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Reflections on Worship

Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1: Songs that fuel missionary worship

If John Piper is right (and he is) that worship is the fuel and goal of missions (Let the Nations Be Glad, 11), then missionaries ought to cultivate their worship. Music is a prime means of expressing our worship. In my personal time with the Lord I often will meditate on the lyrics as I listen to Christian artists. I have especially enjoyed Andrew Peterson’s lyrics for their imagery and biblical content.

This past Easter at our church we sang Peterson’s new song, “Is He Worthy” drawn from Revelation chapter five. I was overwhelmed. I could not speak for a while. A friend of mine said to me “that song took me by surprise.” He was likewise moved. When I got home I downloaded the Resurrection Letters, vol. 1 album and started listening. The whole album is a delightful meditation on the cross and resurrection. The songs are rich in biblical imagery and the instrumentation is beautiful, especially the hammered dulcimer. The album provided the structure for a day alone with God this past summer. After each song I read passages of Scripture prompted by the lyrics. It was a rich day of worship.

Resurrection Letters, vol. 1 begins with ” His Heart Beats,” a song that vividly reminds us that Christ’s resurrection was physical:

His heart beats, His blood begins to flow
Waking up what was dead a moment ago
And His heart beats, now everything is changed
‘Cause the blood that brought us peace with God
is racing through His veins …
He breathes in, the living lungs expand
The heavy air surrounding death turns to breath again
He breathes out, He is word and flesh once more
The Lamb of God slain for us is a Lion ready to roar
And His heart beats …
He took one breath
And put death to death …

The song includes many biblical phrases depicting the victory over death in Christ’s resurrection.

Drenched in images of winter turning to spring, the second song proclaims that Jesus is “Risen Indeed.” The third song, “Remember Me,” is filled with allusions to Scripture that help us see what the thief on the cross recognized – that Christ’s death made the way for God’s kingdom to come. Christ laid down his life because he saw a day coming,

When the Son will stand on the mount again
With an army of angels at His command
And the earth will split like the hull of a seed
Wherever Jesus plants His feet
And up from the earth, the dead will rise
Like spring trees robed in petals of white
Singing the song of the radiant bride

“I’ve Seen Too Much” highlights the eye witness nature of the apostles’ testimony with lines like:

I know it sounds crazy
But I know what I saw
When the sun came up on the brightest day
From the darkest night of all
I saw the man die
They laid Him in the tomb
And I know ’cause I saw it with my own two eyes
When He stepped into the room

Whenever I celebrate the Lord’s Supper, the song “Remember and Proclaim” will echo in my mind reminding me that

As we gather round the table
We remember and proclaim
Christ has died, Christ is risen
Christ will come again

The next song reflects on a visit to the western wall in Jerusalem and modifies the Jewish phrase, “maybe next year in Jerusalem” recited at the end of Passover. “Maybe Next Year” focuses on our Lord’s return with allusions to fulfilled prophecy from the Old Testament. Yes, “We’ll meet again some day in the New Jerusalem – maybe next year.”

“Rise Up” recognizes that not all is restored yet, but comforts Christians who suffer assuring them that they will “rise up in the end.”

You really need to listen to “Is He Worthy?” for yourself. Descriptions don’t do it justice. A video is available here

Here are some lines from “Is He Worthy?” that fuel missionary worship:

Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He is David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave
From every people and tribe
Every nation and tongue
He has made us a kingdom and priests to God
To reign with the Son

The final song, “All Things Together,” beautifully portrays Colossians 1: 15-20 where the apostle Paul celebrates the preeminence of Christ.

I encourage you to add music to your personal worship times. Your music tastes may be different than mine – and that’s ok. Music with good biblical content will help keep our spiritual formation focused on worship. The centrality of Christ’s resurrection is explored in its many dimensions in Andrew Peterson’s Resurrection Letters, vol. 1. You might also enjoy his album on the incarnation, “Behold the Lamb of God.” These two albums are a part of my personal worship during Christmas and Easter.

