What is worldview and how does it effect Leadership?

There are a number of definitions used for the term worldview, as it tends to be a concept more often dealt with in philosophy than the more typical academic and practical disciplines.  A practical definition is that of James Sire: “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions) which we hold (consciously or unconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.”[1]    Phillips and Brown contend that “A Worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world and second, an application of this view to life.  In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world.”[2] 


Another practical definition comes from wordIQ.com:


The English term worldview is a term derived from the German word Weltanschauung, one of the most important concepts in cognitive philosophy and generative sciences. This expression refers to the 'wide worldview' or 'wide world perception' of a people. The Weltanschauung of a people originates from the unique world experience of a people, which they experience over several millennia. The language of a people reflects the Weltanschauung of that people in the form of its language structures. A world view describes a consistent (to a varying degree) and integral sense of existence and provides a framework for generating, sustaining and applying knowledge. The term denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity, about the world as the medium and exercise of human existence: politics, economics, religion, culture, science, and ethics. At all times, religious and political teachings were bases for forming worldviews; in fact, they were often worldviews themselves. For example, Christianity, Islam, socialism, Marxism, scientology may be called worldviews; at least they generate clearly identifiable worldviews. Historically, world views changed little and slowly, achieving wide (and often unquestioning) support.


 As should be apparent, worldview is a large concept: it is something we all have and is the thing that frames how we view life.  It is the “framework that ties everything together, that allows us to understand society, the world, and our place in it, and that could help us to make the critical decisions which will shape our future.”[3]


F. Heylighen in the above referenced work attempts to explain the work of Leo Apostel, a Belgian philosopher and the work of many at the Center Leo Apostel, an interdisciplinary research center working on the subject of worldview.  He describes the following seven components as fundamental of a worldview.


A model of the world

It should allow us to understand how the world functions and how it is structured.  “World” here means the totality, everything that exists around us, including the physical universe, the Earth, life, mind, society and culture.  We ourselves are an important part of that world. Therefore, a worldview should also answer the basic question: “Who are we?”



The second component is supposed to explain the first one. It should answer the questions: “Why is the world the way it is? Where does it all come from? Where do we come from?” This is perhaps the most important part of a worldview. If we can explain how and why a particular phenomenon (say life or mind) has arisen, we will be able to better understand how that phenomenon functions. It will also help us to understand how that phenomenon will continue to evolve.



This extrapolation of past evolution into the future defines a third component of a worldview: futurology. It should answer the question “Where are we going to?” It should give us a list of possibilities, of more of less probable future developments. But this will confront us with a choice: which of the different alternatives should we promote and which should we avoid?



This is the more fundamental issue of value: “What is good and what is evil?” The theory of values defines the fourth component of a worldview. It includes morality or ethics, the system of rules which tells us how we should or should not behave. It also gives us a sense of purpose, a direction or set of goals to guide our actions. Together with the answer to the question “why?”, the answer to the question “what for?”, may help us to understand the real meaning of life.



Knowing what to strive for does not year mean knowing how to get there, though. The next component must be a theory of action (praxiology). It would answer the question “How should we act?” It would help us to solve practical problems and to implement plans of action.



Plans are based on knowledge and information, on theories and models describing the phenomena we encounter. Therefore, we need to understand how we can construct reliable models. This is the component of knowledge acquisition. It is equivalent to what in philosophy is called epistemology or “the theory of knowledge”. It should allow us to distinguish better theories from worse theories. It should answer the traditional philosophic question “What is true and what is false?”


Building Blocks

The final point on the agenda of a worldview builder is not meant to answer any fundamental question. It just reminds us that worldviews cannot be developed from scratch. You need building blocks to start with. These building blocks can be found in existing theories, models, concepts, guidelines and values, scattered over the different disciplines and ideologies. This defines the seventh component: fragments of worldviews as a starting point.



What is a “Christian” worldview?


The problem is immediate, and centers on the word Christian.  Christianity is a broad cloth, with many doctrinal positions. As a result, the majority of Christians develop worldviews primarily as a function of the culture they are raised in, the country they live in, or from their ethnic group or family.  In many parts of Christianity, culture and faith are so closely tied (think Irish Catholic or Greek Orthodox) that the worldview is a mix of both. 


