Discerning the (Meta)Narrative

Thanks to the influence of my parents, I have delighted in cross-cultural study from a young age. I love literature, music, art, film, architecture, dance—food!—the sensory narrative stimulates and inspires. But sifting through the cultural data to understand foundational principles of a worldview can be a huge challenge. Why are certain food or clothing laws practiced? Why are certain architectural elements or colors esteemed over others and what cultural values (ethics) do these aesthetic details reveal? What does this dance symbolize? What is the cultural context of this film?

As we look at the goings-on in the world today, we may find similar cause for inspiration . . . and challenge. How do we not merely observe but also analyze, reflect, and respond? How do we discern the story behind the story (the meta-narrative)?

When I recently read WORLD founder Joel Belz’s piece “Covering the frog story, I was reminded that a reporter’s methodology which helps to craft a story also drives us to the core of a worldview. In another of his pieces, he talks about the “5 Ws and an H” of journalism: “who, what, when, where, why,” the questions a reporter uses to draw out the news story. The educator or parent seeking to help a child mature in discernment uses the same questions to draw out the learning, encouraging critical thinking regarding the information we observe. The same questions we use to construct a story can be used to deconstruct it, helping us see the worldview at the core of the narrative. This promotes analysis rather than mere absorption.

Promoting Critical Thinking:

 

The questions “who, what, when, where, why” are the tools a reporter uses to draw out the news story.

 

The educator uses the same tools to draw out the learning.

 

Take the most prominent news story of the moment: the war in Ukraine. To fully understand what is happening there, we need historical context (when did the relationship between Russia and Ukraine begin and under what circumstances?); key figures (who are they and what are their values?); key terms (what does “oligarch” mean?—and we help you explore this in the May/June issue of WORLDteen); geographical understanding (time to pull out your maps, especially as you read together the Ukraine feature in the May/June WORLDkids!). Even in the discussion of the previous questions, we begin to approach the “why”, identifying many worldview pillars as we go.

Here are some questions I use to penetrate a story, laying it open that we might identify the worldview at its core:

  • Who is viewed as the authority?
  • What do they identify as the problem?
  • How do they propose this problem to be solved?
  • What are their values or ethics? What do they esteem?
  • What are their ultimate goals?

 

What about our own worldview? If you are not practiced in thinking through these categories, you might need the refresher (observe how the gospel saturates our Christian worldview! What an encouragement):

The Christian Worldview/Meta-narrative: 

Creation/Fall/Redemption/Restoration 

 

God is the Authority and Creator of all
The problem is human sin
The solution is redemption in Jesus
The goal is restoration: making all things new
 
Summary of Ethics: Love God & Neighbor; Summary of Aesthetics: “truth, beauty, goodness (Philippians 4:8)

Take your time to help your children hone these tools to build understanding. Deconstruct the story in front of you. Rebuild your own framework stronger. Pause the news­—movie, song, audiobook—when you watch or listen with your children. What questions do they have that open up the door for further cultural and news literacy? What questions might you ask them? (It’s ok if you only cover one or two “big” questions – the point is to get your children thinking, not just absorbing).

I recommend that you end these conversations with your children with questions that bring you back around to the Christian worldview and increase biblical literacy: Who is the ultimate authority? What does He promise in scripture about His purposes and our place within them (providing the when and the why)? Where do we see His hand clearly operating in the world, in history? What do we observe that we can affirm through our Christian framework? What do we observe that we need to challenge according to the same? And: how can we, as believers, respond (with our actions, words, etc)?

Helping us to think through the “why” and “how” of Christian cultural engagement, this commentary from Jerry Bowyer in WORLD Opinions which highlights the necessity of understanding not only the ideologies in play in our world but also what they are like in action. I recommend Bowyer’s piece as it offers a look at a real world situation, providing dimension and context for ideological frames, and urging informed action.

Believer: Our Father is on the throne! He has promised and covenanted to redeem His people and His creation to a place of restored relationship with Himself and one another. The stories of this world are eclipsed by and even encompassed in the Redemptive Meta-narrative. We have the privilege of being caught up in His work, engaging, influencing, and disciple-making in every sphere of life, for His glory. There is abundant grace for us as we learn how to do this well, for His glory.

Kelsey Reed

Kelsey Reed