At the foundation of all beliefs, world religions, and philosophies are worldviews. What is a worldview? A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true partially true or entirely false), which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic make up of our world.1
Every person holds to a worldview. Our worldview undergirds the way we interpret the world around us and guides us in the daily decisions that we make. It influences how we think about reality, morality, humanity, sexuality, epistemology (knowledge), cosmology, sociology, theology. All areas of how we interpret the world and our experiences are filtered though our worldview. A person’s worldview is intensely practical. Charles Colson states, “It is simply the sum total of our beliefs about the world the big picture that directs our daily decisions and actions.”2
A worldview is like a pair of glasses we each wear and through these glasses we view and interpret the world around us. It is important that we are wearing the correct lenses, for if you have ever put on a wrong pair of glasses, you know how distorted the world around you appears. If you continue to wear the wrong pair it will be increasingly difficult to maneuver around your environment. In the same way, it is critical that each person have the correct worldview. The wrong worldview will eventually lead to the wrong conclusions about reality and life.
It is for this reason the search for truth begins with understanding worldviews. Interpreting the evidence from the wrong perspective will lead you to false conclusions. There are various worldviews, each one claiming to be true.
Identifying a Worldview
How do we identify another person’s worldview? A person’s worldview can be identified by the way he or she answers some fundamental questions. Philosopher James Sire lists seven basic questions every worldview must address, for they are the basic questions every human being must answer in their lifetime.3
The first question is, “what is the nature of God?” This is the primary question that most quickly distinguishes a worldview. Does a God exist? Is the material cosmos all that exists? If God does exist, how does one describe God? Are there many gods? Often, one’s worldview is revealed in the answer to this question.
The second question is, “What is the nature of reality?” This is a question of metaphysics which addresses the nature of the world around us. Is the external world an illusion? Is the world chaotic or is it orderly and intelligently designed? Are God and the universe eternal and dependent on one another? Did God create the universe and can He intervene in time and space? If God can intervene then are miracles possible?
The third question is, “How do you explain human nature?” This question addresses anthropology. In the movie Contact, actress Jodie Foster travels through a worm hole and meets an alien being who appears in the form of her deceased father. He states that his civilization has been studying the human race and finds that humans are a very curious species, capable of fulfilling both wonderful dreams but also horrific nightmares. How do we explain this paradox of human nature? Are we evolved animals? Are we gods in embryo form? Have we been created in the image of God but fallen in sin? The answer to this question plays a key role in the fields of psychology, sociology, and medicine.
The fourth question is “How do you know that you know?” This question addresses epistemology, the study of knowledge and the question of how is knowledge attained? Is it attained primarily through the senses? Is scientific knowledge the best method of attaining knowledge? Is it the only method? Can we know truth, or is truth relative? Much of modern philosophy concentrates on epistemology.
The fifth question is, “What happens to a person at death?” Is there life beyond the grave, or does a person cease to exist? Can we know if there is life beyond the grave? Although this is a question about death, our beliefs regarding death undoubtedly affect the way we live today.
The sixth question is “How do you determine right and wrong?” This question addresses the area of ethics. Is there an absolute moral law code by which all people are to abide? Some believe that right and wrong are determined by the situation, and thus, right and wrong change depending on the situation in which one finds oneself. Others believe that right and wrong are relative and determined by the individual. A serious question arises when two cultures with different beliefs clash. How do we then determine right and wrong to resolve the conflict? A good example occurred on September 11, 2001 when radical Islamic terrorists hijacked two airline planes and used them to crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. The question arose as to how we determine a just response. America felt this was an act of war while the Taliban believed they were fulfilling Allah’s will. Who is right in this situation? Our understanding of ethics is of crucial importance.
The seventh question is “What is the meaning of history?” Is human history moving in a linear fashion toward some meaningful purpose? Some believe that human history has no ultimate purpose; it revolves in a never-ending circular cycle. If human history has a purpose, what is my role in this story? If human history has no ultimate purpose, we are forced to face the logical conclusion that our lives have no ultimate purpose.
These seven questions are the basic questions each worldview must answer. Every human being seeks answers to these basic questions in their lifetime. If one’s worldview cannot answer any of these questions, it should be considered an incomplete worldview.
These questions are a great place to start when beginning a relationship with someone of a differing belief system. Too often, Christians want to preach their message; however, that can often alienate the individual, for no one enjoys being preached at. Instead, it is often more profitable to learn about another person’s beliefs by asking questions about their worldview. In many of my discussions, some individuals simply had accepted their beliefs and had never been challenged to examine and explain the reasons behind that which they believe. Through these questions, opportunities to point out inconsistencies or contradictions arise. Then opportunities to share reasons for faith in Christ will also arise. Instead of a combative debate, asking these questions, listening, and sharing reasons for your faith in Christ can lead to great discussions which cultivates the friendship.
- James Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 17.
- Sire, 18.
- Ron Nash, Worldviews in Conflict (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1992), 55.