Being and becoming oriented as an educational goal

I have been thinking a lot about the difference between the words ‘orientation’ and ‘worldview’.  So often in faith-based educational contexts the phrase ‘Christian worldview’ is used to describe what teachers or professors should have and what students should acquire.  A worldview is understood to be the correct way of thinking about the world, thinking the way a Christian should think based on certain interpretations of the Bible.  It is assumed that if someone has a Christian worldview, correct decisions and choices will be made and a Christian life will be lived.  Therefore, teaching someone to be a Christian becomes a task of teaching correct ideas and ensuring these ideas can be articulated or used to interpret the world around them or to see the world correctly.  Having a worldview often makes me think of seeing the world from outer space – the whole world can be seen at once and understood in a coherent meaningful way.  The messy complex realities of life lived ‘on the ground’ are lost in the perfect beauty of intellectual categories and rationalizations.   Things are clearly good, bad, right, wrong, beautiful, ugly, false and true.  For a Christian worldview to be acquired, much is dependent on humans and their intellectual capabilities.  They acquire a worldview, and are in control of their worldview and, therefore, control their world.

I spent many years trying to acquire and use a Christian worldview.  I wanted to be the best Christian I could be and I was told that this was the path – especially for a Christian academic.  However, a Christian worldview has never been very helpful to me because the world, lived on the ground, in a body, is much messier and complex than the world perfectly organized in my head.  What is good for me is not necessarily good for another.  What is right for me could very well be wrong for another.  What is false might be proven to be true when illumined with light rather than the darkness of my mind.  I have come to see ‘having a Christian worldview’ as quite presumptuous of me.  As if I could figure everything out, as if I could be God.

I am not suggesting that the Christian faith is not reasoned or reasonable.  I am also not denying that there is much to be gained by becoming more knowledgeable about our faith through reading scriptures and becoming immersed in the holy writings of the Christian tradition.  I also think that Christian educational institutions can and should have goals that increase students’ knowledge about their faith.   What I am trying to say (or explore by writing this blog) is that a Christian worldview isn’t the goal we should be striving for in Christian institutions, that more knowledge doesn’t necessarily lead to a life lived for Christ.  The pitfalls of pride, dualism, disembodied idealism and self-righteousness seem to be what we achieve when we aim for this goal.  I am wondering what would happen if we sought to be oriented towards Christ instead.   How would acquiring an orientation be different?

The word orientation, in its current use, has come to mean something we do for people entering a new situation so that they can begin their new journey with and in the right direction.  Many schools and universities will be “orienting” their students this weekend, getting them off to a good start, immersing them in a particular community and helping them to connect with that community. To be ‘oriented’, in its original meaning, is to be in relation to ‘the east’ or  to be facing the east.  To be facing the east implies a whole body turned towards or  moving in a preferred direction. Throughout the history of Christendom, in the east and the west (up until the modern times of churches in gymnasiums and malls), church buildings have always been oriented to the east, with the altar on the east wall.  In order to worship in a church, one faced the altar and the Holy Gifts came to you from the east in the same way that scripture describes Christ as the rising sun coming to us in glory.  This worship orientation of offering and receiving forms us to live our lives facing and experiencing the joy of Christ coming to us, even though not yet fully realized.  It is an eschatological orientation that can happen anywhere in the world because the orientation is not to a particular place, but to a particular personal God,  the coming Christ, whose face we seek, whose face shines on us and causes our own faces to shine, whose light illumines us, transfigures us, saves us.

Acquiring an orientation to Christ is very different from acquiring a Christian worldview.  I can’t think my way into a better orientation, I have to move there, to practice staying there, to recognize when I’m not there.  I do this by following Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  His ways are prayer, fasting, almsgiving, service, self-emptying or humility, submission to the will of God, living in communion with God and others.  These practices become revelatory.  It is only as I practice this Way, putting myself in the stream of God’s light that I can gradually become filled with the light of God and can increasingly respond in life-giving ways to the messy and complex world I live and teach in.  This is the knowledge that matters, this is the wisdom I long for.  This is what we hope a Christian worldview will give us, but so often it doesn’t.

