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The Problem With ‘Worldview’ Education

Well, hello! I haven’t been home since June 8, but I got in yesterday from my long peregrinations, and will be headed out again on Monday night. The last place I went was to the Society for Classical Learning conference in Dallas, and boy was it great. I have a lot to tell you about it, but let me start with something that’s big among parts of the conservative Christian world: worldview education. I heard a teacher at a classical Christian school say something interesting about it yesterday, and I wanted to throw it out there for your consideration.

Here, from the Focus On The Family website, is something explaining what is meant by “Christian worldview” [1]:

A worldview is the framework from which we view reality and make sense of life and the world. “[It’s] any ideology, philosophy, theology, movement or religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world,” says David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times.

For example, a 2-year-old believes he’s the center of his world, a secular humanist believes that the material world is all that exists, and a Buddhist believes he can be liberated from suffering by self-purification.

Someone with a biblical worldview believes his primary reason for existence is to love and serve God.

Whether conscious or subconscious, every person has some type of worldview. A personal worldview is a combination of all you believe to be true, and what you believe becomes the driving force behind every emotion, decision and action. Therefore, it affects your response to every area of life: from philosophy to science, theology and anthropology to economics, law, politics, art and social order — everything.

In principle, I see no problem with that. It is true that one’s Christian faith should form one’s entire life. To see the world as a believing Christian is to see it differently from a non-believer, or a believer in another religion, or no religion at all. This is normal. Everybody has a “worldview” in this sense, and Christian worldview educators are right to insist that the teachings of Christianity have consequences for the way we think and live in the world.

The problems come when you start asking detailed questions, such as, “How much variation within ‘the Christian worldview’ can there be?” I took a “Worldview Check-Up” quiz [2] to test my own orthodoxy. Here’s what it told me:

I suspect that my deviations came partly from answers that reflected my belief that evolution and some level of government involvement in the economy are compatible with Christian belief. Disbelieving evolution comes from a certain interpretation of the Bible. It is also hard to find clear, irrefutable Scriptural support for free-market capitalism. It could well be that capitalism is the best economic system to serve man’s needs, but there are many forms of capitalism, and it is by no means clear that it is “unbiblical” for the state to intervene to assure a more equitable distribution of goods in society.

Also, on a question about what happens when we die, I chose “we don’t know,” not because I don’t believe in heaven and hell (I do), but because as an Orthodox Christian, I do not believe we can presume to speak for God’s judgment. This conflicts with the Evangelical Protestant belief that once you accept Jesus as your personal savior, you are assured of heaven. At least some Evangelicals, as I understand it, believe that one cannot lose one’s salvation — something that Catholics and Orthodox (at least) do not believe. That is, we believe that one always has the possibility of apostasy.

Point is, there is a range of interpretation of some of these issues within Christianity. Some things really are a core part of seeing the world as a Christian. But not others. It is possible for two sincere, Bible-believing Christians to arrive at different conclusions on economic policy, for example. “The Christian worldview” is not entirely synonymous with the worldview of 21st century, middle-class, Protestant Evangelical Americans — or with 21st century American Christians of any sort.

But this particular teacher at the conference focused on something different. He is Joshua Gibbs, [3] who teaches Great Books at the Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He spoke yesterday morning about the role of wonder in education. Gibbs talked about how real art is not something that calls forth an immediate response. You have to contemplate it, turn it over in your mind for a while.

“You don’t wonder about what you merely process,” he said.

“Students aren’t formed by analyzing something,” he said. ‘You need to dwell on it for a long time before you have anything to say about it.”


The problem with worldview education, he said, is that it closes off the possibility of wonder by providing a rigid ideological measuring stick for texts. Gibbs said it gives students unearned authority over a book. Hand them “The Communist Manifesto,” they open it up, say, “Marxist!”, then case it aside. Hand them “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” they open it up, see Nietzsche’s name, say, “Nihilist!” — and cast it aside.

Gibbs was not arguing for Marxism on nihilism. He was saying that to truly encounter and wrestle with a great book (even a great bad book!), you have to enter into its world. For example — and this is me saying this, not him — in order to understand where Marxism comes from, you need to put yourself in the place of the man who hears something liberating in, “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.” Why did Marxism sound plausible and morally righteous to people once upon a time? What does it get right about justice? What does it get wrong? How do we know?

Or take Nietzsche. In one of the most famous passages in his work, he writes:

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

Nietzsche’s point is that in the West, people have ceased to believe in God, and in so doing have destroyed the possibility of moral order. Nietzsche agreed that nihilism was unsustainable, so he devoted himself to constructing a new moral order, one that could survive the end of Christianity.

You don’t have to agree with Nietzsche to recognize that he had some important insights about the catastrophe that had befallen Western man in modernity. His prescription for the illness may be quite wrong, even evil, but his diagnosis was more acute than that of many prominent Christians of his era — and of ours. Nietzsche simply must be grappled with as part of a real education. Because Marx and Nietzsche were two thinkers that made the modern, post-Christian world, Christians have to learn how to deal with them to understand the times, and how a Christian is to live faithfully within them.

If I heard Joshua Gibbs correctly yesterday, he was saying that the worldview model gives a student permission to point to a text, label it, and dismiss it after only a superficial acquaintance with it. This is not real learning; this is sorting our prejudices.

As an aside, I remember encountering Nietzsche in a college philosophy course, one in which I had first been introduced to Kierkegaard. Meeting Kierkegaard was an important step on the road to my own religious conversion, but one of my classmates caught afire with the gospel of Nietzsche. He found “God is dead” to be liberating. Once that semester, he stood on a bench at Free Speech Alley, the weekly campus forum, held high his marked-up copy of The Portable Nietzsche from our class, and proclaimed to the crowd: “God is dead!”

In the next moment, he said, “But if He isn’t” — and he looked skyward, raised his right hand, and made an obscene gesture.

That genuinely shocked me. That made me realize that ideas really do have consequences. I knew that I had to quit sitting on the fence, to quit dancing around Christianity. Either my classmate had done nothing more than pull an outrageous stunt designed to shock, or he had put his immortal soul in danger of hell. I had to judge what he had done, because the fate of my own soul depended on it. Kierkegaard had done his work: I had to choose. Not to choose was to choose, and it was a cowardly refusal of responsibility.

