How Relational Is Your Worldview?

Worldviews are important, but they must be framed relationally. I cannot approach people simply in terms of what I take to be their Christian or Hindu or Secular Humanist worldviews and address them from the vantage point of my worldview in a static manner. There must always be relational give and take. People are not robotic minds and mechanical wills. They have affections and experiences that also serve to shape them. Moreover, the ground of the Christian faith and basis for a distinctively Christian worldview is the Trinity: three divine persons in relational communion. Thus, in view of the Trinity, Christians must frame their worldview relationally.

By no means am I calling for relativizing our stances as Christians. Among other things, I am calling for the particularization of our worldview claims in various situations. The need for particularization is bound up, among other things, with the fact that there is no such thing as an ideal, unenculturated gospel. As Lesslie Newbigin has claimed, “The idea that one can or could at any time separate out by some process of distillation a pure gospel unadulterated by any cultural accretions is an illusion.” (Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: the Gospel and Western Culture [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1986], p. 4)

Take Jesus for example. He is the Word who became flesh (John 1:14). We do not know him as the Word apart from the flesh, but in the flesh in time and space and culture. Nowhere in the gospels do we find a tract that is used in a generic fashion; after all, Jesus became Jewish flesh—that is, an enculturated human. Thus, it should be no surprise when we find that he engages enculturated others uniquely. How he engages Nicodemus in John 3 is very different from how he engages the woman at the well in John 4. How Paul engages the Jews in Acts 13 is very different from how he engages the Athenians in Acts 17. Back to Jesus, how he engaged his own Jewish people differed depending on context and the person’s disposition and need. How many people expected him to engage Simon the Pharisee in whose house he was a guest, or the woman who washed his feet in Simon’s house, in the ways he did? (Luke 7:36-49)

The preceding discussion should not be taken as an attempt to disparage the use of gospel tracts, like the Four Spiritual Laws or the Bridge to Life. Gospel tracts have their place, in part because of such biblical texts as is found in 1 Corinthians 15, where Paul provides summative teachings of essential gospel truth. Still, tracts must never replace life on life engagement. Nor must we come to conceive of any and all tracts as exhausting the plenitude of the gospel mystery, as revealed in Jesus.

In view of the preceding discussion, Jesus’ church must not engage culture in a monolithic and abstract manner, but rather in multi-faceted and concrete ways. In the chapter on “The Church as a Cultural Community” in Exploring Ecclesiology, the claim is made that, “There can be no monolithic view of the relation of Christ to culture, for there is no ideal culture. God’s kingdom culture embodied in the church always takes particular form in concrete contexts.” Its engagement must always be “multi-faceted and dynamic, in no way static, always particular, never abstract, ever contemporary, never remote.” (Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger, Exploring Ecclesiology: An Evangelical and Ecumenical Introduction [Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2009], p. 207) Just as Jesus is not abstract, so too there is no abstract or ideal culture or church or Christian, but local and peculiar expressions of culture and church and Christian. So, the moral of the story is: situate yourself in your witness to the embodied Christ in the context of dynamic relationships with others; in other words, frame your worldview relationally.

Now, what does such witness look like in your specific context? I welcome your replies.

This piece is cross-posted at The Christian Post.

About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

Find me on: Facebook | Twitter | Google+

  • John McKendricks

    I realize that you desire interaction around the idea of being an enfleshed witnesses; specifically, how, has this been done, on a large scale; I am not sure that it has. I have always thought Christians think too lightly regarding Jesus command to go (to which there are many layers) and what that means exactly. Being in the world for the world has not yet become a primary value; the Church is not antagonistic to this concept, but she, the Church, is still struggling to be in the world and not of it, to the degree that it is lost for doing anything else.

    • Christopher Erik

      Hey John, How you doin’? Are you still in Lake Tahoe? I really appreciate what you are saying here. “Being in the world for the world has not yet become a primary value.” Do I hear you saying that, by and large, we have been too concerned with “not being of it” to truly be “for it?” I came across this interview lately that really gets at this issue. It is from an interview with Jennifer McBride (author of Church for the World: A Theology of Public Witness).

      It seems that the church, as you see it, is not so much called out from the world, or standing against it, as it is deeply embedded in it—and embedded in the world’s sinfulness.

      Bonhoeffer asked a question that I find helpful for thinking about this. He asked how Christians can be the church, people who are “called out” or chosen for a particular mission, without understanding ourselves “religiously as privileged.” Bon­hoeffer suggests that Christians instead “belong wholly to the world” by recognizing our solidarity with other human beings in sin and redemption. “Christ would no longer be the object of religion,” he says, “but something else entirely, truly lord of the world.”

