Talking about Worldview…Again? A 6-week series
“Worldview” is one of those buzzwords those of us in ministry love. The idea of worldview has been gaining traction in youth ministry circles over the past few years, with camps, Christian schools, and devotionals all trying to help students see their world through a biblical lens. But concepts like this one that quickly catch fire are often ill-defined, pushed to an extent that students tune out as they sense an explanation contrary to their experience in the world.
Indeed, if a worldview is defined as James Anderson puts it, “an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us,” it is impossible to package a worldview and pour it into a teenager’s brain. Philosopher James K.A. Smith would go further, noting that our worldview is expressed not primarily with ideological or philosophical concepts plucked from textbooks, but in the actions of our lives and the desires of our hearts.
We tried to keep these critiques at the heart of our recent six-week high school series on worldview and the gospel. A number of our students attend Christian private schools with worldview curriculums, and we knew they would groan when we announced the topic (and they did!). So we wrote the series with three goals in mind:
- To “rewire” their understanding of worldview in a way that would compel them to engage rather than check out.
- To name core beliefs of a common “worldview of the age” that they can see in their media choices, their friends, and their own thinking, regardless of political ideologies or faith convictions.
- To critique these core beliefs from a gospel perspective, offering grace-filled biblical alternatives.
The resulting scope and sequence looked like this:
During this introductory week, we unpacked the different struggles with worldview curriculum many of our students had already expressed to us. We try not to actively subvert the Christian schools our students attend, but this was one place where it was helpful to give them space to air some of their struggles with how their schools had handled the concept of worldview. We then rewrote our definition of worldview, being careful to express:
- The uniqueness of worldview, such that it is difficult to pin down the boundaries of worldview labels. (For example: Two people might say they have a ‘Christian worldview’, but their interpretations of Scripture and faithfulness to Scripture may result in widely differing ways of seeing the world and engaging in it.)
- The fluidity of worldview, such that everything we consume and every action we take shapes our worldview just as much as our worldview directs the path of our hearts and actions. Contrary to some expectations in youth ministry, the process is not mechanistic—teaching a specific worldview does not result in specific actions in a linear form.
- The subconsciousness of worldview, such that (again) labels are often unhelpful. Rather than knowing every corner of our worldview, and thus being able to analyze it like a science experiment, we often act upon presuppositions we don’t even know how to articulate.
We spent a considerable amount of time unpacking Romans 12:2, discussing how we are already so deeply conformed to the world that spraying a thin veneer of Christian belief on top does not baptize our actions. Instead, we need a continual process of God-initiated sanctification. This is how the Spirit of God helps us root out ways in which we do not yet resemble Jesus and works in us to make us more like him (see also Ephesians 4:23 and Colossians 3:10).
WEEKS TWO THROUGH SIX
After pointing students to a platform of slow, intentional change through the power of the Holy Spirit rather than simplistic moralism, we looked at four aspects of worldview. These core beliefs are common to many post-secular individuals today, according to Tim Keller’s City to City initiative.
Each week we unpacked a core belief, giving examples of how we saw it in books, music, film, and culture. We then considered how Scripture can affirm certain aspects of that belief, establishing empathy and explaining why someone would want to champion this perspective. With empathy established, we were in a better position to then critique thecore belief for the ways in which it did not align with Scripture.
- Core Belief #1: Everyone Deserves to Be Happy.
We discussed pleasure and comfort versus joy and delight. We examined Psalm 1:1-2 and Matthew 5:2-12 to see how joy and delight come from holiness and reconciliation to God, and we observed that in our sinfulness we usually obtain happiness at the selfish expense of others (Philippians 2:3).
- Core Belief #2: Do No Harm (But if You Aren’t Harming Anyone, Do Whatever You Want).
We discussed how our understanding of what it means not to harm our neighbor is itself broken because we are finite (not understanding the extent of our actions and choices). We showed how through our sin, we ultimately harm ourselves and offend God (Jeremiah 17:9).
- Core Belief #3: Be True to Yourself.
Picking back up on Jeremiah 17:9, we discussed how our personal perception of who we are means no one can ever really give us counsel or keep us accountable, because our feeling of who we are ‘inside,’ or who we are meant to be becomes the final arbiter of our actions. It’s actually a very arrogant way to live!
- Core Belief #4: No One Defines Anyone Else.
We discussed how this statement is often voiced in our culture through the expression “you do you,” which tells us to be true to ourselves and to give others the same right. As good as this sentiment sounds, it is extremely unloving because we are called to care for others and help them resist evil (Genesis 4:9, 1 John 5:16).
Our time together each week was structured with large-group teaching followed by time in small groups to discuss how students saw these core beliefs in culture, their friends and their own thinking. We closed each week’s small groups with a time of prayer for renewal and strength through Christ. Finally, in Week Six, we reviewed all four core beliefs and discussed the continual process of examining our thoughts and attitudes. We showed students how we can preach to ourselves and each other the gospel of grace: That Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on our behalf is the proclamation of God’s love for sinners, rescuing us from sin and death. (2 Corinthians 10:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:18).
So often, worldview education comes across as simply drawing boundaries. Biblical worldview becomes code for the moral, ethical, and theological lines we draw for our students. While it is our job as youth ministers to help show how God’s Word warns against sin, immersing students in a gospel-centered worldview is less about giving them a map, and more about helping them access the compass the Holy Spirit provides believers, conforming us more and more into the image of Jesus.
By helping students analyze the lies we’ve absorbed from the culture around us, we are modeling how to live out the gospel they believe, preparing them for the infinite number of scenarios we’ll never have time to preach, and equipping them for the complex problems and situations they’ll have to consider on their own. Rather than only gospel warning, true worldview education is gospel empowerment. It is a joy to sit with students years after graduation and to see what Jesus does as they live a real gospel in their real lives.
FOR FURTHER REFERENCE:
James N. Anderson, What’s Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Questions. Crossway Publishing, 2014.
James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit. Brazos Press, 2016.