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Review of Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity

Lamin Sanneh. Disciples of All Nations: Pillars of World Christianity. Oxford Studies in World Christianity. Oxford: Oxford Press, 2008. 362 pp. $19.95.

Lamin Sanneh is professor of History and World Christianity at Yale University, and author of the influential academic study Translating the Message: The Missionary Impact on Culture (Orbis, 1989). He writes the inaugural volume in the “Oxford Studies in World Christianity,” a series whose purpose is to investigate “the new reality brought about by the shift in the center of gravity of Christianity from the northern to the southern hemisphere” (xxii). In this book, Sanneh “offers a panoramic survey of the field, exploring the sources to uncover the nature and scope of Christianity’s worldwide multicultural impact” (xxii).

Sanneh has a wide ranging and truly global perspective on world Christianity. His historical accounts span continents and centuries. The book takes the reader back to the origins of Christianity, to witness its birth in Europe, and then moves forward to explore its relation to Islam and development in Africa and Asia. Sanneh narrates the birth of Christianity in England and Iceland and gives the reader an illuminating examination of the struggle for effective contextualization in those countries. His accounts of various historical figures, the prophet William Harris, Vincent Donovan, and the freed slave (and probably one of the earliest development workers) David George are absorbing. His tales of the interaction of Christianity with Islam and how China has been shaped by the Christian faith are also intriguing. Sanneh’s eloquence, his gift as a storyteller, and his skill at placing historical events in their proper social context make the book worth reading despite its shortcomings.

Sanneh uses the language of “pillars” often in the book. Although never clearly defining what he means by this term, it is evident that he does not mean “columns” or “posts” that hold up the structure of World Christianity and instead wants us to understand these “pillars” as “motifs” or “roots” spread throughout and undergirding the global story of Christianity. One major motif he emphasizes throughout the text is the way that colonial missions planted the seeds of the demise of colonialism by encouraging Scriptures and worship in the local vernacular. Another motif is the way Christianity is, by its nature, the most flexible of the world religions in the way it is enculturated.

The book is geared toward readers with a strong academic background and presupposes more than a basic familiarity with the topic. Thus, it is not the right book for someone just beginning to explore Christian doctrine, mission theory, or the history of Christianity. In spite of (or maybe because of) the book’s ambitious scope, Sanneh’s work was frustrating to read. The book’s lack of a clear organizational structure to orient the reader is distracting. At no point, for example, does he lay out all of his “pillars” side by side. Thematically, it was difficult to understand the flow of the book. It contains eight chapters that seem to stand almost completely independent of each other. Each chapter dives into a certain period in a region’s history, but there is little explanation of how these accounts and observations are to be understood in relation to each other. Early on, Sanneh confesses: “I offer the book not as an exhaustive statement or even as a complete case study, but as an ecumenical conspectus of the field of World Christianity as I have seen and encountered in my professional work, especially in its interreligious manifestation” (xi). This seems an apt description of a book full of fascinating stories but containing little to help the reader piece Sanneh’s insights and observations into an integrated view of the development of global Christianity. There are just enough materials linking the stories together to make it more than a collection of articles, but not enough continuity to discern how the pieces in this panoramic picture fit together. Reading the book is like zooming blindfolded through a tour of an unfamiliar city at the hands of a superbly qualified guide. This guide removes the blindfolds at some interesting sites but does not aide the visitor in understanding how the different vistas fit together into a coherent vision. More should be expected out of such a gifted writer and historian.

Upon completion of the book, this reviewer felt that the fascinating assortment of stories coupled with a lack of clear overarching organizational themes produced a product that is not unlike the state of world Christianity today—interesting, diverse, growing, and complex in a way that makes divining clear “pillars” or motifs extremely challenging—even for the most celebrated of historians.

Alan Howell

Missionary serving the Makua-Metto people

Montepuez, Mozambique

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Review of Dana L. Robert, Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion

Dana L. Robert. Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion. Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 232 pp. $26.95.

Christian Mission: How Christianity Became a World Religion is a global tour with a highly capable guide, Dana Robert. Robert’s competent handling of Christianity’s rise to behemoth status in world religion is impressive. Readers will find in this book a wonderful, lively resource coming out of years of teaching and reflection. Robert shows how vast and interconnected the Christian world is. She is as fluent with African health issues as with Celtic Christian history. Like few others, Robert comprehends Christianity’s breathtaking diversity, and its continued assimilation into new cultures. Reading this book affirms what most religion scholars are realizing: for the first time in human history, there is a religion that meets the criteria of being, truly, a world religion.

Robert begins by discussing Soviet Estonian teenagers “huddled in secret” listening to a smuggled copy of the British rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar, and she ends with a story about her encounter with some Afrikaners reading Watchman Nee. How did white Dutch South Africans learn about Watchman Nee? They were introduced to his writings through a self-supporting Chinese-American missionary—and Watchman Nee enthusiast—who had moved to South Africa to spread the gospel. Robert then describes how these Afrikaners spread Nee’s ideas to Zimbabwe through some Shona people they met.

Such globalized, crisscrossing adventure is the nature of Christian mission today. Dana Robert understands the globalization of Christianity, how it has morphed, migrated, and enmeshed into new societies. She is an historian of Christianity with a missions emphasis. She is at her best discussing Africa—where she has considerable expertise. As Professor of World Christianity and the History of Mission at Boston University School of Theology, she also co-directs the Center for Global Christianity and Mission. Her research output is enormous, and she has emerged as one of the leading authorities on Christianity’s recent southern shift. Her publications have fluctuated back and forth from micro- to macro-history throughout a quarter-century of academic writing.

Perhaps most noticeably, Robert is gifted in bringing to light the contributions of women throughout Christian history. She argues in several places that “Christianity is a women’s religion” by about two to one; therefore women need to take a more prominent place in Christian history. She uses many facts and anecdotes to emphasize this revision. For example, women missionaries from the United States outnumbered male missionaries by two to one in 1900. She concentrates on the central role of mothers in the history of Christianity, and how women sustained the faith when families converted. She highlights careful efforts of women missionaries who understood that to influence a society one must reach the harems and Zenanas (women’s living quarters). Robert’s sensitivity towards women, wives, families, and marriage is an important corrective to macro-histories. No history of Christianity, or history of Christian missions, can legitimately allow the feminine and familial perspectives to escape notice. On the surface this seems obvious. Most histories, however, are about men. Robert has argued this for years, and in this book she delivers a balanced retelling.

This book is not a chronological, orderly account of how Christianity spread. It is more like a colorful tapestry made of extraordinary lives. Robert avoids the need to cleanly separate epochs in the history of Christianity. Her style is telling human stories. In traditional history books, scholars and clergy are mentioned in association with their greatest accomplishment. Robert however stays with the person, developing more meaningful context. For example, when writing about female circumcision, she shares the life work of Annalena Tonelli, an Italian lawyer who moved to Kenya in 1969 to teach in a high school. Using Tonelli’s life as an interpretive prism, Robert casts light on African nationalism, changes wrought by the Second Vatican Council, Catholic social action movements, HIV, clitoridectomy, and modern-day Christian martyrdom. She deftly weaves an historical narrative using biography as her loom. The lives she chooses, often female, are fascinating and will be unfamiliar to most readers.

