FamilyLife Today® Podcast

What is a Worldview?

with Sean McDowell | October 5, 2006
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On the broadcast today, Sean McDowell, son of best-selling author Josh McDowell and author of the best-selling book Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World, explains what a worldview is, and tells how our worldview shapes who we become.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • On the broadcast today, Sean McDowell, son of best-selling author Josh McDowell and author of the best-selling book Ethix: Being Bold in a Whatever World, explains what a worldview is, and tells how our worldview shapes who we become.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Sean McDowell explains what a worldview is and tells how our worldview shapes who we become.

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What is a Worldview?

With Sean McDowell
October 05, 2006
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Bob: So just where does absolute truth really come from?

Josh: Anything that is absolute right for all people for all places for all times are objective truth must be apart from and above any one individual.  And this, I believe, is our Creator, God.  And what I want to do is equip my children – now, first of all, they know not only what they believe, they know why they believe it, and they know the source of that truth from their nature and character and person of God.  But then the key here is, first of all, is it affecting their lives?  Am I living it?

Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.  That's a familiar voice, isn't it?

Dennis: It is, a friend of FamilyLife, Josh McDowell, and a good friend of mine.  I'm really a big fan of Josh McDowell.  He had a great impact in my life back in college.

Bob: You heard him speak when you were a junior in college, is that right?

Dennis: That's right, and I'd been questioning my faith, and his work on apologetics just crossed my life at a time when I soaked it up, and it gave me a reason to believe.  And I began to place my faith in Christ and became a follower of Christ during that time.

Bob: Well, his work on this issue of absolute truth has also been something that people in the culture have paid attention to, and it looks like even his own kids have been paying attention, do you think?

Dennis: Yeah, in fact, I was wondering what one of his kids was thinking about that.  Sean McDowell joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Welcome back, Sean.

Sean: It's good to be here.

Dennis: What'd you think about that?  You were grinning as you were hearing your dad preach there.

Sean: Well, I've heard that so many times.  It doesn't take any truth away from it, but that voice rings very familiar to me.

Dennis: Yeah, well, you've grasped a few of those truths and based your life on it.  You have written a book called "Ethics – Being Bold in a Whatever World."  You are a high school teacher; graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary and Biola and have a family of your own, so you're beginning to realize how important the handoff really is.

 Now, I want to ask you a question about worldview, but before I do that, I used to, toward the end of our parenting of teenagers, our kids would bring somebody home, and we'd go out to eat, or we'd have them at the dinner table, and my kids would go, "Oh, no, here it comes."  And I would ask the young person "What is your worldview?"

Bob: You'd just throw that out in dinner conversation?

Dennis: Yeah, and I didn't do it right away.  We got to know the child first, the young person, but my kids would roll their eyes back in their head, and I must have asked 20, 25 kids, and in all those times I only got one, only had one who really gave a clear answer of what a biblical Christian worldview would be.

 Now, if you were having dinner with me, Sean, and I asked you that question – what is a worldview – how would you answer it?

Sean: I would simply say a worldview is one's perspective on reality.  It's your beliefs, it's the way we view reality.  So we have views about what happiness is, we have views about truth, about God, about purpose in the world, and my worldview is my perspective about life.

Bob: I've heard somebody describe it like a pair of glasses.  I wear glasses, and they're corrected for my vision so the world looks clear to me when I put my glasses on.  Your worldview is like the lens through which you see the world that makes it make sense to you, right?

Sean: That's certainly a popular illustration used to explain what a worldview is, but my concern with that one, is it almost makes it feel like we can't get outside of our worldview; that we're controlled and shaped by forces outside of us; that our family determines us, our culture determines us.  While those shape us in many ways, we are able to get outside and evaluate and take a deep look at what our beliefs are, and that's just critical for young people today because most of them, even Christians, just kind of accept ideas in the media, accept ideas in the world, and don't slow down and think through their beliefs and realize how those beliefs affect everything that they do in life.

Dennis: And our assignment, as parents, is to help our young people grow up, and before they leave home, before we launched them, as Psalm 127:4 talks about a child being like an arrow in the hand of a warrior, and an arrow was meant to be sent.  It was meant to be aimed at a target and launched.  But before we launch them, we need to equip them to be able to answer the question, "What is your worldview?"

