Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Review of Paul Hiebert's book _Transforming Worldviews_

The following review was contributed by Jutta Bluhberger, currently a student at Fuller Seminary:

Paul G. Hiebert (1933-2007) was a pastor and missionary in India, and later professor of missiology and anthropology at Fuller and Trinity, authored many articles and books, of which Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008 was the last one, which he just finished before his death. The book’s thesis is that if the gospel aims at a transformation that is both individual and corporate, it needs to touch all levels, including the deepest level of worldview in order to be radical and total.

In the conclusion of the first chapter, Hiebert explains the model on which the rest of the book is based and presents as preliminary definition of worldview in anthropological terms as “the foundational, cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions and frameworks a group of people makes about the nature of reality which they use to order their lives” (p 25-6). They can also be called “people’s images or maps of reality” (p 26). The building blocks of his model include among others Opler’s themes and counter themes but significantly modified, and Redfield’s seven themes not as imposed etic categories but as suggestive themes to be explored.

Hiebert’s book is an excellent summary and clarification of the model of worldview at a time when main stream anthropology seems to move away from it. He makes it clear that it includes the cognitive, affective and evaluative assumptions and frameworks or maps of reality to organize our lives (p 25). It needs to combine synchronic and diachronic approaches without reverting to reductionism or compartmentalization. The often used term “deep structure” is misleading and Hiebert makes it clear that the causality goes both ways (p 32). In chapter four (p 89ff) it also becomes clear that “worldview” is not a method in itself but that other methods are needed and that any result will only lead to an approximation of a culture (p 90).

Interestingly, Hiebert contradicts the often heard claim that there are several worldviews in the Bible. Despite the diversity of contexts in the Bible, Hiebert points out the underlying unity of the biblical story (p 265) and suggests a tentative list of underlying worldview themes that are cognitive, affective, evaluative, and diachronic. His argument is that Abraham’s understanding was only a starting point of biblical revelation and others built on it until it came to its climax in Christ and to understand biblical worldview, we need to start with him.

I found this book to be a great treatment of a missiological theme from an anthropological view point, including and integrating many topics Hiebert has written about over the years. It therefore gives an excellent overview over many anthropological concepts related to worldview. It does seem to respond to some major critics of the worldview concept. Hiebert proves again to have excellent insights into the dynamics of conversion and spiritual transformation and what we need to understand about other people’s maps of reality if we want to see their lives transformed through the gospel.

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