Introduction: Worldviews - What are they?

N.T. Wright
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Worldviews, the Bible, and the Believer

Critical to understanding the New Testament world and our world is an understanding of worldview-- the lens of living.

04:13:35 of on-demand video • Updated October 2019

  • describe what makes up the lens called a 'worldview'
  • describe the worldviews of the Ancient Roman world, the Jewish world of the 1st Century AD, and the world of the emerging 'in Messiah' people
  • discern narratives within a culture that often dictate behavior and beliefs
  • explain how symbols reinforce and create fertile ground for a worldview to develop
  • discuss what role questions play in the development and strengthening of a worldview
  • articulate how 'praxis', or automatic behaviors, show how a worldview works
  • develop a reflective perspective on one's own worldview as described by Prof. N.T. Wright
  • process how the biblical text of the New Testament may be better understood when the worldviews at play are understood
  • articulate what an 'in Messiah' worldview might look like in this present day within your own culture
  • examine the journey from the pre-Modern Age to the present day through examining the Western culture from the perspective of the underlying worldviews of each era
English [Auto] Hello in this first talk I want to introduce to you the whole idea of a world view and what it is. It's a big idea but it's a way of making sure we are paying attention to all sorts of aspects of a culture of life who we are of who people in other worlds other times of history were what they did why it made sense paying attention to these things so that we can make sure we're not just sliding over things and producing a superficial analysis and understanding this is really important when we come to think about what it meant for the early Christians to live in that world that world was very complicated with different cultures clashing moving this way and that and what they said about Jesus and what they meant when they said that meant what it meant within that complicated and overlapping set of worlds. So for me the study of worldviews is a way of getting right into the heart of what it meant to live in that world that very contested world. And to try to make sense of being a Christian within it. Now of course any tool like this any way of analyzing isn't foolproof. There are all sorts of things which it itself may slide over but it's a way of going beyond the superficial analysis that says that the only things that matter other things that people say that they believe all the obvious visible things that they choose to do because what you think or believe and how you behave that's very important. But underneath and behind that there's a whole set of assumptions which people hold about life about the world about themselves about their family and only when you get down to those assumptions which often people don't talk about precisely because they are assumptions only when you do that can you really understand what's going on. Well views as people often say are like spectacles that what you look through not what you look at the other day. I had a problem with my spectacles he's very Fogel's do various things that I want them to do but something was slightly amiss. So I had to take the spectacles off go into an opticians and have them make a slight adjustment so that now I could see through them without stopping to think about the spectacles themselves. But here's the thing. While I had the spectacles off I couldn't myself see very well to fix the spectacles I had to have help and that often happens when people have a clash of worldviews that something suddenly disorientate them and they have to examine their assumptions and go back to the implicit stories that they tell to themselves and to others about who they are and that can be a very distressing as well as disorientating procedure. Sometimes people once they've seen a movie or been to a lecture or read a book they say oh my whole world turned upside down when I read that or saw that or heard that as though they came out not quite knowing who they were anymore. Or sometimes if a friend or a family member really lets you down badly you feel that your whole world has been shaken. You're not quite sure where you are anymore. That's the kind of effect that examining one's own world view can have. And as we shall see the first century where Christianity was born into a very complicated world the Roman world the Greek world the Middle Eastern world particularly the world of Jewish hopes and aspirations and the Jewish way of life. That was the sort of world which was littered with large scale versions of what I've just described. People finding that things were happening other people were doing things which made them feel they didn't know where they were anymore. And particularly the message about Jesus which the early Christians pre-placed and had that kind of effect and they knew it would. Which was one of the reasons things were often so uncomfortable. There are a couple of problems with the idea of world view which you may as well name from the beginning. One is that the idea of view seems to privilege the notion of sight as though sight was the all important thing. That's not how I'm using it as far as I'm concerned as we shall see the idea of world view includes all sorts of things things we think things we hear things we feel. I mean we use the idea of world view the metaphor of sight as a convenient way of getting at something which is actually much bigger and more multidimensional than that and it enables us to hold onto this idea of the spectacles that you look through rather than looking at them. So not actually buying into any big ideological idea or off site it has the primary way of experiencing the world or anything like that. It's simply a metaphor though it's a convenient one. The second thing is that some people today have used the word world view and have talked about the Christian world view to mean not the sort of thing that I'm talking about but a set of specific Christian beliefs which they