Is a Religiously Infused Society a Good Thing?


It is “Memorial Day Weekend” in the United States. Living here in the Philippines it is easy to miss that. It is a day to honor the dead… but especially those who served their country. In the United States, “serving one’s country” usually means in the military or war. Despite that fact that I was in the US military and served in Desert Storm, I have trouble seeing why service to country is so narrowly defined. It is one of several holidays in the United States where Christianity and American Nationalism/Patriotism are heavily mixed in what is sometimes called “American Civil Religion.” A nice little article by Peter Gardella on the characteristics of American Civil Religion is found HERE.

However, I am focusing on a different article right now. It is by Wray Herbert, and called Infused with Faith: Religious Ritual and Hope for Peace.”  The article notes that a lot of conflicts in the world that have a religious edge to them (Northern Ireland, Middle East, and many many other places) are not so much empowered by religious differences but the extent to which a religion is “infused” into the society. Essentially, “religious infusion” is “the extent to which religion permeates a group’s private and public life.” The article looks at the research that Dr. Steven Neuberg of Arizona State University.

According to this research, the greater the religious infusion in a society the greater:

  • Bigotry or intolerance to those seen as “Them,” especially those of different beliefs.
  • Tendency to utilize aggression against “Them.”
  • Tendency for the weak or oppressed to disobey or stand against the strong.

The first two items here would be generally seen as bad (I think most of us would agree). To many these first to findings would be counter-intuitive. Most religions, at least officially, espouse peace as a virtue rather than aggression. Many religions also (officially) support tolerance. For example, while many point out the rather intolerant behavior of the Israelites in the Old Testament to other faiths and (at least in the book of Joshua) other races, the Pentateuch encourages and even commands hospitality to strangers and aliens. Likewise, the New Testament presumes that Christians live at peace, as much as possible, within a larger non-Christian society. But it must be remembered that the bigotry and aggression are not tied to religion per se, but to its amount of “infusion” in the society.

But lets look at the third point for a bit. One might argue that this third one could be a good thing. While Christianity promotes a certain amount of submission and honor for those societally “above” them, this is also balanced by rejecting the status quo that maintains social injustice in society. As such, the tendency for the weak and oppressed to stand up against oppressors and institutions of oppression can be seen as a good and moral corrective..

Of course, if you take a moment to pause, you may wonder about this third point on a different level. Karl Marx said that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” Religion, Marx appear to say, gives an illusory hope and illusory happiness that leads the religious to “accept their fate.” However, according to this study, religious infusion within a society tends to do the opposite… it seeks to overthrow the oppressor.  Was Marx wrong. Well of course, Marx can be wrong– he, in my mind, was always better at describing problems than at prescribing solutions. But we shouldn’t just ignore this apparent contradiction.

One solution is that Marx lived in a predominantly Christian society where the popular theology of the day promoted the Christian virtue of “Submission to Authority” and demoted the Christian virtues of “Mutuality/Accountability” and “Social Justice.”

But I think a more important solution is this… Marx was not dealing with Religion so much as Civil Religion. Civil Religion is the syncretism of a Religious Faith with Nationalism (or Ethnocentric Ideology). While religion sees ultimate reality and challenges the existing society counter-culturally and parabolically, civil religion embraces societal values and promotes them mythically. Of course, a religion does not necessarily have to be theistic or formally organized— civil religion is rarely formally organized, and the ideological underpinnings can just as easily be atheistic or agnostic. In fact, the 20th century has demonstrated how caustic non-theistic ideologies can be when they are linked to political power and the will to exercise that power.

So getting back to the title, is a religiously infused society a bad thing, or not? I would argue that it has a potential to be good like yeast in dough. But there is a sad tendency for the situation to switch and become a societally infused religion.

If this hypothesis is true, the bigger danger comes from Religious Infusion of Civil Religion. It increases bigotry and aggression, while promoting the maintenance of societal injustices. A solution, in my mind, is a religious faith that is counter-cultural (not anti-cultural…  enculturated but with a parabolic rather than mythic role) and dis-empowered. By dis-empowered, I mean a religion that lacks the “opiates” of political or financial ambition. As a Christian, I believe we need to go beyond simply separatng church and state, but separating Christianity from social powers.

