Review: The Power of the 72

the power of the 72

The Power of the 72John Teter. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: A description of the theology and practice of equipping ordinary people to join in the mission of calling people to follow Jesus.

John Teter is convinced that evangelism does not belong to the experts, but that Jesus plan is to work with and through ordinary people to call many to follow Jesus. That is “the power of the 72,” the unnamed group of people described in Luke 10 who Jesus sent out as his “advance team” to preach and heal in the towns Jesus would visit.

This book is divided into two parts. The first is centered around theology. Three key ideas are emphasized–first that witness comes out of relationship, second that Jesus sends his disciples to the poor, and third, that he prepares them for crushing pressure. Teter’s own ministry in the lowest income section of Long Beach illustrates the second of these points and it is inspiring to read how the church he has planted has loved its community, and how people have come to faith as a result.

The second part outlines Teter’s approach of process conversion. It may be memorably summarized under the rubric of 4-3-2-1.

Four benchmark events:

  1. Trusting a non-Christian (and presumably vice versa!)
  2. Experiencing God and the good news of the gospel.
  3. Hearing and understanding the good news.
  4. Receiving a clear call to follow Jesus.

Three conversations:

  1. Connection or initial investigation–discovering spiritual background and where they are on the conversion timeline (above).
  2. Secular to Sacred–inviting them to prayer, study of God’s Word, and fellowship to explore Jesus and the gospel.
  3. Curiosity to cross–as a person comes to understand who Jesus is and his message, they understand the decision they must make to take up the cross and follow.

Two mission tools:

  1. Food–sharing food together, often being received into a person’s home establishes trust and deep bonds.
  2. God’s Word–where people encounter Jesus for themselves in the gospels and hear his call and experience his healing in their lives.

One line we help friends cross as we call them to faith.

Undergirding all of this is a commitment to prayer. Chapter 5 on “Earnest and Powerful Prayers” is a pivotal part of the book, as Teter not only outlines the priority of prayer in scripture. The seven Habits of the 72 in prayer (p. 103) are ones I’ve copied for my journal.

There are several things I appreciated about this work. One is Teter’s enthusiasm. He not only writes about the joy of seeing people come to faith, but that joy also comes through on every page. Second is John’s honesty about relationships that didn’t lead to people coming to faith, things that didn’t work out the way he hoped. Many of the positive stories are those of others he works with. Third is the clarity of approach that arises out of his immersion in Luke’s gospel and the book of Acts, and his conviction of a ministry that is Word-centered, prayer-focused, and Spirit-empowered.

At one time, evangelical ministries neglected service and physical needs to focus on proclamation. Teter, I believe rightly, senses the pendulum has swung too far the other way, a swing he believes in part to be motivated by fear. He writes:

“A quotation attributed to St. Francis of Assisi says, ‘Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.’ When I hear that, I wonder if Francis’s larger ministry context emphasized speaking the word over service and acts of love. If that’s the case, it’s an entirely appropriate exhortation to strengthen a weak area of ministry. In our era, I believe many Christians have given themselves over to fear. We must heed the most heeded exhortation in the New Testament, ‘Do not be afraid,’ and open our mouths to proclaim the kingdom. We must choose obedience” (p. 132).

While a statement like this is challenging, what drives this and is evident throughout the book is Teter’s excitement about seeing people transformed as they come to faith in Christ. In this regard, he sounds a note much needed in the atmosphere of self-criticism, fear, and general up-tightness about the practice of evangelism. He reminds us that witness is about loving people, depending on God, experiencing the power of the Word and the Holy Spirit, and above all, knowing the great joy that pervades heaven when people come to faith and are reconciled to God through Christ. He reminds us that experiencing the reality of these things is not the preserve of a few specialists, but rather for ordinary, everyday believers. That is the power of the 72.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Women in God’s Mission

Women in Gods Mission

Women in God’s MissionMary T. Lederleitner. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2018.

Summary: An account of research into the many ways women are leading in God’s mission around the world, the distinctive traits in their service and leadership, the challenges they experience around gender discrimination, and the conditions under which they do their best work.

