Monday, March 10, 2008

Book Review: Naming the Elephant

I recently read James W. Sire’s book Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. It declares itself a companion book to Sire’s The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog. The Universe Next Door is an essential reference book every Christian leader needs to read and have on their bookshelf. This book is an examination of eight major worldviews to which the majority of people on the planet hold. It begins with a definition of what a worldview is. However, eventually Sire was not happy with his own definition.

That is where Naming the Elephant comes in. This book is entirely about redefining a worldview. I found this refreshing because Sire is not apologetic for saying that while his definition was adequate it could be better defined to clearly communicate the definition of worldview. Sire begins Naming the Elephant with a history of the definition of worldviews. This discussion is worth the price of the book. Sire lays out in detail the trail of philosophers, Christian and secular, who have had the greatest influence in the development of the concept of worldview.

Next, Sire provides the reader proof of the need for the reworking of the definition of worldview. He moves from that topic to showing that a worldview is more than a set of presuppositions but is more of a way of life. This is important because of Sire’s previous definition of worldview. Following this logically and sequentially is Sire’s thought on how the concept of worldview impacts individuals and societies.

It is only at this point that Sire provides his redefinition of a worldview. Sire’s original definition of worldview, found in The Universe Next Door, says,

A worldview is a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic makeup of our world. p. 16

With the risk of spoiling the ending of Naming the Elephant, Sire’s new definition of worldview is,

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being. p. 122.

Some of the main differences Sire points out, are a worldview is “a fundamental orientation of the heart.” In other words, it is a spiritual issue. A worldview shows where the person is at spiritually. Or perhaps said backwards, where a person is at spiritually will define their worldview. It is expressed as presuppositions and it impacts the way we live. It is my opinion this redefinition is clearer and helpful for the dialogue.

Sire finishes his book by discussion what difference this discussion makes. Since worldviews are a spiritual issue, and since they impact the way we live, we should understand how to use our worldview. Understanding what a worldview consists of and how that is manifested in a person’s life will provide the Christian leader with an essential “tool for analysis.” If we know what we are looking for as we read various authors’ work, their worldview shines through their words. As we look at art or listen to music, worldviews issues are easier to pick out. Our worldview helps us identify others’ worldview which in turn can help the Christian leader minister a bit more effectively.

The entire book was just a little over my head. I felt like I was in the deep end of the pool and was able to keep my head above water most of the time but very often my head would go under for a short time. I feel it is always good to read to stretch oneself in ones reading and this book did that for me. It is a good resource for anyone wanting to delve deeper into the topic of worldviews.

2t22 rating