Christianity has always been a better Underdog than Top Dog.

<By the way.  I am “guilty” of putting commentary on here that often is not within the apparent topic of this blog… Christian missions. But in this case, it is quite relevant. Missions that promotes a power theology and a over contextualization, especially pertaining to national identity, is at risk of the problems described in this blog. I would have to reccomend a more counter-cultural contextualization that eschews classic power methods.>

Doubts About “Vision”


Over the years, I have been having more and more doubts with regards to the concept of “vision” as it is used in the Christian Leadership culture. This may come out as more like a laundry list of concerns… and I am not at a point of resolution… but I think writing them down will help me think them through a bit better.

A.   “The Vision Thing.” My first doubts on vision and leadership occurred when I was taking “Ministerial Leadership” in seminary (not including a plethora of doubts on leadership in general that go back to my admittedly awkward days as an officer in the United States Navy).  I was in class in seminary when our professor made a statement to the effect that, “The pastor is the vision person in the church.” This statement is a bit innocuous, but at the time it struck me as quite strange. You see, I was working with a ministry where the pastor/leader considered himself to be a very visionary person. However, from my perspective, he seemed to be almost exactly the opposite. He parroted the  opinions of a couple of other people. I have a hard time seeing that fit anyone’s idea of vision.

Frankly, I saw this over and over again over the years. Pastors and other religious leaders who read a book or go to a seminar and come back with “vision.” Truthfully, pretty much no good ideas come out of nowhere, so the fact that a person gets some inspiration from an outside source, or someone else, is not a problem. But since anyone can read a book or attend a seminar as easily as a religious leader can, it is a bit disingenuous to say that vision is a “leader thing.” Ideas should stand on their own merit, rather than gain a certain credence because they were repeated by a specific member within the church.

Many leaders are quite obviously not “vision people.” I am not sure that that is necessarily bad. I know years ago US President George H. W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton due to the perception that he lacked vision. That may or may not be true, but if true, it is not clear that that made him less competent as a leader than “visionary” Bill Clinton. It seems like in the Bible, a good leader has good moral character, chooses good advisers, and filters the best advice from the nonsense, and acts courageously.

B.  Who has Vision?  I was reading “Courageous Church Leadership: Conversations with Effective Practitioners” by John Chandler (a good book to read). One of the interviews was with David Chadwick, the pastor of a successful church in North Carolina. I very much liked the interview, and found much of what he said to be quite insightful. But there was one statement that seemed odd to me:

“Some would say, how audacious to think that you are the only person in the church who gets vision. But where, in the Bible, does God give vision to a group of people? Number one, God gives vision to the leader.  I’m not arrogant; people know that. But this is what I think we’re really supposed to do.”

That got me thinking… I certainly have no reason to think this person is arrogant, he presumably is repeating what he learned in seminary (or somewhere else). But is it correct that in the Bible, God doesn’t give vision to a group of people? It took me about 30 seconds to come up with things that question this. Joel 2 speaks of God giving dreams and visions to a broad number of people (we will deal with how the term “vision” is used in the next point.). It doesn’t seem possible to interpret the passage as referring to single individuals associated with individual congregations of believers. Related to Joel 2, one should add Acts 2, not only because the passage explicitly links to Joel 2, but because it seems as if the ability to speak in foreign tongues was linked with a clearly divine/prophetic message to the 120 members of the group. One could also add Matthew 28 where Jesus (God’s son) gave his vision (Great Commission) to a group of disciples. And while we are at it, may as well add Acts 13:1-3 where God gave the vision to send out Barnabas and Paul on a mission journey, to a group, not to an individual. I suppose there are more, but these are a few passages that cast doubt on who God gives vision to, and who not. An interesting final thought in this area would be in Acts 19 and 20 where Paul believes he has a vision from God to go to Jerusalem, while brethren in Tyre believe they receive a message from the Spirit that he should not go. Paul ignores the group vision and acts on his own. The reason why this is interesting is that since the next several years of his ministry were relatively ineffective, one wonders if he improperly ignored sound guidance. Perhaps, sometimes, God is heard more clearly by a group (the “God of the gathering” as some people put it) than by an individual.

