Photograph by Mohamed Amin in Portraits of Africa:
The Peoples of Kenya
by Peter Moll (London:  Harvill Press, 1983)

Chapter 4
Change in Animistic Societies

Topics in Chapter

Illustrations of Conversion
Change through Revitalization Movements
Change through Reinterpretation of Data and Establishing New Paradigms
Change through Power Encounter

Illustrations of Conversion

A vibrant, thirty-year-old Kenyan lady, a faithful Christian, responded to the gospel invitation by walking to the front of the meeting with a girl at her side. The Christian lady explained her prayer request:

Today I do not respond out of my own need for forgiveness and cleansing but rather the need of this young lady. Remember how I once was possessed by ancestral spirits. At that time I was just as this young lady--bothered, frightened, and bewildered. After hearing of the greatness and majesty of God and his sovereignty over the world, I responded to him in faith, and you prayed for me. Because of those prayers, I have been delivered. After baptism I continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I praise Jehovah who is the source of my salvation. This young lady is now possessed by ancestral spirits just as I was. I have taught her of the greatness and majesty of God just as you have taught me. She believes in Christ and has repented of her sins and desires to come under the sovereignty of God. She desires your prayers and desires to fully come to Christ in baptism.

The young lady was then asked to confess her belief in Jesus as God's Son and her Lord and was exhorted to give total allegiance to Creator God. After her confession a number of Christian leaders gathered around her and prayed to God that she might be delivered. Later that day, after still more exhortations, she was taken to the river and united with Christ through baptism.

A non-Christian family living in the Kabtele village of the Kipsigis tribe of Kenya returned home to find nettles from a thorn tree sprinkled across the doorway of their home. They believed these thorns signified that a curse had been put on their house. If they entered it or tried to remove the thorns, they would die. They asked leaders from a denominational church to help, but these men referred them to the police, saying, "We do not know how to deal with this."

Soon Christians in the adjoining village of Arokiet heard of the family's predicament. With faith in a powerful God who breaks down every false idol, they came to the non-Christian's house. They sang and prayed before the house. Then, with belief in the protecting power of Creator God, they brushed the thorn nettles away and entered the house. This family, freed from fear of the curse, became the first members of the church in this village. Within three years this church grew to more than seventy and the church at Arokiet to more than 170.

In a similar way, the conversion of the Thessalonians is a "model" not only to "all believers in Macedonia and Achaia" (1 Thess. 1:7) but also to contemporary Christians coming to Christ out of animistic backgrounds. These early Christians made a definite break with their animistic traditions. They "turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven" (1 Thess. 1:7, 9). Such a definite break from traditional power sources is characteristic of change as animists come to Christ.

How does such change to Christ take place in animistic societies? In this chapter three perspectives toward change from the fields of anthropology, history of science, and missiology are given. Change is understood as a process occurring during revitalization movements (the view of the anthropologist Anthony Wallace), when new worldview paradigms displace old paradigms (the perspective of the science historian Thomas Kuhn), and through power encounter (the viewpoint of missiologist Alan Tippett). Change from Animism to Christianity will be discussed under each of these models.

Change through Revitalization Movements:
The Perspective of Anthony F. C. Wallace

The Concept of Revitalization

Anthony Wallace writes as a religious anthropologist of a functional orientation. This school of anthropology conceives that the role of culture is to meet the physical and psychological needs of society. From his perspective Wallace defines "revitalization movements" as "deliberate, conscious, organized efforts by members of a society to create a more satisfying culture" (1956, 279; 1966, 30). Leaders of societies deliberately and consciously seek some type of revitalization when their basic needs are not being met. A more satisfying culture is created out of this organized effort to revitalize disintegrating culture. These revitalization movements occur under two related conditions (1956, 179).

First, revitalization movements occur during times of stress for individual members of the society. In animistic societies fear of spirits and ancestors or witchcraft and sorcery during times of catastrophe creates fear which is unfathomable to either a Christian or secularist. Stress is especially apparent during times of persistent illness. "Who has caused this sickness?" the animist typically asks. Thus Umbanda spiritists of Brazil commonly say, "Umbanistas come to Umbanda through the door of suffering" (Brown 1979, 280). The animist might seek to defeat the forces of both personal and impersonal spiritual power by coming to Christ. In this way Christian conversion frequently leads to what Wallace calls a revitalization of culture.

Second, revitalization movements occur when there is widespread disillusionment with existing cultural beliefs. Such disillusionment is created when government bulldozers in Melanesia uproot trees that are thought to be taboo or when Christopagan Catholics among the Chontal Indians perform the traditional rituals to protect their animals from illness and death, but the animals die anyway (Turner 1984, 116). In each of these cases, animists seek both a functional power that works and a belief system that explains how to induce the power. When traditional rites appear not to be working, other integrative cultural Gestalts are sought. Cultural innovators then seek ways of reducing stress by developing new models around which to organize cultural patterns.

Wallace researched the Iroquois Indians in developing his revitalization model. Two movements are described in some detail.

The first movement, around 1450, focused on the recluse Hiawatha. While living in the forests because of depression due to the death of his wife and family, he was visited by the god Dekanawidah. Meeting this god face-to-face became for him a "moment of moral regeneration." From that time Hiawatha took upon himself Dekanawidah's mission: to persuade the five tribes of the Iroquois to unite into a confederacy and prohibit blood feuds among themselves. Iroquois culture was revitalized by this prophetic message, which enabled the tribe to develop military and economic power during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (Wallace 1966, 33-34).

