Part I: Communication within worldviews
It is quite common to come across the phrase “The Christian Worldview” in evangelical writings. I believe that this phrase is unhelpful and misleading particularly for those involved in cross-cultural missions and I would propose an alternative. I believe that we should instead speak of “Christ centered worldviews” in the plural, rather than claim that there is only one worldview that is correct to which all people should conform. This is based upon an incarnational understanding of the gospel message. That is, even as God conformed himself to humanity through his Son, so the gospel message conforms to worldviews in order to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus which leads to transformation within that worldview. I would like to develop and explain this concept in the next few CCI articles.
Worldviews have Different assumptions
When we first went to Pakistan in 1985 I naively thought that people experienced the world in the same way and therefore language learning was simply learning to replace one symbol (word) with another symbol (word) to arrive at the same meaning. I quickly learned that the Sindhi people have a very different set of assumptions, values and beliefs (worldview) through which they understand and interact with their context. I learned, for example, that the blanket condemnations of lying and stealing that I grew up with (and which I still greatly value) can be misguided in cultures where values of “saving face” and boundaries of ownership are different.
During my recent trip to Pakistan a good friend told me that his wife is often bothered by Jinn at night and has been having trouble with her arthritis. They had a taviz (a bracelet with a Koranic verse inside) made up for her and as a result the Jinn stopped bothering her and she experienced relief from the pain. Not only that, but when she took the taviz off the Jinn started bothering her again and the arthritic pain returned. While I do not doubt my friend’s honesty in reciting his experience, I am very skeptical that this anecdotal evidence truly points to the work of the Jinn or that the Koranic verse eased the arthritic pain. From my perspective growing up in a western worldview I look for more naturalist explanations. However, from a missiological perspective, it would be less than helpful for me to tell my friend that tavizes do not really work. That would merely, in his eyes, undermine my ability to relate adequately with reality. Instead a more suitable approach is to challenge my friend to align himself to Christ despite the fact that the taviz does work. This is a means of bringing Christ within his worldview, without judging whether it is my worldview or his that is misguided.
God speaks within worldviews
This approach is further illustrated from my experience with the translation of the OT into the Sindhi language. In speaking his prophetic word through the prophets God demonstrates his willingness to conform his message to a human worldview. Concepts of Sheol (the world of the dead located beneath the earth), pillars beneath the earth holding up the land, the waters under the earth and the waters above the heavens, all reflect a worldview that does not conform to what we know to be physically accurate descriptions of the world. But God spoke within that worldview, using those concepts to communicate essential truths so that people can live in a correct relationship with him. Those concepts, while inaccurate in a strictly physical sense, represent a human attempt to “make meaning” within their experience of their context. God graciously spoke to them within that worldview.
This brief introduction requires a more detailed definition of worldview that I will provide in the next article.