Worldview Conversion: Whole-Life Discipleship

Grace Communion Seminary President Gary Deddo continues the series started last month, now looking at how the church can facilitate worldview conversion through a process of whole-life discipleship.

Defining the issue

Gary Deddo

Sadly, in the post-Christian Western world, many Christians have (often unknowingly) adopted a worldview that is largely secular—one that yields non-Christian perspectives on the nature of human being, what gender is, what equality is, what human rights are, what relationships between parents and children should be, what the church is, how one comes to know truth (if it can be known at all), what science is, what faith is, etc.

A secular worldview (and there are many variations) undermines a believer’s ability to embrace and live out of the truth (with its worldview) that is found in Jesus. When the church operates out of a secular worldview, its calling to be the church of Jesus Christ is undermined.

What shall we do?

How can we in GCI helpfully address this issue with our members?  The answer is that we must first understand what worldview is and why it matters (see Ted Johnston’s article on worldview in last month’s Equipper), then facilitate the conversion of our members’ worldview through an educational process we are calling whole-life discipleship. That process helps members of all ages and all maturity levels identify the worldview they currently hold, and any need to have it converted (transformed) to more fully align with a Christ-centered worldview—one that is expressive of Jesus’ faith, hope and love; embracing his values, priorities and ways of being in this fallen world.

Whole-life discipleship

Whole-Life Discipleship Process

As shown in the diagram above, whole-life discipleship begins by grounding our members in the knowledge and faith that is recorded in the written word of God (the Bible) and embodied in the Living Word of God (Jesus), who interprets Scripture for us. Grounded in that foundation, we then help our members add a well-developed understanding of the core beliefs (doctrines and theological understandings) that define the Christian faith (see our We Believe teaching tool for help with this). Then we help them use this knowledge to examine the worldview of the surrounding culture, noting how it contrasts with one that is fully Christ-centered. Doing so equips our members for living a life (a vocation) that conforms with a Christ-centered worldview. Note how this whole-life discipleship process is informed throughout by Holy Scripture, including these key passages:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom. 12:2)

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Col. 2:8)

I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Col. 2:1-4)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)

The conversion (deconstruction/reconstruction) of our members’ worldview involves engaging them in a journey of coming to see Jesus as Lord and Redeemer of all aspects of life: personal and social, public and private, financial, educational, vocational, intellectual, sexual, cultural, entertainment and leisure, political and recreational. As someone has said, If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Deconstructing a secular worldview

Sadly, many Christians hold a worldview that is more secular than Christ-centered. A secular worldview begins to take hold when they either don’t care about or find themselves unable to make the connection between some area of life and Jesus’ gracious Lordship. This disconnect typically involves the lack of application of sound biblical doctrine and theology to every aspect of life. It also typically involves embracing the Western idea that the world and life are somehow divided into secular and sacred spheres, where the Bible, church doctrine and theology only have to do with personal, private spirituality and the religious activity of the church—what often is referred to as the sacred. In that way of dualistic thinking, the standards, norms, assumptions and values of the sacred sphere have no relevance within the secular sphere.

Over the last 60 to 70 years, the church has tried various approaches in seeking to overcome this sacred-secular dualism. One approach has been to help Christians see all aspects of life as sacred. However, the results using this approach have been mixed, and the challenge remains. A key aspect of that challenge is to somehow help Christians identify and examine the underlying assumptions that make up their worldview. It is sometimes (often?) the case that many of these assumptions are more secular than Christ-centered. These secular assumptions are usually held unknowingly—typically picked up along the way of life through education, entertainment, journalism, popular media, etc.

We want to help our members discover and critically examine these secular assumptions by cross-checking them against the foundations of the Christian faith. Doing so will help them bring the assumptions they may hold to light where they can be carefully scrutinized, then rejected when found to be contrary to the Christian faith.

Reconstructing a Christ-centered worldview

Having helped our members deconstruct any secular aspects of their current worldview, we then want to help them reconstruct their worldview to a point where it is more fully Christ-centered. How do we do that? I have found the Relationship Wheel diagram shown below to be a helpful summary of a whole-life discipleship approach. It shows that a Christ-centered worldview flows from our worship relationship with the Triune God (R1, F=Father, S=Son, HS=Holy Spirit). Grounded and centered by this worship relationship, the disciple moves out in relationship to others they are close to (R2) where they then bear witness to their  relationship with (and worship of) the Triune God  (R1). These R2 relationships take place first within the circle of the church (bounded by the dotted line), then expand to encompass other people they are close to, including those who are not Christians. From there they move out to encompass individuals, organizations and institutions even further beyond the boundaries of the church (R3).

