Worldviews: What Christianists promote instead of orthodoxy.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 September 2019
WORLDVIEW 'wərld.vju noun. A particular philosophy about life, or concept of human and social interaction.

When Christians talk about worldviews, we’re talking about politics.

Yeah, Christian apologists who examine “the Christian worldview” claim they’re talking about how we Christians understand the world around us, based on what God created it to be—as opposed to how pagans and nontheists interpret things. But three things you’re gonna notice really quickly about their interpretations:

  • It invariably leads to a politically conservative point of view—regardless of whether Jesus even addressed, much less supports, their favorite conservative views.
  • It invariably leads to their particular church’s views on God. Fits extremely well if you’re Calvinist or Fundamentalist… and less so if you’re not. (God help you if you’re Roman Catholic.)
  • It doesn’t promote loving our neighbors so we can point ’em to Jesus. More like being appalled at the stuff they’re trying to sneak past us, and therefore angry with our neighbors.

Anger’s a work of the flesh, folks, and one of the faster ways to get people to stop thinking, start reacting, and follow whoever riled ’em up. It’s what got the crowds to shout, “Crucify him!” It’s a very useful political tool. As are worldview studies, ’cause they’re basically political apologetics disguised as Christian apologetics.

Our word worldview was borrowed by Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer in the 1960s from the German word Weltanschauung 'vɛlt.ɑn.ʃaʊ.ʊŋ, “world-outlook.” German linguists coined it to describe how language grows to include new ideas. Fr’instance it’s hard to talk about a rodpur when you’ve never heard of a rodpur, and have no idea what it is. Once you learn it’s a nektim with a purple essip coming out its porgir, then you have a better idea of it, and we can start talking about it: Your worldview has expanded to include the word and idea. Thus language and culture grow at the same time. (Yeah, I made up all those unfamiliar words, but you get the point.)

Historians and psychologists were more fascinated by what happens when two cultures with different worldviews clash. That’s what interested Schaeffer about it. Like St. Augustine’s book City of God, Schaeffer looked at the way the Christian worldview—which he equated with God’s kingdom—butted heads with secular popular culture. Those who talk about the Christian worldview tend to focus on what Schaeffer’s disciple Charles Colson called “kingdoms in conflict”—the Christian worldview versus the secular worldview.

Ah, but which secular worldview? And for that matter, which Christian worldview? See, Schaeffer and Colson were modernists, who presumed there’s one single, correct way to look at the world. One way which matches Jesus best. Any other view is, bluntly, wrong.

Which leaves us no room for Christian diversity, for freedom in Christ, for letting each believer be fully persuaded in their own mind without condemning one another. Ro 14.4-5 Jesus isn’t the one right way and truth; Jn 14.6 their worldview is. So, y’know, they’re promoting legalism.

But primarily political conservatism. Which is why they don’t realize it’s really Christianism: They’re distorting religion, and stirring up other works of the flesh like divisiveness and partisanship.

Many Christians, many worldviews.

I’m a fan of author and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis. His day job was as a don of medieval English literature at Magdalen College, Oxford; and later the chair of medieval and Renaissance literature at Magdalene College, Cambridge. For a while I was trying to track down everything he wrote, and wound up reading his final book, the literature textbook The Discarded Image. Wasn’t what I expected at all… but it totally explained his Space Trilogy books.

The Discarded Image is about the “Medieval Model”—the worldview of western European Christians during the middle ages. He presented it as lectures to his students to explain how medievals viewed their universe. (Kinda important if you’re studying their literature.) But this worldview, the Christian worldview of its day, is a discarded image. Nobody believes it anymore.

Yet the Medieval Model has all the qualities today’s apologists claim have to be part of any worldview, and are a part of their Christian worldview. It’s complicated, but it’s consistent with the scriptures and with itself, and it’s harmonious. In many ways it’s superior to today’s “Christian worldview”: It found ways to harmonize the bible with ancient pagan philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. It had a view of the cosmos which captured the imagination and inspired creativity.

But it was wrong.

The bible parts were wildly misinterpreted. Too many of the blanks in Christian theology were filled in by pagan thinkers or opportunistic churchmen. The biology wasn’t scientific whatsoever; it’s laughable nowadays. The astronomy wasn’t scientific either.

