As a Protestant evangelical, I heard a lot about the importance of developing a “Christian worldview.” Exactly what this meant, however, was always a bit of a mystery to me. In its most general sense, of course, it meant that I should look at all aspects of life–personal morality, family relationships, work, politics, law, economics, etc.–through the lens of my faith. The trouble is, if you really take this concept seriously, I think you’ll find that becoming a Catholic is unavoidable. Indeed, “having a Christian worldview” (in the best sense of the phrase) and “being a Catholic” are, to a certain extent, almost synonymous. I’ll try to explain why with the help of my friend Mr. Chesterton, who first introduced me to what it means to truly view everything in the light of Christian truth.
For those not familiar with the phrase “Christian worldview” as used within Protestant evangelicalism, a simple Google search will bring up several sites that are representative of what I always understood this phrase to mean, including a whole section of the Focus on the Family website devoted to the topic. Check out any of these sites, and I think you’ll agree that it’s fair to say at least a couple of things about what Protestant evangelicals mean by this term, which are consistent with how I myself used it when I was a Protestant.
First, Protestant evangelicals do not use “Christian worldview” simply as shorthand for “how a Christian views the world.” Rather, it has definite substantive content, which can differ depending on who’s giving their take on what a “Christian worldview” precisely is. That said, though, most folks using this term in my experience (and this is how I myself used it) take it as something of a code word to cover certain “conservative” doctrinal, political, economic, and cultural positions, including: (1) the infallibility/inerrancy of the Bible; (2) a pro-life stance on the abortion issue; (3) a generally pro-free market/pro-capitalist position on economic issues (sometimes even an overtly pro-Republican Party approach to such issues); and (4) a concern that American culture is becoming increasingly consumerist and over-sexualized. Come to think of it, I can’t remember ever hearing of a Protestant, who takes a “liberal” position on these issues, talking about “Christian worldview.”
Second, and perhaps more fundamentally, the “Christian worldview” discussion within Protestantism is presented as something different than the discussion of “Christian doctrine,” and I always thought of the two topics as somehow separate. I think there were at least two reasons for this: (1) by talking about “worldview” instead of “doctrine,” I felt I could duck the various doctrinal issues that divided me from other “conservative” Protestants so that we could present a united “worldview” front to combat a culture that increasingly disturbed us; and (2) the “worldview” conversation explicitly allowed for the use of reason to draw implications from the Bible and/or certain “key” doctrines, whereas pure “doctrinal” debate within the Protestant “Bible alone” context (which I have discussed more fully here and here) had a tendency to degenerate into who could quote the most proof texts without appearing to resort to reason.
Both of these reasons for separating “worldview” from “doctrine” ultimately fell apart for me. If the whole point of developing a “worldview” is to view all of life through the lens of Christian faith, and if a critical part of that faith is its “doctrinal” content, then how could I decide that all of the doctrinal differences among the various Protestant denominations weren’t important to the question of deciding what it means to have a “Christian worldview”? Wouldn’t that be admitting that what we believed as a matter of theology didn’t really matter to how we lived and viewed the world? That kind of an admission would negate the very concept of “worldview,” which was premised upon the idea that what we believe does make such a difference. Also, how could I possibly decide that it was more important (for the purpose of a “united front” against the “culture”) to believe that a Christian should be pro-free-market in his “worldview” than that he should (or shouldn’t) be premillennial dispensationalist in his “doctrine”?
The explicit place given to reason in discussions of “worldview” also, from where I am now, seems utterly inconsistent with the general Protestant position on how “doctrinal” truth is determined. In this regard, if it’s OK to use reason to determine “worldview,” how could it be improper to use it to determine “doctrine”? And, yet, at the heart of the Protestant objection to many Catholic doctrines and practices (such as the Assumption of Mary and praying to the Saints (to name a couple)) is the charge that they “aren’t found explicitly in Scripture.” But being “pro-free-market” or “pro-limited-government” isn’t found explicitly in Scripture, either. And, yet, as a “conservative” Protestant, I didn’t seem to have any trouble saying that those were fair implications of the teaching of Scripture.
By trying to separate “worldview” from “doctrine,” I was engaged in a doomed enterprise. So what was the answer? Well, as with all of the other issues I’ve discussed in my posts, the answer was Catholicism, and my reading of Chesterton helped me to understand why.
Chesterton, as I mentioned in my last post, wrote about everything: political theory, economic theory, family life, theology, apologetics, war, peace, the Titanic, Dickens, the contents of his pockets—you name it, he wrote about it. And he wrote about all of it through the lens of his faith—his faith that Christ was Who He claimed to be and that the Catholic Church was what she claimed to be. It was simply impossible for me to separate out one of his purely theological beliefs, such as his belief that Christ is the Son of God and was born of the Immaculately Conceived Virgin Mary, from any of his other conclusions, such as his belief that it is wrong to use artificial contraception, his belief that it is wrong for a factory owner not to pay his employees a fair wage, or his belief that to say of a man “he believes in himself” is to charge him with superstition.
Every belief, every doctrine, of Chesterton’s is inextricably linked to every single other one, and he rejects modern attempts to divide up life and the faith into hermetically-sealed little boxes:
There is a huge and heroic sanity of which moderns can only collect the fragments. There is a giant of whom we see only the lopped arms and legs walking about. They have torn the soul of Christ into silly strips . . . , and they are equally puzzled by His insane magnificence and His insane meekness. They have parted His garments among them, and for His vesture they have cast lots; though the coat was without seam woven from the top throughout.
This tie between everything and everything else isn’t just a Chestertonian quirk or pretty piece of rhetoric. Rather, it is at the heart of what it means to be “Catholic.” It is no accident of history that the very word “catholic” means “universal,” and it is a mistake to think that the word only refers to the global reach of the Church. Yes, it does refer to the fact that the Church covers the physical earth. In addition to this, though, “Catholicism” refers to viewing and living the totality of life—in the Church, in the home, in the workplace, in society, in politics—in such a way that every aspect of life is connected to and in harmony with every other aspect, thereby encompassing the goals and aspirations of all those (myself included) seeking a “Christian worldview.” For this reason, I am persuaded that living the Catholic life is the highest and best way we can witness to our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is himself the divine Logos and in whom “all things hold together.”
 I’m using the terms “conservative” and “liberal” here as they’re typically used within Protestant churches, although I normally try to avoid using both words. At least in my experience, these words tend to be used only as relatively unhelpful epithets that actually discourage clear thinking on whatever the topic of discussion might be.
 Even more basically, how would I decide if a particular issue fell into the “worldview” bucket or the “doctrine” bucket? As a matter of practice, as I’ve indicated, I put the more controversial issues within Protestant evangelicalism in the “doctrine” bucket, and this seems consistent with what other proponents of “worldview” discussions do. Take, for example, the issue of artificial contraception. That issue is highly relevant to how a Christian views and lives out life, but (at least in my experience) it wasn’t treated as a “worldview” issue. My hunch is that this is because Protestants are all over the map on this subject so to treat it as a “worldview” topic would stir up a lot of debate within the “worldview” crowd—which would be at odds with one of the reasons for trying to separate out “doctrine” from “worldview” in the first place.