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Ask any Wilberforce Academy mentee about their top takeaways from their time with Wilberforce and you will likely here one word over and over: Worldview. Understanding the concept of worldviews is foundational to much of what we do at the Academy, and today we look at six reasons for studying comparative worldviews.

 Anyone who desires to share the Gospel with another human being, or who wants to become a redemptive change agent within the context of his or her own culture, risks failure if they ignore the critical role worldview plays in the process.

We define worldview as a big story, shaped by deep assumptions, that generates great allegiance and defines a way of living. It’s the idea that people have a comprehensive view of the story of reality that influences the way they interpret the world.

By understanding these worldviews we can avoid many of the pitfalls that derail communication in our relationships or attempts to share the Gospel, as well as impact our ability to effect redemptive change in a community. Following are six of the major reasons we should consider learning about these worldviews.

 1. Understanding worldviews helps us discover human motivation.

As human beings we very often cannot understand the motivation of others. Dr. Osburn shares:

“I still remember that day 19 years ago when planes crashed into the World Trade Center. I remember sitting the next day in my graduate coursework at the University of Minnesota where I had just begun work towards my PhD; we spent the whole class asking the question: Why did they crash planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? And I could tell that most of the people had no clue. I believe if they had studied in a course like this (Comparative Worldviews) they would have been much better prepared to answer the question, “Why?”

When you understand a person’s worldview, you’ve opened the door to understanding key aspects of their motivation. Instead of trying to respond, reason, or persuade from your own perspective, you’re entering into the way they think and perceive the world and you are able to decrease inaccurate assumptions you may have about the intentions behind their decisions.

2. Understanding worldviews helps us avoid miscommunication.

Sometimes we use the same words, but mean very different things by them due to cultural baggage. In this situation, two people may be become increasingly frustrated during conversation because they don’t realize that they are misinterpreting the other person’s use of language or concepts. Understanding worldviews can clear up some of these misunderstandings and at the very least make us sensitive to the possibility of other similar misunderstandings.

3. Understanding worldviews helps us navigate culture clashes. 

“All around the world people misunderstand each other, partially because we don’t understand each other’s deepest assumptions about what it means to be an honorable person,” shares Dr. Osburn.

An example would a Muslim woman in hijab and long dress looking askance at a young American woman wearing an above the knee, sleeveless sundress. One woman may judge the other as shameful, assuming the woman is loose and lacks morals. Likewise the other may see her counterpart as repressed and unable to know her own mind. By understanding the underlying assumptions about these choices we can adjust our interpretations of actions we might otherwise find shameful or dishonorable and better understand the person we are communicating with.

4. Understanding a Christian worldview in particular helps us see the bigger picture of reality.

Within various worldviews people are trying to organize the puzzle pieces of life to see the bigger picture of reality.

“I believe that a Christian worldview helps us take all of the jumbled facts of reality and organize them in a meaningful fashion so we can actually understand what life is really all about,” explains Dr. Osburn.

In order for us to engage with clarity with other worldviews, it’s important for us to understand our own worldview and the way it informs our understanding of reality.

5.  Understanding worldviews improves our skill as Christian apologists.

For all of the reasons above, when we deepen our understanding of worldviews we become more able to share and defend the Gospel in ways that our friends and other listeners can understand and relate to.

6. Understanding worldviews can help us better understand why there are particular social, economic and political outcomes across our nation and the globe.

Why do some societies experience more corruption than others? Why do some foster greater levels of oppression over the weak? Why do some seem to explode economically or educationally while others remain stuck decades behind?

“I believe that many of the varying outcomes we see from one culture to another can be explained once you understand the role of worldviews in shaping human thinking,” says Dr. Osburn. “Ideas really do have outcomes.”

Certain ideas have repeating outcomes across cultural contexts and this can inform how we approach any kind of redemptive change work we may want to do within a given context.

Ultimately any given worldview acts as a lens that colors or shifts how we see events and reality. Better understanding these lenses leads to deeper communication, Gospel opportunities, and more effective redemptive change work across cultures.

If you are interested in learning more about the process of navigating worldviews, or would like to know when the next Comparative Worldview class will be running, please contact Dr. Bob Osburn at bob@wilberforceacademy.org.