Shopping Cart
Your Cart is Empty
There was an error with PayPalClick here to try again
CelebrateThank you for your business!You should be receiving an order confirmation from Paypal shortly.Exit Shopping Cart

Intercultural Communication for Christian Ministry



1. Anticipated outcomes

2. Worldview role in Transformational Development

3. Exercises

1. Anticipated outcomes:

On the completion of this chapter the reader should be competent to:

· outline, differentiate and compare the key characteristics of the various worldviews


· articulate a biblical worldview perspective;

· identify key worldview issues that can become barriers or bridges in communicating

the gospel;

· consider various solutions to the issues raised for communicating the gospel in the

contexts of different worldviews.

 2. Worldview role in Transformational Development 

Tucker, Frank. “Socio-Cultural Transformational and Welfare as Christian Ministry: Observations of a Reflective Practitioner,Yet to be published, 2020, 50-59


Worldview foundations for welfare and development

Why do cultures change and develop in vastly different ways? Why are some resistant to change while others embrace change? What motivates people to do things that are so alien to the way we do things? A significant cultural factor that contributes to these differences is worldview. Each cultural group lives in a different conceptual world. The worldview of a culture is a set of assumptions about reality and provides explanations for the way things. They are the basis for understanding the challenges of life for the people of that culture. These are faith assumptions since we believe them to be valid but we cannot verify them absolutely. It is helpful to group these assumptions into dominant and subordinate assumptions. The subordinate assumptions complement the dominant ones. For example, a society may place a high value on the group solidarity such that unilateral action of an individual is discouraged since it would threaten community well-being and survival but the subordinate assumption of individuality will find ways of being expressed even though there may social sanctions against extreme individualism.

The various worldviews assumptions, such as those to do with created order, human nature, causes of events, the value of change, and the nature of time which impact welfare and development is considered below. These assumptions not only influence the activities and priorities of funding agencies and development agencies but also the cultures that participate in planned community development.

Relevant aspects of a biblical worldview

A worldview based on biblical revelation[1] is distinctive in shaping a Christian understanding of reality and how welfare and socio-cultural development is understood. It will also be influenced by the various cultures in which it is expressed.

The Bible affirms that God is wholly other than the creation. He is actively involved in his creation in maintaining and sustaining it for his restorative purpose. This is essential to the ongoing survival of creation. He controls the weather (Amos 4:7-9; 1 Kings 17:1; Genesis 41). He causes crops to grow, and even uses crop diseases for his purpose (see Amos 4:7). God appoints a time for birth and death (Job 12:10; 14:5; 39, Psalm 139).

The spiritual dimension and the physical dimension of created order constantly interact and cannot be separated. The temporal world is not a closed system although it generally operates on identifiable laws of nature. The Bible presents the view that the physical world is not autonomous. Humans do not do as they will in an absolute sense and we are subordinate to greater powers in the spirit world.

Unlike animals, all people are created in the image of God yet distinct from him and created as free, willing, spiritual and moral beings. We are created intentionally by God to be integral participants in God’s work of creation. Our God given role is to be productive in contributing to creation and to be custodians of creation. We have the capacity to be creative and so make choices. We influence our destiny by our choices so we are not fatalistic. Our freedom to choose and act is limited, nevertheless, we are accountable for our choices. Human relationships can only be authentic when we have freedom to give and receive without obligation. In that sense this freedom is the context of love. Love is not coerced or obligated; it is given and received in the context of freedom to act and respond. It is expressed in sacrifice. It may mean the surrendering of personal rights for the good of others.

Biblically time is linear with a beginning and progresses towards a future - towards God’s purpose; the elimination of all evil and the consummation of his sovereignty over all. “History is purposeful continuum.”[2] Therefore, progress and development is anticipated.

There are created spirit beings who are dependent, subordinate and responsible to the Creator. These beings are usually called “angels’. There are also evil spirits, or demons who are opposed to God. In the spirit world there is a power struggle between the malevolent spirits and God. Part of this power struggle is played out in human history. While God is the first cause and supreme power he uses these demons for his purposes and allows them to continue to operate for a limited time and within defined limits.