regularly articulated and talk about and discuss and teach. And again that's not what I mean by world view because that sort of thing that belief which we can actually think and talk about is something which is out there on the table. It's not at the level of assumption. It's something we're looking at rather than something we're looking through. So the word is contested. I'm still using it but because I've used it in a lot of my books and other people use it this way as well. What I'm doing rather corresponds to what some sociologists some anthropologists have done. I think of great writers like Clifford guess or Burgerman Lockman in their famous work or Charles Taylor the great writer who's written a huge book on the secular age and he calls it a social imaginary which is kind of evocative term indicating that all societies have a world which they imagine they're living in a world that works like this and that imaginary is something that again like spectacles. They are looking through rather than looking at. So whatever we call it this is the kind of thing we're talking about. Well in short the answer at the end of a string of questions asking why why do you do that. Why did you say that. Well because of such and such yes. But why did that happen. Why did and at a certain point it's rather like being with a child who goes on asking why and the end of the string of why is is that's just the way the world is. And often when people say that they look a bit puzzled though. Well don't you see that's how it is now. An example might be a well-known one for British people who sometimes visit America as I do reasonably frequently. One time one Thursday in late November I found myself with a family in America and was sent out for lunch with the husband of the family to go to the supermarket and buy one item and it was one of those amusing moments where everybody in the supermarket were men and they were all buying one item. And Americans will know exactly what I'm talking about. It was Thanksgiving and we had run out of cranberry sauce or whatever it was. So we've been dispatched to the supermarkets to get this one item. Now a visitor from Mars or even a visitor from the UK who didn't know what was going on might say why are you buying cranberry sauce on a Thursday morning. And the answer would be because it's Thanksgiving. But then somebody who didn't know would say well why Thanksgiving. And the answer is well on this Thursday November we just do Thanksgiving and that's what we do and we have a big dinner and so we need all the stuff to go with it. But then a child or a Martian or even a Brit visiting might say but why do you do this Thanksgiving thing. And you can imagine an American sighing and saying we haven't really got time to explain this for a long time ago. Our ancestors arrived in this country and they were so grateful that they had a safe voyage that they had a special celebration to thank God for bringing them safely here. And there are all sorts of why that might go on behind that as well. But that would do for the moment. It's already what we have is a story and a set of symbols. The meal which is a celebration which is also a praxis that is something which people do and they do without thinking about it. Nobody says Do we have to have this meal this year or. Usually they don't. They just know this is what you do. The family gathers and this is the kind of way that we celebrate. And then if you want you can ask questions. So who does this make. What sort of people are we. Because we do this. Americans may need to be reminded that most other countries don't do that at all. Indeed Thanksgiving is one of the things which is peculiarly North American and certainly we in Britain don't do it. Or if you find people doing it it's because it's a little enclave of Americans who insist on keeping Thanksgiving even when they're away from home. So if pressed people can tell the story. They don't usually do that or they can articulate the fact that they have these symbols and these characteristic modes of behavior there's praxis and this helps them to answer questions about who they are about where they are about the way the world works and the way that they celebrate it. And these as will see all the elements of the world view and most of the men in the supermarket were not actually thinking about any of those. Those were the spectacles they were looking through rather than the things that they were looking at. There's an interesting sequel to this because now there's something which has been developed by the big stores in America called Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving. They have special deals where people pour into the shops. And here's the curious thing we don't do Thanksgiving in the U.K. but Black Friday has now become a feature of our culture. Indeed some stores this last year had to be shot because people were fighting in order to get the bargains that were on sale that day. What's going on there. This is a world view moment. And the answer is it's nothing to do with Thanksgiving. It's to do with quite different sorts of story. The shopping story the profit story on behalf of the supermarket to see a quick kill here and the great imperative in our culture which is about acquisition I mean more things whatever I've got in my household ready I need more. And if there's something going which is cheap then there's a deep cultural imperative that says I have to boost my sense of who I am by going and getting it and getting it cheap so that the Black Friday narrative corresponds to some narratives which we and most of the Western world now sadly will share. And so it has made the transplant into other countries apart from America where the Thanksgiving story hasn't and it's only when you understand how the world views work that you can see what's going on there and why it's significant. I have another example from my own home territory of the northeast of England. There are several football clubs that soccer in American terms but we just call it football usually in the U.K. but among the two most famous are Newcastle and Sunderland and Newcastle and Sunderland they're only a 