12 June 2019

Book Review: One Gospel for All Nations - Jackson Wu

            With globalization and urbanization as our current reality we are tempted to think that the missionary task is becoming easier. Not so. Today, the world is more interconnected than ever; however, these connections are often used by secularizing and anti-Christian forces. Materialism, atheism, and extremism have all taken advantage of globalization. Still, Christianity maintains a firm presence in every hemisphere and Christian adherents are increasing in number, most notably, in the global-south. However, our successes do not excuse our failing. 

          The church’s assumption that the developed world will be a more Christianized world has only partially come to fruition. In many countries, traditionally Christian systems of education and community development have proven to be that nation's greatest secularizing influence. The responsibility of the church to take the gospel to every nation weighs heavy upon my generation.

            It is into this milieu that Jackson Wu’s prophetic voice is heard. One Gospel for All Nations challenges the church to give a contextualized answer to four important questions: Who is Christ?, What does Christ do?, Why is Christ important?, and How should people respond?.  How a community responds to these questions determines not only their theology but their behavior towards other humans and the environment as well. Wu’s thesis is stated in his introduction, “It is possible to proclaim the truth and yet still be wrong.” If contextualization were easy, One Gospel for All Nations would be a pamphlet and not a 350-page book. Christian missions have often spoken the truth wrongly and made the gospel out of reach for whole populations (loc. 228).  

            Dr. Jackson Wu is a missionary and missiologist who straddles several worlds. Wu was born in America to Chinese parentage and, as a bilingual, he teaches and trains in missions/theology in both the Chinese and English speaking worlds. He teaches primarily in Asia; however, through his writings I, and many others, have been challenged by his prophetic voice to step more deeply into the wounds of the world. Personally, Wu helped me to clarify my thinking regarding, church planting, training, and mobilization of the church for mission. 

            Wu’s book takes as theological and anthropological approach in analyzing the church’s responsibility to reach the world for Jesus. He shows that correct contextualization is the key for making the gospel accessible to all nations. As a linguist, I appreciate his ideas on language and contextualization. 

          All minds do not think alike. The gospel is big enough to connect to different worldviews. Wu makes use of various theories from the social sciences and interrogates them into a missiology that any evangelical would agree with. The strength of the book is found in his integration of old and new ideas, while maintaining a firm foundation in Scripture.

            Where Wu stands out among other writers of missiology is in his instructive models. Wu’s models of missions and contextualization make the book easy to understand and applicable to any mission field. A book that could prove academically distant to some missionaries becomes relevant through Wu’s models. The practical context for much of the book is China. The anecdotes and personal stories keep the book from becoming dry or uninspiring. I could not put the book down. I found it the most readable book on contextualization that I have encountered to date.

the Text
The book is well organized and flows from one chapter to the next, while accumulating momentum throughout the text. The book is divided into four sections. 

Section I:
These first chapters lay the premise of the book, which centers on contextualization of the gospel message cross-culturally. Here, Wu connects to many ideas already understood by any young missionary or seminary student. Section I, connections the gospel to the lost world through the ministry of missions. Wu keeps these three entities (gospel, world, & missions) in correct relationship. While addressing the questions of how to contextualization the gospel, Wu gives guidance on how to keep contextualization from going wrong and veering into syncretistic beliefs and practices. 

Section II:
            Section II establishes our priorities for contextualization. Wu clarifies the nature of the gospel and shows how the Gospel answers the questions that the non-Christian world is asking. I found the idea of the “implicit gospel” particularly compelling. Wu challenges missionaries to look deeply into the inconsistencies of our stated missiology and actual practice. “It is possible that our ‘implicit gospel’ has a greater influence on our listener than does our ‘explicit gospel’” (loc. 358). I found this section convicting. As a missionary, I’ve had years of explicit missiological training. However, in reading Wu I saw that there are still ideas that I affirm to be true in my beliefs, but struggle to live out that truth in my daily ministry. 

