Hoarding Theological Training?

Training Leaders International posted a great video by Richard Pratt, an Old Testament professor at RTS.

While speaking about the ministry he does around the world, Pratt explains why theological training is so practical. He even suggests that the Western church, on the whole, is hoarding theological education.


After watching it, I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment.

If Asians Said The Stuff White People Say (about theology)

Contextualization begins when we see the world through another person’s eyes.

It’s easy to forget that other people don’t see the world the same way we do. Videos like the one below remind us that we all have implicit ideas about what is true, normal, or even right.

For instance, have you ever noticed that Westerners sometimes get a little defensive when people talk about “western theology.” If you speak like this, they assume that you are somehow belittling their (western) theology. However, Westerners are quite comfortable using phrases like “Asian theology”, African theology”, “Indian theology”, etc.

With that in mind, here is a hilarious video that helps us imagine what it would be like “if Asians said the stuff white people say.”

Rewriting the Gospel for Oral Cultures

Front Cover of ION book

Interested in honor and shame? What about orality? Well, you might be interested in this book.

The International Orality Network (ION) has just released Beyond Literate Western Contexts: Honor & Shame and the Assessment of Orality Preference (edited by Samuel Chiang and Grant Lovejoy).

The book compiles many of the papers discussed at a consultation held last year in Houston’s HBU. Samuel and Grant were gracious to invite me and so you’ll find my paper included in the book as well.

As a sneak peek into the book, I am making my chapter available here on the blog. Simply click here. My chapter is titled:

Rewriting the Gospel for Oral Cultures:
Why Honor and Shame are Essential to the Gospel Story

Here’s a bit from my introduction:

This essay demonstrates the intrinsic relationship between the gospel and an honor-shame worldview. In short, the gospel is framed by honor and shame. This point is important not only for theology but also for missions, particularly in oral cultures. In the first section, I will show how biblical authors explain the gospel in ways that make sense to oral learners, who are often characterized by an honor-shame worldview.

You didn’t read that wrong. Some may think this to be an audacious claim. In fact, I suggest that  the gospel is already contextualized for honor-shame cultures. In a sense, if we do not to use honor-shame when presenting the gospel, we might be decontextualizing the gospel.

In the second part of the essay,

. . . I will then highlight a few implications for both theological education and contextualization. . . . If an honor-shame worldview is inherent to the gospel, we have reason to rethink certain theological priorities. Accordingly, I will propose a “theological agenda,” listing a number of themes that are especially relevant for ministry within oral cultures. We will find that an honor-shame worldview enables us to read Scripture in an integrated fashion.

My central argument is primarily theological in nature. However, the essay also offers a number of practical implications for things like storying, training, etc. I look forward to hearing you feedback regarding my suggested list of theological priorities.

Quick note for those who read the chapter: I speak about “framing the gospel.” I only introduce the idea in this essay, but it will be fully unpacked in my forthcoming book (due out any day now) called One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization.

Honor, Shame, and Orality

The chapter has two readers in mind:

(1) anyone interested in honor/shame
(2) anyone interested in orality.

Although I direct many comments to oral cultures, the truth is that much of what I say equally applies to any honor-shame context.

Here’s why––most (maybe all?) contexts that emphasize orality can also be characterized as “honor-shame cultures.”

I’m thankful for the great ministry being done by ION. Most “Unreached People Groups” (UPGs) have a strong emphasis on orality (over literate preferences of learning). While many have stressed the importance of storying, ION goes further to help people consider how culture shapes the way we do ministry.

Let me know what you think.

Finding Honor-Shame in UPG Cultures

A lot has been written about how honor and shame influence large cultures, whether Chinese, Japanese, among many others. But what about smaller or unreached people groups (UPGs)?magnifying-glassThis post gives a few tips to help you identify ways that honor and shame influence the “unreached people group” with whom you work. This is a simple and practical post.

Possible Conversation Starters

Here are a few possible sample questions that you could use to learn more about their “honor-shame” perspective.

