17 April 2006

What’s your worldview?

A few posts ago, Michael asked me, “What do you teach? What knowledge or worldview do you hope your students leave you with?” This is an excellent question, and I am glad he has driven me to self-examination by it. I always consider what my students leave each class day with, and what I hope they will leave each course with, but what is the overall worldview I hope to impart by a year or a lifetime of teaching? So I will consider this question in several parts over many days to come.

Meanwhile, I would like to ask you to answer the question, Dear Reader. Yes, that means you! I would love to read many short, small, thoughts and anecdotes regarding your worldview. If you are a teacher, What knowledge or worldview do you hope to impart to your students? If you are an artist (visual, literary, other…), What knowledge or worldview do you hope to impart to your audience (viewers, readers, etc…)?

Please feel free to share your thoughts!


Iambic Admonit said...

—My own answer to “what knowledge or worldview do you hope to impart to your students?”—

Here is a preliminary list. I plan to “unpack” each point individually in future comments/posts.

1. Christianity is literally true AND subject to imaginative application/interpretation.
2. Schaeffer’s great maxim: All truth is God’s truth.
3. God is sovereign, man is responsible, and this “paradox” has great implications for art and life, the past and the future.
4. The Lord desires that we should pursue excellence.
5. There are more things in heaven and earth (Horatio) than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
6. God is beyond the powers of human expression and understanding, but our life’s work is to continue the attempts to express and understand Him.
7. Elves, dwarves [sic.], hobbits, dryads, naiads, fauns, centaurs, the Phoenix, Venus, Cupid, Psyche, Semele, Daphne, Syrinx, Sherwood Forest, Atlantis, Avalon, and the Ptolemaic universe exist. Listen for the horns of elfland!
8. There are absolute answers to all questions, but to assume that we know them is Hubris. Humble uncertainty (sophrosyne, faith!) is preferable to “complete” arrogant knowledge.
9. Human nature is always the same. Study history to illuminate the present.
10. All our actions have consequences; everything is connected.
11. “Fiction” is more “true” than “nonfiction”—not more factual, but more true.
12. Reality is more than we see. Something more, beyond, harder, brighter, more perfect, and more real does or will exist.

Anika said...


I'm intrigued by a couple of these, and would be interested in your future posts on them particularly.

11. I've heard this apology for fiction before, and I used to agree with it whole-heartedly, but the stories that people share can hold the same haunting truth that a human-crafted story does -- perhaps more, in some cases. After all, God crafts our own stories Himself, and then we have our own true but incredible myths as families, communities, and cultures.

One great example: Joan Didion's recent work, "The Year of Magical Thinking." Heart-breaking and haunting, beautifully told and a picture of the truths of grief and marriage and love and faith.

Yes, there is something different and more magical about myth itself (Lewis, Tolkien, MacDonald, et. al. did some scholarship on the subject, in addition to their own fictional works) that may bring us closer to transcending the earthly temporal realities of our situation in order to pierce through to the timeless, truly Real reality of Heaven, but that does not disparage nonfiction. At least, not in my book.

As for what my worldview is, and what I hope people know... for me, it all goes back to the biblical narrative, the story of all humanity: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. We are all created in the Image of God, equal in His sight and designed with a purpose. We have all failed, messed up, and been broken by sin, which continues to tear our world apart, but God stepped in through Jesus to redeem us all, individually and collectively, and because of His work, we are empowered to join Him in redeeming all of creation and bringing God's kingdom to earth, as it is in heaven. This story is where I find myself, and where I believe we each find our freedom, our hope, and our charge to change the world, in Jesus's name.

Joy said...

Sorina, you said it all.
My worldview is that God is supreme.

Rosie Perera said...

Read: A few poems in The Flag of Childhood: Poems from the Middle East and a few chapters in The 8th Habit by Stephen Covey.

Listened to/sang recently: Easter hymns (ah, glorious!)

I've never wanted to impart an entire worldview to my students or to viewers of my art. There are certain aspects of my worldview that I hope my students will pick up through taking the classes I teach (on Prayer and on Technology & Christian Spirituality), but I've never felt the desire to influence anyone so thoroughly that they would leave my class with a new worldview. And I'm not "missional" [a postmodern church buzzword] enough as an artist or a Christian to have ideas or perspectives that I want people to adopt through viewing my photography. Perhaps I should be, but I can't seem to drum up that kind of evangelical zeal.

As for what my worldview is, to Sorina's list (most of which are great, but #7 I don't agree with), I'd add a few:

The Christian life is a pilgrimage more than it is an arrival at a safe place (conversion is a lifelong process, not just a one-time event, though a singular experience/decision may mark a significant step in the journey).

Theology matters deeply, but relationship with God (and with others) is more important than correct dogma. Indeed, an obsession with the latter can get in the way of relationship with God and prevent others from ever knowing him. The more one knows God, the more one's theology will probably align with ultimate truth, but the less important that will be.

