I wrote a brief post a couple of weeks ago making the point that ambassadors are sent to foreign countries. It’s increasingly clear that where we sit in our own country, where we have grown up and lived, is becoming foreign territory. We haven’t moved, but the territory around us is foreign. But that’s exactly where ambassadors belong. God is giving us a clearer mission field without moving us. It’s a fairly obvious point, but one that has more significance week by week. Culture is changing fast, and it’s becoming more of a challenge to speak effectively to others about Christianity, and it’s only going to get more difficult. But that is our job as ambassadors.
We’ve had the luxury for generations of speaking to non-Christians who generally shared much of our worldview, at least on a basic level. We were speaking the same language and could understand each other. Much of the western world has moved far from a worldview that provides us some common ground about specific issues and challenges. Modern culture is marked by radical individualism, practical atheism (if not outright atheism), and new definitions for rights and tolerance that have us speaking past each other much of the time. We talk about rights and respecting one another, but we mean very different things.
As ambassadors, I think we’re going to find it more necessary to engage non-Christians in conversations at a worldview level along with specific challenges and questions. We’ll continue to answer challenges about same-sex marriage, abortion, and why Jesus is the only way to reconcile with God. But I think much of the current conversations going on in the public square demonstrate that we’re talking past each other because the answers we give don’t even make sense to someone with a different worldview. A worldview that elevates personal autonomy and determination above almost everything else. A worldview where humans are merely a more evolved animal. A worldview that sees the world and our place in it as a result of random chance with no meaning other than what we choose to give it. A worldview that has no objective fixed points of truth and morality.
So answering specific questions and objections will often make no sense to the other person. It doesn’t mean we stop conversing about those things, it means we find more effective ways to converse about them. And I think that’ll mean going back to the basics and making a case for a Biblical worldview. Does God exist, and why do we think He exists? Did He create the world and humans with a purpose? Is there objective meaning, truth, and morality in the universe? Are we creations of a good God who has a design for us? Did Jesus exist, and is He God? Is it possible God has revealed Himself in a book we can trust?
To engage a conversation about transgender bathroom access assumes a view of human beings, a view of human purpose and sexuality, the nature of rights and respect for individuals in the public square—to say the least. The reason Christians are seen as bigots who want to deny other people their rights (in addition to the fact that name calling is an easy way to dismiss us) is that we’ve got a worldview that has a view of humans, sexuality, and rights that has radically different ideas than the people who disagree with us. We’re essentially talking different languages, and very often we never get back to those fundamental worldview beliefs that help us understand one another. At the very least, it’s our obligation as ambassadors to do our best to make ourselves understood.
It’s very hard to make our case for traditional marriage to people who don’t believe in any fundamental design to being male and female, in sexuality and marriage, who think individual autonomy is the ultimate basis for rights. Appealing to others to submit their lives to God and honor Jesus as their Lord is very odd when they don’t recognize any authority other than their own. The cases we make for these ideas make more sense in the context of a worldview that grounds them. Helping someone understand that God exists and has created us with a purpose gives them a basis for understanding the Gospel. They may want to challenge us on same-sex marriage or evolution, but what they need to understand is a different worldview from their own.
I’m sure this isn’t a newsflash to most of you who read STR’s blog on a regular basis. But I think it’s helpful to get a broader perspective now and then because we’re often engaged in dialogue over the issues and can’t see the big picture. As a practical matter, I think we’re going to have to steer the conversation back to these fundamental questions of worldview. Answering specific questions and engaging individual issues may be more effective if we can go back to basics and make a case for our worldview. It may not be the specific question at hand, but answering that question won’t do much good unless we go a little deeper into our views of the world that ground all of those other issues.
This article from Public Discourse is a good example of understanding the very different ideas animating the specific views that are at odds. This is a philosophical analysis of the transgender bathroom disagreement. But it’s a worldview one, too, because the animating philosophies have to do with the nature of man and if God exists. It helps to understand where the other person’s ideas come from so that we can talk about those deeper beliefs. Sometimes it’s just ineffective to engage the individual challenges without going back to that starting point, the views and values that inform our thinking about everything.
We’re foreigners in this land. We speak a different language. We have a different perspective on the most fundamental ideas about the world. We haven’t changed, but the world has changed—a lot. And it’s changing faster than ever before. We’re going to have to explain those fundamentals to have any hope of showing the people we’ve been sent to that God exists and humans can only thrive and find true happiness when we are in relationship with Him through Jesus.
Kind of the good news in this is that you don’t always have to have the answers to 100 questions and challenges. You don’t have to feel ineffective when the issues get too wild you can’t even keep up. You can respond by asking someone, “Have you thought about this?” And move the conversation to one about God’s existence, or whether humans are designed for a purpose. You can master some good arguments for fundamental worldview issues and move the conversation to those. If someone objects that you’re changing the subject, you can tell them that this is really where the disagreement is, so it is relevant.