No matter what you believe about women in leadership, women are serving and leading in ways that are advancing God’s global mission. Mary Lederleitner researched their stories, giving an account of their leadership, the distinctive traits that mark their work, the challenges they face because of their gender and how they cope engage these, and what conditions foster the opportunity for them to serve and lead with excellence. In introducing her study, Lederleitner writes:

“My desire is to share stories of faithful and trusted women, so other agendas or issues do not derail the conversation about women in God’s mission. Other people can write books that argue points of view. The purpose for my book is to bring the voices of respected women from approximately thirty nations to the dialogue about leadership in general, and to dialogue about service and leadership in God’s mission specifically.”

This story approach runs through the book, beginning with “Appreciating Their Stories” in Part One. She documents the incredible variety of ways women are leading in networks, new missions, health organizations, in executive roles and in their families, and much more, with a deep sense of the privilege of being able to advance God’s mission in all these ways. Yet they often have faced challenges because of their gender and creatively responded. Many had a deep sense early in life of their leadership calling and struggled between faithfulness to God’s calling and cultural expectations and limitations.

Lederleitner teased out seven distinctive traits in these women, which she summarizes as “The Faithful Connected Servant.”

  1. Leadership is not about them but God
  2. A deep commitment to prayer.
  3. A preference for collaborative leadership.
  4. A holistic view of mission.
  5. Perseverance despite difficulties and injustices.
  6. Intense care for mission impact.
  7. A commitment to excellence and continuing personal growth.

Part Two elaborates these seven qualities, illustrating them with a variety of leadership stories. As a man who has worked with women leaders, I’ve witnessed all of these traits, and found that they have stretched my own leadership. I appreciated seeing these named.

Part Three explores the reality of gender discrimination, from the abuses women endure in society to ways they are discriminated against in the workplace in terms of promotion compensation, invisibility, and having to prove themselves in ways not expected of men. She explores both the ways women sometimes accommodate established patterns of discrimination, and what women do when, out of a sense of call, they cannot accommodate.

Part Four is especially important for men to read, because we can play a vital role in unleashing the gifts of excellence women bring to the church. It begins with husbands who are not threatened by their wives but delight in their gifts and accomplishments and sacrifice so they have the opportunity to excel. It means changing our metaphor in the workplace from a fear of women as temptress (usually the man’s problem that he needs to take responsibility for) to one of seeing each other as “sacred siblings.” It means men opening opportunities for women to step forward. She concludes this section by identifying remaining issues ranging from health and family issues to equity in the workplace.

What I most appreciate with Lederleitner’s story-telling approach is that she is not perpetuating a theological polemic but rather describing present and possible realities for women, the admirable work they are doing in serving and leading, even when limited by structures or theological positions. She shows the barriers the church erects, apart from the theological discussion, in which we hurt those who seek to serve and advance God’s mission.

This is a book men need to read! We need to understand both the internal struggle, and external conditions that make it hard for women to say “yes” to God’s invitations to serve and lead, and how we often make it harder. Men in leadership of ministries and agencies need to understand the potential for the mission of our organizations to be more effectively advanced when the women among us are fully able to lead well. Empowering women doesn’t come at the expense of dis-empowering men, but rather multiplies the power of all of us to fulfill God’s mission. Given the challenges facing the Christian mission in the modern world, that seems a good thing.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.


Review: The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known

The God Who Makes Himself Known (New Studies in Biblical Theology), W. Ross Blackburn. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Summary: A study of the theology of the book of Exodus contending that it reflects God’s missionary purpose to make himself known to the nations through Israel.

The God Who Makes Himself Known typifies the purpose of the New Studies in Biblical Theology of which it is a part. It both articulates the theological themes arising from the book of Exodus, and connects that to the theology of the Bible as a whole. In this case, Ross Blackburn explores how God’s concern to make himself known to the nations, which Blackburn describes as “missionary” is reflected in God’s dealings with Moses and the people of Israel in this book.

The organization of the book follows the biblical text of Exodus. I will highlight the key idea Blackburn elucidates in each portion:

Exodus 1:1-15:21. In the first part of Exodus, centering around 6:3, the focus is on the declaration, “I am the LORD” and what this means in the light of the deliverance from Egypt showing both the supremacy and redeeming character of God to the nations.

