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Re-thinking a ‘worldviews’ approach to evangelism

Thank God he uses us in our ignorance. I’ve been thinking about worldview and I now consider my former approach to betray a cultural arrogance.

I used material on worldviews for a number of years.

First, it was really just an ice breaker to use on a uni campus, a way of helping people to think about how they view the world and to own a label – just a discussion starter really.

Over time, I thought more about it and developed some training on it which I used in a number of contexts. It focused in particular on how to move someone to reconsider their current worldview. I even had an illustration about how you can’t have two worldviews any more than you can put two feet into one shoe. The thought was that if you don’t dismantle the first worldview first, evangelism doesn’t make sense. You need to bring a person to a point of crisis with their current worldview before you start talking about another one.

But now I think that was misguided.

First, the idea that there is some sort of ‘Christian worldview’ is questionable. The people of the Bible had a variety of worldviews because they came from a diversity of cultural backgrounds. The Bible speaks from a variety of cultural viewpoints into a variety of cultures.

Second, my doctrine of scripture is robust enough to believe that the Bible is relevant to every culture. I don’t need to dismantle someone’s culture or worldview first in order for the Bible to speak into it.

Third, I now believe that worldview is incredibly hard to change. Compare Tanzanians’ and Australians’ approach to the spirit world. In the former, the animistic worldview lies behind Christians’ understanding of the world. In the latter, our difficulties with prayer and believing in the supernatural owe more to the Enlightenment than the Bible. In either case, it might actually be impossible to dismantle the first worldview!

Fourth, I think that the way to help someone to know Jesus is to speak in categories they understand. I think this was what was behind the idea of doing a worldview survey in the first place, but I think I still wanted to bring people around to my way of seeing the world rather than choosing to see Jesus in a different way in order for it to make sense to them.

So where does that leave me with worldview? At the very least, it leaves me with looking for points of connection with a worldview rather than a chance to bring someone to a point of crisis. Of course there will be things in any worldview which the Bible critiques but I think I now have a greater appreciation that there are things in every worldview which the Bible affirms as well.

Categories: Culture Ministry & mission Written by Tamie

Tagged as:

Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, blogging at meetjesusatuni.com.

10 replies

  1. I was just reading someone questioning “worldview criticism” here. The guy concludes with the idea of approaching culture (well, movies) as a “hospitable observer”, whereas worldview criticism forces you to start from a position of antagonism.

    1. Hi Luke, good to hear from you! We’re talking about “worldview criticism”, i.e. a worldview is a person’s whole story of reality, not just a particular opinion/fact/aspect of reality. I’m thinking of James Sire’s definition, which is referred to in the link in my comment above… What do you reckon?

  2. Thought provoking Arthur…I do find it difficult to imagine the bible not espousing a specific worldview. The story of redemption surely forms a view of the world. But I think the tricky thing is that the bible expresses a spiritual worldview using natural language and concepts that occurred within a natural worldview (e.g. Greek – logos, mind, body etc.). When we start to glorify the worldview context that the biblical worldview was communicated within (and that theological traditions have formed within), rather than seeking the spiritual worldview being communicated via natural concepts, then we’re in danger of forming a non-biblical worldview.

    1. Do you think the Bible has some super worldview that transcends human cultures? I think it’s tricky to get to that considering the diversity of cultures the Bible is written by and to – Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, and all at different points in history!

      1. Hey Tamie! Love your blog entries! You’re a gifted analyst. Yes, I think the bible provides a worldview that transcends cultural worldviews. I do think it’s difficult to get to that worldview (and maybe we only get to touch upon it), since as you said, it is represented in the context of times and languages. But I take the “renewal of your mind” in Romans 12 to include a movement towards a transcendental God-view. I think this all touches on the philosophical debates between objectivists and constructivists regarding natural kinds, and meta-narrative etc. But I think both sides tend to prioritise self (perception, mind, ideas) or world (environment, objects), and miss the relational nature of reality (c.f. Gibsonian theory). I think a God-view cuts against all cultures and presents a God-view that views reality as the objective expression of God’s relational being (e.g. Creation, fall, redemption, etc.), which we reconstruct to varying degrees of failure within our fallen minds, within fallen culture. But I think that changes as God’s Spirit works within the mind of the believer to open their mind to understand the scriptures (like Luke 24:45), and form a God-view of reality (See also 1 Cor. 2:14). Then again, my present analysis is restricted by my own worldview, as is your analysis of my comments ad infinitum. Who can save us from this mind of death? Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus! :o)

  3. Two questions then Pete:
    1. What do you do with the ‘humanness’ of the Bible? (Like, it’s not just written into and received by enculturated people – it’s a library of inculturated documents itself!)
    2. How can you tell the difference between your own interpretation and God’s super culture? Do you just teach the Bible the way you see it and hope for the best? :)

