Books, Church Planting, Missionary Methods, Missions

Planting Churches Cross-Culturally — some thoughts

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. 2d edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

David Hesselgrave brings a unique set of experience, education and expertise to the table which makes him the ideal author for a book such as Planting Churches Cross-Culturally. He holds an earned doctorate from the University of Minnesota in rhetoric and public address with a specialization in cross-cultural communication. He served in pastoral ministry for five years before serving twelve years in Japan with the Evangelical Free Church of America. He taught three years at the University of Minnesota prior to 26 years on the faculty of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Since retiring in 1991, he continues to teach occasionally and has devoted much of his time to writing and speaking worldwide. His other major works include Contextualization, Communication Christ Cross-Culturally, Paradigms in Conflict, in addition to numerous articles. Thus, he is able to bring the heart of the pastor, the mind of the academic, the zeal of the missionary and the skill of the practitioner to bear upon this second edition of this monumental work (originally published in 1980).

In this book, Hesselgrave combines his paradigm for church planting derived from Acts 13–16 with his reflections upon contemporary anthropological, sociological, and communicational research with a view towards historical and contemporary practice. As a textbook, even handbook, for planting churches, there is not single thesis statement for the whole of the work, though the purpose is clear—Hesselgrave purposes to persuade his readers of the primacy of evangelistic church planting in mission and provide them a well-thought, practical and biblical paradigm for so doing. In part one of the book, Hesselgrave in three chapters introduces this purpose. In part two, he argues for the necessity of strategic leadership and planning, implementing target areas and analysis of results. The bulk of the book, expectedly, is the unfolding of “The Pauline Cycle”. Through the final three parts, Hesselgrave dedicates a chapter to each of the ten elements of the cycle, which is:

  1. Missionaries Commissioned—Acts 13:1–4; 15: 39–40
  2. Audience Contacted—Acts 13:14; 14:1; 16:13–15
  3. Gospel Communicated—Acts 13:17–41; 16:31
  4. Hearers Converted—Acts 13:48; 16:14–15
  5. Believers Congregated—Acts 13:43
  6. Faith Confirmed—Acts 14:21–22; 15:41
  7. Leadership Consecrated—Acts 14:23
  8. Believers Commended—Acts 14:23; 16:40
  9. Relationships Continued—Acts 15:36; 18:23
  10. Sending Churches Convened—Acts 14:26–27; 15:1–4

Before delving into this cycle, some preliminary considerations should be made. First, Hesselgrave’s attention to both the Great Commission and the ministry of Paul stand in stark contrast to other views of mission that overemphasize the ministry of Jesus, over against Paul, whom those regard as a later innovator of Christianity. In this, Hesselgrave’s theology of mission is quite healthy. Evident throughout the work is Hesselgrave’s detailed attention to biblical exegesis and biblical theology. Not only is this a very conservative approach, it makes his argument quite convincing to those who have a high regard for scripture.

Second, and related to the first, Hesselgrave’s identification of mission as evangelistic church planting provides a healthy, theologically sound rubric for understanding the holistic mission of the church. This discussion may be a little beyond the scope of Hesselgrave’s work; however, some quotes deserve attention. First:

The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).

Here, the local church is the locus not just of reproduction, but of service. By implication, as churches are multiplied, the centers of faith and service, even as signs and sacraments, to borrow from Bosch, reach further and further throughout the world. Second:

That the missionaries were concerned about social relationships, and about minds and bodies as well as souls, is patently true. But Paul’s primary mission was accomplished when the gospel was preached, people were converted, and churches were established. Obedience to the Great Commandment to love one’s neighbor was part of the commission to teach all things Christ commanded. But good works were the fruit—not the root—of Paul’s mission (24).

While Hesselgrave is explaining the primacy of church planting, he also elucidates the relationship of evangelism to social ministry. As with the first quote, evangelistic church planting multiplies the opportunity for Christian service.

Finally, and only somewhat related to the first two quotes above:

…the author is in a growing company of theologians and missiologists who are persuaded that the Bible itself—not just a statement of basic doctrines, or a list of biblical ideas, or a succession of fragmented Bible stories—constitutes the contextualization that God himself has provided, prescribed, and promised to prosper (see Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Various approaches might be used to make contacts, awaken interest, and gain a hearing. But in the making of disciples—students and followers of Christ—the larger story and full compass of Scripture must be taught, understood, and embraced. That is the way old idolatrous worldviews are exchanged for the divinely inspired worldview of the Bible, an exchange that is basic to biblical conversion and spiritual maturation (37).


