What’s your worldview? How do you understand the world and how it works?
In the 1960s and ’70s, theologian Francis Schaeffer taught evangelicals that everyone has a worldview, whether we know it or not. In his wake, dozens of ministries have sought to provide young people with training in foundations of a “biblical” worldview to guide their thoughts and behaviors.
Four of these — Summit Ministries, the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College, and Focus on the Family, publisher of The Truth Project video series — are based in the Colorado Springs, Colo., area. Although they differ in approaches, they share a passion for apologetics and conservative political activism and oppose transgender rights.
Young earth creationism required
“Worldview is what we believe,” said Alex McFarland, who directs the biblical worldview courses at Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College and previously worked with Focus. “Apologetics is why we believe, and how we present, explain and defend the faith.”
He claims young earth creationism — the view, based on a literal reading of Genesis, that the cosmos is less than 10,000 years old because God created everything in six 24-hour days — “is essential to a Christian worldview.”
McFarland started studying worldview as a new convert and college student who grew troubled when friends questioned his belief in Jesus, the existence of God and the seven-day creation account found in a literal reading of Genesis. He read 100 books over the next year and emerged as a youth pastor, popular speaker and author who once preached in 50 churches in 50 days.
He has organized “Truth for a New Generation” conferences across the U.S., his website says, with “well-known and respected speakers such as Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, Eric Metaxas, Todd Starnes, Joni Eareckson Tada, Will Graham and many others.”
Worldview education has its critics. The satirical Field Guide to Evangelicals and Their Habitat said the purpose of such training, “like the purpose of Fox News, is to dispense with contradictory ideas with as little thought as possible, resulting in 18-year-old biblically literate virgins who vote Republican.”
“A proper worldview doesn’t necessarily lead to proper behavior.”
And the dramatic moral failure of Ravi Zacharias, a bestselling author and speaker who kept secret his sexual abuse of many women around the world before his death in 2020, shows a proper worldview doesn’t necessarily lead to proper behavior.
McFarland says worldview teaching spreads through four C’s — conferences, camps, colleges and curricula.
Here’s a look at the four main ministries engaged in this work, followed by an exploration of their influence.
Summit, which calls itself “America’s leading organization equipping young adults,” emerged from the Red Scare of the 1950s and has hosted summer sessions for 45,000 teens since 1962. Founded by anti-Communist evangelist Billy James Hargis and David Noebel, who wrote books including Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles, Summit was designed to be an “anti-communist youth university” that opposed the “liberal establishment.” Past instructors include John Birch Society founder Robert Welch.
“It takes a few days to wash their brains out,” Noebel told James Dobson, a major Summit supporter, on the Focus on the Family radio program. “It’s amazing what we can put in there.”
Today, Summit is a $13.5 million ministry that expects 1,700 to 1,800 students in its summer 2023 sessions that contrast Christianity with five “counterfeit” worldviews: Islam, secularism, Marxism, new spirituality, and postmodernism. Its Bible curriculum is used by 600 Christian schools serving 60,000 students, as well as homeschoolers.
And “in response to ongoing cultural upheaval,” it partnered with the D.C.-based Family Research Council’s Center for Biblical Worldview to create a study series, “How We Live,” that explores reality, truth, identity and society. “Proper thought drives proper practice and belief,” said a Summit press release.
Jeff Myers, a Summit alumnus, is the ministry’s president. He says a “biblical” worldview starts with these foundational truths:
- God exists.
- Reality is real.
- Truth is knowable.
- Jesus is the truth.
“If someone is using the human faculty of reason in a coherent way with God’s revealed word, then they’re doing the work of biblical worldview thinking,” he said in an interview.
Other alumni include Michele Bachmann, the former congresswomen who attended an adult conference and now leads the law school at Pat Robertson’s Regent University, Michael Porter Jr. of the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, Blue Like Jazz author Donald Miller, anti-abortion activist Lila Rose, and Colson Center President John Stonestreet. Summit once claimed 95% of its alumni remain active in church into adulthood.
Alisa Harris attended Summit two decades ago when she was 15 and wrote about her experience in her 2011 book, Raised Right: How I Untangled My Faith from Politics, and in an essay for CNN.
“They gave us a handy worldview chart that had a vertical column for every area of life — economics, politics, psychology, law — and a horizontal column that showed how Muslims, humanists, Marxists and New-Agers were wrong on every count,” Harris wrote. “The program’s leaders said that the Bible calls for limited government and the free enterprise system.”
Harris took home one of Summit’s worldview books but found its “apocalyptic warnings” about how the NAACP, the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Council of Churches were “conspiring to build a one-world socialist order” “a little bit kooky.” Her homeschooling parents also purchased Summit curriculum. “I aced the quizzes,” she wrote. “I had memorized it all and could spit it back.”
Summit’s Jeff Myers says: “A worldview is a pattern of ideas. What you believe about God will determine what you believe about the nature of reality itself. What you believe about reality will have a strong impact on what you believe is right or wrong, which affects how you see everything, from the value of life, to how economic systems and political systems are formed, to how people become mentally healthy and form healthy societies.”
Summit views homosexuality and transgender identity as affronts to the divine design for families and the nation. Noebel advocated quarantining people with AIDS and wrote books like The Homosexual Revolution: End Time Abomination. Myers’ latest book is Exposing the Gender Lie: How to Protect Children and Teens from the Transgender Industry’s False Ideology. He promoted the book in a Fox News article that “dives into gender dysphoria and explains the huge profits to be made by those who push treatment.”
