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The Integrated Worldview

In my last post, I talked about how some people have difficulty believing in the resurrection of Jesus not because of the lack of evidence, but because they hold a worldview that does not allow for people to rise from the dead. There is nothing wrong with this per se. For the most part, we don’t control – or even think about – these deeply ingrained assumptions about how the universe works. They simply are what they are.

Still, we live in remarkable times. For the first time in history, we are becoming aware of the concept of worldviews themselves. And this awareness is opening up the possibility of reflecting on the relative advantages and disadvantages of various worldviews. Perhaps we are even developing the capacity to choose new worldviews based on such reflection.

One aspect of our worldview is our cosmology – our understanding of the nature of the relationship between the material and the spiritual. For most people, it is the cosmological aspect of their worldview that influences what they can believe about miracles, resurrection, life after death, etc.

In The Powers That Be, Walter Wink argues that one particular worldview – an integrated cosmology – is the most sensible and satisfying of all of the choices. There is a lot more to the book than this particular line of thought, and I plan on getting to Wink’s other ideas in the coming weeks. However, for now, I want to focus on Wink’s concept of an integrated cosmology.

To understand this worldview, it helps to put it in context with some of the other worldviews that have existed through history. Here are the examples that Wink uses:

  • The Ancient Worldview held that the material and spiritual realms exist in two separate places (usually conceived spatially as “up there” and “down here”). However, whenever something happens in one realm, something that corresponds that event happens in the other. Cataclysmic events, for example, are blamed on things that happen among the gods. This is the worldview that was held by the writers of the Bible.
  • The Spiritualist Worldview holds that the spiritual is desirable, and that the material is evil and undesirable. Those of us who are in a material state are imprisoned in that which is imperfect, and we desire to be set free to live as beings of pure spirit. The ancient Greeks, many Buddhists, and the majority of modern fundamentalist and evangelical Christians live under this worldview.
  • The Materialist Worldview holds that the only things that are real are the things we see, hear, taste, and touch. There is no such thing as a “spiritual” realm. Gratification can only come through the material. This is why people who try to accumulate things are often characterized as “materialistic.” They may pay lip service to a spiritual realm, but they function in the same way a materialist does.
  • The Theological Worldview holds that the material and the physical exist in two separate, distinct realms that do not interact with each other. This is a view that dominates many modern seminaries and universities. It compartmentalizes the spiritual so that it does not interfere in any meaningful way with the goings on in the material world.

The integrated (Wink calls it the “integral”) worldview holds that all things have both an outward (material) and inward (spiritual) aspect. And he really does mean everything. Reading a book, eating, working in the yard, going to Church, playing a video game. Everything that you and I do has both an “outer” and an “inner” aspect.

The same thing applies to groups and organizations: little league teams, Churches, nations, a soccer stadium, schools, families. Within the integrated worldview, all of these things have both a material aspect as well as a spiritual aspect.  (Rob Bell, incidentally, does a masterful job of explaining this concept in his video Everything is Spiritual).

image The integrated worldview can be seen in the Tao, a familiar Chinese symbol that represents the dance/tension between yin and yang. They both coexist in a whole. Indeed, there is even a small part of one in the other. They are integrated.

A similar worldview is also held by Native Americans, who think of nature as alive – brimming with its own spirituality. Quantum physics is also pointing – in many interesting ways – toward the efficacy of the integrated worldview.

Holding this worldview forces Christians to reinterpret the Bible – a book that, as I have already mentioned, was written from the ancient worldview. However, the two views are not so different that they pose an insurmountable problem. The ancient view is about “up there” and “down here.” The integrated view is about what is on the “outside” and the “inside.” The only difference is that, instead of seeing the material and spiritual as distinct– we see them as two aspects of one thing.

The integrated worldview also helps us to avoid the dangers of being completely “inward” people or completely “outward” people. It invites us into contemplative, inner reflection (Fr. Richard Rohr, for example, is well known for his contemplative spirituality and integrated cosmology), but also challenges us to see how things on the “outside” – nations, groups, corporations, etc. – are impacted by their “inner” life. A deep prayer life and meaningful social action are both a natural result of this perspective.

1 Comment

  1. June 20, 2010    

    You might truly appreciate the perspective of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, on this. His entire book, “The Wound of Knolwedge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of The Cross” covers this in exquisite detail:

    It is the integrated worldview, better espoused than, perhaps, Wink's, throughout Christian history (especially in the writings of the Church Fathers) that is the enliving worldview allowing for paradox and faith.

    I'm thoroughly enjoying the ABC's vision of this as I prepare to enter divinity school in two months.

    Pax et bonum,
    Eric Gregory

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