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Hello, fellow wayfarers. Why it’s not really true that “everybody has a worldview” … How a Bible verse I’ve read a thousand times shocked me … A Scottish Isles version of the Desert Island Bookshelf … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Russell Moore

You Are Not Your Worldview

Sometimes a perfectly good word loses its meaning so much that it should be set aside, at least temporarily. Calling someone a “fundamentalist” in 1923, when the word designated a Christian who believed in the supernatural, was an altogether different thing than it is in 2023, when the term conveys sectarian militancy.

Several years ago, I realized that another good word had lost its meaning: worldview.

“Everyone has a worldview,” the saying goes. And it’s true, of course, that the grid through which we see reality shapes who we are. Yet over the years, I have grown weary of hearing the word worldview invoked as a list of current culture war controversies with the “correct” Christian view attached.

I have become increasingly convinced that this kind of “worldview” talk assumes that people wholeheartedly adopt cognitive axioms and apply them to their lives—a belief I find neither true nor biblical. Anyone who’s dealt with real people knows that the reverse happens far more often. I have seen countless people with “biblical worldviews” reverse course in an instant when they’re caught in extramarital affairs.

Tim Keller’s foreword to a new translation of J. H. Bavinck’s Personality and Worldview (Crossway) analyzes many of my reluctances. Some of you yawn at the mere mention of a long-dead Dutch Reformed theologian. But the book is worth buying if for nothing else than the treasure in the foreword by Keller and the introduction by translator-editor James Eglinton. Both point out the crucial difference between a “worldvision” and a “worldview.”

Everyone has a worldvision. Very few people have a worldview.

Eglinton defines worldvision as “a set of intuitions about the world formed in all individuals by their family and home environment, their teachers and education, and the broad culture within which they live” combined with “the idiosyncrasies of an individual person’s temperament.” This unique combination allows someone to have a “workable (albeit limited) frame of reference with which to live from day to day.”

In other words, how we see the world is based not only on the propositions we affirm and deny or our social or cultural settings—it’s based on our personalities as well.

That’s one reason many people love to find out their Enneagram number or Myers-Briggs type—or even to take one of those “Which Marvel character are you?” quizzes online.

If nothing else, those things can offer a baseline caricature for, say, why my wife and I react so differently when we hear that a friend is in the hospital after surviving a car accident. The thought balloons over her head would read along the lines of “We need to organize people to provide meals for their family and find out how to get their kids to school.” My thought balloons would say, “Life is short and fragile. Death is coming for all of us” before trailing off into Psalm 104, some Walker Percy quotes, and the lyrics to Jimmy Buffett’s “He Went to Paris.”

I can summarize those different reactions by saying, “I’m an Enneagram Four, and she’s a Two.” Yet she and I would score pretty much the same on everything if we took a worldview survey on our principles and values. And we grew up just a few miles down the beach from each other. Even so, we realize that human beings are mysteries and that none of us can be fully “explained” as a personality or worldview, even to ourselves.

In Bavinck’s framing, while everybody needs a “worldvision”—those basic assumptions and grids to make it through life—very few have developed what he would call a “worldview”: a more mapped-out, intentional sense of life’s meaning.

Some people live their entire lives never really questioning their own or their tribe’s basic assumptions. Yet others—often during a crisis—ask themselves the question “But what does this all mean?”

Karl Barth once wrote that when people attend church services and hear pastors preach from the Bible, many of them are hoping to hear the answer to only one question: “Is it true?”

It’s one thing to think the Bible gives us good principles for managing life, gaining spiritual experiences, winning values disputes, or being better spouses, parents, or citizens. It’s quite another to ask questions like “If it’s true that everything, visible and invisible, is held together by the Word of his power, what does that mean for my life?” and “What does it mean for me if a God in whom I live and move and have my being truly exists?” and “How will my life change if it’s true that ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so’?”

Unlike the way the word is used in many popular Christian contexts, a worldview is not a definitive set of abstractions one agrees to and then just applies to various truth questions. It’s about, among other things, coming to realize what story is true and what story we are living.

For Christians, that doesn’t resolve the plot line in the short term. After Jesus went from feeding the multitudes to freaking them out by talking about eating his body and drinking his blood, the disciples were exasperated. But he didn’t give them an early copy of the Book of Acts, much less a discourse on various views about his presence in the Eucharist. Simon didn’t have a first draft of 1 and 2 Peter written out in his head. Jesus just asked, “Do you want to leave me too?”

