How To Understand Worldviews: I’m an Onion – You’re an Onion

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“Ogres are like onions!” Or so says Shrek, the animated fantasy-comedy character in the popular DreamWorks movies. Hey, Shrek – Guess what! Humans are like onions too. We all have layers. And the key to knowing another person’s worldview – what he or she believes down deep – is to know how to peel worldview onions.

Every rational human being possesses a worldview—a perspective through which he or she sees and interprets life—and behaves consistently (more or less) with that worldview. A person’s worldview includes foundational beliefs that must be aligned with the essential gospel truths taught in the Bible for him or her to possess genuine saving faith in Jesus Christ.

When a person chooses to trust (place faith) in Jesus alone for salvation, he or she simultaneously makes a core worldview change and thus abandons the hope that was based upon previous false beliefs. This core worldview change is repentance (Greek = metanoia).

“Worldview noise” is the effect of the unbiblical elements in an unbeliever’s worldview belief system that (1) confuse his/her understanding of essential gospel truths and/or that (2) predispose him/her to reject the gospel. Thus, early in the process of personal evangelism it is important to know what the person to whom you are witnessing believes about the core issues of life.

But knowing how to understand worldviews of other people, particularly those of strangers, is typically not an easy task. Want to know the best approach? Begin by peeling back one layer at a time until the core is exposed.

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We all have layers: Or, Everyone Has a Worldview

Ultimately, evangelism that genuinely results in changed lives is all about the core – getting down to the core so that God can change the unbeliever’s core worldview beliefs.

1. Core Beliefs

Everybody has core beliefs. These presuppositions—beliefs that we suppose to be true prior to examining facts—are the foundation stones upon which our views of life are developed. Our core beliefs are strongly influenced by the culture that shapes our lives from birth. Sometimes they are changed through confrontation with other beliefs that make more sense (appear to be more real and true) than the beliefs we formerly adopted. But, especially for adults, often these beliefs are only cracked by crisis, some devastating life event that leaves us open to other belief systems that provide greater hope.

2. Internalized Values

We value what we value because of what we believe, what we most deeply believe. If material things are high on our values list, it is a reflection of our core beliefs—what we REALLY believe even though it might not be what we say we believe. On the other hand, if our core beliefs are grounded in Biblical truth, our values will be Biblically oriented. And as our core beliefs change, so do our core values.

3. Personal Choices

We choose to do what we choose to do because of what we value. Because of human weaknesses, our personal choices may occasionally contradict our beliefs and values. But, in the long run we will have to choose to change our beliefs or change our choices or else we will live in a miserable state of intrapersonal conflicts.

4. Behavioral Patterns

Over time, our personal choices crystallize to form behavioral patterns that define us to those who observe or know us. Who am I? What do I believe? Why do I choose to act the way I do? Watch my life deeply and closely enough and you will know.

5. Human Commonalities

That thin and flaky outer skin-layer of the onion represents the human layer that we all have regardless of core beliefs and values. It is at this layer that we can find commonalities with people whose worldviews are very different from ours. Christians and non-Christians alike have many common interests and concerns—health, work, world events, and weather. Then, there are special common interests such as sports, hobbies, political views, family matters, that connect some believers to some unbelievers.

A commonality-based conversation is one of the best tools you can use as you begin to explore how to understand the worldview of another person. But, the next question is—how do I move conversations from casual chats, on human commonality topics, to core belief conversion discussions?

Peeling the Worldview Onion: Or, How to Evangelize Unbelievers

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When it comes to onions, the safest place is that flaky outer skin. Yes, it can be messy sometimes, but it is generally a tears-free zone. And that is why it is a good place to start peeling (worldview) onions.

First: Entry Conversations

If you are looking for a totally safe and easy way to share the gospel, you will be disappointed. But some methods are safer and easier than others.

“What do you like to do in your spare time?” “Did you grow up around here?” “Tell me about your family.” These kinds of onion-skin questions are generally both safe and easy because they are in the realm of human commonalities, the kinds of things most everyone has an interest in. But just constantly scratching the surface will never get you to the core. We need to look for “entry points” into deeper levels of conversation.

What’s an entry point? It is a natural opening in the conversation that invites you to ask an investigative question.

Second: Investigative Questions

Suppose you are having an entry conversation in response to your “Did you grow up around here?” question. And suppose that somewhere in that conversation your neighbor says, “Yeah, I’ve lived here all of life. And my parents and grandparents are buried in the church cemetery down the road.”

“Church”—that’s a natural entry point, an open door for you to ask a natural follow-up (investigative) question. “Oh, so I guess your folks were church-going people?” Then, based on your neighbor’s response to this question, you continue the conversation appropriately.

A verbal or non-verbal response may tell you that the door is not open to go deeper. Or, you might get a response like this: “Yes, I pretty much grew up in church but quit going as soon as I went to college.”

As the flow of the conversation continues, you should be looking for more entry points into deeper levels of spiritual discussion.

Third: Conversion Discussions

Core beliefs, this is where you pray God will take this conversation—a conversion discussion focused on core beliefs.

If you have gotten this deep, it is probably appropriate to ask: “May I ask, what caused you to lose interest in church?”

And you may get a response like this: “I just don’t believe that stuff anymore.” Or, you may get a response like this: “I just kind of got away from it, but I’ve been thinking about God a lot lately.”

When peeling worldview onions, sometimes it is amazing how quickly people expose their core beliefs to us and how open they are to conversion discussions. But sometimes we must scratch around on the surface of human commonalities for months, even years, before they open an entry point for us. And sometimes, especially with adults, it takes a crisis to crack the core.

But one thing is sure—we will never get there if we do not initiate conversations that may become redemptive relationships.

Initiate conversations that may become redemptive relationships.
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The Story of Hope is an evangelistic Bible study workbook designed to help people who are open to dialogue at the investigative questions and core beliefs levels. And the FREE downloadable Leader’s Guide for The Story of Hope will guide you in the process of knowing how to evangelize unbelievers based upon a chronological Bible study of God’s overall redemptive story.

Learn more about "onion peeling" through the Good Soil Basic Seminar.

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