Tag Archives: Contextualization

Quick Review: Smiling Tiger Hidden Dragon

I’ve read Dr. John Ng’s book on conflict management Smiling Tiger, Hidden Dragon over the past month and want to share some thoughts on it.  I also had the opportunity to do a couple day training with Dr. Ng covering the ideas in the book.

Over the last decade, as I’ve been in mostly Asian ministry contexts, the topic of conflict resolution for Asians has been a very challenging and difficult one  – in part because of honor/shame dynamics, saving face, and indirect communication preferences.  Most Asian believers I know readily admit that this is a difficult area of discipleship and skill for them because of the ways conflict can challenge cultural norms and behaviors. It’s also readily clear that many approaches to conflict resolution are blatantly western in assumptions and prescriptions, thus creating significant tension for Asian believers when so much out there on this topic challenges culture (which is not always a bad thing either).

Dr. Ng was educated in the West (Northwestern) and is currently in Singapore and works as a mediator and consultant throughout Asia. This book primarily focuses on describing the things that undermine healthy relationships in the Asian context and provides ideas and strategies for managing that conflict. So he dives into themes like saving face among other things to illustrate how conflict can start and escalate. The book is full of Asian anecdotes and examples which is helpful as a Westerner to just get a feel on a broad level how conflict escalates among Asians in different ways and for different reasons contextually.

He provides a lot of strategies for managing conflict, some based on a conflict style assessment tool he developed for Asia. He highlights about 12 different conflict styles that can lead to escalating conflict including the title, “smiling tiger, hidden dragon.” This was helpful just to really look at a wide range of conflict approaches (negative ones) that do not always get treatment in other books or resources on conflict.

He also highlights a lot of ideas for just managing conflict and keeping yourself in a good emotional space to have a constructive conversation.  He draws from the HeartMath institute. I read The Heartmath Solution as part of a book club way back in the day and you see a brief review here, but he gives a lot of attention to breathing exercises and efforts to keep the heart rate under 100. That’s helpful and in the past I’ve utilized that in some mediation situations and it has helped me maintain mental sharpness.  Dr. Ng also is passionate about the dynamics of the brain and the amygdala as I have often written about from the family and congregational systems theorists and practitioners like Edwin Friedman and Peter Steinke. The big takeaway – we have to be mindful of what’s going on in our bodies or else we may lost control of the situation and start escalating and reacting.

An additional area is the area of bidding.  Dr. Ng studied under John Gottman who introduced the notion of relational bidding as a key for understanding the health and future of marriage relationships. Basically – relationships need a 5 to 1 positive to negative bidding ratio or problems and eventual separation are likely to occur. Dr. Ng uses this idea really well in the context of general conflict management to keep the relationship the central focus and not the issues.

The areas that are weaker in the book are those relating to forgiveness and reconciliation. The forgiveness aspect is viewed as important – but follows some of current psychology trends in reinforcing that forgiveness is about us releasing and letting go. There really is not much attention to reconciliation.   The book is written with a secular packaging, yet the treatment of forgiveness and reconciliation was still light if not non-existent at points.  However, if the book is seen and experienced as a focus on the catalysts for conflict in Asian contexts and tools for having the conflict conversations – there’s some great ideas and tools. But there is not much here that will paint a vision or picture of what relationships will look like after conflict management to get a sense of what reconciliation in relationship looks like.

There are several ideas in the books I want to pursue more and explore, concepts that are very Asian, but even so – the book is relevant far beyond the Asian context.  They key thing that feels Asian besides the metaphors, illustrations, and marketing is that the focus is on preserving relationship which is a high value for Asians.  That’s something westerners can really benefit from as they think about conflict.


Quick Review: The 3D Gospel – Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures

I recently finished The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures by Jason Georges. This had been on my list for over a year since reading The Global Gospel by Werner Mischke last year and attending Mischke’s online webinar hosted by mission nexus.

This is a fairly brief (less than a 100 pages) primer on how to see the full range and impact of the gospel as expressed in different cultural contexts.  Georges uses the metaphor of a multifaceted diamond that reflects the same essence in different ways.  I actually appreciated the diamond metaphor as it provided a more holistic and integrated approach to the discussion about guilt, shame, and fear which sometimes degenerates into either/or application.

The book gives a great, user friendly intro to the discussion and unpacks the correlation between the gospel, culture, and ministry application.   For each of the 3 main culture  (guilt/innocence, shame/honor, fear/power), Georges provides a succinct summary of the salvation narrative through each of those thematic areas of focus, followed by the core ministry approach that may be the most appropriate expression of ministry for that culture.

