World or Worldview–Are we just parsing words?

This is a continuation of my previous post.

According to Charles Kraft, one of the reasons why the discipline of anthropology is important for the missiological task is because “Anthropology has developed the concept of worldview.”[1] Kraft defines worldview as the “structuring of the basic assumptions, values, and allegiances in terms of which people interpret and behave.”[2] The concept of worldview is also valuable to the theological discipline. While each anthropologist provides a definition of worldview including his own nuances and idiosyncrasies,[3] Paul Hiebert defines worldview “as the fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.”[4] The importance of this understanding of worldview for the task of theology cannot be overstated because, in one sense, all theology is contextual.[5] In other words, theology is interpreted and applied through worldview grids. Everyone, each a theologian, brings to the table cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions that each influence the way they interpret and apply theology. Even though a worldview is a comprehensive framework for all that a culture thinks, feels and chooses, worldviews still produce incomplete views of reality, and they are played out differently by individual members of their own culture; furthermore, they support complex structures that as easily serve the powerful as oppress the weak; also, they are influenced by and yet influence language, customs, social systems, religions, governments, etc.[6] As such, contextual theologizing is a task beset with many worldview obstacles.

In contrast with a worldview, which is a cultural framework internal to a society and its individual members, a “world” is an external projection of a text-created reality. Readers are caught up in these worlds as “they often suspend their own belief-systems or even their customary moral defenses for the sake of being carried along by the flow of the story.”[7] Anthony Thiselton lists four functions of narrative worlds: reversing hostile expectations of the reader, identifying key characters or personal identities in the story, stimulating the imagination and exploration of possible worlds, and allowing illocutionary speech-acts to operate.[8] These worlds “enthrall [sic]” readers by “engaging them on a ‘deeper-than-intellectual level’” in order to “transform” them.[9] A “world” is a literary category describing the function of narratives upon readers; anthropologically, a narrative world, or story world, operates like a myth. A myth, to be distinguished from the concept of falsehood, is a “story…[that] treats of ultimate questions—of a people’s view of reality, of the meaning of life, of the origins of the universe and humankind, of ancestors, of ancestral heroes and models, of the unknowable future.”[10] At first glance, a myth appears to be culture bound; however, a myth, though certainly auditable by a culture, supports, like a backbone, a worldview by providing its “root metaphors,”[11] among other things. Moreover, myths help “humans to transcend their humanness.”[12] A world-as-myth enables the participant to share in something divine. The biblical world enables the reader to participate in the world as God has defined it, from beginning to end.

What is the significance of the difference between a worldview and a world? How do they relate to one another?

More importantly, what is the difference between a biblical worldview and the biblical world?

What, then, is the significance of a “world” for theologizing?

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[1] Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 11.

[2] Ibid. See also Kraft’s five functions of worldview: explanation, evaluation, psychological reinforcement, integration, and adaptation. Kraft, Christianity in Culture: A Study in Dynamic Biblical Theologizing in Cross-Cultural Perspective (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1979), 54–7.

[3] While Kraft’s definition is similar, there are several reasons for choosing Hiebert’s definition over Kraft’s. The most obvious reason is because of the amount of space dedicated to Hiebert in this paper. However important the necessity of listing Hiebert’s definition may be for the argument in this section, necessity alone does not provide sufficient warrant for accepting his definition as the operating definition of worldview. Another reason to accept Hiebert’s definition is that he has taken conscious effort to avoid labeling worldview primarily as a cognitive function of culture. Hiebert, unlike many, is acutely aware of the influence of the enlightenment upon the western “worldview”, to use the term, as demonstrated in his other writings, specifically in Hiebert, Implications of Epistemological Shifts.  Hiebert’s status as an evangelical anthropological and missiological authority notwithstanding, a third reason to base this discussion on Hiebert’s definition is that another major missionary anthropology depends on Hiebert’s three-fold distinction of worldview. Louis Luzbetak, in the second edition of what has been considered a standard textbook on missionary anthropology, uses Hiebert’s three-fold distinction as the foundation of his entire discussion on worldview. Louis J. Luzbetak, The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missionary Anthropology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988), 253–5. These reasons give sufficient warrant for operating from Hiebert’s definition.

[4] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 15. Noteworthy, in his earlier text on cultural anthropology, Hiebert does not give a clear definition of worldview. In fact, he uses the complex word “world view,” rather than the compounded “worldview”. Hiebert’s clearest definition of “world view” is that it is composed of “certain basic assumptions about the natures of reality and morality…that orders people’s experiences and gives meaning to their lives.” Hiebert, Cultural Anthropology, 2d edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1983), 369. Noting the development from his earlier works to his most recent reveals that the concept of worldview has undergone most of its development within the past twenty-five years. In other words, it is not surprising that theology, among many things, has been in the process of being rethought in terms of worldview for the past several decades. This trend is likely to continue as worldviews, and the process through which they change, are understood increasingly better.

[5] This is not to say that there are only theologies and therefore no Theology. Rather, a mind-independent reality exists and  a true, though partial, knowledge of this reality is possible. Therefore, truth exists. Moreover, God created this real world via a creative speech-act; He knows his world completely and truly. Therefore, a singular true Theology exists, albeit only fully realized by God himself. Furthermore, God revealed his real world to humanity in two ways, via human sensory perception, through the necessary cognitive faculties and by means of the divine inspiration of human texts, in a true biblical world. The biblical world is a true and accurate expression of this Theology in human language and thought patterns. Therefore, this expression, though not equally known by finite and fallen creatures, is a true theology, dependent on the perfect and active knowledge of God.

[6] Even so, while they include positive elements, many things laudatory and commendable, worldviews are man-made cultural systems pervasively effected by Fall, and are in many ways actively rebelling against the Creator God.

[7] Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizons in Hermeneutics: The Theory and Practice of Transforming Biblical Reading (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 566.

[8] Ibid., 567.

[9] Ibid., 567–8. The above phrases in quotations are word for word paraphrases.

[10] Luzbetak, Church and Cultures, 267. See his excellent section on myth and ritual, especially the recommended readings, 266–76.

[11] Ibid., 269.

[12] Ibid., 274.


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