I sometimes wish that a Christian worldview was all I or my students needed.  It doesn’t seem to require as much from me as a teacher.  I can easily learn correct ideas, even if I have little understanding of what it means to put those words into practice.  It also doesn’t require much from students.  They can easily parrot back ideas they expect I am wanting to hear.  But I know how empty and despairing this worldview game can be and I am much more interested in struggling with my students to orient and reorient myself – again and again.  To be formed, transformed and informed by grace-filled Christian practices.

I wonder how ‘orientation’ can become a preferred goal of Christian educational institutions, educational institutions aren’t churches and struggle to provide spiritual practices that can orient and reorient….But this posting is already too long.  Future postings will come back to this question and I would love to hear from other educators about practices they use in their classroom to “orient” themselves and students towards God and others.

11 responses

  1. Glad to see that the conversation begun by Jamie Smith of Calvin College four or five years ago continues. And the term orientation, many agree, is a preferable term to worldview. A basic difficulty, as I see it, is that the “worldview” term is a mis-translation and mis-interpretation of the original term used by Abraham Kuyper, the spiritual, social, and cultural leader of the Netherlands in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Kuyper always used the term “world-and-life view.” He insisted that our faith must be rooted in a deep spirituality. That gave a framework for a “world-and-life view.” But the latter was never intended as a way to just view the world and our lives. Rather, Kuyper felt that the deep spirituality for which we must daily search helps us to live into a “world-and-life view.” That was never intended as something complete or static, even though the translation “worldview” among evangelicals has tended to curtail the term to something intellectual rather than being an integral and growing part of life. For Kuyper,”world-and-life view” was an orientation which we in God’s grace ought to deepen throughout our lives. “Worldview” by itself easily becomes too intellectual, too barren.

    To give an example, one small but important aspect of a biblical “world-and-life” view is how we deal with the biblical concept of justice. In the EDUC 495 course, we looked at various biblical passages about justice, and explored how students could deal with issues of justice in their classrooms (from K-12!). But this was never to be a stagnant exercise. Rather, we struggled with how teachers could till the soil of justice, both in their pedagogy, their dealing with students, and by exploring how students could become sensitive to larger issues of justice in society. This became a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional exploration which contributed to but far from exhausted what a biblical world-and-life view is all about.

    Jamie Smith is a leader of the radical orthodoxy movement. His best known book about worldview issues is Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (the first of three volumes). While I have some questions about his conclusions, this book is worth looking at in that he emphasizes the importance of liturgy in the school setting as a way to learn to experience and grow into a biblical orientation.


    • Harro, thank you for this thoughtful response! When I was writing the piece I was saying to myself that Harro will rspond and correct me on the proper use of worldview. 🙂 I have never understood you using this term in a narrow sense. I think your example makes me more sensitive to its misuse and inadequacy. I agree that it has been narrowed over time in use and practice. I suppose any word can lose its full meaning unless that meaning is retrieved and lived again and again. I also think that the term may have had more usefulness when there was more agreement about what a Christian worldview contained. Fr. Michael’s comment is correct in pointing out that Christian world views proliferate.

      I have read small parts of Jamie Smith’s work through the work of others including an article by Blomberg. I’ve ordered his book and look forward to reading more of his insights.

  2. Thank you Kim, this is an important and insightful post. I largely do agree that a Christian worldview is insufficient by itself for as Nick Wolterstorff has said, one does one use a Christian worldview when viewing a piece of art or judging an act of love or hate. And we have seen throughout history people committing terrible acts and yet holding to a Christian worldview. Just take the residential schools as one example. What we might need to be doing is showing and modeling to students how to live the Christian life. I also think we need to be careful setting up hard distinctions (dualisms if you like) as either / or. My thoughts are that we need a Christian worldview, a Christian orientation and a Christian way of living. These all work together, dependent on one another. And Knowledge of God is so important. I like the words of Benedict Spinoza who said although we never claim that we know everything about God that does not mean that I cannot know some things about God. Anyway these are just my thoughts. Thanks for the very important reminder Kim,

    • Dear Matthew,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I was also conscious of setting up a false dualism as I was writing, which is why I wrote the section on the importance of increasing our knowledge about our scriptures and tradition. However, I think that being oriented to Christ, which means to be in relationship with Him, turned towards him with love and the expectation of Him revealing himself through the Holy Spirit more and more – as we are able or ready to understand – will lead to a true knowledge that can be lived and can be life giving.

