Moral vs. Christian Worldview

We thought we’d start the week off with one of Graham’s questions (thanks for leaving such great ones to think about!):

Is it possible to have a Christian worldview and not be a Christian?

This debate (while not new) came up in full-force several years ago when WORLD hosted a writing contest for fiction told from a Christian worldview, but not necessarily what we think of as “Christian” fiction. A lot of the stories written were stories of redemption, but not ones in which the name of Jesus was typed out within the page. Many folks commenting on the stories cried, “Fowl!” saying that the “worldview” stories were no different than good moral stories or ones in which many other religious worldviews could be told from.

What’s the difference between something that explicitly shares the gospel and something that maybe doesn’t (in so many words), yet still points toward a Christian way of thinking?

Do you think you can hold to a Christian worldview yet not be a Christian?

12 Comments

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12 responses to “Moral vs. Christian Worldview

  1. Rose Bexar

    One of the things C. S. Lewis talks about in The Abolition of Man (and to some extent in Mere Christianity) is that because God is the only true source of moral standards, most of what is considered “moral” will look very similar across different cultures and different religions. There are differences and advances–for example, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is an advance from the Confucian version, “Do not do unto others what you do not want them to do to you”–but the similarities are important, and anyone trying to reason wholly outside this tradition has no foundation for reasoning at all. And of course, although Lewis doesn’t explore it much, there is what’s called the Judeo-Christian worldview; Judaism and Christianity still have a number of concerns and positions in common.
    So that’s one piece of the puzzle. Another involves the point you raised about “Christian” fiction. Much has been written on the subject–Flannery O’Connor’s Mystery and Manners, Lewis’ On Stories, and J. R. R. Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories,” to name a few of my favorites–but I’ll take an example from my own experience. The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings *are* Christian fantasy, for eyes to see that can (and it’s far more obvious in Narnia). But they’ve inspired quite a lot of fanfiction, good, bad, and ugly. By and large, in my opinion, the *best* fanfic for both worlds–deepest, most satisfying, most in line with the originals–is written by Christians and Jews because they get what Lewis and Tolkien are doing at a very deep level in a way that non-Christians can’t.
    The difference between the explicit and the implicit, I guess, is a matter of “show, don’t tell.” With Tolkien, a lot of the Christian imagery is very subtle, but it’s *there,* and the deeper you dig, the more you find, until you get to “The Debate of Finrod and Andreth” and find that Men were promised that “the One Himself shall enter into Arda and heal Men and all the Marring from beginning to end.” Then you realize that he’s right when he says that LOTR is “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work”–he’s *illustrating* the principles far more than explaining them. And while non- and anti-Christians can fail (or refuse) to understand, the seeds of truth may still have gotten past their guard and find ground in which to grow in due season.
    As far as having a specifically Christian worldview without being a Christian, though: Some people who are in the “I believe in God, but…” school operate on Christian principles without realizing it, simply because those principles are so deeply ingrained in our culture (despite efforts to the contrary). Some people give intellectual assent to Christian philosophy and Christian standards, perhaps even proffessing to be Christians, but have not committed their lives to Christ. Both groups could be said to have a “Christian worldview.” But I think one of the key parts of the Christian worldview is in the heart–we have to accept that we are accountable to God, which ultimately means accepting the gift of salvation Jesus offers us because we cannot square the account on our own. In *that* respect, then, the answer is no, you can’t have a fully Christian worldview without being, or becoming, a Christian.

  2. Well, Rose said pretty much what I was going to say pretty much as well (or better) than I was going to say it. Since I’m procrastinating from work, however, I’ll say pretty much the same thing in a different way.

    No, one cannot have a Christian worldview unless one is a Christian. That is because, for the Christian, the person and work of Christ is the pivot point of the cosmos. All history and reality point to and flow from Him. A Christian worldview isn’t in the first place about a moral code, about a particular understanding of anthropology or history, or even about an understanding of theology (even the devils believe Jesus is God), but rather it is a submission to the reality that we need Jesus to change our hearts in order to make sense of morality, anthropology, history, and theology.