The thing is, if Nietzsche was right, then what that kid did at Free Speech Alley was defensible. But if Nietzsche was wrong, then the fact that many of the students present for the display laughed at it, enjoying the outrageousness and snickering at how offended the Christians were — well, it was frightening.

The point is, Nietzsche has to be confronted. Temporizing won’t do.

I don’t know what happened to Nietzsche Boy, but I do know what happened to me: I eventually became a Christian. I don’t know what the faith commitment our professor had, if any at all, but I do know that he drew all of us deeply into the philosophical texts. For at least some of us in that class, he led us to wonder at these ideas, to wrestle with them, to argue with them and over them, to take them seriously, as having something to do with the way we might live our lives. This is learning! Because I took Kierkegaard seriously, I knew that I had to take Nietzsche seriously — and I knew that none of this was abstract.

Now, I have never been through “worldview” education, so I welcome correction from you who have, and you who provide it. Listening to Gibbs, I understood him to be saying that worldview education closes off students to the possibility of what happened to me, and what happened to Nietzsche Boy. More to the point, it closes us off to the pedagogical role of wonder by giving us instant answers to deep questions.

I wonder, too, how this mode of thinking affects the way one encounters the Bible.

What do you think? You who have a lot of experience in this area, let me hear from you.

And by the way, I’m headed back to Italy on Monday night, this time with my son Lucas. We are going to visit the Tipi Loschi, and then to the Palio di Siena. Posting and comments-approving will be spotty all week. Thanks for your patience.

UPDATE: Hey, readers, remember, I’ve never seen Christian Worldview education. I’m only going on what this classical Christian teacher said about it. I responded as if he were correct. If I — or he — have it wrong about Christian Worldview education, I invite you to explain why. No need to get mad about it. I’m eager to learn.

150 Comments (Open | Close)

150 Comments To "The Problem With ‘Worldview’ Education"

#1 Comment By EHH On June 26, 2017 @ 12:37 pm

@Michael at 6:45

If you are completely unfamiliar with Nietzsche the Untimely Meditations might be a good introduction, especially “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life”. These, as I recall, are relatively accessible and set the stage for his more mature work. And they are still quite timely. Human, All Too Human might be the next thing to try. If you dive right into Zarathustra you might just conclude he’s just a nut.

I should reread some of this myself. I was quite taken with Nietzsche some 40 years ago. Like Rod, I wound up a Christian.

#2 Comment By Mike On June 26, 2017 @ 12:39 pm

I received 100% Christian on the quiz and had no trepidation answering any of the questions. However, to two your points, I am sympathetic. First, you wondered about how much variation can exist within the Christian worldview. That’s a fair question. The quiz aside, I have tended toward “mere Christianity” recently – not as a way of rejecting the finer points of doctrine in which I have been inculcated, but rather as a matter of priority. The Christian worldview, properly speaking, is about seeing the world as Christianity describes it. We have great insight into this not only by Scripture but also by Tradition, which has handed down the creeds, centuries of devotional and philosophical reflection, and replete examples of godly, Christlike living. That tradition, where it speaks nearly universally, fills out for us what a Christian worldview is at its base. Of course, there is more to a Christian’s particular set of convictions than the basic worldview provides, but those convictions are built on top of the foundation of the Christian worldview. They are not the worldview itself.

Second, regarding your point about wonder and imagination in Christian learning, I wholeheartedly agree. It is not sufficient to be able to categorize various propositions as Christian or not. That is necessary, of course, but it is not sufficient. Something more is needed – namely, contemplation and wonder. It’s easy for me to say this because I have majored ion philosophy at both an undergraduate and graduate level, but I think it’s true for any learning as a Christian. Learning necessarily involves the gathering and sifting true propositions, yes, but this is merely the first stage of learning. As you well know, beyond the grammar stage is logic and then rhetoric. In the logic stage, we play around with the propositions we’ve been given to see what else we can conclude from them. This involves wonder and that mental cud-chewing of sorts with ideas. This process includes those “Ah-hah!” moments that excite us with that aesthetic-like experience with the truth and motivates us to share it with others. This leads to the final stage – rhetoric. there is a winsome, stylish, and effective effort to persuade others of the truth we have seen.

All this is to say that worldview education is: 1) (in its content) properly speaking about the implications of mere Christianity for how a Christian looks at the world and so serves as a foundation on which we lay other more sectarian convictions; and 2) (in its method) necessarily includes learning propositional truth as well as contemplating the ideas learn from it and bringing it into public discourse effectively.

#3 Comment By Daniel Nicholas On June 26, 2017 @ 12:43 pm

I’ve been saying this about worldview education since I was an undergrad in philosophy. It’s insidious. I presented a paper at an in-house conference at my small evangelical college where I work stating essentially the same thing. Multiple Bible & Theology faculty almost had a cow (perhaps to compensate for the sacred cow I had proposed slaughtering).

Worldview education, as a method, is inherently reductive because it hinges on 19th and 19th century ideological theories. It’s a form of idealism that abstracts reality into a set of irreducible or “properly basic” propositions. What we’re left with is usually an anti-modernist, reactive alternative credo that crushes the intellect under a contingent puritannical paradigm. It’s a form of thought-policing, as if what truly counts is having the “right ideas” about things. It’s what is keeping evangelical (and generically Christian) higher ed from effectively confronting modernity.

#4 Comment By LMS On June 26, 2017 @ 1:24 pm

I went to a four year Christian University in the early 80s and watched the “worldview” in action. In some of my classes were asked to give the Biblical proof texts for democracy and capitalism. It was foolish. In one sense the Bible is a book of its time – capitalism is a child of the enlightenment and democracy as we have it today much the same. In other ways, of course, the Bible is transcendent.

The test reminded me a little bit of a New Testament Survey class that I purposefully answered from a Covenant (rather than Dispensational) theological standpoint. I received a C. I went to visit the prof about that test and he was dismayed when I could also give him every “correct” answer on the “objective” multiple choice test. These things combined taught me that organized religion is so often folly – so much about humanity’s foibles and so little about God.

