Crossing Cultures in Scripture

Years ago I took a class on The Biblical Theology of Mission with Charles van Engen at Fuller. We basically ran (it sure felt like running) through the whole bible looking at “mission” everywhere it appeared for 10 quick weeks. Our final assignment was to write a paper taking one missiological issue and trace the thread throughout scripture. I remember what issue I wrote on. It was on multi-cultural people. I looked at the stories of Moses, Timothy, and Paul.

Basically my paper went a little bit like this:

  • My Story of Multi-Cultural Confusion
  • The Missiological Context
  • Reading Scriptures for the Sake of Formation in this Area
  • Mission Insights
  • Mission Actions
  • Re-telling My Story in Light of Scripture

Marvin Newell, in his new book Crossing Cultures in Scripture has written a book very much like the sort of assignment we were given in Van Engen’s class. Each chapter even has a very similar structure!

In the span of about 300 pages Marvin Newell moves through 36 chapters, drawing missiological insights from the stories of Ruth, Solomon, Daniel, Jesus, The Jerusalem Church, Paul, and the Writer of Hebrews. From these stories he covers topics like Honor and Shame, being a multi-cultural leader, cross-cultural conversion, ethnocentrism, crossing-cultures-in-scripturetransnationalism, cross-cultural conflict management, and doxological diversity.

Among the 36 chapters I particularly liked the chapter on Jacob’s marriage. Here Newell covers the topic of “the consequences of cross-cultural ignorance.” As you know, Jacob ended up with a wife, not of his choosing, because of a lack of awareness regarding marriage customs. From this simple story we learn that on mission ignorance of customs doesn’t actually serve as an excuse and that as a foreigner cultural exceptions don’t apply. This just goes to show when crossing cultures we need to make every effort to learn the customs in our host’s culture. I also loved the chapter on the book of revelation. There he says that “doxological diversity” is God’s ultimate purpose! If only more American Evangelicals were aware of this principle!

In addition to having some really interesting chapters I think the primary high points of this book actually come when Newell integrates stories his real life missionary experiences into the lessons he draws from the sections of Scripture. There we see theory hit the ground. Also, a highlight of this book comes in the very clearly marked “crossing takeaway” sections. There he lists 2-4 insights that we ought to take away from the biblical stories. Newell has made this book immanently practical.

For these reasons and more I would recommend this book to biblical theology of mission classes. Maybe partner it up with Wright’s The Mission of God and/or Glasser’s Announcing the Kingdom. It would act well as a supplement to that genre of book. Another option would be to assign this book to a Sunday school class on missions. Maybe pick 8-12 of the stories from this book, assign these chapters to your class and talk about them. Either way, this is a very useful book for getting people oriented to the missiological nature of scripture.

Scripture is a crosscultural book. It was written in cross-cultural contexts. Its full of cross-cultural encounters. It assumes cross-cultural movements. It ends with cross-cultural worship.

I’ll admit, I had some issues with some of Newell’s readings of particular texts, but nothing that was big enough for me to hesitate recommending this book. In fact I highly recommend it because Crossing Cultures in Scripture highlights the cross-cultural nature of the bible and gives practical steps towards growing into cross-cultural gospel messengers in whatever context God has placed us.

(Note: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an impartial review.)





Published by cwoznicki

Chris Woznicki is an Assistant Adjunct Professor of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. He works as the regional training associate for the Los Angeles region of Young Life.

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