From Worldvision to Worldview

Every person has a worldvision, but not very person has a well thought out and substantiated worldview. Neither of these two terms is commonplace in every day language, and yet they represent ideas that are present everywhere. If Christians are going to attempt to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, helpful friends in discerning the secular age in which we live, we must be trained in understanding them both.

A worldvision is simply the subjective lens through which each person, due to their cultural and personal upbringing, sees reality. The philosopher Charles Taylor called this lens through which we subjectively see the world a social Imaginary. I prefer the theologian J.H. Bavinck’s term worldvision. Taylor described it as the way that ordinary people “imagined” their social surroundings, involving the stories, images, and legends that shape our perception of how and why the world works the way it does.

Typically a worldvision comes to us passively through thousands upon thousands of tiny interactions in our society. As J.H. Bavinck says, “The world never stops influencing our soul.” Ideas enter us through our ears and eyes. Our senses are constantly absorbing perceptions and loading them into a conservatory of memories that shape our subconscious. In this sense, the soul is receptive, constantly being impressed upon by the world we live in. Through our families, our neighbors, our friends, our media, our leaders, our laws, and our society at large, we grow up to inherit a working narrative of the world. We assume a posture of knowing what is right and wrong, and assuming that generally every right thinking person would agree with us.

Those who live purely on a worldvision are often shocked to discover that right minded and well educated people often vehemently disagree with them on social and moral issues. When our worldvision is confronted by a competing worldvision, we often immediately get defensive. It is after all a rather humbling experience to realize that perhaps they way you have been imagining a certain issue or a certain set of moral assumptions, could be wrong.

Worldvisions are built on a framework of subjective prejudices, not objective facts. They are assumed, not discovered. A worldvision is not grounded on fixed and defendable premises and logical and coherent arguments. It doesn’t need to be. So long as we imagine the world to be a certain way, and others around us also imagine the world to be that way, we can begin all move in the same direction, and never be forced to defend our subjective prejudices, our worldvision.

But what if our imaginary is simply that—imagined? What if all of our subjective prejudices by which we assume reality operates, are nothing more than unsubstantiated claims that are not rooted in reality, or defendable through logic and reason? How would we determine if our worldvision has accurately assessed reality?

Moving From a Worldvision to a Worldview

A worldview is vastly different than a worldvision, and very few people will seriously take the time to move from their imagined worldvision towards a well thought out worldview. A worldview comes about when a person begins to test their worldvision in order to determine if it can be substantiated. Worldviews therefore do not simply come to us passively through external forces, they are developed and tested by an individual.

A worldview is not just a loose, intuitive grasp. Rather, it is supported by arguments, by motives. It clothes itself in the form of reasonableness. It is supported by logical construction.

J.H. Bavinck. Peronsality & Worldview, 34.

A worldview will often encompass a person’s worldvision, and their personality, but it will be so much more. In developing a coherent worldview, we do not cease to be ourselves, nor escape the thousands of influences that shaped our upbringing, and yet we add something new to ourselves. We add stable, fixed, logical, presuppositions to build meaning and purpose from. We may discover along the way that many of the presuppositions we once held dear—according to our imagined worldvision—are unfounded. In those moments, we will be forced to do the hard work acknowledging we were wrong, and to align ourselves with the truth.

Worldviews are therefore wonderfully complex, and yet at the same time beautifully simple. No worldview—especially the Christian worldview—can be summarized in a 300 character tweet, or in a series of a short bullet points. So much of the beauty is in the nuance, the stories, the images, the scandalous claims, the blood. And yet every worldview must provide a rational response to a few simple questions. How one answers these questions will ultimately shape their entire existence. In the grand scheme of history, there are only a few true worldviews that have developed as serious efforts to answer the major questions that form a shape a person’s sense of reality. The big questions could be summarized as follows.

