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Nora, a 9 week old Golden Retriever, entered our world two years ago. We had enjoyed the companionship of 3 other Golden Retrievers in the past, but each time my wife and I chose to adopt an adult dog. This time life was different. We didn’t realize how much a puppy would change our world.
Now, to put this in context, you should know that we have two adult children. But the presence of this cute, little, impish canine brought flashbacks of having very young children. Suddenly, we were thrust back into the world of sleepless nights in order to tend to ‘puppy issues’.
For instance, it was necessary during the first several weeks to take the dog out every hour or two in order to get her to learn that going to the bathroom was a task best done outside, even though we live in Wisconsin where the temperatures can regularly hover well below freezing. And, of course, we can’t forget the challenges of how a 9 week old puppy is going to navigate 10 inches of snow on the ground. Frankly, we weren’t ready for doing ‘puppy’. But there was no turning back.
From Puppy to Well-Trained Dog
So, how do you live with a puppy in your world? Even if she is adorable, she still thinks and acts like a canine and we live in the human realm. We were eager to conquer this new challenge, although sometimes we thought this was quite the challenge to our sanity. We questioned whether it was worth the sleepless nights and continual concerns when Nora decided to eat sticks and other debris that wasn’t on the ‘puppy dietary list’! Trips to the veterinarian were frequent, though, fortunately not traumatic. Nora actually loved that, probably because the veterinarian was also the breeder. Nora knew the veterinarian her entire life. So, how do you ‘do puppy’ and end up with a reasonably obedient and well-trained adult dog?
The experts in the field of training dogs urged one basic principle: You must learn to think like your dog. In fact, there is a bestselling book titled Think Like Your Dog And Enjoy the Rewards. We needed to enter the dog’s world to endeavor to ‘see’ our world through our dog’s eyes. That is no easy task. It requires study, observation, and diligent discipline, primarily disciplining ourselves to proper attitude, actions, and habits.
Thinking Like Jesus
Now, you are probably wondering why this blog would feature Nora, our Golden Retriever. But our emphasis in early 2020 surrounds how to enter and enjoy Kingdom Living. That is, how do we make the transition from merely human matters to begin to see and live out the world of being part of the ‘in Messiah’ people. This involves far more adjustment than may first be evident. In other words, how do we see the world and encounter the world as Jesus would have? How do we transition to an ‘In Messiah’ worldview rather than an ‘in the purely human’ world.How do we see the world and encounter the world as Jesus would have? How do we transition to an ‘In Messiah’ worldview rather than an ‘in the purely human’ world. Click To Tweet
As many understand, we encounter the world with all of our frailty and with the taint of what the Apostle Paul calls ‘sarx’ or ‘the flesh’. When we become part of the ‘in Messiah’ people, we have a call to a different worldview that leads to a different way of living. This involves huge adjustments, far greater ones than we had to embrace while ‘thinking like a dog’ in order to train our puppy well.
This leads me to introduce some of the elements that Prof. Wright explains in his course, Worldviews, the Bible, and the Believer. Essentially, a ‘worldview’ is not the world we see but the lenses through which we see and encounter the world. The vast majority of people have no idea that they constantly use built in lenses through which they see the world. The lenses color and distort our interaction with the real world that exists.
I’ll never forget entering the city of Guangzhou, China. I traveled from Hong Kong to Guangzhou via train. We traveled through intense fog, which I later found out was smog. That explained the ubiquitous use of face masks usually seen in hospitals! The pollution was so bad that each building looked to have a façade of grey bricks, although the city is known for its stunning architecture. For me, I could see only ¼ of a mile and the atmosphere was bleak, to say the least.
As we were entering the train station there was a sudden, deafening noise on the roof of the train. We were in a torrential downpour. Now, I had a much more obscured view because of the density of the rainfall. Then, almost as quickly as the rain started, sunshine broke through the atmosphere. All of the smog that had earlier obscured my view was removed. The beauty of the city and the real world emerged. Grass was green, foliage was beautiful and the skyscrapers could be seen to their very heights. Bleakness turned into stunning beauty. My experience changed from dismal tolerance to wonder. In fact, my worldview had changed because the ‘lens’ of the smog was removed.
Many of us don’t realize that our past experiences and, simply being human, taint the way we encounter the outside world: our relationships with other people, our experience of the created realm, our self-image, and, especially, our understanding of God. Because of this, many of us are amazingly hindered, though quite ignorantly, from seeing the barriers that limit entering the world of Kingdom of God Living. God intends for us to experience life to the fullest extent of being in Christ. This, of course, involves the presence of the Holy Spirit. But it also requires us to address the lenses, the worldview, through which we see the world. Without doing so dooms us to an existence that is less than what God intended.
