There are four major areas of philosophical inquiry that make up the basic components of worldview: epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and socio-political philosophy. Epistemology (the study of knowledge) addresses the question of how can know what is true and what is not. Metaphysics (the study of reality) addresses the question of what exists. Ethics (the study of what should be done) addresses the question of what we should do in light of what reality is. Socio-political philosophy (the study of ethics on a societal scale) addresses the question of how communities and society should behave.

Components of Worldview


The Components of Worldview Chart illustrates a logical ordering of these topics of inquiry. The arrow on the far right indicates that we begin at the bottom and move toward the top. We can’t address socio-political issues until we deal with ethics, we can’t handle ethics until we answer questions of metaphysics, and we can’t answer the metaphysics questions until we address the epistemological ones.


The arrow to the left indicates that, in a sense, the ordering of epistemology and metaphysics can be reversed, based on perspective. From the perspective of reality, the metaphysical answers are what they are, regardless of our understanding of them. Reality is what it is, regardless of what you and I think or believe about it. So from the perspective of reality, metaphysics is first. But from the perspective of the inquirer, they must first address the questions of how they can gain knowledge, truth, and certainty, in order to address the metaphysical questions. So, from the perspective of the inquirer, epistemology is the first necessary step in formulating a worldview.


Once we answer the epistemological questions, we can address the metaphysics questions. Once we answer those we can move on to the ethics questions, and then the socio-political ones.


At this point, take notice of the far left column, which distinguishes between the lower two categories as is, from the upper two categories as ought. The bottom two categories (epistemology and metaphysics) are descriptive – dealing with what is. The top two categories (ethics and socio-political) are considering the prescriptive – addressing what ought to be. The is/ought challenge is that in order to move from description (what is) to prescription (what ought to be), that maneuver should be justified within the worldview itself – the ought should necessarily follow from the is.


From a Biblical perspective, Paul illustrates the is/ought relationship in his letters to the Romans and to the Ephesians. In Romans, he addresses the epistemological and metaphysical questions in chapters 1-11, and in 12:1 he says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” He moves from the is of description (describing the mercies of God) to the ought of prescription (Therefore…present your bodies…). In Ephesians, he addresses the epistemological and metaphysical questions in the first three chapters, introducing that believers have every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies in Christ (1:3), and then in 4:1 he prescribes, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called…” In both of these examples, the position (the description of reality, the is) leads to the practice (the prescription, the ought). Once an accurate description is established, the prescription can be engaged.


Beginning, then, with epistemology, we have to address two issues. First, we have to identify the source of authority. Every worldview relies on an ultimate source of authority. Hume’s empiricism relies on experience, Descartes’ rationalism depends on reason, Nietzsche’s existentialism on the individual’s existence, and the Biblical model depends on God as revealed in the Bible.


Further, every worldview requires a first, self-authenticating step – a leap of faith, so to speak. Hume demonstrates faith in the human sensory apparatus. Descartes demonstrates faith in the human reasoning apparatus. But these first principles are assumed, rather than provable. To illustrate, consider the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan’s opening statement in his bestselling The Cosmos: “The Cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be.“[1] This is the faith statement, or first principle upon which he builds his worldview. It is circular reasoning, in the sense that it begs several questions, but as a first step, it is a necessary faith step. One common feature of all worldviews is that the first step is a step of faith. The question that ultimately determines the validity or invalidity of a worldview is whether or not that the object of that first step of faith is worthy of that faith.


In the Biblical model, the first step is faith that the Biblical God exists, and that He has revealed Himself (Prov 1:7, 2:6, 9:10). In the Biblical model, we discover that God revealed Himself in three ways: (1) general revelation – in creation (cf. Gen 1 and Rom 1), (2) personal revelation – Jesus Christ is God incarnate, revealed in the flesh (Jn 1, Col 1, Heb 1), and (3) special revelation – in the original autographs of the Biblical text (2 Tim 3:16-17, 1 Pet 1:20-21). God’s revelation in nature is sufficient for all to have the knowledge of His invisible attributes, eternal power, and divine nature (Rom 1:20). His revelation in Jesus Christ allows all to access the Father through the Person and work of the Son (Jn 14:6, 1 Tim 2:5). God’s special revelation – the Bible provides that which is necessary for the believer to be equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17). Notice the correlation, once again, between the descriptions of reality as found in Scripture, and their provision for equipping believers for practice. The epistemology and metaphysics of Scripture provide for ethics and socio-political practice.


Simply put, in the Biblical model, God is the source of authority, and our worldview inquiry seeks to understand Him through His revelation in Scripture.


The second key question addressed in epistemology is how to interpret that source of authority. In the case of Hume’s empiricism, for example, the hermeneutic (or method of interpretation) for experience is derived through the senses. How does Hume interpret experience? Through the senses. How does Descartes interpret knowledge? Through the guided use of reason. In a Biblical epistemology we need to find a hermeneutic in the Bible itself. If we have to go outside the Bible to answer this important question, then the resulting worldview is no longer a Biblical one.


The Bible does provide a hermeneutic model to follow. In the book of Genesis, for example, there are nearly one hundred references to God speaking, and in all the instances where the response is provided in the text, God either interprets Himself, or the other listeners interpret Him in a normative, literal grammatical-historical way. Because Genesis covers roughly the first two-thousand years of recorded history, the hermeneutic model provided in the book is indicative of how God expects to be understood. In short, the Bible provides its own hermeneutic model, and thus answers the question of how we are to interpret the source of authority.


Having identified within the Bible the answers to these two key epistemological questions, we can move up the chart to address the metaphysical questions.

[1] Carl Sagan, The Cosmos (NY: Ballantine, 1980), 1.