In 1982 Paul G. Hiebert wrote an article in Missiology entitled “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle.”1It is reprinted in Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues, 1994, pp 189-201. and also available at Essentially, the article explains why many western missionaries may be perplexed by spiritual phenomena in non-Western cultures. The article has influenced many missionaries and missiologists.

What is the Flaw of the Excluded Middle?

As a missionary in India, Hiebert observed spiritual activity that his functional worldview could not analyze. Indian villagers regularly consulted magicians or saints to help them when they were sick, infertile, or experiencing some misfortune. These spiritual practitioners used magical charms, chants, or amulets to address these problems. However, those who became followers of Jesus now took these problems to the missionaries. But missionaries often did not know how to deal with questions about curses, black magic, or witchcraft.