God’s revelation provides explanation for the causes of happenings in creation. Events, good and bad, from our perspective, happen in the natural world and we can identify the immediate causes as being due to human decisions, natural forces such as earthquakes or weather, and diseases, to name some.

Nothing happens without God’s direct intervention or mediated intervention. There is no place for ‘chance’ theory, ‘luck’ or ‘fate’ which appeals to an unidentified spirit power. Things just don’t happen without a reason, therefore, the solutions to problems we face may be both natural and super natural. In the natural realm we can make use of our intellect and use the available technology and scientific methodology to find solutions. In the supernatural realm we are assured of access to God through prayer to intervene in current events. God may modify his plans in response to prayer, however, he cannot be manipulated neither is God obligated to respond automatically to ritual in a one to one cause - effect relationship.

This worldview gives rise to a set of core values, such us the attribution of dignity and equality of all people irrespective of their religious affiliation and ethnicity. It also gives rise to sacrificial services, compassion, mutuality in marriage, education for all, the valuing of human life, justice, and rejection of exploitation including racial discrimination. There are no grounds to deprive another person of their autonomy or freedom. If that happens their humanity is diminished. People are not to be treated like animals or disposable items. Neither should we exploit nature for ego-centric ends but to use and care for creation for God’s redemptive purpose.

Human dignity and equality of all people is the foundation for democratic systems of government. Some argue that western democracy has developed from the Greeks but that form of democracy only applied to the elite of society and was not accorded to all participants in Greek society.

These worldview assumptions and values contribute to welfare and socio-cultural development where the spiritual dimension is not overlooked.

A critique

It should be noted that there are biblical worldview perspectives that appear not to be congruent with development as commonly understood. Central to the human response to the biblical message is ‘new birth’, ‘repentance’ and ‘conversion.’ These terms are concerned with a radical life changing redirection, a transformed life, a discontinuity with the past life. Development implies continuity and enhancement of the present. Ultimately this world order that we seek to improve will pass away and be replaced by a new that is not achieved by human effort. In that case, this world that we seek to develop is a penultimate, not a biblical ultimate. Nevertheless, the radical change associated with conversion is the starting point to transforming society. This transformation is in anticipation of the consummated Kingdom of God.

Relevant aspects of a western secular worldview

The term ‘secularism’ originally referred to religious neutrality. That is, it can accept and work with different religious belief and practices without prejudice. However, the meaning has changed to imply opposition to any religious practice and belief, particularly Christianity. If it admits a spiritual reality this does not influence the natural world and spirituality is relegated to the private sphere of life excluded from the public arena. Secularism is concerned solely with the natural world (secular materialism). In that case, secularism takes the form of a naturalistic religious commitment that is in conflict with supernatural religion. Now in the post-modern West development agencies may be tolerant but gratuitous of religious commitments.

From the perspective of secularism, the world is left in human hands and natural forces alone. The secularising process has demysticised natural processes and attributed causes solely within the temporal world. However, like Christianity, it is understood that we live in a real world that is fairly predictable so we can identify the processes and make predictions and plan for the future.

Humans are understood as higher animals in the evolutionary development scheme. There is nothing that we can know or verify about what is beyond this life. Our human investment is only in the here and now. There is no enduring purpose in life. We live then die. That is the end.

Good or harmful events are attributed solely to causes in the natural world. In that sense it is a closed system. For the secularist, physical evolutionary processes alone, such as the survival of the fittest, are at work. We can ameliorate the process but can’t stop it. Since causes are identified within the natural world the solutions are too. There is a belief in science (scientism) to provided answers and solutions to life’s problems but it cannot provide answers to all of our questions so we resort to chance theory, or give lip service to some primal metaphysical notions such as luck. We are subject to forces at work on the Earth that we have not control although we attempt to.

A secular western concept of time is inherited from Christian tradition. It is linear, with a beginning and an end. In secular society time is a commodity to be bought and sold, and not to be wasted. Since time is future oriented westerners are interested in making predictions and plans for the future and believe in progress. Success is framed in material, economic and social terms.

Based on this worldview, development is focused on progress in material and economic terms in this temporal life. There is no understanding, or acceptance, of the spirit world and its relationship to the natural world.