      Christians communicate to others that we are specially favored when we position ourselves as judges over society and standard-bearers of morality. For about 30 years Protestants of all stripes have turned public witness into battles over morality. This presumption not only contradicts the great Protestant truth that “no one is righteous” but God (Rom. 3:9), it also contradicts Jesus, who did not present himself as a model of moral righteousness but belonged wholly to the world by taking the form of a sinner in public life.

      Here is the link to the whole article. Love to hear your thoughts. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2013-11/witness-sinners

      • Guest

        I found this question, “How relational is your
        worldview” challenging and comforting. Challenging because
        engaging with real people in a real world living real lives all with some degree of pain is hard. Having a nicely packaged set of beliefs is safe and unreal. Actually needing to live and interact is unsafe. But I found it comforting too.The concept is like coming home. It is a relief – that the simplicity of cookie cutter belief is not enough. The comfort is that the discomfort of the reality of the gospel needing to be enfleshed daily is scary and hopeful. It requires vulnerability. But it seems so alive. Dynamic. I am left with the anticipation of will I have the courage to engage with people where I can’t control the outcome or package the content.

        • pmetzger

          Great reflections. I was especially struck by the following: “It requires vulnerability. But it seems so alive. Dynamic. I am left with the anticipation of will I have the courage to engage with people where I can’t control the outcome or package the content.” Well put.

    • pmetzger

      Hi John, I tried posting this awhile ago. It must not have stuck. Thanks so much for your reflection. I think of Bonhoeffer here, as did Chris Laird. For Bonhoeffer, Jesus was the man for others, and the church was to be the community for others. Holiness must be holiness in the world, never apart from it. From my vantage point, in view of Jesus, God is not set apart from sinners, but set apart from sin for sinners. I find in you a breath of fresh air in Reno that blows like the wind of the Spirit through the Spirit to Portland.

      • John McKendricks

        Thank you Paul (and Hello to Chris). I fully agree. I first saw a different nature, location (and for that matter destination) for holiness (kodesh) after reading “The Way Into Tikkun Olam: Repairing the World” by Eliott Dorff, a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Judaism, who demonstrated a good argument that the Laws, Shema and Holiness do not exist to create boundaries, rather to bridge them.

        • pmetzger

          Very striking. Thanks, John.

  • Christopher Erik

    Hey Paul, I agree and appreciate so much of what you are saying here. “Jesus is not abstract” and “so too there is no abstract or ideal culture or church or Christian” – Amen and Amen! I have a problem though with what you call the “moral of the story”; for all the talk of “non-abstracttion” and “non-idealism”, in the final analysis, gospel engagement is ultimately equated to yet another abstract, “worldview.” World-view is an ideological abstract if there ever was one, so the modified version, “relational world-view” is really no different than, the hyphenated “Christian world-view.” Thus, it would seem that we have yet to move beyond our dependency on abstracts in our gospel proclamation and engagement of others. Again, we are really close here, but I think we have more work to do if we can confidently say that we are not depending on certain a priori rational constructs such as “world-view.”

    • pmetzger

      Hi Chris, Everyone has a worldview, whether well-thought out or not. You have one. I have one. Everything I have ever read from you reflects your Christian perspectives, which shape your vision of life. This is what I have in mind when I talk about worldview. The questions for me in this context are, “Is Christ the ground, the grid and the goal of my worldview? Am I open to his constant challenge to my conceptions at every moment? Do I realize that there is more to life than what I think? (experience and action are vital as well). Not all worldviews are a priori rational constructs. Hopefully, they are being reformed daily a posteriori in view of the life-giving ever-present, personal reality of Jesus Christ.

  • duskglow

    I appreciate this. As a (current) nonbeliever, one of my biggest frustrations with Christians is their propensity to treat me as something to be won, rather than someone to be loved. And it never seems to occur to them that if they loved me, they might win me. In fact this is one reason why I’m hesitant to “convert” – I am scared to see how the attitudes of people I’ve.known for years will change towards me. I don’t want to see that happen, and I know it will. In fact, that very much saddens me to think about. I don’t want to know how deep the gulf is now, and I will find out by what happens when I’m a part of the tribe.

    • Christopher Erik

      Hey dusk glow,

      I think I understand what you’re saying about about Christians and their “weak love” but that’s what I love about Jesus. Christ doesn’t let one group of people determine or dictate who gets to come to his party and who gets to sit at his table. Several of his parables end in a scandal, where the disenfranchised are welcomed in and the rich and powerful (socially rich, not just cash-wise) find themselves out in the cold. In other words, you are loved, invited, accepted and welcomed by no-less than Jesus Christ himself for it is “his” table and “his” tribe! Men (Christians and pagans alike) are all looking for love but no man or group corners the market on the love that we’re looking for. Those who open to the love of God in Christ, quickly discover that they are not only accepted but they discover that are called to join with him in a grand conspiracy, which involves making room for “others.” We remember what it felt like to be used by others, we remember what it felt like to be judged and left out and we find ourselves compelled by God’s love to live a life of “welcome!”