The second movement occurred toward the end of the eighteenth century when the Iroquois were living in poverty and humiliation. They were demoralized by whiskey, dispossessed from their traditional lands, and scattered among tiny reservations between rapidly developing white settlements. They were unable to compete with white technology because of illiteracy and lack of training. Were they, as many other aboriginal peoples, to disappear as a distinct cultural group? Would they become a marginal people on the fringes of white society? At this time of cultural demoralization, a past chief named Handsome Lake, who reflected his culture's demoralization, had the first of a number of visions from representatives of Creator God. He was given a glimpse of heaven and hell and told that the Iroquois must become new men or be sent to hell. Handsome Lake began to exhort the Iroquois to stop quarrelling, cease drinking, renounce witchcraft, and follow his new code of conduct Gaiwiio, "good word." He advised rejection of the old maternal lineage responsibilities and encouraged respect for the nuclear family. He challenged the men to work the fields as the white man, a job traditionally assigned to women. He exhorted them to follow advantageous white practices without losing their cultural identity. Handsome Lake's code revitalized the Iroquois. They became sober, diligent farmers. Today his religion continues to be "followed by hundreds of Iroquois on reservations in New York and Canada" (Wallace 1966, 31-33; Ember 1977, 305).

Stages in a Revitalization Movement

Wallace uses his research of the Iroquois to formulate his model of revitalization movements. Despite cultural variations, he perceives that "such movements follow a remarkably uniform program" throughout the world (1966, 158). He sees five stages of a revitalization cycle: the steady state, the period of increased individual stress, the period of cultural distortion, the period of revitalization, and the new steady stage.

During the initial steady stage, the needs of society are generally met so that stress in the system "varies within tolerable limits" (1956, 266). Conceptions of birth, life, and death are comprehensible and believable. The stage is characterized by a "moving equilibrium," with change due to gradual drift rather than deliberate intent by members of the society (1966, 158). Since the society is basically satisfied with the status quo, it tends to be resistant to Christian conversion. During this stage, the Chontal Indian would not question the fact that, if he keeps the rituals, his animals will live. If one animal at a time dies, he would likely attribute it to his neglect in meticulously keeping very complicated rituals.

Tension rises during the period of increased individual stress. Members of society have difficulty coping with their problems. Tension may arise due to population explosion, information explosion, transitions from a face-to-face to an impersonal society, warfare, drought, disease, the encroachment of Westernism, or the death of more than one animal in one's herd. The Chontal Indian would ask, "Why have the rituals not protected my animals?" A Brazilian woman asks, "Why can I not find someone to marry?" and in frustration turns to the spirit medium for guidance (St. Clair 1971, 181). When a culture does not have answers to societal dilemmas, it becomes ripe for change. In order to relieve the tension created by such dilemmas, cultural innovators begin to look for internal cultural solutions. Or an outsider, like a missionary, may suggest new options not previously considered by the culture. At this point anyone considering a new way is regarded as a deviant; his options are revolutionary.

During the period of cultural distortion, new options confront old ways as people seek resolutions to the tensions of society. Society is in a state of flux. Old conceptions are seen as increasingly incomprehensible and are continually called into question. Cultural needs are not being met. Within such a society there is an increasing imbalance and instability. What Wallace calls "the regressive response" exhibits itself in

alcoholism, extreme passivity and indolence, the development of highly ambivalent dependency relationships, intragroup violence, disregard of kinship and sexual mores, irresponsibility in public officials, states of depression and self-reproach, and probably a variety of psychosomatic and neurotic disorders. (1956, 269)

The culture is "internally distorted" because "the elements are not harmoniously related but are mutually inconsistent and interfering" (1956, 269). As a result, the society is extremely receptive to Christian change as people search for alternatives around which to revitalize society. Change is anticipated and even demanded for the revitalization of society. The new way, which was considered deviant, is now an alternative. The Chontal Indian who has seen much of his flock die no longer believes in the old Christopagan rituals and is extremely receptive to a message about a caring, sovereign Creator God.

However, if revitalization does not take place, anomie will continue to increase and the process of cultural deterioration can lead to cultural disintegration. The populations of disintegrating societies can die off, splinter into autonomous groups, or be absorbed into a larger, better integrated society. Wallace says, "This process of deterioration can, if not checked, lead to the death of the society" (1956, 270). For example, the Yir Yoront of Australia have failed to survive as a distinct cultural entity because the symbol of paternal authority, the stone axe, was undermined by the premature introduction of steel axes into the culture (Sharp 1952). Likewise, the proud Masai, the largest, most feared tribe in Kenya before colonial encroachments, have dwindled to a fringe tribe. No significant revitalization movements have taken place in recent Masai history. One Masai Christian, living in an urban center away from his people, personally told me that he believes that in twenty years most Masai will lose their identities in the cities or live in Tanzania, where there is more space for a nomadic lifestyle. The hope of the Masai probably lies with the few emerging Christian leaders, especially those of the Churches of Christ, who are seeking to contextualize God's eternal message in terms of Masai realities.

Hopefully, the period of cultural distortion will lead to revitalization. Wallace outlines six "functional stages" leading to cultural revitalization (1956, 270-275). First, an individual in the culture has a mazeway reformulation: He begins to picture his society in a new and different way. His mazeway--his personal perspective on his culture's worldview--no longer correlates with mainstream interpretations. Second, this cultural innovator becomes a prophet, communicating his new interpretation of reality to his people. Third, the prophet establishes an organization which will give continuity to his cultural perspectives. The power of the prophet must be transferred to others, or the movement is apt to die with the prophet who gave it birth. Fourth, the organization must adapt to the resistance that it is bound to encounter. Fifth, a cultural transformation occurs when a significant part of the population embraces the new religion. Sixth, revitalization movements affect "various economic, social, and political institutions and customs" in a process that Weber calls "routinization" (1956, 275). A revitalization movement will only develop indigenous roots when these six stages are completed.

