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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



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Seven Case Studies from the Life of William Carey

William Carey is one of the most significant figures in the history of Christian missions. His influence flows from his inspiring life and ministry, but his story has also proven to be instructive. These seven thematic and illustrative case studies explore different aspects of Carey’s experience in ways that lead to fruitful dialogue about responsible involvement in global evangelism today. They create opportunities for historical analysis and discussion about missions in terms of motivation, preparation, participation, vision, teams, empowerment, and perseverance.

Case studies have played an important role in missions training and education. Many missionaries have been formed by Paul and Frances Hiebert’s Case Studies in Missions1 and Alan Neely’s Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach.2 While case studies about challenging cross-cultural situations are certainly helpful, it can also be advantageous to use case studies that explore different aspects in the overall formation and work of a missionary. The following are seven thematic and illustrative case studies that I have gleaned from S. Pearce Carey’s biography of William Carey.3 Timothy Tennent states that “the standard biography of Carey remains” S. Pearce Carey’s work,4 but I will also include references to other resources for those who want to analyze certain aspects of these stories more deeply. These case studies have proven useful in my own teaching of undergraduate and graduate missions courses (2016–present) and have laid the groundwork for productive conversations about the past, present, and future of Christian missions.

1. Motivating the Church for Mission

William Carey (1761–1834) has often been called the “Father of Modern Missions.”5 His influence on Protestant efforts in global evangelism would be hard to overestimate.6 Yet, by some measures, Carey appears to be an unlikely candidate for this lofty role. By trade he was a shoemaker, and in terms of education, he was largely self-taught. A world map hung on the wall of his workshop, inspiring his dreams and desires as well as his personal research. His mission team translated and printed the Bible in many Indian languages, helped bring about meaningful social reforms, as well as starting the Serampore College, which is the oldest University in continuous operation in India. Before Carey’s journey to India he wrote an influential pamphlet/book called An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens (1792) that used history, statistics, and biblical imperatives to remind the church that the world desperately needs the gospel of Christ.7 Perhaps the hardest challenge that Carey faced was that his church fellowship initially lacked the vision, means, and structure to participate in overseas missions. So Carey’s first essential contribution to global evangelism was his role in motivating the churches he served and launching the Baptist Missionary Society.

Carey had to make the conditions in which his Society could be born. He could not merely apply the match to the tinder, for the tinder itself had to be prepared. When he woke to the missionary vision, he found to his amazement that most of his fellow Christians were fast asleep. He had to create the very desire that, at length, created the Mission—to provoke the demand that he himself would then supply. For 10 years he resisted his contemporaries’ inertia and fought their disbelief to conquer ‘by the stubborn minority of one’—’going at length against every dictate of common sense, every calculation of prudence, and all but universal opinion, because in the solid solitary sanctuary of his brooding soul an entreaty kept sounding from destitute heathendom.’8

Carey met with his fellowship of churches in 1791 and made an appeal using Haggai 1 for the church to participate in global evangelism. There was excitement and interest, but no real resolution for commitment. Carey pushed for their “impression to be turned to expression,” to move from “sentiment to service,” but the people were not ready.9

A month later, Carey spoke at Leicaster and read from his pamphlet. The summary of his argument was that “not by deluge nor by other such judgment will God deal with the world’s sin. God now calls people by the grace of Christ’s Cross. . . . It is time for Christian people to awake from the love of money and ease. . . . We have no right to the promises (of Scripture) unless we observe the command [to go]. The one conditions the other. To neglect his commission is to forfeit His benediction.”10

One way that Carey’s pamphlet challenged the church to act was by pointing to the example of other missionaries and making comparisons to the world of business: “Elliot and Brainerd transformed America’s Indians through the power of the Gospel as no European civilization ever could have done. Barbarism baffled no traders. Even to distant Alaska they ventured just for otters. If we Christians loved men as merchants love money, no fierceness of peoples would keep us from their midst. Their very barbarism would evoke our swifter help. Elliot and Brainerd, by the grace of the Gospel, both subdued and uplifted men. We cannot afford to leave even the most dehumanized races without Christ.”11

Carey called upon the church to pray—quoting Zech. 4:6, rightly reasoning that this task would not be accomplished by human initiative alone. But he also challenged the church to plan and plod. Again, economic metaphors were used for inspiration: “When traders form a company and win a charter, they go to the limit of their secured concessions and prerogatives, choosing stocks, ships, men, routes, everything, in accordance with their purpose. They strain every nerve, run every risk, dare every danger, watch every vessel, mourn every delay, and never rest ‘till the rich returns are safe and port.’ We Christians must be equally earnest in the business of our Lord. For the present, each denomination of Christians must form its own missionary society, though in friendliest communication with the rest.” Carey called all to give generously according to their means to participate in this worthy venture.12

Besides this pamphlet, Carey’s story reminds us that preaching is a powerful agent in the task of motivating the church to participate in the mission of God. Carey gave a sermon which was long remembered as having laid the foundation of the Baptist Missionary Society. He challenged Christians in a statement that has been popularized as, “Expect great things from God; and attempt great things for God.”13

Carey’s preaching was not, though, what finally moved the church association to act. His own personal request coupled with the emergence of a partner is what finally tipped the scales. After making a number of appeals in one meeting that met with a mixed response, Carey cried out, “Is there nothing again going to be done, sir?” This proved a “creative moment in the history of evangelistic endeavor.” Andrew Fuller resonated with this desperate, heartbroken gesture, and he stood with Carey. Fuller became Carey’s most powerful supporter, and the two of them acted like “Joshua and Caleb”—a powerful duo for motivating the church for mission.14

Eventually, five relatively young men—John Sutcliffe (40), John Ryland (39), Andrew Fuller (38), William Carey (31), and Samuel Pearce (26)—took the risk and threw themselves into the task. All of them poured themselves faithfully into this mission for the rest of their lives.15

It must not be forgotten that “founding a missionary society with such humble and feeble backing was entirely new in modern British history. The Puritans had looked to Parliament as patron and treasurer of missions.” But these five men had only the backing of a handful of obscure village churches.16 It was not unreasonable for these small churches to feel helpless. These “were such little flocks, and their folk were illiterate and poor, and could neither be expected to grasp nor support such a vast undertaking. In any case, they lacked experience or precedent to guide them. . . . The greater centers and churches, they said, must surely take the initiative and shoulder the burden. None of this should surprise us. In human terms they really were nobodies from nowhere, with no influence beyond their village bounds. Indeed, their villages were so obscure that a mid-Englander would have never heard of them!”17 And yet, they answered this seemingly impossible call, and their efforts in global evangelism made a powerful impact for the kingdom.18

Question: What are some principles that today’s church can learn from this case study about the way to motivate the church for mission today?

