Friday, January 29, 2010

On Translators and Tongues

Having taught and preached through a translator sixteen times in the past two weeks, I am reminded of how uncomfortable it is to stand there while someone repeats what you just said. It breaks your train of thought and makes it hard to continue. It is a very difficult way to teach or preach.

I am also reminded that the biblical gift of tongues is nothing like what is being practiced in modern charismatic circles.

I have ministered through translators in Lithuanian, Portuguese, Chinese, and now Malayalam. The closest I ever came to understanding any of it was Portuguese (mostly because I spent three months in Brazil and was actually studying the language a little … but don’t tell anyone that). Even there, my understanding was so limited (as in short conversations that involved a lot of pointing) that communication was well nigh impossible (unless you like trying to communicate with two year olds).

However, the biblical gift of tongues required no pointing. It did require a translator. Why? Because it was actually a language that needed to be translated for intelligibility to those who did not know the language. (Those who knew the language needed no translation [cf. Acts 2:5-11]). It was not a collection of nonsensical syllables rambled at random.

I wish I had the gift of tongues. I don’t, so my teaching time was cut in half (actually less than half since Malayalam takes more words to say the same thing).

And you don’t have the gift of tongues either.

While I am here, let me say that since tongues is such a miraculous and astounding gift (as was miracles), why do some think that the gift of prophecy is the equivalent of “God gave me an impression that may or may not be accurate”? That seems strange to me. The modern gift of “prophecy” as espoused by some conservative charismatics seems little more than “Hey, I have a feeling about this that you need to hear.”

Of course they say we should judge it by Scripture. But what makes that prophecy? I don’t know. If I give you my wisdom (however little it may be) about a topic, and remind you to judge it by Scripture, it is not miraculous.

I think gifts like tongues, prophecy, and miracles are similar. If two of the three have clearly passed (which I think is undeniable, at least in the biblical teaching of the two), why is the third any different?

So if you want to speak in tongues, I have a prophecy for you: Go to language school. (Test it by the Bible of course, but I think this is pretty solid advice.)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Contextualization and World Travel

My time in India makes me think that what passes for “contextualization” in America is … well … pretty silly.

I am not convinced that true contextualization means being able to quote the latest cartoon sitcom or reality show. It does not mean using lurid and crass language to communicate scriptural truth. It does not even mean exchanging your suit and tie for a pair of grubby jeans, a T-shirt, and a tattoo (thought I have both … both a suit and jeans … not a tattoo … yet).

In America, urban culture, suburban culture, and rural culture aren’t all that much different. They are still western, American culture. It does not take a lot of contextualization because the background and the informing culture is still the same. People in Seattle are basically the same as people in Albuquerque, which is why the same preaching works in both places. Remember, Driscoll’s claim has been that his church (Mars Hill) was a Seattle church for Seattle people and the culture of Seattle. He is a champion of contextualization. But millions of people all over the world download his sermons every month. And now his sermons are being played for gatherings all over the world. Apparently his “contextualization” in Seattle plays pretty well in Peoria too. Which leads us to ask what “contextualization” really means.

But I digress.

Now, ministry to Hispanics, Chinese, Arabs or some other ethnicity in America does require some contextualization because Hispanic culture, Chinese culture, and Arab culture is very different than western American culture.

But the truth is that by the time someone has lived in America for a few years, their culture has started to become very similar to American culture. So I would argue that “cross cultural” ministry does not really exist in many places in America.

There are, of course, what I call "micro cultures." An example would be the difference between an affluent southern suburb in a medium sized southern city and a housing project in a large midwestern city like Chicago or Detroit. But contextualization does not work here like many imagine. Again, trading a suit and tie for a pair of jeans and a T-shirt isn't contextualization in any meaningful sense. While it might be an acceptable, or even a good thing to do, it is different than cross-cultural ministry.

And BTW, when Jesus was incarnated, it wasn’t to minister cross-culturally. I think the whole foundation of incarnational ministry is fatally flawed because it misunderstands, or at least misemphasizes, the nature of Jesus’ incarnation and mission. But I will address that some other time perhaps.

Here in India, I see a completely different culture. The women sit separately from the men for the most part. The women all dress in Indian dress. I recall only seeing one woman in jeans since I have been here. The food is different. The music is different. The shopping is different.School is different. Religion is different. Virtually everything about life is different in some way.