Umbanda spiritism is an illustration of such a revitalization movement. Umbanda's founder, Zelio de Moraes, experienced significant mazeway reformulation. Building upon spiritistic orientations prevalent in Christopagan Catholicism, he divined solutions to people's problems while possessed by a spirit claiming to be Caboclo of the Seven Crossroads. Caboclo was said to be half-Indian and half-African. As such, he reflected the miscegenation of the nation of Brazil. Because of his mixed breeding, he communicated directly with both the local Indian spirits who once inhabited the land and the African spirits of Condomble, who guided the millions of African slaves from Africa to Brazil. Brazilians understood such mixing of blood. As a "half-breed spirit," Caboclo was Brazilian! He was one of them! He could understand their nation and their problems (St. Clair 1971, 136). Today Umbanda is growing faster than any other religious group in Brazil because it is an overt contextualization of latent animistic beliefs long held by the majority of Catholics. Since its beginning around 1930, Umbanda has effectively achieved Wallace's stages of cultural revitalization: mazeway reformulation; communication of new ideology; establishing informal, effective organizations appropriate to the Brazilian scene; adapting to resistance; cultural transformation by making latent beliefs overt; and routinization. In 1988 Umbanda, with an estimated "20 million active adherents," is considered "the leading religious group in Brazil if one measures beliefs in terms of actual behavior and practice. It is estimated that more people routinely engage in Umbandan rituals than regularly go to Mass" (Nielsen 1988, 94).

The final stage of the revitalization process is a new steady state. The cultural transformation has been accomplished and the new system has proven itself viable.

Critique of Wallace's "Revitalization Movements"

For the Christian missionary Wallace's concept of revitalization movements has both strengths and limitations. Its basic asset is that it provides a model through which change can be perceived from the animistic to the Christian as well as from one animistic system to another. Yet the missionary must understand the conceptual framework out of which Wallace is writing. Wallace, as a functional anthropologist, views revitalization as a social process set in force when the needs of society are not being met.

Three major negative critiques can be made of his model from a missiological perspective. First, his model is this-worldly emphasizing the human dynamic in the world without perceiving the divine. In any such humanistic model there is no conception of God convicting people of sin through the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). There is no conception of an active God working in us to defeat the powers of Satan that radiate out of animistic systems. Second, but relating to the first point, Wallace conceives of all religious systems as neutral. They are neither good nor bad, ethical nor unethical, true nor false. All religious systems are conceived functionally as conceptual and organizational frameworks needed by humans for the revitalization of society. Such a secular position we reject! Our God is not a distant, inactive deity but an active participant in the change occurring in our world! Third, Wallace's model concentrates on the cultural process while largely excluding the content of the worldview that integrates a culture. Such naivete about functional change within cultures without perceiving the integrating role of worldview is the major fallacy of the functionalist perspective of culture.

Thus a more adequate model would both bring the divine into human interactions and emphasize the content of worldview beliefs.

Change through Reinterpretation of Data and Establishing New Paradigms:
The Perspective of Thomas Kuhn

The Concepts of Paradigm and Paradigm Shift

Thomas Kuhn, writing as a philosopher and historian of science, believes change does not take place because of new information or because of accumulation of facts. Rather, new paradigms are developed to interpret old and newly perceived information. These paradigms are defined as "accepted models or patterns" out of which practitioners of a society view reality (1970, 23). These models are learned and serve to focus the research and orientations of scientific communities (1970, 44). Reality cannot be sought without these models, "since nature is too complex and varied to be explored at random" (1970, 109). Paradigms are essential in that they serve to focus observation and experimentation. Science, therefore, cannot exist without paradigms because they serve as integrative models for viewing reality (1970, 77).

According to Kuhn, change does not take place cumulatively--slowly, bit by bit over a long period of time--as commonly perceived. Change takes place instead in paradigm shifts. These paradigm shifts are considered "revolutions" in which "an older paradigm is replaced in whole or in part by an incompatible new one" (1970, 92). For example, Copernicus brought about a significant paradigm shift in astronomy. Before his time the earth was conceived of as the center of the universe and was not thought to be in motion. Copernicus created a new paradigm by posing that the earth itself was hurdling through space. Humans do not feel the motion because they are traveling with the earth. Kuhn says that "the very ease and rapidity with which astronomers saw new things when looking at old objects with old instruments may make us wish to say that, after Copernicus, astronomers lived in a different world" (1970, 116-117). New facts had not been added, but a new paradigm had developed through which old facts were understood and integrated.

According to Kuhn, change takes place during times when anomaly creates crisis. Anomaly occurs when paradigm-induced expectations that govern science are not verified in research (1970, 52-53). For example, Copernicus complained that in his day astronomers were so "inconsistent in these [astronomical] investigations . . . that they cannot even explain or observe the constant length of the seasonal year" (1970, 83). Scientists were in a dilemma. Why was the old paradigm not working? Why were the projections not consistent? Because of the inconsistencies, Copernicus began to study the anomaly. This study eventually led to a new paradigm which could more adequately explain the data.

