What is a Worldview?
The word ‘worldview’ is a term borrowed from the German ‘Weltanschauung,’ meaning literally to ‘look onto the world.’ A worldview is an essential and consistent sense of existence that creates a framework within which knowledge is understood and applied. Worldviews by nature are cross-cultural and have more to do with the philosophical origin of a social conscious rather than the basis of individual social behaviors and practices.
For example, the essential worldview at the center of classical Buddhism is cyclical, which is made manifest in the understanding of recurring events and experiences. Within monotheistic traditions, there is an essentially uni-directional worldview derived from the understanding of a single force and purpose that governs the universe. These worldviews inform the systematic theology of both traditions, however, they are not always perceived due to the entropic effect of syncretism. (The problem of syncretism, which Webster defines as ‘the combination of different forms of belief or practice,’ has existed since the beginning- recall how when Moses was receiving revelation from God, the people grew impatient and turned to idolatry yet still referred to the god of their own creation as ‘your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt (Exodus 32:4)’ They took their experiential knowledge of God’s character and actions and applied it to an idol- desiring God in a way that made sense to their simplistic framework, rather than the authenticity of God Himself. Today, we see numerous examples of syncretism in cultures where Christianity is reintroduced and fused with other traditions like shamanism, witchcraft, voodoo, etc.) Many of the present expressions of Buddhism are actually syncretistic with more animistic practices rather than maintaining the classic teachings of Buddha.
Likewise, Christianity has itself experienced political syncretism that is quite contradictory to the Biblical worldview in unfortunate and devastating manifestations (the crusades, the inquisition, etc.). As Ghandi said ‘I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christian.’ In saying this, he was pointing out the sad truth of hypocrisy among Christians currently and historically- that our worldview does not and has not always cohered with our philosophy. Though syncretism gives birth to its own worldview, it is one that has lost the logical coherence of its pure form. That is why we must not allow syncretistic forms to represent the Christian faith.
The importance of the worldview concept for apologetics, however, is as follows: One must strive to understand the perspective of philosophical worldview from its untainted form, but also understand the individual by his worldview, which may no longer cohere to first form. In addition, a theological understanding of the basis of a worldview must itself be comprehensive and contextualized. For the Christian, the Biblical worldview will not simply be summed up in the command ‘You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37).’ This is certainly the greatest commandment, as Jesus says. However, the Christian worldview is also cosmologically and eschatologically informed, and so when we read in Matthew 24:31 ‘And He will send forth His angels with a great trumpet and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other,’ we see that there are expectations for the future that will have certain worldview implications. So we look to the worldview to be a coherent and comprehensive manifestation of philosophy, though we understand that it is many times not the case.