Monday, April 16, 2012

THE GOSPEL & Biblical worldview

It has been suggested that there is no need to understand all of the religious "isms" and "ologies" in order to understand the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This is true, the Gospel is simple and demands a relationship of contrition and repentance with God, not a divinity degree. However, often presented as a false dichotomy, such a statement is intended to communicate that we need not concern ourselves with principles and practices of communication and simply get out there and "Preach it". Although, perhaps misguided, this is a noble attitude, however I think if we look at Scripture we will find that there is great value in understanding what we are teaching and how it is being learned.
"Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." ~ 2 Timothy 2:15
Whenever I use the word "Worldview" I do so with the expectation that there is a great likelihood that someone will gasp and shudder at its utterance. There is a great misunderstanding of meaning that often occurs, which is an irony considering just what the term communicates. As such, the term worldview has begun to be replaced with the terms "core assumptions" or "metanarrative". However, at the end of the day, whatever you term it, the meaning is the same. Worldview matters... understanding it and focusing on how to best communicate the Gospel through it, matters. Disregarding the importance of clarity in communication of the Gospel is borne out of an implicit ethnocentricity, a tacit pride that demands that all must come to understand my worldview if they will know Christ. But I'm getting ahead of myself, we must begin by diving into the muddied waters of just what worldview is.

As I have done in previous articles in this series, perhaps it is best if we begin by looking at just what worldview is not. Worldview is NOT worldliness, it is not an expression of secular humanism or post modernity. This is a common misconception that often results in varied response. Also, worldview is NOT just an opinion or a "view" we happen to have on a particular subject. So, what then is worldview? Worldview is a word used to describe the "rose coloured glasses" through which everyone observes the world. Everyone has one, even those who deny its existence. Our worldview (our core assumptions) taints everything that we encounter. Each of our own personal / cultural worldviews impacts every aspect of our lives and is directly reflected outwardly. Worldview impacts our social and cultural context and can been seen in our everyday behaviors (many of which we take for granted, not realizing they reflect our worldview).

One of the best definitions of worldview that I've read is from Mike Matthews of Worldview Resource Group (taken from his blog, "Knowing - A Novel Approach");
"After refining. And re-refining. And... I'm toying with the following as a definition for metanarrative (or worldview - holding that metanarrative and worldview are talking about the same thing - the former from the perspective of form, the latter from the perspective of function). This definition is a "take-off" of one used for worldview by Worldview Resource Group ( Anyway, here is the proposed definition: Metanarrative is the perceived reality in which a community lives - that perceived reality being formed by a story-grid through which the community interprets and interacts with all reality. This definition highlights the fact that metanarrative/worldview is primarily a communal as opposed to an individual affair. The community size is not stated. It might be the community of secular-humanists in North America, or the community of Plains Cree of Canada, or the community Punjabi immigrants in Vancouver, BC, or the community of north-eastern Montana ranchers."
Mike has pointed out with his definition that social groups hold worldviews as well, and that these core values are observable in cultural behaviors and seen in the social context and values of a society. The graphic below is an illustration of just how worldview impacts aspects of our living.

Our values are impacted by our worldview. Our socio-cultural context is impacted by our values and our observable behaviors are impacted by our socio-cultural context. All of these things work in chorus together and all are impacted by our worldview. My core values (worldview), even though I may not be able to verbalize what they are (or perhaps you can), directly impact my cultural context, my social relationships, and the way I behave and respond... the way in which I view the world. My core values are "coloured glasses" so to speak.
"Worldview is at the core of culture... it's a whole system, the way we perceive reality. In order to affect the whole system we need to target God's Word at the Worldview level. Every single person on this earth has a perception of reality that is distorted. The stories of the people on earth need to be challenged with God's Story. The Word of God bridges every culture to the truth. We're not about changing worldview... we're about challenging it. God's Word provides an alternative!" ~ John Cosby, P.A.T.H.
There is a Biblical worldview, it is the worldview that every Christian strives to live by, yet our own worldview, our sinful nature, taints and twists even our own perspective of the Biblical worldview. The only person who lived in perfect exemplification of the Biblical worldview was Jesus Christ [John 1:14, John 1:1, John 20:28, I Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:8, II Peter 1:1]. In order to best communicate the Biblical worldview, we must first begin to understand our own worldview, and allow the Word of God to be the driving influence in it.
"If the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic christo-paganism" ~ John Cosby, P.A.T.H.
Syncretism is defined as; "the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion." This is true in our own lives and churches as well, when we allow our own worldview to dictate our understanding of God's Word, instead of the other way around, we have stepped into a syncretistic understanding of Scripture and are at risk of idolatry.

