Today's Broadcast

What’s Your Worldview?

A Message by James Anderson

Dr. James Anderson helps Christians identify, evaluate, and interact with non-Christian worldviews.

From the series: The Gospel: 2016 National Conference

We'll Send You Ligonier's 2016 National Conference DVD + a Booklet for a Gift of Any Amount

Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Contend for the Faith

  2. article

    A Brave New World

  3. article

    On Worldviews

Contend for the Faith

With our study of Jude now complete, we have also reached the end of our study of the General Epistles. We hope our look at these different apostolic letters has encouraged you, and we pray you will continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18) as you study His Word.

The warnings and exhortations Jude gives to us provide a fitting capstone for our study. His warnings regarding false teachers and their appointed end (vv. 5–16) are pertinent in our day as the assaults of Satan against the church continue. Unless we are well-grounded in our faith, we will not be able to recognize false doctrine and help rescue those who have fallen prey to it (vv. 17–23).

Jude recognizes all children of God are kept by His power and will not finally fall away (vv. 1–2; 24–25). But he does not let this precious truth lead us into passivity. He reminds us that believers must contend for the faith once delivered to the saints because of the goats who set themselves up as teachers of the sheep (vv. 3–4). Yet this call to fight actively for the faith is not limited to Jude alone; it is one theme uniting all of the General Epistles.

Each battle to defend the apostolic faith will be slightly different.

Sometimes we will have to confront those who deny specific doctrines, like Peter and John did when they confronted those who denied the second coming (2 Peter 3:8–10) and the incarnation (1 John 4:1–6). In other instances we will have to reassert the active nature of faith, like James did when he called us to love God in word and deed (2:14–26). Resisting the influence of false teachers may be more indirect at times, such as when we withhold support from those who pervert doctrine (2 John) or show hospitality to ministers (3 John). Nevertheless, we must always defend the Gospel with gentleness and respect, even if it brings suffering (1 Peter 3:15–16).

As we contend for the faith, let us always love those who disagree with us on negotiable matters (James 1:19–21; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 4:7–8). However, let us always love others in the truth and contend for the faith delivered to the saints as we serve the living God.

A Brave New World

Robert Rothwell

On September 14, 2001, as the United States was still coming to grips with al Qaeda’s assault on New York and Washington, D.C., dignitaries gathered in the national cathedral to memorialize the dead and show forth the country’s resolve to stand united against its attackers. Though ostensibly a Christian house of worship, the clergy leading the service did not all represent the Christian faith. In fact, a rabbi and an imam both had roles in the “worship,” which was opened with an invocation calling upon the “God of Abraham and Mohammed and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

The most striking thing about this service was not that non-Christians took an active part therein. Rather, it was that few adherents to the belief systems represented spoke out against those clergy who, by sitting alongside one another on the platform, implicitly affirmed Judaism, Islam, and Christianity as valid pathways to the Creator. Setting aside questions of whether any of these three systems are true or false for a moment, any objective observer must wonder how those clergy could have thought of doing what they did. Given that these major religions hold vastly different ideas of God, the human predicament, and the deity of Jesus Christ, a committed believer in any of these creeds could never find it acceptable even to imply that Jews, Muslims, and Christians all serve the same God.

However, this assumption that all beliefs are equally true and valid is precisely what our culture is trying to force upon us each and every day. In the name of tolerance we are told that it “does not matter what you believe, as long as you believe it sincerely.” The truly enlightened, it is said, do not only accept the existence of other religious truth claims, they also affirm them all as paths by which we can find our way up the mountain to God, whoever we want Him to be.

This appeal to “tolerance” is the way our secular culture responds to the reality in which we now live. We find ourselves today in a brave new world. If a mosque has not yet opened in your town, it will probably not be much longer before the minaret appears in the skyline. Perhaps your next-door neighbor today is a Christian. Do not be surprised if a practicing Buddhist moves in tomorrow. You might hear a knock at your door from a friendly Mormon missionary as you read this article. The world, with all its vast religious diversity has come to our neighborhoods, opening up all sorts of new economic and social opportunities. Taking advantage of this situation requires us to get along with those holding these vastly different worldviews, and the easiest way to get along with these individuals is to avoid “rocking the boat.” Of course, the only way to avoid rocking the boat is never to tell someone that they might be wrong, especially in their practice of religion. For the good of all we must “tolerate” those around us.