Exodus 15:22-18:27. This section focuses on the training of Israel in the wilderness, that they would “learn obedience” by which they reflect God’s supremacy in daily life, and their dependence upon the redeeming God to sustain them.

Exodus 19-24. These passages are concerned with the giving of the law. Blackburn reflects upon how Gospel precedes Law and how the Law is given to flesh out Israel’s calling to make known the name of the Lord to the nations in how they live, and what this reveals of the greatness and goodness of God.

Exodus 25-31. Blackburn looks at the instructions for the Tabernacle, showing the progression in the quality of the materials as one approaches the Holy of Holies, the parallel between Eden and Tabernacle that reveals God’s redemptive purpose, and God’s intention to dwell in the midst of his people.

Exodus 32-34. I found this section the highlight of Blackburn’s discussion as he explores the idolatry of the people, even while God is in the midst of giving instructions for his dwelling place in their midst. He highlights how Moses intercession is heard on the basis not of his attempt to substitute for the people’s sin but on the basis of God’s name and purpose, and how this will be jeopardized should God’s presence depart from them.

Exodus 35-40. Blackburn explores why we have this second description of the Tabernacle, downplayed by many commentators. He argues that the canonical order of this text after Israel’s sin shows how the Lord responds to sin, and how God restores a repentant people and so reveals his glory, greatness, and redeeming character to the nations as he indwells the Tabernacle.

The biggest question that may be raised is whether Blackburn is reading New Testament perspectives into Exodus. Certainly, he is reading Exodus in a New Testament light, but his argument of concerning the missionary heart of God revealed through Israel’s deliverance and wilderness encounters with God is one rooted in both the data of the text and a discussion of the canonical structure of Exodus. What Blackburn does is make an argument for the coherence of Exodus as a whole, as well as for its place within the canon.

This work strikes me as a helpful adjunct to exegetical study of Exodus, offering a larger framework useful for teaching or preaching the book as Christian scripture. While interacting with scholars discussing the meaning of texts like Exodus 34:6-7 and how God both forgives and punishes sin, Blackburn also offers insights into the lavish greatness and goodness of God that leads us into worship, and the life of faithful obedience against God’s gospel purposes for the nations. Like other monographs in this series, Blackburn exemplifies how scholarly rigor and devotional warmth may walk hand in hand.

Review: The Mission of Worship

The Mission of Worship

The Mission of Worship (Urbana Onward)Sandra Van Opstal. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2012.

Summary: Worship and mission are integrally related; recognizing the greatness of God propels us into mission and mission involves inviting others across cultural boundaries to join us in worship.

Worship and mission were made to walk together, Sandra Van Opstal contends. For one thing, worship is meant to help us experience the greatness of God. And yet, our own cultural blinders often leave us missing dimensions of that experience. Worshiping with those from other cultures may open our eyes to these missing dimensions–lament, celebration, God’s power to bring freedom, to enlarge our vision of his greatness and majesty, to teach us to persevere in hope. This may lead us to personal transformation. Van Opstal writes:

“Our understanding of the church is transformed. As we worship crossculturally, we better understand our own worship as just a piece of a larger community. As we experience our differences we can more fully enjoy what it means to connect to the global church. Then we realize that we are a part of a bigger family. This helps connect us to the hearts of our brothers and sisters who live radically different lives than we live” (p. 18).

Worship rightly understood and lived out particularly transforms us into people who embrace the mission of God. Through worship, we enter a place where we may hear the call of God into the mission of God–to bring his good news through word and deed to those who in various ways are poor and oppressed (cf. Luke 4:18-19). Worship, when it is in the “heart language” of those to whom we go may itself be a powerful way of welcome and reconciliation that helps those we are seeking to reach to understand “this can be a home for me.” This is particularly compelling when it is accompanied by lives and deeds that seek justice for the marginalized people we may be trying to reach.

This brings Van Opstal to the conclusion of this short booklet. Just as we can only walk with two feet, so worship and mission must walk together. Worship sustains and empowers mission. Mission authenticates and incarnates worship.

Rarely do our churches exist in enclaves any more. They may be mono-cultural enclaves but I would suggest that one look at the community around the church would uncover great diversity in ethnic origins, religions and beliefs, economic status, and age. Even if the cultures represented on our communities are not yet in our seats, it seems a good principle that beginning to worship in some of the ways that these cultures might may both prepare us and propel us into our communities.