So once again we are brought back to the Scriptures, to both Old and New Testaments, to biblical theology, to the larger story. Why? Because a worldview is not formed by adding up a number of facts, even though those facts may be true. A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A Christian worldview is formed by hearing and learning the big story of Scripture and seeing how all the little stories, whether of tithe men and women of the Bible or of ourselves and our neighbors, fit into that big story (146).

This reviewer could not pass up the opportunity to commend Hesselgrave’s view of Scripture, not just in its role in doctrine, but in worldview formation. There is a great opportunity for missiologists and theologians to demonstrate how the world of the bible itself functions transformatively. Again, this is beyond the scope of this book, but an area for future research.

What of the cycle itself? Though Hesselgrave hedges against the rebuttal that there is no prescriptive/normative pattern within the book of Acts, the question remains whether or not he is imposing his cycle upon the text. This reviewer thinks the answer would be yes, but such an answer does not imply that the cycle is not biblical, nor unwise. However, there is much to be appreciated about the practical nature of the cycle. More than anything, the cycle should be understood as the right intersecting of ecclesiology and missiology. In fact, Hesselgrave’s ecclesiology is impeccable, a veritable strength of the work as a whole, and it remains biblical-theological rather than solely systematic-theological.

Finally, among many other notable features of his method, one should appreciate his comparison between the setting apart of elders and deacons to the setting apart of missionary-evangelists for service. By keeping the commissioning and sending of missionary-evangelists as ecclesio-centric, he produces a model that may keep the relationship of missionary-evangelists to sending and receiving churches consistent. That is, the missionary-evangelist relates to all parties as members of churches gifted for service, not as hired guns (please do not take this pejoratively). Some may object to his insistence that missionary-evangelists are specialists, but he retorts that the specialization refers only to the training required to minister cross-culturally. In other words, “the role of the missionary-evangelists and pastor-teachers is that of training laity for the work of the ministry. That is, the leaders must be trained to train others” (105).

This reviewer appreciated much that Hesselgrave presented. Nothing stands out as controversial or worthy of further discussion here. However, this book is a must read for anyone considering church planting anywhere in the world.

Chapter by Chapter Key Quotes

Chapter 1:

  1. The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).
  2. Wherever it is possible to proclaim the gospel and form churches, only those organizations that support evangelism and church planting in a significant way should be thought of as missions. If they do not engage in or support evangelism and church planting, they are not only parachurch, they are paramission (26).
  3. Today’s Priority: Cross-Cultural Church-Planting (29-32): UPGs and Church Planting are primary focus.

Chapter 2:

  1. Three sources for missiology: Revelation, Research (in the sciences), Reflection (on past experience)
  2. …the author is in a growing company of theologians and missiologists who are persuaded that the Bible itself—not just a statement of basic doctrines, or a list of biblical ideas, or a succession of fragmented Bible stories—constitutes the contextualization that God himself has provided, prescribed, and promised to prosper (see Matt. 28:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Various approaches might be used to make contacts, awaken interest, and gain a hearing. But in the making of disciples—students and followers of Christ—the larger story and full compass of Scripture must be taught, understood, and embraced. That is the way old idolatrous worldviews are exchanged for the divinely inspired worldview of the Bible, an exchange that is basic to biblical conversion and spiritual maturation.
  3. “Gold from Egypt is still gold”: (1) all such knowledge should be thoroughly tested in the light of Scripture to make sure that it is real gold (i.e., true) and not fool’s gold; and (2) scriptural knowledge is qualitatively (and even quantitatively) more important than secular knowledge (39).

Chapter 3:

  1. Paul’s message – Normative; Paul’s method – less so: “church planners and planters should always be faithful to biblical principles, and they should always be attentive to biblical precedents” (46).

Chapter 5:

  1. Priorities: Both/And –Home/Overseas; Responsive/Unresponsive; Reached/Unreached; Urban Rural…but….
  2. Paul’s Selection Strategy (65-71)
  • Priority to responsivity
  • Special concern for those who had not heard
  • Establishing churches in strategically located cities; urban strategy: “(1) openness to change, (2) the concentration of resources, and (3) the potential for significant contact with surrounding communities
  • Openness to leading of Holy Spirit.
  • Chapter 6:

    1. Missionary-Evangelist as apostle (73–4)
    2. Role of Laypersons (74–5)
    3. Teams! (75–6)

    Chapter 8: Pauline Cycle 1: The Missionaries Commissioned

    1. God calls and sends missionary-evangelists in and through the churches (96).
    2. How (kinda how elders and deacons are identified in the church!):
      • First, God spoke to the men who were to be sent…
      • Second, God spoke to the church and its leaders…
      • So, in God’s time, the missionary-evangelists were selected by the spirit, separated for the work, released by their followers, and sent forth by the Spirit with the laying on of hands. This official commissioning entailed both a blessing and a recognition. It entailed a blessing in that the senders acknowledged that those who were being sent had been called to and equipped for the task; they were going forth with the approval of the church. But the ceremony signified more. Just as in the Old Testament the priest laid his hands on the sacrificial victim, thus signifying that the victim was taking the place of the offerer, so in the commissioning of the missionary-evangelists the church recognized that those who were being sent were going in the place of the church (97).
    3. Critique of Volunteerism:
      • We have built the greater part of our contemporary evangelists and missionary enterprise upon a vast program of volunteerism. New Testament missions were voluntaristic–that is, those who participated did so of their own free will. But New Testament missions were not based on volunteerism–that is, a general call for, and the sending of, anyone who would offer to go.
    4. Training Christian Workers for the Missionary Task (Is a specialist the same things as a professional missionary? What makes one a professional?)
      • While it is popular today to obliterate the distinction between laity and clergy. Scripture maintains the distinction. However, the biblical distinction is not the hierarchical one that some churches make today. Rather, it is in regard to the training of the workers that the true distinction is seen.
      • Development of the gifts granted to the missionary-evangelist requires a training program distinct from that for a deacon. Third, the role of the missionary-evangelists and pastor-teachers is that of training laity for the work of the ministry. That is, the leaders must be trained to train others

    Chapter 9: PC2: The Audience Contacted

    1. Preevangelistic Courtesy Contacts –recognition of authority structures in another society.
    2. Preevangelistic Community Contacts –understanding what is expected of a newcomer.
    3. Selective/Widespread – Creating relationships as doorways to a wider audience. HUP?

    Chapter 10: PC3: The Gospel Communicated

    1. Evangelism must be based on biblical theology rather than our systematic theology (see Carson, Gagging of God, 502).
    2. So once again we are brought back to the Scriptures, to both Old and New Testaments, to biblical theology, to the larger story. Why? Because a worldview is not formed by adding up a number of facts, even though those facts may be true. A worldview is formed by hearing and learning a big story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. A Christian worldview is formed by hearing and learning the big story of Scripture and seeing how all the little stories, whether of tithe men and women of the Bible or of ourselves and our neighbors, fit into that big story (146).
    3. Elenctics (146–7)– preaching the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8).

    Chapter 11: PC4: The Hearers Converted

    1. By using the phrase “process-sensitive call,” we direct attention to the fact that in dealing with those for whom Christ died, we are dealing with people who have numerous questions, frustrations, and trials. We should plan, therefore, to counsel some potential converts concerning the issues of repentance and faith over a period of time (182).

    Chapter 12: PC5: The Believers Congregated

    1. Every local family of believers need not evidence the full, variegated social and cultural richness that characterizes the larger family or body of Christ. Furthermore, no social or cultural distinctive should be significant enough to exclude a believer from any family of believers, nor to alienate local church families from each other or the larger body of Christ (198).
    2. If the new believer has a responsibility to join the believing group, the believing group has a responsibility to do everything possible to incorporate and integrate the new believer into the family of faith! (201)
    3. We conclude, then, that Christianity has no one sacred spot or shrine and and that God will meet with his people wherever they gather to worship and call upon his name. In this, true Christianity is uniquely the universal religion (209).

    Chapter 13: PC6: The Faith Confirmed

    1. It seems that whenever the gospel was communicated to Jews and proselytes in the New Testament, it was done in a way that clearly linked Christ and his work to Old Testament history and prophecy (221).
    2. Biblical text needs to be read and interpreted in dialogue with the confessional tradition—that is, with the way in which the Scriptures have been understood in the church down through history. No one person is an island. Neither is any church (222).
    3. The emerging church should constitute itself a caring community…First, special attention should be given to needs within the group of believers…Second, the believing community should make it a matter of high priority to find out the felt and real needs of the target community (238).

    Chapter 14: PC7: The Leaders Consecrated

    1. The local church trains and selects its own leaders!:
      • Efforts should be continued to promote the spiritual maturity of all believers in the congregation.
      • The believers should be taught how to recognize and select men and women who are gifted and spiritually qualified for leadership in the local church.
      • The church should be organized in a permanent form that is scriptural, functional, effective, and expandable (254).
      • Church Discipline!!! (270).

