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tim harris – preaching and a counter-cultural worldview

‘Worldview’ seems to be the buzzword of our times, but it brings a helpful focus to the task of preaching. The notion of worldview orientates around perceptions of our world, both as we experience it and as we identify order within it. It is hard to identify our own worldview because we absorb so much subconsciously and many expectations and patterns are all we have known.

When Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, at one level his commitment to the God of Israel as the object of his faith didn’t change. Yet he was converted to the Lordship of Christ, and his worldview changed profoundly as a result. Christ became the epicentre of Paul’s world, and everything else orientated around this affirmation: his identity, value system, ambitions, hopes and sense of purpose (Philippians 3:7-16).

Competing worldviews come at us in all directions—now more than ever. They are reflected in magazines, novels, TV programs, newspapers, movies, songs, the arts, advertising, conversations at home, over the fence, or at work. We may not name them as such, but the whole way we go about life is shaped by our worldview. The further we move from a Judeo-Christian society, the bolder and more starkly secularist are the competing worldviews our community assumes to be ‘default’ and the outlook of all reasonable persons. Any alternative outlook on life is viewed with suspicion, and if it is overtly faith-based it is frequently subject to caricature and ridicule.

Preaching plays a significant role in exposing worldviews for what they are. Making the connections between day-to-day issues and choices and the worldview that informs our response is vital. The Apostle Paul is an amazing exemplar in exploring such questions. He fielded a great range of questions about everyday life issues, and the way he went about responding is instructional. He did not provide simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers, but constantly set such questions within the framework of a Christ-centred worldview (compare for example Paul’s guidance on civil authority and taxation in Rom. 13:1-7). He wanted his hearers to see the reasoning behind such responses, to demonstrate how a gospel commitment impacts the most everyday of concerns—even tax!

One of the challenges of biblical preaching is to open up an understanding of the many worldviews reflected in Scripture. Whether the landscape is Canaanite, Egyptian, Babylonian, Israelite, Greek or Roman, rural or urban, the elite of each society or community constructed a social world through an appeal to greater realities. One of the perpetual questions throughout Scripture concerns how to be faithful and dedicated to God in any given culture and context, and the response is most often with reference to an underlying worldview.

The great affirmations of worship are windows into greater realities. They point to an ultimate worldview of cosmic proportions, but one in which we find our identity and spiritual centre of gravity. Worship at its best opens our imagination to these greater realities, while still connecting with where we are here and now.

It is at this point that preaching needs creative artistry as much as the clarity of godly reason. Many of the perceptions of life come to us through narratives, and in many cases, narratives that name and make sense of the diversity of life’s experiences. We see the world through the eyes of those we identify with, and what seems right and good to them shapes our own perception of life.

Movies, novels and even sitcoms shape us more than we recognise. Media in all its forms is generally neutral in and of itself, but the moment it paints a picture or tells a story, it is conveying a worldview one way or another. We often bemoan how difficult it seems to get our friends and neighbours interested in discussing beliefs and theology, all the while we overlook that conversations in such questions are happening all around us—often with an invitation to join in.

A major element in the task of preaching is to equip the hearer to these greater realities and worldviews that are reflected therein. Yet it needs to go beyond exposing the shallowness of western secularism and consumerism. At its best, a biblically informed worldview as pictured in our day and age will outshine all alternatives. It will open our imagination into what could be, will be, while recognising the present realities of God’s sovereign purposes here and now.

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Tim Harris is Dean of Bishopdale Theological College and a dedicated connoisseur of movies and the creative arts—and happily finds any excuse to show clips of the same in the classroom.  

One Comment

  1. Mark Maffey says:

    In Acts 17v16ff we see how Paul exegeted the Athenian worldview. If we are consciously going to provide an alternative to the worldviews around us, we need to comprehend what that it is and then find the entry point that enables us to then provide a counter-cultural response.

    A large part of the problem we have is that we can no longer pre-suppose an understanding of the Judeo-Christian worldview we hold, I agree with your comment “The further we move from a Judeo-Christian society, the bolder and more starkly secularist are the competing worldviews our community assumes to be ‘default’ and the outlook of all reasonable persons. Any alternative outlook on life is viewed with suspicion, and if it is overtly faith-based it is frequently subject to caricature and ridicule.”

    Part of our response is not only to find the entry point that identifies where they are at, but provide a rational response they understand, but it can’t only be words, our modelling of a “real” Christian lifestyle which is discernibly different and better than theirs is going to speak more volumes than words can ever achieve.

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