A critique

The foundation for much of international development has been the western secular worldview. Western models of formal education, health care, agriculture, small industries, and trade are all based on western secular worldview assumptions that exclude integral spiritual participation. Despite good intentions, such western initiated development has led to a secularisation of spiritual cultures by separating the supernatural from the natural in everyday processes. It also fails to address world view ideas of cause and effect that have led to the problems people face and hinder confronting these.[3] Development as popularly understood in the West fosters individualism and self-reliance which is also destructive for traditional collective societies.

Secular societies have formed many institutions to assist people in need but also have a long history of failure in appropriateness (see the treatment of Aboriginal Australians is one example, see case study 2.1).[4] These institutions are well organised but compassion, a servant ethos and godly love is not inherent in secularism. Ironically, Governments recognise that Christian organisations bring to welfare and development values such as these so they use Christian ministries to serve their purpose but are opposed to any spiritual aspect. In the absence of the power of the Spirit these core values lose their power to transform people’s lives. The shalom of the Kingdom cannot be achieved without the King.

A secular worldview provides only a superficial response to the deep human search for meaning, significance and foundation for hope. It can only ultimately result in postponed despair. It does not give rise to sacrificial, self-giving love that makes no demands and can love enemies. There is no basis for indiscriminate compassion for people who are marginalised and disenfranchised in their society; people who are victims of oppression, exploitation and people who are disabled. Joni Eareckson, an advocate for people with a disability, stated that “in the ideology of Western humanism, disabled people are judged by their [in]ability to produce or perform”.[5] Timothy Keller, drawing on the writings of Michael Perry, asserts that “if God is dead, any or all morality of love and human rights is baseless. If there is no God, argues Nietzsche, Sarte and others, there is no good reason to be kind, to be loving and to work for peace.”[6] Secularism cannot provide a consistent, coherent moral compass. In the post Christian West Christian morality as a compass for society has been abandoned. Paul Kelly, Editor-at-Large for The Australian, points out a consequence of the “new morality”[7] is that there is no longer a unifying moral factor in society and morality is shaped by minority interests and individual preferences.

Vishal Mangalwadi observed that atheistic humanism has not inspired anyone to devote his or her life to serve the dying destitute of Calcutta[8] and the Fabian society never gave rise to hospitals or orphanages, neither have humanists organised a leper colony.[9] Any motivation to help other people, without personal gain, can only come from remnant biblical values in secular society.

The failure of development projects in non-western cultures is now considered to be due, in part, to the ignoring of the spiritual dimension and a failure to value the role of the local spirituality in programs.[10]

Any expression of values such as compassion and self-sacrifice in western secular society can only be derived from two possibilities. One possibility is theological and the other sociological. Theologically, God’s continuing activity in creation is expressed in sustaining created order and providing human needs (Acts 14:17, 17:26). He reveals his presence and activity in creation and provides an inner awareness of his claim upon human life (this is a possible an understanding of Eccl 3:11 concerning God placing eternity in human hearts) so there is an innate awareness of what it means to be human (Rom 2:14). The second possibility, a sociological one, is the influence of biblical moral values on societies by the church. Spencer observes that the practice of welfare in the West has its roots directly and indirectly in the Bible.[11] Christianity “has shaped ideas of human dignity, equality and freedom, in a complex but identifiable way.”[12] Even in western post-Christian societies a remnant Christian influence is still apparent.

Reflecting on western society’s efforts in welfare, Spencer observes that “[s]tate-based welfare was ‘impersonal’, ‘cold’, lacking in ‘spirituality’, a ‘blind alley’ that transformed human beings into ‘numbers’ and lacked the ‘regenerating source’ that Christian faith has.”[13]

The failure of development projects in non-western cultures is now considered to be due, in part, to the ignoring of the spiritual dimension and a failure to value the role of the local spirituality in programs.[14]

Another consequence of western development is the resultant impact upon the environment. Too often natural resources are exploited for present economic and material advantage with concern for long term consequences. An awareness of this exploitation is only a fairly recent one.

