I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.

St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4

Sunday, December 6, 2009


I hope that it will become obvious by the end of this post that everyone has a worldview. If that is the case, you have one and so does every other person you come in contact with, however remote that contact may be.

Consider the implications. Every personal correspondence you encounter is shaped by a worldview. Every movie, book, email, whisper, physiological or psychological diagnosis, sign, cliché, symbol, oration, polity, painting, and any other token of meaning and personality you can conjure, finds its intention obdurately stationed in some nexus of beliefs, some paradigm—someone’s or some group’s worldview.

What’s more is that all of the inbound data that you're saturated with in your experience is in turn sifted by you through the grid of your own worldview. Granting this, then, few things could be as crucial in life as understanding precisely what a worldview is and how it functions, in both its whole and its parts. Let us therefore contemplate a little of the concept’s development, various attempts of definition and the implications these have for Christians and culture. In this post, we look only at the concept’s development, and that only in part.

Conceptually speaking, the modern religio-philosophical consciousness of worldview harkens back to Immanuel Kant’s (1724—1804) work, Critique of Pure Reason. Therein, Kant coined the term, weltanschauung, which roughly means in German, one’s view of the world and things.

At the risk of getting ahead of myself, I can’t help point out the fact that two centuries prior to Kant, a Frenchman had already preempted this idea. Two of the greatest figures of the Protestant Reformation were undoubtedly Kant’s Frankish fellow, Martin Luther, and the Frenchman, John Calvin. The former was first in augmenting the breadth of biblical Christianity, but God, in his manifold grace, ordained the plumbing of the infinite depths and highest heights of biblical religion to fall on the heart and mind of the latter, John Calvin.

Calvin’s anticipation of Kant’s concept of weltanschauung was more prescriptive than descriptive, more a matter of dogma than philosophical speculation. In tight keeping with the Reformational battle cry, Sola Scriptura (i.e., ‘Scripture Alone’ has final authority over the life and practice of the Church), Calvin spoke analogously of the Scriptures as the “lenses” through which the Christian, individually and corporately, was to view the world and all of life, whether in the natural or supernatural spheres (I use this last distinction with some reluctance).

Calvin’s “lenses” motif became, for himself, the controlling axiom for the rest of his monumental work, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Consequently, due to the undaunted force of influence his systematic appraisal had over all of life, that volume shaped modern Western societies and culture. John Calvin, however consciously, set before the world a self-contained, full-orbed system, lenses if you will, for viewing all of human experience. Protestantism, and more particularly, Calvinism, pressed onto the world profound schemata of contours for understanding Creator, creation, and everything between the two.

This attention on Calvin is not to steal Kant’s thunder, however. Rather, it is to point out that an acute recognition of a thing is not the origin of the thing itself; the thunder doesn’t belong to either of these men. Neither Calvin nor Kant can claim responsibility for creating the reality of the concept of worldview any more than Aristotle can for creating logical laws. Receptive discovery and creative originality are often confused in the mind of man. Where there is mind, there is logic; so also, where there is personality, there is worldview.

The primeval quality of worldview is evident in the scantiest antiquarian glance. Whether one looks to the Pagan world, with its Democritus (c. 460 – 370 B.C.), for instance, and his totalizing atomistic schema, The Little World-System, or one looks to ancient Israel and her conceptual apparatuses, such as the tripartite prophet, priest and king, the tabernacle/temple and its cultus, and the absolute demarcations between the clean and unclean, etc., the conceptual framework of what we understand as worldview is there.

We’ve went backwards in this short survey, haven’t we? However, that’s the point. An individual’s worldview may morph and even radically shift perspectives, such as when the Holy Spirit through the gospel regenerates a person. However, the reality of worldview has not changed.

Man is incorrigibly a conceptualizing and theorizing creature, we are unique among the rest of creation. Hence, even at this point, we inevitably find ourselves knee deep in worldview-esque inquiry: What is man? And why is he that way? This is a bit premature, but unavoidable, since the reality and formation of worldview is inextricably tied to personality and the human condition, as we said.

So, not only does the fact that every person, including oneself, has a worldview grant this topic pride of place in our overall thinking, but that worldview, in principle, seems unavoidably essential to human personality makes our careful reflection on the issue supremely significant for Christians. This, because whatever is essential to human rationality is a consequent or attributive part of being created imago dei, being made in the image and likeness of the triune God. If then, our conceptualizing capacity is rooted in our being reflective image bearers of God, it follows that God himself has a worldview, so to speak.

Cautious delineations in the analogy must be borne in mind—variances that are qualitative and ontological in nature—that is to say, man’s and God’s worldviews cannot have one to one correspondence, due to the nature of the case; but in so far as there is correspondence, especially in and through the Person of Christ, few things are as important for Christian meditation, devotion and prayer. Thus, Augustine’s dictum, that we must strive to “think God’s thoughts after him,” has become axiomatic in discussions of worldview within the Protestant community, both past and present.

Having worked our way back to the Terminus, God’s mind, in the next post we’ll start where we began today and move from there into history future, and particularly look at how various modern thinkers have attempted to give a concise, systematic form to the concept.
If we’ve learned anything from these thoughts, it should be transparent that all that I’ve written here finds its meaning from within my worldview and all that you’ve read was taken in through the grid of yours, and at very least, that everyone has a worldview.

No comments:

Post a Comment