#5 Comment By Mike D’Virgilio On June 26, 2017 @ 2:32 pm

Unfortunately (and fortunately), I have a day job, so I have to limit my comments, but could have lots to say on this topic. I think “Worldview Education” is an oxymoron. You don’t “teach” a worldview. That would be to reify the idea as if it were a “thing.” Or an ideology, as Mr. Dreher says. A worldview is basically the assumptions we hold about reality, and it never comes down to positions about things like political issues. Or the age of the earth and our position on evolution.

Biblically speaking, for example, God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and all that is in them. Period. This is emphasized over and over again in the OT. If, however, you don’t believe in the Creator, then you have to believe we are just lucky dirt. Either one of these fundamental assumptions will determine how you view reality, or your worldview. I teach my kids continually about the wonder of God’s creation, and the worldview will take care of itself.

#6 Comment By Robert Levine On June 26, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

@grumpy realist:

Michael–rather than reading Nietzsche, read A.J.P. Taylor’s essays on Nietzsche. He also provides a good historical background.

Read AJP Taylor on anything. He’s not always right, but he’s always worth reading.

#7 Comment By mrscracker On June 26, 2017 @ 2:58 pm

How are you doing today?
I can’t answer beyond what I know from my conservative Mennonite friends, but they don’t subscribe to “once saved , always saved.” Nor do the Amish as I understand it.

#8 Comment By Mia On June 26, 2017 @ 2:59 pm

“I don’t know what happened to Nietzsche Boy”…

Come on now, you should know the easy answer to this question. In his 40s Nietzsche succumbed to pretty strong strains of mental illness brought on by among other things syphilis, strokes and a bunch of other very serious mental issues!

But back to the worldview question, it’s all well and good to teach them young to take on a Christian worldview, but any serious scholarly pursuits after reaching adulthood requires you to put aside your worldview and at least engage other perspectives long enough to understand what other people are saying. As my former moral theology prof once noted, you really can only do good systematic theology if you widely, even opinions you don’t agree with.

This is a big problem among many people, even in academia, however. Even now I’m struck with how many people just assume no one would ever read any book they didn’t agree with 100%, and I just don’t know how you do that in life. That doesn’t mean you change your views with every book you read, you just read to understand. The thing is, I think this is a major source of why the right side, particularly in Evangelical circles, can oftentimes be so tepid in the defense of family and other hot button issues. They very naively declare that X was just what everyone did forever, when anyone with even a rudimentary reading of even European history should know that their points aren’t remotely true. Opponents look at this and think we’re a bunch of lightweights and pushovers, and they’re right. But a Christian who is secure in their faith shouldn’t be worried that reading broadly is some sort of challenge to their views.

#9 Comment By Robert Levine On June 26, 2017 @ 3:00 pm

It would be fascinating to know how Jesus would have scored on that test.

#10 Comment By Mia On June 26, 2017 @ 3:28 pm

“This is why, while I remain an evangelical Christian, I am somewhat skeptical that the evangelical community has the intellectual resources (let alone spiritual!) to pull off something like the Benedict Option successfully.”

Since I mentioned this in my last comment, let me explain further that one of the things that drew me to Evangelicalism at first was the pockets of very open-minded, free-wheeling discussion, but I guess those are considered the “heretical” pockets! I’ll take them any day over the dull, closed-minded sort of evangelical, and they often even have really good discipleship teachings, too. They are far closer to the revered “academic freedom” than half the cranks at major universities, but they’re definitely not part of the anti-intellectual side of evangelicalism. Since that denomination is so broad, I feel like I should point that out.

#11 Comment By Jeremy Hickerson On June 26, 2017 @ 4:02 pm

This points out what I consider one of the greatest challenges to Benedict Option communities: finding a common basis of where to draw the lines of the community. By taking the quiz, you discovered that that community (of the worldview quiz) judged you as lacking (at least) and perhaps disqualified, unless you recanted. And of course you would not recant the things you explained, because you were being reasonable (I agree with you) and they weren’t. But they won’t see it that way.

By having standards of right and wrong, you admit the question that there is a wrong (which I also agree with), and discover that some Christian’s idea of wrong my include you (as I discovered growing up in evangelical Christianity and going to Christian college). I thought art needed no justification, other than being good art, for instance. No, they said, it has to be Christian.

#12 Comment By r henry On June 26, 2017 @ 4:03 pm

“Chrisitan Worldview” is quite difficult to categorize. A Catholic and Baptist will have much shared theology, but many real points of divergence. Each very much “knows” his/her perspective is most accurate.

#13 Comment By E.J. On June 26, 2017 @ 4:16 pm

“Would you please explain what the official Anabaptist teaching is on “once saved, always saved”?”

@Bernie–My understanding is that this teaching is associated more with Reformed theology than with Anabaptist theology. Hardcore Anabaptists, like the Amish and Mennonites, believe that you can lose your salvation. Christians influenced by Reformed theology (Presbyterians, most Baptists, some Anglicans, etc.) deny that this is possible. Those using more strictly Reformed terminology would call it the “perseverance of the saints,” while a lot of Baptists prefer “eternal security.” Originally, I think it was a way of trying to deal with the theological implications of election: if God called you to salvation, then that’s that; you will not apostasize. (I’ve read that there is a sense in which Thomist Catholics hold a similar view in regard to the perseverance of the saints–but they do not consider everyone who is baptized elect, so there are some significant differences.) There are also concerns about the changes God makes to someone’s soul after salvation: if salvation means that you become a fundamentally changed person (which is a fairly complicated process if broken down into its theological components), how would that simply be undone? John 10:27-29 is often cited in opposition to the idea that salvation can be lost.

Of course, this view solves some theological problems, but can be more difficult to apply to real-life situations. Obviously, people can believe they are Christians, feel deeply about what they consider their faith, and then genuinely and permanently apostasize. People who hold the perseverance/eternal security view would conclude that they were not genuinely saved in the first place. Most of the explanations of this I’ve heard were fairly low-level, focused more on the theological issues than really grappling with the personal issues. That is, at least in part, because a lot of people who believe in the perseverance/eternal security view do try to be cautious about making ironclad pronouncements about other people’s souls. They would say that a life of persistent sin, even if not accompanied by clear apostasy, indicates that a person has not experienced salvation. Key word being “indicates.” Everyone I’ve heard put this view forward has been cautious about declaring that they know the state of anyone’s soul.

