Review: Insider Jesus by William Dyrness

William Dyrness’s book, Insider Jesus, is an attempt to provide a theological framework for evaluating “insider movements.” He adopts Scott Moreau’s definition of insider movements as, “movements to obedient faith in Christ that remain integrated with or inside their natural community.” (Dyrness 2016, 133) While Dyrness does not attempt to evaluate insider movements he presents an account of contextualization and the relationship between culture and religion that should help missiologists make decisions about how God is at work in these movements.

The book focuses on contextualization. Old forms of contextualization he says “do not capture the hermeneutical and dialogical character of missions.” (Dyrness 2016, 4) A proper understanding of contextualization will understand that religion is a part of culture and that religion forms the hermeneutical spaces for understanding the gospel. Thus he says, “Religion, then, in its basic sense represents the practices associated with the human search for God, ad the times and spaces they employ in this search.” (Dyrness 2016, 101) These hermeneutical spaces are the places where people work out the meaning of God’s presence in their own culture. They are where God comes to the people he is drawing to himself.

By making use of case studies he shows that the gospel always comes to people in these hermeneutical spaces. There has never been any culture which has received the gospel outside of a religious hermeneutical space. By my lights this seems correct, however, I think that Dyrness’s thesis about the role of religion as a hermeneutical space needs to be modified in light of secular humanism. Either he will have to deny the claim that the gospel has always come to people in the context of a religion or he will have to redefine what is meant by religion in order to account for the non-religious secular humanists.

William Dyrness, Insider Jesus: Theological Reflections on New Christian Movements (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 2016).

Review: Walking with the Poor

In Walking with the Poor, Bryan Myers presents theoretical background as well as practical direction for doing the work of “Transformational Development.” The book begins with a survey of scholarship regarding theories of development. From there Myers provides a biblical theology of development. This section surveys Roman Catholic thought on the topic before explaining how the entire narrative of scripture informs transformational development. One key idea in this section is that the story which ought to frame our understanding of development is not the story of capitalism or modernity, rather it is the story of the gospel. The individuals who take part in development also have stories; the development workers have stories, the community in which development takes place has stories. The biblical story reorients all these stories, provide a picture of what reality actually is like.

Bryant then transitions from thinking about the theology behind development to thinking about the nature of poverty. He draws upon the work of Jayakumar Christian, a PhD graduate from Fuller and a colleague of his while at World Vision, to argue that the nature of poverty is relational. He says, “The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their wellbeing.” (Myers 2011, Kindle Loc 779) Yet it is not only the materially poor who ought to be considered poor. The “non-poor” are also poor in another sense. They are not who God created them to be. They fail to live out their God-given identity and vocation because they embody a god-complex.

One key idea in the practice of development is “transformational development.” This is a holistic approach to the development of the entire person in the context of their community. By helping people to discover their true identity as children of God and by empowering them to fulfill their vocation—originally given in Genesis 1 as the cultural mandate—developers can help take the poor out of poverty.

Myers does a good job of articulating a gospel-centered account of transformation. If understanding one’s identity and one’s vocation is a crucial step in coming out of poverty then this means that the gospel will need to be clearly articulated. There needs to be a clear explanation—in terms of life, word, and deed—that explains God’s good design for humanity, it’s fall, and its rescue through Christ.

Overall, this book serves as a great introduction to the idea of development. It provides a history of the practice, a theology that undergirds it, and practical steps for doing it well as Christians.

