On Worldview 4 (A Provisional Model)

A Provisional Model of Worldview

I understand worldview to be the narratively determined web of interpretive and evaluative systems that generates and regulates human knowing and doing.  This is a provisional representation of my understanding:


Narratively Determined

As Hiebert said, the “core” of worldview is the mythos, which is (ordinarily) a mostly tacit metanarrative about reality.  The mythos is the organizing center of worldview: it integrates and provides coherence to the web of systems that worldview comprises.  It is the continuity of narrative that provides existential assumptions their relatively orderly construal within a worldview.  For this reason, narratively oriented questions such as Walsh and Middleton’s are a powerful tool for explicating worldview.  Their questions are:

(1) Who am I? Or, what is the nature, task and purpose of human beings? (2) Where am I? Or, what is the nature of the world and universe I live in? (3) What’s wrong? Or, what is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from attaining fulfillment? In other words, how do I understand evil? And (4) What is the remedy? Or, how is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfillment? In other words, how do I find salvation? (Walsh and Middleton, 35)

N. T. Wright has influentially added: What time is it? (Wright,  467–71).  I think it is equally important to inquire about the epistemological “story” operative in the worldview by asking, in regard to these other questions, How do I know?  The narrative nature of worldview’s core is vitally important for the question of how Scripture operates in the formation of a biblical worldview.  That is, worldview theory establishes narrative theology pragmatically.  The theory, of course, may be wrong.  But if it is right, and I believe it is, then the very nature of human culture places narrative in a status of theological priority.  This calls for the elaboration of both the practical understanding of the worldview mythos and the theological understanding of the worldview(s) canonized in Scripture.

Web of Systems

It is difficult to overcome the limitations of previous models of worldview—they exhibit a challenging balance between insight into a complex phenomenon and uncomplicated visual representation.  Moreover, it is very problematic to find a metaphor or symbol for the essential dual functionality of a worldview: mediation and generativity.  For example, the common metaphor of the “lens” captures only the mediatory functions of perception and organization, but it does nothing to show the generative functions of governing and channeling.  The onion model of culture has difficulty showing the way worldview, in most every theory, interacts with reality; worldview seems insulated under culture’s oniony layers.  But the moment we adopt a linear representation of experiencing reality through worldview with the result of cultural output, as in Hiebert’s later model of culture, we lose the sense in which worldview is part of culture—the sense in which some “products and behaviors” are worldview peeking above the surface and some propositions are actually grammar.

My model is an attempt to represent the “porous” nature of worldview as a system of systems.  If it is systems all the way down, though, that strikes me as a little too mechanical (I’m not sure if for me it’s an issue of root metaphor or aesthetics—probably both). “Web” serves my conceptual purpose, but if there is a metaphor at work in the graphic, it is absorption (either way, I’m mixing my root metaphors—a terrible faux pas, no doubt).  In my model, a culture’s relationship to reality is not defined very concretely: it is situated in reality and contributes to reality.  The “outer” boundary is porous, and the “outer” systems overlap and merge with the extra-cultural reality.  But the “inner” boundaries of the various systems are also porous, so that experiences, once absorbed, soak through and potentially interact with all dimensions of the worldview.  There is an order of “depth,” and a conceivable interiority working itself out from the mythos, but the many dimensions or levels are overlapping and interrelated where the mediated reality is concerned.  So the innermost systems may come to expression on the semiotic level, as linguistic or artistic products, for example.  Or mathematical symmetry may be beautiful rather than just correct.  If William James realized “everything here is plastic,” I’m suggesting that everything here is porous.

Interpretive and Evaluative

Granting the ambiguity of the porous boundary between the inner two systems and the outer semiotic system, I conceive of the two primary functions of worldview to be interpretation and evaluation.  The relationship between these two is important, though, and I think it is a little different than Hiebert’s three-dimensional model.  It seems to me that the basic cognitive presuppositions and affective predispositions are necessarily antecedent to the formation of evaluative assumptions.  Comparing the different conceptions of worldview makes it clear, to me at least, that evaluation is undertaken in relation to everything; it is not a dimension alongside cognition and affection but a function that depends upon them.  Thus, affective predispositions condition evaluations of beauty or cognitive presuppositions warrant evaluations of truth.  Category formation or aesthetics are prerequisites of evaluation, and I emphasize again the holistic notion of the interpretive function: logic, for instance, can have a highly aesthetic nature—an argument can be lovely or consonant; a piece of art can be convincing in a way that cannot be considered purely arational.  Our understandings give us feelings, and our feelings shape our understandings.  These basic interpretive dynamics empower evaluation and the formation of both implicit and explicit values.

Some of the functions mentioned by other authors are not functions so much as characteristics.  The reinforcing, integrating, and adaptational functions on which Kraft and Hiebert agree are, in my view, merely consequential of the systemic nature of worldview, in a way significantly different than the interpretive and evaluative functions.

Generates and Regulates

Interpreting and evaluating are the primary functions of systems within worldview; generating and regulating human behavior are worldview’s secondary functions as a whole: the total web generates and regulates.  Of course, this is only helpful to state conceptually.  In life, the relationship between the two kinds of functions is necessarily cyclical.  Heuristically, though, we can see that “subsequent” to interpretation and evaluation of reality, people act accordingly.  What Hiebert calls “associated patterns of behavior and products,” which I characterizes as semiotic systems, are generated by and continuously governed by the worldview.  It is a mistake to attribute to worldview only or primarily a “viewing” function, despite its name.  I affirm, then, the characteristic of generativity but want to move it to the status of function.  Furthermore, beyond generating behavior, I emphasize the regulatory or grammatical function at work.  Worldview is indeed the channel that determines the course along which the semiotic river can flow.

Human Knowing and Doing

Here I might say “culture,” but worldview is a part of culture, not something else that generates and regulates it.  How, then, to characterize the external systems that result from the internal systems of culture?  I want to emphasize the two basic dimensions of human interaction with reality, which are the social embodiment of worldview.  On one side is language, the coding of thought, and the production of systems of determinations that it permits—such as relationships, explicit belief systems, and plans.  On the other is action, the physical relationship with the world, and the material creativity it permits—such as labor, art, and technology.

What I’m Not Saying

I do not include “systems of belief” at any point.  I think “belief” is confusing at this point in the conversation.  Some beliefs aren’t believed but assumed.  And the word is too general: I can have beliefs about or in connection to virtually every system in the diagram.  I would include explicit belief systems, as in relatively systematic interpretations or conclusions about reality, within the semiotic system of determinations.  Otherwise, I think the terminology has lost its helpfulness.  Also, I avoid “assumptions.”  It is also too vague in English usage.  Of more consequence, I think the “basic assumptions about reality” are embedded in the mythos, and worldview is more comprehensive than just assumptions about reality.  It is also presuppositions and predispositions that determine how we perceive reality, in order to make assumptions—and I’m not referring to consciously making assumptions, which is one possible meaning (hence, the term is too vague).  If I might construe making unconscious or tacit assumptions as part of theorizing, then the point is that worldview includes some pretheoretical components as well (e.g., category formation).  Though I conceive of the outer dimension semiotically, I think it’s more communicative to leave it at “knowing and doing.”  Finally, though I think there is much to be gained by the biblical metaphor of “heart,” the concept per se does not require it definitionally.


Walsh, Brian J. and J. Richard Middleton. The Transforming Vision: Shaping a Christian World View. Grand Rapids: IVP, 1984.

Wright, N. T. Jesus and the Victory of God. Christian Origins and the Question of God. Vol. 2. Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996.

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