The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog - Summary & Critique

Sire, James. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog, 5th Edition, Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity Press. 2009.

This is an interesting book! The Universe Next Door is identified as a “world-view catalog” — see front cover. The book explores ideas surrounding the way people view, interpret, and interact with the world. Sire defines a worldview as, "a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. (20)” Sire examines, in his book, 9 different world-views held by various peoples in the world. These world-views are

  • Christian Theism,

  • Deism,

  • Naturalism,

  • Nihilism,

  • Existentialism,

  • Eastern Pantheistic Monism,

  • New Age - Spirituality without religion,

  • Postmodernism, and

  • Islamic Theism.

Each of these organizing mindsets are evaluated based on 8 criteria (as best as they can be — as some [like Nihilism] are not readily discernible using the criteria). The proposition discovering criteria are as follows:

(1) What is prime reality — the really real?

(2) What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us?

(3) What is a human being?

(4) What happens to a person at death?

(5) Why is it possible to know anything at all?

(6) How do we know what is right and wrong?

(7) What is the meaning of human history?

(8) What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview? (22-23).

This book is extremely valuable due to the fact that it teaches us not only a little bit about how people think, but why they have come to think that way and how that thinking impacts their lives and the lives of those around them. These ideas are stated in the following words: "Walk down a street of any major city in Europe or North America, and the next person you meet could adhere to any one a a dozen distinctly different patterns of understanding what life is all about.” (26) - This sounds like a recipe for a potentially confusing personal existence. This book seeks to unravel the tangle of thinking and shed light on the differences.

Critique of Theism chapter

It is a difficult thing to critique the chapter on Christian Theism, because there is essential agreement with the foundational understanding and expression of views offered therein. Perhaps, the most logical approach to this effort of critique will be to look at each world view question and offer consensus or disagreement thoughts as progress is made through each one.

1. What is Prime Reality? Prime reality is the infinite, personal God revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This God is triune, transcendent, and immanent, omniscient, sovereign, and good. As this statement is unpacked, there is no great area of disagreement with the implications offered for the various defining terms offered - I believe that God is beyond our scope or measure - Exodus 3:14; Deut. 6:4. I believe that God is capable of self-reflection and self-determination - Exodus 32:10-14; Job 9:12; Isa. 55:8-9. I believe that there are three persons (not three Gods or modes) in the one essence of the Godhead - Matthew 28:19; I John 5:7. I believe that God is beyond us and our world - Exodus 15:11; Psalm 86:8. I believe that God is with us - He is not removed from us - Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23. I believe that God is Omniscient - Psalm 147:5; I John 3:20; Isaiah 40:13-14, Sovereign - I Chronicles 29:11-12; Psalm 115:3, Psalm 103:19 , and good - Psalm 31:19; Exodus 33:19.

2. What is the nature of external reality? Christian Theism teaches that the cosmos created by God is the essence and actuality of external reality. The cosmos was created out of nothing to operate with a uniformity of cause and effect in an open system. The teaching here is that, in Christian Theism, it is generally believed that our choices have significance. The future is contingent on decisions, both ours and Gods. Now, it is obvious that there is room for discussion surrounding these matters. On one hand there are Christians that believe that every detail of everything is determined by God from the beginning. Others believe that we have choice, although these choices cannot ultimately thwart the will of God. Our free moral agency choices can actually be used to fulfill the will of God (Acts 2:23). This does stand to reason if we consider the foreknowledge of God.

3. What is a human being? A human being was originally a direct creation of God, made in His image. Human beings alone were created in the image of God and thus possess personality, self-transcendence, intelligence, a sense of morality, gregariousness and creativity (among others). Unfortunately, man fall from this elevated position by disobedience to God’s command. The key to more fully understanding human beings is to understand these concepts. This biblical idea is diametrically opposed to the common evolutionary theory of man. It sets humanity apart from the animal kingdom and dignifies man’s existence. The ultimate end of God in relation to man is to restore the image of God that was lost in the Fall of mankind in the Garden of Eden (II Cor. 3:18; I Corinthians 15:49; Romans 8:29; I John 3:2) . It is Satan’s goal to continue to mar and deface that image in the individual human life, and thus humanity at large The author artfully (and briefly) navigates the issue of predestination and free will, as well as gives a thought encompassing picture of sanctification / glorification of those who are saved (41).

4. What happens to a person at death? Death is either the gate to life with God and his people or the gate to eternal separation from the only thing (?) that will ultimately fulfill human aspirations. Although this work is not