Why Worldview Matters
Why homeschool? How do we explain our decision to family and friends - and, frankly, even to ourselves on tough days? One homeschooling father put his finger on what, for many parents, is the key motivation: “The problem with our education system is not just that it omits God and the Bible from curriculum,” writes Tom Parsons. “It is that our public education system embraces a worldview that places no value on the absolute truth of the Bible.” 
In other words, the problem is not just that schools teach individual ideas or moral principles that may be objectionable. Far more dangerous to a growing young mind is the secular, postmodernist worldview that underlies those ideas, because it permeates the entire curriculum as an unquestioned assumption. And precisely because it is unspoken, it easily bypasses any critical grid your children may have, and is simply absorbed.
Parsons kindly attributes this insight to reading my book Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity. What I discovered in doing research for the book is that putting your children in Christian schools does not necessarily solve the problem, because most do not teach a comprehensive Christian worldview. The majority of Christian schools adopt a sacred/secular dualism, where religion is relegated to chapel and Bible classes, while the subject matter taught in the classroom is virtually identical to what is taught in public schools. This pattern is dominant even at the university level. In a recent survey at a major Christian university, more than half of the faculty said they did not feel capable of giving a biblical perspective on the subject they teach.
Listen to this story from a young woman who recently graduated from a Christian high school. Writing in a Christian magazine, she said: “On the first day of theology class, my teacher drew a heart on one side of the blackboard and a brain on the other side. He told us that the two are as divided as the two sides of the blackboard—the heart is what we use for religion and the brain is what we use for science.” This is a radical dichotomy. The upshot is that many schools and churches are turning out young people who may be sincere Christians in their religious life, but secular in their mental life. As a result, it is all too easy for them to absorb secular ideas from the surrounding culture.
As Christian parents, pastors, and teachers, we constantly see young people pulled down by the undertow of powerful cultural trends. If all we give them is a “heart” religion, it will not be strong enough to counter the lure of attractive but dangerous ideas. Young believers also need a “brain” religion—training in worldview and apologetics—to equip them to analyze and critique the competing worldviews they will encounter when they leave home. If forewarned and forearmed, young people at least have a fighting chance when they find themselves a minority of one among their classmates or work colleagues. Training young people to develop a Christian mind is no longer an option; it is part of their necessary survival equipment.
What's a Nice Christian Doing Here?
Consider the story of “Sarah,” a young Christian woman who worked for many years for Planned Parenthood. Sarah was a regular church-goer who grew up in a solidly evangelical denomination. As a teenager she had undergone a genuine conversion experience. “I still have the white Bible my grandmother gave me, where I underlined all the passages on how to be sure of salvation,” she told me.
So how did she end up working for an organization that promotes abortion? When Sarah went to college she majored in the social sciences, where the assumption of cultural relativism is absolutely pervasive. And she had no clue how to respond. Her church had given her assurance of salvation, but it had not given her the tools to deal with the intellectual challenges she was facing in the classroom. As a result, she simply absorbed a relativistic worldview as part of the professional ethos of her field.
Sarah’s story is a chilling example of how it is possible to become secular in our view of the world, even while remaining orthodox in theology. The fatal weakness in her faith was that she had accepted Christian doctrines strictly as individual items of belief: the deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His miracles, His resurrection from the dead—she could tick them off one by one. But she lacked any sense of how Christianity functions as a unified, overarching system of truth that applies to social issues, history, politics, anthropology, and all the other subject areas. In short, she lacked a Christian worldview. She held to Christianity as a collection of truths, but not as capital-T Truth.
A generation ago, mainstream American culture still largely supported biblical moral standards, so it was easy to be a “Sunday Christian.” The unspoken rule was, “Go to church once a week, and the rest of the week, well, just don’t commit any obvious sins.” Today, however, the social support for Biblical morality is rapidly crumbling, and Christians are recognizing that they have to be distinctive all through the week. There is a tremendous hunger for worldview thinking across all the denominations, as people sense that they need better analytical tools for cultural engagement.
Unravelling the Moral Universe
How do we go about framing a Christian worldview? The first step is to overcome the all-too-common sacred/secular division. This dichotomy in our own minds is the greatest single barrier to crafting a Christian worldview across the entire curriculum.
We have forgotten that through most of Western history, school textbooks interpreted the world as a rich web of moral and spiritual meanings. Historians were expected not merely to record facts, but to draw moral lessons from historical events. Scientists wrote books praising the Creator for His ingenious “contrivances” in nature. Artists sought to inspire virtue and moral character through works of art. Politicians openly acknowledged their accountability to a divine authority who had ordained the state. Economists did not talk about competition among self-interested individuals, but about stewardship of the earth and the just use of resources. In colonial America, school primers taught religious lessons alongside the ABCs: “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”
Today, however, we have witnessed the rapid unraveling of this moral universe. Even many Christians have embraced the idea that most subject areas are spiritually “neutral,” which means they do not think it is necessary to craft an explicitly Christian worldview in these areas. They have fallen for the idea that to apply a Biblical perspective is to be “biased,” and that in the work world they need to bracket their faith in order to be “objective.”