Their agnosticism is interesting, considering that the idea under its “eternal security” emphasis is often used for counseling purposes with people who are struggling with persistent doubts about whether they are “really saved.” Sometimes those doubts would be considered the results of bad teaching under any Christian theological system–I worried as a child that I might not be saved because “What if the prayer didn’t work?” But the viewpoint has actually caused some people (e.g. John Bunyan, William Cowper) a lot of stress, because they begin to worry that they might not “really” be saints–the early Reformed especially thought it was important to pay close attention to how you lived, so that you would recognize whether you had a good reason to believe that you were genuinely a Christian or not. So proponents of the perseverance/eternal security view can be more agnostic on the subject in individual cases than you might think on a casual acquaintance with the view. And there are complications because not all perseverance/eternal security proponents agree on the details of the Last Judgment, which can affect how they approach the question in other ways.

Where the view can become a serious problem is when it is taught badly–people are led to believe that you become a Christian by praying the Sinner’s Prayer (prayer + faith, which probably has the Reformers rolling in their graves), and that once you have prayed the Sinner’s Prayer, you are secure for eternity, regardless of how you behave. That is terrible theology by any standard.

#14 Comment By Anonne On June 26, 2017 @ 4:18 pm

When the Lord said that people should have faith like children, He didn’t mean that they should reason like it, too. People should be able to think critically about what they believe in and understand why it works, and not just label and dismiss whatever they don’t like or want to think through.

I scored 89% Christian, 3.7% Secular and 7.4% Marxist. That’s ridiculous. I’m surprised, honestly, that there wasn’t a question about guns in there too. My Marxist score might go up.

But hey, look at the bottom of the results page: Most people need resources (like the ones we’re hawking on the next page) to help them guard against invading worldviews!

Let’s not be fooled by the purpose of this site.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 26, 2017 @ 4:45 pm

I have to say that many ethnic conservative Mennonites are Christian in external practice through cultural and community norms and discipline. But when that control loosens, many become subject to behaving according to new peer norms. There really isn’t a transforming saving faith with repentance and according to a relationship with the Holy Spirit, just a reliance on traditions. That accounts for the many young radical “Pink Mennos” who are indistinguishable from other mainstream SJWs except that they have names like Yoder, Bontrager and Kraybill. Thus there is not any longer a particular theology that one can definitively ascribe to Mennonites. I myself concur with the Reformers’ understanding as conveyed in the historical record of The Martyrs’ Mirror, which is where God had brought us before we even knew that theology. However, that faithful tradition of belief is found now among the looser affiliation of evangelical anabaptists, represented by EVANA. The progressive wing of Mennonites has captured all the Mennonite Church USA’s denominational colleges, which are now bastions for LGBTQI heterodoxy, and the osmosis between that church and university environment has populated key gatekeeper and communications positions in the church increasingly with those who reject the church’s official teachings – which two years ago, it was voted to uphold the Confession of Faith, but not to hold anyone to it. Thus there is no longer any authority, and the latest decision is to allow churches to belong, whether they believe anything at all, or nothing at all. In practice, this has meant a vicious purging of those who still believe in the Confession.

#16 Comment By Bernie On June 26, 2017 @ 5:31 pm

mrscracker and E.J.,

Thanks very much for your comments regarding what you think Anabaptists believe. I appreciate it. E.J., I appreciate your careful, thoughtful, somewhat detailed response.

Fran Macadam is quick to condemn Catholic teaching and not so quick to share Anabaptist teaching on the same points. I’d like to hear from her, as she is an Anabaptist. I think this is a fair request in the give and take of these com boxes.

#17 Comment By David Palmer On June 26, 2017 @ 7:10 pm

Hi Rod,
I haven’t read others’ comments, but I think you ended up with the scores that you did because the questionnaire was compiled by fundamentalists for whom 7 day creationism is de rigueur.
Regarding your final destiny, we have Jesus’ words (OK they might be John’s), “….. that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” – the verbs are all present tense, ie Rod Dreher in believing, possesses eternal life now. Or John 5:24, which are definitely Jesus’ words, “… whoever hears and believes… has eternal life, … has passed over from death to life”. Not future tense, not maybe. Present tense, active voice.
God has already spoken his word of judgment, and He has done so in His Son. To be a Christian, never mind the denominational labels, is to be “in Christ”, in union with Christ. When God looks upon believers, He sees His Son. We loved by God because the Father loves His Son.

#18 Comment By Bernie On June 26, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

“Thus there is not any longer a particular theology that one can definitively ascribe to Mennonites.”

Fran Macadam, thanks for your straightforward and honest response. Believe it or not, I feel very sorry for the Mennonites.

#19 Comment By creekmama On June 26, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

I am currently using the book “Who Is God?” from Apologia and (gasp!)Summit Ministries with my 13-year-old son. In our reading so far, I have found that it merely reinforces what we are already teaching our children at home and what they are being taught at church.(We are Reformed Evangelicals.)

I cannot speak for other Christian parents and educators, but in our home, we do not instruct our children in a Christian worldview in order to teach them to simply dismiss other ideas and ways of thinking. We teach our children from a Christian worldview in order to give them a solid foundation from which to explore other ideas and ways of thinking. We want them to explore other ways of thinking and engage with people who think differently than they do. We want them to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind, which Christ called the greatest commandment, so they will be enabled to live out what he called the second greatest commandment, to love their neighbor as themselves. We want them to be as wise as serpents but as innocent as doves. We want them to think as we are exhorted to do in Philippians 4:8.

That won’t be achieved through Christian worldview “training”. We educate them from a Christian worldview. We do our best to model this kind of thinking and encourage it in our children, to provide them with godly role models and mentors in our extended family, church, and community. The we must leave it in God’s hands and pray for the Holy Spirit to work in the minds and hearts of our children.

#20 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 26, 2017 @ 11:23 pm

“Fran Macadam is quick to condemn Catholic teaching”

What’s with this obsession? You seem to want me to say that I believe it’s all an abomination of Satan. How could I know what’s in other folks’ hearts? What we do know, is that there are plenty of folks who are members of all churches who don’t know God themselves, and maybe even some who are doing the opposite of the will of God.