From a short term perspective, tribal people appear to be environmentally destructive. However, westerners seek to control the environment whereas tribal people seek to work with nature taking into account the spiritual dimension.[15] The signs of environmental destruction in places like Papua is not due to inherent problems in the agricultural system but rather the impact of ‘development’ which has encouraged the clearing of timber for construction purposes. And the medical services and the cessation of chronic warfare have boosted the population growth rate. When the local people adopted the Christian faith and traditional religious practices were abandoned there was a need for new culturally appropriate Christian ritual to replace the socio-ecological function of the previous tradition.

Development that does not take into account the spiritual, social and physical environmental dimensions of a community will always be partial and may lead to the interpersonal, intrapersonal, spiritual and environmental problems that plague the West.

A clash of biblical and secular worldviews and values

The distinctive differences between secular non-government development agencies (NGOs) and faith based NGOs, according to Mitchell, is due to differences in worldview.[16] That is true. The history of welfare and development in the West and by the West has been occasioned by misunderstanding and prejudice between Christian and secular agencies and donors.

Religious factors are not generally considered in academic studies of international development.[17] This is due to the secular-materialist influence in development studies in the West and that influence on western partners in development programs. Consequently, there exist a mutual suspicion between them and faith based NGOs. Funding agencies are cautious about funding programs that express a different religious commitment to that of their own.

It is argued that Christians, whether in Christian agencies or secular agencies, are by nature biased. Ironically, the critics also bring their own religious biases and prejudices to the subject. Secular materialist would not regard themselves as religious, rather areligious, but that depends on how religion is defined. If religion refers to allegiance to entities in the supernatural world then secularism is not a religion. However, that understanding is too restrictive. Thomas Luckmann, a sociologist, explains inherent human spirituality:

Find out what someone ultimately lives for and the moral values he (sic) ultimately lives by and you will have discovered his religion. The essential motif of being human is ... transcendence. This transcendence constitutes a gap, a meaning and morality vacuum which in practical life has to be, and always is, filled with something.... Whatever we fill it with should be called religion.[18]

In that case, to be human is to be religious where spirituality is the personal response to the transcendent reality. The transcendent reality may be naturalistic or supernatural. In that sense all development and funding agencies are faith based agencies and their beliefs and values underpin the vision and objectives of their organisations.

Secular governments are not underpinned by any formal religion but the need for a spiritual foundation is implicitly acknowledge by the employment of substitutes which address the spiritual void. These are generally referred to as civil religion. For example, Australia’ Anzac Day observance is a spiritual exercise. And devotion to media personalities and sporting heroes meets the human longing for transcendence.

The inability to accept and understand the supernatural realm by secularists creates problems for the relationship between religious organisations and secular affiliates and donors. There are three issues to consider; trust, understanding and prejudice.

Religious institutions in the target culture are generally more trustworthy[19] than other social institutions in the target culture. They also have a good understanding of the community and may have the spiritual resources to weather the storms of crises. Therefore, governments and development agencies may seek to work with and through religious institutions while avoiding the spiritual emphasis of these. In Australia, the different levels of government recognise that churches can do a better job in welfare and development than government agencies but want to control the programs by not permitting spiritual expression in their funded programs.

Secular modernist researchers, donors and development practitioners have no frame of reference to understand the impact of the supernatural on the natural world so they are likely to be dismissive of the communal impact of these spiritualities on providing a sense of hope, purpose and social cohesion that are keys to success of community development.

These agencies are also concerned about the Christian conversionist agenda. They are suspicious that Christian agencies use development programs as a cover for proselytism. Christian agencies are also seen as intolerant of other religions and may be biased towards only providing assistance to Christian groups that share their beliefs. For reasons such as these, secular funding agencies are resistant to funding Christian transformational development.[20] Sadly, the case is not without evidence. However, such practices are not universal and neither is it integral to Christian belief. These Christian attitudes are not the way of Christ.

Failure to incorporate spirituality in development agendas seriously compromises the outcomes. Secular development theories and programs[21] that pay no attention to spirituality devalue the source of resilience and hope of the target community.[22] However, not all spiritualities are the same or of equal value in relation to development.

Relevant aspects of traditional tribal worldviews

Traditional tribal worldviews are religious worldviews (the religions are known as variously as tribal religions, traditional religion, animism or primal religions).

