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What Is a “World View”?


Editor's Note: Alden Thompson has very kindly offered an expanded version of this commentary which has been posted to the website, here

This week’s lesson is brought to us by Good Word from Walla Walla. To listen to the audio conversation, please visit the Good Word website.

The official study guide has selected Proverbs 15:3 (NKJV) as the “Memory Verse” for this week: “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.” Is that passage intended to convince someone of the biblical worldview? Probably not. But we need to back up a step and look for a definition of “worldview.”

Among thoughtful evangelical Christians, James Sire is a scholar who has been active with InterVarsity Fellowship. His The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (InterVarsity, 4th edition, 2004), has been widely disseminated and well-received.

His Table of Contents is a helpful prelude to his actual definition of “worldview.”

1. A World of Difference: Introduction

2. A Universe Charged With the Grandeur of God: Christian Theism

3. The Clockwork Universe: Deism

4. The Silence of Finite Space: Naturalism

5. Zero Point: Nihilism

6. Beyond Nihilism: Existentialism

7. Journey to the East: Eastern Pantheistic Monism

8. A Separate Universe: The New Age

9. The Vanished Horizon: Postmodernism

10. The Examined Life: Conclusion

And this is his definition of “worldview”:

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) and the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. – James Sire, The Universe Next Door, p. 17

I’m still not sure what a “worldview” really is or how one slips into a particular world view or from one worldview into another. But I am tempted to see the story of Jesus as a powerful motivating force in our decisions. Paul met his Lord on the Damascus Road and it transformed his life. Have we met that same Lord with the same effect?

In my experience, the transforming power of John 14-17 played a key role in my understanding of Jesus and of God, for it was absorbing those chapters that suddenly opened the windows of heaven and I realized that God himself came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. And if God himself cared enough to come to earth to save me, that is a God I could serve forever.

An essay by C. S. Lewis is one that I have found very moving. “On Obstinacy in Belief” (1955) was published in a collection of essays entitled, The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here are some excerpts:

To love involves trusting the beloved beyond the evidence, even against much evidence. No man is our friend who believes in our good intentions only when they are proved. No man is our friend who will not be very slow to accept evidence against them. Such confidence, between one man and another, is in fact almost universally praised as a moral beauty, not blamed as a logical error. And the suspicious man is blamed for a meanness of character, not admired for the excellence of his logic. — WLN 26

Our relation to those who trusted us only after we were proved innocent in court cannot be the same as our relation to those who trusted us all through. — WLN 29

Our opponents, then, have a perfect right to dispute with us about the grounds of our original assent. But they must not accuse us of sheer insanity if, after the assent has been given, our adherence to it is no longer proportioned to every fluctuation of the apparent evidence. They cannot of course be expected to know on what our assurance feeds, and how it revives and is always rising from its ashes. They cannot be expected to see how the quality of the object which we think we are beginning to know by acquaintance drives us to the view that if this were a delusion then we should have to say that the universe had produced no real thing of comparable value and that all explanations of the delusion seemed somehow less important than the thing explained. That is knowledge we cannot communicate. But they can see how the assent, of necessity, moves us [29/30] from the logic of speculative thought into what might perhaps be called the logic of personal relations. What would, up till then, have been variations simply of opinion become variations of conduct by a person to a Person. Credere Deum esse [believing that God exists] turns into Credere in Deum [believing in God]. And Deum here is this God, the increasingly knowable Lord. – C. S. Lewis (1955), in The World’s Last Night, 13-30

Perhaps the best response to the “worldview” question is our own testimony, whether it was a Saul-of-Tarsus extravaganza or a placid and unobtrusive affair, both can be effective witnesses to a God who produced “A Universe Charged With the Grandeur of God,” to quote James Sire.

This commentary, by Alden Thompson, originally appeared on the Good Word website, created by the Walla Walla University School of Theology. Reproduced here by permission.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash


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