2. Apostolic Preparation: Training and Equipping (Getting ready to “Go”)

In this section, I will look at the theme of preparation for mission service in Carey’s story. Before and during his work of motivating the church for mission, Carey served small, troubled congregations and gained real experience in ministry in his own culture.19 Those churches grew to love and respect him. At that stage, Carey’s preaching lacked windows or metaphors,20 something that he would later learn to implement well in India.

After the formation of the missionary society, Carey encountered a man named John Thomas who had lived in India for a number of years. Thomas made a compelling case for service in India to Carey. Even though Carey was the natural choice “to be the Society’s first missionary, he here introduced them to another missionary, and this one an expert, who seemed to have arrived by punctual and dramatic providence.” Carey displayed a willingness to put his own interests below that of the Missionary Society. Not only would it put Carey in the role of “second fiddle,” it also ended up changing their target location. Carey had hoped to go to Tahiti, and now they would look to his second choice, Bengal, instead.21

A few years later, another group inspired by Carey’s efforts “convened a much larger non-Baptist group in London, which proposed to form an interdenominational mission on the same lines as Carey’s. The response from their churches was electric, and fourteen months later (August 1795) their first missionaries sailed down the Thames in the Duff, to the cheering of thousands, bound for Tahiti (Carey’s own originally-intended destination), with the missionary party of thirty, singing: Jesus, at Thy command; We launch into the deep.”22 Carey’s own departure, though, was much, much less celebrated. He and Thomas were delayed for weeks, held up by delays caused by government paperwork and Thomas’s financial mismanagement.

Eventually, though, Carey and his family arrived in India, where he would spend the rest of his life (40 years). The journey lasted five months. “During the tedious last month the captain sometimes let Carey accompany him on the poop deck. All he observed became a parable of the task before him. He wrote: ‘For near a month we have been within 200 miles of Bengal, but the violence of the currents sets us back from the very door.’ ” Carey described the process they took tacking back and forth to move slowly forward: “Now this is tedious work, and, if the current be against us, we scarcely make any way; nay, sometimes, in spite of all we do, we go backwards. Yet it is absolutely necessary to keep working up, if we mean to arrive at port. So we Christians have to work against wind and currents; and we must, if we are to make our harbor.” The most challenging thing for Carey about this journey was “the ship’s spirit towards India’s people. Officers and passengers alike talked of them with disdain.” Carey recognized that this contempt and lack of respect would only hinder his ability to connect with the people.23

By 1795, after two challenging years in India, changing locations, dealing with sickness and working vocationally, Carey “could preach for nearly half an hour, and be tolerably well understood, though some hearers would complain that he gave them ‘mental trouble,’ and he knew he was still in the grip of English idiom and sentence construction, and remote from the freedom of Bengali.” His preaching had no visible effect, as custom and caste were “king.”24

The sheer number of India’s poor and the abundance of their needs certainly had the potential to be overwhelming. Thomas wrote: “Do not send men of compassion here, for you will break their hearts. Do send men full of compassion, for many perish with cold, many for lack of bread, and millions for lack of knowledge. The other day I saw a pathway stopped up by sick and wounded people, perishing with hunger in a populous neighborhood, but none showing mercy – as though they were only dying weeds, not dying men.”25

Looking at the end of Carey’s life and ministry, it is instructive to see what he wrote to his sons to help prepare them to serve as missionaries themselves. His letters are filled with fatherly affection26 as well as practical instruction:

  • To Felix: “Let the Burmese language occupy your most precious time, and your most anxious solicitude. Do not be content with its superficial acquiring. Make it yours, root and branch. Listen with prying curiosity to the forms of speech, the construction and accent of the people. All your imitative powers will be wanted, and, unless you frequently use what you acquire, it will profit you little. As soon as you feel your feet, compose a grammar, and some simple Christian instruction. Begin your translations with the Gospel of Mark. Be very careful that your construction and idiom are Burman, not English.”27
  • To William, working in a lonely, difficult location: Carey encouraged him to have courage and be firmly dedicated to the task, exhorting them not to be distracted. “Mount your horse . . . and be out on God’s work.”28
  • To Jabez: “Consult Mr. Martin on every occasion of importance. As soon as you are settled, get a Malay, who can speak a little English and do a tour of your islands, visiting every school. Keep a journal of each, and encourage all you see worthy. Compare their periodic progress. Consider yourself more than a director of schools—even their Christian instructor, and devote yourself to their good. God has committed to you the spiritual interests of these islands; a vast charge, but one which he will enable you to fulfill. When you meet with a few who truly fear God, form them into Gospel churches. As soon as you see any fitted to preach, call them to the ministry and settle them over these. . . . Labour incessantly to become a perfect master of the Malay [language]. With this in view, associate with the native people, walk with them, ask the name of everything you see, visit them when they are sick.”29

Humility was a key quality that Carey valued in potential colleagues in ministry: “The confidence of young men in their competence makes me distrust them the more.”30 Carey also addressed the topic of what some have unfortunately labeled as “going native.” He warned of overidentification and over spiritualization in his counseling of foreign workers to be aware of their own limits. One new missionary to India was “eager to become wholly Indian in diet, clothing and housing. Carey, while admiring his dedication, felt compelled to add many cautions. ‘The Master won’t thank you for committing suicide. It is yourself, and not these externals, that will make the abiding impression.’ ”31

Question: What are some principles we can learn from Carey about the preparation of foreign missionaries or local partners in global evangelism?

3. Community of Mission: Sending Churches / Sending Organizations / Mission Committees

As one of Carey’s biggest supporters (Andrew Fuller) put it: “Our undertaking to India really appeared at its beginning to me somewhat like a few men, who were deliberating about the importance of penetrating a deep mine which had never before been explored. We had no one to guide us; and, whilst we were thus deliberating, Carey, as it were, said, ‘Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.’ But, before he descended, he, as it seemed to me, took an oath from each of us at the mouth of the pit, to this effect that ‘whilst we lived, we should never let go the rope.’ ”32

In the Society’s attempts to investigate the amount of financial support that would be needed, they asked John Thomas about their budget, “not knowing that Thomas was the last man in the world to consult on such questions. He was incapable of being financially precise, or of giving safe guidance. . . . Immeasurable later tragedy would have been saved had the Society learned at the outset the full measure of the task and its costs.”33 The church, though, responded in generosity and shared what they had.34

