It has been about 35 years since both my conversion to Christianity and reading a life-changing book on Christian worldview, entitled Idols for Destruction by Herbert Schlossberg. It was this book that began my intense interest in integrating my Christian faith with the disciplines with which I interacted. My deep interest has never disappeared and in fact has grown, along with a better understanding over time of what it means to integrate and what it is we integrate. What I would like to offer below is a rather extended discussion of what I have gleaned since Schlossberg and others.
Several definitions could be appropriate for a worldview. I have come to define it as the set of answers to the crucial questions of life. Together, the questions and their answers make up a worldview for any individual. Of course no individual’s worldview will be perfectly consistent with the answers. But one can measure his or her worldview by those answers, assuming, as we will, that they are in turn consistent with the Scriptural data. I will enumerate the questions below.
But first, we need a definition for integration. This I define as the application of the Christian worldview (defined more fully below) to any discipline or sphere of knowledge. A worldview in this sense then is primarily an intellectual construct and integration is an intellectual endeavor. This is not at all to slight the more practical aspects of worldview thinking, but only to limit the scope of this treatment to make it more manageable and to get at the issues often ignored.
What is a Christian worldview?
I defined a worldview. Now I will define an explicitly Christian worldview, based on the answers to the relevant questions. The questions are, among the most important:
- What is real? (Ontology)
- How do we know what we know? (Epistemology)
- What is right and wrong? (Ethics)
- What is human nature like? (Anthropology)
- What is our summum bonum (highest good) or purpose in life?
- Does God exist and what is God like?
- Does history have a pattern?
There may be more such questions, but these represent a core of crucial ones. The task now is to answer these in a Christian way. To do this I make some foundational assumptions, one of which is itself part of the worldview framework above: How do we know what we know, if we can know at all? I will assume without proof or demonstration that the Christian Scriptures (special revelation) are the source and boundary condition (that is, limiting condition) for any other answer to any other crucial question of life. I can of course be criticized for this, but if so the critic has the task of defending his position, which is reduced I believe to either reference to general revelation (with an empirical basis) or intuition. I am NOT arguing that general revelation is useless, but that it cannot itself be the foundation for worldview.
Moreover, I am not here appealing to most traditional theological categories for the worldview framework, for example, the doctrines of sin, atonement, Christology, salvation, eschatology, the Christian life, etc. This strategy is not because those categories are unimportant. On the contrary, they are also crucial, but they are the beginning of building a Christian worldview, not the end in themselves. We have to get those right, but they themselves are products of Scriptural data (hopefully) and function as the initial building blocks and theological assumptions on which to go further to construct a “theology” of each individual realm of knowledge (using traditional categories of realms of knowledge, e. g., politics, economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, literature, etc.).
The answers to the crucial questions, as I said, form a basic worldview, and the Christian worldview is in essence a Biblical worldview, constructed from Biblical data. I did not say only Biblical data can contribute to the Christian worldview, but that special revelation must act as the ultimate arbiter as to what may be accepted outside Scriptural data. In addition the issue of hermeneutics arises because the interpretation of Scripture will determine whether we have answered the question properly or not, even assuming that we appeal to Scripture. Interpretation poses a thorny problem on occasions, but most scholars acknowledge that Scripture is perspicuous for most issues. However, special caution is in order when “mining” the Scriptures for data that would help construct a Christian worldview, as well as the more particular worldview of a specific discipline. The experience with “worldview interpretation” has had a spotty history, sometimes overly simplistic, sometimes just bad exegesis (more on that below). On one end of the spectrum is proof-texting, while on the other end, there is “theological reflection” or correlation of texts that do not “fit” the discipline or realm of knowledge. These are all problems to be overcome, and can be overcome, for the most part, with proper method and philosophy of interpretation and proper methods of theology applied to texts not involved in traditional theological categories.
Once the basic questions have been answered satisfactorily, a Christian worldview has been more or less constructed (I say more or less because it will be subject to modification in terms of new Scriptural data and better interpretation, as well as possibly better theological conclusions as time passes, but will always ,maintain its core features). Now we turn to individual disciplines of knowledge. We will proceed to ask questions of any given discipline, utilizing the questions we answered above, and will assess the consistency with the Christian/biblical answers to determine the extent to which that discipline is or can be made to be consistent with Scriptural principles and theology. This is not as simple as it might seem. When one says “politics” for example, first what does it mean and what has it traditionally meant? Then we must look for biblical texts that address this area called “politics, “being careful not to take any text out of its appropriate context or to try to choose texts only based on whether they actually use a word like “politics” (which of course no Biblical text does). But just because Scripture does not use terms that we moderns use (or Greeks used) does not mean that the same concepts may not be found in Scripture. Our job is to look diligently and carefully for these texts. Then we bring all of those texts together and begin the process of “correlating” them, that is, determining how they “fit” together to give a coherent “picture” of that discipline from a Scriptural perspective. This last step in the process is more or less the same thing a traditional theologian would do with, say, the doctrine of the church. He would search for texts that can and do address the reality of something we call the church and he then correlates them to form the doctrine of the church. This is precisely what a worldview thinker does, only with texts about the specific discipline. All the while each and every text must be carefully interpreted. But it must be borne in mind that throughout this process the foundation for the worldview is Scripture, with human reason being a subsidiary or instrumental (but important) aid to helping us understand meaning of Scripture.
I must now stop simply because I have gone too long for a singly blog post. I will allow the reader time to digest this portion, and next post I will address the Biblical answers to the crucial questions of life that make up the basic worldview framework. In addition, I will add a short list of recommended books.