Engaging with Worldviews
UCCF NORTH EAST TEAM DAYS: ENGAGING WITH WORLDVIEWS
“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet
What is a worldview?
“A worldview is 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) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundations on which we live and move and have our being.” James Sire, Naming the Elephant
“A worldview is, first of all, an explanation and interpretation of the world and second, an application of this view to life. In simpler terms, our worldview is a view of the world and a view for the world.” Gary Philips, William Brown and John Stonestreet, Making Sense of Your World
Or, to put it metaphorically, a worldview is like:
- Prescription glasses – which affect the way we see, and which are designed to bring reality into sharp focus: the difficulty is that we may be unaware how little we see, and there are conflicting ideas about what ‘clear vision’ really is.
- A navigational map for a sea explorer – telling us where we’re going, what to expect there and on the way, and how things are related… but all with many gaps. The map is useful but can’t be trusted uncritically, much remains to be discovered, and we may discover that the scale of objects and their relationship to each other is distorted.
All human beings instinctively make these interpretations of reality because we all need to:
- Unify our thought and life
- Define the good life, and find hope and meaning in life
- Have a guide for our thoughts and our actions
Worldviews, Apologetics and Evangelism
We often assume a largely Christian background and understanding as we share the gospel:
- Many of the strategies for evangelism were formed when most people in Britain largely held a Christian worldview
- Today, many people come from places where the common background / understanding is not Christian – not just those of other religions; many have almost no knowledge of Christianity
- Atheists used to be Christian atheists… now people who think they are Christian atheists know little or nothing about the Christian God they say they are denying
The Challenge of Plausibility – is it true?
“There is no such thing as an ‘unbeliever'. Everybody believes something, and through asking good questions we can uncover their core convictions and explore their validity.” Stefan Gustavsson
“A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be partially true or entirely false) which 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.” James Sire, Naming the Elephant
A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart…
- Biblically speaking, the central driver of a human being is not the mind but the heart – the heart is the intellectual, affective and volitional core of a human being
- Psalm 19, Romans 1:18-20: the world in which we live is not ‘neutral’ to the question of God’s existence: all worldviews contain a spiritual element
“Creation [reveals] God. Creation hums and buzzes and rustles and sings with songs to its Creator. These songs are around us and even in us… Creation serves as God’s stereo system, proclaiming messages about his own glory, love and wrath…” Ted Turnau, Popologetics
- A range of influences can be ‘heart-shaping’: our religious, philosophical and cultural context; socioeconomic conditions; our experience of marriage, family, education and work; the relationships and friendships we have with others; psychological and physical health; sexual experiences… – we interact with the world around us.
- We are continually interpreting new ideas, experiences and people in the light of the conclusions we have reached – worldviews are dynamic.
Aspects of our worldview are continually being polished or demolished.
When our expectations we’ve formed aren’t met, we might adjust our expectations or refuse to see – we trust certain people and distrust others, listen to certain messages and ignore others…
So whilst then we might broadly ‘see’ the world in a similar way to others around us, none of us has exactly the same worldview, and none of us will have precisely the same worldview we have at this moment ever again.
- Our worldview, then, is a mixture of spiritual responses, ideas and the ways we have responded to the range of experiences in our lives.
“There are only three circumstances in which it is more probable a person will reject their parents’ Christianity rather than embrace it: (1) they have a distant relationship with their father (2) their parents are divorced (3) only one parent is Christian.” Luke Cawley, The Myth of the Non-Christian
… that can be expressed as a story or a set of presuppositions…
- Whilst worldviews can be stated propositionally, they are most usefully stated in story form
- Who am I? What is the nature, task and purpose of human beings?
- Where am I? What is the nature of the world and the universe I live in?
- What’s wrong? What is the basic problem or obstacle that keeps me from obtaining fulfilment?
- What’s the remedy? How is it possible to overcome this hindrance to my fulfilment? How do I find ‘salvation’?
- The most powerful cultural worldviews often come in story form:
“Once upon a time… we believed in spirits and fairies and gods and demons. But as we became rational, and especially as we marshalled naturalist explanations for what we used to attribute to spirits and forces, the world become progressively disenchanted. Religion and belief withered with scientific exorcism of superstition… The convert to unbelief has ‘grown up’ because she can handle the truth that our disenchanted world is a cold, hard place….The force of such subtraction stories is as much their narrative power as in their ability to account for the ‘data’, so to speak. There is dramatic tension here, a sense of plot, and a cast of heroes (e.g. Galileo) and villains (e.g. Cardinal Bellarmine)… It allows the ones telling the story to cast themselves as mature, courageous, manly, of rising above childish fears and sentimentality…. So if you’re going to counter subtraction stories, it’s not enough to offer rival evidence and data; you need to tell a different story.” James K. A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular
… Assumptions (which may be partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality…
- None of our presuppositions (even those held by Christians) are completely and utterly true.