Book Review: Two Stories of Everything

Why review another book comparing Islam and Christianity? Two Stories of Everything: the Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity by Duane Alexander Miller take a different approach than most. Rather than comparing Islam and Christianity as religions, Miller compares the metanarratives that Islam and Christianity tell. Metanarratives are the overarching story that includes and defines all the smaller stories of a people. It is the story that communicates the worldview of a group. I find it interesting that Miller never uses the term ‘worldview’ (if he did I missed it). I think he wanted to stay focused on the stories of everything rather than get bogged down in a philosophic analysis. He has lived in the Middle East and has personal experience interacting with Muslims for whom he shows great respect. He explains his approach in the introduction:

People often talk of Islam and Christianity as competing religions, and compare their doctrines and practices. When I moved to the Middle East ten years ago I shared this opinion. But over that time I found this approach to be deficient. Which is not to say it is wrong, but it fails to grasp the genius of either of these collections of doctrines and practices. … In this book I will outline the stories that Islam and Christianity tell. Furthermore, all these stories (or narratives) find themselves included in a great story of everything, which is to say a metanarrative. Islam and Christianity, whatever they may be, certainly do propose to tell a grand story of everything, from creation of the world and time all the way to the consummation of history and the eternal fate of human souls. -Duane Alexander Miller, Two Stories of Everything: The Competing Metanarratives of Islam and Christianity, Grand Rapids: Credo House Publications, 2018, xi.

The book explores the metanarratives of Islam and Christianity chronologically. Chapter one looks at Protology (the study of beginnings). Chapter two compares how Islam and Christianity understand humanity. How Islam and Christianity incorporate Israel into their metanarrative is the subject of chapter three. Miller tells the story of the central character of each metanarrative; “Jesus, the Mediator Between God and Man” (chapter four) and “Muhammad, the Prophet and Statesman” (chapter five). In chapter six the author examines the “Life in Community” of each metanarrative with subheadings: “Ethics,” “Doctrines in Christianity,” “Doctrines in Islam,” “Rituals,” and “Concluding Remarks.” Miller assesses how each community is fulfilling its mission in chapter seven. Chapter eight observes how the stories end. As he explains how these individual stories fit within the larger story, the metanarrative, he debunks some common superficial comparisons:

I have heard Christians emphasize how much we have in common with Muslims because we all believe Jesus will return. There are indeed commonalities between Islam and Christianity but this does not strike me as one of them, precisely because one of the central reasons for Jesus’ return [in Islam’s metanarrative] is to refute Christianity (and Judaism) publicly … Jesus in this eschatology functions like Allah in the Qur’an: the one who consistently vindicates the cause of Muhammad. -122,123.

The above quote illustrates the value of this approach. Surface similarities must be understood within the metanarrative to avoid comparing apples and oranges (an image on the books cover). This is true not only in comparing Islam and Christianity but also in comparing Christianity with any other metanarrative whether that be secular humanism, Hinduism, or Buddhism.

In his concluding chapter Miller summarize one of the fundamental differences in the two metanarratives:

After observing that their protologies [origin stories] appear similar I argue that they propose different anthropologies, with human beings being created for different reasons. In Islam it is to know the power of God, and in Christianity to know his love. Both agree that the worship of the Creator is essential to the human telos. The fundamental bifurcation in the two metanarratives, though, emerges at the point of harmartiology: Christianity claiming that the entry of death through sin into the universe is the fundamental problem in the metanarrative, with Islam presenting the divine contest between God and the devil, who himself will utilize the strategy of ignorance or jahiliyya to debar people from knowing God’s commands and obeying them. In the Christian metanarrative the rebellion of man is of such depth that humanity’s alienation from God becomes communal and communicative: original sin. In Islam the rebellion results in expulsion from the Garden, though the original innocence of humans is retained. Those who obey God’s commands will, in the end, return to the Garden. -131.

Two Stories of Everything is easy to read with a helpful glossary at the end of 137 pages of text. The reader might desire a little more explanation at times and may quibble at some details. Overall, the book is a great example of the importance of understanding the metanarrative of the audience in communicating the gospel. Surface similarities or points of contact must be examined in the context of the metanarrative in order to understand the meaning. We might find that what we think is a great point of contact is understood very differently in the local metanarrative.

Mike Matthews’ book, A Novel Approach  (which I reviewed December, 2017) explains the importance of studying the stories and metanarratives in communicating the gospel as do the rest of the series, “There is More to the Story” by the consultants at Worldview Resource Group.


Book Review: Marks of the Messenger

On the back cover of J. Mack Stiles’ book: Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living and Speaking the Gospel (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010) D. A. Carson comments:

I do not think I have ever read a book on evangelism that makes me more eager to pass it on than this one – better, that makes me more eager to evangelize than this one. -D. A. Carson.

I had purchased the book before I saw that comment, but it certainly prompted me to move the book higher on my reading list. The book does not disappoint the reader. Stiles believes that evangelism ought to be rooted in who we are and what we do.