Relationship Wheel

Let us in GCI work together to help our members understand and participate in this whole-life discipleship approach to worldview conversion. We can do so by first helping them focus on matters of doctrine and theology, then helping them examine their sense of personal identity, and then their values, ethics, morals and actions. We can then help them explore how living out of the R1 center relates and interacts with all other aspects of their life. As they progress outward on the Relationship Wheel, they will, over time (in fellowship with other Christians) fill out a Christian worldview. As that happens, they will become more fully conformed to Christ, living out the good and right will of God. In that way they will experience more the wholeness, coherence and integrity of living out of God’s grace in every aspect of life—doing all they do with freedom and joy, to the glory of God.

Our journey in GCI

Looking at the Relationship Wheel, it’s significant to note that GCI has been following this progression as a denomination. For several years, we’ve focused on helping our members embrace orthodox, historic Christian doctrine viewed through the lens of incarnational Trinitarian theology. There can be no other foundation for our faith and life. Now, our challenge is to continue the journey on to the outer rings of the diagram—helping our members, especially the younger ones, embrace and then apply our doctrines and theology in ways in which Jesus is Lord and Redeemer of all of life—all they think and do in every aspect of life. This life-application aspect of whole-life discipleship will help our members identify obstacles to letting go of a secular worldview in order to embrace a worldview that is fully Christ-centered. It is toward that end that we are providing this series of articles on worldview conversion and whole-life discipleship.

The foundation of biblical doctrine and theology

In GCI, we are committed to a whole-life discipleship process that is built on biblical doctrine and theology, not on philosophical or ideological systems (even Christian ones). For example, we don’t want to encourage our members to develop a worldview that is more about contemporary political ideology than it is about the core beliefs and convictions of the Christian faith set out in the Nicene Creed (and summarized in GCI’s teaching tool, We Believe). Also, we are committed to an educational focus on discipleship (building up the body of Christ), rather than on mere apologetics (defending the faith). That being the case, we must be selective and not rely on Christian resources that have a focus that is mainly political-ideological, or merely apologetic.

Replacing secular assumptions

In referring to this educational strategy as whole-life discipleship, we are recognizing that the surrounding culture (with its predominantly secular worldview) is incessantly “discipling” our members, especially the younger ones. All of us are being fed fundamental assumptions/axioms about life and reality every day. This happens not so much by direct teaching, but indirectly through multiple forms of communication/media by which various assumptions are being conveyed. Such assumptions, though often hidden, are nonetheless influential, subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) shaping and reshaping our worldview out of a decidedly secular center. Here are several examples of such fundamental secular assumptions:

  • No one has a right to tell you what you ought to do once you are 18 years old.
  • There is no such thing as truth, only opinions.
  • There is no such thing as gender, it’s all just socially invented and imposed.
  • The church and religion are responsible for most of the wars in history.
  • The Christian faith is an invention of white Europeans.
  • Whatever two consenting adults decide to do together will never harm them.
  • Being sexually active is a need of human beings just as essential as eating and breathing.
  • Doing anything natural is good and right.
  • Each individual has a right to do wrong.
  • There is no purpose to life—each individual can only give themselves meaning and purpose.
  • No one can know God.
  • Belief in God is entirely a personal, private affair that you must keep to yourself.
  • You are what you feel or desire.
  • Being authentic means first and last being true to yourself.
  • I have a right not to be offended by anyone or anything.
  • There is no such thing as right and wrong, just individual opinions.
  • Tolerance requires that we affirm anything that another person believes and wants to do.
  • Following any God means losing your freedom.
  • Belief in God is an offence to human dignity.
  • You are only answerable to yourself and to no one else.
  • All religious belief is a cover-up for insecurity.
  • Christian faith is irrational and built on nothing but personal preference.
  • Christian faith is anti-scientific.
  • It is wrong to teach your children to believe anything in particular—they must be left free and unaffected by the beliefs of their parents.
  • There is no truth, all there is, is voting according to your own opinions.
  • All opinions are equally valid and should never be questioned nor required to be justified by reference to any facts, or moral or spiritual truth.
  • All that’s evil in our world can be eradicated by money, education, positive thinking or by non-violent or violent demonstrations and protests.