            Chapter 6 asks the question: How do we move from biblical text to cultural context? (loc1894) Wu follows a line of thought most closely associated with Paul Hiebert. Exegeses must be done in both Scripture and culture in order to properly connect the two (loc 641). I hope that I’m not reading beyond Wu’s ideas, but I found this chapter to be a simple reproduction of some of Hiebert’s more complex ideas.  
Section III:
            Wu uses his own experiences in Asia to support his ideas. His evidence is convincing, although anecdotal. His approach in section III is less academic than in previous sections. Here, Wu focuses on his personal experience in his Chinese field of service. While not empirical, the evidence’s qualitative property supports his thesis that the gospel can be stated clearly in one culture, but when transmuted into another, may fail to convey the meaning of the gospel in a way that is understandable (loc. 384). 

          This section would be very helpful to anyone preparing for the Chinese context. Wu’s experience in China is obviously extensive; however, I think the specifically Asian focus of the book was a weak point in that it is practically, singularly focused on China. Because of this, some students may find the book misleading, if they don’t have the research skills to separate Wu’s theory from practical application. Potentially, one might walk away from reading the book with an overly applied Sinocentric view of contextualization. 

Section IV:
            This section was helpful and motivating to me as a seminary student and lifelong learner. I appreciate Wu’s perspective on biblical literacy and continuing education. For some readers, Wu’s high ideals of a missionary’s education could put them off from grasping the sense of the section.   When Wu states that Seminaries should consider making biblical languages part of missionary training, I was taken aback. Is this not a rather grand expectation to put upon a young missionary? I assume there’s good reason that seminaries don’t normally include biblical languages as core classes for Missions/Intercultural Degrees. Wu’s critique that many missionaries are under-educated as compared to lawyers and other professionals is well taken but possibly out of place (loc 3404). The time and intellectual talent required to accomplish Wu’s ideal missionary education is likely outside the capacity of many sending organizations and individuals, especially national missionaries from the developing world. One the other hand, I found Wu’s emphasis on teaming to be insightful and encouraging.        

            I would highly recommend One Gospel for All Nations to any missionary at any point in their career. The book is insightful and clarifying. Wu’s fidelity to scripture and the Great Commission is inspirational. He covers a lot of material and communicates missiological insights in a well-defined and well organized way. Wu’s academic rigor shows in his emphasis on modeling. Wu’s graphic models of contextualization support and clarify his main ideas. In using models, the content of the book is easier taught to others though the use of geometric representations of Wu’s ideas. I believe these modals would be especially useful in training non-readers.  

   Wu places himself in the evangelical tradition, which is evident in his underlying theology. His approach to missions and missionary training is not meant to be revolutionary, but firmly rooted in traditional evangelical missiology. 

            Where Wu adds to the literature, is in his integration of traditionally non-theological scholarship and traditional missions. This is most clearly seen in Wu’s apt handling of contextualization as a foundational element for all missionary efforts. Wu, as a younger missiologist, has the advantage of those (Kraft, Hiebert, Hesselgrave, etc.) who have gone before him and sought to establish the evangelical identify of international missions. Wu doesn’t tamper with this previously established identity but adds to this missiology a more robust interdisciplinary approach to doing missions in a cross-cultural context.     
            This book will be well received by others for three reasons. First, it is particularly well written. Wu’s work is free from both overly academic language and folksy prose. Second, Wu defines his work and its underlying premises in a way that is consistent with an evangelical framework. This makes his book easy to apply within any evangelical setting. Thirdly, Wu himself is multicultural and speaks with a unique voice. His multicultural background shows though his writing and gives him the ability to critique with authority from multiple positions. If the book is not well received, it will be due to Wu’s hard-line stance on contextualization and his historical critique of missions as a non-contextualized endeavor. Possibly, some may object to Wu’s focus on the Asian context to the exclusion of other peoples. I did see the Sinocentric element of the book as a weak point; however, this is only a minor criticism and should not discourage anyone from reading and applying the content of the book to their own contexts.   

