Is Gospel Outreach concerned with presenting a worldview or a person?

I once overheard one person say to another: “What’s that plus sign on your necklace?” There can be no doubt that modern Australia is a ‘post-Christian’ society, in which many ideas which give the Christian message context and meaning, aren’t even understood anymore.

How do we reach out with the gospel in this cultural climate? The concept of ‘worldview’ in an increasingly popular, and indeed helpful, tool in contextualizing the gospel message. A worldview refers to someone’s basic interpretation of reality. [1] It is someone’s big story, which makes sense of the world, and our place in it. A worldview might show itself in particular values or priorities, but under the surface, there are a lot of deeply held commitments in the drivers seat.

It’s common, then, to think that the heart of gospel outreach is to investigate and understand other people’s worldviews, and then frame the gospel as an alternative story to live by. The gospel offers an approach to life that is more liveable and makes more sense of our circumstances, fears, hopes and well everything. By and large this is a helpful advance in thinking carefully about how to reach people for Christ. The Christian life does bring peace and fulfillment, and offers unparalleled explanatory power for all we experience in the world around us, good and bad. However, when this philosophy of ‘worldview evangelism’ becomes the dominant paradigm of mission, I think we are missing something.

In mission, we’re not simply calling on people to give up one worldview and adopt another, better, one. We’re actually presenting a person, God, and calling upon people to submit to God by trusting his promises and repenting of their sin. There are three biblical principles that have confirmed this to me.

Firstly, God’s revelation is personal. God’s revelation of himself is a fundamentally personal thing, because God’s is a person. After showing his true colours in the amazing events of the Exodus, God said to the Israelites, that they were shown these things, so that they would know that Yahweh (i.e. the LORD) is God. That there was no other God (Deut 4:32-40). When Jesus comes, he is the personal, fleshly embodiment of this person, the LORD (John 1:18, Col 1:15, Heb 1:3).

Along with God’s revelation, sin is a relational problem. In Genesis 3, for example, it wasn’t merely that Adam and Eve formulated their own faulty worldview. Their big problem was rejecting God’s word to them. Likewise in Romans 1, one of the archetypal descriptions of human sin, we read:

Rom. 1:21   For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him (NIV11)

Against the backdrop of universal rejection of God, the revelation of God in the person of Jesus can be seen as a merciful, second chance, as it were, to acknowledge just who the real boss is. As Jesus himself said, when people honour him, they are honouring the Father (John 5:23). The confession of Jesus as Lord, then, becomes the test par excellence of who responds to God’s revelation of himself rightly.

Therein lies the third biblical principle that bears on our discussion: spiritual regeneration points us to Christ. We know that people need the internal work of the Holy Spirit to come to saving faith, but what is the heart of that spiritual process? Through the Scriptures we read about one of the core functions of the Holy Spirit is to glorify Jesus (John 16:14). He causes people to confess that ‘Jesus is Lord’ (1 Cor 12:3). It’s no wonder that J.I. Packer describes the work of the Holy Spirit as a ‘floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus.’[2]

So back to our original question, how do we best reach people with the gospel. Clever arguments about the consistency and appeal of the Christian worldview have an important place in our ministry. However, we mustn’t forget that Spirit-empowered proclamation of who Christ is and what he’s done for us remains the heart of gospel outreach. Even as we wrestle with the cultural complexities of the post-Christian world, this simple practice is God’s ordained means for bringing people of all worldviews to salvation.

[1] David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 2002), 260.

[2] J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit (Leicester : Inter-Varsity, c1984., 1984), 65.

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