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Developing a Christian Worldview and Other Overworked Phrases

Written by Douglas Wilson

Mark Twain once had an exchange with his long-suffering wife, who had finally had enough of hearing him swear and curse, as was his habit. So one day she walked up to him and calmly repeated back to him every such word she had ever heard him use. When she was done, he looked at her and said, “My dear, you know the words, but you don’t know the tune.” In like manner unto this, many Christians have gotten into the business of worldview education. And judging from the publications, books, conferences, organizations, and general verbal activity, we have learned a lot of the words. We use words like worldview, paradigm, epistemology, Trivium, and so on, but in some key respects we still have not learned the tune.

What is a Christian worldview?

To answer the question, we have to begin with what it is not. And in some of the subtle cases, we have to consider what a Christian worldview almost is. So as mentioned, in the first place, a Christian worldview is not the same thing as Christian worldview jargon. The oldest trick in the world is to attach oneself to some promising movement or other by simply putting on the uniform and leaving the gun at home. Talking imitatively, without understanding, is not all that difficult.

A Christian worldview is not a condiment that can be added to a plate full of neutral food in order to flavor it to taste.

The content of our children’s education is not a neutral mass of tasteless potatoes, which can be cooked up by just anyone, and then flavored by us to suit the palate – be it the robust gravy of historic orthodoxy or the lite margarine of modern evangelicalism. This whole picture is wrong. The Christian faith is not an additive. It cannot be tagged on later. The faith of our fathers is not an educational afterthought. The “potatoes” always come from somebody’s kitchen. Sometimes Hindus, Muslims and atheists can be induced to eat Christian potatoes (because the Christian school is outstanding), but more common is the practice of Christians eating unbelieving agnostic potatoes, with lots of gravy slathered to cover the smell.

A Christian worldview is not an operating assumption that the world has somehow been automatically “sanitized”

and that we can all go watch any R-rated movie we want now, for any reason we want, because “we have a Christian worldview.” Put bluntly, a Christian worldview is not an excuse for compromised sinning. A Christian worldview is not an all-purpose disinfectant.

Positively, having a Christian worldview means living like an obedient Christian in all of life–heart, mind, fingers and toes. A worldview is not a set of rationalistic spectacles we put on that enables us to see the world rightly despite all the disobedient fuzziness of our eyes. Our worldview is related to our eyes, obviously, but these eyes are intimately connected with hands, heart, and mind. The Scriptures speak of God as the one who tries the “heart and reins” of men. Our metaphor for this would be God testing the “head and heart,” the reason and emotions. But in the ancient Hebrew metaphor, the heart was the seat of the intellect and the reins, the kidneys, were the seat of the affections. So while Scripture does distinguish reason and emotion, it does not separate them the way we tend to do–they are both located in what C.S. Lewis, in his great book on education entitled The Abolition of Man, called “the chest.” Our thoughts do not float on the surface of our lives, like some leaves that fell on a pond.

This means that when we are walking in obedience to the gospel, and we are worshiping and living as God requires us to do–hearing His Word, singing His psalms, eating at His table, honoring our parents, loving our wives, respecting our husbands, teaching our children because we cherish them, mowing the lawn when we should, and also reading and teaching our history, science, literature, and so on–then we have a Christian worldview. At that point, our children are safe under our instruction, and not before. At that point, the schools we build will be fit for the presence of covenant children.

Considered from another angle, this means that education should not be understood as merely a cerebral affair.

And this pitfall cannot be avoided merely by adding physical education (although that is important). The well-trained mind is certainly involved in classical Christian education–necessarily so–but certain questions should always arise in our hearts: trained along with what else? trained in accordance with what? by what standard? And unless faithful worship of the living God is at the center of our lives and our communities, and therefore at the center of our education of our children, “Christian worldview education” will simply be one more hollow, intellectualistic experiment. And the living God knows that our troubled and flailing generation does not need any more of those. We do not need any more born-again Christian souls, thinking their born-again thoughts, locked away inside pagan bodies, jobs, hands, clothes, cars, and houses. The Word of God is not chained. The gospel transforms everything it touches, and the fact that so little in our modern evangelical circles is transformed means simply that the gospel hasn’t touched those circles yet.

Simply put, our approach to classical Christian education should be motivated by obedience to Paul’s requirement to establish in our midst the paideia of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). The end result of this kind of education, properly conceived and implemented, is nothing less than Christian civilization. Christian worship leads to Christian dining rooms, Christian schools, Christian communities, Christian nations. Incidentally, in the Great Commission, this is what Jesus said to do--disciple the nations. When proponents of a Christian worldview settle for anything less than this, it is not fully a Christian worldview, and in some cases it is not a Christian worldview at all.