Many traditional religionists recognise a high god who, after forming the important features of the people’s world, is uninvolved in human affairs such that the people deal with various spirits powers in daily life, such as, ancestor spirits and other animate and inanimate spirit powers. The animate powers may include the recent dead and various malevolent and capricious spirits that constantly interact causally within the physical world.

Humans are often seen as sharing a common ancestry with plants or animals (totemism). People are aware that they are part of nature so do not seek to control nature but work with it. These societies, compared with the West, are generally collective, not individualistic. The survival of the in-group is more important than that of the individual. At the same time, out-group relationships can be quite tenuous. A few individuals may assert their independence but they would be regarded as fringe people and may be ostracised. The interdependence and collective nature of in-groups is an expression of filial love and obligations for family and clan members. The social ties in extended families and clans are a powerful obligation. An individual must not betray their relatives; that has serious consequences for survival. The person who gains an advantage over other kin is obligated to share the benefit with others of their own kind otherwise they would be regarded as betraying their kin obligations. This can be counter-productive for community development since strong in-group bonds can lead to nepotism and discourages the creative initiative of individuals. The obligation to share benefits can also be abused by the laggards.

The dominant causes of events in the lives of traditional tribal people are the activity of spirit powers. Tribal people traditionally have a limited understanding of natural processes so they posit the main causes in the spirit world. In that case the solutions will be spiritual ones, such as sacrificial appeasement, access to mana (spiritual power), amulets for protection, or sorcery to influence the spirit powers for a personal or clan benefit. Any source of power to succeed in life is attributed to spiritual sources. Therefore, the people seek this spiritual power. All of life has spiritual significance. There is no dichotomy between the supernatural and natural worlds.

The people traditionally do not have a linear, non-repetitive, future oriented concept of time. It is largely past oriented. Time can be episodic and may extend over a number of generations. Past events that are beyond living memory are blended together. The people seek to restore an ideal primeval past, not to create a new world. In some cases ritual re-enactment of tribal myths makes the past (from our perspective) a present reality. Aboriginal Australians maintain the traditions handed down to them by their primal formative beings so there are religious grounds to resist change. There is also a limited concept of future, consequently, tribal people do not make long-terms plans. Progress is not a cultural ideal where as maintenance of tradition is.

Without outside influence, socio-cultural change in these cultures takes place at a slow rate because the focus is on maintaining the traditions handed down to them from the ancestors. Consequently, the traditional tribal worldview assumptions are not conducive to significant intentional cultural change.

When these societies are exposed to quite different outside influence the people seek to understand. They will from their worldview. In some cases the changes are so rapid and overwhelming that the society disintegrates. In other cases it may lead to a revitalisation of culture through a radial reinterpretation of reality. This will only happen if traditional religious stories can be reinterpreted to explain the problems and there is leadership that is competent to realise the renewed society.

Based on these considerations, the worldview and social values of traditional religionists do not naturally result in long-term planned and sustain community development. To accommodate community development a change in worldview would be necessary. Nevertheless, any western relief and development agency cannot ignore the spiritual nature of tribal cultures. 

Relevant aspects of monistic worldviews

The monistic worldview regards the material world as an illusion and all is one. These cultures include Hindu and Buddhist communities. For the Hindu, the ultimate reality is Brahman which is infinite impersonal existence from which all nature emanates. Humans are ranked on a spectrum with other living forms and not all humans are created equal – they emanate from different parts of Brahman. People born into a particular caste are destined to remain in that caste with its culturally prescribed roles, for the whole of their life. There are no worldview grounds for recognising human equality as well as the value and dignity of life. Medicine has developed within the Hindu culture but such knowledge was jealously guarded, not shared, since knowledge is power.[23] This attitude stifled the development of medicine for the masses.

For the Hindu and Buddhist time is cyclic at a cosmic and human level so there is no concept of historical progress. All living beings cycle through an almost endless series of existence by reincarnation. While people endeavour to improve their lot in the next life there is no way of determining that. The marginalised and those who suffer are seen as victims of their karma which is the notion that good or bad will influence the outcome of the next incarnation. Being rich or poor, well or ill can be explained in terms of karma. Good is achieved by living according to the rules of one’s caste in Hinduism.