As for anabaptists (the insult they were called) back in Reformation times, they were the folks who refused to kill others over religion, when that was the cause espoused by both Roman and Protestant, and earned them the deadly ire of both.

But, here and now, this is an interesting story of spiritual rescue when few religious of any stripe were of any help, and which parallels some of my own experiences:


#21 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 26, 2017 @ 11:32 pm

“the questionnaire was compiled by fundamentalists for whom 7 day creationism is de rigueur.”

But what definition does a day have when there is yet no earth spinning with earth day periods? Literally, a day is particular time apart, broken into successions of activity, not a reductionist 24 hours. It’s absurdly reductionist to shrink God down to the temporal and miniscule human experience of personal time, hardly even a literal reading, just one with unwarranted assumptions disproven by the context of the passages themselves.

#22 Comment By Dave On June 26, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

@Fran Macadam

My point wasn’t that you should try and reason your way to faith, that’s a literal impossibility. My point was that faith in a belief without a firm grasp of that beliefs underlying concepts and the criticisms of those concepts is a fool’s faith. It also makes it much harder to pass on to the next generation as you won’t be able to satisfactorily answer questions or refute criticisms of that faith. Especially if that next generation is curious minded, has access to the internet (aka a local library), or even just pays attention to the evening news. As Rod had said, it’s going to be an even more uphill battle for any religious peoples to pass on their beliefs to their children in the near to long term future. From my experience ignoring the philosophical groundwork of a religion in favor of authoritarian statements will work on young children, but around the time they start questioning Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny you best have better answers to their theological questions than “because I (or the priest or God) said so”.

Also should be noted that even having a firm philosophical grounding for your faith may not be enough. My parents made sure all their children were properly catechized Catholics in a small, faith oriented community and they only managed to keep 1.5 children in the church (which I’m not). It did keep me in the church longer though, which is something.

#23 Comment By Maggie Gallagher On June 27, 2017 @ 12:19 am

Something about this is very helpful and clarifying. Is our goal to figure out orthopraxy? What practices help us transmit the faith? If we look a the most successful groups–particularly the Mormons–encouraging deep encounters with Nietzche have little to do with it. I mean do we think what we should do is launch our kids into sexual sins and deep encounters with Nietzche in the hopes some of them replicate Rod’s journey?

I have similar intellectual tastes as Rod and a deep respect for the importance of the intellect. But evangelicals are doing a better job than either Catholics or Orthodox in transmitting the basics of the Christian faith to the next generation.

Not as good as the LDS are.

what do the LDS do? Among other things they employ top talent to craft reasonable and emotionally satisfying explanations and then push them out to the pews.

Rod’s deepest weakeness is he seldom distinguishes between his taste or instinct and identifying the question we need to answer.

I don’t particularly like or respond to “worldview” But I note those who employ it are doing a better job than my own church at passing on the faith to their own children.

#24 Comment By KD On June 27, 2017 @ 5:29 am

I think the strength of the “Christian worldview” as expressed in the Patristic Fathers is in the quality of openness you find in writers like Gregory of Nyssa. These are people who are steeped in Classical knowledge (derived from paganism) and conversant in Judaism, who derived a unique Christian Orthodoxy in partial synthesis with the past as well as in what was going on around them.

Christian openness to the past, for example, by expropriating the best of pagan antiquity and preserving it alongside Orthodox writings, was partially responsible for the level of development European societies reached in later ages. You have only to look to how Christians synthesized Aristotle into their tradition in contrast to the Muslims, who ended up banning kalam as practiced by the Mu’tazilla.

Reading the Patristics, one feels as if one is in the presence of a particular spirit strangely absent from many contemporary Christians.

#25 Comment By JonF On June 27, 2017 @ 6:31 am

Re: whoever hears and believes…

Ah, but who can be sure that they “hear and believe” and is not just faking it, even to themselves? That is for God to determine at the Judgement. Otherwise why would there even be a Judgement?

#26 Comment By Joe Neff On June 27, 2017 @ 8:07 am

Perhaps “worldview” in itself isn’t the problem. We have one. We want those who name Christ to see the world through His eyes. Perhaps the problem is what we include and exclude.

Spot on. “Wonder” is usually not included, and normally the content of more popular worldview training is very restrictive.

Let’s fix how we see the world! That is the issue. Not just specific worldview training as the problem but going through a day without wonder and awe, as one example, is not a healthy worldview.

#27 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 27, 2017 @ 8:09 am

Biblically speaking, for example, God is the Creator of heaven and earth, and all that is in them. Period. This is emphasized over and over again in the OT. If, however, you don’t believe in the Creator, then you have to believe we are just lucky dirt.

This is a false dichotomy: there are a lot more than two positions you could hold on that question. It’s not the case that either you believe in the creation story put forward in the Old Testament, or else you believe in ‘lucky dirt’. Maybe you believe that God influenced the development of the world but didn’t create it. Maybe you believe that some aspects of the world were created by God, and others by the devil. Maybe you believe that God has intervened in history in other ways that don’t involve the creation (and maybe one of those even involves the saving life and death of Jesus Christ). The space of intellectual positions one might hold is a lot broader than these “Worldview” polemicists seem to think.

#28 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On June 27, 2017 @ 8:25 am

Now, bizarrely, some Christians claim that the Koran isn’t talking about God at all, but is talking about some other dude who created the entire universe from nothing and breathed life into Adam’s nostrils

Holy Moly, you’d have thought I suggested that Jesus was Vishnu in disguise! I tried pointing out that both the Koran and the Bible have many of the same stories about God. (The story of Abraham, Issac and Ishmael, for example. The details of the events differ, but the Deity is clearly the god of Abraham in both books, making Christians, Jews and Muslims theological cousins.)

To make my own position clear here, I was unsure how to that question, because 1) like some historico-critical people I don’t think the Old Testament describes a consistent picture of God: Jewish thought about their Deity evolved over time, and 2) I don’t think Jews and Christians worship the same God either.

