Skip to content

Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests

November 8, 2011

Preface to “Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests”:

This essay and its sequel were first written for and published in the now-defunct The New Pantagruel website in 2004. When this essay was published, I was humbled and gratified by its reception, and now seven years later both are being reposted. A reader will find that most of the links in this first essay are now dead, but the links’ titles show the politicized interests of their sponsoring organizations. As of November 7, 2011, both the Nehemiah Institute and Worldview Weekend are still in operation and online, but only Worldview Weekend still maintains an online worldview test. While neither organization has responded directly to these articles, I would suppose that some of the test errors have since been corrected and some of the questions used in 2004 have changed. Since 2004, I have continued to receive weekly emails from Worldview Weekend which have shown me that there have been no fundamental changes to the ways of thinking of that organization. Therefore, I believe my criticisms remain largely current and valid, and I do not feel obligated to take its test again. Questions and comments may still be sent to me at jheller@huntington.edu. Thank you for your interest in these articles.

Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests

I take online tests. If I were a Led Zeppelin song, which song would I be? (“Kashmir”) Which Simpsons character would I be? (Marge Simpson) Which character from Shakespeare’s tragedies do I most resemble? (Coriolanus, but that result may be skewed by the fact that I’ve studied him extensively.) What’s my IQ? (I’m not telling.)

I also do not have a Christian worldview. I have taken both of the free online Christian worldview tests, one from the Nehemiah Institute and one offered by Worldview Weekend.1 According to Worldview Weekend, there are five possible ratings: Strong Biblical Worldview, Moderate Biblical Worldview, Secular Humanist Worldview, Socialist Worldview, and Communist/Marxist/Socialist/Secular Humanist Worldview. (I kid you not.) From Worldview Weekend, my score was a 37 out of a possible 170 points, 21%, Socialist. As pitiful as that is, my score from the Nehemiah Institute was even worse, -43.  The Nehemiah Institute has only four worldview categories—Biblical Theism, Moderate Christian, Secular Humanism, and Socialism—so I am in its bottom group. The Nehemiah Institute concludes that “help is needed in developing a Biblical understanding,” and Worldview Weekend offers a seven-point plan of action “to improve [my] biblical worldview,” including reading a book with its title misspelled No Retreasts, No Reserves, No Regreats.

I am currently an assistant professor of English at a Midwestern Christian college, a member institution in the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). I do not dismiss my score on a Christian worldview test—as I would being identified with Marge rather than Maggie Simpson—because CCCU publications often identify the development of a Christian worldview as one of the missions of its member institutions. Furthermore, each of these tests is used by Christian high schools and homeschoolers as a bona fide assessment of the students’ faith understanding, so there is a strong likelihood that a number of incoming evangelical freshmen will have had their views influenced by those who have created these tests. And if these students evaluate their professors—even at Christian colleges—on the basis of the content of these tests, as they are encouraged to do by some apologetics ministries, then they begin college predisposed to reject rather than to think about ideas which other Christians may hold consistently with their faiths. On course evaluations, good professors have paid for their digressions from the students’ beliefs.2

These tests have gained in significance in the mainstream of the American evangelical subculture. The resolution presented to the Southern Baptist Convention this summer calling on its members to remove their children from “government schools” argued that “the Nehemiah Institute has discovered through its extensive surveys of student attitudes and beliefs that acceptance of a secular humanist worldview by Christian children attending government schools has increased dramatically over the last fifteen years.” (The resolution was defeated in committee before it reached a floor vote.) The Nehemiah Institute’s materials have received endorsements from Paige Patterson, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission. Worldview Weekend has done even better for itself in getting endorsements and co-workers from Josh and Sean McDowell, Norm Geisler, David Limbaugh, Erwin Lutzer, Kirk Cameron, Tim Wildmon, Probe Ministries, and Summit Ministries.3 The president of Worldview Weekend, Brannon Howse, is the “education reporter for the Michael Reagan Show”; as Reagan’s guest host during the week of his father’s funeral, Howse has interviewed Jerry Falwell and former attorney general Ed Meese. The Worldview Weekend conferences are held at Christian high schools and churches around the country.