But taking it further, if vision is viewed as being a specific counsel from God, the Bible shows that such vision very often did not go to leaders. Prophets were rarely leaders. Even in the New Testament, prophets and prophetesses did not appear to normally serve as leaders in the church. In fact, the term “prophet” in the early church seems to usually apply to traveling ministers who spoke to different churches, providing guidance to members, but having no direct authority over them. So, based on the Bible, I would have to say that vision commonly goes to a group, and not just one person, and vision commonly comes to one who is not the designated leader.

3.  What is Vision Anyway? The two previous points identify a potential problem with the ambiguity of the term “vision” as it is used in Christian leadership. One way the term “vision” is used has to do with “strategic thinking.” Gary McIntosh, for example, would say that a pastor of a larger church should be visionary– meaning either that he (or she) is able to think strategically as far as the church’s direction, or is good at developing a team around him (or her) who has such strategic thinking. Vision here is tied to keeping the mission of the church in view– the big picture as it connects also to the details. It can be seen as desired or preferred vision or image of what the church should be in the future. If one uses this sort of definition for vision, it would appear to be correct that the senior pastor (or perhaps the board of elders) is responsible for the overall vision of the church, but that everyone is responsible for the input into that vision. After all, everyone really should have some sort of preferred view of the church in the future. Not all are correct, but all should be heard. Post-modernism accepts that each perspective has validity. But one does not have to embrace post-modernism to recognize that no perspective is entirely right or entirely wrong– so embracing one perspective only is simply unwise.

Of course another view would see vision in terms of a special revelation from God. As such, determining the difference between good vision and bad vision is not just a matter of common wisdom, but of spiritual discernment. If vision follows the more business-model understanding, there are good visions, better visions, and poorer visions. But with the more revelatory understanding of vision, there are true visions and false visions.

A lot of problems seem to come from waffling between a business model understanding of vision, and a spiritualistic revelatory understanding. Frankly though, regardless of one’s definition, no one should be granted innerancy. No one is God or entirely speaks for God.

4.  Does it matter? I believe it does.

  • The church is a mutually accountable organism. If a member is seen as being the only one to receive “vision” (regardless of how one is using the term) from God, it removes a great deal of needed accountability and insight from the membership. That is a great potential loss. Additionally, it sets up the unnecessary (and even sinful) burden of suggesting that questioning a leader means questioning God. The Bible (both Old and New Testament) as well as many of the Church Fathers point to the need to test both prophets on prophecies, as well as “spirits.” That suggests some level of competency outside of a single leader to identify good versus bad (or better versus worse) vision.
  • Leaders are at their best when they do not identify themselves as “the visionary.” Frankly, when the leader (pastor) of the church assumes the roles of visionary and mediator, he (or she) has taking on the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King. I think that is too much power for most people to handle. That is why I really don’t think God normally sets things up that way. In the Old Testament, the priestly role was clearly separated from normal prophetic and kingly roles almost from the start. With Moses, Prophetic and Kingly roles were united, but with the transition to the period of the judges, the prophetic role was often separated from that of ruler. With the Kings of Israel, the separation was complete. Three different roles… four if you accept Wise counsel of the sages as being separate from prophetic vision of the prophets. I see no evidence that they are united in the New Testament, except in the parousia of Christ (and then only in Christ).
  • Leaders are myopic. Liberation Theology (regardless of one’s view of its merits or lack thereof) at least recognizes that the powerless have a perspective that is commonly hidden from those in power. There is not a large leap from saying only leaders have vision to saying that those who are powerless have no valuable input into the overall vision and mission of the church. Leaders need the perspectives of a wide variety of people in the church (and, frankly, those outside of the church), and those perspectives must be taken seriously with the possibility that God has given some measure of real vision to even the least within the church.