10 or a dozen miles apart but they are deadly rivals on the football field and their supporters are passionately opposed to one another and shout to saying all kinds of rude things about one another. And here's the thing most of them I've discovered don't actually know where that goes back to. They don't know why they hate Baclofen all those ones. But actually it's because Newcastle and Sunderland were on opposite sides in the Civil War and the British Civil War was in the 60s and 40s. That's quite a long time ago. But that rivalry with very stable populations through most of the intervening years has continued and it continued as an industrial rivalry when in the 18th and 19th century the two cities were rivals for shipping coal out and for building ships and for various other things that were going on where they were competing with one another. And so it has continued and now what goes on on the football pitch is a history being acted out through another medium. But it's only when you go back to the story that underneath all this that you understand why and of course they have their symbols that black and white stripes for Newcastle the red and white stripes for Sunderland and various other paraphernalia and bits and pieces and they have their Praxis the songs that they sing. They don't stop to think why do we sing these songs why do we chant these chants this is just what you do and what takes place on the page. The visible thing that you're looking at you are seeing it through the lens of this worldview. This rich and sometimes dangerous cultural inheritance that the North East of England somehow still holds onto. So when I come to analyze worldviews I'm doing a bunch of different things. First as has become apparent already I'm looking at the stories which are embedded in a culture or in a family or in a group or in the whole country. The stories which make sense ultimately of what people do how they perceive themselves the stories which are part of the ultimate answer to the question why what stories do people tell not tell to one another explicitly most of the time but what stories are going on in the back of their minds. And then secondly what symbols are there. What actual things can you see. What artifacts what buildings what signs what pictures of that which you bring order to this world which instantiate the story in specific objects or specific things that you can see on the street and then lined up with both of those. What is the characteristic praxis What are the things that people do without stopping to think about is not the things that you think perhaps today might do this but the things that you just automatically do. And then there is an intellectual or a thinking component to this because you can cash all of this out the story the symbols and the Praxis you can cash it all out with questions Who are we. Where are we. What's wrong. Most worldviews is something wrong somewhere. What's the solution. And what time is it. Those are the things that we'll be exploring with some very specific examples as we go forward and it's out of that matrix the story the symbol the Praxis the questions that things like belief and behavior actually emerge the beliefs that we hold which rearticulate and the follow on beliefs which seem to us to make sense in terms of the basic beliefs. And then on the other side the behavior we have the aims that we have in life the intentions we have for what I'm going to do today that will further those general aims. These are the things that emerge into the light as it were. We can see that we can talk about but they make the sense they make in relation to the world view which stands behind or underneath which is implicit all the time. Another obvious example to go into the world of the New Testament we can see when we put John chapters 18 and 19 in front of us and suddenly here is Jesus talking to Pontius Pilot this figure Jesus who John has told us is the Incarnate Word of God confronting the local representative of the Roman Empire. And we can see in the conversation they have that pilot punches pilot basically doesn't get it. He doesn't understand what Jesus is saying. Jesus says all sorts of things to which pilot says why would you say that to me. Don't you understand this. Do you think I'm a Jew. Are you really a king what sort of a kingdom is this. And so on and so on and particularly don't you realize that I have the authority to have you killed. And Jesus calmly answers his questions and put some in effect back to pilot. What we're looking at is a clash of world views. It's not a straightforward business of a disagreement with somebody said something and somebody else says actually I don't quite see it like that. They can argue it out. It's much deeper. We can feel that subcarriers. It's as though Jesus is looking at the world through one set of lenses. Pilot is looking at the world through a very significantly different set of lenses. And that's where the whole drama of John's gospel comes to its explosive climax. It's a clash of world views at the heart of which we have Jesus going to his death. And actually that's what so much of the New Testament is all about looking at what happened when Jesus went to his death and then was raised three days later. And the way in which that exploded in the ancient world of the first century exploded into the different world views that were around and generated its own significantly different world view which then enabled people to live with a different set of beliefs to live with a different set of behaviors to live in a different way because they were seeing the world knowing the world and themselves and God in different ways. So ultimately for pilots when he says want is truth that's the key issue. What is there at the back of it all when we go on saying why of what point do we actually touch bedrock if ever the early Christians had one specific set of answers to that question. The ancient cultures into which early Christianity exploded had other sets of answers and were going to be exploring as we go forward. Quite a lot about how that explosion took place and what it might mean for us to relate to it ourselves.