In spite of what many people try to assert today concerning the founding of America, the country was specifically established based on Christian ideals and principles. The people who founded this country intentionally drew from a Christian worldview to establish its culture and institutions. That is because they were, themselves, Christians.
Throughout American history, of course, there have always been people who had other beliefs. But traditionally, these were a small minority. Today, we see an entirely different dynamic at work. In our modern times, the number of people who claim to be Christian is still a large majority, but there is now a very large and vocal minority who have been very successful in altering the Christian foundation. Of course, this is not strictly an American phenomenon. A very similar process happened in previous times in Europe, as well.
The purpose, here, in mentioning this change is not related to the political implications of that fact, though there certainly are political implications. Rather, the purpose here is to examine the implications related to how we, as individual Christians, interact with this growing group of non-Christians – particularly as it relates to sharing a witness with them.
In times past, virtually everyone in American culture (with few exceptions) at least started with a Theistic worldview – and most actually ascribed to a Judeo-Christian belief. In our present day, that is simply not the case. Naturalistic beliefs are actually dominant in our educational institutions, in the media and in the entertainment industry. There are also significant pockets of Animistic and Far Eastern Thought adherents. And with modern communication and transportation technology, these beliefs are in the public square more than ever in the history of mankind.
So, what do we, as Christians, do with Christ’s admonition to go and make disciples among this increasingly diverse population? This is a real problem for many simply because there is a lack of understanding about how to deal with it and because of a fear that we will not know how to give an answer. At this point, a knowledge of worldview becomes critical for Christian witness.
And not to leave out Christians in other parts of the world where a Theistic belief system is not dominant and never has been, we see the same issues at work. Interacting with people with a non-Christian worldview requires a means by which we are able to engage in a way which makes sense to the listeners.
What is Witness?
Perhaps before we go any further, we should first define what we mean when we use the word “witness.”
This word actually has two forms, and we need to understand both.
The first form is the noun. In this form, the word refers to a person who has personally experienced an event. If we know Christ, we are witnesses of what he has done in us. We have seen first hand how he has generated change in our lives.
The second form of the word is the verb, and is the one that we are mostly concerned with here. When we give a witness, we are sharing a firsthand account of something we have seen, heard, or experienced. We are taking the noun and doing something with it. So, if we know Christ, we are called by God to share that with those who do not know him.
Based on the definition above, we see that a witness is actually nothing more than a messenger. We can share what God has done in our lives, but we are not capable of changing another person’s life. God changed us, and if another person’s life is to be changed God will have to do that, too.
God has, though, chosen us to partner with him in the process. When we share the gospel message with others, we bring them knowledge of what is possible so God can work. And that is what witnessing is all about.
Training to be a Witness
The teaching methodology for most witness training programs is a one-shot process. I have had the opportunity to participate in numerous witness training opportunities in my life and all of them, without exception, gave the training using a “cold call” mindset. We are taught to go to a person’s home, or some place, and begin a conversation which leads to a decision to receive or reject Christ. Many times the people being witnessed to are total strangers. Even if they are known, there is more often than not, no personal relationship to serve as a bridge for a natural conversation.
This is not meant to denigrate street evangelism or other cold call witnessing experiences. These kinds of witness opportunities do have their place. But that approach should be the exception rather than the rule for most Christians. The number of Christians spiritually gifted in the area of cold call evangelism is small. To force the majority of believers to use that method is to push them away from sharing their faith.
With a cold call approach, the end of the presentation is typically the end of any further opportunity. When witness is viewed as an event, a person either makes a decision for or against Christ at the conclusion. Whichever way it goes, there is typically no relationship in place capable of taking the person further.
So, How Should We Think About Witness?
Occasionally, our witness opportunity will be an event, but for the most part it needs to be conceived of as a process – a regular expression of life. As we engage relationships, some of the people we interact with will not be Christians. We must learn to cultivate those relationships and become able to share in the normal flow of life. To truly grasp this principle, we need to understand how this all really works.
God’s Part of the Process
Salvation is a literal, objective change that takes place in a person’s life. When someone invites Christ into his or her life, God makes a legal pronouncement that the person is no longer guilty of sin and he performs a miracle to give that individual a new nature. Only God can do these things. There is nothing the human witness can do to generate those effects in a person’s life.
The Recipient’s Part of the Process
By the same token, the witness cannot do anything to make another individual open his life and invite Christ in. God made us to be free-willed individuals and he will not violate our personal will when it comes to a relationship with himself. Every individual must personally decide to open his life to Christ if it is going to happen.
Our Part of the Process
So, as a witness, we are not capable of doing God’s part or another individual’s part of the witnessing process. But God has reserved a place for us, and that place is to share the message of salvation. Receiving salvation is dependent on first coming to an understanding that we are sinful beings and because of that are separated from God. Based on that, they must realize that they must make a decision to personally receive that salvation. This understanding must come from somewhere. Certainly it can come by reading the Bible or watching an evangelistic TV program. But most often, and most effectively, it comes from the mouth of someone who already knows a relationship with Christ. So it is our role, as believers, to act as a witness and share that message.
Worldview and Witness
In a situation where the person we want to share a witness with already has a Theistic worldview, it is not so difficult to just dive into an explanation of the gospel message. The person at least already believes that there is a God who created the universe and mankind. We only have to share with them who this God is and how they can connect with him.
But what happens when those you wish to witness to have an entirely different understanding of the nature of reality? It would not be productive to begin telling them how to know God because their understanding of him is not consistent with what you are trying to share. If they believe there is no supernatural reality, telling them how to know God would be nonsense. If they believe there are many gods, they will be confused about which God you are referring to. If they believe in an impersonal life force, a personal God will not make any sense to them.
As such, the first thing a witness for the Gospel must discern is the other person’s understanding of reality. Then, based on that understanding, it is necessary to start the witness by explaining who God is based on what they do not yet understand about the God of the Bible. Until a person understands which God you are talking about and the nature of that God, no further explanation will make any sense to them.
And this is where an understanding of worldview comes into play. By understanding worldview we can grasp all of the possibilities which exist regarding people’s understanding of reality. As we interact with them, it becomes easy to detect what gaps they have in their understanding about God and reality, and to share information which bridges the gaps. Without this understanding, it can be very difficult to discern what kind of knowledge the other person needs in order to fully comprehend your witness.
To truly grasp the nature of witness in our modern pluralistic world, it is necessary to move beyond a simple knowledge of how to share the gospel message. Certainly we cannot avoid learning that knowledge. When the time comes to lead a person to a decision to receive Christ, that basic knowledge is critical. But to get to that place may require laying a foundation which can only be set based on a knowledge of worldview.
What is being recommended here is not the simple approach that witness training typically offers. It definitely goes a step deeper. But it is also not an impossible task. As Christians we are charged by God to partner with him to share the gospel. It is now up to us to step up to the plate and do our due diligence to become the witnesses we are called to be.
© 2009 Freddy Davis