There were seasons when Carey was prevented from being reminded of the Mission Society’s commitment to him. In one of the darkest seasons of his life, when Mrs. Carey was struggling with deep depression and illness, their faithful “communications had all miscarried. The silence for almost two years was as if he had been clean forgotten. From Fuller’s ‘rope-holders’ at the mine-mouth not twitch nor tremor of the rope was felt!”35 When Carey did finally receive communication, Carey’s soul was nourished to hear that God had blessed the sending churches with growth in England that was beyond their expectations.36

When Carey communicated to the Mission Society that he had now found employment, there was conflict. Some members of the mission society were upset that he was now serving as a vocational missionary. This was confusing for Carey, as this had been the plan he thought he had communicated all along. Besides, “had they not been providentially led into business they would’ve starved” because the supplies sent from home were always delayed in transit or even intercepted.37 The Mission Society’s concerns may have stemmed from a negative experience: its second venture (into Sierra Leone) failed because of their missionaries’ political indiscretions.38

Carey tried his best to communicate about the situation in India in language that his Mission Society supporters would understand: “Only imagine England to be in the situation of Bengal; without public roads, inns, or other convenience for travel; without a post, save for the letters of the nobility; without the boon of printing; and absorbed in the monkish superstition of the eleventh century—that in this situation two or three men arrive from Greenland to evangelize the English, and settle at Newcastle—that they are under the necessity to labor for their living, and to spend much time in translating the Scriptures, and you will be able to form some idea of our case.”39

Andrew Fuller’s leadership and drive to support the work was impressive:40 When Carey asked for 1000 pounds a year, “Even they who knew Andrew Fuller best could little dream how this bold program of widened biblical translation would kindle his imagination and intensify his passion and his power. He soon traveled 1,300 miles and raised 1,300 pounds for this purpose.”41 One of the most impressive and tender images of Fuller, though, was his letter of encouragement to Carey’s son Jabez. Fuller’s commitment to hold the rope for Carey extended to Carey’s children, whom he had never met!42

When the mission in India came into grave danger as the directors of the “East India Company were ready to vote for the immediate recall of the missionaries,” friends back in England stepped boldly in, defending them against baseless attacks.43 Fuller was a key figure but passed away not long after: “he had never recovered the strength he had exhausted in his fight with Parliament. He had purchased the revised charter with his life. Indeed, through all the twenty-three years from” the very beginning of the mission venture, “he had been of one mind and soul with Carey, and . . . had spent himself for the Mission.”44

After Fuller’s death and the loss of members who knew Carey personally, conflict developed between the Mission Society and Carey. Some on the committee seemed to think that Carey and his teammates were “feathering their nests” so that their children would inherit the property at Serampore.45

Further conflict occurred as those on the committee sided with newer team members who arrived in later years—men that they knew personally. The Society tried to exert more and more control, leading Carey to pour out his distress in a letter to Ryland: “We are yours still to live and die with you; but as your brothers, not as your servants. I beseech you, therefore, not to attempt to exercise a power over us, to which we shall never submit. Bear with me a little, even if I speak foolishly; for my heart is exceedingly wounded at the Society’s proposal of the eight British trustees, and at several concomitant symptoms.” Carey reminded them that the Society had given only a small portion of what it took to build up the property, especially since Carey and his teammates had invested their own money in the venture. It pained Carey to remind them: “We are your brothers, not your hired servants.”46

The Serampore Mission team understood that at times they would need flexibility from the Mission Society to make decisions based on their own on-the-ground experience and insight.47 One example of this tension was the fact that most of the American and British Baptist money was strictly earmarked for the theological department of the Serampore College because they did not appreciate the wider scope of the design of the school and the realities the team was facing in the culture.48 Another example was when a group of contributors dropped support because Carey and his translators were not willing to transliterate the word “baptize.” Thankfully, other churches stepped in to meet the need.49

“Eventually, by disgraceful, persistent harassment, a takeover of properties was affected by a denominational missionary society, signaling that the era of corporate domination of missions and churches had at last broken upon British Baptists.”50 The final decision to surrender the property for the sake of peace, surprisingly brought much joy among the veteran team members. “ ‘Never,’ said one of their sons, ‘did men rejoice more in the acquisition of property than did these elders in divesting themselves of all interest in the Mission premises.’ ”51

The Society began to have a business-only approach to Carey. Carey wrote to comment that “no person belonging to the committee has, since Fuller’s death, written me a single letter of friendship, and I suppose I am unknown to almost every one. I do not complain though I acknowledge that I have occasionally felt it.” It leads one to wonder, what would have happened had it been possible to send a delegation to visit, investigate, or have more trust in the opinion of experienced missionaries.52

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about best practices for sending partners in global evangelism?

4. Community of Mission: Vision (and Discerning Roles and Tasks)

The work of translation was at the heart of Carey’s vision for the mission enterprise in India.53 In a 1797 letter to Andrew Fuller he said, “Whereas in any land there are only two obstacles to God’s work—the sinfulness of man’s heart, and the lack of the Scriptures—this latter God has here begun to remove; for the New Testament is now translated into Bengali. Its treasures will be greater than diamonds.”54 Carey’s colleague, Ward, worked diligently to publish the Scriptures. In reflecting on his own calling on his journey to India, Ward said, “Unto me, who am less than the least of our saints, may this grace be given, that I should print for the Gentiles, the unsearchable riches of Christ.”55 The team saw translation as the key to transformation in the Indian culture.56 To accomplish this complex endeavor involved even the manufacture of the paper they would use to print with!57

As Carey’s work in Bengali progressed and he began teaching in the Government College, a new vision was impressed upon him of an expanded vision of translating the Bible into multiple languages. This was at first met with resistance by the Serampore team as they wrestled with the tension between having a deep impact in one language or culture verses having a wide impact in multiple languages or cultures,58 but soon Ward, in particular, became a leading enthusiast for the work.59

Carey employed a number of Indian “pundits” to assist him in the translation endeavor and the connections between these languages allowed him to have some level of mastery in each.60 Learning and translating the Bible into Sanskrit was especially crucial to unlocking other languages. Carey’s daily routine reveals a man possessed with the task of translation, working in multiple tongues at multiple stages, all the while teaching vocationally.61 Carey fully embraced this calling. In a letter to Fuller in 1804 he said, “I am more in my element . . . translating the Word of God than in any other employment.”62 A summary of Carey’s total translation work follows:

  • Bengali, Oriya, Hindi, Marathi, Sanskrit, Assamese (whole Bibles).
  • Punjabi (NT and OT up to Ezekiel 26).
  • Pashto, Kashmiri (NT and OT up to 2 Kings).
  • Telugu and Konkami (NT and Pentateuch).
  • Nineteen other languages (NT only).
  • Five other languages (one or more Gospels).63

It would be a mistake, though, to assume that Carey and his colleagues saw their ministry in only “spiritual” terms—merely producing God’s “spiritual texts.” Their team was aware of social issues happening around the globe, praying fervently for the end of slavery in the British Empire and celebrating steps toward this end.64 And their commitment to the Indian people went beyond translation as they saw other facets as playing into the holistic nature of the transformation of culture.

