The Onion diagram
An onion has multiple layers. To study a culture, there are also multiple layers of increasing depth. Imagine a group of concentric circles. each representing a different dimension of a culture. This diagram is constructed and copyrighted by Dr. Gene Bunkowske, (footnote 1) who assembled it from similar diagrams in studies of cultural anthropology; his major addition is the central circle, “ultimate allegiance.”
Click Here to see the visual:
Read on to learn how to make use of the diagram:
You can study a person or culture from the outside in. The two outer layers are the things you can see. The inner layers explain why people do those things. In outreach, your goal is to understand the ultimate allegiance. Working through each of the outer layers enables you to understand it more thoroughly.
Becoming a Christian is a change in the Ultimate Allegiance. We find out that a person has become a believer by an action taken at the outer layer called a “confession of faith.” However, there may be many parts of the person’s life that are still formed by the previous worldview and ultimate allegiance. The process of nurture or discipling starts from the ultimate allegiance and works toward whatever changes are necessary in the other layers, from the inside out. The goal is that eventually the person’s new allegiance will be shown in behavior and objects.
Here are some examples of each level, starting from the outside:
Objects might include the kind of house, the things people collect,
Behavior might include how they drive, how they punish their children
Values (what is good) would include whether they treasure money or free time
Emotions, that is, the things that they feel emotional about. What makes them sad, happy.
Beliefs, such as “burning money to the dead brings good luck.”
Worldview answers the question “why”
Ultimate allegiance: might be to God, or to family, or to self.
Footnote 1: Dr. Gene Bunkowske (1935 – 2018) first served in Africa where he created a written language and Bible translation for a people group, and became representative of the United Bible Society for Africa. Later he taught missiology at Concordia University, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and then led the Masters of Christian Outreach Program at Concordia University, St. Paul,, Minnesota. The onion diagram is reprinted with his permission.