Worldviews and the Unseen World
A well-formed worldview, grounded on biblical truth, enables believers to recognize demonic activity and influence reactions to the unseen world.
by Terry Hanna
Arriving at the home of a longtime Pentecostal church member, I saw him waving for me to come to the backyard. From there he escorted me into the house through the rear door, explaining that a taotaomona had moved into the tree in the front yard, and he did not want to make it upset. According to tradition, taotaomona are spirits of ancient Guamanian ancestors residing in Guam’s jungles. This man was a faithful church member and my first instinct was to think, How could he be this superstitious? We prayed and I left, not convinced he was less fearful.
As I reflected on this over the years, I realized his fear came from a worldview that included an animistic remnant he never confronted biblically in a way that penetrated his deep-seated worldview perceptions. At the same time, my worldview perspective, influenced by Western rationalism, drove my initial dismissive attitude relegating his concern to superstition. We both experienced an event through worldview lenses not totally aligned with the biblical worldview addressing bondage to the unseen world.
This experience underscores the danger of worldviews that are not biblically grounded. Adversely, it reveals the necessity of a well-formed biblical worldview to counter competing worldviews and how they influence reactions to the unseen world.
The Power of Worldviews to Shape How We View the Spirit World
Worldviews are how we make sense out of the world. We describe them as “what we look with, not what we look at.”1 Worldviews are like looking through a pair of glasses that clarifies what we see and makes it understandable. Each person’s worldview is unique, although it may resemble his or her family’s view because worldview formation begins at home, as he or she absorbs parental attitudes, values, and cultural beliefs. Further development occurs through experiences, religious encounters, media influences, and relationships. The major factor in individual worldview formation, however, is the predominant way our home culture views the world. Although my friend was not an animist, the old animistic traditions that dealt with the unseen world were still present and influenced his personal view. How North Americans view the unseen world influences their personal worldview. Models of worldviews that impact our personal worldview include the following:
1. Naturalist worldview. This is a major Western worldview that denies the existence of the spiritual world, insisting that only the material exists. With this worldview people base naturalism on rational, scientific methods, and we cannot rationally validate the spirit world. Naturalism separates the “supernatural from natural reality, God from nature, and religion from science.”2 It views the material world as a soulless machine, devoid of God, without any divine cause or purpose, and humanity is just a part of nature, equal to the animal world.3 Because of its disbelief in the spirit world or afterlife, humanity becomes the arbiter of any moral judgments. North American and European secular worldviews are an outgrowth of this naturalistic conception of reality.4
2. Animistic worldview. This influenced my friend’s view of the unseen world. Animism usually has some type of central creator god, but the emphasis is on myriad spirit entities that populate the world and interact with humanity.5 These spirits, according to folk traditions, cause good or bad fortune, afflictions, and illnesses.6
3. Biblical worldview. North American evangelicals and Pentecostals generally indicate that the appropriate view of life is through the lens of the Bible. In a general sense, the term biblical worldview describes how the Bible is God’s revelation of himself, His trinitarian nature, creation, His incarnation and redemptive plan, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.7 Pentecostalism adds a hermeneutical lens through which we understand the biblical worldview in a deeply personal way. In the specific sense, we want our personal worldviews to start aligning with biblical truth from the moment we are born again.
Biblical truth confronts our old worldview as God reveals himself to us, which challenges preexisting worldviews in a process Richard Niebuhr describes as a state of “permanent revolution.”8 Biblical truth challenges our assumptions, and we respond by aligning our perceptions to biblical revelation, assisted by the Holy Spirit who guides “into all the truth” (John 16:13). So, when we talk about well-formed worldviews, we are talking about personal worldviews that we ground on biblical truth. This is an ongoing process as new biblical truth becomes deeply ingrained in our worldview perceptions.
4. Hybrid worldview. The worldview issues encountered by my friend and me were the result of areas we had not fully confronted on a worldview level. His Christian view of the world had remnants of the old way of viewing the unseen world, causing bondage to fear. I fell back on the rationalism of North American secular worldviews, and rationalized my friend’s concern to superstition. A well-formed worldview is the remedy to this confusion, while a misshaped worldview fails to recognize the need or respond with biblical certainty, leaving people in bondage.