For example, they spoke out against the practice of widow burning or sati.65 Carey met personally with a revered Hindi scholar and saint and was able to “elicit from him an unqualified condemnation of sati. When, at this time, Carey learned that one of his own Serampore pundits had lit the pyre for the burning of his sister-in-law, he drove him from his presence as a murderer.”66 This reform took time to gain support,67 but eventually the practice was abolished.68 At that time Carey was the Government’s official Bengali translator. “The edict arrived early on Sunday 6 December, when he was preparing for the pulpit. Arranging with another to preach, he, with his pundit, gave the day to translating. He would not lose an hour with women’s lives at stake.”69

A variety of other concerns demonstrate the team’s dedication to holistic transformation:


The Serampore team was committed to education and started Serampore College. This had a powerful impact as they influenced Christian and non-Christian Indians, challenging the caste system while giving them a free education.70 The Serampore team also worked to educate the women of India.71

Money and Missions

“When Carey persuaded his colleagues at the founding of their Serampore base to disallow all labor for personal gain and to pool all earnings, one wonders what his own hopes were of acquiring funds for the Mission. When the Marshmans were soon making large contributions from the profits of their schools, he must have almost envied them their joy.” But rather quickly it fell to Carey to be the largest contributor as most of his government salary went into the common fund.72

Influence among Westerners

Carey’s vocational work as a teacher also influenced the British officials in India. Ironically, Carey (an informally educated man) was chosen to teach the Indian languages to privileged young men who hailed from the best schools in England.73 Carey was known for treating them as adults and succeeded in converting some of these students.74 “By 1818 he alone of the professors had been at the college since its foundation. By 1825 he was senior to the next longest serving professor by 12 years, and the rest by at least 20. He served for 30 years, and was the only one of its professors to be pensioned.”75 One of Carey’s earliest and brightest students was put in authority of the Moluccas region and opened the door for Carey’s son to serve there as a missionary.76

Working with the Poor

Carey’s mingling with the European officials as a professor never led him to abandon his love for “India’s poorest and most outcast.”77 One contemporary commented that during the day Carey would teach language and grammar to the governing class while working on the translation of the Scriptures into Indian languages, but he returned “when the sun went down, to preach to the poorest of India in their own tongues the good news of the kingdom, with a loving tenderness and a patient humility only learned in the school of Christ.”78 The Serampore team was faithful in meeting the needs in front of them. They helped plant a church in Calcutta among the Portuguese.79 They treated people’s illnesses, practicing “medicine” and eventually making an appeal to the Government for “the establishment of a first hospital for Indians in Calcutta.”80

The Serampore mission produced journals to impact Indian culture and helped encourage the founding of a leper asylum. “Dr. George Smith says, ‘Carey never rested till a leper hospital was established in Calcutta, near the centre of the Church Missionary Society’s work.’ And after Carey’s death, Marshman commented: ‘Scarcely an undertaking for the benefit of India has been engaged in, of which he was not either a prime mover or a zealous performer.’ ”81

Partnership in Ministry

The Serampore team saw the importance of disciple-making and took young Indian Christians with them to preach in surrounding areas.82 Furthermore, they promoted a contextualized approach. One of the Serampore team, Marshman, spoke out against the practice that other missionaries had of giving non-Christians new Christian names at baptism because, “this only served to import a foreign and repulsive character to Christianity in the eyes of the people of India.”83

Question: What principles can we learn from Carey about vision and roles/tasks in global evangelism?

5. Community of Mission: Mission Teams

Not long after their arrival, Thomas’s financial mismanagement exhausted their initial income and forced them to make quick employment choices.85 By 1800, Carey’s situation in Malda had changed and a door opened for him and a new team in Serampore. “Carey’s missionary apprenticeship was over, and his leadership of a team was about to begin.”86 Serampore had first been a base for Moravian missionaries. That team had learned Bengali, but the ministry had been unsuccessful among the Hindus: “ ‘preaching seemed ploughing upon rock.’ When, after fifteen years’ effort, they could only count one dubious convert, the Moravian effort was abandoned in 1792, the very year that the Particular Baptist Mission was founded in England. So Carey and his colleagues gave battle just where his Moravian heroes had been foiled. He better understood, as his North Bengal years had taught him, how grim the struggle would be.”87

Certain missionary colleagues did not aid the mission, exactly. Even before the move to Serampore, John Thomas “had become deeply discouraged and had abandoned” his post. “His relationship even to the Mission had become vague. With his wife and daughter he moved hither and thither, never remaining in any one place. Now living in a boat, now in a bamboo hut; now in Nadia, now in Birbhum; now preacher, now sugar-refiner and distiller, and now again indigo venturer! He was ever a rolling stone, possessing a warm heart, but also a wayward judgment and will.”88

In the early days at Serampore, the team wrestled and argued, trying to settle on a working agreement, especially as it related to finances.89 Two members of the team died in the first few months, but Ward, Carey, and Marshman formed a threefold cord that lasted for over 20 years. It helped that all of them had common friends back home in England and that they all were in their 30s. “All were ready for the utmost exertion. And their work-power was more than quadrupled by their pulling together. . . . In the formative months, with Thomas at a distance, Carey was the one experienced missionary. To him they looked: on him they leaned.” Carey went against the Moravian strategy of having a team leader. “Forgoing his own claim to headship or house-fathership, he founded Serampore on equality for each, pre-eminence for none; rule by majority, allocation of funds by collective vote” and the rotation of various responsibilities. “The bold stroke payed off. This democratic basis of the Mission . . . was a secret of its strength.”90

They practiced weekly team meetings. Carey wrote: “We have a meeting every Saturday evening . . . to regulate family concerns, and settle any difference that may have arisen in the week. Should any be hurt in their minds, and not mention it then, they would meet with little pity afterwards, and, indeed, would be guilty of a crime.”91 The mission team committed to frugality and decided to pool their earnings. They followed Moravian precedent and decided that the team would vest “all the premises they bought or built in the Society, declaring themselves trustees rather than proprietors.”92 The Serampore team crafted a covenant, “which was read three times a year in each” mission “station:

  1. To set an infinite value on men’s souls.
  2. To acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  3. To abstain from whatever deepens India’s prejudice against the gospel.
  4. To watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  5. To preach ‘Christ crucified’ as the grand means of conversions.
  6. To esteem and treat Indians always as our equals.
  7. To guard and build up ‘the hosts that may be gathered.’
  8. To cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation since Indians only can win India for Christ.
  9. To labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  10. To be instant in the nurture of personal religion.
  11. To give ourselves without reserve to the cause, ‘not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”93