 And as we look at the culture today, Sean, there are a lot of different worldviews that young people have to choose from.  I mean, is it like a smorgasbord today in high school for young people?

Sean: I think, more than ever, a smorgasbord pretty much sums it up.  I mean, the majority of kids would describe themselves as Christian, but what they mean by that is radically different than what you and I mean.  Kids are influenced by New Age, it's very popular today.  Smaller religions, kind of like Wicca, are shaping the way that kids believe.  Post-Modernism, which sounds like a big word, which is simply the idea that there's multiple truths and no absolute truth out there.  Secular Humanism is another big word, but it's just simply the idea that all that exists is the physical world, and that there is no God.

 All these worldviews are coming at our kids, and unless they have a filter to recognize what is biblical and what is not biblical, they'll buy into those ideas, and then many times disaster will come into kids' lives.

Dennis: And when I would ask those young people at dinner about their worldview, I would always listen to see if God had any place in their worldview and, for most, God didn't show up, but who was in the center of their worldview?  Self.

Sean: Self, which is the first sin in the Bible, which is sin of pride, going back to Genesis.  Now, it doesn't surprise me at all that one kid actually had a biblical worldview.  Barna's study shows that 9 percent of adult evangelicals and 2 percent of youth have a biblical worldview.  Now, that concern goes even farther.  It's not enough to just give our kids the right answers.  So some kids could sit there and tell you about God created the world and give you the right answers but have they ingrained it, have they owned it, because if they don't really own it and truly believe it, then it's just words.

Bob: You know, I had a conversation many times, same conversation, over and over again with my teenage son as he was going through high school, and he was reading lots of different books in high school, presenting lots of different ideas about life, about represents, about the things you're talking about, and I remember sitting down with him on a number of occasions and saying, "You know, here's what I believe, son.  I believe that the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche was right – if there is no God, Nietzsche is absolutely correct – life is chaos, it makes no sense, it's meaningless.  Do whatever you want and do it boldly and don't worry about the consequences because you really don't have anything to worry about.  You're just some matter that's floating around on a rock.  But if there's a God, then everything changes.

Sean: That really is the central question.  In fact, that's why the Bible says "Wisdom begins with the fear or the awe of God."  I mean, think about it – if God exists – that's why the first doctrine we learn about in the Bible is, "In the beginning, God created" – because Creation implies purpose.  If there is no God, and there is no Creation, and hence no purpose, the only other possibility is we got here by chance.  So that's why the fool says in his heart, "There is no God," because ultimately that thinking is going to lead to meaninglessness, like you said, and just a lack of purpose, living for pleasure and living "go for the gusto" instead of living for things that will truly bring meaning and happiness in this world.

Dennis: You know, it's interesting, you took everything back to Creation.  I was recently in Cincinnati and had the privilege of touring a new museum that is being created there by a ministry called Answers in Genesis.  And Tim Hamm had invited me up to speak to his staff, and really quite a remarkable museum.  Now, it wasn't finished when I was there, and I think it's my understanding it's going to be finished April of 2007, something like that, but it actually started, before you got to the seven days of Creation, which were going to be depicted in scenes where you walked through this museum, but before you got to any of that, they started out with the visitor going through a concept of worldview. 

What's your worldview?  Do you believe that God exists and what part does He have in what we see?  Did He, indeed, create it?  Or do you think life is, as Bob was talking about, it's just random, meaningless, it's just matter.  And I like where they started, because it's just like what we've been talking about here – if God exists, then all of Creation has purpose, has meaning, and we are accountable to Him, and we better get on His agenda if we want to live life to the fullest.  And that really is what we need to be as parents training our young people to really believe and to develop convictions around, correct?

Sean: I think Answers in Genesis is wise to begin with the issue of worldview.  It's very interesting – I was watching a debate just this morning between Gary Habermas – it was on the Resurrection.  He is one of the Resurrection experts in the world, and a former atheist by the name of Anthony Flue.

