Shining a light on the stories we live by

The importance of learning about worldviews

We have just celebrated Easter, such a significant plot twist in the Christian story. It is a key component of the Christian worldview. A friend of mine describes worldviews as “the stories we live by”. I love that definition because it makes it more tangible and less scary.

The reality is that we all have stories we live by and live into. The basic elements of a story are character, plot, problem, solution.

I know people who identify themselves closely with their work, and they understand the world as a place where they get to live out their gifts to make a difference and earn well. They hope to retire early and live expansively. They see the problem as life being too short to achieve all they want to achieve.

I have other friends for whom the problems loom large in their consciousness. They identify themselves as advocates for causes such as climate change, modern day slavery, intimate partner violence.

For some, spirituality or religion dominate their worldview and sense of self.

“I have become all things to all people.” (1 Corinthians 9:22b)

For many of us, we are navigating through competing worldviews or stories. I have a Christian worldview which includes modelling my character after Jesus, who humbled himself, yet I am an author and am often told to promote my personal brand if I want to be a success.

Paul was a master of interpreting worldviews, from quoting their own poets and philosophers back to the educated elite in Athens (Acts 17:16–34) to explaining what it might look like for Greek believers in Corinth:

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

Getting a handle on worldviews

Understanding other people’s stories helps us to be able to communicate more effectively. We need to understand where each person is coming from to minimise the potential for conflict and to maximise the opportunity to serve and reveal God to them. We need to understand what is different and what is common.

The temptation is to expect everyone to see the world the way we do. Our worldview blinkers impact on our ability to understand the stories other people are inhabiting. It also impacts on our ability to connect with other people and with God.

A teacher told me:

“I think in our witness, knowing worldviews is the most important way to listen to someone’s story, or to be able to see the circumstances around you and understand what God is doing amid it all. I’m always taken aback when people speak first without asking anything about the other person: what they believe, where they come from.”

What does it look like to understand worldviews?

As the Apostle Paul explained in 1 Corinthians 9, worldview study is not simply cognitive understanding, but it is an understanding of the whole person: so that you are able “to become like” that person. In doing this, we can see the boundary lines of our faith in Christ, so that we do not compromise the Gospel: “though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law”.

The following two examples are stories told by interviewees in research I have done.

The doctor who seeks first to understand

“She works at a hospital which is on the frontline for voluntary-assisted dying, which has been introduced in her state. She stayed on at work late to hear a talk from a palliative care physician about the law changes and what the implications are. She believes it’s important to understand different views first, and then look for where you might make a stand.”

The school chaplain who starts where others are at

“In his role as chaplain, he clearly has a great understanding of worldviews and engages well with them. He understands the importance of knowing the person’s worldview before attempting conversation. In one talk he was discussing how Christians have an upside-down view of the world compared to other people, and illustrating how that is the case. He does not assume his whole audience is on board with the Christian worldview, and makes time to explain, without sacrificing the message he is trying to get across.”

Worldviews and how to engage with them

There are some great resources for helping us better understand the worldviews of others; as well as helping us to communicate generously and connect with grace.

One of those is a book and website:

Living at the Crossroads, Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew, Baker, 2008

One of the authors, Michael Goheen, has a series of PowerPoint presentations on his website. Scroll down through all his books and articles to “Unpublished Resources” and then to “PowerPoint Presentations”. I recommend “Is Worldview Important for the Local Congregation?” and “Resisting the Idolatry of the Western Story”.

Next time: We will meet another faithful worker.

Kara Martin is an Adjunct Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and lectures at Mary Andrews College, is author of the Workship books and Keeping Faith and co-hosts the Worship on the Way to Work podcast.

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