Three Stages of Prophecy and Word

It is too bad, sometimes, that Evangelical Christians, especially, tend to give so little time to the Intertestamental Period and to the the time of the Apostolic Fathers. We can learn a lot from them. So why are these periods commonly ignored? I suppose it is the tied to the views:

  • The Sufficiency of Scripture
  • Scripture Interprets Scripture

Both of these beliefs are true to a point, but they share a common genesis of being a reaction to Christian traditions that placed the history of the Church (or a church) on par in terms of authority, and necessity for interpretation. Of course, if Scripture and Church History are equal in authority, but then Church History is necessary to interpret Scripture, then in practice, Scripture is secondary at best. Church History becomes the “canon” or standard to which belief and practice must be held accountable, not Scripture.

To me then, the Sufficiency of Scripture and the concept that Scripture interprets Scripture are valuable correctives, and thumb rules, but less than absolute doctrines. Knowing the context in which Scripture came to be is helpful to its value and understanding. This is especially true when it comes to the issue of canonicity. Consider the case of Prophecy in the Post-exilic times, as well as in the early Church.


The figure above shows a process that happened twice– one at the end of the Old Testament and one at the end of the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, pre-exilic, the word of the Lord came from prophets. They were one of three types: cult prophets (tied to the temple), court prophets (serving the government), and free prophets (ministering primarily to the people). The written word appeared to have little impact in the religious life of the people. One might call this the “Age of the Prophets.” But with the Exile, we enter a transition period. The loss of the temple and of Jewish governance meant that only the Free Prophets were left (Ezekiel may have been a priest, but he acted as a prophet without a temple. Daniel may have served as a court prophet, but for a pagan king.) It is commonly thought that during this time of exile (or certainly soon after) was the development of the synagogue, a place of religious gathering for worship and training, led by a teacher or rabbi. With the return from exile, there is a passionate desire, spurred on by Ezra, to collect and share the written words of Moses and the prophets. In this, despite the return of the temple, there is a gradual increase in the value of rabbis and scribes. There is also a bit of a power shift with the formation of the Great Council, or Sanhedrin, that includes as its members “Teachers of the Law.”

Malachi and the Chronicles were written somewhere in the vicinity of 400 BC. By this time, we seem to be leaving the transition period. According to the Babylonian Talmud Sotah 48b, when Malachi died, “the Holy Spirit departed from Israel”…. meaning that there was no more prophetic witness. This view appears to support II Baruch 85:3  “But now, the righteous have been assembled, and the prophets are sleeping. Also we have left our land, and Zion has been taken away from us, and we have nothing now apart from YAHWEH the Mighty One and HIS Torah.” This describes Jewish believers who see their connection to God primarily through the Torah.  I Maccabees 9:23-27 also confirms a time when Jews saw prophets as having disappeared. Josephus, further, expressed the belief that the canonization of Scripture has an inverse relationship with prophecy. (see David G. Dunbar’s article “The Biblical Canon” in “Hermeneutics, Authority and Canon” (1986))

This does not mean that prophecy fully died out after Malachi. According to David Aune (“Prophecy in Early Christianity and in the Ancient Mediterranean World” (1983)), prophecy did continue to an extent during the Intertestamental Period. However, the term”Prophet” (nabi) became tied to the classical or former prophets on one hand, and the future eschatological prophets (predicted by Joel, Malachi and others). Essentially, the Jews in the Intertestamental period appeared to separate between authoritative Prophecy, and present prophecy… the latter being valued to some extent, but not really esteemed or thought authoritative. An example of this is Caiaphas, serving as High Priest that year, making a prophecy in John 11:51.

So this history suggests three stages (as in the figure above).

  • Stage 1.  The Age of the Prophets prior to the exile where the primary communication from God is oral, and the written word is not available or at least not disseminated.
  • Stage 2. The Transitional Period. The prophetic role is in decline and the role of written Scripture is increasing in value, along with the value of teachers and scribes.
  • Stage 3. The Age of the Written Word. The prophetic role is seen to cease… or at least the role as an authoritative source of divine communication. The written word (Torah) is esteemed and promulgated, along with the words of the classical prophets. Prophecy is seen to continue in a limited and declining form, but not seen as authoritative, while work is underway to determine what of the written word is valuable, and what is canon. Jewish scholars gradually came to the conclusion that prophetic words or writing from the  first two stages would be open to being considered canonical.