Undergirding Dana Robert’s work is a passion for Christian mission. In 2010 she was selected as a keynote speaker for the Edinburgh centenary of the World Missionary Conference. This was an important assignment. Edinburgh 1910 is widely held to be the high watermark in the history of Christian mission. In her lecture, Robert argued that nothing should discourage Christians from “… sharing God’s love and salvation through Jesus Christ with all the world.”1 Clearly, Robert is a friend to Christian mission, an advocate of it. But how can she manage to uphold the integrity of Christian mission in a pluralistic climate often hostile to the propagation of faith? Robert handles this well in her book. By bringing out the humanity of missionaries, rather than focusing on the charged rancor of cultural imperialism, she steers a wise course. Her stories are moving. For example, she discusses the 1999 tragedy involving Graham Staines and his two young boys who were burned to death by Hindu fanatics; his widow forgave the killers and continued working in the leper home founded by her husband. She also discusses the admirable work of Maria Skobtskaya who ran a shelter and soup kitchen for Russian refugees in Paris in the 1920s. She was eventually arrested by Nazis for rescuing Jewish children. On Good Friday 1945 she died a martyr in Ravensbrück concentration camp after trading places with a Jew. Ursuline missionary Marie Guyart is another saintly woman highlighted in the book. Guyart took a vow of celibacy and traveled to Canada in 1639 to become “the first missionary woman in North America.” In the face of priestly opposition she spent over thirty years cloistered in a convent running a girls school until the day she died.

Robert provides an important corrective to those who dismiss Christian missions as a colonial relic or worse. Throughout history, mission work consisted of people giving their lives to others. This often meant boarding a ship and starting life from scratch—learning a new language, making new friends, adopting a foreign lifestyle—all in the name of bringing “good news.” Missionaries were expected to be buried in the ground they tilled. Today, however, the era of life-long mission commitment is virtually over. People now prefer short-term mission trips of one or two weeks, leading to what Robert calls “mission amateurs.”

A critical insight in this book is that we are in a new era of global missions. Robert selects the Billy Graham inspired 1974 Lausanne conference as a turning point. While the missionary impulse might have waned in the mid-twentieth century, Lausanne represents a shift. Today mission has become breathtakingly international, it shoots in all directions, it has a Pentecostal bent, and it is as lively as ever. It is not dying.

I highly recommend this book to students and scholars of Christian missions. It would make an excellent complement in history of missions courses. It would also be a helpful entry point for engaging the impact of women—the other half of the story—in church history.

Dyron B. Daughrity

Associate Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

Professor Daughrity is the author of The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion (reviewed in this issue), as well as the lead article in this issue of Missio Dei.

1 Dana L. Robert, “Dana Robert Calls for Common Witness to Christ Despite Divisions,” News, Edinburgh 2010: Witnessing to Christ Today,

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Review of Robert A. Hunt, The Gospel among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation

Robert A. Hunt. The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010. 288 pp. $35.00.

The gospel is about movement—movement from Heaven to earth, human to human and culture to culture. As the gospel encounters people and takes root in their lives, they are changed by its transformative message. It is the gospel’s movement from culture to culture and the resulting changes that are the subject of Robert A. Hunt’s work, which “explores the ways Christians have engaged and can engage a pluralistic world with the gospel” (xi). Hunt is the Director of Global Education at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology. This title, a volume in the American Society of Missiology Series, was chosen by the International Bulletin as one of its 15 Outstanding Books for 2010.

Part One—a scant but jam-packed 30 pages of mission history, focusing on pluralistic encounters and enculturation—commences with the apostolic period, moves through the Patristic era, engages Europe and the rest of the world including colonialism, and concludes with the current era of post-colonialism and post-Christendom. Hunt reminds the reader:

Contextualization is not just a strategy for mission, it is an ever-present critique of all attempts to bind the meaning of the gospel and the reign of Christ to a single cultural context. (xi)

The gospel changes cultures, and our moving between cultures changes the way one sees and understands the Bible. New cultural contexts force us to see biblical themes that were passed over in our earlier settings:

As Christians working outside the West realized the need to cooperate, given the vastness of the un-evangelized world, they also had to distinguish the gospel from their denominational and national interests. (25)

Acknowledging that people are victims not just of personal sin, but of worldwide political, economic, and cultural structures that are manifestly un-Christian has become a central theme of Christian missions. (27)

Part Two, the majority of the book—260 pages—is a tremendous compilation of readings on enculturation, beginning with Justin Martyr and ending with an article prepared for the 2004 Lausanne meeting in Pattaya, Thailand. The 77 selections, primary sources with secondary analyses, come from all major branches of the church: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, Evangelical, and Pentecostal. The entries are a Who’s Who in church history, theology and missiology; for example: Constantine, Venerable Bede, Nestorians, Benedictines, Carey, Livingstone, Bishop Petr, Pope Pius XII, Hocking, Koyama, Sanneh, and many others.

Of particular interest were the articles in Chapter 8, selections 49-59, originating from the Majority World. Selection 54, “Let My People Go,” was an eloquent discussion from Asia on self-reliance, the proposed moratorium on missionaries, and the need for indigenization with the goal “to read the Bible through our own cultural eyes and the eyes of poverty rather than through the eyes of western culture and affluence” (161). Selection 58 by South African Manas Buthelezi raises the question of “whether Christian love is safe at all in the hands of the white man” (183).

The final chapter includes 17 contemporary documents of the church, again representing all major branches of current Christianity. The Evangelical selections include the Lausanne Covenant, the Iguassu Affirmation of the World Evangelical Fellowship, the Sandy Cove Covenant and Invitation (highlighting creation care), and a poignant reminder by Richard Vos of the need to address issues of hunger and agriculture.

The entries that Hunt provides in this collection do have some commonalities. Nearly all adhere to a definition of mission that includes both evangelism and social justice. Many of today’s Evangelicals refuse to believe that Jesus intended for there to be a rift between these two biblical emphases. The gospel and its presentation must not be truncated into the “here and now” on the one hand, and the “sweet by and by” on the other The gospel is to be presented using both word and deed. It is a holistic message, taking its cue from the very life and practice of Jesus.

The Gospel Among the Nations is a boon for the student of missiology, with so much material gathered into one volume. The book will not be a quick read, but it will be worth the hours required. When completed, it can sit on the shelf as a handy reference volume. Hunt is to be commended for his years of research and his selection parameters.

Doug Priest

Executive Director

CMF International

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

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Review of Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission

Mary T. Lederleitner. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Gove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. 230 pp. $17.00.

Partnerships are trendy, du jour, and very fashionable in missiological literature. This is, in itself, not a bad thing, but demands thoughtful guidance and supple wisdom as the massive amount of commentary on this critical topic can be confusing. Mary Lederleitner’s recent work, Cross-Cultural Partnerships, provides one example of helpful direction through this maze of material. Lederleitner, a consultant for Wycliffe International, provides numerous examples of real life partnering (and mis-partnering!), and draws the reader into critical issues that can make partnerships fly or fail.

The book proceeds from the foundational assumption that, although necessary for effective mission practice, partnerships are fraught with difficulties and hidden cultural traps. That is, the formation of faithful and effective partnerships requires more than simply goodwill and earnest desire. Indeed, partnerships can function as simply the latest way of controlling the Other. The term “partnering” often functions as a new external wrapping given to a very familiar type of “ministry,” i.e., control by those who possess greater resources. Because this type of faux partnership is so common, Lederleitner’s work is all the more urgent for those who wish to work faithfully and effectively in cross-cultural contexts.

