As Nancy Pearcey says in her book Total Truth,
“A Worldview is not the same thing as a formal philosophy; otherwise, it would be only for professional philosophers. Even ordinary people have a set of convictions about how reality functions and how they should live…”
Everybody has a worldview. Therefore, it’s not just some intellectual exercise that academics do. It’s a real thing that each of us possess in one shape or another.
I’m reminded of one time when I was sitting next to a woman on an airplane. She asked me what I did for a living and I told her that I work for a Christian leadership organization. She then said:
“Huh. I’m an atheist. Prove me wrong.”
We haven’t even lifted off the ground yet. I could tell right away that this was going to be an interesting flight. What was scheduled to be a simple three-hour flight turned into a three-hour fight.
After about thirty minutes, I paused for a second and told her:
“Look, I find these types of discussions fascinating. But, if you actually just wanted to sleep or simply enjoy your flight, we can end this now. Are you okay?”
She replied, “Are you kidding me?! I’m having a great time! Are you okay?”
“Yeah! Let’s get back to it!”
So every half hour or so, we’d check that the other person was alright, and then we’d get back to fighting.
But, what I found most interesting is that we started out talking about God, but before we reached our destination, we had discussed God, morality, science, truth, history, the Nazis, the Pope, sex… we talked about nearly everything!
The reason why this happened is because there are some ideas that we have that are just ideas. Some ideas are just simple, non-life affecting ideas while others are controlling ideas. For instance, I believe that Tim Tebow can someday become a really good NFL quarterback. This is an idea that I hold, but does not change the way I live.
However, when it comes to controlling ideas, these ideas shape everything else. If I say, “I believe in God,” this idea doesn’t merely “add to my life”. This idea acts as a controlling foundation and permeates through every other belief and decision I make.
A worldview is a set of convictions about reality, about how we should live and other fundamental issues upon which we think and behave.
In other words, a worldview is the framework of basic beliefs we have (whether we know it or not) that shapes our view of the world (description) and for the world (prescription).
So, the question is not “Do I have a worldview”, because we all have one. The question is “Which worldview do I have?”
When I say that our worldview descriptively gives us a view of the world around us, what I mean is that it all boils down to this fundamental question:
Which world do we actually live in?
You see, we don’t simply disagree on things like God, morality, or truth. We actually disagree about which world we live in.
The lady on the airplane that I mentioned thought that we live in a world in which there was no morality. I believe we live in a world in which there are moral norms that apply to all people at all times. She thought that we live in a world that is undesigned – just a product of random chance processes. I believe everything in the world has a design and has a purpose. She thought we live in a world in which certain human lives were expendable. I believe we live in a world in which all human life is worthy, has value and dignity because everyone who has ever existed was made in the image and likeness of God. She believed that we live in a world that is essentially headed to another “big bang” in which everything will blow up again. I believe that our world history is headed somewhere because it is being managed by God.
Which world we live in makes a huge difference. If you ask a secular college professor, “What is the history of the world?”, you will get one answer, but if you ask the same question of a Bible-believing pastor, you will receive an entirely different answer. Then, if you go to a local Buddhist temple and ask the same question, you will get a third completely different answer to the exact same question, all stemming from their different worldviews.
When I say that our worldview prescriptively shapes our view for the world, I mean this: Based on how we understand the world, we then determine how we should live.
The British Punk band The Sex Pistols put it this way in their song, God Save the Queen:
“When there’s no future, how can there be sin?”
In other words, if you live in a world where you believe that there is no future, then how you live day to day becomes wide open. If you live in a world like the one that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, the mass murderers at Columbine High School, believed in, then you can go shoot people, laugh at them and then shoot yourself, and you would consider it a legitimate act. Because, according to their worldview, there were no ultimate consequences for doing such a thing.
You see, the world you think you live in determines how you live in that world.
Or, as my friend and mentor, Bill Brown, puts it: You may not live what you profess, but you will live what you really believe.