Note: The views expressed here belong solely to the author and may or may not accurately reflect the positions of others on the blog.
Worldviews are hard to pin down because they are, by definition, hard to see. The concept connotes a visual metaphor, a looking-out at the world, and denotes the entire complex of background beliefs, feelings, and habits which make that looking-out possible in the first place. Like glasses, they often remain unseen because it is through it that one sees at all. But unlike their metaphorical counterpart, worldviews cannot be removed, inspected, and replaced by a simple trip to one’s worldview-ometrist. Worldviews are as much a part of who you are as having a perspective. They color your opinions, your evaluations, your experiences, and your hopes and dreams. They cause otherwise similar people to interpret the same events in differing ways. One looks upon the ruins of the Twin Towers and sees God’s judgment for an arrogant foreign policy. Another sees it as the consequence of irrational religious violence. When pressed for reasons, they are infinite, weaving a worldview-tapestry that reflects their answers to some of the most fundamental questions humans cannot help but to ask: Who am I? Where am I? What’s wrong with the world? and How can it be fixed?
Answers to such questions are far from simple, and often, they take the form of stories: origins myths and historical narratives which tell us who we are and our place in the world. When we speak of a gospel worldview, we speak of a worldview which has encountered the gospel of Jesus Christ and thus begun the process of revision-ing all things in light of his Lordship over all creation. At the heart of this gospel is a story about God, humanity, and the world grounded in the texts of Scripture, a story which reaches its climax in Jesus and has implications that transform our hearts, our communities, and our world. In contrast to the many triumphalist narratives which accompany most proclamations of victory, the gospel of Jesus Christ culminates at a gruesome Roman execution by crucifixion, laying down the pattern of death, resurrection, and glory for his followers to imitate. It is this gospel, this proclamation that a crucified Jew is Lord of all, that stands behind the Christian worldview.
Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Glory
At the center of the Christian worldview is the figure of God, the creator and sustain-er of all things, who made the earth and all that is in it. This God had a plan in mind: to create a world which would be filled with his glory, and to make creatures in his image who would rule over it as his representatives. This stands in contrast with views of the world which make it either the product of random chance or an evil place from which to escape. On the contrary, this world was created good by a God who had a purpose for it in mind.
At the center of this purpose was humanity. After creating humans, God commissioned them to “be fruitful and multiply” and “have dominion” over the creation. This has often been referred to as the “cultural mandate”. Humans are called to lovingly cultivate the world they inhabit, taking the raw materials of this world and creatively arranging them into ways that further brings out the beauty embedded within. This would be a communal enterprise, one people reflecting the glory of the one God forever and ever.
God’s plan, however, hits a snag when his chosen representatives are disobedient to their created callings, wrecking disorder instead of bringing order in the world. Human disobedience has cosmic consequences extending throughout the created order. There is no aspect of creation or society which does not suffer at the hands of man’s betrayal. Created in the image of God, humans have given up that glory and exchanged it for the shadow-glory of other things, ensnaring themselves in the futility of living lives based on fundamental untruths. Instead of glorifying God, we have turned to glorify ourselves. Instead of trusting in God’s faithful supply, we have turned to various other ways of meeting our needs.
God, however, does not leave his world in such a state. Instead, he works to make sure that his original plan will yet come to fruition. In the words of theologian N.T. Wright, God’s redemption is creational – it aims towards a restoration, not the destruction, of creation; it is anthropological – it aims to restore creation by restoring humanity to its proper place; and it is covenantal – God’s way of setting the world to rights after the failure of humans and the corruption of the world is focused on his call of and promise to Abraham, the father of the renewed humanity God plans to set at the head of his new creation.
The narrative of Scripture follows the twists and turns of the Israel of God, its occasional successes and its myriad failures. Over and over, again, however, the dark overtones of Adam’s fall lead to the nagging suspicion that God’s new humanity hasn’t quite escaped the problems of the old humanity after all. God’s law, granted to Israel to set them apart from the rest of the world, seemed instead to only emphasize their inability to keep it. Instead of gloriously living in the promised land with God in their midst, Israel found itself experiencing the disaster of seeming abandonment and exile.
God, however, promised that he would return to dwell among his people again, hinting towards a new covenant in which he would solve the problem of disobedience by giving his people a whole new heart. The story comes to a climax when God does indeed return to his people – not in power and judgment as many expected, but as a human being, an Israelite by the name of Jesus. And where Israel had failed to remain faithful, Jesus succeeded, even to the point of dying on a cross, for God’s new humanity was not to be defined by boasting in one’s identity or status, but in self-emptying love and service. Though a king, he had made himself a servant. In a world of sin and deception, living in love had cost him his life, but at last, God had his faithful man.
But God did not let the forces of evil and darkness have the last say with regard to Jesus. Instead, as the one setting all things right, he declares Jesus to indeed be in the right by raising him from the dead, confirming him as Lord of all. God’s plans for the future erupt into the present as the first evidences of new creation burst into the world. What humans could not do, God himself did as a human, opening the way for humans who participate in his death to also participate in his resurrection. Those who trust in him are given his Spirit, which renews their hearts and gives them the ability to participate in God’s redeeming work in the present. Christians are those who trust in God’s promises for his future and live in anticipation of that future, casting away their former ways and living as if God is making all things new.
