Worldview in the Missiological Language Game

A Missional Method for Constructive Theology (Part 8)

If anything, my survey of the contours of worldview has only established the dizzying ubiquity and ambiguity of the term. A clarified conceptualization remains to be seen, though perhaps what should be clarified is more evident. Moreover, it is evident that what should be clarified depends on the context of the concept’s use. Therefore, I turn to missiology in order to mark the bounds of a theological language game in which missional theology should further develop, according to its own grammar, a conception of worldview that can serve as a theoretical basis for a constructive theological method. Evangelical missiologists Paul Hiebert and Charles Kraft developed missiological models of worldview over the course of their careers, culminating in two important volumes.[1. Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008); Charles H. Kraft, Worldview for Christian Witness (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008).] Their understandings have deep affinities, but they are not identical.[2. See Yoshiyuki Billy Nishioka, “Worldview Methodology in Mission Theology: A Comparison between Kraft’s and Hiebert’s Approaches,” Missiology: An International Review 26, no. 4 (October 1998): 457–76; Kraft, 116–24. Neither of these accounts, however, represent the full disclosure of Hiebert’s thinking in his posthumous 2008 volume.] My purpose here is not to sort out the differences or offer a synthetic account but to suggest that their heuristic models of worldview already establish the bounds of the missiological language game for the purpose of further developing worldview methodologically for missional theology. I propose there are four relevant dimensions of the missiological conception of worldview.

(1) Worldview analysis serves God’s mission. It is participatory in nature, developed only by participation with others’ worldviews and meant to facilitate understanding for a dialogical participant in others’ lives. Unlike worldview in ostensibly secular anthropology, the missiological conception of worldview is not designed for purely descriptive purposes but overtly raises the question of how worldviews change (mutually), in order to participate more wisely in God’s transforming work in the world. (2) A worldview is a human, socio-cultural phenomenon. Because it is a feature of humanity, a person may not choose not to have a worldview. The anthropological elaboration of the concept has philosophical roots but cannot proceed on any basis except rigorous ethnography. As such, it is a pragmatic theory concerned with the way people actually make meaning in cultural contexts. (3) Worldviews are pretheoretical, implicit, and explicable. Cultures have a component that is not what people think but what people think with. As the deep structure of culture, this pretheoretical component is largely tacit. This does not mean simply that people tend to live the unexamined life but that the very act of examining life depends on a mostly implicit worldview. Worldview is by definition presuppositional and predispositional, therefore what a person consciously “believes” and “values” is generally a product, not a statement, of worldview. Yet, worldview can be made explicit. This is the most problematic aspect of the concept, because a worldview can only be conceived and articulated on the basis of a worldview, whether reflexively or dialogically. Moreover, explicated worldview tends to take the propositional form of a “belief” or “core value,” but, as Wittgenstein has taught us, this is deceptive. (4) Worldviews are commensurable. Translatability is the fundamental assumption of the missiological conception of worldview, but this does not gloss radical difference. The rigor of worldview analysis is motivated by the experience of radical difference and misunderstanding. Yet, some form of critical realism, or perhaps ontological monism, makes a sort of triangulation between God, world, and worldviews a working theoretical assumption.

In summary, vulnerable participation in mutual transformation, rigorous ethnographic observation, dialogical explication of tacit cultural phenomena, and a functional critical realism in the midst of deep difference designate the contours of a missiological theory of worldview. Of course, these four dimensions only begin to suggest how worldview analysis might become a methodological crux of missional theology. There is need yet to develop a functional model of worldview for missional theology, but that is an undertaking for another time. The task at hand is to argue for the methodological value of the missiological concept per se.


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