    • pmetzger

      I am quoting you in my post that will appear today at this blog. Thank you, duskglow. No doubt, you will find that you will be hurt by Christians, if you join our tribe. I have hurt other Christians, even as I have been hurt by my brothers and sisters in Christ. Still, while I have been hurt more by Christians than by non-Christians, I have also been loved profoundly by Christians. I wouldn’t go back. The relational risk is worth it, even though there is pain. I hope and pray that the fear will not keep you away from experiencing Christ’s love in his community.

      • duskglow

        Thanks Paul. I’m still working it out. These two blog entries have helped me to realize some things I’m struggling with when it comes to my own spiritual journey. And you know what I came up with? I’m not sure I want to follow Jesus if it means that I must also call myself a Christian. I don’t think one follows from the other, but right now, I just don’t want all the baggage.

        • pmetzger

          Thanks for your openness, duskglow. I appreciate your honesty.

    • Joe Gatliff

      duskglow,

      I came from an environment where it was all about “saving souls”. Once one was persuaded to say the Sinner’s Prayer, presto! They attained salvation. Then it was basically “OK, you are saved. You can go sit down now and start tithing”. I hated this about Christianity and it kept me away for so many years. Then I discovered Jesus as a real life, one-on-one individual I now know as a brother and friend. Even if I went against (what I believe) his plan for me and grabbed my backpack and decided to just leave this bible college and live on the road, I know He would go with me.

      If anyone presented the gospel to you as just someone to “win” over I sincerely apologize as a follower of Christ for that experience.

      It’s so ironic. I kept away from the tribe (have now discovered there are some awesome bros and sisters who do care) for so long because I came across so many who objectified me only to meet the One who this is all about and found Him to be just the opposite.

      • duskglow

        Apparently I haven’t met him yet. And you know? I know so much about it that I really could (and do) carry on with the best of ‘em, there’s very little that anyone could do intellectually now to lead me any closer to him. The only way I’m possibly going to be led any closer right now is relationally, and so far that way is frought with disappointment. Honestly, the ball is now in his court, and if he’s there, he’s been really careful to stay away from me at the present time, because there’s no “there” there.

        It’s not for lack of looking, it’s just how it is at the moment, and I have to accept that. I’m not going to claim something that isn’t yet there for me.

  • Guest

    Hey dusk glow,

    I think I understand what you’re saying about about Christians and their “weak love.” But that’s what I love about Jesus is that he doesn’t let one group of people determine or dictate who gets to come to his party and who gets to sit at his table. Several of his parables end in a scandal, where the disenfranchised are welcomed in and the rich and powerful (socially rich, not just cash-wise) find themselves out in the cold. In other words, you are loved, invited, accepted and welcomed by no-less than Jesus Christ himself for it “his table” and “his tribe!” Will you come? Men (Christians and pagans) are all looking for love but no man or group corners the market on the love that we’re looking for. Those who open to the love of God in Christ, quickly discover that they are not only accepted but they discover that Christ calls them to join with him in a grand conspiracy, which involves making room for “others.” We remember what it felt like to be used, or judged and left out and we find ourselves compelled to make sure that no one is left out just because they are different or “poor” or “lame.” That’s the true joy of living in Christ, living beyond the “law of the jungle”, we get to be a part of the solution that we have desperately desired for so long. Viva la Revolucion!

  • Alex O’Leary

    Much of this post resonated with what I had been thinking for a while, but never quite knew how to verbalize. I was an active member of Campus Crusade in my undergraduate studies and as such, I became very familiar with the four spiritual laws. While the information in the booklet was good, albeit cheesy, I always felt there was something lacking. It wasn’t personal and it seemed too rehearsed. Students often didn’t know what to do when the person they were engaging “went off book.” While it was clearly not always the case, often times I feel like people were treated more as a number, a potential convert than a person. That said, I do agree that tracts can be useful, but when they are used they need to be a tool to start the conversation, not a booklet that is merely read (or recited) verbatim. Additionally, after reading Scot Mcknight’s King Jesus Gospel my eyes were opened to a new, much broader definition of the gospel. A gospel that doesn’t start in Genesis 3 and jump straight to Romans; rather, it was a gospel that told the whole story of the Bible. While the gospel certainly includes the plan of salvation, is it (as McKnight claims) bigger than that alone? If so should that have a baring on how evangelism takes place?

