Understanding the Shame: A Review of “Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures”

honorshameNow and then I run into a book that I wish I had read years ago. Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures by Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker is one of those books. Reading it has explained and helped me to understand some of my experiences while ministering and living in Latin America and Central Asia. Both Georges and Baker are well qualified to write on the subject. They have lived in such cultures, made mistakes, and adapted to the reality. They have the academic credentials to look back, to study, to analyze, and to teach the rest of us.

What Is In The Book

The authors divide the book into three parts. The first part is Cultural Anthropology. It describes honor-shame cultures and points to the challenges they pose for Westerners. They explain the communal and relational nature of morality in these settings where “…what is best for relationships and honors people is morally right; what shames is morally wrong.”

Part two examines the Biblical theology of honor and shame. This section is very helpful. Western emphasis on judicial guilt before God and aversion to shame may blind us to the Bible’s teaching on these themes. That blindness is particularly concerning when we remember that cultures in the Bible were likely honor-shame cultures. The atmosphere of the Bible is one of honor and shame, and we miss much of the meaning when we miss these themes.

Part three deals with practical ministry in honor-shame cultures focusing on spirituality, relationships, evangelism, conversion, ethics, and community. While it may be tempting for the cross-cultural worker desperately seeking answers to jump to this section, it is best to do the work of understanding. Too often we skip to best practices without understanding the reason for the practice. The book concludes with three appendices dealing with pertinent Biblical passages, Bible stories, and recommended resources.

Who Should Read It and Why They Should

The Good News is that Jesus takes away our shame as well as our guilt. This book should help Christian cross-cultural workers. It is useful for them no matter if their focus is evangelism, church planting, discipleship, or humanitarian relief. This book will help them to understand and to adapt to their host culture. As I wrote earlier, I would have loved to read it 20 years ago. Besides this audience, I think anyone working cross-culturally in an honor-shame based culture would benefit. It would also be helpful for pastors and mission leaders in the United States leading churches to engage the immigrant communities around them or to send short-term teams around the world. This book is one of the most importantly practical books that I have read in the area of missiology. This

(Full disclosure: I received an advance review copy from InterVarsity Press in exchange for a review. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

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Review of Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History

IntroductionbyCooperRecently released by IVP Academic, Derek Cooper’s Introduction to World Christian History is an excellent introductory text to the people, controversies, and events that have shaped twenty-one centuries of Christianity. Truly global in scope, the book will help Western Christians see and understand how Christianity developed in other parts of the world. As the center of Christianity has shifted to the Global South, it is important that we see Christianity through non-Western eyes. Derek Cooper, associate professor of World Christian History at Biblical Seminary, helps us to begin to see that Christianity’s history is not a Western alone. Christianity’s history began in Asia and has stretched around the world.

Strengths

The major strength of the book is the shift of focus from Western Christianity to Global Christianity. Cooper embraces the focus by placing a demarcation line of Christian history at the rise of Islam rather than the conversion of Constantine. This line shows great respect for Christians outside the West, as Islam has held more significant influence over the lives of Christians in the majority of the world than the rise of Christendom in the Roman Empire.

The book surveys history rapidly. (See thoughts on depth below.) The writing flows. The language is not so technical that the reading would be difficult for most readers with an interest in the topic. A basic knowledge of theology and historical controversies that shaped systematic theology is helpful for understanding, but the lack of it would not prevent a reader from finding this book worthwhile.

Weaknesses

If the reader is looking for an in-depth study of the various aspects of world Christianity, this book does not meet the need. The book is an introduction and covers twenty-plus centuries in a little over two hundred pages. Personally, as an introduction, I find it excellent.

Conclusion

For a student in college or seminary, this book makes an excellent historical, survey text that could stimulate interest in further study later. Christians who are not in ministry professionally but who want to know more about Christianity’s history will find the book very accessible. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a basic understanding of Christianity as it has come to be throughout the world.

(Full Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from IVP Academic for review purposes. I was under no obligation to give a positive review.)

Christian Citizenship: The Duty of Prayer Part 1

A few weeks ago, I attended a National Day of Prayer observance for the first time. As Christians, we have a responsibility to pray for our government. However, that is not where I want to begin. I want to start with the church’s responsibility to pray for herself–for the church.

I suppose it will strike many as self-centered to say that the church’s duty is to pray for herself. What about praying for leaders? Well, I plan to cover praying for leaders in my next post in this series. However, I think the church will never be active in its mission—its first duty—of making disciples of all nations unless the Church draws near to God and becomes what God desires.

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When many speak about renewal or revival, they reference 2 Chronicles 7:14. I see one common misapplication of this verse. Many take the reference to “My people” as somehow being a reference to the United States of America. Without getting into if the Founders founded America as a Christian nation or not, we just cannot theologically conclude that this verse applies to all Americans. The people of God, those called by His name, can only refer to those who have a covenant relationship with Him. Under the New Covenant, only those who have trusted in the substitutionary atoning work of Christ upon the Cross can truly be God’s people.

