What's Your Worldview?
October 26, 2014
James N. Anderson. What's Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life's Big Questions. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. 112pp. $10.99
To say that books on worldviews are something of a cottage industry in evangelical circles would immediately stand me in good stead for the "Understatement of the Year" award. Moreover, we have moved beyond books on worldview and are now treated to worldview churches, worldview conferences, and worldview schools. Now, this is not at all a bad thing; Christians, particularly those of us who believe that presuppositional apologetics (with its emphasis on worldviews) is the best way to defend the faith, should rejoice that so many people are interested in comparing worldviews. But there is also the danger that the term worldview will be used so often and applied so broadly that it will be emptied of any meaning.
With this caution in mind, we can surely sympathize with the perplexed churchgoer who logs on to Amazon and searches for books on worldview. "Where do I start?" he mutters in disbelief at the thousands of pages his search returns. He quickly learns that the literature is vast. Somewhat incredulously, he rolls his eyes as James Anderson's latest book, What's Your Worldview? comes across the search page. "Do we really need another book on worldview?" he wonders.
In answer to both the fictional perplexed churchgoer and the few others who will read this review, the answer is very simply an emphatic yes. In fact, Anderson's work might be the best brief worldview book to date. That's quite a claim, so let me attempt to make good on it by way of a concise review of this book.
What's Your Worldview? represents a unique offering in the crowded marketplace of worldview books. While other titles are more in-depth, others aimed at a more scholarly audience, and still others more popularly written, none of them employ the same presentation as Anderson's work. Dusting off (for those of us under 60) the old "choose your own ending" mystery novel format, Anderson walks the reader through different "endings" based on one's answers to various worldview-ish questions. Accordingly, the book is divided into three parts: questions, categories, and worldviews. At the outset, Anderson makes clear that all of us--including him--have a worldview and that his (Christianity) will not be difficult to discern throughout the book (pp.15-16). But Anderson also points out that this fact does not make his work "biased" in the pejorative sense of that word, but simply illustrates the main thrust of the book; namely, the inescapability of worldviews and the necessity of holding to one self-consciously.
As an example of this format, Anderson invites the reader to ask "The Knowledge Question" on p.22. Simply put, the reader is asked whether or not it is possible to know the truth. If she answers negatively, Anderson shows how she has selected for a worldview called "Skepticism." He then explains, in a page or two, what this worldview entails, as well as some of the problems that result from adopting a skeptical stance. If the problems with a chosen worldview prove too much for the reader to bear, she can turn back to the page 22 and reconsider her answer to the knowledge question.
Anderson's book covers twenty-one questions, five categories, and twenty-one worldviews in just over one hundred pages. For those familiar with Anderson's style, his trademark wit, scholarship, and extremely readable prose are on every page. However, the immediate objection to a work like this would seem fairly obvious: how can a book this brief possibly cover subjects this vast? Surely, it runs the risk of oversimplification, if not gross misrepresentation, the critic argues. Two things can be said in reply. First, Anderson himself anticipates this objection and replies that his book, while simplified, is not thereby simplistic, because "the book asks the most important questions that need to be asked, it covers the most prominent and influential worldviews in Western culture today (plus a few more), and it highlights the most serious challenges faced by those worldviews." (p.98)
Second, Anderson avoids the critic's imagined problem because of his impressive philosophical skills. Anderson is well-informed, well read, and a very good critical thinker. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that he has written extensively in the highly technical field of analytic philosophy for years and holds a PhD on the subject. With this kind of background, he has (in my experience) the extremely rare and much-prized ability to boil down an argument to its essentials, state it clearly, and offer serious objections, all without caricaturing the opponent's position. So, for example, when tackling the worldview of "Materialism," Anderson identifies some of its bedrock features ("everything is matter and energy" p. 69), explains what such beliefs entail, and then offers brief but weighty objections ("Materialism has great difficulty in accounting for our mental lives and our conscious experience of the world" p.69).
Thus, not only is the format of this book unique, making it intriguing and perhaps less threatening for someone considering the claims of Christianity, but, more importantly, the scope and breadth of the book are unique. No other book on the worldview market covers as much with as much aptitude in so brief a space. For this reason alone, Christians ought to be buying this book, reading it, and giving it to friends, co-workers, etc.
I proposed one hypothetical criticism of Anderson's book and pretty easily found it wanting, both from Anderson's own rebuttal and my own reading of his work. But are there other criticisms one could raise? I'm sure there are and I think that most of them would run along the lines of "Why didn't he address this objection?" or "Why wasn't this worldview included?" Stated more precisely, some readers will find fault in Anderson's treatment of various worldviews. Anderson answers these kinds of concerns in the last section of the book (pp.97-103), reiterating the goal of What's Your Worldview?: to help readers see their worldviews and get them to think critically about them. In sum, Anderson's project is comparatively modest and therefore much more successful--his brief handling of each worldview neither detracts from his overall goal, nor seriously blunts the apologetic force of his work for Christians.
In the end, there is very little to criticize in Anderson's work, even if one is not a Christian. Those who hold to any one of the twenty or so worldviews Anderson scrutinizes will find their position fairly stated. Moreover, those who disagree with Anderson's concise rebuttals will be forced to think through the implications of their worldview and reckon with its problems. That's a good thing for any thoughtful person to do.
The Christian will come away with a perhaps newfound appreciation for the strength, beauty, and rigor of the Christian worldview. Certainly, as I mentioned earlier, this is a book every church, college ministry, youth ministry, or camp should have in abundance and give away freely and regularly. What's Your Worldview? is winsome and well informed, direct but engaging, and stands out as an industry standard in perhaps the most overcrowded industry in evangelicalism.
Gabe Fluhrer is the senior minister of Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Raleigh, NC and a PhD candidate at Westminster Theological Seminary