What is a worldview?

The term worldview should be more than a buzzword— it should provoke us to think intentionally and critically about the forces that influence our minds and hearts. We use the word “worldview” regularly, but want to take the opportunity to slow down and pick apart what it really means and then equip you to test competing worldviews against Truth.

Consider this your worldview primer.

What is a worldview?

John Stonestreet

John Stonestreet, President of the Chuck Colson Center, helps us paint a picture. He says, “What we mean by worldview is the framework through which people understand the world. It’s not what we look at, it’s what we look through to see the world.”

“A helpful analogy is a pair of ‘idea glasses.’ And when we say idea glasses I don’t think we mean sunglasses. I think we mean prescription glasses. You know if I took my glasses- I wear contact lenses- and I took my contacts out and picked up somebody else’s you know prescription lenses, it would keep me from seeing the world clearly. And that’s the power of a worldview is that it will either allow me to bring what happens in the world, or in my life- the story- into focus or it’ll make it really indiscernible and make it so we just can’t understand it. And that’s how important worldview is. It’s important we have the right one.”

There are glasses we put on that help us see reality more clearly. But there are lenses we put on that distort reality, and don’t lead us into truth.

So when we are thinking about worldview, the question we need to be asking ourselves isn’t, “Do I have a worldview?” The questions are really, “Which worldview do I have?” and “How do I know?”

This can be sticky. Why? Because oftentimes our worldview is not something we studied or intentionally formed, but it is influenced by all sorts of things like when and where we are born, parentage, religion, socio-economic status and life events which influence us. We may never realize we are living out of a worldview because it has always just been there, or been unconsciously picked up along the way of life.

“What we mean by worldview is the framework through which people understand the world. It’s not what we look at, it’s what we look through to see the world.”

Because of this, our worldview may be inconsistent depending on the topic or incomplete or even be full of contradictions. Here is where we need to be thinking intentionally about what influences us and what kinds of “glasses” we may be wearing.

Questions all worldviews must answer:

When we start to break down what is actually a worldview, and start uncovering our own, it is helpful to consider that all worldviews must provide answers to questions of origins, meaning, morality, identity and destiny. Here is what we mean:

  • Origin: Where did everything come from? Is the world a gigantic accident? Is this world the product of a Divine Plan? Is the world an illusion?
  • Meaning: What is the meaning of life? On the personal level, why do I get up in the morning? What am I going to love today? What’s worth my passion and what’s worth my time and attention?
  • Morality: Who sets the rules about what’s right and wrong. How do I know. Is it relative, is it absolute? Is it up to the powerful or is it up to some kind of divine providence to determine what’s right and wrong?
  • Identity: What makes a person? Are we different than the animals?
  • Destiny: What happens when we die and where is history headed?

A trustworthy worldview will answer all of these questions consistently and in a way that reflects reality.

As you can see, worldview is no small thing— it gives us a framework for understanding life’s big questions! It matters that we get this right. This is why worldviews can and must be tested.

Here are some questions to help evaluate and test worldviews:

  • Coherence or consistency: Is the espoused worldview logically consistent? Does it hang together as a coherent whole or does it have holes, gaps, inconsistencies and logical fallacies?
  • Comprehensive and existential: Does the worldview address the big existential questions? Can you live “internally” with the answers offered? (See part 1 for questions it must answer)
  • Reality check and explanatory power: Does the worldview correspond to reality? Does it line up with empirical, observable facts and then does it have sufficient power to explain those facts? How complete is the evidence that supports the view?
  • Verification and predictive endurance: Can the central truth claim(s) be verified (or falsified)? Does it anticipate, accommodate and successfully incorporate emerging information?
  • Livability: Can it be lived? Is it practical, workable, sensible, doable, livable?
  • Competition: Can it compete in the marketplace of ideas and respond to reasonable challenges, critiques and competing worldviews?

Now that we have a grasp on what a worldview is and how we can test the trustworthiness of one, let’s get practical in looking at the major worldview families in our time— and see how they hold up.

Major Worldview Families:

John Stonestreet shared these four worldview families in an interview with Carmen. If you would like to dive deeper on this subject, and hear him test one such worldview against our questions above, listen here for part one of the conversation and here for part two.

1. Naturalism (Dominant worldview in Western society)

The main idea: Naturalists would say that the world is only physical. There’s nothing metaphysical. The world is only natural, there’s nothing supernatural. There’s no God. All that exists is what happens in the here and now. When you die, you die and that’s it.

