The Emperor’s New Clothes?

I have a confession to make. It’s a fairly awkward one so I apologise in advance for displaying my shortcomings in public.

Some years ago, when I was helping to organise a writers’ conference, I received a phone call from an author who was interested in attending the event. ‘My work isn’t so much Christian,’ she mentioned, ‘as Christian worldview.’

Not wishing to appear totally rude or absolutely ignorant, I remained silent but I was perplexed. What on earth constituted ‘Christian worldview’? And what distinguished it from ‘Christian’?

Although this was the first time I heard the phrase, it’s something I’ve heard many times since. In fact, since that time, I’ve tried hard to educate myself about ‘Christian worldview’, particularly when it comes to writing. Without any success, I have to say. It’s a concept I’ve always found so subtle that I was never sure what it really meant. And it always seemed to me everyone else could detect it with ease while I blundered along in a fog. I’d try to work out some sort of definition for the idea but the more I thought about it, the more nebulous it got.

Numerous books were recommended to me for their marvellous ‘Christian worldview’ but I couldn’t see it at all in what I read. I found the notion increasingly difficult to comprehend; sometimes there was a rave review in front of me and all I could think was: ‘If I didn’t already know the author was a Christian, there’s absolutely nothing here to tell me differently.’

I kept fairly quiet about this thought because, until very recently, I was ashamed to say that it was something that had crossed my mind about some very notable Aussie and Kiwi Christian authors.  When aspiring writers mentioned they wrote from a ‘Christian worldview’, I’d get frustrated. To me, it was invisible, untouchable, undetectable.

I’ve even had my own fiction described as ‘Christian worldview’ and wondered which aspects of it qualified for that title and why. Sure, there are some specifically Christian concepts and embedded Scripture references in my fiction, but I was (and am) fairly sure most of them go over people’s heads unless I tell them what they are.

And those aspects aside, all that was left was a good, moral story. But good, moral stories don’t make a ‘Christian worldview’.  At least I don’t think they do. Good, moral stories make the work good and moral.  Stories of hope and light don’t make a ‘Christian worldview’. At least I don’t think they do. Bright hopeful stories make a work bright and hopeful. Epic battles between good and evil don’t make a ‘Christian worldview’. At least I don’t think they do. Epic battles between and good and evil define what’s good or evil.

It requires something far more to qualify as worldview.

I expressed this thought recently to another writer who recommended a wonderful novel she’d just read. We happened to be debating this question of ‘Christian worldview’ and she raised a valid point: it wasn’t necessary to a good book. She cited the novel she’d just read as an exemplar and mentioned the name of the author. ‘But she’s a Christian,’ I said.

‘I’d never have guessed that,’ was the reply.

There are complex issues arising from this. One of them is: if it’s impossible to tell the author is a Christian from their work, even if the work is very good, then does the work really have a ‘Christian worldview’?

With a huge sigh of relief, I have to say that I’ve realised at last that this is the wrong question. 

I was at a luncheon recently, listening to Vishal Mangalwadi, a speaker from India who is one of the world’s foremost evangelical thinkers. He made a number of points that finally laid all my queries, doubts and confusion to rest.

There is, he said, no such thing as Christian worldview in the twenty-first century.

There should be, he went on, but there isn’t. To illustrate his point, he narrated his visit to a university where he met a professor of applied physics. ‘How is it,’ he inquired of this expert, ‘that the energy dispersed by the Big Bang turned into clumps of matter? What sort of process was involved?’  After several minutes of discussion amongst his colleagues, the professor answered, ‘That’s not a question for applied physics. That’s not our field. You should ask a theoretical physicist that.’

Vishal later spoke to a professor of economics about the current crisis on Wall Street, suggesting that the corruption which has led to almost-global economic collapse might have been averted if students in economics and business courses had been given some moral framework in which to operate. The professor agreed entirely but said, ‘That’s not a question for economics. That’s not our field. It’s not my job to teach ethics; I’m an economist.’