Since the concept if time is cyclic there can be no concept of history and progression towards a future that is necessarily assumed in community development. Monistic social values do not promote development for socially marginal and disenfranchised people. Mangalwadi, recounts the time, in India, when he and his wife moved into a poor region and began a ministry of relief and development amongst the local people. Their work demonstrated a compassion for people that was not circumscribed by Hinduism, caste or kin ties. This was unfamiliar to Hindus. He claimed that Indian people had the capacity to develop a society such that the marginalised people could be assisted but it did not since karma does not promote a culture of care.[24] By way of example, he cites the era in which the Taj Mahal was constructed.[25] Its magnificence symbolises the glory of the Mogul Empire of Shah Jahan. At the same time the populace faced famine due to drought. They suffered at the expense of the leaders grandiose projects. Many people were seen dead in the open, not buried or burnt. There were no contingency plans for such a natural disaster. Human life was of little value. Mangalwadi observed that “Hindus are creative but they have never started an institution to serve poor peasants since a Hindu goal is to be detached from the world.”[26]

In traditional Buddhism (Theravada),[27] people follow the teaching of Gautama who sought enlightenment through meditation. Gautama’s teaching majored on the cause and solution for inevitable suffering. All beings cycle through a seemingly endless process of birth and re-birth. The human self is always in a state of flux. There is no real distinction between humans and other beings; they are ranked on a continuum as in Hinduism. The taking of any life is discouraged since all life is sacred, an emanation of the divine. Buddha taught about love and compassion for all living things yet existence involves suffering so Buddhists seeks to be detached from these experiences and avoiding becoming emotionally involved. Emotional attachment is seen as a cause of suffering. Unlike Hinduism there is no permanent atman, the substance that passes through rebirth to another existence. The rebirthed entity depends upon the actions that are good or bad in the previous existence determined by karma. Salvation (nirvana), if such a term can be used, is a state of non being at the end of this cycle of existence achieved by insight into the nature of reality.[28]

The Hindu is fatalistic, encourages detachment from the material world, which is to be escaped from, and discourages industriousness. There is no basis for the defence of the weak. Learning the skills and knowledge to tackle development in the tangible world is not as valued as the understanding achieved through spiritual enlightenment achieved through meditation. World Bank funds would not change this situation[29] it needs a change in worldview to support the concept of development.

In the Buddhist view, apart from the values of compassion and peace there are little philosophical foundations for community development that values progress and a focus on a real world.

Relevant aspects of Muslim worldview

Muslim cultures share common features with Jewish cultures. The Muslim worldview is religious and monotheistic. Like Christians, Muslims live in a real world. Consequently, they have contributed to maths and science. They also developed medical knowledge and hospitals but Mangalwadi claims that “Islamic tradition could not liberate Muslims from a classical pursuit of power. It could not glorify self-giving services as a superior virtue.”[30] Consequently, medical services could not be sustained by the wider cultural values.

The Muslim worldview has a concept of human stewardship of creation.[31] There is also a high regard for humans although not to the extent of the biblical worldview where God identifies with us when he became a Jewish man. Muslims claim to believe in equality for all but in practice there is racial[32] and gender distinctions.[33] Women are accorded a lower status than men and in some cases a very repressive one.[34] Distinctions are made between the devoted and the kafir or infidel. Individualism is not valued but interrelatedness is. Muslims avoid the alienation caused by individualism. A high value is placed upon the extended family which provides security and solidarity.[35] Human life is fatalistic since Allah[36] determines what happens, ‘it is the will of Allah,’ so individuals need to submit to the outcome. As Hendrik Kramer observed, “There is no inner power in the Islamic countries ... which produces sufficient moral direction and determination to effect this transformation.”[37]

Muslims share with Christians and Jews the concept of linear time (Mohammad was influenced by the Christian teachings) leading to an understanding of human history so progress and development is understood but Muslims look back to the past, not the future.[38] The vision for the future is to restore the glory days of the caliphate. There are also powerful resistance to some forms of change since the teachings of the Quran are immutable and in a language that mirrors that in the dwelling place of Allah. Western development is viewed with suspicion since the underlying secular worldview is rejected.

