By Bobby Harrington and Daniel McCoy
This article could well have been only a paragraph long. We could simply have written this:
A “worldview” is your overall view of the world. Having a biblical worldview means that the teachings of the Bible fill in your answers to the big questions about reality. For example: Why do we exist? If you have a biblical worldview, your answer will include how God created us to bear his image and rule over his creation. What’s the source of our deepest problems? According to the Bible, our misery stems from our decision to mistrust God and sever ourselves from his authority. What’s the solution? The gospel of Jesus. Having a biblical worldview means you take biblical teachings to be the core truths upon which you build your life. Biblical truth becomes the lens through which you view the rest of reality.
Done. Nothing too controversial here. Sounds a bit vanilla, doesn’t it?
But if this is vanilla ice cream, it comes stuffed with red hots.
Because there are two kinds of people in your church who won’t let a straightforward description of a biblical worldview suffice without a major debate. Let’s call them, hypothetically speaking, “Spencer the Specifist” and “Amber the Ambiguist.”
SPECIFICITY VS. AMBIGUITY
Spencer argues that the biblical worldview needs to be a lot more specific than what we’ve described. The biblical worldview, he explains, stakes a clear biblical position on everything from welfare benefits to how to avoid a recession to which candidates God favors in the midterms. Let’s be clear: Christians should approach every dilemma with truth and wisdom cultivated in the soil of God’s Word. But Spencer goes beyond this to say there’s one biblical stance when it comes to each issue, and if you don’t hold this biblical stance on each issue, you don’t have a biblical worldview.
While Spencer lobbies for greater specificity, our hypothetical Amber is forever arguing for greater ambiguity. Are we saying that a biblical worldview must be theistic (as in, God created the universe and remains distinct from it)? If so, then Amber thinks that’s too narrow. The Christian God should be defined more loosely, she suggests. For example, if we interpret God in a more panentheistic mold, in which God unfolds/incarnates himself into the creation, that plays better with other religions, especially Buddhism.
Are we saying that a biblical worldview teaches that Jesus is the Savior? That God judges personal sin? That biblical views on sexuality are still binding for Christians today? Then, according to Amber, our “biblical worldview” is too narrow. In fact, it’s worse: our “biblical worldview” is really just us trying to maintain power by reducing Christianity to our own narrow version of it.
CAUGHT IN THE CROSSFIRE
As you read this, you probably feel more sympathetic toward either Spencer or Amber, but if you’re anything like us, you’re probably a bit annoyed by both. Perhaps when it comes to navigating the Spencers and Ambers in your life, you feel a bit like Roxanne Ritchi in the movie Megamind. As the “damsel in distress,” Roxanne finds herself in the middle of yet another war of clichés between the dueling Megamind and Metro Man. She says, “Girls, girls. You’re both pretty. Can I go home now?”
Yet, we want to suggest that this is not a battle you want to back out of and leave to the Spencers and Ambers. Having a worldview based on biblical truth is still a really important concept worth sticking up for.
So, what makes the concept of having a biblical worldview so important?
The answer is simple: Every person fills in these worldview questions with answers from somewhere. You abdicate here, and the people you should be discipling will get their biggest questions answered from outside Christ. As nice as it would feel, there’s no neutrality when it comes to these big worldview questions. When you see Christianity as more of a collection of therapeutic insights and practices—and less a worldview that speaks truth into life’s biggest questions—you’ll find your Christian beliefs falling like dominoes under cultural pressure.
If dominoes are standing close enough together, it’s naïve to hope one can fall without causing the next one to fall. “Your point?” Amber asks with a yawn. The point is, if you care about “contend[ing] for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3), then you’ll pay attention to falling dominoes.
Here’s an example (and we’ll use Amber’s own faith evolution so she’ll pay attention). An early domino to fall for our hypothetical Amber had to do with gender. Based on New Testament passages, the leaders in her church held that, biblically, the elders and main preacher needed to be qualified men. She began to realize just how misogynistic and unjust this was. Women were being left out of these positions of importance despite being gifted for them. Under the guise of biblical faithfulness, these men were maintaining privilege and power over the church and marginalizing gifted women.
The next domino used the same logic with different characters. The Ambiguist realized that the church had long been doing the same kind of marginalizing with members of the LGBTQ community. Gay couples were perceived as living in sin, even when their relationships exhibited the fruits of love, joy, peace, etc., just as well as many heterosexual couples. Amber concluded that heterosexuals in the church had been maintaining their privilege and power by marginalizing gay people.