They also reminded themselves of the kind of lives necessary for this mission: to be people of prayer who also possessed “a competent knowledge of the languages current where a missionary lives, a mild and winning temper, and a heart given up to God—these are the attainments, which, more than all other gifts, will fit us to become God’s instruments in the great work of human redemption.”94

The mission team valued each other’s strengths. Carey wrote a letter to Ryland praising Marshman’s abilities as an evangelist, gifts that he himself did not possess.95 The team of three families worked well together for many years, “each engaging his particular skill; each responsible in his own domain; and each able to produce an income for the furtherance of their missionary aims. Their wives were all a source of great strength and blessing.”96 The team also wrote letters of encouragement to other missionaries, sharing from their experiences.97

In 1814–15, though, new team members brought challenges and critical attitudes.98 This criticism was directed at Marshman and seemed to stem from gossip about him spoken by people back in England.99 “Though their missionary record amply demonstrates their high aims,” the newcomers did not fit well within the system that functioned in the early stages of the mission. “Serampore was full of discord and distress. Carey had never known such friction and grew dangerously ill.”100

“Perhaps, too, the elders were at less than their best. Marshman was embarrassed and unhappy, knowing himself misjudged. He and Ward and their wives were in poor health. Indeed all the seniors were paying the price for their long un-furloughed labor in the heat of Bengal.” Pressures of life and ministry had depressed them. “They may not have been . . . sympathetic enough with the dreams and ideas of the newcomers, whose youth made them one.”101 Eventually there was a split, and the team waited to communicate with supporters back home until “the schism was complete, and the juniors had formed and made public their ‘Calcutta Missionary Union.’ ”102

Carey wrote to Ryland to express how painful this was: “I do not recollect in my whole life anything which has given me so much distress as this schism. Many sleepless nights have I spent examining what we had done to give it occasion, but can discover nothing on which I can fix. The Mission, however, is rent in twain, and exhibits the scandalous appearance of a body divided against itself. We could easily vindicate ourselves, but the vindication would be our and their disgrace. We have, therefore, resolved to say nothing, but to leave the matter in God’s hands.”103 Thankfully, by 1820 the dispute with the “Calcutta missionaries” was settled. Carey celebrated this reconciliation in a letter to his son. Reflecting on the experience he said: “Nothing I ever met with in my life—and I have met with many distressing things–ever preyed so much upon my spirits as this difference.”104

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about mission teams in global evangelism?

6. Community of Mission: Empowering the Local Church

During Carey’s first years in India, he worked in the indigo trade and realized that exploitation “was rife among the locals themselves.” This “made Carey’s soul blaze with anger – the landholders cheating and fleecing the peasants, the works foremen systematically robbing the laborers. The overseer clerk, whom he caught swindling every one of the workers out of a twentieth of their pay, he dismissed on the spot. He was sickened at the oppressions of the poor that he met at every turn.”105

In the early days, “though the people were grateful for his preaching, and interested, they had not courage to obey. The social cost was too terrible.”106 One of the early associates that Carey had hoped would be the first to be baptized, Ram Ram Basu, in 1796 “was shown to be guilty of adultery and embezzlement. Heartbroken, Carey wrote to Pearce, ‘It appeared as if all was sunk and gone.’ ” With the failure of this longtime confidant and companion, who could they hope in?107

Before moving to Serampore, after about 5 years of labor, the Careys “hands were pitifully empty . . . with (no Indian) conversions even from among their language teachers and inquirers. One had proved himself a fraud; one was guilty of adultery,” while others would discuss religion with them but were not willing to commit. They had only two real prospects. “It seemed a tiny step for a mountainous labor!”108 In 1799, Carey wrote to his supporters about his “bitter disappointment: ‘I am almost grown callous, and am tempted to preach as if their hearts were invulnerable.”109

Carey, whose preaching lacked windows and metaphors back in England, learned during this time to use local idioms and examples relevant to that context,110 no longer “lacking illustrations. He had acquired the Oriental mind.”111 But even with contextualized preaching, the people sometimes appreciated the preachers merely in terms of the economic advantages they could bring. “ ‘Make us your carpenters or smiths,’ said many, ‘and we are willing: but your religion we do not want.’ ”112

At the end of 1800, the Serampore team got to witness the first real fruits from their efforts. Krishna Pal was baptized. This man, who incidentally had first heard the Gospel while working as a carpenter for the Moravian missionaries years earlier,113 shared his testimony this way: “I followed the Hindu worship. I bathed in the Ganges. I worshipped dumb idols. I prostrated myself times without number, of my guru’s feet. I gave my gifts to the priests. I visited holy places. I kept repeating the name of my guardian deity. But it brought me little good, little relief from my sin. Then I heard of Jesus Christ, that He became flesh and dwelt among us, and was as one that served, and even for our ransom gave His life. What love, I thought, is this? And here I made my rest. Now, say if such love was ever shown by our gods. Did Durga or Kali or Krishna die for sinners? And think. Whilst gurus put their feet upon their prostrate chelas (pupils or slaves), Christ washed His disciples’ feet. Was (there) ever such lowliness?”114 Krishna’s wife and family became Christians and influenced many of their neighbors. Carey would preach and teach at their house and “Krishna’s home became the base of all advance.”115

The mission partnered with Krishna’s family and helped them with the hospitality expenses their witness was incurring. New believers were challenged with the need to break caste. They ate with the missionaries and others in this home. This was a hard step for some as Muslim and Hindu converts as well as those of high caste who also suffered persecution.116 Even from the beginning it was clear that caste would be a considerable challenge.117 The team understood that “caste was the bulwark of Hinduism, and diametrically opposed to the spirit of the Gospel, so they resolved to refuse it the least sanction from the outset. They would not bow the knee. They knew that by this drastic course their progress would be slower, but at least it would be sure.” The upper and lower castes “were treated as equals and brothers. At the Lord’s Supper this equality was absolute. The castes were also daily encouraged to a cordial friendship with one another,” and eventually they even intermarried.118

The pressure from the surrounding culture was intense: “Indian Christians were derided. Traders refused to serve them, landlords refused to accept them. Syam Das was murdered within nine months of his baptism. . . . Ram Dahn (was deceived) . . . and never permitted to return. . . . (Another) was drugged by his own father and fell into melancholy that nothing could relieve. Kasi Nath was flogged by his neighbors, till in fear he recanted. Halidhar, on the verge of baptism, was dragged off and hidden. Yet almost more heart-breaking were the stumblings of Krishna and his whole home circle. They pierced the Mission through with many sorrows. Its very devotion to them made them heady.”119 Ward noted that the hardest thing for a missionary certainly was not the hot weather but the discouragement one felt from quarrels and failures in the local church.120 A number of those young believers, thankfully, returned and were restored to the church. And the church’s witness through the burial of one of her members and her willingness to break caste made a positive impression on the community.121