Peter’s answer is more important than a million worldview manuals neatly dividing us into categories. He simply said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69).

In many ways, Peter could not see the way he was going at all, certainly not enough to have a comprehensive theory of the world around him. He just knew that this person was the Way. He knew that—however faultily he tried to explain it—he would follow this voice into whatever unpredictable future it called him. Wherever Jesus went was where Peter wanted to be.

Did he live consistently and coherently with that? No. Almost every other page in the Gospels features Peter spectacularly misunderstanding something Jesus was doing—usually by saying dumb things that Jesus corrected. And at the fireside after Jesus’ arrest, Peter’s worldview seemed to be “I never knew him.”

But Jesus kept pursuing him. After his crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus came to Peter while he was fishing in Galilee—the very place where Peter had first chosen to follow Jesus. And even after an emotional restoration, Peter started asking stupid questions that Jesus didn’t answer. Yet Jesus’ last words to Peter in that moment were the same as his first: “Follow me.”

Your atheist neighbor is more than his worldview. Whatever arguments you may have with him, he is complex, just like you, and often lives inconsistently with the abstractions he holds. Maybe he can tell you 15 reasons why believing in God is as silly as believing in a Flying Spaghetti Monster. Even so, underneath that “worldview” might well be someone who is scared, lonely, and ashamed. In those moments when his atheistic perspective doesn’t seem to “work”—such as when he looks at his newborn baby or stands in wonder by the Grand Canyon or hears Psalm 23—maybe he, too, will find himself asking, “What if it’s true?” And at times, beneath all his rational arguing, perhaps he’s even hoping it is.

You, too, are more than your worldview. Of course, philosophical arguments have a significant place in the history of the church and the pursuit of faith. But the “renewing of your mind” the Bible calls you to isn’t primarily about learning points of debate; it’s first reminding yourself of the mercy of God. And because of his mercy, you continually offer yourself as a “living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God” (Rom. 12:1–2). This offering involves all of you—your affections, your intuitions, and your longings—not just your reason.

That’s why on our deathbeds, most of us will not turn to axioms and arguments we embraced and applied. Rather, we will look to the hymns we learned to sing, the stories we came to know to be true, and the people who bore witness—in their own flawed, fragmented ways—to a Light shining in the darkness, a Word who became flesh.

Perhaps we won’t even be able to see with our physical eyes at that point. But we will still know the Way we want to go and the Voice we want to follow, wherever he is.

That isn’t a worldview that can settle all the questions and win all the arguments. But it’s enough for one earthly life—and for the life that comes after that.

The Bible Verse That Shocked Me This Week

As some of y’all know, I am teaching through Genesis at my church (Immanuel Nashville) on Sunday mornings. Last week I was preparing to unpack the extended passages in which Joseph, then a ruler in Egypt, brought his estranged family from their famine-stricken land to his adopted country. Despite having read and taught this book for over 30 years now, I was stopped by a verse I don’t think I had ever paid attention to.

In this part of the story, Joseph was coaching his brothers on what to say to Pharaoh: “When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen” (Gen. 46:33–34, ESV).

That part is predictable enough. It’s entirely reasonable that Joseph wanted his family to reassure Egypt’s ruler that they weren’t coming to take over, that they just wanted to do what they’d always done—tend their flocks and be left alone.

It’s the next phrase that had never really hit me before: “For every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.”

Abomination is strong language. But what struck me was the way God, in breathing out those words through his Spirit, was preparing us for the rest of the story.

At this point in the narrative, Israel’s safety seemed to depend on Egypt’s favor. Joseph could protect them, after all, because he was not like them. He was no tender of animals. He was a governor with the direct ear of the most powerful emperor on the face of the earth.

At the beginning of Exodus, we are told of “a new king” in Egypt “to whom Joseph meant nothing” (1:8), one who would enslave and persecute the house of Jacob. In the midst of all this, we are introduced to another prince of Egypt—another Hebrew who was adopted as a son of Pharaoh. Yet God did not use Moses’ place of power to deliver his people.

In the words of Jewish philosopher Leon Kass, Joseph was so thoroughly “Egyptianized” that his own brothers didn’t even recognize him. Moses took the opposite path. Although he grew up as an Egyptian, he discovered after committing a crime that, in the eyes of his “fellow” Egyptians, he was a Hebrew after all.