That being said, I find both of your arguments unconvincing. Sharing some stories about “things God did” doesn’t mean you are talking about the same God. If two archeologists come across a city that was destroyed, and one thinks it was destroyed by the king of the Mongols and another thinks it was destroyed by the king of the Arabs, they clearly aren’t describing the same person, even though the event in question is the same.

I would say in contrast, that 1) the definitive ‘event’ that identifies the Christian God is the incarnation and salvific death of Jesus Christ, not the creation or the conversation with Abraham. There have been Christians who denied creation and who denied that their god was the God of Abraham. Denying that God took form in Jesus Christ and died for our sins denies the central event that sets Christianity apart.

2) The more important question is whether or not you agree about the essential nature of God. The Christian view of God is an association of three persons, whereas the Muslim and Jewish view of God is as a single person.

Perhaps it might be clearer to say that rather than speaking for Christians I can only speak for myself, and I’ll say that Muslims and Jews definitely do not believe in the same deity that I do.

#29 Comment By midtown On June 27, 2017 @ 8:43 am

EJ did a fine job of outlining the Reformed or Baptist (semi-Reformed) ideas of eternal salvation. I would suggest that most every church that I’ve been around that suggests some version of the “Sinner’s Prayer” would hold that the person might not have been genuine in their commitment and would wait to see how their lives are lived moving forward. I think vanishingly few believe the words of the prayer are somehow magic in and of themselves.

#30 Comment By KD On June 27, 2017 @ 10:59 am

To look at “contemporary” times, both the writings of John Paul II and Benedict are uncompromisingly orthodox, while engaging with modern trends, both sociological and philosophical and political.

#31 Comment By mrscracker On June 27, 2017 @ 11:18 am

Dear Bernie,
My Mennonite friends live very simply,wear traditional Mennonite type clothing, head coverings, etc but drive vehicles & use the latest type of dairy equipment on their farm.
As far as I understand, they hold fast to their traditional
Mennonite teachings on salvation, marriage, worship, etc. And they represent a pretty large & growing segment of their denomination. My friend & her husband have 5 children & 20-30 some grandchildren. (I’ve lost track of the exact number of grandbabies.) They’re typical of the Mennonite community they live in. Because they are increasing in numbers, they’re able to start missions worldwide & found new communities here in the States.
I’ll see if I can find a link to share about them.
Have a blessed day!

#32 Comment By mrscracker On June 27, 2017 @ 11:24 am

Here you go, hope this helps:


#33 Comment By bt On June 27, 2017 @ 1:23 pm

What an excellent article Rod.

While “Christian Worldview” may have certain detailed meanings, from my casual view it is mostly used as a cultural and tribal label; it is shorthand for a certain sort of conservative and overtly political Chirstianity, such as is advocated by Focus on the Family or Sarah Palin.

It’s often used by the same sorts of people in similar context and with the same intent as the phase “American Exceptionalism”.

If you believe in these things, you are “on the team”.

#34 Comment By Optatus Cleary On June 27, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

I read all the comments to see if anyone else responded to Charles Cosimano’s statements about Great Books education. Major Wootton did a good job.

I would add that in modern public schools, students rarely see a primary text until high school, and even then it is usually in the context of a compiled and edited textbook that presents a coherent worldview and uses the primary source as cherry-picked evidence.

The point of reading “the great books” is not, at least to me, to privilege these books over all others, but to have students actually read Augustine, Nietzsche, Marx, etc., rather than reading summaries and analyses written by biased “educators.”

#35 Comment By Optatus Cleary On June 27, 2017 @ 5:10 pm

The biggest problems in education, I would say, stem from using age-inappropriate strategies and methods. In public schools, this usually happens when some dumbed-down elementary strategy is “adopted district wide” because the superintendent used to teach Kindergarten.

However, I could see something of the sort happening in reverse with philosophical education. Young children often have to be taught by rote what older children can presume, explore, and question.

#36 Comment By Charles W On June 27, 2017 @ 6:11 pm

This has not been my experience with worldview apologetics. Imagination is encouraged, minor differences in Christian theology are discussed but permitted, and other cultures and beliefs are studied. On that last point, any lack of educational pursuit is on the student, not the curriculum. I think many learn the counter-arguments and then feel they know enough without trying to understand the actual worldviews.

#37 Comment By Becca On June 27, 2017 @ 6:49 pm

With regard to the part of the article that addresses a narrow definition of Christianity- that somehow worldview training requires people to fit entirely into a certain box, again I think the role of the teacher as guide is important here. Since the box theory is totally unrealistic given the co-existence of the imago Dei and fallenness, we all tend to have some error mixed in with our truth- no matter the belief system or philosophy you are apart of, you tend to have some differences from the hard lines embraced by the “orthodox” in your community. Oftentimes, the students themselves voluntarily provide excellent examples of this reality, and since they can recognize it in themselves, they accept that it is true for others. Therefore, they are able to distinguish between the textbook version and the applied versions. This is true within their analysis of Christianity and without. It usually results in a contemplation of the core of the gospel.
Although I never went through a formal worldview training myself, I did have professors who organically included worldview type questions and analysis. But it always included the historical, cultural, economic etc…. context of whomever produced the cultural object we were studying. It always included wonder, curiosity, compassion, and a willingness to recognize a truth even if it was surrounded by error. We were taught to step into the perspective of the author or artist for a time as we began our analysis. Then we did in fact try to separate truth from error- not to dismiss entire works, but- as I discuss with my students- to recognize the reality of fallenness and the imago dei in all of us. No human is right 100% is the time, just like no human is wrong 100% of the time. Few humans are 100% consistent with the most “orthodox” version of their professed beliefs. Many people don’t even have a name for them. But there is always a combination of that which reflects our brokenness and the fact that we are made in the image of God and a recipient of common grace. To use the article’s example of Marxism- what a wonderful opportunity to talk about compassion, a desire for a world without suffering (where does that even come from?), and the privilege of being able to help our fellow man in times of trouble. Certainly there are issues of ownership, a willingness to give as opposed to a mandate; but we also have to deal with the questions of selfishness and pride– do you initially recoil against socialism or communism for pragmatic economic and political reasons, or because you can’t conceive of a life without wealth? Etc… There is a great deal of soul-searching that comes about through worldview study if it is done well.
This classical teacher that Rod quotes may be describing a large swath of worldview education- I can’t speak to that because my exposure has been largely limited to my own classroom- but regardless- I would argue that the worldview training that teacher is describing is BAD teaching in general, let alone worldview training. He is right in that it is the tendency of youth to think they understand more than they do and to be satisfied with only a cursory understanding before treating an idea or text with disdain. But I think, I hope- I pray daily-that a good teacher can be a significant influence by teaching students to ask the questions that go deep, that look for truth, for signs of grace and the imago dei, in everything made or said by humans. That is what prepares people to have conversations with a person, instead of a textbook. The textbook version of the idea or belief is just a place to start the real exploration.

