This month’s blog article continues with the second part of a four-part series I am writing about how our worldview informs the way we work as counselors. In this series I explore worldview from a Christian perspective.
On last month’s blog post, I opened this series discussing James Sire’s definition of a worldview from his book, The Universe Next Door. I broke down the various components of his definition, and then highlighted how our worldview enters the counseling room, whether or not we are aware of its presence. Sire writes from an evangelical Christian perspective with which I’m in alignment. I practice my faith from a Reformed theological perspective. We should be aware of how our worldview shapes everything we approach in life. Moreover, as counselors, we do not check our worldview at the door as though we can detach ourselves from it or operate without it.
On this month’s blog I continue to explore what a worldview comprises, again drawing on Sire’s work, which he calls a catalogue of different worldviews. Sire proposes that a worldview, as he defines it, should answer seven foundational questions. I will discuss each question, and how he answers each one from a Christian theistic worldview, and how those answers might shape my counseling practice.
Sire’s 7 Questions
Let’s review James Sire’s definition of worldview:
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which my be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. [p. 17]
Building on his definition, Sire believes that a worldview should seek to answer seven basic questions, answers to which should provide a foundational understanding for why and how we live the way we do.
The seven questions are:
1) What is prime reality – the really real?
2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?
3) What is a human being?
4) What happens to a person at death?
5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?
6) How do we know what is right and wrong?
7) What is the meaning of human history?
Delineated as such, these seven questions are indeed mind-boggling. They are questions that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with for millennia. My responses here will necessarily be short, but in being so I don’t mean to trivialize the questions with over simplifications. My best response to the far-reaching effects of how we seek to answer these questions is to say simply, read Sire’s book.
Sire explores various worldviews and how they might answer each of these questions. I am drawing on his chapter where he examines the worldview of Christian theism. The answer to the first question regarding prime reality sets the boundaries for how we will answer the other six questions. Given this question’s foundational nature, I will explore Sire’s discussion of this question more in depth, and build on it to discuss the other six questions.
A Christian worldview can be understood in terms of basic Christian theism, or what is also called a theistic worldview, or simply theism. In response to the first question, prime reality is found in the nature of God. Sire states it in the following manner: God is infinite and personal (triune), transcendent and immanent, omniscient, sovereign and good (p. 26). From a Christian theistic perspective, God is the only self-existent being. He is like no other. He is I Am That I Am.
God is personal, not some intangible force in the universe. He is someone ultimate who is there to ground our highest aspirations, our most precious possession – personality (p. 27). As a personal God, believers in Christ can relate to him on a personal level. Hence, I can pray to him, ask him for guidance, comfort, healing, and forgiveness. I can also petition him to guide, comfort, heal, and forgive others.
God’s communal nature is seen in that he is triune, personal but comprising the Trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Hence God is personal and communal, so we can relate to him in a personal way. When a Christian says he knows God, such a statement is not merely about God’s existence, but the believer knows God on a personal level, as our own father.
God is not merely a part of the world, like pantheism, but he is transcendent, beyond our world. Hence he is otherly. He is separate from us and his creation. Simultaneously, he is immanent, meaning he is present, with us, and with us now. Immanence doesn’t mean that God is in a rock or a tree as pantheism or primitivism might understand it. His presence is with us constantly in a way that we can depend on and rest in it. God actually holds the world together through his Son, Jesus Christ.
God is omniscient, sovereign, and good. For the Christian, this means we can rely on God’s sovereignty, even in, and especially in, situations where we don’t have a clue as to how and where our lives might be heading. This is the rest that Christians can find in a personal God who not only knows and controls all things, but who also is good, having our well being in hand. His goodness means that there is an absolute standard of what is right and wrong. It also means that human beings have hope in a world that at times may appear and feel chaotic, dangerous, and hopeless.
When we think of what is real and important to us, experiences such as love, friendship, joy, pain, dreams, aspiration, and a meaningful life, such experiences are of prime important to us because God exists as a personal, infinite, and loving God. These are not merely concepts. They are real.
