There are seven primary aspects to understanding the Christian worldview (or any worldview for that matter), according to Christian philosopher James Sire. Each worldview, the Christian worldview included, must deal with the following issues:
- The ultimate reality of the universe
- The nature of the universe
- The nature of humanity
- The question of what happens to a person at death
- The basis of human knowing
- The basis of ethics
- The meaning of history
I have benefited from Sire’s works, especially his classic book on worldviews, The Universe Next Door. The following is a basic summation of Sire’s explanation of what he calls “basic Christian theism” on pp. 27-46 in The Universe Next Door.
The first element of the Christian worldview is that the prime reality in Christian theism is God. God is the eternal creator of the universe. He is perfect in his being and in his character. This God is holy, righteous, eternal, unchangeable, wise, powerful, and incomparably glorious. God is triune. There is no one like him. He is incredibly complex. God is also infinite being beyond measure. He is personal. This means he wants to be known and makes himself known. This may be the most crucial aspect of the Christian worldview. Not only do we assert that there is an all-powerful creator who is sovereign over his creation, but the Christian worldview asserts that this all-powerful creator is not some distant deity—he wants to be known and he is a God of relationship. The complexity of this triune God is seen in the fact that this personal God is also transcendent. God is utterly beyond us and beyond the world that he created. In the words of Christian philosopher James Sire, “He is otherly” (29). God is also immanent. So, God is not a stone, but beyond it (transcendence) and God is present with a stone (immanence). Such is the complexity of the God of the Bible.
The second element of the Christian worldview deals with the universe. The world was created ex nihilo by God in a cause and effect open system. This is a mouthful. God is established in the Christian worldview as the creator of all things. He spoke and “stuff” came into existence. Creation flowed from the words of his mouth. But God did not create in a haphazard manner. God created the universe with order and structure. God created the world with clarity. There is orderliness to creation. However, this universe was created in an open system. This means that it is not programmed. God is unfolding his eternal purposes daily. The world and its course are open to reordering by God and by his image bearers. So, because the world is orderly, humans have an impact on it; and because the world is in an open system, the choices of humans are meaningful and have lasting consequences for better or worse.
The third element of the Christian worldview is the dignity and fall of humanity. Christian theism states that humans are created in the image of God and as a result reflect, though dimly, the glory of God’s character. In this sense, humans are like God. This was especially seen in the first two humans before sin tainted the world and the image of God in man. All humans in this most basic sense carry natural dignity. This is why Christians shudder at murder, abortion, abuse, etc. Humans fell from the height of the dignity our original parents first possessed through sin against the creator. Despite this fall into sin, humans are able to know the world around them, know one another, and by grace from God we are able to know God. The only way for the image of God in man to be restored, the guilt of sin to be removed, and the mind of man to know and delight in God, is for a Savior to stand in man’s place. Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came to earth to restore the image of God by perfectly obeying God (he never sinned). Then this sinless redeemer died for sinners. He bore the wrath of God in the place of sinners. And he rose from the dead to accomplish his work. Fallen humanity will one day be fully restored and glorified because of the grace and love of God in Jesus.
The fourth element of the Christian worldview speaks to death. Each person who dies either lives eternally in the bliss of eternal relationship with God or is eternally separated in eternal torment apart from God. Each person will continue to exist beyond the grave, either with God or without God. The only difference between the two is faith in Jesus, the redeemer.
The fifth element of the Christian worldview relates to “human knowing.” Humans can know both God and the world around them. This knowledge is the result of God’s grace. In God’s common grace, all humans are given the capacity to know the world around them and can learn things about God. Because God is the “all-knowing knower of all things, we can be the sometimes knowing knowers of some things” (36). God grants us knowledge because he is knowable. This knowable God reveals himself in two ways: general revelation and special revelation. In general revelation, God reveals himself through the created order. In special revelation, God reveals himself through his word and through his Son, Jesus Christ. The importance here is that God is knowable and he has made himself known.
The sixth element of the Christian worldview is that ethics are based on God’s character. Because of this, in the Christian worldview one finds absolute truth and absolute morality. There is a clear and definite right and wrong, because it flows from God’s holy character. Sire says it well, “There is an absolute standard by which all moral judgments are measured” (42).
The seventh element of the Christian worldview is that history is linear, not circular, and is the unfolding of God’s eternal purposes. History in the Christian worldview is a “meaningful sequence that has a beginning, a middle and an end (43). History is not meaningless because God is sovereign over the actions of mankind, which means there is a pointed direction that all history is heading toward.
The Christian worldview is rooted in the existence, authority, character, personality, and work of God. All history is meaningful and is the unfolding and fulfillment of the eternal plan of God. Humans are both dignified and sinful. And God is the only hope for life beyond death. It is the greatness of God that is the shining tenet of the Christian worldview. In his holiness, power, truth, love, and grace, God is greater than all other prime realities of any other worldview.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? (Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur”)
Mathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY. with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.