Worldview Revisited

Eleven months ago I published a blog article that began a series addressing worldview:

These posts shared my reflections on an article, “Understanding Culture” by Lloyd E. Kwast, found on page 397 of  Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition. Pasadena: William Carey Library. Through these six posts I explored the significant role that stories play in shaping a people group’s view of themselves, their beliefs, values and behavior.

Recently I was asked to share relevant parts of this material with a children’s education group. People from four different churches came together on a Friday evening. Most teach in regular Sunday School programs in traditional Western style churches, but several work with a program that has classes for inner city children who come from high crime and poverty stricken areas of our city. Some of these people are also involved in curriculum development.

[NOTE: Over the next several weeks I will write about this experience. I will also explore how to be intentional in developing the worldview of children. While I did not have the benefit of this material when my son and daughter were young, my first grandson is due to be born February 18, 2013. My responsibilities live on!]

Coaching/Mentoring

Over the last two weeks God has blessed me with the privilege of spending time with families in East Africa that I count as dear friends. I was with people in Musanze, Rwanda; Geita, Tanzania; and now in Eldoret, Kenya. All are working to catalyze Disciple Making Movements in their respective regions. It is a joy to spend time with them and see where they live and work.

Years ago I purchased the book, Prayer Walking: Praying On Site With Insight. My intercession for these respective teams will be qualitatively different because of my time with them. I can visualize their homes. I can picture the faces of believers they are discipling. I have a much deeper connection because I have been with them.

You will probably hear much more about this trip over the next several weeks. I am proud of Matt and Andrea Miller, Brett and Christie Harrison and Jerry and Danielle Sanders. Each couple is part of a team that works in the respective cities mentioned above. They are blessing others. They are training, coaching and mentoring indigenous leaders in each place. All of them recognize the value of local leaders learning ways to multiply their efforts. They are on a journey with the Holy Spirit calling cadence.

In one of these nations there is a local leader who has helped catalyze more than 90 house churches. Join me in praying that such networks will be catalyzed in everyone. Pray that there will be churches planting churches–seven generations deep!

We want to see the Revelation 7 vision fulfilled in our lifetime. I want to see that heavenly choir that looks like a beautiful patchwork quilt, comprised of people from every nation, tribe and language group. To God be the glory! Amen!

Who Defines the Terms? (contextualization)

I find the use of the word “skeptic” interesting as the starting point. I would hope that the greater detail of the book would detail why this term is used. I suspect it reflects the Southern California academic/young professional setting targeted by InterVarsity there—the “Post-Modern” worldview that Choung’s dissertation addressed.

Since I believe the Western attempt to export Modernity to the majority world is unwise, I am going to be cautious about introducing Post-modern terminology and concepts. “Individuality run amok” is one of Post-modernisms stinging critiques of Modernity. But I fear that the Thesaurus being utilized was defined on Modernity’s terms.

Many of the least-reached people groups in our world are pre-modern! Yes, they are being impacted by elements of Modernity and Post-modernism, the more “connected” they are, but why drag them through all of this? They have “skipped” the land-line telephone technology in many areas, going from no phones to cell phones. Let’s skip the individuality the terms create.

Let us find Persons of Peace. Train them to facilitate discovery studies within their families, friendship groups and communities. Coach and mentor them as high into leadership as they will progress. Equip them to contextualize for their people group. They will do it better than we will. Let them draw the “four circles” for their context, if that proves needed.

One-size-fits-all?…Nah!

About twenty-five years ago I took a graduate course titled, “Matthew as Story.” Jack Dean Kingsbury’s book by the same title was required reading. This literary (narrative) critical examination of the first gospel launched me on a trajectory that I could little anticipate. It is only within the last five that I consciously realized the connection.

Comparing/contrasting the plot of the four gospels reveals important information about their contexts. Reading today’s writers does likewise. I do not believe “one size fits all” works well with gospeling. Yes, our early attempts will likely follow more closely to one of the four than the other three, but even that reflects something about us. Either we are reflecting the choice of those who discipled us, we are reflecting which of the four has become our personal favorite, or we are reflecting a conscious decision based on our knowledge of the people group to whom we are speaking.

Before you invest the money in getting Choung’s book(s) translated into the language of your people group and distributed among them, make sure you do the same rigorous testing he did. Make sure the thought structures used in his books translate well into the worldview of your context. Recruit believers among this group to evaluate how helpful these resources will be.

When my friend tweeted me about Choung’s video, I responded from a cross-cultural context. My friend recently completed a master’s degree. He desires to move to Asia and serve as a cross-cultural missionary. I initially responded in light of our shared context (academics and love for missions). Later I Googled Choung’s web site and read his blog. As I have noted, I have not read his second book. My replies seek to apply what I have discovered on that web site to the video.

 

Contextualization on Christmas????

Every gospel dialogue is contextualized. The issue is not “if,” but how and by whom. It can be done well or poorly. It can be done intentionally or accidentally. Some accidental contextualization can turn out well, but it will likely be difficult to apply to a new context until the accidental becomes intentional. Not all intentional contextualization goes well, either.

Some might question me doing this article/series on Christmas day. “Give it a rest, John!” I can hear someone mumbling.

Where are the primary sources for what we call “the Christmas story” found? Yes, in the Gospel According to Matthew and the Gospel According to Luke. Two of our four “gospels” record the details about the birth of Jesus. But anyone who has read these two accounts closely realizes they are very different in their emphases.

Why would Luke include the details about the shepherds while Matthew focuses on the Magi? Why would Matthew spotlight the agitation of Herod and the religious leaders concerning the news that a king has been born, while Luke recounts Simeon and Anna who celebrate the news in Jerusalem? These two communication pieces were tailored for their respective audiences—the context into which they were spoken/read and out of which they were revealed. The four gospels are contextualized presentations of some of the details of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Celebrate the birth of Jesus during this season. Ponder how you can intentionally contextualize your presentations to your near neighbors, well. Acknowledge that what works well in my neighborhood may not be best for all neighborhoods, though. Allow the Scriptures to challenge you toward diversity.

Contextualization and Post-modernity (pt. 2)

Before I write more about James Choung’s material, let me be open with you. I like it—for a post-modern setting like Southern California—for which it was written. I recommended it to my theologian friend, John Mark Hicks, right after I found it, purchased and read his first book. While I have not purchased Real Life: A Christianity Worth Living Out, I anticipate there is much in this book that I will find useful, especially if I am coaching/mentoring someone who is targeting a post-modern people group.

My desire is to use Choung’s material to get you to think about the wisdom of making cross-cultural applications of highly contextualized material! Lest you assume I am being overly cautious or erecting a straw-man, consider a lengthy quote from his blog commenting on the first book:

I know that I might risk sounding a bit brazen, but I hope that you hear only my excitement about what God has done so far. Starting back in 2005, those of us in San Diego InterVarsity created the material to reach Southern California college students, and did extensive field-testing and multiple drafts before the book was released in 2008. Since then, I’ve been surprised by its international appeal. It’s been used to introduce people to Jesus and His message on every inhabited continent. (I don’t know, nor think it probably, that anyone has taken it to Antarctica.) And so far, it has been translated into Korean, Mongolian, Polish, Thai, Mandarin, German and Spanish.

It’s also spread to the evangelism curricula for denominations and national campus ministries, and has been reported on by Christian media outlets such as Christianity Today, Leadership Journal and JCTV. It’s been shared with seminary students in New England, lakeside villagers in Malawi, college students in Texas, house churches in China, youth in Australia, megachurches in Orange County, inmates in Fresno, slum dwellers in Thailand, and gang-bangers in Boston — one even tattooed the fourth circle on his bicep! One chaplain of a county jail thought it would help reduce the recidivism rate, giving inmates not only a vision of what they’re forgiven from, but what they’re forgiven for.

I’m thankful to God. It’s been His doing.

Is this really the best way to reach large groups of people in Malawi and Thailand? Let me unpack my concerns with that in a few posts.

Contextualization and Post-Modernity

Recently a friend tweeted the following link to a brief overview of critical transitions that need to happen in the life of an individual as he/she is discipled from being a “skeptic” into a “world changer”:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep8XM5IFWsI

As I dialogued with my friend regarding the video, I pointed out that it is very “Western” and “individualistic,” especially in Choung’s discussion of the “skeptic” needing to “trust” a Christian to be able to transition into a “seeker.” I also raised the issue that Choung does not seem to have any familiarity with the concept of God raising up a person of peace who could serve as a bridge into his family and/or her community.

Today I did some searching on Choung’s website and found the following blog which contains the video mentioned above:

Real Life Continuum video which explains the basic model of the book is also out! http://www.jameschoung.net/2012/11/22/real-life-in-print/

It also links to an earlier video, “True Story,” that uses four circles to help visualize what needs to happen in coming to Christ. Later Choung writes about these two videos showing these charts being drawn and their connected books, “True Story and Real Life actually share a common lineage: they are popularized versions of first and second halves of my dissertation on postmodern leadership development. True Story gave the theological ground for Real Life’s disciple-making model.

Please note the very specific context of his dissertation—postmodern leadership development. What happens if you attempt to use his approach in a pre-modern setting? What about a modern setting? I will be exploring these questions as a means of getting Western thinkers to reconsider exporting our strategies cross-culturally without carefully exploring our own presuppositions.

Blessed to Give

Last Tuesday I wrote about giving. I want to return to the subject since we have had time to “chew on this cud” for a while.

I believe that Paul’s care calls us to engage this issue thoughtfully. He was concerned to prevent his apostolic band from being discounted as more religious charlatans–notorious con-artists. He, also, raises the issue of his desire to preach the gospel at his own personal cost so he could go “above and beyond the call of duty.” The apostle to the Gentiles models a very nuanced theology of giving.

Maybe I am misreading Acts 20:34-35, but it appears to me that Paul’s business enterprise in Ephesus was adequate to support his personal needs, also financed a sizable apostolic team and produced enough to “help the weak.”

My dream is to see apostolic workers (those commissioned to get the gospel into truly unreached people groups) who are able to enter communities with business models that are simple, easily reproduced and adequately resourced so they are truly financially sustainable. They will be of such a nature that they involve the workers in providing a valuable service for the people of the new community. They will provide excellent opportunities to look for Persons of Peace. They will become valuable for the community on a long-term basis. They will provide the opportunity to model hard work and helping the weak.

Maybe Paul had not taught about giving at earlier stages during his three year stay in Ephesus. Maybe his statement about “remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” was a personal remembrance. But I suspect he is pointing their minds back to earlier teaching he had done when he quoted this from Jesus [NOTE: This statement on giving is not found in Matthew, Mark, Luke or John. Is this something Jesus said to Paul personally after his Damascus Road encounter?]

I am thankful that my time in Arkansas prompted me to return to this issue. What are your thoughts on the matter?

Outside the Box (cont.)

Good things are happening in the two DBSs I mentioned in my last post. These groups of women are exploring the nature of God. They are finding their time together is uplifting and enriching. The lady who pulled them together shared with me:

“The ladies have really opened up and have been very willing to share what is going on in their lives.  One lady in particular does go to our church and has for a couple of years but has not made any real connections with anyone in the church.  She has been extremely shy.  I am happy to report that she has opened up and shared in the group.  Tears just flow from this precious lady and I can see that healing is happening in her life.

I have to say that I believe the questions (thankful and struggles) really set us up to get into the word.  They are so receptive and excited to discuss the scriptures at that point of the meeting.”

Questions 1 & 2 remind us to note our blessings and our needs. Together they prime our minds to hearing from God. Answering them disciples us to praise God and turn to Him in intercession. They tune our ears to hear what in his character addresses our human predicament.

This lady also shared that the lady who responded to the Craigs List ad, “has continued to come.  She is having some serious struggles and it is apparent now why God led her to join our group.  Even though she is a new believer I am in awe of how God is comforting her and leading her.  She is clinging to Him and staying in the word.”

Just wanted to give you an update to this process. Join me in praying that more groups will begin as these ladies are discipled and begin to share what they are learning with the people who come to mind as they answer the question, “Who do you know who needs to hear this passage?”

When Did We See You in Prison? (part 4)

Justin’s group sent me some 3-column studies.  Their insights into passages (the first time they have ever attempted to do this) continue to amaze me.  As is true of most, some prefer to speak of what “we” or “they” should do in the third column, but I continue to point out that this will be more beneficial if each point begins with the words, “I will…”  This process truly is about discovery, not preaching or teaching.

Recently Justin was moved out of the pod.  He was transferred to the state offices to assess his status on a parole violation.  There he received a favorable ruling due to following some counsel Austin gave him months ago.  Rather than waiting until his release to assess this legal matter, Austin recommended Justin write the parole board to notify them of his incarceration.  At the hearing it was determined that his time served from that postmark forward would count.  He will only have to complete one additional week when he finishes his current sentence.  Justin gave God the glory for this determination.

I asked Justin who might be willing to attempt to restart the study group.  He said Matthew (one of the guys who had recently sent me his first ever 3-column study) was the only one he anticipated was a viable candidate.  The others in the pod who had participated when Austin led the group had stopped attending.  It appears likely that Justin’s personality did not work well as the facilitator of the group.  He had followed through on his commitment to me by teaching Matthew.  Maintaining contact with this pod would hinge on Matthew’s willingness to be the person of peace.

I wrote Matthew identifying myself and giving a sketch of my work with Justin and Austin.  Also, I included the article on doing a Discovery Bible Study written by Paul Watson.  I invited this inmate to become the point person for a group in the pod.  He would have to request that I be listed as his pastor before I could schedule a visit.

A few days later I received email confirmation from the chaplain acknowledging the request had been approved.  I scheduled a visit for Friday, November 30, 2007.  That very morning I received a letter from him accepting my invitation.

Matthew wrote, “Yes sir I received your letter today.  I will love to be the one to keep the Bible study going.  I have to be honest I don’t know a hole lot about the Bible so it will be a learning experience for me to.  It’s weird because for the past week or so I have been wondering what God wanted me to do with my life and how I can repay him for the blessing that he has gave me then all the sudden I get your letter.  So to me I feel this is another blessing and God’s way of answering me….To be honest I am going to need a lot of help with this because like I said I don’t know to much about the Bible but I want to chang my lifestyle and I ask that you would help me with that because I think it’s time for me to start doing for God instead of always wanting him to do for me.”

The work continues.

[ * Note:  The names of these men have all been changed.  All the other details are accurate.]