    Yet, what must be recognized is that there is only one world and one reality that one can view. In other words, when any human is developing a worldview, we are all working with the same stuff. Thus it is no surprise that those who are not Christians get things right at times, even much of the time. As image-bearers of Christ, all humans share in some measure the glory of their Creator and Sustainer. So, when non-Christian parents really love their children, or when non-Christian counselors offer real comfort to the distressed, or when non-Christian firefighters sacrifice their lives for the sake of their neighbors, we ought not be surprised at these examples of “morality.”

    The problem is, not only are many Christians surprised by these kinds of examples of non-Christian morality, they often deny them or even begrudge non-Christians for them. “Non-Christians don’t really love others.” Or, “I wish my child’s schoolteacher wasn’t such a kind person so that I could share the gospel with her.” (Of course, no one would actually say that last one, but sometimes it’s the sense communicated by peoples’ attitudes and actions.)

    Instead of being surprised or disappointed, we ought to praise God for the morality of our non-Christian neighbors. After all, it is merely His work to restrain evil in the world and His gracious blessing upon them and us. In fact, the morality of non-Christians is not an obstacle to our understanding of the gospel but a bridge for us to communicate it.

    For example, to my knowledge, the movie Little Miss Sunshine was not made by Christians, but it could have been. Its themes of faithfulness, grace, and forgiveness are standard fare for Christian art. Does that mean the movie is Christian or from a Christian worldview? No. It just means that the movie is true to a world that is broken by human sin and being restored by Christ. For non-Christians with whom Little Miss Sunshine resonates, we can help them see that those moral values of faithfulness, grace, and forgiveness–values which we all share and long to experience–do not make sense in a world explained by either materialistic atheism or even legalistic theism. They only make sense in a world explained by the gospel.

    Now, it is equally legitimate for a Christian to produce this kind of art. Not all Christian art must contain an explicit communication of the content of the gospel. We all recognize that our speech need not always be framed by biblical terminology and our actions need not always be liturgical. We only participate in the Lord’s Supper during the gathering for corporate worship, not every time we eat a meal. Yet, whether we eat or drink or whatever we do we must do all for the glory of God. This includes our creative/artistic endeavors.

  3. No. A Christian worldview is founded in Christ. Christ is the root of the worldview.

    Our culture has been influenced by Christianity for such a long time that many non-Christians do have a worldview that is heavily influenced by Christianity…and I would tend to argue that the only reason that postmodernism did not take us over the deep end is because most American were constrained by a certain Christian influence. That is where most of our social values lie.

    But if they are a product of socialization (values and attitudes adopted from a peer group without critical analysis), it is not a Christian worldview because it is not founded in Christ.

  4. Nick said it much better, but I’ll add my $.02.

    I do not think it is possible for non-Christians to knowingly hold to a Christian worldview; however, I think non-Christians are often able to communicate glimpses of the truth because they, like us, are created in the image of God. All creation reflects God’s glory, and because it has been made plain, those who create often do so and their work (ironically) often reflects the glory of the God in whom they do not believe. They are recipients of the common grace that allows them to love their families (Mormons make good neighbors?!) as well as produce art that may have implicitly redemptive themes (Shawshank comes to mind).

    I think the only difference between something that explicitly shares the gospel and something that doesn’t is the creator’s intent. I’m still working on that one, though… Perhaps others have thought it through more clearly.

  5. Some very good points above. An analogy of G. K. Chesterton’s comes to mind–he suggests that the world is a very oddly shaped thing, like a lock, and the Christian message is like the oddly-shaped key that fits it.

    With that analogy in mind, we can see that non-Christians may have a very clear picture of the keyhole–of what the world needs, of where the world has gone wrong–but they will still lack knowledge of the key itself, of how the wrong has been made right again through Christ. These people (or works expressing this idea) have much to teach even Christians.

