Thursday, August 25, 2005

Worldview - Draft # 1 (part 1)

Here is the first draft of my section on worldview for my research paper. It must be remembered that the paper is only a measly 6000 words and so I am proposing a thesis concisely with little engagement with other positions, and little detailed discussion of any of my points. Nevertheless, its still fun and I would appreciate all the constructive criticism you guys can throw at me, from content to arrangment, flow, and wording. I will post it in two parts to make for easier reading.

In this part I (1) define and outline the concept of worldview, and (2) discuss the centrality of ‘story’ to the concept of worldview, introducing the idea of a controlling story.

It has become popular both among evangelical academics and evangelical lay people, to brandy the term “Christian worldview”. I fear however that because of its great usage and the lack of clear definition that this has betrayed, the term has become somewhat unhelpful in popular discussion. Indeed I fear it has become a tool of oppression, a way of forcing beliefs and praxis upon Christians that is far from central to their faith, and which is often highly, and justifiably debatable. However, if defined clearly, the concept can be of great assistance. Hence I will outline a very clear and limited definition.

"Worldviews" are the presuppositional, normally pre-cognitive, framework through which we perceive external reality. Firstly, they are presuppositional. Worldviews as ‘belief systems’ are the taken for granted ‘facts’ about the world we live in. Thus when we enter dialogue about an issue (e.g. ecology), the beliefs that are constitutive of our worldview are assumed to be true, and built upon in the discussion. They constitute the perspective from which we look at the issue. Secondly, they are precognitive. They are rarely raised in dialogue because, being so central to our beliefs and being assumed to be true, we simply build upon them. Nor do we consciously seek to bring them to mind when we are ‘building upon them’, we simply make the move without any mental strain. And thirdly, worldviews are the framework through which we perceive reality. As a ‘belief system’, they form the beliefs most central to the interpretive process. It is through a worldview that we make sense of (interpret) the world.

The metaphor of “lenses” has popularly been employed to illustrate their function: we view the world through a particular set of lenses.[1] We do not look at the lenses themselves but through them onto the world, nor do we usually consider them but stare as if they don’t exist. Further, it is the color of the lenses that dictate how we perceive. In this sense they are presuppositional, pre-cognitive, and provide a perspective (worldview).[2]

In his insightful discussion of worldview, N. T. Wright outlines four elements to a worldview: (1) they provide the stories, particularly a controlling story, through which humans perceive reality, (2) these stories then provide the answers to a set of “basic questions that determine human existence” (who are we, where are we, what is wrong, what is the solution, what time is it?), (3) these beliefs are expressed in cultural symbols, and (4) give way to a praxis, “a way-of-being-in-the-world”.[3]

The beliefs that constitute part of a worldview concern the ultimate questions of life, those which all other intellectual and practical pursuits build upon. They are in this sense “foundational”, grounding and conferring justification on our thinking and living. They are not uninvolved beliefs however. They provide both an identity (who are we), and a general praxis (where are we, what is wrong, what is the solution, what time is it?).

[1] The illustration can be somewhat misleading, as worldviews cannot simply be “taken off” and exchanged for a moment, as a pair of lenses might be.

[2] It is both appropriate to speak of ‘perceiving’ and inappropriate to speak of simply ‘seeing’ because at a more fundamental level, worldviews are constitutive of the human person and hence human cognition. To extend the metaphor, we cannot use our eyes at all if we are not wearing lenses. Indeed, the lenses are our eyes. We might wish to speak of prescription lenses without which all is a blur, but when worn, things come into focus.

[3] The New Testament and the People of God, 124-5

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