[Editor's Note: The following is adapted from the introduction of James Sire's book the universe next door, Fifth Edition. Copyright(c) 2009. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press PO Box 1400 Downers Grove, IL 60515. http://www.ivpress.com/.]
Few people have anything approaching an articulate philosophy—at least as epitomized by the great philosophers. Even fewer, I suspect, have a carefully constructed theology. But everyone has a worldview. Whenever any of us thinks about anything—from a casual thought (Where did I leave my watch?) to a profound question (Who am I?)—we are operating within such a framework. In fact, it is only the assumption of a worldview—however basic or simple—that allows us to think at all.
What, then, is this thing called a worldview that is so important to all of us? I've never even heard of one. How could I have one? That may well be the response of many people. One is reminded of M. Jourdain in Jean Baptiste Molière's The Bourgeois Gentleman, who suddenly discovered he had been speaking prose for forty years without knowing it. But to discover one's own worldview is much more valuable. In fact, it is a significant step toward self-awareness, self-knowledge and self-understanding.
So what is a worldview? Essentially this: A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.
This succinct definition needs to be unpacked. Each phrase represents a specific characteristic that deserves more elaborate comment.
Worldview as a commitment.
The essence of a worldview lies deep in the inner recesses of the human self. A worldview involves the mind, but it is first of all a commitment, a matter of the soul. It is a spiritual orientation more than it is a matter of mind alone.
Worldviews are, indeed, a matter of the heart. This notion would be easier to grasp if the word heart bore in today's world the weight it bears in Scripture. The biblical concept includes the notions of wisdom (prov 2:10), emotion (ex 4:14; jn 14:1), desire and will (1 chron 29:18), spirituality (acts 8:21) and intellect (rom 1:21). In short, and in biblical terms, the heart is "the central defining element of the human person." A worldview, therefore, is situated in the self—the central operating chamber of every human being. It is from this heart that all one's thoughts and actions proceed.
Expressed in a story or a set of presuppositions.
A worldview is not a story or a set of presuppositions, but it can be expressed in these ways. When I reflect on where I and the whole of the human race have come from or where my life or humanity itself is headed, my worldview is being expressed as a story. One story told by science begins with the big bang and proceeds through the evolution of the cosmos, formation of the galaxies, stars and planets, the appearance of life on earth and on to its disappearance as the universe runs down. Christians tell the story of creation, Fall, redemption, glorification—a story in which Jesus' birth, death and resurrection are the centerpiece. Christians see their lives and the lives of others as tiny chapters in that master story. The meaning of those little stories cannot be divorced from the master story, and some of this meaning is propositional. When, for example, I ask myself what I am really assuming about God, humans and the universe, the result is a set of presuppositions that I can express in propositional form.