How do people become leaders in the village/tribe?
How does someone join the village? family?
What would people think if their child left the village to live in a city? Why?
Can people switch villages? Why or why not?
How do people decide who gets married?
What are a person’s most important relationships? Why?

Of course, you could think of many others.

Scripture Stories and Discussion Questions

The following Scripture passages are helpful starting points when trying to dialogue with people about the Bible. I’ve listed the passage, a few key questions, and a some possible answers.

Genesis 11:1–9 (Supplementary Story: Gen 12:1–3)

Q: Why did the people of Babel build the tower?
Reputation, therefore safety. Verse 4 says, “let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth”

Q: Why is it a problem for them to “make a name for themself”?
Possible answer: competing with others for reputation brings division; does not honor God

Q: Why is the consequence so serious?
Possible answer: humanity is divided; greater conflicts

Here’s a supplemental question (if adding Genesis 12):

Q: Why does God promise to give Abraham a great name but he punished the people of Babel, who wanted to make a great name for themselves?
Possible answer: God gives honor. We don’t give honor to ourselves. God wants all nations to have honor, not just one village or nation.

Genesis 4:1–12

Q: What is the problem in Cain and Abel’s relationship? Cain and God’s relationship?
Possible answer: Cain competed with Abel for God’s approval. Cain only wanted relationship with God if God would give him honor.

Q: Why did Cain murder Abel?
Possible Answer: Cain was jealous that God honored Abel rather than Cain.

Q: How does God punish Cain?
Possible Answer: Cain is exiled from his family.

Luke 15

Q: How did the younger son become shameful?
Various possible answers, including: dishonored father, asked for inheritance, left the family, immoral living, ate pigs food, squandered father’s money

Q: What is the older brother’s problem?
Possible answers: refused father’s request, jealous of brother, divides the family

Q: How did the father and younger son reconcile their relationship?
Possible answers: the father runs to the son, slaughters the fattened calf, holds a public celebration

Crucifixion & Resurrection

Q: Who did Jesus claim to be?
Possible answers: king of Israel, God in person

Q: How did the social leaders dishonor Jesus?
Possible answers: insults, trial, beatings, execution on cross

Q: How did God honor Jesus?
Possible answers: resurrection (thus, gives life; no longer suffers shame of death; reverses social leaders’ verdict)

General Pattern for Evangelistic Presentations

There is a real simple pattern you can follow when  sharing the gospel in honor-shame contexts. Ask two types of questions three times each. You do this in order to highlight the honor-shame of both listeners and Christ. Each question focuses on achieved honor and ascribed honor (respectively).

Cycle 1–– We all lack honor in some way.

What have you done (or not done)?                               (achieved honor/shame)
Who do you have (or not have) relationship with?      (ascribed honor/shame)

Cycle 2 –– Christ has perfect honor

What has Christ done?                     (achieved honor/shame)
Who does Christ know?                   (achieved honor/shame)

Cycle 3 –– We can have honor (and a group)

If we follow Christ . . .

What can we do? (or,  . . . must we do?)              (achieved honor/shame)
Who can we become?                                             (achieved honor/shame)

These questions guide a person to reflect on their own honor-shame status. They will find that they lack the honor they desire. In fact, they will probably see a lot of places they either suffer or deserve shame. In contrast, Jesus has both achieved and ascribed honor (but no shame!). Therefore, as we are in relationship to Christ, we share in his honor.

4 Keys to Evangelism in Honor-Shame Cultures

(This post originally appeared on Ed Stetzer’s blog The Exchange)

I’ll never forget when an atheist, Chinese taxi driver shared the gospel with me. It was one of the best presentations I’ve heard.

He didn’t believe it, of course, but he had heard the message so many times that he could rattle it off like Billy Graham himself had trained him.

Jakob Montrasio / Flickr

I had spent the past 15–20 minutes explaining the gospel in a way that made better sense in an “honor-shame” culture. Periodically, I would pause to see if he was really listening. Would he change the subject? To my surprise, he kept prodding me to say more. Although countless people had shared the gospel with him, he said no one had ever said anything like what he was now hearing.