 Gary Habermas lays out the entire defense of the Resurrection, and Anthony Flue, an atheist at that time, looks at him.  He goes, "That's great evidence.  That makes sense from your worldview."  So he said it's rational for you because you have a basic worldview about the world that says there could be a God.  He said, "But for me, since I don't believe in a God, I'm not convinced by those reasons."  So it always goes back to a kid's worldview.

 Now, one practical way that I think parents and teachers can do this is simply by asking kids questions.  My students don't want to hear me lecture at them.  Our kids don't want to hear us tell them what to believe and how they should act.  But kids today do respond, I believe, when we really engage their thinking.  So a great way is to say, "Look, say we're talking about self image," and this brings it back to Creation.  I'll say, "Why should somebody even feel good about themselves and have a self image?" 

Well, the answer we'll ultimately get to is because you're made in God's image.  You have infinite dignity and value and worth.  How has our world twisted what God has originally said is good?  Well, now our self-image is based on money, based on fame, based on power, based on pleasure.  How do we get that back to God's original design?  You can do that with everything.  There's a purpose for music, there's a purpose for work, there's a purpose for sexuality, a purpose for relationship, and that's why Creation is so important.

 So getting kids to think that way by asking questions – one of the great things I credit my parents with doing is instead of my dad sitting me down and just saying, "Hey, here is what you should believe and here is why," he did a lot of just asking good questions and, in fact, that's what Jesus did.  Someone would ask Him a question, he'd respond with a thoughtful question.

Dennis: In fact, didn't he take you out to a major movie release and then afterwards go to a fast-food restaurant or someplace …

Bob: Oh, he did the same thing you used to do with your kids, right?  Ruin the movie by dissecting it when it's all over, right?  Yeah.

Dennis: That's exactly what I did.  Now, didn't he do that with you?  And do you remember what the movie was?

Sean: It was the movie, "Schindler's List," and we went to see it as a family.  My wife now, who was a friend at that time – we were in high school, I was probably a junior or a senior, we went to see it, and we went back to Pizza Hut.  I remember we were sitting around talking, and my dad just said this, he said, "Do you think what the Nazis did was wrong?"  I said, "Of course."  He said, "Why?"  I said, "Well, you shouldn't kill."  He said, "Why shouldn't you kill?"  I said, "Well, it's in the Bible, duh."  He said, "Well, why does the Bible say you shouldn't kill?"  And I sat there, and I was stumped.  I had never thought about it.

 Now, he kept asking me questions to try to get me to realize that killing is not wrong because the Bible says it.  The Bible says it because killing is wrong because it says in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."  God is life, so taking an innocent life made in the image of God is wrong.  Well, how do we have that discussion because we had just seen a movie, and kids live their lives around the movie and the media today and because we had a relationship, he threw questions out there, and it just – I remember that, in particular, and it had an impact on my worldview.

Dennis: And so if you were a parent of a teenager today, what recent movie release that's hot in the culture today would you take them to see, and then what would be the questions you would ask afterwards?

Bob: Oh, wait, I know, I know, I've got the answer for this one, okay?

Dennis: You know what yours is?

Bob: "Snakes on the Plane," right?  That's where you'd go, wouldn't it, huh?

Sean: Actually, I thought you were going to get it, because it's probably been the most controversial movie out recently.  I would take my son or daughter to "The DaVinci Code."

Dennis: Really?

Sean: Definitely.  I would take my kids to see that, and now here's why – I think – and realize I understand that some people don't want to see it, some people want to boycott it …

Dennis: … right …

Sean: In the family that I grew up with, we would look at opportunities like that as not so much more compromise, because I don't think it's a moral issue, I think it's intellectual.  And sit down, and I would say, "Well, how do we know what books are in the Bible?  Have you ever thought about that, son?  Why do we have those books and not other books?  How do we know Jesus was God?  Was this made up by the culture?  How do we know Jesus was married or not married?"  And I would talk about those questions.

Bob: Did you see "The DaVinci Code" when it came out?

Sean: I did see it, yeah.

Bob: Boring, huh?

Sean: It was, wasn't it?  It ended three times.

Bob: Well, "Lord of the Rings" ended seven times, but we still liked that, didn't we?