Van Opstal’s booklet is a concise argument for taking a look at our worship through a missional lens that a worship team, or whoever plans worship, might consider. Better yet, church leadership might read this to support the changes a worship team might introduce to move into a worship as mission mindset. The book even includes a brief appendix of further resources of songs that cross culture.

If this booklet whets your appetite for growing in crosscultural worship, Van Opstal goes into greater depth, and offers more resources in The Next Worship (reviewed here). Van Opstal draws on experiences ranging from her own congregation to leading national and international conferences to give us vision and practical help for leading worship that is not only a taste of the new creation, but that propels us into mission.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-shame Cultures

Ministering in Honor-Shame CulturesJayson Georges and Mark D. Baker. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016.

Summary: A text which explains the differences between guilt-innocence and honor-shame cultures, outlines a biblical basis for ministry in honor-shame cultures and discusses practical implications for ministry in these cultures.

Sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. For those of us from guilt-innocence cultures (many from Euro-American backgrounds), our encounters with those from honor-shame cultures often leave us baffled as we fail to understand why we are unable to connect or why we have offended. Our globalized world makes this kind of cross-cultural understanding vital.

This is especially so with those engaged in mission in these cultures. Incarnational ministry means getting inside the skin of those with whom we are engaged in ministry. In this text Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker take us inside both honor-shame cultures and the scriptures and help us understand what ministry in honor-shame cultures might look like.

First of all they help us understand how honor-shame cultures are different from guilt-innocence cultures. Fundamentally, these cultures are about who we are in relation to others rather than what we have done in relation to a set of laws or principles. Honor-shame cultures manifest themselves in terms of patronage, indirect communication, event orientation, purity, hospitality, and social roles. Unfortunately, those of us from guilt-innocence cultures often see dependence and corruption, lying and deception, tardiness, rituralism, obligation and ostentation, and oppression. Can you see where things might go wrong?

Perhaps the highlight of the book for me was where the authors show how the Bible, written in an honor-shame context provides us a basis for understanding shame and for restoring and seeking honor. They trace these ideas through both the Old and New Testaments, culminating in the work of Christ in which he bears our shame, making it possible for us to be restored to honorable relationship before God.

The last half of the book works out the implications of an understanding of honor-shame cultures and a biblical framing of honor-shame for redemptive ministry in these cultures.

They begin with a spirituality of honor and shame, noting the great reversal of the gospel where pride equates with shame and humility with honor, and how this reshapes our ideas of honor and shame. A chapter on relationships follows with “Eight Commandments” for relationships in honor-shame contexts: 1) use a cover, 2) reconcile symbolically, 3) be a client, 4) guest well, 5) share gifts, 6) be a patron, 7) be pure, and 8) give face.

The chapter on evangelism begins with building bridges of honor in relationship and then shows how the gospel is a story of status reversal. Our problem of sin is unfaithfulness–disloyalty toward God that breaks relationship. Our dilemma is shame, a disgrace that merits banishment from God’s presence. God’s solution in Christ, is that his death is a bearing of shame that restores our relationship by repairing our honor. Our response is one of allegiance–loyalty to honoring God. The result of all this is that God makes outcasts his children and exalts us to eternal glory and honor. Conversion, then is often communal and involves the transference of allegiance, not only to Christ, but a new group.

Ethics is the pursuit of honor in a different key, which often involves humbling of self to serve. While to the watching world, this may be shameful, and difficult, it is motivated by the honor that comes in faithfully serving God. It is an honor shaped by pursuing glory, purity, and love. Finally this is pursued in a community that transforms shame by reintegrating the shamed into community, where forgiveness is practiced to restore relationship, and where leadership is practiced not from a position of privilege but rather service that seeks God’s honor.

The book concludes with appendices of key honor-shame passages in scripture, key honor shame stories, and a bibliography of resources for further study. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions that may be used for personal reflection, or classroom or group discussion. The book is written at a level suitable for an academic course on cross-cultural communication, but equally can be beneficial for churches and individuals engaged cross-culturally with those from honor-shame cultures.