I was curious, so I asked him to tell me what he had heard. That’s when he perfectly gave a typical Western gospel presentation: People had broken God’s law and deserved death; however, Jesus died to take away our penalty. So, whoever believes in him can have peace and eternal life.

There is only one gospel (Gal 1:6–8), so what did I say different?

Honor and Shame Are Essential to the Gospel

Traditional presentations mainly use legal language, focus on individuals, stress the futility of works, and appeal to people’s fear of pain, whether physical or psychological. I didn’t do that.

Instead, I highlighted a basic but often overlooked fact: honor and shame are inherent to the gospel.

What’s more, humans have a basic desire for honor. Everyone wants to be accepted and even praised by others. So-called “honor-shame” cultures exist in the East and the West.

With this mind, we should rethink how we do evangelism. If honor-shame remains a blind spot, we won’t see fully how the gospel addresses the needs of all people. Therefore, I will mention four key ideas for sharing the gospel in honor-shame cultures.

Four Key Ideas

1. People

Focus more on who people are, not simply what they do.

There is no “me” apart from a vast network of relationships. No one is truly an “individual” and independent. People’s actions are interconnected. Many Westerners see identity in terms of uniqueness, one’s differences. Non-Westerners more often stress collective identity, how we’re similar. Both are true.

Talk about their relationships. Who are their functional saviors? Which relationships are regarded as most fundamental? Who are “insiders” and “outsiders” (and why)? How do people identify themselves?

In the process, you’ll find out what matters most to people. You’ll likely uncover their most treasured idols. Also, you’ll better identify biblical passages that best communicate gospel truth.

The gospel changes our fundamental identity. We join God’s family. Neither ethnicity, gender, titles, and not even social media determines our most basic identity.

2. Praise

Find out whom it is that people most want to please. Whose praise (or criticism) do they care about?

A Chinese idiom says it well, “People want ‘face’ like a tree wants bark.” Why? One’s “face” refers to how people value him or her. We could use other words like “respect” and “reputation.” To belong in a group (i.e. be accepted by others), having “face” is critical. Maybe this explains why a fifth of the world’s population is on Facebook.

The gospel exposes the danger of people pleasing or estimating worth based on the number of one’s Twitter followers. Jesus gave similar warnings (Matt 23:5–13). This doesn’t mean that seeking praise and honor is bad (Rom 2:7, 10). Instead, for the one who believes the gospel, “his praise is not from man but from God” (Rom 2:29).

Jesus prayed, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them that they may be one even as we are one” (John 17:22). What an amazing contrast to those at Babel (Gen 11:4), whose fear, insecurity, and pride led them to see the wrong sort of recognition.

In Rebecca DeYoung’s excellent book Vainglory, she gives a gospel perspective, “Acknowledging that our glory is already given [in Christ] also frees us from excessive attachment to our own accomplishments and reputation.”

3. Power

To whom do people give their allegiance? Whom do they follow? For whom do they generally conform?

Honor-shame cultures tend to be more sensitive to hierarchy and social rank. One’s “face” is to linked to power. We share the glory (or shame) of those with whom we align. Ask any politician or advertiser.

For fear of rejection or loss of “face”, people might respond to authority by either blind conformity or even (in the West) by rejecting authority.

Since Jesus is king, the gospel challenges all other claims to power. Yet, the “King of glory” came as a servant, enduring the shame of the cross. Accordingly, our gospel presentations should make clear how Christ redefines power and honor.

4. Practical

Show people the gospel makes a practical difference.

Relationships are concrete. There is little patience for abstractions. Because image is everything, people quickly become suspect of presentations that promise much but show little.

In part, this will mean being up front about the cost of discipleship, the joy of gaining a worldwide family (Mark 10:30), and the power to obey Christ by faith.

After hearing traditional western presentations, Chinese often ask, “What does that have to do with me?” To my taxi driver friend, the gospel sounded too philosophical. It made no sense to him.