The Second such cycle is seen in the First Century AD.

Stage 1 is simple enough. John the Baptist and Jesus act as prophets, along with the apostles and prophets of the 1st century church. During most of this time, the written word (of the new era) was not central. The early church had revelations from God and as eye witnesses, that were transmitted orally. According to the Didache, prophets existed in the primitive church primarily as ones who traveled from church to church, sharing God’s message. The primary message would normally be the words of a witness to the truth, rather than a dispenser of new revelation, but could contain both. Again according to the Didache, a prophet could also choose to settle down and serve in a single church. Along with prophets, “apostles” would also have a prophetic role. The difference appeared to be that apostles reached out to non-believers, to form up communities of faith, while prophets appeared to minister primarily to churches and believers.

Stage 2 is also quite easy to see. The initial motivation seems to be tied to the impending deaths of Peter and Paul during the 60s (AD). According to church tradition, disciples of Peter asked John Mark to collect the words of Peter and write them down, based on the concern that Peter is old and may die soon. Likewise, Luke’s writing of the Gospel of Luke, and the Acts of the Apostles appears to be tied in some manner to the incarceration of Paul in Rome. Moving into the 2nd century, this trend only continues. Some still focused on oral revelation. Papias was known for seeking out the stories and sayings of Jesus, and of the Twelve. But even there, he took those sayings and wrote them down. (Sadly, we only have short snippets of his writings extant today.) Prophets, such as the daughters of Philip, continued through the first century and into the second, but their role declined as the written word increased.

Stage 3 seems to begin with the 2nd century. That which was considered authoritative appeared to be limited to the words of Jesus, the words of the Twelve, and those directly associated with the Twelve (the first two stages). While the development of the canon of the New Testament is often described as being a response to Marcionism, it is pretty clear from the writings of the early church fathers, with some exceptions such as Clement of Alexandria whose referencing was quite eclectic, that there was strong general agreement as far as most of the writings of canon. The disagreements, arguably, were not that critical. The Gospels, Acts, I Peter, and the 13 letters of Paul were pretty universally accepted. This makes up the vast majority of the volume of the New Testament.

The Muratorian Canon, was a late 2nd century attempt at establishing the canon of New Testament. In it, the Shepherd of Hermas was considered valuable, but not to be read publically (suggesting it not being canonical— much like with the Jews where the Tanakh, or canon of the Old Testament, was described as Mikra… that which is to be read in public). The basis was, in part, because it was too recent– seen to be written after the end of such authoritative revelation.

The 2nd and 3rd centuries sees the continual decline and eventual disappearance of prophets and apostles as formal offices. There are a few possible reasons for this. Both groups, were outside of the accountability of churches. This led to suspicions of laziness and greed. The Didache, again, adds considerable caution regarding the two roles. Prophets, especially, were prone to the temptation to say what would make the hearers happy (much like court prophets in the Old Testament commonly did). Frankly, however, with the greater confidence in, and availability of, recognized authoritative Scripture, the prophetic role (at least the aspect of giving new revelation) was seen as not all that necessary, as compared to contextualizing, interpreting, and teaching God’s word in Scripture. Even the Montanist movement, a schismatic group from the 2nd century that placed great emphasis on “new prophetic revelation,” appeared neither to write down their new prophecies, nor to place them as authoritative alongside the words of Christ and the Twelve.

So what does this history do for us as Evangelicals? I believe it helps us question two extremes regarding prophecy. Consider the figure below:


At one extreme is the Cessationist Viewpoint that new prophecies are invalid… they have ceased. On the figure above, it would show as the lower left hand corner of the blue area. New prophecy is invalid and so has no discernible (positive) purpose.

The other side is a Charismatic view of the continuity of gifts including prophecy. This view is sometimes argued based on the idea that God does not change. On the figure above, the extreme in this view would be seen as the upper right corner of the blue area. If prophecy today is not only valid… but authoritative (as some would hold), it is necessary.

