My fellow pastor, Pastor Bo Hutches, who blogs at To Work and Keep, recently went to a local coffee shop, and after ordering his coffee and sitting at a table to study, it did not take for a stranger to sit near him at the same table.
The stranger stuck out in many ways from the rest of the coffee patrons. He was a tall, bald, white man adorned in Buddhist garb (long purple clothes and an orange under shirt).
Pastor Bo shook his hand striking up a conversation, immediately asking him about his Buddhism and what the man thinks about Jesus Christ. They began a great discussion about worldviews, and the Buddhist asked an interesting question of Pastor Bo,
“What does Christianity do for the the poor?”
And this is the question I would like to make a couple observations about.
The Gospel of the System
The gospel of each religious system was on full display in this gracious conversation, as each speaker wasted no time in getting to what was most important to them.
Pastor Bo, almost without hesitation, went straight to Jesus. From that, it’s pretty clear what Bo values above all things, is it not? And the Buddhist wasted no time getting to his gospel: social activism.
This is not to say pastor Bo does not care about how Christians treat the poor, but it does mean that Pastor Bo thinks no matter how one treats the poor, people are dead in their sins apart from a right relationship with Jesus Christ. For Bo, Jesus is more important than social work. A right understanding of Jesus will lead to a right understanding of social work, but we have to start in the right place in order to get to the right place.
Notice that the Buddhist did not return the favor. He did not ask Pastor Bo about Buddha, or even Jesus for that sake. At one point, he asked about the differences between Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but the true gospel of his system was clear: what do you do for the poor?
For Pastor Bo, a Buddhist becomes justified when they repent of their Buddhism and turn to Christ. For this Buddhist, Christians are justified when they do enough righteous works for poor people. A Gospel of grace met a gospel of works, and neither of these devoutly religious men wasted much time getting to their gospels.
The Necessary Presuppositional Nature of Worldview Conversations
The gospels inherit within the systems also reveals something the nature of worldview conversations. They are fundamentally presuppositional. Walk with me…
Why did Pastor Bo ask the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” Was it purely academic? There likely was a genuine interest. Pastor Bo does not consider himself an expert of Buddhist theology. On top of that, especially in America, Buddhism doesn’t always come in orthodox stripes. There likely was a genuine inquisitiveness to the question. However, that does not change the fact the Pastor Bo is a Christian pastor. He knows Jesus, and while he may not have known exactly what that man would say, he did however know exactly what he would not say.
On the other side of that coffee table, the same is true. That Buddhist asked a question which was drawn from the well of his worldview. Meaning, any answer not also consistent with his worldview would have been insufficient.
Take a wild hypothetical like this: Suppose Pastor Bo answered with “The poor? We suppress them at every turn, making sure we keep them the dregs of society so that we will never take their place. We Christians look out for number one.” As anti-biblical as that would have been, pretend that was his response.
Assuredly, it would not have been sufficient to the Buddhist; and therefore, would not have attracted him to the Christian faith. But why would that be insufficient? In other words, by what standard would he have snarled at such a response? What, after all, is wrong with suppressing the poor?
He had to determine within his own worldview system what objective morality is, and what it says about treating the poor. This means, he may not have known what Pastor Bo was going to say, but he did think he knew what Pastor Bo should have said.
Suppose Pastor Bo said something a little more realistic. Suppose instead he said, “The poor? Well, we evangelize them.”
That answer would have been equally as insufficient and unattractive to our Buddhist coffee patron. But the question remains, by what standard? And we already answered it, by his Buddhist standards. He asked a Buddhist question, and so only a Buddhist answer would suffice.
This is is the point: worldview dependent questions will never be satisfied by foreign worldview answers. This is why I am a presuppositionalist.
Bo and the Buddhist alike were looking for answers that fit their worldview framework. Which is why the battle would not ultimately be won by fishing for facts floating in some neutral worldview lake. The true religion was not going to be exposed by proving who helps the poor most. The fact that Christians blow Buddhists out of the water in regards to aid for the poor and needy would not change this Buddhist’s mind about Jesus. All it would have done is assure him that Jesus did a good job convincing people to act like Buddhists.
The true religion is not found by holding up measuring sticks and comparing who has done more good works. The true religion is found by turning the rulers over and looking at Who manufactured them.