It is not my intention to justify all of the answers I chose on both of these tests. Nor is it my intention to prove that I have a Christian worldview. The paradoxical premise of the Southern Baptist resolution suggests that it is possible to be both Christian and secular humanist, so, while I do not believe that I am a socialist, let others interpret my answers as they would like. What concerns me is my sneaking suspicion that these tests are becoming a measure for assessing whether individuals are indeed Christians who are growing in their understanding of the faith. I would suggest that neither test offers an accurate assessment of a person’s Christian worldview and that they may mislead a person as to what a Christian worldview is.

Both the Nehemiah Institute and Worldview Weekend categorize their questions into areas of thinking. The Nehemiah Institute’s categories are Politics, Economics, Education, Religion, and Social Issues. Worldview Weekend has more categories—Civil Government, Economics, Education, Family, Law, Religion, Science, and Social Issues. But while Worldview Weekend has more categories than the Nehemiah Institute, neither test is comprehensive enough to cover all the important areas of one’s thinking. Neither test, for example, considers what a person might think about ecology. Neither test broaches the subject of aesthetics. Neither test asks anything about how a person chooses entertainment. Neither has anything about labor, leisure, sexuality (other than the sinfulness of homosexuality), health, poverty, race and ethnicity, natural resources, urban life, rural life, and the human body. Yet these subjects have significant influences on people’s lives, perhaps for many people even more influence than the subjects included in the tests. Furthermore, Christian thinking about these subjects often contrasts with the thinking of those from Buddhist, Hindu, and Islamic faiths. What is especially curious about the narrow categories of these tests is that the writers who most popularized worldview thinking within modern evangelicalism—such as Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, and Arthur Holmes—did write about ecology (Pollution and the Death of Man), aesthetics (Art and the Bible, How to Read Slowly), poverty, and race.

My contrast of the Christian faith to some of the world’s other major faiths reveals another shortcoming of these tests: They represent all worldviews as a contrast between theism and secularism. For the authors of the Worldview Weekend test, what is a Communist/Marxist/Socialist/Secular Humanist Worldview if not simply an exponential intensification of the test’s Secular Humanist Worldview? Where would there be an accurate assessment of the worldview of a Hindu, an Orthodox Jew, a Sikh, a Buddhist, a Muslim, an animist? Nor do these tests distinguish between Christian faiths (Catholic, Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) and between those faiths commonly regarded as Christian sects (Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example).

Consider the following four statements from the Nehemiah Institute’s online version of its worldview test. Each statement is to be responded to with Strongly Agree, Tend to Agree, No Opinion, Tend to Disagree, and Strongly Disagree. In parentheses, I add the answers the test makers regard as correct for a Christian worldview:

  •  Individuals should be allowed to conduct life as they choose as long as it does not interfere with the lives of others. (Strongly Disagree) 
  • All people are conceived with a sinful nature which, from birth on, creates desires in them to commit evil deeds. (Strongly Agree) 
  • Because human nature is constantly changing, values and ethics will also change. Therefore, each generation should be free to adopt moral standards appropriate to their preferences. (Strongly Disagree)
  •  Each person has an eternal spirit which will live forever after the body dies. This spirit will either live in happiness with God in heaven or in torment with the devil in hell. (Strongly Agree)

These statements are classified as the Religion section of the test. In relation to the second statement, I do not know all the nuances on the origins of human sinfulness from the Mormon, the Jewish, and the Muslim faiths; however, it may be possible for the most conservative persons from those faiths to appear from their responses to these statements as having a Biblical Theism worldview. Yet I cannot strongly agree with the fourth statement because it misses one of the truly distinctive Christian beliefs, the resurrection of the body. Some may argue whether belief in the resurrection of the body is essential for a person’s salvation, but in the Christian tradition it is significant enough to be in the Apostle’s Creed. I can either wholeheartedly agree to have the Nehemiah Institute’s version of a Christian worldview, or I can remain true to what I understand of the Christian faith on the resurrection. I hedged on the fourth statement, answering “Tend to Agree,” but I find it theologically inaccurate by its incompleteness. Isn’t there a problem with a Christian worldview test when it can show a non-Christian to be more Christian than an actual Christian?4

The statements on the Worldview Weekend test more frequently refer to the Bible. However, they still fail to reflect the ways in which Christian thinking can lead to conclusions other than those held by the test makers. Both tests have statements on capital punishment for which the “Christian” response is supposed to be Strongly Agree:

  • Worldview Weekend: The Bible states that the government does not bear the sword in vain. Numerous verses throughout the Bible make it clear that capital punishment administered by the government, for those that have committed capital crimes, is biblically acceptable.
  •  Nehemiah Institute: Capital punishment for certain crimes is a Biblical mandate and should be enforced in our society.

