Ministering and EGIDS

There was a seminar at our seminary that I did not attend— but some of the charts they had on the bulletin board looked interesting. If I was more involved with translation and language contextualization, I might have been already aware of some of this before… but since I wasn’t I found it nice to know.

The chart has to do with the “Expanded Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale” (EGIDS). This was developed by Paul Lewis and Gary Simons, back in 2009, combining Fishman’s GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale), UNESCO scale of language endangerment, and Ethnologue’s categories of language vitality.

EGID Language Chart

The rightmost column has my own notes as far as the role of Christian Ministry in the language. At level 10 christian ministry doesn’t really have any real use, unless one sees historical work as Christian ministry (and that can only realistically be done at level 10A).

At levels 8 and 9, the main role is supporting cultural heritage, with a possible secondary role of revitalizing the oral language. Some may not see this as Christian ministry. However, revelation always comes through culture and language, and ministry is inherently embedded in culture. Assuming that revelation and ministry is better if disconnected from a people’s heritage/history is doubtful. A faith built on strictly foreign symbols often will not become societally deep-rooted.

The ministry uses increase with the lower numbers including discipeleship, orality, and literary purposes.

Essentially, Levels 0 through 9 have possibilities for valuable Christian ministry.

Between the Normal and the Novel


Theology is meant to be the bridge that connects God’s Revelation with Man’s Condition (or Context). As such, theology is meant to be a living activity… but one tied to historical continuity. As such good theology exists somewhere between the Normal and the Novel.

The Normal

The Normal describes theology that reiterates the interpretations of the past. As such, theological education is the repeating of doctrinal statements from some point in history (on one hand) or the official dogma of the moment. An example of the Normal is in this quote by Charles Hodge written to a reviewer:

“If your review shall have the effect of commending the views which they advocate to the favorable regard of our younger theologians, I shall rejoice. I have but one object in my professional career and as a writer, and that is to state and to vindicate the doctrines of the Reformed Church. I have never advanced a new idea, and have never aimed to improve on the doctrines of our father. Having become satisfied that the system of doctrines taught in the symbols of the Reformed Churches is taught in the Bible, I have endeavored to sustain it, and am willing to believe even where I cannot understand. … I feel this the more because may of our brethren in this country have expressed great dissatisfaction with those articles. I am persuaded, however, that they contain nothing more than the common Protestant doctrine on the subject.”

-Quoting Charles Hodge in “The Life of Charles Hodge” by Archibald Alexander Hodge (published 1881) . Note that this passage is quoted in part by Edward William Fudge in “Hell: A Final Word”)

Essentially, he is saying that the Reformed Church, at some point of time in the past codified its theological understanding of God’s revelation to such a level of perfection that he would never challenge or add to it, even if some of it doesn’t make sense to him.

There are several problems with this.

1. It can lead to confusion between revelation and theology. The theology can become the hermeneutic for understanding Scripture. Hodge seems to suggest this when he says that he is willing to believe his denomination’s theology even when he doesn’t understand it. Presumably that means that when Scripture passages do not seem to support this theological view, he would interpret the passage based on the denominational view. (I hope it is not necessary to suggest that such a view turns the early reformers’ view of Scripture on its head.)

2. A historical/denominational theological position describes a set of beliefs that a majority can agree to— it does not, however, suggest the range of recognized orthodoxy. That’s what makes it a “Normal” (meaning average, common, or typical) view. Any creed has a range of beliefs even in those who sign on to the creed, and are likely to have as many nuanced positions as to the interpretation of the creed as there are signers. (I am Southern Baptist, and our “Baptist Faith and Message” definitely has the awkward feel of a document developed by a committee. Look at Article 16 if you want to see vague words seeking to hide big disagreements.) As such, simply repeating what was said before is actually allowing oneself less flexibility and possibility for diversity than, presumably, the original formulators allowed themselves. A theologian should not simply repeat the dogma of denominational stances. At the very least he or she should explore the range of its own “orthodoxy.”

3. If, as I personally believe is pretty obvious, all theology is contextual, all theology can and should change over time, place, and cultural context. To lock it in and regurgitate it decade after decade is to gradually make a theology irrelevant. That is part of the reason I don’t describe myself as a “Reformed Theologian” though I have friends who do call themselves that. Perhaps I could say that I am a theologican in the “Reformed tradition,” suggesting that its roots are seen as connected to the thoughts and ideas of some of the major early Reformers. I was a member of a different tradition— perhaps “Pentecostalism,” I certainly wouldn’t call myself a Pentecostal theologian for the same reason. It locks one into an out-of-date theology. We don’t need First Century Theology. We don’t need 16th Century Theology. We don’t need 20th Century Theology. We need theology here and now. Curiously, accepting the fluidity of theology can help it remain orthodox since it forces one to return to the standard (“canon”) of Scripture, rather than a council or some other point in history.