These secular assumptions often resist and even contradict biblical doctrines and theology. They undermine the faith we already have as well as stifle our growth in the faith. They can inhibit the application of biblical teaching, especially as it applies to the wider cultural context. They can also be sources of continual temptation to live inconsistently with one’s faith in the living God.

The damaging effects of being bombarded daily with messages that advance these kinds of secular assumptions become more and more apparent as Western societies move from being post-Christian to anti-Christian. The church has been largely naive about this movement—beginning centuries ago with thinking that Deistic beliefs about God are harmless and compatible with a Trinitarian and incarnational God. They aren’t. Furthermore, that kind of “civil religion,” as it has been called, which once was the favored compromise of the West, has now been banished. In Western culture, God is now almost entirely excluded from the public square (as seen in journalism, education, entertainment and even law).

Given this reality, the church must identify the secular cultural assumptions that are incompatible with a Christ-centered worldview and name them for the benefit of those we are called to disciple in the way of Jesus. Doing so will include exploring how and why these assumptions are incompatible with the mind of Christ, and where and how they are being promoted, protected and privileged within the surrounding culture. Though such a process will take time and effort, it is vital.

Understanding our context

In advancing whole-life discipleship, we need to realize that the particulars of what is addressed will necessarily vary from one socio-cultural context to another. Those overseeing ministry in a particular context (denominational leaders, pastors and teachers) will have to discern what cultural assumptions should get attention and which should not. They will then need to clearly communicate and dialogue about the secular worldview issues that are particularly influential within their context.

This task of worldview conversion through whole-life discipleship is vital because if we don’t help our members forsake a secular worldview and embrace a Christ-centered one, the wider culture will, by default, disciple them in a secular worldview. It will do so largely by misrepresenting Christian faith and sometimes even promulgating outright lies about it. The net effect is to make Christian faith largely implausible, thus stifling the spiritual development of the disciple, making it all but impossible for them to be involved in reaching out, through evangelism, to non-Christians with the message of the gospel of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

Conclusion

The whole-life discipleship that leads to worldview conversion is not a philosophical or ideological program aimed at winning arguments or debates with non-Christians, nor is it about “taking back our nation for God.” It’s also not about fighting the moral decay in our culture or setting up a new moral code in order to transform society (though whole-life discipleship necessarily clarifies issues of morality). Instead, our program of whole-life discipleship needs to focus on helping our members (and others we have opportunity to disciple) to embrace the core doctrines and theology of the Christian faith, leading to exploring how to live that faith within the cultural context in which they live. Please note that this approach to discipleship is not about producing lengthy lists of do’s and don’ts. Instead, it’s about helping people think with the mind of Christ concerning matters of morals and ethics in all aspects of everyday life. I pray this series of articles in GCI Equipper on worldview conversion will help us do just that.


Resources related to worldview conversion through whole-life discipleship:

  • God, Freedom and Dignity: Embracing a God-Centered Identity in a Me-Centered Culture, by Ron Highfield
  • Hidden Worldviews: Eight Cultural Stories that Shape our Lives, by Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford.
  • 6 Modern Myths: About Christianity and Western Civilization, by Philip J. Sampson
  • The Universe Next Door: A Worldview Catalogue. James Sire, IVP, 4th Ed.
  • Beyond the Modern Age: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture, by Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew
  • “Apples, Oranges and Gay Marriage,” by Robin Phillips (click here to read online)

7 thoughts on “Worldview Conversion: Whole-Life Discipleship”

  1. Dr. Gary – very meaningful words to call out the presuppositions we hold toward discipleship. I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately (perhaps will write an article) to the notion of “volunteering” in church. I’m wondering if Jesus (some of his last words in John) had in mind that we merely “volunteer” to “abide” in the vine? Or when Paul (some of his last words) told Timothy his crown was reserved in the future for him, that he merely volunteered at fighting the fight, running the race, and keeping the faith?

    Will we be met with the words, “well done, good and faithful “volunteer?” Is the concept of volunteering for Jesus found in Scripture? How would those who gave their lives for the good news over the centuries think about our “volunteerism” culture of today?

  2. „If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all“. Well said! Our thinking AND our doing ought to reflect Jesus in EVERY life situation. Having the „right answers“ is just one aspect for us to consider and wrestle with. Living out our faith, that is an even greater challenge. I much appreciate the bullet points warning against some rather popular „secular lies“. Christians must stand together, not in isolation but boldly seeking a beyond politics Spirit led interaction with the world around us. We cannot remain silent.