However, some say that this verse only applies to Israel under the Old Covenant. To use it today as a call to prayer for renewal is to rip it from its context. I disagree. “My people” refers to the covenant people of God, and the Church is the covenant people of God. The actions called for in the verse are timeless principles applicable to the church now as they were in Israel. Though the Church does not occupy land as Israel did as a political entity, the Church is in need of healing, renewal, and revival.

As the people of God, we face many challenges. Our influence in society has decreased. Others marginalize us away from public debate. Politics divides. Our society no longer shares the values that we hold, and in fact, many find our values repugnant.

Therefore, in light of the challenges we experience as a result of being both people of this country and His people, we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God’s face, and turn from any evil in which we participate. If we are to have any power at all, it must be God’s power working through us to witness, make disciples, and to transform the world in which we live.

Christians* in a Pagan Empire

I see the panic in some people’s eyes. I see the confusion.  They seem to be saying, “What happened? I thought we were a Christian nation.”

The point of this blog post is not to debate if the Founding Fathers of the  United States of America founded it as a Christian nation. The answer to that question seems to depend on the perspective from which one begins. Clearly, in the early 1800s, Christianity in its Protestant and comparatively speaking, evangelical form, had an enormous influence over the direction of the country. What some stand in shock of today, the loss of that influence, began gradually in the late 1800s, but it has accelerated exponentially in recent years. In other words, we shouldn’t be shocked.

Also, we should not panic. On one hand, we should not retreat from the public square, build walls around what remains of us, and scream and shout at those outside. The Pagan Empire that I refer to in the title is not the USA but rather the Roman Empire. Christianity has been in this situation before today. In fact, it thrived there. It may thrive again if we prove ourselves to be faithful, which brings me to the other hand.

We must not give in to the temptation to compromise with the world, to heed the call to “modernize” or “post-modernize” or whatever philosophy rules this month. So-called progressive Christians who encourage us to compromise with the world so that we can continue to have a voice are terribly deceived. First of all, to compromise Biblical truth in exchange for worldly influence (yes, some conservative, fundamental Christians are guilty of this as well) is not progress but regression. Also, historically, such assumptions have proven false. Sociologists Peter Finke and Rodney Starke in their book, The Churching of America 1776-2005, point out that the churches that thrived in the USA were “aggressive churches committed to vivid otherworldliness.”(Finke and Starke, 2005, p. 1) They also assert that those churches and denominations that “rejected traditional doctrines” and “ceased to make serious demands of their followers” declined.

So, the the first step for Christians and churches to thrive in our present situation is to accept it for one it is. We are one voice among many competing voices, some of which also claim to speak for Christianity. We live in a pluralistic nation, but we do not accept pluralism. (For a more in-depth discussion of that last sentence please find and read the book that I reviewed here.) Yet, we have the right to speak (at least for now) and to proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us do so faithfully and boldly. And let us learn from Scripture–from those who came before us–how to live as Christians in a “pagan” world.

Over the next several days or weeks (I don’t know yet), I will write blog posts about Scripture passages that speak to how we should relate to government and society, even when both stand against us. Today, I dealt with the first step we must take–accept reality for what it is. We do not live in a Christian nation, nor do Christians have the influence that they once enjoyed.

Our priority is to share the Gospel and make disciples. But the Bible says other things about how to relate to those around us. What will follow are steps that have no particular order. I hope to write a blog post on each one.

  • Pray for leaders, for our nation, and for the church.
  • What the Bible says about paying taxes.
  • What the Bible says about obeying laws.
  • What the Bible says about doing right to all people.
  • What the Bible says about the priority of obeying God above all others.
  • What happens when the price for following God is high.

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*Yes, I am using Christian here to refer to conservative, evangelical Christianity. Yes, I know there is a broader meaning. I do not mean to exclude so much as not to have to explain what I mean in every paragraph.

Greg Matte’s Unstoppable Gospel: A Review

Greg Matte is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Houston, Texas. His book, Unstoppable Gospel: Living Out the World-Changing Vision of Jesus’s First Followers, is a journey through the book of Acts, and the story of how FBC of Houston embraced a world-changing vision. Matte discusses in each chapter principles found in the book of Acts regarding taking the Gospel to the local community or the world. He intersperses stories from his church and others that illustrate those principles put into practice.

Weaknesses

For those used to reading pastors who write, Matte’s style of writing is familiar. Others may struggle with it. Once I got into the book and imagined the book as a conversation rather than writing, I was able to read it comfortably.