Of course, to construe tolerance in this way is to grossly misunderstand the virtue. Tolerance is a good thing, when rightly practiced. For example, I can tolerate my atheist neighbor by being charitable and friendly toward him, respecting him as a person, and seeking to understand his views honestly rather than some caricature of his ideas. But there is a distinct difference between toleration and affirmation. We have embraced affirmation and not toleration if tolerance means that I cannot tell my atheist friend that he is mistaken regarding God’s existence.

That our culture is really pursuing affirmation and not toleration can be seen in the outrage that is voiced any time Christians tell the media that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 14:6). If our society really practiced toleration, then people would not have such a visceral reaction to such statements. They might not agree with us, but they would refrain from calling us ignorant or arrogant when we are faithful to the message of our Lord and Savior. Were our culture to practice toleration authentically, they would not attempt to silence us even if they could not embrace our position. It is clear therefore that the so-called “tolerance” our society embraces is actually the most insidious form of intolerance. Western culture at large freely “tolerates” any worldview as long as that worldview does not claim that other views are false. The only exclusive claim one can make is that no one can make an exclusive claim.

As a result of such “intolerant tolerance,” evangelism is more and more being seen as the greatest crime against humanity. For example, you might be labeled anti-Semitic if you suggest that Jewish men and women, as much as anyone else, need Jesus to save them. In any library it is easy to find anthropology books bemoaning the conversion of tribal peoples to the Gospel or guidebooks for religious dialogue that advocate a surrender of the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to have an authentic conversation with the non-Christians around us. The pressure to surrender the biblical and historic affirmation that salvation comes only through personal, conscious faith in Jesus is enormous and will only increase in the years ahead unless we see great revival in our land.

In this situation it is tempting for us to be on the defensive, to hunker down in our churches and adopt an “us against them” mentality that keeps us in a Christian ghetto and does not propel us into active outreach to the lost around us. Yet this cannot be our response. The very first Christians faced a similar world wherein different religions were “tolerated” as long as their adherents did not make a stir, but they did not build walls around themselves. Instead, they went forth to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. We are to do the same. Despite the confusion and problems that come with having people with vastly different worldviews living around us, we must recognize that God has brought the nations to us. We are able to share the faith with people who originate from countries that are closed to the Gospel. This is a tremendous privilege and opportunity for us to be an integral part of our Father’s plan to bring some from every tongue and tribe into His kingdom (Rev. 7:9–12).

How can we make the most of our opportunity to reach the world in our own backyards? I would suggest five ways:

First, we must make sure that we have a solid grasp on the basics of the Christian faith. The Gospel way of salvation is vastly different than the system found in any other religion, and it runs contrary to the salvation by one’s own good-works mentality to which fallen humanity is inclined. We can never know too much about our Savior and must constantly remind ourselves of the core doctrines of Christianity so that we are able to proclaim them accurately. The editors of Tabletalk endeavor to provide readers each month with articles and resources that affirm orthodox, biblical Christianity. Catechisms, books, and countless other materials from all eras of church history are available online, in bookstores, and in libraries across the United States. 

Second, we need to have a good understanding of those with whom we dialogue. In discussing religious differences it can be easy to mischaracterize the beliefs of those who do not follow Christ. Such mischaracterizations prevent us from accurately critiquing other worldviews and show no respect for the non-Christian. Both of these errors violate 1 Peter 3:15–16, which implores us to defend the truth with gentleness and respect. If you have a Muslim friend, learn about Islam and its differences with Christianity. Understand your neighbor’s particular Buddhist tradition so that you can counter the errors she believes with the truth. Do what you can to address real issues, not hastily constructed straw men.

Third, let us help the unbeliever question the assumption that religious truth is less absolute than mathematics or science. We do not say it is alright for some to believe that two plus two equals four while others can believe that two plus two equals five. Why should we approach religious truth any differently? 

Fourth, help the religious pluralist see that he does not really believe that all roads lead to heaven. If he did, then he would not express outrage at suicide bombings, human sacrifice, and other such practices that even staunch religious pluralists find abhorrent. One cannot consistently embrace religious pluralism and relativism and at the same time object to any religious belief or practice. If sincerity is all that matters for salvation, religious terrorists who sincerely believe their god calls them to kill others do nothing wrong when they obey him. To condemn even one religious belief is to appeal to some ultimate, normative standard by which we may evaluate religion, establishing that standard as the one, true religion — and there can be no one, true religion for the honest religious pluralist. 