    Chapter 15: PC8: The Believers Commended

    1. Bible schools and seminaries need to provide training for the kinds of leadership required by growing churches.
      • The Christian training institutions in the West prepare comparatively few pioneers, with the result that few workers are adequately trained for planting new churches. By contrast many Christian training institutions in the Third World prepare evangelists (in the narrow sense of that term) and comparatively few consolidators, with the result that churches languish for want of adequately trained pastor-teachers. These imbalances are easily explained. In the West the educational focus is on hundreds of churches that need pasturing. In the Third World the educational focus is on thousands of unreached areas that need evangelizing. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that there are thousands of churchless communities in the West and thousands of churches in the Third World (286).

    Chapter 16: PC9: The Relationships Continued

    1. Interchurch Fellowship (297–8):
      • The churches founded by the apostles recognized that in Christ they had a common bond with one another
      • The churches regularly sent Christian greetings to each other.
      • They collaborated on a project to provide money for the poor saints in the Jerusalem church.
      • They sent representatives to one another.
      • They supported the apostles’ labor in other fields.
      • The shared letters from the apostles.
      • They encouraged one another by modeling the faith.
      • They cooperated in the common cause of evangelism.
    2. The Bible, then, does not allow for a missionless church or a churchless mission. It requires that churches be engaged in mission and that they send out missionaries (302).

    Chapter 17: PC10: The Sending Church Convened

    1. Understanding and participating in the whole church’s mission: “It is Christian to do good to all people, and especially to other Christians (Gal. 6:2). But Great Commission mission is more focused than that” (315).
    Culture, Theology


    The communication of the gospel is receptor-oriented by nature. Basically, the aim of the gospel is to see the receptor make a faith commitment to Jesus. In order to do this, the receptor has to understand certain facts about Jesus, his mission, his life, death, resurrection, etc. But in many cases, cultural and linguistic barriers, as well as religious, social, economic and political barriers, have to be overcome for the message to truly be communicated. This means that the receptor culture plays a vital role in communication and that the worldview of the receptor affects the way in which the message is received and understood.[1] This affects the choice of words, the choice of media, and the ultimate goal of communication.In order to choose the right words for translation and communication, the worldview of the receptor is invaluable. For instance, the forms of one language rarely correspond with the forms of another; yet, the goal of interpretation is creating a text whose meaning will be understood equivalent with the original meaning. Van Engen and Shaw note that, though forms are not commensurate between contexts, overlapping meanings exist.[2] The principles of word-study are to compare the range of meanings of the word in the original language per the context with the range of meanings for a word in the receptor language. Worldview affects the meanings of words in all languages.

    Similarly, worldview affects the media used from context to context. Donald K. Smith spends half of his book, Creating Understanding, analyzing the use of media in communicating the gospel message. He finds that inappropriate uses of media can distort the meaning of the gospel or relegate the meaning as inconsequential.[3] The oft quoted Marshal McLuhan aptly stated over forty years ago, “The medium is the message.”[4] The proper use of the media will make use of the culturally appropriate symbol systems.[5] This will reach the goal of cross-cultural communication-to create understanding of the gospel in the receptor’s context. It begins with awareness of a felt need (cf. redemptive analogies in Don Richardson’s Peace Child), gives time for the receptor to consider the options and make a choice followed by action, and ends with the change of the cultural context.[6]

    Thus, creating understanding in the mind, heart and life of the receptor is the ultimate goal of communication. Thus, the thrust of Smith’s message is that communication is not a one-time, instantaneous event. Communication has not taken place until the receptor has had a chance to choose and make an action based on the hearing of the gospel. Ultimately, the biblical text must have time within a culture to be translated (and retranslated), interpreted according to biblical theology, and communicated in a way appropriate to the context in order to preserve the meta-cultural aspect of its meaning.

    In conclusion, to be clear, biblical theology finds its continuity in the themes of the biblical text. It does not try to reconstruct the theology of the author, nor can it know the mind of the author.[7] It does not try to reconstruct the events behind the text. The text itself is the inspired interpretation of the events. Biblical theology is transcultural because it is based in the human/divine author-intended meaning of the text. Biblical theologies that create intraversable chasms between the Theology of the New Testament from that of the Old, or that unduly separate Paul from Jesus, or even the Paul of Acts from the Paul of the epistles, etc., overemphasize the discontinuity of the text. It is likely that those theologies hold a faulty view of inner-textuality, in-textuality, and inter-textuality, or worse, a faulty view of revelation and inspiration. True biblical theology finds the continuity of the whole Biblical text and tightly bonds disparate cultural understandings of the text. Therefore, cultural interpretations must be critiqued by this transcultural biblical theology. As such, biblical theology is based on a faithful, yet culturally relevant translation of the original languages. These translations must be faithful to the original and the receptor languages. This means that the process of translation reaches its final stage with cultural insiders who know the original languages. The finished product of the translation leads to theology and communication that is culturally relevant, yet also in meaningful dialogue with the understandings of other contexts, all grounded in transcultural biblical theology. In this final sense, cultural understandings from differing contexts augment one another to form a complete, balanced understanding of the biblical text that is, in effect, meta-cultural.