The Novel

Perhaps worse than the extreme of the Normal is the extreme of the Novel. This is the focus on theology that is new or original.

1. Articles are more appealing if they say something new rather than reiterate accepted truth. The same can be said for dissertations.

2. Some seeking adherents are likely to get a hearing by appealing to those who have been turned off by the Normal. Although a prophet is one who states God’s message in a specific circumstance, folk Christianity tends to think that a prophet is one who says new things that diverge from previous revelation— the Novel.

3. Others seek publicity and publicity comes from being controversial.

4. The Novel is often a reaction to the Normal. I come from the “Burnt Out District” of Western New York where decades of “normal” revivalism led to “burn out” which in turn led to the creation of numerous groups of novel ahistorical doctrines (the most well known of this is Mormonism). In the Philippines, ahistorical responses to unchallenged Normal theology such as Iglesia Ni Cristo and Ang Dating Daan, have sprung up as well.

For Christians, even if a novel teaching originally comes from a single individual, eventually, there will be an attempt to justify the belief Biblically. The problem is that those embracing the Novel, have commonly rejected the normalizing role of history. While Protestants commonly say they embrace “sola scriptura,” ideally this is not strictly true. Without understanding of its historical context, one tends to interpret passages based on nothing more than the “sound” of the passage.


The Normal can drive people to the Novel (heterodoxy), and the Novel can drive people to the Normal (a fundamental or traditionalist response). However, rather than allowing one to drive the other, each should challenge the other in (pulling the David Bosch phrase) “creative tension.”

I mentioned earlier that I am reading a book by Edward Fudge. He supports the belief that eternal punishment of unbelievers does not involve eternal conscious torment. Rather, he believes it involves annihilation or being “consumed by fire.” This goes against the “traditional view” Good people can disagree on their view of Hell… but I do appreciate the basic methodology Fudge uses. It could be argued that his view is Novel. As such he could have simply pulled Bible verses as an attempt to show that his view is “Biblical.” I wouldn’t say that he “proves” his case, but he at least shows that his view is a potentially viable alternative interpretation of Scripture. But Fudge goes one better. The Traditionalist (Normal) view draws on Augustine, Catholic doctrine, and the early Protestant reformers. Fudge draws on the writings of early Rabbinical and Church sources to demonstrate that there were at least three major historical views regarding Hell— eternal fire as destruction, as torment, and as purification. So both history as revelation and the Bible as revelation are taken seriously— not to prove what is true, but to demonstrate what is potentially within the range of orthodoxy.

In missions, theology must be adapted to new contexts. As such, slavish reliance on denominational creeds is unhelpful. But an ahistorical Biblicism also has its problems. We need to recognize our historical roots and our standard (canon) of Divine scripture.

MMM Clarifications

I have been getting hundreds of hits to this blogsite because many think that it is related to MMM-Global… a financial scheme (seemingly a Ponzi scheme).


I hate to disappoint but I have no connection with that organization. This is a Christian missions blogsite. I am a missionary and a professor of Christian missions, and the administrator of a Pastoral Care Center… all in the Philippines. I put here articles related to my my reflections as they broadly relate to Christian missions, ministry, and theology. If you are interested, beyond this site, I have some other sites that relate to various aspects of the work of myself and my wife.

Bukal Life Care & Counseling Center                  Our Counseling Center

CPSP-Philippines     Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Certification Board

Bob and Celia Munson      Our own scrapbook of our ministry work.

If you are looking for MMM-Global… or MMM-Philippines… or one of its many other iterations, you need to look elsewhere.


The Best Wine in Old Jars

The first known miracle of Jesus was in the community of Cana as recorded in John 2. According to verse 11, “This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.” So this was meant to be recognized as miraculous pointing to His messiahship– His glory— His power… helping His disciples to have greater “belief in” or “trust in” or “allegiance to” Him.


But why did Jesus have bottles filled with water? Presumably, power that can transform water into wine almost instantly would not be much different from the power to transform air or “nothing” into wine. Of course, if one estimates that wine as a liquid is about 1000 times more dense than a gas at standard temperature and pressure, one might assume that the transforming water to wine is only about 0.1% as impossible as transforming air to wine. But as soon as one turn signs into a math game of levels of impossibility, we have missed the point of the story.

Here are some things to ponder.

1. Having the servants put water in the jars helped His disciples recognize the miracle. After all, that seems to be the point of the story based on verse 11. The action was, in part at least, as a sign to His disciples. Putting water into the bottle probably would convince neither the bridegroom nor the servants since they almost certainly already knew that there was no wine in them. It wasn’t a sign for the guests of the feast since it seems as if they were kept in the dark about what was going on, to maintain, and increase, the honor of the host. However, the disciples needed the sign and by having the jars filled with water (presumably in the presence of the disciples) they would understand something they did not know before.