    Every blessing,
    Santiago

  3. Hi Pastor Craig. Thanks for your comment/question. Here is a reply written by Dr. Deddo.

    When used in the context of the church (and all aspects of the Christian life and faith), the terms volunteer and disciple require special explanation beyond their dictionary definitions and popular us). We need to understand their norms and meanings as rooted in biblical revelation of the realities to which they point.

    Discipleship is a biblical notion. A disciple means a learner or a follower of one who is teaching you. A disciple is more like an apprentice. The word also connotes the idea of dedication, discipline and personal commitment to the teacher. Those who believe in Jesus and in who he said he was and in what he said he would and did accomplish are called disciples throughout the New Testament. Becoming a follower of Jesus means a change in direction and the meaning and significance of one’s very life. The first disciples were called followers of the Way. It is a way of life in daily fellowship and loyalty to Jesus Christ, learning to follow him in the way he goes.

    It doesn’t seem to me that our popular understanding of volunteers conveys the same idea. As far as I know there is no biblical word that is synonymous with this English word. It is a later development from the French in late 15th century. It means freely, that is without external force or obligation (legal or coercive) and also without payment or remuneration.

    The idea of being a volunteer has some significant social and political connotations. And in American democracy (and other Western democratic nations) it has a civic connotation. A volunteer is someone who dedicates their free time and abilities for civic service of some sort without pay.

    In the church context the idea of volunteer falls short of discipleship. Perhaps we in the church can fill it with meaning brought over from discipleship. There is some overlap of meaning. Discipleship is not by coercion or external force. But there is much more to discipleship with Jesus than being a volunteer in the popular sense

    As far as church responsibilities go, I think it also falls short. Volunteers appoint themselves really. Church members may offer themselves for particular service, but in the church no one appoints themselves. All those who serve are called and appointed and commissioned (or ordained) by others. And those others recognize who is being called on the basis of a process of prayer and discernment. And discernment involves making use of certain criteria to come to a decision. These include spiritual maturity, gifting, and willingness to continue to grow, learn and be accountable to those who appoint them.

    Volunteerism as I have experienced it over many years and in many contexts does not usually make room for these dynamics. Volunteerism usually adds up to a “take me or leave” me approach. And those who recognize the volunteers take a more or less “sink or swim” approach to their volunteers. The criteria used often amounts to a little bit of popularity in the group and if they are “warm bodies.” And there is little consideration as to how the volunteer’s participation will contribute to their own spiritual maturity. Accountability is fairly inappropriate in that framework. And finally there often is no set interval for reevaluation and possibly redeployment or even termination of service. Some get stuck forever in a “job” and can’t get out. Others get stuck in a job and won’t get out of the way.

    Service in the Body of Christ does indeed need to be more than volunteerism. But perhaps there is a way in which a volunteer approach could be transformed into a discipleship approach. And certainly being a disciple of Jesus is much more than simply contributing some extra free time and effort towards his cause.

    Cathy and I have given a workshop, actually in Australia, that we have given elsewhere about calling and developing those who serve in the local church context. Perhaps those notes will help fill out what steps might be involved in turning volunteerism into discipleship. To download the notes, click here.

  4. This is helpful and I agree that examining the “Where are we coming from?” question of our worldview is important. Two questions for you:

    First, the note “One approach has been to help Christians see all aspects of life as sacred. However, the results using this approach have been mixed, and the challenge remains.” Can you give an example of this? I’ve found that to be a helpful teaching, if incomplete, which I agree, the Relationship Wheel does a lot to help flesh out.

    Second, a page or so further on, the idea of “helping our members, especially the younger ones, embrace and then apply our doctrines and theology in ways in which Jesus is Lord and Redeemer of all of life–all they think and do in every aspect of life.” Seems to me that is the purpose of any sermon, and a journey a lot of us have been on for a couple of decades now. I say this not to criticize this article, but that we should also recognize that this application step is, in many ways, what good preaching is, IMHO. It’s certainly my aim, every week I stand up to bring the word and the people together.

    That said, I fully agree we need to examine our worldview, because it affects how we perceive what we hear and the lens we use to read the Bible.

  5. Here from Gary Deddo is a reply to Mark McCulley’s questions.

    Thanks Mark for your two questions. I’ll repeat your questions, then provide my answers.

    Your question/comment #1: The note “One approach has been to help Christians see all aspects of life as sacred. However, the results using this approach have been mixed, and the challenge remains.” Can you give an example?