    [1]Donald K. Smith, Creating Understanding (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 65-81.

    [2]Van Engen and Shaw, 108-114.

    [3]Smith, 166-179, 197-210.

    [4]Marshal McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1994).

    [5]Smith, 144-164.

    [6]Ibid., 321-324.

    [7]Cf. Grudem’s understanding of Biblical Theology. See first post.

    Culture, Theology


    With the unchanging Truth of scripture established, contextualization finds its proper role in securing effective gospel communication. Part of this communication is based on a culturally relevant translation of the biblical text. As John Sailhamer points out, one studies the original languages, or a good translation, in order to grasp a biblical understanding of theology.[1] Thus, in order for a good translation to be accessible, translators must translate from the original languages, rather than just translating from translations. Moreover, the understanding of cultural context is necessary for a good translation. For instance, a translation in English is an interpretation of the original text for the particular English-speaking context at the time of translation. Similarly, a translation in Hindi is an interpretation of the original text for the particular Hindi-speaking context of the time. Thus, the form of the text is different in each cultural and linguistic context so that the unchanging meaning is retained; because, each language has a different genius (syntax, grammar, and lexicon).[2]

    However much difference there may be between the biblical linguistic context and the context of another language, by focusing solely on the form of the text, translators may produce foreign translations. Paul Hiebert warns against rejecting the value of all forms in relation to meaning because, in certain religious symbols, the relationship is too inseparable.[3] One can easily argue for the transcending value of the textual symbolism of blood, the cross, etc. Of course, the more symbols one finds are transcendent, the more people one finds that disagrees, for instance, with the image of the lamb, wine and the bread in the Eucharist, etc. Hiebert, though, is not creating inseparable ties between form and meaning, but he is arguing that, in light of biblical theology, certain forms and meanings are inseparable because of the importance of recurring themes and repetition of ideas. This establishes the importance of solid, biblical theology for making wise contextual decisions in translation and cross-cultural communication. At the least, consistency in translation among important themes is necessary to retain biblical continuity.[4] Therefore, the use of inner-textuality, in-textuality, and inter-textuality aids the translation process.Certain problems accompany the translation of scripture.

    Three possible problems are that (1) translations are made from interpretations other than the author-intended meaning original, (2) that they are made through an intermediary translator (not from the original context, which is impossible, and not from the receptor context), and (3) that translators do not involve the local church in the process. The first problem has been discussed at length above. Recently, Van Engen and Shaw have addressed the second problem, that dealing with outsider translators. They warn communicators to remove as much “noise” as possible so that the receptors can hear the text.[5] Noise is anything between the transmitter and the receptor that detracts from the intended meaning.[6] Translators from other cultural/linguistic contexts inherently produce noise due to their own deep-seated, cultural understandings. Nonetheless, initial translations must be by an outsider of some sorts. However, after time translations need revisions as insiders are transformed by the text; in other words, translation is an ongoing process.[7]

    In response to the third problem, that of involving the church, William Smalley gives the following warning-translators, as outsiders, “in wanting to bring the scriptures to the people they may overlook the opportunity for enabling a church to get the Scriptures for itself.”[8] Without enabling the church, the noise between the text and the context will grow louder through time. Culture is always changing. This change is rapid, often too rapid for even insiders. Outsiders will always be hard-pressed to keep up with culture change compared to an insider. Kraft points out that only an insider can make cultural changes.[9] The local church is especially equipped by the Holy Spirit to be able to adapt to, even transform, cultural changes in light of the gospel, for the local church is the incarnation of the kingdom of God for a particular culture. Systematic theology serves in one role of reacting to new cultural (mis)understandings of God. But as we have noted, systematic theology is inseparably dependent on biblical theology, and biblical theology is ultimately dependent on the text. A practical action plan for change begins with insiders translating a faithful and culturally relevant text. These insiders must be equipped with the original languages as well as the worldview of the receptor language: “as Scripture was for the original audience, so it must become for modern receptors.”[10] From a culturally relevant text, the church can effectively communicate that text to the ever-changing culture.

    [1]Sailhamer, “Old Testament Theology,” 23.[2]Nida and Charles R. Taber, The Theory and Practice of Translation (Lieden, Netherlands: United Bible Societies, 1969), 1-10.[3]Hiebert, “Form and Meaning in the Contextualization of the Gospel,” in The Word Among Us, 101-120.[4]Nida and Taber, 15-22.