    1. Challenging questions…

      1. I think empathy is an important source of knowledge in this respect. Although there is significant variance, there’s also some level of universality regarding the basic psychological structures of emotional experience that give us a way of relating to people within other contexts, who have different interpretations of reality. We have different hopes, but we all hope. We have different fears, but we all fear. My answer isn’t complete, but that’s one answer.
      2. I think there are significant differences between interpretation, worldview and culture, but I assume you’re using the terms loosely. I think it’s probably only possible to tell the difference between your own interpretation and “God’s super culture” insofar as you properly adopt God’s super culture (or God-view). So it’s a self-authenticating view. My assumption is that as a believer is sanctified(!), they both gain a God-view, and (assuming no further introduction of corrupting ideas) become more aware of the correctness of their God-view, since their God-view helps them to see even their own interpretations more accurately.

      But no, I don’t think you “just” do anything. You ask questions like you’re asking now, engage your mind and heart, and strive to understand how to accomplish God’s mission in the world in the context of the varieties of culture and sin that exist.

      Another thing worth considering is that from a biblical standpoint, you could probably trace various worldview and cultural differences back to Babel, so perhaps that’s the proper starting point for such an analysis.

      1. Yeah, I don’t know that I’d say Babel is the proper starting place for such an analysis, but perhaps that’s another discussion.

        With my first question, I’m asking about the divine and human natures of scripture. Like, we don’t think it was just dictated from heaven, do we? How do we understand it to be a collection of documents that are authentically human i.e. enculturated.

        With the second question, I think you’re reading my question as being about whether we will all be conformed into a super-culture – is that right? My question is distinct from that, it’s about the Bible. i.e. whether that super-culture is contained or imparted in the text of the Bible.

        I don’t think it has to be. While I do think God is reforming each of us to be more like himself (the sanctification you suggest) I think he is able to do so in a way that delights in diversity and different ways of seeing the world (an accommodation view). Thus the Bible can be authentically God’s word and at the same time an authentically enculturated collection of documents.

      2. Hi Tamie – I think I agree with what you’re saying, especially in regard to the nature of scripture and its combined God-authenticity and enculturation. Funnily enough I think our different ways of discussing probably stem from our psychology/philosophy versus missiology/theology training and subsequent worldview, subculture, and language differences! Most of my points were in regard to worldview, not culture, and were about the heart, not the text (so I totally didn’t answer your questions – sorry!). Culture includes views, attitudes, traditions, etc. So is a broader term. The text involves language, interpretation, historical context, and meaning. And so is broader than matters of the heart alone.

        I think my tendency to treat biblical and theological matters with psychology and philosophy is also that (following Romans 1:18-32 and John 3:19-21) I take the main obstacles of interpretation to be hardness of heart and the resulting philosophies that become ingrained into sin-shaped worldviews adopted into culture. I think the way out is given by God by means of heart-mind change, which is not an individual matter only, but also one of cultural mind-set change toward a Kingdom mindset (which maintains great diversity).

        If it will clarify my comments, I think the super-ordinate worldview (“meta-view”?) is, as you said, one that contains/delights in a variety of cultures. It’s not a culture that all cultures need to reform to become, but a view that embraces the good found in all cultures, and seeks to renew them, whilst maintaining their God-given differences that God delights in. Having ones mind sanctified (the gradual adoption of a God meta-view) will lead to a greater capacity to embrace cultural diversity, whilst striving for renewal. In other words, I think your mind has probably been changed by the Gospel (and by your experiences of cultural diversity), which is why your blogs are so refreshingly hopeful. And I think you got that from reading the bible, even if it didn’t appear in an as-is worldview form. The biblical worldview becomes available to the mind when one is born again, but of course, needs to be explained to be received.

        Too much to say and so much room for misunderstanding when writing so briefly hey?!…one last thing….

        If you’ll allow some untrained speculation, what if cultural diversity was given by God (Babel), just like clothes were given by God. And just as clothes were given due to sin, but are renewed (not discarded) in the clothing of righteousness, so also, different languages and cultures were given due to sin, but are renewed (not discarded) in some way, as evidenced by Pentecost? I find it interesting that in Acts 2, the people hear others speak in their own language. Why didn’t they all just speak the one language? Perhaps a single, super God-language? Instead, they heard about God in their own language. So perhaps, just as shame is removed but the clothing remains, so also, misunderstandings will be removed but diversity will remain.

        I’m hoping my ignorance might force a post on the meaning of Babel and Pentecost out of you – out of frustration if nothing else :o) You’re definitely making me think – thanks!!

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