Wu’s representation of contextualization as a foundational element of missions is motivating and shows that over the past two generations the church has grown tremendously in its understanding of human social and cognition systems. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading. Where previous works on contextualization and missiology struggle to maintain consistence in language and philosophy, Wu speaks from an established evangelical missiological position. While Wu is not rocking the boat missiologically, he most certainty challenges churches and missionaries to live out the gospel explicitly and implicitly in a biblical way. Wu forces readers to search themselves for any areas of spiritual disobedience or intellectual laziness and place everything aside that would hinder us form making the gospel contextually understood and accessible to all peoples. One Gospel for All Nations should be read by anyone involved in cross-cultural ministry.       

10 March 2019

As my grandfather said, "Love must be cultivated"

Love is love when loved in return
Any other is an imposter, merely infatuation
To fall in love, is to fall into the love of another
As she fell into mine and I into hers
To fall requires gravity
And love provides its own gravitas
Love must be severe for it to work
And to work is love in the truest sense
As my grandfather said, "love must be cultivated"

     A field when abandoned will shortly be consumed by the forest.
Often, I have walked within the deep woods to find an old stone wall and realized the youth of the trees around me. That, which is now covered with vines, was once a cultivated field; and so is the love of many when abandoned. Love is forgotten and only the walls remain. Covered in vines and tarnished by years; love abandoned becomes a monster which seeks to consume the adjoining field. It becomes the source of the spores that blow into another’s field and pollutes it with blight.

     Men, keep your hedge rows clean and prune your fence lines.
Ladies, never neglect to pull up the weeds. A sapling is easily uprooted, but a tree will not be removed without great damage to the land. Neglect and abuse both destroy. Both are born of the same evil parentage. Their scars are often found upon the land: one in deep furrows the other in overgrowth. Seeds that are planted and left unattended render the same nothing as the seeds driven over or plowed too deeply. Husbands and wives do you not know that you eat from the same field? You will gather not only what you sow but that which is sown by the other. So, sow what and when you desire but sow together and in season as joint laborers. For it is hard to keep one’s rows straight when sowing in the dark and all plants grow from their own roots. 

Contextualization is not just for the "mission field."

Over the past 12 years, I have trained and been trained in contextualized approaches to evangelism and discipleship in my specific church planting context. However, my mind was expanded in these few pages to see the need of contextualization in all aspect of ministry. Contextualization is not just for the mission field. If we believe that contextualization is only a missionary’s tool, then we will miss our calling to reach the nations at our door and understand Scripture in its fullest context. Dean Flemming1 asks this provocative question, “How should the church inculturate its faith when increasingly its field of mission is not just a single target culture but a multi-faceted cultural mosaic?”
Much of the reading holds up Paul as a model of contextualization. Paul is equally shown to contextualize his message for the Jew as for the Greeks. Previously, I viewed missionaries as the only ones that needed to contextualize; the local pastor, ministering within his home community doesn’t need to contextualize. This error follows from 2 incorrect premises: first, that a culture is 100% homogeneous and second, the Scriptures do not have their own local context.
First, no culture is entirely homogeneous. All cultures are divided at least by generations and genders. Any minister working within his home culture has the responsibility to contextualize biblical teaching. Granted, some situation may be more challenging than others. Some communities may contain distinct languages, cultures, and stories. Other communities might be less diverse but never entirely devoid of diversity. The more common situation is a homogeneous church surrounded by a diverse community. Here, many churches are blind to their need of contextualization the gospel. They pay the bills just fine without it. Many churches find themselves in situations like this. Some are in denial or unwilling to change, while others are willing to change but lack the training to contextualize for other worldviews. Have missionaries also been blind to the need of the American church and see “stateside” time as their time to rest and raise funds for their ministry? Have we (missionaries) become too focused on the “ends of the earth” and forfeited our witness to our “Jerusalem”?
Second, the Scriptures shouldn’t be read as if directed at any culture today. How have I not seen this before? We all must seek to contextualize Christ’s teaching in our lives and for the lives of others. There’s no good ministry without good contextualization. Interestingly, I live and work among Arabic speaking Muslims, which linguistically and culturally have more similarities to cultures found in Scripture, than anywhere in the West. We work hard to contextualize the gospel for our “missionary” context; however, the gospel might be better understood by a Chadian-Arab in its raw form than an American-postmodern.
The need to contextualize is ever-present. Paul is a great example of this. He presents the same gospel to different worldviews in different ways. He adjusts his starting point based on the culture and education of his hearers, but he still arrives at the gospel of Jesus with all he evangelizes. The gospel is big. It is impossible to delineate our culture’s version of the gospel as the “real gospel”; God created every culture to praise him. The guilty come to God seeking forgiveness, the helpless come to God seeking power. The gospel is both. 