A few years later, Krishna Pal and another man were ordained as preachers. “Ordination seemed too soon in Krishna’s case, for within six months the promotion made him heady again, and he and his household grew rebellious and difficult.” Thankfully, this trial passed within a few months.122

The Serampore team was thankful to see destructive Indian customs being left behind. Some converts willingly rejected idolatry. In reflecting on the way this came about, Ward said, “‘How much better . . . is love and illumination than force! Had we compelled them to discard these, they would have been attached to them for life.’ ”123

“The team was thankful for their courageous Indian converts, who persevered in their preaching” even under difficult circumstances. The missionaries knew that the preaching of these Indian brothers “was often more compelling than their own—as Ward felt when listening to a gifted young evangelist in Hindi, ‘Oh, I saw that the Gospel was as sweet in this as any other tongue! At his aptness and tenderness I could scarcely hold back tears.’ ”124

By 1813, Carey, even in the midst of dealing with government opposition, wrote to Ryland about what he had seen related to the power of the gospel in India: “ ‘It is too late to eradicate the Gospel from Bengal. The number born in the country who are now preaching the Word is very considerable.’ They had by this time baptized more than five hundred people.”125

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about the struggle of church growth and empowerment of the local church?

7. Apostolic Perseverance: Failure and Success

In many ways, Carey was a typical British boy, but what marked him was his curiosity and determination. Richter, describing Carey’s character, noted that he “was a man of heroic diligence.”126 In describing himself, Carey commented “years later to his nephew Eustace, disclaiming all other talents, ‘I can plod and persevere. That is my only genius. I can persevere in any definite pursuit. To this I owe everything.’ ”127 Another descriptor for that may be linked to what was “at the top of Paul’s list of apostolic qualifications . . . . the hallmark of spiritual power: perseverance.”128

The area where the Careys initially settled (Sundarbans) was full of armed bandits, snakes, wild buffaloes, rhinos, crocodiles, leopards and boars, “but the tigers were the terror. Twenty men had been devoured . . . in the previous twelve months.”129 They witnessed serious and depressing challenges, such as observing the masses as they attended religious fairs where fakirs (Hindu begging ‘monks’) would fling themselves “upon spikes from considerable heights, tearing their flesh and bones. Also, he observed the frenzied dancing, and, as a hideous climax, the grotesque hook-swingings . . . [done by] men of the lowest castes.”130

Before the move to Serampore, Carey’s “five-year-old Peter—so gifted that his Bengali was all already almost native—fell into a fever even more dangerous than his. Through a fortnight they fought for his life but he could not recover. Then were they lonely indeed, for, with the people’s having such rigid rules concerning contact with the dead, no Hindu or Moslem would offer help for the child’s burial.” No one would help with the coffin, nor help dig the grave, until four men stepped forward and shared this disgrace.131

The work was slow, but there was some promise: early in their work, Thomas disguised himself as an Indian and “engaging Brahmins in conversation, he asked if any in that district minded God.

‘Yes, a few sahibs have come here.’

‘Are they good people?’

‘Yes, and they speak of one, Jesus Christ.’

‘And who is He?’

‘They call him ‘Son of God.’ Some say that after a while all Hindus, Mohammedans, and sahibs will be all of this religion.’

Thomas could assure his comrades that they were building better than they knew.”132

In Carey’s early experiences (five years in North Bengal), he learned “his basic knowledge of rural, real India . . . acquiring the vernaculars and Sanskrit, learning to organize and manage men, was laying the foundation of all his translation work and forming the true measure of his task.”133

Companionship and Challenges for Carey in Marriage

  • Dorothy Carey: Carey’s first wife suffered from mental disorder and distress for 13 years. This stemmed from a traumatic experience with dysentery (and malaria?) and the illness of their firstborn within the first months of arrival in India. “Missionaries’ wives paid dearly in these pioneer years.”134 “Early in 1795 his wife fell ill again with serious dysentery, and then all the strain she had lived through reacted upon her, till her brain became the haunted chamber of morbid fantasies and tormented fears. She grew the opposite of all she naturally was. Those whom she most tenderly loved, she turned most against. Her spirit passed into a permanent gloom. It was the price she paid for venturing to India in those unsheltered years. None, knowing the facts, will cast stones. Sympathy is the only fair response.” Once Carey was able to understand the problem as a disease, he was able to meet it with true compassion. He did not lament these troubles or complain about her in letters to close friends.135 Dorothy’s mental state declined even further in the last five years of her life and before her death, she had made two attempts on Carey’s life.136
  • Charlotte Carey: In 1808, Carey married a Danish woman who became a true helpmate. “They were of the same age. Yet their marriage seemed preposterously ill-advised, for Charlotte was an invalid. . . . Carey’s colleagues and their wives were distressed at the engagement” and shared their strong concerns with him. But she proved a good match. Though she was often “pitifully ill,” their relationship was strong with many common interests. Their marriage lasted 13 years.137
  • Grace Carey: Not long before his fall and illness, Carey married Grace (a widow who had also lost two spouses). She was a “gentle and affectionate partner.”138

Other Deaths

Besides the deaths of his first two wives, Carey lost other significant companions: Krishna Pal (church leader), Felix (his son), Ward (a teammate), Ryland (a key supporter in England).139


Near the end of Carey’s life, a flood damaged the property in Serampore and left many Indians in difficult circumstances as well. Carey took another job, and his extra income helped them through this time. Amazingly, the church continued to grow, and even in the midst of catastrophes, there were now 700 Hindus who had become followers of Christ. Other disasters that took their toll: bank failures,140 a strong gale,141 and his son’s own personal tragedies.142

To Pearce, Carey wrote: “I would not abandon the Mission for all the fellowships and finest spheres in England. My greatest calamity would be separation from this service. May I be useful in laying the foundations of Christ’s Church in India; I desire no greater reward, nor can conceive higher honour. The work, to which God has set His hands, will infallibly prosper. Christ has begun to besiege this ancient and strong fortress, and will assuredly carry it. It is not His way to desert what He has once undertaken.”143


In 1812, the Serampore team suffered a serious setback when the building where they housed the printing machines and book copies burnt to the ground. One colleague encouraged him by saying, “‘However vexing it may be, a road the second time traveled is usually taken with more confidence and ease than at the first.’ [Carey] resolved that his grammars, dictionaries, and translations should gain by the disaster.”144 They resolutely counted their blessings and pushed forward.145 Amazingly, some good came from the fire: “by the next April they were printing in more languages than before the fire, and the pundits’ better renderings saved Carey hours of revisionary toil.”146 And the churches in Britain showed so much generosity that the losses were repaid in two months!147

Question: What principles can we learn from this case study about missionary perseverance and global evangelism?


