Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions1 reminds readers that scientists see the universe through paradigms and that these paradigms are constantly changing, giving way to new data and information. Similarly, philosophers and theologians create worldviews in an attempt to explain the universe as best they comprehend. These worldviews are helpful as generalizations, and as such they make comparisons with other worldviews possible.
Proceeding Cautiously into Understanding a Christian Worldview
However, no worldview is ever complete in itself; like scientific paradigms they must give way to more coherent and expanded ones. Christians are also capable of constructing what might be called “Christian worldviews,” but they must do so with great caution. An evangelist would do well to understand the nature of worldviews: how they work and how they can be both an asset and a liability for sharing the gospel.
Although it is possible to get a sure word about any given truth, it is impossible to get a last word. Truths that are known can be plumbed deeper and be applied wider. The God who Christians seek to describe by their worldview is enormous, and the universe they seek to contain in that worldview is complex.
Furthermore, human finite understanding, not to mention human fallenness, makes the grasping of any truth a complicated process. Consequently, any true Christian worldview must be supple and capable of giving way to more robust notions concerning God and the world. The work of the evangelist is diminished if one hints that he or she has God completely understood.
A proper Christian understanding of the world does have the benefit, so Christians would say, of the guiding influence of the Holy Spirit. But, it is here that Christians must take great care. Some might go so far as to suggest that since the Apostle Paul wrote, “We have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) that, in fact Christians can be confident that they possess all knowledge.
Such a suggestion would neglect that Paul speaks against the factions that existed among the Corinthian Church where some claimed to follow Paul, others claimed Peter as their leader, others still were followers of Apollos, and others claimed that their allegiance was only to Christ.
If the Corinthians had the mind of Christ in a way that suggested they had God all figured out, why was it that they were so conflicted and contention and division existed among them? Could it mean that the mind of Christ was offered to them not as an accomplished fact—they were certainly not rivals of the Divine Omniscience—but rather the mind of Christ was offered as a necessary resource.
With this resource, all true believers are under obligation to try and plumb the depths of that resource to understand as much as they can as well as they can instead of dominating others through the use of a perceived worldview. The former—plumbing the depths—will help the evangelist in his or her task, but the latter—attempts at domination—will distort God’s true redemptive plan for all humanity.
A—Not the—Christian Worldview
Therefore, whatever the Christian worldview might be, it is incomplete, and those who suggest they have fully grasped the Christian worldview should be regarded with suspicion. In fact, it should be a first measure of anything that approximates a Christian worldview that it does not pass itself off as a last word. Sure words exist; a tree does not have to give up its interior rings just because it adds new rings; but a tree that is not adding new rings dies.
Similarly, anything that claims to be a Christian worldview must be supple enough not to calcify. Hence, the Christian worldview does not exist, but a Christian worldview does exist—and it is dynamic, not static. The gospel presented to non-believers must be about a God who is great and our conception of him must be growing. In other words, a proper understanding of a Christian worldview will display that humility of mind and heart that characterizes one whose love of God and curiosity to know him more is not stymied by pretentions.
Christian worldviews as they develop do so in light of questions which are asked about God and his world. Therefore, Christian worldviews are affected by time and place as well as culture and language. Some things transcend all times and all places and these things must be addressed.
Vital Concerns for a Christian Worldview
Nevertheless, history reveals that not all ages have been equally concerned about the exact same questions nor have they been faced with the exact same problems. Therefore, there can be a theology particularized to certain ages and cultures. These theologies are not in competition with other theologies for dominance; they will not necessarily contradict each other. It is merely that they seek answers, under God, to variant questions. Blended they can even produce a more robust worldview. Sensitivity to this fact will sharpen the focus of the evangelist in any context because he or she will be aware of the issues that will open the door to the presentation of the gospel.
Furthermore, those who use a Christian worldview well will be able to distinguish the questions that are perennial and produce transcendent concerns for all people in all times from those questions more contextualized. The following will answer a few perennial concerns by using various illustrations in an effort to construct a coherent and clear worldview.
1. Creation and Intention. The creation of the universe by God and his intention for that creation is central to a coherent Christian worldview and should inform and direct the work of an evangelist. So what is humanity’s purpose? To begin, a Christian worldview must emphasize that God is uncreated and eternal.
Furthermore, God created the universe for his own glory and made creatures in his image. To note, since we are created in God’s image and likeness, he also seeks to glorify us with him. Such a tremendous picture of love can be extracted from scripture, stirring our imaginations as we ponder God’s full desire to commune with us and for us to commune with him. Although the fall of humanity was tragic, it did not take God by surprise. He fully knew humans would sin and become estranged from him. Part of his plan for creation included his plan of redemption and reconciliation in Christ.
The fact that God is a purposive God and has intentions for each of us is of vital concern when presenting the gospel to others. Estrangement of men and women from God and from one another occurs when people try to step away from God’s purpose for their lives. Sin is someone playing God of his or her own life; the sins we commit are the results of our mismanagement. The forgiveness and acceptance found in Christ restores us to a life of living according to God’s purpose. Understanding this feature of a Christian worldview prepares the evangelist for clarity in his or her proclamation.
