Introduction to Worldviews


Introduction to Worldviews

Part 2 of Dr. Bahnsen’s video lecture series (“Defending the Faith”) is called “Introduction to Worldviews.” In this lecture Dr. Bahnsen introduces us to the concept of a worldview and points out that everyone has one. This particular lecture is heavy on philosophy.

Where Part 1 introduced the myth of neutrality and Scripture’s command that we use our spiritual weapons to destroy the strongholds of arguments and opinions raised by unbelievers against God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5), in Part 2 Dr. Bahnsen begins building for us a framework that will help us understand how to do that.

He begins by discussing the big picture: worldviews, sometimes called world-and-life views. He tells us that Christianity is a worldview, and that if we are committed to Christ in one area of our life then we must be committed to Christ in EVERY area of our life — we must take every thought captive to his obedience.

Christians should never attempt to be neutral, for to do so is illogical and unfaithful to God.

This is a rather demanding lecture in terms of information density. He has to use several terms from the field of philosophy, and he apologizes up front about doing so. Though they sound intimidating at first, the concepts are basic and foundational.

He begins be defining presuppositions: a person’s elementary assumptions about reality as a whole. He tells us that it is a precondition for human thought and experience.

For example, he uses a ludicrous example to illustrate his point: when you wake up in the morning, do you wonder if you are the same person today as you were yesterday? Do you get up each morning and consider whether the laws of gravity are going to behave today as they did yesterday? Do you wonder if you are a robot who had his memories programmed into him such that you are not really more than a day old?

No, you have a set of basic assumptions about how the world works — presuppositions — that provide answers to questions like these.

A WORLDVIEW AND ITS ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES

He defines a WORLDVIEW as a network of presuppositions which are untested by natural science, and all experience is related and interpreted in terms of them.

In short, then, your worldview is built upon a foundation of elementary assumptions. Worldviews address three areas of philosophy:

Metaphysics – questions concerning the nature of reality (what is real, what is the nature of man and God, what does it mean to exist?)

Epistemology – questions about the nature of knowledge (how can we know something? What does it mean to “know” anything? Are there limits on what man can know?)

Ethics – questions about morality (what is good, what is bad? Do they exist? Are there moral absolutes?)

In his book Always Ready, Dr. Bahnsen described one of our tasks in applying Christian apologetics as follows:

“When we talk to unbelievers about their views—especially their worldviews—we should be especially sensitive to hear or discern what their controlling assumptions are about the nature of reality (metaphysics), about the nature of knowledge (epistemology), and about what is right or wrong in human behavior (ethics).”

THE CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

Every worldview addresses these three foundational issues. Christianity comprehensively addresses and resolves all of these issues coherently. We have doctrines of Creation, Fall, and Consummation that all describe

1) God as the self-definitional source who created reality and its nature as we know it;

2) Man’s nature and his position before God (fallen, in search for redemption);

3) The ethical standard that God sets for man through God’s general, special (Scripture), and incarnate (Jesus) revelations of Himself to us. We know that his ethical requirements are absolute, universal, and unchanging as opposed to a relativistic ethic which holds that there are no universal moral values;

4) The resolution of questions of our guilt and personal peace by obeying or disobeying God’s ethical requirements for salvation and reconciliation;

5) And where history is ultimately heading, or the consummation of all things.

A BRIEF SURVEY OF COMMON WORLDVIEWS

He then summarizes conflicting worldviews by providing a general roadmap to help us identify the worldview of the unbeliever:

1) Monism – a metaphysical system that believes that all of reality is composed of one substance: all is one, and one is all. Religions like Hinduism and the New Age movement fit into this category.

2) Dualism – a worldview that holds that there are two ultimate realities, such as “mind” and “matter”. Plato proposed such a universe with his system of “Forms,” ideal realities that exist outside of our world. We build imperfect replicas of the Forms in this world by perceiving them through our intuition.

3) Atomism – this is a purely materialistic worldview. Materialists say the world and universe are composed of stuff, and that there are no other worlds or realities. Whereas monism describes a reality composed of one stuff, atomism asserts that reality is composed of infinite stuff. There are sects of atomism that deny freewill (deterministic) and those that allow it (non-deterministic). A popular sub-category of atomism is existentialism, which falls into the non-deterministic camp. It emphasizes that human experience is the foundation of all thinking and philosophy; man gives meaning to the universe.

4) Pragmatism and Skepticism – worldviews that hold that we can’t really know anything, so what matters most is solving our problems to get ahead in life (pragmatists) or that all knowledge is mere opinion (skeptics). Our modern lawyers tend to be skeptics (sophists), those who argue one way in one case, then turn around and argue the other way in the next case just to collect a paycheck, regardless of truth or ethics. Cynicism is a sub-category of this worldview.

Dr. Bahnsen admits that this list doesn’t exhaust every possibility of possible worldviews, but they are broad enough and common enough to encompass many that we will encounter held by unbelievers. This list provides us with a good start.

CONCLUSION

Christians must never be neutral in their reasoning, and we must be familiar with the Christian worldview so that we can recognize the ways in which an unbeliever’s worldview conflicts with it. The best way to be familiar with the Christian worldview is to Christianize every area of our life and study the word of God which is truth. We need to be able to point out the weaknesses in the unbeliever’s worldview that are in contrast to the coherence and glory of the Christian worldview.

As Christian apologists, we shouldn’t challenge unbelievers on random periphereal conflicts; we must realize their entire worldview is in conflict with ours and attack them at their foundations.

It’s important to remember that each of the worldviews outlined in this lecture has a network of beliefs that addresses the key issues of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. There are certainly other worldviews beyond the four listed here; for example, Judaism and Islam are religions (worldviews) which address these three issues in their own way.

Lessons 3, 4, and 5 of the accompanying series study guide that go along with this lecture can be found by clicking here. They are in PDF format for easy reading.

For Part 3, titled “Worldviews in Collision,” click here.

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10 responses to “Introduction to Worldviews

  1. that was a good lecture, even after all these years since I first saw it, I say it still has blessed me.

    • It was a blessing indeed. Dr. Bahnsen was a blessing to the church. When did you first see the lecture?

      • I believe I first saw these lectures in 2005, as a result of an American Vision ad on Reformed.org. I purchased it (since I loved Greg Bahnsen) and was quite blessed with it! How did you first come across Bahnsen’s work?

      • That’s a great story. I’m glad it’s been a blessing in your life.

        I came across the lectures first by finding the study guides at American Vision. After reading through some of that material, I became very interested in finding the lectures, which are also available at AV.

        It was a blessing to be introduced to such a well-educated, articulate, logical defender of the faith who was clearly not ashamed of the power of the Gospel.

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