    [5]Van Engen and Shaw, 205.

    [6]Ibid., 111.

    [7]Ibid., 144-152.

    [8]William A. Smalley, Translation as Mission: Bible Translation in the Modern Missionary Movement (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1991), 245.

    [9]Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness, 160-163.

    [10]R. Daniel Shaw, “The Context of Text: Transculturation and Bible Translation,” in The Word Among Us, 156.

    Other, Race, Theology

    Whites, Blacks, Slavery & Reconciliation

    Several weeks ago, in response to thoughts I had over the racial problems we have in our country, I posted on recapturing the Dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Find that post here. I also offered some suggestions for doing so. So far, I have not received any interaction from my black brothers and sisters, but I have received feedback from some dear friends who feel one of the problems we have in this country is racism towards whites by some black people. Though I do not deny that racism goes both ways, my basic premise is that Christians should take action in overcoming racism. One of my major goals is to encourage my white brothers and sisters to initiate the conversation. I believe that the three or four hundred year history of white domination has to be reversed. I do not mean that we should now have black domination. That would be the same sin. (I remember my senior year in high school, my friend John Green, who I respected greatly, and who is also black, called out the teacher over the term “Reverse Discrimination” as being racially charged. In other words, he meant racism is racism. Only someone from a superior position could call it reverse; thus the phrase is implicitly racist. I’ll never forget that day).

    I am calling white Christians to become servants, to become slaves, to their black brothers. The history of slavery in America, followed by unjust Jim Crow laws, and the subversion of racism in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, has created deep wounds in the culture of America, especially between whites and blacks. I believe that the current racial crises in America are symptoms of this deep cultural divide. To overcome this divide I believe white Christians must initiate. If you have been either overtly or internally racist, you should repent and doing so publically may be painful for you, but will lead to healing. If you have not been racist, but find yourself living in a world that is being shaken by these events I suggest you read the following response:

    Dear white Christian brother, who has not committed racism overtly or in your heart,

    A black person may feel a barrier to you either consciously or subconsiously. If it is consciously, then they are being racist, and I believe they need to repent. But your humility towards them may lead to their freedom. If it is subconsciously, (this is one probable cause of the overt racism as well) it is due to cultural wounds or to their worldview. If they feel no barrier, and many people are this way, it is probably because they have seen the problem with the worldview, whether the cause of seeing this be education, upbringing or self-reflection, or the counsel of a friend.

    But, If they feel this barrier towards you, who has done nothing to deserve it, unless they realize the cause, then your relationship will be severely hampered. We don’t have to be friends with everybody to the same degree, but, as it says in Romans, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. As Christians, we have the “ministry of reconciliation.” Overcoming these barriers is a witness to the gospel whereby God destroys our barriers to him and brings us into his family.

    If you desire a deeper relationship with someone, then you have to deal with the issue. Having the freedom to talk about the elephant in the room is the first step. As a Christian, if you sense that race is the issue, then showing some genuine understanding (emotionally) of the history is a first step towards growth. They probably assume, as is the case in every situation involving cross-cultural communication, that because you are not like them, then you probably don’t understand. In other words, its because you are white and they are black. But as we both know, the gospel transcends those categories. We have to put the gospel into practice and gently break down the barrier. In this sense, you are a servant of your black brother. We become their slaves for the sake of the gospel.

    God became our Servant

    Culture, Theology


    (Remember these ideas need more development, I have developed a lot since first writing this.)

    Interpretation and translation based on the author-intended meaning of the text forms the basis for biblical theology. Biblical theology, correctly understood, provides the foundation for understanding the Bible cross-culturally. The Bible is both a theological book and a multicultural book. The theology of the Bible, as revealed by its recurring themes (continuity) and fulfillment of promises (discontinuity) in the grammar, syntax and lexicology, outlines the framework for theological understanding between cultures (continuity) and theological distinctives within a culture (discontinuity). Systematic theology overlaps with and is founded upon biblical theology; however, systematic theology looks at the Bible in relation to cultural questions and needs.[1] Therefore, certain forms within systematic theology will change from culture to culture. On the contrary, biblical theology understands the Bible as a continuous whole—the Old Testament as promise and prophecy, the New Testament as fulfillment and expectation[2]—without neglecting the differences between the parts. However, theologically speaking, the context of the reader is not continuous with the text. Many fail to distinguish between the communication of the text and the theology of the text.[3]