This is, of itself, inadequate. Jesus could have shown to the disciples that the jars were empty, and then transformed this emptiness into wine. So lets think more.

2. Miracles in the Bible almost always have a human element to them. God usually, does miracles tied to the activity of a person or persons. Often that human activity is seemingly superfluous… like building a big big boat for the deluge, or it could be striking a rock, or building a big altar and pouring jar after jar of water over it, or dunking seven times in a muddy river. Even the Creation, a miracle that seems to be beyond the possibility of human involvement has Adam’s involvement. Adam is called upon to name what God has created, and he gives up a rib for God to create Eve, the final act of creation in the story.

In the Cana story, Jesus did not do the miracle with no human involvement… and He did not simply fill the bottles Himself. He requested that some people participate in being part of the miracle.

3. To me, the most important thing here is that using the water demonstrates something that empty pots would not show. Starting with water instead of nothing shows that Jesus can do something better than create… He can transform. It is important that God can create (we owe our existence to that fact). But since we already exist… have already been created… it is a bit more relevant in the now the question whether we can be transformed. Can we be sanctified? Can we be resurrected? Can we be glorified?

As Christians we are to be like the jars described here in John Chapter 2. We are to be living human signs or miracles of God’s ability to transform. Additionally, we are to join God in this activity… utilizing “means” (as William Carey would say) to be part of God’s activity of transformation.

Ministerial Identity in Art and Dialogue

Self-Understanding/Acceptance is Key to Self-Identity in ministry. This may seem trivial to some or (too) obvious to others. But without understanding what one’s identity is in ministry, it is hard to be effective in ministry.confused

Let me give an example.  One of my jobs is as an administrator of a counseling center. We are a rather disorganized counseling center, meaning, I suppose, that I am not all that great of an administrator. But we keep moving forward and we keep helping people so perhaps that is a good measure of success. But we train people to be hospital chaplains, as well as for other roles such as pastor, layminister, and missionary. In the Philippines there are few hospitals with real chaplains. They often have a Roman Catholic priest assigned, and maybe some nuns. But, sadly, often they are poorly trained in pastoral care, and then end up being limited to mass and other sacraments, and healing oil.

The chaplain trainees in the hospital start from a disadvantage beyond a cultural one where the chaplain role is poorly understood. Pastors in churches have the advantage that they are recognized as religious “experts” by members of their own church. But in the hospital, the “parish” of the chaplain is full of people that don’t necessarily recognize such expertise.

As a result, many chaplain trainees lack confidence in their role. Some end up being apologetic in their visits. Some switch into “Sunday afternoon visitation” mode— essentially friendly banter and perhaps a bit of (unwelcome) cold-call evangelism. Others start to switch into assuming other professional roles, such as nurse, psychologist, or social worker.

A uniform, clerical collar, ID badge, and perhaps a Bible helps the individual to feel that he or she belongs as pastoral guides and advisors in a hospital. That is fine… but true pastoral identity really comes from an internal attitude… not from trappings.But where does this internal attitude get its start? External symbols do aid in a ministerial identity. And this should hardly be surprising. We gain a sense of who we are, not merely through personal reflection (as important as that may be) but through interaction with others. Reflection often requires some internalization of the  external, after externalization of the internal.

 1.  “Therapeutic Art.”

An exercise we like using is called “Color Your World.” We learned it from Dr. Jenny Pak of Rosemead  School of Psychology. We use five different colors of paper and give them to chaplain trainees with scissors and glue sticks. They will define what emotion associates with each color. Then they make a piece of art (realistic or abstract, 2-dimensional or 3-dimensional… doesn’t matter) that describes the emotional landscape of their lives in the last… oh, maybe 2 or 3 months. Once done, each person will share their artwork and then describe to a small group what the artwork means to them, color by color, feature by feature. 12891697_1159470107418692_8622662483575228575_o

Yes, this sounds like Nursery School stuff, and in some ways it is. (One of my earliest clear memories was in nursery school at the age of 3 or so, struggling to master scissors.)

But, in fact, it tends to be quite effective. And I believe it works well for much the same reason that art works for children after a major crisis. After a major crisis, children have difficulty communicating what is going on in their lives. But if a child is asked to make a picture (of the family, of the crisis, of things after the crisis… whatever) the child is quite capable of putting a lot of effort into it… even enjoying the task. It draws them out.

