Worldview: Implications for Missionary Work

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Genetic enhancement. Christians surveying the cultural landscape in the West have a clear sense that things are headed in a destructive direction. While most believers can easily identify the symptoms of decline, few feel competent to diagnose and address the root causes.

Worldview: Implications for Missionary Work

There are many complex factors behind these developments, but one invaluable tool for better understanding and engaging with our culture is the concept of worldview. What is a worldview? As the word itself suggests, a worldview is an overall view of the world. Worldviews shape and inform our experiences of the world around us. Like spectacles with colored lenses, they affect what we see and how we see it. As such, worldviews play a central and defining role in our lives. Worldviews operate at both the individual level and the societal level.

Rarely will two people have exactly the same worldview, but they may share the same basic type of worldview. Moreover, within any society, certain worldview types will be represented more prominently than others, and will therefore exert greater influence on the culture of that society. A fair amount of work has been done on analysing cultural differences and how different cultures should engage with each other, although most has been written from a Western perspective. This tends to centre around how global businesses engage different cultures or how Western missionaries should engage with other cultures.

Whilst it is impossible to be definitive about cultural differences, some broad characterisations can be helpful in defining these differences. Some analysts group cultures into being and doing cultures with doing cultures being more task-orientated, and being-cultures more relationship orientated Figure 1. Another way of looking at culture differences and the shift in culture over time is along the axes of secularisation and individualism. The World Values Survey has produced a fascinating overview of the major culture groups around the globe using metrics to capture these values Figure 2.

These axes are more familiar perhaps to Christians and apologists, since they reflect the extent to which the West in particular has moved away from a belief in God. They demonstrate that survival cultures like Africa retain their traditional beliefs or the Christian faith that they have come to embrace more recently, whereas a Europe that has had a long history of belief in God has abandoned this and become much more individualistic or concerned with identity.

It is interesting that these trends towards secularisation and identity also correspond to an increase in prosperity. What we can see looking at these patterns and trends from an historical and Christian Worldview perspective is that certain values have become prominent. These culture biases play out in leadership and the workplace in a set of very different and sometimes conflicting attitudes and priorities as shown in Figure 3.


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Risk taking, for example, is an important feature of entrepreneurial endeavours whether in business, the church or mission. Being cultures tend to be more risk averse than doing cultures. An American Japanese brother told me that Japanese Christians find it hard to take risks in ministry because their shame culture makes it hard to deal with potential failure.

The West has drifted away from valuing relationships as it has become more prosperous and The Relationship Foundation [1] argues that much of the failure of capitalism lies in the negative impact that it has had on relationships. They argue that the Bible teaches a very relational dynamic derived ultimately from the Trinity and the fact that our God is a relational God.

So which cultures are right? Should we just accept our differences as Christians? I believe that no culture really reflects a true Christian Worldview, even the Christian sub-culture within a country, largely because we are shaped by our own prevailing culture. This is what gives rise to a mismatch in expectations between Christians working across culture in the way in which I have been doing for a decade now.

Whilst it is important to understand different cultures when we are working with others across the globe, I wonder IF Christians in all cultures have been intentional enough about developing a uniquely Christian Worldview.

A Three-Dimensional Concept of Worldview: Journal of Research on Christian Education: Vol 22, No 3

But does the bible actually lean towards a Western set of values or those reflected in the Global South? The answer is probably somewhere in-between because, although the West has been a centre for Christianity for centuries, core Judaeo-Christian values have been gradually eroded since the Enlightenment and the Reformation. A number of key factors have conspired to erode the moderating effect that belief in God or even an acceptance of God has had in the pursuit of prosperity since the industrial revolution in Europe. Perhaps foremost amongst those factors is the individualism that has been growing since The Enlightenment and the development of rational thinking coupled with scientism, the belief that science explains everything.

All these factors turn people away from God and this increases the desire for moral autonomy with the result that relationships suffer and the individual pursues his or her own values and success. The economic prosperity that resulted from Capitalism together with the globalisation of the economy and a focus on economic growth has locked many cultures into a secular and individualistic mindset. This together with the rapid progress in technology, especially in Information Technology and Communications ITC , further erodes real relationships by creating what is effectively a virtual world of superficial relationships.

The Importance of a Christian Worldview

The Reformation allowed our call to work to be rediscovered and re-awakened a number of ethical principles, such as punctuality, planning, stewardship, service, and excellence that have their roots in scripture. These virtues, often described as the Protestant work ethic [2] , have resulted in the West becoming a doing or monochronic culture. Activities such as planning and scheduling, time management, and efficiency have led to a task orientation in our work and other activities.

This in turn puts an emphasis on getting things done and achieving measurable results. The sting in the tail is that the very virtues that allowed industry, business, and free markets to prosper have resulted in success and prosperity now becoming the driving force as Western Judeo-Christian values eroded in the midth Century. The intense competitiveness that results from a free market economy further exacerbates the problem creating a pressure to constantly innovate, become more efficient and to get more things done in the same amount of time.

