Competing Worldviews

Moses says, “In the future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him: ‘We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Before our eyes the Lord sent miraculous sign and wonders–great and terrible–upon Egypt and Pharaoh and his whole household. But he brought us out from there to bring us in and give us the land that he promised on oath to our forefathers. The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness'” (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

Your worldview must be diligently communicated to your children and grandchildren! Do not assume they will get it by osmosis. Yes, there is much that they will absorb, but there are always competing worldviews in any culture. We are finally waking up to this reality here in North America. While this has always been true here, only a fool can deny the reality at the present time.

Earlier, Moses has given them the key: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Retelling Our Stories

To the first-time Bible reader, Deuteronomy may appear repetitive. Much of the material in this book might be viewed as a rehash of sections of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. But for the careful reader, it is obvious that this is not needless repetition. In the narrative flow, a generation who experienced the exodus from Egypt has died during the forty years in the wilderness. Now their children and grandchildren are the adults who are about to enter the land that had been promised to their ancestors.

Moses warns they are about to be given, “a land with large flourishing cities [they] did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things [they] did not provide, wells [they] did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves [they] did not plant.” An abundance is about to be received that comes from God’s provision, not their own labor. “[W]hen you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery” (Deuteronomy 6:10-12).

Even those who have experienced God speaking from the mountain and providing for them for forty years are in danger of forgetting. But their children and grandchildren will be especially at risk. The radical worldview shift of their exodus must be passed on intentionally to subsequent generations.

DBS Helps Cross-cultural Communications

Cross-cultural communication is a challenge at best! Just ask wives and husbands how many times they realized their spouse did not hear what they intended to communicate.

In every cross-cultural conversation there is a sender and a receiver. The sender uploads what she/he intends to communicate, but their message is always encoded from within their cultural context (yes, this more closely approximates that of the receiver the more fluent their language skills are). Then the receiver downloads the message and filters it through his/her ethno-linguistic cultural grid. But the process is also impacted by “noise.”

The only way to assess what is understood is to ask for feedback. “What did you understand me to just say?” is a great way to seek clarity. When this person shares what they heard, then you can attempt to overcome the effects of noise and the differences in the ways we utilize words/phrases cross-culturally.

One of the great beauties of Discovery Bible Studies (when the stories are being heard in the heart tongue) is the passage is not being explored cross-culturally. Yes, I know that Scriptures were written from within and for other cultures (e.g., pre-exilic Hebrew, post-exilic Hebrew, 1st century Judeo-Christian, 1st century Gentile Christian, etc.) but it is not going through the additional cultural grid of the cross-cultural missionary.

The Word of God illuminated by the Spirit of God is enough to produce the people of God!

Worldview and DBS

Now that we have taken a couple of weeks to survey some basic material you can learn in Sociology and/or Anthropology, let’s consider the value of Discovery Bible Studies in this context. Your sense of identity (Who am I?) impacts your beliefs, which shape your values and these direct your behavior.

That sense of identity arises from the stories that you grow up being told. No, not the occasional stories, but the ones that your parents accepted from their people group and keep passing on to the next generation.

When the creation/redemption story of the Bible shapes your worldview you approach life with crucial beliefs. Yes, you know that there is much brokenness in our world, because the sin of Adam brought long-term effects. But you also know that the God who created pursues people out of his great love and through his amazing grace.

As you walk with Israel, you travel the trajectory of Abraham’s faith. You know the roller coaster ride of faith and sin. You know what happens when the chosen forget their bridegroom. But you also sense the persevering love of God. In the midst of this journey you keep hearing the promises that He will do the unthinkable.

Like a Muslim man on the journey to knowing God, you marvel at God’s great love in sending the Suffering Servant! You experience shocked gratitude that this Servant would love you enough to take your stripes.

Little by little, God’s story re-writes your story! You begin to consider the impossible might be something He can pull off!

Worldview—What is Real?

Last we come to understand what is real for a people group. Their worldview answers four fundamental questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. Where am I?
  3. What has gone wrong here?
  4. What can be done about it?

How do children receive their worldview from their parents? They receive it from the people and experiences in their lives. They especially receive it from stories these key people tell. We each have stories that shape how we see ourselves and our world. Change the guiding stories and a person’s worldview begins to shift.

The ultimate answers to these “What is real?” questions are found in the Creation to Christ stories of the Bible. Each person was created in God’s image. As Paul notes in Athens, “The God who made the world and everything in it…made every nation of men….Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:24-31).

