“By beholding we become changed.”
Joseph Kidder & Katelyn Campbell Weakley
“And He said to them: ‘Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe—all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, and by this word you shall prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to possess’” (Deut. 32:46, 47, NKJV).2
Have you ever heard the phrase, “you are what you eat” or “garbage in, garbage out”? Both of these sayings have to do with exposure. The first means that the food you expose your body to will directly affect you, perhaps making you more overweight or more fit. The second phrase, taken from the computer world, means that whatever you put into your mind will produce similar outputs. Thus, if you are watching nothing but depressing news stories, you will be more likely to engage with other people in a depressing way as well. Both of these common phrases help to illustrate a very important truth about worldview: It is formed based on exposure.
Worldview resides in the subconscious. It forms quietly without our knowing, and it influences everything about us subtly without our awareness. But an astonishing number of factors play a role in crafting a person’s worldview from a young age. For better or for worse, our worldview is born out of exposure.
Parents and Caregivers
As newborns, our lives begin dependent upon our caregivers. We learn about the world through our engagement with our parents. If we are blessed with a safe and stable home, when we cry in hunger, we learn that our needs can be and will be met by a caring mother or father. When we are frightened and voice our concern, we are lovingly comforted. In a loving home, we learn to trust in others and believe the world to be a safe place. As we grow into toddlers and young children, our parents continue to be our primary way of learning about what the world is like. Through their instruction and modeling, we learn how to behave, react, and interact with the world around us. Researchers have noted that “the quality of family life affects children’s social, emotional, and cognitive functioning. These different aspects of familial functioning should shape children’s perceptions about how the world in general functions.”3 Our parents and caregivers pave the way for our worldview development.
The stimulating toys and games we play with our parents help grow our cognitive abilities. The time we spend watching and learning from our parents contributes to our long-term emotional health. Children who grow up reading book after book with their mom and dad often grow up with a glowing opinion of reading, and families who spend weekends hiking and camping frequently produce children with a love of the outdoors. Our families are the first factor to shape our worldview.
Parents and families that are not as attentive to the needs of the child, or do not offer much love and warmth to them, tend to rear children who have more personal struggles. These dysfunctional families end up shaping children who in turn are more likely to struggle with poor self-esteem and pessimistic outlooks on the world. Because parents hold such a powerful influence, God gives them specific instruction on child-rearing:
“And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).
“‘All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children’” (Isa. 54:13).
“My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother; For they will be a graceful ornament on your head, And chains about your neck” (Prov. 1:8, 9).
The instruction of a parent should be just that: a thing of grace and peace. Lovingly raising children according to the Word of the Lord—this is God’s plan for parents.
In order to do this, there are several primary elements to keep in mind. First, the caregiver must pay attention to the instruction and information being directly and intentionally given to the child. What are you trying to teach your children? What lessons do you want them to learn? In Deuteronomy, mothers and fathers are told to instruct their children according to the law of God. “‘You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up’” (11:19). By teaching children according to the law of God, parents and caregivers are instilling a biblical worldview in their hearts from the very beginning.
Second, parents and caregivers should help instruct children on how to interact with the world. Being raised with a biblical worldview does not mean you have to be raised to fear those with a different outlook on life. Rather, children should be taught how to effectively evaluate information and ideas that are new to them. Scripture encourages this thoughtful evaluation: “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Tim. 2:7). Rather than cultivating a spirit of fear and isolation, parents should seek to teach their children how to resist worldly temptations while maintaining compassion for the world.
Third, parents should spend devoted time in prayer for their children. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.” In everything, in every day, bring your child to the throne room of God in prayer. For provision, protection, knowledge, wisdom, peace, and power in the Spirit, be sure to daily uplift your child in prayer.
A final element to consider is what the caregiver is modeling to the child. Do you demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22, 23) to your child as you go about your day? Is Christ’s character reflected in you as you connect with your child? The environment that you create for your sons and daughters will shape the basis of their worldview for years to come. This is why paying attention to your relationship with your child is of particular importance.
In discussing the relationship between a parent and child, Ellen White noted the following: “There is often a great distance between parents and children. If the parents would enter more fully into the feelings of their children and draw out what is in their hearts, it would have a beneficial influence upon them. The father and the mother should work together in full sympathy with each other. They should make themselves companions to their children. Parents should study the best and most successful manner of winning the love and confidence of their children, that they may lead them in the right path. They should reflect the sunshine of love upon the household.”4
By showing tender love to their children, parents are able to hold a positive, influential sway in their children’s lives. No matter what, the actions and attitudes of a parent or caregiver will affect the development of a child’s worldview. But it is up to them on how this will look.
