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A Medi-Cultural Call for the Multicultural Congregation

The livability of this world is reinforced through partnerships, which increasingly are formed between diverse cultures—across oceans, nations, streets, and pews. In drawing on Paul’s image of the church as a body and on the personal adaptability reflected in his missional statements, this paper examines congregational identity through the metaphor of the bilingual experience and calls the church to reframe multiculturalism by moving beyond acceptance of other cultures toward being irrevocably changed by them.

“Cultures pour out their souls in their art. Here we may find a bridge for cross-cultural connection. And when we begin to listen to and in time sing one another’s songs, we may have a new and renewed ecclesiology which will favor more and more unity in our unhappily divided church.” –Martin Tel1

In United by Faith,2 the companion volume and response to Divided by Faith,3 Curtiss Paul DeYoung and colleagues propose the formation of multiracial congregations as “the best antidote to national and evangelical struggles over racial and ethnic issues.”4 In my travels as a professional musician sharing songs and hymns by composer Konstantin Zhigulin, I’ve had the privilege of visiting congregations across the United States, and some of them reflect the multiracial initiative proposed by these authors. These congregations are undergoing demographic shifts as they open themselves to expressing greater diversity and establish partnerships in which each person offers the gifts of their own culture. Two observations I might note from my times with these congregations are:

  • While racial and ethnic issues may be the most visible among national and evangelical struggles, additional categories of cultural difference—economic, linguistic, political, and others—also need to be addressed. Open and intentional cultural encounters across all these lines can shape the church to God’s glory.
  • Even where intentional cultural encounters are being cultivated, many stop short of fully realizing the vision of the church promoted in United by Faith. The church’s celebration and enjoyment of such efforts is good, but a more complete embodiment of creation, wellness, and justice awaits.

This paper offers the prefix medi- as the germ for a metaphor that can foster exploration of the experience of finding community through inhabiting a middle space. With this image as an aide and by listening to Paul with the ears of those who have found themselves living between cultures, the church can hear a call to live into a new identity that takes as its pattern the mind of Christ. When a congregation holds onto its primary culture, fellowship is limited. In releasing this grasp, the resulting partnership can create something new. This new middle space is unfamiliar for everyone in some way or other. It will not necessarily become comfortable for some time still. However, I propose that by meeting in a shared space not wholly familiar to any one person or group, the church may yet become a family where everyone is equally at home.

Issues in the Multicultural Church

It will be helpful to identify at the outset what the word culture means in this paper. The editors of Making Room at the Table settled on culture as “the social, linguistic, national, ethnic, and theological realities that locate and identify who we are and what we believe and value.”5 Drawing on the definitions provided in the introduction of A Many Colored Kingdom, I expand this list to include racial, class, and gender realities.6 With this in mind, a summary of the opening section of Martin Tel’s chapter in Making Room at the Table illuminates my thesis within a single area of cultural practice—music7—from which readers can explore broader questions. For Tel’s observations regarding music and its application in worship are no less pertinent within a wider scope for congregational communities.

Related to the presence of multiple cultures in the church, Tel notes, “Congregations that were once able to come together as one now divide their worship according to preference of defined subcultures.”8 This phenomenon can be associated with an approach, for example, that separates single congregations into multiple assemblies that offer either instrumental or a cappella music, or the choice of “traditional” versus “contemporary” worship.

Tel also raises a concern that multiculturalism in the church should not devolve into a “euphemism for the modern assumption that all things are equal and all should be accepted.”9 To paraphrase his larger point, a failure to make certain commitments that I will discuss later stokes the flames of the church’s conflicts. The inattentive approach to multicultural considerations reveals a disrespect for and even an abuse of traditions from outside one’s own primary culture. It is possible, as well, through inattentiveness to bring activities and teachings into the church’s musical practice that, despite potentially being attractive and exciting, are theologically unjustified and even unsound. Just as with other aspects of the church, the effectiveness of an activity is not sufficient justification for its practice, especially if it exhibits elitism or willfully disregards the commands of God.10

In his article “Cult and Culture at the Millennium,”11 Quentin Faulkner identifies “the smorgasbord approach characteristic of today’s popular multiculturalism” as “a hallmark of the new secular religion.”12 Considering Faulkner’s description of that religion, his observations imply that multicultural initiatives may ultimately serve self-centered impulses. This, of course, would achieve the precise opposite of the church’s calling to unified life in Christ. We must examine our interests—whether they be explicit or unconscious—alongside our intentions when engaging the practices of a culture that is primary to a minority of congregants.

To Tel’s concerns, I would add my personal observation that in Churches of Christ, music is generally the only art explicitly exercised within the context of congregational worship. Other art forms and creative practices related to drama, architecture, literature, rhetoric, and homiletics hover at the edges of community life, but their presence is sometimes overlooked. As the church thinks broadly about incorporating practices that reflect the diversity of those gathered, we should be prepared to discuss more than just worship music.

Bilinguality as the Basis for a Metaphor

Before examining Tel’s community commitments that address the above issues, I introduce a metaphor that I then offer as an image for considering approaches to congregational life in a multicultural context. A series of autobiographical reflections build this image and point toward more meaningful concepts.

In the summer following the first year of my undergraduate studies, I began going on short- and medium-term international mission trips. In a span of six years, I took five trips to Russia. All together, I was in the country working to support the ministries of one specific congregation for a cumulative eight months. Prior to these shorter-term travels, I refused to eat raw tomatoes except on hamburgers, but this changed in the summer camp that was the setting of my early mission work. Tomatoes were served on my plate, so I began to eat them. I associated this deliberate change with a cultural encounter. Upon my return to the United States, I became a tomato eater. This was a conscious decision—one made to consistently express the change my cross-cultural experience had effected in me. Generally, there is nothing more Russian than American about eating tomatoes. But for me there was a difference.

To pursue my master’s degree, I moved to Saint Petersburg and lived there for six years. I had not expected to wed while abroad, yet at the start of my second year of studies, I married a sister in the congregation I had become a part of. My commitment to participate in church life using the congregation’s native tongue exclusively, plus the practice my wife and I instituted of alternating daily the language of our home—speaking my first language on even calendar days and hers on odd numbered ones—supported rapid development of the second-language skills necessary for successful study at an institution where Russian was the sole language of instruction.

I began to feel comfortable speaking Russian after approximately three years of immersion. It was a slow process and included the common experience of culture shock in response to my new language and way of life. Often, this included a physiological as well as a psychological response. Sometimes these sensations were on the verge of being hallucinations. I see now that what may have brought on this unnerving reaction was cognitive dissonance arising from my personal cultural transformation as a bilingual. It is helpful to note here the definition of bilinguality as offered in psycholinguistics scholarship, which draws a distinction between that term and a concept with which it is often conflated in common usage: bilingualism. Whereas bilingualism pertains to the state of a linguistic community, “bilinguality is the psychological state of an individual who has access to more than one linguistic code as a means of social communication.”13

Renzo Titone’s holodynamic model of second-language acquisition offers an explanation for dissociative experiences in bilinguality such as I encountered.14 In his explanation of this model, Titone defines personality as “the distinctive, unique, and coherent organization of cognitive and behavioral activities, dependent on, and governed by, the conscious Self.”15 Language is personological. That is, it includes “a deep structure related to the intrapsychic dynamism of encoding and decoding as person-centered operations.”16 This structure consists of three “dynamically interrelated, constantly interactive, and ecologically oriented” hierarchical levels:

  • Tactic: regulating external speech acts.
  • Strategic: controlling cognitive operations.
  • Ego-dynamic: relating all psychological and linguistic activities to the “self of the communicating person.”17

The details of activity at the Ego level of this model raise a significant question for my thesis because sometimes it feels to bilinguals as if the tactic and strategic levels connect somehow with distinct Egos that are dependent upon the language in use at the moment.