#38 Comment By MWJ On June 27, 2017 @ 7:25 pm

I have taught worldview classes for several years. They definitely have their limits, but are basically trying to solidify a student’s presuppositions before they go off to a secular college. That is the primary attempt anyway. A persons presuppositions about life really matter. And given that there is so little being taught in churches and Sunday school, (which no one goes to anymore), I don’t see it as a bad thing.

#39 Comment By Rick Wade On June 27, 2017 @ 9:48 pm

You are exactly right that worldview education can be done and absorbed superficially. Worldview education can be done like most other education, anywhere between very thoughtful and very simplistic (simplistic teaching generally comes from people who’ve read people who’ve read source material [maybe add another “generation” or two of readers in that chain], or teachers who are more interested in sounding like they know something than actually teaching something). On the thoughtful end, in case you haven’t seen it, is James Sire’s book The Universe Next Door. It has been like a bible of Christian worldview education for a long time (I think through five editions). It’s really good, although, of course, any book that teaches philosophies rather than philosophers has to generalize more or less.

#40 Comment By Michael Bates On June 28, 2017 @ 2:56 am


My daughter took a worldview course at her classical Christian school. It was called “Understanding the Times” and used the book of the same name from Summit Ministries — the same group that offers the worldview checkup quiz that you took.

There were aspects of the textbook — and the quiz — that made me cringe, but the class performed a valuable service, thanks in large part to the thoughtful teacher who taught it. The class taught my daughter to look for the presuppositions behind novels, TV shows, songs, and textbooks and to understand that Christian presuppositions are fundamentally incompatible with those of other worldviews.

In the absence of that kind of instruction, I’ve seen kids in our classical Christian school uncritically imbibe the values of popular culture because they didn’t understand that pop culture’s presuppositions were incompatible at the root with Christianity.

Far from leading her to dismiss cultural artifacts facilely once their worldview has been identified, my daughter’s training has enabled her to appreciate what is praiseworthy in, say, the Harry Potter series, while resisting those aspects that are incompatible with Mere Christianity.

The proof is in the pudding: My daughter just returned from two weeks in a creative writing workshop, and she returned as strong in Christian faith and committed to conservative ideals as before, and yet she also produced work that earned the praise of her leftist teacher and peers and feels that she learned a great deal about technique from them.

I don’t think you can have a successful Benedict Option community unless its members communicate to one another and to their children how and why they are different from the rest of the world. If that communication focuses on externals — dos and don’ts — rather than the deeper reasons and assumptions behind the dos and don’ts, the community won’t survive the cultural pressure from the outside world.

#41 Comment By Bernie On June 29, 2017 @ 10:08 am

mrscracker, thank you for your responses – I’m grateful. I’m so sorry I missed you at the Walker Percy Festival, but as a fellow Louisianian, we’ll have lunch together very soon. Thanks again.

#42 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 29, 2017 @ 10:18 am

I have known folks who have spoken honestly, that they believe Christianity is true, but that they prefer a life of sin.

We know that many well intentioned secular folks, think that society’s ills can all be solved by more education, that all problems are due to ignorance.

Certainly the right sort of education is a help to problems that are due to lack of understanding.

Yet even worldview education can’t correct the issue of sin preferred and chosen.

The power for transformation of lives comes from God, which can be accepted or rejected, quite apart from levels of intellectual achievement.

#43 Comment By Bruce Etter On June 29, 2017 @ 3:28 pm


Thank you for initiating this dialogue. Concerning the issue of variation within different Christian groups, we teach online classes to students all around the world from just about every imaginable denomination. Part of the fun is working through those issues and discussing what is at the core of Christian doctrine, and what is not. Having differences of opinion on the specifics doesn’t prevent us from doing “worldview education.”

On the other objections to worldview education you voiced, respectfully, I think that what you’re describing here isn’t “worldview education,” but rather worldview education done poorly. My concern is that you are saying that since we aren’t doing it well, we shouldn’t do it at all (throwing the baby out with the bath water, as my dad used to say). You said,

“The problem with worldview education, he said, is that it closes off the possibility of wonder by providing a rigid ideological measuring stick for texts. Gibbs said it gives students unearned authority over a book. Hand them “The Communist Manifesto,” they open it up, say, “Marxist!”, then case it aside. Hand them “Thus Spake Zarathustra,” they open it up, see Nietzsche’s name, say, “Nihilist!” — and cast it aside.”

This is a perfect example of worldview education done poorly. I just gave a talk at ACCS addressing this very issue (“Pedagogical Lessons from Fyodor Dostoevsky”). I call it “sparring with grandma.” Instead of going after the most cogent, thorough, convincing expressions of various views, we set up the easy target, say we’ve covered the bases, “beat up” on the grandma version of the bad guy and move on, checking off that box.

I use Dostoevsky as a model because his expression of the atheist position in Brothers Karamazov in particular was so convincing that apparently early readers thought he was actually advocating for that view. The idea is that if a young Christian can respond to Ivan’s expression of atheism, he has, as you said, “entered into its world” and “truly encountered and wrestled with it.” I think doing worldview education means doing it in a way that is NOT “superficial,” as Gibbs says.

This is one of the reasons I encourage teachers to invite practicing members of different faiths to come into the classroom and engage the students. Not everyone agrees with this practice, and I understand their reasons, but I think it is a valuable way to, as Gibbs says, “enter into the world” of another perspective.

At the end of your post, you cordially invited readers to offer a response for the other side. I hope what I’ve said makes sense. Thanks Rod.