The connections between culture, the gospel, and ministry expressions is really helpful as it helps one begin to think about contextualization and integration of the gospel into a specific context in specific ways.  I’m very encouraged that more and more are providing practical and theologically grounded efforts at contextualization in light of these common themes in different cultures.  It may not make since to many who have not experienced much beyond their native culture and context, but these perspectives and efforts to provide real tools for ministry are incredibly valuable.

Because of the brevity and and clarity to this book, I really am motivated to find ways to use this in my ministry and leadership training.  There is potential application beyond evangelism and discipleship to other aspects of ministry and leadership development that excite me, but it serves as a great intro and primer to how to think about contextualization in non-western contexts so I highly recommend this as a resource.


Quick Review: The Global Gospel

Maybe one of the best books I’ve read recently was The Global Gospel: Achieving Missional Impact in Our Multicultural World by Werner Mischke.  It took me a while to work through it, partly because it generating so many new questions and new thoughts.

There are many books and resources out there that call for deeper and more thoughtful contextualization of theology and ministry methodology.  This is one of the few books I’ve seen really try to take a clear shot at contextualizing evangelism and discipleship for the non-western world.  Half of the book is theory and theology, but the other half is comprised of concrete efforts to take that knowledge and move it to real, useful approaches to evangelism.

The heart of this book really relates to contextualization of ministry in view of the honor/shame paradigms in the Ancient Near East culture and how they are captured in the Scriptures.  The author goes to great lengths to show these different (9 of them) dimensions of honor/shame as they are expressed in Scripture – from encounters that Jesus had with the Pharisees to Paul’s letters.  Then he attempts to use each of those nine dimensions as a means of communicating the gospel in a relevant way to people from contexts where those honor/shame dynamics are part of the cultural landscape.

I personally felt like the book really expanded my perspectives in reading the Scriptures.  So many narratives and exchanges in Scripture were taken to new levels of understanding and some I would go so far as to say that they felt like they were “unlocked” because of the significance of the cultural components.  It really deepened my motivation to study Scripture because my understanding of so many passages was dramatically enriched through a better awareness of honor/shame realities.

But I also appreciated the real and genuine effort in developing connection points for people to connect meaningfully to the Gospel. I loved reading the author’s efforts at contextualized evangelism, but enjoyed just as much feeling challenged to think bigger and more creatively about how to bridge from Scripture to people in meaningful ways.

I highly recommend this for all Christians – it really can enrich your perspective on Scripture and ministry deeply.  It also is a good reminder to think in terms of culture and it is a guard against ethnocentric ministry philosophy and theology.




Stats Lie Pt 14: You Think You Know But You Don’t

I’ll be honest.  Sometimes this all-time Jim Mora (former NFL coach) rant pops into my mind when people outside of my leadership and the cultural context I’m in make one-up judgments or bring criticism that is anchored in a totally different worldview or ethnocentric perspectives.  Sometimes criticism is fair and we always need to take it in with a humble ear and learning posture.  Sometimes it says more about those giving the criticism. So this is a post about a contextual reaction and polemic against non-contextual criticism.

This fits the general scope of my “Stats Lie” series as well despite not dealing directly with measurements. But this does deal with the presuppositions behind what measurements or clues we look for to define success (or failure).

And sometimes I can be the one to make the judgments or bring ethnocentric criticism unfairly onto others who know their landscape better than me or anyone else.  And every time I do that – I fully deserve the Jim Mora treatment.

This obviously has a lot of humor to it, but it covers some legitimate arguments as to why the best people to assess success and failure are those working with all the knowledge and who know the context and all the variables the best.  It’s actually genius and not just a reactive meltdown.

So next time someone “who thinks they know, but they really don’t know” tries to judge what you’re doing – be inspired by Jim Mora!  Just find a way to enter the dialogue in less of an aggressive way 🙂

**I just really love the breakdown too of how sometimes people think something’s bad, but it’s good and sometimes they think it’s good, but it’s bad.  And how sometimes you think it’s good and it’s good and how sometimes you think it’s bad and it’s bad.  Fantastic summary of cross-context success criteria challenges!

And my friend and were messing around with the iphone app smule and it generated this beauty of a song/video:  http://www.smule.com/p/51484037_2660855


Francis Schaeffer, Art, & Contextualization

There have been articles written about the “art of contextualization” yet I’ve not seen much that actually draws parallels between actual art and contextualization.  The word “art” can be used to describe ones approach to something – where they demonstrate great skill, talent, and wisdom in their contribution.  It also can be used to convey a created work of beauty.  The late Francis Schaeffer, in his book Art and the Bible, speaks to art from both vantage points.  But in his discussion he at one point ends up sharing insights related to art and culture that I think are highly relevant to contemporary discussions about contextualization in missions and ministry in general.