The Medieval Model’s centerpiece was the Great Chain of Being, a cosmic totem pole which sorted out where every creature fit in God’s hierarchy. God’s on top, of course; bugs are on bottom, and humans are somewhere below angels and above animals. It clearly violates God’s idea of no ranks in Christ Jesus, Ga 3.28 but the medievals used it to defend all sorts of iffy ideas. Like the divine right of kings. Like African slavery.

Y’see, the human brain has a knack for recognizing patterns. Even when no such patterns exist. The brain wants to make sense of the world, even when everything is meaningless. Ec 1.2 It’s why we humans insist on assigning causes to accidents, or believe society should always progress instead of falling apart or repeating itself as usual. Ec 1.9 It’s why apologists insist when a worldview neatly fits together, it must be correct, for it must’ve been designed by God himself personally. The brain craves order, so whatever seems most orderly to us (especially after we lop off all the rotten bits) must be right. And godly.

Problem is, we’re wrong. Our ability to see the world as God wants us to, is greatly hindered by humanity’s innate self-centeredness. We twist stuff to suit ourselves. We twist “the Christian worldview” to suit ourselves too. That’s why you’ll catch Christians who claim they have a Christian worldview, the right worldview, and yet insist part of their worldview (even an important part of their worldview) is the right to bear arms. As if Jesus himself wrote America’s second amendment.

The Discarded Image makes it obvious a worldview can be popular, yet entirely wrong. Even a Christian worldview. Especially a Christian worldview—because it presumes we have it, so therefore we’re right. And we’re not.

Likewise we have Christians who densely don’t recognize any other Christian worldviews. Like a member of the Christian Left, whose politics are more about social justice than social conservatism, whose economic views are more about equality and socialism than laissez-faire capitalism. You know, things which Jesus and the apostles never talked about—which means these things are optional for Christians of good conscience. But if these beliefs aren’t optional, believing otherwise makes you heretic—and that’s precisely how Christians with a politically conservative worldview see fellow Christians whose politics are definitely not conservative.

Christ Jesus is supposed to bridge these gaps in beliefs. He does, if we let him. But if we’re insistent we know how to think and behave, instead of leaving these convictions to the Holy Spirit, nothing’s getting bridged. We just have disunity.

Jesus’s view.

Jesus didn’t comment on every issue and problem in the world. He left a lot of blank spots. He left those for us to deduce what to do. And sometimes there are multiple right answers to these problems. There’s often more than one way to meet a need, to show love, to fix what’s broken.

The problem is when we take one of the blank spots and insist it’s not blank. There are no gray areas, we’ll claim; it’s black and white.

Religion’s a good example: We Christians have many traditions and practices which facilitate our relationship with Jesus. True, Jesus never invented half this stuff. He never instructed us to put crosses on our jewelry, or fishes on our cars. But he’s okay with them—when they remind us to follow him. He’s not okay with them when we cling to them instead of him, and our religion goes dead. When this happens, God often insists we step away from our dead religion, and go back to living religion.

Same deal with worldviews: When a worldview helps us grow our relationships with Jesus, good! When it doesn’t, or offers an idolatrous substitute, be rid of it.

I’m a trained theologian. I can tell you what Jesus thinks about the issues he actually did discuss in bible. The rest, I don’t know how he thinks. I don’t know what he thinks of the separation of church and state, of same-sex marriage, of abortion, of euthanasia, of gambling, of the way we practice the death penalty, of the American debt ceiling, of teacher-led school prayer, or of gun control. I definitely know what I think about those things. (Well, most of ’em.) I can tell you what I think Jesus thinks, based on some of the things he said… but I’m biased, same as every human. There’s a better-than-average chance “Jesus” is gonna sound like me. Most Christians do precisely the same thing all the time. This is why we have no business claiming our worldviews are Jesus’s worldview.

So this is why I don’t claim to have, or follow, or especially defend, “the Christian worldview.” Like Paul, I don’t claim I’ve arrived. Instead, I claim I’m rubbish, and put aside my junk in order to follow Jesus, and cling to what I know he actually taught. Pp 3.8-16 And when it comes to apologetics, I defend Christ and his kingdom—not my worldview.