2. Trinity and Community. The love of God is also essential to the message of an evangelist. How can love be understood and appropriated in the world? A Christian worldview asserts that there is only one God who is eternally existent in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is fundamental to all that Christians believe. Although this teaching has a sense of mystery about it, nevertheless, it can be understood in a manner that is reasonable.
Relational attributes in a non-contingent being presuppose that relationship is necessary in that being. God’s capacity to love was not contingent upon creation. His capacity to love is essential to his identity as the Triune God. The Christian God, unlike the gods of other religious worldviews, is love himself without being ego-centric and self-absorbed. The Gospel of John emphasizes the expanse of God’s triune love. The Father loves the Son and gives everything to him. The Son loves the Father and offers everything to him. Likewise, the Holy Spirit has come to guide us in a richer, fuller life with Christ, thereby glorifying the work of the Son. In summary, when God created humanity and made them in his image, he made them as relational beings. The capacity to love and be loved is essential to what it means to be human.
Community is possible because humanity is created in the image of a God who exists in community. The well-known apologist and evangelist Ravi Zacharias highlights this point in a lecture, saying “diversity, unity, community in the Trinity.” God’s love is the source of his reconciling acts directed toward fallen humanity. He forgives sins in order to restore estranged creatures to himself in love and fellowship. Community with God is possible and so is the hope of community with others. The great commandment to love God and others is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity. This teaching, essential to a true Christian worldview is vital to the message of the evangelist.
3. Unity and Personality. How is it possible for each person to be unique, while also being in community? God made us to be in fellowship with him and with one another. In light of this it is clear that no one’s identity can be discovered in isolation from others. Our identity is primarily discovered through being in relationship with God, our maker. Isaiah 6 highlights this truth when the prophet discovered his identity by looking at God. The true vision of God brings the prophet into the realization of God’s holiness.
Isaiah was shaken by this revelation and was deeply disturbed. He was broken and disappointed. Nevertheless, as the prophet continued to fix his gaze upon God, he discovered God’s power to cleanse from his sins; in this act of cleansing Isaiah redefined himself by virtue of the love of God. One could say that the prophet’s worldview was expanding.
Finally, God revealed his heart to the prophet that Isaiah might understand his true calling in life. His purpose in life was discovered by defining who he was and what he was called to do through a relationship with God. To be united with God enabled the prophet to be united with all true believers. Unity is the road to personality. That is, unity, not uniformity, allows one to maintain the uniqueness of personhood while fitting into God’s purpose and plan.
In fact, the famous saying by Christ urging us to love our neighbor as ourselves has in it the reality that in order to love another we must be able to love ourselves. But how can we when we do not even know ourselves? The answer is found in an identity understood and anchored in the presence and nature of God. Hence, that certainty will thrust us forward with confidence as we seek to better understand God, ourselves, and the world, and this too is a vital feature in the work of an evangelist.
4. Incarnation and Purpose. God comes to us in Christ. All the religions in the world recognize humanity’s hunger and thirst for God. Only a Christian worldview underscores that God is in pursuit of us. The incarnation, God’s entering our world in human flesh and form, is at the core of the evangelist’s message. “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
In fact, a popular saying in the early Church was that God became man so that man can be like God. This must not be confused with a worldview blurring the distinction between creator and creation. However, the incarnation does reveal a most passionate God in pursuit of people made in his image and likeness. Yet for all God’s passion and love for humanity, that passion is not often reciprocated.
The famed painting of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel depicts God reaching out to Adam with ardor and enthusiasm as he longingly flexes his whole posture toward Adam. Adam’s response is astonishing. Instead of responding with like fervor to the God of the universe, Adam apathetically rests his forearm on his knee, barely lifting his hand toward God and with a facial expression of disinterest.
Does this not sum up the ministry of Christ, who for all the physical healings performed and cries to be reconciled with God was often disdained and impugned by so many? Nevertheless, the passion of Christ is indeed the passion of God. His siding with infirmed humans led him to drink in the same heartache and estrangement throughout his day-to-day ministry. And the incarnation climactically exemplified through Christ’s death on the cross the fulcrum of God’s paradoxical act of bringing the richest life out from the most sorrowful death. The incarnation acts as a mirror to reflect our purpose of reconciling each other and our own selves to God. The relation of incarnation and purpose should be central to the work of an evangelist.
To conclude upon such a large topic as constructing a coherent Christian worldview amidst a plurality of belief systems is a difficult task, but nevertheless possible and important. The previous work has outlined how one might systematize and understand the essential aspects of a Christian worldview through illustrations of Creation and Intention, Trinity and Community, Unity and Personality, and Incarnation and Purpose. These illustrations help to shape the way we view God, the world and ourselves.
But as previously warned, to hold dogmatically to a particular worldview often risks the chance of being incoherent and inconsistent with truth. Truth, as previously stated, must be examined and plumbed for wider applicability. This does not mean we conclude with a milquetoast summary, but rather with a firm and confident arrival at a worldview that is informed biblically and historically.
Only such a worldview will stand the test of time, people, and places, and will further add to the continuum of a coherent and informative understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. It will furthermore leave open the opportunity for others, like us, to offer helpful explanations to perplexing and pervasive questions. This, in turn, will provide the evangelist with the necessary tools to understand the context in which he or she conveys the timeless truth of the gospel, making his or her work more credible and lastingly impactful for future generations.
1. 1962. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.