The period of crisis, when paradigms do not adequately depict reality, is a time when "the world is out of joint" (1970, 79). For example, Wolfgang Pauli, in the months before Heisenberg's paper on matrix mechanics pointed the way to a new quantum theory, wrote to a friend, "At the moment physics is again terribly confused. In any case, it is too difficult for me, and I wish I had been a movie comedian or something of the sort and had never heard of physics." After the development of Heisenberg's theory, Pauli wrote, "Heisenberg's type of mechanics has again given me hope and joy in life. To be sure it does not supply the solution to the riddle, but I believe it is again possible to march forward" (1970, 83-84). During such a period of crisis, any such disoriented discipline is receptive to paradigm revision.

Like the enculturation of a child into his society, paradigm conceptions are tacitly imposed upon the student entering a discipline. Basic assumptions are communicated, both in the classroom and in the literature, as if they are true. The legitimacy of a paradigm is assumed without the student's overt critique of its underlying presuppositions. The choice of a paradigm, then, is not determined by logic or experiment. Change of paradigms typically occurs only when a sense of "malfunction" leads to a crisis which in turn leads to a paradigm shift.

Within this framework a scientist's "transfer of allegiance from paradigm to paradigm" can be compared to a conversion experience (1970, 151). The scientist must take a leap of faith to accept the new paradigm because no paradigm answers all the questions. Kuhn says that a paradigm "cannot be made logically or even probabilistically compelling for those who refuse to step into the circle" (1970, 94).

As the next section will show, Kuhn's concepts of paradigm and paradigm shift have greatly affected the field of missiology. The use of these concepts will pose many questions regarding their missiological applications. To what degree can Christian missionaries use Kuhn's concept of paradigm and paradigm shift? What are the strengths and weaknesses, the applications and limitations of these constructs? To what degree can the concepts of Kuhn be applied to change to God from Animism?

The Use of Kuhn's Concept of Paradigm in Missiology

Paradigms and Worldview. Thomas Kuhn's conception of paradigm has been formative to the concept of worldview in missiology. For example, Charles Kraft in Christianity and Culture begins with Kuhn's concept of paradigm in developing the principle that there are central organizing themes in culture through which people order their perceptions of the world (1980, 24-31). These conceptions are integrated into a worldview, defined as "the central assumptions, concepts, and premises more or less widely shared by members of a culture or a subculture" (Kraft 1976). Cultures, therefore, are not a conglomeration of functional traits. Cultural traits rather flow out of a worldview, which serves to explain, evaluate, psychologically reinforce, and integrate a culture (Kraft 1980, 54-57). In this school of anthropology, sometimes called ethnoscience but more often cognitive anthropology, "each culture is seen as an autonomous paradigm with a worldview of its own" (Hiebert 1987, 108). Every animistic system has underlying assumptions which are integrated into its worldview. The spiritist of Brazil intuitively assumes that spirits actively control the living. The Kipsigis of Kenya perceive that death occurs when body is separated from spirit. The disembodied spirit will eventually come back into life in another body. Ancestors are believed to exist and have power over the living. Those of a cargo cult mentality in New Guinea intuitively believe that wealth comes from spiritual sources and can be induced by ritual. The traditional Sawi of Irian Jaya idealize treachery. Voodooist of Haiti assume that spirits are transferable so that the spirits of people are metamorphosed into dogs or other animals. These assumptions are implicitly validated by their cultures.

There are also worldview assumptions inherent to Judeo-Christian cultures and fundamental to biblical Christianity. A central assumption is that "God created a universe that exists outside of but dependent upon himself" (Hiebert 1985a, 113). People, in turn, are rational beings who can know and understand God and his message as revealed in the Bible. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob can be known and understood in history. He is not far away from any one of us. This Judeo-Christian worldview stands in vivid contrast to certain Asiatic perspectives which view the outside world as an illusion of the mind. Such an Eastern worldview perceives that true reality cannot be found in the external world but by looking within oneself by meditation. Obviously the Christian "appeal to history" to verify the gospel has little meaning to Asians who "see all history as merely a figment of their imaginations" (Hiebert 1985a, 45, 113).

Although missiologists generally agree that worldviews are instrumental in understanding cultures, most today will not directly correlate Kuhn's paradigm with worldview. Rather, paradigms grow out of worldviews (Marshall 1980, 4). They are the secondary deductions made by society based on their implicit worldviews. Thus worldviews "are more total views of reality than paradigms and models and employ many paradigms and models" (Kraft 1980, 29).

Paul Hiebert gives three "levels of mental construction": (1) the worldview, which integrates paradigm beliefs into an integrative whole; (2) belief systems or paradigms, which determine the questions society is asking, provide methods of investigation, and "mediate between empirical realities and world view," and (3) theories, which provide practical answers raised by belief systems (Hiebert 1985c, 13).





-- provides ontological affective and normative assumptions upon which the culture builds its world.

-- integrates belief systems into a single cultural whole.




-- determines domain of examination.

-- defines questions to be asked.

-- provides methods for investigation.

-- integrates theories into a comprehensive belief system.

-- mediates between empirical realities and world view.




-- provides answers to questions raised by belief system.

-- reduces experimental data to concepts for theoretical manipulation.