To help us navigate these complexities, Lederleitner weaves two primary topics throughout her discussions: relationships and money. Much of the material on cross-cultural relationships will be familiar to informed readers. Important cultural dynamics to which all should pay close attention include individualism and collectivism, the issue of “face,” monochromic and polychromic approaches toward time, ambiguity tolerance and uncertainty avoidance, and communication in high- and low-context cultures. Her important reminder that the seemingly innocent metaphor “children” applied to non-Western partners often hides an insidious neo-colonial paternalism is right on the mark. She raises the important question of who decides how to define dependency and the shape of partnerships, often a conversation driven primarily by expatriate missionaries and donors. All potential partners, Lederleitner insists, should have a say in these definitional and foundational issues. In my opinion, one of her most important contributions in the entire volume is the extended discussion in Chapter 5 on “paternalism couched as accountability,” which she could easily have also sub-titled “dominance couched as partnership.” Her insight challenges readers to look hard at how these dynamics may be tacitly at work in even the most sensitive and caring missionaries.

Lederleitner devotes considerable space to her other key concern, namely issues involving partnership and money. She discusses the frequent occurrence of recipients using resources contrary to donor’s wishes and offers possible ways to navigate such sticky situations, noting that a critical piece to all financial challenges is real and substantive friendship, rather than merely formal institutional arrangements. An approach based upon realism, friendship, and humility undergirds her many practical and specific examples. She advocates giving dignity and mutuality while still working towards financial accountability. Lederleitner offers helpful suggestions if funds or other resources are misallocated.

In terms of the use of money and dependency, Lederleitner aims at a middle way, avoiding both the free use of money advocated by some and the aversion to using money at all. The reader will have to decide if this chastened approach is feasible in real life. It was unsatisfying to me, as she tries too hard, unsuccessfully I think, to hold on to both approaches, resulting ultimately in a proposal that lacks power and consistency.

Overall, Lederlietner’s work rests upon a foundation of humility, genuine love, and friendship, resources that are often scarce in cross-cultural partnerships. This work could serve as a fine introduction to the issues involved in cross-cultural partnership. Those who wish to dig deeper may want to consult Lingenfelter’s work Leading Cross-Culturally (Baker Academic, 2008) and Jonathan Bonk’s enduring classic Mi$$ions and Money (Orbis: 2007).

Chris Flanders

Associate Professor of Mission

Graduate School of Theology

Abilene Christian University

Abilene, Texas, USA

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Review of David Livermore, What Can I Do? Making a Global Difference Right Where You Are

David Livermore. What Can I Do? Making a Global Difference Right Where You Are. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011. Kindle Edition. $9.99.

David Livermore recognizes that globalization changes the missional context of domestic vocational ministry. His latest work, What Can I Do? is a practical guidebook for coming to terms with this new context and taking initial steps to engage it. He aims to broaden the typical American Christian’s view of mission and help the church to overcome the overwhelming, often paralyzing uncertainty experienced in the face of a world full of need.

The book addresses a confluence of concerns: missional church, holism, vocational ministry, cross-cultural intelligence, and globalization. Its primary burden is twofold: to convince the reader that one’s everyday work and service is mission and to demonstrate that such local mission carried out in a globalized world will necessarily have a global impact.

Livermore delivers on his promise to provide a “solution-oriented, hopeful picture” (loc. 155) of what the church can do on a global scale from its own backyard. Livermore skillfully parses out the big global issues and paints a picture that is serious but not overwhelming, despite the title of section one, “A Big (Inspiring Yet Overwhelming) Picture.” He adopts the now prolific method of reducing the earth to a 1000 member village in order to make the statistics more comprehensible. Furthermore, the premise of this village as a single community stands behind the portrayal of a fully interconnected, transnational, glocal (i.e., global-local) world. With this as the framework, Livermore discusses major issues in a nicely simplified taxonomy: economics, disease, environment, trafficking, war, changing international realities, and world religions.

After a brief biblical overview in the creational-missional vein discussed above, the introductory section concludes with seven general strategies for a positive global impact that any reader can implement immediately. These include lifestyle choices as simple as being aware and making others aware, and as challenging as conscientious shopping and socially responsible investing. Livermore complements these suggestions with practical insights and a sprinkling of online resources. The second section proceeds to deal with five specific vocational fields, namely (1) business and management, (2) science and technology, (3) art, (4) health care and wellness, and (5) teachers, family and friends. These chapters are helpful signposts that guide the reader into a world of possibility rather than being exhaustive treatments of any one profession’s best engagement with global issues.

Livermore is practically-minded throughout his treatment of these vocations, ending each chapter with a “Before You Turn The Page” section featuring a handful of suggestions for taking immediate action. Some of these are reductive, such as the admonition for heath professionals to pray with their patients. It is difficult to imagine a serious Christian health professional finding this in any way instructive. The overall point remains, though, that every vocation provides a platform for accomplishing a great deal in global mission. The chapters’ ideas are suggestive and inspiring. Yet, section two ends with a word of caution. Livermore wisely makes space for healthy, realistic counsel that should temper the zealous activism of readers empowered by his practical advise.

Section three consists of two chapters aimed at preparing the reader and the reader’s community for deeper engagement in glocal mission. These feature various tools and methods for discerning what specifically to do and where to start. Finally, a FAQ at the end of the book addresses concerns that might have lingered for some readers, such as the question of the social gospel or the apparently secular nature of many of the book’s concerns. These are useful clarifications, but it is well that they do not take up space in the main body.

Two issues may give readers pause. One, although Livermore is familiar with missional church thinking (loc. 2448), and although he clearly advocates a broad understanding of what constitutes mission, there is still a sense throughout the book that local work is mission only because of the way globalization has made the local to be glocal. As he puts it, “My aim in this book has been to expand your view of global mission” (loc. 2229; emphasis added). “Mission” is still essentially global in character for Livermore, even if one does not have to live in a foreign country to be a missionary. It is fair to say that because he targets an audience that equates mission with the work of cross-cultural missionaries, his approach is a strategically sound way to open up the idea of mission. But it is noteworthy that this route ends with a narrower definition of mission that than many are currently advocating.

The second reservation is related. Livermore keenly roots his argument in creational theology: as God’s image-bearers, humans were created to serve the world’s needs—which he takes to mean created for global mission (locs. 366, 399, 489). Yet, there is a certain tension between this rather universal idea on one hand and the special circumstances occasioned by postmodern globalization upon which the book’s argument depends on the other. Given that we are made to have this global impact, what would the church do if its ministry were not so glocally situated? Must its global intentions be frustrated and reduced to “merely” local impact; and is this still mission?

Nonetheless, in the final analysis the volume is a useful tool for the average American Christian. It is accessible and practical. The reader who takes the time to follow Livermore’s lead will benefit greatly and likely come to make a truly global impact. This is just the sort of book churches need to be reading if they desire to face up to the new realities of the present century and embark on a new journey as glocal citizens of God’s world.

Greg McKinzie


Arequipa, Peru

Visit to learn about the developmental ministry happening in Arequipa.

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Talking with James

[Reading: James 1:22-27]

Be doers of the word,

Not hearers only

who deceive themselves.

For if any are hearers of the word

and not doers,

they are like those

who glance at themselves in a mirror;

walk away,

and immediately forget

what they look like.

But those who gaze into the perfect law,

the law of liberty,

and persevere,

Become not hearers who forget

but doers who act—

they will be blessed in the doing.

If anyone thinks he or she religious,

and does not bridle the tongue

that heart is deceived

that religion is worthless.

Religion ~

pure and undefiled

before God, the Father,

is this:

to care for orphans in their troubles

to take the side of widows’ in their distress

thus keeping yourself

unstained from the world.

… … … … … … … … … … … … … …

How ironic ~

to have someone like me ~

a rhetorician ~

assigned a text like this.

A rhetorician ~

who specializes in words ~

handling a pericope that claims:

  • “Words are not enough”
  • That “Genuine faith is . . .

. . . faith that works”

How ironic to have someone like me ~

a Church of Christ preacher ~

assigned a text like this.