In discussing how the Christian should approach art, Schaeffer argues that there are three things that should be true.  If we truly believe contextualization is an art – which I believe it is, then these things should inform our thoughts about how we navigate cultural differences in the course of our efforts.

Schaeffer begins,

“Then what about the Christian’s art? Here three things should be stressed. First, Christian art today should be twentieth-century art [remember this book was written several decades ago]. Art changes. Language changes. The preacher’s preaching today must be twentieth-century language communication, or there will be an obstacle to being understood. And if  a Christian’s art is not twentieth-century art, it is an  obstacle to his being heard. It makes him different in  a way in which there is no necessity for difference. A  Christian should not, therefore, strive to copy Rembrandt   or Browning.” [italics and bold mine]

What Schaeffer is saying is that ministry communication just like art, as a means of expression and communication, must take the forms that the context finds meaningful.  If we fail to be culturally embedded in our contexts in the ways we communicate or teach or innovate, then we “make ourselves different in a way in which there is no necessity for difference” in Schaeffer’s words.  “It is an obstacle to his being heard.” So Schaeffer here makes quick work of the professional or lay ministry temptation to constantly try to reproduce “what worked” in the past.

Second, Christian art should differ from country to country. Why did we ever force the Africans to use  Gothic architecture? It’s a meaningless exercise. All  we succeeded in doing was making Christianity foreign   to the African. If a Christian artist is Japanese,  his paintings should be Japanese, if Indian, Indian.

Schaeffer here highlights the time honored tradition of a culture taking what is meaningful to them and imposing it on another people, culture, context.  Art and contextualization should be indigenous and reflect context. Art, and Christian communication, should not be scientifically objective, prescriptive, or somehow trans-cultural. It should reflect the context and be meaningful according to what is meaningful within that culture.  It should also be ethical in that meaning is not something imposed or forced upon others when their cultural values and norms may be reflected in other expressions. We can engage others in ways that allows them to experience something in the most meaningful way possible to them in their context or we can relate to them in ways that actual make our message foreign and meaningless.

“Third, the body of a Christian artist’s work should  reflect the Christian world view. In short, if you are  a young Christian artist, you should be working in  the art forms of the twentieth century, showing the  marks of the culture out of which you have come, reflecting   your own country and your own contemporariness   and embodying something of the nature of  the world as seen from a Christian standpoint.”   (Kindle loc. 468-75)

Finally, Schaeffer puts everyone at ease who may be tempted to freak out about any suggestion that the gospel or the Scriptures might be limited in someway or that we should “domesticate” the Scriptures in favor of culture. The content of art, and all Christian communication, should reflect the Christian world view.  It’s important to distinguish the words content and form here though.  More than a few go around defending “form” as the inerrant content of Scriptures. We need to make sure we’re paying attention to the right things and not be a slave to those forms that we find very meaningful.  Schaeffer here talks about art – that it should reflect who you are and speak to those in your context.  He’s not making a statement that you should always just do things in a way that is meaningful to you – but that you should do that when it will speak to an audience that will find it meaningful as well.  If your context includes a lot of people who find other forms meaningful, then you have choices to make.

So in simple language, I’ll attempt to summarize the principles of contextualization that Schaeffer articulates through discussing the place and meaning of Christian art.

  1. Communication and approaches to expression should change because language and meaning is constantly morphing.
  2. Copying things that “work” in a different context or different time or place is usually a completely meaningless enterprise.  If you succeed with this approach, chances are it’s more about dumb luck than about creative inspiration or skillful adaptation.
  3. Purposeful and intentional communication can only be meaningful in the desired ways when it is embedded in the forms of a particular people in a context.
  4. Imposing what is meaningful to you, especially as it relates to form, is both unethical as an appropriate use of communication or art as well as counterproductive in that you either undermine what is meaningful in one’s culture or you render yourself irrelevant to that culture or context.
  5. Ministry communication or innovations should be faithful in its content, but flexible and adaptable in its forms. Furthermore, we must aggressively pay attention to the ways in which we confuse form for content and the ways our own cultural biases or personal limitations undermine how we see the difference.

I highly recommend reading this short little book or ebook whether you have an interest in art or an interest in cross-cultural dynamics or missions. There’s a lot of great insights to chew on. Schaeffer was ahead of his time in some of these areas!

What stands out to you as you reflect on some of Schaeffer’s thoughts?



Quick Review: Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible

I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible and I really appreciated it.  It was short and awesome – I love books like that!

The book was written a few decades ago, but it serves as an apologetic of sorts for the importance of art and creation for the Church and for Christians. Various faith communities over the years have either drifted to either rejecting the role of art in giving glory to God or they have gone to the other extreme of worshipping art itself.  Schaeffer aims to lay out a simple theology of art and creation for giving glory to God and bearing witness to the world.

