The Myth of the Biblical Worldview

Creation-Hands.jpgIn conversations about faith, religion and particularly missions, the term “biblical worldview” often comes up. It came up recently at the ECHO conference in a way that troubled me. It forced me to think about this term, the way it is used, what it means and whether it is even helpful.  

Worldview, like culture, is a notoriously slippery term. It describes a certain reality that exists, but that words have a hard time grasping. It is also a concept that cannot draw clear lines dividing people and cultures into neat categories. Where it attempts to do so it is problematic. The concept of worldview is an attempt to describe the essential and fundamental nature of things that shape our deepest beliefs. Therefore it is important and helpful, but not ultimate.

A “biblical worldview” is something that must first of all come from the Bible. Does the Bible espouse a particular worldview? The collection of texts we call the Bible is made up of at least forty different authors (likely more including the communities that influenced those writers) and numerous genres, such as, narrative, prose, commands and poetry. While this is not a random collection of writings, it also speaks with a surprising diversity and multiplicity of voices. When we attempt to force all of the texts of the Bible into one overarching genre or worldview (such as inerrant, infallible, prophetic or authority), we must necessarily mute certain voices in the text while amplifying others. Thus the Bible is muzzled and not allowed to speak.

A “biblical worldview” is also something that many people believe that they possess. I don’t believe that the Bible or faith or God is something we can possess. It is something and someone that possesses us. Once we are able to possess this worldview it ceases to be something that can challenge and critique us. All of us human beings are culturally conditioned and constrained creatures. We can certainly bear witness to our experience of the One who possesses us. We can share the witness of the biblical narrative to that same One. Unless we are willing and open to God and the Bible speaking to us in new ways from beyond our own cultural captivity, we continue to be engaged in cultural imperialism rather than the Kingdom of God.

This is why I don’t believe that a thing called a “biblical worldview” exists except, perhaps, in the mind of God. This is a concept that is not helpful and does not describe reality. As long as a human being is the one said to have a “biblical worldview”, I find it a fundamentally flawed and potentially dangerous idea. Andrew Walls and others have described Christianity as the ultimate local religion. I do believe that the gospel is able to be translated across cultures. There is something that ties the Body of Christ together in the world. However, this is a trans-cultural phenomenon that is both incarnate and transformative of that culture.

Image from … God’s hands look a lot like mine. Ironic, don’t you think?