How to Keep Them Talking???

I was looking at a blog of one of my favorite Asian theologians. His blog is on Patheos. Patheos appears to be a webspace that allows bloggers (especially theological or religious) to reside. I am not sure if they allow the bloggers to be monetized, but there are an awful lot of advertisements. Much of the advertisers are really, Really, REALLY SKETCHY. Personally, I am not interested in clicking on an advert to get a prophecy from my personal angel. If my personal angel wants to tell me something, he/she can email or PM me like the rest.

One advertisement caught my eye, however. It said.

How to shut up an atheist in 15 seconds flat.

Click Here to Find Out How

A strange whim came over me and I clicked on it (something I never ever ever do).  It said,

Atheists silenced by “Adam Gene” discovery.

A new blessing for every Christian American.

It started to try to open up a video for me to watch… but I dumped out before that happened. I wasn’t convinced I was interested. First of all, it is apparently for Christian Americans and most of the people I minister with and to are Christian Asians. Second, if this “Adam Gene” is such a wonderful thing (“a new blessing”) shouldn’t it be a new blessing for atheists? Do Christian Americans really need a new blessing? Let’s not get greedy…

Not having watched the video, I have to guess what is being said. I guess they are saying that there is something that someone labeled the “Adam Gene” in the human genome whose character is so self-evidently inexplicable from an non-theistic evolutionary perspective that a committed atheist will be completely dumbfounded and have no retort to this. And this discovery can be explained adequately in 15 seconds or less. Without knowing what this new blessing is (which I guess must actually be an “old blessing” since it is given the moniker “Adam”), I still have my doubts. Worldviews are generally quite resilient to opposing views, and evidence is rarely as “In Your Face!!” as proponents think it is.

For me, however, I am thinking more about an advert for Patheos that would be a bit different. It could be something like this:

Atheists

I feel like this would be much more valuable and interesting. I feel it sounds clickbait-y enough. Adding “in 15 seconds flat” is overkill, and I think disingenuous as well. When a person clicks on it, they are taken to a list. Perhaps the list could look something like this:

  1. Let them know that you are genuinely interested in what they believe.
  2. Listen actively and intently to what they say, seeking to not only understand what they believe but also why they believe it. (Talk less, listen more.)
  3. Demonstrate to them that you genuinely care about them as fellow human beings; and see each as an individual person, not a label or category.
  4. Make it clear that the care you demonstrate to them is not contingent on them coming around to your way of thinking.
  5. Invite them to share their faith journey to atheism. Seek to understand and empathize as much as possible with the feelings involved in that process.
  6. Dispel the stereotype that you as a theist believe that they, as atheists, must be bad people.
  7. Agree with them in areas that you can honestly agree, Don’t pretend certainty on things that you can’t be certain about.
  8. If asked to share what you believe, do so with humility, gentleness, and respect.

I would like to think that following such a list would be a blessing to Christians (American or otherwise) and Atheists alike.

Quite an improvement in my view.

Quitting as Lack of Faith or Act of Faith?

Going into Missions is often thought of as an act of letting go. One lets go of one’s former job, one’s home culture, and often many friends and even family.

One might think that means that missionaries

walking away

are good at letting go, but that is often not the case. In fact, the letting go in the past may make one less prone to do it in the field. One of the main challenges is letting go of ministries or projects. There can be a number of reasons. This is not an exhaustive (or exhausting) list.

  1. Fear of Change. We are creatures of inertia or homeostasis. It takes energy to change, to learn, to grow. If we have been doing something, we are likely to try to keep it going (1st order change) rather than stop and do something different (2nd order change).
  2. Comfort. Not unrelated to the first one, but now expressed in a more positive way. We get good at something and it feels like we have found our niche or our calling. It feels right to stay where we are and it feels wrong to cut ties… break relationships… end what has been so much of our present. Innovation and new challenges seem wrong, because we have gotten good at thinking “inside the box,” and hanging out in our “comfort zone.”
  3. Sense of Ownership or Privilege. We identify our ministry work with ourselves rather than with God, or with locals. The ministry feels like “ours” and not “theirs.” We sympathize with the writer of Ecclesiastes whose complaint was of how the rewards of one’s hard labor eventually go to those who did not work for it or earn it.
  4. Hubris. It is tempting to think that a ministry cannot survive without us. To let go can feel like dooming a ministry to collapse. Unfortunately, that attitude can actually create this reality. Thinking one is indispensible can lead a missionary not to train up others to take his/her place.
  5. Unable to Recognize the Times. I Chronicles 10:32 speaks “Of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do,…” Missionaries don’t always recognize when times have changed and situations changed. A need may disappear. A missionary may have transitioned from pioneer, to parent, to partner, to participant, and can (and should) move along. Many projects come to their natural end of life, but instead of being celebrated as a completed task, are put on life-support and maintained in a state of ineffectiveness.
  6. Fear that it Suggests a Lack of Faith. When is giving up on a project a sign of lack of faith, and when is it an act of faith? This takes a great deal of discernment, because leaving can be a calculated plan to follow God’s calling, or a running away from difficult tasks and choices. Retreat can be an act of cowardice or a an act of sound strategy. Leaving too soon is bad, but so is leaving too late. For some people it is a lack of faith because they believe the calling of God is static (“God has called you to this place for this ministry… until death”) rather than dynamic (“Calling is following God wherever He leads”).

