Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sabbatical Update

Last week Kimmy and I had the privilege of spending time at the Wild River State Park, located on the Saint Croix River some forty miles north of Stillwater. Our friends, Craig and Jeralyn Prange, graciously let us use their trailer for the week and...well let's just say it wasn't suffering! 

We spent our time enjoying the park, cycling, and getting to know the area. But probably our favorite thing was the day we spent five hours canoeing ten miles along the river. The day started at the Park where the staff of Eric's Canoe Rental met us at the edge of the river and shuttled us up ten miles to the drop off point. We then put in the river along with some others, but we wanted to alone so we let them paddle for a while before we set out. Soon enough we launched from shore and Kimmy began to fish. I don't really like fishing so I just enjoyed a float down the river. After some time, we stopped at an island in the river and spent an hour or two eating lunch, swimming, and acting like a couple of kids! It was so much fun. When we were done, we finished paddling back to the park and then headed back to the trailer for a wonderful dinner and a fire. We're so grateful to the Lord for this time, it was truly memorable (see pics below). 

This week we're back home, working on things around the house, and I am picking back up on my doctoral work and one of my books on Hebrews. Kim is applying for teaching jobs and doing a little fishing, while Rachel is working at a childcare facility in Saint Paul where she's worked on and off for the last three years. 

As for prayer requests, here's how you can pray for us: 

1. Pray that our times with Jesus will be rich and fruitful. 

2. Pray that our marriage will grow as we spend more time together this week. 

3. Pray for Rachel as she love on her kids and gets ready for the fall semester. 

4. Pray for my doctoral work and my work on Meditations on the Letter to the Hebrews

Blessings to you all, thank you for praying. 

Monday, June 29, 2015

80.0 Mile Bike Ride around Stillwater MN

Last week I enjoyed a great ride in the Stillwater MN area from the Wild River State Park down to the city, up to the Gateway Trail, back to Stillwater and then up to a little town called Marine on Saint Croix. I really enjoyed the day but there was a lot more climbing than I've been doing, and so the ride kind of took it out of me. But again, it was such a beautiful day and I really, really enjoyed this ride. At one point, my sweetheart joined me for a 24 mile loop which was a major added blessing, and then afterward we drove back up to camp, had a wonderful steak meal, and enjoyed a fire, some smores, and a battle with a raccoon or two! here's a few pics, thanks for reading, hope you all have a great day! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Update on My Sabbatical

Along the Saint Croix, Taken from our Canoe
It’s been a few weeks since I’ve updated everyone on my sabbatical simply because I was first returning from three weeks of camping, and then because I was working on a monster doctoral project. And once that was done, I spent a lot of time with Kimmy and Rachel, and frankly, writing this blog just didn’t seem so important. But it is important to me, and at least to a few of you, so let me give you a quick snap shot of how things are going.

My times with the Lord have been good but not long enough. This week and next I have a lot more time on my hands, however, so I plan to spend longer and more focused times with him. You can pray for me in this regard. I’ve really been enjoying the Lord’s help and presence in a number of ways, but again, I long to spend long times with him.

My primary labor has been on a doctoral project entitled, “Teaching Christ-Centered Preaching in North India.” One week I read five books from cover to cover for this project along with a number of papers and web-based resources. It was a lot of work, but very informative and productive. As part of the project I designed a 40-hour course entitled “Preaching Christ from All of Scripture” which I hope to teach in India next year and which I can teach in the States as well.

That’s behind me now and I’m focused on my next course coming up in late July entitled “Fresh Directions in Biblical Preaching.” I’ve already read two books for that course, Choosing to Preach and Deep Preaching, and I have another five books to go. But that’s no big deal, I usually read a book a week and while on sabbatical it’s easy to read two per week.

As far as my work on Hebrews, I’ve had to suspend that while I worked on my doctoral material but I plan to get back to that on Saturday. Kimmy and I, thanks to the grace of Craig and Jeralyn Prange, are spending some time in a State Park this week and really enjoying our time here. We went for a ten mile canoe trip yesterday on the Saint Croix and it was so fun! Oh, and the Prange girls made us these awesome “volcano brownies” that we’ve been enjoying all week. We have one more full day here, and then another half day, and then we’ll be home for a bit before going to Chicago for my doctoral class (we’re hoping Kim can join me that week).

So here’s how you can pray for us right now:

1. Please pray that the Lord will grant us sweet times with him in the Word and prayer. We want so much to know and love him.

2. Please pray for our times together as a couple, and with Rachel, they’ve been sweet and we want them to get sweeter and sweeter.

3. Please pray for my preparation for my next doctoral course. I read one of my professor’s books and he advocates things that I have been working against for the last twelve years, but I need to maintain a humble and open heart leaving the Lord to judge him and his work.

4. Please pray for my work on Hebrews. It’s been so fulfilling, so awe-inspiring, and I look forward to seeing more of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

5. Please pray for my coming bike rides. My time on the bike is sacred to me, the Lord always blesses my times with him there, so again please pray that he’ll meet me out on the road.

Blessings to you all, thanks for praying, God be with you. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Update on Cycling - Duluth and Back or Bust!

Getting Ready to Ride from Lake Harriet
I haven’t blogged about my bike rides in a few weeks because I was busy with a doctoral project that turned out to be more of a bear than I imagined, and  because I’ve been spending lots of time with Kimmy. Blogging just hasn’t seemed that important! But alas, I love to share about the grace God sheds upon me as I ride my bike.

Over the last two weeks I’ve done a lot of riding on the bike trails in and around Minneapolis. In fact, I’ve done 160 miles on those trails! First, I did 90.1 miles during which I circled Cedar Lake, Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, and Lake Nicomis, as well as traveling along the beautiful Minnehaha Creek and Mississippi River. I also explored the trails around Dinky Town, Saint Anthony, Columbia Heights, Robinsdale, and as far south as Eagan—that’s right, Eagan. It’s hard to believe, but the bike trails stretch out unbroken from as far northwest as Columbia Heights to as far southeast as Eagan and perhaps beyond—there was more exploring to be done in that direction but I had neither the time nor the inclination to do so at the time.

I must also mention that I rode along the Hiawatha Path through a pretty rough part of town (55 and Lake for you Minnesotans) and that’s not a place one wants to be while wearing spandex! I shall not go that way again, at least not on my bike. While I was waiting at the corner of 55 and Lake, six or eight gangsters got off a bus and walked across the street right in front of traffic and everyone stopped in fear of them. The leader wasn’t hard to pick out and of course he spotted me and they started walking my way. I had a line in my mind that if crossed, I would just take off against a red light but luckily the light changed and I pedaled rather quickly out of that area! And I prayed for him and his friends as I did because I was once like those people and I now ride in spandex only because of the grace of God in Christ! Some of you might question if that’s grace or a cause for prayer, but you get my point!

And during all of this riding, my precious Kimmy and I got to ride about 30 miles together, eat lunch and dinner out at this or that park several times, and take in two concerts at the Harriet Band Shell one of which was very good and the other of which was mediocre but also free! Oh, and one night Rachel joined us for dinner at The Malt Shop where Kim and I first had a date 26 years ago—yes, 26 years ago. It was then one of Kim’s grandma’s favorite places, and ever since it’s been one of ours. We were so blessed to share that place with our precious Rachel.

I’m very grateful to the Lord for my time on these trails and for the time with family. I’ll post pics later as I’m sending this from a State Park with a weak and temporary internet signal. Tomorrow I plan to do a 115 mile bike ride from north of Stillwater down to that awesome city and back, with an extra loop here and there to get in the miles. I look forward to writing about that by early next week.

God bless you all, thanks for reading! 

Book Review - "Choosing to Preach" by Kenton Anderson

In preparation for a doctoral course I'm taking in July, I recently read Kenton Anderson's book Choosing to Preach: A Comprehensive Approach to Sermon Options and Structures (Grand Rapids: Zondervan). The book is organized into two parts, the first of which deals with four options preachers must contemplate and the second of which discusses five potential sermon structures. 

With regard to Part 1, the four options are these: (1) Are you going to preach? If yes, (2) Are you going to preach the Bible? If yes, (3) How will you discern your message from the Bible [deductively or inductively]? (4) How will you communicate your message [cognitively or affectively]? He devotes a chapter to each of these options. 

As for whether one will preach, Anderson admits that some will answer “no” but asserts that others will answer “yes” because they've been chosen by God to preach. For those who answer “yes,” Anderson goes on in chapter two to discuss what they will preach and concludes that since preaching is about helping people hear from God, we who preach must preach the Bible. He argues for expository preaching with a small “e” meaning that biblical preaching must be faithful to the text, intent, and form of the Bible without being tethered to particular modes of presentation. 

With this as a foundation, Anderson moves on to discuss how preachers will choose to discern their message from the Bible, namely, will they start with the text itself (deductive) or with the listeners (inductive)? With regard to deductive preaching, Anderson describes is as a highly intellectualized approach wherein the preacher is like a scientist whose job it is to discover and explain complicated ideas and theories. There is, of course, some basis for his caricature but it is a caricature nonetheless. As he defines it, I am a deductive preacher but I do not envision myself as a scientist but rather as a son of God who’s laboring to understand exactly what our Father is saying so that I can say what he has said with accuracy and passion. So while I appreciate some of the things Anderson says about deductive preaching, other things should be taken with a grain of salt. With regard to inductive preaching, Anderson describes it accurately and fails to mask his clear bias. He presentation comes off a bit like, “This is a no-brainer—if you love people, you’ll preach this way.” This is not true, but he does make some good points along the way and I was helped by what he had to say. 

The final chapter of Part 1 presses into the issue of whether one will preach to the head or the heart. While Anderson recognizes the need for preaching to the head, his bias is toward the heart. I can understand his point of view but I must admit that I found myself pushing back, almost audibly, "But Kent, good heart-preaching is built on solid ideas." Or perhaps better put, biblical ideas form the foundation of life-transforming appeals to the heart. 

Having laid out these options, Anderson moves on in Part 2 to address sermon structures and envisions five choices emerging from various combinations of deduction and induction, cognition and affection. Specifically, where deduction and cognition meet we have the declarative sermon. Where deduction and affection meet we have the visionary sermon. Where induction and cognition meet we have the pragmatic sermon. And where induction and affection meet we have the narrative sermon. Where all four elements meet and share equal proportions in the sermon we have the integrative sermon. As he did in Part 1, he devotes a chapter to each of the five styles and lifts up an exemplar of that style. 

The declarative sermon is what one typically envisions under the banner of expository preaching, that is, a straight-forward, propositional presentation of the truth of a given biblical text. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for declarative preachers is a lawyer, but again this style of preaching is where I live (as well as most of the preachers I know) and I envision myself as a son rather than a lawyer. The process, the hard work, of discerning the precise meaning of God's speech is mainly a relational and then an intellectual exercise. But that aside, Anderson has many good things to say in this chapter and he lifts up John MacArthur as an exemplar of this style of preaching. 

The pragmatic sermon is the dominant style in the seeker-church. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for pragmatic preachers is a detective. While I understand his thinking in suggesting this metaphor, I used to preach in this style and still know many pastors who do and I think the better metaphor is that of a therapist or doctor who is seeking to diagnose, treat, and heal his patients. Be that as it may, Anderson does a good job of summarizing this style and then lifts up Rick Warren as an exemplar thereof. Good choice. 

The narrative sermon, championed by Eugene Lowry and others, seeks to draw listeners in by presenting the biblical text in story form, even when that text is didactic. Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for narrative preachers is, of course, a novelist, playwright or movie director. He offers helpful insight and practical wisdom for developing sermons in this style, and while I tend to think that not all biblical texts should be preached as stories, I get the thrust of this chapter and appreciate it. It is, in fact, one of my favorite chapters and think it will benefit me as I preach through 1-2 Samuel this fall and spring. 

The visionary sermon seeks to communicate the "big idea" of a biblical text in artistic rather than didactic terms. Not surprisingly, Anderson suggests that the best metaphor for this kind of preacher is an artist, and hopefully a good one! While he is not nearly cautious enough with regard to preachers and former preachers like Rob Bell, Doug Padgitt, and Brian MacLaren, his insights into this form of preaching are nonetheless helpful and can benefit any preacher who's able to separate the wheat from the weeds. Unfortunately, Anderson lifts up Rob Bell as the exemplar for this style of preaching but we should grant him grace for this since the book was written in 2006 before Bell left the ministry and the Christian faith. 

Finally, the integrative sermon seeks to combine all of the elements: deduction, induction, cognition, and affection. The best metaphor, then, for this kind of preacher is a musician, and better yet, a jazz musician. While Anderson admits that all sermons tend to integrate all of these things in some measure, he argues that the integrative sermon does so in a more deliberate and robust fashion. Since this is his style of preaching, he lifts himself up as the exemplar of it and does so in a humble manner. Much of his thought is compelling, especially in our increasingly multicultural world, and I look forward to putting some of his suggestions into practice. 

The book concludes with a plea for preachers to give thought to both theology and method so that we can preach the Bible in a way that honors God and blesses people. Agreed. 

Finally, I should mention that Choosing to Preach is peppered with thought-provoking discussion questions, practical exercises, insights, and resource suggestions. It comes with a CD-ROM that includes power point summaries of each chapter and the book as a whole, four sample sermons from the preachers featured in Part 2, and a link to Anderson’s preaching website, www.preaching.org.

I recommend the book for seasoned preachers and other leaders who are able to discern between what is helpful and what is potentially misleading, and perhaps even dangerous. I do not recommend this book for young preachers and leaders, but would rather guide them to the works of Haddon Robinson, Don Sunukjian, and Tim Keller whose book on preaching was released just this month. 

Oh, and I also recommend that those of you who do not preach pray for your preachers - preaching is a difficult task and a heavy burden, especially when you have to preach to the same people week after week, year after year. Please pray, for surely God will hear and answer. Surely God will reveal himself to his people through his Word. 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review - "The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures"

In his book The 3D Gospel (Lexington, KY: 3D Gospel, 2014), Jayson Georges points out that three major culture-types exist in the world today: guilt-innocence cultures, shame-honor cultures, and fear-power cultures. Since the West is by-and-large a guilt-innocence culture, the gospel has historically been expressed in terms that make sense in that culture, namely, the legal forgiveness of sins. However, most majority world cultures are either shame-honor or fear-power cultures, and therefore we must understand and express the gospel in terms that relate to and meet the needs of such cultures. This does not mean that we should forsake or minimize the gospel of the forgiveness of sins but rather that we must come to see a fuller picture of what God has accomplished in Christ—we need a 3D gospel of forgiveness, honor, and power. “For cross-cultural workers, a truncated gospel hinders spirituality, theology, relationships, and ministry. We unintentionally put God in a box, only allowing him to save in one arena [i.e., the forgiveness of sins]” (13). However, the Bible presents us with “a theology and missiology for all three types of cultures” which allows the “contemporary church [to] present the 3D gospel in various cultural contexts” (14). In this hope, The 3D Gospel explores the issues of culture, theology, and missiology from the perspective of each major culture-type. 

With regard to culture (chapter two), Georges highlights the fact that every culture is in fact a mixture of guilt, shame, and fear. Thus, it is more accurate to say that a given culture is more or less oriented toward one disposition or another. “Roland Muller says the three [cultural] dynamics are like the three basic colors from which artists create thousands of colors. How much of each color is used determines the final type of culture that emerges” (16). With this in mind, Georges briefly describes the basic features of each culture-type and then uses the example of how one obtains driving directions to demonstrate the variant lifestyles produced by each. He concludes, “The three methods of securing directions illustrate how people must be: innocent before institutions by obeying the rules and laws, lest they be reckoned guilty, honorable in the community by respecting the group’s expectations and playing the appropriate roles, lest they be shamed, or powerful in the spiritual realm by observing the proper rituals and techniques, lest they be powerless and vulnerable” (29). The chapter concludes with a helpful two-page chart that compares the three culture types with regard to twenty-seven variables such as how job skills are acquired, how the elderly are viewed, and when wedding ceremonies begin. He further highlights the fact that the gospel has made great inroads in guilt and fear cultures but not in shame cultures, and wonders if this is due in part to the scarcity of theology designed to speak into such cultures. 

As for theology (chapter three), the gospel is one narrative through which God has provided innocence, honor, and power to all who believe in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Building on this foundational principle, Georges summarizes the gospel narrative in light of each culture and provides several biblical texts to support how he does so for shame and fear cultures. He does not provide textual support for the gospel expression in guilt cultures ostensibly because this manner of articulation is well-established and almost universally assumed. He concludes the chapter with another helpful two-page chart of how various theological categories might be conceived in light of each major culture-type. Like every summary, it is partial and inadequate but it is still a helpful starting point for conversation and deserves further development. 

Finally, regarding missiology (chapter four), our task as Christians is not merely to understand and admire the gospel but to spread it near and far. However, even when Christians learn to express the gospel in ways that relate to various culture-types, we tend to default to our traditional ways of sharing it. Hence, Georges offers two methods of evangelism and three contextual approaches by which we can share the good news of Jesus Christ in variant cultures. As for methods, Georges builds on Bill Bright’s “Four Spiritual Laws” and shows how this same approach might be expressed in different terms according to culture-type. For example, in shame-honor cultures, the four points might be expressed as follows: God values you and wants to honor you as his child; people are shameful and dishonor God; Jesus Christ bore all your shame and restores your honor; and you must give allegiance to Jesus to enter God’s family. This manner of stating the gospel begs for further thought and development, but Georges has provided his readers with a helpful starting point for the same. Another method we might use in each culture type is simply telling the story of salvation. Georges therefore provides his readers with three vocabulary lists that one might utilize in sharing the gospel in variant cultures, and he challenges his readers to practice doing so in private and then presumably in public. Given these two methods, Georges closes the chapter by presenting three approaches to sharing the gospel, namely, a truth encounter (guilt cultures), a power encounter (fear cultures), and a community encounter (shame cultures). 

Developing a 3D gospel of innocence, honor, and power both aids us in sharing the gospel in the midst of various culture-types and ministers to our own souls as we see a fuller picture of what God has accomplished for us in Christ. A “one-dimensional gospel threatens the veracity and integrity of the Bible,” but as “we grasp all dimensions of the gospel, we can more effectively know God and make him known” (74). 

The 3D Gospel is a brief and partial work but it is nonetheless a helpful starting point for deep reflection, conversation, theological development, and missiological application. Its cultural insights are keen, eye-opening, and practical, and its missiological suggestions are innovative and applicable for novices and veterans alike. 

Although Georges is theologically insightful and careful, he borders on suggesting that the gospel of the forgiveness of sins is but one way of expressing the gospel among other equally valid ways. He asserts that the central contextual metaphor for Western theology of the atonement is the courtroom, and I agree that this is not the most helpful, or even biblical, metaphor. Biblically speaking, the tabernacle-temple-heavenly holy of holies is the proper venue from which we should envision sin, its consequences, and its solution. However, from this vantage point we still see that personal and corporate sin is the central problem of humanity. It is sin that has brought shame upon our heads and dishonor upon the name of God. It is sin that has subjected us to the powers of darkness and the inescapable grip of the flesh. Thus, in order to restore honor before God and receive power over the spiritual powers of darkness, we must receive the forgiveness of sins. Forgiveness paves the way to righteousness in Christ (guilt-innocence), communion with God in Christ (shame-honor), and dominion in Christ (fear-power). Thus, while it may be true that the gospel is one narrative of how God provided forgiveness, honor, and power through the atonement of Jesus Christ, the order of this tripartite expression is of utmost importance. Again, Georges is theologically insightful and careful, and he may well agree with what I have written. Whatever the case may be, this is the one portion of his work that needs most development. 

I heartily recommend The 3D Gospel, especially for those who are dedicated to local evangelism, global missions, and outreach-oriented intercession. The book can also serve as a helpful discussion-starter for agency staff, church staff, ministry teams, and even small groups. May the Lord use this book to equip us with insight, passion, and power to proclaim the fullness of his gospel to all the peoples of the world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book Review - "Leading Cross-Culturally: Covenant Relationships for Effective Christian Leadership

Leading Cross-Culturally is the third book in a series “that addresses the issues of culture and the practice of cross-cultural ministry” (7). The first book, Ministering Cross-Culturally, was written for those called to serve Jesus and others in a culture different than their own. The second book, Teaching Cross-Culturally, was written for those teaching in a culture other than their own or a culturally diverse context at home. This third book was written for “Western and non-Western leaders who are working or planning to work with and lead people in multicultural teams and ministry contexts” (8). Lingenfelter has five goals for the book. 

First, the book aims “to help leaders to understand their personal culture of leadership” that they might lead more effectively (8). Second, the book aims “to equip the reader to become an effective learner in another cultural context, with specific focus on learning to build communities of trust” (8). Third, the book aims “to reflect on how the human propensity to seek power and control pervades all persons and cultures and infects leaders of every kind” (9). Fourth, the book aims “to define pathways for biblically-based, Christ-centered, power-giving leadership in single-culture and multicultural contexts” (9). Finally, the book aims to help leaders “give joyful service as servants of the Master, inviting others to follow Christ as we follow Christ” (9). 

In the introductory chapter, Lingenfelter defines cross-cultural leadership as follows: “Leading cross-culturally, then, is inspiring people who come from two or more cultural traditions to participate with you (a leader or leadership team) in building a community of trust and then to follow you and be empowered by you to achieve a compelling vision of faith” (21). Building on this definition, he devotes the first part of the book (chapters 2-3) to exploring how leaders “inspire people to achieve a compelling vision of faith” (25). He asserts that cross-cultural ministry begins with a God-given vision that flows from God’s vision of the Kingdom, that is discovered through a process of prayer and conversation, and that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Such visions always combine, in some measure, proclaiming the goods news of Christ and offering the healing touch of Christ, and the leader’s (or leaders’) job is to instigate and shepherd the process. In order for the process to work, however, the leaders and key participants must put the highest priority on loving God and one another, always being willing to take up their crosses and die that they might press into God’s vision together. Without this prayerful, humble disposition, successful cross-cultural ministry is at best untenable. 

In the second part of the book (chapters 4-7), Lingenfelter explores “the leadership challenge of building a community of trust when people come from different cultural traditions” (26). Drawing on some of his earlier work, he suggests that culture is a palace and a prison. That is, while culture provides us with the material and non-material necessities of human existence, it also tends to be the only grid through which we can process our experiences. Culture can thus hinder us from entering into variant cultures and working with others to build the covenant community Christ desires. Indeed, every person possesses what Lingenfelter calls “a default culture” (the one in which we grew up), but Christ calls us to take up our crosses and embrace the culture of the Kingdom. Therefore, the creation of such community, and the trust implied therein, is more important than any task we are called to accomplish. Put another way, covenant community in Christ is the root of the Kingdom; all external ministry is the fruit of the Kingdom and should therefore nourish and prosper the root. Creating such community requires “extraordinary leadership that builds trust through covenant relationships, inclusiveness, and commitment to obey Christ and to communication among team members until we achieve the unity of the Spirit and love that leads to forgiveness and oneness of purpose and action” (102). This brings the issue of leadership to the fore and leads to part three of the book. 

In the third part of Leading Cross-Culturaly (chapters 8-11), Lingenfelter develops “the concept of power-giving leadership and define[s] pathways to empower others to achieve a compelling vision of faith” (26). He asserts that in order for us to be power-giving rather than power-grabbing leaders, “Jesus must become the center of who we are and replace our quest for power” (110). That is, we must repent of idolatry and learn what it means to love God and one another. As we do, all of our relationships will be transformed, including those in which we are leaders. Further, as we learn to use the power God has given us to empower others, we must focus on developing leaders who are able to discern and carry out God’s agenda rather than managers who are appointed to carry out our agenda. The body of Christ needs both leaders and managers, but effective cross-cultural leadership seeks to develop leaders who in turn develop leaders and managers alike. In a Christian context, leadership development is at heart part of the discipleship process, and releasing leaders to lead, and to fail, is always a matter of faith in God and trust of others. As we grow in faith and trust, we learn to be responsible to those we are training without feeling responsible for all the results of their lives and ministries. And we learn to model humble, God-glorifying, other-edifying, Christlike leadership. 

In the fourth and final part of the book (chapters 12-13), Lingenfelter reflects “upon the challenges of leading cross-culturally by reviewing case studies from earlier chapters in light of the responsibility and challenge every leader faces when exercising power associated with his or her social and spiritual authority” (26). He begins this section by asking: Why is it so difficult to lead? He answers: because we fail to see our team, in all their weakness, as God’s sufficient gift to us; because we struggle with issue of “fit” with some team members and with how to confront others; because we are all broken human beings and any way you slice it life together is challenging. Therefore, in order to go forward and make Kingdom progress together, cross-cultural leaders must begin by looking at themselves and embracing the pain of leadership as God’s tool to effect change in our lives and ministries. If we will have eyes to see, God will show us that the hope of cross-cultural leadership is the cross of Christ. That is, learning to die to ourselves and living for him alone paves the path by which we can work with others, learn from others, and serve others for the glory of God and the advancement of his purposes. 

Sherwood Lingenfelter is a seasoned leader who has served Christ for decades in academic and missional contexts. He therefore writes with a kind of wisdom, balance and authority that can actually help those engaged in the complex work of cross-cultural leadership. The numerous case studies cited in the book are neither idealistic nor contrived but are rather drawn from his personal experience, the experience of those familiar to him, or credible sources vetted by him. And while his responses to these case studies are sometimes idealistic, he acknowledges that he finds it easier to write about leadership than to lead. His heartfelt humility makes it easy to grant him grace and learn from what he has to say. 

Theologically, the book is very solid. His basic starting point is that Christ is building his church from among every tribe, tongue, and nation, and that though we each have our part, only Christ is responsible for the whole. We should therefore engage our roles with passion, while learning the art of faith in Christ that allows us to trust others also. Theologically astute readers will no doubt encounter minor theological issues here and there, but again the core is solid. 

Lingenfelter strikes a wonderful balance between the difficulties inherent in cross-cultural leadership and the hope we have in Christ for engaging in it. If you are looking for sage counsel that can actually augment the effectiveness of your cross-cultural ministry, this book is for you. I would further recommend it for team study, especially for teams made up of three or more cultural backgrounds.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Cannon Valley Trail - An 85.5 Mile Bike Ride

Yesterday I had the privilege of taking an 85.5 mile bike ride. It was a bit of a surprise because the weather has been unfavorable and it was supposed to rain all day. But like today, it ended up being beautiful and frankly just shy of perfect for cycling. 

I set out from camp just south of Red Wing, Minnesota and took the back country roads to my first stop at Caribou Coffee - actually, it's my favorite Caribou in the world, maybe my favorite coffee shop. It used to be the main train depot in town and Caribou has done a wonderful job of giving it their feel and yet retaining the sense of what it used to be. And besides the inspiring combination of old and new, the place is huge and has lots of areas where one can read, write, catch up on pro-cycling, converse, or just sit back and enjoy the day. 

Since I had my bike with me, I sat outside to protect it and I read a chapter of a book I had brought along. After a healthy and enjoyable stop, I headed over to the trail head and made my way along the twenty-mile path, past Belle Creek and Welch Village and one postcard-like scene after another until I reached the quaint little town of Cannon Falls. 

There I stopped for a sandwich at Nick's Diner, and by the way, if you're ever in that town I highly recommend this place. It's small and inviting, and their food is fresh and made to order. I had a turkey BLT and it was one of the best I've ever had - no exaggeration! 

After enjoying my time in town, I headed back down the trail and stopped by Belle Creek where I couldn't help but take a quick dip and walk in the water. It was a bit chilly but oh so refreshing, and I'm so grateful that I took the time to stop. Often when I'm riding I'm so focused on reaching my destination or achieving a certain average speed that I just blow right by places like this, and I'm grateful that God gave me a heart yesterday to be distracted by his beauty and blessing in nature. Oh that I would be distractible in this sense every day! 

Belle Creek: Site of Refreshing Joy!
Soon enough I reached Red Wing and stopped by Hanisch Bakery and Coffee where I enjoyed a little dinner and a refreshing drink. The day was so perfect, and I can't tell you how much I enjoyed sitting in downtown Red Wing and just soaking it in. 

Oh, and I also had to psych myself up for the final 20 miles or so because I had a lot of climbing ahead of me and I was tired. I had ridden well, and fairly fast, all day but I didn't know how much I had left in the tank for the four or so serious climbs ahead, as well as the many rollers. But I set out and just kept a comfortable pace and soon enough my legs warmed up and I actually enjoyed all the climbs. Well, all but the last one! It's a 0.8 mile brutal bear, and I definitely crawled up it. And to make matters more challenging it came on the next to last mile of the ride. But again, I did it and really enjoyed a shower and a good rest when it was over. 

I'm so thankful to Jesus for an amazing day on the bike, and I look forward to the 95-100 mile ride I plan to take next week. I haven't yet decided where I'm going to ride but wherever I ride I pray that I'll have even half the grace God lavished on me yesterday. 

God be with you all, thanks for reading! 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Book Review: "Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes

The thesis of Misreading Scripture (Downers Grove: IVP, 2012) is that cultural values, especially those that go without being said, effect the way we read, and even misread, Scripture. Thus, the authors’ goal is to raise the question: what do our cultural context and assumptions cause us to overlook when interpreting the Bible? (15) “The core conviction that drives this book is that some of the habits we readers from the West (the United States, Canada, and Western Europe) bring to the Bible can blind us to interpretations that the original audience and readers in other cultures see quite naturally” (15). They hope to offer a positive corrective “by suggesting that there is a discernable pattern by which Western readers read—and even misread—Scripture” (16). 

Accordingly, the authors touch on nine differences between Western and non-Western cultures that impact our reading and application of the Bible. Though the book is about biblical interpretation, their main goal is not to argue for particular interpretations of particular texts but to help Western readers read themselves well so that they might read and apply the Bible well. “We want to unsettle you just enough that you remember biblical interpretation is a crosscultural experience and to help you be more aware of what you take for granted when you read” (22). 

The controlling metaphor of the book is that of an iceberg divided into three parts. Part one deals with three issues that are above the surface and relatively easy to see. Part two deals with three issues that are just below the surface and somewhat more difficult to see. Part three deals with three issues that are deep below the surface and rather difficult to see. 

Part one, “Above the Surface,” presses into the issues of mores, race and ethnicity, and language. With regard to mores, the authors, drawing on Webster’s Dictionary, define them as “folkways of central importance accepted without question and embodying the fundamental moral views of a group” (29). For the authors, the fact that mores are “accepted without question” is of utmost importance for biblical interpretation because biblical interpreters may not even be aware that they are reading their cultural assumptions into a text. “What we want you to see is that what goes without being said for us concerning certain mores can cause us to misread the Bible” (48). Conversely, the more biblical interpreters unmask their mores, the better they can read the Bible. As for race and ethnicity, the author’s primary aim is to raise the issue of racism and suggest that it still effects the way we read the Bible. For example, generations of American pastors and scholars have tended to assume that Moses’ Cushite wife was a slave-woman simply because she was a dark-skinned African, when in fact she was likely a cultural elite. Moses probably married up rather than down, but Western readers are often blind to this probability because of our racial assumptions. Finally, with respect to language, the authors assert that language is at once the most obvious and most insidious issue in crosscultural biblical interpretation (88). Thus, they attempt chapter to uncover “a few instinctive Western language habits” (72) and, more or less, they succeed in doing so. 

Part two, “Just Below the Surface,” considers issues that are less obvious and therefore more dangerous, specifically, individualism and collectivism, honor/shame and right/wrong, and time. With regard to individualism and collectivism, the authors provide an introduction to the basic differences between Western and non-Western cultures, and thus help their readers understand how this governs the way we interpret the Bible. For example, Western readers tend to read the English word “you” as singular when, more often than not, it is plural in the New Testament. This difference, though seemingly minor, yields very different interpretations of various texts. As for honor/shame and right/wrong cultures, the authors strain to help their readers understand that, by and large, the majority world falls into the former category. Though this issue is difficult for Westerners to comprehend, it nevertheless impacts the way we read the Scripture and must therefore receive our attention if we are to remove our cultural blinders. Finally, with respect to time, the authors help Westerners to see that many cultures conceive the nature and use of time in different, and valid, ways. In addition to helping their readers appreciate these differences, they also try to help them see how alternate views of time can alter the way we understand various passages of Scripture. 

Part three, “Deep Below the Surface,” seeks to unmask issues that are least obvious therefore most dangerous, specifically, rules and relationships, virtues and vices, and the supremacy of the self in Western culture. With regard to rules and relationships, the authors’ claim is that, in the Bible as well as most world-cultures, relationships trump rules. That is, rules exist for the sake of relationships and when the two come into conflict, relationships win. Western cultures, they suggest, tend to value rules above relationships but at times they push this suggestion too far. As for virtues and vices, the authors’ aim is to help their readers see that various cultures hold legitimately different views of what is right and wrong with regard to a host of behaviors and issues. This effects the way we read the Bible when, for instance, we encounter Paul’s lists of vices and virtues in Colossians 3:5 and 3:12-13, and assume that we understand what is most and least important to Paul. Finally, with respect to the supremacy of the self in Western culture, the authors press their readers to see that we often read the purposes and promises of God as if they mainly have individual application for me. For example, we tend to read texts like Romans 8:28 to say, “God works all things together for my good,” when the text means something quite different. This self-centered, rather than God-centered, habit of reading often proves destructive as we interpret, teach, and apply the Scripture. 

The authors conclude by offering five helpful suggestions for removing our cultural blinders. First, we should embrace the complexity of reading, interpreting, teaching, and applying the Bible. Exegesis is difficult, and the sooner we come to terms with this fact the better. Second, we should beware of the tendency to overcorrect our habits of reading when we learn new principles like many of those provided in this book. Third, we should be teachable by constantly searching our hearts, by listening to Scripture well, and by seeking perspectives other than, and different from, our own. Fourth, we should embrace error, that is, we should make peace with the fact that we are going to make mistakes on the way to becoming good interpreters of the Bible. Rather than allowing the fear of failure to paralyze us, we should instead commit to seeing our errors and learning from them. Finally, we should strive to read the Bible together with others as God enables us to do so. Reading Scripture with our majority world brothers and sisters, instead of reading it for them, will help us to become aware of, and remove, the cultural blinders that cause us to misread the Scripture. 

The authors offer Misreading Scripture as a conversation starter, and they emphasize that their aim is not to carefully exegete particular texts of the Bible but to illustrate how their principles might be applied in the process of interpretation. With this in mind, they succeed in raising the cultural awareness of their readers (indeed, unsettling them) by drawing our attention to a number of critical, cultural issues that effect how we read and apply the Scripture. More importantly, they provide a useful framework for pastors, teachers, and leaders who desire to progress in their ability to read themselves, others, and the Bible well. 

Where the book falls short is in its exegesis of various texts. Again, the authors are clear that careful exegesis is not their primary aim, but this understandable caveat does not excuse the sloppy application of principles. For example, in the chapter on honor/shame verses right/wrong cultures, they attempt to apply their insights to the story of David and Bathsheba. In essence, their interpretive assumption is that David’s world was an honor/shame world and that therefore issues of right/wrong and a guilty conscience had little if anything to do with the story. But by assuming that the categories of honor/shame and right/wrong are mutually exclusive, the authors misinterpret the story in some troubling ways. 

The exegetical problems in this book are so serious, and replete (particularly in parts two and three), that I would not recommend it for local church study groups, unless the group included an able exegete. On the one hand, I am concerned that the authors’ approach might lead people to conclude that they cannot interpret the Bible for themselves since the issues involved in doing so are too complex. On the other hand, I am concerned that the book might lead vulnerable church members to follow the authors in drawing misleading conclusions about any number of particular texts. 

Having said that, I do recommend the book for skilled exegetes who are able to sift the wheat from the weeds, for there is plenty of wheat in the pages of this book. Accordingly, the book will aid pastors, teachers, and leaders as they seek to remove their cultural blinders and thus read the Scripture well. It will, at the very least, stimulate a greater level of self-awareness and humility, both of which are valuable commodities for Bible interpreters.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Sabbatical Update - Week Two

Reading the Bible on the Shores of the Mississippi River
By God's grace, I've now completed two weeks of sabbatical. I plan to be in southeast Minnesota for one more week, working on a doctoral paper and a book, riding my bike, and most of all spending time with the Lord. 

As for my times with Jesus, I've continued to read John, Psalms, and Proverbs. The verse that's most impacting me is still John 6:57 which reads, "As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me." And as I mentioned last week, the word for "feeds" in the Greek language is written in such a way as to mean "feeds and keeps on feeding." 

As for writing, I've made a lot of progress on my book, Meditations on Hebrews, and it still looks like I'll be able to complete it by the end of June. This week, however, I must focus on a doctoral paper that's due on June 12. I've made a lot of progress on it already, but I must now hunker down and finish it. It's about teaching pastors in India how to read the Bible in light of Jesus, and I would really appreciate your prayers as I write. Getting back to Hebrews, I must say that at times this week--and one in particular--I was so in awe of Jesus that all I could do was sit in my tent, put my head in my hands, and remain in silent worship before this stunningly glorious and wise God. I think I sat speechless in his presence for a good 15-20 minutes, and I will not soon forget the awe I felt in that day. I share this story to say this: please continue to pray for me as I write. I'm not interested in making a name for myself, I'm interested in seeing and exalting the glory of Jesus as high as I can and thus I need your prayer support. I NEED your prayer support. Thank you so much for laboring with me in this endeavor. 

As for cycling, I took one or two smaller rides this week and went to the gym just about every day. And then last Wednesday I took a 75.5 mile ride, followed by a 36.1 mile ride the next day, along the Root River Trail in the area of Lanesboro, Minnesota. I blogged about these rides the other day and included lots of pictures, you can see that if you keep scrolling down. 

One of the highlights of my week was that Kimmy was able to come down on Friday evening and spend the weekend with me. Both of us had work to do, so we spent time in local coffee shops and did what we had to do, enjoying a picnic here and a walk there. It was SO good to see each other again and share what the Lord has been doing with both of us. We've been talking 1-2 times every day, but there's nothing like seeing each other face to face, and for this I'm very grateful. 

As I look to the week ahead, I would ask you to pray the following for me: 

1. Please continue to pray the exact words of Ephesians 3:14-21, the theme verses for my sabbatical. I have so enjoyed the glory of Christ this week, but I long for more. Pray that I will be sensitive and obedient to the Spirit. 

2. Please continue to pray for my work on Meditations on Hebrews and my doctoral paper. I so long to write prayer-saturated words, and to bear fruit for the glory of Jesus and the good of others. 

3. Please pray for my physical health as I continue to recalibrate habits of diet and exercise. I plan to take an 85 mile ride this week, probably Wednesday, in the Red Wing area. 

4. Please pray for Kim and Rachel as they spend one more week without me. Pray for their relationships with God and each other, and for our times of talking by phone. 

Thank you so much for praying, Beloved. May the Lord glorify himself as we seek his face and do his will.