As we grow up, the influence our parents have on us begins to diminish, and the influence of our peers begins to increase. The shaping tool of nature begins taking more of a back seat to the effects of nurture. Perhaps as a child or teen you heard of the dangers of “peer pressure.” The truth is, our friends and the people we spend time with do influence us quite a bit, both for the positive and the negative. Scripture itself describes the effects of the company we keep: “He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed” (Prov. 13:20); “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Ps. 1:1). It is true, we may be richly blessed if we make wise choices about our companions. For this reason, we must pay close attention to peer pressure. Peer pressure can show up in verbal encouragement, insults, or requests, and it can also be completely unspoken: We may change behavior or attitudes simply due to listening and observing peers around us.5
A study conducted by the U.S. National Institute on Drugs and Abuse compared the virtual driving habits of teenagers who were with others or by themselves. When the teen volunteers played the driving video game by themselves, they drove relatively carefully. But when the teens played while surrounded by others their age, they tended toward taking bigger risks.6 Researchers see this change in behavior as an attempt to fit in and be accepted. This desire to fit in can result in a myriad of behaviors, some more positive and some decidedly more negative: increased drug use, cohabitation, using pornography, or abandoning their faith are just some potential pitfalls that may increase due to peer pressure.7
While peer pressure is particularly potent during adolescence,8 our peers continue to affect us throughout our lives, either overtly or subtly influencing us to think and behave in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. As adults, we can especially notice the difference peer pressure makes when we seek to make significant life changes, such as moving across the country, quitting smoking, or starting a new job.9 Those closest to us will all have input and perspectives that affect our decision-making and follow-through, hopefully for the better but possibly for the worse.
We are shaped by the people we spend time with and respect. Our worldviews are not impervious to the ideas of others. If one spends most of one’s time with vocal Nihilists, one may soon find it difficult not to agree with some of their ideas. But in Galatians 1:10, Paul asked an important question: “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” We must seek to first and foremost please God. We are to pattern ourselves after Him and not after other human beings.
To be sure that your worldview is what you want it to be, make sure to ground yourself in what you believe. Seek friends who lift you up and who help you develop the worldview that you want. The company we keep is of great importance. Paul again noted, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor. 15:33). When you feel pressured to agree or go along with something you know is wrong, give a clear “No.” Remember, we seek to please God and not human beings. Are your friends living godly lives themselves? Are they pushing you to grow in ways that you want? Are you comfortable with who you are when you are around them? Prayerfully consider what direction God is calling you to go and seek people who follow that same path. As you evaluate those you wish to keep close, consider these words from Brené Brown: “Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted. Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are.”10 Seek out those who require you to be who God has made you to be.
Ellen White eloquently noted the significance of personal influence: “Every person is exerting an influence upon the lives of others. We must be either as a light to brighten and cheer their path, or as a desolating tempest to destroy. We are either leading our associates upward to happiness and immortal life, or downward to sorrow and eternal ruin. No man will perish alone in his iniquity. However contracted may be one's sphere of influence, it is exerted either for good or for evil.”11
With this knowledge in mind, it is important to spend time in prayer for relationships with friends. We must prayerfully keep in mind how those around us are influencing us, while at the same time prayerfully considering how we are influencing them. This is one primary reason for the church: to engage with a community that raises one another up to live as God desires us to live. “Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24, 25).
Another major factor in influencing our worldview is education. From the time children begin kindergarten until they finish high school, they will have spent roughly 16,000 hours in the classroom.12 That is a lot of time! If the same children were to go to church every week and had personal worship for 30 minutes every day from the time they started kindergarten, that would only be 3,100 hours spent on religious activities by the time they graduate from high school—not even a fifth of the time spent in school! With school occupying such a large portion of time, it creates a significant opportunity for worldview influence.
God Himself takes education very seriously. Proverbs 9:10 reads, “‘The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.’” In James 1:5, it says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” God desires to teach us.
In her book Christian Education, Ellen G. White wrote, “The Lord himself directed the education of Israel. His care was not restricted to their religious interests; whatever affected their mental or physical well-being was also the subject of divine providence, and came within the sphere of divine law.”13 As with the Israelites, God is concerned with our education today, wanting us to grow and mature as the people He has created us to be. Every aspect of our learning, not just religious studies, is meant to fall “within the sphere of divine law,” and every aspect of our learning can have significant impact on our worldview.
