Rev. Mark A. Pierson
It's been happening to you your whole life. It happens the second you open your school textbook. It happens when you watch something on Netflix. And it is happening right now as you read this magazine. Competing forces, opposing philosophies, worldviews at war—and you're caught in the middle. From classroom lectures to advertisements, to fictional novels, to song lyrics, you are constantly bombarded with messages that tell you what to believe, how to act, and how to understand this world. What you think is true, what is right, what really matters, how you see yourself and others, and what lies beyond this life are all determined by an overarching worldview. It's the lens through which you interpret all things and make sense of the world. It's the air your mind breathes. But if that air is toxic—if that lens is cracked and dirtied—the consequences can be dire… both for this life, and the next.
Take, for example, these different understandings of death. "You are going to die, and you will die alone, and then you won't exist." "Suffering, pain, and death are illusions. They are not bad or evil, and neither are they good. The universe knows no such distinctions." "Death is whatever you interpret it to be. So is life. So is everything else, because truth is relative." Such sentiments stem from different worldviews, and have been used to justify everything from abortion, to genocide, to pulling the plug on Grandma. And of course, they all deny the biblical belief that the wages of sin is death, that good and evil are real, and that Jesus both died for our sins and conquered the grave in objective history. So if you think thoughts are harmless, think again. You and your worldview are squarely set in the crosshairs of those who oppose Christ.
Instead of retreating from the battlefield of ideas, Christians are called to stand and fight: "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5). This includes defending one's faith on intellectual grounds—using apologetics—by removing the roadblocks set up by those who dismiss the Good News. To do this most effectively, Christians need to know their opponents' positions and how to evaluate them. One of the most useful apologetic tools for accomplishing this task is worldview analysis, a tactic James Sire has been promoting for over 40 years.
A World of Difference
Sire has spent his career working with young adults who find themselves confronted with various conflicting ideas about the world. This has allowed him to consider at length what people believe and why they believe it. Most significantly, Sire has developed a succinct understanding of worldviews, sorting through the primary assumptions that direct people's thoughts about almost everything. This approach is helpful because behind any given roadblock lies a hidden, unspoken worldview that may need to be considered first. For example, if someone objects to the Christian belief that Jesus is God because they have a pantheistic worldview (which holds that everything is God), it may be pointless to cite the numerous verses where Jesus demonstrates His divinity. The problem, from their worldview, is not that Jesus is God, but that He alone is God. Worldview analysis, then, can act as an x-ray machine that provides a deeper diagnosis than what is seen on the surface.
So what is a worldview?
It's a commitment to certain assumptions about the world that affects how we think, speak, and act. To determine what those all-important assumptions are, Sire uses seven basic questions: 1) What is ultimate reality? 2) What is the universe? 3) What is a human? 4) What happens at death? 5) How do we know things? 6) What is morality? 7) What is the meaning of history? Indeed, people's answers reveal how they view the world and their place in it.
The War of the Worldviews
Worldview analysis consists of more than learning the different answers to these seven questions and categorizing people accordingly. (And Sire is not advocating that we ask them during evangelism!) The key aspect involves assessing which worldview is worthy of commitment, and deserving and demanding our allegiance. Of course, Sire is well aware that the assessment itself can be shaped by one's current worldview. But he makes an appeal to the laws of logic, which govern how all people think, and notes the reasonableness of recognizing how each worldview possesses four characteristics: coherence, correspondence, satisfaction, and livability.
Coherence: Has something in a movie sequel ever bothered you because it failed to match the previous film? A worldview can also contain inconsistencies, bringing into question its truthfulness. This is why supposed contradictions in the Bible get so much attention. But inner coherence matters most regarding a worldview's central tenet, which, for Christianity, is found throughout Scripture: God's Son comes to save sinners from sin, death, and the devil.
Correspondence: Any historical film will be criticized if gets the facts wrong. Worldviews, too, need to match reality for them to be viable. For example, if Muhammad isn't a prophet, the Islamic worldview is fatally flawed. Conversely, many have been so compelled by the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection that they have adopted the Christian worldview.
Satisfaction: While no worldview answers everything, worldviews should, nonetheless, explain what they claim to explain. This is because worldviews function as master stories, as narratives about mankind's origin and destiny, meaning and purpose. Evolution, for example, tells a version of this story, yet it has no satisfactory answer for where matter came from, or how life came from non-life. Christianity, of course, does.
Livability: This is a subjective characteristic, but remains an important one. What worldview speaks to you personally, fulfills the longings of your heart, and sustains you through life's hardships? For those who feel the sting of sin and see death as the enemy, only the Christian worldview offers an immediate solution at no cost: Christ's forgiveness, life, and salvation, which provide hope for the future and strength for each day.
The world is not neutral. You cannot simply bury your head in your personal beliefs and think you will be left alone. Such an approach is impractical and naïve. This is why worldview analysis is a helpful, proactive, apologetic tool. By naming the elephant in the room, Sire provides a way to detect the underlying assumptions behind opposing beliefs, and to stand against them.
The best reason to hold the Christian worldview is because it is centered on the Christ who made the world, entered the world, and died and rose for the world. Thus, we would be wise to adopt His worldview as our own. As C. S. Lewis said, "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." Christ is our Sun. His Word is the Light by which we see the world. And that matters, both now and for eternity.
Rev. Mark A. Pierson is the assistant pastor at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Long Beach, California, and has a passion for evangelism and apologetics. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org