1: Flemming, Dean. Contextualization in the New Testament: Patterns for Theology and
Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP, 2005.

21 January 2019

The Power of Stories


The New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright said that stories provide a vital framework for experiencing the world. They also provide a means by which views of the world may be changed. “Stories are, actually, peculiarly good at modifying or subverting other stories and their worldviews.” -Vision of the Possible, p.275

            Myth and experience have a fascinating relationship. A culture’s experiences affect their mythology and their myths affect a culture’s experiences. This cyclical process is always in flux. The dynamic nature of experience is a topic that is not often discussed in conversations. N.T. Wright tells us that experience is scaffolded by stories (myths). The effect of this is that the same reality experienced by people with different mythologies can code distinctively different memories. Perception is highly impacted by the stories we tell ourselves. In fact, it takes intellectual effort and faith to hold to a singular understanding of reality.

            Why are memories so different within a group of common participants? This question is not easily answered. It is a complex problem where theologians, philosophers, linguists, psychologist, and neurologist rarely gain precious ground. The mysteries of human cognition do not give up their secrets easily.

            Where cognition intersects our work as church planters and missionaries is at the point of worldview. Conversion to Christ is a reorientation of one’s core worldview. Salvation requires a marked change in worldview or there is no rebirth of the soul.

            How is it possible for me to affect the unseen worldview of an individual? I cannot sway their soul or save them by my human will, but I can impact their story. Much of our world is mediated by language and humans are good at influencing the minds of others with the use of language. Language provides a powerful opportunity to present new stories, which are, then, either affirmed or negated by future experiences. However, new stories are not often completely rejected but refined through experience. New stories are not only affected by experience but by other stories already residing in a persons worldview. The deeper the story in a person’s worldview the more pressure it applies to new stories to get in line with the values and beliefs of more established stories.

            This process of story integration is most active in evangelism and discipleship not in salivation, which is true revelation. Story integration is a slow process, whereby truth is organized and false truths are exposed. This can remove barriers to salvation and accelerate spiritual growth but is insufficient to save. Salvation is not a cognitive process it is a work of the Holy Spirit.

            I have, too often, seen evangelism as a formula. Teach good stories to expel the bad stories and God must save the person based on my evangelistic expertise. This is far from reality. Early in my career as a missionary, I erred on the opposite side and presented an incomplete Gospel and expected that through prayer and the person’s desire to better their life, salvation was inevitable. A person cannot believe in what they have not been told (see Romans 10:14). Herein we see the interplay of our effort as ministers, man’s free will, and the action of the Holy Spirit.       