His first chapter raises concerns about pragmatic evangelism that focuses on results. When numbers become all important, methods can overshadow the message and the character of the messenger. The author’s concern is that we become healthy evangelists.

In chapter two Stiles begins his “marks” of the messenger with the first, the messenger is a student of the message. Here he emphasizes that we must avoid adding to or subtracting from the biblical gospel. Both the bad news of our sin and the good news of forgiveness and new life in Christ are essential. The author writes:

We want people to see their sin in all its horror, not so they are motivated to “clean up their act,” but so they fall at the feet of Jesus knowing he is their only hope. People need to see the depth of their sin so that they come to a fuller understanding of the depth of God’s grace. -31.

Chapter 3, “On your Guard: Don’t Assume the Gospel” is an important alert. We need to guard the gospel because of our tendency to drift. Stiles structures this chapter (after an intriguing story of participant observation at an evangelical school – you don’t want to miss this) under the headings: “Assuming the Gospel,” “Confusing the Gospel,” “Cultural Christianity,” and “A Look at How the Gospel is Lost.” Assuming the gospel is the beginning of the drift to losing the gospel. We need to make the gospel message explicit, remember that “those who know it best are hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest!”

An assumed gospel leaves the message of the gospel unspoken and implicit. … Not to sound too simplistic, but the clearest indication of an assumed gospel is that you don’t hear it anymore. -40,41.

The author sums up the drift pattern:

The dangerous pattern for healthy evangelism in all of this is that first, an assumed gospel forgets to speak the gospel, and second, a cultural gospel preaches moralism and cultural norms and so twists the gospel’s message. Then the gospel is lost altogether. -46.

Chapter four highlights the importance of living out the gospel in our daily lives. A healthy evangelist must live the gospel as well as speak the gospel. Our lifestyle needs to be shaped by the gospel. This chapter includes powerful examples of how that works.

Chapter five, “Messengers in a Troubled World: The Gospel and Social Change” calls for a refusal to separate the gospel message from social action. The author points out that the gospel message itself brings about social change. He sums up the gospel-social action relationship:

Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it’s an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel. Furthermore, all actions of kindness, compassion and justice must be done with the hope to share our faith, otherwise we are not upholding the gospel. We share the good news always open to do good, and we do good always with the hope of sharing our faith. We never divorce the two. -69.

Chapter six, “Waving the Flag: Understanding True Biblical Conversion” is the fifth mark of the messenger. In this chapter Stiles presents five principles of biblical conversion: conversion is required, conversion requires understanding, true conversion requires genuine faith, a radically changed life attests to true conversion, and conversion results from God’s action. We would do well to remind ourselves of these principles frequently.

Chapter seven, “Be Bold,” gives some helpful pointers for overcoming fear. He points to the apostle Paul’s prayer requests for boldness ( Col. 4:3,4; Eph. 6:19,20). There was a time when I wondered why Paul, of all people, prayed for boldness. Though these prayer requests are later that the accounts in Acts, I can’t help but wonder if the boldness we see in Paul is the answer to prayers for boldness.

Chapter eight helps the reader distinguish between a sentimental notion of love and God’s love displayed in the gospel. Chapter nine emphasizes the role of the church as “the gospel made visible.” By this he means the church displays the gospel when we love one another. He concludes with “a Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism: Taking Action” in chapter ten. On the final page the author writes:

For me, the greatest point of healthy evangelism is when we gain a picture of just what it is that we are a part of. Evangelism is not a duty to perform; it is not a cross one must bear. It’s a privilege we’re granted. -122.

You might ask at this point, do I agree with Carson’s comments on the back cover? Having read it when it first came out and again this past week, I can enthusiastically say yes! This book will enlighten your mind, warm your heart, and equip and motivate you to actually evangelize!

Book Review: Worldview-based Storying

Tom Steffen’s book, Worldview-based Storying: The Integration of Symbol, Story, and Ritual in the Orality Movement, is the first book in the Series “There’s More to the Story” written by the consultants of Worldview Resource Group. I reviewed book two (July 2018) and book three (December 2017) – the books were not published sequentially. Each book stands on its own yet reading them in the order intended would be beneficial to the reader.