The authors do not argue for one or the other frames being superior, and note that all cultures have a mix of these elements with guilt-innocence dominant in many Western contexts while shame-honor is dominant in most Majority cultures. While generalizing, they note that each culture expresses these differently and to understand honor-shame in one context is not to understand all. They liberally illustrate from experiences in a variety of cultural contexts, often at their own expense in sharing their failures as well as successes.

One of the big conclusions I drew was the priority of relationship. Rightness is not legal rightness, but being in right relationship in community, and with God. To build bridges of honor that communicate how important a person is to us, to give face, to restore the shamed all are biblical ideas but so different than doing the right things and having the right ideas. I also appreciated the thoughtfulness the writers showed in redeeming honor and shame, which sin may distort, providing paths of restoration, and better ways both to live for honor and honor others. In doing so, they move beyond cross-cultural understanding to cross-cultural mission with a gospel that is redemptive in every culture.


Review: To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World

To Alter Your World, Michael Frost and Christiana Rice. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Summary: Explores a different metaphor for the church’s role in God’s mission, that of midwife to what God is birthing, and how this might change the ways we engage with our world.

One of the dominant metaphors for Christian cultural engagement today is that of battle, whether of spiritual warfare, a war to “reclaim” the culture, or retreat, because of perception that either we’ve been fighting the wrong war, or that we are seriously losing and need to re-group and re-build. A more sophisticated model is that of “changing” or “transforming” the world. Yet as James Davison Hunter points out in To Change The World, this has often been an exercise in starry-eyed naivete’ and a prescription for burnout when the world doesn’t easily or quickly change.

Michael Frost and Christiana Rice, two missional practitioners and theorists have come together in this book to suggest a different model, a different way of “joining” God in the mission. Their inspiration is drawn from Isaiah 42:14:

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.”

Their contention is that it is God, through his work in Christ, who is birthing a new world and our role is akin to that of the midwife. They write:

“If God is groaning like a woman in labor, and if a new world is being born before our very eyes, being pushed forth through the cracks of our broken world, our job isn’t to hurry it along. Rather our job is to join God and partner with him in the delivery room and to stop imagining we can birth the new world with our own strategies and methodologies. Indeed, our attempts to usher in the new order in recent years haven’t produced the kid of restoration, redemption or reconciliation in this world that we believe God envisions” (p. 17).

Frost and Rice don’t stop with a new metaphor or a new paradigm but press this out in the practical work in which teams of missional people engage. They challenge us to forego our colonizing and rootless efforts at church planting that fail to listen to and attend to communities and develop wholistic ministry in partnership with its people. Instead they elaborate the metaphor of midwife, both in ancient Israel and contemporary practice.

Midwives neither give birth to the child for the mother nor “make it happen” according to a plan but attend women during their pregnancies. They make space for a birth to happen to remove all barriers to giving birth and welcoming new life. They study place, they notice signs, they look at physical space. They act flexibly and fearlessly to the changing circumstances of the birth process. They don’t spend lots of time arguing the importance of midwifing, but quietly live that narrative with the women they attend. Rice and Frost work out practical applications of these principles.

They also see that collaboration to effect change is a multi-level process: with individuals, interpersonally in small groups like families, in community, in institutions and in structures and systems. Much of this happens not just through “church” activities but through a transformed vision of our work that things about our work societally as well as individually.

Place and space is a big part of what they talk about, and often overlooked. They draw on the work of the Project for Public Spaces to identify seven principles for creating great spaces that missional communities in a space need to consider:

  1. The neighborhood is the expert.
  2. Craft a place, not a design.
  3. Look for partners.
  4. You can see a lot just by observing.
  5. Have a vision.
  6. Money is not the issue.
  7. You are never finished.

The concluding two chapters concern the missional person. Not only do they attend to the changes God would birth, but they are changed themselves in the process. Often this comes through suffering. Change is disruptive and there will be push back. To love a place and its people and to persist in all this is hard and we will be changed through it.

