“Worldview” is not Reformed

richard hooker

Jason Wallace (Samford University) has written a nice historical overview of the “worldview” concept within evangelical Christianity:

Whose Worldview? Part 1 (Part 2) (Part 3)

His thesis is that “its usage presents interesting challenges for those who find older Protestant expressions of Christianity more appealing than either theological liberalism or evangelicalism. Specifically, worldview theology promotes the careless, and repeated, evangelical and liberal Protestant pattern of replacing confessions and ecclesiastical office with political and cultural ideology.” And the theological move that legitimated this shift:

Where earlier Protestantism struggled primarily, but not exclusively, with sin and redemption as an ontological category, that is, as a question of human nature and being, the new Calvinism focused more on sin and redemption as an epistemological problem, that is, a question of right and wrong kinds of knowing.

Wallace will further signal that he is comfortable with the older orthodoxy’s use of natural law, as the antidote to worldview Idealism. While I will disagree with the integrity of natural law for our theology (especially when an entire anthropology is constructed without reference to Christ), there is an undeniable advantage to the older natural law tradition versus the worldview apologetics of today. The older orthodoxy at least knew its limits. Nature has an intelligibility that can be discovered and theorized upon without the epistemological need for dubious “trinitarian” foundations (Van Til) or a “regenerate” mind. Even if a Christian knows that this intelligibility is because Christ is “through whom and for whom all things were made” (Col 1.16), this does not somehow enshroud nature as such, making it intelligible only to the pure of heart.

So, the older orthodoxy could respect the insights and learning of those pursuing knowledge other than theology. Thus, these theologians were not compelled to transpose this secular knowledge onto their dogmatic grid, in order to make it “coherent” upon the right “presuppositions.” They would find that rather odd. As do I.

Interestingly, even a “Barthian” like myself (albeit a decisively non-existential, non-apocalyptic Barthian) and the older dogmatics have a common foe today: worldview!

Christianity did indeed challenge the presuppositions about nature that handicapped its investigation within pagan societies. If nature participates in the eternal divine (gradations), then nature is something to be overcome spiritually. Nature is demythologized by the church, especially as the creation does not emerge from God but from nothing (creatio ex nihilo). Thus, nature could come into its own, so to speak, as anticipated by Aristotle et al. Yet, the church did not arrogate to itself a privileged epistemology for the study of nature (minus the Galileo affair). Somehow that never occurred to them as a methodological axiom, until our worldview apologists of today have fixed all of that! Or not. The church’s insight into this truth (about nature) did not create this truth, as if the metaphysics depended upon the epistemology. More to the point, the metaphysical “preconditions” of nature are not the same for God’s self-revelation, which is to say that rocks and God are not the same. The latter is being-in-event and personal.

There is an obvious attraction to worldview thinking. It has the allure of comprehensive explanatory power (in all fields of knowledge!), while only doing the basic work of knowing your theological ABC’s and some apologetic maneuvers. Apparently, that is irresistible to whole swaths of our evangelical landscape. As a Protestant who is in agreement with most evangelical emphases, I find this rather disconcerting. But apologetics will come and go, while the glory of the Lord endures forever!


Image: Richard Hooker statue at Exeter Cathedral. Hooker could write about “redeemed reason” without the implications of Idealist philosophy.



  1. That series of articles is fantastic. I’ll be re-reading them for sure. A few things that come to my mind about this topic in general:

    (1) Presppositions can change, contrary to what the YEC/worldview crowd insists. Nor are they determinative, again as they seem to insist. I was challenged on how a scientific fact could change a worldview – my reply was simply to look at history, starting with, say, some guy named Copernicus.

    (2) Is presuppositionalism basically a kind of foundationalism? I see some similarities.

    (3) Regarding YEC, which this post isn’t about specifically, there’s definitely strains of positivism, if you really think about the Hammites ‘observational’ and ‘historical’ distinction. I pointed to things like quantum mechanics being a good example of science which isn’t predicated on being able to directly observe the phenomenon in question – strings, quarks, the like. The reply was basically ‘it’s all made up to explain the universe without God’, and ‘you BELIEVE in quarks’.

    • Yes, I enjoyed the article series. And I was encouraged to see this series published at the ACE website, which has a number of folks who would disagree with Wallace (such as this all-too-predictable piece by Rick Phillips, an ACE council member).

      It does seem to be following a certain Cartesian foundationalism, though I am fully aware that this is a much-disputed concept among philosophers. At the least, the motivations seem to be eerily similar: radical skepticism, method of doubt, the prioritization of epistemology, etc. in order to have a foundation for certainty, while overcoming the strictures of Descartes’ rationalism.

    • The distinction between observational and historical science is of course invented by YECs. Ken Ham gets to be High Priest of Science and define the parameters and boundaries the field, even though he’s never made any significant contributions there.

      (It reminds me of Richard Dawkins’ saying “I don’t care what theologians think, if God existed he would have to be the most complex being in existence”).

      • Interestingly, I think they’ve only started the “observational vs. historical science” terminology in the past few years. It wasn’t in the YEC literature I read growing up, though the idea was there.

      • Here’s how I see it. Hams project is to make science dependent on a certain kind of religious faith. He can’t do that, though, so he has to invent ‘historical’ science so that he can say, ‘aha! you have to have faith too!’ Now he can posit the great ‘word of God against man’s fallible word’.

  2. “Interestingly, even a “Barthian” like myself (albeit a decisively non-existential, non-apocalyptic Barthian) and the older dogmatics have a common foe today: worldview!”

    Glad to have you in the lists on this one, Kevin. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s