The Elements of Worldview
Worldview, as explained by Prof. Wright, includes the following elements: Narrative, Symbols, Praxis (automatic actions and reactions), and Questions. Let me explain.
Let’s examine the element of symbol. I will use the examples of my dog’s worldview, the merely human worldview, and the in Messiah worldview in order to introduce the importance of how worldview affects everything we encounter.
This morning, Nora, our two year old Golden Retriever, gave us warning that an intruder was entering the area. The mail carrier was coming to our door to place our mail in the mailbox. However, there was extra vigor in her bark and a more concerned posture, because this was not the usual mail carrier. Jessica, who was dearly loved by Nora, is our regular mail carrier. But Jessica was not there. To Nora, a dangerous imposter, the substitute mail carrier, was coming to our house. We could interpret her plea to ‘be careful’ and we reassured her that this was OK, even though it was not Jessica. But Nora, given her role of watchdog sitting on the bench at the front window was quite concerned. Nevertheless, we knew it was time for the mail delivery and that there was nothing to be concerned about. There are other times when similar barks of concerns, along with a rigid tail, indicate a possible threat.
We needed to understand how Nora interpreted the world and how she interpreted and sent symbols to indicate what was happening from her worldview. We needed to see the world through Nora’s eyes. Now, that may seem somewhat trivial until two dogs meet and send symbols to each other. When you see teeth, hear growls, and observe rigid tails, you are not going to see a ‘friendly encounter’. All the signs indicate ‘Beware’! How do we know that? We’ve studied that and we have also seen it in action.
Now let’s examine the merely human realm regarding symbols. I will write of a beloved symbol that exists in nearly every country. The American flag is one of the most revered symbols in the United States. As we approach one of the most beloved ‘holidays’ in the United States, The Super Bowl, we will find the American flag is front and center. It is displayed in many places within the National Football League environment. That is no accident. A few years ago, the NFL was considered ‘dangerous’ by some Americans when some professional football players did not stand at the playing of the national anthem or acknowledge the ‘sanctity’ of the American flag. The focus on this became acute when Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player, refused to stand for the display of the flag and for the playing of the national anthem.
To this day Colin Kaepernick is hated by some Americans who think Colin Kaepernick represents those who don’t adequately appreciate the USA. The reaction in the last few years by the NFL was to make sure the flag was on regular display. Players must stand for the national anthem and for the display of the American flag. Regardless of how you may feel regarding this issue, it is a profound example of how powerful symbol is in viewing the world. Are you a patriot? Well, how you ‘treat the display of the American flag’ may send a signal. Or, perhaps, displays of patriotism are simply another way of enforcing the idea of the superiority of a nation. These are good things to think about if you regard your allegiance to the Messiah as superior to your allegiance to any country. I am very aware that we have students from 182 countries in our courses. So, issues of national symbols and patriotic observances are varied in both intensity and prominence. The point here is that the symbol will, at times, profoundly indicates and reinforces the worldview of the person.
Finally, let’s look at the worldview of those who are the ‘in Messiah’ people. The most enduring symbol that we have is the cross. On the surface, it is quite amazing that such a horrid symbol of suffering and death could become a beloved symbol. But it is. I remember when I served as a pastor in a large congregation that a local community wanted to use our sanctuary as the venue for their high school’s graduation ceremony. Some people in the community objected because people would see a cross that was prominently ‘built into’ the architecture of the sanctuary. Some people wrote letters in protest to the local authorities. There was the request that the congregational leadership would cover up the cross if the graduation ceremonies were going to be held in the sanctuary. Church leadership refused the request. For many years, with annual protests by some parents, the high school held graduation ceremonies there… until they built a large enough auditorium in their own community where the display of the cross would not be an issue. Now, you may agree or disagree with the position and actions of the congregational leadership. But you will not be able to minimize the impact of the symbol of the cross. It represented many things to many people. It is a powerful image that represents an understanding of who Jesus was and about what he did.
Sometimes when I see a person prominently wearing a cross on a chain or even tattooed on his or her body, I will ask what that means to them. The answers are many, because there are many interpretations of the symbol. What is clear, though, is that the symbol represents something about their understanding of how they see the world around them and God’s participation in that reality.
At N.T. Wright Online we are dedicated to ‘transformation by the renewal of the mind’ as the apostle Paul says in Romans 12:1-2. Such transformation requires us to understand the worldview that we have and compare it to what is truly the in Messiah worldview. You will be amazed at how much the merely human worldview rules the day for us. We constantly need to be challenged to reject the merely human worldview and embrace the in Messiah worldview.
I have found that addressing one’s worldview strikes at the core of human understanding. Yet it is vital for understanding the Bible and essential to understanding your own world. It is quite a challenge. But this is a challenge worth the price of the sacrifice—Jesus’ sacrifice.
David P. Seemuth
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