    • pmetzger

      Yes, indeed, Alex. An expansive understanding of the gospel is of great benefit to our Christian witness. Thank you.

  • Victoria D Matlock

    Well i bin tough that there is more then one way to God God tough is in the way it was meant for us to know I am an up and coming Minster Embrace all and love all as God would have wont me to

    • pmetzger

      Thank you for sharing. Loving as God would have us love is such a great calling and profound challenge.

  • Byron Chinchen

    If Jesus is not abstract, and my personal worldview is unique to me, then it would seem that a “program to win believers” would be extremely impersonal. I really appreciate how this article addressed that issue in regards to wordlviews as relational, because a relational worldview should (and will) always lead to a relational relationship (as obvious as that sounds). Personally, I am reminded of a couple or “gospel tracts” that I have been taught in the past, yet the whole time they were being presented I couldn’t help but think how absolutely cheesy and worthless they would be if I ever wanted to tell my friends about Jesus or church. Forming authentic friendships has always been my first step before sharing the gospel with someone. I know that to some that that may sound “inefficient”, but to me to is necessary. If I am a relational being, existing in a relational world, how could I show others my faith if I don’t first show them myself?

    • duskglow

      Those who say it sounds “inefficient”… honestly, I never want to meet them. When you think about people in terms of efficiency, you miss the whole point and I most certainly do not want to hear anything they have to say.

    • pmetzger

      Byron, yes, it is so important to show people ourselves in the midst of sharing our faith. Thank you.

  • Colleen Milstein

    I found this question, “How relational is your worldview” challenging and comforting. Challenging because engaging with real people in a real world living real lives all with some degree of pain is hard. Having a nicely packaged set of beliefs is safe and unreal. Actually needing to live and interact is unsafe. But I found it comforting too.The concept is like coming home. It is a relief – that the simplicity of cookie cutter belief is not enough. The comfort is that the discomfort of the reality of the gospel needing to be enfleshed daily is scary and hopeful. It requires vulnerability. But it seems so alive. Dynamic. I am left with the anticipation of will I have the courage to engage with people where I can’t control the outcome or package the content.

    • pmetzger

      Colleen, thank you for your reiterating your points (further to what was written previously). They cannot be said enough!

  • Joe Gatliff

    The Christian worldview is also relational in
    the context of a historically broad and diverse culture(s) of sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), who at the heart
    of the matter, are not welcome in the mega culture of this world (John 17:14), because Jesus was not
    welcomed. And yet, in the Christian sojourning culture, we are to love,
    forebear, call attention to injustice, give-way, and always be ready to offer the reason for our hope- who happens
    to be a very relational someone! The world should tolerate this culture of
    Jesus sojourners, accept there is one problem; The Kingdom of God is a culture
    bent on domination. However, it
    cannot be domination through the world but through the living Christ in the
    heart and mind of one’s own conscience. The attempted medium of domination, namely politics, has distorted the Christ
    culture by taking the focus off Him and creating a culture of “issues”- an
    agenda/commodity-driven worldview centered on ever-changing topics of gay
    marriage, creationism teaching, and abortion. These issues are important but
    they have replaced the centrality of Christ, and the central message of the
    cross.

    • Christopher Erik

      #Boom!

  • yesashimwe

    Every Culture in any given
    society has an expectation that reflects its worldview. We must not lose focus on
    the sacred/ secular debate though. I must confess however that I always am
    struggling to understand what can be termed as “Christian culture” in order to
    even identify with and be ready to defend it. This does not mean that this
    represent every Christian or rather that I do not have any conviction. For
    instance in every culture there are visible and invisible patterns that reflect
    that particular people’s culture in every given specific context. But I wonder
    what would this be equated in Christianity. Are these “Sacraments, rituals (not
    good word for some), worship, prayer, greetings styles, etc…”? It is not also
    my aim to bring to life the historical difference between the Neo calvinistic (Kyuper) view vs the barthians (Barth) view on what should be termed as Christian worldview”. This brings me to the need of wanting to understand whether culture, and not worldview, can be defined outside those who
    were there before us such as “Ancestors”(roots) who are morally and ethically
    seen as reference point to any new practice introduced in a community. The answer to this puzzle am convinced would help define well what should be “Christian WorldView.”
    It is easy to say to the other “Let s agree in principles and leave the
    details aside” for the sake of dialogue. Which is very” a very civilized
    approach” to engage one another in constructive conversation on heavy topics;
    But this does not remove the boundaries on various issues (doctrines, convictions, views and positions) that they do not agree on in details; Borrowing from technological world, Personally I tend to see world view as a “soft copy to culture”; Thus I am convinced Christianity in all its multifaceted manifestation remains opened to embrace everyone who acknowledges and confesses
    Jesus Christ as his or her personal savior. It is only in this way that we can be
    able to see Christ as a transformationalist in order to engage structures,
    institutions and the whole of human agency that promotes different agenda and
    bring them to light.

