One of my oldest friends has become hardened to the gospel and sometimes it’s difficult to keep persevering in evangelism with her. It’s hard to be courageous when I struggle to even know where to begin in conversation. It’s hard to feel like a faithful witness when those conversations don’t go far. Perhaps you’ve been in my situation?
As I’ve studied different worldviews in my Philosophy class at theological college, I was reminded of how important it is, especially for evangelism, that we work hard at understanding the person we are talking to. Whether it be our oldest friend, our closest colleague or our dearest family member, seeking to understand a person, especially their worldview, will help us to have greater empathy for them and to engage with them more deeply. God-willing, it will open up opportunities to talk about Jesus.
But firstly, what exactly is a worldview?Historically, it’s been a complex concept that many people have sought to define. Generally, the term can be used in two senses—first, as a sort of operating system that people subscribe to and use to comprehensively explain questions about the universe. Second, in more typical usage, a worldview oftenrefers to an individual’s outlook on life, that is, the framework through which they live in the world. It may not be consistent or even self-conscious.
For evangelism, one of the most effective ways to begin to understand a person’s worldview is through the realm of anthropology—that is, how a person sees him or herself in the world. Simon Smart (citing others) offers four questions to help determine a person’s worldview from this angle; they are simple but incisive.
Firstly: “Who am I?” As Christians we might recognise ourselves to be sinful creatures who are answerable to God and offered salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. But other people may not think they are inherently corrupt, or that they are anything more than atoms and molecules.
Secondly: “Where am I?” Some people may consider the universe to be orderly; Christians would say it is ordered by God. Some may consider it as completely random, or balanced by good and evil. Some may have never asked the question.
Thirdly: “What’s wrong?” Most people will agree that there is something wrong with this world but there is far less agreement on what that is. As Christians we believe that sin has corrupted us and our world and so that is what we address, but our non-Christian contacts will have very different concerns and ideas about what humanity’s biggest problem is.
Finally: “What’s the solution?” How do they think this problem is overcome? While Christians will be following and pointing people to Jesus, others will be seeking solutions elsewhere.
We need to be thoughtful and creative about how we work these questions into conversations, rather than asking them out of the blue or all at once. But if we are bold enough to ask them, and also able to answer them ourselves, then our evangelistic endeavours will be helped.
For one thing, even the decision to ask questions in order to understand a person’s worldview helps us to be other-person-centred. We know that loving people is crucial if we want to share Jesus with them, and that involves working hard to hear and understand their perspectives and opinions. We can’t expect people to listen to what we have to say if we aren’t patient listeners ourselves. As we start to see things their way we develop empathy, and this will start to break down walls before we even open our mouths.
Secondly, as we ask these questions and begin to understand another’s worldview, we are able to engage with it and evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. This gives space for many avenues of conversation where hopefully both parties can share and be stretched. We should expect to have our own worldview challenged during this process and this shouldn’t make us fearful or anxious because wrestling with difficult questions will only strengthen the faith that we know to be true.
Thirdly, as we show empathy to others, a willingness to engage with their worldview, and humility in having our own worldview challenged, evangelistic opportunities will arise. Perhaps our friends will return our questions out of politeness, or interest, or even antagonism. Perhaps they may feel more oriented to Christianity and so receive invitations to events more positively. Or perhaps they may simply become more patient and obliging when we bring Jesus up. We can prayerfully hope and expect God to use us for his purposes, whatever that may look like.
So, when sharing Jesus becomes very hard and you feel like you’re not making progress, consider whether a greater effort to understand the person’s worldview may help. Let’s be creative about how we humbly and sensitively ask probing questions like the ones above, and let’s keep persevering with making Jesus known.
 Simon Smart, ‘Life Visions’, in A Spectator’s Guide to Worldviews, Bluebottle, Sydney, 2007, p. 8.