What Is A Worldview & Why It Matters?

By Todd Clay / January 6, 2018

What is a worldview, what it’s made of, and why it matters.

Short Answer

A worldview is “the sum total of our beliefs about the world.” (Chuck Colson). We all have a worldview, it consists of certain parts, and leads to real-life actions.

Long Answer

Have you ever put on colored glasses?

Slip on those colored glasses and everything you see takes on a shade of the lens color. If you put on red colored glasses, everything takes on a different hue of red. If you put on green colored glasses, then everything looks green – and so on. That’s like a worldview.

Definition: Worldview

A worldview is a way you look at the world. It’s the lens through which you interpret all your experience and through which you make decisions. It’s your colored glasses you wear, even if you don’t know you’re wearing them. More technically, according to David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times (Focus on the Family), a worldview is…

“The framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. “[It’s] any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world.”

That’s a great definition. But sometimes it helps to sum up many words with a few. So a more simple understanding comes from Chuck Colson who once said, a worldview is “the sum total of our beliefs about the world.” (Focus on the Family)

Everybody has a worldview.

That worldview may not be well-developed or the person holding it may not be able to articulate it clearly, but each person has a distinct way they interpret their world. For instance, each of these people have a worldview…

  • The crying 2-year old who believes he’s the center of the universe.
  • The atheist biology professor who just finished a lecture on Neo-Darwinism.
  • The Christian pastor who just posted a blog on his church’s website.
  • The Hindu technical support rep who just answered your computer question.
  • The stay-at-home mom who just finished cooking dinner.

You and I have our own worldview too. Whenever we overhear a conversation from someone in a coffee shop, or stumble upon lewd website, or when we read an unbelievable news story, we automatically file that new information into a grid of prior understanding. That understanding is our worldview.

Parts of a Worldview

A worldview, much like a philosophy, has different aspects.

James N. Anderson, author of What’s Your Worldview?, identifies 5-parts to a person’s worldview. It can be summarized in the acronym TAKES. From Crossway

  • Theology
  • Anthropology
  • Knowledge
  • Ethics
  • Salvation

Theology – Every worldview has a theology – it says something about God or the divine. The view may be very precise or vague, explicit or implicit, negative or positive (i.e. atheistic vs. theistic), but every worldview talks about God.

Anthropology – In the same way, every worldview has a take on human beings. It represents a certain perspective on humanity. It articulates our origin, uniqueness (or non-uniqueness), purpose, nature, and destiny. Worldviews always address what we are and our significance.

Knowledge – Likewise, worldviews usually attempt to explain knowledge: what we can know and how we can know it. It also comments on closely related subjects, like truth, logic, reason, experience, intuition, and revelation. Philosophers call this area ‘epistemology’.

Ethics – Each worldview also has a distinct take on goodness and morality. Ethics covers areas like the highest good, whether morality is objective or subjective, what is right and wrong, and rewards for doing good or judgements for doing evil.

Salvation – Finally, every worldview has a “salvation story” to tell. When Christians hear the word ‘salvation’ we tend to think salvation from sin, death, and hell through the atoning work of Jesus. But here ‘salvation’ is more generic: what is the basic human problem and what is the solution to that problem.

Worldview Describes Your Beliefs Which Lead To Your Actions

In addition, every component of a worldview is interrelated. Theology relates to anthropology and anthropology relates to knowledge, and so on. What you believe about God has a direct impact on what you believe about humanity’s nature and our ultimate destiny.

These worldview components also affect how you will live your life and your ethics. And your ethics lead to real world actions.

Don’t believe me? Then think about this…

Thought Experiment: The Atheist & The Mentally Ill Child

Pretend you’re an atheist. In your atheist mind, us humans are just a cosmic accident floating on a remote rock in a cold, dying universe. We are stardust, as an old song says. That’s a standard understanding in an atheistic worldview.

So if that’s true, what makes killing a mentally ill child wrong?

You may think it’s wrong because it feels wrong, and it’s not something you really want to do. But if you’re a consistent atheist, can you really justify your uncomfortable feelings about murder? Perhaps that’s just your unreasonable self who hasn’t come to terms with your atheism just yet. In your new reality, that child is just stardust and you’re stardust too.

So what’s really wrong with some stardust snuffing out another speck of stardust in the mind of an atheist?

See how one aspect of someone’s worldview can affect their life. And that’s just one example of how someone’s atheism (theology) affects their view of a mentally challenged person (humanity) and whether it’s okay to kill that person (ethics).

Of Worldviews and Philosophies

Studying worldview is a fascinating area. It’s essentially a fresh way to consider yours or others basic philosophy and theology. Worldview analysis can uncover what you and your friends believe which can be helpful in important conversations.

Suffice to say: we all have a worldview, it consists of certain parts, and it describes your foundational beliefs which leads to real-life actions.

Resources

James Anderson: What Is A Worldview?

Del Tacket: What’s A Christian Worldview?

Matt Slick: What Are Some Christian Worldview Essentials?

Todd Clay is a husband, dad, and a Christian (Reformed Baptist). Todd holds a BA in history from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Theological Studies from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

3 thoughts on “What Is A Worldview & Why It Matters?”

  1. A Christian Socrates says:

    Hello, Todd! Thank you for your post about worldviews. I’m a Christian who believes that Science only helps us see God’s infiniteness more and more clearly. Our professor back then taught us about paradigm shifts, like the colored lenses but you wear different ones to see things in a different like. I like to think about our different faiths in this world as different colored lenses. No matter how confident one claims his lens to be, it’s always colored. It’s like the three blind men and an elephant. Everyone’s worldviews is influenced by what a person feels the elephant to be (a man who holds on to the snout believes the elephant to be a slithering snake, while the man holding the trunk believes it to be as thick as a tree) and they’re not entirely correct, but they’re not wrong either. For me, that and a lot of other things make it seem more clearly to me that no one can know the whole Truth because it’s impossible. Taken another way, no one can know God’s infinity despite how many synaptic connections you make in your brain.

    It’s great to know that there are people like you who advocate the coexistence of science and faith, standing to be the counterculture in a world that tries to kick God out of the picture. I wish more people would wear the clearest kind of lens I know: the lens of humility. The lens that knows it doesn’t know everything.

    Just one last comment before I go. I’m pretty concerned with the ethics of killing a baby, an argument which a lot of Christians use against Atheists. I’ve seen a lot of Apologetics writers write the same thing, but I’m always disturbed by it because it would seem like the whole Atheist groundwork would crumble at this question, when it fact it can easily be explained by evolutionary theories. People who develop the hardware to “see themselves in others” are sure to survive far better than those who sacrifice or kill their own kin. It can definitely explain why it feels wrong to do this.

    Though I agree that Atheism always falls apart at some point. For me, what’s actually more concerning and more difficult to tackle is Agnosticism. Knowing that there’s a God out there, but you don’t really care about what He says and does. For me, that’s one of the truest manifestations of a heart that has been hardened towards God. Atheists actually look for Christ, but don’t know it. Agnostics know the possibility that He is there, but choose to disregard it as a waste of time, maybe even a cultural machine that has produced abominations throughout the centuries.

    This is just my two cents on the matter. Thank you for this refreshing post! Hope to hear from you sometime.

    1. Todd Clay says:

      Thanks for writing, A Christian Socrates. Indeed, more will profess Agnosticism than Atheism – it seems like an easier position to take. But it is self-refuting. When someone says they “don’t know if there is a God”, they are professing some bit of knowledge – namely that they KNOW “there is no God.” Agnosticism is prevalent, but is not easily defensible.

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