Part II: Worldview Clarification
Worldview distinct from Theology
In these articles I am arguing that we should speak of “Christ centered worldviews” in the plural, rather than claim that there is only one “Christian worldview” that is correct to which all people should conform. It is important to realize that “worldview” is very different from expressions of faith and theology. Although they impact each other and are interrelated, their distinct origin and function are such that it is important to not to confuse them, especially when we minister cross-culturally. The source of theology, according to our faith, is God’s revelation of himself. Worldview is the interpretation and response of a community or society to its context. Theology, therefore, is the outworking of God’s revelation within a particular context according to one’s worldview. Rather than claiming one overarching “Christian worldview,” which can lead to a premature dismissal of another culture’s beliefs and values, it is better to discover what it means for Christ to be Lord within any particular worldview.
Definition of Worldview
The concept of “Christ centered worldviews” (in the plural) requires a clear understanding of the meaning of “worldview.” Worldview is
the underlying perspective of reality at the core of culture which is disclosed in the way culture organizes and relates all aspects of life within a community of people (Kraft 1979:54). It is the “basic assumptions about reality which lie behind the beliefs and behavior of a culture” (Hiebert 1985:45) and “the culturally structured set of assumptions (including values and commitments / allegiances) underlying how a people perceive and respond to reality” (Kraft 1999:384). Worldview is the successful framework created by a community of people for the purpose of providing moral and emotional security by ensuring that there is a consistent guide in dealing with their environment. The reality out there is filtered through a “reality grid” to enable survival by gaining control over the world.1
We tend to believe that the world is really the way we see it, and anyone who questions these assumptions is simply “out of touch with reality.” People in the west believe that the world is made up of inanimate matter. Many in Asia believe that the external world does not really exist but is an illusion. In animistic societies rocks, trees and amulets are full of spiritual powers.
Implications for Evangelism
In Canada we highly value concepts of individual justice and equal rights. In Pakistan a greater concern is for the honor of family, religion and respected leaders. Such values are based on a fundamental belief in the primacy of the individual in the west, while in the east hierarchical societal structures are of greater concern. This requires an adjustment to the way the gospel is presented.
Early on in our ministry in Pakistan a young college aged man visited me to discuss the teachings of Christ. He eventually believed and was baptized. But I had made an unfortunate error based on my western bias for the individual. I had assumed that salvation was a personal, individual decision, as we commonly assume in the west. I had ignored the family dynamic and the hierarchical, communal decision making that is required in that society. Because of our lack of connection to the family and the sole focus on the son, the decision of the son was interpreted as rebellion and he lived estranged from his family for two years. This may have been avoided if we had taken a more communal approach working through, rather than against, the fundamental assumptions of family, life and decisions making.
The Gospel speaks to all Worldviews
Growing up in a western society my faith was constantly challenged with the logical claim that naturalist explanations of disease, weather, accidents, etc., preclude any supernatural explanations such as demons and curses. Some, like Richard Dawkins follow this logic to the bitter end concluding that any supernatural explanation of natural phenomena or perceptions of design in nature are merely “illusion.”2 Imagine my surprise (and delight) to enter a society3 that, while recognizing scientific explanations as appropriate mechanisms, is still able to integrate that new information into an already solid framework of belief and values that considers every action to have supernatural implications. Even in the simple act of sitting down, a person will often breathe out “Allah” acknowledging God as the one who grants us rest. We have been privileged to experience two contrasting worldviews, yet the gospel speaks relevantly to both.
The following article will discuss the problems with the position that there is only one universal Christian worldview.