Believing in Christianity does not necessitate checking your brain at the door. God wants us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

To be human is to be relational, creative, self-aware, free to choose, and responsible/accountable to God. To some extent, the higher animals are also relational beings (my dog definitely is!), but the rest I believe are characteristics of humans alone, as made in the image of God.

The world is neither going to hell in a handbasket nor progressing towards some utopian state. There is nothing new under the sun. While human history ebbs and flows somewhat cyclically ("those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it"), there *is* a progression to ultimate history. Someday God will bring to consummation all of creation, in his own inscrutable timing. It won't be because things have gotten so horrible that he has to put an end to this earthly timeline, nor will it be because we've finally established a millenial kingdom on earth. Well, it might be because of one or the other, but we can't know and should stop speculating about it. Rather, we should live each day as though it were our last and also as though we have a great future.

Iambic Admonit said...

Read: Finished The Sillmarilion again, finally.

Listened to: Some English Country dances

Wonderful thoughts, folks. I love some of the points that Rosie has added (I'll appropriate them for my list, if you don't mind!). I especially resonate with the Christian life as a journey, loving God with our intellects, and the thoughts about history. To these points, and to Joy's that God is supreme and to Anika's that the over-arching story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation is perhaps universal or at least universally applicable, I have this question: How do we express these things? Either in teaching or in art? While deferring to Rosie's understandable reticence about intentional "proselytizing," I would like to discuss how these behind-the-scenes beliefs inform our teaching and our art. Writers, how does your worldview come through your writing? That's perhaps the easiest--but how to avoid being either too preachy/moralizing or too vague and relativistic? Painters, sculptors, photographers, choreographers, how does that work? Rosie, you are a photographer. How does believing that the Christian faith is a life-long journey inform your work? Joy, how does God's supremacy (a huge, amorphous word--could you give us a definition??) inform your work in theatre? Anika, how does the Great Myth-become-fact play out in your own life?

I'll post on my point one soon; I just don't want to cut off this conversation while it's going well. I'd like to leave "What's your worldview" as the first post for a few more days and give folks a chance to get their thoughts into words (hint, hint, Chris & Tammy!) :)

Iambic Admonit said...

I both appreciate and wonder about Rosie’s hesitation to impart a worldview to students/audience. First, I really admire and aspire to that sort of humility. It’s healthy, spiritually healthy, to hold one’s own views lightly. Not the “essentials” of the Christian faith—those must be held to the death—but one’s own interpretation of those essentials, and the debatable points, and the moral grey areas, and private scruples, etc. These should never be forced on anyone, and a class or a work of art should probably not become a soapbox for some shade of theological meaning or fanaticism or asceticism. On the other hand, the younger students are, the more guidance they need in developing their own worldviews. This can perhaps be better done by asking them questions, drawing their own thoughts out of them, helping them to articulate, than by stating “Here’s what I believe.” I’m looking for intelligent subtlety here. This is one of many areas I struggle with in teaching. Subtlety is not my strong point! How to be clear, articulate, and even persuasive, without being preachy, cheesy, bossy, arrogant? I’d like to, as you said, communicate certain aspects of my worldview so that my students pick up on them, ponder them, adjust their own thoughts, become more thinking creatures through interaction with my thoughts and the thoughts of the great writers we study.

Rosie Perera said...

I guess that in saying I didn't want to impart my whole worldview onto my students, I am reacting somewhat to an irritating movement among certain Christian circles that aims to define what the "Christian worldview" is and teach people how to know whether they've got it and how to teach it to others. It was a pair of articles titled "Christian College Professor Flunks Christian Worldview Tests" and "Further Scandal: Christian College Professor Doesn't Teach from a Christian Worldview" by Jack Heller in The New Pantagruel (Summer and Fall 2004), and a subsequent visit to the websites he referred to, which fueled my disdain for such programs. I would probably flunk a "Christian worldview" test from those institutions too, but the point is I don't think there is a single Christian worldview. There are certainly some things which we would all agree upon, the basic tenets of the Christian faith which make us Christians, but there is a lot of variation within the body of Christ as to how we view the world from within the framework of our beliefs about God. A "Christian worldview" is greatly shaped by one's culture, level of education, spiritual experiences, worship tradition, gender, economic status, whether one is part of the majority or on the margins of a culture, etc.

H. Richard Niebuhr, in his classic book Christ and Culture, identifies five typical ways in which Christians view the world around them, which he calls "Christ Against Culture," "The Christ of Culture," "Christ Above Culture," "Christ and Culture in Paradox," and "Christ the Transformer of Culture." I would probably fit best in the latter camp, but like Niebuhr, I see that there is not necessarily one right Christian position on this important question. I think the first position is pretty much untenable, though. I sometimes find myself agreeing more or less with all of the other positions in various situations.

Iambic Admonit said...