Both extremes share some common problems.

  • Both appear to limit God inappropriately. One says that God will not do what he never promised He won’t do. The other says that God must continue doing what He once did. Scripture does not support either view, and neither does the history of the Intertestamental period and the Antenicene history of the church.
  • Both don’t take the transition from prophecy to written word accurately. One argues that there is a clear demarcation between oral and written word (a gross oversimplification). One argues that there is not much of a demarcation at all with prophecy standing alongside the written word (despite clear evidences of a general and steady transition for both the Old and New Testaments).
  • Both minimize the dynamic role of God in the church. One sees God’s revelation only given through illumination of Scripture. The other sees God’s role bound by God’s past role. Again, it is deeply concerning to find people who are so quick to say what God cannot do, or what He must do.

These are, of course, extremes… but extremes happen. One can look at church history to see many who have decided that God has reopened authoritative prophecy (Mohammad, Bah’u’llah, Joseph Smith, among others) and the chaos it does in matters of faith and in undermining God’s canonical revelation. On the other hand, if God chooses to speak, it is wise that we don’t plug our ears.

A look at the history of the Jews and the early church suggests a middle position. Prophecy has occurred, and it can occur, as God in His dynamic nature to interact with His people chooses. But the importance of such prophecies are not great. They are to be challenged by canon, not be a challenge to canon.

History also gives us more than adequate warning to be skeptical of prophets. In the Old Testament, the New Testament, and in early church history, prophets often lack the accountability structures to challenge and verify both word and conduct.

This is still true today. Living in the Philippines, I hear the most outrageous and nonsensical prophecies bandied about as if they were indeed the “Word of the Lord.” Most, if not all, are simply the words of human beings who are seeking to be taken seriously and valued by self-declaring a divine stamp of approval. What to do with these? Be quite skeptical… but be open to the (perhaps slim) possibility that some have truth to them. We are called upon to be discerning… so we should practice discernment… starting with doubt. Rejecting all new prophecy as fake may lead someone to miss something.

On the other hand, if some new prophecy is valid, but still relatively unimportant, the safer position when in doubt is to reject.

And as always, prophecy both in the Old Testament, and in the New, was most commonly the contextualization or application of God’s previous revelation to a new setting. Personally, I would rather that this (most common actually) use of the term not continue. While it is a good use of the term, the term “prophet” has a lot of historical baggage attached to it… leading to confusion (much like I don’t recommend missionaries using the term “apostle” even though the term would be quite historically accurate).




People, Machines, and Landscape

“In a study of farmers in the northwest United States, is was found that they classified the world into three categories: people, machines, and land. What they considered to be ‘people’ were their own kind: kith and kin, and other farmers who owned land and were white, Protestant and middle-class. The rest, such as Mexican migrant labourers, were seen as ‘machines,’ tools for production or farm inputs. The American Indians were seen as ‘landscape,’ part of the scenery in that vast expanse of land. This kind of categorizing is not limited to farmers in the north-west United States. It is also found among the affluent sectors of Manila.

Everyday we go blindly in our tinted air-conditioned cars in and out of our subdivisions, taking no notice of Lazarus sitting at the gate. We become so used to the sight of poverty that we no longer see it. It has faded into the scenery, part of the permanent fixtures of our national landscape. invisible

If there is anything that this story tells us, is the fact that we live in the presence of another. Human solidarity is such that we all suffer together: we all suffer traffic problems, power cuts, coups, earthquakes, inflation, and instability together. Whether we like it or not, one person’s deprivation is an indication of the guilt and humiliation of all. It may not be what we have done, but what we have failed to do in the face of someone else’s need or degradation.”

                -Melba Padilla Maggay, in “Transforming Society“, Introduction

This quote, as well as the book, is primarily about issues of social and economic justice. However, I can’t help but additionally look at it from the perspective of a church or religious organization.

