Since I was in third grade, I have worn glasses in order to correct a pernicisous case of near-sightedness. Without my glasses, my world becomes meaningless scribbles and moving blobs. With my glasses, blurry edges become sharp and dark blots become words. My glasses are the means by which I make visual sense of the world.
I became a follower of Jesus in my teenage years. From the earliest days of my discipleship, I heard pastors and leaders speaking of the need to develop a biblical worldview. Everything from public scandal to weak theology to the rise of secularism was attributed to the failure of Christians to develop a biblical view of life and the world. After many years of listening to the call to biblical worldview, I find myself both more confused about and more committed to the concept.
There is much to be confused about in the concept. In its most basic articulation, we might say that a worldview is the pair of glasses through which we make sense of the world. Things can get a little bit more fuzzy after that, and many questions abound. Is worldview primarily a thought-oriented enterprise or does it involve our emotional and pyschological shaping? Can worldviews be categorized in large, generalized categories (i.e. Marxism, secular humanism, Christianity, and other -isms) or are worldviews as unique as individuals (i.e. my way of seeing the world vs. your way of seeing the world)? Is it a list of propositions about the world or a metanarrative (a grand story) that we use to describe our experience of reality? What comes first – thoughts about the world or behaviors in the world? Many more questions can be generated, and the potential answers abound.
Yet for all of the confusion, I intuitively know that worldviews matter. We all interpret the world based on some notion of how things work. That notion or set of notions about how things work comes from our culture and upbringing and is both taught and reinforced by ritual and habit. There are big, generalized elements and personalized elements. For example, almost all Americans take for granted that food can be purchased in a store, without need to personally grow or kill what we eat. Beyond that, any given American might have had unique experiences of food in their childhood. The big picture concept (we buy what we eat) works with the personalized element (my mom made me clean my plate) to produce a way of thinking about food. I no longer conceive of worldviews as lists of propositions that are clearly held. The apologetics books of my younger days cheapened the concept by turning people into brains on sticks. Worldviews involve what we regularly do and the kind of emotional responses that we have to the world around us.
The Bible lays the groundwork for how we should think about worldviews. A biblical worldview is not primarily a list of things we think about the world but a way of living in the world that represents biblical priorities and grows out of the biblical story. In that regard, worldview is vitally connected to wisdom. Wisdom has been called the art of skillful living. To live skillfully, you have to have a grasp (not just cognitively) of how creation works and how people work and how God wants people to live in the world. This worldview-wisdom does not begin with lists of propositions but with the fear of the Lord – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NIV). A biblical worldview is also about walking in the light in fellowship with God and his people – “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). And walking in God’s light changes how we see the world. As the Psalmist says, “For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9).
The metaphor of glasses is helpful when thinking of worldviews, but I wonder if it misses something important. After all, glasses can be put on or taken off. They are always external to us. But a biblical worldview isn’t something simply believed or disbelieved, put on or off. Instead, a biblical worldview is the way I live in the world. Maybe it is more like the muscle memory that makes it possible for me to hop on my bike and ride down the street.
When my glasses are on, I can even see the trees and houses around me as I ride.
For a good overview of the biblical story, see Michael Williams’s Far as the Curse is Found.
For a dip into the idea that worldview is more than propositions but also ritual and affection, see James K. A. Smith’s You Are What You Love.