I should start out by saying that I, just like many of you, came into the Reformed faith during college. I was introduced to the concept and language of “worldview” through a number of sources, but almost all of them had some connection to Dutch neo-Calvinism, Abraham Kuyper, and then Francis Schaeffer. And a lot of this was very good. It helped me to see the ways in which my faith impacted the rest of life, and it helped me see the ways in which religion and core philosophy really matter for every other deeply-held conviction. The language of “worldview” also energized me to study more and ask critical questions about where an idea was coming from and what implications it would have on others. The title of Richard Weaver’s Ideas Have Consequences says it all.
For most of my young education, and yes I was educated in public schools, I had been content to live in a two-tier universe. My religion was true, somehow, but also the things which contradicted my religion were also true, somehow. One set of ideas worked in church environments. The other set worked in school. In Church Adam and Eve were the first humans, and in school there were millions- now billions- of years of pre-humanoid development with neanderthals and cro-magnons and all sorts of other “cavemen” in the story. The cultural-social events which were neither church nor school were always a riddle. Which truths were true there? The language of worldview was a breath of fresh air in such a context.
But worldview also has a problematic side. Worldview can allow people to generalize, indeed overgeneralize, and then defend themselves by saying that this is the best or only way to think. Everyone’s got a “worldview” (by which they mean a system of thought which interprets all particulars), and so there’s no getting away from it. No particular fact can stand on its own, and so no particular piece of evidence is of value apart from the system or worldview which comes with it. And since we are religious, we already know which worldview is right, and so we really don’t have a burden to follow the evidence, hear the other side fairly, or make a consistent and compelling argument. Whenever a debate arises, we should instead go right to the core antithesis, whether one is a believer or not, and the rest of the issues will invariably fall into place.
This approach is relieving to the troubled conscience precisely because it provides an escape from having to answer questions. Any imaginable challenge or objection can be dealt with by naming the influences and worldview. And this leads to very bad intellectual habits. It also creates a sort of superiority complex, where the people possessing the correct worldview can be confident that they are always going to be right, at least on the stuff that counts. And that means that anyone who disagrees with them is always going to be wrong. In short, “worldview” methodology can be a license to be arational, because arguments are not actually being employed and followed out, and to consider oneself invincible, because it isn’t even possible for them to be wrong.
You also see this with debates about homeschooling versus private schooling versus public schooling. When I was growing up, the assumption was that homeschooling was weird and that it was unlikely that the parents would be competent. But now, in pro-homeschooling circles, I see the other assumption, that homeschooling is necessarily superior. And while there may be compelling reasons to support one form over the other, based on jurisdiction, religious beliefs, and other relevant considerations, it is still not true that one method will, on its own, do a better job at educating, imparting truth, and training children to think. To lay my cards out on the table, I happen to believe that classical Christian day schools are the best option, and so I don’t think that method is irrelevant. But method alone will not determine quality. There are plenty of very bad public schools, but there are also plenty of very good ones. And depending on the subject, the public schools may have better resources and better experts. A lot of Christian educators unfortunately avoid difficult or controversial subjects altogether, whereas the public schools will typically confront them, even if concluding erroneously.
So all of this is a long way of saying that “worldview” is not a substitute for argument. Identifying someone’s worldview is not a rebuttal of their particular claim. You might well be wrong, and the only way to honestly grow in wisdom is to, in the words of Socrates, “Know thyself!” John Calvin even added that you can only progress in the knowledge of God as you progress in the knowledge of self. The two are related. Self-doubt and the experience of being wrong is good for an education, and it is good for your religion.
Now none of this means that there isn’t a “secular humanist worldview.” There is. Or rather, there are secular humanist worldviews. But still, we have to be able to understand them, critique them objectively and reasonably, and offer up a more persuasive alternative. That is how the Christian should critique the culture. And that means all of the hard work of grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric. That means learning history, literature, science, philosophy, etc., and learning it accurately and rigorously. And that means being able to articulate one’s beliefs not in a purely subjective way- testimonials and evangelism- but also in an objective way, by pointing to incontestable truths and their necessary implications.
Sometimes it is scary to not know if you are right or not. The possibility is frightening. But take heart, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter” (Prov. 25:2). God wants you to have intellectual challenges. He wants you to work through the doubt. It is the quality of kings. It is the mark of Christian wisdom.