A Church of Christ preacher

who cut his teeth on

  • 2 Sunday sermons (AM and PM)
  • Sunday School
  • and mid-week classes,
  • not to mention seasonal duties

with Ladies Bible Class

  • and if things go well ~

“here’s another

Sunday AM sermon to deliver.”

  • Which is to say ~
  • I spent all my time
  • talking
  • or preparing to talk.

James seems to have little taste

for all that talking.

How ironic

~ for one not endowed with the “gift of gab”

~ Bothered by the odors

of hospitals and nursing homes

~ and taught from his youth up

  • that city streets ~
  • with their taverns and clubs ~
  • were temptations to be avoided

How ironic to hand this text

to someone like me.

And, how ironic for a group like us

to be considering a text like this:

We who were part of the 1980s television studio audience

on the gospel program:

“Discovering Grace”

when Paul and James

were the last two left on the island ~

and we voted James and his “faith + works”

off the island

  • for his bad theology
  • and vowed never again

to preach from that book ~

  • a vow every grace – oriented

Church of Christ preacher has kept.

There’s great irony

for us today

to take up this pericope.

Though I must say ~

I am not opposed to this text.

Quite the opposite ~

As a rhetorician ~ I am attracted

to this passage’s particular form ~

its arrangement ~

its dispositio

its mini chiasm ~

its useful inclusio ~

what undergrads like to call

a “sandwich.”

I’m referring, of course,

to this passage’s

A B A′ pattern:

A: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only”

B: Metaphor of mirror and forgetting

A′: “Be not hearers who forget

but doers who act”

“Doers and not hearers only” (A and A′)

are the bread in this sandwich,

the inclusio’s frame

And the mirror metaphor

in the middle

is the mesquite smoked BBQ meat

Compress the sandwich ~

and out oozes true religion:

Assisting orphans and widows

in their distress ~

thus keeping oneself

unstained from the world.

Much like the sandwich

near the end of Mark’s gospel ~

where the cursed and withering fig tree

are the framing pumpernickel

in that sandwich

while the temple’s overturned

money changers’ tables ~

the corned beef in the middle.

Compress that sandwich

and out oozes true religion for Jesus

~ prayer, faith, and forgiveness.

Rhetoricians ~

find this intriguing ~

attracted to the pericope’s form . . .

because . . . this form

so effortlessly

with such ease,

carries it’s content

and emphasizes its meaning.

You can’t miss it.

How could anybody miss it?

And the powerful little metaphor ~

~ the mirror ~

~ what’s not to like?

It stirs every homiletic mind

although James’ mirror ~

is not the Carnival mirror

that distorts:



or elongates,

anything to provide relief from reality.

Nor will you find James’ mirror

at Rochester Hills Mirror and Glass,

which features designs

to make the room look deeper,

or accent the finest furnishings,

or allow you to keep

an eye on the children

from any room in the home.

The mirror in James has a different purpose ~

This polished bronze

is used for personal inspection

and adornment ~





and checking ~

You glance ~

it’s momentary and fleeting.

You glance ~

it’s casual and hasty.

You glance ~

and you walk away

already forgetting what you saw ~

forgetting who you are.

James’ mirror is a useful mirror ~

meant for adjusting and applying

helpful and necessary ~

but with one fundamental problem ~

The problem of the metaphor . . .

is with us ~

we, who “catch a glimpse”

and then forget our essential identity.

Objective rhetoricians approve of this



hard working metaphor ~

the mirror.

How it teaches,

how it instructs.

But for those of us who have

a subjective connection

to the world James envisions

A lingering worry begins to throb ~

what have we forgotten?

Some rhetoricians

(should I say, the sophists among us)

Immediately want to distract us . . . .

find another appealing element

in the metaphor ~

its potential for humor.

You look in the mirror

immediately forget what you see

Oh! Forgetting has lots

of funny possibilities.

Especially if you have a


middle aged

well-healed audience:

this passage has comic potential.

Captured in Billy Collins’ poem “Forgetfulness”1

which begins:

“The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title,

the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion,

the entire novel

which suddenly

becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if,

one by one,

the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire

to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village

where there are no phones. . .

with those who have forgotten how to swim,

even forgotten how to ride a bicycle.”

Which is enough to cause James

to step out of the pages

and look the sophist in the eye and say ~

“Stop dancing with this verse

Don’t use this text

as part of your stand up routine.”

James says to all of us,

“‘Forgetting’ isn’t a humorous topic.

Your light heartedness

only prevents you

from taking me seriously.

“There was nothing funny

When I asked, ‘who are you?’

and you replied,

‘I forget.’

That’s not funny!”

James is right.

Forgetting is a chronic problem in the Bible

and addressed with stern warnings

Especially troublesome

when we forget

the paradigmatic message of Scripture.

Don’t forget that when

we were slaves to Pharaoh,

the Lord brought us out from Egypt

with a mighty hand”

“Beware, lest you forget,

and when you have eaten and are satisfied,

and move into the best neighborhoods

and build large cathedrals

and assemble attractive people

that you think,

“by Our power

and by the strength of Our hands

We have made this wealth”

Biblical forgetting

Is not the funny kind of forgetting

about which

wealthy 50-somethings

elbow one another.

So, James leads us back to the mirror

And says,

“Quit talking about how I said it,

Take a good hard look at what I said”

So we lean over and look in . . . .

Now not glancing but gazing.

The mirror

that once reflected

our ears and brows and nose ~

This mirror has changed

and now it’s become the perfect law ~

the law of liberty.

And James says, “Take a good hard look”

and we peer into the law

and the prophets

and the writings ~

James says, “Do you see your crop of Barley?”

(we nod)

“When you reap your harvest and leave a sheath

Don’t go back and get it ~

It shall be for the alien, orphan and widow.”

(We scrutinize and examine this picture)

James says, “Look at your orchard”

(we look at our olive grove)

“when you beat your olive tree

don’t go over the boughs again

It shall be for the alien, orphan and widow”

(We inspect this image)

James says, “Consider your vineyards”

(we look)

“when you gather your grapes

don’t harvest a second time

It shall be for the alien, orphan and widow”

(We contemplate, deliberate and remember)

“We were once slaves in the land of Egypt”

We mull this over. We meditate.

We say,

“This is how God treated us

this should be how

we treat the poor

and the marginalized.”

We think about it,

think it over,

think it through.

We say,

This is our single defining characteristic ~

to be like God

who cares for

the endemically impoverished”

James says,

“You’re right!

Now, weigh it

rehearse it

start to train in it

“Until you’ve learned it by heart,

transformed in the process,

remembering and becoming, again,

Who you are:

Caring for the marginalized in their distress,

thus keeping yourselves

unstained by the world.”

This is what we’d forgotten.

And, I don’t know why.

Was it our affluence?

What created our amnesia?

With Peter Wagner, we had dreamed a church

  • Where Nicodemas ~ of John 3 vintage ~

is the lead elder

  • and Pilate uses his influence

to support important church projects,

  • where we believe

there is a way to “win Herod” for Christ.

In this church of our dreams

  • we are on a first name basis with

the Governor

  • we’re asked to give the invocation

at the century club

  • And we believe Billy Graham

Is having a good influence

on Richard Nixon.

But James de-constructs

this dangerous make-believe world.

James rebukes

those who favor the rich over the poor

“into your assembly struts a man

with gold rings and fine clothing

at the same time in shuffles a poor man

in shabby dress” ~

and you say to the rich man:

“have the seat of honor”

and to the poor man,

“make yourself scarce”?

James says,

“that’s not how God judges!”


James insists on helping the needy

“don’t say to the marginalized ~

Persons without clothing and food ~

‘go in peace, be warm and filled.’ ~

do something!”


