Dallas Willard on Worldview

I’m a big fan of the writing of Dallas Willard. His recent book, Knowing Christ Today (which is quite different from his previous writings focused on spiritual formation) deals with themes of knowledge, truth, and worldview. Willard’s combined vocation as a Southern Baptist pastor and professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California enables him to have some tremendous insights on the power of worldview in shaping lives and cultures.

Starting with Hosea 4:6 (“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me.”), Willard shares the following insights. Note his choice of words and phrasing. I find it quite helpful in thinking fresh about themes I’ve reflected on for many years.

People perish for lack of knowledge, because only knowledge permits assured access to reality; and reality does not adjust itself to accommodate our false beliefs, errors, or hesitations in action.

There are two different levels at which lack of knowledge takes effect. One level is of particular facts or circumstances, and the other is that of a general outlook on life and world. This latter, in its upper reaches, is the level of ‘worldview’… Hosea 4:6 refers to lack of knowledge at the ‘worldview’ level.

We can fail to know because we do not want to know—because what would be known would require us to believe and act in ways contrary to what we want… The rejection and the subsequent loss of knowledge once possessed is a curious and tragic thing to be seen in individual lives and in societies. Whether we have knowledge and are living according to knowledge is a primary indicator of future weal or woe.

Knowledge of God and his ways was the Israelites’ only essential resource. Conforming in practice to that knowledge kept them in harmony with the reality that mattered… [But] where people do not want to know God, he usually allows them to be without him—at least for a while. When desire conflicts with reality, sooner or later reality wins.

A society is like any living organism; its continued existence depends upon the correct integration of its parts into a whole. That integration cannot be present if the society is organized around ignorance and illusion and the moral quality of the citizens falls below a certain level.

Worldview, simply put, consists of the most general and basic assumptions about what is real and what is good—including assumptions about who we are and what we should do…there is nothing more practical than our worldview, for it determines the orientation of everything else we think and do. Moreover, worldview is unavoidable. Everyone has a worldview… [It] is a biological necessity for human beings, because we act, whether consciously or not, with reference to a whole (a “world”). Our “view” of that whole determines what we shall undertake to deal with or omit in our actions day by day and hour by hour. It dictates what we will or will not count as resources and recognize as dangers. It determines our aims and our means, and eventually, the quality of our lives and the kind of person we will become. Our worldview is simply our overall orientation in life. You cannot “opt out” of having a worldview. You can only try to have one that most accords with reality…What is true of individuals in this respect is also true of social groups and even whole societies or nations.

Ones worldview…lies outside our consciousness in the moment of action, embedded in our body and in its social environment, including our history, language and culture. It radiates throughout our life as background assumptions, in thoughts too deep for words.

What we assume to be real and what we assume to be valuable will govern our attitudes and actions. Period.

Because worldview is so influential, it is also dangerous. Worldview is where we most need to have knowledge.

– Scott Allen

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About disciplenations

Equipping the Church to transform the world
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