07 September 2018

Organic Farming and My Sex Life (3 of 3)

       The National Gardening Association reports that the average home garden in the United States yields $600 worth of produce per gardening family, with an investment of only $70. This converts into $21 billion not spent in U.S. supermarkets. This $21 billion pays little tax, no executive salaries, no transport or fuel cost, and no money leaves your home.1          
          What do you think a consumer based economy thinks of people choosing to produce that which they consume? Eating from your own garden is a threat to our present economy. Why? They need our money to keep the machine running. As a result of post WWII industrialism, family farms, which were at least in part subsistence communities, were forced to specialize. We were told to sell what we produce for paper money then go to town and buy from great big stores. Thus, American consumerism was born.
          Consumerism is aggressively targeting every aspect of your life. This is what we call advertising. The goal of advertising in our generation is to manufacturer discontent–to leave us wanting more. Producers want us to be dissatisfied with what we already have or could produce ourselves in order to entice us to buy their products. And spend we do. We buy clothes to portray an unauthentic image and eat food for entertainment alone, but they didn't stop there.
          Now my generation is being attacked by a wholly destructive industry–Pornography. 
          Each year the porn industry makes no less than 10 billion dollars off of Americans alone.2 There's big money to be made in the sale and consumption of porn and porn-related products, as well as, huge advertising profits in generating traffic to "free" porn sites.
          Can you imagine the threat healthy marriages are to this multi-billion dollar industry? The pleasure you produce and enjoy does not directly participate in a consumer based economy. It is produced locally and tax-free. No wonder my email receives a constant trickle of trash trying to seduce me into paying for my pleasure. 
     Porn is the bottled water of sex. I have a tap in my kitchen, which produces the water I drink, but I have to fill the glass; or not, for a small fee, bottled water comes pre-filled and ready for consumption. As consumers we prefer to exchange revenue for the goods we need. Growing a garden takes a lot of work, as a gardener I know. But our vegetables are sweeter and less contaminated than the supermarket's; and so is our bedroom.     
     The effect of our love moves beyond us. The love or lack of love we produce becomes the garden we raise our children in. It is the back drop of every other relationship in our lives. The love of a husband  only produces fulfillment when expressed to the wife it was designated for. 
     Poets, artist, and theologians have described the nature of love from every angle. Literature and music are filled with the reverberations of humans trying to cope with the love bursting within us all. But love is not homogeneous. The love inside my heart is made up of a spectrum of loves. The challenge of existence is knowing our loves to the point of knowing which direction they each point and then releasing our love in that direction. 
     Consumerism is not concerned with helping you understand your loves. They'd rather tell you which of their products you should love. So much heartache has been experienced by people tying to love the right object with the wrong love. My children-directed-love doesn't work on my wife and my God-directed-love doesn't work on anyone but God. Love comes with labels. Our loves are like Christmas gifts under a tree. We must take the time to read the name tags.
     Sadly, many people have given out the wrong gifts. The wrong gift to the right person creates frustration. My friends are not my wife and my wife is not my God. 
     If you don't declare your loves, consumerism will declare them for you. You will be tossed by fads and trends, not only in what you wear, but in the friends you pick and the values you affirm. Never has a culture touted itself as a comprehensive worldview with only empty promises and products due to be obsolete by next Christmas.  
     Pornography does not fulfill it entices. It is designed to always leave you wanting and wanting more. Love fulfills. It fills us up. That is what it's designed to do. Every true love draws us in a God-ward direction because every true love is loving God. Pornography thrives on our lust, not only for sex, but for what is next. It is a prison and misery makes the bars. Love is freedom. In marriage, we are given the canvas upon which we create our own masterpiece. In marriage, we are given the pages upon which we write our own love story. We are the artists. We, above all, value our art. It is ours, unique to us. May we never plagiarize.  
     Live in the garden of your love and love the garden you live in. It is yours. Your gift from God.                                                     

1 http://www.gardenresearch.com/files/2009-Impact-of-Gardening-in-America-White-Paper.pdf
2 http://www.covenanteyes.com/2012/06/01/how-big-is-the-pornography-industry-in-the-united-states/

01 August 2018

The Two Shall Become One (2 of 3)

