According to a Barna Group poll, only 6% of Americans have a “biblical worldview”, the percentage rising to just 21% for those who regularly attend evangelical churches. This shows that fewer and fewer Christians are turning to Scripture to answer the questions they face.
The well-known writer and missionary Amy Carmichael arrived at her destination days late due to problems with the ship she was travelling on. The delay made her uneasy because there were others waiting for her, and she was travelling with an elderly missionary couple. Noticing her concern, the old missionary man reassured her with a reply that would become the motto of her entire life of service: “God knows everything about vessels”.
Today, the number of Christians who believe that God knows everything about us and that His answers to the fundamental questions we face are given to us in the pages of the Bible is worryingly low, even among those who attend church and declare that they have had the experience of being born again.
An increasingly diluted biblical view
According to a recent Barna Group poll, even though 51% of Americans say they have a biblical worldview, only 6% answered in the affirmative to questions such as: Are all the teachings of the Bible correct? Did Jesus Christ live a sinless life? Is God the Creator of the universe and the One who leads it today? Is salvation a gift from God, impossible to gain otherwise?
The report found that although Christians who declare themselves to be “born again” make up a third of the population (33%), less than one in five have a biblical worldview. Also, teenagers and 20-year-olds read the Bible less often than adults, attend church less, and tend to go to churches that reject the Bible’s authority.
Almost half of those surveyed (46%) said that it was important for them that every dimension of life be influenced by their religious beliefs. Of these, only a few were able to integrate the principles of their faith into their family life (56%), relationships with others (55%), business activities (29%), and the way they manage news and entertainment consumption (27%).
The trends captured by the Barna report could be devastating, said Len Munsil, the President of Arizona Christian University. At ACU, he says, students are immersed in the study and taught to think and live according to a biblical worldview.
This distancing of people from the Bible and its values shows that churches need more effective strategies for working with parents, schools, and the entertainment industry, concluded sociologist George Barna, speaking of the need to stop the spiritual and moral decline of mankind and “restore His truth and wisdom in our lives”.
One world and many visions of it
A worldview is shaped by “an ideology, a philosophy, a theology, a movement, or a religion that provides an overarching approach to understanding God, the world and man’s relations to God and the world”, said David Noebel, author of Understanding the Times.
Every human being has a worldview, “whether they realize it or not. It is not only a human prerogative, but a human necessity”, note William Brown, W. Gary Phillips, and John Stonestreet, authors of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview. The authors emphasize that a worldview is a map of reality that helps us interpret life, and is the basis of our decisions and actions.
The most important feature of a worldview is how it answers the “ultimate” questions of life. Before becoming a Christian, writer Leo Tolstoy identified six questions that he needed an answer to: Why am I living? What is the cause of my existence and that of everyone else? Why do I exist? Why is there a division of good and evil within me? How must I live? What is death—how can I save myself?
These questions encapsulate all human questions about origin, the meaning of life, morality, destiny, and the identity of the human being, say Brown, Phillips, and Stonestreet. Using the idea of ‘ultimate reality’ as a starting point, the three authors differentiate three major categories in the multitude of worldviews: naturalism, transcendentalism, and theism.
Naturalism encompasses worldviews that suggest that ultimate reality is limited to physical matter and that there is no place for “an immaterial spirit directing the course of events”, as philosopher Ernest Nagel writes. For naturalists, morality is not a direct result of God implanting His moral standards in people, but a result of social convention.
Transcendentalism implicates views that give a spiritual nature to the whole of reality, based on the idea that all things are manifestations of a single reality. For transcendentalists, God cannot be separated from the universe, even if the two realities are not necessarily equal. Also, God is not considered a personal being, but the impersonal force, principle, or spirit that lies behind the created world, and the individual is seen as a divine person, who can become aware, in various ways, of his divinity.
Theism is the view that there is a personal God, the Creator of the moral and material universe. It holds that the difference between God and His creation is not one of rank, but of nature: He is uncreated, unchanging, and all-sufficient; creation is created, subject to decay, and dependent on its Creator, as Professor Douglas Groothuis points out. While biblical Christianity is a theistic worldview, there are many variations of theism that deviate from the Bible’s teachings.
