a Christian worldview? Or does that take us into theology? If so, one can legitimately ask the function of each in Christian life and thought since they are different.

    I teach Christian worldview; it’s a central issue in Probe’s teaching. I wonder, though, whether it becomes one of those “big words” that makes important, central beliefs more remote and mysterious than they are–the province of scholars, not of lay people. That’s why I’m more often using “biblical view of life and the world” in conversation and lectures. Lay Christians can grasp that immediately, even if they haven’t worked through all of what constitutes such a view.

    • I understand and agree with what you’re saying.

      I’m not sure about evangelicalism being intellectual – at least as it has been perceived. From what I have seen, most outside of evangelicalism, including within Christendom as a whole, would characterize evangelicalism as inherently “anti-intellectual.”

      Christianity is not *merely* a collection of “believe thats” – but it is certainly no less. These beliefs are the starting point and they are distinctive to Christianity.

      We can choose to avoid using “world-view” – but we have to replace it with something else that equally needs to be defined. What you might call “biblical” someone else might not – and in fact they could be contradictory. Either way you have to explain what you mean. And a “biblical view of life” is just a subset of a larger category of “view of life” – because some – most – hold to a “nonbiblical world view.” Philosophically and logically, it doesn’t seem that anything is gained by not explaining and using “worldview” – because you are still using the concept, whether named or not. And actually, it seems that more would be gained by explaining the larger category. It’s no different than using “religion” – and then further defining sub-categories. It doesn’t really help to start by saying “biblical Christianity” when you’re discussing other religions in the same context. It forces you to “back up the truck.”

      It’s like the difference between teaching someone how to play guitar or teaching them howto play a song. I can teach someone how to play a son on guitar – but that doesn’t mean they know how to play guitar. But if I teach them to play guitar, then they can learn to play any song if I have taught them well enough.

  6. Regarding the charge of intellectualism, I could have been more precise, but only if I wanted to try to locate the beginnings of evangelicalism, about which I think there’s some dispute.

    Pietism was a rejection (in part) of the intellectualism of the day. Whether we’re willing to call what preceded Pietism “evanglicalism” is questionable.

    You’re certainly correct in claiming that anti-intellectualism has been more prevalent, at least in American history. Noll’s and Hofstadter’s studies make that abundantly clear.

    A few more notes about worldview. First, it’s true that people can hold contradictory ideas of what is biblical; but that’s also the case with respect to a Christian worldview. And since the latter comes from the former, I see no greater danger in using the word. Second, my preference for it comes in part from the potential problems the word “worldview” might create. I can talk *about* something (worldview, in this instance) without using the word. I think lay Christians can more easily connect with “biblical view of the world” than “worldview.” We need to convey the concept, no matter which “placeholder” term or phrase we use.

    My objection isn’t a strong one; it’s a preference based upon what I think are reasonable concerns. One of my biggest concerns is the way some worldview apologists confine their challenge to non-Christians to adopt a Christian worldview, when what they need is to repent and believe in the gospel. If we keep our focus on a worldview, which is a set of beliefs or ideas, we can sound like we’re promoting primarily ideas, when we’re promoting a Person. I’m not promoting a neo-orthodox “encounter” here over engagement with the (propositional) claims of Scripture. I just want people to know that we’re proclaiming truths about a Person “with whom they have to do,” not just a religious philosophy.

    • I assumed that we must be very close, if not on the same page with these things. And this has only been confirmed and strengthened through our interaction.

      I want to stay closely tied in with what Probe is doing, because I think we share not only world views, but also details in the application of that woldview to everyday life.

      I sincerely appreciate everything you have written – and would also welcome you to provide an article for this series. I think it would be quite profitable.

  7. Anyone who claims to be a part of the “New Covenant” is “born again” and made a new creation. The Old Man is crucified, the carnal nature dying off. The New Creation has a NEW HEART upon which, is being written the very laws we, in our old man, once rejected, replacing it with mixture, some truth, mixed with error and philosophies more pleasing to our carnal minds .
    The “New Covenant” is originally defined in the Old Testament scriptures, and is the ONLY definition of true christianity we should accept and it is this:
    Jer 31: 31-34 This is the New Covenant that I will make after that time,” declares the Lord.
    “I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
    I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

    “This shall be my covenant . . . I will put my law in their inward parts” . It was NOT a doing away of Gods laws, but rather, a change of location, from stone, to our very hearts. When HE writes HIS laws upon our newly born heart, we strangely are drawn to please our God, and seek out His absolutes, and no longer can accept the “gray areas” of compromise.
    Gods Laws, Gods definition of right and wrong, Gods absolutes, with the penalties and offenses of breaking them paid for in full by Jesus the Messiah, written on our very inward parts, and in our MINDS- Our Worldview SHOULD be GODS ABSOLUTES, the TEN COMMANDMENTS, and many other instructions and teachings as found in the WHOLE of scriptures, because it is ULTIMATE wisdom and knowledge, anything less is a realiance upon fallen man.
    The New Covenant, and true salvation is the Renewing of our minds, and becoming UNMIXED and separated from all philosophies, beliefs, opinions, mindsets,and doctrines, and our striving to never again partake of the knowledge of the (mixed) tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and only partaking of the tree of Life, which is ultimate truth- from Genesis to Revelation.
    Just my meandering thoughts, for whatever they are worth to anyone.
    Blessings.


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