Bruce Etter
Head of School, Wilson Hill Academy

#44 Comment By Fran Macadam On June 30, 2017 @ 7:05 am

Bruce Etter,

Ivan’s “The Grand Inquisitor” chapter in The Brothers Karamazov has been hailed as the greatest in all literature. Perhaps it’s apt especially now with Christendom discredited because it was an indictment of an heretical Christianity exposed to hate the authentic Christ. If you recall, it was related for the benefit of the penitent Alyosha, his brother. Ivan then suffered visitations from the Devil, for which there was always the possibility to explain by way of fevered hallucination. In this, we find a more principled and nuanced expression of the atheist obsession with God, found in militant Madeleine Murray O’Hare and Dawson human archetypes. Hardly agnostic, but rather antagonistic. Like Asimov, denying Him, but asserting that even if He existed, he’d refuse to worship the tyrant. There was the pregnant O’Hare, daring God during a thunderstorm by running barefoot amidst the lightning bolts, to strike her dead if He actually existed. Congratulating herself as vindicated, she bore the child she’d later use to dismantle prayer in public schools, but who as an adult would become a defender of the same faith she hated.

At the end of The Brothers, the boys (and we readers by proxy) shout, “Hurray for Karamazov!” — the faithful Alyosha, not Ivan, though sympathetic as we are to his hard questions and doubts.

#45 Comment By Hound of Ulster On July 1, 2017 @ 12:15 pm

Doubt can be healthy in a spiritual context, especially if it gears one towards humility. A willingness to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m not sure’ can do wonders for your spiritual health.

This ‘worldview education’ seems to be the exact opposite of how Christians should be educated, as it seeks to replace a strong faith based on humility with a weak faith based on supposed certainty. A certainty that will crumble with even the slightest push from anything and anyone.

#46 Comment By Richard Hawkins On July 7, 2017 @ 9:06 pm

The problem is the author does not understand what a worldview education is. Every education curriculum is based on a worldview that generally inculcates students into that worldview. The government’s education system is based primarily on the cultural Marxist worldview and produces cultural Marxists to a large extent. Prior to that it was a secular humanist worldview and produced primarily secular humanists of which I was one until I studied worldviews and accepted Christ’s calling to be adopted into His family.
Knowing what ones worldview is and understanding why he believes what he does is essential to truly judge the truthfulness of truth-claims with reason and logic.
So what if the author is syncretized between Christianity, Post Modernism (aka cultural Marxism) and secular humanism. It is his choice based on his life’s experiences. At least he knows more about himself now than he did before he took the test.
He admitted he never got a worldview education. Perhaps he work on that to better understand why he believes what he says he believes and come to terms with the validity of the test.

[NFR: The test seems skewed towards assuming that middle-class conservative American Evangelicalism is the benchmark for Christian orthodoxy. That’s simply not true. For example, though I am not a Catholic, Catholic social teaching would probably be seen by many conservative American Evangelicals as quasi-Marxist. Good luck telling Pope John Paul II, the man who faced down communism, that he’s 13 percent Marxist, or whatever. You see? — RD]

#47 Comment By Christian Overman On July 8, 2017 @ 8:38 am

Here’s how I explain/define biblical worldview: [6]

See also: [7].pdf

And: [8].pdf

Christian Overman, Director, Worldview Matters

#48 Comment By Robert MacClennan On July 8, 2017 @ 10:52 am

I find the discussion fascinating. I find in my experience as a pastor that there is very little consensus on what a “Christian” is, and what the Bible means. My parents are life long Roman Catholics who would argue they have always been Christians. Most of my protestant friends and associates would say they are not. Many pastors I know will argue that the old Testament is stories to help people understand God, and not a history book. Yet others (me included) will argue that if the Genesis creation story is not true, the rest of the Book is worthless.
I have no idea how old the Earth is, and it doesn’t matter to me. But if God didn’t create life at a given time, in six equal periods, and sin and death enter the Earth and life, through the first two people, then Jesus is a liar, and his death did not save us. The reason behind that is He spoke of Adam as a real person along with countless other Genesis characters. IF that story is just a story, He was not the perfect Savior and all of Christianity falls apart.
I believe that everything after the first century is just humans trying to figure out how to make Christian beliefs work for them at that time. The disagreements of that understanding is the reason we see so many denominations. And the biggest struggle that those denominations, and the pastors in them, face today is trying to communicate the logic behind the beliefs to members and visitors.
From that need springs worldview teaching. Which only works if the information and discussion are open, heartfelt, and honest. The more we welcome and participate in these kinds of discussions (like this forum) the better chance we have of teaching those who look to us for understand to love the faith we espouse.

#49 Comment By David Riley On July 11, 2017 @ 9:18 am

Okay, for starters, the idea of ANY educational worldview SHOULD be about posing OTHER IDEAS and than thinking/pondering them and investigating as to why one might think they are a good/bad idea. However, a GOOD perspective on Biblical worldview IS NOT to castigate all concepts or ideas, but it’s to understand how the BIBLE answers the questions that need to be answered with respect to ALL OTHER points-of-view. To state it differently: everyone’s entitled to their opinion, everyone’s NOT entitled to be “right”! In order for our kids to function in this increasingly difficult world, they need to know WHY someone thinks the way they do (to the degree in which they can) and then see what the Bible says about the matter and ponder WHY the Bible says what it says about the matter. The last part is whether or not we as individuals will submit to God’s authority, love, and wisdom as it is presented in scripture… or not! That’s where our “choice” and/or “free will” comes into the matter. Biblical worldview is NOT (or, at least, SHOULD not) be about cherry-picking only the “good” sources of material. Our kids are going off into a very big, scary, and – in some cases – horrible and evil world! Vaccinations innoculate us from the “bad” germs so we don’t get the illnesses we would otherwise. A GOOD Biblical worldview in education will be such an innoculation: NOT “protecting” us from the bad/evil, but helping us to know how to process, cope, “deal” with it!

#50 Comment By Nickea @AssignmentWorkHelp On February 2, 2018 @ 1:43 am

What students believes that affects on their heart and mind. That responses to every area of their life: from philosophy to science, theology and anthropology to economics, law, politics, art and social order — everything. Like you said, Rod. Thanks for sharing!