Review: Aliens in the Promised Land: Why Minority Leadership is Overlooked in White Christian Churches and Institutions – Anthony Bradley

Anthony Bradley’s edited volume, Aliens in the Promised Land, is a collection of essays on the topic of minority leadership in evangelical Christian churches and institutions. These essays were complied so that evangelical institutions might learn how to adequately address issues of race that often lie underneath the surface. On the surface, it seems as though there has been much progress in the area of race and leadership in evangelicalism. Despite appearances, however, what seems like progress, Bradley explains, is actually tokenism. Amos Yong, in an essay titled “Race and Racialization in Post-Racist Evangelicalism” summarizes the situation well. He says that, although it appears that “evangelicals live in a post-racist world—at least in the sense that racism is illegal in this country…there are strong undercurrents of racialization that persist.” (Yong, 45) What is racialization, he defines it as “the social process of devaluing nonwhite ethnicity and culture, of subordinating the latter to the dominant white regime, and in some cases, even seeking to eliminate such from the contemporary cultural landscape.” (Yong, 45) One example of devaluing nonwhite ethnicity—an example provided by Ralph Watkins in his essay—is the fact that in many schools the theological curriculum excludes voices of nonwhite scholars. (Watkins, 126)

In the afterword Anthony Bradley describes four changes that will need to happen in evangelical churches, colleges, and seminaries if they are going to produce the kind of racial solidarity that ought to mark the church. First, there is a need to “situate discussion of race within an understanding of white privilege.” (Bradley, 153) Second, these institutions need to “Advance racial solidarity in ways that do not require minorities to conform to white evangelical cultural norms.” (Bradley, 154) Third, there is a need to, “Understand that multiethnicity is not necessarily progress. Fourth, there needs to be an attempt to “Develop leaders who are not white males.” (Bradley, 154) Finally, these institutions need to, “Recognize the necessity and importance of homogeneous ethnic churches because of the reality of white dominance in American society.” (Bradley, 155)

There are a number of elements that I appreciated in this book. Carl F. Ellis Jr’s essay on discipling urban men is especially helpful for my own ministry context working among a (primarily) urban Latino population. As an aspiring theologian and teacher I found it very helpful that a number of the essays addressed the issue of race in educational settings. I can affirm first hand the observations of Vincent Bacote that institutions like ETS—while not explicitly trying to do so—can feel alienating to minorities and to women. I found Ralph Watkins’ essay and his stress on thinking carefully about what our curriculum speaks to students to be very insightful as well. The most helpful part of the book was the appendix which contained the report on “Racism and the Church” that was formulated in 1994 by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. This report provides a number of definitions including: racism, race, culture, ethnic group, ethnocentrism, prejudice, and power. Naturally one can dispute specific definitions, nevertheless, they serve as a helpful starting point for discussions about race and theology. Conspicuously absent from this book, however, are the voices of minority women. This absence is especially surprising given that Bradley calls for the development of “leaders who are not white males.” (Bradley, 154)

Call for Papers: The Jonathan Edwards Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2

Call for Papers: The Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2

Call for Submissions

Students and scholars are now invited to contribute essays for publication in The Miscellanies Companion, Volume 2, Foreword by Kenneth P. Minkema, Executive Director of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale University. Click here for details about the previous Miscellanies Companion.

Participants in this project must have at minimum a master’s degree in history, theology, philosophy, religious studies, literature, or related fields, or be able to demonstrate their qualifications to contribute to the project.

Topic Selection

The first step for contributors will be identifying their topics of interest.

  • Peruse the Table to the Miscellanies for subjects of interest.
  • Select a topic (not the Miscellanies numbers).
  • Complete the submission form.
  • Upon approval, contributors will be contacted with next steps and essay guidelines.

For more information see here: 

Call for Papers: Christian Theology in the Midst of COVID-19 – Society for the Study of Theology

Christian Theology in the Midst of COVID-19
Online conference: Wednesday 17th June, 12:00-18:00 British Summer Time

Invitation and call for papers

It is planned that the conference will take place online on Wednesday 17th June from 12:00 to 18:00 British Summer time. Details of the online platform to be used will be confirmed later.

This online conference is an attempt to stimulate some initial theological reflection on the global COVID-19 pandemic. Topics for discussion could include: reading the Scriptures in a time of pandemic; historical Christian responses to plagues and pandemics; divine providence, justice and mercy in relation to COVID-19; politics, economics and the common good; ecclesiology, liturgy, worship and mission; ethical questions; questions about trauma, suffering and loss; how to resource the churches’ responses.