I guess the whole reason we can have this conversation at all is just because of those differences, those nuances, in our worldviews. I also believe, for example, that the Christian walk is a journey, but I also know many, many people to whom one moment in time, one prayer or conversation or event was the defining starting point. And I wouldn't be surprised if they saw a lot of significance in that moment, putting it into their personal and universal ordo salutis. Both have value. The Lord works in different ways in the lives of different people.
That's why I'm curious how these things inform our art. Not just in obvious ways, like a novelist writing a clear conversation scene vs. another writing a gradual process of understanding faith, but the more subtle ways, like how my own journey unfolds in my poetry--i.e., part of the journeying happens while I write the poetry, it's not just recorded in verse.
On the other hand, are we just confusing justification and sanctification? Every Christian goes through a process. But it has to start somewhere, somewhen.

Rosie Perera said...

I wanted to answer your question, Sorina, of how my worldview informs my photography. I believe God desires that we would know Him more and experience His love more, that we would delight in His creation and take good care of it, that we would live our lives more fully in communion with Him and in alignment with His will, and that we would have a foretaste here of that "Sabbath rest" that awaits the people of God. If I can help one person a little farther along the path in any one of those dimensions through my photography (or through teaching them to do photography as a way of seeing and knowing God better), it will make me very happy. Like you, my journey unfolds in my doing my art. (Here we are back to Jeremy Begbie's idea of "theology through the arts").

I read an article a few years ago (I can no longer find the reference) which introduced me to a new way of thinking about the journey towards Christian faith. The author suggested that the traditional way of dividing humanity between those who are "in" the circle of faith and those who are "outside" the circle is no longer helpful. So instead, he drew a diagram with Christ at the center, and people as dots scattered all around at varying distances. Some of the dots were traveling towards the center and others were moving away from the center (the direction of motion was indicated by arrows coming from each of the dots). This model does not seek to find a boundary between those who are "in" the kingdom and those who are not, but rather stresses the importance of whether a person is moving towards Christ or away. Of course I too know many, many people for whom there was a definite starting point to their journey of faith. But I know many others for whom there never was a clear starting point. They seem to have always been on this journey from childhood, or it has started in such small, imperceptable, incremental steps that they can't really mark a time when it began. Some people have several significant turning points in their lives, any one of which might have been considered their conversion or "re-conversion" to Christ. And then I also know people who would not be called "Christians" by any definition, but who are definitely on this path towards Christ at the center, and who I think will be with him ultimately, even if they should die before making a confirmed decision to be one of his own. There are also those who make an outward decision to follow Christ but who fall away because they were not drawn by Him, but by persuasion from a skilled evangelist; and they understood faith not as a journey but as a conversion to the permanent security of a heavenly reward, and then promptly stopped growing.

Iambic Admonit said...

I believe that your description of people moving towards or away from Christ (which, I'm pretty sure, was Schaeffer's diagram; we were taught it at the Massachusetts L'Abri, in any case) might be an accurate understanding of spiritual reality as viewed from within time. Here's what I mean. We, you and I, cannot ultimately judge a person's spiritual condition. Sometimes we can make a fairly reasonable assessment based on verbal confessions and the evidences of lifestyle, but sometimes these are contradictory or in the process of swift change. Therefore it is dangerous for me to say "He's saved; she's not" etc. However, I strongly believe that this is only the human, time-bound, this-side-of-eternal-reality perspective. I believe that ultimate, in a grand formal sense, each person is, at this given minute, saved or not. Or, to put the same thing quite differently, God knows which people will be saved, somewhere down the road. And as a Reformed believer, I do not believe that the Lord loses any He has chosen, so a future salvation experience is a certain as a past one, even thought the person does not know it. And it further means that each individual is a member of the Kingdom of God—or not. This is like what Lewis loves to emphasize: each choice, each decision, no matter how apparently small, is a choice towards Heaven or a choice towards Hell. You see how what I am saying and what you are saying sound so similar? Each moment I am either advancing towards Christ or towards self-as-god—which is to say, towards the devil. Yet I am advancing either direction, ultimately, because of my eternal status as either a child of God, or a determined creature of self-will and destruction. It’s the final, fundamental Either/Or.

Rosie Perera said...

Well said, and I agree with the Reformed position. The "toward or away from Christ" model has been helpful to me as a corrective to the overly zealous "I'm saved, but he's not" mentality that I was exposed to for a few years in my early adult growth in the faith. It is not for us to judge that, but rather to help people turn around if they're heading away from Christ or help them move closer to him if they're already going in that direction. All of the things you're talking about wishing to do with your students will accomplish that. Your attitude results, I think, in a much healthier approach to sharing the wide truth of Christ with people, instead of the narrow fear-based model of "if I don't witness to this person sitting next to me on the plane right now, they might never hear the gospel and might end up in eternal damnation." As if any person's eternal state depends on us! I was constantly worrying that I wasn't a good Christian because I wasn't "witnessing" in that way, but I'm much more drawn to this more integrative, life-giving model of sharing Christ and his impact on all areas of life.