François Grosjean provides a rich, albeit dated, literature review reflecting the sense some bilinguals have of exhibiting distinguishable personalities when using different languages.18 Participants in reviewed studies exhibited significant shifts in personality—such as raised levels of assertiveness and highly differentiated manners of emotional engagement—depending on which language they used for a given task. While Grosjean proposes that this phenomenon is perhaps “simply a shift in attitudes and behaviors corresponding to a shift in situation or context,”19 the fact remains that placing oneself inside these new environments and cultures brings about a change in personal attitudes, feelings, and behaviors.20

During my many returns to the US (even from short-term missions), I likewise came to sense that I had two selves that were distinguished by the language I was engaging at the time. For example, speaking in Russian brought out an assertiveness bordering on stubbornness, a quality that moved beyond the framework of my English-language persona. Not wanting to express dual personalities, nor to wholly subjugate one language-based persona to the other, I resolved to embrace a new but unified me. This required giving up parts of who I had been before gaining fluency in a second language. In a process that was most evident once I resettled in the US, I released parts of me that I had known to be me. These were not false or sinful parts, simply ones that were incompatible with parts from another competing side of me.

Although I had become bilingual, this process of self-unification worked against my being “bi-personal,” which felt dissociative and inauthentic. Instead of having to regularly traverse a bridge from one “self” to the “other,” I sought to inhabit the space between them. The image by which I am best able to describe this experience is formed on an analogy of the Mediterranean Sea. Rather than being in either “Europe” or “Northern Africa” and traveling between these two shores as I shift between languages, I have chosen to settle in the space between them.

This space is not necessarily a comfortable one. The shorelines feel at times very far from each other and from me. I am not on either of the stable land masses of my once distinct language personas. Located between them, I sometimes feel remote from both of the “selfs” I once had known. I am a resident of the sea that mutually belongs to both shores, and my sea legs are no longer content on either land. There are gales and there are waves, but these waters have become my home. This approach to the multiple languages that shape me has transformed my bilinguality into what I might term a medi-lingual experience.

Paul and the Medi-Cultural Congregation

What, then, might it mean for a congregation to inhabit such a middle space? While any number of scriptural references could be considered on the question of issues for the multicultural assembly, imagery used in four selected Pauline texts promotes reflection on how the personal bilingual experience can serve as a metaphor for the multicultural congregation as a body.

  1. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:27–29).21

In the words of Parrett and King, “Christ has leveled the ground.”22 Differences of identity do not disappear, but socially constructed hierarchies of privilege and power are done away with. Despite having been made equals, though, two can become one in ways that do not fully exhibit God’s glory. Donald H. Juel remarks, for example, that the modern implementation of Gal 3:28 in most congregations results in one particular group defining the community’s core essence such that “genuine difference is often perceived as a problem to be overcome” through strategies developed to satisfactorily integrate those who don’t immediately conform according to class or race.23

Christ’s work as discussed in Ephesians 2 indicates, however, that a different approach is more appropriate:

  1. “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:14–16).

Christ reconciled two bodies that were at odds with each other by drawing them into one body. He did not have one body receive the other into itself but brought them both into a new one to which neither could make prior claim. In this, Christ brought peace, a requisite for a body’s health and full functioning.

But a question arises: What happens to a body when it is made with another into a new one?

  1. “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings” (1 Cor 9:19–23).

In A Many Colored Kingdom, Gary Parrett states, “Paul, in becoming all things to all people, never ceased being Paul. Nothing was removed from his essential character. It is probably true, however, that some things were added to his character because of incarnational experiences. . . . The same could be said, of course, about Jesus.”24

  1. According to Paul in Phil 2:7, though, Christ Jesus, in taking the form of a servant, emptied himself. Where theologians may debate whether this self-emptying removed anything from Christ’s essential character, in our case, one thing added may necessitate another thing lost—perhaps even something that feels essential to our personal character.

Speaking of ministry in a foreign context, Parrett paraphrases a point by Lingenfelter and Mayers that “we can never be truly incarnate in another culture, as Jesus was.” He quotes these authors further: “ ‘As finite human beings we are constrained by the limitations of our minds, our life histories, and our personal abilities.’ . . . Yet ‘the goal of becoming at least partially incarnate in the culture of those to whom we minister is, by God’s grace, within our grasp.’ ”25 What is the congregation—especially within the Restoration Movement—if not a body within which all members are ministering one to another? In this pursuit of becoming semi-incarnate in each other’s culture, then, the members of a congregation are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps, imitating his act of kenosis.26 Parrett continues: “Surely, none of us needs to empty himself or herself of the glory of heaven or the free exercise of omnipotence. But there are indeed some trappings of our own homelands and cultures that we must let go of to serve others. Such things in and of themselves may be either good or bad. Or perhaps they are morally neutral. But each of us must consider what aspects of our own cultural heritage and experience may hinder the cause of becoming incarnate in another culture.”27

He notes further, “Jesus truly became a part of his culture, but his response was one of critical engagement.”28 The congregation’s task should be to follow Christ in this, too. Certainly, it is easiest to allow novelty and strangeness to prompt a critique of the unfamiliar. Yet when we, as members of increasingly diverse congregations, encounter the practices of those alongside whom Christ co-reconciles us to God, we should be ready to examine and empty ourselves by releasing parts of who we are. These things we will count as loss in comparison to the knowledge of Christ, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings that can be gained by conforming to his death and living as his unified body.29 Such moments of potential contest between familiar and unfamiliar practices raise, then, this question: am I prepared to thoughtfully interrogate my own perspective and adopt the practice of another for God’s glory?

Five Recommendations

In his contribution to the edited volume Making Room at the Table, Martin Tel concludes with “five ideas about how we might prepare ourselves and our congregations for the use of multicultural music in our worship.”30 I here reiterate, reflect on, and broaden these recommendations, hoping the church will commit to them not only as they relate to music and the worship assembly but also as they relate to other dimensions of congregational life.

  1. Commit to contemporary living. For Tel, the word contemporary means in the moment, rather than modern. He calls for a commitment to engage the practice of another culture as an event of worship rather than of cultural appreciation. We engage a practice not because of its novelty or merely as a welcoming gesture through which others might experience something familiar to them. We do so because it enables us to approach the throne of the Father together as the one body God made us to be in Christ.31 Thinking beyond music and worship, then, we should seek encounters with others’ ways of living not in order to see how they live but, rather, to live as they do.
  2. Listen for the voice of the other. This means, first, to remember that we will come to know our brothers and sisters better and more deeply by actually listening to them than by assuming we can understand them well merely by experiencing their practice for ourselves. Second, in faithfully heeding Tel’s call to listen, we will consequently achieve an even fuller realization of this commitment—that we whose voices have been the easiest to hear, due to positions of power or privilege, should make sure not to drown other voices out.32
  3. Cross-cultural sharing must go both ways. Mark Bangert notes that multicultural worship incorporates giving and receiving from all sides. It requires that everyone graciously embrace for themselves every dimension of hospitality: stranger, guest, and host.33 The communion of these roles emphasizes our equal standing in Christ. This choice to count others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2:3) ameliorates some discomfort and anxiety generated when entering an unfamiliar space. What is more, when we finally join those of another culture with whom we have already been made into one body, we may discover that experiences familiar to us already have a place in their world, even though these practices might not take the form we are used to.34 In making our home together, are we prepared to embrace—and inhabit—once-familiar practices that another culture has taken up, adapted, and then shared with us anew?
  4. Commit to justice and love. Tel notes that Amos 5:21–24 and Bangert both denounce assemblies, festivals, melodies, and songs that rise as mere noise, as a “consumerist sampling of world ritual for the entertainment and curiosity of the passive spectators.”35 Absent justice and righteousness, our congregations no longer exhibit thoughtful service to our Lord, much less embody sacrificial living for God (Rom 12:1).36 They instead become like Paul’s loveless clanging cymbal (1 Cor 13:1). We must examine points of cultural boundary-crossing for misappropriations and tokenism and repent where our actions have served instead as camouflage for distrust and division.37
  5. Commit to excellence and relevance. Tel opens his article with an exploration of these two aspects of truth. He notes that “standards of excellence . . . rooted in a Judeo-Christian understanding of God and the revelation of scripture [are] still viable for the Church today.”38 Further, “the qualities of music that resonate with Christianity are not the provenance of any single culture. Goodness, wherever found, reflects the divine Creator.”39 The pursuit of excellence honors God, and its promotion honors those members of the culture within which a practice originates. Regarding the concept of relevance, Tel draws on Saint Augustine’s argument that love for neighbor supersedes the Greek philosophical values of unity, variety, and clarity in the determination of what is most excellent. “Christ demonstrated through the incarnation a concern to be relevant to those he encountered. Christ instructs Christians to do likewise.”40 And “all music, including music from another culture, must have significant meaning for those who are worshiping.”41 Thus, every practice in the assembly should be consequential for those who gather.