[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]

What May Come

Small Group DBSs

During the last four days I spent time with 700+ university students at the Global Mission Experience. It was hosted by Harding University this year and was held at Camp Tahkodah and at HUT. Here is the link to a one-minute trailer that was prepared for it:

It was great to introduce these young people to Discovery Bible Studies. On Friday they worked through Luke 10:1-20 in small groups of 4-5. On Saturday those who returned watched a skit that dramatized what an attempt to find a Person of Peace might look like in a resistant community. Then they did another small group DBS looking at Deuteronomy 6:1-10.

Pray that several of these students will start Discovery groups on their respective campuses. These students came from across the U.S. and it is exciting to think about what God may do through them.

Pass It On

Four days ago I exposed more than 30 people to Discovery Bible Studies. We spent most of our three-hour gathering learning how to do an Oral DBS. But I also spent a few minutes talking about doing a written discovery process that is called a 3-column study. I gave each person a copy of a format that I have developed. One of the class members emailed me to ask for a digital copy of the form, so she would not have to re-create it. After I sent one to her in pdf she wrote back, explaining how she hopes to use this:

I have a lovely, bright and gifted 5th-grader who is having trouble understanding how important it is to have self-control over his tongue. I have been praying for him for a week or so, and I woke up in the middle of the night the other night with the idea to give him the 3-column bible study on a series of proverbs that have helped me immensely to control my own tongue. I believe it will be fruitful for this newly saved and baptized young man. I’ll let you know what God does!

Here is my reply to this teacher:

Years ago I was attempting to catalyze DBSs in the local jail. I started working with the one person I knew who was incarcerated there. He began a group study, to pass on what he was learning. When we knew he was soon to be released I asked him to pick the best candidate to keep it going. I started meeting with that guy, too. Every time the leader was about to be released we repeated this process.

Eventually I noticed generational degradation (copy a copy of a copy long enough and the quality deteriorates). It reached its lowest when the only guy who was an option had damaged his mental capacity greatly by using illegal substances—especially smoking wild mushrooms. His attention span and impulse control were negligible. I really agonized with whether or not I was wasting my time. But my bare-bones requirement for meeting with him weekly was whether or not he would do a 3-column study. He kept attempting to write one out, so I kept working with him. Months later this guy was transferred to the state penitentiary two hours away. Writing letters was our only contact. His last letter shared what he had recently discovered (all on his own) about the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. He wrote out the verses he had discovered, how he understood them and how he was trying to live them. It blew me away! I believe the Spirit “re-wired” some of his neural pathways. The 3-column studies became a spiritual discipline that the Spirit used to help him recover from some of the abuse he had done to himself.

While this young man you are working with is not that extreme an example, I praise God this approach may be a blessing for him! I pray it will equip him to experience Romans 12:1-2 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Two suggestions connected to this: keep the passages short (I suspect that you will already do that since you are going to use Proverbs) and do a 3-column study yourself, on the same passages. Show him your sheet when you read over his. Share with him how you are obeying–putting into practice—each passage. Model for him the process as well as teach him to do it and hold him accountable.

John King

Maybe you know a place where this process would be helpful. If so, just email me a request for the form (preacher at by replacing the spaces and “at” with the symbol. I will be happy to share this resource with you.

What Are the 8 Questions?

Discipling praise:

  • Question #1:  “What happened last week for which you are thankful?”
  • Encourage everyone to answer briefly.

Discipling intercession:

  • Question #2:  “What struggles are happening in your life, family or community?”
  • After the study there will be a follow-up question.

Discipling accountability (not done the first week):

  • Question #3: “How did the attempt to help with the need go?”

Discipling hearing God’s word to obey:

  • Have the text read/told well (If illiterate it must be told well.)
  • Ask for a volunteer to re-tell the passage in his/her own words.
  • Ask the rest of the group to fill in any details that were overlooked.
  • Question #4: “What do we learn about God in this section?”
  • Question #5: “What do we learn about humanity from the section?”
  • Question #6: “How would your life change if you put this passage into practice?”
  • Question #7: “Who do you know who needs to hear this lesson?”

Discipling being servants:

  • Earlier we heard about (insert appropriate need).
  • Question #8: “How can we help meet that need?”

This format is followed every meeting.  While it may seem too simplistic or redundant, it is to be repeated until it becomes something the group knows to do without thinking about it (the three “R’s” of education—“repetition, repetition…”

There is one more question that is needed at times—“Where is that in this passage?” The group is trained to ask this question when someone tries to bring in topics that are not included in the text as a way to keep the group on track. Here they are being discipled to depend on Scripture as their source of spiritual authority.

Outside leaders should never facilitate more than two studies. It is preferable if they never facilitate, but rather coach the Person of Peace to ask the questions.

DBS and 3-Column Studies

Yesterday I enjoyed an hour-long phone conversation with a brother who is returning to Benin for a short-term mission trip among some Aja believers. He had served as a cross-cultural missionary among these people for several years before moving back to the States. Now he goes back periodically to encourage them and do some teaching, coaching and mentoring.