- The bulk of our worldview is unconscious – we think with it, not about it.
… and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.
- Our worldview is not precisely what we state it to be – we live our worldview, or it isn’t our worldview.
“Christians are often less spiritual than their stated worldview would require” James Sire, Naming the Elephant
Whilst worldviews are held by individuals, our social connections cause people in broader similar circumstances to hold similar worldviews (ranging in scale from within a family to wider Western culture) – these shared worldviews can be called ‘social imaginaries’ or ‘cultural narratives’. When one worldview holds wide sway, it can act as an implausibility structure (refuting alternative worldviews out of hand) because of certain defeater beliefs: statements which are so widely held and deeply felt that most people automatically believe alternative worldviews cannot be true.
“You have to… show people that their doubts about Christianity are really alternate faith-assertions… asking them for as much warrant and support for their assertions as they are asking of yours… [Y]ou must show someone who says, ‘I think all religions are equally valid; no one’s view of spiritual reality is superior to anyone else’s,’ that that statement is itself a faith assertion and is itself a view on spiritual reality that he or she thinks is superior to the Christian view…. If you don’t do this, people’s eyes will just glaze over as you speak. They will tune you out…You can tell them they are sinners and say “the Bible says,” but the defeater belief may be so deeply embedded in your listeners that… all your assertions are incredible.” Tim Keller, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World
- Ask questions – how did the student you’re talking to come to the worldview position they have?To what extent have they ever seen their world through different ‘eyes’?
- Become familiar with the assumptions of naturalism – it is not ‘neutral’, as many students think.
- Address defeaters – our purpose is not to ‘answer’ or ‘refute’ them but to show they are not as solid or as natural as they might first appear. Remember: our aim is to show students that their defeaters are really alternative unprovable beliefs about the world.
- Be methodologically flexible – addressing defeaters need not only be through logical argument, but also through ‘telling a better story’, using the arts to cause people to reawaken intuitions about the world and to imagine it differently, etc.
- Pray! – at heart, worldviews are a spiritual response… and the Spirit is active in the world.
Question to consider/discuss:
• How might we address the ‘other religions’ defeater that Tim Keller mentions above?
The Challenge of Desirability – is it attractive?
“The heart’s distrust is greater than the mind’s blindness.” John Calvin, Institutes
“Reasoning can take us to almost any conclusion we want to reach, because we ask, ‘Can I believe it?’ when we want to believe something, but ‘Must I believe it?’ when we don’t want to believe. The answer is almost always yes to the first question and no to the second.” Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
“Our responses must meet both the intellectual and emotional demands of the question. Answering the questions of the mind while ignoring shredded emotions seems heartless. Binding the emotional wounds whilst ignoring the struggle of the intellect seems mindless.” Ravi Zacharias, Deliver Us From Evil
How might we demonstrate the gospel’s desirability?
1. Through leading conversations to the character and work of Jesus, particularly in the written word
- It is the person and work of Jesus, particularly at the cross, which makes faith in him possible even when our questions are not entirely answered.
- It is the person and work of Jesus at the cross that help us to clearly identify how our everyday felt needs flow out of our deepest fundamental need.
- The person and work of Jesus cause our love for him to grow – we love because he first loved us.
“The power of the word is an almighty power, but is gentle and persuasive, working always through the message of a crucified and risen Saviour that wins hearts.” Robert Preus, The Power of God’s Word
2. Through demonstrating how the gospel subverts and fulfils our deepest hopes
We must show “people how the lines of their own lives, the hopes of their own hearts, and the struggles of their own cultures [can] be resolved only in Jesus Christ.” Tim Keller, The Supremacy of Christ and the Gospel in a Postmodern World
“It can be family or children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving ‘face’ and social standing. It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry. An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’” Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods
‘Subversive fulfilment’ (Dan Strange)
- What is the relationship between Christian and non-Christian worldviews? “Non-Christian worldviews are essentially idolatrous refashionings of divine revelation, antithetical and yet parasitic on Christian truth, and of which the gospel of Jesus Christ is the ‘subversive fulfilment.’”
