Worldview isn’t an elective. It is a gaping hole in our preaching, teaching, and theology. Francis Schaeffer once observed that seminary graduates not only didn’t know the answers to today’s questions, but they didn’t even know the questions! Schaeffer documented his observation in 1972, and unfortunately, the situation hasn’t improved.
1. Special thanks to Ardel Caneday and Bill Kron for reviewing this article and providing insightful feedback.
2. Francis Schaeffer, He is There and He is Not Silent (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 1972), 3-4.
A recent study found that only 37% of pastors have a biblical worldview. That’s like discovering only 37% of American History teachers know who George Washington was! Such ignorance casts doubt on the qualifications of many pastors. This revelation should shock and humble evangelicals, but all we seem to manage is an apathetic yawn.
The truth is, many seminaries treat worldview as an elective. We have required courses on theology, Old and New Testament, pastoral ministry, Greek, and Hebrew, but not worldview. Sure, you can sign up for an elective or two on the subject, and some professors might dabble with Weltanschauung (Worldview), yet too many pastors make it through seminary without ever applying their theology to a world-and-life view. The anemic worldview thinking found in our pulpits cripples those in our pews.
Worldview can be a slippery term. For some, it conjures up thoughts of apologetics or philosophy. While these fall under the idea of worldview, what I mean is far more expansive. Worldview, or world-and-life view, means seeing and living in a holistically Christian way. It is taking every thought captive to Christ and then offering our entire lives as a living sacrifice to God (2 Cor. 10:2; Rom. 12:1-2).
Schaeffer summarized it well: “Biblical Christianity is Truth concerning total reality—and the intellectual holding of that total Truth and then living in the light of that Truth.” Contrary to this, American Christians sometimes partition off their faith from parts of life and end up thinking in bits and pieces instead of totals. Disjointed thinking leads to disjointed living.
3. Cited in Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 15.
4. Francis Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1981), 17.
Christians, from our pulpits to our pews, need to understand that worldview isn’t an elective. It is an essential part of the Christian life. Moreover, as this article demonstrates, it is indispensable to both the gospel and biblical theology. If we understand the Bible and the gospel correctly, it must change how we think and live.
The Gospel and Worldview
For decades, the broader American culture operated with a basic Christianized view of the world. There were many shared assumptions between believers and unbelievers based on our common Christian heritage. But today, we can’t agree with unbelievers on basic issues like truth, reality, or whether the genital mutilation of children is right or wrong. Times have changed because Christian and non-Christians no longer have a collective set of foundational beliefs. And beyond this, Christians themselves struggle to articulate their own foundational beliefs. Our preaching and teaching must fill in these gaps to disciple our people in a gospel worldview.
To declare the gospel effectively, we must recognize that it both assumes and produces a worldview. To understand the gospel, people must first comprehend a whole set of categories and concepts: Who God is as God, who they are as humans, what’s wrong with the world, and so on. In many ways, our age is like the pre-Christian or pagan world the church was born into. Thus, part of our evangelism includes laying the building blocks necessary for people to understand the good news.
Paul, when he preached the gospel to Jews, began with Scripture (Acts 17:1–2). He could do this because the necessary worldview was already in place. But Paul changed tactics in Athens. He confronted the pagan worldview and framed his presentation to the men of Athens with a basic Christian understanding of the world. He started with God as the Creator (Acts 17:24), God’s independence (Acts 17:25), the identity of humanity (Acts 17:26, 28–29), and the certainty of coming judgment (Acts 17:31). Only after laying the foundation did Paul introduce the work of Christ (17:31b). You cannot understand the death and resurrection of Christ if you do not understand God, creation, and who man is. The gospel assumes the biblical view of reality and obligates hearers to embrace that true reality. And when people finally accept the gospel, they begin to view the world in a new way.
The gospel produces a worldview. To be Christ-centered must be more than a tagline for pastors. It is a call to see all of life in light of the work and lordship of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Christ’s work is more, though never less, than saving sinners. Christ died for sinners because it is man’s sin that brought the curse upon creation. Everything in the created order longs to be liberated from sin (Rom. 8:21–23). Therefore, the gospel message applies to all of reality.
For example, in Colossians 1:15–20 we find an early Christian summary of the gospel. These verses assert the cosmic scope of Christ’s work: he created all things, he holds all things together, everything exists for him, and he is reconciling it all by the blood of his cross. The gospel must change how we view everything because Christ presides over everything.
To know and proclaim the gospel message is to know and proclaim the Christ who has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18). In this way, the gospel produces a comprehensive view of reality with Christ as the head of all things (Eph. 1:20–22). To be Christ-centered cannot be less than seeing everything as under Christ’s feet (Heb. 2:8–9). The gospel is a worldview that asserts Christ’s universal reign as the world’s creator, sustainer, meaning, and savior.
If we hope to effectively preach the gospel in our day, then we must recapture its totalizing worldview. The gospel assumes and produces a worldview that leaves no corner of life untouched by the authority and redemptive power of Jesus Christ.
Worldview Is Indispensable for Biblical and Systematic Theology
In recent years, there has been a resurgent interest in biblical theology, understanding the storyline of Scripture and how it works itself out across the covenants. By reemphasizing the unfolding drama of Scripture, Christians see the big picture of God’s plan of redemption as centered on Christ. Biblical theology often summarizes the storyline of Scripture as creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. By seeing Christ on every page of Scripture, the church glories all the more in his work. Biblical theology is fundamental to a right understanding of God’s Word, but Christians must not stop there.
The storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation is more than the movements of Scripture—it tells the story of the entire universe. It’s not just about God’s Word; it’s about God’s world. It is your story and mine. For those trained in theology, it feels comfortably familiar to stay in the safety of sanitized theological discussion and thus fail to take the necessary step into the rest of life. But biblical theology is not just about recovering the storyline of the Bible. Biblical theology offers the framework to understand all of life. For example, the goodness of creation establishes the norms for morality (i.e., sexuality, life, property), and the fall reminds us that we live primarily in a moral universe, not a therapeutic one. Our primary problem is moral, not how we feel. The work of Christ in salvation brings everything under his redemptive reign and trains us to look forward to his triumphant return. All of life post-fall must be seen in light of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.
These are not just biblical truths; they are the truths of reality. It is easy to keep such things intellectual or within the cage of spiritual or immaterial realities, but to do so neuters their power and importance. This world is created, it is fallen, it is being redeemed, and the new creation will come with the shout of command from Christ. A proper biblical theology keeps us from narrowing in on one part of the story to the exclusion of the others. It also instructs us how to rightly live in this world.
In the same way, systematic theology is inseparable from worldview. One example of how this relationship plays out is in the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine reveals God’s nature and is then reflected in his creation (Ps. 19:1-3). The triune nature of God provides the foundation for the unity and diversity we find within our world. Robert Letham asserts, “We need to recapture and refashion a Trinitarian view of creation . . . that expressly and explicitly accounts for both the order and coherence of the universe and the distinctiveness of its parts.”
5. Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2019), xxxvi.
Conversely, if the universe is the result of an exploding singularity, then everything is ultimately one. Diversity is a mere illusion. Such an impoverished worldview destroys the distinctions we find in creation, including the differences between male and female. If everything is only an inherent oneness, then the particularities we observe are merely the result of our own cultural whims. Yet, if the universe comes from the three-in-one God, then there is a proper foundation for both unity and diversity.
Consider also Calvinism. The beating heart of Calvinism is the sovereignty of God over creation, mankind, salvation, history, etc. God reigns over everything. Despite this, some Calvinists will assert God’s sovereign authority over only parts of life—salvation, church, and the family. Yet, the Bible asserts Christ’s sovereignty over everything visible and invisible (Col. 1:15–20). Christ reigns over it all. The sovereignty of God cannot be reduced to soteriology. That God is sovereign over the minutest detail of his universe must shape how we think and live throughout all aspects of human existence.
For example, God’s comprehensive sovereignty is at the heart of a right understanding of human authority. What gives someone the right to have authority over others? Or, what limits earthly authorities? If there is no God, then “might makes right.” The strong will rule and do whatever they desire. But, if there is a sovereign God who is the head over all authority, then he delegates authority to various created structures. Such divine delegation brings legitimacy to authority in the home, church, and state and also establishes their limits. The husband, pastor, and magistrate are nothing less than servants of God (Rom 13:4). These servants possess their authority only because it is given to them by their master. The Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty shaped Western views of human rights, common law, and limited government. Despite these inescapable implications from systematic theology, many preachers and teachers prefer the safety of ivory towers that ignore actively building a Christian world-and-life view. In all our theologizing, we must not forget the truth of Herman Bavinck’s words: “Christianity is the only religion whose view of the world and life fits the world and life.”
6. Abraham Kuyper, “Calvinism: Source and Stronghold of Our Constitutional Liberties,” in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. James D. Bratt (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 1998), 279–322.
7. Herman Bavinck, Christian Worldview (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 28.
When pastors and teachers treat worldview as an elective, they remove the teeth of the Christian faith. Systematic theology is not about building the best system, but it is about informing life and conduct to the glory of God. Biblical theology is not only about tracing the storyline of Scripture but about understanding the entire cosmos in light of its Creator and Savior. Without worldview thinking, both systematic and biblical theology remain incomplete and are reduced to mere intellectual exercises. Worldview is not an elective but a necessary entailment of all theologizing as the necessary application of God’s truth to all of life.
Christians must see that worldview thinking, teaching, and preaching is not an elective to be left to those who are interested in it. It is the necessary foundation for the gospel and the necessary byproduct of accepting the gospel. As society teeters on the brink of insanity, many are searching for real answers. They feel the need for a unified world-and-life view.
Many fellow Baptists are perplexed by the rise of postmillennialism and what seems to be a constant stream of Baptists becoming Presbyterians. Some respond to this by leaning even more into a hyper-spiritualized version of Christianity that downplays entire parts of life, but such a response will only push more toward those offering answers to today’s problems.
A Christianity that majors on biblical and systematic theology but never applies it to the world fits all too comfortably in the secularist cage. Such theologizing may appeal to theological nerds, but it demonstrates a cold indifference to the problems our people face.
The call for the pastor and the congregant is the same—see the world from the totalizing worldview of Scripture. Understand every square inch of this universe as belonging to Christ as its Creator and Savior. It’s not enough to be Christ-centered in our theology. We must be Christ-centered in all of life. This is his world, and we’re just living in it.