by Charles H. Kraft
William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth St., Pasadena, CA 91104, 2008, 547 pages, $29.99.
—Reviewed by Brian M. Howell, associate professor of anthropology, Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois.
Few scholars of missionary method and theory have made more impact than Charles Kraft. Along with Paul Hiebert and Donald McGavran, Kraft’s career has practically defined the missiological lexicon. His magnum opus, Christianity in Culture, applied linguistic theory to the communication of the gospel in a way that made the world safe for ethno-theology and contextualization. Kraft’s latest book, Worldview for Christian Witness, continues his work of encouraging missionaries to take seriously the cultural embeddedness of the gospel. Emphasizing the concept of worldview as the key organizing idea for mission work, Kraft makes his case that by attending to the “deep levels” of culture (i.e., worldview), missionaries and other Christians will be able to understand and, ultimately, inspire change.
The book, at a hefty 547 pages including appendices, is laid out in three parts. Part I reviews some of the literature discussing the worldview concept in philosophy and theology, as well as classic anthropological support for the idea. Part II, “Characteristics of Worldviews,” presents eight chapters detailing Kraft’s unique terminology for how to understand worldviews. In Part III, Kraft gives practical advice for addressing worldview change. The overall message of the book is vital for effective missionary work: culture matters! The concept of worldview provides one way for those coming to this idea for the first time a way into the complex conversation of gospel and culture. However, for anyone who wants to see how anthropology can apply to missiology, this book does little to convey contemporary anthropological theory as it relates to culture change or Christian conversion. Although the worldview concept has become mainstream in missiological circles, it is virtually defunct in use in contemporary anthropology. Kraft uses Michael Kearney’s 1984 book on worldview as the anthropological example; however, there is no anthropological reference more recent than that. Classic anthropology can still speak to us today, but there is a great deal more current theory that is helpful for understanding culture change.
Kraft is thorough in his work. In his hands, the worldview concept does not completely fail to illuminate various aspects of culture; however, the numerous typologies of particular “worldview configurations,” accompanied by many graphs, charts, arrows, and diagrams, suggest more discrete boundaries for culture than contemporary anthropological theory would support. In our globalized world concepts of hybridity, global ethnoscapes, and practice theory-based approaches to agency yield more nuanced understandings of cultural change.
For missionary practitioners there is much here to be commended. As a former missionary, Kraft makes some helpful applications. Those who have read his other works, however, will not find much new here. Those who have not read Kraft at all surely should. I recommend those coming to him for the first time would do well to start with his classic Christianity in Culture or his Culture, Communication and Christianity.
Check these titles:
Hiebert, Paul G. 1999. Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts. Harrisburg, Pa.: Continuum.
Kraft, Charles. 1979. Christianity in Culture. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
___________. 2001. Culture, Communication and Christianity. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.
Walls, Andrew. 1997. The Missionary Movement in Christian History: Studies in the Transmission of Faith. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.
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