I – Is it Comprehensive1? This refers to the breadth and depth and how it rates when exposed to a wide range of situations and experiences. This is asking whether or not your belief system has overlooked anything. For example, Creation Science might look straightforward when presented to a sympathetic audience but one of its greatest flaws is a refusal to allow for genre in the ancient documents of the bible.

II- Is it Congruent2? Here we’re taking about the hand fitting the glove.  Do the routine and unexpected findings of life give you the sense that it fits comfortably with this worldview? The benevolent ‘Santa Claus God’ for example, is quickly embarrassed and found inadequate when catastrophe happens. Instead of questioning the congruency of their faith, the believer sulks and walks away from ‘their God’ in the same way that a lover might abandon their love based on the assumption that their refusal to agree to marry them means that they don’t love them. Rather than sulk, it’s always good to ask the question: ‘Might there be another explanation?’ ‘Might the absence of evidence mean something other than “evidence of absence”?’

III – Is it Corroborated3? The mounting evidence of experience is its own judge. In other words, what people say about a new model of car or a new Prime Minister: ‘Time will tell’. The documentary evidence may be tested re: factual data via the findings of archeologists and researchers using the tests of External Evidence, Internal Evidence and Bibliographical Evidence but that’s only one dimension—there’s also the corroboration that comes or does not come via the probings of sociology, anthropology and psychology for example—where questions are asked about the way this belief system processes things like learning, personal relationships, family life, society, conflict and politics.

IV – Is it Cohesive4? This is about the jigsaw puzzle locking together well and withstanding the shocks, vibrations and temperature extremes of life. What this exposes is the overall integrity of what is really a three dimensional or global kind of meshing of your worldview’s picture of reality. One part may prove to be solid for example, but what about the larger picture? Could there be a slow white-anting happening from some thousand year old false assumptions.

V – Is it Consistent5?  This is about compatibilities and the absence of contradictions within the system itself. But things can get messy here because of changes in language over time and the idiosyncrasies of communication skills. If you find a tone of cleverness and fast talking in your explanation, it could be because your faith is unsound and you are trying to make it look good or because it is sound but you have not understood it or you simply have poor communication skills. Either way you are in trouble.

The comment, ‘How clever’, from your grandmother for example, is not usually a compliment when you are attempting to explain the complexities of an illustration used by the Apostle Paul, even though she may have intended it that way. On that, an old scholar CH Dodd makes an illuminating observation about the Apostle Paul’s writing (a man whom he loves, respects and trusts deeply by the way) when he says, ‘We cannot help contrasting his laboured and blundering allegories with the masterly parables of Jesus, unerring in their immediate translation of ideas into pictures, or rather their recognition of the idea in the picture which life itself presents. Paul flounders among the images he has tried to evoke … We are relieved when he tires of his unmanageable puppets and talks about real things.5a‘ Fortunately (in my opinion) the apostle’s worldview is sound but like all of us he had to learn to stick to his strengths as a writer and communicator.

Language, communication skills and fuddled understanding aside, when it comes to responses to a presentation of your worldview, the word clever may well be a ‘damning with faint praise’ indicator, because your audience is making an observation about the stunning mental gymnastics you are performing in order to sell this thing. They might just as well have said: ‘You have amazing mental agility, you are so good you can even make this incongruent, incoherent and inconsistent worldview look good. Incredible!’ In other words, just because you have won the argument, it does not mean you are right.

a bringer of appreciation & gratitude

VI – Is it Elegant6? This is a kind of gathering together of the other five tests in an ‘up-in-the-helicopter’ intuitive assessment of the big picture. It’s the kind of experience CS Lewis was alluding to when he said, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.7‘ Having weighed this worldview using the previous tests, you come away with a deep sense of appreciation for the honesty of it, and of gratitude for the love and grace in it because it is enabling you to see and to make sense of people and of everything around you, to be able to anticipate and to not keep having to stumble and bump along like a blind man. You no longer feel that you are trial-ing a worldview that’s ‘trying too hard’ or possibly ‘tampered with’.

In my own case, having settled on the Christian worldview, these are all there for the core DNA of it but they are certainly not there for many other aspects of it, which makes sense given Christianity’s own affirmation of the untidy incarnate-ness of learning and growing up into this mystery called ‘God in us’. It is such a faith that inspires movies like Bruce Almighty where Bruce says to ‘God’, ‘Can I ask a question?’ and ‘God’ says, ‘Of course you can! That’s the beauty of it!’ And it is such a faith that invites the questing of doubt, invites wrestles with God, invites passionate prayers like the psalms of disorientation (13, 35, 86, 74, 79, 137, 95, 88) and condemns the barking voices of inquisitors. In his book on the psalms, Walter Brueggemann makes the following comment, ‘In our modern experience but probably also in every affluent culture it is believed that enough power and knowledge can tame the terror and eliminate the darkness … The remarkable thing about Israel is that it did not banish or deny the darkness from its religious enterprise. It embraces the darkness as the very stuff of new life. Indeed, Israel seems to know that new life is rooted nowhere else.’8

1complete; including all or nearly all elements or aspects of something

2ORIGIN late Middle English: from Latin congruent- ‘agreeing, meeting together,’ from the verb congruere, from con- ‘together’ + ruere ‘fall or rush.’

3confirm or give support to (a statement, theory, or finding): the witness had corroborated the boy’s account ...

4the action or fact of forming a united whole

5compatible or in agreement with something: ‘what we are seeing’ is consistent with ‘the explanation’

not containing any logical contradictions:a consistent explanation.

5aDodd CH. The Epistle to The Romans Hodder & Stoughton 1947 edn. p. 103

6(of a scientific theory or solution to a problem) pleasingly ingenious and simple

7 Lewis CS. Weight of Glory, “Is Theology Poetry?”

8Brueggemann W. Spirituality of the Psalms p.29 Augsburg Fortress 2002

* This article owes much to teaching sessions and conversations with Cornerstone students and staff members over the years and also to a series of books on worldview and epistemology (the study of the justification of belief) edited by C. Steven Evans, which use categories 1 – 5. Category 6 (Elegance) was the outcome of a conversation with a student who suggested that this word, which is used in the scientific community, might be the one I was looking for.