Thursday, July 15, 2021

Worldviews: An Introduction

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world … Even if I testify about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going …’ ”

Jesus Christ was a person who really knew who he was. His critics (and there are more today than ever) say all manner of things about him and against him, but I have never heard one of them suggest that he had any confusion about his identity. Nor have they suggested he had any uncertainty about what he was doing. No one was ever more definite.

A Simple Triadic Claim

Of course, many of the critics would also say, perhaps, that this “definiteness” was a literary device cooked up by some nameless followers, and others, perhaps, that he was not only “definite” but definitely wrong — but we needn’t worry, because we’ll all find out the truth about that one day. The issue will settle itself. For now, what’s interesting is the grounds on which the Lord defended his personal certainty.

Here he makes a simple triadic claim: If you want to know who you are, you’ve got to know where you came from and where you’re going to.

Simple, but profound.

Three ideas:

  1. Know where you came from (past)
  2. Know where you’re going to (future)
  3. Then you’ll know who you are (present)

A Different Situation

The Lord’s statement about himself has all the elegant simplicity of a logical syllogism. Notice the “for” in there: usually it’s translated “because”. Here it means, “When you really have these first two things sorted out, the third one is very obvious.”

Well, his situation is different from ours. He knew he had come from the Father, and he knew his destiny was to go to the Father, and he knew very well he was and is the Son. His identity and mission were clear. But what about us? We have no such certainty. We struggle, trying to figure out who we are and what we ought to be doing. We don’t really know much about what happened before us, and about what comes later we have no idea. So how does this help us?

That depends. It depends on how averse you are to making commitments to the first two questions. If you wish to postpone them indefinitely, perhaps with a view to remaining “open minded”, then you’ll never go beyond them; on the other hand, if you’re willing to venture a firm commitment to some sort of answer to the first two, then the third will open up to you to a degree you may never have imagined.

Highbrow Stuff and Straight Answers

Interestingly, a lot of recent scholarly interest has been invested in a similar idea. It’s called “Worldview Theory” in many quarters, but goes by some other names as well. Probably the best and most complicated book on it is David Naugle’s Worldview: The History of a Concept (2002), or perhaps Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews (2008). But these are heavy reads. James Sire’s Naming the Elephant (2004) and The Universe Next Door (1998, 2009) explore the concept in more accessible terms. In everyday life as well, this thing called “worldview analysis” is proving its mettle: it’s showing remarkable usefulness in crossing cultural and religious lines. It seems to tap into some kind of universal pattern of thought. The CIA is even using it in predicting the perspectives of foreign terrorists.

But we needn’t bother with all of the highbrow stuff (that is, unless we have a special interest in doing so). The Lord himself gave us what we need. Three simple questions: answer them, and a whole lot of life neatly snaps into place. Not only do we understand ourselves and our mission in life, but we also come to be more understanding about how other people think as well.

In future posts, I want to continue to explore this idea. I think you will find it very helpful — as I have.

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