Should Christians Reject the Word/Concept of ‘Worldview?’ Yes. Maybe. Yes?

by John Ellis

I have grown to dislike and, finally, I think, reject the word/concept of worldview. Paradoxically, it is too tribalistic and not tribalistic enough. I’m going to work backwards and begin with “not tribalistic enough.” Or at least, I’m going to try. As you’ll soon see, I believe, the two sides of the paradoxical failure bleed into each other. Immediately, in fact.

There are only two lived/felt possibilities of the ontic reality of created beings.[1] We are either in a relationship of wrath with our Creator or we are in a relationship of blessing with our Creator now Father. Worldview language fails to acknowledge this bifurcated reality of humans. It situates the epistemological and, hence, ethical position of citizens of the Kingdom of God within the modernist/classical liberal perceived neutrality of language. Casting language as neutral, modernism holds to the conceit that objectivity is possible. We can view the world objectively. This means we have the ability to systematically label, sort, and box up the world around us, including the various belief systems. In doing so, the ability to determine the hierarchy of “worldviews” is within our grasp. Except, contra Descartes, we can’t question everything because we can’t see everything that needs to be questioned. Going back to a previous sentence – It situates the epistemological and, hence, ethical position of citizens of the Kingdom of God within the modernist/classical liberal perceived neutrality of language – this belief claims that the Christian worldview can win the ideological fashion show and be crowned the Queen of Worldviews.

The problem is that followers of King Jesus don’t have a worldview that competes with (and defeats) other worldviews. The lived/felt ontic reality of Christians isn’t opposed to the lived/felt ontic reality of non-Christians, it’s just headed in a different direction. And that makes all the difference. Worldview language is not a good way to describe, much less view, the eternally different lived/felt ontic realities of the two types of humans. Transitioning to “too tribalistic,” this is because worldview language is a product of modernism. It allies the Kingdom with a specific outworking of created beings’ rebellion.

Modernism/classical liberalism elevates rationalism (including empiricism) to the top of the epistemological mountain. Exclusively so. Facts speak for themselves. Or, in the parlance of contemporary social media platitudes: facts don’t care about your feelings. Except, well, actually they do. Feelings are important to our interpretation of reality, too. This is one of the things Wittgenstein was getting at in Philosophical Investigations with his attempts to demonstrate how completely understanding words, and the sentences they form, is dependent on the total knowledge of a whole host of variables, many, of course, which are unknowable for us. Modernism’s hamartia is hubris. Ergo, the Christian worldview’s hamartia is also hubris because the Christian worldview is so closely aligned with modernism as to make it difficult to see where they separate, if they do.

By way of a current event-styled illustration, it hasn’t escaped my attention that the anti-CRT crowd is hell bent (literally, I’m afraid) on defending the epistemological holy of holies of modernism. The syncretism of Christian imagery, concepts, and practices with modernism is almost complete, if not completed already in some communities. This raises the question: which of the two ontic realities is white evangelicalism moving? That’s a frightening question, but one that we – you and me – need to interact with.

This isn’t to say that CRT is correct (and it’s not to say that it isn’t correct, to be clear, which is kind of the point). It’s to say that the criticisms of CRT are most often rooted in the defense of an anthropocentric hubristic epistemology and not in Kingdom ethics. This failure is encouraged by the Christian worldview cottage industry, even as some of the best and brightest Christian philosophers and thought leaders wring their hands in dismay at what they have (apparently unwittingly) wrought.

Steering even more into the paradox of being human, a position of “well, I’ll pick out the good and discard the bad” regarding “worldviews” reveals the idol of epistemological objectivity. Another word for it is autonomy. And we are not autonomous. We do not possess objectivity when viewing the world nor when listening to others. We are either being made more like Christ, or we are moving even further into a relationship with God’s wrath. The dual tensions of sanctification and common grace are at constant play as we (should) seek to honor God by living out Kingdom ethics in the temporal context the Spirit has called us to serve.

Kingdom ethics are non-negotiable for citizens of the Kingdom. This side of the eschaton, we will fail, of course. Mercifully, God knew this. Our sins are covered. But our sins being covered is not an excuse for complacency. Embracing the word/concept of worldview gives us more royal privilege than we deserve. Doing so blinds us to the immediate calls/concerns of Kingdom ethics. It becomes more important to defend “my worldview” than to serve those who are suffering or to pursue righteousness/justice in ways that honor God.

I already have more to say on this and, presumably, that more will grow exponentially. Maybe, and Lord willing, I’ll revisit this in the future and flesh out more of what I mean by my new rejection of the word/concept of worldview. For now, with this article, my objective has been to sort out my thoughts while providing a dialectical starting point as I continue to argue with myself. If others want to join in the argument, amen.

Soli Deo Gloria

[1] I’m working on an article adding some structural conceptual bones to this claim. That article is written in my head. Figuring out how to translate my thoughts to words on pages is proving to be slow going.

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