Sean: Yeah, that's true.  Maybe I was hoping it would end a lot sooner.

Bob: I think so.

Dennis: Let's take another major issue that our culture faces today, and let's apply your approach to worldview and discuss it – abortion.

Sean: Okay.

Dennis: How does your worldview affect the issue of abortion?

Bob: Yeah, because you know how most people approach this – I wouldn't want to have an abortion or wouldn't want my friend to have an abortion, but if somebody – that's somebody's personal choice, that's between the woman and her doctor, and you shouldn't interfere with her making that choice.

Sean: When we talk about abortion, we've got to realize this is a very personal issue that hits home with a lot of kids, and we forget that sometimes, and we just give our arguments and reasons, and I think …

Dennis: Now, wait a second – I have a feeling there's more behind that statement than Bob or I or our listeners may be aware of.  What do you mean it's a personal issue?

Sean: I mean with students.  I deal with students all the time that have dealt with this.  Not necessarily in my own life or my wife or anything like that, but just in terms of – this is a very – I mean – look at the statistics.  One in two pregnancies are not planned.  One in two of those end in abortion.  So there are roughly 1 million abortions per year, and the difference inside and outside of the church is not very big.

Bob: You're saying most students either know somebody who has had an abortion or have had one themselves.

Sean: There's no question about it.  In fact, every single year I teach a unit on pro-life for about three weeks.  I've done it three years.  Each time a student has come up to me afterwards and said, "Right now I have a student considering abortion."

Dennis: This is in the Christian school?

Sean: In a Christian school – now, not necessarily the student was in a Christian school, but the student knew other students outside the Christian school, and all three of them went back, showed them the video that I show, talked to them about these ideas.  All three of them decided to keep the child. 

 So what that shows is that kids' worldviews and their beliefs will translate directly into the world that we live in.  So the important thing is I don't teach kids to reason from the Scripture, I teach kids to reason to the Scriptures.  So the Bible has said that God has put a sense of morality on all mankind.  We have that in common.  All people believe in justice, believe in goodness, believe in mercy, although they apply it differently.  So when it comes to abortion, we'll talk scientifically about it, and the reality is, it goes back to a worldview issue.  I mean, you don't see very many young mothers who have two-year-olds saying, "Gosh, I'd like to go back to school.  I better just kill my two-year-old."

 So it goes back to what our kids view about God, what they view about reality, and it's going to shape the way that they live.

Bob: I think you started with something very important here.  As you're sitting down to deal with this with teenagers or with any person, you have to recognize that before it's an intellectual issue it's often a personal issue, and if you go straight for the brain, if you go straight for the logic, or the argument …

Dennis: Yeah, trying to win the argument.

Bob: And you race past the personal side of it, you may never get a hearing for your logic, because you haven't shown empathy, you haven't shown kindness, you haven't shown concern or love.  You've got to start there, don't you?

Sean: We've been guilty of that in the Christian church a lot – parading our truth without truly loving the people we're supposed to.  You know, you asked me earlier about it being a personal side.  In fact, this issue is personal to me.  In fact, my sister, Heather, was adopted, and her mom got pregnant, I think, at 14, 15, or 16 years old and had the option of abortion.  And she has been the most incredible blessing in our family.  She loves kids, she's bright, she wants to do missions and just about three months ago – Heather is now 19 years old, she's in college, so she wanted to get hold of her birth mom. 

Well, we tracked her down, and the person who we had call her contacted her and simply said, "We want you to know we have good news," you know, in fact, at first she probably thought, "I've won a sweepstakes" or something like that.  Didn't see it coming, the mom didn't see it coming, she said, "We have good news.  Heather is contacting you and wants to get to know you.  She's in college."  And the mom's response was this, she said, "Wow, I've been waiting for this call for 19 years."  And I just thank God that she chose life.  In fact, none of us would be here if our parents didn't choose life.  So it is a very personal issue.

Dennis: And, you know, I'm really glad, Sean, that you followed up the abortion issue by talking about adoption, and the reason is, is I think it's one of the greatest aspects of a Christian worldview.  What does the Bible teach about orphans and about those who don't have families?  Well, it teaches we should care for them, and our Christianity, actually, the proof of it was to be found in how we took care of the widows at the end of life and the orphans at the beginning of life.

