The Importance of Worldview
If I was a member of an accreditation committee visiting your university, I would surely want to know the answer to the question, “What are you doing to impact a student’s worldview?”
A person’s worldview determines pretty much everything about them. It is their internal operating system. A student’s worldview strongly influences their success at academics, career, and life in general. Addressing it is one of the most important things a university can do to prepare students for life’s challenges and opportunities.
Everyone has a worldview. It begins taking shape very early in childhood and usually contains many pieces of different, often conflicting, worldviews, even for Adventist Christians.
Young people are immersed in a culture that is teeming with myriad interpretations of reality. A representative list might include such viewpoints as: humanism, post-modernism, individualism, naturalism, relativism, consumerism, atheism, agnosticism, deism, Marxism, Communism, secularism, capitalism, pluralism, and, of course, the Bible. The average student can assimilate parts of any of these philosophies both consciously and unconsciously through what they learn, formally and informally, and through experience. The challenge is to help students sort through it all and guide them toward worldview coherence and consistency based on biblical principles.
Our strong tendency as Adventists is to solve the problem by imparting lots of information. Information-sharing is our forte. It is a huge part of our DNA. But requiring students to take a class where they are lectured to for weeks about the ways in which the Bible is superior to all other perspectives is a counterproductive approach that’s called indoctrination. It could easily turn students off as biased and closed-minded.
Understanding the Full Dimensions of Worldview
The best place to begin is to understand the full scope of what we mean by “worldview.” First, there is the conceptual element that involves a person’s understanding and interpretation of reality. It seeks to address the big questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.
It then goes much further. A person has not really adopted a particular worldview as their own unless it directly and consistently affects their values and priorities. And it hasn’t really affected their values and priorities unless it ultimately impacts the decisions they make in daily living.
So, our definition of worldview needs to include all three, interrelated elements:
Your Worldview = Understanding + Values + Daily Decisions. If we are going to influence a student’s worldview, we have to seriously address all three dimensions throughout their time at the university.
Students will most likely never have another opportunity in life like their four years as undergrads to address their worldview in a comprehensive way. If our greatest desire is for them to pursue a life based on biblical principles and truth, then we owe them nothing less than making Worldview Formation central to our mission.
As the apostle Paul urges, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out” (Romans 12:2, The Message).
Some Key Steps in the Worldview Formation Process
Due to space considerations, the following steps can only be presented in a very brief outline.
1. Engaging University Leadership
To have any chance of success, Worldview Formation needs to be a strong, consistent
emphasis from university leaders at all levels, from administration to the individual department. People at the university, both employees and students, will take their cues from what they see, hear, and experience from leaders. It is the special responsibility of those with authority to win others over by their enthusiasm and commitment. Worldview Formation needs to become an integral part of university culture that is looked upon as a God-given opportunity and adventure rather than an onerous requirement.
2. Values/Character Education
In order to fulfill the goal of comprehensive Worldview Formation, it is imperative that
the university become obsessed with Values/Character Education. Considering Jesus’ commission to “make disciples of all nations,” this should be a natural fit for Adventists. We are talking about far more here than Christian employees simply having a positive influence on students, as important as that is. Values Education is a vast, complex area of study. To implement it across campus will mean acquainting teachers and staff with the subject of Values Education and equipping them with the requisite skills to act together in systemic ways to change lives.
Central to this process is the need to make a clear, direct connection between objective biblical truth and personal values. Without that connection, biblical truth becomes an end in itself rather than a means to an end of growing people. Students need to be guided through an engaging process of discovery that asks, “So what?” in relation to each element of our Adventist Christian Worldview. We need to consistently inquire, “So what difference does this particular belief make in what I value and how I live?” For instance:
We value new beginnings because of our belief in baptism by immersion.
We value resilience because of our belief in the biblical concept of “Resurrection Life” (Romans 6:4-5).
We value personal fulfillment because of our belief in Spiritual Gifts.
We value hope because of our belief in the Second Advent.
We value diversity because of our belief in the various roles within the Trinity.
We value personal accountability because of our belief in God’s final judgment.
We value social responsibility because of our belief in the “social contract” God gave to Adam and Eve in the Garden.
3. Disruption and Reflection
Individuals are normally resistant to change. Therefore, the best way to engage them
initially is through what Johansson and Felten label as “Disruption” in their book Transforming Students. Things need to be said and done that cause students to think, “Perhaps there is more to this worldview thing than I expected. Maybe I don’t have it all figured out after all.” The goal in this stage is to create openness and engagement.
Disruption may be the last thing an Adventist university wants because they are afraid they’ll lose the confidence of their key constituents who sent their young people there to have what the students already know simply deepened and confirmed. Don’t rock the boat.
The point of disruption, however, is not to tear down, but to set the stage for a thorough personal appraisal by each student of their own worldview. The intention is to unpack the various elements so they can evaluate them for strengths and weaknesses in light of the myriad options crying out for their attention. The ultimate goal is for them to acknowledge and discard harmful, distorted assumptions and develop more effective, life-giving ones. No openness, no change.