For me, the issue of vision takes me back to Ezekiel 34, where God challenges the religious and civil leadership of Israel. I believe there are two challenges built into the parable:

First, the leaders are guilty of acting on a self-serving vision rather than one truly accountable to God. In a sense, they are also guilty of not being accountable to the people as well, since they turned a deaf ear to the cries of injustice from the people.

Second, the leaders seemed to think that they were uniquely above the people (as a shepherd is uniquely different from and above the sheep). But God makes it clear later in the parable, that leaders are also sheep, just as the people.

If leaders recognize themselves as responsible to God and mutually indebted to the people as fellow members, I think we may be able to embrace a healthier, more theologically sound understanding of vision in the church.

The Two Sides of Christian Virtues

“Keep it in the middle of the road, Honey
Let’s keep it in the middle of the road.
Neither left or right right down that center we go.”

-“Keep it in the Middle of the Road” (Exile)

Two short stories:

  1.  Back in 2005 (I believe) we were returning from a medical mission trip to Baguionas, Kapangan… a remote village in the Cordillera Mountain range of Luzon. No electricity, and the village is effectively cut off from the rest of the world during rainy season. But it was dry season so we were returning home in a jeepney (Philippine public transportation— smaller than a bus, larger than a taxi). We were packed into this vehicle. On top of the vehicles were piles of brooms being transported to Baguio City for sale. On top of the brooms were more passengers holding on the best they can, making this a potentially unstable vehicle. It was a rough dirt road with lots of bumps and holes along the way. The vehicle lurched from side to side. Looking to the right side of the vehicle I saw a long potential tumble down a steep slope. I was praying that the driver was competent and careful and that the jeepney was not too top-heavy. At first I wished the driver would drive more to the left of the road until I realized that the other side was just as risky. This single-lane dirt road was built on a narrow ridge, with danger on both sides.
  2. A couple decades before this, I worked at a summer camp in the United States (Bethany Baptist Camp). I enjoyed working there. It was fun and fulfilling. I was there for five summers. I still remember our first orientation there— preparing us to be counselors and staff. Our director used this illustration to make a point.  “Suppose you were driving along a mountain road with a steep cliff on one side. Where would you want to drive? Close to the edge of the cliff or as far from it as you can be?” The correct answer was to be far from the cliff edge (I am pretty sure). The point was that in life, you don’t try to live on the edge of moral behavior. Don’t see how close you can get to sinning. Rather, live a life far from that edge.

The second story has a moral attached to it, but the first one could work in terms of a moral as well. But the moral would be considerably different. The moral would be that one should stay in the middle, that there are dangers in the extremes. The second story suggests that there is danger only on one side, the more extreme one is in the opposite direction, the safer one would be.

But which one is correct?

I believe the first story is correct because in morals/ethics/virtues, one can err in either direction.

Consider the diagram below. I first came across this diagram on the FB page of David Lee (thanks David).


This image comes from the paper, “Character and Leadership: Situating Servant Leadership in a Proposed Virtues Framework” by James Lanctot and Justin Irving. This suggests that virtues exist in the middle between vices or immoral behavior.I think it is a good list. The article shows the development of this. They took several lists and distilled them now. For example, they removed “Independence” from one of the lists, which I believe was a wise thing, since I am pretty sure that independence is a vice, not a virtue.

Another place where this is discussed is in “The Mind of Christ” by T.W. Hunt and Claude V. King. A similar chart can be made from this book. The text gives a lot more information than this chart.

virtures 2.jpg

Ultimately, the idea of extreme virtue or morality is flawed. Godly living is a balance. Additionally, it is a balance at all levels. As Pope Gregory the Great noted over 1400 years ago, the display of an outstanding virtue may simply be hiding a vice.

Keep it in the middle of the road.

How Do Abusive Churches Learn to Abuse?