There are problems of Biblical interpretation here. The Worldview Weekend statement alludes to Romans 13:4, but without considering that in the Roman Empire, the sword was a military and law enforcement weapon rather than the weapon of choice for executions. The Nehemiah Institute identifies a Biblical mandate for capital punishment, but without pointing out that all such mandates are presented in the Old Testament. The New Testament assumes the continuing practice of capital punishment, but it is not necessarily mandated beyond the existence of the Hebrew theocracy. Furthermore, every person executed in the New Testament is either a martyr or a thief. I cannot argue that capital punishment is contrary to the Bible, but given the recent and numerous reports of death penalties being overturned because of the mistakes or malfeasance of over-zealous prosecutors and because it has long been applied inconsistently on the basis of race and class, I can no longer support capital punishment. I used to be in favor of the death penalty. Now, I am against it. I have been a Christian while holding both viewpoints. At what point have I not had a Christian worldview?5

Another problem with both worldview tests is that their makers confuse having a Christian worldview with their own ideologically biased interpretations of American history or political science. Worldview Weekend presents this statement: “The founding fathers had no biblical reason in mind when they made America a Constitutional Republic instead of a pure democracy.” One may fairly ask what any response could have to do with whether or not a person has a Christian worldview. The “Correct answer” is to “Strongly Disagree,” but a good historian would have to ask which founding fathers are being considered here. Would Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, John Adams have considered Biblical reasons for anything they did?6 None of them were Christians, and indeed, all of them opposed Christian belief in their writings. If one considers these men as founding fathers, then the “Correct answer” is factually wrong.     

The Nehemiah Institute runs into historical and hermeneutical problems as well. While I “tend to disagree” with the statement “The Bible provides the foundation of civil law and should be the primary source of instruction for establishing civil government in all nations,” for a Christian worldview, one is supposed to “Strongly  Agree.” But for what countries’ civil laws does the Bible provide the foundation? Brazil’s? China’s? And where does the Bible claim for itself the authority to be the source for civil government in all nations? To the extent that one may submit without a direct violation of divine command, Christ in the gospels and the epistle writers argue for submission to civil authorities regardless of the philosophical assumptions of their laws. And if a person must act in conflict with the civil authority, she must expect the penalty meted by that authority regardless of the rightness of her cause. The Roman government preceded the appearance of Christ and the writing of the epistles, and nothing in the New Testament suggests that its writers expected the gospels and epistles to serve as a new foundation for Roman law.

It should be obvious by now that both tests reflect their makers’ conservative politics. The Nehemiah Institute abstracts these ideas to make them appear more objective. Thus it offers statements such as “The accumulation of wealth by individuals is necessary for a nation to be financially strong” and “Nationalism (the sovereignty of nation’s [sic]) is a hindrance to nations working for peace.”7 (For a Christian worldview, one is supposed to Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree respectively. I failed on both statements.) Worldview Weekend is more straightforward about baptizing its conservative American patriotism:

  •  American founding fathers violated New Testament principles when they founded America. (Strongly Disagree)
  • The Ten Commandments originally provided a basis for our legal and political system creating justice and peace. (Strongly Agree)
  • George W. Bush is the President of the United States of America. (Strongly Agree)

Let’s contrast these statements to what earlier, but recent, evangelical theorists of worldview would say. Arthur F. Holmes, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Wheaton College and author of Contours of a World View and All Truth Is God’s Truth, described in the late 1980s what he hoped a student well-educated in a Christian worldview would be:

Pat is alert to the issues of the day: she feels the injustices of apartheid and admits there are ambiguities in Nicaragua. She listens to the other side, rather than reacting with an outburst of ridicule or anger. She measures her judgments before she acts, and before she votes. Her vote, in the end, is the kind of vote a democracy needs—informed, principled, and caring—not just blindly partisan.8

Anyone who remembers the politics of American foreign policy in Central America in the 1980s knows that Holmes is not describing a member of the religious right of that time. Yet, while Holmes never had the popularity of Francis Schaeffer in evangelical culture, he still has influence in Christian higher education.

If despite his significance to Christian worldview theory, Arthur Holmes seems too far to the left politically, then how about these comments from Francis Schaeffer, generally regarded as the most influential evangelical writer on worldview?

