Message 22, What’s Your Worldview? (Youth Seminar):
Dr. James Anderson helps Christians identify, evaluate, and interact with non-Christian worldviews.
I want to begin by inviting you to join me in a thought experiment. A thought experiment is the kind of experiment that philosophers do. Scientists do experiments of course, but so do philosophers. In a thought experiment, you imagine some hypothetical scenario and then you think through its implications and its consequences.
The beauty of thought experiments is that you can do them anywhere, they don’t cost you a dime, you don’t need any raw materials, and there’s absolutely no danger that you’ll blow yourself up in the process. That’s why I decided to be a philosopher rather than a scientist, much safer.
Anyway, here is the thought experiment. Suppose that a member of your church falls seriously ill, let’s say it’s a young girl. The doctors do a bunch of tests and discover that she has a very serious, life-threatening condition, but they can’t figure out the cause of it. They do everything they can with all the medical technologies available to them, but it’s not enough. The doctors say that this girl will be dead within 24 hours.
So what do you do? What does your church do? You pray of course, at least I hope so, you pray fervently. You may well hold a prayer vigil through the night to lift up this girl before the Lord. So suppose that your church does exactly that, and in hours — the early hours of the following day, the girl’s condition starts to improve, rapidly improve. In fact it starts to turn around completely, and very quickly she is out of critical condition and on the road to recovery.
The doctors are absolutely baffled. They can’t explain it. They had exhausted all of the medical options, and none of them had worked. Some of the doctors may even use the ‘M’ word, “It’s a miracle!”
Now, how do you interpret that course of events? This church member became critically ill. The doctors said that she was going to die within 24 hours. Your church prayed for her, and now she is making a recovery. I think you would most likely interpret that as a divine intervention. God brought about healing, and He did so specifically in answer to your prayers. Well obviously, your church is going to be overjoyed at this, and you are pretty pumped about it too.
Well, suppose you meet a friend of yours a few days later. We’ll call him Dan. Dan is a militant atheist. He’s the sort of guy who has read all of Richard Dawkins’ books. He enjoys poking fun at religion, and when Professor Dawkins had a stroke, as he did recently, Dan wanted to honor him by not praying for him.
You say to him, “Hey Dan, I’ve got this incredible story to tell you!” And you tell him the story. There was this girl in your church who fell critically ill. The doctors could not figure out what was wrong with her. They tried everything. They said, “We can’t do anything, she’s going to die within 24 hours.”
Our church got together. We prayed for her through the night, and the next morning she turned around and she’s made a dramatic recovery, and she’s better again. And Dan replies, “Wow! That’s amazing. There is a God after all. I’m going to start going to church. What time’s your service on Sunday morning?” You laugh. Well, you know it’s unlikely that he would say that, unless he was being very sarcastic.
It’s more likely he’ll say things like this, “The doctors were mistaken. There’s some kind of medical explanation. Specifically, there’s some kind of natural explanation for this girl’s recovery, and one day science will figure out what it was.” That’s the faith of an atheist right there. And as for the praying, “Well, that’s just what religious people do. It’s just a happy coincidence that the recovery followed the prayer.” Bottom line is surprising things sometimes happen, but it wasn’t supernatural.
Now, what accounts for these two radically different interpretations of the same events? The basic facts aren’t in dispute. This girl got ill, the doctors said what they said, your church prayed, the girl got better, but very different conclusions are being drawn. What makes the difference? Well, here is my one word answer: “worldviews,” and in the rest of my talk I want to unpack what I mean by that. And I’m going to unpack it under three headings. First, what worldviews are. Second, why worldviews matter. And third, how worldviews change.
First, what worldviews are. As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It’s not a physical view of the world, like you might get of planet earth from an orbiting space station. No, it’s a philosophical view of the world and not just of our planet, but of all of reality. A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. A worldview represents a person’s most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe as well as their ultimate values and heart commitments.
Our worldviews reflect how we would answer all those big questions of human existence, the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything. Is there a God? What is God like? Where did the universe come from? Where did human beings come from? Are we just highly evolved apes with superior hygiene and fashion sense, some of us? What is the meaning of human life? What is the purpose of our lives? Is there an afterlife? What is it like? Where do we get our moral values from? What’s wrong with the world, and how can we put it right?
Well, of course not everyone has carefully pondered all these questions, never mind come up with clear answers to them. But even so, everyone will be inclined towards particular answers because of their worldview. Now, it’s important to recognize that everyone has a worldview. Worldviews are like bellybuttons, everyone has one. We just don’t talk about them very often.
Or perhaps more appropriately, worldviews are like cerebellums. Everyone has one, but not everyone is aware that they have one. You may not be aware that you have a cerebellum, but you do. It’s in here, it’s part of your brain. It’s very important. It’s an important element of your life. In the same way, everyone has a worldview because it’s an essential element of their thought life; how they think about the world, how they try to make sense of the world.
But not everyone is aware of their worldview and the way that it shapes their understanding of the world. I suspect that only a small majority of people have deliberately and carefully reflected on their worldview, and I hope that you will become one of them if you aren’t already.
So I have a worldview, and you have a worldview, and everyone you know has a worldview. But clearly, not everyone has the same worldview, which is the main reason why people see the world so differently and why people have such radical disagreements about fundamental issues. Very different worldviews lead to very different views of the world because our worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world and how we respond to those experiences.
Like a pair of spectacles with colored lenses, your worldview affects what you see and how you see it. Depending on the color and the curvature of the lenses, you might see some things more easily, while other things would be deemphasized or distorted. In extreme cases, you might not see some things at all.