  • Olwa

    Thank you Dr. Metzger for a thought provoking discussion. I think that prejudice can be an impediment to how we relate with others. I agree that we should not approach people with the mindset that make them feel like targets of our endeavors, or make them feel inferior. I wonder how we can know how relational we are if we have not encountered other worldviews with humility and grace. How do we see other cultures and belief systems compared to ours?
    Some school of thought suggests ignoring points of differences and embracing nuances that bring us together as we avoid prejudices. This thought I think, leads to unifying all religions and worldviews and tragically, leaving no room to question
    differences that can be historically, geographically and archeologically proven. We can share Christ through who He is and what he has done in our life no matter what worldview we ascribe to. We should ask ourselves if we truly have relationship and community that enables us to share our Christ centered life. Can we really fathom the depth of true relationship in a culture that relationships are narrow and superficial? If we are able to overcome these barriers, then we can say that our worldview is truly relational. In my context, I see a lot of potential for growth and self-discovery. My friend recently said “When I studied theology, I thought I was studying God. But constantly I realized theology is where I am (man) under the microscope, with the lenses of God, and I am studying myself (Man).” Knowing God lead to self-discovery which affects how we relate with others.

  • Deanne

    “What does such witness look like in your specific context?” I think of two distinct periods in my life. For 7 years (right out of college), I worked on staff with a Christian organization – sharing our faith using a gospel tract was part of the culture. Not only was it ingrained in us to use the tract in every possible situation, but at weekly staff meetings everyone shared their results. I stressed over sharing my faith so much, discovering new heights of completely missing the point in what it meant to love God and share his love with others.

    The other period in my life was “after staff”. I worked for the same small company for 20+ years. During one year, I saw the following: two co-workers had a family member commit suicide, another co-worker tried to end his own life, two co-workers had children die, one co-worker’s husband died, and another co-worker discovered he had a malignant brain tumor. No one asked me for a gospel
    tract but I was asked a lot of questions about God that year. Each conversation was different because each person’s pain and view of God was different. It was a powerful and meaningful time sharing my faith. All the times I asked God why He wanted me there became clear that year. I’ve found the following quote to be true (Dr. Metzger shared this quote in class too): “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Isn’t it true: when we show people love the way Jesus did, that opens the door to share the rest of our lives?

  • Noah Hoff

    In a world where it is so easy to separate yourself to what
    you’re specifically interested in or what you’re specifically comfortable with,
    this post about taking a relational perspective is very important. In this day
    and age, it is quite easy to get wrapped up in your own little word and
    associate yourself with people of your same life perspective and lifestyle
    while disregarding people who God has called us as Christians to witness to. I
    would contend that engaging in other cultures will not only help other people’s
    walks with God, but our own walk as well. As you state, approaching the world
    cultures from a Trinitarian perspective creates a relational communion. This
    shows God’s love for all people, not just his followers. I like your point made
    about how there is no ideal church or Christian. I feel like this is important
    for many Christians as well as new believers to hear and nonbelievers to hear.
    My question to you though, is are there not certain things that are ideal for
    all churches and/or relationships with God? For instance, a biblical
    understanding of grace and sacrifice? Or even a constant reliance on God and
    prayer?

  • Darcey

    I think when you disconnect a worldview from the relational
    piece it is so much easier for hate and distrust to creep into our lives.
    Instead of seeing the people who differ in worldview, it seems we start to see
    a force with to reckon. Additionally, a sense of belonging comes by identifying
    our worldview and those who hold the same beliefs. This can definitely be
    valuable. But if we have disconnected from the relationships of others to
    simply viewing them in terms of an impersonal, inhuman ideology, then I think
    that sense of “us” versus “them” starts to become more powerful and dangerous.
    As a Christian, I see my fellow believers doing this and regret that I have at times
    also fallen into this mindset. I think this depersonalization probably
    contributes to those outside Christian community believing that Christians hate the GLTBQ community, people who are pro-choice, Muslim, etc. This is a tragedy. We are to be known for our love of people, not hate. How can I continue to grow in this?
    I think a start is approaching people who I know have different beliefs first
    as people to discover and enjoy instead of approaching them simply as Buddhist,
    an atheist, etc.


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