- As we have already seen, non-Christians have knowledge of God, but they respond with suppression and exchange (Romans 1:17–32). Suppression varies in depth and expression – but:
- - All other worldviews contain elements of truth (because of general revelation and common grace)
- - All other worldviews twist and distort that truth.
- Thus the gospel…
- - Endorses desires as real and genuine (“yes…”)
- - Confronts alternative worldviews interpretations and answers (“… but no…”)
- - And offers appealing answers to the questions that other religions cannot themselves answer (“but yes”).
c.f. 1 Corinthians 1:22-24.
So for any culture, we can ask:
- What are the hopes, desires and longings in the culture?
- In what ways are these hopes, desires and longing distorted versions of right hopes and right desires and right longings?
- What does repentance look like in this culture? Where do members of this culture need to resolve not to look for fulfilment to their hopes, desires and longings?
- What will the good news mean for these people? How does the gospel offer fulfilment where nothing else can?
“Toy Story sprang from a belief, which John Lasseter and Steve Jobs shared, that products have an essence to them, a purpose for which they were made. If the objects were to have feelings, these would be based on its desire to fulfil its essence. The purpose of a glass, for example, is to hold water; if it had feelings, it would be happy when full and sad when empty. The essence of a computer screen is to interface with a human. The essence of a unicycle is to be ridden in a circus. As for toys, their purpose is to be played with by kids, and thus their existential fear is of being discarded or upstaged by newer toys. So a buddy movie pairing an old favourite toy with a shiny new one would have an essential drama to it, especially when the action revolved around the toys being separated from their kid. The original treatment began, ‘Everyone has had the traumatic childhood experience of losing a toy. Our story takes the toy’s point of view as he loses and tries to regain the single thing most important to him: to be played with by children. This is the reason for the existence of all toys. It is the emotional foundation of their existence.’” Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs
Questions to consider/discuss:
- Answer the questions above. How does the gospel ‘subversively fulfil’ the hopes, dreams and desires portrayed in Toy Story?
- Share your testimony according to the pattern of the gospel’s subversive fulfilment, using these categories:
Introduction: As you have grown up, what did you find yourself thinking would make you happy? What drove you? Use some concrete real-life examples to back up abstract statements.
Body: How has the drive toward your dream ultimately been unsatisfied or unsatisfying?Again, use a couple of concrete examples to back up abstract statements.
Bridge: How has the death and resurrection of Jesus challenged your perspective on what will make you happy, or bring about the fulfilment of your desires? How did you come to realise this? How did this surprise you?
Conclusion: How has knowing Jesus changed your thinking and actions today in this area? Give a couple of practical examples. How does the way God sees you in Christ make you feel? What difference does it make day to day? Where would you like it to make more of a difference?
- How might your story shared in this way naturally flow into a biblical story or theme?
3. Through bringing the gospel word to the whole person
Lindsay Brown suggests that any apologetic or evangelistic message is checked to ensure that it includes:
- An appeal to the mind
- An appeal to the emotions
- An appeal to the conscience
- An appeal to the will
The Challenge of Intelligibility – can we communicate it effectively?
“Having lost touch with the Judeo-Christian heritage that in one form or another (sometimes bowdlerized) long nourished the West, [those we are seeking to reach with the gospel] are not clean slates waiting for us to write on them. They are not empty hard drives waiting for us to download our Christian files onto them. Rather, they have inevitably developed an array of alternative worldviews. They are hard drives full of many other files that collectively constitute various non-Christian frames of reference.” D. A. Carson, Worldview Evangelism: Athens Revisited
There are two particular challenges.
Unfamiliar / inaccurate understandings of Christian terminology
“One of the major obstacles to communicating what belief feels like is that we’re not working with a blank slate. Our culture is smudged over with half-legible religious scribbling. The vocabulary used to describe religious emotions hasn’t gone away or sunk into an obscurity from which you couldn’t reintroduce it, giving a little explanation as each old/new term emerged. Instead, it’s still in circulation, but repurposed, with new meanings generated by new usages; meanings that make people think they know what believers are talking about when they really, really don’t. Case in point: the word ‘sin’….