Interestingly, the development of educational institutions as we have them today was started in part on the basis of the individual’s biblical worldview. The Protestant Reformation of Europe in the 16th century proposed the idea of personal spirituality, which meant that Christians needed to be able to read their Bibles for themselves. This meant not only translating Scripture into common languages but also teaching average people how to read their own Bibles. This prompted the development of schools, ultimately so the common people could have a personal relationship with God.14 As educational institutions began to develop, Martin Luther himself stated that he “‘would not advise anyone to send his son to a place where the Holy Scriptures do not come first.’”15 Today, Christian schools can still be tools used to promote a closeness with God and a scripturally based outlook on life. This begins for us as children and continues all throughout our years of education.
Around the age of 5 or 6, we begin our formal education where we are taught our numbers and letters, shapes, and colors. We learn facts, but we also learn values and beliefs. Our kindergarten teacher guides us through a lesson on sharing. At the end of a craft activity, we are expected to clean up our area. When a classmate’s birthday is celebrated, each student is given the same treat. Thus, we learn about showing kindness, personal responsibility, fairness and equality, and much more from the very beginning of our formal education.
We learn as we are intentionally instructed, but, of course, we learn through unintentional instruction as well. Our teacher models for us how to behave and demonstrates his or her own personal values. A study examining the worldviews of high school seniors at a Christian high school demonstrated that after a year of education, the worldviews of the seniors tended to shift toward the views of their teacher.16 Educators clearly hold a formative role. For a student to develop a biblical worldview, it is most helpful to have teachers who possess a biblical worldview.
The school setting itself will also have an effect. In an article published in 2013, the data from 90 different studies comparing public schools, public charter schools, and religious schools found significantly positive results for religiously oriented institutions. The students in religious schools on average demonstrated academic performances 12 months advanced of their peers in public school. Not only this, but students who attend religious schools tend to have far fewer behavioral problems as well.17 Both of these results seem to indicate the generally positive effect a religiously based school can have upon its students’ worldviews.
The biggest foundational difference between religious schools and non-religious schools comes down to worldview. Today, the vast majority of schools operate based out of a humanistic perspective. This leads to moral relativity, with no abject right and wrong and with self-preservation and self-motivation taking priority—a direct opposition to the biblical worldview’s emphasis on taking the focus off of the self. While children can still certainly develop a biblical worldview while they are attending a non-religious school, the influence of those 16,000 hours should at least be considered.
Of course, we are instructed to pursue education even outside the realm of a formal school. Scripture tells us of the importance of expanding our minds and seeking wisdom by our own pursuits. “The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Prov. 18:15). Self-education is very important, not only for our personal intellectual growth but also for our worldview development as well. This means that we must be reflective. First, are we continuing to seek knowledge and wisdom? And second, are we going to sources that will feed a biblical worldview or a humanistic worldview? Ellen G. White reminds us that, “If all would make the Bible their study, we would see a people who were better developed, who were capable of thinking more deeply, who would manifest greater intelligence than those who have earnestly studied apart from the Bible the sciences and histories of the world.”18 Our textbooks should align with the ultimate Text.
Education plays a major role in the development of our worldview. What we learn impacts our lifestyle habits, our engagement with those outside our peer group, our personal disciplines, and our process of critical thinking. The 12 disciples of Jesus were educated by the Messiah Himself, and as a result their worldviews were turned upside down. There is power in education. It is education that will give us the foundation for living a biblical worldview. In order to develop this kind of life, be sure to consider the sources of your education.
In 2019, the average media consumption by an adult in the United States was more than 12 hours per day.19 This includes tuning into the radio, watching television or a movie, reading print magazines or newspapers, and engaging with digital content online. More than half our days are spent ingesting media. That is a lot of exposure, and, as can be expected, such engagement influences our worldviews and every other facet of our lives.
What we watch on TV can end up affecting our behavior in the real world. One experiment conducted in 2012 showed that when a food was marketed in connection with a known and liked television character, children were much more likely to choose to eat that food over another, non-character marketed food.20 What we watch, listen to, and read affects what we eat, how we exercise, what we buy, and what we support. As Ellen G. White noted, it is “by beholding, we become changed.”21
Only in very recent history have the computer, tablet, and smart phone played a role in media consumption, leading to hours and hours of time spent playing games and engaging in social networking sites. In the U.S. and Canada, about two of the average adult’s 12 hours of media engagement each day come from social-media interaction. Social media helps connect us with people from all over the world, allowing us to keep in touch with old friends and make new friends we never could have met otherwise. But social media can have a dark side, too. Pediatricians warn of cyber-bullying, sexting, and even media-associated depression.22 The environment found on the Internet can have lasting effects upon those who use it.