Then James takes the microphone

and addresses Nicodemas and Pilate

and looks us in the eye,

taking his cue from Jesus, he says

  • “your riches will rot,
  • your garments will be eaten by moths,
  • your gold and silver will rust!”

He asks:

“Are you paying a living wage

  • to the ones who launder your clothes
  • who mow your lawns?

God listens to them!

God hears their cries for justice!”


When we voted James

off the island

We were voting

Jesus off, too.

Five years ago

The Sermon on the Mount

was the theme for the 2006

Sermon Seminar2

held in this building

with plenary addresses

from the provocative

Stanley Hauerwas, Warren Carter and others.

It was a disturbing conference

because of the way we read the Sermon on the Mount

envisioned a real world

that invited us to enter ~

and live

and we were threatened.

At the close one preacher confessed,

“I need to throw away all the sermons

I’ve ever preached on the Sermon on the Mount” ~

so unsettling was our new understanding.

But the strongest comment

came during the evaluation meeting

weeks later.

Larry Stephens

one of a dozen who met

to critique logistics of the event ~

opened that meeting

with this engaging question:

“Friends, what are we to do

with the Sermon on the Mount?


What are we to do?

I mean, are we supposed to sell

our church buildings

and give the proceeds to the poor?”

which triggered one person

amongst the 12

to make a sound ~

interpreting Larry’s remark

as a joke.

But Larry struck again,

“I’m serious.

How does God want us to live?”

Five years ago we took Larry seriously ~

but pushed his question

into the theoretical realm.

Five years later ~

his question is only

the first in a series of sound alternatives

~ and live options

for a people

who are ready

to take seriously

the paradigmatic

narratives of Scripture

and proclaim ~

that true religion is simply this ~

care as God cares for the marginalized.


Because this is how we’ve been treated.

Because this is how God acts.

This is who we are.

But, the greatest irony of our day ~

is that everyone ~

except, it seems,

for some Christian conservatives ~

Everyone seems to know

that true religion

means to help those on the margins

  • It’s the singular message of so much popular non fiction for example the New York Times decade long bestselling Nickel and Dimed
  • It’s the sub plot of so much popular film, for example the gripping drama currently airing on Masterpiece Theatre
  • It’s even in the caustic message of the atheist blogger in last month’s Holy week missive and a million other persons

and organizations that “know” ~

if not the exact words ~

at least the spirit

of Jesus’ damning message to the hypocrites:

  • “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin,
  • but neglect the weightier matters of the law . . . .
  • justice, mercy, and faithfulness.”

All the world seems to know

that the essential factor

in God’s judgment of humankind

will be our answer to 1 question:

did you clothe the naked,

feed the hungry,

visit the imprisoned . . .

in a word . . .

did you care for the


You are your congregation’s rhetorician

You are the one with persuasive skills.

You have words, like James,

with focus and function

to describe our essential humanity

our basic identity

Or, as James phrases it: “their true religion”

You are your community’s resident theologian

Connecting identity with opportunity

To lead your people

into the world Scripture envisions

where true religion is simply this ~

Not just to say,

Not just to know,

But to care as God cares

for the marginalized.

Because this is who you are,

ready for any situation that arises:

“The courtroom walls are bare and the prisoner wears

a plastic bracelet, like in a hospital.

Jesus stands beside him.

The bailiff hands the prisoner a clipboard and he puts his thumbprint on the sheet of white paper.

The judge asks,

What is your monthly income? Hundred dollars.

How do you support yourself? Carpenter, odd jobs.

Where are you living? Friend’s garage.

What sort of vehicle do you drive? I take the bus.

How do you plead? Not guilty. The judge sets bail

and a date for the prisoner’s trial, calls for the interpreter

so he may speak to the next prisoners.

In a good month I eat, the third one tells him.

In a bad month I break the law.

The judge sighs. The prisoners

are led back to jail with a clink of chains.

Jesus goes with them. More prisoners

are brought before the judge.

Jesus returns and leans against the wall near us,

gazing around the courtroom. The interpreter reads a book.

The bailiff, weighed down by his gun, stands

with arms folded, alert and watchful.

We are only spectators, careful to speak

in low voices. We are so many. If we—make a sound,

the bailiff turns toward us, looking stern.

The judge sets bail and dates for other trials,

bringing his gavel down like a little axe.

Jesus turns to us. If you won’t help them, he says

then do this for me. Dress in silks and jewels,

and then go naked. Be stoic, and then be prodigal.

Lead exemplary lives, then go down into prison

and be bound in chains. Which of us has never broken a law?

I died for you-a desperate extravagance, even for me.

If you can’t be merciful, at least be bold.

The judge gets up to leave.

The stern bailiff cries, “All rise.”3

How will we respond?

Will we have the courage

to speak like James:

to act like God?

Is there hope?


For . . .

“Every good thing bestowed

and every perfect gift is from above,

Coming down from the father of lights

With whom there is no variation

and no shifting shadow.”

[Benediction: James 1:17]4

David Fleer is Professor of Bible and Communication and Special Assistant to the President at Lipscomb University and adjunct Professor for the DMin program at Abilene Christian University (annual summer cycle courses). For the last six years he has served as advisory board chair for the Christian Scholars’ Conference. His teaching focus is homiletics, and for twelve years he directed the Sermon Seminar in Rochester and Nashville and now oversees Lipscomb’s Preaching Workshop. From 1995 to 2007, Fleer was Professor of Religion and Communication at Rochester College. He has published articles in peer reviewed scholarly and popular journals and initiated extensive collaborative editing projects resulting in fifteen books and four journal issues in the last decade. He has been active on the editorial boards of Leaven (since its inception in 1990) and Restoration Quarterly. Most recently, he edited and contributed to Corageous Compassion: A Prophetic Homiletic in Service to the Church (ACU Press, 2011).

1 Billy Collins, “Forgetfulness,” Sailing Alone Around the Room: New and Selected Poems (New York: Random House, 2002), 29.

2 The Rochester Sermon Seminar (1998-2007) was the predecessor to the Streaming conference.

3 Debra Spencer, “At the Arraignment,” in Pomegranate (Santa Cruz, CA: Hummingbird Press, 2004).

4 Luke Johnson notes that this verse “was such a favored text through the entire Eastern tradition that one is not surprised that in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as it is celebrated to this day, James 1:17 is the last citation from Scripture heard by the worshippers before leaving the liturgical assembly” (Luke Timothy Johnson, The Letter of James, Anchor Bible Commentary [New Haven: Yale University Press], 204-205). That was enough reason to allow this verse to have the final word in this sermon. Johnson proved an invaluable conversation partner in initiating exegetical trajectories in the sermon’s development.

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Thoughts on the ‘Missional Manifesto’

The Missional Manifesto1 is a statement from one group of Christian leaders describing themselves with the term missional. I have read works by several of the authors, for whom I have great respect. They are each thought-leaders in their own spheres of influence. The Manifesto comes as welcome clarification of what this significant group of leaders means when it uses the term missional.

The term missional can be confusing because of its similarity to the terms missions and missionary. There is much overlap and shared theology and history with overseas missions. Both, for example, see Christians as entering a non-Christian culture to spread the Word of God. But overseas missions is not the focus of the Missional Manifesto.

Those aligning with the Missional Manifesto do see themselves entering a non-Christian environment, but that environment is North America as much as any place else. Whereas overseas missionaries are sent abroad, the Missional Manifesto says Christians are sent on a mission from God wherever that leads, whether in one’s home country or abroad as a missionary.

The key phrase in the Manifesto, but not original to it, is this:

Although it is frequently stated “God’s church has a mission,” according to missional theology, a more accurate expression is “God’s mission has a church.”