While a person from rural Montana can live in New York City with relatively few adjustments, a person from New York or Montana will have a much more difficult time adjusting to life in India (whether metropolitan life or rural life). That’s the issue in contextualization. How does a person adapt their lifestyle to the community and culture in which they are living?

Going to Dearborn for a Pita isn’t cross cultural ministry. Neither is going to Mexicantown. (Though if you want to invite me to lunch to talk about cross cultural ministry, I prefer Mexicantown over Dearborn). Wearing jeans to preach in on Sunday isn’t really contextualization. And wearing earrings isn’t either.

Back to my point: World travel is better than listening to American pastors if you want to know what contextualization actually is.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Things I Have Learned

  1. “Gusto” doesn’t translate well. (Fortunately, I learned by listening to someone else.)

  2. Horn-honking is required. And no obscene gestures are returned.

  3. Wild elephants sometimes come on seminary property and eat things they are not supposed to.

  4. Banana chips don’t taste much like bananas. But bananas in India still taste like bananas in America. (My coming to know the first, surprised me. My church family knowing that I know the second will surprise them.)

Ah, life in the big world …

I have spent the last week in India, and will be here for several more days before returning home.

By God’s grace and providence, I have had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the world. It has not been often. Over the last eighteen years, I have only been on four continents in a dozen or so trips. But it has been instructive and challenging.

World travel with open eyes is a wonderful teacher, not because it reminds us of how good whave it in America, but because it reminds us of the great call to make disciples of all nations.

I will be posting some more on my trip throughout the coming days as it winds down and I process it all in my head.

If you ever have the chance, travel the world, not to see sites and beaches, but to see gospel work going on.

Make friends with a missionary family and learn about life in their country, and learn about the work of the gospel. With the missionary's permission, visit them. Make sure you serve them; do not be a burden for them; give them more money than you think they are spending on you; and don't overstay your welcome.

Read missionary blogs, like my friend Dave, who challenges me every time he posts.

Read missionary biographies. My favorites is still Through Gates of Splendor.

Listen to missions preaching, such as the recent SGI Conference, or John Piper's biographical sketches. (I recently was challenged by his presentations on William Carey and John Paton. Go over to Desiring God and download them.)

Read National Geographic, not for pictures of things, but for stories of people groups. Wonder about the progress of the gospel in their communities and cultures.

And if in your travels you see a site or two along the way, all the better.

Monday, January 11, 2010

In the Diner

It’s pretty quiet again this morning. Not many people here this morning.

One of the regulars died over the weekend of a sudden heart attack. I spent quite a while talking to him on Thursday. He had been snowblowing later that day. Then he died, apparently outside on his way to the car to go somewhere. He was probably in his sixties, I guess. I heard about it Saturday night.

Sometime ago he and I had a conversation about church and the gospel. He knew about Jesus and the facts of the gospel. I am not sure that he knew him though.

He was in good health, so far as I knew. But he’s gone now.

We must never forget how short life is, and how unexpected death can be. Our life could be over in a hurry. So could the lives of those around. So teach us, Lord, to number our days.

One of the reasons I come here is for visibility. Everything I do here, I could do in my office, except have someone bring me more coffee, and talk to people. And that’s why I come. I am not a great conversationalist. But I want to be known by people in the community and the only way to do that is be seen in public and be meeting and talking to people. Of course that might sound strange, like a politician who goes places just to be seen.

But I am not running for anything. I don’t think I am on an ego trip. For me, I want to be known as the pastor. I want people to see me and think about the church and about the gospel. I want that to be the catalyst for conversations of all types.

I say all that because I see another man I just met last week. He approached me at my table to ask me to pray for him. On Wednesday, he will be having his sixth or seventh surgery in the last eighteen months. He is scared. Understandably so.

He approached me because he knew I was a pastor. He goes to church somewhere, but promised to come and visit our church sometime.

So I pray for him—not just for his health but for his soul as well.

I think it is important that Christians be seen being Christians, that they be known as church-going, Jesus-loving Christians.

Your job might prevent you from setting up shop in a restaurant somewhere. But it won’t prevent you from oozing Jesus from every pore of your existence.