When the Ambiguist zoomed out, she realized that the evangelical church had been working this formula outside the church, as well. How is it that the church, which claims to carry on Jesus’ mission of love, feels it appropriate to condemn Muslims, for example, to the category of “lost”? (The Muslims she knows seem just as Christlike as the “saved.”) Thus, the “exclusivity of Christ,” which now seemed to Amber to be a contradiction in terms, was the next domino to fall. Overseas missions, which she now viewed as imperialistic, fell next. The next domino was evangelism itself, as her earlier enthusiasm for the Great Commission was eclipsed by pressing political causes.
Eventually, even the bedrock notion of a God separate from humanity seemed a belief that marginalized people. Some of the spiritual authors she had been reading, such as Richard Rohr, called themselves panentheists, meaning that God incarnates himself into creation. She too began to see herself as a panentheist, and she reasoned that, since we’re already part of God, it’s barbaric to think we need some bloody sacrifice on a cross to appease God and reconcile with him. So, with this upgrade to a better view of God, more dominoes fell.
What do you think of these falling dominoes? Is it basically harmless? Or, to put it bluntly, has Amber left the faith to where now she’s in spiritual danger? As you well know, the question is way more real-life than hypothetical. While you might have a Spencer or two on your church board, you’ve probably got a few Ambers in your youth group . . . and maybe under your roof. You’ve probably got some Specifists and Ambiguists leading small groups. The need for discerning how you should feel about all this is past due.
So, if you are watching these sectarian fights and falling dominoes and your heart hurts, then you’re seeing how important it is to disciple people into a biblical worldview.
At the risk of disappointing Spencer, we want to suggest that you picture Christian beliefs mapped out on an archery target and then ask which of those beliefs should form the innermost bullseye. If you don’t like the idea of faith crumbling all around you, that’s where you start. You return to the Bible’s bullseye beliefs and build on that.
This is because the point of faith isn’t to pursue what feels most therapeutic for you. Or to reinvent faith until it best matches your sense of justice. Those paths will get you nothing more than a pile of fallen dominoes. We need to build our lives on what’s true. If Christianity is true, then start with its bullseye beliefs.
Like what? Chad Ragsdale, in his Renew.org Real Life Theology book Christian Convictions: Discerning the Essential, Important, and Personal Elements, gives four “bullseye beliefs” on which we need to build our lives: (1) God exists, (2) Jesus is Lord, (3) Jesus is the risen Savior, and (4) Salvation is by grace and not by human effort. These bullseye beliefs are worth becoming our core convictions. They’re worth defending and persuading others of. The Bible’s bullseye beliefs are planks that comprise the “faith once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.”
If we don’t start with God’s true answers to life’s biggest questions, we’re standing lightweight and fragile, swaying at the mercy of cultural winds. Let’s get serious about building our worldviews, and the worldviews of those we disciple, on these core convictions and build from there. Again, when it comes to these big-picture questions, there’s no neutrality. Someone or something will provide our answers. Followers of Jesus “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
To close, here’s a sampling of basic biblical answers to some of these big-picture questions. However, first a caveat: Having true beliefs is only a part of biblical faith. Biblically, faith includes trusting in Jesus to save us and placing our allegiance in Jesus as king (see Mark Moore’s Faithful Faith, Book No. 5 in Renew.org’s Real Life Theology series). We can’t treat our faith as if it’s merely a checklist for true beliefs, when having true beliefs alone leaves us at the starting gate. With that caveat, here’s a sampling of basic biblical answers to some of life’s big-picture questions:
1. What is our purpose? God created us to know and follow him as we fill the earth and reign over it as the managers he has put in charge.
2. What is our core problem? We fall short of God’s glory because we pridefully resist his authority as a threat to our well-being.
3. How is this problem solved? We turn from our self-centered ways and trust and give our allegiance to Jesus the Messiah as our Savior, Lord, and King, and he forgives us, fills us with his Spirit, and restores us to our original image.
4. How should we live? We should live according to the way of Jesus the Messiah, which can be summarized as loving God and loving people, as he teaches.
5. How does it end? We are either with the Lord or apart from him in eternity, based on our relationship with Jesus through faith in him and his gospel.
Bobby Harrington serves as point-leader of Renew.org and Discipleship.org, both collaborative, disciple-making organizations. He is the founding and lead pastor of Harpeth Christian Church, just outside of Nashville, Tennessee.
Daniel McCoy serves as editorial director for Renew.org as well as an online adjunct instructor for Ozark Christian College.