Reflection upon these commitments strikes upon two other concepts that appeared briefly above in my reflections on my own bilinguality—namely, authenticity and intentionality—words which, like the word relevance, have suffered overuse over the last thirty years yet retain a valid place in this discussion. Tel notes that excellence and relevance have a potential for being set in tension with each other and also points out the detriment of seeking one without the other.42 In contrast, excellence and relevance can be cooperatively aligned in a mutual and intentional pursuit of core values because they share qualities that meet at the intersection of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Whereas Parrett warns that integrity will set a limit for how much of another culture the foreign minister can take upon themselves,43 in the context of the congregation as a single body, does not integrity—not as a state of moral rightness but one of essential wholeness—point in the opposite direction? The church body practices such integrity not by restraining this self-sacrificing incarnation but by earnestly pursuing it, being recognizably changed as we richly constitute a single congregational culture from the many cultures of those gathered.

A Medi-Cultural Benediction

Due to the unique situation of every local congregation, the exact manner of implementing this medi-cultural mindset will differ. It remains outside the scope of this article to indicate such specifics, but the exploration above suggests that, regardless of context, the call expressed in these recommendations enjoins those with more power to change, which undoubtedly involves no small degree of discomfort. However, in this kenosis for the sake of the unity of the local body of Christ, in releasing and relinquishing our grasp on our personal and communal cultures (i.e., our lands), the sea (i.e., that middle space) where these acts of humility meet is not a chaotic one. We who are called out to experience an emptying that fills with true life convene upon a sea of glass before the Lord and His Christ, who reign in peace.44 When the Church trusts in God’s peace, the concern for self transforms into a desire to partner in creation, wellness, and justice. In this pursuit—to paraphrase Miroslav Volf: May we give ourselves to others and, in welcoming them, readjust our identities to make space for them.45


Thank you to Greg McKinzie, Chris Flanders, and others on the committee of the Mission and World Christianity section of the Christian Scholars Conference for welcoming me to present my research. Thank you also to Aaron Wheeler for his insightful comments as a respondent to my paper. Though my own primary field of study is only lightly touched on in this paper, I hope what I share from personal experience and from my limited research, which I know only scratches the surface of a wealth of scholarship, can provide something useful to the Lord’s work.

Bradley Cawyer holds his BA from Texas A&M University and is a professional musician. He is currently a DMA candidate at Texas Tech University. Bradley did mission work in Russia on short-term trips during undergraduate studies and while living in Saint-Petersburg for graduate studies, where he met his wife, Elena. His ministry activity includes collaboration with Konstantin Zhigulin and the Spiritual Music Ensemble PSALOM. He is published in multiple volumes of Timeless—Ancient Psalms for the Church Today (ACU Press).

1 Martin Tel, “Music: The ‘Universal Language’ That’s Dividing the Church,” in Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship, eds. Brian K. Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 167–68.

2 Curtis Paul DeYoung, Michael O. Emerson, George Yancy, and Karen Chai Kim, United by Faith: The Multicultural Congregation as an Answer to the Problem of Race (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003).

3 Michael O. Emerson and Christian Smith, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

4 As summarized in Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, and Gary A. Parrett, A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 8n2. Eight times in United in Faith, DeYoung and colleagues qualify their thesis that congregations should “journey toward becoming integrated [and] multiracial” (180) with the phrase “when possible.” On page 143, they recognize just three situations as valid exceptions to their integrative call: (1) when only one racial group resides in a location, as in some rural areas (though such congregations should still be crossing any existing ethnic lines); (2) when a common language does not exist (though they foresee future affordable, simultaneous translation technologies eliminating this exception); and (3) when first-generation immigrant groups are involved (since the challenges of crossing cultures may be too great for those transplanted into a new socio-political context to manage).

5 Brian K. Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, eds., Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), ix.

6 Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, and Gary A. Parrett, A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 18–20.

7 Martin Tel, “Music: The ‘Universal Language’ That’s Dividing the Church” in Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship, eds. Brian K. Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 162–74.

8 Tel, “Music,” 162.

9 Ibid., 164.

10 Ibid., 164–65.

11 Quentin Faulkner, “Cult and Culture at the Millenium: Exploratory Notes on the New Religion,” Soundings 79, nos. 3/4 (1996): 399–420.

12 Ibid., 416–17.

13 Josiane F. Hamers and Michel H. A. Blanc, Bilinguality and Bilingualism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 6; emphasis added.

14 Renzo Titone, “Knowing a Second Language from a Personological Standpoint,” in On the Bilingual Person, ed. Renzo Titone (Ottawa: The Canadian Society for Italian Studies, 1989), 16–34.

15 Renzo Titone, “On the Psychological Meaning of Bilinguality,” in On the Bilingual Person, 14.

16 Titone, “Knowing,” 18; emphasis added.

17 Ibid., 26.

18 François Grosjean, “The Bilingual as a Person,” in On the Bilingual Person, 35–54; see also pp. 42–49.

19 Ibid., 49.

20 See also Hamers and Blanc, Bilinguality, 195–97.

21 Unless noted otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version.

22 Gary A Parrett and S. Steve King, “Lord of the Nations” in eds. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, and Gary A. Parrett, A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 60.

23 Donald H. Juel, “Multicultural Worship: A Pauline Perspective” in Making Room at the Table: An Invitation to Multicultural Worship, ed. Brian K. Blount and Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), 48.

24 Gary A Parrett, “Becoming a Culturally Sensitive Minister” in A Many Colored Kingdom: Multicultural Dynamics for Spiritual Formation, ed. Elizabeth Conde-Frazier, S. Steve Kang, and Gary A. Parrett (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 122; emphasis original.

25 Parrett, “Becoming,” 123. The author of this article recommends the latest edition of Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2016), in which those authors reconsider their use of certain language related to incarnational ministry.

26 Derived from Paul’s use of ἑαυτὸν ἐκένωσεν (heauton ekenōsen, “emptied himself”) in Phil 2:7, kenosis refers to Christ’s act of self-emptying in taking the form of a servant. The term emphasizes the intersection of Christ’s divine status and Christ’s humanity, recognizing his choice to set aside prerogatives, privileges, and powers of his divine nature. The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Ian A. McFarland, Karen Kilby, David Fergusson (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), presents kenosis as central to Christian life and discipleship, remarking, “The notions of self-giving, self-sacrifice, service, and love of others which it denotes are essential for Christian existence” (262).

27 Parrett, “Becoming,” 127–8.

28 Ibid., 136.

29 See Phil 3:7–11.

30 Tel, “Music,” 170–72.

31 See Mark Bangert, “How Does One Go About Multicultural Worship?” in ed. Gordon Lathrop, Open Questions in Worship: What Does “Multicultural” Worship Look Like? (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 1996), particularly p. 29: “If worship gatherings . . . wish to remain Christian, then they must . . . begin always with the death and resurrection of Christ as God’s way to bring all people to the holy city, the new Jerusalem. Hence, going about multicultural worship means attending to the centrality of Christ in baptism, in the proclamation of the scriptures, and in the shared bread and cup.”

32 Tel, “Music,” 171.

33 Bangert, “How Does One Go About Multicultural Worship?,” 27–28.

34 Tel, “Music,” 171–2.

35 Bangert, “Multicultural Worship,” 29. Bangert‘s image of a shopping mall food court opens the reader’s eyes to the pitfalls of letting the West’s secondary culture of “capitalism, the entertainment industry, international conglomerates, and world politics” (25) shape the way we interact with other cultures.

36 The English Standard Version offers in a footnote the variant translation “rational service” for λογικὴν λατρείαν (logikēn latreian) in place of the primary reading “spiritual worship.” I offer “thoughtful” here in an attempt to bridge the terms “spiritual” and “rational” through Paul’s focus on the capacity for reasonable thought via the words νοῦς (nous, “mind, understanding, reason”, e.g., Rom 1:28), φρόνημα (phronēma, “thought”, e.g., Rom 8:6) and φρονέω (phroneō, “I think”, e.g., Rom 8:5).