    On the other hand, there are those who are trying to deny or change the shape of the hole in the first place. Here is where the most poisonous ideas are; yet also, the most short-lived, because they will always fail to match what we really experience.

  6. my husband and i were just having a similar discussion because i had just watched the movie facing the giants and i was disappointed that the man got all that he wanted. i told him i wished the movie wasn’t so overt in its presentation. we talked about lewis and my husband asked me if i thought people who were not christians would even get what the message in chronicles of narnia.

    but, i have another question. can you be a christian and not have a biblical worldview? another subject i’ve been talking about lately.

  7. No, without the presence of the Holy Spirit you are unable to look at things from a Christian perspective. Redemption and good deeds are not within themselves ‘Christian’. Something can contain a good moral teaching but not be Christian. The motive of the heart is what separates a something that displays a good moral perspective, and something done exclusively for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. That is one of the reasons we are not judged by our works.

    Is it possible to have a Christian worldview and not be a Christian? No. A Christian way of thinking cannot occur exclusive of Christ. For example, a non – Christian can save many lives as a firefighter. And that is a wonderful thing. But will it buy him salvation? No. Without Christ, the motive of his heart is wrong. We don’t know what it is for sure. He could like being a hero, or maybe desires helping people, or even get a rush from the danger of it all. But his motive will always be selfish. But a Christian will do it all to bring honor and glory to Jesus Christ. He will tell you that Christ did it all, and is deserving of all the credit.

  8. I agree with all the no’s. To have a Christian worldview, you have to have eyes to see. A non-Christian is blind. They can abide by the law (lowercase l) and be upright citizens, but that does not a Christian worldview make. I’d argue that such a person is a beneficiary of a Christian worldview, not a practitioner of it.

  9. I am very encouraged to hear that the readers (or at least commentators) of this blog recognize that the centrality and supremacy of Christ are central to a truly Christian worldview, and that for this reason it is impossible to have a truly Christian worldview without being a Christian.

    What I didn’t hear was the importance of new birth. The only way for us to humbly receive the good news [and receive the Christ-centered worldview] is to be born again. Then, as Anne noted, we will have eyes through which to see. Then our worldview will not be merely a philosophical construct, but the vision of a new reality.

    This, I think, is what makes us prayerful and humble – as well as diligent – in raising our children, because new birth is the work of the Spirit. And since the Gospel is not only the doorway to new life, but is the cornerstone of that new life, the joy of a Christian parent is to constantly announce it and display it to his or her children. And that joy is mine.

  10. graceful

    I’m going to go against the grain of the previous comments and say that a non-Christian (unregenerate) person may very well be able to hold to a Christian worldview. Why? Because someone can understand the truth and yet knowingly rebel against it. It is possible to understand that the Christian story is truth and yet not surrender to it.

    I think it may be helpful to define the terms “worldview” and “Christian worldview” because I think that will determine to a large extent how we answer the question at hand. I can easily imagine answering the question differently when presented with a certain definition of “Christian worldview.” Does that make sense?

  11. Reading the question and the answers again, I’m not sure any of us have addressed the original question, or at least *one* of the original questions, “What’s the difference between something that explicitly shares the gospel and something that maybe doesn’t (in so many words), yet still points toward a Christian way of thinking?”

    Actually, I think there are three questions. (1) Can a non-Christian have a Christian worldview? (2) Can a work (book, story, movie, etc.) reflect a Christian worldview without explicitly sharing the gospel? (3) If the answer to 1 is no but 2 is yes, can a non-Christian produce such a work that accurately reflects a portion of a Christian worldview even though he can’t hold a complete Christian worldview? Fodder for future posts, perhaps?

  12. I love Corrie ten Boom’s classic question: What did you do today that ONLY a Christian would have done?

    Give to the poor? Bring a meal to a sick friend? Pray for healing? All great things, but also things that non-believers excel at, too.

    Honestly, I’m wracking my brain trying to figure out any action that ONLY a Christian would do. The only one I’ve come up with so far is sharing the Gospel. Maybe that was her point.

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