At this point, there is a potential trap. People often want to know “How does one interpret the art?” I can leave that discussion for experts, but in general the answer is that the artist should interpret the art. The problem with allowing others to interpret is that this assumes that others are better at understanding in artist’s symbol mapping than the artist. Rather than having art created to be interpreted externally… it is created to help the artist share. The art drives dialogue. It is possible that the artist may be blind to “what is really going on.” That is where dialogue/feedback helps. But it must be tentative. The same issues come up with dreams. The desire to dogmatically interpret dreams seems to be almost overpowering for some. But generally it is better to allow the dream to fuel dialogue rather than assume a role of unilateral interpreter

With Color Your World… this is what happens. If I ask a person how they are feeling… they will often say “Fine” or “Okay lang.” If they are part of a church that only affirms “positive” emotions, they might say “Wonderful, Praise God!” or “God is good!” But by separating the exploration of the feelings in the art creation from the sharing of those feelings, it is much easier and fuller. There are other advantages:

  • By externalizing, it is less awkward. It is more comfortable to describe a piece of art than it is to describe myself.
  • It provides a, hopefully, non-judgmental place to normalize so-called “bad” emotions such as fear or anger.
  • It increases group cohesivenss through mutual disclosure and acceptance.
  • It is actually quite fun when many (most?) people would consider sharing their feelings to be uncomfortable.

Self-identity starts in self-disclosure and dialogue with peers, with feedback. Art is one easy way that self-disclosure and feedback in a group setting can be accomplished– but there are others.

2.  Case studies. Case studies are written accounts of a ministerial nature (within our owncontext) that is shared in a small peer group for feedback.

The cases are real events that have been interpreted into writing. This interpretation process (selecting and filtering the event) provides a lot of good opportunity for self-disclosure and valuable dialogue.

While I believe that it is best to use real events, it has been noted that it is often useful even if the events are fictitious. The act of fiction is creative and self-revealing. However, the real world is far more inventive than most of us are. Analyzing what we did, rather than what we might do, is especially helpful.

Again, the temptation to interpret motives or “what is really going on” is powerful to some. But a bit of humility, recognizing our limitations, is best. The case provides the “art” to inspire feedback and mutual dialogue.  Additionally:

  • It forces us to reflect on our own actions, choices, and motivations. The fears, hopes, counter-transferences, and more spring out from the work.
  • Each case multiples its learning to the whole group. We learn through our own experiences… but the dialogue from each case allows each member of the group to “experience” each event and learn from it.

3.  External affirmation

It is quite possible that a true narcissist needs no external affirmation of his or her role. (I don’t know that for sure. If you are a narcissist, maybe you could tell me.) But for most of us, we have a lot of insecurity. We need  external affirmation. Diplomas, certificates and the like are not so much a measure of competence as an external affirmation of readiness. Symbols (clerical collar, ID badge, logo, bible, etc.) help individuals feel that they belong in a certain place in a certain role— but that feeling is especially real when those symbols are given by one who seems competent to evaluate readiness.

However, stronger than these is the affirmation that comes from group acceptance. In the training group, it is acceptance as a peer and colleague. In the ministry setting, such as  in the hospital, being treated like a chaplain by patients and families helps, but being treated as a chaplain by the hospital staff or even as an integrated care colleague helps even more.

I remember back in 2004, my wife and I came to the Philippines as “missionaries.” But we did not call ourselves missionaries. We were not formally trained (yet) as missionaries. I was an engineer by background while my wife was a nurse. We were sent out by our own local church rather than by a mission agency. It was affirming to be commissioned by our church, but they were not the experts in what it takes to be a missionary. So we did not use that term when we came here. The first group to call us missionaries in the Philippines was the Korean missionaries. That is great… but as Americans doing ministry work, what other term would they use for us?  The next group were local Filipinos. As we ministered in Baguio, gradually they began identifying us as missionaries. The last group to call us missionaries was the American missionaries. They started calling us missionaries in our second year. That actually meant a lot to me. They had competence to know what a missionary is and isn’t— but even more than that by describing us as missionaries, they were saying we are colleagues. At that point, we stated calling ourselves missionaries. I have seen the opposite case. An American came to the Philippines on short-term mission work. He kept telling people that he was a “cross-cultural” missionary, although the Filipinos who he was working with were well aware of his lack of cross-cultural awareness, of training, and the normal qualifications of being a missionary. They could not provide affirmation for this young man.

As evangelicals we often emphasize the concept of Divine Calling when it comes to ministerial identity. Personally, I think this is misguided. In Acts, the Holy Spirit did not call Paul and Barnabas to be missionaries. He told the church to call/affirm them. God calls all Christians to ministry. Recognizing our divine call is not (or should not be) the problem. It is recognizing our ministerial identity. This is found in honest supportive dialogue in a (healthy) mutual faith/ministry community.