Putting on the Glasses of Truth
By Kenneth Richard Samples
In today's society, gay marriage , embryonic stem cell research , abortion , evolution , and secularism present many challenges. Unfortunately, even some in the church buy into these issues. In the middle of it all, we sometimes wonder where is truth, and how can leaders help people obtain a proper view of the world?
A worldview functions in much the same way as a pair of glasses through which a person sees the world. This interpretive lens helps people make sense of life and comprehend the world around them. Worldviews also shape a person's understanding of his unique place on earth. Sometimes worldviews bring clarity, but at other times they distort reality.
In an age where everything is relative and media and culture frequently distort the truth, even Christians can at times be tempted to put on the wrong pair of glasses . Rather than seeing with increasing clarity, mixed messages — one from the pulpit, another during the week — often cause believers to stumble without being able to see clearly where they are going in life and how to get there. Yet even in a culture full of deception, a powerful prescription for discerning a correct worldview can help leaders hand people the glasses of truth.
Derived from the German term Weltanschauung, the word worldview refers to the cluster of beliefs a person holds about the most significant issues of life — God, the cosmos, knowledge, values, humanity, and history. These beliefs (which may be right or wrong or a combination thereof — not unlike the visual clarity or distortion given by glasses) form a big picture, a general outlook, or a grand perspective on life and the world.
In more technical terms, a worldview forms a mental structure that organizes an individual's basic or ultimate beliefs. This framework supplies a comprehensive view of what a person considers real, true, rational, good, valuable, and beautiful.
Worldview perspectives involve much more than a set of intellectual beliefs. Thinking of a worldview in terms of a basic conceptual system is critical. Rather than a disconnected or disparate group of unrelated beliefs, a carefully examined and reflective worldview consists of a network of interconnected ideas that form a unified whole.
This system of beliefs responds to the big questions of life, focusing particularly on issues central to human concern. These issues include thoughts about the human predicament (why man is the way he is and why he faces the challenges he does). These concerns also involve how human beings derive meaning, purpose, and significance.
Christian philosopher Michael D. Palmer explains: "Through our worldview, we determine priorities, explain our relationship to God and fellow human beings, assess the meaning of events, and justify our actions."1 A person's worldview supplies a general context for life, providing a vision of what one considers authentically real.
Life's Road Map
More than just an interpretive lens, a worldview perspective shapes, influences, and generally directs a person's entire life. Because people behave as they believe, their worldviews guide their thoughts, attitudes, values, interpretations, perspectives, decisions, and actions.
Living a good life based on realistic and truthful values requires thinking about basic and critical questions. When we use our worldview to answer these questions, it functions like a chart or plan used to navigate through the journey of life.
An accurate road map supplies valid directions that profoundly guide a person's life decisions. Therefore, a well-thought-out course, or worldview, needs to answer 12 ultimate concerns that philosophers identify as the big questions of life:
1. Ultimate Reality: What kind of God, if any, actually exists?
2. External Reality: Is there anything beyond the cosmos?
3. Knowledge: What can be known and how can anyone know it?
4. Origin: Where did I come from?
5. Identity: Who am I?
6. Location: Where am I?
7. Morals: How should I live?
8. Values: What should I consider of great worth?
9. Predicament: What is humanity's fundamental problem?
10. Resolution: How can humanity's problem be solved?
11. Past/Present: What is the meaning and direction of history?
12. Destiny: Will I survive the death of my body and, if so, in what state?
A historic Christian worldview derives the answers to these profound questions from the Bible. (My book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test [Baker, 2007 ] presents a picture of a biblical world-and-life view in section two.)
Too often today, however, even people who know the biblical perspective wonder whether it is true. Aren't all religions the way to God? Aren't there different truths for different people?
How to Test a Worldview
Because various worldviews come to fundamentally different conclusions about the big questions of life, logic says they cannot all be true. Naturalism says nature is the sole reality. Pantheism claims all is God and God is all. Christian theism insists that the world is the product of an infinite, eternal, personal Creator God. So how should a person choose one worldview over another? Are there ways of putting world-and-life views to the test? The answer is yes. Several tests can evaluate the truth.
These tests apply methods of critical thinking to various aspects of a worldview. Individual tests are not completely distinct, but instead overlap and affect each other. They can and should work in a complementary fashion to help an individual arrive at the most thoroughly acceptable perspective.
Worldview thinking implies a careful, logical evaluation of the comprehensive interpretations of reality offered in the marketplace of ideas. In other words, to be valid, a worldview must stand up to a comprehensive set of examinations. A brief exploration of some of these wide-ranging tests shows how this works.
1. Coherence Test: Is a particular worldview logically consistent?
A foundational test for truth should evaluate a worldview's rational or logical consistency (coherence may therefore be defined as that which is logically consistent). Truth will always be wholly consistent within itself (internal logical harmony). This test stresses the essential unity and relatedness of all truth. Therefore any logical inconsistency in the essential elements of a worldview is a mark of essential error.
The fundamental law of logic (the law of noncontradiction) states that two contradictory statements cannot both be true at the same time and in the same respect. For example, Jesus cannot be God Incarnate and not be God Incarnate at the same time and in the same way. If the Bible claims that Jesus is God Incarnate and the Quran says he is not — they cannot both be true. Genuine contradiction in the central claims of a worldview means that a person is encountering a false idea. The coherence test invalidates the view that "all paths lead to God."