Fig. 3: Levels of Mental Construction

These cognitive levels might be illustrated by the Brazilian spiritist whose worldview assumes the reality and activity of spirits. On the belief systems or paradigm level, he believes that certain rituals are effective in forcing spirits to do what he wants them to do. On the level of theories or models, he believes that he can induce a girl to love him by spiritistic rituals. A Kipsigis of Kenya assumes, on the worldview level, that ancestors have power over the living. On the belief systems or paradigm level, he believes that extended and severe illnesses are likely due to ancestral intervention into life. On this level the dead also are thought to disturb the living so that they will not be forgotten and, consequently, be called at some future time to live in the body of a newborn. On the level of theory, libations or sacrifices are made to ancestors as dictated by the diviner. The Sawi of New Guinea traditionally assumed treachery on the worldview level, devised "peace child" paradigms on the belief system level to prevent genocide, and symbolically ended intertribal feuding with ceremonies on the theoretical level.

Paradigm Shifts and Cultural Change. Kuhn concurs with Anthony Wallace on the concept that change occurs during times of tension, stress, and anomaly. However, unlike Wallace, who is chiefly concerned with the process of change, Kuhn stresses that the tension or anomaly arises out of the inadequacy of paradigms to depict reality. From the standpoint of missiology, this is one of Kuhn's strongest contributions. Significant cultural change takes place not when the paradigms of culture adequately express a worldview but when old paradigms are being called into question. Animistic societies become receptive when basic assumptions appear inadequate to explain reality. For example, when the Brazilian spiritist questions the control of the spirits, when the Kipsigis of Kenya questions the power of ancestral spirits over life, and when Sawi of New Guinea treasures peace over treachery, they become ripe for change. Until basic assumptions are questioned, there is resistance to change.

This section has considered two major contributions of paradigms and paradigm shifts to missiology. First, cultural data is not flat with each item being of equal significance. Rather cognitive assumptions and beliefs provide the organizing models through which reality is perceived. Second, significant cultural change takes place during times of crises when old paradigms no longer adequately express current conceptions of reality. Yet Kuhn's perspective on paradigms is based on some secular presuppositions and cannot be totally accepted as a model of change from Animism to Christianity. These secular orientations will now be critiqued.

Critique of Kuhn's Concept of Change through Reinterpretation of Data and Establishing New Paradigms

The Limitations of Subjectivism. From Kuhn's perspective, knowledge is subjective. Although paradigms are only models for depicting reality, they can never totally do so. Since one paradigm will displace another when the first paradigm does not adequately depict reality, there are no absolutes. People are thought to be unable to stand above their paradigms and effectively dialogue with other competing or partially complementary paradigms.

Within Kuhn's framework the search for reality is based on a pragmatism which Hiebert calls "instrumentalism" (Hiebert 1987, 108). Any paradigm is adequate as long as it solves the problems humans face. When a paradigm becomes inadequate, it is discarded for a new one. Instrumentalists see different religious traditions as different paradigms having their own subjective perspectives toward truth. From such a perspective "interpersonal relationships and open dialogue are more important than personal convictions" because humans are not able to ferret out the truth (Hiebert 1985c, 17).

Hiebert has written extensively about Christian epistemological positions. He stands between the "idealist," who sees a one-to-one relationship between his perception of reality and reality itself, and the "instrumentalist," who believes that the external world is real but cannot know whether his knowledge of it is real. Hiebert, as a critical realist, stands between these two positions. He believes that although the "eternal world is real," our "knowledge of it is partial but can be true." Successive paradigms carry the researcher "to closer approximations of reality and truth" (Hiebert 1985c, 17). Thus the critical realist "affirms the uniqueness of a Christianity that is faithful to biblical revelation" but recognizes that "conversions take place within cultural and historical settings" (Hiebert 1985c, 17). Hiebert's critical realism is a Christian epistemological alternative to Kuhn's relativism.

The Limitations of a Purely Emic Approach. There are two vantage points from which culture can be perceived: the emic and the etic. The emic perspective views culture from the inside. The etic, on the other hand, is the outsider's view of culture. Kuhn's model of paradigms is solely concerned with emic perspectives as he assumes that all paradigms are derived from within the culture. There are no supracultural sources of meaning beyond one's own culture. This approach leaves little room for a God who is transcendent to culture, the biblical message which was given outside of the culture, and the cross-cultural communicator who is an external source of paradigms.

Hiebert gives three steps of "critical contextualization" involving both emic and etic elements. First, the effective missionary or local church leader must work with the people in making an exegesis of the culture. They uncritically gather information about traditional beliefs and customs. "The purpose here is to understand the old ways, not to judge them." If traditional beliefs are condemned, they will likely be driven underground. During this step, the culture begins to pose many questions as to the desires of Creator God. In the second step the missionary or church leaders direct the people in relating the scripture to the questions at hand. These questions form a "hermeneutical bridge" between the culture and the scripture. Finally, the people, as a corporate body, "evaluate critically their own past customs in the light of their new biblical understandings" (Hiebert 1987, 110-111).

In each of these steps there is an interaction between the emic and the etic. The missionary, as an outsider, critically dialogues with his host people. He brings to them horizons and experiences beyond their cultural perspective. The word of God is studied as it is related to their problems and dilemmas. Through such dialogue the missionary develops a metacultural perspective. He is able to stand above his own and his host culture and to compare and analyze their cultural paradigms (Hiebert 1985a, 95). Thus change does not stem merely from emic sources. The impetus for change may come from without the system.

While Wallace's concept of revitalization movements has provided a model showing the process of change, Kuhn's concept of paradigm and paradigm shift point to the function of belief systems in cultural change. If the belief systems are coherent and logical and adequately mediate "between empirical realities and world view," the culture is steady--in little need of revitalization. If, on the other hand, the belief systems are fuzzy and illogical, not adequately depicting reality, innovators in society are logically looking for alternatives.

