We all possess a unique worldview that shapes how we perceive and understand the world around us. Scripture challenges all of our worldviews to be transformed to align more closely with a biblical worldview. Paul admonishes us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” Craig Keener observes, “‘Renewing’ the mind involves recognizing and affirming the ‘newness’ already initiated in Christ, which contrasts with the thinking of this ‘age.’” As we strive to become more like Christ, our understanding and interpretation of the world must also change. As we seek to engage in mission, we need to understand how learning about worldviews can be a helpful evangelistic tool in any context.
As we strive to become more like Christ, our understanding and interpretation of the world must also change.
Defining and understanding worldview is incredibly difficult. Even thinking about and understanding our own worldview proves challenging. Worldview is so much a part of who we are that understanding its impact is comparable to someone who doesn’t know they are near-sighted understanding why everything is blurry. Until they get an eye exam, they might not understand that there is a problem with their vision. They may simply think that the world is blurry. We need Scripture to examine us so that we can begin to understand our own worldview and become more like Christ (Psalm 139:23–24; 2 Timothy 3:16).
James Sire provides one comprehensive definition of worldview. He writes, “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) that we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” This long definition cannot be completely unpacked here, but notice especially how a worldview can be expressed: as a story or a set of presuppositions. Many times, worldviews include both aspects, and these elements, in particular, can help local churches and cross-cultural missionaries in evangelistic efforts.
We need Scripture to examine us so that we can begin to understand our own worldview and become more like Christ.
Worldview is “the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.” In other words, worldview is the basis for everything we think, say, and do. Our worldview can even affect how we understand and interpret Scripture. Vern Poythress observes, “When we come to the Bible and try to listen to its claims, we can easily misjudge those claims if we hear them only from within the framework of our own modern assumptions.” Evangelistic efforts need to be aimed at transforming the worldview. Many evangelistic and discipleship efforts are aimed primarily or exclusively at changing a person’s professed beliefs and behavior. Beliefs and behavior certainly need to be addressed, but if we only address people at these levels, we run the risk of creating syncretistic “Christians.”
Any area of worldview that is not addressed by our evangelism and discipleship efforts will be filled in with the traditional worldview. When we compartmentalize different parts of life (e.g., religion, science, family, work, politics, medicine, etc.), we can potentially end up with gaps in our discipleship that leave people with unreconciled tension. Paul Hiebert explains, “At the core of worldview transformations is the human search for coherence between the world as we see it and the world as we experience it. Humans seek meaning by looking for order, pattern, symmetry, coherence, unity, and noncontradiction.” Our evangelism and discipleship efforts must work towards comprehensively addressing a worldview. To do that, we need to discover the worldview of the people we are seeking to reach.
The process of discovering a person’s worldview does not happen quickly or easily. Many people are not even consciously aware of their own worldview. But there are some practical ways we can begin to discover worldview. James Sire provides eight questions that can help evaluate a worldview, but they can be a bit deep for a casual conversation. My preferred place to begin is discovering the presuppositions or stories that express the worldview. Four basic questions can help get a conversation started.
1) How did it all begin?
This question seeks to get to the heart of what a person thinks about the origin of the world, the fundamental nature of humanity, and perhaps even what a person or culture values.
2) What went wrong?
The second question seeks to determine what a person thinks is humanity’s biggest problem. Answers to this question may or may not be connected to the first answer. Some common answers here are ignorance, lack of education, family problems, financial problems, illness, or a variety of other real problems we have in life.
3) Is there any hope?
The answers here tend to get vague, but they typically fit into either a works salvation or universalism. Some people might say something like, “I just work as hard as I can and hope,” or “I am generally a good person.” Others may answer with something like, “I trust that everyone will be okay in the end.” Depending on your context, some people may even answer this question with a direct “No.”
4) What will the future hold?
In my experience, “I don’t know” is the most common answer to this question. But asking for an answer helps us determine what a person’s hopes might be.
We know that the Bible answers all of these questions through both stories and a set of presuppositions. God created the universe and everything in it. He created people—men and women—to live in perfect relationship with him and with one another. Sin is humanity’s greatest problem, and it affected all of creation. Hope is only found in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who atoned for our sin and calls us to repent of our sin, place our faith in him, and follow him. The future will hold either eternity with our Savior or eternity separated from God in hell.
These questions are a starting point. The first answers will not tell us everything we need to know about a worldview, but they can help start an evangelistic conversation. These questions can even help us evaluate our own worldview to make sure that we are guiding people to a biblical worldview rather than merely teaching our own cultural values. Hiebert reminds us that “As missionaries and ministers, we should remember that transformation must begin in us. We must first experience transformation in ourselves and our churches. Only then can we bear authentic witness to the gospel and exemplify the transformation to which everyone is called.” As Paul said, we must be transformed so that we can proclaim the gospel that can also transform others.
 Craig S. Keener, Romans (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2009), 144.
 James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalogue, 5th ed. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2009), 20.
 Vern S. Poythress, Inerrancy and Worldview: Answering Modern Challenges to the Bible (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 21.
 Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 315.
 Sire, The Universe Next Door, 22–23.
 Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 316.
Matthew Hirt (PhD in International Missions from SEBTS) has served in both pastoral ministry and international missions. He currently serves as missions faculty at the Nigerian Baptist Theological Seminary, where he trains aspiring pastors and missionaries to be obedient to Christ in fulfilling the Great Commission. He is a contributing author and co-editor of the book Generational Disciple-Making: How Ordinary Followers of Jesus Are Transformed into Extraordinary Fishers of Men. He is also the author of Peoples and Places: How Geography Impacts Missions Strategy. You can follow him on Twitter.