My recent lunch with my new friend Donald has had me thinking about how we as Christians approach those who don’t believe the things we believe. You see, Donald doesn’t believe in God, yet we found much that we had in common. We spent a portion of our time together talking about these "starting points."
Early in my ministry I spent seven years teaching worldview philosophy to high school seniors. Everyone has a worldview, a way they see the world. A person’s worldview is sort of like a jigsaw puzzle. There are lots and lots of pieces, but they all fit together to create a complete picture (hopefully!). Our family began work on a new puzzle over the Thanksgiving holiday. We began as we always do with any puzzle – with the corners and the border. These are the starting points.
A person’s worldview works the same way. Everyone has corners and borders and these important starting points frame the rest of the picture.
So here’s where I think we can go wrong when interacting with anyone who does not share our beliefs – we focus on the wrong pieces of the puzzle. Let me give you an example: consider the hot button issue of abortion. Evangelical Christians are passionate about the sanctity of human life, and rightfully so. We view life as beginning at conception and we believe all life is an expression of the image of God — thus, we oppose strongly the taking of that life through abortion. And when we meet someone who is pro-choice, it becomes easy to demonize them and to draw battle lines.
I suspect it’s the same for those on the other side of the debate. They probably view pro-lifers as fundamentalists who have zero respect for a woman’s right to choose and for the sovereignty over her own body. And what follows on both sides is name-calling, false characterizations, and a general lack of civility. Very little conversion in either direction happens.
But the issue of abortion is just one piece in an individual’s whole worldview. And it’s not even a corner piece. Now, I’m not saying it’s not an important piece; it’s just not the correct starting point when engaging who someone is and what they really believe about things.
So let’s consider for a moment a different starting point, a different corner piece. Let’s say that the first corner piece in an individual’s worldview is the belief that there is no God. Well, that tells us much. There will be all kinds of other puzzle pieces that will naturally fit onto and flow out of that corner of the puzzle picture of a person’s life. If someone truly believes that there is no god, and another corner piece is the belief that all life in the universe and on our earth is the result of a Darwinian form of evolution, then given all of this, it follows that there is no afterlife. Another piece still would be the belief that no “life” is more special than any other life. And yet, another piece would be that there is no such thing as a soul.
Now, given all of these pieces of the puzzle that all flow naturally from the one corner piece of a non-belief in god. It actually makes perfect sense that such a person would see no moral violation in terminating an unwanted pregnancy. The puzzle piece of abortion fits very nicely into the tapestry of such a worldview. In fact, I would be hard pressed to see how someone who did not believe in a god could not be pro-choice out of necessity and consistency to the worldview demanded by such a corner piece or starting point.
Now, on the other hand, if my corner piece is the belief in God, and the next corner piece is the belief in the God of the Bible, and the next corner is the belief in what the Bible says about Jesus, and the final corner piece is a call to a biblical lifestyle, then this begins to frame very nicely the additional puzzle pieces that humans are a special creation of God above animal life, and that we are created in the image of God and here for a purpose, and as such, all life is precious to God. Given all of this, how could I not be pro-life?
So when I fall into the trap of sitting around and arguing with someone about abortion, I am really focusing on the wrong pieces. I need to look at the full mosaic of that person’s life and trace back the puzzle pieces to the borders and then the corners. What good is it to swap out the pro-choice puzzle piece for the pro-life puzzle piece if they still don’t believe in God, or believe in my God and in His son Jesus who, I believe, physically came to earth to live and die and live again, to save them for an eternity in paradise?
So much more could be said on all this talk of puzzle pieces, worldviews, and starting points. We haven’t even touched on other religions and the menagerie of other issue-driven topics that push our buttons and divide us one from another.
But I am convinced of this: We need much less law and much more grace when it comes to seeing our neighbors for who they are in total. And we need to thoughtfully engage them on the borders and corners of what they believe and why they believe it.