Part 1: The Role that Worldview Can Play in the Outreach Ministry of a Congregation
Written by: District President Rev. Dr. Tony Steinbronn
My Personal Introduction to the Concept of Worldview
It was the winter academic quarter of 1991-1992 and Dr. Eugene Bunkowske had just finished a lecture that included the concept of worldview for his course “Communicating Christ: Barriers and Bridges.” Being an active parish pastor at the time, I began to wonder how the congregational members that I served viewed reality, especially how did they view the nature and orientation of God – our “ultimate reality.”
Within a short period of time, I resolved to focus my doctoral studies and dissertation research on the topic of worldview – twenty-seven years later, I am so thankful for Gene’s lecture that day and his willingness to guide me through a dissertation process that would help me, (and many, many others over the years), to acquire an understanding of the concept of worldview and how it can be a very useful tool for the communication of the Gospel and the Church’s outreach to the nations.
What is a Worldview?
Anthropologist Robert Redfield observed that people start out in life with what he called “self” and then they looked out on what he called “not-self.” It was this perception of “not-self” that he labeled “worldview.” Thus, as this “self” observes “not-self,” a person structures his or her perceptions of that reality, his or her “worldview.” But there is more. Individual persons tend to see things as “others” in their group see them; in other words, though persons may generate a good number of individual perceptions of reality that differ from those of their group, they ordinarily perceive reality in ways remarkably like the perceptions of the “others” in their group; simply stated, a worldview is “the way a people characteristically look upon the universe.”
Thus, a worldview is a set of presuppositions that we hold about reality and the basic make-up of the world. It is the way that we characteristically look outward upon the universe and the way we see ourselves in relation to all else. As deep-level commitments, these presuppositions are our way of viewing and interpreting all reality; and they provide the interpretative framework through which, and by which, we make sense of the data and experiences of life.
Why Is the Concept of Worldview Important For the Church’s Outreach?
The first benefit of possessing a worldview understanding is personal, for it helps a person to engage in a reflective and examined life concerning one’s relationship with God, relationship with others, and in obtaining true and godly answers to the most important and pressing questions of life. Second, it gives the Church a powerful method of acquiring glimpses into the heart and mind of those whom we seek to bless spiritually with the Gospel and physically with acts of love and compassion.
A Personal Benefit
Back in 1993, in one of my interviews for the qualitative portion of my dissertation research, a young husband and father said to me about halfway through our time together: “I am sharing things with you things that I have never shared with another human being, fundamental things that no one else has ever heard.” It was during that interview that I came to realize that there was great value in helping people reflect upon, and examine, those things closest to their heart – their personal worldview.
For seven years (2005-2011), I had the privilege of teaching a Masters’ level course titled “Worldview and the Gospel” for the Hoffmann Institute (Concordia College, St. Paul) and the first assignment required that the students write a paper on their own personal worldview. In order to complete the assignment, the students had to answer specific questions regarding the nature and orientation of God, the origin and nature of the external world around us, the nature and orientation of human beings, the basis and nature of truth, the basis and nature of ethics, and what is the social location of religion in our society. Frequently these graduate students will email and express their thanks for having had the opportunity to examine their deep, personal beliefs and core commitments about the nature of reality.
1 Does God exist; if you believe that God exists, how do you know that He exists? Who is God in His innermost being; in other words, what do you think God is like? Does God have thoughts and feelings; if so, what kinds of thoughts and feelings does God have and how has He made these thoughts and feelings known to humankind? What kind of relationship does God have with the world today; if He is involved in the lives of people, what kinds of things does God do?
2 How did the universe come into existence and does the universe have a Creator? Are there invisible beings who inhabit the universe; if so, what are these invisible beings like and what kind of relationship do they have with God and with human beings?
3 What is a human being and how did human beings get here? What is the purpose of humankind? Do human beings have a choice as to their actions or are their actions and behaviors pre-determined as part of a much larger scheme of things? Why do people do bad things? Why do people do good things? What do you think will happen to you after you die and why do you believe this?
4 Is knowledge about the world, and the things of the world, possible? If so, what is the source and basis of this knowledge? How do you know whether something is true or false? Can we trust our senses to give us knowledge concerning the nature of things? Is truth different from person to person or is truth the same for all people? If knowledge of God possible, how is this knowledge of God made known?
5 How do you know what is right and wrong? Are there moral laws that are the same for all people; if so, what are these moral laws? What is the ideal life and why should a person live this kind of life?
6 What is the social location of religion in our society? Frequently these graduate students will email and express their thanks for having had the opportunity to examine their deep, personal beliefs and core commitments about the nature of reality.
A Ministry Benefit
How can a person get under another person’s skin and know the heart and mind of someone else? God is able to look into the heart of every person and to see and know perfectly what is going on in there but we can only observe and postulate what might be taking place at the deepest recesses of a person’s will and emotions.
One of the significant contributions of acquiring a worldview understanding of the people whom we seek to reach with the Gospel is that it grants the Church an Emic understanding of another human being – namely, how they see their world and why they respond as they do. In a limited, but powerful way, we are granted glimpses into an insider’s perception and interpretation of reality. This kind of knowledge can greatly assist God’s people, as His missionary priests and witnesses, in their proclamation of the Gospel into that particular person’s life and culture as His Word is communicated in the language and communication patterns of the receptor’s frame of reference, and is clothed in symbols that are meaningful and significant for the contextualization of the Gospel.
