In his book Anything but Invisible, Christian author and pastor Nate Collins argues that most in the Western world do not have a worldview. Instead, he argues, most have a “social imaginary,” more like a story of how the world works than a developed philosophy. While I don’t believe it’s strictly either/or, story certainly holds a lot of sway. This is especially true when discussing values.
Take the recent controversy regarding the children of undocumented immigrants. People express their view through a story – a child separated from her parents and locked in a cage, for example. Objections to Christian are presented this way as well, rather than an intellectual problem of evil. “How could your ‘good’ god let my mother die of cancer and my father be killed by a drunk diver?”
Some misuse this tendency to express ourselves in story. However, it also provides a valuable opportunity. The key distinction between worldview and social imaginary is the relationship between values and philosophy. Values often inform philosophy rather than the reverse. Apologists and theology nerds sometimes live in the former without ever visiting the latter. But a reversal of this order reveals a new tactic. If we show where their values overlap with Christianity, perhaps they will reconsider their philosophy.
There are myriad ways to do this. One is through the stories that we tell, applying a Christian lens to relevant social issues like domestic abuse, racism, or gun violence. Another is in discussions with non-believing friends, affirming them and their commitment when it comes to moral issues we agree on. Why? Because even a non-believer’s social imaginary will often include intuitive moral judgments rooted not just in Christian teaching, but in creation itself. Paul speaks of this “general revelation” in Romans 1, where he concludes that Gentile idolaters are “without excuse.” Apologists call this line of thinking “The Moral Argument” – certain moral laws are ingrained in human nature, implying a moral lawgiver. Even most atheists believe it is wrong (not just a matter of preference) to keep children in cages.
This is relatively simple to implement in conversation, even if it requires self-control. Put simply, look for opportunities to agree, even in the small things. When it comes to our stories, this requires a more fundamental shift in Christian culture. We so often illustrate our differences as compared to secular culture, which makes sense. Scripture uses terms such as “stranger,” “sanctified,” and “elect” to stress this fact. But what we sometimes neglect is the truth of general revelation – how people affirm a part of the truth of God’s character without ever realizing it. Balance is needed. However, I wonder if others would be more receptive to us if empathy was our starting point.
Let’s find out, shall we?
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.