How a Christian Worldview Can Make You a Better Listener
- 2011 29 Aug
Christian Worldview: Not Just about Fighting
"'Christian Worldview' makes me want to vomit. I'm not sure what it is about those words, but it reminds me of when I was a kid and people taught young Christians to argue with others. I never saw fruit in it. Maybe I just need a new perspective on it."
That was the response I received when I emailed a friend that I wanted to write a book about worldviews.
I understood his frustration. After reading through blogs mentioning a "Biblical worldview," I noticed many of the postings were more about cultural warfare than cultural understanding. Christian writers bemoaned the lack of a Biblical worldview both inside and outside of the church and non-Christian writers warned of a theocratic takeover of our otherwise enlightened democracy.
So is that the purpose of a Biblical worldview - to attack popular culture? I suggest the answer is a definitive "no." Instead, a Biblical worldview helps believers understand the world they live in, and it helps them understand the core beliefs of their non-Christian friends. A Biblical worldview can actually promote meaningful conversations, instead of antagonistic confrontations.
How are such conversations possible? I suggest three steps: (1) understand what you believe, (2) understand what they believe, and (3) have a conversation. But please also understand, Dear Reader, that these three steps are not a linear process. Instead, these three steps form a kind of dance, where the three basic steps are performed in a variety of orders. When these steps are executed with grace, they create art.
A Personal Experience with Worldview Conversations
As part of my graduate school training, I went on some travel-study programs. During one of these trips, I had multiple opportunities for evening walks with a friend from another faith. These walks were one of the best parts of the trip for me.
Eventually our discussions began to focus on religion, and there was one particular moment when I began to feel the need to defend Christianity point for point. At the same time, I realized that engaging in such a defense would move the conversation from friendly to adversarial if I wasn't careful.
I felt caught in a dilemma. How could I be true to both my friend and my faith? Although I believed Christianity was true, I could not defend it point for point.
Later reflections on this relationship reminded me of Stephen Covey's advice in his book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I could be true to both my faith and my friend by following Covey's habit five: seek first to understand, then to be understood. For Christians the understanding is two-fold. First they must understand their own beliefs, and then they must listen in order to understand the beliefs of others. With understanding as a foundation, friends can construct meaningful conversations.
First, Understand Your Own Worldview
Other writers have discussed worldview at length[i], so I will provide only a simple summary:
- A worldview works like a set of lenses.
- Our basic assumptions compose these lenses.
- These assumptions include our answers to life's most basic questions.
And what are some of these most basic questions?
- Where did I come from? (How did humans get here?)
- What went wrong? (Why does evil and suffering exist?)
- What is the solution? (How do we fix evil and suffering?)
- Where am I going? (What happens after I die? What is the future for humanity?)
The Christian worldview provides a story that answers these basic questions.
- Every story begins with a setting. The Christian story begins in Genesis 1 with the creation of humanity, made in God's image, and blessed to both manage the earth and to reproduce.
- Every story has a conflict. The Christian story conflict becomes clear in Genesis 3. Humanity rebels against its creator and as a consequence both managing the earth and childbirth become painful, even life-threatening.
- Stories have resolutions for their conflicts. The Christian story has a two-part resolution. First, God pursues humanity to redeem it from sin and suffering (Romans 5:8), and God promises a new existence for those who follow Him (see especially 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21.
This story answers our basic questions, and it makes sense of life as we experience it.
Second, Understand the Worldview of Others
When speaking at a Christian conference, a woman approached me with concern for her Muslim friend. My suggestion: get to know the Koran better and maybe she could better answer his questions. Her response: "Why should I bother with that trash when I have the Truth?"
She had an excellent question. After all, in Philippians 4:8 Paul tells us to focus on the true, noble, right, pure, and lovely. Why should believers have patience with that which is contrary to Christian Scripture?
Please understand that I am not advocating warm and fuzzy relativism. Instead, I believe that 1 Corinthians 13 encourages believers to seek first to understand, and then to be understood. How?
- We seek understanding others by being patient, kind, honoring others without drawing attention to self, rejoicing in truth, and never giving up (vv. 4-7).
- Our knowledge is not perfect (vv. 9-12). Trying to understand the beliefs of others sends us back to Scripture with new questions that can provide new insights.
- And don't forget - even the gift of prophecy will someday pass away, but love is eternal (vv. 8, 13).
Third, Have a Conversation
My first year as a summer camp counselor at Pine Cove Christian Camps I eagerly awaited the arrival of my first group of campers, but I was also nervous. Could I really minister to the needs of these kids? A few days before our first group arrived, I came across Mark 4:26-29 in my NIV Bible.
[Jesus] also said, "This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come."
This parable seemed like a promise to me. I simply needed to share what I could with my campers. God would take care of the rest.
I am convinced that God calls us to build relationships with non-believers. Like Israel's calling in the Old Testament, we are to be a light to the nations. Therefore your responsibility is loving conversation. Leave conversion to God. In practice, don't try to present the entire gospel in one discussion. Instead, listen intently and respond to your friend's assumptions, one at a time. When you listen first, you earn the right to share your own assumptions later. And keep the conversation going. When you focus on a conversation rooted in love, you can enjoy the relationship and still be true to your beliefs. By focusing only on one issue at a time, as they are raised by your friend, you are validating the relationship instead of selling a worldview.
Stanley J. Ward is the Director of Campus Life and Ministry at The Brook Hill School in Bullard, TX. He is also the author of Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends.
[i] James Sires' The Universe Next Door is particularly helpful. Although I must recommend my own book, Worldview Conversations: How to Share Your Faith and Keep Your Friends as an introduction to this topic, Sires' book is a great next step.
Publication date: August 29, 2011