And after losing his royal identity, what did Moses become? A shepherd. He was tending his father-in-law’s flocks when he encountered God in the bush that burned but was not consumed (Ex. 3:1–6).

What’s more, the defeat of Pharaoh and the deliverance of the children of Jacob from Egypt is later described this way: “He brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness. He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies” (Ps. 78:52–53). “Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock,” the psalmist cried out (80:1).

What was an abomination to the Egyptians was the very means God used to defeat them.

One could say that a cross was an abomination to the Romans. After all, crucifixion was the way Caesar dominated anyone who challenged his rule. The crucified were to be forgotten, the sort of horror from which people averted their eyes. Yet “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Cor. 1:28).

In part, God did this by establishing a kingdom through the line of one who was known first, not as a warrior or a ruler, but as a shepherd (2 Sam. 5:2). And it all culminated in the One who described himself as “the good shepherd” (John 10:14).

Jesus’ shepherding is indeed an abomination to the way of Pharaoh. He leads not with bribes or threats but with his voice. And instead of building pyramids for himself, he lays down his life.

No wonder so many of us turn to Psalm 23 in times of trouble. “The Lord is my shepherd …” Pharaoh would find that an abomination, but Pharaoh is long gone. The Shepherd abides.

Desert Island Bookshelf

Every other week, I share a list of books that one of you says you’d want to have on hand if you were stranded on a deserted island. This week’s submission comes from reader Blanca Jackson. Blanca doesn’t note where she’s from but does rename the Desert Island Bookshelf as the “Scottish Isle Bookshelf.” That leaves me to wonder whether she’s writing from Scotland or if she would like to be on a Scottish isle (which I can certainly understand). Blanca writes:

There are several books that I met only in the last year or so that I wanted to place on my list but hesitated because I’ve not yet known them long enough (if that makes sense). I realize that this list could change in a few months. Right here, right now, this is my list.

  • Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, by Madeleine L’Engle—This book helped me reunite what should never have been separated in my life: art and faith. Early on, it helped me think more deeply about the idea of sacred and secular. Many years later, it helped me realize that I’d renounced the artist in me “to better follow God” down a new turn in the journey—something he never asked me to do. Healing this self-made rift was like coming home. Our lives are not honeycombs, with some hexagons secular and some sacred. We are hidden in Christ.

  • The Seven Storey Mountain: An Autobiography of Faith, by Thomas Merton—This was a magical read! I’m not Catholic, so there are some moments of acknowledged differences. That being said, monasticism has fascinated me for years. (I’ve watched the film Into Great Silence many times.) This book is not a simple reading of linear events but rather an authentic microview of Christian struggle, delight, mercy, grace, and perseverance.

  • Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2, by Steve Stockman—At a time when events at my institution of higher learning had me begging God to let me leave, this book both grounded me and gave me hope. Regardless of one’s views on stardom and Christianity, Walk On has much to say about holistic living. The author’s purpose goes far beyond the band itself. The players are merely examples used to help readers evaluate their own walks with Christ, as well as think about what can pass for Christianity. We all are disillusioned at some point. Thankfully, desperation can help us conform to his image.

  • Anonymous: Jesus’ Hidden Years … and Yours, by Alicia Britt Chole—Before entering a season of intense change in my life, this book both prepared me and comforted me. I learned that I could still bring God glory even as my life would seemingly shrink. I learned that Jesus had anonymous years and that they were no less important than the years we read about in Scripture. I’m still learning, and the road is much harder than I anticipated. Still, I’m starting to believe that faithfulness in daily things might have more to do with spiritual formation than some great moments scattered over the years of my life.

  • North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell—This book makes me want to live a better life. It not only has themes of good and evil, honor and shame, but also develops complex characters who walk through surface judgments, deeper understanding, opportunity, and finally identification. Set in England during the industrial revolution, the story follows two families through social dilemmas, class clashes and revolutions, and unexpected redemption. My secret: I actually prefer this book to Pride and Prejudice!

  • Van Gogh’s Untold Journey: Revelations of Faith, Family, and Artistic Inspiration, by William J. Havlicek—This beautiful, heart-wrenching, hope-filled biography treats Van Gogh as a human being instead of a caricature. It progresses chronologically but plunges the reader ever deeper into Van Gogh’s life. Through careful, comprehensive research, the author tells a story that seems truer than anything I’d read before about Van Gogh. Several of Vincent’s paintings are critical in the telling of this story; the book’s crescendo might well be when the author addresses Starry Night. Anyone who has wondered about Van Gogh’s spiritual journey will treasure this volume.