I have been long interested in the characteristics02379ef5c4d8bc577dc7234eb6ccf0d9 of abusive churches. But in addition to the characteristics of abusive churches, I am interested in how abusive churches have developed their methodologies. It has long been noted that the behavior of many abusive churches mirror some of the sophisticated methods used by repressive governments and ideological organizations. Some of these include methods that are loosely termed “brainwashing,” as well as utilizing methods of peer group shaming and breaking up of relationships that hinder total loyalty to the organization. I can’t really imagine that some church leaders read up on the methodologies of rogue regimes, terrorist groups, and espionage organizations to be inspired in how to run church. Admittedly, I have heard some pastors with abusive tendencies speak fondly of other pastors or denominations who are authoritarian. That suggests that there may be some cross-pollination of ideas, but that does not seem to be the entire answer.

Obviously, regional culture or sub-culture has an effect.  Some cultures promote strong authoritarian structures, or promote unilateral submission over mutual submission or mutual accountability. In some ways, other religious and other institutional structures can act as a model. The clericalism that developed in the 4th century church was strongly influenced by Roman religious (“pagan”) and government structures. Some churches today are strongly influenced by business models or even the military (or at least a caricature of the military) in establishing tasks above people, and organization above organism. One might add spiritual warfare too, as churches fall into the devilish trap of desiring to be “great” rather than “good.”

However, the biggest influence in how churches “learn” to develop abusive practices, I believe, is:


To hopefully illustrate this point, I will take a quote from Esther Schubert’s article “Current Issues in Screening and Selection” (for missionary candidates) in the 1992 book Missionary Member Care: Counting the Cost for World Evangelism (Kelly O’Donnell editor)

Most family systems that work effectively provide maintenance…. and guidance …. Healthy families provide safety, security, and stability. In contrast, dysfunctional families are ruled by rigidity, isolation, denial, and shame. They are unstable, and produce insecurity and pathology in their members. When children of dysfunctional families become adults they continue to see their world through the filter of dysfunction.

…. Children in a dysfunctional family grow up in a closed system, one that teaches rigidity of roles and rules that must be played out in order for the family to survive. Beliefs about people and the outside world are distorted. The outside is viewed as an unsafe place. The child learns “don’t talk, don’t feel, don’t trust.”

The boundaries that form structure, certainty, and consistency within functional families are distorted or non-existent in dysfunctional families. These boundaries are of three kinds: individual boundaries, inter-generational boundaries, and family boundaries.

Individual boundaries are crossed when children do not have privacy, when they are abused, or when they feel their only worth is based on what they can produce, not who they are. ….

Family boundaries can be extremely rigid in which no one in the family is allowed to communicate with anyone outside the family for fear that family secrets and myths will be discovered …

Boundary violations in dysfunctional families damage children, create a high tolerance for abnormal behavior among the victims, and decrease the inability to distinguish between healthy and dysfunctional behavior.

This section could almost be read by replacing the term family with church, and child with member. This suggests that the Biblical metaphor of the church being a family has a deeper relevance. People tend to relate in church much like they relate in family roles.

Add to this the fact that dysfunctional/abusive leaders (compulsive, or narcissistic, or paranoid leaders as described in MacIntosh and Rima’s book “Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership“) develop much of their patterns and motivating trauma in their childhood.

This suggests that dysfunctional/abusive families create:

  • Leaders driven to abusive behavior from learned patterns and traumatically developed insecurities
  • Members that tolerate and eventually embrace abusive behavior
  • Patterns of behavior that are mimicked by churches.

Some solution seems to be:

  • Promote healthy families. This is more than wistful calls for a return to traditional godly families, or wishful calls for reestablishing extended family structures. It involves training today’s generation to have families that are cohesive and godly, with structured flexibility and healthy boundaries.
  • Screen leaders. Leaders, under stress, will revert to old patterns… often the very old patterns of the families they were raised in. This is not to say that a leader should be rejected simply because he or she comes from a dysfunctional family. But the past must be explored and addressed. Ignoring will not make it go away. Chances are it will come out, eventually.
  • Pastoral care for members. Church members need appropriate pastoral care to address the past, make healthy choices in the present, and create a healthy future. Listening to preaching, singing songs, sitting in Sunday School or Bible study, reading the Bible, praying, and the like are not certain to deal with the past effectively.