Of note is that the American Fundamentalist-Evangelical movement has always been different, and through its history has focused on forming a specific worldview. For many years it was not a conscious undertaking, and “worldview” was probably not even in the lexicon of the movement.  However, stemming out of the Biblical inerrancy and Biblical literacy beliefs were the foundational elements for a rigid and literalist worldview—one at increasing odds with science and common sense.


In the late 1990’s, George Barna began defining and identifying Christian worldviews, and others began to focus on the subject as previously undefined need in Fundamentalist-Evangelical Christianity. Specifically, these people studied the concept enough to realize that the most effective way to shape and form Christians (their type of Christians) for life was to have an active role in the defining of their worldview.


Following some major public polling research in 2003, Barna said:


Rather than simply provide people with good material and hope they figure out what to do with it, these are churches whose services, programs, events and relationships are geared to weaving a limited number of foundational biblical principles into a way of responding to every life situation. The goal is to facilitate a means of interpreting and responding to every life situation that is consistent with God's expectations.


Thus in the past two decades, an active undertaking came into being which began for create and solidify a Fundamentalist-Evangelical sub-culture through the definition of an acceptable worldview.


An illuminating approach to this is the publication of the fundamentalist Probe Ministry, who begin with the assertion that all worldviews should be tested:


A worldview should pass certain tests. First, it should be rational. It should not ask us to believe contradictory things. Second, it should be supported by evidence. It should be consistent with what we observe. Third, it should give a satisfying comprehensive explanation of reality. It should be able to explain why things are the way they are. Fourth, it should provide a satisfactory basis for living. It should not leave us feeling compelled to borrow elements of another worldview in order to live in this world. (Worldviews by Jerry Solomon, published by Probe Ministries, 1994)


They then go on to define what worldviews should necessarily contain:


In addition to putting worldviews to these tests, we should also see that worldviews have common components. These components are self-evident. It is important to keep these in mind as you establish your own worldview, and as you share with others. There are four of them.


First, something exists. This may sound obvious, but it really is an important foundational element of worldview building since some will try to deny it. But a denial is self- defeating because all people experience cause and effect. The universe is rational; it is predictable.


Second, all people have absolutes. Again, many will try to deny this, but to deny it is to assert it. All of us seek an infinite reference point. For some it is God; for others it is the state, or love, or power, and for some this reference point is themselves or man.


Third, two contradictory statements cannot both be right. This is a primary law of logic that is continually denied. Ideally speaking, only one worldview can correctly mirror reality. This cannot be overemphasized in light of the prominent belief that tolerance is the ultimate virtue. To say that someone is wrong is labeled intolerant or narrow-minded. A good illustration of this is when we hear people declare that all religions are the same. It would mean that Hindus, for example, agree with Christians concerning God, Jesus, salvation, heaven, hell, and a host of other doctrines. This is nonsense.


Fourth, all people exercise faith. All of us presuppose certain things to be true without absolute proof. These are inferences or assumptions upon which a belief is based. This becomes important, for example, when we interact with those who allege that only the scientist is completely neutral. Some common assumptions are: a personal God exists; man evolved from inorganic material; man is essentially good; reality is material.


As we dialogue with people who have opposing worldviews, an understanding of these common components can help us listen more patiently, and they can guide us to make our case more wisely.


The notion of “dialoguing with people who have opposing worldviews” makes clear that there are two purposes at work: first, define your own worldview; then two, convince others they should adopt yours.


Selling the Fundamentalist-Evangelical Worldview


Then comes the “sell your worldview” methodology. It is actually a primer on how to understand someone’s worldview, and then present and replace theirs with yours!  It begins with understanding:


Have you ever been frustrated with finding ways to stir the thinking of a non-Christian friend? We are confident the following questions will be of help. And we are also confident they will stir your thinking about the subject of worldviews.

We will answer these questions with various non-Christian responses. Christian responses will be discussed later in this article.


First, Why is there something rather than nothing? Some may actually say something came from nothing. Others may state that something is here because of impersonal spirit or energy. And many believe matter is eternal.


Second, How do you explain human nature? Frequently people will say we are born as blank slates, neither good nor evil. Another popular response is that we are born good, but society causes us to behave otherwise.