          10 years after the event and I find myself telling "our story" as often as ever. Someone says, "So how did you and your wife meet?" I just smile and ask, "Do you want the long or short version?" I love telling either and if you have the time, I'll show you the pictures. These past ten years have been a wonderful adventure of life together with Maridith. We have had failures, victories, pain, and joy.    
     Our marriage is not easy because marriage is not easy. If you know us, you know we are fire and ice. It doesn't take much to put us into a free-fall as we try to hold on to each other but are pulled in different directions by this marriage's great antagonists... us.
          We are the ones that push each other away. We are who we have to fight to make this thing work. The pride and selfishness that festers within us can be defeated.  And this is what we do. This is what I have learned.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.-Genesis 2:24

     The idea that we are now "one flesh" provides spouses a great advantage, if we can truly see each other as one flesh. But, more often then not it is me and my flesh against my wife and her flesh...this we call an argument. 
          Our marriage is at its best when we are on the same side in the battle against our flesh and the troubles of this world. I can be a real meanie some days when my emotions put me at odds with Maridith. Yet, the victories are found when I realize that we are one flesh and I step over to Maridith's side and we work through the problem together. This is never harder than when the problem is me, but still I have to hold tight to Maridith and realize that we are on the same team. She is the help that God has given me and together we can work though any difficulty together. 
          So, I'll keep telling our story, which is getting longer and more beautiful with each passing year. 

15 February 2018

Husbands, Wives, and Potatoes (1 of 3)

          What does it mean to be a husband? Well, if I can geek-out a bit, the etymology of the word is a combination of two Old Norse words. The first word Hūs, simply means house. The second word is bóndi; a really cool and complex word. A bóndi was a term identifying a man who farmed his own land. This is in contrast to a farmhand or sharecropper, who farms land owned by another. If you worked the fields of another man you were not consider a bóndi. 
     As I write this, I'm reminded of my grandfather–a man who farmed his own land all his life. Many years ago my grandfather gave me this piece of advise: "Son, love has got to be cultivated." And he was right. 
          Now, in my tenth year of marriage and two small boys, I'm learning the severity of my grandfather's words. 
          When my papaw used the word cultivate it had a different meaning than today's usage.   Cultivation for my grandfather's generation was something a farmer did continuously. It was a cycle of affection and respect for the land that God had blessed him with in stewardship. I'm not being dramatic. My grandfather dearly loved the land he lived on and he did live on the land not simply above it, like so many today. 
          He saw his efforts in partnership with the land. He cared for the land and the land responded to his care. In his day they talked about soil husbandry, not soil science. He was the husbandman of his land. This might sound trite to farmers who consider themselves agribusinessmen and view their land in terms of economics and industry. But, I digress.     
          When I was about 10 years of age, my grandfather gave me a row in his garden–a great honor indeed. I planted the mess of potatoes my father had given me. I enjoyed that single row of potatoes and liked the responsibility. 
          One day, I went to water my little plants and noticed something dreadful; potato bugs were eating the young shoots. I ran to my grandfather and told him what had happened. He said, "Well, go pull the bugs off". I didn't like this answer and asked him for "some chemical" to kill the bugs. He snapped at me and said I shouldn't use a chemical for a job that I needed to do myself. He was teaching me real cultivation, true husbandry. So, I went out and squashed the bugs. I'd go out twice a day and kill dozens of parasites. 
          I was defending my little potatoes from pests. This was my row and my grandfather made sure that I cultivated it from planting, to harvest, to preparing the soil for the next year. This was my responsibility. I shudder when I hear machines referred to as cultivators and chemicals used in place of available labor. Twenty years later and I still cultivate a garden in the backyard and in the home. I am the husband. I am the hūsbóndi. I can't leave the leadership of my family to a person, book, pastor, chemical, or machine and still call myself the husband. 
          Sadly, many men don't feel the same way. They reduce the responsibility of the husband to simply making money and paying others to influence their wives and raise their children. And even more tragically, some men are working fields that don't even belong to them. Men, we must cultivate the love of our wives, maintain our own homes in love, train our children with affection, and at times, defend them from the pests.