Noting the last one, pastoral care must be done both individually and corporately. Churches and Families are systems, and need to be dealt with systemically. In fact, only dealing with members that show symptoms of problems may be the wrong approach. They may simply be early evidences of a problem elsewhere, including a systemic problem (much like a sick canary in a mine evidences a problem in the mine system, so treating the canary doesn’t really solve the problem).


The Water Man (A Short Story)

Many little villages have what is sometimes known as the “town character”. He might be someone of high eccentricity, making him the gossip of the town. On the other hand, it may be one who is simple-minded or foolish in behavior and thought. Well, in this particular rural village there was a man that we will simply call the “Water Man”. He had two large buckets with a yoke. This day, he had newly made buckets. He came out early in the morning to a public well to fill up his buckets. He then put on his yoke and attached his large new buckets to his yoke. One attached to each side of his yoke. He stood up and started carrying his load away from the well. pengzhou-china-farmer-water-pails-16618724

As Water Man was walking along, one of his buckets was dripping water out of the bottom fairly fast, while the other bucket held its water fine. Another man watched this spectacle. I don’t know his name or his occupation, so I will just call him Talker. He watched with amusement as Water Man began walking, recognizing that over time he would become unbalanced walking like that. “Hey Water Man,” yelled Talker. “You have yourself one leaky bucket. You are going to break your back like that!”

Water Man responded, “Thanks. I think you are right. I better fix this quick.” So Water Man went back to his house. A bit of repair was all it took; and soon Water Man was back at the well with his yoke and two (repaired) buckets. He filled his buckets with water, attached them to his yoke, and stood up. Now both of his buckets leaked.

He began walking with water now coming out of both buckets. However, the water was coming out of each at about the same rate, so he did not seem to be becoming unbalanced. Talker was still near the well and he saw the spectacle. “Hey Water Man!” yelled Talker. “You’re worse than before. You are leaking out of both buckets now. What fool would fix one leaking bucket by making his other bucket leak?”

Water Man replied, “You just are never satisfied. You were worried about my back, which is certainly nice. I fixed the problem, and you just keep complaining.”

What can you say to someone like that? Well, Talker kept watching as Water Man kept zigzagging back and forth with his heavy load that kept getting lighter as he lost his water.

Talker could not keep silent with this. “Water Man, it’s bad enough that you come to the well with leaky buckets; but you are now weaving to and fro like some drunken fool. At least if you kept to the nice flat path you would likely get most of your water back to your house before it ran out. However, I fear you are going to waste every drop of water you got before you get half-way.”

Water Man shrugged with his eyebrows because he could not with his shoulders. A few minutes later, Water Man’s buckets were indeed empty just as Talker predicted. Water Man began walking back to the well to refill his buckets.

He did refill his buckets; hooked them up to the yoke, and stood up to begin walking again. The buckets were leaking as much as before. Talker just stared in disbelief as Water Man continued to meander. Finally, he could not take it anymore.

“Water Man! You are the biggest fool I have seen. You try to protect your back by damaging a perfectly good bucket so it leaks like your other bucket. But then you wander around like a blind man instead of taking this perfectly straight and smooth path home. Further, you end up running out of water because of your fool behavior, and have to come back for more. Finally, even though you try to avoid breaking your back, with all this waste and refilling you are going to have a back far sorer than you ever would have had if you had gone home with one leaky bucket.”

Water Man just ignored him, pretending to be too intent in his task. Eventually, a combination of boredom and exasperation got to Talker. He had enough of this. So the town character ambled back toward the village while Water Man continued to water his garden with his sprinkling buckets.

Not a particularly deep moral with this story. The point is simply that we should not be quick to judge a person or a method until we take time to perceive and try to understand.


Consider The Source


I own a lot of books. One is written by, and about, a professional athlete who was disgraced in a very public fashion.Another is written by a famous comedian who also was recently publicly disgraced. I hate to get rid of books, but they clutter up after awhile and one has to prioritize.

  • For the athlete, I will let the book go. The disgrace really undermines the message of the book.
  • For the comedian, I will keep the book. The disgrace does weaken the trustworthiness of the book, but does not attack the central message. Also, this individual was essentially the only positive male role model on Saturday morning TV in my youth. Forty years later that still counts for something.