In the Preface, Steffen describes the concerns addressed by the series:

Cross-cultural communicators of the gospel all too often neither provide adequate backstory nor sufficiently know whom they address, much less how they story. In fact, some even consider such awareness totally unnecessary! This all too often leads to an ineffective, truncated biblical story. This series “attempts to preempt the rapidly-prepared, quick-fix approaches that tell only small portions of the biblical story, and in their place, present a comprehensive, big-picture, local-culture sensitive, viable, reproducible, and thoroughly biblical alternative.” -Kindle loc. 259

Steffen’s book is divided into two parts. Part One traces the development of the Orality Movement from the 1980s to the present. This historical overview gives the reader an understanding of the development and significance of the Orality Movement in missions.

The second part is the heart of the book, Steffen writes:

Part Two: Making the Case for Worldview-based Storying seeks to address a major deficiency I observed as the Orality Movement developed – inadequate attention given to understanding and utilizing the host culture’s worldview in the communication process. This undersight has often resulted in communication noise, jeopardizing a clear understanding of God’s message. -Kindle loc. 545

Steffen encourages us to learn worldview by studying a culture’s symbols, stories, and rituals. Indeed this is a form of ethnography focused on this triad. In his introduction he provides us with the basic assumptions on which the book is based:

  1. Symbols and stories can be reviewed and reinforced through ritual. 2. The gospel contains rival symbols and stories that 3. are reinforced through rituals. 4. Every communication encounter includes noise. 5. The deconstruction of worldview enhances the possibility of true transformation. 6. The greater the cultural distance between cultures, the louder the noise. 7. Communication noise cannot be eliminated, only minimized. 8. Reduced communication noise brings increased clarity to one’s message. 9. Understanding and utilizing worldview-based storying can reduce communication noise and thereby enhance message clarity. – Kindle loc. 557

These are commonly agreed upon assumptions in cross-cultural communications. Steffen assumes that the reader is familiar with cross-cultural communication theory. [I would recommend reading one of the following books if one is not familiar with terms such as “communication noise” – David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally; Donald K. Smith, Creating Understanding; Moreau, Campbell, and Greener, Effective Intercultural Communication.] After identifying these assumptions, Steffen does not leave the reader guessing what he is trying to communicate, he writes:

As the big idea of this book I submit that deep-level worldview research through discovery of the interaction and integration of symbol, story, and ritual will help minimize communication noise in order to enhance clarity of God’s message communicated to both primary-secondary oral audiences at home and abroad. -Kindle loc. 594

Steffen advocates learning a culture’s worldview through analyzing the triad of symbols, stories, and ritual. While pointing out that these never stand on their own, he describes them in three separate chapters. He describes their integration in chapter 7:

Ritual rehearses privately and publicly a system of symbols and stories that influence one’s beliefs and behaviors. Ritual serves as a mirror of the community’s reality that constructs worldview through anchor symbols and stories. Ritual not only mirrors reality, it creates reality. – Kindle loc. 4421.

The author illustrates his nine step approach to analyzing symbol, story, and ritual by exploring the Ifugao marriage process he observed as a missionary in the Philippines. At times the reader may desire more explanation of the process yet the process is illustrated sufficiently. By slowing down a careful reader will understand enough of the process in order to follow the plan in other settings.

One place where more detail would be helpful is in the ninth step when Steffen deconstructs and reconstructs the worldview of the Ifugao (Kindle loc. 5150-5169).There are checklists and possible Scripture-informed substitutes given. But more explicit explanation of how the understanding of the worldview gained by analysis of symbol, story, and ritual affects the communication of the gospel to the Ifugao would strengthen the book.

In the final chapter, “Envisioning the Future,” Steffen identifies 14 “Points to Ponder.” Each of these “Points to Ponder” include lists of “Questions Requiring Follow-up.” these lists of questions are at times stimulating and at other times frustrating. They are stimulating in inviting creative thinking. They may frustrate the reader by not providing or pointing to possible answers.

Overall the book addresses a major weakness of the Orality Movement and provides a remedy through worldview analysis of symbol, story, and ritual. The book is a good introductory volume to the series, “There’s More to the Story.” The reader will also find the appendices helpful though appendix D is confusing due to a formatting problem in the Kindle edition.

Defining Worldview

Worldview is a common term in mission discussions that at times can be somewhat fuzzy. Sometimes worldview is reduced to certain values, and at other times it is somewhat synonymous with culture.

I believe that worldview is not just a synonym for culture and is more comprehensive than values such as shame/honor, fear/power, or guilt/innocence. Yes, these values are an important aspect of a worldview, but a worldview answers other questions as well.