  • Every Moment Holy, Volume II: Death, Grief, and Hope, by Douglas Kaine McKelvey—Having entered a season of escalating caregiving for a family member, this book of liturgy has given me oxygen when my soul was gasping for breath. To discover that I’m not alone in my struggles, first of all, has helped me feel connected to other caregivers. When I have no words, these liturgies are my voice. And they always point me to our Comforter. I’m forever grateful to those who shared their heartbreak for this book.

  • Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts: Twelve Journeys into the Medieval World, by Christopher de Hamel—I’m drawn to medieval art, for reasons I don’t quite know myself. Illuminated manuscripts particularly intrigue me. Maybe it’s the anonymity of monks working for years on one volume or the sheer beauty of impossible miniatures so detailed you want to cry. In any case, when I learned of this book, I had to find a copy. It’s brilliant. The author shares not only history but also his visits to each manuscript’s current home (libraries of the world!). The presentation of each manuscript is beautiful. And the reason de Hamel wrote this volume? He knows only a select few are granted access to view them, so he wanted to bring them to normal people like us. Bravo!

  • The Problem of Pain, by C. S. Lewis—During this season of my suffering, C. S. Lewis spoke straight to my heart. I needed someone to address certain questions, to use imagination in answering, and to give me a sense of trust. I picked up the book in tears and ended it feeling comforted and hopeful. That he chose to end it with the chapter on heaven, after the suffering he faced in his lifetime, gave me much courage.

  • A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, by Miriam Huffman Rockness—It’s an intriguing biography about a beautiful soul. Trotter was an artist, a missionary, but ultimately one who gazed longingly at the Savior and his ways. The story walks you through her life of ministry, with generous inclusions of her own thoughtful writings and a mere glimpse of her remarkable artwork. Rather than dwell on the past or what might have been, Trotter chose to live in the present (like Pascal discusses in Pensées). She gazed at things and really saw them, with the result that her analogies from nature are stunning and her love for people unquenchable. (To view her artwork, see A Blossom in the Desert or her sketchbooks.)

  • The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—I recently reread it since it was the 75th anniversary year. The whimsical illustrations, the humor, the creativity, and the main character’s realizations along the way swept me to another world. It reminded me that a good story can be simple and that wisdom can be found in simple things. The ending is both crushing and hopeful but ultimately mysterious. Occasionally, I need to read something that devastates with hope.

  • The Ghent Altarpiece Revealed (also known as The Adoration of the Lamb), edited by Annick Born and Maximiliaan Martens—It brilliantly reproduces a great masterpiece, both in its story and full-color glory. If you ever get the chance to see this awe-inspiring work in person, you’ll be mesmerized. Thankfully, the book pays tribute well. The double cover is velvety; the paper is thick, semi-matte; and the artwork is stunning throughout. It discusses the artist(s) and the work itself in context. That the Ghent Altarpiece still exists today is miraculous. It survived two waves of Protestant iconoclast destruction, as well as WWII. (Did you see The Monuments Men?)

Thank you, Blanca!

Readers, what do you think? If you were stranded on a desert island for the rest of your life and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of 5–12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of 5–12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list (or both lists!) to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Quote of the Moment

We are so little reconciled to time that we are even astonished at it. “How he’s grown!” we exclaim, “How time flies!” as though the universal form of our experience were again and again a novelty. It is as strange as if a fish were repeatedly surprised at the wetness of water. And that would be strange indeed; unless of course the fish were destined to become, one day, a land animal.

—C. S. Lewis, in Reflections on the Psalms

Currently Reading (or Rereading)

Jamaal E. Williams and Timothy Paul Jones, In Church as It Is in Heaven: Cultivating a Multiethnic Kingdom Culture (InterVarsity)

Peter Heather, Christendom: The Triumph of a Religion, AD 300–1300 (Knopf)

Thomas Byrne Edsall, The Point of No Return: American Democracy at the Crossroads (Princeton University Press)

Sam Tanenhaus, Whittaker Chambers (Random House)

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Russell Moore

Russell Moore
Editor in Chief

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