Still, in both cases the source of the book, the author, undermines the credibility of the book.

Sometimes, of course, good people can disagree on whether the source adds to or detracts from the credibility of a work.

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German church leader and theologian during the period of the Third Reich. He stood against Nazi policies and beliefs, and ultimately died for this opposition. He joined a plot to attempt to assassinate Adolph Hitler. For some, this act is morally untenable and undermines his credibility. For others, it demonstrates integrity of faith and action. There may be a disagreement there, but there is near universal agreement that the scores of German (and non-German) theologians who acquiesced or even actively supported the Nazi system have made their testimony and beliefs highly questionable. This is similarly true with Dutch Reformed Theologians in South Africa who supported and even theologically justified Apartheid.
  • Anton Boisen was a Christian theologian who was the primary developer of Clinical Pastoral Training (more commonly known today as Clinical Pastoral Education). He ministered especially in psychiatric hospitals, attempting to bring together theology and psychology. He has had a profound influence on the modern pastoral care movement. However, during his lifetime he had several psychotic breaks. For one of his main collaborators in the CPE/CPT movement, Dr. Richard Cabot, the psychotic breaks led him to question Boisen. He did not wish to work with a “madman.” On the other hand, some would say that his personal experiences with mental illness added credibility to his beliefs. His personal experience adds authenticity to his theories. (Some people argue similarly regarding Friedrich Nietzsche and his drift into mental illness in later years. Does this invalidate his writings or not?)

The source does matter. Some theories of literary criticism desire to take the author out of consideration of the work. The work is judged on its own merits. In the politics here in the Philippines and in the US, I have had many tell me not to consider the character of those running for national leadership. But of course we look at the character.  Frankly, those who say not to consider character, always closely scrutinize the character of candidates on the other side of the political fence. They overlook the deep flaws in their own candidate in hopes that he or she will “Make the Philippines Great” or “Make America Great.” (For me, I have zero interest in either being “great,” but I do have hopes that both the Philippines and America will be good.)

I am a Christian, not because of Christians. I am a Christian, not because of Christian leaders. Both of them fail— miserably and consistently. I am not even a Christian because of the Bible… despite the fact that I find it a great and inspiring documentation of God’s work in human history for our benefit.I am a Christian, and not some other faith or ideology, because of Christ. In the end, I have to consider the source.

You really should as well.



Unending Culture Shock


In our time we have been uprooted from our former homeland, adrift in a mobile and changing society. We are lonely in crowds who seem not to care, pushed to and from by machines to serve and be served, until we too become mechanical and act like machines. We meet the other persons as strangers, but mostly by external contacts passing by or bouncing away as if we were rubber balls.  We… do not know the inner life of other persons, and so we give attention mainly to the external appearances. Estranged from them or used by them, we are empty within ourselves, lost souls for whom no one seems to care. The need has never been so urgent for someone to care. How can a pastor care for his people in such a world?

Paul E. Johnson (“Christian Advocate” entitled “Where We Are Now In Pastoral Care” 23 SEP 1965, page 7).

I used this quote in my two pastoral care blogsites (, and

But I would like to look at it from a missiological standpoint as well. The quote sounds a lot like what missionaries go through in terms of culture shock. They are uprooted from their homeland, and become strangers in a strange land. They struggle to fit in but often feel a lonely disconnectedness, unable (at first anyway) to connect with others beyond a superficial level, and feeling like they are tossed around by forces beyond their ability to control or even understand.

But this article wasn’t written about missionaries. It was written about all of us. Because we live in a globalizing (while simultaneously particularizing) culture undergoing rapid, and still accelerating change, we all feel a certain amount of disconnection. This disconnection we don’t always notice because it has become the background base of our reality… a barely noticed incessant neuroticizing hum.

Sometimes, I enjoy visiting my old home in upstate New York. That area has changed so little over the last few decades. It gives me a sense of connection with my past. But in the last couple times that I have been there (in 2012 and 2013) I have felt a certain disquieting feeling as I have noticed the slow build-up of changes that make the place start to feel just a bit “foreign.” This is so unlike my other homes over the years in Virginia Beach, Charlottesville, and now in Baguio City (Philippines). In these places, change is rapid and seeing the place after a few years (or even a few months) almost is like seeing a new place.