The call of this book is not to quietism as opposed to human-centered activism, a kind of can-do, we can make it happen spirit. The midwife, is active, but in a different way, and this is what I most appreciate about the theme and approach of this book. It offers, to people who have begun to think they must make something happen to advance the mission of God, the insight that God has something God would give birth to in the world. Perhaps most striking is that this is a distinctively female metaphor–one of a woman attending to another giving birth, and God uses it of God’s self! Many of us who are fathers went through childbirth classes that taught us how we might attend and accompany our wives, perhaps in the presence of an obstetrician or midwife, in the incredible process of birth, one we could only support as our wives labored. Perhaps we might begin to draw upon that to understand and become skillful midwives in the birthing process of the new creation.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Luminous


Luminous, T. David Beck. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013.

Summary: Explores how purpose, presence, power and peace enable us to radiate the light of Christ in our everyday lives.

“Jesus never intended his people to sit in neat rows like drones on Sunday mornings, or even to fill up our schedules doing things for him because we think he would like them. He wants relationship—such a close relationship, in fact, that he actually shines through us. That’s how he wants to show the world who he is.”

It was to this conviction that David Beck came after a life-changing mission trip to Haiti when he had the opportunity to save the life of a sick child he had been looking after in a feeding program. This led him to a fresh embrace of the truth that living the Christian life was not a matter of living for Jesus but with him, in which his presence becomes luminous in our lives.

In this book, Beck traces the formational practices that position us to shine with the light of Christ under four words: purpose, presence, power, and peace. First of all in chapter two he talks about embracing the missional purpose of Jesus and to keep saying “yes” to that purpose in a life of ever deepening surrender. Chapters 3 through 5 explore the idea of presence with God, our bodies, and each other. Striking here to me is that Beck joins a growing number of those who stress the importance of affirming our embodied life and the practices of offering that life to God.

Chapters 6 through 8 focus on power. There is paradox here as he talks about the power of surrender and the power of humility in the first two of these chapters. Yet the surrender is indeed empowering as we surrender our tyrannous selves to the God who can free us, as we relinquish prideful control to be receptive and available to God. All this opens us to the empowering presence of the Spirit of God, which he discusses in chapter 8. This may make some uncomfortable with its openness to Pentecostalism and yet focuses on the essential that life- and light-giving ministry must be in the power of the Spirit. He affirms a simple, wait-receive-go pattern to ministry.

Chapter 9 then speaks of a peace or shalom that re-frames evangelism as compassion that draws people into conversation about Jesus, mercy that models the mercy of God toward all, and justice that seeks the liberation of people from spiritual as well as physical oppression. The book then concludes with the challenge to accept trials and a life of simplicity in a high contrast life of light in darkness.

One of the most helpful aspects of the book are pauses at the end of almost every section to reflect and act upon the content of each section and prayer exercises at the end of most chapters. What separates this book from many books on mission and many books on spiritual formation is how it unites the two of these at a very personal, and not merely theoretical level. Yet this makes so much sense. Mission is leading people into encounters with the living, risen Christ and how can this occur if He is not indeed living within us?


Review: Global Evangelicalism

Global EvangelicalismGlobal Evangelicalism, Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, eds. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: This collection surveys the global growth of evangelicalism from historical and theological perspectives, including case studies of growth in each region of the world, and special concerns of ecumenism and gender issues.

One of the most surprising things for readers not familiar with the global growth of evangelicalism is that it is indeed a global phenomenon and not confined to Europe and North America. Indeed, the populations of those who would identify with evangelical Christianity outside these two areas actually exceeds that of those in the West.

This work explores this growth from a historical, theological and regional perspective. Part One of the book includes an essay defining evangelicalism by Mark Noll, where he surveys our understanding of evangelicalism in its global manifestation, centered around four hallmarks of conversion, The Bible, activism, and crucicentrism. Beyond this there are wide variations in terms of fundamentalists, the pentecostal movement and various cultural expressions. William Shenk then considers the theological factors behind the expansion of evangelicalism including pietism, personal renewal, voluntary societies and theologies of mission. Finally Donald M. Lewis looks at the relationship of globalization, religion in general and evangelicalism. One of the themes that comes up here that recurs in the regional studies is the indigenous character of many evangelical movements. Given their origins in non-state-sponsored voluntary associations in many cases, these have succeeded, especially in places like Korea and China in establishing powerful indigenous movements where Catholicism and other mainline churches have not.

