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.
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.