These seven thematic and illustrative case studies from the life of William Carey are useful launching points for a variety of conversations about responsible involvement in global evangelism today. They create opportunities for historical analysis and discussion about missions in terms of motivation, preparation, participation in community, vision, teams, empowerment, and perseverance. My hope is that they will inspire further dialogue about faithful missional engagement today.

Alan Howell, his wife Rachel, and their three daughters resided in Mozambique from 2003 to 2018 as part of a team working among the Makua-Metto people. Alan (MDiv) served as the Visiting Professor of Missions at Harding University from 2019 to 2023 (Searcy, AR) teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in the areas of biblical studies, cultural competency, theology, and strategy. He is the Director of Church Relations at Mission Resource Network (

1 Paul G. Hiebert and Frances F. Hiebert, Case Studies in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1987).

2 Alan Neely, Christian Mission: A Case Study Approach, American Society of Missiology Series, No. 21. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1995).

3 These case studies are thematic and illustrative in that the individual case studies do not intend to follow a single event, but instead link pieces from Carey’s life and experience topically in a way that invites reflection and consideration. I have combined together these themes and threads from my own analysis of Carey’s story, following S. Pearce Carey, William Carey (London: Wakeman Trust, 1923; repr., 2009).

4 Timothy Tennent, “William Carey as Missiologist: An Assessment,” Expect Great Things, Attempt Great Things: William Carey and Adoniram Judson, Missionary Pioneers, Studies in World Christianity, ed. Allen L. Yeh and Chris Chun (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013), 15.

5 Jim Reapsome, “Carey, William,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids: Baker Books), 162–3. Reapsome notes that this “nomination . . . may not be chronologically accurate (Moravian missionaries criss-crossed the globe before he was born), but it is accurate in terms of what his life and ministry spawned in the ensuing years of Protestant missions in England—that is, the so-called Great Century of missionary outreach” (162).

6 For a helpful overview of Carey’s life, see Timothy George, “Let it Go: Lessons from the Life of William Carey,” in Expect Great Things, 3–14. For a helpful book-length treatment analyzing William Carey’s influences, work, and impact, see Terry G. Carter, P. Sam Daniel, George Melvyn Ella, C. P Hallihan, Vishal Mangalwadi, and Bruce Nicholls, William Carey: Theologian – Linguist – Social Reformer, World of Theology Series 4, ed. Thomas Schirrmacher (Bonn: Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft, Culture and Science Publ., 2013).

7 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991), 340, in reflecting on the influence of this tract, notes that Carey should be credited with putting the Great Commission front and center as a motivation for missions: “with the aid of a simple yet powerful argumentation, [Carey] demolished the conventional interpretation of Matthew 28:18–20. Since Carey, the appeal to Matthew 28:18–20 has always been prominent in Protestant (more especially Anglo-Saxon) missions.”

8 Carey, 10.

9 Ibid., 64.

10 Ibid., 64-5.

11 Ibid., 69. For more on the theological motivations in Carey’s Enquiry, see Travis Myers, “Tracing a Theology of the Kingdom of God in William Carey’s Enquiry: A Case Study in Complex Mission Motivation as Component of ‘Missionary Spirituality,’” Missiology 40, no. 1 (2012): 37–47.

12 Carey, 70.

13 In undergraduate and graduate classroom discussions of this saying, many questions have come to the surface: Could this be one of the first “tweet-able” sermons? Is it that this kind of sermon is not successful today, or is it that we have simply stopped preaching it? If a needs-based approach does not work anymore what will? Which sermon has had more impact on American Protestant churches, Carey’s sermon or Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”?

14 Ibid., 78.

15 Ibid., 87.

16 Ibid., 84.

17 Ibid., 82–3.

18 Another major issue, that is outside the scope of these case studies, has to do with additional theological commitments that were barriers keeping churches from evangelizing overseas (such as the assumption that mission was relegated to the age of the apostles, and commitments to versions of Calvinism). For more on the theological barriers that also needed to be overcome, see Michael Haykin, “A Historical and Biblical Root of the Globalization of Christianity: The Fullerism of Andrew Fuller’s The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation,” Puritan Reformed Journal 8, no. 1 (2016): 165–75.

19 Ibid., 55. For more on how he was shaped by experiences in ministry and how his work in evangelism, education, and translation was shaped by his ecclesiology, see C. J. Moore, “An Ecclesiological Mission: The Basis for William Carey’s Threefold Mission Strategy,” Southeastern Theological Review 12, no. 1 (2021): 83–109.

20 Carey, 59.

21 Ibid., 90.

22 Ibid., 122. The song was “Jesus the Pilot.”

23 Ibid., 129.

24 Ibid., 162.

25 Ibid., 163.

26 Ibid., 307.

27 Ibid., 270.

28 Ibid., 274–75.

29 Ibid., 304.

30 Ibid., 317.

31 Ibid., 361.

32 Ibid., 108.

33 Ibid., 96.

34 Ibid., 105.

35 Ibid., 159.

36 Ibid., 159.

37 Ibid., 160–61.

38 Ibid., 165.

39 Ibid., 167.

40 For church sponsored missionaries who depend on missions committees to represent them and their needs to a congregation, it is hard to imagine a better “head of a missions committee” than Fuller.

41 Ibid., 234.

42 Ibid., 305.

43 Ibid., 265. For a helpful summary of R. S. Sugirtharajah’s postcolonial critique of Carey and Saugata Bhaduri’s recognition that Carey’s work with vernacular literature had an unintended de-colonizing impact, see Darren Cronshaw, “A Commission ‘Great’ for Whom?: Postcolonial Contrapuntal Readings of Matthew 28:18–20 and the Irony of William Carey,” Transformation 33, no. 2 (2016): 110–23. Cronshaw notes that, “This is the irony of Carey’s context; that he was part of colonial mission, and his words coincided with and were coopted by colonializing forces, but he himself was marginalized by the reigning colonial trading power. His setting . . . is best described as polycolonial . . . as Bengal was ruled not just by the British alone, but also by the Portuguese, Dutch, French, and Danish. Colonialism theories all too often focus on the influence of one colonial master, rather than recognize the polycolonial reality. Bhaduri reminds us that Carey did his mission, publishing, and botanical work not from British India, but from the Danish colonial space of Serampore. Moreover, he argues that postcolonial studies too often make colonizer/colonized an irreconcilable binary, when the historical reality is that there were hospitable and fruitful hybridizing transactions between colonizer and colonized, sometimes leading to decolonizing possibilities” (116–17).