His previous book, Truth Changes Everything, dealt directly with worldview. “At a time when individual perspectives and social justice are emphasized in society, one faith leader is stressing the importance not of each person’s own truth — but of the truth,” Fox News reported.
The Colson Center for Christian Worldview
Charles Colson was Richard Nixon’s “hatchet man” and “evil genius” and the first aide imprisoned for Watergate-related crimes. He became an evangelical Christian after reading C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity and was released from prison in 1975. The next year, he founded Prison Fellowship, a $61 million international ministry.
Colson said while the Great Commission calls believers to evangelize, Christians also have a “cultural commission” to live out their faith in the world. But he warned that “Christians shouldn’t be part of any political party” and declared, “The greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology … a manmade formulation about the world and our work. We don’t believe in that.”
In 1991, Colson founded the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, a $7 million ministry that rents office space from Focus on the Family and works “to equip Christians with the clarity, confidence and courage they need to live like Christians in this cultural moment.”
The center declined to answer questions for this article.
Until his death in 2012, Colson mentored a group of Christian leaders and thinkers he called the Centurions, suggesting books and speakers they should study. Those 2,000 Centurions became Colson Fellows, some of whom gathered May 19-21 for the Colson Center’s annual gathering.
The conference featured Summit’s Jeff Myers, Colson’s daughter, Emily, and a representative of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Focus-aligned Christian legal group setting precedents through Supreme Court cases on Roe v. Wade, gay wedding cakes and legislation restricting transgender care. (ADF’s Alan Sears won the Colson Center’s 2017 Wilberforce Award.) Other sessions covered leadership, food, spirituality and health, God’s creation of the cosmos, abortion, work, family, fatherhood, and “How to implement a worldview discussion in the classroom.”
Summit alumni John Stonestreet joined the Colson Center staff in 2010 and was named president in 2015. Stonestreet graduated from Bryan College, which was founded in Dayton, Tenn., home of the 1925 Scopes trial, to carry on the battle against evolution. He later earned a master’s degree in Christian thought from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He has become a go-to expert and popular speaker on worldview issues and hosts the “Breakpoint” radio show, which Colson started.
The center questions the scientific consensus on human origins in articles such as “Which Theory of Evolution? Toppling the Idol of ‘Settled Science.’”
“An increasing number of scientists are asking whether evolution makes any sense.”
“An increasing number of scientists are asking whether evolution makes any sense,” Stonestreet wrote, condemning “a kind of idolatry that places ‘science’ in the seat of God, appoints certain scientists as priests.”
The center created a worldview program Christian school teachers can use for their professional development. Stonestreet said the program is designed so that “school leaders will be equipped to teach and disciple students to love God and their neighbors more.”
He explained elsewhere that love of neighbor means “Telling the truth about identity and gender” by confronting people about their flawed view of sexuality.
“To avoid the topic is to not help people at all, which is simply not an option for followers of Christ,” he said. The center also alerts its constituents to legislation on issues like abortion and transgender identity and occasionally asks them to call elected representatives.
Andrew Wommack’s Charis Bible College
Alex McFarland has been teaching worldview for three decades and currently serves as director of biblical worldview at the unaccredited school founded by health and wealth preacher Andrew Wommack, Charis Bible College, which requires students to take classes in worldview and apologetics.
McFarland also hosts the Tuesday night podcasts from the Truth and Liberty Coalition, Wommack’s conservative political group. One recent podcast was titled “Standing for Truth Against the Lies of the Left.”
Worldview groups offer no such critiques of lies of the right. McFarland also is a public speaker on topics such as “A Christian Response to the Woke Movement” and “It’s Not about Sex: The Spiritual Secret Driving the LGBTQ+ Movements.”
McFarland says the argument for worldview and apologetics is stated in two biblical passages:
- “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8)
- “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15).
Charis’ worldview offerings are based on Wommack’s belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and needs to reclaim that heritage through “the Seven Mountains of Influence” — a belief that Christians should rule over their sinful neighbors in all areas of life, including government, business and the arts.
“We’re in a battle of worldviews,” said McFarland, who calls “pious” pastors who don’t preach about politics as “Neville Chamberlains of the pulpit.”
“If this subject were talked about more, we could save America,” he said.
Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project
Focus on the Family’s primary worldview project for churches and schools looks at the world through the lens of a cosmic battle between two competing worldviews: Christianity and atheistic naturalism. This binary approach distorts issues and prevents students from developing skills of critical evaluation, said scholar Randal Rauser, who says the series provides indoctrination, not education.
The 14-hour video series says that “evolution effectively rules out the existence of God” and claims scientists know humans did not evolve from lower forms of life, but “fallen man ignores the plain evidence of objective scientific inquiry and promotes the atheistic philosophy of evolutionary theory primarily because he is determined to do as he pleases without answering to a higher authority.”
The Truth Project also promotes American exceptionalism as a biblical value. A session on “The American Experiment” explains: “Here on these shores, and here alone, people with a strong Christian worldview have been afforded an unparalleled opportunity to create from scratch what they considered an ideal system of government” that follows biblical principles.
But this experiment is endangered: “America has largely forgotten God and denied the validity of her biblically based Christian roots,” the video teaches. “The American Experiment is likely to fail altogether if we do not take intentional and deliberate steps to salvage it. This task falls primarily on the shoulders of Christian people.”
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