Finally, we must love those who in this pluralistic culture do not yet trust Christ. Let us pray for their salvation and preach the Gospel, but may we never see them as nonentities or mere ideas that need refuting. Befriend them. Do good to them. Go the extra mile and understand their concerns, hopes, and fears (1 Peter 2:15). Since God loved us when we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), can we do any less than to love those around us? 

On Worldviews

James Anderson

Abortion. Euthanasia. Pornography. Same-sex marriage. Transgender rights. Embryonic research. Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes. There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. The sociological quakes and moral fissures we observe in our day are largely due to what we might call "cultural plate tectonics": shifts in underlying worldviews and the collisions between them.

What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. It's not a physical view of the world, but rather a philosophical view, an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us.

A person's worldview represents his most fundamental beliefs and assumptions about the universe he inhabits. It reflects how he would answer all the "big questions" of human existence: fundamental questions about who and what we are, where we came from, why we're here, where (if anywhere) we're headed, the meaning and purpose of life, the nature of the afterlife, and what counts as a good life here and now. Few people think through these issues in any depth, and fewer still have firm answers to such questions, but a person's worldview will at least incline him toward certain kinds of answers and away from others.

Worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world around us. Like spectacles with colored lenses, they affect what we see and how we see it. Depending on the "color" of the lenses, some things may be seen more easily, or conversely, they may be de-emphasized or distorted—indeed, some things may not be seen at all.

Worldviews also largely determine people's opinions on matters of ethics and politics. What a person thinks about abortion, euthanasia, same-sex relationships, environmental ethics, economic policy, public education, and so on will depend on his underlying worldview more than anything else.

As such, worldviews play a central and defining role in our lives. They shape what we believe and what we're willing to believe, how we interpret our experiences, how we behave in response to those experiences, and how we relate to others. Our thoughts and our actions are conditioned by our worldviews.

Worldviews operate at both the individual level and the societal level. Rarely will two people have exactly the same worldview, but they may share the same basic type of worldview. Moreover, within any society, certain worldview types will be represented more prominently than others, and will therefore exert greater influence on the culture of that society. Western civilization since around the fourth century has been dominated by a Christian worldview, even though there have been individuals and groups who have challenged it. But in the last couple of centuries, for reasons ranging from the technological to the theological, the Christian worldview has lost its dominance, and competing worldviews have become far more prominent. These non-Christian worldviews include:

  • Naturalism: there is no God; humans are just highly evolved animals; the universe is a closed physical system.
  • Postmodernism: there are no objective truths and moral standards; "reality" is ultimately a human social construction.
  • Pantheism: God is the totality of reality; thus, we are all divine by nature.
  • Pluralism: the different world religions represent equally valid perspectives on the ultimate reality; there are many valid paths to salvation.
  • Islam: there is only one God, and He has no son; God has revealed His will for all people through His final prophet, Muhammad, and His eternal word, the Qur'an.
  • Moralistic therapeutic deism: God just wants us to be happy and nice to other people; He intervenes in our affairs only when we call on Him to help us out.

Each of these worldviews has profound implications for how people think about themselves, what behaviors they consider right or wrong, and how they orient their lives. It is therefore crucial that Christians be able to engage with unbelief at the worldview level. Christians need to understand not only what it means to have a biblical worldview, but also why they should hold fast to that worldview and apply it to all of life. They should be able to identify the major non-Christian worldviews that vie for dominance in our society, to understand where they fundamentally differ from the Christian worldview, and to make a well-reasoned case that the Christian worldview alone is true, good, and beautiful.

The challenge is greater than ever. But we shouldn't be discouraged, because the opportunities and resources available to us are also greater now than they have ever been. In the last half-century or so there has been a remarkable renaissance in Christian philosophy and apologetics, much of which has focused on developing and defending a biblical worldview. Whatever God calls His people to do, He equips them to do (see Eph. 4:11-12; Heb. 13:20-21). The problem is not that the church is under-equipped, but that she has yet to make full use of what Christ has provided for her.

Since the beginning,

our aim has been to help Christians know what they believe, why they believe it, how to share it, and how to live it…

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