[In our culture] ‘sin’… always refers to the pleasurable consumption of something. And it nearly always preserves some connection to sex, which is why it would seem creepy for ‘sin’ to ever appear in the branding of a product aimed at children, and sometimes the sex is literal, but usually it’s been disembodied, reduced to a mere tinge of the atmosphere of desire, and transferred from sex to some other bodily satisfaction, to eating or drinking or smoking or greedy looking (all of which are easier to put on sale in bulk quantities than sex itself). The other universal is that ‘sin’ always encodes a memory of ancient condemnation: but a distant memory, a very faint and inexplicable memory, just enough of a memory to add a zing of conscious naughtiness to whatever the pleasure in question is. Whether the thing you’re consuming is saturated fat spiked with mood-lifting theobromine (‘sinful’ truffles) or the spectacle of non-existent impulse control rendered in moody black and white (think Frank Miller’s Sin City), you kind of know you shouldn’t. But not in a serious way. The pleasure comes from committing an offence (against good nutrition or boring old good taste) which is too silly to worry about.
Everybody knows, then, that ‘sin’ basically means ‘indulgence’ or ‘enjoyable naughtiness'. If you were worried, you’d use a different word or phrase. You’d talk about ‘eating disorders’ or ‘addictions’; you’d go to another vocabulary cloud altogether. The result is that when you come across someone trying to use ‘sin’ in its old sense, you know perfectly well in theory that they must mean something which isn’t principally chocolatey, and yet the mood music of the word is so insistent that it’s hard to hear anything except an invocation of a trivially naughty pleasure. And if someone talks, gravely and earnestly, about what a sorrowful burden sin is, the result will be to make that speaker seem swiftly much, much more alarming than the thing they’re getting worked up about. For what would seem to you to be the bigger problem, the bigger threat to human happiness: a plate of pralines, or a killjoy religious fanatic denouncing them?” Francis Spufford, Unapologetic
- Eliminate use of the word or term entirely
- Use it and define it: “In the passage we just read, Jesus talks about x. That may not be a word you’re familiar with, but when it’s used in the Bible, this is what it means…”
- Define it and use it: If a word or concept is particularly difficult or unpopular, we might take a while to give an apologetic for the ‘concept’ before introducing the ‘word'. For instance, we help people to see, with some cultural observations and illustrations, that all of us have a tendency to operate from selfish motives, put ourselves above others, and contribute to the pain and brokenness that we experience in the world. Then once people are thinking, “Oh that’s true, I guess I do do that,” we able to say, “the word the Bible uses for this is ‘sin'.”
questions to consider/discuss:
- Which Christian words and terms might be done away with entirely in our evangelism?
- Which are valuable to keep and explain?
- Can you come up with a short, single-sentence explanation to ‘use and define’ them?
- How might you take the longer route of ‘defining and using’ them?
Unfamiliar / inaccurate understandings of the biblical foundations and plot
Worldviews – including the biblical (Christian theistic) worldview – share common elements:
- A view of the ‘ideal’ world
- What’s gone wrong with the world
- The solution to the problems of the world (where ‘salvation’ is found)
- How we should live given the fundamental nature and story of the world
Much evangelism focuses the solution alone. This is still effective when people already have a biblically-shaped worldview (e.g. nominal Christians, lapsed Catholics etc.) but not when they have a very different worldview.
- The Evangelism Explosion tool builds to the question, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and he were to ask you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’, what would you say?” What does this question assume that its hearers share in worldview commitments?
D.A. Carson on Paul in Athens (Acts 17:22ff):
- “I see that in every way you are very religious.” Paul here is neither commending nor denying their religious practices. Rather he is noting their interest in spiritual things.
- “I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an Unknown God.’” In Athenian culture there were so many gods with so many domains that, in an effort to ensure they did not miss one and suffer the consequences, they had an altar to an unknown god. Paul perceives deeper ignorance…
- “What you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” Paul claims that God is knowable. He is being polite, but a challenge has been cast down.
- “God made the world and everything in it.” God, Paul says, is transcendent. Distinct from the universe, he is not a pantheistic being. Paul is providing a doctrine of creation, ruling out the idea that gods make other gods who make other gods until we finally get down to a god willing to soil his hands by making something material. Paul is saying that we have one God who made everything.
- “He is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.” God cannot be domesticated by religion. Paul is not denying that God disclosed himself in special ways in the Old Testament temple. What he is saying is that ultimately you cannot domesticate God by performing sacrifices or religious rites so as to squeeze blessings out of him.
- “He is not served by human hands as if he needed anything.” God is self-existent – not only in origin but in independence. He does not need us at all. Rather it is we who are completely and utterly dependent on God, right down to our very breathing…
- “He himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.” This is quite a reversal of the first century pagan perspective, and of many contemporary popular perceptions of God.