Equity, justice, equality and fraternity are important in Islamic society.[39] And the giving of alms for the poor and disabled is a spiritual exercise. As for Christians, faith is an important element in development.[40] Concern for the sick has led to the development of hospitals and the cloning of Red Cross in the Red Crescent. Muslims have also formed aid agencies.[41] However, this concern is selective, it favours Muslim people. The Muslim worldview does not value indiscriminate self-giving sacrifice for others. People of other faiths have lived in the Muslim world but they have often been repressed and discriminated against.

From this brief consideration the Muslim worldview has much that supports socio-cultural transformation but there are also factors that mitigate against it. Authoritarianism could not foster social reform. Mangalwadi observes[42] that this worldview does not lead to democratic freedom. He concludes:

Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim civilisations (sic) had ruled India .... None of them gave us even the concept of a welfare state – a state that exists to serve the citizens.... The culture of compassion needs the transcendent, supernatural power of God’s Spirit to be able to love as God loved the world.[43]


Christians should have the humility to recognise that much can be learnt for the theory and practice of welfare and development from other worldview traditions. At the same time, the worldview differences are polar. It has been argued[44] that at least some worldviews, other than a biblical one, are fatalistic which does not foster welfare and development. Non-biblical worldviews hold assumptions can hinder transformational development of a people towards God’s Kingdom lifestyle as Corbett and Frikket illustrate.[45]

While biblical values are foundational for Christian ministry we can easily find examples of behaviour by Christians that betray the biblical worldview. It can also be argued that people of other worldviews have shown compassion, and made considerable sacrifices for others, contrary to their worldview foundations. Morris Opler’s use of worldview themes[46] is helpful in understanding this apparent discrepancy. He recognises that there are dominant and recessive or counter themes. The dominant ones are attenuated by the recessive. For example, a dominant western theme is individual autonomy leading to the value of self-centredness. That theme and resultant value would result in the destruction of any social cohesion in society, no team work in sports and no sense of mateship. The recessive counter theme provides a corrective that enables community cohesion.

Another explanation for behaviour and action contrary to dominant worldview themes may be the outworking of the grace of God and the Spirit at work in his sustaining of societies. In some cases, the exposure to Christian values my influence the worldview and social values of the society.

The biblical perspective brings a spiritual dimension to welfare and development centred on devotion to God and submission to his redemptive agenda that is transcultural. Only this can transform cultures based on the revelation of God through the Bible. Holistic development cannot be divorced from restoration of relationships between God and humanity and a degree of restoration of humanity with the environment[47] even though that may be difficult to indentify now.


A biblical approach to development involves the following.

1. A critical evaluation of our own cultural presuppositions, particularly those based on secular philosophies.

2. Take into account an integrated spiritual dimension to reality from a Christian perspective.

3. Embrace our custodial and stewardship role in creation with accountability to God for how we use it.

4. Active participating as subordinate partners in God’s redeeming plan for creation.

5. Model, as the community of the redeemed, how the world should live personally in relationship to one another and towards the environment.

6. Spiritual transformation leads to social transformation, political and economic transformation.

[1] Worldview is a part of culture so since there is no Christian culture there is no Christian worldview. Christians will, to varying degrees, follow a biblical worldview.

[2] Udo Middlemann, Christianity Versus Fatalistic Religions in the War Against Poverty, Colorado Springs, CO: Paternoster, 2007, 128.

[3] Ibid., 124.

[4] A tragic example of this is the government intervention in the Lake Boga mission in New South Wales.

[5] “The Whole Gospel for the Whole World. Story of Lausanne II Congress on World Evangelization, Manila 1989, Charlotte, NC: Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, 1989, 8-81

[6] Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in and Age or Scepticism, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 2008, 152.

[7] Paul Kelly, “New progressive morality rapidly taking over from Christian beliefs,” The Australian, April 15, 2017.

[8] Mangalwadi 75

[9] Quoted by Mangalwadi 314.

[10] 430

[11] Ibid, 167-172.

[12] Spencer, 183.

[13] 181.

[14] 430

[15] For example, Roy Rappaport did some valuable research in the area of ecological anthropology amongst the Tsembaga people in Papua New Guinea. On the basis of that work he hypothesised that there existed a “ritually regulated ecosystem” (1971:81). The regulatory mechanism hypothesised is a religio-socio feedback mechanism which controlled the balance between human - pig population density in the Tsembaga area.

