Worldview: Conceptual Jumble or Conceptual Juggernaut?

A Missional Method for Constructive Theology (Part 7.1)

Having laid some groundwork in parts 1–6, we come to the primary question: why worldview? The next part, broken into various subsections, overviews the significance of the concept and the particular value of its missiological conception.

At first glance, worldview seems to many to be an irredeemable conceptual jumble. The term’s use is both ubiquitous and ambiguous. My initial claims, therefore, are two: (1) ubiquity is a sign that worldview is a conceptual juggernaut that creates common ground between diverse theological methods and (2) ambiguity is not an argument against the use of a term but an argument for its clarification—or better, the specification of the language game in which it is employed. Compare, for example, the chief concern of any theology: God. Neither the ubiquity of the term nor its profound ambiguity is a prima facie argument that it should be tossed on the terminological garbage heap. Granting worldview is not as semantically essential to theology as God, the point remains. The ubiquity and ambiguity of worldview commend clarification, to which I turn.

A Contested Concept, An Enduring Idea

Worldview has been widely contested yet endures in diverse usages. Apparently, a word that straightforwardly denotes the idea of a view of the world is precious currency. Perhaps it comes near the mark to consider view a root metaphor for human perception, making worldview far too felicitous to discard. In any case, it is evident in the debates about worldview that the same basic thing is at issue—a human view of the world. Rather than leaving the term in the possession of previous expositors, and rather than coining a new one for their own use, many thinkers have been compelled to rescue worldview (though there are a number of synonyms and cognates meant to compete with worldview as alternative accounts of the same phenomenon). I am participating in the same tradition. In order to argue missiology should set the rules of the language game in which worldview can function as a theoretical basis for a missional theological method, it will be helpful to consider (in subsequent posts) the contours of the concept in four fields: philosophy, biblical studies, theology, and the social sciences.

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