Whatever Became of Christian Worldview?

Posted on August 29, 2013 by

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In 1901 a Scottish professor wrote a book about Christian worldview, The Christian View of God and the World.  This would become the first such book in modern times on that subject.  The book received much attention from evengelicals and fundamentalists, though little from other groups.  At the same time Abaraham Kuyper, though he never wrote a comprehensive work on worldview, was prolific in his efforts at extending Christ’s reign over all creation in the intellectual world.  One of the most famous of these efforts in English was the Stone Lectures of 1898 at Princeton University (though his Gemiene Gratie [Common Grace] is much more comprehensive but as yet untranslated as a whole).  Beginning in the 1970s with the work of Francis Schaeffer, the subject of Christian worldview burst onto the evangelical scene.  Many works by many writers, some good and others of lesser quality, were published.  Christians were talking much about a worldview and Christian colleges incorporated the concept into their curriculum.  It seemed that everyone was on the worldview bandwagon.  Then, somewhere in the early 2000s, it seems that interest in worldview declined precipitously.  The word “integration” at first replaced the word worldview.  In addition, Christian university faculties appeared to have lost interest.  Administrations also stopped emphasizing it, either in curriculum or among faculty.  Why did this happen and what are the implications?

First we need some sort of deinition, and, yes, I know definitions are legion and also hackneyed.  My own older one is this:  Worldview (of any kind) is a set of answers to the crucial questions of life, which in turn provide answers to the sub-questions of life.  Questions include:  What is man’s nature?  What is real?  How can we know? (or can we know?), what is right and wrong?  etc.  A Christian worldview answers these questions from a distinctly Christian perspective,

But that last statement I believe is the key to understanding what has happened to the idea and emphasis on Christian worldview.  What is “distinctively Christian”?  The two possible, and often competing, alternatives, are, broadly: (1) answers derived explicitly from Scripture and (2) answers relying on natural or general revelation.  Of course the two are not mutually exclusive.  But which end of the continuum one skews toward will determine the answers and their consistency with biblical truth.  We can say “all truth is God’s truth” but how do we know what we assert is actually truth?

My contention is that Christian universities have laregly jettisoned the more biblically-oriented answers in favor of those relying much more on general revelation.  But that is not the entire picture.  Since the biblically-oriented idea of worldview requires a more sophisticated biblical competency and since most incoming, younger faculty have little or no theological or exegetical training, it has been expedient to downplay this aspect.  Moreover reliance on general revelation plays into the hands of the faculty’s particular discipline in its more secular element.  This requires less in preparation for incoming faculty.

Besides all that, my perception is that Christian colleges have lost interest in Christian worldview because it is not considered intellectually reputable.  Secular scholars don’t like research produced from such a “sectarian” perspective–if they like religion at all.  And Christian faculty have been imbued with the emphasis on scholarly research, with “scholarly” excluding too explicitly Christian efforts.  And let’s face it, faculty as a whole seem to favor this approach, whether from ignorance or because they have bought into the current academic marginalization of scholarship that isn’t too closely tied to Christianity.

As I close, it would be useful I think to say where I think we ought to go as believers in the academy.  First, our scholarship ought to be unashamedly Christian in its substance.  I am not arguing therefore that general revelation has no place.  God has given to man the tools to know about the phenomenon of his world by observation, experimentation, the application of mathematics and statistical analysis, etc.  However, once the data have been collected and manipulated (in a proper sense), then conclusions must be made.  Here is where an explicitly biblical worldview makes all the difference, as well as in the initial assumptions guiding the research.  A much-used but helpful example is in the area of evolution versus creation.  It is possible for two different individual researchers to see the same data regarding cosmogony.  But they may diverge sharply in two ways: (1) they will select and omit certain data becuase it doen’t “fit” their presuppositions about what must have happened and (2) they will interpret the same data differently in drawing differing conclusions about what must have happened.  The Christian must avoid this temptation.  He must be guided by the parameters provided by special revelation properly interpreted.  His presuppositions and his conclusions must be based on Scripture, as archaic as that may sound in an “enlightened” world.  His interpretations must utilize that same Scripture and circumscribe any conclusions he proposes. 

We must stop apologizing for our distinctive biblical and Christian approach to knowledge.  It is not anti-intellectual simply because someone in the secular realm deems it to be.  We must bear in mind that everyone operates according to some set of presuppositions that will constitute his or her worldview.  If others argue that the Christian worldview is no better than theirs, we can at the least reply that ii is no worse and equally valid.  But furthermore, we can have confidence that there is a Christian worldview that governs every aspect of knowledge.  Let’s bring back that emphasis.  Let’s stop capitulating to the so-called knowledge that purports to be truth but in fact is not.  Let’s emphasize biblical worldview for our students and for our faculty.  Let’s do what it takes to inculcate it into every seem of our universities that call themselves Christian.  After all, that is what it means to be a Christian university.

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