Sunday, December 18

Schaeffer and Worldview

On this day in 1979, Francis Schaeffer gave an historic speech which would form the basis of  his landmark book A Christian Manifesto.  He asserted that "the basic problem with Christians in this country" over the last two generations or more has been that "they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”  The result has been a kind of hesitant hit-or-miss approach to the dire dilemmas of our day: “They have very gradually become disturbed over permissiveness, pornography, the public schools, the breakdown of the family, and finally abortion.  But they have not seen this as a totality--each thing being a part, a symptom, of a much larger problem.”

He said that part of the reason for this was: “They failed to see that all of this has come about due to a shift in worldview--that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think a view the world and life as a whole.”

When the subject of worldview comes up, we generally think of philosophy.  We think of intellectual niggling.  We think of the brief and blinding oblivion of ivory tower speculation, of thickly obscure tomes, and of inscrutable logical complexities.

In fact, a worldview is as practical as potatoes.  It is less metaphysical than understanding marginal market buying at the stock exchange or legislative initiatives in congress.  It is less esoteric than typing a book into a laptop computer or sending a fax across the continent.  It is instead as down to earth as tilling the soil for a bed of zinnias.

The word itself is a poor English attempt at translating the German weltanshauung.  It literally means a life perspective or a way of seeing.  It is simply the way we look at the world.

You have a worldview.  I have a worldview.  Everyone does.  It is our perspective.  It is our frame of reference.  It is the means by which we interpret the situations and circumstances around us.  It is what enables us to integrate all the different aspects of our faith, and life, and experience.

Alvin Toffler, in his book Future Shock said: “Every person carries in his head a mental model of the world, a subjective representation of external reality.”

This mental model is, he says, like a giant filing cabinet.  It contains a slot for every item of information coming to us.  It organizes our knowledge and gives us a grid from which to think.  Our mind is not as Pelagius, Locke, Voltaire, or Rousseau would have had us suppose—a tabla rasa, a blank and impartial slate.  None of us are completely open-minded or genuinely objective.  “When we think,” said economic philosopher E.F. Schumacher, “we can only do so because our mind is already filled with all sorts of ideas with which to think.”  These more or less fixed notions make up our mental model of the world, our frame of reference, our presuppositions--in other words, our worldview.

Thus, a worldview is simply a way of viewing the world.  Nothing could be simpler.  But by raising the issue when he did and how he did, Francis Schaeffer altogether altered the terms of the theological debate in America and ushered in a new wave of reform.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Summit maintains a worldview chart that is pretty helpful here:

I agree with Schumacher's observation that people interpret things according to their worldview. I would add that people can be more objective, despite having a worldview, when they are taught to apply logic - the formal and informal kind - to their reasoning about the world.