I had an interesting conversation last week. Last Sunday I talked with a Ph.D. student from Southwestern Seminary about theology and worldview. I was interested in her thoughts about some issues because she is a Korean woman. She attends a conservative seminary that strongly holds to a complementarian view of men and women. She asked me about what I thought about some of the issues that Southwestern is dealing with. In turn, I was interested in her perspective.
Something that she spoke of over and over again was the term “biblical worldview.” To be honest, many of the students at Southwestern that I know talk a lot about “biblical worldviews.” I told her that years ago, my friend Mark Matlock was a part of a panel discussion on youth ministry at Southwestern entitled “What is the Biblical Model of Youth Ministry?” Mark made waves when his opening statement was “I am not convinced that there is one biblical model of youth ministry.”
In the same way, there are some well-educated Christians who think that there is only one “biblical worldview.” They explain it this way…
- We are to take the verses of the Bible, Old and New Testament, and apply them to daily living.
Now, let me stop right there and say that I agree with that statement. I am a fan of “sola scriptura” and I do not hold any church leaders’ ideas as equal to scripture. I do not affirm coming up with ways to diminish the parts of the Bible that are inconvenient. Yet, I am skeptical of the next step that people take…
- We are to take the verses of the Bible, Old and New Testament, and apply them to daily living and call that a “biblical worldview” and we expect every Christian to adopt this same worldview.
Here is my problem. I have a background in both counseling and overseas mission work. Those experiences have led me to believe that every person on the planet, Christian or not, has a unique worldview (i.e. how they understand themselves, others, society, etc.). This is strongly linked to culture. My mother was one of 13 children who grew up on a farm in the hills of Tennessee in the late 1940s-50s. I will never see the world the way she sees it. In the same way, I have a friend who was born in the summer of 1966, same as me, but she grew up in Taiwan worshipping her ancestors. Even though we are the same age, we will never see the world the same way.
When someone becomes a Christian, they begin the discipleship process of having God, through His Word and His Holy Spirit, reshape their worldview. Yet, I do not believe that every mature Christian ends up with the same “biblical worldview.”
Let me say that I am not talking about relativism. Adultery is always wrong. Gossip is always wrong. Worshipping idols is always wrong. But there are decisions we make in life where there is not total agreement among Christians?
• Should my children attend a public school?
• Do we have one child or seven?
• Do I abstain from alcohol?
• Is it OK to purchase jeans from a company that runs overseas sweatshops?
• Do I use spanking to discipline my children?
• Do invest in a pharmaceutical company that makes abortion pills?
• Do I relate to my spouse in the exact way that is prescribed in a Focus on the Family book?
• Do I let my daughter play at the home of a Muslim friend?
• Do I invite the gay neighbors over to my home for dinner?
Some would have you believe that there is one Christian worldview that has a simple, universal answer to all of those questions. I have a different perspective.
I see that we all have a worldview and a culture. God uses his Holy Spirit to mold and shape us. He starts with the “clay” of our personality, culture, experience, and worldview. He then molds us using the Bible, the Holy Spirit, and the church. In other words, two Christians may have a worldview that is being molded as shaped by the Bible, but neither of them will have a PERFECT worldview.
I thought about these things as I talked with this Korean Ph.D. Student. I thought about them even more this week as I read Grassroots Asian Theology: Thinking the Faith from the Ground Up by Simon Chan.
While there were parts of this book that I did not connect with, I really appreciated the way that Dr. Chan took the focus away from formal Asian theologians and shed some light on the way the ordinary Christians in Asia practice their faith.
“Elite theologians often do not take seriously grassroots experiences. For liberationists, the poor need sociopolitical liberation and justice… It does not occur to these theologians that the poor may be looking for another kind of liberation; spiritual liberation from fear and fatalism…freedom from the fear of spirits; deliverance from demonic oppression, real or perceived; healing for their sickness, and so on.” (page 103).
I really enjoyed the discussion in chapter 6 entitled “The Church.” It relates to my earlier discussion. Is there one biblical understanding of church life? In much of Asia, religion does not consist of visiting a building one morning a week. Religion is a daily practice that is centered at home. Confusion homes have ancestral altars. Animists have “spirit houses” to give a home to harmful spirits. In Hong Kong, a Feng Shui specialist is consulted to make sure that demons do not settle in your home or office. In Indonesia, the mosque is the center of daily community life. The ideas of a Christian congregation that only meets one morning a week is alien to those coming out of Buddhist, Hindu, Confusion, and Muslim backgrounds.
As we look at the early church in the book of Acts, can we say that an American member who comes to church every other Sunday has a “Biblical worldview?” Are the Korean Christians who meet at the church every morning for prayer and fellowship more biblical?
My favorite chapter, though, is chapter three on “Humanity and Sin.” Here, the book builds upon an area that I have studied for my dissertation… the concept of honor and shame.
“…in an honor-shame culture, the loss and restoration of honor are not private matters but public events. A person is truly shamed when their fault is made public. Honor is not honor unless it is publicly bestowed…Religious truth is not what each individual understands it to be, nor is it a matter of private ‘opinion’; all truth, including religious truth, is public truth.” (page 89).
As I understand it, someone growing up in a heavily honor-shame culture will have a different “biblical worldview” than someone who was raised in a guilt-innocence culture. I affirm that God’s word is authoritative and can be applied to all matters of life. Yet, this holy scripture is shapes the “lives” which come from a very wide array of perspectives.
Do I believe that every Christian on the planet should have a biblical worldview? Yes, I do.
Do I believe that every Christian on the planet should have an identical worldview? Of course not.