Third, What happens to a person at death? Many will say that a person's death is just the disorganization of matter. Increasingly people in our culture are saying that death brings reincarnation or realization of oneness.


Fourth, How do you determine what is right and wrong? Often we hear it said that ethics are relative or situational. Others assert that we have no free choice since we are entirely determined. Some simply derive "oughts" from what "is." And of course history has shown us the tragic results of a "might makes right" answer.


Fifth, How do you know that you know? Some say that the mind is the center of our source of knowledge. Things are only known deductively. Others claim that knowledge is only found in the senses. We know only what is perceived.


Sixth, What is the meaning of history? One answer is that history is determined as part of a mechanistic universe. Another answer is that history is a linear stream of events linked by cause and effect but without purpose. Yet another answer is that history is meaningless because life is absurd.

The alert Christian will quickly recognize that the preceding answers are contrary to his beliefs. There are definite, sometimes startling differences. Worldviews are in collision. Thus we should know at least something about the worldviews that are central to the conflict. And we should certainly be able to articulate a Christian worldview.


Having described these non-Christian responses with a collection of various, vague and conflicting observations, they then put forward the “right” Christian worldview.


Let's return to the six questions we asked earlier and briefly see how the Christian Theist might answer them.


Question: Why is there something rather than nothing? Answer: There is an infinite-personal God who has created the universe out of nothing.


Question: How do you explain human nature? Answer: Man was originally created good in God's image, but chose to sin and thus infected all of humanity with what is called a "sin nature." So man has been endowed with value by his creator, but his negative behavior is in league with his nature.


Question: What happens to a person at death? Answer: Death is either the gate to life with God or to eternal separation from Him. The destination is dependent upon the response we give to God's provision for our sinfulness.


Question: How do you determine what is right and wrong?

Answer: The guidelines for conduct are revealed by God.


Question: How do you know that you know? Answer: Reason and experience can be legitimate teachers, but a transcendent source is necessary. We know some things only because we are told by God through the Bible.


Question: What is the meaning of history? Answer: History is a linear and meaningful sequence of events leading to the fulfillment of God's purposes for man.


Now what has been put forward is a very clear, decisive and definitive set of answers to the same questions. Of note, though, is that none of them can be objectively substantiated, and all of them are principally informed by a pre-existing “faith” or a literalist reading of the Bible.


The Worldview Outcome


Barna, Solomon and others in the Fundamentalist-Evangelical movement have come to the correct observation, in fact the same one as other researchers in this area—that worldview is among the most fundamental aspects of a person and how they view the world. 


What they set out to do, however, is to define a worldview that is acceptable to the Fundamental-Evangelical faith position, and then develop a methodology to inculcate that into “the faithful.” The result is a group of believers who are very deeply and solidly grounded in a view of life in spite of, and often regardless of the facts.


Who needs a theological education if you’ve got the “right” worldview?  Who needs to understand Church history, doctrine, theology or ethics if you’ve got the “right” worldview? In fact, from the leaders of the movement, and for the politicians in cahoots with them that are focused on electing the “right” candidates, it is better to have un-educated and non-thinking people who have a rock solid “right” worldview.


If you struggle for an example of what that looks like, it is a fundamentalist who subscribes to Biblical inerrancy, reads the Bible literally, decries the moral turpitude of modern culture and is horrified by all the trappings of modernity……..and publicizes his positions by using a computer with an internet connection and/or by talking on a cell phone.  Both of which are technological developments of modern science.


These people have adopted a worldview that is most appropriate to a radical Christian living in 13th century medieval Europe rather than one appropriate to a society that has lowered world poverty with agricultural research, increased human life span though medicine, propagated in democracy the most person-affirming form of governance history has seen, and improved the quality of life for the majority of living human beings.


We find ourselves, as contemporary Americans, living in a country with a sizeable and vocal Fundamentalist-Evangelical sub-culture that was recently described by Frank Schaeffer as “A fifth column of insanity, which is taught to reject fact as a matter of faith.”  He went on to pose the rhetorical question: “Can Christianity be saved from Christians?”


[1] James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, IL; InterVarsity, 1988), p. 17

[2] W. Gary Phillips & William E. Brown, Making Sense of Your World (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), p. 29

[3] F. Heylighen, What is a World View; Principia Cybernetica Web; p. 1

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© Benjamin Williams