Change through Power Encounter:
The Perspective of A. R. Tippett

A. R. Tippett, the missiologist who fathered the term "power encounter," wrote about buying a 240 volt generator with which he hoped to run a 110 volt machine in order to make a symbolic application to the conversion of the animist. He said,

A missionary geared to a metaphysical level of evangelism in his generator cannot drive a motor of shamanistic voltage. It is a tragic experience to find oneself with the right kind of power but of the wrong voltage. (1960, 413)

As discussed in Chapter 3, many Western missionaries are using the wrong voltage in relating to animists. They are communicating about the questions of high religion: Where have we come from? Where are we heading? What is the ultimate meaning of life? And conversion of the animist is taking place on this cognitive, cosmic level.

However, the animist is not greatly concerned with these issues. He is concerned with the immediate problems of everyday life: Why am I sick? What has caused me to be sick? Why did my daughter die? Who caused it? How can I get him to love me? Who or what has caused this extended drought? In animistic settings power is at the very center of a people's worldview and cannot be neglected. Conversion must be more than an assent to high religious perspectives. It must be a rejection of traditional powers within such contexts and the acceptance of the sovereignty of God. A cognitive, metaphysical message must be coupled with a living belief in the mighty workings of God. The purely metaphysical message is of the wrong voltage in animistic contexts.

Definition of Power Encounter

The term "power encounter" was first used in Tippett's People Movements in Southern Polynesia. Tippett relates the example of Pomare II, a ruler of Tahiti, who in 1809 ate a sacred turtle without its first being blessed in the temple and part of the meat offered to idols of the ancestors. The servants of Pomare's household waited expectantly for their king to die because he has broken a taboo. Tippett comments on these events by saying, "This is the first of a series of power-encounter episodes we are to meet in this study of the dynamic configurations of church-growth" (1971, 16).

Since Tippett first demonstrated the significance of power encounter, numerous missiologists have expanded on this concept. At the Willowbank Conference of 1978, sponsored by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, Donald Jacobs posed the position that the concept of power "is at the very center of a culture's existence" (Jacobs 1980, 136). Thus "most people in the non-Western world convert to another faith because of seeking more power" (Jacobs 1976, 334). The Willowbank Report itself affirms the following about power encounter:

Conversion involves a power encounter. People give their allegiance to Christ when they see that his power is superior to magic and voodoo, the curses and blessings of witch doctors, and the malevolence of evil spirits, and that his salvation is a real liberation from the power of evil and death. (Stott and Coote 1980, 327)

Timothy Kamps has given one of the most comprehensive definitions of power encounter integrating the themes of many different writers:

A power encounter is a spiritual encounter that exposes and calls to account the powers of darkness in their varied forms by the power of God for the purpose of revealing the identity of the one True God resulting in an acknowledgement of and/or allegiance to His lordship by those present. (1986, 10)

This definition assumes a biblical paradigm of the forces of Jesus in competition with the forces of Satan. Jesus came "to destroy the devil's work" (1 John 3:8). Jesus in his death "disarmed the powers and authorities" and "made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross" (Col. 2:15). Yet paradoxically the works of Jesus and the works of Satan coexist in this world like wheat and tares in a field waiting for harvest (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). The battle in this world "is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Eph. 6:12). "We know that we are children of God, and the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). These verses depict a struggle greater than the five senses can perceive. Because most Western people cannot adequately perceive such realities, the Willowbank Report challenges "the mechanistic myth on which the typical western world-view rests" and assumes "the reality of demonic intelligences which are concerned by all means, overt and covert, to discredit Jesus Christ and keep people from coming to him" (Stott and Coote 1980, 327). For example, while John in Revelation records the cosmic conflict between the forces of God and the forces of Satan at the birth of Jesus (Rev. 12), Luke in his Gospel records the activities of the historical personalities through whom Satan worked in attempting to kill the newborn Messiah (Luke 2). Humans see the world overtly as Luke records it. Since Christians follow a biblical paradigm, they see the cosmic struggle between God and Satan for the control of this world. From the perspective of power encounter, conversion is a turning "from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God" (Acts 26:18).

Illustrations of Power Encounter

The Bible is replete with illustrations of power encounter. During the time of Ahab, Jezebel aggressively championed Baalism in Israel with all of its fertility rites to induce rain. But God withheld the rain. During this time the prophets of God were being killed. But Elijah personally stood before Ahab to initiate an ordeal with 450 prophets of Baal. In the person of Elijah, the popularly accepted source of power was being confronted by the power of God. Elijah challenged Israel to choose between two powers, two paradigms of viewing the world. "How long will you waver between two opinions?" he asked. "If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him" (1 Kgs. 18:21). After the defeat of the prophets, the people could cognitively and experientially perceive and verbally say, "The Lord--he is God! The Lord--he is God!" (18:39). Once the people turned to God with this confession, God supplied rain (18:41-46). Kamps uses this biblical example to illustrate the meaning of each part of his definition of power encounter. He documents how Baalism was confronted, called into account, and exposed. God's power defeated the power of Baal so that God was recognized as the one true God (Kamps 1986, 15-29).