Given God’s omnipotent and omniscient nature, external reality, or what we call the universe or cosmos, is God’s ex nihilo creation, created to operate with uniformity of cause and effect in an open system.
External reality is there. It’s not a creation of human beings’ minds. We bump up against it. If you don’t buy that, then try closing your eyes and walking around your home for a few minutes. The old adage that toes exist to find things we didn’t know were there is a stark reminder to the fact that we do not create external reality as many subjectivists and radical postmodernists believe. The beauty of God’s creation can be observed, explored, studied, and learned in exquisite detail. God’s creation is not programmed, but open. God’s constantly involved in its operation. And so are we human beings. We can alter it for the good or the bad. Hence, we are stewards of its care. I reflect on the times I’ve driven to Colorado or Glacier National Park in Montana and the breathtaking beauty that unfolds right before one’s eyes. David’s Psalm 19 addresses how the heavens declare the glory of God.
The epithet Imago Dei explains the relationship of all human beings to the Creator God. Not only did he create the external universe, but also he created human beings in his image. Hence, the Image of God is stamped on our being. We are personal because God is personal. We are self-conscious because God is self-conscious. We act according to our own character as God created us to be. We are like God in a limited sense. We each possess a unique character and we can choose to act. We are not God’s robots. In as much as we are created in the image of God, we therefore have intrinsic value. Our lives hold sanctity. Hence we possess a unique personality, we aspire to self-transcendent values, and we are intelligent in that we are capable of reason, knowledge, and wisdom.
Life and Death
We are also fallen human beings. The Christian theistic message is one not welcomed so much in our culture today when it speaks to life and death. Naturalism teaches that death is a normal process in the life and death cycle. Christian theism teaches that physical death is abnormal, contrary to God’s purpose for us. It was not meant to be. The Fall brought death to humankind. Hence, death is a portal, either to a life with God, or a life separate from God. I get how difficult it is to embrace this notion. Sire quotes G. K. Chesterton as stating death is a monument to human freedom (p. 40). He didn’t mean that in a disparaging sense. It means that our decisions have eternal significance. People must answer individually whether or not they accept this Christian claim.
Sire states, the foundation of human knowledge is the character of God as Creator (p. 34). Because we are made in his image, we can know, reason, and pursue wisdom. To put it more succinctly, God created our minds. Hence he takes an active role in communicating with us via two channels, the natural universe or general revelation and through his Word or Scripture, special revelation. Human beings can explore, study, and come to know the external world around them, and they can come to know God himself. God’s omniscient knowledge is the foundation for our knowledge and intelligence. Because God is both Creator and personal, we can know him personally and what he created. Indeed he granted and gifted us with the stewardship we have over God’s creation. Christ addressing the Old Testament stated that the greatest commandment is You should love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). Hence, your mind matters, as John Stott’s pamphlet of the same title states. We were given a mind and we should not let it go to waste.
Good and Evil
From the perspective of Christian theism, human beings were created good, but through the Fall, the Imago Dei within us became defaced. Looking across cultures and societies, human beings for millennial have codified rules of law. Our nature as human beings leads us to search out ethics, morality, and an understanding of good and evil. The ultimate reason, however, for any understanding of right and wrong, is grounded in the nature of God himself. Moreover, we are not left alone in the Fall. God has provided redemption through the work of Christ. To get a clear picture of what is good, we look to Christ for that understanding. We listen to his words and we see his actions. Sire states, ethics is transcendent and is based on the character of God as good, holy, and loving (p. 41). Everyone lives according to some moral code, whether one realizes it or not. Theism says to us that there is an absolute standard for right and wrong, good and evil. Jesus Christ is the fullest embodiment of the good. He is the complete man, both man and God. We live in a postmodern world where the idea of an absolute moral standard is no longer acceptable. The problem comes when one tries to live consistently with the notion everything is relative. When evil comes people’s way, they tend to suddenly want what is right.