37 Tel, “Music,” 169–70.

38 Ibid., 163.

39 Ibid., 164.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid., 164; emphasis added.

42 See ibid., 164–5, 170.

43 “When we are called to minister in a cultural context other than our own, we must seek to identify with that culture for the sake of the gospel. Such action is motivated by servant love and, as is the case wherever we strive to be servants of others, requires deep humility. But as we do so, we must wrestle with the issue of how much of that culture we can take upon ourselves while retaining our integrity” (Parrett, “Becoming,” 135).

44 Revelation 4:5–6 and 15:1–3 envision waters of perfect stillness situated before the throne of God, even in moments of impending cosmic calamity.

45 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation, rev. and updated ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 2019), 34.

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Looking Back and Moving Forward (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

This is my last issue as the executive editor of Missio Dei. In such moments, nostalgia and hope arise. I relish both. But before indulging in either, let me assure readers that the Missio Dei Foundation, which administers the journal, intends it to carry on. The path forward is uncertain, and the leadership and shape of the journal remains to be determined. This transition is complicated, and I see no reason to pretend otherwise. But the women and men who steward the journal’s future are more than capable of finding a way forward. I’m profoundly thankful for their willingness to do so for the sake of our shared commitment to the church’s faithful, wise participation in God’s mission.

Now a bit of recollection, for the record. I began imagining what would become Missio Dei over fifteen years ago, as a new missionary in Arequipa, Peru. Recently graduated from an MDiv program with strict standards of composition (Harding School of Theology)—shout out to Don Meredith, the retired head librarian of the L.M. Graves Memorial Library who taught the school’s famously rigorous Introduction to Graduate Studies course for decades—I felt capable of the essential functions of an editor. More importantly, I was motivated to address the deficiency in my tradition’s missiological output and saw an opportunity in digital media. Together, capability and need compelled me to survey the willingness of Stone-Campbell historians, missiologists, and missionaries, mostly among Churches of Christ, to support and contribute to an online journal. The response was more than enough to proceed.

In June of 2009, an initial team of editors met for the first time (on Skype!) to discuss the shape and process of Missio Dei. A little over a year later, the first issue was published. Since then, we have published over two hundred articles and over one hundred book reviews. Thanks be to God! Grace has accompanied every issue. And my gratitude to the multitude of authors who have entrusted their work to us is difficult to express.

The journal has evolved over the years—website iterations, format changes, editorial board turnover, and more. And many lessons have been learned along the way. But those are stories of limited interest, perhaps for another time. The worthier recollection is how, after fifteen years, Missio Dei has become a meaningful contributor to the broader missiological discourse, as it was meant to do. This may seem like an immodest claim, but I can take little credit personally. A few years ago in a reflection on the journal’s first decade, I acknowledged the volunteers who have made the publication possible. Those words fail to represent the work they have done. But the journal’s success is itself an adequate testimony.

What, then, is Missio Dei’s future? God knows, but I can share my hopes.

My first hope is for a sustained level of openness. The output deficiency mentioned above was a consequence of multiple factors. But above all, it seemed to me that, although Stone-Campbell missiologists had a lot to offer, limiting the publication to scholarly work would be a mistake. Not only is a great deal of missiological insight to be found in the hearts and minds of potential authors who are uninterested in and, to be frank, unequipped for playing the academic publishing game, many others who are capable of playing that game find daunting barriers in the formal publishing process. It was important, therefore, to broaden the journal’s scope to include a variety of publication types and to seek contributions from authors whose work would not necessarily meet the criteria of academic peer review.

Along these lines, I initially sought to include artistic contributions, including graphic and musical pieces. It quickly became obvious that curating such well-rounded issues was more than the volunteer editorial team could manage. But I’m proud that Missio Dei has continued to include both peer-reviewed and informal articles, as well as book reviews.

For those whose work met the rigor of scholarly composition, we created a space alongside other academic journals that was no less diligent about scholarly integrity but was at least a little more welcoming to research concerned especially with the Stone-Campbell tradition. I like to think we struck a balance between maintaining a high standard of selection and encouraging inexperienced or timid scholars to share their work. Our instructions to peer reviewers even include the charge to help authors improve their writing rather than merely note their weaknesses. (If you’re unfamiliar with the blood sport of peer review: I assure you this is not common.)

For those whose contributions merited publication in another format—whether informal reflections, case studies, conference articles, or research pieces not meant to buff an academic CV—we offered an equal level of editorial care. Often, helping authors develop these types of submissions has been labor-intensive for the editorial staff. But in a world full of unedited blog posts and slapdash self-publication, it is important that Missio Dei’s commitment to openness ultimately produce missiology worthy of our readers’ attention. I believe we succeeded more often than not.

My second hope is for increased diversity. These days, the term diversity has been swept up in the American culture war. So let me clarify: I mean that a greater range of genuinely different perspectives would be positive. Having to bother with the stipulation is a little annoying when the field of study at issue is concerned with the church’s intercultural, international, and interreligious existence. Diversity is a given for missiology per se.

That said, I grant both the historical and practical difficulties that beset us. We need increased diversity because it is not actually a given in institutional expressions of missiology such as journals. We continue to resist the consequences of sexism and colonialism in Christian mission. We continue to question the limits of Western academic acceptability. We continue to grapple with difficulties of intercultural communication.

On the one hand, I am an heir of the status quo, and therefore Missio Dei has been as well. And I do not hesitate to affirm the benefits the Western tradition of Christianity has produced. We are wedded to the Great Tradition, which spans the whole history of Christian faith, East and West. The emergence of universities, a global missional vision, rigorous research methods, and self-critique—to paint in the broadest strokes—is a net good for the church catholic.

On the other hand, I am a staunch advocate of the aforementioned self-critique. Increased diversity is a function of challenging the status quo. To reiterate, I would not be able to challenge my own perspective without the Western tradition. No doubt, cross-cultural experience plays a role, but that experience was framed by Western theological education. To claim otherwise would be dishonest. And that is the reality of a publication designed by and produced primarily for Westerners. This is not an apology, or even a confession; it is a statement of fact. Only from this sort of realism can Missio Dei hope to attain greater diversity. Our willingness to question our assumptions is essential, and to do so we must first own our assumptions in good faith.

It bears noting in particular that as the Majority World church rises and Western dominance fades into history, an increasing number of Majority World missiologists are appearing on the scene. Yet, there is evidently not a similar shift in the gender ratio. Even as the deconstruction of colonialism gives rise to unprecedented diversity, the need for more female missiological perspectives remains unmet. I hesitate to speculate on the reasons for this phenomenon, but whatever the case, I can state my hope straightforwardly: that the twenty-first century would witness a great swell of missiology from women throughout the global church, and that this would reverberate in the digital pages of Missio Dei.

My third hope is for the prevalence of conscious participation in the missio Dei—the theological reality that the journal’s title centers. This concern is broader than the journal’s future, but Missio Dei is nothing more than an expression of the church’s participation in God’s mission. Therefore, I hope not for more people interested in reading missiology but for more churches whose experience generates a need for missiological resources.

Anyone paying the slightest attention to trends in Western Christianity knows that the numerical decline foretold in the sociological literature of the last few decades has become a jarring reality. I fear that many have taken the diminishment of the Western church as a forgone conclusion and turned their expectations to the rise of the Majority World church. To a certain extent, I am among them. But where this particular hope is concerned, it is not obvious how we will respond to these trends. And that is most certainly the question, because participation in God’s mission is not reducible to numerical growth. So, the declining Western church might respond with tremendous levels of participation in God’s work in the world, and the exploding Majority World church might fail to do so. Numbers are no measure of faithfulness.

Whatever the tides of history, I pray that the twenty-first-century church be marked by an ever-growing responsiveness to the purposes of the Triune God. And I pray that the gifts of those who are able to lead the church theologically into the depths of missional participation be readily available in a widening array of media, including online journals, including even Missio Dei.

Soli Deo gloria.

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Review of Enoch Okode, Christ the Gift and the Giver

Enoch Okode. Christ the Gift and the Giver: Paul’s Portrait of Jesus as the Supreme Royal Benefactor in Romans 5:1–11. Eugene, OR: Pickwick, 2022. Paperback. $36.63. 272 pp.

With the publication of John Barclay’s paradigmatic Paul and the Gift (Eerdmans, 2015), many readers wondered about its implications for biblical studies. If Enoch Okode’s Christ the Gift and the Giver is any indication, the future is hopeful. Okode is a lecturer and Dean of the School of Theology at Scott Christian University in Kenya. Okode’s book is a revision of his PhD dissertation, written under the supervision of Joshua Jipp. It builds on a wealth of research on the function of royal benefaction in the Greco-Roman world, which he defines as a “system of calculated gift exchange that seeks to enhance social cohesion by the ethic of reciprocity” (3).