Members: Atheism, Marxism, and secularism.

What it looks like: Secularism is basically how most of us in the West live our lives. We live our life caring about the here and now and we don’t give a whole lot of thought to what happens when we die or where do we come from unless there’s something that creates that crisis like a death in the family or a disaster like you know like will pop up or you know our relational breakdown and you start asking those deeper questions. But secularism is kind of the default setting of our culture where all the problems you have you can get answered in the here and now, you know you can go to a doctor you can go to a counselor you can buy more stuff to fill the, you know, this stuff-shaped hole in our heart that can only be filled by Alexis [Amazon’s personal assistant].

2. Transcendentalism

The main idea: Transcendentalism world views that would be transcendental would say only the spiritual world exists and the physical world was an illusion. This would say the physical world is either an illusion or not really real and what is most true is what you feel inside. There’s not a personal God that exists but there’s a God-like energy that permeates all things and that we can tap into.

Members: Hinduism, Taoism New Age thought, cults, Spirituality as a hobby “Oprahism”

What it looks like: Transcendentalism is more kind of the pop culture spirituality effect. Transcendentalism really caters well to the radical individualism and really kind of the embedded narcissism you know of society. You’ll see it for example either the Kabbalah kind of a new agey Judaism or Scientology which is kind of a new agey cultish sort of thing which really has become a dangerous religion. But you know those are pretty popular things for example in Hollywood people who kind of have everything and they’re the center of reality .

3. Theism

The main idea: Theistic worldviews basically say that the world is both physical and spiritual because it is the creation of God and that’s how he made it.

Members: The three big theistic religions are Judaism, Islam, and Christianity.

What it looks like: The big difference between theistic worldviews and transcendental worldviews is whether God is personal or impersonal. And there’s a big difference right between a personal god and an impersonal energy. For example, you never heard Obi-Wan tell Luke ‘Luke, you know the force died for you. The force loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.’ Now, Luke’s never supposed to relate to the force. He’s supposed to use the force, and that’s what you do with an energy. So when God is reduced to an energy as opposed to a person it’s very different than say, the force of Star Wars with Aslan and Narnia. You know the kind of the Christ figure in Narnia, Aslan has a plan. Aslan has a will as someone to relate to. And you definitely just don’t use Aslan according to your own whims.

The Christian worldview

Christianity is part of the theistic worldview family and so is Islam. That doesn’t mean they’re the same. That doesn’t mean that both are right or they’re both wrong. What it means is that they both agree that there is such a thing as a personal God. Christianity carves out a distinct belief about the personal God as revealed in the Bible and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

The most important tenet actually changes everything: there is a God. He exists and that is not in our imagination— He’s outside of us. C.S. Lewis was asked what was the most important philosophical concept of all time? He said, “In the beginning God.” Because if you start with God you have a very different world. But if you don’t start with God, you start with matter and you lose sort of any place that tethers things like human dignity or or deep concepts like love and justice and truth. If you take away a plan and put together a kind of random you know chaos or put together just kind of scientific principles that we observe, but they aren’t really intended by anyone.

The second thing is that God has spoken. God has revealed Himself. If God had created the world and then decided we wouldn’t know who He is we would kind of be you know out of luck. But He actually gave us a way to know what He wanted from us in His revelation through the Bible. Now we have a God who communicates and so revelation is not just kind of part of a Christian worldview, it is the central core because it is our source of information.

What this looks like: If God created the world and He revealed Himself and His will to us in His Word, then we can actually know Him and His design for our lives. For example, He created men, men and women. That’s not just kind of an invention we made in culture, but it’s actually a thing you know God actually reveals. We can’t deny that. It’s like denying gravity. It doesn’t matter if we deny it, it still exists and there’s going to be consequences for denying it because reality is what reality is. We’re not just talking about your opinion versus my opinion.”

What is your worldview?

Like the right vision prescription, a good worldview helps us see clearly. Now is a good time to evaluate your own worldview— is it trustworthy, consistent and based in reality? If not, it is time for a vision correction. Just like we go to the eye doctor to check our eyesight against reality, we can go to Christ, to correct any misalignments or blurry vision. He has graciously given us the ultimate source of Truth— His Word— so that we might live fully and abundantly. That’s why it is so important we go to the Bible to align our minds and hearts. If you are looking for a resource on how to do that, please visit our Where in the Word page.

For more resources on worldview visit: