Tag Archives: worldview

Worldview and the Kingdom of God

Transforming Worldviews book coverI’m really dragging out my discussion of Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, so I’ll limit myself to one last post. There’s lots more to examine in this landmark work on Christianity and culture, but you’ll just have to read the rest for yourself.

Toward the end of the book, Hiebert discusses a biblical worldview. He recognizes that there are many different worldviews represented in the Bible, but insists that there are certain ideas that are central to who we are as Christians. One of the main ones has to do with the King and the Kingdom. Hiebert notes that it is the King that defines the Kingdom. There is danger in overemphasizing the Kingdom itself, rather than the King:

A weakness of this view is that it loses sight of how lost human beings are without Christ and the urgency of evangelism. Another is that the church becomes a political player in the arena of world politics. It is no longer a countercultural community on earth, a prophetic voice of the reign of God in the lives of his people. Christianity becomes a civil religion, used to justify democracy, capitalism, individual rights, and Western cultures. (Kindle location 5921)

Bingo. In a pendulum swing, the church has moved from focusing only on evangelism to totally neglecting it. We build houses, feed people, promote justice… but don’t tell people about the King. The Kingdom only exists because there is a King.

Newbigin observes, “An entity can be defined either in terms of its boundaries or in terms of its centre. The Church is an entity which is properly described by its centre. It is impossible to define exactly the boundaries of the Church, and the attempt to do so always ends up in an unevangelical legalism. But it is always possible and necessary to define the centre. The Church is its proper self, and is a sign of the Kingdom, only insofar as it continually points men and women beyond itself to Jesus and invites them to personal conversion and commitment to him” (1980, 68). (Kindle location 5988)

When we emphasize the King, we talk less about who is in and who is out. The focus is on moving people toward Jesus, toward the center.

What about boundaries between saved and lost? For God, who sees into our hearts, the category “Christian” is digital. He knows who are truly his followers and who are worshiping other gods. For us humans, the boundary is often fuzzy. We see the outside, not the heart. Some whom we believe to be Christians may not be so, and some we believe to be lost may, indeed, be followers of Christ. (Kindle location 6035)

Our task isn’t to decide who is “us” and who isn’t. We aren’t defined by our relationship with other Christians, nor their relationship with us. It’s about our relationship with Jesus. We’d do well to spend less time fighting about who is and who isn’t part of the family and more time strengthening relationships with Jesus.

One last quote. This one is worth the price of admission:

The church and believers are called to worship God, to have fellowship with one another, and to bear witness to the gospel in a lost world. Of these three—worship, fellowship, and mission—the church and believers will do the first two better in heaven. It is only the last that they can do best here on earth. (Kindle location 6075)

Sharing the gospel deserves a privileged spot in the work of the church. It’s what we do uniquely now that we won’t do when the Kingdom is fully realized. That’s why attempts to define the church’s mission solely in terms of the Kingdom are inadequate. We can’t limit ourselves to what we will do when the Kingdom is restored. We have to be about pointing people to the King.

Modernity, order, and the church

Transforming Worldviews book coverUsing ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, we talked the last time I wrote about how modernity led the Western church to obsess about time and punctuality. Along the same lines, Western churches often emphasize cleanliness and order.

Hiebert observes about modernity in general:

Cleanliness in modernity is defined primarily in terms of high order: of keeping categories uniform. Flowers in the grass are weeds, earth on the sidewalk is dirt, and spoons in the fork bin are out of place. Categories must also be clearly bounded. Pictures, windows, and doors should have frames setting them off, cracks in the wall should be fixed or covered by moldings, and floors should be differentiated from walls by baseboards. Wherever categories meet, the boundary must be marked to keep the distinctions clear. (Kindle location 3392)

He mentions, as an example, how roads are clearly defined in societies influences by modernity. There is a clear demarcation as to what is road and what isn’t. In many societies, the road is part of the surrounding area; a path is a suggestion as to where to walk, not the only allowable walking space. (You see this tension in many developing nations, where lanes are clearly marked on roads, but those markings mean little to nothing to local drivers)

Hiebert then observes about the church:

In the church, too, cleanliness is of high value. Sanctuaries, dress, and the order of rituals must be clean and proper. We see this emphasis in the tension between relationships and cleanliness. If long-unseen friends appear at church, do we invite them to our home for lunch, although our house is dirty because we left in a hurry, or do we greet them and invite them to our house on another day, after we have had time to clean it? In many cases we do the next best thing, in terms of relationships: we invite them out to a restaurant dinner! (Kindle location 3396)

Where this becomes especially harmful is in missions situations. Missionaries see their way, modernity’s way, as the right way; it’s very difficult for them to give control to people not bound by the same notions of cleanliness and order. Hiebert says:

(Western missionaries) have tried to teach people to be on time; to construct straight walls; to paint without slopping on the window sills; to keep buildings clean; to plan for future activities; to keep accurate minutes and straight accounts; to stand in line; to maintain sharp borders on paths and roads; and to keep books, medicines, and other supplies in order on shelves. Their fear of chaos has often been a hindrance to turning work over to the nationals. They have been afraid that hospitals would become dirty, schools unorganized, churches disorderly, accounts irregular, and the order of the church chaotic if things are controlled by the local people. Moreover this distrust of the local people has undermined the missionaries’ credibility among them. (Kindle location 3414)

And these attitudes don’t go unnoticed by locals:

Christians in other lands are often confused by the Western obsession with order and Westerners’ lack of relational skills. Westerners rarely open their homes spontaneously to visitors. They are more interested in keeping possessions than in sharing them. They are often too busy doing things to take time just to sit and visit. For Christians in many non-Western societies, the central issue in Christianity is not right order but right relationships. The gospel to them is good news because it speaks of shalom—of a community in which harmonious relationships value human dignity, justice, love, peace, and concern for the lost and the marginalized. (Kindle location 3427)

All of this is very interesting to me because of how I’ve seen these things play out in me, in other missionaries, and in churches I’ve been around through the years. I marvel again at the obsession so many Christians my age have with resisting postmodernism while fully embracing the influence of modernity as if it were gospel.

Have you seen any of this?

The church, modernity, and time

Transforming Worldviews book coverUsing ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews, I looked last time at some general impacts that modernity had on the church.

One specific area that Hiebert focused on is the emphasis on law and order. In the U.S., this shows itself in our emphasis on punctuality. Hiebert notes:

The first influence is the emphasis on mechanistic order over interpersonal relationships. We see this in the emphasis on clock time over relational time. In the former, people must be “on time” according to the clock, because punctuality is most efficient in coordinating the activities of many people doing different jobs. In much of the world people live by relational time, which means they do their best to meet at a given time, but other, human-related activities may intervene and delay them. Although they may set out for church in good time, on the way they may meet a relative or a friend they have not seen for a long time. They cannot simply say hello and good-bye in a few minutes. It takes time to rebuild the relationship, and they will eventually get to the service, which is held every week. (Kindle location 3383)

I’m troubled by the obsession with time in many U.S. churches, especially as regards ending times for services. I much prefer event orientation, where the focus is on what is done, not how long it takes. I hate people saying that we don’t have time to do this or that during our service; we have the time, we just want to use it on our own leisure later.

Hiebert’s point about clock time and relational time is seen in a study that Richard Beck referred to the other day. In this 1973 study, the participants were seminarians who were assigned to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan. When they arrived at the place they were supposed to speak, they were informed of a change in location. Some of them were told that they had plenty of time to arrive at the new location. Some were told that they should arrive promptly (moderate time pressure). Others were told that they would have to hurry or they would be late (high time pressure).

Along the way, they passed someone who was in obvious physical distress (who was actually an accomplice of the researchers). As Beck tells it:

So who stopped to help? Those on their way to preach a sermon about the Good Samaritan? Or those who had the time to help?

Overall, the results of the study revealed that the biggest factor in helping was having the time. The relevant statistic from the study was (% who stopped):

The Low Hurry Condition: 63% offered aid
The High Hurry Condition: 10% offered aid

And, incidentally, some seminarians in the high hurry condition literally stepped over the groaning person on the way to deliver their sermon on the Good Samaritan.

What was the biggest factor that determined whether or not seminarians would show compassion? Time.

Modernity, postmodernism, and the church

Transforming Worldviews book coverI’m continuing to pull ideas from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews; why come up with my own thoughts while I can use someone’s like Hiebert’s?

Hiebert has a thorough discussion of modernity and it’s impact on the church. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I have to chuckle a bit as so many church leaders pull their hair out over the effects of postmodernism, while they seem blind to what modernity has done to the church. Hiebert says it well:

It is as true, or more so, of conservative Christians, who are often unaware of modernity’s influences. It represents both a great opportunity and a great threat to the church. As Guinness reminds us, “The Christian church contributed to the rise of the modern world; the modern world, in turn, has undermined the Christian church. Thus, to the degree that the church enters, engages and employs the modern world uncritically, the church becomes her own gravedigger” (1994b, 324).

Modernity undercut the authority of Scripture, placed God in a box marked “irrelevant,” and forced the Western church into rigid structures of rules and regulations. Modernity placed logic above God; it placed logic above just about everything. Modernity brought us the dualism which I’ve looked at in the last few chapters.

Even as we struggle to deal with postmodernism’s relativism, maybe we should welcome its necessary critiques of modernity and it’s shortcomings.

Dualism and missions

Transforming Worldviews book coverLast time I noted some thoughts from Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews about the dualism that grew up in Western culture over the last few centuries, the separation between religious and secular life.

Hiebert also noted the effect this had on missions:

In missions this dualism has led to a division between “evangelism” and “social gospel,” reinforcing the dualism that led to the secularization of modern societies. For many people, evangelism concerns the super salvation of the soul, and the social gospel involves ministry to human physical needs, such as food, medicine, and education. Missionaries planted churches and built schools and hospitals. They saw their task as Christianizing and civilizing people. The two endeavors were often seen as separate tasks. (Kindle location 3164)

As Hiebert noted, when societies rejected Christianity but accepted the social aspects, modern missions became one of the world’s great secularizing forces. He also notes:

Modern dualism also led many missionaries to deny the reality of spirits, magic, witchcraft, divination, and evil eye, which were important in the everyday life of the people they served. Young Christians in these communities kept their beliefs in these this-worldly spiritual realities but hid them from the missionaries because the missionaries did not believe in such phenomena. The result was “split-level” Christianity in which young Christians were Christian in public, going to church and reciting the confessions on Sunday, but were traditional religionists in private, turning to magicians, diviners, and shamans during the week. (Kindle location 3173)

So what happened in many places was a superficial acceptance of Christianity, a wholesale acceptance of Western social structures, and an underlying continuance of traditional beliefs. In order to get the schools and hospitals, they were willing to perform Christian rituals, but their hearts remained unchanged.

By not changing underlying worldviews (including their own), missionaries failed to actually convert those they dealt with.

Obviously, Hiebert is painting with a broad stroke. Exceptions abound. But in far too many places, this is exactly what took place.