Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why’s and How’s of Teaching Christian Worldview

From the top of Sarangkot hill in Pokhara, Nepal, it is possible to catch a 180-degree panorama of the dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Himalayan Mountains, including the stunning “fishtail” peak of Annapurna II. A guide took me there a few years ago. With the entire white-capped range stretched out across the valley before us, he exclaimed, “J—- C—–!” This kid, who probably believed in many spirits according to Tibetan Buddhism, learned from secularized English-speaking foreigners that the Lord’s name is an especially powerful swear word (or magic word!) you use when you see something amazing.

But you don’t have to go to Pokhara for that. Whether we like it or not, we’ve got plenty of spirits and gods, miscommunication about Christian faith, and power-word cussing right here in our increasingly pluralistic and postmodern culture. If our churches don’t effectively teach people how to recognize these different worldviews and how to communicate the Gospel “into” these worldviews, we’re abdicating our responsibility.

How we fall short – Here are five common ways the Church is coming up short in this task:

1. The subject of worldviews is barely even a blip on most churches’ radar screens. Meanwhile, church members are swamped by an insanely intense anti-biblical indoctrination from education, entertainment, arts, and the media. If the idea of “worldview” is considered at all, it often is viewed as an impractical, over-intellectual, esoteric head trip, too vague to be useful for discipleship or evangelism.

2. We opt for doing Christianity in an echo chamber. We like being with “our kind of people” and “talking Christian shop,” insulating ourselves from people who don’t think and talk like us. We haven’t bothered to develop a vocabulary for genuine engagement with people who don’t share our basic assumptions and therefore have difficulty engaging in and sustaining conversations. When we happen to come across people who have completely different worldviews from our own, we either have nothing to say or talk “at” them with Christian truths rather than first finding common ground with them as human beings. We come off as odd, isolated, and out of touch with real life. Unfortunately, much of our marginalization in the culture is self-inflicted.

3. We project Christian faith as small-minded and parochial, whereas the core biblical worldview is actually much more flexible than many Christians make it out to be. While some churches and other groups manage to recognize the importance of worldview and attempt to address the subject, too often the core biblical/Christian worldview gets hijacked by other agendas. Add-ons like Christian sub-group cultural practices, denominational special pleading, and assumptions about political, social, and even scientific issues get the whole process off track. As a result, the “biblical worldview” gets too tightly identified with “our sub-group’s interpretation.”

4. We expect a non-questioning, anti-intellectual, childish Sunday school faith to compete in the rough-and-tumble marketplace of ideas. We give platitudes like “stay committed,” “read your Bible,” “go to church,” and “stay away from anything illegal, immoral, and fattening” – reducing everything to a matter of one’s personal discipline and faithfulness. We make hardly any concessions to the tough worldview questions people might bring to the table. A full biblical understanding of who we are requires attention to our minds, too. Jesus said we are to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind.

5. We neglect to acknowledge that the deepest, most difficult questions people have about Christian faith are generally issues of worldview. If churches persist in answering preset questions that only people in their denomination care about, then they’re not adequately equipping the saints for the work of ministry in the world.

Benefits of teaching about worldviewsInstead of ignoring or avoiding the challenge of worldviews, let’s meet it head-on. The other worldviews aren’t going away anytime soon (unless the Lord returns), and it’s time we prepare our people for upcoming cross-worldview encounters. I’m not saying we need to turn everybody into world-class apologists – but at least let’s try to give our people a decent running start.

Knowing about worldviews is good for the whole church – from teenagers to the elderly. It’s especially important for young people just before college and in college who are being or will be exposed to all these “new” ideas (which are just warmed-over tweaks on the various worldviews) for the first time. Whether old or young, if you’re at the center of the intellectual and cultural storm, knowing worldview basics will be relevant.

Several weeks ago, I spoke to a campus minister at Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo. He used to teach a worldview orientation course to first-year students at a well-known Christian college. His opinion was that the term “biblical worldview” had become a buzzword – it was generally assumed that if you taught Bible and Christian theology, automatically students were being taught the biblical worldview. He found, however, that when kids heard the word worldview, many just pushed the snooze button in their minds.

They were missing out on the many benefits of understanding worldviews, which include:

Increased empathy: Knowing worldviews helps you to “walk in the other guy’s shoes.” It moves you out of the Christian echo chamber.

Improved listening skills: Knowing worldviews helps you really hear what other people are saying.

Better conversations: Knowing worldviews gives you the confidence and ability to talk with absolutely anyone, no matter where they’re coming from.

Genuine tolerance: Knowing worldviews helps you appreciate our common life with people from all over the worldview map; you value people more as made in the image of God, even if they don’t believe in God.

More effective communication: Knowing worldviews aids you in getting your ideas across better.

Better friendships: Knowing worldviews improves your ability to draw people out and share yourself.

The greatest benefit of knowing worldviews is that it gets you more excited about Jesus! It’s not just a head trip. It’s a spiritual process of deepening your walk with Jesus, asking God for wisdom (James 1:5), allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and guide in your development of discernment, and in discovering afresh our supernatural, mountain-moving, freeing, healing, miracle-working God. Knowing how the biblical worldview compares and contrasts with the others will help you develop a much deeper appreciation for just how good the Good News is.

Bayard Taylor is the author of Blah, Blah, Blah: Making Sense of the World's Spiritual Chatter and The Late Great Ape Debate. If you'd like copies of Blah, Blah, Blah you can buy them directly from the author by going to blahblahbook.com, clicking on "book me" and finding the "contact me" under "book me links." Quantity discounts are also available.