Misshaped Worldviews and Demonic Activity
People with misshaped worldviews are easily deceived concerning the nature of demonic activity and tend to seek help from wrong sources because of Satan’s deceptive nature. Satan is a liar, the father of lies, and lying is his “native language” (John 8:44); demons are “deceiving spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1). David Naugle writes of how dominant cultural worldviews can facilitate demonic deception: “Since Satan and the demons can manipulate men and women only to the extent that they are deceived, what better way to achieve this than by the promulgation of fallacious conceptions of reality through the conduit of the spirit of the age.”9
A graphic example of how misshaped worldviews interpret events in ways that contribute to demonic deception came from a husband whose wife believed the spirit of a dead man from the local cemetery mentally tormented her for 6 years. The doctor could find nothing physically wrong as she lost weight and remained childless, and there was no counselor to see what other issues might be at play. The husband and his family were nominal Christians, but his worldview influenced a response based on traditional knowledge and not biblical truth. In response, he opened the grave of the man he thought was the offending spirit and attacked the bones with a knife while screaming threats to destroy the skeleton if it did not stop bothering his wife. This husband’s worldview influenced his deception about the nature of his wife’s problem, as well as the response from nonbiblical sources.
This story is from an island country in the Pacific basin. Some might say that happened there, but it could never happen in the United States. While the animistic-based response might not occur here, seeking help from nonbiblical sources could. A 2006 report underscores that openness to nonbiblical sources is a growing North American problem. The study examined 4,340 teenagers between 13 and 19 yeares of age, and found that 19 percent strongly agreed that people can communicate with the dead; 10 percent said they personally communicated with a dead person; 73 percent believe in a supernatural world; 35 percent used Ouija boards; 79 percent looked at their horoscope; 30 percent consulted a palm reader.10 Part of this may be a product of the inquisitiveness of youth, but it also shows the kind of nonbiblical information inundating young minds. The media presents alternate ways of dealing with problems through exposure to television, movies, video games, and books that present ghosts, demons, witches, werewolves, and vampires, as sympathetic characters helping humanity.
Another factor contributing to worldviews susceptible to demonic deception is a growing theological illiteracy in the United States. A 2010 Barna report found that biblical illiteracy is a growing trend, and that “the theological free-for-all that is encroaching in Protestant churches nationwide suggests the coming decade will be a time of unparalleled theological diversity and inconsistency.”11 This is in line with another survey covering 20 years (1991 to 2011) that discovered a downward shift of belief that the “Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches,” from 46 to 38 percent.12
Secular and other worldviews will fill the gap as the United States struggles to grasp the unseen world. How do we expect our children and teenagers to handle these types of things if there is no theological teaching or basis for them to form worldviews regarding the demonic world? The church must take “seriously a trinitarian understanding of God, who is continually involved in His creation by His providence, presence, and power. … It must take Satan and demons seriously, for they are fallen angels seeking to keep people from turning to God in repentance, faith and obedience to Him.”13 The church must be aware that misshaped worldviews make people susceptible to demonic deception and bondage, but well-formed worldviews recognize the true source of help.
Well-Formed Worldview Aligns Us With Biblical Truth
Well-formed worldviews respond to the spirit world through the biblically grounded responses that reveal the nature of the kingdom of God. George Ladd describes the reality and power associated with God’s kingdom by stating the Kingdom “has already broken the power of death, defeated Satan, and overthrown the rule of sin.”14
Luke demonstrates this in a story about a woman with a chronic affliction causing deformity in her spine (Luke 13:10–17). Although Jesus referred to the cause as a “spirit of infirmity” (verse 11, ASV15), He does not deal with it as a traditional demonic encounter, nor is it a typical healing story. Also, the synagogue setting links this story with Jesus’ great proclamation of the Kingdom (Luke 4:18,19), and it is a prelude to His teaching about the Kingdom in Luke 13:18–21.16 Through this story, we see contrasts between a biblical worldview and others. When people influenced by a secular worldview look at the woman, they concentrate on the disease and want to know the kind of disease, its origin, and possible treatments. The animistic-influenced worldview wants to know what spirit caused the problem. Did she offend the spirit of an ancestor and did she try to appease it? However, we find another worldview in the story. Jesus’ kingdom response tells us His focus was on the woman in bondage and simply said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12). His response indicates that the nature and source of the infirmity were not His central focus. His focus was the person in bondage and His desire to bring the Kingdom’s “freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18).
A conversation I had with a Pacific Island Pentecostal illustrates this biblical view. He underwent a dramatic conversion and worldview transformation a few years earlier when he saw his sister delivered from what he said was years of demonic bondage. She would thrash on the floor, talk incoherently and in another voice, and try to harm herself. From the family’s worldview perspective, an evil spirit possessed her, whereas someone with a secular-influenced worldview might consider her in some type of seizure. However, their Pentecostal uncle arrived during one of her episodes. When he prayed for her, he commanded demons — not spirits of the dead or a natural mental malady — to leave and never return. The brother said the change was immediate and permanent. Because of this, the entire family turned to Jesus. The brother said to me, “I believe in God and the gospel and it changed my point of view. It changed my life, and I do not have to be fearful of spiritual forces. I believe that they have absolutely no authority or power to interfere in my life.” In this case, both the animistic and secular influenced worldviews were irrelevant to this woman’s despair. The uncle, with a transformed worldview, recognized her bondage through a discerning spirit, and she gained Kingdom release.
