“Yeah, I don’t actually watch the Harry Potter movies.”
“Okay. That’s cool. But, why not?”
“They glorify and promote a pagan worldview.”
“Oh, because of the magic?”
“Well, yeah, but it’s more than that. There is all the symbolism, the wands, the spells, potions. It’s all a part of pagan worldview, which teaches that God is in nature and inside of us, which is really pantheism.”
“It can also lead to some kinds of environmentalism which worship the earth as our mother. It’s a really dangerous worldview and I just think Christians should be aware that.”
So, I’ve never technically had the previous conversation, but in a sense I’ve had it many, many times. Growing up in a conservative, Christian, homeschool community, there was always a great interest in engaging culture, primarily through worldview criticism. Largely influenced by the works of Frances Schaeffer, we were taught to analyze films, TV shows, books, and songs by looking for clues that identified the work or artist’s worldview. If a movie had a character who seemed to represent free-market capitalism and who was portrayed as a greedy villain, then you could assume that the film had a Marxist worldview. This information allowed me to easily sort through the ornamentation, musical flourishes, dramatic movements, or poetic language of a work in order to understand its agenda, contrast it with the Christian worldview, and then come to a cognitive conclusion about its merits– whether or not it was a “good” work.
Since I was first introduced to the concept of worldview criticism, it has become an extremely popular method of critiquing culture within Christian circles. There are entire conferences and organizations build around teaching Christians what the various worldviews are and how to defend the Christian worldview, like Worldview Academy and Worldview Weekend. Some of the popular Christian movie review sites use worldview criticism as their method (see MOVIEGUIDE). But is this a conceptually, theologically, and pragmatically productive way to engage and interpret culture? In other words, does it make theoretical sense, does it align with what we scripturally know, and does it produce critiques that are loving to our neighbor?
What is a Worldview and Why does it Matter?
An article on the Focus on the Family website describes worldview like this:
A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. “[It's] any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world,” says David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times.
Note that in this definition, what defines worldview is primarily the conscious ideologies that people affirm. So, if I am part of the environmental movement, that must be my worldview. David Noebel, who is one of the lead practitioners of worldview studies, identifies the top six worldviews in terms of influence as: Christian, Islamic, Secular Humanist, Marxist, Cosmic Humanist, and Postmodern. MOVIEGUIDE, on the other hand, identifies four: Christianity, Humanism, Romanticism, and Paganism.
Typically, each worldview is broken down into a set of constituent beliefs. For example, MOVIEGUIDE defines Paganism as:
“Eclectic, ‘anything goes’ worship of whatever gods or non-traditional belief system anyone so desires to worship (or a mixture of belief systems), without Christian or biblical values. In contrast, to an organized system such as shintoism. Sensual pleasures and material goods are often, but not always, the main goal in life. Often paganism leads to hedonism, anarchy or a fascist dictatorship. Often involves spiritism, use of magic or worship of many false gods, with one of the gods sometimes being singled out for special worship or particular lifelong devotion. Includes what is sometimes called the New Age.”
The idea is that if you watch a movie and can identify the use of magic and symbols related to the New Age movement (like in Harry Potter!), you can then determine that it has a pagan worldview, which is clearly anti-Christian.
While same claim that a knowledge of worldviews is an evangelistic tool which Christians can use to defend the faith and undermine other belief systems, most of those who teach worldviews in Christian schools and churches take a fairly alarmist and militant stance against worldviews other than the Christian one. The benefit of teaching Christians how to identify and understand worldviews is that it prevents them from being fooled into accepting worldly philosophies. For example:
- A recent post on Ted Baehr’s blog (Baehr is the founder and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE) argues that Christians are called to win “the world war of worldviews.”
- Focus on the Family warns that the “powerful images, attractive packaging of false ideas, and emotional manipulation pervasive throughout the entertainment industry demonstrate the need for Christians to have a clear worldview understanding.”
- And David Noebel claims that “The basis for much of what is taught in the public classroom today comes from Secular, Marxist, Cosmic Humanist, and Postmodern thinking and takes on a variety of labels: liberalism, multiculturalism, political correctness, deconstructionism, or self-esteem education. Or, as is often the case, the labels are dropped and courses are taught from anti-Christian assumptions without students being told which worldview is being expressed.”
In other words, Christians need to understand worldviews or else they will be manipulated into believing them against their own, Christian worldview; they will be unable to properly witness to the world; they will be unable to politically fight the invasion of foreign and dangerous ideas; and they will in general lose the ideological war.
To some extent this method was helpful for me when I was younger. It made me familiar with different ideologies and helped me to recognize the importance of thinking critically about popular culture. And for that, I’m grateful for having learned about modern worldviews. And I should note that some groups which use the worldview model due a fairly good job of nuancing their ideas, which does help prevent generalizations; I’m thinking specifically of Worldview Academy here. But there are some serious problems with this method which can lead to confusion, disillusionment concerning the Christian faith, arrogance, and a poor witness. In my next post, I will discuss how this approach to understanding worldviews is conceptually invalid, theologically unsupportable, and pragmatically harmful to both evangelism and apologetics.