Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 1 (August 2010)

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Glenn Rogers. The Role of Worldview in Missions and Multiethnic Ministry. Bedford, TX: Mission and Ministry Resources, 2002. 216 pp. $14.95.

Anthropology has become the science of choice for missionaries as they have come to understand more and more the impact of worldview and culture on their work. In this book, Glenn Rogers seeks to identify the importance of understanding worldview in order to connect more effectively with those to whom we take the gospel. He approaches his task by beginning at the most fundamental level, by defining worldview anthropologically rather than cosmologically, as the term has come to be popularly used. A key element is his discussion of “REALITY” versus “reality” (36-39). He maintains that there are essentially two realities: “God’s true REALITY and our culturally perceived and interpreted reality” (37; italics original). Recognizing that what we see as reality is only part of the absolute reality experienced by God should lead us to “critical realism,” or an understanding that “different people interpret their world (their reality) differently (39). By Rogers’s definition, then, worldview is “the unconscious, deep-level assumptions people have about reality as they perceive it; assumptions about how the world works and how to relate to and interact with all the things, events and people encountered in life” (27). Later he suggests that “another way to think about worldview is as a filter though which portions of the REALITY that we experience will pass” (55). Our worldview, thus conceived, is much smaller than God’s, of course. However, our worldview is still the biggest and most foundational component of our awareness, including everything in our field of experience (e.g., how we eat and sleep, how we perceive time and space, etc.). Thus, Rogers rejects references to a “biblical worldview” or a “Christian worldview,” since those terms suggest a narrower set of concerns than the anthropological definition of worldview demands. He refers instead to a “contextualized Christian orientation” (62-63), which may be a subset of (or a component of) a particular person’s worldview.

Having laid that foundation, Rogers goes on to discuss theories of cross-cultural communication, conflict resolution and counseling, hermeneutics, evangelism, and multiethnic ministry; each time emphasizing the significance of worldview in these areas. In each of these chapters, he first lays a theoretical and historical foundation by defining terms and briefly describing the development of thought in that component of the missiological task. He provides vignettes and short case-studies to illustrate his points and ends each chapter with a brief summary to clarify the essential elements of the discussion. He closes the book with three appendices: “Discovering Worldview,” “The Role and Responsibility of the Receptor in the Communication Process as it Relates to Interpreting the Scriptures,” and “Ministry to People with a Postmodern Orientation in Their Worldview.”

Rogers’s book evidences significant thought and scholarship. The overall organization of the book shows a logical progression from the early chapters on worldview and culture through the application chapters on communication, counseling, ethnohermeneutics, and evangelism. He consistently supports his thesis throughout the book and clearly relates each discussion to worldview. The illustrations from his own work in Nigeria and from the experiences of others help flesh out his theory and stimulate application to real situations. The introductions and conclusions of each chapter are well-written and provide a clear sense of what the author intends to do and what he wants the reader to remember. Even the appendices are helpful, particularly Appendix C, which provides a thumbnail sketch of the development and fundamental tenets of postmodernism, along with a very brief (but quite insightful) snapshot of what ministry to postmoderns might look like.

Criticisms of the book are limited. In terms of content, one might wish for more vignettes or case studies which illustrate concrete positive examples of ministry based on awareness of worldview difference. The principles are there, but more specific ministry applications would make the book even more helpful. Further, there are places where Rogers seems to momentarily abandon his solid theoretical and practical foundation. For example, he claims on page 142 that “God has not provided believers with hermeneutical instructions” (some might question if that is entirely correct), but that “missionaries and multiethnic ministers . . . must rely on the Holy Spirit to teach them, making it clear what God would have them do regarding the customs or practices under consideration” (152). He offers no information on how one can be “clear” about what God wants one to do when the Holy Spirit “enlightens.” Further, the author has spent a significant amount of time in the book focusing on how the missionary or multiethnic minister can determine the best course of action based on research and understanding of another’s worldview, and now it appears that he is saying that when it is time to apply the principles outlined in the book, the Holy Spirit will prescribe a divine solution that trumps human understanding.

On a more technical level, while repetition of the major ideas in the summaries of each chapter are helpful, there is too much repetition throughout the body of the chapters themselves, much of which is unnecessary and some of which actually interrupts the flow of paragraphs. Further, there are a number of typographical and grammatical errors in the text—these do not befit a book which is as well-conceived and researched as this one.

Glenn Rogers has written a helpful work on worldview and ministry. He describes his objective in his introduction as “understanding what worldview is and how to work with people who have worldviews different from our own” (13). He has certainly met this objective. The book provides thoughtful and challenging insight into the complex interaction that is intercultural evangelism. It would be a useful tool in both academic and practical settings to stimulate discussion on ideology and praxis in missions and church planting, both domestic and foreign.

Mark A. Blackwelder

Director of Graduate Studies in Bible

Associate Professor of Bible and Missions

Freed-Hardeman University

Henderson, Tennessee, USA