[16] Mitchell,

[17] Bob Mitchell, point 338-377.

[18] Bruce Wilson quoting Thomas Luckman in The Shape of Belief - Christianity in Australia Today, edited by Milikan et al.

[19] Mitchell Location 448.

[20] 11.

[21]Ibid, 5.

[22] Mitchell, Faith Based Development location 346.

[23] Mangalwadi 311.

[24] in his book, The Book That Changed the Your World: How the Bible Created the Soul of Western Civilisation

[25] Mangalwadi 111-114.


[27] Later Mahayana in India and Zen developed in China ad

[28] Burnett92.

[29] Ibid, 29.

[30] Mangalwadi 308.

[31] Pervaiz Sultan, Church and Development: A Case Study From Pakistan, FACT Karachi, Pakistan, 2001, 60

[32] Phil Parshall, Muslim Evangelism: Contemporary Approaches to Contextualisation. Waynseboro, GA: Gabriel, 2003 88, 92.

[33] Ibid, 92.

[34] Ibid, 88-89.

[35] Ibid, 88.

[36] Allah is the Arabic equivalent of the English ‘God’. Allah is used here to distinguish between the god of Islam and the god of Christianity.

[37] Quoted by Jen Christenson, Mission to Islam and Beyond: A Practical Theology of Mission. New Creation Publications, 213

[38]. Phil Parshall, Muslim Evangelism, 87.

[39] Sultan. 59.

[40] Sultan citing K. M. Azam in Economics and Politics of Development: An Islamic Perspective. 61.

[41] Agencies such as Muslim Aid and Islamic Relief.

[42] Mangalwadi, 340.

[43] Ibid, 314.

[44] Udo Middelmann, “Christianity Versus Fatalistic Religions”

[45] Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts, 84-89.

[46] Cited by Paul Hiebert, Transforming Worldview: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 45-46.

[47] Francis Schaeffer, 81:1980.

3. Exercises

1. Case study: Paul Hiebert, ‘A Word for God.’ In Case Studies in Missions, edited by Paul and Frances Hiebert (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1987), 155-157.

2. Reflection: ‘Bruce Thomas’ writes, ‘I have never heard a presentation of the gospel which addresses man’s defilement and shame as well as his guilt and sin’.[1] Have we failed to see the full biblical dimension of the Fall? Should we proclaim a different gospel when communicating within a ‘defiled-shame’ culture than we do for a ‘sin-guilt’ culture?

3. Prepare an outline of a gospel message for a ‘defiled-shame’ people (see ‘Bruce Thomas’ article: ‘The gospel for shame cultures’, Evangelical Missions Quarterly 1994).

4. What biblical theme relates to the following Dani myth? What differences do you see in the myth compared with the biblical theme?

When one of the first men died, the people did not know what to do, so they decided to go and ask the snake how it shed its skin (representing immortality). While following the snake through the forest, the cheerful song of a wren distracted them. As they stopped to look up at the wren, the snake slithered away, leaving them without advice. Therefore, the people decided to imitate the decorations of the wren (the Dani decorate themselves for funerals by coating parts of their bodies with white clay); but this failed to re-establish immortality because birds die. This left the Dani devastated and hopeless.[2]

5. Reflection: James Packer in his book, Knowing God, writes that some Christians like to think of God as being like…. But he states that the Second commandment ‘... forbids us to dream up mental images of him…. We cannot know him unless he speaks and tells us of himself’.[3] The Scriptures reveal that he is the Trinitarian creator of all, and is perfectly revealed in his Son. We are not free to imagine God as we like. Considering this, are our images of God idolatry? Are Allah and the Jewish God the same as the one revealed in the Scriptures? Is the ‘high god’ of Africans one and the same as the God revealed in the Bible?

1. Bruce Thomas, 1994, 289.

2. Doug Hayward, quoted by Tom Steffan, ‘Foundational Roles of Symbol and Narrative in the (Re)construction of Reality and Relationships’, Missiology: An International Review, XXVI(4)(1998):477-494.

3. James Packer, Knowing God (London, UK: Hodder and Stoughton, 1973), 47-49.