May 28, 2024

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Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change is variously described as “the capstone of Paul Hiebert’s work”, “Hiebert at his best!”, and “mission anthropology at its best.” (from the back cover). A. Scott Moreau writes, “For the first time, all of his 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.” (back cover).

Hiebert’s central focus is that the transformation of worldviews must accompany change in behavior and beliefs. Without the transformation of worldviews, change in belief and behavior remain on the surface level. He writes:






Conversion to Christ must include all three levels: behavior, beliefs, and the worldview that underlies these. Christians should live differently because they are Christians. However, if their behavior is based primarily on tradition rather than Christian beliefs, it becomes pagan ritual. Conversion must involve a transformation of beliefs,  but if it is a change only of beliefs and not of behavior, it is false faith (James 2). Conversion may include a change in beliefs and behavior, but if the worldview is not transformed, in the long run the gospel is subverted and the result is a syncretistic Christo-paganism, which has the form of Christianity but not its essence. Christianity becomes a new magic and a new, subtler form of idolatry. If behavioral change was the focus of the mission movement in the nineteenth century, and changed beliefs its focus in the twentieth century, then transforming worldviews must be its central task in the twenty-first century. – Transforming Worldviews, p. 11, 12.

In Transforming Worldviews, Hiebert provides us with a model for this central task. Chapter 1 explores the concept of worldview in anthropological terms. He defines worldview 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.” It encompasses people’s images or maps of the reality of all things that they use for living their lives. It is the cosmos thought to be true, desirable, and moral by a community of people. – p. 25, 26.

Chapter 2 fleshes out Hiebert’s definition of worldview explaining the “Characteristics of Worldviews.” One missiological implication he points out in this chapter is:

Christians must take the worldviews of other people seriously, not because they agree with them, but because they want to understand the people they serve in order to effectively share with them the good news of the gospel. – p. 69.

It is not the gospel that is transformed to fit the worldview, but the worldview is transformed by the gospel.

In chapter 3, “Worldviews in Human Contexts,” Hiebert shows how worldviews relate to culture. Chapter 4 provides “Models for Analyzing Worldview.” Chapters 5-9 describe different kinds of worldviews encountered today. They are in order:

  • Worldviews of Small-Scale Oral Societies
  • Peasant Worldviews
  • The Modern Worldview
  • The Worldviews of Late Modernity or Postmodernity
  • The Post-Postmodern or Glocal Worldview.

These chapters present broad descriptions of worldviews in each of these contexts. There are, for sure, variations in every particular setting.

In chapter 10, Hiebert sketches a framework “Toward a Biblical Worldview.” In defending the existence of a biblical worldview, he writes:

To say that there is no biblical worldview is to deny that there is an underlying unity to the biblical story, to say that the God of Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus are different gods, that the New Testament is discontinuous with the Old, and that Scripture is simply the record of individuals and ever-shifting beliefs shaped by history and sociocultural contexts. It is to say that there is no single story running from creation to Christ’s return, no underlying unity and dignity of humanity, and no universal morals. – p. 265, 266.

In the balance of chapter 10, the author examines cognitive, affective, evaluative, and diachronic themes in the biblical worldview.

The book culminates in the final chapter, “Transforming Worldviews.” In describing the transformation process, Hiebert writes:

We need to return to a biblical view of transformation, which is both a point and a process; this transformation has simple beginnings (a person can turn wherever he or she is) but radical, lifelong consequences. It is not simple mental assent to a set of metaphysical beliefs, nor is it solely a positive feeling toward God. Rather it involves entering a life of discipleship and obedience in every area of our being and throughout the whole story of our lives. – p. 310.

We turn to Christ, and we renew our commitment to follow him in every decision we make in our lives. Only when conversion becomes an ongoing process in our lives will there be lasting transformation. – p. 332.

Hiebert points out the value of exposure to other worldviews in this process of transformation:

In conversion and discipling at the worldview level in mission settings, we should examine not only the worldviews of the new converts but also of ourselves as missionaries, for in the past we have often been shaped more by modernity than by the gospel. In a sense, missionaries experience a double conversion – we learn to see the world through the eyes of others, and we learn to see the way in which we have learned to see reality. Both worldviews are brought under the scrutiny of the gospel, and both must be transformed by it. – p. 321.

Hiebert’s ‘capstone’ book, Transforming Worldviews, is a must-read in my opinion. In our ongoing attempts at contextualization, Hiebert helps us to understand that we don’t modify the gospel to fit our worldview or the convert’s worldview. This book provides a guide for analysing worldview for the purpose of disciple-making, a process in which the worldviews of both the disciple and the disciple-maker are transformed by the biblical worldview.


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