    The theology of the text (biblical theology) is understood through examining three processes: inner-textuality (cross-referencing between two texts by the same author); in-textuality (cross-referencing within one text); and inter-textuality (cross-referencing between texts by different authors).[4] The doctrine of inspiration teaches that God used human agents in composing his texts. The prophets, those that had come to live according to God’s perspective and who spoke for God, were responsible for the writing, collecting and editing of scripture.[5] The period of canonization marked the church’s recognition of God’s perspective through the text of the Bible.[6] It is precisely because of canonization that the context of the reader is not included in the inter-textuality of the Bible.[7] This protects the church from local theologies that have a great amount of discontinuity with the Bible and with other communities. The problem with many Christian anthropologies, including Kraft’s, is that the starting point for cultural understanding is the context (whether of the writing, or the writer, or of the reader), not the text. Kraft is willing to change his theological perspectives not if the text informs him so, but if other outside, contextual authorities prove to him that he should.[8] This is not to deny that understanding the worldview of a receptor culture is vital for cross-cultural communication,[9] as Kraft aptly argues. Kraft’s extensive anthropology is valuable for the Christian communicator to read as a tool for understanding differing contexts. Even so, contexts are not the beginning points for theology.[10] Stephen Grunlan and Marvin Mayers analyze the relationship between the Bible and culture and come up with four possible combinations: Cultural Absolutism and Biblical Relativism (Situation Ethics); Cultural Absolutism and Biblical Absolutism (Traditionalist); Cultural Relativism and Biblical Relativism (Antinomian); and Cultural Relativism and Biblical Absolutism (Mutual Respect).[11] The fourth option, Cultural Relativism and Biblical Absolutism, holds the Bible as the common ground between cultures. If the Bible is the common ground between cultures, then biblical theology provides meta-cultural truth[12] and establishes the basis for cross-cultural communication and theologizing.

    [1]Grudem, 21-37.

    [2]Brevard S. Childs, Biblical Theology: A Proposal (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2002), 52-55.

    [3]For example, Van Engen and Shaw, Communication God’s Word in a Complex World, 157-175.

    [4]Sailhamer, “Old Testament Theology,” 56-60.


    [5]Ibid., 1-17.

    [6]Frei, 17-50.

    [7]Cf. Thiselton. See note 16.

    [8]Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1996), 112-113.

    [9]Stephen A. Grunlan and Marvin K. Mayers, Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 20-22.


    [10]Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness, 93.


    [11]Grunlan and Mayers, 252-262.


    [12]Ibid., 258.

    Culture, Theology


    Can one conclude with Charles Kraft that the Bible is a holy case-book? To Kraft, the Bible is the record of God’s relationship with different people at different times.[1] Others see the text as a record of God’s revelation, not revelation itself.  John Sailhamer identifies such attempts at salvation-history to be looking at the event behind the text rather than the text itself.[2] Charles Van Engen takes a similar approach to Kraft. Van Engen points to the “re-presentation” of the previous revelation by each successive level of revelation.[3] As such, the locus of meaning is in historical reconstructions, whether reconstructing the ancient event, such as “what happened at Mt. Sinai,” or constructing new events, such as liberating the oppressed as Moses liberated Israel. Such salvation-history, event-oriented approaches to inspiration and revelation posit a large amount of discontinuity in the Bible and allow a great amount of discontinuity between contextualized theology and the Bible. Though this discontinuity takes a very high view of culture, it compromises Christianity. Event-oriented approaches are open to multiple perspectives, not only the author’s, which creates this discontinuity.[4] The goal of Christian communication is to create continuity through contextualization. Will this continuity be found in the text, or in the event (past, present or future) where God reveals Himself or in an aspect of His relationship to mankind? How much contextualization is true to Christianity?

    Paul Hiebert delineates three types of contextualization: denial of contextualization, uncritical contextualization, and critical contextualization.[5] Kraft’s view borders on uncritical contextualization—unbridled acceptance of the receptor culture. Without a high commitment to the text over the event, one leans heavily towards uncritical contextualization and, given enough time, one will end up with syncretism. Denial of contextualization is the same error,[6] but it rather overvalues the transmitting culture. Critical contextualization avoids the two errors by being founded upon the premises that (1) the Bible is both a divine and human work that is God-breathed and (2) is thus the standard of faith and obedience for all Christians of all contexts (2 Tim 3:16-17). This is verbal, plenary inspiration. The result is a contextualization that is “the translation of the unchanging content of the Gospel of the Kingdom into verbal form meaningful to the peoples in their separate cultures and within their particular existential situation [sic].”[7] In other words, culture is sifted through the unchanging Truth of scripture, rather than scripture being sifted through cultural truths.[8]