If you are looking for easy answers, you will find none here. Listening to God and to wise mentors and peers are important, but these will remove all doubt. It is somehow right that MINISTRY rhymes with MYSTERY. There is, and should always be, a certain amount of uncertainty. Ultimately, our decisions must be Acts of Faith.

Writing Status

I have been writing more lately and so thought I would update my status on books that are and books that will probably never be.  For the books that are you can click on my Amazon page…. HERE.  With the exception of my medical missions, my books are not formally edited so they are what I (or in two cases what my wife and I) thought were worth saying.

Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training

  • Subject:  Pastoral Counseling and Pastoral Theology
  • Target Reader:  CPE Trainee, or Bible School student
  • Status:  Just published September 2019
  • Comment:  Co-authored with my wife, who is a CPE Supervisor.  A follow-on to “The Art of Pastoral Care.” Takes an Integrationist or Christian Counseling perspective to the relationship between theology and psychology.

Dialogue in Diversity:  Christians in Conversation with a Multifaith World

  • Subject:  Interreligious Dialogue
  • Target Reader:  Missions student
  • Status:  Published January 2019.  About to go through minor revisions in preparation for a new missions class
  • Comment:  Takes a perspective of Dialogue more focused on Clarification and breaking down barriers to conversation between adherents of different faiths, rather than an apologetic or a “common ground” approach.

The Art of Pastoral Care

  • Subject:  Pastoral Care & Counseling
  • Target Reader:  Bible School student, CPE trainee, or Churchmembers seeking competency in lay-pastoral care.
  • Status:  Published December 2017.  Revisions are not scheduled at this time.
  • Comment:  Co-authored with my wife who is a CPE supervisor.  This is actually our most popular book.

Ministry in Diversity:  Applied Cultural Anthropology in a Multicultural World

  • Subject:  Cultural or Missions Anthropology
  • Target Reader:  Bible School or Missions School student
  • Status:  Latest edition December 2017. Collecting minor corrections to be incorporated sometime in 2020.
  • Comment:  My second most popular book.  A pretty accessible entry-point to the subject.

Theo-Storying:  Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture

  • Subject:  Theological Reflection and Storying
  • Target Reader:  Those who like to use stories to hear, reflect, and theologize.
  • Status:  Latest Edition June 2015.  Undergoing a modest revision with at least one more chapter.
  • Comment:  I think this is my personal favorite work since I wrote it because I love the topic (as opposed to writing it for courses I am teaching).  Enjoying updating it at the moment.

Principles and Practices for Healthy Medical Missions:  Seeking the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond

  • Subject:  Christian Medical Missions
  • Target Reader:  People, churches, and agencies involved in Christian medical missions. (Focus is on the Philippines)
  • Status:  Latest Edition February 2015.  No updates planned.
  • Comment:  This is the condensed book form of my doctoral dissertation.

Books that I started but will probably never finish

  • Book on Missions Theology.  This is probably the most viable book of the ones I started but did not finish. Took a lot of stuff from that book and put it into my other books that I did complete.
  • Book on Holistic Ministry.  A lot of good stuff in it… but also a lot of stuff that did not stand up well upon rereading later. Again, took the best stuff and incorporated in other books, or in class lesson plans.
  • Autobiographical Book on Missions. Wrote this pretty early… only 4 years into missions. Maybe something to do— EVENTUALLY. However, will wait until I am older (or maybe won’t do it). I have read a number of autobiographical works of missionaries. Some are great. Some are… meh.

 

 

Stories and Dialogue

Found a section of my old book Theo-storying that had stuff that I had forgotten about. I think I will have to update my book on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) to include this. If I have time.

Another thing that affects the impact of a story is the respondent’s (or hearer’s) attitude about stories. Let’s return to the idea of responding to movies. Robert Johnson in “Reel Spirituality: Theology and Film in Dialogue (Engaging Culture)”3 speaks of different film responses.

  • Avoidance. Films are all bad. Best to stay away.

  • Caution. Films are often bad. Be careful to avoid any sort of heresy, or bad language or behavior.

  • Dialogue. Films speak for themselves. Critique and interact with the film on their own terms, not our own.

  • Appropriation. Films may have something important to tell us. Let’s be ready to listen and learn.

  • Divine Encounter. Films may provide us an epiphany or divine experience.

According to Johnson, these five attitudes describe five philosophies of critiquing movies. He notes that they fit into a spectrum where avoidance and caution are in the region of ethical critique. By that is meant that the critic looks at the movie regarding how moral is the behavior, visualizations, and scripting. If there is too much bad stuff in the movie, the movie is judged bad. Otherwise, it may be okay. Appropriation and Divine Encounter are on the other end, is where the critique is more aesthetic. Bad behavior and language may not be the main focus, but rather whether the film inspires and enlightens.