Okode’s thesis is that Romans 5:1–11 is best interpreted in light of this context such that “Paul portrays Jesus Christ as the supreme royal benefactor whose commitment to his followers guarantees their eternal honorable status before God and demands faithful response to his rule, even in suffering” (16). The book is divided into six chapters. After introducing his methodology and reviewing related literature, two chapters underscore the significance of royal benefaction both in the Greco-Roman context and in ancient Jewish writings. In chapters 4–5, he lays out his exegetical arguments for Romans 5:1–11 and 5:12–8:39, respectively, before offering his summary and conclusions.

In Christ the Gift and the Giver, readers learn about several common features that marked royal benefaction in Paul’s cultural milieu. First, ideal rulers in the ancient world were to be exemplars of piety and generosity. As agents of the gods, kings served as benefactors to society. Second, “gift-giving is discriminatory, which means that favors are proportionate to the worthiness of the beneficiary” (65). Third, such χάρις (gift, grace) forges reciprocating relationships whereby recipients are obligated to show gratitude by honoring their benefactor. He summarizes, “Every gift comes with the expectation to reciprocate. Those who fail to show gratitude to the benefactor commit a shameful act and rob the benefactor of the honor due him. Ingratitude is the worst crime because it destroys social cohesion and rewards generosity with vice” (224).

When turning to the text of Romans, Okode carefully demonstrates how “Paul’s argument engages the ancient economy of royal benefaction in ways that are both conventional and subversive” (104). He does so while highlighting how standard benefaction terminology infuses Paul’s writing. In Romans, Christ is depicted as a royal benefactor whose gifts surpass those provided by any previous or future ruler. He gives eschatological life, eternal peace, reconciliation with God, and even the Holy Spirit. He achieves these benefactions by conquering sin and death, thus bringing justification to his people.

At the same time, Christ overturns expectations by indiscriminately bestowing grace on unworthy recipients, even the “weak,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” and “enemies.” As a result, “the Messiah’s benefaction democratizes honor, whereby rather than being limited to the emperor and the elite, all followers of Christ are assured of an eternal honorable status before God” (147). Furthermore, he is not only the giver; Christ is also the gift, the divine Son who sacrifices his own life on behalf of his subjects, “a people with absolutely no social standing” (153).

Okode’s writing is lucid; his logic is soundly buttressed with exegesis. His methodical argumentation provides refreshing clarity, often posing timely questions followed by clear answers free of scholarly tangents. His use of Greco-Roman and Jewish literature is balanced and judicious. His treatment of the contrast between the “good person” and the “righteous person” in Romans 5:7 is particularly rewarding. A unique contribution of this book is the way that Okode seamlessly integrates honor and shame into his presentation without losing a sense of proportionality and context. This book reflects the cultural sensitivity of David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity while not being as narrowly focused as Te-Li Lau’s Defending Shame.

There is much to commend in this work, yet some readers might criticize the book because they expect more of Okode than he promises. For example, he does not tease out the practical or theological implications of his findings; nor does he linger on other questions such as why “hope does not put us to shame” (Romans 5:5). Some readers will quibble with certain interpretations that do not undermine his fundamental thesis. In particular, Okode argues that ἐκ πίστεως (Romans 5:1) alludes to Christ’s faithfulness (not our faith in Christ). He also suggests that Paul says, “Let us have peace” (ἔχωμεν) instead of “We have peace” (ἔχομεν) in Romans 5:1. Finally, Okode contends that 5:5 refers to “love from God” rather than “love for God” (156).

Christ the Gift and the Giver is a fantastic resource both for New Testament scholars and graduate students who wish to learn responsible, contextually sensitive exegesis. Furthermore, this volume is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in understanding how grace works in Paul’s thought.

Brad Vaughn

Theologian, Missiologist

Phoenix, Arizona

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Review of Charles Kiser and Elaine A. Heath, Trauma-Informed Evangelism

Charles Kiser and Elaine A. Heath. Trauma-Informed Evangelism: Cultivating Communities of Wounded Healers. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2023. 213 pp. $18.59.

Emerging from a Doctor of Ministry thesis written by Charles Kiser, and with contributions from his professor Elaine Heath, Trauma-Informed Evangelism represents an important and timely contribution to re-thinking evangelism by lifting up the voices of those who have experienced abuse by the church and by pointing to theological resources and practical strategies for better pointing to God’s unconditional love. Christians sometimes fail to grasp fully how much damage centuries of cultural power and privilege have done to our witness. But that damage is all the more problematic in cases where the church and its leaders have harmed and abused individuals, causing trauma and closing off possibilities of redemption and restoration. Both Heath and Kiser have considerable pastoral experience that guides their approach. The integration of practical wisdom and robust theological engagement when it comes to thinking about evangelism is refreshing and welcome.

The book is divided into three parts. The first outlines the problem of spiritual abuse and trauma that is a significant factor in the documented rise of those with no religious affiliation, including both the “nones” (those with no religious affiliation) and the “dones” (those, including Christians, who have given up on the church). It is hard as a church to evangelize those for whom the church is the very source of their trauma, exclusion, and woundedness. The authors begin by recounting their experiences of listening to stories of those who were ostracized or shunned by the church or who have experienced the church as such a toxic environment that the thought of re-entering that space is a non-starter. This might be because of the social and religious marginality of those persons (as is the case, for example, with women, persons of color, and persons who identify as LGBTQ+), their experience with religious leaders who exploit and abuse their authority, or their experience of witnessing harm done to others.

One of the important contributions of the book is its offer of a brief but sophisticated understanding of spiritual abuse and trauma, which then informs the authors’ approach to evangelism, leadership, ecclesiology, and the very nature of God in Christ. Until the church understands that trauma is not something people must simply learn to “get over” and move on, the entire evangelistic enterprise will remain misshapen as an exercise in fixing people rather than coming alongside them in a posture of listening, openness, and vulnerability. One might draw the conclusion that this book is geared toward only a small population of persons who have experienced harm at the hands of the church. However, the book does a powerful job of connecting the dots to the larger problem of a Christendom imagination that continues to haunt Christian evangelism, born of centuries upon centuries of hegemony and superiority wedded to political power, patriarchy, colonialism, and clericalism.

Part two of the book turns to biblical and theological resources that can heal our evangelistic imaginations and help them become more healing. Jesus himself can be understood as a trauma survivor, and the authors narrate his life, death, and resurrection in that light rather than from the standpoint of theories of atonement that attempt to interpret suffering as redemptive and that turn Jesus into a victim of God’s abuse. This move makes critical space for imagining God as found in our suffering rather than as one who requires it, and it also shifts evangelism toward a practice of solidarity with those who suffer rather than triumphantly being predisposed to think that Christians come with “answers” and “solutions.” Healing is possible, but only as “wounded healers,” an insight from Henri Nouwen the authors use to good purpose. Again, this move is not just for the sake of evangelism focused on a niche population of those who have been wounded by Christians. The authors make a compelling case for theological education and pastoral leadership preparation being “trauma-informed.” It is the church rather than just a handful of specialized evangelists that must be transformed kenotically (through self-emptying) into a community that faithfully embodies witness to Christ. The authors do a masterful job of calling the church to shift its missional engagement to one that exemplifies an empathic Christlikeness rather than striving to have the largest or fastest-growing church on the block.

In part three of the book, the authors move toward what an embodiment of this trauma-informed theological imagination might look like in terms of the practice of evangelism. Parallel to the path of walking with survivors of trauma, they describe three stages: (1) establishing safety, (2) witnessing the story (with an emphasis on listening), and (3) reconnecting with life. The latter might find expression in a variety of forms of healing and belonging, including community groups, therapy, and even the possibility of journeying toward faith, as unlikely as that might initially seem for victims of spiritual abuse. The authors only hint at what some of those practices of journeying might be (one might imagine pilgrimages, art, or some other liberative faith practice). The authors introduce the concept of a “flipped hospitality” (allowing ourselves to receive rather than only demonstrate hospitality) as a practical example of the church reversing its well-intended “host” mentality to attract persons to the faith. The tendency to focus on hospitality without mutuality can lead to a one-sided, top-down approach to evangelism that is not only off-putting but fails to embody the gospel of Jesus, who made himself vulnerable by eating and ministering on the turf of those who had been marginalized or rejected. Again, the posture here is that of vulnerability and openness rather than having all the answers—solidarity rather than condescension.

