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Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change

ISBN: 9781441251633



What does conversion to Christ entail? A change in behavior? A change in beliefs? These were the leading indicators for missionaries in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, respectively, that conversion had occurred. But each of these on its own is insufficient for a gospel understanding of conversion. And even when both are in evidence, it is possible that the result is merely syncretistic Christo-paganism. Renowned missions anthropologist Paul Hiebert argues that for biblical mission in the twenty-first century, we must add a third element: a change in worldview, which underlies both behavior and belief.

This major book, named one of the fifteen outstanding books of 2008 for missions studies by the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, represents the capstone of a distinguished career. Hiebert offers a comprehensive study of worldview and its implications from an anthropological perspective. After reviewing the philosophical foundations of the concept, he describes characteristics of worldviews and various methods for analyzing them. He then provides a detailed analysis of several worldviews that missionaries must engage today, from the worldview of small-scale societies, to peasant worldviews, to modernity, postmodernity, post-postmodernity, and the emerging glocal context of twenty-first century ministry. Hiebert addresses the impact of each on Christianity and mission and then outlines a biblical worldview for comparison. Finally, he argues for gospel ministry that seeks to transform the worldviews of its recipients and offers suggestions for how to do so.

Resource Experts
  • Complete introduction to worldview
  • Evaluates modern and postmodern conceptions of worldview
  • Appendices on worldview analysis
  • Detailed index
  • All Scripture references linked to the Bibles in your library

Top Highlights

“As a preliminary definition, let us define ‘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.’” (Pages 25–26)

“By ‘culture’ they meant the patterns of learned beliefs and behavior that order human activities.” (Page 16)

“Worldviews serve a number of important cultural and social functions. First, as Brian Walsh notes (2006, 244–45), worldviews are our plausibility structures that provide answers to our ultimate questions: Where are we (what is the nature of the world)? Who are we (what does it mean to be human)? What’s wrong (how do we account for evil and the brokenness of life)? What is the remedy (what is the path from brokenness and insecurity to a life that is whole and secure)? They do so by providing us with mental models of deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or pictures and images that shape how we understand the world and how we take action.” (Page 29)

“Fifth, as Charles Kraft observes, our worldview monitors culture change” (Page 29)

“His model enables us to the see the effects of sin and evil on worldviews. It recognizes that conflicts and power struggles are endemic to all societies, and that different segments of a society seek to oppress the others for their own advantage. It makes us aware, too, that worldviews are often ideologies that those in power use to keep others in subjection. Worldviews both enable us to see reality and blind us from seeing it fully.” (Page 23)

This book is vintage Hiebert, pulling together in a single volume his seminal thinking on the cultural dynamics of Christian conversion. Drawing on a lifetime of learning, thinking, and writing on the subject, this work augurs to be the standard text on worldview for years to come.

—Jonathan J. Bonk, editor, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

Everyone interested in communicating the gospel among today's multiplicity of cultures will want to listen to what Paul Hiebert says in this book.

—Charles Van Engen, Fuller Theological Seminary

In this remarkable study, one of the leading missionary anthropologists of the past half century provides the most comprehensive and thorough treatment currently available of worldview and its relation to Christian faith. The culmination of a lifetime of intercultural ministry and reflection, Transforming Worldviews is a magisterial work that will shape discussions in missiology and theology for years to come. Indispensable for anyone interested in issues of faith and culture.

—Harold Netland, professor of philosophy of religion and intercultural studies, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

For the first time, all of [Hiebert’s] major missiological insights—from set theory in church growth to the flaw of the excluded middle to critical contextualization—are integrated into a single volume. Transforming Worldviews, in which Hiebert wrestles with one of the most difficult concepts for us to understand and explain, is a fitting exclamation point to a career in which some of the most important evangelical missiological thinking of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries was done.

—A. Scott Moreau, professor of intercultural studies, Wheaton College; editor, Evangelical Missions Quarterly

In Transforming Worldviews, Hiebert does not disappoint. Once again he surveys the landscape majestically, explains clearly, and proposes wisely and faithfully.

—Terry C. Muck, professor of world religion and mission, Asbury Theological Seminary

The late Paul Hiebert's work on worldviews is mission anthropology at its best. This book is his final testimony to the centrality of worldview transformation at the heart of biblical conversion. It is an instant classic—clear, readable, useful, and compelling.

—Dana L. Robert, Truman Collins Professor of World Christianity and History of Christian Mission, Boston University School of Theology

Transforming Worldviews is, in many respects, the capstone of Paul Hiebert's work. This book provides valuable insights to all people who engage in God's mission in the varied contexts of the world in this century. It is Hiebert at his best. A superb contribution to missiology. A lasting legacy!

—Tite Tienou, dean and professor of theology of mission, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

This is a penetrating and masterful study. Hiebert's in-depth and methodical evaluation of major Western and non-Western worldviews and their profound implications for the church and its mission is invaluable and timely. His pivotal argument that there is a biblical worldview to which each community of faith must conform will spark debate, but the material is deftly handled and leaves a rich deposit.

Christianity Today

[A] remarkable book and [an] equally remarkable author. Anyone who knew [Paul Hiebert] and his work well are overjoyed to have his marvelous insights, scholarship, and creativity brought together in this single volume. . . . The content of the book flows like a great river. . . . The series of chapters on . . . worldviews and their interaction is alone worth the price of the book. . . . A special bonus interspersed throughout the book and in three appendices is the presence of numerous figures and comparative lists. These are almost always very helpful ways to envision the points he is making.

—Gary Corwin, Evangelical Missions Quarterly

  • Title: Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change
  • Author: Paul G. Hiebert
  • Publisher: Baker Academic
  • Publication Date: 2008
  • Pages: 368

Paul G. Hiebert (1932–2007) was distinguished professor of mission and anthropology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and previously taught at Fuller Theological Seminary. He also served as a pastor and missionary to India. He received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and was the author or coauthor of numerous articles and books in the fields of anthropology and missions.


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  1. David Leslie Bond