Worldview, Attitude, and Discipleship

In a previous blog I suggested that what Christians need in the modern world, or post-modern world, is not so much a Biblical worldview as a Biblical attitude or orientation within whatever framework for understanding of the world best makes sense of the data we have at hand. In this post I want to elaborate – although I would add that I suspect that much of what I’ll be saying parallels the work of emergent church theologians.

At its roots the concept of a Biblical worldview taps into three felt needs: a nostalgia for Christendom as it supposedly existed in Europe before the modern world, the desire for an alternative to a modernity that appears to deny the validity of Christian experience, and a hope that emerging two-thirds world Christianity will rescue the “old world” from itself.

It also provided a great tool for streamlining the evangelistic work of missions. Missionaries no longer needed to spend years in the field learning to understand the people among whom they worked. Instead they could sit in a classroom where they would first learn a Biblical worldview, then learn from anthropologists about the worldview of their target people, and finally in the comfort of their U.S. study hall devise a program of translating the gospel to convert one worldview to the other.

The problem with the concept of a Biblical worldview is that such a worldview never existed until it was constructed by 20th century evangelicals and the first 21st century pope. The Bible itself is a record of multiple emerging worldviews. One of the difficulties faced by New Testament interpreters is that the teaching of Jesus can be understood in different ways depending on which of the then contemporary Jewish worldviews, if any, he and his followers inhabited. (Gerd Thiessen’s “Shadow of the Galileean” offers a lovely fictional representation of this problem.)

The people of Jesus’ time, like the readers of this blog, lived within the constantly shifting intersection of multiple cultures. In this they simply continued a long tradition of diasporic Jews and Greeks. They didn’t have a single worldview – they lived in a worldview marketplace. And, whether they were Jews or Greeks or something else what Jesus brought to them wasn’t a worldview. It was the gospel: a gospel that could reorient their lives within any of multiple worldviews. This remained true throughout the history of Christianity in the Middle East and Europe. Ancient Christians in the ruins of the Roman cultural world didn’t share a worldview with newly baptized Christians in the hinterlands of northern Europe’s dense forests. And almost certainly not with the Indianized Christians on the Malibar coast or the Eastern Christians struggling to survive in Xian China. They didn’t have a common worldview – they had a common Lord.

And this remains true today. Jesus doesn’t call us to a worldview, he calls us to discipleship. This is not comforting in the sense that modern Americans want. Disciples don’t get to chart their course across a well-mapped landscape toward an “X” marking God’s Reign. The maps are ever shifting on the winds of cultural change and the “X” is always just beyond a horizon that encircles us; a boundary rather than an end. Our task is therefore to cultivate a relationship with Jesus, drawing from our treasure house both that which is old and that which is new. The comfort he offers is not that he will show us where we are going, but that he’s going too.

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