From exploring distant galaxies to studying molecular structures to improving our personal eyesight, lenses are invaluable in our attempt to understand the complex and diverse universe around us. Without lenses, our knowledge of our world would be limited, distorted, or simply based on conjecture. Our world and our reality would consist only of what we could see with our unassisted vision.
In much the same way, our perception of ideas, values, and concepts are shaped and viewed by the cultural, sociological, historical, and religious lenses we wear. These lenses, known as worldviews, tell us what to wear, how to greet friends, or even if we need to buy the latest Apple iPhone. While our own worldview creates boundaries and cultural norms for us to successfully navigate the perils of community, it can also limit our ability to understand and communicate with others outside our culture. If we are to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ in a relevant and receivable manner, we must look beyond our own worldview and put on new lenses—God lenses—to view the rarely seen world outside our own culture.
So how do we rightfully view our world in order to effectively and successfully communicate the truth of Jesus Christ cross-culturally?
First, we need to take a look at our own lenses to see if we are perceiving correctly. Have you ever driven down the road and thought, “It sure is getting dark early; there must be a storm brewing,” only to realize later that you were wearing sunglasses. The darkened lenses made you perceive reality incorrectly. In America, nationalism and patriotism are powerful lenses which convey that America is the greatest and the most powerful nation on earth and that how we think and live must also be the greatest. Therefore, from our viewpoint American culture is right and all other cultures are wrong. Our music is best, our clothes are best, and our ideas and opinions are best. This is our perceived reality. And because other views are not simply different but are wrong, we attempt to destroy or replace opposing cultures. The darkened lenses of ethnocentrism have distorted our perception which has led to an attitude of superiority and unnecessary conflict and hostility with outside cultures.
These darkened lenses of nationalism are so powerful that they continually attempt to shape and define American Christianity. These lenses say that Americans have greater value, that immigrants are not welcome, and all Muslims are our enemy. But these ideas are anti-Christian. Are we not to humble ourselves, take care of the stranger, and love our neighbors? But the American worldview has superseded the Christian worldview. In fact, sometimes I wonder, because of our darkened lenses, if the church is no more than worship of America and American values. If Christians are going to become authentic followers of Jesus, then we must force ourselves to take off the darkened lenses of nationalism and ask God to help us see the world through His lenses.
Secondly, we need to attempt to understand the lenses others wear. By viewing the world through a Muslim’s or an African’s lens we may be surprised at the injustices they endure or the hospitality they display to strangers even when at a financial disadvantage. We may also see their perception of Americans as crusaders, colonialists, or even allies. Remember because of the cultural, sociological, historical, and religious lenses they wear this is their perceived reality. Attempting to understand their worldview helps us to empathize and have compassion for their culture while also helping to correct misperceptions they have about our culture. Only as we begin to understand the different lenses we wear and find solutions to perceive reality successfully, will we be able to communicate the truth of Jesus Christ effectively and accurately.
Lastly, we need to understand that our goal is not to communicate Americanism, democracy or capitalism, but Jesus Christ as the Savior of all the world. Our goal is not to destroy or replace cultures, but position Jesus Christ at the center of all cultures. By doing so, we put on the lenses of God and begin to perceive reality based on truth. We begin to understand misplaced values in our own culture that must be challenged and renounced; we begin to see how Christ-centered values supersede norms of the outside culture, and we begin to love and appreciate one another because of our mutual desire to see our cultures in the light of truth.
So I challenge you, take a look at the lenses you are wearing, attempt to see the world through the lenses of others, and correctly position Jesus Christ at the center of all cultures including your own. By doing so, we will begin to break down the obstacles of communication that have separated us, and we will be empowered to effectively and accurately share the good news of Jesus Christ and His kingdom.