By inverting the relationship between God’s mission and God’s church, mission is larger than the church. God’s mission includes his work in the world outside the church, such as nature itself. The church is a tool for achieving God’s mission.

For those from the heritage of the Restoration Movement, such an inversion is both startling and welcome.

We may find the Manifesto startling because Restoration Movement thinkers, ministers, and members have often equated the kingdom of God with God’s church. If one is in the kingdom, one is in the church; and vice versa. The church for us—and the restoration of church worship and organization to what is seen in the primitive church of the First Century—was the climax of the story. Our goal was to restore the church.

Now the Missional Manifesto challenges us to think that God’s purposes are larger than the church. Which, if true, means our vision has been narrower than we thought. We thought our focus on matters of ecclesiology were all encompassing. The Missional Manifesto suggests our focus was important but not ultimate.

But even with its challenges the Missional Manifesto can still be refreshing to those of Restoration Movement heritage. It roots its theology in God and his work in Christ. It is a clarion call to seek the truth in the Bible, not in our experience alone. These have been flagship doctrines of Restoration churches, and the Manifesto affirms them clearly.

The Manifesto also affirms what we have typically called evangelism, a notion that has always played a vital role in our self-understanding. The missional view of evangelism is broader than mere baptizing of individuals. This, too, should be welcome to Restoration churches because we have (with notable exceptions) typically sought to grow members in their faith after their initial conversion.

And I think the Restoration Movement has a word of advice for the authors of Missional Manifesto. Our heritage has been anti-creedal. For good reason. We expect every individual to explore the Bible to find God’s will. Creeds, in our experience, typically begin as rallying cries around a noble cause (read: manifesto). However, creeds over time exclude as much as they include. Creeds, by their very nature, can be used to draw people together or push people away. As long as the Manifesto remains an attempt to clarify, it has great value. If and when it becomes a measure of faithfulness, then it has become something it does not currently want to be.

Mark Parker is the Director of Admissions of Harding School of Theology. He was a missionary to Zagreb, Croatia from 1991-1996. Mark has completed an MDiv and an DMin (ABD) at Harding School of Theology. He is married and is currently raising two dozen rose bushes and two boys. His personal website is Follow him on twitter at

1 “Missional Manifesto,”

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Review of Dyron B. Daughrity, The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion

Dyron B. Daughrity. The Changing World of Christianity: The Global History of a Borderless Religion. New York: Peter Lang, 2010. 302 pp. $34.95.

Ever since I started teaching a class called “Global Christianity,” I have wished for a single-volume, comprehensive, summary textbook. The volume edited by Adrian Hastings (A World History of Christianity, Eerdmans, 2000) is a valuable resource, but I was hoping to find the unified production of a single author. For this reason, I was glad to discover Dyron Daughrity’s new book, and I was eager to evaluate it. Could it be the textbook that I had been seeking? I wondered how he would tackle this enormous, variegated subject. Would he approach it region by region, or would he attempt to weave every region into a single chronological narrative? I was also curious to see if he would broach the thorny issues of contextualization and syncretism. Would he define the limits of Christian doctrinal flexibility, or would he merely pose the questions?

Daughrity’s approach is clear from the beginning, as he introduces his readers to eight different “cultural blocks”: the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, North America, Asia, Africa, and Oceania. One might quibble with his decision to treat China and India together, or with his inclusion of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, and Morocco with the nations of sub-Saharan Africa; his arrangements, however, are thoughtful and calculated, and they take history, politics, and language into account. Each cultural block is treated in a separate chapter, and the coverage begins with an encyclopedic narration of statistics: populations, birth rates, percentages of religious adherents, and life expectancies are among the details. These, in turn, are used to introduce regional overviews that place Christian developments in a larger historical framework. Each chapter concludes, then, with brief nation-by-nation summaries that provide information pertaining to the current state of Christianity. These sections offer a mixed and unpredictable bag of details: Italy seems to be secularizing (but not as quickly as France); Zimbabwe has criminalized witch hunts; and unemployment has reached 90% in Nauru.

The encyclopedic sections can make for tedious reading, and statistics can be misleading. To his credit, Daughrity calls our attention to the most significant data, and he is willing to call the numbers into question. He has noted, for instance, the imprecision of the Dalit census in India, which directly influences the reported percentage of Christian adherents. There are other contexts, however, where the distortions are more serious: to cite one important example, Daughrity says that African Indigenous Religions are losing statistical ground to Christianity. Those numbers, however, cannot reflect the ways in which Christianity has been blended with the African Indigenous Religions, making it difficult, at times, to ascertain which faith is gaining and which faith is declining.

The most fascinating discussions are the ones that seek to interpret the events that are being examined. This can be seen when Daughrity muses about the secular future of Europe and North America. He is well-informed about the theories and trends, and his observations deserve careful attention. He is also quite honest with the sordid history of European colonialism, and he is refreshingly fair-minded when he discusses the missionaries who worked in that context. He asks some crucial (and difficult) questions: Why did conquered peoples adopt the religion of their oppressors? Is there something innately imperialistic about religious missions? He does not define the limits of Christian doctrine, but he calls attention to problems of translation, contextualization, and syncretism. Which elements of doctrine must a person embrace (and which ones must be rejected) before that person can be counted as a Christian?

With a citation from the Kenyan John Mbiti, Daughrity implies that the traditions of the Western Christian heritage have handled Christianity “as they wished” (211). Indeed, until we recognize the way our own theologies have been determined by our own circumstances, we will struggle to think responsibly about the way foreign cultures have defined the Christian faith. This kind of self-examination will be essential as the global church attempts to evaluate Chinese interpretations of the cross, Indian definitions of God, or African perspectives on marriage and family. This book is not designed to investigate the problems of historical contingency, but it certainly points the reader toward a lively discussion of that issue.

One might question some of the statements in this book: Ramadan, for instance, is a lunar month and does not occur “roughly in September and October” (11). Also, there were no Nestorian missionaries in the fourth century (172). The Changing World of Christianity, however, is laden with good information from many diverse sources, and it represents a striking achievement. Daughrity should be congratulated for creating an informative, provocative introduction that brings some order to this bewildering new frontier in the study of Christian history. In the coming semester, my students will need to order this book!

Keith B. Huey

Professor of Religion

Rochester College

Rochester Hills, Michigan, USA

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¿Se Habla Español? Misconceptions and Suggestions Regarding Ministries to US Latinos

The increase of the Latino population in the US is a trend that shows no sign of slowing. According to some projections, it will soon be more numerous than most Hispanic nations. American Christians who realize the cross-cultural, missional opportunity this presents right in their own neighborhoods may wonder how best to start serving. This article clears up a few misconceptions and offers a few suggestions that can help Americans begin to minister effectively among Latino communities.