Other biblical sources also illustrate power encounters. The plagues in Egypt were direct power encounters between the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt because "each plague systematically attacked one or more of the gods of Egypt" (Kamps 1986, 33). Thus "for Israel, the Exodus meant spiritual freedom from the rule and reign of the powers of darkness" (Kamps 1986, 36). Gideon pulled down the altar of Baal and resurrected the altar of God before God could use him to save Israel from Midianite hegemony (Judg. 6:25-40). The Philistine challenge for one to fight Goliath was more than a military challenge. It was thought of by both sides as a spiritual encounter (Kamps 1986, 37-42). Thus David could verbally boast before the contest, "This day the Lord will hand you over to me, . . . and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel" (1 Sam. 17:46). Likewise, the Assyrian challenge to Jerusalem during the time of Hezekiah was a confrontation between the God of Israel and the gods of the Assyrians. The Assyrian commander could boast that the gods of many lands had fallen before Assyria: "How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?" (2 Kgs. 18:35). This arrogance stemmed from the concept that "the gods of strong nations were superior gods" (Kamps 1986, 43). Yet the true God vindicated his name by defeating the Assyrians (2 Kgs. 19:35-36).

In New Testament times Jews wondered if Jesus was the Messiah because he cast out demons. The Pharisees jealously retorted that Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebub, the prince of demons. Jesus conversely defined what happened as a power encounter. Jesus attributed the demons to Satan and said that Satan could never cast out Satan. Rather two kingdoms were in conflict. The spirits of Satan were being driven out by the Spirit of God (Matt. 12:22-28). Thus Satan was like a strong man who was bound when his house was entered. Jesus was the Stronger Man, who was able to bind the strong man (Matt. 12:29). In healing the spirit-possessed, Jesus entered the house of Satan, where he dwelt, and bound him in order to take possession of his property (Beasley-Murray 1986, 108-111). This was the nature of Jesus' ministry. He broke down the sovereignties of Satan so that His rule could break into the world. The defeat of Satan in his ministry was only a foretaste of what Jesus did when he broke the chains of death and rose from the dead. His death and resurrection were power encounters with the forces of Satan.

In the early church Christians continued to directly encounter animistic forces and their powers. Elymas, the sorcerer, was struck blind (Acts 13:6-13). Paul cast the spirit of divination out of an Philippian slave girl (Acts 16:16-18). Books of magic were burned (Acts 19:19).

Tippett writes that "Western missions might do well to face up to the statistical evidence that animists are being won today by a Bible of power encounter, not a demythologized edition" (1967, 101). His most widely quoted illustration is of the Christian leaders in the Solomon Islands who cut down the taboo banyan tree. A tension-filled crowd of non-Christians gathered to see the spectacle believing that the mana in the tree would kill those who dared break such a taboo. When the taboo had no effect on the Christians, they proclaimed victory in Christ asserting that they possessed a Christian mana stronger than traditional mana (1967, 100-102). One question, which will be critiqued in a later section, must be asked: Is it correct theologizing to interpret Christian power as Christian mana?

Numerous other examples of power encounter could be taken from mission history. Kefa Kweyu, a self-supporting Abaluyia preacher of western Kenya, returned home to find an egg with medicine on it in the doorway of his house. His reaction was not to call the village elders to counsel, seek a diviner, or search for an alternative lodging place. But with faith he proclaimed to any hidden audience, "An egg! Praise God! I'm exhausted and I'm famished. It appears to have `medicine' on it. But that's nothing. Jesus is Lord!" With these words of faith he boiled the egg and ate it! (Kenya Mission Team 1980, 45-46). Christians among the Chontal Indians did the unthinkable. They built a house without performing animistic rites (Turner 1984, 117). The illustrations at the beginning of this chapter describe Christians with faith encountering ancestral power and the curse.

The Role of Power Encounter in Conversion

True power encounter performs two very important functions in facilitating change in animistic societies.

First, true power encounter glorifies God who is sovereign over all (Warner 1988c). It leads to conversion when those who perceive of the majesty and power of God are taught to come under his sovereignty--to accept him as God of gods and Lord of lords. Humans frequently misuse the power of God and contort it for their own selfish, egocentric purposes. The Willowbank Report says,

Power in human hands is always dangerous. We have called to mind the recurring theme of Paul's two letters to the Corinthians--that God's power, which is clearly seen in the cross of Christ, operates through human weakness (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:18-2:5; 2 Cor. 4:7; 12:9, 10). Worldly people worship power; Christians who have it know its perils. (Stott and Coote 1980, 327)

The power of God must never be used to give glory to human personalities or human institutions. Power is of God, and its use in defeating Satan only gives glory to God.

Secondly, power encounter confronts non-Christian elements in society rather than allowing these powers and sometimes these superstitions to go unchecked. For example, Dal Congdon has found that the nominally Christian Zulu of South Africa are still largely animistic at heart. Fully 69.6 percent of all professing Christians continue to believe that ancestral spirits "protect" them and "bring them good fortune." Congdon's study found that "fewer professing Christians affirmed the deity of Christ than expressed dependence upon the ancestral spirits for problems connected with daily living" (Congdon 1985, 297). The only effective answer to such syncretism is continual power encounters between the God of the Bible and the superstitions and powers of animistic culture coupled with effective communication of Christian paradigms of thought. Congdon rightly concluded his study with the following words:

Christopagan peoples come to a vital faith only when Christ is encountered as Lord at the core of their worldview. The promotion of this encounter by relating Christ effectually to the respondents' worldview must be a controlling objective of missionary work, if it aims to establish a truly Christian church (1985, 299).