He wasn’t concerned about where he went after he died or whether God accepted his good works. But that day he was interested to hear more about this God who for the first time seemed to care about this life and not only the next one.

Links corrected to Chinese resources

I was informed that a number of my links to Chinese resources were broken or inaccessible in the Mainland. Many were on the wu-rong.org site.

Most of the Chinese language resources use Dropbox. However, if you need links that are more consistently available in Mainland China, click here for Chinese language materials.

For the Chinese translation of Saving God’s Face:

Dropbox: 挽回神的脸               Baidu Cloud: 挽回神的脸

This is important to note because many Chinese friends may not be able to access dropbox links and will need to download materials from Baidu Cloud.

Again….all these resources are free to distribute and re-post on other sites, including the Chinese translation of Saving God’s Face.

 

 

Introducing “The Creator King”

One reason why people reject the gospel is simply this––they don’t get it. Maybe it’s not a coincidence that many Christians don’t read their Bible for a similar reason––they don’t get it.

math_problem630px_1How do we make the Biblical message simple enough that anyone can understand it?

Honestly, there’s a problem with that question. On the one hand, the answer is blatantly obvious––we can’t. The Bible talks about an infinite God. How could we ever expect anyone to get our minds around our great God? On the other hand, there is plenty that can be understood even by children.

Simply Confusing?

We need to reconsider what we mean by “simple.”

Ironically, the attempt to keep gospel presentations “simple” might be the reason that people find them so confusing, if not incoherent or irrelevant. Many gospel tracts consist of . . .

Selective         Systematic       Statements

 
Since we can’t say everything, we have to be selective. Yet, how are we to choose one set of ideas over others? Practically, tracts tend to reflect traditional emphases rather than the Bible.

In order to make sense, tracts give systematic presentations. In the process, they can feel fragmented. When tracts mainly consist of a set of doctrinal statements, the gospel become too abstract and philosophical to be relevant to the lives of normal people.

Why I wrote The Creator King

Those who’ve written traditional tracts were well-intentioned. I am grateful for their efforts to preach the gospel. However, we must also be on guard not to let tradition usurp Scripture.

I wrote The Creator King because I simply saw no other tools that went far enough to improve upon the limitations of typical presentations. I hope both this presentation and The Promises of God will better equip the Church to preach the gospel in a way that is biblically faithful and culturally meaningful.

The Creator King tells a . . . .

Single         Scriptural       Story

 
The Bible is not primarily a compilation of smaller stories that teach a collection of spiritual principles. In fact, the Bible narrates a single narrative in which God is the central character. The entire presentation reflects the unity of Scripture itself, focusing on God’s mission to bring about his kingdom in the world.

We desire to preach the gospel in a manner that is more comprehensive and coherent. Our gospel presentations can better reflect the biblical text within a particular cultural context.

Making a convert is not the same thing as making a disciple. The latter is much harder. In truth, the gospel is a call to discipleship, not merely conversion. Accordingly, our gospel presentation should reflect that fact.

One Story, Six Stages

The Creator King tells the grand Story in 6 stages, a few which tend to be overlooked in most presentations. It was originally designed for a Chinese context, so some of the following section titles may not reflect natural English titles.

In each part, I include a few questions to spur reflection and conversation. In addition, I list a number of passages that direct readers’ attention back to Scripture.

1. One Family Under Heaven (天下一家)

This section introduces the one true God as the Creator King as well as his plan for the world.

2. Losing Face & Seeking Face (丢脸争面)

The world’s problem extends far beyond the Garden account. This section reflects the pervasive nature of sin in all aspects of life throughout history.

3. King of All Nations (万民之王)

Most of the Bible recounts the how God reveals himself to and through the people of Israel. Without Israel, the biblical gospel makes no sense. Now, I’m sure that some readers will think that my last sentence makes no sense. In the coming months I will unpack this point much more as I introduce my forthcoming book One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization.

4. Setting the World Right (拨乱反正)

Of course, the gospel focuses on how God through Christ sets the world right. This section explains how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection fit within the overarching narrative of Scripture.

