According to author and researcher Paul Jones there are five theological worlds that we can find on any given Sunday in the pews of churches all over North America. Jones visited countless churches, surveyed numerous church goers and interviewed hundreds of Ministers. What Jones wanted to know is what story about God church goers were carrying on their journey to church. The five stories Jones discovered were these: World One, persons who find God in nature, in symbols, in liturgy, in ritual, in a Holy experience of God where the mystery of God is revealed in a moment of peace, silence and awe; World Two, persons who find God in the search for justice, in acts of making right what has historically been wrong, in overcoming anything and everything that makes oppression real; World Three, persons who find God in community, in the social experience of being with others, in the deep places where neighbours become bonded in love; World Four, persons who yearn for redemption, to be saved from a feeling of being sinful, broken, hurting and in need of a Holy touch from God, made whole and new in the same way Saul become the Biblical Paul; World Five, persons who understand that all life is suffering, that fairness is a conceit they cannot afford to consider, that the best and only way forward is to do one’s duty, to be people others can count on, especially in tough times. These are folks who work hard and play by the rules.
Which of these stories best describes your journey with and for God? Likely you are come combination, all of us are more complicated beings that these questionnaires can summarize. BUT there is truth here, and the fact remains that we are moved to be with and for God by some of these stories more than others.
I came to this understanding through a student Minister who asked to work with a former church I served, she brought a series of questions about God and church and when her work was done she shared with all 15 participants which world (or worlds) best reflected their story of God. To a person everyone there agreed that the Theological Worlds analysis was helpful and illumination. Here is one of many versions found online that can help you determine which Theological World tells your story of God.
At that point in my Ministry I had served many congregations over a 20 year period. It dawned on me that I had been preaching, creating liturgies and offering studies that fit my two world, World Two and World Three, to the exclusion of the other Worlds. Friends tell me that though I am not motivated by World Five I have many of the characteristics of a World Five Minister, my work ethic, so I likely get a pass from parishioners who would call themselves World Five. But what about World Ones and World Fours? How am I offering them spiritual food, insight, and ways to connect with God in their language?
I do think there is a defined Gospel Truth, my understanding of God who we experience in the life, words and Spirit of Jesus. I am no literalist, I believe in science (how can you deny how God works through us?) and believe many of the world’s religions reveal something deep about the God I worship. But I also know there is evil and there is untruth. I see evil in those who hate and I see untruth in those who live for and consider only themselves. The truth is that Christians who live in all Five Worlds do live truth and have much to teach those of us from other worlds. Ever since I read Jones I have purposefully included other voices and stories in worship and studies and sermons that speak to Worlds other than mine, Two and Three. In this way I feel I am learning, stretching and growing from others who God has made different, and yet full of truth, than me.