    My answer: Saying “all aspects of life are sacred” as a corrective to some other error might be on track if all it means is that God is concerned about all things and has an intention and purpose directed towards all things (namely saving or redeeming through the death and resurrection of Christ). But the problem with that statement is its lack of clarity and precision, thus leaving a degree of ambiguity that comes about when working such an idea out.

    At the popular level, simply saying that all things are sacred can and often does amount to a flattening or fusion of things that need to be kept distinct and in proper order. So, for example, all of literature is not sacred in the way the Holy Scriptures are. Nature is not sacred in the way God is. We don’t worship nature. We don’t worship other human persons, either, humans are not sacred in that way. The human spirit is not the Holy Spirit. Most vocations can be used for the glory of God, but not all serve as the foundational ministries of the church that point to the sacred as do those called to oversee and pastor fellowships or churches built on the foundations of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the Living Cornerstone. The governments/authorities of the world are not sacred as is the Body of Christ, the church. The church is distinct from the world even if purposely interacting with it. And of course, not all actions are sacred either. There are actions that are wrong, distorted and evil and they are not of God or sacred in the sense of being God-honoring.

    The emphasis on all things being sacred overlooks the fact that all that was created good is now fallen, to some degree imperfect and distorted and in need of ultimate redemption and of sanctification here and now. Those who make a strong emphasis on all things being sacred often overlook the fact of the Fall and that we now continue to live in this “present evil age.” It overlooks that all of creation needs to be purified, sanctified redeemed through the judging grace of God fulfilled in Jesus Christ and to be manifested at the end of the age, at the return of Christ. All things have to be made new by the crucified and risen Lord.

    The most egregious of trends involves people who start out somewhat Christian but then move to panentheism or panthesism. While the Triune God is related in one way or another to all things, God is not related in the same way to all things—most especially evil. And nothing is fused ontologically with God’s being. God is not a created being and creation is not God. In that sense nothing created is sacred. Worshipping anything that is created is idolatry. Examples of theologians who, unfortunately, track in this direction, as attested by some of their peers, are those like Jürgen Moltmann and the Roman Catholic priest, Richard Rohr (who also proclaims himself being such). There are others, but we don’t need to go into that.

    Your question/comment #2: [You mention] the idea of “helping our members, especially the younger ones, embrace and then apply our doctrines and theology in ways in which Jesus is Lord and Redeemer of all of life–all they think and do in every aspect of life.” Seems to me that is the purpose of any sermon, and a journey a lot of us have been on for a couple of decades now….

    My answer: Mark, I heartily agree and am glad to hear of your practice, which I trust is shared by most if not all others in GCI. My comments were meant to be an encouragement more than a correction and an indication as to where there will be some emphasis in some writings coming out in Equipper.

    My experience in general, which I bring with me into GCI from the larger protestant and evangelical churches and its publishing endeavors, have given me the impression that much preaching, teaching and writing has to do with the church and it’s doctrinal and personal ethical core. And when it considers the wider pragmatic and ethical circles of relationship, there is a disconnect from the central core of Christian worship, teaching and the core mission of the church. Often then, the principles relied on for the thinking are pragmatic and are drawn from a variety of secular schools of psychology, sociology, management theory, ethics and political ideologies. There is very little critical theological engagement. So, my encouragement was to work from the (sacred) Center out, never leaving it behind, to engage the wider circles of relationship. So, it will be our intention to provide resources for our pastors and leaders to make those connections especially when critical engagement is called for. In a fallen world, the proclamation of the gospel will always both fulfill and offend the hearers. That’s why our ongoing responses to Jesus Christ and his gospel always involve both confession of sin and the renewal of faith, hope and love in the present and active grace of God available to us through Jesus Christ.

  6. Thanks, Dr. Deddo, for your responses. I think when I was reading about “all aspects of life as sacred” I was considering that our interactions with all things — not just our time ‘at church’ but everywhere in life — can and should be sanctified by our union with Christ, and life in the Spirit. Your clarification about the many things in life that are not sacred, too many to list, is very helpful. My belief is also, that in the ways in which we interact with the areas in life we should legitimately be involved with, we approach them in a sanctified manner, not as humans still mired in Adam’s thinking but humans with a renewed mind, the mind of Christ. I believe that’s expressed in much of the ‘application’ portion of Paul’s epistles, for instance. Thanks again.

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