5. Honored through Shame (以辱为荣)

This section clarifies the gospel message by making clear its implications for our lives. The gospel overturns a person’s sense of honor and shame. To truly believe the gospel entails being a disciple with a transformed worldview.

6. Avenging Shame and Restoring God’s Kingdom (雪耻复国)

Finally, the gospel foretells the day when Christ will return and God’s glory will spread throughout the earth.

How Should We Respond?

The response section of The Creator King differs from other print presentations.

It does not have a formal “sinner’s prayer”, which often confuses people, causing people to think a prayer has some sort of spiritual power (as in Buddhism, etc.).

Instead, it first explains why this Story relates to individual readers. Then, the tract/booklet explains the change that comes with true faith. Ultimately, it transforms a person’s identity, including every part of his or her life––––head, heart, and hands.

Does a person discern a heart change such that he or she gives ultimate allegiance to Christ as King? Does he or she desire to follow Christ with their head, heart, and hands? When people see this new love emerge in their heart for Christ, they know belong to God’s kingdom family. This is gives far better assurance of true faith than the mere recitation of a prayer.


On the Resources page, you will find a full assortment of tools to assist you in using The Creator King. These include English and Chinese versions of

. . . the presentation

. . . “How to Use” guide

. . . two types of bookmarks

Print them off, put them on your phones, use them for small group studies . . . .

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Introducing “The Promises of God”

how we start

 
 
 

Gospel presentations have a disproportionate influence on the way people afterwards read the Bible. Therefore, it substantially shapes their biblical & theological framework.

 
 
 
(That last sentence summarizes one of my basic convictions). It’s worth reading again.

This single idea is the seed for both The Promises of God as well as The Creator King.

Why do it this way?

Typical gospel tracts and presentations are extremely cursory and confusing for many people, especially those who have not heard the gospel before. In a sense, the presentations are so simplified that they are difficult to understand.

They are decontextualized.

Other tools have made serious efforts to share more of the Story (e.g. “C2C” & “The Story”). The problem however is that they tend drastically to truncate the biblical narrative, largely cutting out most of God’s revelation but omitting Israel.

I think people don’t give enough of the grand Story of the Bible. Doctrinal statements are simply signposts to the Story. They should not be confused with the Story itself. I’m not talking about mere storytelling. I refer to the one overarching narrative about which all of Scripture testifies.

TPOG final pictThe Promises of God helps people put the gospel back into its biblical context. How so?

I present the gospel in a way that is framed by the three major Old Testament covenants––the Abrahamic, the Mosaic, and the Davidic Covenant. Without these covenants, the New Testament simply does not make sense. (I was first inspired to this through this questions when I say how Paul equated the Abrahamic covenant and the gospel in Gal 3:8).

Why The Promises of God?

The Promises of God has a shorter version and a full version. I have a few goals for both versions of the presentations.

1. The Promises of God narrates the grand story both in a balanced way and in proportion to the Bible’s own emphases.

2. The presentation defines key terms and themes while also showing their interconnections. This is critical for giving people the sort of comprehension that reshapes worldview.

3. It can be further utilized during the process of discipleship. If the truth be known, solid evangelism is the beginning of good disciple-making. If our evangelism doesn’t make disciples (but only converts), then we have a problem.

4. It shows believers how to interconnect the New Testament and Old Testament. It especially shows how Jesus fulfills Israel’s history.

Why the pictures?

The pictures are symbolic of the various stages in the Story. They serve two purposes.

First, they help people remember how to share the gospel story. The simple shapes can be drawn in the sand or on a napkin, which enables people to reproduce it from memory. The written words then become a script in their heads during a conversation.

Second, the pictures reinforce the Story for listeners and so make it easier for them to recall the story as well.

Some presentations depend on limiting the number of statements or verses to 4–5. Others use alliteration. The Promises of God tells an integrated, coherent story but allows for easy recall because the pictures are simple and build on each other.

Long Enough to Make Sense

Someone may object that The Promises of God and The Creator King are too long for the average person to recall.