Johnson suggests the transitory nature of our lives leads to superficiality. Church should be a place of rich and deep interconnection, but it commonly isn’t. We tend towards the reality described by Lily Tomlin “We are all in this together alone.

Perhaps we need the findings of cross-cultural experiences in missionaries applied to all of us, since many (most?) of us are undergoing an unending, chronic, culture shock– a perpetual dehumanizing cultural uprooting.


10 VBS Ideas to Infuse Strategic Thinking Into Your Church – The Malphurs Group : The Malphurs Group

As a kid, I have very few memories more vivid than of spending a week in Vacation Bible School. I would attend two weeks: one at my church and one at my best friend’s church. I remember the week at my friend’s church the most because it was different. As a part of their VBS,… Read More

Source: 10 VBS Ideas to Infuse Strategic Thinking Into Your Church – The Malphurs Group : The Malphurs Group

Too Valuable To… Forget

Here is a quote from Missionary Member Care: An Introduction, by Ronald Kotesky. It can be downloaded HERE. It draws heavily from Ruth Tucker and Leslie Andrews article “Historical Notes on Missionary Care” (In “Member Care: Counting The Cost”)

James Hudson Taylor
  • David Brainerd. Born in Connecticut and missionary to Native Americans living in New Jersey in the 18th century, David Brainerd suffered from loneliness and depression. He wrote, “I live in the most lonely melancholy desert…My soul was weary of my life. I longed for death, beyond measure,” (He chose to work alone rather than with a veteran missionary couple with whom he had been assigned).

  • Dorothy and Felix Carey. Born in England and missionary to people in India near the end of the 18th century, Dorothy and Felix were the wife and son of William Carey, often called the “Father of Modern Missions.” As noted in Chapter one, Dorothy was severely mentally ill and Felix turned his back on God after serving briefly as a missionary (No help from the agency in England, William tried to help on site.).

  • J. Hudson Taylor. Born in England and 19th century missionary to China, J. Hudson Taylor at age 37, after 20 years of missionary service said, “Hope itself had almost died out.” He had such intense internal conflict that he agonized that “every day, almost every hour, the consciousness of failure and sin oppressed me.” He sank to such despair that he had “the awful temptation even to end his own life.” “Maria, his wife, stood between Hudson and suicide” (J. C. Pollock, 1962, Hudson Taylor and Maria, New York, McGraw-Hill, p. 195-196)

  • Adoniram Judson. When his wife and daughter died, 19th century American missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson’s grieving process turned into a mental disorder. Reclusive, he dug a grave in the jungle where he remained—filling his mind with thoughts of death. He said, “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I find him not.” (Fellow missionaries cared for him.).

  • Mary Livingstone. When she and their children could not keep up with him, David Livingstone, 19th century Scottish missionary to Africa, sent them back to England. There Mary found cheap lodging for herself and the children, but was so distressed that she turned to alcohol. When David returned five years later he had no time for his family. (Even though Mary and the children were right there, their agency did nothing for them.).

These sounds rather depressing, and perhaps even more so since they involve some of the great early Protestant missionaries. It might be argued that these individuals were weak.  And no doubt that is true, to a certain extent. Everyone is weak. Frailty is a core quality of our humanity. This is part of the reason God created us as social rather than isolated beings, and why Christ established the church with two major descriptions of Body and Assembly.

The fact that they were frail, then is no surprise. In fact, I get very nervous of those who suggest that faithfulness to God leads to the absence of problems. Not only does that not jibe very well with the Biblical record but it often leads to prescriptions that won’t address the problem. The problems listed above did not just happen. They were created through a failure to evaluate and support missionaries and missionary families.

I will be teaching Missionary Member Care this coming semester at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. I look forward to it. But I also enjoy reading the victories and struggles of those who have gone before us. There is much to learn in both of these aspects. They are definitely too valuable to forget.