This point of disagreement is probably just quibbling in the eyes of some, but for me, it is an important distinction. Matte asserts that all believers are missionaries, which is something I hear often. I agree that all believers are to share the Gospel and to make disciples, but the term “missionary” implies doing that cross-culturally. There is a significant difference between telling a co-worker here in the United States about Jesus and going into another culture, learning a different language, and telling someone who knows nothing of Christianity about Jesus.

The following is not a weakness, but an alert to the reader. One should not expect in-depth exegesis of the book of Acts. There is some background study of the Acts, but for the most part, Matte focuses on practical application, which fits his goal and purpose in writing. This point leads to the strengths of the book.

Strengths

Matte’s points are practical. His book will be of great use to church leaders seeking to revitalize their churches. I highly recommend reading it with that purpose in mind. Some leaders in smaller churches may think, “Yes, but its First Baptist Houston. We’re too small.” The size of Matte’s church doesn’t make the principles less true for all churches. The scale of what a smaller church can do is not as large, but the guiding principle is the same.

Also, I appreciated Matte’s emphasis on prayer. Prayer and reliance on God’s Spirit and power were recurring themes throughout the book. So many books about ministry mention prayer, at first, but seemingly forget as the author presents the how-to steps. Matte keeps going back to prayer as foundational for a church’s ministry.

Finally, I admired Matte’s passion and his love for his church. Too many pastors don’t seem to enjoy what they are doing or admire their church. Matte does, and it is refreshing.

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from Baker. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)

A Book Every Church Planter Needs to Read

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Apostolic Church Planting: Birthing New Churches From New Believers by J.D. Payne raises important issues regarding church planting strategy. J.D. Payne, pastor of church multiplication at The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, is a respected missiologist who has already written well-known books on church planting and mission strategy. Apostolic Church Planting is a companion to Discovering Church Planting. Payne believes that we have traded the biblical approach to church planting for less effective approaches.

Summary

Payne defines biblical church planting as evangelism that leads to churches. Apostolic church planting finds the disciples in the harvest who become the church. In plain English for those who don’t know church planting jargon, Payne advocates planting a church entirely of new believers rather than planting churches with seed families of believers or similar models. He explains over twelve chapters how apostolic church planting takes place. The chapter headings summarize well the contents of each:

What Is Church Planting?
How’s Your Ecclesiology?
Practice of Team Members
Pathway to Planting
Stages of Planting
Planned Role Changes
Church Multiplication Cycle
Methods
Where to Begin?
Pastoral Development
Strategy Development
Ethical Guidelines

Strengths

My background is that of a church planting catalyst working in South America and leading church planting teams there. So, when I heard J.D. Payne had written a new book on church planting, I wanted to read it.

The greatest strength of Payne’s work is the biblical nature of the approach. As Payne points out, church planting is simpler than what we have made it. That is not to say that it is easy or messy. However, Payne lays out a workable model of apostolic church planting. Going into a community, making disciples, and gathering new believers together is much simpler than finding seed families and planning major launch services with a church-in-a-box.

Another strength is that the book is a quick read. One could easily read it in a day or over a weekend. For busy church planters, this length is a plus.

The chapter on ethics is a must read for all church planters and mission leaders in my opinion. Payne describes choices for practices that lead more people knowing Christ as ethical decisions. If we believe in hell and if we believe Jesus is the key to abundant life now and in eternity, how can we not recognize these as ethical decisions?

Weakness

Payne endorses a team approach to church planting. I agree that this is best. Payne assumes in most cases that these teams will form first and then go to the field, which probably aligns with his experience at The Church at Brook Hills. However, it is not the experience of many currently on the international field, particularly those sent through denominational mission agencies. Many teams form on the field.

I do not know which approach is best. I would like to see more research on the subject. Anecdotally I saw both success and failure with teams formed before they went to the field. In some cases, they were too insulated from those who were already on the field. In other cases, this was not a problem. It depended on the team and its leadership. I would have liked to have seen more in this book regarding teams that form on the field and the challenges they face.

Analysis

I agree with Payne’s belief that apostolic church planting, birthing new churches from new believers, is the most effective means to reproduce both believers and churches. As a church planting catalyst, I saw and worked with different approaches. Those churches that formed with new believers grew more rapidly and reproduced new churches more rapidly. I attribute this to the relationship network new believers had that still touched those without Christ. A new church starting with believers has to work to build that network.

Apostolic church planting has become more of the norm in international circles outside the USA. I hope this book may stir a conversation about its usefulness in the North American context. Personally, I believe that a church planting catalyst working with apostolic church planting teams could lead rapidly to church planting movements in North America. However, even without a church planting catalyst, apostolic church planting holds great promise. I hope that Payne’s book will be read and often discussed by church planters and agency leaders in the coming year.

(Full disclosure: IVP sent me a free copy of this book for review purposes. I was under no obligation to write a positive review.)