    Verbal, plenary inspiration leads to the interpretation of the grammar and syntax of the original languages into the receptor language that focuses on the author-intended meaning of the text. The author-intended meaning is found in the verbal meaning of the text.[9] The author-intended meaning is found by reading and rereading the text.[10] This means that the words and grammar of the text itself reveals the divine author’s intended meaning. It is one and the same with the human author’s intended meaning. God is the lord and creator of human language;[11] therefore, God can “communicate perfectly without having to affirm any false ideas that may have been held by the people during the time of the writing of Scripture.”[12] Ultimately, God’s communication, through the written Scripture, is the final authority for believers of all time and all contexts. The cultural context of the text is of little value to its interpretation, except on a translation level in relationship to text linguistics.[13] In this case, a text must follow the rules of the language in which it was written.[14] Consequently, the words of the text have a meaning assigned to them arbitrarily by the culture using them.[15] By arbitrary, this does not mean that a word’s meaning changes freely with every use. Words are limited by the few meanings they derive from their cultural use.[16] Nonetheless, whether taken literally or figuratively, words in a text, given a specific grammatical structure, and in the context of several connected texts have a meaning established by their literary influences. In other words, the text defines the meaning of a given word by the way it relates the syntax and grammar to the word. Thus, though the culture may define the range of meaning of a word, the text identifies the exact meaning of a word through its use in literary context. Therefore, the meanings of these words, strung together in a text, portray a narrative world that is an interpretation of the real world. This is an interpretation of the world as a particular cultural context sees it. But in the case of the Bible, one has the divine interpretation of the real world.[17] Thus, cultures, through the words of Scripture, are informed of God’s perspective. Cultures must conform to the meaning of the text, not the cultural forms behind the events, nor the cultural forms of the language itself.[18] The reading community should not transform the text,[19] nor should the text be sifted through that community’s context, in order to maintain the inspired revelation of God’s perspective. In addition, reader-sensitive interpretations prevent meaningful discussion between differing communities, by positing discontinuity between text and meaning.[20] Contrarily, focusing on the author-intended meaning supplies a common frame of reference for cross-cultural Christian dialogue and theologizing.

    [1]Kraft, Christianity in Culture, 194ff.

    [2]John H. Sailhamer, Introduction to Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 36-85.

    [3]Charles Van Engen, “The New Covenant: Knowing God in Context,” in The Word Among Us, ed. Dean S. Gilliland, (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1989), 83.

    [4]Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1992), 22.


    [5]Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985),  184-192.

    [6]Cf. H. Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture.

    [7]Bruce J. Nicholls, “Theological Education and Evangelization,” in Let the Earth Hear His Voice, ed. J. D. Douglass (Minneapolis: World Wide, 1975), 647, in David J. Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen, Contextualization (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2000), 149.

    [8]The author recognizes that different cultural forms are included in scripture, the most obvious being the form of language. However, there is an author intended meaning that transcends these forms. Also, the author recognizes that there are forms and symbols that might not translate one to one in every culture, but rather than changing the meaning, truth is better served through education that dynamic equivalence.

    [9]Sailhamer, “Old Testament Theology” Class Notes, SEBTS, Wake Forest, NC, Spring 2003, 22-33.

    [10]Ibid., 35-40.


    [11] Even though, in Genesis 2, Adam was given the responsibility of naming the animals, even naming his wife, it was God, in chapter 1, who named creation, also naming Adam. God also confused the languages in Genesis 11. Thus, human language derives its existence from God. In that sense, though appearing completely arbitrary and even being affected by man’s sinfulness, foundational aspects of language are directed by God’s hand. Note: this does not negate the fact that some aspects of individual languages are arbitrary and culturally dependent.

    [12]Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 97.

    [13]Ibid., 85.

    [14]Sailhamer, Pentateuch, 9.

    [15]David Alan Black, “The Study of New Testament Greek in the Light of Ancient and Modern Linguistics,” in Interpreting the New Testament: Essays on Methods and Issues, ed. David Alan Black and David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 248.

    [16] For instance, in English, “can” may be a verb referring to ability, or a noun referring to a round metal container, but it cannot mean its opposite without adding “not” and it cannot mean a square rubber container, no matter the trickery of the writer, speaker or audience.

    [17]Cf. Hans W. Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974), 17-50.

    [18]This is not to ignore the difficult decisions that must be made in translating from one language to another.


    [19]Cf. Anthony C. Thiselton, New Horizon’s in Hermeneutics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 471-549. This work analyzes contemporary approaches to linguistics and hermeneutics for the university and the church.

    [20]Peter H. Davids, “Authority, Hermeneutics, and Criticism,” in Interpreting the New Testament, 7.