44 Carey, 313–14.

45 Ibid., 316.

46 Ibid., 318–19.

47 Ibid., 326.

48 Ibid., 333.

49 Ibid., 373.

50 Ibid., 346.

51 Ibid., 351.

52 Ibid., 349.

53 Ibid., 160–61.

54 Ibid., 169.

55 Ibid., 181.

56 Ibid., 200. For more on how Carey and his team related to the Bengali culture, see John D. W. Watts, “Baptists and the Transformation of Culture: A Case Study from the Career of William Carey,” Review & Expositor 89, no. 1 (1992): 11–21.

57 Carey, 284.

58 Ibid., 232–33.

59 Ibid., 235.

60 Ibid., 231.

61 Ibid., 236.

62 Ibid., 234.

63 Ibid., 396. For more on the quality of those translations, and a survey of analysis done by translators, see H. L. Richard, “Some Observations on William Carey’s Bible Translations,” International Bulletin of Mission Research 42, no. 3 (2018): 241–50. Richard provides a clear-eyed view of the low quality of some of those translations and the reasons for that, while also not diminishing the overall impact of Carey’s work as an early pioneer. Richard describes how Carey’s limited linguistic knowledge combined with India’s undeveloped regional languages, as well as attempting too much, the failings of language assistants, and a misplaced focus on words and word order led to insufficient translations. Richard concludes that “the task of Bible translation into India’s language that Carey began is far from ended” and hopes that this would “inspire fresh concern and effort toward a better fulfillment of the legacy of William Carey” (247). See also Richard Fox Young, “Was the Sanskrit Bible the ‘English Bible-in-Disguise’?: Postcolonialism Meets Philology in William Carey’s Dharmapustaka (1808),” International Journal of Asian Christianity 1, no. 2 (2018): 177–97.

64 Carey, 384.

65 Ibid., 172.

66 Ibid., 259.

67 Ibid., 212, 336–37.

68 Ibid., 363.

69 Ibid., 363.

70 Ibid., 325-6, 329–32, 380.

71 Ibid., 334.

72 Ibid., 210.

73 Ibid., 210.

74 Ibid., 213–14.

75 Ibid., 215.

76 Ibid., 302.

77 Ibid., 260.

78 Ibid.

79 Ibid., 225.

80 Ibid., 225.

81 Ibid., 335–36.

82 Ibid., 226.

83 Ibid., 218.

84 Ibid., 338.

85 Ibid., 137.

86 Ibid., 179.

87 Ibid., 184.

88 Ibid., 178–79.

89 Ibid., 184.

90 Carey, 185. For more on Carey as a leader, see Tariku Fufa Gemechu, “The Making of Organizational Leaders: Case Study of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Mother Teresa, and William Carey,” Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership 8, no. 1 (2018): 37–50.

91 Carey, 186.

92 Ibid., 186.

93 Ibid., 240.

94 Ibid., 240.

95 Ibid., 262–63.

96 Ibid., 280–81.

97 Ibid., 202.

98 Ibid., 314.

99 Ibid., 341.

100 Ibid., 314.

101 Ibid., 341–42.

102 Ibid., 343.

103 Ibid., 343.

104 Ibid., 345.

105 Ibid., 157–58.

106 Ibid., 163.

107 Ibid., 164.

108 Ibid., 170.

109 Ibid., 171.

110 Ibid., 190.

111 Ibid., 191.

112 Ibid.

113 Ibid., 194.

114 Ibid., 220.

115 Ibid., 221.

116 Ibid., 222–23.

117 Ibid., 197.

118 Ibid., 199.

119 Ibid., 223–24.

120 Ibid., 224.

121 Ibid., 225. It seems ironic that Krishna’s letter to the churches in England is titled “A letter to the Home Churches” (227).

122 Ibid., 239.

123 Ibid., 243.

124 Ibid., 253.

125 Ibid., 300. For an Indian Christian’s perspective on the impact of Carey, see Chakravarthy R. Zadda, “Shoemaker and Missionary, William Carey,” in Expect Great Things, 27–41. Zadda states that, “Carey’s positive attitude toward Indian cultures, his desire for an indigenous theology, and his concern for the liberation of the downtrodden and for the creation of a healthy ecology and environment demonstrate the Christ-centered nature of his mission. He had a vision for an emerging India, based on the gospel values of truth, equality, liberty, and social justice” (41). Zadda agrees with Neill’s assessment: “What David Livingston meant to Africa, William Carey meant to India and more” (41).

126 Carey, 180.

127 Ibid., 20.

128 Frank Viola, Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009), 166.

129 Carey, 144.

130 Ibid., 146–47.

131 Ibid., 156.

132 Ibid., 194.

133 Ibid., 182.

134 Ibid., 137. Sometimes missionary husbands or wives will struggle mentally and emotionally, and one would hope that cross-cultural workers today would take advantage of mental health professionals and resources. For more on the story of Dorothy Carey, see Chris Chun, “The Sacrifices of Dorothy Carey and Ann Judson: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” in Expect Great Things, 125–36. There are many similarities between Dorothy Carey and Ann Judson: they “were first wives whose husbands married twice again after their passing,” they experienced great stress and danger for leaving home, they both left the religious traditions of their families of origin to “follow their husbands’ Baptist beliefs. . . . Needless to say, Ann’s sacrificial legacy is well remembered, and deservingly so. The same could not be said of Dorothy, however. It is true that she did not share the same missionary visions with her husband as did Ann, but Dorothy, undoubtedly, gave up much.” These sacrifices included enduring the loss of “their children in foreign soil, away from family and friends” (135). “Indeed, each of them had faced tremendous obstacles to ministry and endured personal afflictions. This notwithstanding, the two heroines stood by their men, even with broken physical (Ann) and mental (Dorothy) health, and weathered through tough times. Most of all, they gave their own lives to the mission field, all the while never enjoying the fruits of their sacrifice, since they died before their husbands reached the pinnacles of their careers as missionary celebrities. Their sacrificial lives, when taken into account together, conjure the image of two sides of one coin” (136).

135 Carey, 158.

136 Ibid., 269.

137 Ibid., 272–73.

138 Ibid., 360.

139 Ibid., 359.

140 Ibid., 367–69.

141 Ibid., 373.

142 Ibid., 320–22.

143 Ibid., 171.

144 Ibid., 287.

145 Ibid., 290.

146 Ibid., 291–92.

147 Ibid., 292.