Proposals for papers of up to 3,000 words are invited on any of the topics outlined above, or others related to the theme. Since this is an initial exercise in theological reflection, it is recognised that papers might present first thoughts rather than definitive conclusions about the topics addressed. However, academic rigour and potential to make a valuable contribution to the discussion will nonetheless be the criteria used to selecting papers for presentation.

It is anticipated that each paper will have a 30-40 minute time slot. The presenter will have up to 10 minutes to give a brief introduction to the paper, and the remainder of the time will be for discussion. Papers will be circulated to all participants one week before the conference, and presenters should therefore submit them two weeks before the conference date (i.e. by 3rd June).

To submit a paper proposal, please e-mail an abstract of up to 250 words by Thursday 30th April to the organiser, Prof. Neil Messer:

To register for the conference, please send your name and email address by Wednesday 27th May

For full details, please follow this link.

The Enduring Validity of Cross-Cultural Mission

I recently read an article by Lesslie Newbigin titled, “The Enduring Validity of Cross-Cultural Mission.” It was originally presented as an address at the dedication of the new location of the “Overseas Ministries Study Center” on October 5, 1987. In this essay he discusses some of the sentiments that lie behind the center’s former use of the word “foreign missions” to “overseas ministries.” Behind this change, in part, was that the old term carried with it a hint of arrogance. (50) The term “foreign missions” connoted expansionist, colonialist, and primarily Western notions. Also behind this change was contemporary embarrassment about the missionary movements of the past century. (50) In some ways, Newbigin explains, the shift in terms is welcome. After all, the “gospel escapes domestication,” it is “universal, supranational, [and] supracultural. Yet, despite these shifts, he argues, “the foreign missionary is an enduring necessity in the life of the universal church.” (50) Increasingly these foreign missionaries are coming from the global south to the West.

Although Newbigin’s article focuses quite a bit on the shift in attitudes about mission, the heart of this essay seems to be about how the reality and truth of the gospel clash with Western pluralistic values. Thus, he says, “If there was a danger of arrogance in the call for the evangelization of the world in that generation, there is a greater danger of timidity and compromise when we lower our sights and allow the gospel to be domesticated within our culture, and the churches to become merely the domestic chaplains to the nation.” (50) One of these contemporary dangers is pluralism. Pluralism undermines the missionary task. If the gospel simply becomes statements about religious experiences, rather than statements of truth, then the gospel cannot be announced as the good news that it actually is. The kind of relativism that has taken hold of Western society not only undermines the missionary task. It undermines the gospel itself. The gospel has a particular narrative. It includes an account of what it means to be human, what God intended for humans. The gospel tells us how this story of God and humanity hinges on the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (52) If this is not a universal story, but merely one story among billions of other individual (relativized) stories, then why should Christians be concerned to share it with others?

The fact that the gospel is a story that is universal in scope, he argues, also has implications for ecumenicism and inter-religious dialogue. The church across time and space bears witness to this story, thus it can engage in dialogue despite differences. On the other hand, there is what can be called “the larger ecumenicism,” which is not simply inter-religious dialogue, it is the thought that all the religions of the earth can and should move to form one fellowship across doctrinal differences. (52) Such a possibility is pluralistic and reveals a source of unity besides God himself.

There are a missiological implications that come to my mind when I read this particular essay: 1) how the gospel presents a metanarrative that clashes with other narratives, 2) how pluralism undermines the preaching of the gospel, and 3) the need to discern how particular cultural narratives fit into the larger narrative of the gospel.

You can read the essay here:

Who do Missiologists Answer to?

