Ideas Matter Too
I have heard it said that people are more important than ideas. I don’t think anyone would disagree with that statement, but I wonder if sometimes it doesn’t quite tell the whole story. I think I understand what it means – that we can’t forget that each human is more than a collection of ideas to be catalogued and thrown in the bin with all the similar minded people. Every person has a story and a different set of reasons for reaching their conclusions about life. Consequently, no one appreciates having broad assumptions made about them based upon a few specific characteristics of their own belief system. In failing to consider this, we risk becoming the empty mouthpiece of a dry philosophy, and we will certainly obscure what makes the Gospel message most compelling – the individual and personal love of our Savior. Yes, people are more important than ideas, but ideas also move people, and forgetting that fact carries its own perils.
Like fish that don’t realize they are wet, most people grow up with a foundational worldview (a set of ideas through which they view the world) that they simply assume is true. Whether purposefully imparted by church, school, or family, or absorbed by default from the community to which they have the most sense of belonging, worldviews are deeply engrained, and most of us spend very little time pealing back the layers of the onion to find out what really makes our personal philosophy tick. Our foundational worldview continually imparts its slant on our perception of reality, and few of us take notice.
The Great Commission calls us to make disciples, not just to introduce others to the abstract idea of Jesus Christ. For a disciple, Christ is more than simply a mental note, like the fact that Antarctica exists, a realization that has little affect upon my daily life. Disciples place God and His Word at the top of the pyramid under which all else that we believe and perceive is defined. Disciples are made through the work of the Holy Spirit, but that is not some automatic mystical process. The renewing of the mind of a Believer requires a reworking of our worldviews. That is why Christian beliefs seem so bizarre to modern secular society. Yet, Christians spend a disproportionate amount of our time trying to explain our conclusions about life, reality, truth, and morality to people whose worldviews are incapable of properly handling them. Biblical values of sex, gender, family, and morality are gibberish to a mind that believes man is nothing more than an animal. The case for the sanctity of human life falls flat within a worldview that holds nothing as objectively sacred. Yet, we often go around in circles matching our assumptions with others’, and making no more progress than two people arguing with each other in different languages.
The problem is not new. Paul faced it in the book of Acts when taking the gospel to Greek culture. In Acts 17, rather than starting with the Hebrew Scriptures as he had done in other places, He first established God as the one true God. If he had not done so, the Greeks in Athens would undoubtedly have placed Jesus in the pantheon, along with all their other Gods. Paul was a monotheist. The Athenians had to see Christ through the eyes of a monotheist if they were to become genuine Christ-followers. Modern missionaries find that genuine believers are produced out of a solid foundation of worldview concepts, and that unless at least some part of that foundation is laid, converts are much more likely to merge Christian teaching with their current beliefs than to see Christ and the Gospel as life-changing, worldview defining realities.
While a proper understanding of the Gospel can only come from within a worldview that is willing to accept things like monotheism, the supernatural, and objective truth, the impact of worldview continues beyond the moment of sharing the Gospel. Our purpose is to develop a thriving, committed community of believers that think, act, and live as Christ did. Yet, each Christian exists in the shadow of external worldview forces. Our influences may be as ancient as Plato and Aristotle, or as recent as the encroachment of a post-truth culture, but each one has the potential to affect how we think about God, His Word, and the Christian life. Christians tend to take these assumptions with them when they read Scripture, bending it to their preconceptions rather than allowing it to define their worldviews. Yet, unless we are equipped to evaluate these foundational assumptions, most of us will never realize that we are approaching God’s Word through a colored lens. Unfortunately, Christians tend to spend much more time circling the wagons to protect our traditional assumptions than considering how they may be affecting us. Understanding our own worldviews help us to comprehend why we reach our own conclusions and why other Christians reach theirs, so that we can unite on the essentials and reject ideas that are truly incompatible with Christian beliefs.
Yes, people are more important than ideas, in the sense that we are dealing with real, live humans with eternal souls, and not simply the faceless representatives of some philosophy or ideology to be defeated at all cost. However, we must not have such an individualistic focus that we forget that ideas much bigger than each of us guide our thinking and affect our perception of truth and reality. If we are ill-equipped to account for how they impact a person’s understanding of Christian beliefs, we may find that the most careful and impassioned message of truth can be lost in translation.