The point, Vishal went on, is that modern academia puts subjects into silos. A reign of darkness dominates the intellectual life of the West. And in such a culture, there is no such thing as a worldview, just a view inside a silo.

The Bible too is inside a silo. It is meant to be the sun, lighting up every subject, every book, every endeavour, every discipline, every part of the world.  By its light, we are meant to see every aspect of creation and every activity of mankind: applied physics should not be separate from theoretical physics nor ethics from economics nor mathematics from poetry nor music from biology—nor any of them from the Bible.

Until all these aspects of knowledge are out of their silos, there can be no such thing as worldview.

I now understand why I couldn’t see ‘Christian worldview’ in modern novels. To distinguish between Christian and Christian worldview automatically negates any aspect of worldview.

Vishal’s idea is frankly medieval. It hasn’t been current since the Middle Ages. Still, if he’s right, then we’ve been duped. As in Hans Christian Anderson’s fairytale The Emperor’s New Clothes, we’ve not only been deceived but we’ve paid an exorbitant price for the privilege of getting nothing for something.

Perhaps you disagree with me and have an insight I’ve missed. If so, please take the opportunity to comment.

But if you do agree with me, I challenge you, as Vishal Mangalwadi challenged me, not to be, first and foremost, an apostle or prophet, teacher or miracle-worker or to look to any of the offices we’re encouraged to seek today. Rather, simply be a witness.

To create in your writing a truly Christian worldview by taking Christianity out of its silo and making it into your sun.


  1. Anne,
    Thank you for words that allow no one to hide. Be Christian openly, it’s simple. That is the only way to witness to the truth.

    I’ve tried to do this in my book, but know that my task was simpler because I wrote a SOMEWHAT historical fantasy. Because the novel’s set in a 17th century ‘European’ realm, it was so much simpler to be obviously Christian, because that culture (in the real world) was.

    Some novels I’ve read that claim to be Christian never even mention Jesus’ Name. Now, I suppose it’s possible to write such a book, but however well written, it feels vacant. It’s like reading a novel about the five people you meet in Heaven, but Jesus Christ isn’t among them, let alone God.

    Thank you for a commonsense, well-written post. I hope that though I haven’t written (or perhaps thought) as clearly as you, you can see that I agree.

    Lord bless you!


  2. Thank you, Maria.

    I perhaps should add to the post that I have nothing against bright, hopeful stories or good moral ones. Some of my favourite books fall into this category. I simply don’t think that they should be labelled ‘Christian worldview’.

    I think the problem is so pervasive that it’s not just books which fail the test – I have been to church services in which, through half a dozen songs, the name of Jesus is never heard. Maybe (here speaking tongue in cheek) that, following a similar pattern for the literature of today, that when we take name of Jesus out of hymns, we wind up with a ‘Christian worldview of worship’.

    • Yes, Annie!

      I guess a ‘Christian worldview’ style of worship would be: Dismiss the Lord Jesus for a while, gather a crowd that wants to feel good about life, themselves, others, and some nebulous future life; and then when the crowd is warmed up, invite Jesus back in. But, you can’t manipulate The Lord. He won’t permit it. And Paul said he didn’t seek to please men but the Lord. The Lord has commanded His children to flee Babylon. We must pray for others to have eyes to see!

      I, too, like good moral fiction and films. Recently, we watched An Avonlea Christmas and were happy to be in that imaginary innocent realm for a time!


      • I had an interesting conversation at work this week on just this topic. We had a guest speaker who just happened to touch on the subject of worldview. One of my colleagues asked just the question that has been bugging me: ‘How do we incorporate a Christian worldview into what we do on a practical level?’ It was virtually the same question that I had asked Vishal Mangalwadi at the luncheon.

        He directed me to CS Lewis and Francis Schaeffer – both of whom I’ve read – and both of whom I admire. But I also think they address mainly theory, rather than practice. How does a Christian worldview impact mathematics or accounting or a shift at a checkout?