Thus a Christian journalist once told me point-blank, “When you enter the newsroom, you have to leave your faith behind. You can’t bring a Christian perspective into your reporting.” An economist teaching at a church college used almost identical words: “There is no Christian approach to economics. It’s just a science based on facts.” A science student at a Christian university said, “I believe there’s a Creator, but there’s no scientific evidence for it. You have to accept it strictly by faith.”
The assumption running through all these comments is that we have to disregard Biblical truth in order to be objective—though of course most of these believers assume that free inquiry will ultimately support the Bible. Educators call this the convergence model of faith and scholarship, because it holds that reason, when it is working properly, will ultimately converge with Scriptural teachings.
What’s the key phrase here? When it is working properly. But what happens when reason and faith do not converge? When the deliverances of science, history, or psychology contradict Scripture? Hidden under the banner of “science” and “free inquiry” is often some ism skewing the results. Because of the Fall, all humans are prone to craft ideas that rationalize their sinful choices; and when those ideas are formalized, they become the various isms of philosophy.
Our task is to teach our children how to think critically and uncover the hidden philosophies that masquerade as sheer “reason” or “science.” We must show them how Biblical truth answers the basic questions that all worldviews seek to address.
Practical Worldview Training
The best way to learn how to detect worldviews is not by memorizing lists of isms but by grasping the basic questions they all have to try to answer. From Scripture we know that everything participates in the fundamental turning points in Biblical history: Creation, Fall, and Redemption. This gives us an effective three-part grid for constructing a worldview perspective in every area. We can ask ourselves three questions:
- Creation: How was this aspect of the world originally created? What was its original nature and purpose?
- Fall: How has it been twisted and distorted by the Fall? How has it been corrupted by sin and false worldviews?
- Redemption: How can we bring this aspect of the world under the Lordship of Christ, restoring it to its original, created purpose?
A Christian teacher once told me, “We are constantly told how important it is to teach a Christian worldview, but no one tells us how to do it.” These three steps provide a simple, easy-to-understand guide for teaching a worldview. For example, here’s a brief sketch of how you might teach about the government:
- Creation: Articulate how political structures were ordained by God to maintain justice and the public good.
- Fall: Survey the ways the state can deviate from God’s ideal, everything from anarchy to totalitarianism (and the ideologies that support them).
- Redemption: Outline practical and appropriate ways to live out God’s original ideal in our own society.
Or take the family, the core social institution of society, which is under relentless attack today.
- Creation: Study the origin of marriage and family in Genesis, including the spiritual symbolism of marriage (e.g., Ephesians 5).
- Fall: How do families today fall short of that ideal - from divorce to homosexual unions to workaholism and consumerism?
- Redemption: What are appropriate ways to build healthy families, both in the church and in the broader society? For example, survey the sociological data about the importance of two-parent homes.
One reason this grid is so useful is that the same three categories can also be used to analyze non-Christian worldviews. After all, every philosophy is really an abstraction from some overarching story or narrative told to explain the universe, and thus it answers the same basic questions. For example, every worldview has to start with a theory of Creation, or ultimate origins: Where did we come from? Every worldview has its account of the Fall, its explanation of what is wrong with the world: What is the source of evil and suffering? Finally, every ideology that captures people’s hearts has to offer a vision of Redemption—it has to inspire people with a program for changing the world and setting things right again.
Let’s see how this works, again in only a preliminary fashion. For example, take Marxism, which reigns as orthodoxy still over about a quarter of the world’s population.
- Creation: The ultimate reality, the self-existence source of all things, is matter. Human nature is defined by the way we relate to matter—how we shape it and make things from it—the means of production.
- Fall: The original condition was a state of primitive communism. All forms of evil and oppression are caused by the rise of private property.
- Redemption: How do we end that oppression? Revolution! Raise people’s consciousness and overthrow the private ownership of the means of production.
Or consider Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who inspired virtually every totalitarian system that arose in the twentieth century:
- Creation: Instead of the Garden of Eden, Rousseau starts with the State of Nature. In this original, primeval condition there is no state, no family, no marriage—we are all disconnected, autonomous individuals.
- Fall: If our natural state is to be lone individuals, then social relationships are contrary to our nature. They are arbitrary and oppressive.
- Redemption: hat will liberate us from that oppression? The state. Rousseau wrote: “Each citizen would then be completely independent of all his fellow men, and absolutely dependent on the state.” No wonder Rousseau inspired so many totalitarians.
Worldview manuals often set up tables to contrast worldviews using abstract, polysyllabic terms like ontology and epistemology. But we can teach our children the same essential elements using the simple, familiar language of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. Even at a young age, children can learn that we need not be afraid of ideas, but can analyze and critique them using basic categories right from Scripture.
Nancy Randolph Pearcey is the Francis A. Schaeffer scholar at the World Journalism Institute, where she teaches a worldview course based on the study guide edition of Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity (www.TotalTruthBook.com). Her book won an Award of Merit in the Christianity Today Book Awards and an ECPA Gold Medallion Award.
This article is copyrighted by Nancy Pearcey.