Darrow Miller and Friends

What’s In a Name? Wholism Vs. Holism


One of the key terms used in DNA circles, a word that sometimes evokes reaction, has two spellings. In the following discussion,
Bob Moffitt, DNA co-founder and chairman, and executive director of Harvest Foundation, explains why DNA chooses to use one spelling in particular.

In the context of Christian ministry, the word “wholistic/holistic” refers to ministry that applies the whole Gospel to the whole person.  We use the former to be consistent with the idea of wholeness (the whole Gospel, the whole world, the whole person).

Christian writers in the West use both spellings. Writers in the developing world who have not been exposed to the use of “holistic” typically use “wholistic.” Why? Again, because it is consistent with the spelling of other words related to wholism.

Although “holistic” is used by many Christian writers, it is also the spelling of choice by writers with unbiblical or even anti-Christian worldviews. (Sadly, even those Christian NGO and development agencies which operate on a philosophy from secular paradigms and literature often use this spelling.) This makes the “holistic” spelling suspect by some Christians; a Christian writer using that spelling sometimes has to expressly distance himself from unbiblical associations of the word.

Several years ago I was talking to the president of one of the largest evangelical mission agencies in North America, ABWE. Before we got very far in our conversation, he asked me which spelling we use. When I explained that we use the “w” he was ready to let me continue. For him, the “holistic” spelling was a red flag.

For these two reasons—that the “wholistic” spelling is more consistent with the concept of “the whole,” and to avoid unnecessary suspicion among Christians—we include the “w.”

– Bob Moffitt

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About 

Dr. Bob Moffitt serves as the executive director of the Harvest Foundation which he founded in 1981. Harvest works in 31 nations with a vision to see every member of every church sacrificially serving in their world as Jesus served in His. Bob is the author of If Jesus Were Mayor, published by Kregel in 2006 and now available in 13 languages. Bob also serves on the DNA Board of Directors and Global Leadership Team.

2 Comments

  1. Steven Johnson

    October 6, 2011 - 7:59 am

    Sometimes I wish we could fonetisize English, then it woodn’t be an ishu, wood it? 🙂 A remedial reading teacher told me it would also eliminate the bulk of kids’ difficulties learning to read!
    But whether you spell it with “wh” or “h”, may God bless you in encouraging churches to seek to apply God’s whole truth to whole people.
    But don’t you wish folks, instead of asking you how you spell it, would ask you what you MEAN? And is this not a sad indication of how evangelical churches are failing to develop the skill and the disposition to LISTEN and INTERPRET FROM CONTEXT? And is not that habit an essential aspect of love? If these leaders cannot discern what you mean from the context of when you use it, then how can we be assured that they are reading the Bible correctly either? Some people who talk about “holistic” advocate acupuncture and other treatments that are based on the notion that chi energy is flowing throughout the body and connecting us to the universe with which we are metaphysically “one.” Well, it’s very clear from reading anything you’ve written that has nothing to do with what you mean by wholism/holism. It shouldn’t matter how it is spelled, and it only does because a whole subculture of Christians has not learned an essential skill that flows from love, but instead has been conditioned by example to think it is OK to make unwarranted snap judgments. I can understand your need to accommodate this “concern,” but I hope that by getting people lovingly involved in the details of the lives of people who are different from themselves, they will develop greater sensitivity and listening skills.

    • Debbie

      August 31, 2016 - 6:00 pm

      “then it woodn’t be an ishu, wood it?”

      Except that you just phoneticised the ‘oo’ sound in two different ways. 🙂

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