Jim Berg says, “If we are not known to be God-loving believers by our obvious extravagance for the Lover of our soul, why should those who follow us bother with Him either?” (Changed Into His Image, p. 219).

So for the sake of the gospel, be visible as Jesus-loving people.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Truth of the Bible

Someone presents an argument: If all the Bible isn’t true, then none of it is true.

Now I have never heard anyone actually make this argument. Perhaps you have. I have only heard people who disagree with the argument say it.

It is a stupid argument? Well, yes, in a way. But calling it that probably won’t open a door for conversation.

The argument should actually be made quite differently: If all the Bible isn’t true, then we have no way to know what is true in it.

Some people argue for a limited inerrancy. They want to say that the Bible is inerrant in all that it affirms, but is not necessarily inerrant in all that it says about matters of science, geography, etc.

First, the very notion of “limited inerrancy” is, well, shall we say non-sensical. Inerrancy is binary. Something either is inerrant or is not inerrant.

Second, the notion of “limited inerrancy” really says nothing specific. Virtually everything but the baldest of bald-faced lies partakes of limited inerrancy. The problem with people who lie sometimes is that you never know what to believe.

Third, the notion of “limited inerrancy” is a charade of the worst sort. It is a construct of modernity, a way to affirm a historic teaching without actually affirming the historic teaching. It is a way of maintaining the dignity of a name without partaking of its corresponding indignity (as some would consider it).

Fourth, the notion of “limited inerrancy” does not comport with the Bible’s affirmations. When the Bible teaches that Moses parted the Red Sea, that is presented as a historical fact to be believed. It is teaching us about the life of Moses. When the Bible says that “X did Y,” it is teaching that as a fact to be believed. These teachings are no different than affirmation the the Lord will accomplish salvation for his people.

Now, to be sure, “inerrancy” does not require (and has never required) that one hold to the notion that trees clap or that stars sing. Inerrancy has never claimed that figures of speech should be anything other than a figure of speech.

Inerrancy has never required that people ignore the cultural and historical context in which the Scripture were written.

But what we must recognize is that figures of speech and historical and cultural contexts do not mean that the Bible is inaccurate.

And we cannot legitimately define “inerrant” or “truthful” to be something other than “truthful.”

This is an area where not much critical thinking has been done. People blindly accept the assertions of limited inerrancy or cultural accuracy without considering the serious ramifications of it. As a result, we are left not knowing what in the Bible is actually true.

We need a more robust scholarship, not a lesser one. We need a revival of historic bibliology that refuses to kowtow to modern notions of intellect that defy the propositions of Scripture.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Fosdick on Tolerance

Fosdick concluded his famous sermon entitled “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” with this.

The present world situation smells to heaven! And now, in the presence of colossal problems, which must be solved in Christ’s name and for Christ’s sake, the Fundamentalists propose to drive out from the Christian churches all the consecrated souls who do not agree with their theory of inspiration. What immeasurable folly!

Well, they are not going to do it; certainly not in this vicinity. I do not even know in this congregation whether anybody has been tempted to be a Fundamentalist. Never in this church have I caught one accent of intolerance. God keep us always so and ever increasing areas of the Christian fellowship; intellectually hospitable, open-minded, liberty-loving, fair, tolerant, not with the tolerance of indifference, as though we did not care about the faith, but because always our major emphasis is upon the weightier matters of the law.

It strikes me that Fosdick did not see the intolerance of his own position. He was certainly not tolerant of those who believed that truth was to be defended vigorously, even by separation.

Much of the call for tolerance in today’s world (and yesterday’s) spring from intolerance.

Intolerance isn’t a problem. The wrong kind of intolerance is a problem. And the wrong kind of tolerance is worse than the right kind of intolerance.

You see, no one has a problem with intolerance. It’s only when one person’s intolerance strikes at another person’s tolerance.

So let’s see through the cries against intolerance, and let’s foster a worldview that is intolerant of wrong things, and tolerant of right things.

Let’s quit pretending like everything’s okay. It’s not. Some things are wrong. And that is why people complain about intolerance. They recognize that some things are wrong. The question is, Have they rightly identified the things that are wrong? And are they working to stamp out wrong things?