Gospel Transformation: Heart, Community, World
Western Christianity has, for the last couple of hundred of years, tended to neglect the creational and communal dimensions of the Biblical narrative in favor of a dualistic focus on the question of individual “salvation”. In the place of the long drama of salvation history, Christians acted as if following Jesus was simply a matter of morality, judgment, and the afterlife. In a way, this played into the structure of the new secular society which was emerging at the time. The expanding market economy thrived on being able to insist that one’s desires ought to be satisfied without considering whether they were disordered or not, and nation-states were glad to interact with their citizens as atomistic individuals instead of having to deal with the myriad overlapping communities of civil society. Religion was a private affair, a matter of one’s personal convictions; it operated parallel to the other spheres of society: politics, economics, law, education, family, art, music, literature, and science. Encroachment beyond its bounds meant courting theocracy, a return to the mistakes of the unenlightened past.
The ground-shaking news of the gospel – the message that God has affirmed Jesus as Lord of all by raising him from the dead – demands our allegiance, and is far more than a private religious affiliation. It transforms us, our communities, and our world to the core.
A Renewed Heart
Those who trust in God are personally transformed as they are made a new creation in Christ. Our sins are forgiven and no longer are we enslaved to the powers of sin and death which lorded it over us in the past. Instead, we are now free to live lives defined by the same kind of faithfulness which Jesus himself exhibited, however much we are tempted to slip back into the bad habits of our past. We are able to love as we have been loved, entrusting our lives and our futures to the God who judges justly and who knows all.
A Renewed Community
We who have been reconciled to God are now sent as agents of God’s reconciliation, breaking down all barriers which threaten to divide humanity in the unity and holiness of God’s renewed humanity. Race, gender, nationality, and socio-economic status have no standing in the church, as it is our faith in God that distinguishes us from the world. In God’s family, differing people receive differing gifts to serve the whole in differing ways, working together as the many parts of a body work together. Unified by our faith, we are able to bear one another’s burdens in love, as we share the same hope.
A Renewed World
As new creation bursts into the world, we are called to live and arrange our world as the faithful stewards God originally intended humanity to be. This has far-reaching implications for all spheres of society – science, art, economics, politics, and more. Ruling as servants and not as overlords, Christians are called to live lives of integrity, seeking justice and protecting the vulnerable. In a corrupt world, good work is not always rewarded as it ought, but the knowledge that God is making all things new gives us the hope to press on in the face of setbacks.
The Gospel Dynamic: Death, Resurrection, Glory
The life of Jesus, the Messiah, lays the pattern for our lives as well. As Christians, we can expect to suffer with him that we might also rise with him and share in his glory. Where he is, we will be also; and when he is revealed, we also will be revealed with him in glory.
Just as Jesus met unreasonable opposition, so shall we. Indeed, our greatest opponent might sometimes even come from ourselves! God, however, has shut up all in sin that he might show mercy to all, and he has his treasure in the earthen vessels of our weak bodies in order that all the glory might be his. For over and over again, God will show us how corrupt our efforts to please him are… and how faithful he is even in spite of us.
Living lives of righteousness, however, will inevitably run into opposition from those living un-righteously in the world. There are those who benefit from the injustice of our societies, and humans are loath to lay down their privileges. As God’s representatives in the world, however, we are to shine light into darkness and stand as those who refuse to be complicit in the lies and injustice of the world, even if it should cost us our lives.
In the face of suffering, however, Christians are not called to lash back in retribution, but to take up our crosses and die. We are to absorb the violence of the world with patient, suffering love in hopes that holistic reconciliation might occur. We are able to do this because we trust in a God who supplies all our needs and hears our cries. As God acted on Jesus’ behalf, so he acts on ours. As we lay ourselves aside, we will see that God answers us above and beyond what we even ask or think. The power that was at work in Jesus’ resurrection is at work in and through us as well.
As Jesus’ sufferings end in glory, so ours as well. Indeed, we can even begin to see glimpses of that glory in the midst of this broken world as God’s future bursts into the present. The faithfulness of God brings us to worship as we enjoy the beautiful world he has made. Christians are those who have undying hope, because no matter how bad things may seem, we know that God’s purposes are sure and that he will have his way.
A worldview centered on the gospel is one which sees all things in light of the proclamation of Jesus’ lordship over all things. As a Christian matures, he ought to develop the habits, beliefs, and feelings of one who lives as though the gospel is really true and relevant for all things. In our world today, this often means reflecting theologically on what one does with one’s life, asking the question of whether what one is doing makes sense in light of the future life that one is anticipating. There are many challenges confronting the church of today, and it is our hope that our reflections on this blog may contribute to her continued witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
Enoch Kuo ’13 graduated with a degree in Religion and is interested in the future of Christians in higher education.