“There is a flow to history and culture. This flow is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people. People are unique in the inner life of the mind – what they are in their thought world determines how they act. This is true of their value systems and it is true of their creativity. It is true of their corporate actions, such as political decisions, and it is true of their personal lives. The results of their thought world flow through their fingertips or from their tongues into the external world. This is true of Michelangelo’s chisel, and it is true of the dictators sword.
People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of these presuppositions than even they themselves may realize. By presuppositions we mean the basic way an individual looks at life, his basic worldview, the grid through which he sees the world. Presuppositions rest upon that which a person considers to be the truth of what exists. People’s presuppositions lay the grid for all they bring forth into the external world. Their presuppositions also provide the basis for their values and therefore the basis for their decisions.
“As a man thinketh, so is he,” is really most profound. An individual is not just the product of the forces around him. He has a mind, an inner world.”¹
In these opening lines from his book, “How Shall We Then Live?”, Francis Schaeffer does something very unique and powerful. He dives to the core of that which makes us what we are. He reflects on the foundational reason why we think and act the way we do.
Reflecting on our view of the world is not something most of us do very often. It is also not something that we do as we listen to react to others. We like to make large conclusions based on people’s individual actions. We also don’t like it when others challenge our conclusions or remarks. And yet the importance of understanding worldviews can be illustrated in the following example.
In healthcare there is a principle by which we interpret information about a patient: don’t just look at the numbers, look at the whole patient. A simple set of vitals may tell you that a person has high blood pressure. But those numbers don’t mean much until they are placed into the perspective of previous vital signs, patients responses to questions and their overall appearance. Is the blood pressure decreasing in comparison to previous measurements? Has the patient just run up a set of stairs? Is he reporting any pain? The response to these questions has the potential to paint radically different pictures of what is going on, and thus give very different meanings to the original high blood pressure measurement.
So it is with people and their thought lives. You can never get an accurate picture of the who a person is until you get an understanding of their basic worldview assumptions. The same thing is true of our understanding of ourselves. We do not really know who we are unless we have an honest assessment of our most fundamental beliefs.
As we begin to be more conscious of our view of the world we come to a second big question: How do we know how valid our convictions are? This is another very unpopular question. It is often assumed that as long as our worldview is in line with the majority of the leaders and thinkers of our times, we are in good hands.
In this sophisticated and scientifically progressive age, we like to think that all our major conclusions are backed up by research and science. But the trouble with some of the biggest questions of life is that they cannot necessarily be tested in a lab. To really understand and test our idea there is one major factor that we need: time. The answers must be allowed to run their course and show the true nature of their impact.
We want to reflect on our worldview and we want to understand that it is valid and trustworthy. And yet we cannot see the future. What then do we do?
Here we come to a third big question: Where did our ideas come from? We like to think that we are the originators of our ideas but our observation above proves the contrary: WE are the future of the ideas of the past. We are the products of the thoughts of those who came before us. We are living out that which was fed us by the society and surroundings that raised us.
Consequently we must turn to history. We cannot understand ourselves, nor our future, if we do not study in the only laboratory of ideas that we have. We will never have a sense of the strength of the views that we hold to unless we are willing to look at their originators and proponents. As Schaeffer so eloquently puts it, “(the) flow (of history) is rooted and has its wellspring in the thoughts of people”.
Doubtless, there is so much more to this challenge of understanding our thinking. So much that is very important. And yet these are three strong questions from which we can start. What is your worldview? How valid is it? Where does it come from? Have you ever seriously asked yourself these questions? What prevents you from doing that today?
Schaeffer, Francis, 1976. How Shall We Then Live? The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture. Crossway Books.