Part II then includes regional case studies of Europe and North America, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and Australasia and the Pacific Islands. Each explores the history of the growth of evangelical movements in these regions, the challenges faced, and particularly the challenge of indigenization, and the current situation throughout these regions. I would say these treatments, while including some self-critical material, tend to make the “best case” for evangelicalism–which perhaps may make up for its under-representation in religious scholarship.

Finally, Part III considers two issues. David Thompson explores ecumenism and interdenominationalism in the evangelical movement. The picture broadly speaking is the grow of organizations like the Evangelical Alliance within evangelicalism that spans evangelically rooted denominations while, until recently, eschewing broader ties, the recent exceptions including the work of Billy Graham, John Stott, and the Lausanne movement. Sarah C. Williams then addresses the record of evangelicals around gender issues. The stereotype is one of conservative patriarchy, but while acknowledging the presence of this, Williams presents a much more nuanced picture ranging from the initiative and leadership of women in the Sunday School movements of the nineteenth century, and more interactive ways in which men’s and women’s identities have been constructed.

I found this a highly readable collection of essays that spoke with a consistent voice. It was illuminating to see how often there was an early emphasis not only on Bible translation, but on translation of major cultural works into English. Likewise, the development of Christianity in each of these parts of the world that is culturally distinctive and indigenous, paints a picture of a global Christianity that is not a western export but many faceted mosaic of distinctive expressions of commonly held truths. Some scholars might find this overly sympathetic, or perhaps even biased by the scholars’ evangelical convictions. But perhaps this is necessary to balanced scholarly approaches that read into the history things like cultural imperialism even where the praxis has been otherwise.

The work is a great resource for anyone wanting to survey the growth of evangelical Christianity throughout the world. It includes a glossary of terminology that might be unfamiliar (I think this is a must in this kind of work) and helpful bibliography after each chapter for further study.

Review: Dwell–Life with God for the World

dwellDwell: Life with God for the World, Barry D. Jones. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Summary: A focus on mission and a focus on spiritual formation are often divorced from one another. This book argues for a missional spirituality rooted in the incarnation of Jesus, his dwelling among us to restore broken shalom that is revealed in spiritual practices that herald the vision of the kingdom that is both present and to come.

If I were to draw a Venn diagram (remember Venn diagrams?) of the group of people who are missional, and the group of people who care deeply about spiritual formation, I would probably draw one with two circles with only a small area of overlap. And sadly, we sometimes have people who live at one of two extremes, either rabidly engaged in mission but lacking in spiritual depth and self-understanding, or people whose spirituality has seemed to turn in on itself, with little or no concern for the world.

Barry Jones believes that the key to a life that brings mission and spiritual formation together is the incarnation of Jesus, his dwelling among us both in a vibrant relationship with the Father and for a mission to restore the broken shalom of the world. He organizes his discussion of missional spirituality around the incarnation of Jesus into three parts: vision, practice, and context.

Chapters one through four focus on gaining a vision of God’s intention in the world. Chapter one begins with the biblical narrative, contending that the concluding vision of the new heaven and earth shapes a spirituality that is creation affirming, people affirming, body affirming, intimately connected to God, and God’s just reign. Chapter two centers on the breaking of God’s shalom by human rebellion and contends that the most appropriate response is a sacred discontent that looks beyond ourselves to God to address the world’s condition. The next chapter explores our deep thirst, a longing for God fulfilled in the outpouring of the Spirit of God through Christ giving us living water and making us as the church, the dwelling place or temple of God on the earth. Finally, in chapter four (which I think should have preceded chapter three) he explores how Jesus incarnation reveals God’s vision for the world as boundary breaker, shalom maker, people keeper and wounded healer.

In the next five chapters, he explores how various spiritual practices flesh out living the vision of God in the world. Chapter five focuses on a “grammar” of the spiritual disciplines, a substructure that governs the appropriate engagement of disciplines in a missional spirituality that includes attentiveness, receptivity, embodiment, community and rhythm. Then in succeeding chapters he focuses on four practices among others that sustain our life in God for the world. These are prayer, worship (the work of the people), sabbath rest, and feasting and fasting. He has some challenging remarks in the chapter on sabbath about engaging relationships and disengaging from our technology. And he observes that feasting as well as fasting are spiritual disciplines that reflect our incarnate life as we long as we long for the world to come.

