Our Minds Matter: Worldview and Youth

James Tonkowich | ReligionToday.com Columnist | Thursday, July 11, 2013

Our Minds Matter: Worldview and Youth

In 1973, Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools (FOCUS), the ministry to students in private secondary schools, was given a property on Martha’s Vineyard. And the old family hunting lodge became the FOCUS Study Center. While on vacation a few weeks ago, we visited for the first time in a long time and it got me thinking.

The name is important. As former FOCUS staff, I can attest to the temptation to drift away from “Study Center” toward “Camp FOCUS.” As a former FOCUS student (my Christian faith got its start at a FOCUS “Skis and Skeptics” weekend), I’m grateful that I went to a study center, not a camp. There was no lack of fun at FOCUS and, at the same time, our minds were challenged, stretched, and conformed to a Christian worldview.

FOCUS’ founder, Peter Moore, had been at L’Abri with Francis Schaeffer and Schaeffer’s influence (and books) pervaded every program. As 17-year-olds we were reading and discussing Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis, John Stott, J.I. Packer, Os Guinness, R.C. Sproul, and others. The talks even at evangelistic programs were long, thoughtful, and intellectually rigorous, not the pabulum that marks many if not most youth ministries. We took notes, we asked questions, and we continued the conversations into the night.

At college, I joined a kindred ministry that, at the time, also emphasized worldview and the life of the mind as central to Christian discipleship.

A few years ago, I met a senior leader from that ministry and mentioned that the worldview emphasis seemed to have evaporated. Don’t you talk with students, I asked, about how faith integrates with their studies? No, he answered candidly. The goal was just to get college Christians to live out a modicum of Christian spirituality.

How sad. And what a waste of time. You can’t grow in Christian spirituality without understanding and adopting a Christian worldview.

Everybody has a worldview, from the simplest Christian to the most intellectual atheist to the most air-headed celebrity.

As Glenn Sunshine writes in his book exploring worldviews, Portals: Entering Your Neighbor’s World, “Quite simply, it is impossible to live in or interact with the world without [a worldview], since your worldview determines what you think about what is possible, what is true, what is right, what is wrong, what ‘makes sense,’ even what is real.” Your worldview may be confused, vague, and inconsistent, or well formed, articulate, and coherent, but it’s certain that you have one.

In his book, Sunshine explores Christian, secular naturalistic, postmodern, Islamic, Eastern, New Age and Gaian worldviews. It should go without saying that if we — even as a Christians — don’t have a Christian worldview, we must have some other worldview out of which we operate and through which we view Christian faith, spirituality and morality.

Thus if my worldview informs me that truth is something subjective that comes from within, then I will have very little interest in studying the Bible to learn objective truth that comes from without and is true whether I like it within or not. If I believe that the world revolves around my success and happiness rather than the honor and glory of God, my prayer life will be little more than asking for help when I need God to grant my wishes. If my worldview includes the radical individualism of early 21st-century Western culture, you won’t be able to drag me into a church community where faith and morality are defined and church discipline is practiced. And if I believe all religions are basically the same or that truth for me may be different from truth for you, don’t expect me to evangelize.

That is, without a Christian worldview, there can be no Christian spirituality. And the same can be said about Christian morality. Our spirits and our choices are intrinsically connected to our minds. Ignore the mind and sooner or later you lose everything.

Which is to say, we have no choice but to inculcate a Christian worldview into our lives, the lives of those to whom we minister, and — above all — into the lives of our children.

While I know that there are big differences between us “FOCUS kids” of the early 1970s and teens today, I’m certain that we weren’t any smarter. We simply benefited from — and FOCUS participants continue to benefit from — leadership that knew we were smart and wanted us to use our minds in the service of Christ and his Church. They cultivated in us a Christian worldview. We can do no less for this generation of youth.