Supplementary Reading Report on
Anthropological Insights for Missionaries,
Paul G. Hiebert
Matthew Ropp
MB520 (IDL), Anthropology
Supplementary Reading Report
Charles H. Kraft, Spring 1998
Fuller Theological Seminary, School of World Mission

    This report focuses on the main differences between Anthropological Insights for Missionaries, by Paul Hiebert and the main text for this course, Anthropology for Christian Witness, by Charles Kraft.

General Structure

    Although both texts develop and focus on concepts of incarnational mission and have quite similar titles, the general structures and intents of Anthropological Insights for Missionaries and Anthropology for Christian Witness are quite different. While Kraft's text is intended as a comprehensive introduction to cultural anthropology from a Christian perspective, Hiebert's text is focused more specifically on certain insights for missionaries and does not cover much of the anthropological material that is included in Kraft. Hiebert does, however, include some valuable sections in a book more specifically focused towards missionaries that Kraft does not have. Basically we have one text (Hiebert) focusing on mission work and applying some anthropological insight to that work and another text (Kraft) focusing on anthropology and then applying it to cross-cultural mission. Both approaches are certainly valid. Reflecting their own missionary experiences, Hiebert's examples are drawn primarily from India and Kraft's from Nigeria, although both draw widely from other sources as well.

    Topics covered in Kraft, but either not mentioned at all or mentioned with only very little detail in Hiebert include: race, technology, economic systems, religious systems, life cycle, grouping, social control, various aspects of change, ethics of change, worldview change dynamics, and research methods. Rather than devoting whole chapters to these subjects, they are usually mentioned in a paragraph or two in another context. Kraft gives helpful and much more detailed discussion of all of these aspects of culture. Such topics as education, family, and status and role (covered comprehensively in Kraft's treatment) are discussed in Hiebert but primarily in the context of a missionary's life and mission rather than on broader anthropological ground.

    Valuable material in Hiebert that Kraft does not have or discuss in detail include sections on: cycles, symptoms, and dynamics of adapting to culture shock; communication theory1; the bicultural community; and the missionary in relation to various groups: wife and children, missionary colleagues, national Christians, sending churches, mission board, and national non-Christians. Hiebert also draws together a more comprehensive discussion of contextualization of both cultural forms and local theologies, as well as working towards a transcultural theology for the worldwide church. He likewise, focuses on the cultural assumptions of North American missionaries in one chapter. Kraft also covers both of these topics (contextualization and missionary cultural assumptions), but they are, in general, scattered throughout his book. 

Definition of Culture

    Primary to the study of anthropology is the concept of culture. Here I compare the definitions of culture given by the two authors. Hiebert defines culture as "the more or less integrated system of ideas, feelings, and values and their associated patterns of behavior and products shared by a group of people who organize and regulate what they think, feel, and do. (30)" The "ideas, feelings, and values" in this definition refer to three dimensions of culture: cognitive, affective, and evaluative. Hiebert sees culture as manifested in behaviors and also in products. Kraft defines culture as "a society's complex, integrated coping mechanism, consisting of learned, patterned concepts and behavior, plus their underlying perspectives (worldview) and resulting artifacts (material culture). (38)" Note that while Kraft's definition speaks specifically of only material products, he later elaborates to include nonmaterial products such as customs and rituals.

    What are the differences in these two definitions? I would contend that Hiebert and Kraft understand culture in basically the same ways, although what they stress in their definitions may be significant. Here are the two definitions broken into more or less into parallel concepts:

integrated system which organizes and regulates  complex, integrated coping mechanism
ideas, feelings, and values learned, patterned concepts; underlying perspectives (worldview) 
patterns of behavior learned, patterned behavior 
products resulting artifacts 
shared by a group society's 
organizes and regulates thinking, feeling, and doing  learned, patterned concepts and behavior

One thing explicit in Kraft's definition and not in Hiebert's is that culture is learned. Another distinction may be made in that in Hiebert's definition, culture appears to be active - a system which organizes and regulates. For Kraft, however, culture never does anything. It is a coping mechanism which is used by the members of the society which has that culture.


    How about the two text's definitions of worldview ("world view" in Hiebert)? Both authors would define worldview most simply as "basic assumptions." Kraft gives a more detailed definition: "the culturally structured assumptions, values, and commitments/allegiances underlying a people's perception of reality and their responses to those perceptions. (52)" Hiebert does not explicitly define worldview, but to summarize him, he might say something like: "the cognitive, affective, and evaluative assumptions about reality which provide people with a way of looking at the world that makes sense out of it, that gives them a feeling of being at home, and that reassures them that they are right. (47)" Again Kraft's definition is static and used by people, while for Hiebert worldview is more active. (Perhaps Hiebert does not really see worldview as "doing" anything, but is simply not as careful as Kraft to avoid this connotation in his language.)

    The two author's main differences on worldview can more easily be seen by comparing the worldview functions they give. As is seen by the following table, Kraft goes into much more detail than Hiebert. 

provides us with cognitive foundations patterning the way we use our wills
gives us emotional security patterning the use of emotions 
validates our deepest cultural norms patterning logic and reason 
integrates our culture affect and pattern motivation 
monitors culture change pattern predispositions 
patterns of explaining
patterns of pledging allegiance 
patterns of relating
patterns of adapting
patterns of regulating
patterns for getting psychological reinforcement 
patterns for integrating and attaining consistency in life and the way it is structured. 

Form and Meaning

    Anyone who has studied anthropology at Fuller's School of World Mission will probably know the great difference in opinion between Kraft and Hiebert on the subject of form and meaning. Kraft repeatedly insists that meanings are never in forms, but that meanings exist in people and are assigned by them to particular forms. Hiebert says that this is sometimes the case, but says that the symbolic link between form and meaning is complex and varied - many must be understood within their cultural and historical contexts. He writes: "the link between form and meaning in some symbols is so close that the two cannot be differentiated." This is seen as especially true for historical symbols. For example, Mecca has a strong religious meaning for Muslims. I must agree with Kraft here. The meaning can still be separated from the form. A non-Muslim will assign to Mecca a completely different meaning. Maybe for a certain people, there can be no separation of form and meaning, because the meaning is so deeply ingrained, but the meaning is not ingrained in the form itself, but in the people's mind in relation to that form. A person from a different cultural background can and probably will assign a different meaning to that form.

    Hiebert also does not make a clear distinction (at least to my satisfaction) between symbols and forms. He writes that "symbols link meanings, feelings, and values to forms" but then he seems to go on and equate symbols with forms. I am left completely unsure of the difference. Are all symbols a form of some kind?

Other Differences


1 Kraft, however, has separate complete publications on this topic and is more of an expert in this area than Hiebert.  I highly recommend his excellent Communication Theory for Christian Witness.


Hiebert, Paul G.
  1985    Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker.

Kraft, Charles H.
  1996    Anthropology for Christian Witness. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis.
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