Worldview: History and Christian Application of Weltanschauung Theory

The recent aftermath of Hurricane Katrina provides a poignant backdrop for discussions of worldview as a concept. How does one explain the harsh contrast of the almost instant descent into anarchy—looters and gangs shooting at rescuers—to the altruistic heroics of others in search, rescue and relief efforts? Why do some destroy, some blame and others selflessly meet needs? Is it solely circumstantial or something deeper? From where do their various presuppositions about the value of life, the ethics of property rights and motivation for the good of others spring and why are they so different? Beneath any discussion of ethics, societal norms or environmental triggers lies another, more basic, point: that which is normally taken for granted by the person—worldview. As Charles Colson points out in a recent Breakpoint commentary regarding the dichotomous scene in New Orleans, "In the aftermath of one of the worst disasters in American history, we ought to remind our neighbors that only the Christian worldview explains the otherwise bewildering events we have watched on television: We saw the depravity—exactly what happens when governing restraints are withdrawn. And we saw human compassion at its glorious best."

The concept of worldview has been popularized of late, appearing in usages from news stories to Sunday school curricula. But just what is a worldview? From what line of thinking and from whom did this construct emerge and develop? The graphic image above of a heart-shaped world within a telescope represents the essence of "worldview" as defined by Dr. David Naugle, author of Worldview: The History of a Concept (Eerdmans, 2002). Among other insights he provides, the notion of worldview as handed down by such Christian reformers as Kuyper and Schaeffer basically parallels the biblical concept of the heart. Generally, one's worldview "constitutes the symbolic universe that has profound implications on a variety of significant human practices. It digs the channels in which the waters of reason flow. It establishes the hermeneutic framework by which texts are interpreted. It is that mental medium through which world is known," according to Naugle. Thus, a worldview is both personally held and exists outside the knower. This is key to discussions of worldview regarding relativism.

Naugle takes the topic deep, coursing through the history of philosophy and such thinkers as Aristotle, Descartes, and Kant, originator of the term Weltanschauung, or worldview. Naugle explores the relationship of worldview to hermeneutics, the formal study of interpretation, through the writings of philosophers like Wilhelm Dilthey, Edumund Husserl, Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer. He summarizes the impact of Protestant evangelicals, who have taken the concept to new heights, including John Calvin, James Orr, Abraham Kuyper, Carl F.H. Henry and Francis Schaeffer.

As Colson claimed, these theologians on the latter list believe that the story of mankind's creation, fall and redemption is a worldview that comports with and interprets reality better than any other. Two books by Nancy Pearcey and Colson and Pearcey make that case and are reviewed below.

This collection could have taken several tacks; we provide a thoroughly Christian approach with examples of worldview-based work mostly by evidentialist apologists. We were unable to provide from the rich variety of other approaches by such thinkers as neo-Thomists Jacques Barzun and Jacques Maritain. Nor are there time or resources to explore other than Christian conceptions of worldview, except as discussed briefly by the authors presented. Perhaps this Special Focus will grow in the future to engage some of those. Regardless, it is fruitless to argue about the hope of some Cartesian objectivity in discussion of worldview. As Naugle states, "Any view of worldview is itself worldview dependent," so since there is no way to come at the subject free from prejudice, we have only attempted to fairly portray this angle.

We welcome your views, from whichever worldview they may originate: offer feedback to

—Byron Barlowe, Editor/Webmaster, Leadership University


Worldview or Weltanschauung Theory Examined (From a Christian Worldview Position)

Worldview: History, Theology, Implications
Dr. David Naugle
Worldview scholar Naugle writes, "...I submit that the most practical and important thing about a human being is his or her view of the universe and theory of the cosmos--that is, the content and implications of one's worldview.... I believe that conceiving of biblical faith as a worldview has been one of the more important developments in the recent history of the Church." One's worldview "digs the channels in which the waters of reason flow."