6 What place does religion have in society and what role does religion play in the organization, meaning and interpretation of life?
7 The communicator recognizes that every human being has, anthropologically speaking, two identities – one as a member of the human race and the other as a member of a specific culture.
8 The communicator accords to God’s Word its rightful primacy, that is, its power to penetrate every culture and speak within every culture, in its own speech and symbols, the Word which is both judgment and grace. As God comes to people in His Word, He deals with the hearer in a two-fold manner – first outwardly, then inwardly; He draws outwardly through the Word and the Gospel and inwardly through the work of the Holy Spirit.
9 The receptor’s culture will determine the language and manner in which the Gospel should be communicated and also the patterns in which one’s new life in Christ is nurtured and exercised.
reference, 10 and is clothed in symbols 11 that are meaningful and significant 12 for the contextualization of the Gospel.
Life Is All About Stories
Everyone Has A Story – So, What Is In Your Suitcase?
There are many good movies but a personal favorite is Forrest Gump. The movie begins with Forrest sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus to take him near to the place where his girlfriend Jenny lives. While Forrest is waiting, he takes the opportunity to share his life story with just about anyone who is willing to listen to him. As the story of Forrest’s life unfolds, we have the opportunity to see various residents of the town listening to Forrest as he removes “artifacts” from his suitcase and tells them, and us, his story.
Like Forrest, every human being has a story; and, like Forrest, each person’s life is filled with many scenes and snapshots and experiences. So, if you were sitting on a bench, waiting for a bus and you had the opportunity to tell people your story, what would be in your suitcase? What kinds of artifacts have been placed into the suitcase of your life that could be used to share your story?
Most importantly, life is all about hermeneutics; that is, how have you made sense of your story? As Forrest experienced, making sense of your story is not that easy to do for it requires both reflection and examination (and the counsel and wisdom of others). So, how do you go about reflecting upon the story of your life? How do you go about examining it and making sense of it? For the way we understand, and interpret, life depends on what conception we have of the human story; and a person’s worldview plays a major role in interpreting, and making sense, of his or her life’s story.
10 The communicator seeks to communicate within the receptor’s frame of reference (the receptor’s culture, language, concepts of space and time, thought forms, idioms, etc.) and to make every effort to meet his receptors where they are; and to understand, empathize and identify with the hearer. The communicator does this because he desires to get the message into the minds and hearts of the receptor audience.
11 The communicator seeks to reproduce in the receptor’s language the closest natural equivalent of the source-language message, first in terms of meaning, and secondly in terms of style. He affirms that if the Gospel is to be understood, if it is to be received as something that communicates truth about the real human situation, if is to “make sense,” it has to be clothed in symbols which are meaningful to him.
12 It is the task of the communicator to so present this new message within the receptor’s frame of reference that the receptor can interact with it thoroughly enough to produce constructive new understandings within his or her head and heart.
Everyone Lives By A Script
Everyone lives by a script. The script may be implicit or explicit, it may be recognized or unrecognized, but everybody has a script. All get scripted through the process of socialization and enculturation through the thinking, teachings, and lifestyles given to us by significant persons, such as parents, siblings, extended family, friends, neighbors, school teachers, heroes, etc. In an audio-visual and digital culture, we are also being scripted in powerful and subliminal ways through the medium itself.
The dominant scripting in our postmodern society is a script that is dualistic, naturalistic, individualistic, materialistic, pluralistic, centered in a technological, therapeutic consumerism that is enacted through advertising and various forms of propaganda, especially in the liturgies of television and social media, and which promises to make us happy and complete without the active presence and saving activity of the Triune God in our lives.
The Need for An Alternative Script
It is the task of the church’s outreach and ministry to de-script that script among us. This task is accomplished by the steady, patient, intentional articulation of an alternative script that can make us truly blessed. This ministry is to “name” reality and life in ways that are in conformity with the word and will of God and to communicate and live out this script in our daily lives as we conform our lives to that of God’s Son as His living letters.
This alternative script is scripted in the Word of God, and in the Word made flesh, and is made known through the teachings, life, ministry, and mission of God’s people in the world. It is an offer of a counter-narrative. The entry point into this counter-script and alternative way of life is baptism. In Baptism we, as part of the liturgy, renounce the devil, and all his works and all his ways” and renounce the dominant script of our unregenerate nature (Ephesians 4:22-24) through confession so that we might be born of God (John 1:10-13; 3:1-21).
Anthropologically, we are in need of three rituals:
The Church’s ministry is crucial and indispensable in our society because there is NO ONE except the Church that knows “the Script – the Gospel” that is able to set a person free (John 8:31-36). It is the task of the Church’s outreach to proclaim the Gospel in a culture of slavery and death so that people can be set free and live in His freedom and life now and forever.
13 Every human being has been scripted with a sinful nature, a nature inherited from our biological parents. Consequently, all people are born in sin; that is, they are full of “evil lusts and inclinations from their mothers’ womb and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God. Moreover, this inborn sickness and hereditary sin is truly sin and condemns to the eternal wrath of God all those who are not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit” (Tappert, The Book of Concord, 29).
14 Luther’s understanding of a Biblical spirituality consisted of prayer (oratio), meditation upon God’s Word (meditatio), and trials/struggles/temptations (tentatio). Life is filled with tribulations, trials and temptations; these drive us to prayer, asking God for His help, counsel and strength; and these drive us to His Word for counsel, wisdom and consolation.