The final part, on context, consists of just one chapter, which was somewhat surprising. It would seem that much more might be said about this. His focus is first of all on what he sees as a post-Christian western world in which he believes our call is to live question posing lives of faithfulness sustained by our practices and centered around vibrant, parish-like communities that take seriously the physical place in which they are located.

I appreciated the grounding of missional spirituality in the doctrine of the incarnation. The dangers of over-spiritualizing both mission and formation find their corrective in the God who truly has dwelt with us in human flesh and continues to dwell among us and in us through his Spirit. Jones’ ideas about the embodiment inherent in the practices, the incarnational presence of the church and particularly the concern for “placed” parish missional life are helpful contributions to developing a missional spirituality. I hope the author will continue to flesh out these ideas, perhaps thinking and writing more about the third category of context and how congregations may live out an embodied spirituality and missional presence in their local contexts.

One Unholy Divided Church

I’ve commented in a few posts about the polarities and divisions in American culture. But I was reminded today that the faith I identify with has no room to stand in judgment of the culture. I’ve been reading Mac Pier’s book, Consequential Leadership, in which he profiles fifteen influential Christian leaders. In his chapter on evangelist Luis Palau, I was struck by the observation Palau made at least twice in the chapter about his concern over the divided state of American Christianity. And so I’ve been musing today on what it would take to overcome these divisions.

consequential leadership

1. Rather than fighting over Him or acting if He didn’t exist or was simply a vague haze around the Father and Son, unity will come when we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul says, “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).  That tells me that we actually already are one and if we were really full up with the Spirit, we might start acting like it.

2. When we decide that praying together is more important than posturing, self-promoting, programming, and building our publishing platforms, we might start living out our unity.  Pier’s book talks about the impact Concerts of Prayer in New York City has had in the spiritual awakening and uniting of the church across denominational and ethnic lines.

3. Again and again I hear from people returning from missions in other parts of the world that Christians engaged in mission are not involved in lobbing potshots at each other. The needs are urgent, the mission of seeing people come to faith and caring for them is clear, and the resources and personnel are often scarce.  Somehow, the stuff we argue about here just doesn’t matter there. I wonder when we will wake up to the truth that the case is no different here. Our culture is both increasingly plural and secular. Youth are walking away from the church. Perhaps the words of judgment I fear most for the American church is “you fought among yourselves for who was the purest of them all while people were dying for lack of the truth that only you could bring.”

4. So many of our divisions seem to reflect the reality that we have married divergent aspects of the culture rather than give ourselves to be the pure, spotless bride of Christ. We marry political liberalism or conservatism rather than recognizing that we are called to be our own culture as kingdom of God people. Our bridegroom Jesus must sometimes wonder why he engaged himself to us!


5. Some people think unity can only come by de-emphasizing dogma or doctrine. I’m not one of them. I think we should be deeply troubled and be crying out to God where we are doctrinally at odds with one another. The answer is not indifference! It appears that we (and God) are talking out of both (or many) sides of our mouths. Consequently, many in the world I work in just consider this so much gibberish.  Only when we come with humility, repentance, mutual submission to the Lord and his teaching and a willingness to learn and be corrected by one another will we make progress in these things.

6. This also means a willingness to learn from people not like us. The Church in the global south is growing far more quickly than in North America and Europe. What might Latin American, African, and Asian Christians teach us? In our global diaspora, God has brought many to our country.  Will we listen and discover that the One Church is bigger than we could have imagined? Likewise, we have much to learn from different ethnic churches and churches ministering to different social strata of our own country. And will we learn from women as well as men? It seems that if we ignore half or more of the church, we will be immeasurably poorer.

Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Christians above all others, it seems to me, should be into unity in the midst of our diversity. We worship a God who is Three yet One. It seems that if we focused more on the One who unites us, the One who redeems us, the One who in common we all worship, the One who calls us into mission, the One who has created and redeemed us all and the One who has spoken and shown himself through the prophets and apostles, we could possibly do a bit better at this unity thing than we are at present. What do you think?