God calls us to develop culture. He placed Adam in the garden to “cultivate” it, after all—and the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 2 is the command of God to all human beings to take dominion and make stuff out of the world. This cultural calling, then, often precedes the development of our worldview. We begin to make, build, and create, and as we do so, we ask ourselves, “Is this good? Is it beautiful? Is it true? Is it pleasing to God?”
Yet, we are not just creators and cultivators; we are also consumers, participants, and critics. We live in a world in which others spin stories that are antithetical to God’s story of the world—views of reality that have conflicting definitions of good, true, and beautiful and views about whether there even is a God that we can please.
While only Scripture is trustworthy to show us which of these conflicting stories match reality, we need a tool that helps us navigate life in God’s true story in the midst of the contemporary false ones. Worldview is that tool. It helps us think scripturally about the dominant stories surrounding us at any given time—the stories that compete with the true story of Scripture and threaten to build in us false, ugly, bad habits as we live our lives.
This is the reason for the cliché in worldview circles that “worldview is caught, not just taught.” Our habits and experiences are shaped by the culture—including the stories about the world that nurture us—and these gradually shape our perception of reality, our worldview. Think of the way that television or movies, for example, over time shape the way that we live—how we speak, write, dress, and interact with one another. We very easily conform to the world around us. (See Rom. 12:2a.)
Of course, it works the other way around too: Our worldview shapes our actions, and our actions shape our cultural activities. A specific view of work, for example, compels us to act in a particular way at the office and in turn influences what we create with our hands and words. We are indeed “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” (Rom. 12:2b)
Ultimately, worldview and culture are inseparable. Worldview is participation in culture, and conflicting cultures shape us as we develop our worldview. Worldview is much more than simply principles that we hear and study.
What might all this mean for parents and other educators?
First, we must be familiar with prevailing cultural stories.
Anyone who lives in a house, buys clothing, owns a television, or surfs the Internet is confronted by stories that challenge the biblical story. In God’s true story, the world was created good and was then corrupted. All creation was and is polluted by human sin. God is at work to redeem the world through the work of His Son, Who is reconciling all things to Himself. Human beings, created in God’s image, have a role to play in that reconciliation, and through our culture-making activities, we take part with God in His work. Though the victory was complete on the cross, the work of full reconciliation will not be finished—consummated—until Jesus returns and makes all things right.
Contrary stories abound. One current antithetical story, consumerism, tells us that life is meant for success and that success is found in the acquisition of things that can make life easier and more enjoyable. Therefore, buying and using things—including material “stuff” but also power, people, and entertainment—is the way to the good life.
There are other cultural stories alive and well around us, including postmodernism, scientism, and nihilism, among others. We need to know the content of the dominant stories, because they work their way into all that we do as we seek to live as Christians in the world. We must be conscious of the stories so that we do not unconsciously begin to live them out.
We must be intentional, reading cultural commentary, listening to the news, and asking critical questions about the books we read, the movies we watch, and the people who teach us—all from a Christian perspective. We should read what our children are reading and know about the stories that are told to them. We must sit down with our daughters, look at a magazine or television ad, and ask them, “What is that telling you about what it means to be a good woman? Is that true?”
Second, virtually every current story borrows elements from the true story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, so wisdom and discernment are necessary in order to distinguish the good from the bad.
As we interact with culture and create it, we embrace what is true and reject what is false. Doing so requires discernment. This discernment requires living out God’s story, even in the midst of the competing stories.
Often, rather than risk living where these stories intersect, Christians attempt to escape the influence of false culture by withdrawing from cultural activity altogether. Not only is this impossible, it is contrary to our calling. Our culture-building task is at the heart of the human calling. That calling anticipates that we join God in his reconciling work in the whole of creation and come into conflict with the powers at the heart of the competing stories.
Finally, we will ultimately be assimilated into false stories if we live unintentionally—if we fail to live the true story.
The question is not whether we will live based on some story that defines reality; the question is which story will we live?
Note how the “consumerism” story described above is related to cultural ideas about individualism, free-market capitalism, and the American work ethic—all ideas that we esteem, at least to some extent. Consider whether we value these things because we are Westerners or because we have carefully examined each from a biblical perspective. Is the capitalist economy “good,” for example, simply because we are capitalists? Or have we seen that it is good and then pursued it? This is not necessarily a criticism of free-market capitalism but rather an example of how living in the midst of a story engulfs us—unless we intentionally pursue alternative stories.
Our spending habits; our language; our hopeful or cynical attitude toward church, government, or education; our use of technology; and even the way we eat and dress tell us (and others) what stories we believe about reality. My spending habits, for example, reveal how much I have been “conformed” to the consumerism story. It never hurts to stop and evaluate the habits and practices of our home. From where have they come, and to where are they leading us? Which cultural story do they reveal, and into which story do they push us?
Both the unthinking consumption of culture, on the one hand, and faithful culture-making, on the other, are key worldview builders. Our task is to be faithful to be salt and light to the world around us by living and proclaiming the true story—building true culture—and to resist and reject what is false, bad, and ugly in the cultural stories that prevail around us.
- Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling (InterVarsity 2008). Explains the cultural calling of Christians.
- Michael W. Goheen & Craig G. Bartholomew, Living at the Crossroads: An Introduction to Christian Worldview (Baker 2008). Discusses the “living at the crossroads” of conflicting stories.
- J. Mark Bertrand, (Re)Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World (Crossway 2007). Discusses the concept of wisdom as it relates to worldview and story.