In the United States many churches display the American flag. The Christian flag is usually put on one side and the American flag on the other. Does having the two flags in your church mean that Christianity and the American establishment are equal? If it does, you are really in trouble. These are not two equal loyalties. … It must be taught that patriotic loyalty must not be identified with Christianity. … Equating any other loyalty with our loyalty to God is sin.9

Francis Schaeffer would have never considered “George W. Bush is the President of the United States of America” to be pertinent to whether or not a person has a Christian worldview. 

So far, I have critiqued these worldview tests based on the myopia of their contents—limited subject matter, limited test result possibilities, problematic historical statements, and questionable theology and Biblical interpretation. Since these tests are on the world-wide web, consider the possibility of a Christian in India finding and taking one of them online. Given the regional conflicts in South Central Asia, is an Indian Christian truly expected to agree that nationalism is not an impediment to peace? Must an Indian Christian know anything about the American founding fathers to have a Christian worldview? Given the horrific treatment of widows in parts of Indian society, must an Indian Christian agree that traditional gender roles are innate from birth? In an area of the world in which religious education may focus more on terrorism training than on literacy, must a more secular public education be opposed?   

If the Nehemiah Institute’s and Worldview Weekend’s tests are specifically intended for American audiences, then what we have are not tests of the Christian worldview, but tests of a Christian worldview as determined by the specifically conservative American politics of their creators. This is affirmed by the follow-up emails I have had from both organizations, recommending the removal of children from public education, offering opposition to hate crime legislation which—some fear—would criminalize speaking against homosexuality, and promoting the website www.votechristianworldview.org. To improve my worldview, Worldview Weekend recommends that I read books with such titles as Mind Seige (sic), God and Government I, II, and III, Original Intent, and The Battle for Truth. None of these titles suggest to me a desire that I actually become a Christian; they want to convert my politics rather than my faith. So, what does Worldview Weekend recommend to the 22% of the non-Christians who test as having a Biblical worldview? Do they get a “Get out of Hell free” card for having agreeable political viewpoints?   

I decided to find out the answer: I registered with a different email address and took the Worldview Weekend test again, this time considering how I would answer as if my politics were completely conservative but as a non-Christian who views the Bible as a good book of moral instruction and Christ as a good man. (My mental model was to think about how Ben Franklin would have answered the questions.) With that persona, I tested as being a moderate Biblical worldview thinker, even though I claimed that I never attend church, that I am not a born again Christian, that I deny the resurrection of Christ, that I have no opinion on the existence of the Holy Spirit, that I “tend to agree” that all religions are equally true, that there is more than one way to God, and that a person can get to heaven if his good deeds outweigh his bad deeds. So far, despite these answers, there has been no effort to evangelize me, though I anticipate continuing to receive emails recruiting my opposition to hate crime legislation and announcing Brannon Howse’s guest host appearances on the Michael Reagan Show.  

If a person can deny the resurrection of Christ and still appear to have a Christian worldview, if a Christian in Asia could not take a Christian worldview test and pass it, then these tests are not a valid assessment of whether a person has a Christian worldview. The tests may assess how well an American agrees with the religious right, but if that is their purpose, then it is deceptive to call them Christian worldview tests. I cannot imagine the previous generation of thinkers about worldview—people such as Carl Henry, James Sire, Arthur Holmes, Francis Schaeffer—approving of these tests. As the tests idolize politics, what is cause for concern is how many significant evangelical leaders, people who really should know better, are associated with them. The point of my criticisms is not to help refine the tests. I am not offering constructive criticism; I want these tests given no more regard than a test showing whether one is “Kashmir” or “Misty Mountain Hop.” To suggest that all that would be needed is a statement rewritten to include the resurrection of the body would not address the assumptions underlying the structural flaw of these tests. It is quite impossible to create a test for the Christian worldview.  

Notes:

1The Nehemiah Institute test may be accessed at http://www.christian-internet.com/creation/peers_test.htm. The Worldview Weekend test is at http://www.worldviewweekend.com/test/register.php. While free, both of these tests require an online registration which will give the sites one’s email address. One may request not to receive their emails. The results for the Worldview Weekend test are calculated immediately; the results of the Nehemiah Institute are sent by postal mail.My comments on the Nehemiah Institute test refer only to its online version, which has only twenty questions. The institute sells a longer version which I am unwilling to pay for. However, because the Nehemiah Institute purports to rate one’s worldview from those twenty questions, I conclude that the test is open to criticism.