        I begin to detect, I think, an even more subtle form of Vishal’s silos: the theory of Christian worldview vs the practice. Unless those two come together, there’s not much point, is there?

        • Anne, forgive me for being so late to respond. I signed up for the feed without understanding how feeds work. (This may be relevant to the discussion.)

          All responsible behavior is based on worldview. Anyway, it seems perfectly natural to want to be and try to be consistent with our worldview in what we do each day, even something as complicated as mathematics (though I’m not a mathematician, I assume it’s like other disciplines and what we think about the world results in certain behaviors as we engage with math and other workers in this intellectual discipline/science).

          The Christian worldview involves doctrine, the truth of how things are, revealed to us by the Almighty as true and real. Practice is how we behave in accord with what has been most certainly revealed.

          Because, for example, we know that God is good, loving, faithful, and that this by nature calls for thankfulness in us, we don’t complain when stumped by failure or disappointment in our work. We thank the Lord, for His will will not only be accomplished but will always be good.

          It sounds so simple: we know God, Who has revealed Himself; we told us about His world and how it works; we respond with thankfulness in the path He has laid out for us, in whatever field we work. As a Christian writer, because of what He has revealed about Himself and about what He expects me to do, I don’t complain when, for example, my royalties check is less than I want. Or, I pray not to indulge in professional jealousy, etc.



  3. Alison Collins

    I wonder how empty a world can get before it starts looking back to the source.


    • Allison, some will look back to the source in this empty world. Some don’t care. Some will start to care when they’re in a very rough place. So sad!


  4. I recently came across what must be the source of Vishal Mangalwadi’s thought about Christianity as the sun. I’ve linked it above. It comes quite obviously from a quote by CS Lewis which can be found in this thought-provoking blog:

  5. Zillah Williams

    I’ve just read your article “Christian Worldview in Writing: the emperor’s new clothes?” in the “Christian Publisher Industry” e-newsletter for December.

    Thenk you for the opportunity to comment.

    It seems to me that Vishal was speaking about worldview as a view held by the world. And, of course, there are many different worldviews, in that case. Some of which might well be Christian. A nation might espouse a Christian worldview which would then be reflected in the laws it passed and the values its citizens were expected to live by.

    But, a Christian worldview in writing is what drives a Christian author. I think that a writer will reflect his/her worldview, Christian or otherwise, in what he writes. His values can’t help but be embedded into his writing.

    The universe is silent but reflects the glory of God. It can’t help it. We can learn about God without a word being spoken.

    You don’t think that a Christian will have to use Scripture or have his characters pray or go to a church service in order for the work to be classed as being written from a Christian worldview, do you? Surely, the material written about and the way the characters handle situations can’t help but let the reader know what the author’s outlook on life is (his worldview)?

    In “Walking On Water” Madeleine L’Engle tells how her actor-husband, being out of work, and needing money, read a script he had been sent and showed it to her to read. She handed it back to him without a word and he simply nodded. “I wouldn’t want the kids to see me in this [role]. I’m not going to take it.”(p.74). That’s another way of expressing a Christian worldview, in my opinion – it is shown in what we do and how we do it.

    I think that “good, moral stories” do indeed express a Christian worldview, because God and Christ are good and moral. If ‘good’ ‘moral’ ‘bright’ ‘hopeful’ and the victory of good over evil are things of which God approves, then yes, they express a Christian worldview.

    Of course, C.S. Lewis speak of the ‘Tao’ in his book “The Abolition of Man”. In it he shows how certain values which we treat as Christian are universally held. That must mean that anyone, Christian or not, whose work expresses those values is expressing a Christian worldview, because they are values built into us by God.

    I don’t think any amount of Scripture quotations in a book necessarily relate to a Christian worldview. Even the devil can quote Scripture. And a Christian could, but certainly shouldn’t, write a book which did not express a Christian worldview. Good must be seen to be good and bad must clearly be bad.

