Worldviews are a pervasive thing. They define how we see ourselves, how we see other, how we see God, how we see the world, and so one. Consequently, they are a source of both good and evil in the world, as they can influence how people learn to act in relationship to one another and the environment around them. However, despite the way worldviews have been used in psychological literature, our descriptions of different worldviews are not generally descriptions of what individual people believe, but what groups of people as a whole tend to believe. However, the individuals within the group tend to share and not share aspects of the worldviews in their own worldview. Consequently, the relationship of individuals to worldviews is a complex, dynamic, and somewhat unpredictable
However, we are inclined to assume that (1) other people we identify with share the whole of own individual, if not even corporately prescribed, worldviews (2) that our worldviews should be obvious and compelling to others who don’t share it. The consequence of this is that we have a way of trying to persuade and lead others into changing the way they see themselves, the way they see others, the way they see the world, and the way they see God that does not actually demonstrate to them what we want others to see. We declare, we hint, we suggest, we promise, we seduce, etc., etc. to get people to see what we want them to see, but at the end of the day, our acts of trying to change people’s worldviews are actions that are ore effective when trying to persuade people when they share the similar perspectives, but becomes entirely ineffective with those who do not see as ones sees. The various symbols we try to use to get people to think differently fail to persuade.
At this point, there are typically one of two different response people can have at this point: we could either throw our hands up in the air and say “They can not see and they will never see” and label them as somehow wrong, evil, blind, mentally dysfunctional, etc. and give up on them or we can try harder to persuade and convince them using the very same ways we have tried all the time. These two responses can be understood as the post-modern and the modern responses to truth.
However, there is a third option. That the dramatic transformation of worldviews does not occur through symbolic means, but through demonstration. In 1 Corinthians, Paul recognizes that his preaching Word of the Cross does not persuade people to move from unbelief to belief. Rather, it is the demonstration of the Spirit that Paul associates with the Corinthians moving towards faith in God. Demonstrations are these events where people can see and understand what our symbolic communication is trying to describe and refer to. Demonstrations give ‘flesh’ to the elusive medium of language, and in so doing, they often lead to the emergence of novel and surprising ideas that people did not previously understand.
This is at the heart of worldview change: demonstrations that essentially activate our pre-symbolic processing of the world. One of the illusions of modern linguistics has been the idea of linguistic determinism, which is to suggest that our thinking is determined by our language. While certainly language influences thinking, thinking is independent of the linguistic structures of meaning. A baby thinks, even as they have demonstrably little facility with language. A lover’s gaze shared between two people communicates something, even as words may escape each other in those moments. Symbolic communication and meanings influence our thinking, but it is not the only influence. Certainly, it is impossible to entirely extricate the experience of a demonstration from the symbolic meanings we use to understand the demonstrate, but the inability to precisely and clearly distinguish an “objective” boundary between the demonstrative and the symbolic in our thinking does not mean there isn’t a real influence on our thinking that is not reducible to symbolic meanings.
Perhaps this is why Jesus says that we must receive the kingdom like a little child. While children, even those who are a little bit older, do not think about the world purely in terms of symbolical meanings, but many of them are eager and curious to explore and understanding the world. The ever pervasive question of the most curious of children, “Why?” represents that they do not have the prerequisite symbolic meanings to understand what is that they observe and notice. The fat that “Why?” tends to come up even more often when parent try to explain something to children is further evidence that children do not think purely in terms of symbolic communication. Rather, they learn demonstratively. So, to receive the kingdom of God, one can not engage it at the level of symbolic communication, but it must be demonstrated by those who are willing to let it be demonstrated.