He told me that he had introduced the Discovery Bible Study approach to these people a couple of years ago. He was wanting my feedback on what he was planning to do on this upcoming trip. In the course of our discussion he exclaimed, “I did not understand that. I have probably caused a lot of frustration among these people!”

What had he just understood? What light had come on for my friend?

Discovery Bible Studies and 3-Column Studies are not identical. They overlap. They dove-tail well when they are used among people who are functional literates, but even then they are not the same.

A 3-Column Study is primarily an individualistic inductive study. An individual writes out a short section of Scripture, copying it into the left-hand column in a word-for-word style. Then he/she paraphrases the same passage in her/his own words in the middle column. In the third column the person itemizes what he/she will do to obey–put into practice–this passage.

This is an inductive study because all the meaning comes directly from the text. In re-writing the passage you include who is speaking and to whom. You include what the author/speaker wants the audience to understand from the events that transpire. If the time frame is significant, then “When?” is a question that is answered in the re-telling. Where these events take place is also revealed. Why these events are significant is declared. How the desired outcome takes place is also revealed. Basic reading comprehension is reported in the middle column.

In the third column the student records what she/he hears from the text that should be applied to his/her life. Ownership is taken by using the format of starting each line with the words “I Will…” (I once had a friend tell me that someone in one of my classes said he never did the 3rd column because if he wrote these using the “I will…” start he would feel like he had to obey them.)

Completing this process can be very valuable for any student of God’s Word who is functionally literate. It can be richly rewarding because it slows you down and has you “handle” Scriptures. (Have you ever considered that in Jesus’ day there was a group of spiritual leaders who were formed by the practice of writing Scripture–the Scribes? Their shortcoming was their refusal to obey what they learned by copying God’s Word.) It is valuable because it prepares you to tell someone else what you hear God saying through a specific text. It also serves as a historical document describing what you realize you need to do to submit to God’s teaching from a particular passage.

But 3-Column Studies are not going to work with functionally illiterate people. They will not work with those who do not know how to read and write. They will not work with oral learners. These people either are unable to read and write, or they strongly prefer not to do so. But we must remember that Scriptures were primarily written to be heard. “Hear, oh Israel…” “Let him who has ears to hear…”

People who will never read or write can orally do the equivalent of a 3-Column Study. The format we recommend for that to happen is a Discovery Bible Study. Here the process is done through speaking and listening. Here the text is read or told well. If it is read, it is probably best if it is read well twice. At the appropriate time it should first be read from a trade language translation. Follow that with a heart language translation if that is available.

Whenever a group gathers, to do a discovery study (whether they have previously done a 3-column study or not), there is a very valuable format for them to follow. It actually entails discipling them (primarily by modelling and by you coaching an insider who will facilitate the process in his/her household) to ask and answer eight questions during their gathering:

  • What has gone well lately that gave you joy?
  • What has caused you, or someone you know, stress lately?
  • How did the efforts to help with the stressor we picked last time go?

[Have the passage read twice/told. Have someone  re-tell the passage. Ask others to fill in any significant details that were omitted when the passage was re-told.]

  • What do you learn about God from this passage?
  • What do you learn about humanity from this passage?
  • What would obedience to this passage look like in our lives?
  • Who do you know who needs to hear what we have learned today?
  • Which of the stressful things that were mentioned earlier can we help to overcome?

By following this format groups discover many things. They discover something about God’s nature and work. They discover that they can help each other with stressful situations. They discover the value of being thankful. They discover the benefits that come from hearing, understanding and practicing God’s Word as a group. They discover how obedience to a passage is transformational. They discover how to minster to others. They discover the importance of sharing what they are learning with others.

Everything in the Discovery Bible Study is done orally. It can be done by people who love to read and write. It can be done by those who hate to read or write. It can be done by those who are unable to read and write. It involves people in a very reproducible process of coming to Scripture and submitting to what it is teaching.

My friend had been trying to get people who are oral learners to use a literate process. I can relate; I have attempted the same thing. I know I have frustrated many, too.

Don’t get me wrong–writing out 3-Column Studies is extremely valuable for anyone who will consistently do them! These written studies become a great testimony to how God has been transforming your life over a period of time. But there is great value in doing Discovery Bible Studies. Those who only do 3-Column Studies will miss much richness that comes only from being part of a community that is opening itself to God’s Word.

Since you are reading this blog, I know you can benefit from using both formats. Doing a 3-Column Study would be a great way to prepare to facilitate a Discovery Bible Study. Pass it on to any who read and write, but invest your primary energies into getting others to do Discovery Bible Studies. Make sure they know they can open themselves to God whether they like to read or write or not!