Your worldview shapes how you interpret and evaluate your experiences and how you will try to fit things into your existing belief system. Your worldview largely determines what you think is possible and impossible, what you think is probable and improbable, what you think is credible and incredible, what you think is good and what you think is bad.
It shapes what you believe about everything and also what you are prepared to believe about anything. And that is why, when it comes to the remarkable recovery of that girl in your church, your atheist friend Dan reaches such different conclusions than you do.
Well, that’s a summary of what worldviews are. Now, I want to say something about why worldviews matter. I’m sure you can already begin to see why, but let me give you three specific reasons why worldviews matter.
Here’s the first reason, worldviews matter because they play a central and defining role in our thinking about the world, about ourselves, and about other people. I’m sure most of you have seen a house being built, perhaps even in your own neighborhood. What’s the first part of the house to be built? The foundation, of course. It’s, well, foundational. That’s the part on which everything else rests. What’s the next part to be built?
The framework, which provides the basic form and shape of the house. The foundation and the framework of a house define it more than anything else. And your worldview is like that. It provides the foundation and framework for all of your thinking about the world, for how you interpret your experiences and how you respond to those experiences.
Now, when that house is finished, can you see the foundation and the framework? Well, no, not usually. Does that make those parts any less important? Of course not. And the same goes for our worldviews. They usually sit in the background rather than the foreground of our thinking, but they still play a central and defining role. Your worldview shapes what you believe, what you say, and what you do with your life more than anything else. And for that very reason, it is crucial to have the right worldview.
And that leads me to my next point, here’s the second reason why worldviews matter. Developing and applying a Christian worldview is an essential part of our sanctification as believers, our growth in godliness, and spiritual maturity. Developing and applying a Christian worldview is an essential part of our sanctification as believers, our growth in godliness, and our spiritual maturity.
Consider the first and greatest commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” What does it mean to love God with all your mind? It means thinking the way God wants you to think. It means using your mind in a God-honoring way, to think God’s thoughts after Him. To see and understand the world the way that God does or as close as any human being could ever come to that.
Consider also what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What is Paul saying? He is saying, now that you are a follower of Christ, don’t think the way the world thinks. Your mind needs to be renewed so that you are thinking in a Christ-like way, so that you can understand how God wants you to live in His world. In other words, develop and apply a biblical Christian worldview. That’s the second reason.
Here’s the third reason why worldviews matter. As Christians we are called by God, not only to think in a Christian way ourselves, but also to engage with people who aren’t thinking in a Christian way, because we want to honor God and love our neighbors, including our non-Christian neighbors. For the sake of honoring the truth and for the sake of proclaiming the gospel, we want to engage with non-Christians in a thoughtful and fruitful way, in a way that really gets to the root of our differences rather than focusing on surface level disagreements.
And that means that we should be aiming to engage with non-Christians at the worldview level, by understanding their worldviews, helping them to become aware of their worldviews, and exposing the shortcomings of their worldviews.
Well, that brings me to the third and final point of what I have to say this afternoon. How worldviews change. Can a person change their worldview? Are you stuck with one worldview for life, like you’re stuck with your family? No, a person’s worldview can change. After all, there have been atheists who became Christians, praise God. From a biblical perspective, conversion involves a change of worldview.
Now, conversion is much more than that of course, but it is no less than that. Humanly speaking, however, people are generally resistant to change, and people are especially resistant to changing their worldview because that would require a wholesale reorientation of the way that they think about the world and about themselves.
If I can adapt the analogy that I used earlier, worldviews are like houses. You get used to living in your house. You get comfortable in it. If I came to your house and said, “Hey, if you shift your couch over there, maybe move those chairs around a bit and turn around that table, you would get a much better view of your 80 inch HD TV.” Well, you might be willing to give it a try. I mean, after all if it doesn’t work, you can just move things back very easily. But if I came to your house and said, “Hey, you need to move house. You need to completely move out and relocate to a completely different house.” Well, I think you’d be very resistant to that.
It is very hard for a person to change their worldview. Indeed from a Christian perspective, for a person to fully embrace a biblical Christian worldview, it’s not just difficult, but impossible apart from a transforming work of the Holy Spirit in their heart and mind, because to fully embrace a biblical Christian worldview means embracing the center point of that worldview, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for us to do. It doesn’t mean that we just hang around waiting for the Holy Spirit to work. We can still point out the many deep flaws in non-Christian worldviews, that they are self defeating, that they are incoherent, that they simply don’t make sense of the world that we live in. And the Holy Spirit may well be pleased to use what we say as part of a transforming work in an unbeliever’s heart and mind.
So to return to the house analogy that I used a moment ago; if I were to say to you, “You need to move house. You need to relocate to a completely different house.” Well, you’d be very skeptical. But if I were to show you that your roof has holes in it, your attic space is crawling with cockroaches, your walls have dry rot, your woodwork is being eaten away by termites, and your foundations are cracking and crumbling, well now you’d be more interested to hear me out.
Well, that’s all I have time to share with you, but if you want to learn more about worldviews, if I have whetted your appetite somewhat — you want to learn more about what worldviews are, why they matter, what are some of the non-Christian worldviews out there, and why the Christian worldview makes more sense than any other worldview, you may find this little book helpful. It’s called “What’s Your Worldview?” and it’ll be available in the book area, and I hope you would find it as a useful tool for yourself and maybe to give to an unbeliever and start a fruitful discussion. Thank you.