From a theistic perspective, history is linear. It is heading someplace. Sire states it this way: Human history can be summed up in four words – creation, Fall, redemption, and glorification (p. 37). Christian theism does not see history as cyclical, reversible, repeatable, and it is for sure not meaningless. In this sense, history is a form of revelation, especially when one looks at the history of the Jewish people and the history of the church. History is heading somewhere, the Kingdom of God. History is meaningful as seen in the Divine Logos, Jesus Christ. As a Christian this means even though I cannot know nor see the beginning from the end, I can rest in God’s sovereign and providential control. We’re not merely floating around in the river of history heading into nowhere. Because history has a direction and is meaningful, we can also live meaningful lives.
Necessarily I had to give short space to these seven challenging but substantive questions. Again, one should read Sire to get at his fullest exposition of a Christian Theistic worldview. The question becomes now, what does this mean for the counselor who, like myself, is a Christian.
Christian Theism in the Counseling Room
I want to reiterate something I said on last month’s blog. I do not believe that anyone can check their worldview at the office door before sitting down with clients in the counseling room. In fact, it is incumbent upon all of us, counseling professional or otherwise, to become aware of the worldview we hold. Then we can ascertain whether it truly informs the way we live. Not only is it impossible to set aside or worldview, but also I don’t believe it’s ethical to try to do so. Neutrality refers to the absence of coercion, not the suspension of one’s beliefs. I stated last month that I do not seek to proselytize clients to my worldview. I want to meet them at the edge of their worldview the best I can do that. In that sense, counseling involves the coming together, and possibly clash of different worldviews.
My worldview does mean that I seek to take a certain stance toward my clients. Clients who enter the counseling room are seeking help. Many times they are hurting, both psychologically, and what I believe to be spiritually. Life may be swallowing them up in various ways. They come to me hoping that I can understand what they’re going through and how their experiences impact them. From a Christian perspective, I want to treat my clients as I want to be treated if I sought counseling. I want to empathize, hold a space for them with compassion, and be a solid ground for them from which they can navigate difficulties that life has thrown at them. I see them as human beings stamped with the Imago Dei; therefore, they deserve respect, dignity, and all the support that by God’s grace I can muster. I realize that they face the difficulties they do because they live in a fallen world that can bring pain into their lives. Their struggles are real, can be hard hitting, and indeed may be tearing at them inwardly. They seek counseling to find a way to make things clear, to embrace some form of knowledge and understanding that can guide them to what they hope is a better, more fulfilling, and meaningful life. Like all human beings, they are finite in their resources, capacities, and abilities to deal with the vagaries that life throws at them. Like all of us, they are finite, their choices lead to consequences, and their timeline has an end. As a Christian, I want to provide that space for them where they can enter and find the grace they need to face whatever life throws at them.
As a Christian I hold that as finite human beings we are armed with an incomplete panoply to deal with life’s difficulties without the Spirit of God and the presence of Jesus Christ in our lives. This is a truth that I fall back on, nonetheless, not seeking to proselytize any clients. I do, however, welcome any questions that clients may want to ask of me regarding my faith. I indeed hope they do so, and I relish the opportunity to have a discussion with them regarding my beliefs in Jesus Christ. Because the culture at large has a tainted view of Christianity, many times such discussions may be about what Christianity is and what it is not.
As I’ve described it here, Christian theism shapes who I am in the counseling room. My hope is that in my work, God is glorified in someway. My worldview comprises my personal beliefs in Jesus Christ and it enters the counseling room with me.
I would have it no other way, nor should anybody else.
As I stated on the last blog, the work I really enjoy doing entails working with those clients who hold the same worldview as mine. Next month’s blog article, the third of four blog posts in this series, will explore what Christian clients should expect if they want to engage a counseling relationship with me.
Sire, J.W. (2004). The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog.(Originally published in 1973). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Stott, J. R. (1972). Your Mind Matters. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
John V. Jones, Jr., Ph. D., LPC-S/July 14th, 2020