David K. Naugle’s book, “Worldview: The History of a Concept,” has proven to be very influential among apologetically oriented evangelicals since it was first published in 2002. Naugle chairs the philosophy department at Dallas Baptist University.

James Sire, author of the popular apologetic “The Universe Next Door” wrote another book, “Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept,” to revise his definition of worldview and incorporate insights from Naugle’s work.

I confess at the outset that I have little stomach for the kind of Calvinist and rationalist apologetics that Naugle finds so exhilarating. I much prefer Merold Westphal’s approach to Christian philosophy. Westphal is distinguished professor of philosophy at Fordham University. Westphal’s comprehension of contemporary philosophy and theology is deeper and his critique of modern and postmodern thought is more insightful than that of any other evangelical Christian that I have read.

Nevertheless, Naugle’s book deserves a thoughtful reading – if for no other reason than to observe the strides that some Baptists have made toward philosophical respectability.

The book is aptly named. Focused narrowly on how various thinkers have used the term “worldview” and related concepts throughout history, Naugle provides a useful guide to some of the nuances in the thought of influential philosophers and theologians.

Among the thinkers examined are James Orr, Gordon Clark, Carl Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd and Francis Schaeffer as representatives of Protestant evangelical worldviews. The thoughts of Lawrence Cunningham and Pope John Paul II are presented as typifying a Roman Catholic worldview, and Naugle culls for an example of an Orthodox worldview in the thought of Alexander Schmemann. The unequal weight given to Protestant Christianity and to Calvinist expressions within Protestantism reveals Naugle’s own theological preferences.

The most valuable sections of the book trace the history of the “worldview” concept through the thought of Kant, Hegel, Dilthey, Nietzche, Husserl, Jaspers, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Polanyi, Kuhn, Freud, Jung, Mannheim, Berger and Luckmann, Marx and Engels, Kearney and Redfield. While descriptive and narrowly focused on their use of the “worldview” concept, Naugle’s summaries of each thinker’s thought generally provides a more accurate explanation of their insights and ideas than can be found in most works by evangelical Christian apologists.

Naugle’s own theological and philosophical reflections on “worldview” evidence a greater breadth of understanding and more humility than those of most evangelical Christian apologists. His enthusiasm for the spirituality of the “worldview” concept, however, clearly demonstrates one of the chief dangers of a rationalist apologetic method. By the time he concludes his book, he is talking about “encounters” with a Christian worldview in terms that have traditionally been reserved to describe a personal encounter with Christ:

“No wonder that many Christians, especially students that I have known, testify to the difference that an encounter with a biblical worldview has made in their lives. … In short, these individuals have undergone a significant, spiritual transformation through their encounter with a biblical worldview involving the revitalization of their hearts and the formation of a new kind of Christian mind.” (pp. 343-44)

Bruce Prescott is executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. This column appeared on his blog, Mainstream Baptist.

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