Those who are looking for a “twelve easy steps to grow your church” sort of evangelism tutorial will be disappointed and frustrated by this book, which instead operates primarily at the level of re-imagining and re-orienting the practice of evangelism in light of what we now know about trauma. As such, it joins a growing literature that includes “trauma-informed” schools, pedagogies, classrooms, education, workplaces, and pastoral care. Perhaps in the past, churches could just build big enough and attractive enough ministries, programs, churches, and staffs with an endless number of hooks to catch the fish they wished to convert. But in post-Christendom and pluralistic contexts, the church cannot simply rely on its previous cultural advantages, size, and power to win converts. Its very existence and mission need to be reconsidered in light of the harm that a Christendom imagination has done to itself and to others. Many of those who have left the church due to spiritual abuse and trauma will never return. But it may be that a vulnerable church, willing to walk with survivors and to be open and receptive, can become communities of belonging and healing of the sort that Kiser and Heath imagine.

Bryan Stone

E. Stanley Jones Professor of Evangelism

Boston University School of Theology

Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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Review of B. Hunter Farrell and S. Balajiedlang Khyllep, Freeing Congregational Mission

B. Hunter Farrell and S. Balajiedlang Khyllep. Freeing Congregational Mission: A Practical Vision for Companionship, Cultural Humility, and Co-Development. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2022. Paperback. 288 pp. $19.59.

As a student of intercultural studies and a practitioner in an intercultural setting, I greatly appreciated Farrell and Khyllep’s two-pronged approach in Freeing Congregational Mission. The use of research and data to present critiques and build arguments for better approaches to mission was balanced with many practical elements. Many books I read leave me wishing there were more practical suggestions. This one did not.

B. Hunter Farrell and S. Balajiedlang Khyllep explore the crises, praxis, and potential of missions in US congregations. Farrell and Khyllep are, respectively, the director and associate director of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary’s World Mission Initiative. They describe this work as a “call to a reformation in congregational mission” (17). The authors set out to dissect the current crises that are holding back congregations from becoming more effective and responsible mission partners. Costly and self-focused short-term trips, potentially harmful strategies, social media’s impact on mission, and the need to confront missions’ colonial past make up the crises (3–12). Using research, anecdotes, and experience, they identify the crises and offer a “three-stone”1 approach to building a practical vision for congregational mission. The practical tools offered between several chapters are a major strength of this book, designed so that congregations can implement them in their mission processes. Readers may find they have already wrestled with some of the critiques and processes presented here. Yet, Farrell pulls from a large survey of congregational leaders in order to present intriguing new data.

Chapter one identifies subtle cultural shifts that have taken place over the last few decades, affecting the nature of mission in sending congregations and pulling them off course. Four critiques follow: (1) Farrell and Khyllep use data from other sources to explain the growing Short-Term Mission (STM) industry. STMs are expensive, not resourceful, and highly transactional. Often, STMs are transformative for sending congregations but not for the people on the receiving end. (2) The authors’ research with mission leaders questions several strategies that US congregations use to engage in mission. Orphanages, child-sponsorship programs, and meal-packaging projects need to be examined carefully for the effects they have on the receivers and also for costs, abuse, and sustainability. (3) The authors critique the age of “selfie mission.” Social media is a powerful tool, but can have negative impacts on host communities if not handled responsibly. The question must be asked, “Who is this mission for?” (4) The authors reckon with missions’ colonial past, and its consequences. Doing so can be difficult but is necessary for congregations to understand how to be more effective mission partners going forward.

In addition to these critiques, the authors also cover the benefits related to each area of concern, including missions’ colonial history. Farrell does not necessarily offer any new critiques of mission categorically but does well to relate known critiques to a congregational level while including some data from previous research he has done.

Building on the critiques previously summarized, the authors propose a three-stone approach on which “a more faithful and effective understanding of mission can be built” (15). First, the authors argue that theology of companionship joins four commitments: to walk together in intentional, mutual accompaniment; to share from a place of vulnerability; to keep the triune God at the center of the relationship; and to elicit the presence and leadership of those who have been marginalized” (68). The authors excel with their explanation of this stone and relating each element to the ministry of Jesus.

Second, the authors examine the role of understanding culture within missional engagement. They discuss five dimensions of culture: individualistic versus collective, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, long-term versus short-term orientation, and indirect versus direct communication. An intercultural scholar might identify additional dimensions of culture, but the authors do well in promoting key dimensions that the average leader can understand.

Farrell and Khyllep also focus on developing cultural competence and discuss the Intercultural Development Inventory® (IDI) as a tool that can help individuals move from monocultural mindsets to intercultural mindsets. I am also a proponent of the IDI as a tool for understanding difference but would encourage congregational leaders to research similar tools and discuss with intercultural experts which tool is right for them.

Third, the authors posit that development studies need to be a part of the toolkits of US congregations. The overarching theme here is that people cannot develop people, people must be able to develop themselves. I believe this chapter is important because it makes a firm argument that using tools outside of the traditional Christian repertoire can aid faithfulness in our mission approaches.

Seven tools are included between chapters to offer congregations practical ways to be more responsible and effective in their mission. Tool 3, an evaluation tool designed to help leaders evaluate their role in development projects they are involved in, is particularly helpful. There is a very helpful tool that offers guidance on how to use pictures responsibly in the age of “selfie missions.” The short-term mission curriculum and reflection guide are also very useful.

One notable strength of the book is its practical approach, providing readers with actionable tools and guidance for improving congregational missions. This emphasis on practicality makes it valuable for both academics and practitioners seeking to enhance their mission strategies. The authors’ backgrounds in anthropology and theology also bring a unique perspective to the book, as they explore the cultural dimensions of missions and advocate for cultural humility. Chapter four dives into practical tools and resources such as the Intercultural Development Inventory® and Hofstede’s dimensions of culture. Although the authors spend several pages describing each of these resources, readers may wrestle with the academic nature of these and wonder how they can specifically implement and utilize them in their missions practices.

Overall, Farrell and Khyllep do an excellent job of highlighting several well-known criticisms of mission and how congregations can not just read about the criticisms but take action and implement tools into their processes that lead to companionship, cultural humility, and co-development following the example of Jesus’s ministry.

Tyler White

PhD Student

Columbia International University

Dallas, TX

1 The authors borrow this reference from the Luba and Lulua people in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Luba and Lulua people understand that “three stones make home”; that is the three stones create the diku, the hearth or cooking fire that is the center and foundation of family life (14).

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Review of Tom Steffen and Cameron D. Armstrong, eds., New and Old Horizons in the Orality Movement

Tom Steffen and Cameron D. Armstrong, eds. New and Old Horizons in the Orality Movement: Expanding the Firm Foundations. Evangelical Missiological Society Monograph Series 14. Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2022. Paperback. $39.00. 308 pp.

In the late 1980s, while I was finishing up my doctoral studies, my advisor, Paul Achtemeier, was working on his 1989 presidential address for the Society of Biblical Literature. He had read Walter Ong’s groundbreaking work Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word published earlier that decade and became excited about its ramifications for the formation and interpretation of Scripture by the early church. Achtemeier’s address, published in JBL in Spring 1990 as “Omne Verbum Sonat: The New Testament and the Oral Environment of Later Western Antiquity,” caused a mild stir among biblical scholars, but like me, most were so involved in their literary-based projects that it didn’t move the needle very far for the discipline.

A few years later, while working in Papua New Guinea with Pioneer Bible Translators, I encountered some teams with New Tribes Mission, now Ethnos360, who were teaching the Bible using a method they called “Chronological Bible Storying.” I was fascinated, but again, so caught up in my own translation and consulting work that I didn’t have time or mental energy to give to this new (to me) approach.

Now, thirty years later, I am paying attention. Studies in orality have exploded, and its usefulness as a method in missions goes beyond conducting Bible studies. Indeed, it has become the basis for life-changing discipleship initiatives in several organizations.