In an entry on “Missiology” in the Encyclopedia of Protestantism, Wilbert Shenk offers, what I take, to be a pretty broad definition of missiology. According to him it is the academic study of all dimensions of the Christian mission. He includes several aspects of what “all dimensions” actually refers to, including, “biblical and theological foundations,” “history of Christian expansion,” and “contemporary practice, theory, and strategy.” (Shenk, 1376)

One thing that struck me from his encyclopedia article was his discussion of “Missiological Traditions.” He distinguished between “Continental,” “Anglo-American,” and “Roman Catholic” traditions. His description of the Anglo-American tradition made a lot of sense to me: missiologists do their work for the sake of the church, partnering with churches and mission agencies. God has a mission, the missio Dei, and God’s people (the church) participate in that mission. Therefore, it makes sense that missiologists, as part of God’s people, would partner with the church (and other Christian organizations) to advance God’s mission to the world. Yet, Shenk’s description of the Continental tradition really baffled me.

According to Shenk, the Continental tradition emphasizes scientific standards and theoretical rigor. So far so good, I think even those in the Anglo-American tradition would want to emphasize those things (to a certain extent), when dealing with theoretical matters or when doing the social scientific aspect of missiology. But what makes this tradition stick out is that, “It answers to the university rather than to the church.” (Shenk, 1380) This let me utterly confused. Universities have missions (as do corporations), but the university’s mission is not the missio Dei. This is especially the case in universities that are not Christian institutions. I would really appreciate it if someone could help me make sense of why missiology should have to answer to the university instead of to God himself, and to the community he has formed.

Teaching Online – Creative Introductions

Think about doing a different Introductory Activity besides the normal “post a little bit about yourself.” Some other ideas that would create a connection and better conversion are below. So think about changing that up a bit!

  • Ask a 3 – 2 – 1 question like: 3 of your favorite songs, 2 unusual things you have eaten, 1 time you took a big risk.
  • “If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with that extra time?”
  • “Post three URLs that illustrate your favorite hobby.” Students will then comment about their experience with this hobby.
  • “What’s a favorite road trip, journey, or vacation you’ve taken? Post a photo of you on the trip.”
  • “What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?”
  • “Post two lies and a truth about yourself and classmates will guess which is which.”
  • “What was your proudest moment in life thus far?”

Source: Fuller’s Instructional Design Team

The Liturgy of Creation

Honestly, it’s hard to think of a theological topic that gets evangelical Christians more fired up than the doctrine of creation. Now I know the doctrine of creation is wide ranging—we could talk about providence, God’s end in creation, the contingency of creation, the orderliness of creation, etc—but the aspect of creation that really makes people’s blood boil tends to revolve around the creation story, specifically the length of creation and God’s means of creation. Michael LeFebvre, a pastor-theologian, has given us yet another book on the topic… but this book is actually quite different. It presents a novel take on what is actually going on in Genesis 1 and 2. I’ll admit – I would have never seen what LeFebvre points out if I hadn’t read this book. I’ll also admit – I find myself pretty convinced by his argument about what is going on in the creation narrative.

So what is this novel account of the creation story?

Basically it’s this: Genesis 1:1 – 2:3 is actually a “calendar narrative.” What is a “calendar narrative?” It is “a historical narrative in which historical events are given the dates of a festival observance, without regard for the timing of the original occurrence.” (6)

Through a careful reading of OT Calendars and festivals LeFebvre establishes the difference between occurrence dates and observance dates. Think for example of MLK Day. MLK day is supposed to celebrate his birthday. There is a day in which MLK was born but we observe his birth on a Monday regardless of his actual birthdate. The same goes for Presidents Day. There is a difference between the occurrence and the observation of the event. But the key thing to remember is that we know when the 912bjhppv9gloccurrence date is. Think about Christmas though. Christmas occurred on a specific day – i.e. the day that Christ was actually born. Yet we observe his birth on December 25th. There is a difference between occurrence date and observance date. There’s a key difference between Christmas and holidays like President’s day and MLK Day – we don’t actually know the occurrence date for Christ’s birth.  Typically we keep track of both the original occurrence date and the ongoing observance date. So what does this have to do with ancient Israel? LeFebvre argues that, “all that was deemed important to preserve was the historical even and its observance date. So the Pentateuch simply retells the events having happened on the appointed observance date.” (95)

So that’s the first plank of his argument – a distinction between occurrence and observance dates of festivals.