Over the past thirty years, I have been collecting definitions/descriptions of “worldview” from readings in anthropology, literature, missiology, philosophy, psychology, and theology. Looking at definitions from these various disciplines deepens our perspective and helps us to see the comprehensive nature of the concept. Here are a couple dozen to stimulate your thinking:

From Philosophy/Theology:

A worldview is an all-encompassing perspective on everything that exists and matters to us. – James N. Anderson, What is Your Worldview? An Interactive Approach to Life’s Big Questions, Wheaton: Crossway, 2014, 12.

A worldview is an interpretation of influences, experiences, circumstances, and insight. In fact, it is an interrelated series of interpretations – and it becomes a method of interpreting, too. A worldview is something you are aware of only in moments of crisis or contemplation. In ordinary times, it is like a pair of glasses or contact lenses. You are accustomed to looking through it that you barely know it’s there. … Don’t think of worldview as sunglasses. Instead, think of it as a pair of prescription lenses. The task of every worldview is to see the world as it is, to correct your vision. the test of a good worldview will be whether it brings reality into sharp focus or leaves things blurry. – J. Mark Bertrand, (Re) Thinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in this World, Wheaton: Crossway, 2007, 26,27.

A ‘worldview,’ after all, is nothing other than a view of the ‘world’ – that is, of all reality. A worldview is comprehensive only in the sense that it tries to view the whole. … A worldview must be comprehensive enough to address the question of deity (If there is a God, what is he like?), the question of origins (Where do I come from?), the question of significance (Who am I?), the question of evil (Why is there so much suffering? If things are not the way they’re supposed to be, why not?), the question of salvation (What is the problem, and how is it resolved?), the question of telos (Why am I here? What does the future hold?). – D.A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008, 95,96.

Culture provides a thought system by which a group’s members adapt to each other and to their environment. To denote this, anthropologist use the phrase world view. Philosophers use world view differently. In philosophy, it means an all-inclusive system of thought. A world view is metaphysical; it addresses subjects like the nature and existence of God and the world, the purpose and destiny of human life, and the nature of values and good. In anthropology, all this counts as part of a culture’s world view (so the two uses overlap somewhat). But world view also includes a culture’s preferred modes of thinking, artistic expression, and personal relating, including its views of space and time. – David K. Clark, Dialogical Apologetics: A Person-Centered Approach to Christian Defense, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, 184.

A world view is a way of viewing or interpreting all of reality. It is an interpretive framework through which or by which one makes sense out of the data of life and the world. – Geisler and Watkins, Worlds Apart: A Handbook on World Views, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: Baker, 1989, 11.

The human need for a world view, then, is fourfold: the need to unify thought and life; the need to define the good life and find hope and meaning in life; the need to guide thought; the need to guide action. – Arthur F. Holmes, Contours of a World View, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983, 5.

Worldview is the culturally determined set of filters through which we perceive and experience reality. – Long and McMurry, The Collapse of the Brass Heaven: Rebuilding Our Worldview to Embrace the Power of God, Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1994, 26.

… a worldview functions as a set of habits, forming background beliefs that direct our acts of noticing or failing to notice various features of reality. … Habit-forming beliefs do not stand between a person and reality as do glasses. Rather, they habitualize ways of seeing and thinking, which, through effort, can be changed or retained, on the basis of comparing them with reality itself. – J.P. Moreland, Kingdom Triangle: Recover the Christian Mind, Renovate the Soul, Restore the Spirit’s Power, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007, 34.

Any theory or definition of “worldview” is itself a function of the actual worldview of the theorist or the definer. … a worldview is a semiotic system of narrative signs that has a significant influence on the fundamental human activities of reasoning, interpreting, and knowing. – David K. Naugle, Worldview: the History of a Concept, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, 253.

In its simplest terms, a worldview is a set of beliefs about the most important issues in life. … A worldview, then is a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality. – Ronald H. Nash, Worldviews in Conflict, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992, 16.

A worldview (or vision of life) is a framework or set of fundamental beliefs through which we view the world and our calling and future in it. this vision need not be fully articulated: it may be so internalized that it goes largely unquestioned; it may not be explicitly developed into a systematic conception of life; it may not be theoretically deepened into a philosophy; it may not even be codified into credal form; it may be greatly refined through cultural-historical development. Nevertheless, this vision is a channel for the ultimate beliefs which give direction and meaning to life. It is the integrative and interpretive framework by which order and disorder are judged; it is the standard by which reality is managed and pursued; it is the set of hinges on which all our everyday thinking and doing turns. – James H. Olthuis quoted in James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th. Ed., Downers Grove: IVP, 2009, 18.

