How times change! Just ten years ago, very few people in popular culture or in Christian circles understood the term “worldview.” In fact, just ten years ago, at an educational conference at which I was speaking on the topic, “Developing a Model for Worldview Integration,” I was asked by a delegate if worldview was just another term for “worldly” and whether or not the workshop was going to address Christian standards of conduct. I assured him this was not the case, even though a worldview does address values, the good and the beautiful, and how we determine right and wrong. He came to the session and was exposed for the first time to the concept of a biblical worldview. He also learned that everyone has a worldview, whether or not it has been examined, whether it is held consistently or inconsistently, and, most important of all, whether or not it has been informed by a biblical perspective.
Today, many people use the term in everyday conversation. George Barna, the Christian pollster, has examined the Christian community to see whether or not evangelical Christians have a worldview that impacts their thinking and practice. His findings indicate that many Christians divorce their everyday life from a biblical perspective while still giving lip service to biblical Christianity on Sunday, Christmas, Easter, at weddings and funerals, and when tragedy strikes. This dualistic, or two-leveled, practice is not consistent with the definition of a worldview, the definition of integrity, nor the goal of a university such as PBU.
What is a worldview?
So, what is a worldview? Simply put, a worldview is a set of beliefs that form a framework for making sense out of life and the world. It provides a lens through which we view God, ourselves, the external world, every day events, history, knowledge, decision-making regarding right and wrong, and our destiny.
It is the mission of PBU to help students develop this framework, informed by biblical answers to life’s biggest questions, so that the perspective in all of their studies is God’s perspective. This is why every PBU student majors in Bible in addition to his/her choice of professional area such as teacher education, social work, pastoral, youth ministry, business, and music. PBU holds to an integrating core around which, and out of which, to appreciate, evaluate, and creatively use all of God’s creation for His glory. To be biblically minded, well-educated, and professionally competent is the target outcome for a PBU education. This is not a three-legged goal that hopes to create some kind of balance. It is a unified whole that leads to a person of integrity (not duplistic or hypocritical) and one that impacts the world.
In the opening chapter of one of his last books, Francis Schaeffer wrote: “The basic problem of the Christians in this century and in the last eighty years or so, in regard to society and in regard to government, is that they have seen things in bits and pieces instead of totals.”
Schaeffer goes on to say, “. . . all of this has come about due to a shift in world view—that is, through a fundamental change in the overall way people think and view the world and life as a whole” (A Christian Manifesto, 1981, p. 17).
We are living and learning in a world with shifting worldviews. All students come to PBU—or to any educational institution—with an already, but not usually intentionally formed, worldview. There are two aspects, therefore, to the development of a biblical worldview: Teaching the Bible to intentionally answer the major questions of life: Is there a God? What kind of God? (For example: Is he personal yet transcendent, loving and good? Or an impersonal energy force?) What is a human being? What is the nature of the external world? How do we know? Is there life after death? What is the meaning of history? How do we know right and wrong? These and similar questions are answered differently by various worldviews.*
The second aspect is to intentionally create as an integral part of the curriculum, student processing activities and assignments that are designed to help students think through the content of every course they take from a biblical perspective. Biblical integration is not the same as a devotional or a prayer at the beginning of class. It is not required chapel three times a week. It is not just the Bible curriculum in a biblical university.
Cornelius Plantinga writes about bringing all parts of life—including education—under the Lordship of Christ in his book, Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning and Living. He writes:
No matter how a Christian college plans to integrate faith, learning, and service, it will never just conduct education-as-usual—not if it is serious about Christian higher education. It won’t even do education-as-usual with Bible classes tacked on, or education-as-usual with prayers before class, or education-as-usual with a service-learning component and a 10 o’clock chapel break. No, a solidly Christian college will rise from its faith in Jesus Christ and then explore the height and depth, the length and breadth of what it means to build on this faith . . . for a lifetime of learning. (p.xiv)
Culture of atheism
This year, 2007, a new book from the pen of Christopher Hitchens declares that, God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Speaking on the Larry King Show the first week in May, Hitchens, while holding his fist in the air, declared “build the wall!” He was referring to the wall of separation between church and state. As an atheist who sees the demise of the role of the Enlightenment and scientific materialism in the face of postmodern “spirituality,” he is fighting for the permanent divorce of faith from everyday living.
A new culture of atheism is on the rise. At the same time, the movement to personalize all truth and values, and to legitimize all beliefs as equal, is the dominant view in the media. Students coming to PBU are impacted by that culture, whether naturalistic/atheistic or mystical/postmodern, and so are we. There is rampant intellectual incoherence among evangelicals, so we more than ever need to be intentional in the development of a biblical worldview.
In church today, we sang, “How Great is Our God.” The interesting thing is that while I worshipped as I sang in the company of several hundred like-minded believers, it struck me that the world needs more than our singing, more than the words, “Sing with me, how great is our God, and all will see, how great, how great is our God.” The world needs to see lives lived for God and from His perspective in all areas of life, not just in small groups or during Sunday morning worship.
How should we view our scholarly activity related to becoming a teacher? As Dean of PBU’s School of Education, I can speak to this area. A teacher who views all of life and learning from God’s perspective will see every student as created in the image of God; one who can think and feel and choose and create; one who was created to reflect the God of the Universe; one who is a special creation of incredible worth. Compare that to the perspective that humans are merely machines or highly complex animals but with no qualitative difference from the animal kingdom. A teacher’s overall approach to their profession will be informed by their understanding of human nature and learning.
A Christian teacher will not only study hard and know her subject and students well but will also promote learning in a way that helps students process and internalize new information into their scheme of meaning. Compare that to a teacher, who holds that humans are passive in the learning event. These teachers use a telling-testing approach, reinforced only with stickers and/or grades, and so often the information is never internalized, integrated, and remembered.
Integrated Christian educators view their role as a teacher as one who models a non-moving target, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose compassion, love, and forgiveness we are instructed to imitate. Even in classroom management and discipline, Christian teachers see that what they do is for the “profit of the child” and not to prove their own power. I will never see myself as the “boss” but as one with delegated authority, a servant leader. The goal is that my students, whether in first grade or college, will see learning and life as an integral whole framed by biblical answers to life’s biggest questions. This kind of intentional education will impact the church, society, and the world to really know how great is our God!
*Worldview questions taken from James Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door, a Catalog of Worldviews.
Marti MacCullough, Ed.D., is Dean of PBU’s School of Education.
This article originally appeared in PBU Today, the quarterly magazine of Philadelphia Biblical University and is reproduced with permission.