  1. “Se habla español.” It would be easy to think that the only way to reach Latinos is by speaking Spanish. While this is especially true with first generation immigrants, second and third generation Latinos are primarily English-speaking. Speaking Spanish will help you talk with parents and grandparents, but school-aged children will often speak more English than Spanish.
  2. “All Latinos eat tacos.” There are some 20 countries in Latin America, each with its own customs and traditions. From Mexico to the jungles of Ecuador to the tip of Argentina where you can see penguins, Latinos eat a tremendous variety of foods. In Argentina, a typical lunch is a steak with french fries; black pepper is about the hottest spice you will find. While Latin America is united by a common language, there are variations of vocabulary and accent. Think about the English-speaking countries of the world: Would you say an American is the same as a Brit or an Australian? Do all Americans eat vegemite sandwiches?
  3. “Do they use the King James Bible?” Believe it or not, the KJV does not exist in Latin America. There is a Spanish translation that was completed around the same time as the KJV, the Reina-Valera. Since every translation is unique, many of the classic phrases, sayings, and thoughts are also different for many Latinos.
  4. “All immigrants are illegals.” While illegal immigration is a very emotional and debated issue, many immigrants are here legally. In fact, the first Latinos in the US did not cross over the border—the border crossed over them when large parts of the US Southwest were acquired from Mexico. The concerns for racial profiling are very real: just because someone “looks foreign,” it does not mean that they might be in the US illegally.
  5. “These illegal immigrants don’t pay taxes.” Even if someone is here in the US without proper documents, they do pay taxes: if they spend money, they are paying taxes. They pay sales tax, which funds many local state and community programs. They pay the same taxes as everyone on gas, tobacco and alcohol. Their rent or house payment pays property and local taxes. If they are using a falsified Social Security number, they are paying Federal taxes. The only person who would not pay any taxes would be a person who is paid in cash and spends no money at all for food, gasoline, rent, or utilities.


  1. “Know your community.” Find out where the Latinos in your community are from. You can meet them at the Home Depot, the 7-11’s near their neighborhoods, and at school. Once you identify where they are from, you can drop the “Latino” and begin to call them Mexican, Guatemalan, or Uruguayan. Study their country of origin—you’ll be amazed at how they will open up if you know something about their homeland.
  2. “Latinos will love you if you help their children.” Children are very valued in Latino families, and anything you can do to help their children will open doors. We began an after-school tutoring program at an elementary school in Memphis, TN. After a month or so, we took a Saturday to visit the kids. Once we identified ourselves as the tutors, doors were opened wide, and we were seated in the best seat in the house. The moms would bring out all the schoolwork, and we had an opportunity to go over it with them. We reached various families for Jesus through tutoring.
  3. “Help with language learning and citizenship issues.” Since many first generation immigrants do not speak English, any help you can provide with language learning will be appreciated. In fact, if you want to learn Spanish, you might be able to barter some English lessons for some in Spanish. Filling out the most basic forms at times is a challenge. Offering classes to help someone prepare to take the US citizenship test might meet a significant need. The test is given orally, so speaking and listening are important skills that you can help with.
  4. “Be a good neighbor.” According to Luke 10.36-27, Jesus defines “neighbor” as a person in need of mercy. The command is clear: “Love you neighbor as yourself.” It is more helpful to view the immigrant as a neighbor rather than as an enemy. Most immigrants I know are just trying to provide the best life they can for their families. Immigration and Customs Enforcement recently announced some changes to their deportation policy. Deportation of immigrant families with sick children, who are escaping domestic or national violence, or children who have been raised in the US can now be postponed or even canceled. The emphasis is on deporting those immigrants with criminal violations, not civil ones.
  5. “Remember that God is concerned about aliens and foreigners.” Grab a concordance or do an online search for alien or foreigner (depending on the translation). You will be amazed at the number of times God tells the Israelites to be kind and merciful to the immigrants in their country. One of the primary reasons God wanted the Israelites to be kind to the immigrants was because they, too, had been immigrants in Egypt. In an agrarian context, it is a severe disadvantage not to be a land owner. Since most ancient immigrants were not landholders, they had to live off what they could glean from the fields (see the Book of Ruth).

With immigration reform at the forefront of the political races, it is time for God’s people to view immigration through a biblical worldview. Yes, we are to obey the laws of the land, but only if they are consistent with God’s teaching. This means that, as Christians, we do not practice abortion or same-sex marriage, even though our state might permit them.

Let me suggest a twist on a popular worship song, “Listen to our Hearts.” Rather than asking God to listen to our hearts, let’s focus more on listening to God’s heart. I am convinced that God wants his people to be neighbors to Latino immigrants, for we, too, were once immigrants in this land.

Jim and Kathryn Holway have been involved with ministry to Spanish-speaking people since 1983, when they moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Twelve years and three kids later, they moved back to the States. In 1999, they moved to Memphis to start a congregation to meet the needs of the growing Latino community in the Mid-South. After 6 years, they moved to Miami to focus on church planting and maturing among the Latinos in South Florida and throughout Latin America. Jim currently serves as the Field Coordinator for Latin American Mission Project in Miami (LAMP-Miami), and the Sunset Church in Miami is his sponsoring congregation. He can be contacted at

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Running to Catch Up with God

There is an old saying: “People do not plan to fail; they fail to plan.” However, there is planning and then there is planning. We can decide what we want to do and ask God to bless it, or we can seek to understand what God is doing and join him in it. It is probably wiser to follow what God is blessing than to ask God to bless what we are doing.

One of the benefits of the move to a post-modern mentality is that it is teaching me how arrogant it is to assume we know what we need to do or what the church should look like. I’m beginning to understand that all “strategic planning” must begin with spiritual discernment of what God is already doing where we are and wherever we go. I see a need to trace the trajectory of God’s movement through Scripture and then ask how this story is playing out in God’s current work in our world. So, for me the first question is, “What is God doing in the world?” My first turn is then to look at what Scripture says to help me interpret God’s work.

After introducing us to the world as God created and intended it and then telling us four stories of how humanity corrupted God’s creation through rebellion to his reign, the Bible begins the story of salvation with a call to Abram and a vision from God to bless all nations through one sent family. God stations this family at the crossroads of world civilization where all nations will be able to see what he does with them. Then he builds them into a nation in the womb of the world’s greatest empire: Egypt. He saves Israel from Egypt in a dramatic fashion so that the entire world might know of his power and then returns them to the crossroads of the world. Throughout the history of Israel, he continually calls them to have a vision for global the redemption and restoration of all the nations and all creation (cf. Isa 2:2; 49:6; Jer 3:17). This global movement then hits turbo drive with the coming of Jesus and announcement of the kingdom of God.

I don’t see how we can view this overarching global narrative and continue to see the gospel in an American-centric way. As I’ve begun to see the gospel through the lenses of God’s objective of global restoration and reunion, I’ve been challenged to see beyond my Western-oriented, individualistic understanding of salvation to see a communal, relational understanding of God’s salvation that speaks a word of hope for the whole world.

John 3:16 says God loves the world, not just me as an individual. He wants to save it all. He sent Jesus for it all. Our God is a go-and-rescue God with a global objective, not a come-and-get-it God speaking to individuals. He is a God whose love drives him to pursue entire people groups who don’t even know they need him. He is a God who sacrifices whatever it takes to be in a loving relationship with his whole creation. God doesn’t just love us as his individuals but has a love for “the world.” God doesn’t just love the church, but loves the whole world. If we were going to join what God is doing, we must join God in going to all peoples as the sent ones who follow the model of Jesus.

I’m longing for a time when the church recaptures the frantic pace of the book of Acts, where the people of God are panting with their tongues hanging out of their mouths and their sides hurting as they run to catch up with God’s expansion of his reign to all peoples. From the global impact of Pentecost; to the removal of barriers to reaching Samaritans; to a gender ambiguous Ethiopian proselyte; to the cataclysmic moment when Peter stepped across the gentile threshold of Cornelius, baptized his household, and ate with them as God’s holy people the church struggles to keep up with God’s relentless march from the hinterlands of Judea to the world capital in Rome. This is a gospel that is too big to be contained in one place or for one people group. It propels people out beyond their local and personal world into the world of others and draws all people together into one new forming reality called the kingdom of God.