I think in the last couple of decades, the Church has made pretty significant strides as it relates to how it stewards art and values its role in community and mission.  I still hear from a lot of churchgoers a lot of fear about “those postmoderns,” but one of the blessings of the shift in worldview culturally over the past few decades has been the rediscovery in some ways of the power and importance of art and creative efforts. It makes me thankful for Schaeffer and others like him who were speaking into this area in the church 40 years ago.

The book covers the above, but also makes the connections to one’s own discipleship to Christ as a form of art. I loved this quote…

“No work of art is more important than the Christian’s own life, and every Christian is cared upon to be an artist in this sense. He may have no gift of writing, no gift of composing or singing, but each man has the gift of creativity in terms of the way he lives his life. In this sense the Christian’s life is to be an art work. The Christian’s life is to be a thing of truth and also a thing of beauty in the midst of a lost and despairing world.”   (Kindle loc 598-602)

My next post will be primarily related to Schaeffer’s thoughts about art, meaning, and context.  It was fascinating how relevant many of his thoughts are to contemporary discussions of mission and culture and specifically the task of contextualization.

If you’re an artist and want a good short and sound theology of art I highly recommend this book!

Article: Rethinking Culture & Mission

I wanted to highly recommend an article that I helped edit and spent some time on this year.  This is an article on culture and mission by a teammate of mine Adrian Pei who has done great work here.

This article to me represents the future of a lot of ministry discussions about contextualization and how to navigate culture and ethnicity in ministry.  It’s worth the read!


Epic Resilient E-Book

This past week was the national staff conference for my ministry (Epic) which I had the privilege to direct with an awesome design team and the help of many. As part of the conference I helped put together an e-book from many of the different great writings from Epic staff this past year.

I hope you enjoy it if you ever get the chance to check it out. It’s starts with a series that we ran on the Epic Resource site called, “Nine Elements of a Servant Leadership Reproduction Culture” with an additional intro and conclusion to it.  Part Two is my friend and teammate Adrian Pei’s new article called “A New Kind of Charge: Reframing Contextualization and Mission.” Part Three is a collection of 23 blogs from Epic staff from 2011-2012. Then finally, there’s an article I wrote after coaching many of our staff last summer in an Introduction to Hermeneutics course on the connections between Hermeneutics and doing cross-cultural ministry.  It’s called “A Three Cultures Approach to Engaging Scripture and Cross-Cultural Ministry.”

Both mine and Adrian’s articles are drafts so feel free to pass on any thoughts.  All in all – 101 pages of resources from about 17 authors (all Epic staff and interns) in total.

The mobi version works if you have a kindle or a kindle app on some other device.  If you can’t upload it manually to your device, you should have a kindle assigned email that allows you to send it to your kindle app.  I included an epub as that’s a common format for many other ereading devices.

Right click and save as…..

Epic Resilient E-book Kindle Version (mobi)

Epic Resilient E-book    .epub format

And for the non e-reader folks….here the pdf version…




Brief Review – Scripture as Communication

Finished recently Scripture as Communication:  Introducing Biblical Hermeneutics.  This was a book written by one of my professors at Bethel Seminary during my long stretch going there part-time between 2004 and 2011.  Jeannine Brown was my Introduction to Hermeneutics as well as one of my Greek profs.  I found her to be a great teacher and an awesome woman.

The book is really good. I had waiting much of the last year to read it because I wanted to read it while at the same time as I was serving as a TA/Coach in the Intro to Hermeneutics course that I’ve been working in the last couple of weeks.

It’s different a bit from most Bible Study Method or Intro to Hermeneutic books in that half of it is dedicated to the theory of Hermeneutics – what shapes meaning and how does one ascertain meaning in written communication shaped many generations ago.  There’s not much out there that seeks to provide an intro to Hermeneutic Theory while there’s plenty that seeks to provide practical help for understanding the Bible.  This book tackles that two as the second half is dedicated to the more practical elements of studying Scripture.

But aside from the strong theory content, there are several chapters dedicated to contextualization and really the practical side of contextualization as well as the ethics of contextualization – which involves discovering original meaning of a text in a different context and discovering and applying that meaning in a different context and era and situation.  I really thought some of this content was fantastic.

Not everyone is into studying the theoretical side, but I find it incredibly valuable and engaging – and dare I say it, exciting! The exciting thing about sound and thick theories is that they bring such great possibilities in understanding and application.  And they help provide good correctives against poor assumptions and approaches.

If you have time and want to explore the issues related to discovering original meaning in the Bible as well as in how to make appropriate parallels and application in contemporary settings, this would be a great book for that purpose.