There was a day when the Christian public at large did not need to have a grasp of the topic of worldview. In those days, there were two primary groups which found value in this topic. The first group consisted of scholars. These were, typically, social scientists doing research to try and understand relationship dynamics between cultures. The second interested group were those who found worldview knowledge useful because they actually worked in cross-cultural environments. For Christians, this has been particularly helpful for missionaries.
But the days of the Christian public having no need for this knowledge has come and gone. We now live in an environment where the world has come to us. In saying this, I don’t mean simply that people from other countries have immigrated to the U.S. – though that is, certainly, true on a massive scale. It is actually a much larger issue than that. In addition to immigration, there has been a cultural transformation from within.
I am, actually, using the word culture in a rather loose sense, here. By it, I am not merely making an ethnic reference. Rather, my focus is on people’s beliefs. Thus, even fully acculturated Americans can be divided into “belief cultures” based on the worldview they subscribe to.
The reason for making note of this fact is that those who hold different worldviews actually have different ways of understanding reality. For instance:
1) A Naturalist believes there is no such thing as the supernatural.
2) An Animist believes there are many gods which manifest themselves in nature.
3) A Far Eastern Thought believer believes in a transcendent, impersonal life force and karma.
4) A Theist believes there is an objective creator God.
There can be no overlap between the four ways of understanding reality, as each position literally contradicts all of the others (For example, God can’t exist and not exist at the same time. There can’t be only one God and many gods at the same time.). That being said, many people do try to incorporate beliefs from more than one worldview into their lives and simply live with the contradiction. But, for the most part, a single individual falls into one of the four camps.
The problem we run into, as Christians, when we want to talk about our faith with people from a different worldview culture, is that we don’t share a common understanding of reality. What one thinks to be a totally obvious conclusion, the other thinks is totally absurd. For instance, as a Christian, I believe abortion is totally immoral because it is the taking of an innocent human life. I read an article the other day, though, about two Naturalists in Australia who wrote a book not only defending abortion, but also what they called “after-birth abortion” (infanticide). Their reasoning is that a fetus or new-born cannot be considered a person in the “morally relevant sense” of the word. For them, a fetus or a new-born is not yet a real person. The difference in the understanding of reality between a Christian and these Naturalists regarding the nature and value of human life could not be further apart. Of course, this is only one example. The same basic problem occurs any time you are dealing with people who have different worldviews.
The Value of Worldview Knowledge
So, if a Christian wants to share Christ with someone who holds a different worldview, a bridge must be built to span the worldview gap before the message of the gospel will even make sense. As such, understanding worldview is not just for leaders and professionals anymore. Every believer who takes seriously the great commission needs to learn how to build worldview bridges. These worldview bridges accomplish several important things.
Understanding Our Own Faith for Personal Confidence
The first thing we see is that many Christians struggle to understand their own faith. The primary reason for this is that they simply don’t make the effort to do so. Another major reason for this problem is that most churches don’t have a systematic way to train their people beyond the hit and miss approach of worship services and Sunday school classes. It is not that there is any problem with these programs. It is just that they have a different purpose and are typically not well suited to help people lay a full-blown, systematic foundation for their faith.
An in-depth understanding of our faith, though, provides for personal confidence. Worldview training puts us in a position to truly grasp the full extent of our faith. It is this kind of knowledge which gives us confidence to stand up in the face of opposition and to share a witness to those who need Christ.
Understanding the Faith of Others for Effective Witness
Another important reason for grasping how to build worldview bridges is so that we can understand the faith of others in order to share the gospel message with them. It is pointless to begin sharing the gospel with someone who is convinced that our beliefs are silly, pointless or incomprehensible without first building a worldview bridge. Without knowing a person’s default beliefs, we may not be able to craft our message in a way that is understandable to the hearer. It is quite likely, in our day, that a worldview foundation needs to be established before a gospel presentation is possible.
To Properly Fight the Culture War
There is no question that we live in a world which is hostile to the Christian faith. Hostile attitudes are one result of this, but many times this hostility is expressed more tangibly in the culture. Non-Christian worldviews are now even producing actions in the culture and policy from the government which are overtly hostile to Christians. This is expressed in everything from rampant immorality to the suppression of human liberty.
As Christians, fighting the culture war is not our first priority. That would be to encourage the advancement of the Kingdom of God. However, fighting the culture war cannot simply be put to the side. The truth is, when the culture is allowed to become debased, an environment is created which makes it all the more difficult for the work of God to be accomplished in the world. As Christians, we are called on to spread the gospel, but also to stand up for what is right. An understanding of worldview helps us understand the foundation of these anti-God elements of the culture war and gives us tools for pushing back.
How Do We Get this Understanding?
Everyone wants the easy way out, but some things just have to be worked for. You can go to church and listen to the preacher and Sunday school teacher and get a certain level of knowledge of our basic Christian doctrines. But the kind of in-depth understanding that will give your spiritual life true depth requires a more significant commitment. Don’t get this wrong. This is not a put-down of any pastor or Sunday school teacher. It is just that worship services and Sunday school classes are not generally designed for the purpose of giving that kind of in-depth training. They have an entirely different purpose.
Think of your profession. What does it take to get to the highest levels? If you just went to an informal class with no accountability one hour per week, could you achieve the top levels? Absolutely not!
It generally takes many hours of dedicated study with many more hours of hands-on experience. This is true whether the training is done in a classroom or on the job.
Unfortunately, too many Christians see their secular vocation, rather than their Christian faith, as the number one priority in life. For most, the Christian faith is a passive element where individuals go and listen to someone else who has done all of the study and work, and merely try to glean a devotional thought from them.
But in God’s economy, our Christian faith is to be our primary focus. Our vocation is merely the means God has provided for us to take that faith into the world. So, if we don’t put significant effort into developing our Christian faith in a way which allows us to be effective for Christ in daily life, our vocation is devoid of a large part of its meaning.
The solution to this is to take the initiative to gain the knowledge base necessary to express our faith fully in the world. There are many places to get this knowledge. There are books and articles to read, classes and seminars to participate in and people available who will be glad to answer your questions. One significant repository of knowledge can be found on the MarketFaith Ministries website at www.marketfaith.org. There are scores of articles, videos, podcasts and blog posts that can be accessed for free. There are other resources, like books and CDs, that are available for purchase. There is even a certification that can be achieved.
No matter the current level of expertise you have in your Christian faith, you can gain more. And the more you gain, the more ways God will be able to use you to build his kingdom. Begin with a commitment to seriously begin that journey. Then begin at your current starting place and put yourself on a road to growth which allows you to become the kind of Christian God intends for you to be.
© 2012 Freddy Davis