Worldviews 101 ~ What is a Worldview? (Updated)


Worldview Defined


What is a worldview? I have some more defining aspects in pages 10 to the end of the opening chapter of my book. The American Heritage Dictionary defines “worldview” this way:

1) The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world;

2) A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group. 

James Sire has a more in-depth definition.

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in 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 constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our well being.

James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 122.

(Mind you, the Websters and American Heritage dictionaries encapsulate the same idea… just in layman terms… other philosophy dictionaries and books expand on the idea.)

Dr. Norman Geisler notes that a “Worldview is how one views or interprets reality,” he continues:

The German word is Weltanschauung, meaning a ‘world and life view,’ or ‘a paradigm.’ It is a framework through which or by which one makes sense of the data of life. A worldview makes a world of difference in one’s view of God, origins, evil, human nature, values, and destiny”

Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1999], 785-786.

Encycolpedia.com notes this of “worldview:

Weltanschauung is a German word that often is translated as “worldview” or “world outlook” but just as frequently is treated as a calque or left untranslated. A Weltanschauung is a comprehensive conception or theory of the world and the place of humanity within it. It is an intellectual construct that provides both a unified method of analysis for and a set of solutions to the problems of existence. The concept of a Weltanschauung has played an important role in the development of psychoanalysis, critical theory, and nineteenth- and twentieth-century hermeneutics.

And the Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion:  Eastern and Western Thought has this snippet as well:

WELTANSCHAUUNG

From the German, meaning “world view.”

(1) Dilthey (v. 5), finding world-views (Weltanschauungen) to be a composite of actual beliefs, value-judgments, and ulti­mate goals, established a Weltanschauungs-lehre (teaching or doctrine about world-views). Each world-view makes thought, feeling, or will basic to its system and develops the appropriate categories to express its interpretation of life.

(2) Mannheim (q.v.) distinguished between partial and total ideology, equating the latter with the Weltan­schauung of an age or of a concrete historico-social group.

William L. Reese (Amherst, NY: Humanity Books [Prometheus Books], 1999), cf. Weltanschauung, 827.

Even Biblical Archaeology gets into the mix with this definition:

A worldview consists of a series of assumptions/presuppositions that a person holds about reality. A worldview, consciously or subconsciously, affects the way a person evaluates every aspect of reality. Every person adheres to some sort of worldview, although one person may not be as consciously aware of it as another person. These presuppositions affect the thinking of every person in the world. It logically follows that the way a person thinks affects what a person does.

The above definitions of a worldview should suffice this presentation… remember some persons think that a “coherent worldview must be able to satisfactorily answer four questions: that of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny.” Others, include more (pictured to the right, click it to enlarge).

What is a Worldview? Does God Exist? How Did Everything Begin? Who Am I? Why Am I Here? What Happens After I Die? Cabbages and puppies don’t think about this stuff…but people do. Reflecting on the big questions in life is part of what makes us human. Everyone Has A Worldview…What’s Yours?

(Take the Quiz at www.impact360.org/worldviewquiz)

And here is one of my all time favorites:

Lens Repair 101: A Worldview Analysis from Sarah Clifton on Vimeo.

AGAIN, a worldview is…

…that basic set of assumptions that gives meaning to one’s thoughts. A worldview is the set of assumptions that someone has about the way things are, about what things are, about why things are.

Russ Bush, A Handbook for Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 70.

If you want a “210 introduction” (i.e., a bit more advanced), see my introductory chapter to my book. The above video can also be found on my MRCTV account.


All Religions/Non-Religions

Fall Into a Worldview


Here are the worldviews that every religion falls into (I will post the harder worldviews to understand in short videos):

Theism (e.g. Christianity; Islam[1]; Judaism): An infinite Personal God Exists Both Beyond and in the Universe. The belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation (distinguished from deism).

Polytheism: There are Many God Beyond the World and in It. (It can fit at times under theism or pantheism, and should be considered a sub-set of these two larger worldviews.) It comes from the two Greek words “poly” for many, and from “theism” for god. Obviously, this is the view that says there are many finite limited gods controlling and influencing reality together. Modern day examples of polytheism include Mormonism, Hinduism, the New Age movement, and the surviving remnants of the ancient cults of worshipping the many Roman, Greek, and Norse gods.