Transforming Our Worldview
Recently I was involved in a research project designed to identify factors contributing to transforming worldviews in believers, especially in the area of the unseen world. Five factors emerged with global significance. (1) A strong spiritual component involving conversion and Spirit baptism, along with a disciplined devotional life; (2) Learning God’s Word; (3) Godly mentors helped by teaching, encouraging, and exhibiting appropriate behavior in front of them; (4) Relationships were sources of encouragement and reinforcement for what they learned and experienced; (5) Practical ministry experience enhanced what they learned.
It was clear that churches were an indispensable part of the holistic process. Churches help develop biblically grounded worldviews when they:
- Are spiritually sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s presence and practice Pentecostal worship and distinctives, which are conducive to change.
- Teach biblical theology on life’s issues, including a theology of the unseen world and the kingdom of God. This was Paul’s instruction to Timothy, “Command and teach these things” (1 Timothy 4:11) and Titus, “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, NIV 1984).
- Mentor people using godly and pious believers who have a commitment to developing a biblical worldview. Priscilla and Aquila took Apollos to their home and “explained to him the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26), helping him transform his view of Pentecost.
- Enable relationship building. Relationships encourage people (Hebrews 10:24,25). Early believers built transformational relationships as they shared worship, meals, prayer, and even their possessions (Acts 2:42–46; 4:32–37).
- Provide practical ministry opportunities that reinforce and consolidate people’s changing worldviews. Jesus involved the Twelve (Matthew 10:1–16; Mark 6:7–13; Luke 9:1–9) and the Seventy-two (Luke 10:1–10) in ministry.
Misshaped worldviews are susceptible to demonic deception and cause people to seek help from the wrong sources. However, well-formed worldviews, grounded on biblical truth, enable believers to recognize demonic activity and to perceive others in bondage to bring Kingdom release. The church is vital to holistic transformation involving spiritual activity, teaching, mentoring, relationship building, and practical ministry.
In the introduction, had my friend and I viewed what was happening through a more biblically centered worldview lens, he would have realized he did not have anything to fear from the unseen world and would have stood firm because of his worldview perceptions of the kingdom of God. I would have better understood his bondage of fear of the unseen world and been more proactive in bringing Kingdom release. This drives home the point of Paul’s transformational admonition: “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” (Romans 12:2, NIV 1984).
1. Paul G. Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry: Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 41.
2. Paul G. Hiebert, R. Daniel Shaw, and Tite Tiénou. “Responding to Split-Level Christianity and Folk Religion” in International Journal of Frontier Missions 16, no. 4 (winter 1999/2000): 175. Found at: http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/16_4_PDFs/02_Hiebert_Shaw_Tienou.pdf. Accessed 25 October, 2012.
3. James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Academic Press, 2009 ), 66–143.
4. Gary W. Phillips, William E. Brown, and John Stonestreet, Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview (Salem, Wisconsin: Sheffield Publishing Company, 2008), 24–32.
5. Charles H. Kraft, Worldview for Christian Witness (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008) 241–42; 481–90.
6. Gailyn Van Rheenen, Communicating Christ in Animistic Contexts (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1991), 58,59.
7. Phillips et. al. 96–101.
8. Loder, 19.
9. David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2002), 283.
10. David Kinnaman, Teens and the Supernatural (Ventura, California: The Barna Group, 2006), 15–27.
11. The Barna Group. “Six Megathemes Emerge from Barna Group Research in 2010.” Found at: http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/462-six-megathemes-emerge-from-2010. Accessed 25 October 2012.
12. The Barna Group. “Barna Examines Trends in 14 Religious Factors Over 20 Years (1991 to 2011).” Found at: http://www.barna.org/faith-spirituality/504-barna-examines-trends-in-14-religious-factors-over-20-years-1991-to-2011. Accessed 25 October 2012.
13. Hiebert, Shaw, and Tiénou, 174.
14. George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1959), 130.
15. The American Standard Version of the Holy Bible was first published in 1901 by Thomas Nelson and Sons. This translation of the Holy Bible is in the public domain, since its copyright has expired.
16. Ned B. Stonehouse, F.F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee, eds., The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, by Joel B. Green (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997), 518–21.