2How strong is the influence of these tests? It is hard to tell. The Nehemiah Institute has expressed alarm that graduates of Christian high schools increasingly do not have a Christian worldview. On the other hand, at Louisiana College (the state’s Southern Baptist institution), one student’s complaint to the college’s trustees about the content of Ernest Gaines’s novel A Lesson before Dying led to new rules restricting course materials and to the resignation of top administrators. I have taught A Lesson before Dying; while the narrator is not a Christian, he sees his lack of faith as making him less heroic than the preacher. This is not an anti-Christian novel.

3Josh McDowell, author of Evidence that Demands a Verdict and other apologetics books, has spoken at Worldview Weekend events in Branson, Missouri. His son Sean is a regular speaker at these events, scheduled to appear in Fort Wayne, IN, Sioux City, IA, Lincoln, NE, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, and Dallas, TX. Norm Geisler is the author of over thirty books and the president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, NC; he will be speaking at the Worldview Weekend in Springfield, VA. David Limbaugh is the brother of Rush Limbaugh, a newspaper columnist, and the author of Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War against Christianity; he is scheduled to speak at the Worldview Weekend in Sioux City, IA. Erwin Lutzer is the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago and the author of a number of books; he is scheduled for Spring Hill, FL and Memphis, TN. The actor Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains, Left Behind) will appear in Springfield, VA and Branson, MO. Tim Wildmon is the vice president of the American Family Association and the host of upcoming Worldview Weekend in Hattiesburg, MS. Probe Ministries in the Dallas area has been an apologetics ministry for over twenty years; its president, Kerby Anderson, is scheduled for Worldview Weekends in Sioux City, Lincoln, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, and Rockford, IL. Summit Ministries is another worldview-oriented apologetics ministry based in Colorado; its president, David Noebel, is the author of a number of books and is scheduled for Worldview Weekends in Spring Hill, FL, Lincoln, and Hattiesburg, MS. This list is not exhaustive of either speakers or events; Worldview Weekend claims an annual attendance rate of over 30,000.

4When registering for the Worldview Weekend test, a person is supposed to respond to whether or not he is a self professing born again Christian. On the survey breakdown, of those who claimed not to be born again Christians, 22% still test as having a strong or moderate Biblical worldview. 44% of those claiming not to attend church also test as having strong or moderate Biblical worldviews.

5The Supreme Court’s 1993 decision in Herrera v. Collins permits the possibility of an execution of a defendant who can offer an affirmative argument for innocence as long as proper procedure was followed in the trial. Why this case does not raise more opposition among pro-life evangelicals is a puzzle to me.

6While I have assessed a number of these men’s writings from my own reading, I am indebted to Michael S. Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars (Moody, 1994, pages 46-49) for alerting me to the statements of John Adams and Ethan Allen in opposition to the Christian faith. 

7A reader may note various mistakes in spelling and grammar in the quotations from these worldview tests. Both tests purport to examine a person’s worldview as it pertains to education, and yet their sloppy writing suggests that their creators have little regard for meeting the minimum standards for public, written communication between educated people.

8The Idea of a Christian College, 2nd edition; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987, page 104.

9The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century, in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: A Christian Worldview. Volume 4. Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1982, pages 71-72. I was again alerted to this passage from a citation in Michael Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars, pages 34 and 40.

Advertisements

From → Uncategorized

2 Comments
  1. 0osoulsocietyo0 permalink

    Hi, I recently discovered this article and would just like to say, thank you. My boyfriend is currently in a discipleship training program at Kona, and they gave him this test. He sent me the link and I took it too. However, as I read the questions and the questionable answer choices, I was very surprised. Even though I consider myself a Christian, I considered some of the questions to be faulty and unclear. I could probably write an essay on every single question, but I wouldn’t want to bore anyone. I also found it hard to believe that it is, in fact the Biblical “worldview” when people all around the world are Christians, not just in America. How would this test apply to other countries such as China, or Japan? Many of the questions are based on the American government, not so much on just Christianity, so to me this test really left me with more questions than answers. I’m just worried that my boyfriend is being fed the wrong information and scared that when he comes back he will be worse than before he went there.

  2. Louise permalink

    Thank your for a very thoughtful post on a very disturbing trend. I first encountered this program a year ago and was not impressed. Too many Christians seem to forget that Jesus wasn’t a conservative who drove a big SUV, had a McMansion, and a massive bank account.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: