Renovation as a Means

Lately I have been watching the TV show, Income Property. An investment real estate expert shows would-be investors three properties which hold promise. Most often, these are houses that will be divided into two units–one the investor(s) will live in and the other will be rented out to help offset the cost of the purchase and renovation.

Each show follows a twin-conflict paradigm. The first conflict/challenge of the show is whether or not the investor(s) can visualize the renovate property. Then the second conflict/challenge is whether or not the renovated value (increased equity) and the anticipated income (rental value) will be enough to allow the new owner to succeed. Inevitably, there are hidden problems in the homes that are being renovated.

Starting Disciple Making Movements are sort of like this show. Inevitably, the way we attempt to produce change is by mobilizing, training and mentoring near neighbor Christians to plant the gospel among an unengaged people group. Note this is a two-phase strategy. First, you have to identify and train Christians to do whatever it takes to reach the people they have previously felt no compulsion to engage. Likely, many of the potential candidates for this “Mission Impossible” have already attempted (at least mentally) to reach out. Their early attempts were rebuffed and/or, they were ridiculed, hassled or persecuted for their efforts. Or, they have powerful stories of others who tried and paid a high price. This people group is unreached for good reason.

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The Good Muslim?

Yes, these recently settled people were at great risk. Their situation was dire.

The king of Assyria ordered, “Send back some priests who were taken into exile from there. They can go back and live there and instruct the people in what the god of the land expects of them….They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively—they also appointed all sorts of priests, regardless of qualification, to conduct a variety of rites at the local fertility shrines. They honored and worshiped God, but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from” (2 Kings 17:27,32-33, The Message).

The Samaritans of Jesus’ day were descended from these peoples. This is the historical-cultural background behind Jesus’ parable we call “The Good Samaritan.” It also informs his interactions with the woman at the well and people from her village. Jews considered the Samaritans spiritual mutts. While they claimed to worship the God of Israel, the religious purists knew their sordid spiritual lineage.

Sounds remarkably similar to Islam.

Would Jesus shock us with the modern-day Parable of the Good Muslim? Would he spend a couple of days with Muslims who want to hear about the Messiah?

 

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 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.

DBS Helps Cross-cultural Communications

Cross-cultural communication is a challenge at best! Just ask wives and husbands how many times they realized their spouse did not hear what they intended to communicate.

In every cross-cultural conversation there is a sender and a receiver. The sender uploads what she/he intends to communicate, but their message is always encoded from within their cultural context (yes, this more closely approximates that of the receiver the more fluent their language skills are). Then the receiver downloads the message and filters it through his/her ethno-linguistic cultural grid. But the process is also impacted by “noise.”

The only way to assess what is understood is to ask for feedback. “What did you understand me to just say?” is a great way to seek clarity. When this person shares what they heard, then you can attempt to overcome the effects of noise and the differences in the ways we utilize words/phrases cross-culturally.

One of the great beauties of Discovery Bible Studies (when the stories are being heard in the heart tongue) is the passage is not being explored cross-culturally. Yes, I know that Scriptures were written from within and for other cultures (e.g., pre-exilic Hebrew, post-exilic Hebrew, 1st century Judeo-Christian, 1st century Gentile Christian, etc.) but it is not going through the additional cultural grid of the cross-cultural missionary.

The Word of God illuminated by the Spirit of God is enough to produce the people of God!

Seek First the Kingdom

Some behaviors become practically automatic and carry little or no conscious connections to core values. But others are intentionally chosen to broadcast and reinforce the spiritual psycho-social weight of our beliefs and worldview.

For example, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, God has Moses to call the people of Israel to be very deliberate in certain behaviors as a way of passing on a godly worldview:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Their core understanding of being in covenant with the Creator was to be of first importance in their lives. This reality should be overtly demonstrated, regardless of the level of intimacy someone encountered them (gates, doorpost, forehead, hand).

Through their words and other actions we observe what people determine to be good and what they deem best. Their choices reveal their values. What takes precedence in their lives?

Do you want a snapshot of your values? Open your checkbook register and/or your credit card statement. Scan through your day planner. Review your spiritual journal. These reflect how you choose to use your money, your time and/or your spiritual journey. What do you value?

Seek first the kingdom of God… was Jesus’ calling to those who would be his disciples. What you truly value drives your behavior.

[NOTE: Diagram comes from Lloyd E. Kwast’s article “Understanding Culture,” pages 397-399 in the 2009 Perspectives Reader, which was edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthore.]