In all his world travel, the Apostle Paul was driven by a global vision that finds expression in words like these:

For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Rom 8:19-21)

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:26-28)

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (Eph 2:14-18 )

The Bible concludes with a vision of global restoration and unification:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev 7:9)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)

From Abram’s call on, God has been on mission to undo the divisive effects of human rebellion against his rightful reign and bring all creation back into harmony with him and each other. God’s mission involves saving a remnant of every expression of humanity. He wants people from every people group to bring the best of their cultures into the restored heaven and earth. God’s mission involves bringing people together from every nation, race, and language to make us one again in his love, under his blessed reign.

With that biblical foundation as a filter to screen reality, I think it becomes easier to see God at work in global trends today. Let me share some facts with you.1 Only 13% of the world is white. 80% of the world lives outside of the west. Only 4.5% of the world lives in US (but we consume 25% of world resources). There are more Scandinavians in the US than in the 4 countries of Scandinavia. The US is the largest Irish nation in the world. There are more Jews in New York than all of Israel. There are more Jews in Miami than Tel Aviv. Arabs now outnumber Jews in US. The US is the forth largest black nation in the world (and there are 55 countries in Africa). 133 nations are represented in 1 zip code in Queens NY (out of about 200 nations). Chicago has 100,000 more Polish people than San Francisco has people. Warsaw only recently passed Chicago in its number of Poles. Chicago has more Bulgarians than Sophia. In one high school in Chicago, there are 63 nations and 11 languages represented. LA public schools have children speaking over 200 languages. In St. Paul, MN schools, 25% of students are Hmoung (a people who don’t even have country). The US is the third largest Spanish nation in the world out of 25 Spanish speaking countries. The US recently passed Colombia and Argentina. Only Mexico and Spain have more Spanish speaking people. Mexico is moving to the US by the thousands each year. By 2020 Hispanics will be the largest racial group in Texas. In Anchorage Alaska, the fastest growing group is Hispanics. They will outnumber Eskimos by 2020. The US has become a global country.

This is not just a trend in the US. The same is true of the UK. My wife and I were recently in London and we didn’t see an “Englishman” until the second day. It’s the same everywhere: Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin. People from 97 nations live in one parish in Downtown Oslo, Norway. People from 100 nations are represented in one high school in Bangkok. São Paulo, Brazil has 1 million Japanese. Peru has a former President named Fujimori. There are more honors students in India than the US has students. There are 140 million Chinese outside of China. That alone would make the top 10 list of world’s largest countries. Every year a population greater than Canada’s relocates from rural to urban China (over 30 million a year). The government of China has to create 20 cities of 1 million each year just to handle the flow to the cities. My wife taught for 5 years in Amarillo public schools. In her classes in North Amarillo she had 11 languages spoken and world refugees from all over the planet. A white face was rare. Amarillo is a city of under 200,000 in a fairly isolated stretch of West Texas, but it is a global city.

I can’t help but believe that God not only knows about this but is involved in these global trends. God seems to be working in two ways to alter our world landscape: urbanizing and globalizing. These are the two greatest phenomena on the planet. In 1900 only 8% of the world lived in cities; today it is over 50% and growing. The nations that once colonized the rest of the world are now finding the people of those nations moving into their former overlord’s backyards and taking over. If not for immigration, the once great powers of Western Europe would be collapsing under the forces of negative population growth. The future of Europe does not have a white face. The same is true of the church. The future of Jesus’ movement is not with the nations and ethnicities that have been its traditional stronghold throughout Christendom. It is in those places considered the “mission field” in the past. Today the traditional “Christian” world is becoming increasingly post-Christian and the true mission field.

Despite our biases in the US, I’m also convinced that God loves cities. The Bible refers to cities 1,250 times. There are 142 different cities mentioned in the Bible. The first gentile church was an urban mission church and they began world missions with a distinctly urban approach. Paul’s strategy involved relocating to a large city and then sending out disciple makers from there. We cannot be a “New Testament church” and be unconcerned with urban missions. The New Testament is not a book of systematic theology; it is missionary literature from a first generation church crossing cultures with a goal to get to the world’s premier city: Rome. Paul only went to cities and he approached each one in unique ways. And consider John’s witness in the Book of Revelation: the Bible may begin in a garden, but it ends in a city—a global city—the New Jerusalem.

God is gathering diverse peoples in cities all over the world where they can more easily be engaged by the Gospel directly—through personal relationships with believers! Remember, for only 10 righteous people, even Sodom could have been saved.

The former western strongholds that may formerly be known as “Christendom” will not endow the world with the future of the church. I believe western Christians must reorient ourselves from what we think of as the mission field to serve the work God is initiating and leading. The vision for world missions will not arise from the United States alone. The models of church that we support need to make sense and be sustainable in non-Western nations. We need to stop imposing a Western Christendom model of church on the world and let churches be homegrown from original—not introduced—soil in which the gospel is planted; we should focus on making disciples who can reproduce themselves rather than copy us. The future of global missions is in mutual partnerships with global Christians who can educate American churches about how to reach their part of the world better than Western church leaders can educate them.

In light of all the information above, I have some serious concerns. The people of my heritage in Churches of Christ are mostly people of rural culture having recently moved to cities, and we have a bias against urban culture. We are mystified about how to interact with people of other cultures. Though we have come a long way by God’s grace, we are mostly white and segregated. We are excessively individualistic and mono-lingual. We are overly nationalistic and struggle to trust people of developing nations. Most of our churches are either consumed with internal issues (e.g., worship) or have sold out to a consumer driven gospel–“it’s all about blessing me.” As our world becomes increasingly urban and international, our churches are perpetuating “white flight.” None of our Colleges (except possibly Lipscomb) is in a truly urban area. I don’t think Malibu counts as urban, though it is in greater Los Angeles. Those who train our ministers are just recently getting into any kind of serious urban ministry training and we have very few professors who are multi-cultural—not that we are behind other Christian faith heritages. Most of our ministry training and experience has been about how to reach people like us. Most church growth focuses on reaching one niche market: mostly middle-class white professionals. Most of our mission works have been to rural parts of the world. Our churches are fleeing cities as the rest of world flocks to the cities.

As bad as all this sounds, it also represents a great opportunity and increasingly I see our churches willing to face the new realities and open for counsel about how to reach populations they previously had not been able to attract. My experience at Central in Amarillo convinced me that “country club” churches can make the missional turn and learn to minister to their urban context. It will take time and focus as well as new and diverse approaches. It will require a theological re-visioning. But, the American church is increasingly going to find its own future will depend on learning from the missionaries they have been sending overseas how to reach the people back home. Fortunately, Churches of Christ have tremendous flexibility with our local control in each congregation. Each congregation is free to embrace all kinds of new approaches and MRN exists to help them do just that. Obviously, if we are going to follow God and reach the masses of the diverse humanity he is gathering for us and for the sake of the Gospel in cities around the world, we are going to have to open our eyes and realize the world is changing and we are not ready yet. It’s time we ran hard to catch up with God.

Dan Bouchelle is the Executive Director of Missions Resource Network. He served for nine years as senior minister at the Central Church of Christ in Amarillo, Texas. Prior to his role at the Central Church, Dan served as pulpit minister for the Alameda Church of Christ, Norman, Oklahoma from 1994 to 2001 and ministered with the Northwest Church of Christ, Abilene, Texas, from 1988 to 1994. He earned Doctor of Ministry, Master of Divinity, and Master of Arts degrees from Abilene Christian University. Dan serves as a member of Christian Relief Fund’s Board of Trustees. He is author of When God Seems Absent: Studies in Ruth and Esther (Leafwood, 2001) and The Gospel Unleashed and The Gospel Unhindered (College Press, 2005). Dan and his wife, Amy, have three children.

1 From Raymond J. Bakke, keynote address given at the 2004 Urban Ministry Conference hosted by the Manhattan Church of Christ.