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What World View?

July 10, 2014

I grew up in a church that called itself fundamentalist, although they later considered themselves evangelical.  I was not a Christian at the time and did not become one until my senior year in college.  In my early college years I considered myself wise enough (Ha!) to evaluate the claims of alternate religions and I studied them earnestly.  Thinking that my own life experience gave me all I needed to know about evangelicalism I did not study it so much.

That changed one day when, at college on suburban Long Island, I heard about a lecture series given by a man named Francis Shaeffer that was attracting a lot of buzz among college students.  He was an evangelical and, as I heard it, was laying out the case for his faith with skill and precision on his speaking tour.  Intrigued, I learned that just a short time later he was to be speaking in New Haven, CT near Yale University so I hitch-hiked up to Connecticut to hear him lecture.

I was basically impressed with what he said and it gave me a sense that the faith I had grown up in was reasonable.  It did a great deal toward helping me remain evangelical.  It was in his lecture that I first heard the term “world view” as he argued that how we understood things was determined by our world view, the almost unconscious filter through which we see the world.  He took us on a tour through history expounding how a “Christian world view” gave clarity to understanding the world around us and the danger our faith was in.

While the term “Christian world view” had been growing in academic circles it was Shaeffer, more than any other, who put that term into the popular Christian vocabulary.  Since that time, if you are an evangelical, you have probably heard dozens of exhortations to hold a Christian world view and to confront the various evil opposing world views with your whole heart.

It was many years before I read the book “Jesus Through The Centuries” by Jaroslav Pelikan who showed that the Christian worldview, and in particular the way Jesus was seen, has morphed and changed through church history.  There has always been a Christian world view but it is not constant and not immune to the influences of culture.

Nevertheless, followers of Shaeffer and others like him are sure that, while there has been some shifting, the contemporary evangelical understanding of a Christian world view has now reached (sarcasm alert) sinless perfection and can stand on a lofty peak looking down at a culture to which it is immune and pass judgment.  In fact, so sure are they that this perfection has been reached that they now tend to call it a “Biblical world view” because we all know that putting the word biblical in front of a noun makes it immune to questioning.  (end sarcasm alert)

Here is the problem:  While much of my belief system lines up with contemporary evangelical theology what I believe is an accurate world view is absolutely useless for engaging a culture around us unless we take time to truly understand and speak to that culture with grace and in a manner that shows that we hear them and are not just sitting on our theological mountain top firing truth bombs.

Nowhere was this clearer than in the reaction to the recent Hobby Lobby case.  Listening to and reading commentary from both sides was appalling.  Neither side seemed to have the slightest clue as to what the other side actually was saying and both routinely characterized the other belief system as horrific.

Evangelicals characterized those that wanted the contraceptives as women whose libidos had run wild and sought only to engage in promiscuous sex with no complications.  Progressives called evangelicals “women haters” and said this was merely an attempt by men to control women and reproduction.  I did not hear one progressive cogently explain that they knew the evangelical argument was against that which they considered abortifacients, things that actually terminated a fertilized egg.  I did not hear one evangelical even hint that users of these methods were something other than girls gone wild.

I’m concerned that we need to be gracious in our world view disputes so here is my own handy guide to engage progressives in such matters.

  1. Take time to understand what their world view actually is.  Do not, repeat do not, depend on your “trusted scholars” explanations of what those on the other side believe.  If possible let the person you are speaking to explain why they believe what they believe.  You can’t possibly refute or even wisely engage an argument you don’t understand.
  2. Be sure you know the facts behind what you believe.  In the case of the morning after pill for example take time to know how it actually works and not from your own friendly sources.
  3. Admit that world view clashes can’t be simplified into “good vs. evil.”  Admit that there are legitimate issues on both sides that need to be addressed.
  4. Accept that the idea of a Christian world view does indeed change.  For example, in my lifetime evangelicals in general have shifted from believing that inter-racial marriage is wrong, even sinful, to accepting that this is not a problem.  To assume that the views I hold today are not subject to re-thinking is foolish.
  5. Make a gracious engagement and parting as friends, even if you are just agreeing to disagree, your goal.  This is particularly true when you find your own view mischaracterized.
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