The need for a biblical worldview
The ramifications of the secular view have become so ingrained in our culture that we can speak of “a cosmic struggle between Christian truth and a morally indifferent culture”, writes David Dockery, president of the International Alliance for Christian Education. In fact, the Christian worldview is more than a theory—one that either fails or withstands in its entirety, not just partly, depending on whether it passes the test of history and experience. It is a way of thinking and acting that shapes the existence of a person on all levels.
The Bible gives meaning to our limited and flawed existence, showing us that there is a purpose beyond us, that life is not an accident but a gift from a loving God. According to the Word, human existence revolves around three features: dependence, dignity, and autonomy. We are dependent on Him for every breath and for our lives to continue forever.
Human dignity is derived from the fact that we were created in the image and likeness of God, and the aspiration for goodness, truth or beauty is proof of this resemblance, which sin has failed to erase entirely. Self-mastery shows us that, although part of nature, the individual has essential qualities that go beyond the natural world, therefore allowing him to exercise a certain degree of control over it. However, this should not be considered a hall pass to exploit nature, but the privilege of managing it in a balanced way, say Brown, Phillips and Stonestreet.
The central element of the Christian worldview is to bring people into the presence of God, writes Dockery—a sovereign God, eternal, omnipotent, who interacts with people, who has made His voice heard in history, and who keeps everything under control, no matter how much sin has degraded this planet and its inhabitants. The imperfection of the world is temporary because God is carrying out His work of salvation, redemption, and the recreation of the world.
When we look at the world through the perspective of the Word, we understand that God has a plan and a purpose for it. This understanding helps us see that we are His children and gives us stability and hope for the future. Moreover, a Christian worldview provides meaning and purpose for all aspects of life, concludes Dockery, who presents particular examples of a Christian worldview providing a difference in perspective in areas such as technology, sexuality, the environment, art, work, and science.
Infusing this view into a society that ignores, if not rejects, absolute truth and morality is a challenge for Jesus’s disciples; especially for those who do not realize that a person’s worldview is an integral part of them, says Professor Gregory Thornbury. Insensitivity to this truth turns Christians into uninformed and powerless evangelists, especially in their interaction with non-Christians who are able to intelligently defend their own beliefs, notes Thornbury. Ultimately, although spreading the good news of the gospel is not a mission for intellectuals alone, sharing the Bible’s worldview with others remains an art that must be practised and studied throughout life.
Every culture has a question that only the Bible answers, says theologian Harry Lee Poe, noting that first of all, Christians need to listen carefully to the question.
Back to the Bible and its Author
The ideas that contradict the Christian worldview do not just sit quietly in some books, waiting for their readers to appear, but are scattered everywhere by television programs, movies, popular songs, newspapers, magazines, and academic material, says Professor Del Tackett. These ideas take advantage of our weaknesses and may become embedded in our own worldview, warns Tackett, noting how easy it can be for Christians to give credence to the Bible’s teachings on sexual immorality and still engage in premarital or extramarital sex, for example.
Moreover, the Bible is no longer as frequently read as we would expect it to be by those who profess to be practising Christians. More than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible, according to a 2017 survey. The survey showed that less than a quarter of the subjects read the Bible systematically, and a third never opened it. Church leaders should be concerned about this biblical illiteracy, says Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research, explaining that less than half of those who regularly attend church read the Bible daily and that the only time most Americans hear Bible verses is when someone else reads or quotes from the Bible.
The way most people treat the Bible is similar to the way we relate to exercise, McConnel points out: We know it’s good for us, but we never get serious about it. However, the Word describes itself as “alive and active” and this truth is confirmed by those who read the Bible daily and say that their lives are changed by this habit. With that in mind, the church has a responsibility to find ways to help people experience the power of Scripture to change those who read its message, McConnel concludes.
Although reading the Bible in itself does not solve the problem of sin or our distorted ideas about life, the world, or God, Christians will never be mature if they do not devote regular time to the study of Scripture, writes Pastor John Piper. In fact, when we open the Bible, we meet its Author, and this repeated encounter fills our lives and transforms us. The truth revealed by God in His letter to the Earth is what sets us free (John 8:32), and the fact that His Word remains in us is our only hope in the fight against a supernatural enemy (1 John 2:14).
