‘It’s the question that drives us, Neo. It’s the question that brought you here. You know the question, just as I did.’
This line is from a scene in the Wachowski Brothers masterpiece The Matrix. The hero of the story, Neo, lived with a nagging suspicion that the way he perceived things wasn’t really the way they were. His pursuit and exploration of these questions is a very important theme in the movie and make him the hero he eventually becomes. Questions are very important things in life and everybody has them. The difference is not necessarily in the questions we ask but what we do with them.
As rational beings enquiry is hardwired into our nature. However, we do not spend all of our time contemplating every single thing that we want to do. (If that was the case we would probably never get up out of bed in the morning!) To deal with the complexities of life everybody has a worldview, a set of presuppositions which form the basis of how we live. A worldview is not really a shorthand or some vague guidelines by which we live. They are convictions we hold so dearly that we take them for granted. They are the foundations of how we live.
What happened to Neo was a worldview problem. His personal experience did not seem to correspond to his perception of reality. According to Dr Ravi Zacharias, a worldview addresses the fundamental questions of
life and attempts to give them a coherent set of answers.
Since our worldview’s serve as the hidden rationale behind all our actions taking a critical look at why we do what we do can be very uncomfortable. It’s like tampering with the operating system of a computer, there is the potential of the entire system crashing in a cataclysmic system failure. For most people it is more preferable to keep going on in a wilful state of blissful ignorance than overhauling the entire way they live. Changing how you live is a long, tedious and most of all an inconvenient process.
When your car (or any device for that matter) seems to be developing a problem we don’t have the expertise to handle there are usually one of two approaches. One way is to ‘manage’ with it. You give yourself the excuse that you are so busy and sending it to the mechanic’s is too much of a hassle but you promise yourself to do it later. The other way is to get hold of the mechanic as quickly as you can. Most of us tend to take the first option. Until it is broke we won’t fix it. Now if you plan on going on a long journey in your car there is no room for such procrastination. You make sure that your vehicle is in optimum condition before embarking on the trip. When we realise that our worldviews are things we are going to live our entire lives by the questions are no longer peripheral. Personally I don’t want to live my entire life based on a lie. The truth matters because it is what it is and not what I think it should be.
On account of the nature of reality you cannot meaningfully live your life by the mantra of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ The fact is it is broke, but how broken do you want it to be before you do something about it. There are breaks, cracks, flaws, inconsistencies here and there. The questions never really do go away but linger on in the background until we are confronted with situations that bring them to the forefront.
In Christian terms worldviews are not so much like cars of which I made the earlier analogy on. Worldviews are more like aeroplanes. We believe that fighting against the truth has imminent, devastating and lasting consequences.
Nobody is born a Christian. To be a believer means you are in a process of renewal, a new birth. This means we lived one way and because of Jesus we have compelling reasons to live differently. I earlier said changing your worldview is inconvenient. I am often frustrated when Christians go to say a university dormitory, ‘preach’ in five minutes and expect people to ‘give their lives to Christ.’ Not that I believe it can’t happen but it usually doesn’t. Body count evangelism is not only ineffective but trivialising. Telling someone to change how they live is a big deal and cannot be done with a pep talk. The idea that it is God who changes lives so it doesn’t matter how I preach the Gospel is self-defeating. If your role doesn’t matter then there is no need to get up in the first place. This attitude often keeps people away from the Gospel when we evangelise.
If you are a Christian it means that you have been persuaded by certain things to live for Jesus or rather for Jesus to live through you. This is not to say we are Christians due to our own inclinations and God has nothing to do with it. Believers are described in the Bible as a people God chose before the world began. This means it is actually through the design of God, a slow deliberate process that started from the very beginning of the world, is the reason why we made the decision for Jesus. It is not really about us coming to know God but it is about him knowing and deliberately selecting us (Galatians 4:9.) Now if we are Christians through divine design and process what makes us think he is finished with us?
The apostle Paul speaks of the riches of the mystery of Christ. When you become a believer the questions do not stop. They take on a whole new dimension and a different impetus. For Paul becoming a believer meant he had now started the race. For many of it is sufficient to be a Christian. We are very much aware that we have joined the ‘winning team.’ We have this triumphalist attitude that we are not sinners like that guy or not doctrinal sinners like members of that particular denomination. Dogma and orthodoxy are good and important. My problem is we often use them as intellectual cop-outs to not critically examine our doctrinal beliefs. Yes, we are part of the winning team but we actually need to compete to win.
Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. – Galatians 2:1-2 ESV
Paul after many years of being a believer and preaching his faith went to Jerusalem to make sure he had got it right. Paul was a very thoughtful Christian who paid great care and attention to what he believed. The question is have we actually considered our commitments as Christians? Have we examined our worldview as followers of Christ?
I have not been satisfied with the status quo. I have been driven by the questions and I am enjoying a personal renaissance in Christ. Before you roll eyes and say this is just another revisionist pushing his own agenda there are certain things I would like you to bear in mind. I am not asking you to jettison what you believe because I am inexplicably right. We always move from the known before we get to the unknown or an unfamiliar. I am asking you to carefully consider your position. If everything checks out then your convictions would have been reinforced in maybe new and exciting ways. If everything does not tally then you are better off for knowing that there are issues to be dealt with. As uncomfortable and inconvenient as this process of self-examination may be, it moves us inexorably closer to the truth.
There are diverse Christian traditions and worldviews. From Roman Catholicism, Eastern orthodoxy, Protestantism, Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism to Charismatism, each group progressively thinks itself better than the last or more right than the rest. We are orthodox, apostolic in fact, and everyone else is aberrant and/or heretical , is the general view. From my observation of our myriad and successive denominations none of them has been perfect, without any problems. The answer to living authentic Christianity is not found in denominationalism. So I wondered, who or what do I turn to for authentic Christian living? What was the common denominator?