This understanding of worldview is vital to evangelism. A disregard for worldview and discipleship is evident in easy believeism, decisionism, many altar calls and an inappropriate sinners prayer. The great commission calls us to disciple and to teach, the key to discipleship is relationship and the key to teaching is communication. Communication is about conveying information accurately, what is being heard is as important, if not more important even than what is being said. As I've mentioned in a previous article, the name "god" can be understood in as many different ways as the number of times it is said. If you were to go out on the street and ask a dozen people to define "god" you would see what I am talking about. ("god" could be Allah, Buddah, Muhammad, self, Earth, etc.,) The same can be said of the word "love", there is a Biblical definition, a Western definition, a "church" definition, the understanding of an abuse victim, or a child, or a bully - and yet in spite this vital definition we often deny the value of relationship (discipleship) and worldview in evangelism. To often we simply go out there and "preach it" and "pray" that will be sufficient in spite of our insufficient labour.

Whenever we encounter another person, there are numerous worldviews involved. There is our own worldview, the worldview of the other individual(s), the Biblical worldview, and the community worldview (there may be more influences than this, but for the sake of this article we have these four examples). These are all factors in evangelism that are most often neglected, yet they impact both the message, messenger and receptor of the message. Evangelism is about communicating God's Story (the Gospel). Yet so often for us, it is about communicating our own version of God's Story, tainted by our own worldview; so much so that we lose sight of what we are actually communicating because our own sin tainted selves have too often stepped in the way. Our own understanding of the Gospel has hindered the clear presentation of the Biblical Gospel. We must begin by understanding our own core values, and our own presuppositions, our own worldview. We must begin by striving to align our worldview with the Biblical worldview. It is only then that we can begin to present it to others effectively.

I heard a missionary tell a story about his work among a tribal people group. He initially went in as a learner, he learned culture, language and built relationships for almost three full years before he began to preach the Gospel. It was important to him that he understand the language and culture before he began to teach so that he could be certain that what he was teaching was exactly what was being understood. It was a struggle, he suffered the criticism of believers "back home" who demanded converts - they wanted numbers. Yet he persevered and continued to labour as a learner - and he learned a great deal that would have potentially destroyed his teaching had he not understood it. One such example was a ceremony exercised within the culture. When a boy would reach a certain age, his father would take him to the river and hold him under the water. The boy would be held there until he stopped thrashing and then just before he couldn't stand it any longer, he would be brought out of the water. A large rock from the bank would be placed in the water at that spot and the boy would be declared a man. The word used for this ceremony was the same word the missionary would have used for baptism. Had he not known and understood the socio-cultural implications of this word, he may very well have used it in his teaching and the community would have understood it as something they already do. This error would most certainly have led them into a syncretistic understanding of baptism and tainted their perspective of God and His Word. This is an example of an outward behavior that is driven by a socio-cultural tradition, that is a result of the values of the community and driven by the worldview of the individuals in the culture. We are confronted with this same issue of worldview with every culture and individual in the world - including our own culture and our own neighbours - in fact we ourselves are afflicted by our worldview with respect to our relationship to God.

Fulfilling the great commission, bringing honour and glory to God, denying ourselves daily and suffering for His sake, are the things we are called to as believers, this is our purpose before Him. Denying ourselves means abandoning not just physical things, but shirking ideologies and our own worldviews for the sake of the Biblical worldview, for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the most precious thing we, as followers of Christ, possess. It should burden us deeply to present the Gospel in spite of our own selves, in spite of our tainted Worldview by sin, to as clearly and completely as possible tell people of who God is and their separation from Him in their sin. Yet, too often influenced by our "fast food" cultural (which is an outward expression of a "self" based worldview) we strive to evangelize as quickly and conveniently possible and avoid the labour and sacrifice of discipleship. It is far easier to share an incomplete or misrepresentative info-graphic on Facebook (that certainly does not take worldview into account) or brow beat people into saying a prayer that may very well mean nothing to them (in context of their own worldview).

If we are to present the Gospel clearly and take into account the fact that worldview taints everyone's as well as our own perspective of the world and God and His Word. We must deny ourselves, we must shed our pride and we must approach God with the same contrite heart that we approached Him with on the day we were saved. Communication is about communicating.

God calls us to take worldview into account when he commands us to "go to all nations" (Matthew 28:19-20) and to "be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." (Acts 1:8). These passages demand the work of cross-cultural evangelism, overcoming worldview and presenting the Gospel as it is presented to us in God's Word. Worldview evangelism acknowledges that God's Word is the Truth and talking to my neighbour about Christ means discipling him and asking him what he understands before confusing him with an inadequate presentation of the Gospel. Worldview evangelism understands that we must shake up his worldview for the sake of the Gospel, and present the Biblical worldview as an alternative to his rival worldview, using language that he will understand.
*special thanks to Mike Matthews for his editorial assistance with this article.

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