It is far better for students to thoroughly compare and contrast various worldviews now and ask tough questions now while teachers and staff are still around to mentor them. Getting students to pass a test is not the same as guiding them through a process of reflection, discovery, and in-depth personal understanding.
4. Practice and Integration
If the process of Worldview Formation is to become a habit, the values and outcomes students hope to incorporate into their lives must be practiced extensively before they graduate. That can only happen if they are given opportunities to repeatedly try, fail, learn, and try again just like anyone would in forming a new habit.
I find it helpful to think of the university as analogous to a School of Swimming. In such a school, students don’t pass by simply taking a written exam. The school is not successful unless the students can actually swim. There will definitely be instruction, but it also takes lots of consistent practice. In an Adventist university, we are not dealing with navigating a body of water but with navigating a life.
As an integral part of Worldview Formation, such practice needs to be carefully chosen to match the values the individual is trying to adopt. It is not enough to simply engage students in random community service. For example, if you want graduates to be exceptionally empathetic, then during their enrollment they need to be involved in carefully planned situations that call forth that particular virtue. With enough opportunities for focused practice and feedback, students will hopefully reach the point of lifestyle integration by the time they don their cap and gown.
Following the University’s Example
Employees and students will only take the subject of worldview as seriously as the university does as an organization. Just like an individual’s worldview has implications for their personal life, an organization’s worldview has implications for its corporate life.
Organizations create a powerful witness by how they operate and treat people. Employees and students look for congruence between corporate worldview and corporate behavior.
For instance, Adventist universities teach that the Seventh day is Sabbath and are therefore closed every Friday night and Saturday for worship and spiritual pursuits. We say that Sabbath matters.
But Sabbath-keeping is about much more than one day a week. Sabbath is God’s reminder that He values balanced living ALL WEEK LONG. People who burn the candle at both ends all week and then slow down for twenty-four hours on Sabbath are not good Sabbath keepers. They’re missing the whole point, the big picture.
The real test of whether an Adventist university is living out its worldview regarding Sabbath is not how much it talks about balanced living but what it does about it organizationally.
We need to ask, “How much does the school overwork its employees? Are departments adequately staffed so people don’t have to do the work of more than one person? How much overtime is going on? What policies are in place to prevent burnout? Do all teachers coordinate together so students are not overloaded with an accumulation of homework assignments? What is the student stress level on campus?”
Sabbath-keeping is also about honoring God as Creator. Are teachers given enough time and training to be creative? Do teachers engage students in learning through creative processes, projects, and interactions? Is the university known for innovation or are things run about the same as they were ten years ago?
Or take what Adventists believe about the Millennium, the 1,000 years in Heaven when God says, “Here are the records. It’s all in there. Examine them and ask whatever you wish.” In the Millennium, God is modeling for us that He highly values full transparency and openness, with no hidden agendas. Is that how your campus operates? How is the trust level? How open are the channels of communication both top/down and bottom/up?
And how about the implications of our belief in the Trinity for campus life? The Godhead is all about the importance of community and oneness. Are students intentionally given time and opportunity to form deep, lasting relationships? Are they taught how to relate well in emotionally healthy ways? Do they understand that their well-being and success are inexorably tied up with their commitment to community? Do departments operate as independent silos or is there coordination and collaboration across campus?
I’ll close this three-part series on Adventist Higher Education with a quote from Transforming Students:
Our goal is for our students to become their own universities, integrating what they have learned into their daily lives and internalizing the transformative process and thus continuing to grow long after they leave the classrooms, residence halls, and lawns of the campus.
For Part 1 of “Thoughts on Adventist Higher Education,” click here.
For Part 2, “Thoughts on Adventist Higher Education: The Sacred/Secular Problem,” click here.
Email questions and suggestions to: email@example.com.
Transforming Students: Fulfilling the Promise of Higher Education, Charity Johansson and Peter Felten (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014)
Transformational Teaching, Thomas R. Rosebrough and Ralph G. Leveret (Alexandria, VA: SCD, 2011)
Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories That Shape Our Lives, Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2009)
Assumptions That Affect Our Lives: How Worldviews Determine Values That Influence Behavior and Shape Culture, Dr. Christian Overman (Bellevue, WA: Ablaze Publishing Company, 200)
Notes & References:
 Wikiversity, “Exploring Worldviews, https://en.wikiversity.org/wiki/Exploring_Worldviews
 “In contrast with traditional lecturing, which involves a largely unidirectional transfer of information from an instructor to students, transformational teaching involves conceptualizing teachers as change agents who lead students in the process of collaborating with one another and with their instructor to develop as learners and as people.” Transformational Teaching: Theoretical Underpinnings, Basic Principles, and Core Methods, George M. Slavich and Philip G. Zimbardo, July 24, 2012, PubMed, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23162369/
Kim Allan Johnson retired in 2014 as the Undertreasurer of the Florida Conference. He and his wife Ann live in Maitland, Florida. Kim has written a number of articles for SDA journals plus three books published by Pacific Press: The Gift, The Morning, and The Team. He has also written three sets of small group lessons for churches that can be viewed at www.transformyourchurch.com (this website is run by the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists). He is also the author of eight "Life Guides" on CREATION Health.
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