Romans 12:2 – “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (ESV)
Very soon after becoming a Christian, there was an area of my life that I found myself very uncomfortable about. Well, there were many of those, but one in particular that I hadn’t entirely expected, and that was to take me on a challenging and confronting journey. It first manifested itself in an overwhelming conviction that my political views were entirely wrong (it is irrelevant, for now, what those particular views were). This was rather significant for me; I’ve been passionate about the political arena for many years and held the position that I did fervently. While I didn’t immediately know what I was meant to be changing them to, I knew they had to change. Fairly soon, I found this conviction spreading into other areas of my life – areas that I hadn’t even realised had any link to my political views. As I dug deeper and deeper, I realised that the issue, at its core, wasn’t my politics; it was something far more fundamental. This marked the beginning of a journey into my worldview; realising how far from God’s character and the Bible it was, and how widespread the same issue is in the church today.
The concept of a worldview is not something that is discussed all that often; many people would never have encountered the word and would be entirely unaware that they have one. This was certainly true of me at the beginning of my Christian walk. The world simply was the way it was – the suggestion that, perhaps, the set of assumptions I adopted when examining the world could completely change the way I viewed it would have seemed absurd. After all, if there was anything that I was assuming, it was only because it was the stuff that was blatantly obvious. Any sane person would do the same. In fact, pretty much everybody I knew did just that.
Back when I was in primary school, my teacher set up a seating plan that ended up with me near the back of the classroom. For some reason or another, the board seemed rather blurry, and it was a struggle to figure out what was being written. The guy next to me was having the same problem, so we simply concluded that it was normal and did the best we could between us to get by. Later in the year, we had an optometrist visit the school to test our eyes. Lo and behold, both I and the guy next to me were short-sighted, limited in our ability to see anything in the distance. After getting glasses to correct this defect, it was overwhelmingly apparent how much of a problem we had. However, because we had never known anything different, and our experiences supported one another, beforehand it didn’t seem like there was a problem at all.
Many years on, I was experiencing the same thing all over again. My view of the world was being distorted, but I knew no different. I compared my experience with those around me, and found that they saw what I saw. On my own, there was no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. But just as the optometrist was able to demonstrate and correct the issues with my eyes, so the Holy Spirit was at work showing me the problems with my worldview. It was time to get some spiritual glasses.
It seems intuitively obvious that a Christian worldview should be different from that of the modern world. What is not always so obvious is how it should differ. After all, our worldview affects what we consider to be valid information, the way we go about collecting and interpreting it, and the conclusions and life choices we make from those interpretations. Our science, our philosophy, our ethics, our politics and even our theology are affected by our worldview. If my worldview was built on the assumption that all that is able to be definitely known is known through objective evidence, then the revelation of scripture is entirely invalidated. Even if I can test some of the claims, I am left relying on a subjective account. Is it any surprise that our modern world, operating on that assumption, rejects orthodox Christianity in favour of liberal alternatives or altogether abandoning the faith? Is it any surprise that we find ourselves disagreeing with atheists, an overwhelming majority of whom build their worldview on this assumption?
The obvious question to ask is then, “how do I choose my assumptions?” After all, if I need to make an assumption to accept the Bible as truth, then doesn’t that leave Christianity in a position where it is no more valid than a worldview built on some other set of assumptions? Followed to its ultimate conclusion, this line of thought potentially arrives at relativism – every individual is free to choose their own assumptions, and therefore what is true for one person is not necessarily true for another. As a Christian, I wholeheartedly reject relativism, but the question “why?” remains unanswered.
It must first be noted that we often let the assumptions of the modern world cloud our thinking when talking about assumptions. At worst, they are considered something to be despised; at best, a necessary evil to be tolerated until actual knowledge can be obtained. Atheism (or at least agnosticism) becomes the “neutral” position, because it examines only that which can be objectively known… or so it would have us believe. This is a loaded statement reflecting the previously discussed assumption – if all that can be definitely known is known objectively then the neutral position is to consider just what can be known objectively. The modern world says that to add subjective faith statements into the discussion is to invite bias away from the objective neutral ground, based on their absolute faith in in an assumption that brings bias via the permissible evidence.
Every single human being has a system of faith. We can’t live without it. No logical system that goes beyond definitions and tautologies can be constructed without a set of assumptions in which we place our faith. Of course, the assumptions we place here are those that seem self-evident – such assumptions are referred to as axioms. For the vast majority of people, “I am” is an axiom (although the necessity of Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” demonstrates that this is not universally agreed upon). By definition, no logical system can prove its own axioms – any attempt to do so results in circular reasoning. Atheists will typically have axiomatic statements that include the requirement of objective evidence, the consistency of the laws of nature past present and future and perhaps (although not always) a purely material universe. Christian axioms permit a combination of objective and subjective evidence, allow for the existence of a transcendent God who interacts with the material world and accept that the world is more than just material. Even placing those lists alongside each other, it is no wonder that the two positions have so many points of conflict.
So, if we accept that everybody places their faith somewhere that, to them, seems self-evident, and that the worldview derived from those faith based assumptions cannot itself prove those assumptions, how do we assess who has the correct set of assumptions (or, for that matter, worldview)? While it could be argued that my criteria reflect my own worldview, I find that two criteria exist that do a solid job of assessing worldviews. Firstly, does the worldview self-contradict? Can elements of the worldview be disproven within itself? If so, the worldview should be rejected. Secondly, does the worldview explain the world itself? Does the evidence of the world as experienced within that worldview conflict with the explanation offered by the worldview? Once again, if so, the worldview should be rejected. There are some worldviews that quite obviously fail these tests and others that have disputed status. Ultimately, I tend to find that all worldviews other than Christianity fall short in some respect, although I try to avoid stating this with the arrogance that I have seen elsewhere. There are other worldviews that make persuasive cases, and if they fail it is only under intense scrutiny. However, to discuss this further here would be a tangent best left for future posts.
This post is primarily directed at Christians, because I would like to share the challenge that the Holy Spirit gave me. As I gradually unpacked my axioms, comparing them against the worldview portrayed in God’s word, I saw over and over again that I was agreeing with the world, not with God. Passages of scripture I once read as minor all of a sudden brought tremendous conviction. My subconscious eisegesis, interpreting God’s word through the assumptions of the world, had stopped me from seeing what was truly there.
Now, not for a second do I claim that I’ve reached perfection. I have no doubt there are still many more areas in which God is yet to open my eyes. I am not even so bold as to claim that the areas that I have changed are areas now perfected. However, I do know that God has taken me on an amazing journey investigating this area, and I feel convicted to share what I have learnt. Over the next few months, I intend to write a series of posts on this topic, setting the Biblical worldview alongside modern Western worldview to look at some of the most common pitfalls for Christians when constructing their worldview. However, I must conclude for now with this challenge for any Christians reading: are you prepared to cease being conformed to this world and to be transformed by the complete renewing of your mind? The process isn’t comfortable; it’s confronting and at times outright painful. But, if it’s anything like my journey, I can promise you that it’s well and truly worth it.