In truth, people everyday hear stories or watch movies with a lot more information that you’ll find in these booklets. A number of details are simply for context and to establish tone. Through strategic repetition, one’s attention is constantly brought back to focus on the major characters and issues.


For more details, check out the packet I created “How to Use” (which is available in both English and Chinese).

I would love to hear people using it as a tool for “seeker studies.” Over the span of a few conversations, one can get a good grasp for the grasp gospel Story. Let me know how it goes for you.

TWO new gospel presentations!

Practical. Contextualization. Some people think those words don’t belong together.

Creator King Cover EnglishMy newest book will be released in just a few weeks. It will be titled One Gospel for All Nations: A Practical Approach to Biblical Contextualization. When you write a book with that title, you’re bound to hear questions like, “So, do you have an example of what you mean?”

Yes, I do. In fact, that’s the reason for this post.

I have recently added TWO new gospel presentations to my blog. Both are contextualized specifically for an honor-shame culture.

On my Resources page above, you’ll find two gospel booklets (“tracts”).

1. The Creator King

2. The Promises of God

I have both translations in both English and Chinese.

The two presentations use different approaches. In upcoming posts, I’ll try to introduce them individually. Until then, you can check out the online versions. For each presentation, you will find . . .

For The Promises of God, I have created two versions, a shortened booklet as well as the full presentation.TPOG coverIn reality, people need more than a one time 5-minute introduction in order to grasp and believe the gospel. Therefore, I’ve also made two additions to the basic presentation that will give people more flexibility in how these booklets are used.

First, I’ve included a few brief questions to spur reflection and/or discussion.

Second, I’ve included relevant biblical passages that support the ideas found in various parts of the presentation.

These booklets (or “tracts”) are not designed merely to create converts; rather, they help us make disciples.

Evangelism that Makes Disciples

There’s a reason it has taken me a while to write something like a gospel “tract.” Actually, there are multiple reasons. I haven’t wanted to write something that would be seen as simply another tract among others. If ever I would write something like a typical tract, I wanted it to be different in a meaningful way.

Accordingly, I don’t like calling The Creator King and The Promises of God “tracts.” I prefer “gospel guide” or “gospel booklet.” Here are a few principles that I wish more people would keep in mind when using and writing “tracts.”

  1. Tracts don’t replace people.

In my view, tracts should be regarded as introductions to the gospel. They are mere guides that help people while in gospel conversations. Also, they need to remind people of key ideas after the face-to-face conversation is done.

  1. Propositions don’t replace the story.

Many tracts mainly consist of a list of propositions that summarize the doctrine of salvation. However, no set of summary statements carries the same meaning of the biblical Story. As a result, it’s hard for people to see the significance of presentations that come across overly philosophical and abstract.

The gospel should present an entirely new view of the world. That is the work of the Story, not propositions.

  1. Converts are not disciples.

If we focus on doctrinal concepts but do not share a gospel shaped view of the world, we might produce a lot of converts but we will have difficulty making disciples.

“Gospel tracts” routinely end with a “prayer of salvation.” They emphasize what we are saved from, and less what we are saved for.

  1. “Short” does not imply simple or substantial.

I often hear people interchange “short” and “simple” as though they were synonymous. Not true. For example, a 5–10 minute story can make much more sense than 4 sentences lacking adequate context.

Likewise, our presentation can be short (and even simple) yet fail to include much in terms of substance. We may share truth yet miss the most central points of the gospel (as the biblical writers understood the gospel).

  1. We are saved into community, not merely from a community.

We proclaim an individualistic message when we primarily talk about individuals as though they didn’t belong to various social groups. The gospel creates a kingdom community, which consists of all nations. Yet, individual focused presentations seem to give more emphasis on the fact that one is called mainly to “give up father and mother and brother . . . .”


 

Click on the links the Resources page for all the links (for both the Chinese and English). Remember there is one version of The Creator King and two versions of The Promises of God.

In a future post, I plan to give a little more explanation into how these booklets are designed to work. Until then, check out the “How to Use” guides.

Let me know what you think.