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. – James Sire, The Universe Next Door, 5th. Ed., Downers Grove: IVP, 2009, 20.

From Anthropology/Missiology/Literature/Psychology:

… a Weltanschauung [worldview] is an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of a single hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no questions unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds a fixed place. It will be easily understood that the possession of a Weltanschauung of this kind is among the ideal wishes of human beings. Believing in it one can feel secure in life, one can know what to strive for, and how one can deal most expediently with one’s emotions and interests. – Sigmund Freud, quoted in Stevens and Musial, Reading, Discussion and Writing about the Great Books, Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1970, 117.

The framework of beliefs, expressive symbols, and values in terms of which individuals define their world, express their feelings, and make judgments. – Clifford Geertz quoted in Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000, 136.

A worldview is the way people see or perceive the world, the way they know it to be. What people see is in part what is there. It is partly what we are. But these combine to form one reality, one worldview. – David Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally, 2nd ed., Grand Rapids: 1991, 197.

We will, however, define the concept [worldview] as we use it in this study as the ‘fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.’ Worldviews are what people in a community take as given realities, the maps they have of reality that they use for living. – Paul Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008, 15.

Worldviews are the most encompassing frameworks of thought that relate belief systems to one another. They clothe these beliefs systems with an aura of certainty that this is, in fact, the way reality is. They are the fundamental givens with which people in a community think, not what they think about. – Hiebert, Shaw, and Tienou, Understanding Folk Religions, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999, 40.

The world view of a people is their way of looking at reality. It consists of basic assumptions and images that provide a more or less coherent, though not necessarily accurate, way of thinking about the world. A world view comprises images of Self and of all that is recognized as non-Self, plus ideas about relationships between them, as well as other ideas we will discuss. – Michael Kearney, World View, Novato, CA: Chandler and Sharp Publishers, 1984, 41.

Cultures pattern perceptions of reality into conceptualizations of what reality can or should be, what is to be regarded as actual, probable, possible or impossible. these conceptualizations form what is termed the “worldview” of culture. The worldview is the central systemization of conceptions of reality to which the members of its culture assent (largely unconsciously) and from which stems their value system. The worldview lies at the heart of the culture, touching, interacting with, and strongly influencing every aspect of the culture. … The position (model) here espoused sees the worldview of a culture or subculture as the “central control box” of that culture. – Charles Kraft, Christianity in Culture, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979, 53.

Worldview is a fundamental commitment of the whole being to a culturally-formed grand story along with its set of primarily tacit assumptions about reality – by which one interprets and interacts with all of life. – Michael Matthews, A Novel Approach: The Significance of Story in Interpreting and Communicating Reality, Tellwell, 2017, 167. (Italics original)

The culture of a people is, then, its total equipment of ideas and institutions and conventionalized activities. The ethos of a people is its organized conceptions of the ought. The national character of a people, or its personality type, is the kind of human being which, generally speaking, occurs in that society. The “worldview” of a people, yet another of this group of conceptions, is the way a people characteristically look outward upon the universe. If “Culture” suggests the way a people look to an anthropologist, “worldview” suggests how everything looks to a people, … But if there is an emphasized meaning in the phrase “worldview” I think it is the suggestion it carries of the structure of the things as man is aware of them. It is the way we see ourselves in relation to all else. – Robert Redfield, The Primitive World and Its Transformation, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1958, 85,86.

In kernel form, these definitions assert that a world view is both an ideology (a set of ideas) and a mythology (a set of images, stories, symbols, and heroes). It also includes such nonverbal qualities as emotion and attitudes. – Leland Ryken, Windows to the World: Literature in Christian Perspective, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000, 136.

… a worldview consists of a central concept (one of the basic human concerns), which is given the role of defining and ordering all other human concerns. This worldview, or any other, is capable of infinite variation at the level of particular detail. – Stevens and Musial, Reading, Discussing and Writing about The Great Books, Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1970, 117.

What is worldview? It is the story-based grid through which one “sees” and interprets all aspects of life. Worldview is inseparately linked to symbol and story. It is a present tense grid, synchronic, or at a point in time. Metanarrative, on the other hand, is diachronic, or a big picture story that develops, unfolds, and spans across time. The grid of worldview is not only story-based, but it also contains integrated components. – Robert Strauss, Introducing Story-Strategic Methods, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2017, 44.

Now it is your turn.  After reflecting on these definitions/descriptions of worldview from various disciplines, write out your own understanding of worldview.