 And I wonder, many times, our own worldview, as adults, if we've been fairly good at coming out pro-life, being for protecting life and not having abortion, but I wonder if the reason God is waiting to heal our country of this great plague is because we haven't been for adoption, we haven't been for orphans.  And, really, a consistent worldview would not be one or the other, it would be both – both protecting unborn life and, after it's born, if that baby does not have a family, of making sure it gets one, making sure there's a mother and a father that care for it all of its days.

Sean: I think that really brings us back to the core of what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  And, as you look in 1 John, in the Gospels, there seems to be two key criteria – correct belief and truth and applying that belief in the real world.  And when it comes to adoption, we can argue against abortion all we want, but half of our job is to set the pace and take care of mothers who had an abortion.  Instead of – I mean – I've met mothers who said they've had an abortion and felt ousted by the church.  Well, sadly, we should be loving them – truth will come, and we'll help them think biblically but being the ones who embrace those who get rejected, who are hurt by the world.

Dennis: I would agree with you, and being a place where forgiveness is offered in an embrace to say "Welcome to the family of God."

Bob: I think what you've illustrated for us today is that correct response comes from a correct belief, from the right worldview, because fundamentally all of us respond to whatever it is we're facing in life on the basis of what we really believe, what we value, what we think is true.  And I think what you've done in your book, "Ethics," is help us lay out a framework for how we can think biblically about these issues, especially, again, when the culture is bombarding us with all kinds of messages that, frankly, sometimes sound like maybe they're right.  I mean, maybe this is how it ought to be.  But we need to come back to the Scriptures and say, "Is my thinking biblical," and you help us do that, and you help our young people do that with the book, "Ethics."

 We have it in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I want to invite our listeners to get a copy of this book.  Read it together with your teenager, with your high school or your college student.  If you're involved in discipling younger students, get a copy of this book and go through it together with them.

 Again, you can go to our website,  In the middle of the home page, you'll see a red button that says "Go." You click on that button, it will take you to a part of our site where you can request a copy of this book, you can order it online, if you'd like, or you can get more information about the book.  We also have information about other resources that we have available, including the book that you and your wife Barbara wrote for parents, Dennis, a book called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," where you really challenge us to make sure we know what we believe on these major issues before we try to disciple our children.

 Again, the book is called "Parenting Today's Adolescent."  It's available from our FamilyLife Resource Center as well, and if any of our listeners want to get both books, we can send along at no additional cost the CD audio of this week's conversation with Sean McDowell.  All the details are on our website at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, that's 1-800-358-6329.  If you have any questions or if you'd like to place an order, we've got folks standing by who can help you with any of that.   Again, the phone number is 1-800-FLTODAY, and the website is

 Making these resources available or talking about subjects like this on FamilyLife Today – what we want to try to do is provide you with encouragement and help and hope as a mom or as a dad.  That's what our Website is all about, the resources we offer, our conferences.  We're trying to do all we can do to continue to encourage families to stand firm as they apply God's truth in their marriage and in their family and this month we want to say thank you to those of you who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but those of you who are able to make a contribution to our ministry of any amount.

 We want to make available to you a CD of a message that your wife Barbara shared with a number of wives not long ago where she talked about how a woman can help her husband be the man God wants him to be.  The CD is available this month as a thank you gift for, again, making a donation of any amount to the ministry of FamilyLife Today, which you can do online at 

 If you do that, when you come to the keycode box in the online donation form, just type the two letters, "CD" in that box, and we'll know that you want to have that CD sent to you, or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  You can make a donation over the phone, mention that you'd like to receive the CD from Barbara Rainey, and we'll get it out to you.  Again, it's our way of saying thanks for your financial support of this ministry.  It is needed, and it is much appreciated.

 Well, tomorrow Sean McDowell is going to be back with us, and we're going to continue to talk about what we can do as parents to help our children cultivate both a mind and a heart that is passionate for God and to think rightly; that is, biblically, about the issues we're facing in our culture today.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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