      I think you can get to knowledge and Christian life through an orientation to Christ – which includes the body of Christ – not just a me and Jesus thing. The orientation is the starting point, rather than the worldview. I am critiquing a narrow understanding of what it means to be a Christian…believing a set of propositions.

      However, God is merciful and loves us and draws us all to him in a myriad of ways. :).

      Thank you for helping me think about this further!

  3. I have always found the concept of Christian worldview difficult because there are evidently so many. A Croatian Catholic Christian will see the world much differently from a Protestant Academic in western Canada; a born again soldier has a very different worldview from a born again peace activist. Orientation does seem to be a more helpful and useful (and in many ways freeing) way to look at Christian formation.

    • Thank you Michael, Kim and Harro, what a wonderful conversation and topic. I so enjoy reading your wise thoughts. I hope it is okay to build on the conversation. Personally I have found it problematic to speak of many Christian worldviews. I would defend what C.S Lewis so famously called, ‘mere Christianity, that is the common creeds of Christendom, whether it be Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox or Coptic. So in that sense there is only one Christian worldview. But what I would agree with is that there are many perspectives of a Christian worldview. And of course perspective is influenced by culture, upbringing, past experience etc., and therefore all of us writing on this blog post have those influences guiding us. And I think the continental philosophers and the postmodernists would agree here. But perspective implies some core truth too, just like metaphors imply objectivity –e.g. “it’s raining cats and dogs means it’s raining hard”. So in that sense, we might have different perspectives of a Christian worldview which we do have but this might still imply one Christian worldview. That is my perspective anyway  . Thank you.

      • Hi Mathew;

        I haven’t read Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”, but from your description here I think I dont find it as helpful as you.
        This, because I have found that Christians actually disagree on everything! Not just on “peripheral” matters, but essential and fundamental teachings.
        For example we may all agree with the words:

        I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who became man and was crucified for us, suffered and was buried, and on the third day rose again according to the scriptures, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

        However, we disagree multiple times over and in vastly important ways about the the meaning of these words.

        So apart from giving us a false reassurance that there “really is” a clear and accepted, common ‘orthodoxy’ that all (true?) Christians agree on, this sort of ‘mere Christianity’ seems not really to mean anything substantive.

        There’s the further problem of course that adherence to the “mere Christianity” ‘dogma’ becomes the *real* evidence of a “right understanding.”
        That is to say, it implies that it is *wrong* to hold firmly to the “non-essentials”, or to hold firmly and really believe anything more than the “core mere Christianity”. It implies that the things that Christian’s differ on, are “less true” than the things they agree on. But of course those Christians such as myself who *really believe* several particular elements of the Christian faith that other denominations deny or disagree with, we do not believe these are ‘negotiable’ or “extra” or “unimportant for our salvation.”

        To give an analogy, I have read Hindus and Buddhists who will say, “you can be a Christian and a Hindu/Buddhist! The core teachings of our religion make room for Christ and Christian worship within it.”
        This is a mistake though, because *my* religion is exclusive to the point that I cannot also be Buddhist or Hindu. Fidelity to Christ means that I believe through Jesus Christ alone can we come to commune with the Father. (Of course many from other religions can be coming to the Father through Christ without doing so intentionally… but the particularity still stands: it is still through Christ alone that we commune with the living God).

        Do you see the similarity?
        Anyway. Enough on that. 🙂

        -Mark Basil

      • Hi Mark,

        Thanks for your ideas. I read them with great interest and I can fully understand your perspective – I just disagree . So let me respond to your ideas. I hope it is okay to critique your ideas as a brother.
        My argument is that there is a Christian worldview, not many, although as I mentioned, it is not sufficient by itself by any means (see Nick Wolterstorff, Justice). But to deny that there is one Christian worldview simply muddies the theological and philosophical waters and leaves one confused.

        As noted in my first post, you are confusing denominational perspectives (which vary from denomination/religious tradition to denominations) with the idea of a worldview (which is much more static and objective).