- “From one man he created every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth.” Paul highlights the fact that all people have the same ancestor. Many of the ancients thought that different races had different origins.
- “God did this so that men should seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” This says that there is a need to seek God, but suggests that the human race is alienated from him. It also establishes that however transcendent God is, he is also immanent – he is everywhere, inescapable, and always near us.
- “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Paul has now established an entire framework, and challenged the Athenian worldview at many points, before moving on to sin. He now deals with sin in a fundamental way. He also confronts the dominant Greek view of history – that history is cyclical. The biblical revelation speaks of history as having a beginning, then a period of time during which God does certain things, and then finally an end...
- “He has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” Paul has established an entire frame of reference before he gets to Jesus. He has challenged the Greek worldview with his biblical worldview.
“If Paul had presented clichés like ‘Jesus died for your sins’ before he had established the appropriate frame of reference people would necessarily have misunderstood what he was saying. We too, today, in our biblically illiterate society need to establish this biblical framework. This might take five minutes, five hours or five years, but at some stage we have to do it.” D. A. Carson, Worldview Evangelism: Athens Revisited
“A Christian worldview is formed by hearing and learning the big story of Scripture and seeing how all the little stories, whether of the men or women in the Bible, or of ourselves and our neighbours, fit into that big story.” David Hesselgrave and Donald McGavran, Planting Churches Cross-Culturally
- When it comes to the gospel, we need to know more than just the solution. Familiarise yourself with the wider story, and help students do the same.
- Consider: at what point might my hearer(s) be most likely to misunderstand the gospel? Where will they need a wider lens of the Bible’s teaching or story?
- Use gospel outlines and seeker courses that grow biblical theological categories.
- If the seeker is willing, take them to a church in which the Bible’s big story is established through sermons week by week.
The Challenge of Tangibility – is it real?
“Apologetics… tends to treat plausibility as the only issue which matters. But most of the things that drew my friend Martin to Christ – hospitality, strong family life, warm friendships, conversations over food, vibrant church services with calls to respond and memorable song lyrics – are oddly absent from almost every book or seminar I have encountered on the topic of apologetics. These resources seem to assume that a good argument and a humble demeanour are all that one needs to be an effective apologist. Where and how we engage people – the community setting, the geographical location, the music, whether or not there is food on the table – rarely gets much attention. This needs to change. Tangibility needs to be rediscovered. We need to rediscover fresh ways in which the existing basics of a Christian’s life – mealtimes, conversations over coffee, church services, life in the neighbourhood – can be calibrated to help make Christ more concrete to people who don’t know him.” Luke Cawley, The Myth of the Non-Christian
- Think about your story. Other than the proclaimed word, what made Jesus tangible to you as you came to faith? If you became a Christian as a young child, what tangible aspects of Christianity caused you to keep your profession as you grew into adolescence and adulthood?
Establishing tangibility in our speech:
- Providing examples of historical and contemporary Christians who have lived it out
- Opening eyes to the ways this truth makes a difference in the Christians in the CU: employ testimony where appropriate; I now sometimes tee up conversations afterwards with a question to ask friends
- Encouraging seekers to see the Christian story worked out in Christian community
- Modelling it personally (in logos, pathos and ethos)
- Asking for a response, not just to ‘chew on an idea’
Establishing tangibility in our setting – see our events as an invitation to taste a Christian worldview
- Relationships, including welcome – Romans 15:7
- Love amongst believers – ‘the ultimate apologetic’ – John 17:22-23
- Hospitality and generosity – 2 Corinthians 8:9
- Emotional pathos / service of the needy – Romans 12:14-16
- Celebration of the good gifts of creation, including in music and the visual arts – 1 Timothy 4:1-5
Establishing tangibility in our everyday circumstances:
- Micro practices – everyday Christian actions performed by individuals, alone or with one or two others, making the gospel tangible
- Meso practices - everyday Christian actions performed by small groups of Christians, making the gospel tangible in a common context (hall groups, college groups, plus ones, clusters of Christian students)
“Many people today think, ‘God has forgotten me. God doesn’t care about my pain.’ We respond with an apologia in both word and deed — providing comfort and help that is itself an argument for the existence and compassion of God.” Christopher Sicks, Tangible
“I am suggesting that… the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society
- In your experience, what micro- and meso- practices add tangibility to the gospel in the CU setting? How might you better encourage them in your local context?
Note: CU=Christian Union
Cover picture: Simon Berger on unsplash.com