Book Review: Introducing Story-Strategic Methods


Introducing Story-Strategic Methods: Twelve Steps toward Effective Engagement by Robert Strauss is part of a four-book series written by the consultants from Worldview Resource Group. I reviewed A Novel Approach in a December 14, 2017 blog post.

Tom Steffen’s book in this series, Worldview-based Storying, was published May 8, 2018. The fourth book in the series by John Cosby and Elena Steiner is coming out soon. I look forward to reviewing both of these in future posts. I’ve started reading Steffen’s book and it is looking really good.

The series advocates an approach to storytelling that recognizes that there is always “more to the story.” Appropriately, the book series is described in a website with that name: “There is More to the Story.”  That “more” is the worldview of both the teller and the hearer of the story.

But in this blog post, let’s focus on “Introducing Story-Strategic Methods.” In the Introduction, Strauss writes, “This book embeds storytelling in a broader methodology of communication across cultures” (xiv). The book is divided into two parts:  “Acknowledging Ambiguity” and “Aiming for Clarity.”

Part 1: Acknowledging Ambiguity:

Chapter 1 begins with a story that illustrates misunderstanding resulting from ignoring the local story. Strauss explains the importance of local stories:

There is no place we go or group of people whom we approach where a story does not already exist. It is there and has been perhaps for centuries. The local and regional stories are deeply embedded in the lived experiences of the local people. For the most part the local stories are trusted. They are retold again and again. From them people find meaning and direction for the future.

Strauss,  6.

What does Strauss mean by “story”? Strauss does not equate story with worldview; rather stories illustrate worldview. Local stories express and reinforce the worldview of a people. Multiple stories combine to form a metanarrative, a grand controlling story. The worldview expressed in the local stories provide an interpretive grid through which new stories are understood.

Strauss argues that ambiguity results when we fail to understand that our storytelling as outsiders (missionaries) will be reinterpreted in the context of the local story. The local people find their identity and understanding of reality (worldview) in their traditional stories. Any new stories will be understood in ways that fit this view of reality.

Chapter 2 critiques simple approaches to storytelling that minimize or ignore the need to learn the local stories. This chapter explores “descriptions from Scripture,” “empirical research from the field,” “analysis of culture,” and “insights from historical literature” to demonstrate the complexity of storytelling across cultures.

The need to analyze the “why” behind our methods is the subject of chapter 3. The author questions the basic assumptions underlying many approaches to storytelling which ignore or dismiss the need to learn the local stories.

Part 2: Aiming for Clarity:

In seven chapters, Strauss explains the strategic approach to storytelling. Strategic storytelling emphasizes the need to understand the local worldview expressed in stories prior to telling the biblical story. The storyline of the Bible is a metanarrative that competes with the local metanarrative. Story-strategic methods seek to minimize reinterpretation of the biblical story. Chapter 4 introduces the solution to the problems caused when biblical stories are told without an awareness of the local stories. Emphasis is given to the importance of understanding the worldview behind local symbols and stories. This chapter also introduces the 12-step story-strategic method:

  1. Investigate the cultural story lands through existing academic literature.
  2. Enter the story of the host society by establishing authentic relationships.
  3. Model the story in keeping the historic traditions of both Christianity and Islam where the “messenger” takes precedence over the “message.”
  4. Collect symbols and stories (based upon gender, geography, and generation).
  5. Analyze stories to determine how they make meaning.
  6. Understand local metanarrative and the resulting worldview as a basis for communication.
  7. Communicate the biblical story with targeted symbol-based content.
  8. Internalize the biblical story to facilitate extemporaneous delivery and authenticate legitimacy.
  9. Tell to teach (t2T) the biblical story by means of localized forms and functions.
  10. Validate meaning through feedback by means of symbol and story solicitation with key term verification.
  11. Train new symbol observers and storytellers.
  12. Reach the storylands.

p. 53-56.

Chapter 5 makes the case for strategic storytelling which includes interpretation and explanation of what the story means in light of the biblical worldview. Chapters 6-8 explain the 12 steps in detail. Chapter 9 analyzes the underlying theology, philosophy, and strategy of the twelve-step method. Chapter 10 provides a series of reflective questions to increase awareness of our reasons behind our methods.

The eight appendices provide useful information for analyzing cultures.