Tom Steffen and Cameron Armstrong have assembled a wonderful mix of orality scholars and practitioners to help bring the rest of the world up to date with the missional impact of orality methods. Each chapter represents the work and thinking of its own author, apparently without any attempt to coordinate vocabulary or create a unified approach to the topic. The editors have divided New and Old Horizons in the Orality Movement into four major sections: “Measuring the Horizons,” “Horizon: The Classroom,” “Horizon: Bible Translation,” and “Expanding the Horizons.” If there is any criticism of the book, it is that the chapters in each section have no organic connection to one another. Especially in Parts 1 and 4, one senses that the editors had to be creative to find a heading generic enough to apply to all the articles contained therein.

Five of the eleven contributors, including contributions from both editors, were connected with the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention. All have had extensive experience using orality methods in cross-cultural settings. The end result is a compilation of chapters with a mix of theory and practical application.

Four chapters were extremely helpful for a person like me who is highly interested but only marginally informed in the subject. Both of the chapters written by Lynn Thigpen were outstanding. Thigpen spent 20 years in Cambodia working with people who were oral learners. That work prompted her to go on for a PhD in Intercultural Education at Biola University. Her chapters “Deconstructing Oral Learning” and “What’s Patronage Got to Do with It? Beyond Storying in Oral Learning” are full of insights on what it means to be an oral culture, how “orality” goes far beyond just listening to and memorizing Scripture, and how Christian educators need to adapt their methods in order to lead their students to transformative living. For those of us who need a good introduction to the subject, her first chapter is the perfect place to start.

Wiley Scot Keen’s chapter “The Metanarrative of Scripture” highlights the importance of understanding the metanarratives that inform the worldviews of a culture and helping the people incorporate the metanarrative of Scripture into that mix. While his chapter was oriented toward orality-based cultures, I believe that church workers in more literary-based societies could also benefit from his ideas.

Finally, Tricia and Stephen Stringer contribute an excellent chapter on using narrative as a tool for dealing with trauma. The Stringers have long worked with IMB. Stephen serves on the Global Executive Team of the International Orality Network, an organization referenced by several of the writers in this book, and Tricia serves as the Director of Multiplying Hope, a ministry that helps people overcome trauma as they progress on their Christian journey.

Many of the other chapters also give the reader practical tips in using different orality-based methods in teaching and discipling people in a variety of cultural settings. One does not need to move to a Majority World country to apply the insights of this book. Even in the West, there has been a shift toward greater orality. People are reading less and watching more as our electronic devices keep us informed and connected through audiobooks, podcasts, Tik Tok, Instagram, and YouTube. Orality, after all, is not just about a way of learning; it is about a way of living, relating, and thinking.

Michael L. Sweeney

Professor of World Mission and New Testament

Emmanuel Christian Seminary

Milligan University

Johnson City, TN, USA

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Review of Ryan Shaw, Rethinking Global Mobilization

Ryan Shaw. Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity. Armstrong, MO: IGNITE Media, 2022. Paperback. 309 pp. $12.99.

Ryan Shaw’s recent book, Rethinking Global Mobilization: Calling the Church to Her Core Identity, is a clarion call at a critical moment whose core message needs to be widely heard and heeded. I am deeply grateful to see this message being highlighted by Shaw’s work. I greatly appreciate his focus on encouraging Western missions organizations and churches to trust national leaders and move into support roles instead of perpetuating a colonial mentality in missions. This message is spot on.

It is well past the time that missions organizations and churches in the West reimagined our role in the global expansion of the kingdom of God. Despite the checkered history of Western missions, our many mistakes, blind spots, and mixed motivations, God has used crooked sticks to draw straight lines surprisingly often. Because of, and at times in spite of, us God has worked through Western-based missions to bring in a massive harvest around the world to the point that now the strength of the church is in the global south and east. The work force, prayer force, and passionate drive for the kingdom of God now are in the parts of the world Western Christians formerly saw as the mission field.

The role of the Western church has changed, but we still have a role to play. Shaw makes a compelling case to Western Christian leaders for expanding our confidence in both the capacity and competence of Majority World Christians not just to lead the work of kingdom efforts in their home regions or supplement the launching of new works in nearby areas but to be frontline leaders in new places far from their home. The great challenge for Western missions’ leaders is to discern how to partner well with foreign nationals, but it is a given that we must if we are going to be part of the next chapter in the story God is writing in his great epic of redeeming and restoring his creation. To use a metaphor borrowed from Paul Borthwick, it is not time for Westerners to pass the baton since that means we would stop running. But, it is time for us to learn how to be part of the support team for a new generation of runners from other countries and cultures.

The strongest parts of Shaw’s book are in his reading of the times and embracing of dynamic movements of disciple making and church planting. He makes the case for his major point well. The Majority World church needs to take the lead in global missions and the Western church needs to move from leadership to equipping and supporting.

That said, there are a number of issues in Shaw’s book I would like to raise for consideration of this massively important topic.

First, Shaw may struggle to get a hearing outside of the charismatic-friendly side of evangelicalism. For believers who are not confident about God regularly speaking to people today in very direct ways, this book may create mental friction over the way the author makes his case with references to personal revelations and other demonstrable moves of God that may stretch some evangelicals and many believers outside of the evangelical world.

Second, Shaw’s overview of the history of missions shows little interest in anything after Constantine and prior to the Reformation. Covering AD 30–1500 in one chapter is giving short shrift to a vast period in which God was hardly sitting on his hands. This is particularly true of the millennium between AD 500–1500.

Third, Shaw’s suggestions for the funding of Majority World missions may be overly optimistic. While there are certainly cases where Majority World Christians can use their vocational skills in other countries and contexts, Shaw seems to minimize global economic factors and forces in his eagerness to see Majority World mobilization take place. While he is spot-on with the destination to which he points us, the trail is hardly blazed and the barriers are wickedly complicated. Much more work needs to be done to address the funding side of global mobilization.

In addition to these concerns, I believe there are a number of issues that need more detailed exploration and development if we are going to heed the call Shaw offers. First, we need to wrestle far more with how to engage in cross-cultural partnerships with workers from patronage cultures without getting caught in unhealthy patronage relationships. Can we function as brokers between funders and workers without becoming unhealthy patrons ourselves? Is there such a thing as honorable patrons in missions partnerships and, if so, what are the features of and boundaries around honorable patronage?

Second, I believe we need to be asking more about the risks and possibly unanticipated consequences of using business-as-mission (BAM) approaches for funding of Majority World Christians catalyzing new gospel movements. Given the long history of missions being compromised by its connections to imperial and economic agendas, is the BAM approach at risk of spreading capitalism as much as Christ? Even if the leaders who are setting up a BAM do not have this outcome in mind, to what degree are the donors to such efforts committed to expanding Western notions of economics and politics and how much contamination of the gospel might be sneaking in unnoticed by Westerners who do not differentiate gospel and culture sufficiently? I am by no means discouraging BAM efforts, but I do think we need to think through the economic and sociological implications of the funding models we embrace.

Despite a few concerns and areas for more development, I am grateful to see this important message of global mobilization given such a strong voice. I pray that Shaw’s message gets a wide hearing among mission leaders in Western agencies and churches and that Western kingdom lovers will move boldly in the direction he describes with such passion.

Dan Bouchelle


Missions Resource Network

Bedford, Texas, USA

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Review of Nathan Nzyoka Joshua, Benefaction and Patronage in Leadership

Nathan Nzyoka Joshua. Benefaction and Patronage in Leadership: A Socio-Historical Exegesis of the Pastoral Epistles. Carlisle, UK: Langham Publishing, 2018. Paperback. 342 pp. $37.99.

Nathan Nzyoka Joshua, pastor in the Africa Inland Church, currently lectures and serves as the acting Head of the Department of Biblical Studies at Africa International University. He is one among a number of emerging scholars who are making their voices heard by challenging received scholarship with culturally sensitive interpretation. This monograph, adapted from his PhD dissertation, is one such example of a local context challenging Western readings of important biblical texts.

The book has two main parts. The first is a historical and exegetical examination of practices of patronage in the ancient Greco-Roman world with a focus on the Pastoral Epistles. In the second part, Nzyoka Joshua includes a provocative case study from leadership practices and attitudes in the African Inland Church, particularly Akamba practices of leadership. Here he draws attention to the non-material dimensions of African patronage and examines the social context of the African Inland Church and its leadership practices.