The second plank of his argument is the demonstration of how the Pentateuch uses narratives for liturgical guidance. These narratives are intended to give guidance for the practice of various festivals.

The third plank of his argument is a demonstration that the creation week narrative is “a structured retelling of the creation around the pattern of a Model Farmer tending his fields and livestock each day of the week until sabbath.” (7) The creation narrative has a “festival” in view – and that festival is the sabbath.

Here’s his big claim:

The Torah adapts historical narratives to the dates of festival calendars for the sake of observance, not chronology. The creation week is another narrative ascribed with observance dates that do not preserve the original occurrence timeline. (138)

Note what he is not saying. He’s not saying that God didn’t create the world. He’s not saying that the events of creation didn’t happen in precisely the way the creation narrative is written. In fact quite the opposite. The festivals – including the sabbath – are all rooted in historical events. So there is a historical event of creation. What he is saying is that Genesis 1 and 2 doesn’t shouldn’t be read as an attempt to give us a narration about the occurrence date – it’s meant to undergird the liturgy of the observance of a festival – the sabbath.

What’s the upshot? The upshot is that Genesis 1 & 2 can’t be used to present a theory for how God created the world, because scripture simply isn’t interested in giving us that information. We will have to turn to other sources of information, e.g. other parts of scripture, science, etc.

Now I’ll admit that I’m not an OT scholar – so this isn’t my area of expertise, but LeFebvre’s presentation of the evidence is pretty compelling. I happened to be sitting on a bus with Tremper Longman while I was reading this book (don’t ask why). I leaned over to him (this was before social distancing) to say: “Hey have you read this? He makes some really important points…”  He chuckled a little and said,

“Yeah I’ve read it, take a look at the back.”

Oops – I didn’t even realize that he wrote an endorsement for it. He says that it is,

“Essential reading for all serious students of the Old Testament.”

Tremper is a smart guy, a lot smarter than me, so if both an OT Scholar and a Systematician came to the same conclusion about this book, then I think it’s safe to say – you should probably read The Liturgy of Creation and judge it for yourself.





Some Tips from AAR for Teaching Online

If you will be teaching from a course shell and working more asynchronously, you will benefit from tips about navigating an online classroom. In this new environment, especially faced with a lot of uncertainty, engagement is key to success.

1. Check into your online course frequently. Students will need to see you present in the online classroom. Use messaging and the discussion board to be present with your class.

2. Respond to messages within 24–48 hours.

3. Set clear expectations with students. Make sure they know how many days you expect to be in the online classroom. Four days a week is a standard many online faculty set. Let them know exactly when they can expect grades from you. Be clear about the time you won’t be available. If you have delays, let them know.

4. Grade items quickly and provide good feedback. Remember, your students need to feel they are still connected and engaged with you. Even a couple of sentences on a short assignment or discussion post will go a long way.

5. Use weekly announcements to summarize the assignments, topics, and due dates for the week. Make sure the announcements get pushed to student e-mail addresses.

6. Use short videos in your course shell to give instructions and general course feedback on a weekly basis. These don’t need to be fancy or professional. Make them from the heart.

7. Be very clear about your participation expectations. Discussion and interaction is the heart of the online classroom. Make it count. Get students to respond to open-ended and thoughtful discussion questions, both responding to you and to their classmates.

8. When working with synchronous lecture technologies like Zoom, be sure to have ways to manage participation. Get used to the technology in advance and explain to students very clearly how you would like them to participate in the discussion. Remember, large online lecture groups can be a challenge to manage, so avoid a free for all. Stay engaging, and be sure to check in with your students frequently to keep their attention and reduce multitasking.

9. Remember, this will be a challenging time for both you and your students, and the written word can often be much sharper than you may intend. Be thoughtful and kind in your responses to students, and encourage them to do the same in your online courses. Your online classroom should be as safe and welcoming as your face-to-face classroom, and it might require more diligence on your part to provide a space for thoughtful communication.