There are thousands of things that influence the way we look at the world. Every experience we have, every book we read, every conversation we engage in, even down to every sensory input that is processed by our brain, can have some degree of effect, whether very large or extremely minuscule, on the way we view the world and interpret the events around us. However, underneath all of these things stand a small number of primary ideas that each one of us holds on to. These primary, foundational concepts have the most influence on our worldview, and, even though no one is truly consistent in applying these concepts, they have a large effect on one's understanding of the world.
In fact, out of these primary concepts, did you know that how you answer two questions defines a majority of how you view life? These two questions may seem innocuous at first since they are questions that everyone probably thinks about at one time or another, but their importance is far reaching. You've probably already guessed the first question: “Does God exist?” This question is an obvious one to start with, but it doesn't mean as much without the second question, the follow-up to the first. “If God does exist, is God directly and personally involved in the world?”
Why are these two questions so pivotal? Because the answers to these two questions lie at the nucleus of every person's worldview. Whether a person consciously considers and decides their answers after much thought and contemplation, or they subconsciously assume the answers and lives their life ignoring the questions, everyone's view of the world begins to be defined by these two questions. No one is exempt. Our answers to these two questions, which become our presuppositions as Cornelius Van Til would call them, mold everything else that follows.
So, how do people answer these questions? Well, the atheist answers the first question “no,” rendering the second question moot. The agnostic answers the first question “I don't know” and the second with a “no.” And the deist answers the first with a “yes” and the second with a “no.” Now, even though there are differences in how these three groups of people answer the first question, their unanimous answer to the second question means that they essentially have the same worldview: an impersonal worldview. This is the view that God, if he even exists, doesn't personally involve himself in the events of the world, but that the world runs on mechanical laws and natural instincts that are independent of God. Man is autonomous and life just reduces down to matter, energy, and motion.
However, the person that answers “yes” to both questions has a personal worldview. The personal worldview doesn't deny the laws of nature, natural instincts, or the reality of the effects of matter, energy, and motion, but it sees them all as secondary causes which are subordinate to the primary cause of all things, the foreknowledge and decree of God. The Christian worldview, as established by the Bible, is a personal worldview. (Just to be clear, there are a few other religions that answer both questions as yes, but the number that answer that way is far fewer than you would think, and other primary worldview questions quickly make a distinction between those religions and Christianity.)
Now, the impersonal and the personal worldviews may share many understandings, views, and interpretations at the surface, but they are in direct opposition to each other at the core. Let me give you an example. Modern science, influenced by materialism, promotes an impersonal worldview. It tells us that nature is made up of laws that govern elements and the interactions thereof. What we observe is all that there is, and even we, ourselves, are just built up from complex electrical and chemical signals that were arranged and constructed through a random, natural process over billions of years. But, modern science doesn't stop there. It not only says that this physical world is all there is, but it also presses the negative side – that any claims to things outside of what we can observe are patently false. Scientists “are tempted to think that materialism is at the bottom of the world, and much of the rest arises from human creation of meaning” (Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview, p. 29).
In contrast to this modern scientific impersonal worldview is the Christian personal worldview. At the surface, we would agree that nature is made up of matter, energy, and motion and is governed by laws that we can observe and approximate. But, deep at the core we don't see this as the base of all things. We see these things as secondary causes, completely dependent on and subordinate to the true foundation and primary cause, God. “In contrast to impersonalism, the Bible indicates that God is involved in the world. God is personal, and he governs the world by speaking – by issuing commands” (Poythress, p. 31). Therefore, the Biblical worldview understands that science is an exploration of the creative and sustaining speech and mind of God who works through secondary causes that he instituted, but if God, in his providence, chooses to act outside of secondary causes then he is free to do so at His own good pleasure.
The impersonal worldview doesn't just have influence in modern science, though. It has a far reaching influence into almost every professional discipline such as historical criticism, linguistics, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. In fact, you are likely to run into an impersonal worldview every day. So, when you come into contact with an opposing worldview that challenges your thinking, try to get to the root presuppositions of this view. Think about the differences between an impersonal and a personal worldview. It will likely end up that this is where the real conflict is born. Remember that our God, the God of the Bible, is personally involved in the world and is the governing foundation for everything that was, is, and is to come.
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter V - Of Providence
I. God the great Creator of all things does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures, actions, and things, from the greatest even to the least, by His most wise and holy providence, according to His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will, to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy.
II. Although, in relation to the foreknowledge and decree of God, the first Cause, all things come to pass immutably, and infallibly; yet, by the same providence, He orders them to fall out, according to the nature of second causes, either necessarily, freely, or contingently.
III. God, in His ordinary providence, makes use of means, yet is free to work without, above, and against them, at His pleasure.
- Vern S. Poythress
- C. John Collins, Science & Faith: Friends or Foes?
- K. Scott Oliphint, Reasons for Faith: Philosophy in the Service of Theology
- Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til's Apologetic: Readings & Analysis