The Age of the "World Picture": Hermeneutics and Weltanschauung Theory
Dr. David Naugle
Worldview scholar Naugle concludes that the Aristotelian insight regarding "the propriety of multiple approaches to and consequences from all sorts of human inquiry," has been rediscovered in this "hermeneutically charged postmodern era [that is] truly the age of the worldview." This in contrast to the Cartesian ideal of totally objectified scientific inquiry. That is, "all knowledge in the human and natural sciences is characterized by interpretive dimensions dicated by worldview."

Worldview Bibliography
Dr. David Naugle
Very comprehensive bibliography on the topic of worldview (Weltanschauung) by one of the world's top worldview scholars, Dr. David Naugle. Includes Worldview and: Philosophy, Anthropology & Folklore, Pscyhology, Theology & Biblical Studies, etc. and even German sources.

Resources to Apply Christian Worldview and Examples of Chrisitan Worldview Applied

Books in Review: Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity
Dr. Francis Beckwith
Philosophy professor and cultural commentator Francis Beckwith reviews Nancy Pearcey's Total Truth. Beckwith resonates with the author's critique of our culture's "two-tiered view of truth." The model, first explained by Francis Schaeffer, says the second floor regards matters of subjective opinion and belief while the first floor entails quantifiable, verifiable fact. This worldview hinders full knowledge and creates a false dichotomy. Beckwith takes issue with Pearcey's treatment of Aristotle, yet praises the book and author.

Books in Review: How Now Shall We Live?
Dr. J. Budziszewski
Budziskewski examines Colson and Pearcy's How Now Shall We Live? whose title is a take-off on their mentor Francis Schaeffer's How Then, Shall We Live? "Creation, fall, and redemption are the distinctively Christian answers to the three questions that face them all: 1) Who are we and where did we come from? 2) What’s wrong with the world? 3) How can it be fixed? Colson and Pearcey use these three questions as a 'grid' to break up and analyze the worldviews with which Christianity is in conflict. This comparative analysis prepares them to show that no other worldview fits the structure of created reality as well. In the last part of the volume, they apply the results of their discussion to the restoration of our fast–collapsing culture."

Why We Shouldn't Hate Philosophy
Michael Gleghorn
Philosophy does have value in the Christian life, and Christians don't need to hate or fear it. Thinking critically about some of life's most important questions is a way for us to fulfill the biblical mandate to love God with our minds. Christian scholars are and should be analyzing and challenging contemporary culture, presenting balanced, reasoned, biblical information and influencing the culture for Christ.

Three Meanings of Secular
Douglas Farrow
Farrow incisively discusses three competing worldviews--deeper, often less examined than mere positions--regarding secularization, the church and the state: supersessionist, liberal and eschatological. The latter, oriented not to some past era but a future redemption, is uniquely able to avoid the problems and immodesty of its rivals. One reason: religious judgments are unavoidable, despite the goals and claims of secular proponents, rendering less modest views hypocritical and hegemonic.

Outline: Clashing Civilizations, Culture Wars, and the Academy: The Illuminating Role of "Worldview"
Dr. David Naugle
Outline of a lecture in which Naugle draws from his book, Worldview: History of a Concept and applies Weltanschauung theory to conflicts between the West and Islam, culture wars and the rancor in the academy (university). It is clear that "there is no view from nowhere" and "knowledge is perspectival"--a concept that makes a "worldview of difference." Helpful as an overview.

Lecture: Clashing Civilizations, Culture Wars, and the Academy: The Illuminating Role of "Worldview"
Dr. David Naugle
Naugle draws from his book, Worldview: History of a Concept and applies Weltanschauung theory to conflicts between the West and Islam, culture wars and the rancor in the academy (university). It is clear that "there is no view from nowhere" and "knowledge is perspectival"--a concept that makes a "worldview of difference."

The Question of a Christian Worldview: Books by Nancy Pearcey and David Naugle
Dr. James Skillen
This review of Pearcey's Total Truth and Naugle's Worldview: History of a Concept provides more: a mini-review of a New York Times article by Ian Buruma, "Is ‘Islamic Democracy’ Really Possible?" Practical for its currency regarding the "war on terror."