        First, it just is not accurate to say that Christians disagree on “everything.” At the very least, Christians all believe God, the creator exists, and revealed Himself in the person of Jesus. The only way we can say Christians disagree on something as basic as this is to leave the term “Christian” so loosely defined (or completely self-defined) as not to mean anything anymore. Once that is done, then of course anything can count as Christianity and, of course, you’ll have people believing or denying anything at all and still calling themselves Christians. But the term “Christianity” does have a historical meaning and so long as we adhere to that (belief in the apostles creed, and Nicean creed, for instance), then there will be a group of essential ideas which all Christians believe.

        The whole reason early Christians developed the creeds was to put in writing what the term Christian meant.For instance, it’s good to ask: can a person be a Christian even while being an atheist? Or while believing God did not reveal Himself in the person of Jesus? If you answer yes to these, it merely means you are now defining Christianity to mean anything at all, which is the same as meaning nothing. It’s just a term of respect, or reproach, or whatever use one wants to make of it. Once John Hick rejected the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus, he did the honest thing and no longer declared himself a Christian, but a religious pluralist who came from the Christian tradition. Historically being a Christian means adherence to a certain core set of ideas.

        Maybe a negative reaction is the idea that someone might claim to have a right understanding of Christianity because they hold to certain dogmas. But certainly in any other area of life, some people get it right and others have it wrong (mathematics, historical claims, etc.,) and there is nothing arrogant or blameworthy in claiming to have it right, especially if one has done their homework and has good reason for thinking so. Even in your own claims you are claiming to be right when you say there is no such thing as a Christian orthodoxy. This position is now being proclaimed unashamedly as the right position which ironically is what you argue against in the first place.
        CS Lewis, who is best known for the term “mere Christianity,” also said there is no such thing as a mere Christian.

        Everyone moves into a particular tradition or denomination and ends up holding to a number of other teachings that are not part of the set of essential universally held Christian beliefs. This does not mean they are “less true,” whatever that means. It does mean, however, that Christians differ on them even while agreeing on the basic core beliefs which are held by Christians universally. When you say that you believe certain things which other Christians do not, and yet you hold them as non-negotiables, as important for your salvation, do you really mean that one cannot find salvation without believing in these ideas? If you mean they are important for that tradition, then yes; I would agree, but even you would probably agree that people in other traditions could still be genuine Christians and yet not hold to these particular ideas. In other words, you probably do believe they are “negotiable”.

        So we both claim an objective position here, you and I, the question now is which position is the correct one.

        Blessings and thanks for the reply,


      • Hello Mathew;
        thank you in turn for your thoughtful response.
        I see what you’re saying. I would agree that “Christian” loses meaning without some semantic demarcations. I remember attending a poetry class at UBC, and no one could come to consensus on the meaning of the word “Poem” having no definition drove me crazy! Like you, I felt we needed some sort of common understanding lest just anything pass as poetry… My voice was a minority. But then question; who’s authorized to define? Who is the keeper of the boundaries of poetry?
        Your comment sounds like an argument why there “aught to” be an orthodoxy to the Christian Faith. But I do not think there actually is such agreement.
        For example: who keeps the gates of this “mere Christianity”? If a group of people start claiming they are Christians, who’s right is it to disagree?
        Mormons like to include themselves in the Christian fold; should they be considered within our “mere Christianity”? Initially St John of Damascus (I believe it was) spoke and wrote about “Mohammedism” (Islam) as a Christian heresy! They seemed to meet some standard of “mere Christianity” at the time. Another challenging set of puzzles come in the form of Christian heresies. Take the early Arians; were they Christian? They acknowledged much in the Christian Faith but denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ. And today, we have Charismatic Monists (or so I have heard), who do not believe in the Holy Trinity.
        All of this is circling in on my point: I agree there should be a Christian orthodoxy, but I do not think it is possible via the route of a “mere Christianity”. In contrast I think of early church authority. St Paul wrote of a member of the congregation who should be excommunicated (for matters of behaviour, not belief). St Paul also, of course, was writing against the “Teachers” of various “Judaic” tendencies. These ‘teachers’ claimed to be part of a “mere Christianity,” but it did not prevent them from heresy. St Paul however, would not consider them members of the Apostolic Church. By this logic, Arians may claim they are Christian, but they have chosen a path that moves them away from Christian orthodoxy- this is made visible by their ex-communication.
        To use a more challenging modern example, Calvinists may claim that they share the “mere Christianity” status, but Orthodox Christians would say their predestinationism is heretical, and has not place within the Christian gospel. So Calvinists cannot be Orthodox- and there is a break in communion. In this case the Holy Spirit’s work in the counsel of the Church holds authority. The earliest recorded example, of course, is the counsel at Jerusalem: the Apostles met and made decisions about gentile inclusion. They had the authority to determine who was “in” and who was not in. This authority rested in the established Apostolic hierarchy of the Church. I do not know where authority would rest in all the breadth of the “self-identified-Christian” world today. Do you have some thoughts on this? And even if we say that it’s those who hold to the creeds (which ones?), I would say first: what right do we have to proclaim this? And second, more importantly, what about the vastly different *meanings* attributed to the words of the creed? (for example Marcus Borg might say Jesus rose from the dead on the thrid day, but he would mean this is a “spiritual” resurrection. Who has authority to say to him, “that’s not the Christian faith”?)