This, I believe, is a useful way of looking at films, at least from the standpoint of film critique. However, for individuals hearing stories, there needs to be some changes. We can keep the same spectrum. However, since this is a response attitude, rather than a philosophy for critique, there will be some differences.

Avoid    Caution    Dialogue    Appropriate     Encounter

|                   |                   |                   |                   |

<—————————————————————————>

Less Educative                                        More Educative

Less Doubt                More Doubt                Less Doubt

Further to the right on the spectrum the greater the tendency to accept the story as having educative value. The further to the left, the less presumption of educative value is given. The whole spectrum can be seen as sharing the attitude of the story having entertainment value. After all, a story without entertainment value probably is unnecessary… just replace it with facts and declarative sentences (or say nothing). Combining these makes the definitions change a bit.

  • Avoidance. Stories entertain, but should not be trusted to inform. Listen but don’t learn.

  • Caution. Stories entertain, but are not a good way to inform or educate. Perhaps they may have value as case studies or illustrations for difficult concepts.

  • Dialogue. Stories entertain, but they also provide an alternate perspective and experience. Interact with them and see what they have to say.

  • Appropriation. Stories entertain, but they also are an educational tool. We need to learn from stories.

  • Divine Encounter. Stories entertain, but they also inspire and transform. We need to hear God’s voice (or perhaps “divine wisdom”) coming through the story.

But Which Response Is Best?

If one is telling a story with the purpose of informing and inspiring the hearer, which response attitude is best? The immediate thought may be that Divine Encounter is best. And in one sense that may be true. It is nice when the respondent already starts from the presumption that what you have may be, not merely true but, the TRUTH. But I might suggest that Dialogue is a better starting point. Why?

Dialogue, the center of the scale is most likely the highest position of doubt and critical faculty. As one moves towards Avoidance, there is a lessening of doubt and critical faculty as one is more sure that the storyteller does not have something of value. Likewise, as one moves towards Divine Encounter, one is lessening doubt about the storyteller/story and lessening the critical faculty. Strong faith often comes from critical wrestling with doubt. It may not be desirable for the respondent to start from a lesser amount of critical faculty and doubt.

Take the example of the story of the Good Samaritan. An avoidance attitude is likely to lead the respondent to think that the Good Samaritan is a nice and pleasant story… but has no personal relevance or application. Divine Encounter attitude may lead to an uncritical acceptance of the story. That may sound good, but the uncritical acceptance may lead to a trite understanding (“It is nice to be nice to people”). Or, perhaps, the hearer will have an understanding of a deeper meaning, but not take time to see how to integrate the message with the hearer’s life. On the other hand, Dialogue means that one is open to hear the story, interact with the story, and “wrestle” with it. Elwood P. Dowd may have “wrestled with reality” for 35 years, but we can and should wrestle with stories. We grow through the process.

One should not minimize the concept of meditation or rumination. It is a cognitive and affective wrestling with the story. Two of the greatest defenders of the faith of the 20th century, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, only came to faith through a long process of this sort of wrestling with truth.7 In the case of the Good Samaritan, what does it mean to truly love one’s neighbor as oneself, when one’s neighbor can be one who hates you? In the case of the the priest and Levite, is Jesus saying that religious piety should be set aside to help someone you don’t even know or like? (If you have read the Gospel Blimp by Joseph Bayly,8 one of the main characters begins going to church less often to invest time with a non-Christian friend on Sundays, to the chagrin of his Christian friends. Not completely a parallel story, but it does have elements of commonality.) If loving one’s neighbor includes friends, family, fellow believers, and enemies, is there any way in which one’s actions should differentiate these relationships? Are you TRULY loving your neighbor as yourself while you are reading this paragraph about loving one’s neighbors? The more you meditate, the more questions you are likely to have. Questions show that we are still learning, or at least open to learning.

Theo-storying Again

Okay. I finally finished working on my wife and my have struggled

theostorying
New Edition a few weeks awaybook,

with, off and on, for close to three years, Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training.  I have decided to start updating and fixing my previous books. I have decided to start with Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture. Although it has actually aged fairly well as far as I can see, there are reasons that I am starting with it.

 

#1.  This is the only book I have written that was not written because I am teaching a course on that subject. I wrote it because of the love of the topic.

#2.  I had actually started to write a sequel to Theo-Storying. However, in the end, I decided to take some of the ideas from the sequel and bring it into an early revision of the book. Since then, however, there are more things I would like to add. Most importantly the role of Theological Reflection, and its connection to Midrash Aggadah.

#3.  I had also started to write a book on Missions Theology.

theology-and-missions
The early version of the cover of a book I never finished.

I actually made good progress on this one. But in the end I lost interest in the project. But I did not lose interest in some of the topics covered. Some of the ideas were moved into Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training, but some really belong in Theo-Storying.

 

Hope to be done soon. I think I can get it done in the two week break between semesters here at PBTS and ABGTS. I will keep you updated.