I accept there is always going to be a diversity in form and expression in any enterprise that involves human beings. We cannot sacrifice content however, for the sake of form. If the believer is called by God then his purpose is to fulfil his will. The believer’s vocation must be the glory of God. This means the results of the lives lived by believers must be consistent with one another. What kind of worldview can the believer adopt such that the purpose of God can be fulfilled in the life of the Church? I settled on the Bible.
The Bible itself is not uncontroversial. It is often implicated in many of the denominational and personal controversies that Christianity has been plagued with from the beginning. It has been used, misused and abused by Christians throughout church history. One thing the biblical text has been throughout the ages is constant. Our interpretation of it has often been in flux but the documents themselves have not. The Bible is not only constant and consistent but early. When you consider the New Testament in particular it has been with us from the beginning. If you are Christian, no matter your denominational or doctrinal stripes, you trust the Bible more or less. (By the way liberalism isn’t really Christianity but that is a discussion for another day.)
Growing up in a Christian home I have always trusted the Bible implicitly. The recent paradigm shift I am undergoing started about a year half ago when I stopped taking the Bible for granted. I should label this as my second renaissance. The first one happened when I was a secondary schooler and I began to read the Bible for myself. The most recent change came about by asking fundamental questions about the Bible. What is the Bible? What is its purpose and meaning? What constitutes holy scripture? What is the word of God? What is the right way to interpret it?
This direction of enquiry necessitated a change to a biblical worldview and not just a Christian worldview based on my denominational position. Christianity is a worldview even though are many differences and variations in Christian thought and practice. A biblical worldview is a Christian worldview driven by a biblical perspective and biblical enquiry.
Any study of the fundamental questions of the Bible has to tackle the issue of canonicity and the unity of the Scriptures. I found the traditional historical arguments compelling enough. The 66 book Bible is the reliable, available canon that has been considered authoritative from the first generation of Christians. In pursuing a biblical worldview these arguments were not enough. The question of why the first generation of believers considered these diverse group of texts to belong together still lingered. How did the “Old” and “New” testaments in particular fit together. The obvious tether was the gospels. I began to study the nature and claims of the gospels very seriously. One thing in particular I noticed about the accounts was that they were narratives. From there on I adopted a metanarrative view of the Gospel which I applied to the rest of the Scriptures. I believe this metanarrative view addresses the issue of the unity of the Scriptures in a holistic and comprehensive manner, through which we can see it entirely as the word of God. The Gospel was not simply the bridge between the Malachi and Romans but rather the very message of the Good Book. In fact, to posit a biblical worldview you would have to consider the biblical metanarrative. Worldviews and metanarratives are intimately connected.
Another key consideration in my appraisal of the biblical worldview is that the text does not stand aloof. I realised we need to appeal to extra-biblical sources as well for understanding. If the Bible was written in cultural isolation it would have been a very different book indeed. The society the Bible was written in is no longer present. The biblical text needs to be interpreted with regard to the cultural paradigms it was found in. This means we need excellent, multidisciplinary, biblical scholarship to understand Holy Writ.
Being a lay-person I found these conclusions of mine very interesting. I have been quite suspicious of theology for a while (due to certain experiences) yet I had unwittingly turned into an amateur theologian of some sort. I realised Christian theology is a natural consequence of vibrant biblical study and the application of the Christian worldview. The appeal of Christian theology over many other academic disciplines is the lay person can engage in it. I recently wrote down the essentials of my personal theology to at least evaluate my current theological position. It found both what I did and did not say equally interesting. Confronting my own theology was very enlightening at a personal level.
There are two intersecting paradigms by which I approach the biblical worldview and Bible studies in general. First of all there is the forensic dimension. Forensic here is not a reference to legal matters. What I mean by that is the rigorous study of the available material and resources, enabling me to make reasonable claims consistent with the Bible. It is about what we can humanly do to understand and use the Bible correctly. This brings to me to the other dimension which I call the prophetic study. This is to ascertain what God is communicating to the biblical audience and through them to my context. The forensic study comes through human ability and the prophetic study is what comes through divine ability. Forensic study deals with the issues of the literary text whilst prophetic study deals with what God is communicating.
These approaches intersect with one another since the Scriptures are a unique mixture of the divine presented through human means. In fact, I believe anyone who claims to speak for God needs to be evaluated based on these two mutually intersecting paradigms. In communication you assess what is being said and also try ascertain the speaker’s intent as well. In other words it is a biblical hermeneutic that goes beyond textual exegesis to hearing God’s very word itself. It’s both a horizontal and a vertical approach to the word of God which intersects at the Bible.
I specially thank you for having the patience to read right to the end of this very lengthy post. In this piece I told you the role and importance of questions in our lives. I then mentioned the questions I had, how I dealt with them and the kind of answers that I have found. It has been a journey into my own worldview and from the length of this post it seems I need to further elaborate my position elsewhere. I feel there is a need for this because admittedly my views are not very mainstream or popular. This however is not to push my personal agenda, even though I would like you to at least consider my approach. I am putting my views out there because I want to engage with different perspectives and learn from them.
I believe God has been particularly gracious to me in my enquiries. I want to encourage you if you found this piece somewhat thought-provoking to take a deeper look. In my life God has always made the resources available for me to know him better when I pursue him diligently and sincerely. The urges and longings we have to draw closer to him and the things that concern him are no accident. I think God places them in our hearts and places us in circumstances to pursue them. The Scriptures sometimes speak of worship as enquiring of the Lord or seeking him. It is not so much that we seek God to worship him but rather God is seeking worshippers (John 4:23.) When God is tugging at our heartstrings we should not resist.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. – St. Augustine
Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. – Revelation 4:11 KJV