Another reason Christians need to read Scripture more than they do is to get to know the Son of God, instead of being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:13-15). In the end, it is Scripture that sustains the spiritual life, for we live, according to Jesus’s words, not “on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Even if the process of building a biblical worldview begins at home in the early years of life, it will be significantly influenced by how literature or history (or any other subject) is taught in school, writes author David Closson.
While all parents want quality education for their children, Christian parents need to keep an eye on how what happens in the classroom interferes with the formation of a biblical perspective on the world. Parental involvement in school education can take many forms, from finding a Christian school to discussing the curriculum and theories that contradict the Bible’s teachings with their children. This is essential, says Closson, recalling that, according to America’s Worldview Inventory, a person’s worldview is already formed by the age of 13.
Entertainment as a diluter of religious beliefs
When we talk about diluting or losing the Christian worldview, we need to pay attention to how great an impact entertainment has on our ways of living, thinking, and relating to worship, says Christian writer Blake Gardiner in a provocative article entitled “Entertainment has replaced Jesus as the way, the truth, the life”. This is not a new concern for the church, Gardiner writes, noting that Blaise Pascal coined the term “divertissement” to refer to this phenomenon.
Commenting on Pascal, the Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko offers a new definition: entertainment “separates us from the seriousness of existence and fills this existence with false content”. Entertainment offers us artificial rules and trivial goals and takes us away from the concerns of the meaning of life, until the mind adjusts to the fictional reality instead of the real world and becomes more and more preoccupied with it, observes Legutko.
Moreover, the content delivered by the entertainment industry is no longer as harmless as it was 100 years ago when ‘entertainment’ meant opera, ballet, theatre, or symphonic music. Today, entertainment is saturated with sex, violence, and profanity, a reality that would have been unthinkable in the minds of entertainment pioneers, according to an article published by Focus on the Family. The article emphasises that this change was made possible by the gradual desensitization of society, which has adapted to the progressive decline of moral standards. This desensitization is happening among Christians too, the most vulnerable being children and young people.
A 1992 Barna Group poll showed that the percentage of Christian teens who watched the MTV channel was significantly higher than that of non-Christian teens (42% vs 33%). Christian children listen to music for four hours a day, most of which is non-Christian music, says Alan Weed, Interlinc’s president, noting that even children who go to church twice a week, who have a reserved time for prayer, and perhaps a Christian mentor, spend more time on the messages they receive from the secular environment than with those from a religious environment.
The depravity of today’s media and entertainment should be a wake-up call for Christians—even if they think they are immune to it. What they see and hear imperceptibly affects them and shapes their worldview, opinions, and desires, writes Pastor Craig Cabaniss. In fact, if this influence were not real, advertisers would not spend $215 billion annually just on television commercials, Cabaniss points out.
Regular Bible study, praying for discernment, carefully selecting a group of friends, or setting standards for entertainment are some of the methods we have already tested to protect our minds from the messages that weaken our Biblical beliefs.
Learning to live in His presence
In his book Rumours of Another World: What on Earth Are We Missing?, Philip Yancey recounts a conversation with his pastor, who complained that church members had no problem telling dirty jokes in the church parking lot, as if once they stepped outside the church they entered a perimeter stripped of any bit of the sacred. In fact, many Christians feel free to act as if everyday life has nothing to do with spirituality, which they consider exclusively the prerogative of church activities, the writer observes.
Because they dissociate the sacred from everyday life, or for other reasons, some Christians seem to fail to integrate religion into daily life, as the aforementioned Barna Group poll showed. A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that there are segments of daily life that religious people manage as poorly as those who are less religious. People in the first category, for example, were just as likely as those in the second category to lose their temper, tell white lies, overeat, or be less concerned about recycling waste.
There are no spiritual truths that can be excluded from daily life; the whole matters, but so does every part of this whole, because Jesus is Lord over all of our lives, as Professor Thornbury concludes. In order to include God in all areas of our lives, instead of confining Him to the space of spiritual activities, we need to learn how to live in His presence constantly.
Prayer is the means by which we enter and remain in His presence, writes Christian author Charles Peek, emphasizing the need for Christians to go beyond occasional fellowship with God (in emergencies or when we go to church), in order to make prayer a way of life. And when we exercise the joy of being in His presence permanently, our thoughts, actions, and values are within the reach of love, which enables us to start over whenever we have lost our way.