This is so much as the heart of Jesus’ ministry, the resistance he received, and his mission to the cross. When the Pharisees say that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebub, they were symbolically interpreting Jesus’ actions through the lens of they taxonomy of demonic powers. Consequently, it blinded them to see the good thing Jesus was doing in freeing people from demonic possession. It might be adequate to say that they were so deeply and ideologically entrenched in their system of Torah application and ‘apocalyptic’ explanations1, that the only way they could make sense of Jesus’ exorcisms, who stood in opposition to them in so many ways, was to attribute Jesus’ power to the devil. Jesus’ response to them, however, is essentially a demonstrative logic: “if I drive out demons by the finger/Spirit of God of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” These powerful actions are demonstrations of God’s kingdom.
This gives us the frame to understand the rest of Jesus’ signs and wonders. They aren’t “proofs” of Jesus’ identity, as proofs assume a certain symbolic meaning that we then use to determine what things are and are not consider evidence and good reasons. Rather, the signs and wonders of Jesus are demonstrations of God’s Kingdom. They are a way in which people can begin to behold, even be overcome with awe, of the God’s kingdom in their midst. While Israel’s Scripture symbolically communicated about the kingdom of Israel and understood God to be its king, they would have understood God’s kingdom primarily through the lens of political rule, which was the primary symbolic meaning of kingdom, rather than the exhibition of God’s holiness and glory in the world for the transformation of human life. Jesus’ actions were demonstrate of something that spanned beyond the political and social horizons most Israelites would have thought in (although, to be clear, these demonstration of God’s kingdom were to incorporate political and social realities, not be set in opposition to them.)
However, more important than the signs and wonders, the demonstrative nature of Jesus’ ministry explains the cross and the resurrection as the place where the very symbolic meanings that are most significant to us, such as the biological and social categories of death and life, justice and injustice, honor and shame, are radically challenged by the reality of the empty tomb. They are not so much as “reversal” or the “abolition” of the categories as much as they are a radical re-understanding of how life and death, justice and injustice, honor and shame work in God’s kingdom. While these radically altered symbolic meanings may bear a family resemblance to their prior symbolic meanings, all the power and significance is in the differences between the two. In fact, it is precisely because the symbolic meaning do bear a family resemblance that demonstrations are necessary to help people to recognize their ignorance and to help them differentiate and comprehend a whole new way of understanding God’s kingdom.
This is probably part of the reason why Paul says the word of the cross seems foolish and scandalous to the Greeks and Jews: the very nature of the event of the cross being described by Paul seems so ludicrous towards their systems of wisdom and truth that Paul’s words could seem to be an outright distortion of their systems of meaning that amounts to foolishness and misleading people into stumbling. Hence, we see the Stoic and Epicurean philosophers in Athens divide into scoffing and further interest, as if what Paul’s preaching about God and Christ could seem simultaneously compelling and off-putting. Perhaps it is for this reason that Paul says it is the demonstration of the Spirit that moved the Corinthians to faith in God, recognizing in whatever equivalent concepts and categories available to Paul that λόγος does not lead people towards the redemption in Christ, but it is the Spirit who demonstrates that gives the metaphorical ‘flesh’ to Paul’s words about Christ.
It is here, then, that I would suggest that Christian evangelism can seek to learn. In the absence of a social and political reality where the systems of symbolic meaning are not formed and do not point towards the Christian Gospel and (largely) compatible worldviews, it is through demonstration, not explication, that Gospel faith and transformation will become evident. This doesn’t mean, however, that we have to wait on some supernatural miraculous event of the Spirit, but rather the “supramundane” inspiration and equipping of the Spirit can help to make us and our skills sources of demonstrations of God’s Kingdom, even as we ourselves are broken vessels, who are yet also being repaired, containing this glory.
Of course, demonstration does not automatically lead to faith for others. 1 Corinthians 2.1-5 is not a formula for guaranteed evangelistic success with specific people. It does, however, point us towards a third route away from the intellectual arrogance and oppression of modernity and the intellectual apathy and rebelliousness of post-modernity: demonstrative transformation of worldviews that brings about a witnessing that appeals to people’s pre-symbolic, childlike wonder, curiosity, and learning.