Today, gaining access to the Internet means gaining exposure to nearly anything in the world. This opens up all sorts of doors for worldview to be affected. Violence and pornography are just a few clicks away from today’s children and teens, and what is being viewed is having an impact on behavior. Through the years, numerous studies have been conducted on the connection between viewed media violence and aggressive behavior, showing that the former often leads to the latter.23 With such content becoming increasingly accessible, now more than ever before we must pay attention to how media affect us.
Studies continue to be conducted on how media affect our thought patterns and behaviors. Recent research has shown that Internet usage is addictive in a similar way as opioids, with Internet withdrawal producing increased heart rate, blood pressure, and anxiety.24 Significant use of social media has been shown to increase feelings of depression and lack of life satisfaction.25 Aggression toward others, inappropriate sexual behavior, substance use, and eating disorders are some of the behaviors pediatricians that have seen associated with exposure to certain kinds of media consumption.26
When we are exposed to such content over and over again, we begin to become numb to it, not recognizing the effect it has upon us. We become outwardly desensitized to what we hear and see, but all the while, our unconscious worldview continues to be affected. As already noted, beliefs and behavior ultimately come from a person’s worldview. Based upon this principle and seeing the research that has been conducted, we know that media plays a part in shaping our basic presuppositions and perspectives on the world. The question is―how should media shape our worldview?
In Philippians 4:8, Paul offered a suggestion of what we should allow into our lives. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” If the media that we are utilizing can pass the Philippians 4:8 test, it will be to our benefit to spend time with it. But if that movie is not pure, if that magazine is not of good report, or if that online chat is not lovely, it would do us well to remove ourselves from them.
Ellen G. White wrote that, “It is the duty of every person, for his own sake, and for the sake of humanity, to inform himself in regard to the laws of life and conscientiously to obey them. All need to become acquainted with that most wonderful of all organisms, the human body. . . . They should study the influence of the mind upon the body, and of the body upon the mind, and the laws by which they are governed.”27 She knew of the impact that the mind has and thus the reason for caring for the mind so intentionally. Just as we need to consider carefully the kind of food we use to fuel our bodies, we must be equally careful in determining what content we feed our minds. “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Col. 3:2).
If we were to be honest, there is only a small percentage of media that has anything to do with God. Most of what we watch or listen to or engage with has nothing to do with Him. This is the biggest danger of the media: the absence of the presence of God. If we truly wish to be closer to Him, this means pressing the “off” button. If you are the average adult in the U.S. and Canada, ingesting 12 hours of media every day, perhaps it is time to begin drawing boundaries around your time.
Media often holds us captive right up until we go to sleep, often preventing us from getting our best sleep. Start turning off all media consumption earlier in the evening. Our engagement in healthy, social relationships tends to decrease the more media we consume. Draw yourself some boundaries on time to make sure you are staying positively connected to your friends and family. If you think you have a media addiction, don’t be embarrassed to ask a trusted person to be your media accountability partner: Check in with each other about how much and just what kind of media you and your partner are using. There are many ways to begin keeping media consumption in check. See what fits well for you and take charge of influencing your worldview through media.28
There are a multitude of factors that play a shaping role in our worldview. From the time we are born, we are exposed to countless influences. As we look back, we may be able to pinpoint where particular assumptions we hold have come from—perhaps through the words of a father, the jokes of a friend, the actions of an educator, or the lessons in a favorite television program. Perhaps these have been very positive influences and perhaps not. All of these factors—parents, peers, education, and media—are intentional with their influence. Parents seek to develop their children, teachers work to mold their students, and even the media tend to have particular messages they want to convince viewers, readers, and listeners to buy into. There are many working to shape your worldview from a young age. It may be time to begin considering who has influenced you and for what purpose.
S. Joseph Kidder, Ph.D., is Professor of Christian Ministry at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan, U.S.A.
Katelyn Campbell Weakley, MDiv, MSW, is Pastor of the Mt. Tabor Seventh-day Adventist Church in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.
NOTES AND REFERENCES