A Must-Read

From the back cover:

Often we assume that the biblical story trumps culture. It does not. The book affirms rigorously that culture is much more powerful than we first suppose. In fact, culture trumps the biblical story. Therefore, understanding and skills are required for effective engagement across cultures. Strategic storytelling is a twelve-step methodology that addresses the problems of miscommunication and syncretism that plague the cross-cultural context. It offers a step-by-step solution that promises success. Insights are firmly rooted in Scripture and equally grounded in empirical research from the social sciences. The stories told throughout the book are true. The answers are compelling.

Introducing Story-Strategic Methods: Twelve Steps toward Effective Engagement is a must-read for all cross-cultural servants of Christ. Learning how to analyze local stories to understand the worldview is a necessary step in creating authentic understanding of the biblical message. It will help us clarify the “why” behind what we do and lead to more effective communication of the greatest story ever told.

Book Review: Well Sent

51xanlIajuL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_QL70_I have frequently been asked about resources for local church missions programs. In 2015, Steve Beirn, Global Ministries Pastor at Calvary Church in Lancaster, PA, published Well Sent: Reimaging the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process. Steve served at our sending church in Holland, Michigan before going to Calvary so I know him well. He writes with passion and experience. In the introduction he writes:

This book seeks to elevate the role of the local church in the sending effort. The trend in missions today is to place the individual at the center of the sending process. Sometimes the agency is placed at the center. This book places the local church at the center of the sending process. – Well Sent, p. 17.


Pastor Steve Beirn

In placing the local church at the center of the sending process, the book balances healthy partnership roles for agencies and the individual. Well Sent is arranged into four parts:

  1. “Owning the Church’s Special Task,”
  2. “Owning the Church’s Special Path,”
  3. “Owning the Church’s Special Relationships,”
  4.  “Owning the Church’s Special challenges.”

Part One

Chapter 1 explores the perception that sending missionaries is antiquated, tied to colonialism, too risky, etc. Chapter 2, written by George Murray, provides a solid biblical base for the local church to be the center of the missionary sending process. Chapter 3 shares the blessing of the local church as the center of the sending process.

Sending is a powerful way to personalize the Great Commission corporately and individually. (p. 59)

Starting in chapter 3, each chapter concludes with “Action Points” that provide discussion questions.

Part Two

Chapter 4 identifies mobilization keys for a local church sending program: teaching a high view of God, providing role models, developing the financial capacity to send, and developing advocacy among church leaders. Practical approaches for each of these keys are provided in the chapter. In chapter 5, Beirn develops the important role the local church has in the mobilization process. The local church is the ideal context for developing ministry competencies. The local church can provide a community in which personal assessment, spiritual growth, ministry experience, and mentoring can take place. The local church’s role in evaluating the missionary call is the subject of chapter 6.

The example of the early church demonstrates that the local church should sense and affirm the call of an individual in preparation for a lifetime partnership of cross-cultural ministry. (p. 99)

Part Three

The relationship between the local church and the mission agency is the subject of chapter 7. In brief, Beirn writes:

The church is to be the sender of the missionaries, and the agency is to be the facilitator. (p. 109)

Chapter 8 focuses on the strategic relationship of the local church, agency, and missionary to engage the unreached.

Part Four

This last section articulates the challenges facing sending churches in three chapters. Chapter 9 explains why the local church must bond with both the missionary and the people to whom they are sent:

While we bond with these missionaries, we need to also bond with their passion for the people they seek to reach. We must love the unreached as we love the sent.  (p. 142-3)

Chapter 10 deals with the problems of mission creep and mission drift. (When Everything is Missions by Spitters and Ellison is also very helpful on this issue.) The final chapter (11) explores the challenges the missionary might experience in finding a sending church. Beirn distinguishes a sending church from a supporting church:

A sending church is a local body of believers who affirm, support and sustain their own membership while crossing barriers of distance, language and culture to help make disciples in cooperation with a mission agency. … Alternatively, a supporting church is a local body of believers who participate in cross-cultural ministry by supporting missionaries who do not originate from their church membership. -164.

When an individual senses a call to cross-cultural ministry while a member of a local church with no missionary vision, Beirn carefully discusses the options of being a catalyst for a missionary vision or joining a different church that has a missionary vision.

A resource for the church, the mission agency and the missionary

The book includes 10 appendices that are practical resources for the local church, missionary, and mission agency. Steve Beirn recommends that local church missions leadership teams read and discuss the book together. It is a great resource for developing a local church missions program and for reviewing and refining. I would recommend that all missionaries and agency leadership also read and discuss this book. Agency leadership involved in mobilization and member care would particularly benefit from studying Well Sent: Reimaging the Church’s Missionary-Sending Process by Steve Beirn.

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