As already mentioned, there are various false perspectives toward power. Frequently people become Christians as an access to power rather than as a response, in faith, to the living God. Thus the animist may merely exchange one system of power for another and establish his own Christopagan system. For instance, a lady among the Kipsigis people of Kenya who was sick for some months was continually told by relatives that if she was baptized in some church, she might be healed. If this lady had been baptized, she would have looked upon it as a magical rite of healing rather than as a "pledge of a good conscience toward God" (1 Pet. 3:21). Likewise, Gerald Otis recounts that Muslims in southern Philippines challenged Christians by saying, "If you can cast out the devil from the woman, we will truly believe and embrace immediately the faith in Jesus Christ" (1980, 217). Such words should not necessarily be taken at face value. A demonstration of power does not lead to faith without a sincere desire to know the living and true God. Many Muslims are cynical about the mighty power of God in Jesus Christ, and many folk religionists are searching for power rather than for God.

Christian conversion is the enthroning of Christ at the center of a person's life and allowing him to control every aspect. As such, it involves not only power encounter but also the laying of theological foundations of a Christian worldview. An East African missionary tells of meeting a woman who was believed by the people to have been cursed. Most of her neighbors feared her and claimed every house that she entered was later consumed by flames. They reported that this had happened to 15 different houses. She had consulted a shaman to discover the cause and cure, but the healing rites she was directed to perform failed. The missionary along with other evangelists told her of the power of God available to those who obey and trust Him and related how God's power had personally helped them. Approximately 40 people gathered to hear this interaction. The village was obviously troubled over the matter. That day, four, including this woman, put on Christ in baptism. This woman had come to Christ because of the personal need for power rather than because she wanted to come into a relationship with sovereign God. Would she likely continue in her walk with God if effects of the curse continued? Or was her conversion merely an outward, functional change in order to cure an immediate problem? Two possible mistakes were made in this case. First, the account does not indicate that the curse was directly addressed with prayer to God. Second, more teaching on the worldview level was needed so that the lady might know more vividly how the cosmic confrontation between God and Satan affects her.

"Christian conversion" without worldview change in reality is syncretism. There is a danger in too closely aligning the content of the new Christian message with the content of the traditional animistic message. For example, can the power of God be compared to Christian mana among Solomon Islanders? Are there not important distinctions between the two? While our response to God is relational, the traditional use of mana is manipulative. Instead of comparing the power of God to mana, there should be a continuous contrast between the meaning of the two sources of power. Relational analogies, rather than animistic paradigms, must be used to describe our power source.

Tippett has not typically oversimplified the process of change from Animism to Christianity, attributing the whole change to power encounter. For example, he records many intertwining factors that led the Polynesians to come to Christ. He acknowledges that there has been much "superficial appraisal of the conversion of Pomare II--over-simplification, as if one single factor were responsible for the whole dramatic change" (1972, 13). He shows how Pomare II was experiencing anomaly--living under tremendous tension. He had been militarily defeated even though he had listened to the oracles of Meetia, his prophet. Pomare II and his chiefs were distressed that their gods had allowed a person high in his family to die. The parents, in turn, "drowned their sorrows in unbridled drinking" and also died. At this point Pomare II first announced his desire to turn from traditional Tahitian gods to the God of the missionaries (1972, 15). Thus Tippett has typically given a broad perspective as to the nature of change from Animism to Christianity.

As this section has shown, power encounter is a central feature in the change of an animist from his belief in idols to serve the true and living God.


In this chapter three different models of change were studied and critiqued in terms of how change occurs in animistic societies. Tentative conclusions will now be given concerning the nature of change from Animism to Christianity based on Wallace's concept of revitalization movements, Kuhn's perspective on paradigms and paradigm shifts, and Tippett's view of power encounter.

First, change in animistic societies takes place during a time of tension leading to cultural disequilibrium. Old cultural conceptions are no longer adequate to explain present perceptions of reality during such times of tension. Thus cultures are more receptive at periods of extreme personal tension and societal distortion.

Second, change is complex and takes place on different levels. Permanent change typically begins on the paradigm or worldview level before affecting the theoretical level. Kuhn's perspectives on paradigms and paradigm shifts have been extremely helpful in this area, especially as used by Kraft in his development of the concept of worldview and by Hiebert in his conceptions concerning the levels of mental construction. Christianization of animistic people, thus, involves more than the burning of fetishes or the acceptance of a God who heals. Becoming a Christian necessitates the reordering of all reality around God and his desires for human life. Change begins from the inside out rather than the outside in.

Third, the issue of sovereignty and allegiance is at the core of cultural change. Power encounters confront cultures on the point of allegiance and call people to come under the sovereignty of God. God's power must never be reformulated, either consciously or unconsciously, into some type of human power. The encounter must conversely be focused on the core issue of allegiance to God.

Fourth, change is a process which is continuous. Cultures experience tension and distortion and must go through times of revitalization. The ultimate revitalization occurs when cultures stand in awe under the sovereignty of Creator God, being reconciled to him by the blood of Jesus Christ. Yet even Christian cultures experience tension and distortion when the focus shifts from Creator God or becomes otherwise distorted. Further revitalizations call the unfaithful back to their relationship with God.

Fifth, Christian missionaries minister most effectively when they are able to perceive cultures from a metacultural perspective. They empathically stand above both their own culture and their host culture but operate within the paradigms of both cultures. Yet truth is not relative, based on subjectively searching for truth within human cultural systems. Truth is of God, who has communicated to us in his Son. The missionary communicates the Christian worldview in culture paradigms understandable to each culture. Thus the effective missionary emically participates in human cultures but etically perceives of reality beyond the confines of any cultural system.



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