The nuclear family is disintegrating and as people live further from their work and church, relationships come under strain and disintegrate. Further pressures are placed on these countries through the cultural imperialism of the morally bankrupt West pushing their equal rights agenda in respect of sexual orientation. Culture is never static and as we have see in the West over the last 60 or so years it can change quite dramatically. What we take as a norm in a Western culture has not always been the case and an examination of history and the influence of the Gospel clearly shows how cultural norms can be changed and influenced by the moral norms of scripture and worship of a God who invites us to a personal and close relationship with Him through Christ.

Through the period of history from the revivals of Wesley and Whitfield in the 18th century through to the Anglican evangelical awakening and the influence of the Clapham group with the reforms that they instigated in the late 18th century and early 19th century, we can see the remarkable transformation of culture.

What does all this mean for the Christian and especially the Christian leader?

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We must recapture a truly Christian Worldview in whatever culture we live or operate so as to be the salt that leavens the dough and the light that shines on a hill. Christian leaders need to be at the forefront of this both through practical action and showing the way to their followers, but first we must understand what is at stake. Let me illustrate with a couple of key issues that drive different cultures, time and relationships. In an Eastern European context I have been caught out by differences in how schedules are viewed.

For example, my calendar might be fully scheduled but I am expected to bend my schedule to fit last minute arrangements, even when this would require me to reschedule another event. Both of us have taught the material of this book in many parts of the world and to people from many different Christian traditions. Those experiences have provided much enrichment and correction, and we hope that this will be evident in this book.

Worldview is a concept that emerged in the European philosophical tradition, and it is valuable only insofar as it enables us to understand more faithfully the gospel that stands at the center of the biblical story, and to live more fully in that story. We have found in our teaching that a course on worldview is far more effective when it follows a course on the story of the Bible: worldview follows Scripture so as to deepen our commitment to living in the biblical story.

Many traditional evangelical approaches to worldview have seen it in intellectualist terms; that is, they look at worldview as a merely rational system. We often have occasion to quote N. This book is meant to be only an introduction to worldview. We recognize the danger in simplifying and summarizing large amounts of material on some very complex theological, philosophical, and historical issues. Something that is meant to be simple can all too easily become simplistic, but it does not have to be that way. We believe that this kind of book is needed to get undergraduate students and church members excited about the scope of the gospel and the breadth of their own callings.

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If you catch a glimpse of the possibilities here, other study can follow later. The feedback that we have received about that Web site suggests that many of our readers have found it helpful. It too will provide slides to be used for teaching, supplementary articles, and much more to help encourage the discussion of Christian worldview generally.

Worldview has to do with the most basic, comprehensive, foundational religious beliefs that we have about the world as they are embodied in a story. This means that Christians will elaborate and understand these beliefs that flow from Scripture. But these beliefs cannot be separated from a cultural context, for the gospel is always expressed and embodied within some human culture.

Therefore, in the study of worldview we must also struggle to understand the fundamental beliefs of the surrounding culture within which each Christian community lives. This is a very complex and highly dangerous enterprise. As contextualization studies in missiology show, there is always the danger of allowing the gospel to be compromised, accommodated to the idolatry of any given culture. This opens up a wide area of inquiry for Christian academics, and many good books on worldview have dealt with various divisions of the topic.

That book remains, in our opinion, one of the best texts on worldview studies available, precisely for this reason. Yet it was written over twenty-five years ago, and thus it did not deal with our current complex situation, shaped by globalization, postmodernity, and consumerism.

Also, although the way that Walsh and Middleton relate the gospel to culture is, in our opinion, on target, they have not fully explored the dynamic of contextualization. We deal with a biblical worldview, a cultural worldview, and a worldview in action. But between the cultural worldview and a worldview in action we reflect on the way in which the gospel can come alive in a faithful way within a cultural context; that is, we seek to explore the dynamic relationship of gospel and culture.

We begin with the gospel of the kingdom and the call of the church to make known this good news. In chapter 2 we trace the origins of the word worldview and how it came to be appropriated by the Christian community, especially by the evangelical church in North America. In chapters 3 and 4 we return to the question of how this concept of worldview might help equip the church for its comprehensive mission today, and to that end we will articulate what we believe to be a faithful biblical worldview: a digest of the most fundamental and comprehensive beliefs about the world that are conveyed by the biblical story.

Transforming Worldviews | Baker Publishing Group

In chapter 8 we turn to consider how the church is to live at the crossroads between these two conflicting and incompatible worldviews. How are we meant to live in two stories and yet remain faithful to the one true story articulated in the biblical narrative? What is involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and Western culture? And finally, chapter 9 offers snapshots of what such an encounter might look like in six areas of public life: politics, business, art, sports, scholarship, and education. We realize we are deeply indebted to many people, living and dead, who have shaped our understanding of worldview.

Jim Kinney and his excellent staff at Baker Academic have been helpful in forming this book and bringing it to birth. We are again deeply indebted to Douglas Loney, professor of english and dean of the Foundations Division at Redeemer University College.