    Oh dear. I must stop rabbiting on!!! 🙂

    • Hi Zillah,

      You’ve raised some excellent and thought-provoking points. A book which quotes Scripture doesn’t necessarily have to have a Christian worldview. In fact any perversion of the meaning of Scripture surely negates the possibility of a Christian worldview.

      Likewise, a work which is immoral – as in the instance you cite of Madeleine L’Engle’s husband, Hugh – clearly again negates the possibility that it belongs to the arena of a Christian worldview.

      However, in the grey area – the good, moral stories – I’m still not so sure. A good moral story may have a Buddhist worldview which is not the same as a Christian one. I’m sure a Buddhist would be nonplussed to hear that some of their Scriptures would be classed as Christian worldview simply because they hold to a moral base that is common to much of humanity.

      And to a degree I do think that a Christian character in a story should be praying as part of handling a situation. It’s not true to life, otherwise. Even those who are not Christians resort to prayer at times. As I write, people are asking for prayer for Molly Meldrum – and a quite unexpected variety of people are publicly saying, ‘My prayers are with him.’ People I never thought would have a prayerful bone in their bodies.

      But Christians shy away from prayer in novels directed at the trade market, when it’s a normal part of the Christian life. They shy away from referring to God, because they know that it may mean the difference between publication and not. Indeed, I’ve met someone recently who pulled her book from a publisher because the editor wanted to take out the last few references to God. The price was too high for her – she’d rather not be published than take her minimal direction to God out.

      I agree with her – I think that a good moral story without reference to God does not necessarily provide a Christian worldview. It can – but in many cases, it would reinforce the message of the new militant atheism: that you can live a good moral life without God. Which is, of course, true. They are entirely correct.

      A good moral life doesn’t make you a Christian and a good moral story doesn’t make it Christian worldview.

  6. Anne, I just read your article on a Christian World View. It seems to be the popular “IN-Word”, so thanks for tackling that intriguing subject. I also agree that write what you write, be it a good moral story in any genre, but if faith is lacking then pidgeon-holing it in that particular framework seems too forced.

    In my own limited experience, I feel my writing needs to show my characters genuinely struggling to live out their faith. I regularly use issues I’ve battled with in my own life because these I know deeply. Either my failures, or strengthened through these very experiences with the Lord’s help. I’d like to think readers will identify with my main characters and that it will give them hope in the Lord’s gracious way of dealing with us. This has been especially true of Signed Sealed Delivered – my latest historical.

    I don’t like reading about “goody-goodies” because none of us, even as upright people, are really be like that if we’re honest with ourselves. And revealing to the reader what only the Lord can see somehow makes the story ring true.

    I was glad to hear of your work with UCB as my husband and I have a 15 min radio program, COMMUNICATION, which they have taken up. They are a great team. I have only met Ian Worby and his wife and now you, (via the net.)


  7. Hi,

    I just came across this thought provoking article, and enjoyed reading it along with the accompanying comments.

    We have had numerous discussions along these lines in our family recently, particularly in relation to musical choices for our teenagers (and pre-teenagers). Personally, I feel the ideal standard is “God honouring”, in that the lyrics bring glory to God. However we have also used the term “Biblical worldview” (which I guess is consistent with “Christian worldview”) in that the lyrics (or novel/movie) are consistent with Biblical teaching.

    My wife and I recently watched the DVD “Red Dog”, which in many ways made us laugh, but simply because of how it depicted the romantic relationship between the lead characters, it could not be categorised either God honouring nor coming from a Biblical worldview.

    There are also many times where songs/novels/movies may be consistent with a Biblical worldview, but that was not the conscious intention of the authors. It would be extremely unlikely that these examples would meet the higher standard of being God honouring though.

    So I guess my practical interpretation of “Christian worldview” or “Biblical worldview” is that the authors wrote the novel on the understanding that the Bible is truth and the ideal guide to live. Hopefully “God honouring” is self explanatory!

    Anyway, I thought I would add my two cents worth.


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