In the first part, the author argues that much New Testament scholarship has misunderstood the early household codes, focusing primarily on the relationship between the various social roles, especially those among husbands and wives, and to an extent, among slave and free. This, Nzyoka Joshua contends, occurs without paying attention to the patronage systems of the ancient world. Even when scholarship deals with patronage at some level, the author notes that modern scholars often mistakenly emphasize material forms (e.g., money, material resources) of patronage and miss the critical import of non-material (e.g., honor, prestige, privilege, access) forms of patronage, especially as it affects the leadership and administration of the churches addressed in the Pastorals. His exegetical work grows out of this major argument, that is, in the Pastorals, Paul (Nzyoka Joshua assumes the Pauline authorship of the Pastorals) deliberately embraced a form of patronage benefaction consistent with the cultural milieu of his context. Paul does not uncritically embrace patronage, however, as Nzyoka Joshua argues that the apostle interacted critically with such social dynamics.

Throughout the first section of his argument, exegetical work draws attention to many terms and themes in the Pastorals that demonstrate strong patronage resonances. So, Nzyoka Joshua argues that one should understand various Christian relationships through the lens of patronage. God the Father (the great spiritual patron), Jesus the mediator (patron and broker), and churches and Christians (the clients) operate within the generally understood framework of ancient Greco-Roman-Jewish patronage. In most ancient versions of patronage-clientelism, the goal was the noble end of the privileged parties helping the less privileged, a mutually advantageous material and non-material reciprocal relationship. This resulted in a form of relational interdependence, which assumed certain culturally determined duties for all parties. As John Barclay makes clear in his well-known work Paul and the Gift, these relationships traded fundamentally on charis (gift) and relational reciprocity. In such a system, pistis (loyalty) was of fundamental importance for clients to demonstrate.

Guarding the property (1 Tim. 6:20) of a patron was of utmost importance for a trustee (diakonos). Thus, Paul and Timothy act loyally by maintaining pure doctrine. Nzyoka Joshua also points out how humans function not only as clients but also as benefactors and patrons. Paul, Timothy, and Titus are patrons, but so too are church leaders, who are termed oikonomos (steward, manager), a clear patronage denotation. False teachers were dangerous not merely because they were wrong but, in the framework of patronage relationships, constitute people who demonstrate disloyalty (a distinctly heinous response to patron beneficence), rejecting God as the primary patron and Paul as a secondary patron. Though he acknowledges all patronage systems can contain various forms of abuse, Nzyoka Joshua paints a clear picture of how leadership and theology in the Pastorals partake of the best forms of patron-client assumptions.

The author offers reminders and insights that connect with the broader issues of honor (the primary currency clients give back to their benevolent patrons) and shame (the penalty incurred for acting as ungrateful clients). For example, in 1 Tim. 4:6–8, Paul praises Timothy as an honorable servant for pointing out the honorable teachings and labels false teachers as shamefully disloyal, rather than merely wrong. Nzyoka Joshua argues this is because such unfaithful teachers would be encouraging believers (viz., God’s clients) to disloyally abandon the true God, reminding us that the Greek term pistis is primarily about demonstrating loyalty. He also draws attention to how salvation and mercy are primary components of patron-client systems, and so too in the theology of the Pastorals. He offers an overview of Greek (euergesia [beneficence], and prostasia [patron]), Roman (patronicium [patron]), and Jewish patronage systems, including illuminating charts comparing the duties of church leaders in the Pastorals with patrons in the Greco-Roman world (164–68). The similarities are considerable. Nzyoka Joshua also provides a helpful, albeit brief, summary of the foundational biblical scholarship that engages patronage and benefaction in New Testament studies (e.g., Fredrick Danker’s Benefactor, John Barclay’s Jews in the Mediterranean Diaspora, David deSilva’s Honor, Patronage, Kinship, and Purity, Zeba Crook’s Reconceptualizing Conversion, and Reggie Kidd’s Wealth and Beneficence in the Pastoral Epistles).

If this were all, the book would be useful enough. His second section engages benefaction and patronage issues in his own African context, particularly studying leadership in the African Inland Church. Though there are many such studies on patronage in the African context, Nzyoka Joshua offers useful commentary on the numerous positive aspects of African patronage, something that other studies sometimes miss. He notes that a general lack of comparative studies of African leadership has often resulted in the view that modern forms of African patronage are primarily negative. His goal is for African biblical scholarship and African church leadership to engage in constructive, thoughtful engagement, creating a more robust understanding of patronage in contemporary Africa.

One could wish the author’s exegetical work and his case study of African leadership were both deeper and more engaged with critical scholarship. Yet, the overall benefit of this work is to provide a clear example of culture-specific engagement through the lens of this prominent global cultural dynamic. This is a solid example of contextual theological engagement, particularly in relation to leadership. All missionaries and church leaders would benefit from this resource as they try to understand patronage-clientelism dynamics both in the biblical text as well as their own context.

Chris Flanders

Professor of Missions

Abilene Christian University

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Review of Jackson Wu and Ryan Jensen, Seeking God’s Face

Jackson Wu and Ryan Jensen. Seeking God’s Face: Practical Reflections on Honor and Shame in Scripture. Houston, TX: Lucid Books, 2022. 220 pp. $18.99.

This book is a one-of-a-kind collection of short reflections on various biblical texts that highlight how honor and shame are present in each passage. The reflections provide an opportunity for readers to grow in their faith by looking at Scripture through this lens, whether or not they are familiar with discussions of honor and shame.

Authors Jackson Wu (Brad Vaughn) and Ryan Jensen both have first-hand experience as missionaries in Asian cultures heavily saturated with honor and shame dynamics. Wu was a missionary in China and has a PhD in applied theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as the theologian-in-residence at Mission One and has authored several books about the subjects of contextualization and the intersection of Scripture and honor/shame. Jensen spent five years teaching in a Chinese university and recently completed his PhD in intercultural studies at Biola University.

The book begins with a short introduction that outlines several key terms and concepts related to honor and shame. Readers unfamiliar with these concepts will benefit from the brief discussion as they are highlighted throughout the rest of the book. Concise and clear explanations are included for terms such as honor, shame, face, collectivism, and reciprocity. The introduction clarifies common misconceptions about honor and shame and prepares readers to see Scripture and their own faith in a new light.

The rest of the book contains 101 separate devotional reflections on different passages of Scripture. Each chapter is organized in four parts: a brief quotation from the passage at hand, a short reflection highlighting how honor and shame are present in the passage, a few questions to guide the reader’s meditations, and a parting prayer. Scripture excerpts are drawn equally from Old and New Testaments.

While all the chapters have interesting discussions around honor and shame and give new perspectives on passages with which readers may already be familiar, I found the most impactful chapters to be those that challenged common Western understandings of faith and God. Many of the reflections nudge readers from Western cultures to reconsider how their faith is shaped by individualism. The authors help us to understand salvation and sin as Scripture does—involving communal relationships as much as our individual relationships with God.

Other impactful chapters were those that included personal reflections from the authors themselves, which helped bring home ideas of honor and shame and how they are prevalent even in modern Western culture. These discussions bring readers to consider themes of status, reputation, identity, and hospitality in relation to their own faith. Overall, the reflections redefine honor and shame for those who follow Jesus in ways that encourage meditation.

As the authors suggest, ministers can use the book as a reference tool to give them further insight into specific passages from which they may be teaching or preaching. As a long-term missionary in Thailand, I found myself highlighting ideas that would be helpful for teaching Bible studies with new believers. The best way to use the book, however, is as a daily devotional and prayer guide. Ministers and lay readers alike will benefit from reading, praying, and meditating on one chapter per day.

Since most Western Christians do not normally discuss their faith and the Bible in terms of honor and shame, these ideas can often seem distant and irrelevant. Many of the chapters leave the discussion of honor and shame in the world of the Bible without bridging the gap to the 21st century. Had the authors included clear connections to our world in every reflection, it would ensure that readers could more easily resonate with these unfamiliar concepts.

I recommend this devotional book for anyone who wants another tool to guide their prayer and devotional time. Readers will appreciate thinking and praying over these portions of Scripture through the lenses of honor and shame. The book impacts readers at the heart level and brings Scripture to life with practical reflections that both challenge and encourage readers to connect to God in new ways.

Ryan Binkley