        More important is the question, why does it matter? What matters to the Christian Faith? Here I find myself in agreement with Kim’s point: Christian orientation is a more helpful descriptive phrase than worldview.
        Afterall, can I not be a Christian during periods of doubt? Uncertainty about belief in the Resurrection? If I find a simple believer who faithfully attends Church yet does not know whether Jesus is God or not, could he still be a Christian? What if this person were a little child? What if this person were intellectually handicapped? Do they really have to believe these things to be Christian?
        I think it’s unhelpful to be too precise in our definitions about what one has to *believe* to be a Christian. Our relationship with the Creator is such a deeply intimate matter of the heart; in this sense It is more about orientation. Repentance is the act of turning toward God; turning our minds and our whole being toward God and away from sin. Christian faith is movement toward deepening communion with Christ.
        And it is in this sense that I mentioned to you things particular to my Tradition (Orthodoxy) that are indeed important for everyone’s salvation, yet not common to “mere Christianity”. Your questions to me about salvation already reveal differences in our understandings of so fundamental a notion as “what does it mean to be saved?”
        I am speaking of “salvation” as synonymous with “union with God in Christ”. In this sense our salvation is something we can grow in. Here again, I found Kim’s use of “orientation”. more in line with this understanding of salvation.
        As we know, Christianity was initially called “the Way”. It is a Way of Life (an orientation). Further, elements of the “worldview” shifted and grew and developed (E.g. the Trinity!) but the precision in articulated belief was not necessary for participation in the Church. Participation in God’s life is salvation; communion is salvation.
        Fr Stephen has much to say about this understanding:
        St Paul spoke of excommunication. He wrote to excommunicate a certain church member- someone placed outside the Church not based on a belief, but a behaviour. This person’s orientation was off- he was not fixing his gaze on Christ; he was not walking with the Holy Spirit.
        I’m sure there is much that you and I would have in common in our shared Christian faith, however I believe some of our differences are relevant to salvation, when salvation is understood as communion with God that transfigures us into Christ-likeness. A friend described Orthodox Tradition as the passing down of tested “good farming practices” for preparing the garden of the heart to receive Christ’s gospel. I have heard Catholics speak of “anonymous Christians”- another attempt at getting beyond “belief” or even “self-identity”, to the matter of communion and participation. It is in this sense possible for Buddhists and Muslims and even Atheists to be “oriented” toward Christ- wherever they seek beauty, mercy, justice, etc. All of these are only possible by the work of Christ’s Holy Spirit in them.
        Anyway I think I’ve said rather more than enough. I’m conscious of taking up too much space on this blog.
        If you wish to continue the discussion in its finer points, I am open to email: man or they at gmail dot come [all one word]

        Love in Christ;
        -Mark Basil

  4. Thanks for this post, Kim. I use language of “Christian worldview” often, but in light of your article I do agree that it is not the best phrase to capture my own understanding of what Christians need and have to operate in the world.
    I really enjoy your preference for “orientation”; I share with you the observation that this moves us away from presuming anything objective or static. It moves us to the realm of journey and even repentance (a chance of mind; a change of direction).

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