Finite-Godism: A Finite God Exists Beyond and in the Universe (Is a sub-set of theism). This is a rare view and we may not be very familiar with the worldview of finite godism. As the name suggests, this view of reality believes that God exists, is beyond the world, but is limited in power and imperfection. a god who is limited in his goodness is a god who is incapable of putting an end to evil in the world. If such a god cannot put an end to evil, such a god either: 1. Doesn’t exist. 2. Is a finite being. This view happens to be very similar in some ways to the worldview of polytheism, however, finite godism believes that there is only one single god in the universe.

Naturalism (e.g. Atheism, Hard-Agnosticism, Existentialism): No God Exists Beyond or in the Universe. Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Simply, the doctrine or belief that there is no God.

Pantheism (e.g. Hinduism; Taoism; Buddhism; much New Age Consciousness): God is the Universe (the All). Pantheism is the belief that the Universe (or nature as the totality of everything) is identical with divinity, or that everything composes an all-encompassing, immanent god. Pantheists thus do not believe in a distinct personal or anthropomorphic god.

The word “pantheism” comes from two greek words, “pan” and “theos”, meaning “all” and “God”.  So, in a nutshell, we see that pantheism is the worldview that believes that “all is God, and God is All.”  Pantheism includes the world religions of Hinduism, some forms of Buddhism, and the New Age Movement as well.

Pantheism is also the popular religion of “Star Wars” and “Master Yoda”, it forms the central beliefs of “Neo and Morpheus” in the box-office hit trilogy “Matrix”, and has also been made populer in the animated TV series “Avatar” for teens, where “Aang” is seeking spiritual enlightenment in his quest to save the world.

Panentheism: God is in the Universe  (e.g., as a mind is in a body). Panetheism is halfway between theism and pantheism. If we picture Atheism as an empty physical universe without any god, and Pantheism as a universe that is itself God, then Panentheism is a universe in which God would be inside of it all.  The actual word “panentheism” is made up of three Greek words that mean “all”, “in”, and “god” respectively.

Panentheism is the view that God is in all, and that God is developing and changing along with the world.  It is also called “process theology”, or “bipolar theism”, “organicism” since it views the universe as a gigantic organism, or even “neoclassical theism” since its idea of God is very different than the classical Christian concept. Typically, the average person that believes in the “God” of panentheism would probably call him “mother nature”, possibly “the cosmos”, or maybe even the “world spirit.”

Deism: God is Beyond the Universe, But Not in It. The “hands off God.” The term comes from the Latin deus, meaning “god.” This concept compares God to a clockmaker who creates a clock, starts it running, but has nothing to do with it after that. Deists drew this conclusion from watching natural disasters or human tragedies in which God did not intervene.


[1] I ~ and others ~ would posit that Allah is not all-good (as well as other issues that would make this “god” fall a bit into “finite-godism”). Listen to this extended debate over the issue, here is the description for the linked video:

A controversy at Wheaton College has spurred a national debate on whether Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Certainly Muslims deny the Trinity and deity of Christ. Yet, is there enough overlap between the two religion’s concept of God to sufficiently claim that adherents of both worship the same God?

Justin is joined by two Christian guests to debate the question, Joseph Cumming a scholar of Islamic and Christian thought at Yale and former Ahmadi (Qadiani) Nabeel Qureshi of RZIM.

Joseph Cumming is a scholar of Islamic and Christian thought who serves as Pastor of the International Church at Yale University and works internationally as a consultant on Muslim-Christian and Muslim-Christian-Jewish relations. He was one of the architects of the “Yale Response” to the Common Word initiative of 138 prominent Muslim leaders and scholars. He is also International Director of Doulos Community, a humanitarian organization working in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania, and is past President of the Federation of NGOs in Mauritania. Cumming has published numerous articles on issues affecting relations among the Abrahamic faith communities. He has lectured in Arabic at Al-Azhar University and other Islamic institutions and has taught courses at Yale Divinity School, as well as at Fuller Theological Seminary and other Evangelical institutions. He has been interviewed in Arabic on Al-Jazeera and other Arab television networks, and in English on American and Canadian television and radio, and in French and German by European and African news media.

Dr. Nabeel Qureshi is a former Ahmadi (Qadiani) who was convinced of the truth of the Gospel through historical reasoning and a spiritual search for God. Since his conversion, he has dedicated his life to spreading the Gospel through teaching, preaching, writing, and debating.

Nabeel focuses on the foundations of the Christian faith, ancient Judaism, early Islam, and the interface of science and religion. He holds an MD from Eastern Virginia Medical School, an MA in Christian apologetics from Biola University, and an MA in Religion from Duke University. He is currently pursuing a doctorate in New Testament studies at Oxford University where he lives with his wife, Michelle

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