There must be a legitimate place and ground for reason and argumentation in a sound worldview. A worldview that cannot justify the rational process itself cannot possibly be true but would instead be incoherent.
The presence of coherence is a necessary condition for truth, but not a sufficient one. In other words, truth must contain coherence, but coherence isn't all that is needed to possess truth. Incoherence shows that a worldview must be false; coherence shows that a worldview may be true. As important as coherence is, more is needed for a worldview to pass the ultimate truth test.
2. Explanatory Power and Scope Test: How well does a worldview explain the facts of reality ('power'), and how wide is the range of its explanation ('scope')?
An acceptable worldview explains the phenomena of the world and life in sufficient detail. This description should account for what can be observed external to man (the physical universe) as well as account for the inner world of humanity (hopes, desires, aspirations, and so on). A good worldview explains a broad variety of important data.
The more profound the explanatory power, the greater assurance that the view encountered is truthful. Thus, the best explanations have both specificity of detail (power) and acceptable breadth (scope). Christian thinker Robert A. Harris provides insight into this worldview test:
"When detectives examine a crime scene, their goal is to develop a narrative of events — a story — that explains as many of the details of evidence as possible in as plausible a way as possible. In other words, they develop a hypothesis that covers the facts. Similarly, a worldview might be seen as a hypothesis that aims to take into account as many of the observed phenomena of the world, life, and experience as possible in a coherent, unified way. The more phenomena that can be reasonably and plausibly explained by a given hypothesis, the greater is that hypothesis' explanatory power.2
Of all the world's religions, Christian theism best explains the vast array of meaningful phenomena that exist in the world. This type of explanatory power and scope is tied to the next test that looks at a correspondence view of truth.
3. Correspondence Test: Does a particular worldview correspond with well-established, empirical facts and does it correspond to an individual's personal experience?
There are two identifiable parts to the correspondence test (facts of the world and experience of the world), yet they overlap. First, the claims of an adequate worldview match the observed world. "Truth" is generally understood as being the correspondence between a person's ideas and the actual state of affairs — reality. (The widely accepted correspondence theory of truth says that "truth equals what corresponds to reality.") A satisfactory worldview presents and explains the world as it really is. It does not lack factual support.
Second, an individual's personal experience of the world also matters. No worldview can be truly acceptable if it is genuinely at odds with man's established experiences. Christian philosopher Ronald H. Nash states that "no worldview deserves respect if it ignores or is inconsistent with human experience."3
Thus far we have examined more of the theoretical aspects of a worldview, but what about the more practical areas of life? Worldviews must also be workable and livable.
4. Pragmatic Test: Does the worldview promote relevant, practical, and workable consequences?
An acceptable worldview will be practical, workable, sensible, and therefore "externally livable." This pragmatic approach applies to both society and the lives of individuals. A worldview should meet people's needs, both theoretically and practically. A realistic vision must work in the laboratory of everyday life. It should provide direction to people and help them solve problems.
The pragmatic test, however, cannot be the principal test for truth, because expediency and usefulness presuppose some relation between human activity and ultimate reality (or possibly revelation). That is, we can claim something is "useful" only if we know that such a use is a good thing in the real world. Something can "work" only in light of a purpose or goal toward which we are "working," and purpose presupposes that there is something real, true, and good.
"Workability" thus presupposes a foundation for truth and reality by which to define the practical component. As Christian philosopher Douglas Groothuis notes, "Christian faith teaches that it works (or bears spiritual fruit) only because it is true."4 Yet the workability discussed here is largely of the external variety. A worldview's "internal livability" is another key component.
5. Existential Test: Does the worldview address the internal needs of humanity?
An acceptable worldview accounts for real human needs, desires, and aspirations. It addresses man's need for meaning, purpose, and significance. It will explain why man is the way he is. As a broad philosophy of life, it will propose, as Christian philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) said, a viable reason for people to live and to die.
A satisfactory worldview brings understanding to man's existential predicament. People should actually be able to live out their worldview and realize their meaning and purpose in life. This kind of worldview is thus internally livable because it provides genuine existential satisfaction.
An acceptable worldview must be existentially livable. The Christian worldview, with Jesus Christ at the center, has provided meaning, purpose, and hope to millions of people through the centuries.
The Truth Prescription
A worldview that scores the highest on these critical tests is the most viable position to use as a guide for one's life. And in all the worldview tests, the biblical worldview excels. When a person sees through the optical lens of Scripture, he sees life and the world as a comprehensive whole. When the collection of beliefs that a person holds about the most important questions of life, such as God, the world, knowledge, values, humanity, and history makes sense, it shapes and influences his entire existence, including ideas and actions regardless of the deceptions being perpetuated in the secular age.
The Christian worldview supplies a general context for life providing a vision of what is authentically real. In doing so, it functions as an accurate compass or roadmap to guide and direct one's living.
Multiple methods of evaluation that critically analyze various aspects of any given worldview show historic Christianity to be the most viable. The use of these tests demonstrates that the Christian worldview is uniquely reasonable, testable, workable, livable, and highly competitive in the marketplace of ideas. Understanding these distinctives can help leaders prescribe the lens of truth for the benefit of all.
1. Michael D. Palmer, comp. and ed., Elements of a Christian Worldview (Springfield, MO: Logion, 1998), 24.
2. Robert A. Harris, The Integration of Faith and Learning: A Worldview Approach (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2004), 197.
3. Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict: Choosing Christianity in a World of Ideas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), 59.
4. Douglas Groothuis, Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2000), 81.