  1. How do I know what I know? Must I rely on my rational mind, or is my mind incapable of knowing truth? Must I rely on an institution to inform me? Must I rely only on what can be empirically proven? Must I rely on a religious text? Ought I be skeptical of all claims to truth and accept that no human can ever truly know truth (a truth claim in itself)?
  2. Who is God? Does God exist? Is God transcendant only? Or is he also imminent? Has God communicated with us? Is God kind? Is God just? Is God merciful? Am I a god?
  3. Who am I? Do I even exist, or is life simply an illusion? Does my life have value, and if so where does that value come from? Do I have a soul? Will my soul endure forever? Does my personality and my story matter? Do I have a purpose for being here?
  4. What is wrong in the world? Why is there so much pain in the world? Is suffering real, or only an illusion? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Who defines what is right and wrong, what is just and unjust? What are the root causes of evil?
  5. How do we make it right? Is there any way to fix what is broken in the world? Is there any way to fix what is broken in my own heart? Ought we try to help others who are suffering? To what degree, and why? What standard ought we use to determine what is ‘right’? Ought we think collectively or individually in setting things right?
  6. Where are we going? What is the end of history? Is this moving towards something meaningful, or simply sustaining until the sun burns out? Is heaven real? Is hell real? What is heaven? Will those who I lose in this life be there? Will there be ultimate justice for wrongs that were never corrected in this life?

How one answers these Worldview Questions will ultimately shape everything about a person. But, as stated before, the process of scrutinizing one’s own worldvision in order to determine if the provided answers correspond to reality, is a painful process. If truth exists—as reality demands it does—then there is such a thing as wrong and right responses to these questions. It is not a matter of degree of truthfulness whether or not God exists? He either does exist or doesn’t exist, and the real-life implications of the answer to that question are necessarily life altering. It is not a matter of degree of truthfulness whether gender is a spectrum or a binary? Truth does exist whether we like it or not (unless of course there is no truth, in which case neither side has grounds to make a claim either way).

The question is what will we do when we are confronted by a truth claim that contradicts our previously held worldvision. What will we do when the inconsistencies of our imaginary are revealed. Will we have the courage to discover? Or will we retreat to huddled safety of our previous ignorance.

"The truth is of practical worth in life. It lifts you above yourself by making plain to you the faults of your own life orientation. It draws a line through your behavior; it judges your most intimate proclivities. It breaks into pieces the grasp of your worldvision, through which you had revealed your own personality and within which you could have peacefully carried on stumbling forward. It shows you the objective reality and does this with compelling power so that we should form our lives according to it. The truth sets you free with a great inner freedom. It sets you free from the sapping and errant powers that hide in a personality. It is the truth that the personality grabs onto to pull itself upward." — J.H. Bavinck

The Christian Worldview

The quotation above speaks of the power of the truth to lift a person up out of their errant and inconsistent ways. Jesus said,

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6

The claims of Christ are not simply some religious folklore detached from reality, and ungrounded in historical fact and reason. The Christian worldview not only coherently and logically responds to the major worldview questions in a way that makes sense of reality, but it also has an animating soul-awakening power to breathe life into that which was previously dull. Believing in Jesus is so much more than an intellectual ascent to a prayer of salvation. It is a commitment to a lifetime of discovering the intricate contours of the glory of God pulsating through all of creation. It is a way of life grounded not just in the historical facts of the incarnation and the resurrection, but also elevated into the deeper mysteries of God and his wonderful purpose in creation. The Christian worldview breathes an all-encompassing sense of direction into a person’s life, not contrived by personality and societal pressure, but endowed by a Heavenly Father. There are no human words to fully explain or describe the love of God as offered to us through Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. But, where words fail, a soul awakened and thrumming with the majesty of God succeeds.

As Bavinck says so beautifully, and as every faithful follower of Jesus joyfully nods in approval, “[Christianity] awakens that strange longing within the human being, that desire to be changed, that desire to live out of that overwhelming gratitude for the love of God. It elevates a person’s highest powers… It awakens that faith in the heart, that mighty emotion of letting yourself be grasped by the hand of the eternal one.”


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