Years ago I recall reading a book that stated that in the Medieval Roman Catholic Church, the laity were not really considered members of the church, only those who had taken Holy Orders. Is that true? I haven’t been able to verify it or find the source where I read it. Regardless, leaders of many churches– Catholic, Protestant, and otherwise– can fall into that trap on a practical level. Lay members in the church are thought of as tools to produce resources, and consumers of resources. As such, they are essentially machines in the minds of the leadership.

Communities then can also be seen as landscape. The people surrounding the church are the features in that landscape– “ever-present but never relevant.” Such people only become relevant if they enter the church and become part of the mechanism of the machine.

People, in this scenario are fellow clergy, or fellow church council members. Additionally, leadership in other like-minded churches, commonly within the same denomination, would be valued.

Religious organizations can equally fall into this trap. In one scenario, the leader of such an organization sees the staff/workers as machines to fulfill the task. In the other scenario, the organization sees its entire staff as “people” while donors and care recipients are the machines that provide and consume.

None of this is surprising… we are cultural beings, and as such we tend to divide the world into “Us” and “Them.” But the quote notes that the “Them” is often divided further into the Them we interact with (just like we might interact with a car or a laptop) and those who are present, seen but noticed, and deemed irrelevant. This is the problem. we have compassion for people we identify with… but ignore the needs or concerns of “landscape,” and express concern for the needs of “machines” to the extent that we want them to function appropriately.

This three-level view of mankind is clearly sub-Biblical. We are all made in the image of God. We are all sought out by God with love (I simply cannot see dual election as an inductive Biblical doctrine). We are a faith community of human beings called to love, as human beings, our neighbors, strangers, and “enemies.”


The Boundaries of Missiology

I periodically supervise seminarians in theses or dissertations. Usually, their papers are in missions (although sometimes I oversee other types of papers). A couple of the papers I oversaw in missions pushed the limits of what is considered to be missiological at our seminary. One had to do with process of contextualization of preaching for surrounding villages in a certain country. Since the researcher is from a similar culture, it could be considered not to be missions. Another was researching contextualization of training for a sub-cultural group of a larger culture that is on the other side of a national boundary. A third was researching the value of and understanding of “missional church” principles to church growth in a specific region in Asia. pushing-the-wall2

This third paper was the most difficult to get approved. This is because it is not, strictly speaking, cross-cultural, and the ‘missional church movement’ is sometimes seen as a competitor to missions rather than an ally (and therefore, not missiological). In defending the paper, I noted that my dissertation was on the use of medical missions in a region of the Philippines. It could be argued that it also is not “missions” because of its characteristics of being short-term (for those that see missions as long-term), social (for those who see missions as evangelism and churchplanting), and sometimes same culture (for those who see missions as strictly cross-cultural). My colleague stated that missiology has changed over the years so maybe my paper would not today have been accepted as being a missions dissertation.

That got me thinking a lot about what the boundaries or definitions for missions and missiology should be. My most recent one on this topic is HERE.

However, I struggle in this area. I prefer a broad definition for missions. On the other hand, if one makes it too broad, then everything in ministry becomes missions. I am not sure that all ministry topics should be “gobbled-up” by Missions. But there are certain functions and topics that seem to lap over the more narrow definitions for Missions. A lot of missions strategies function both cross-culturally and same-culturally. Should these strategies be researched by two separate groups of people due to a fairly arbitrary dividing point? Not sure.

But I am pretty sure of a couple of things.

  1.  If Missiology has changed over time to accept certain things as fitting into its realm and excluding other things, those changes have come due to the academic freedom to evaluate and change. In other words, if the changes are good, then the flexibility for those changes to occur is also good. Therefore, having research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed.
  2. If the definitions for Missions and Missiology are “Perfect” today (if perfection can be identified), they will cease to be perfect as contexts change over the next few years. Therefore, again, research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed, to anticipate and respond to these changes.

I don’t know, however, how much push is good and how much is bad. Good creativity comes in part from having good boundaries. But every now and then, the boundaries have to be tested, and moved.


Spiritual Leadership Benchmarks from Polycarp


Consider the quote from St. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians (Chapter 6):

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man; abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself. Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offense, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

St. Polycarp (69-156AD), the bishop/pastor of the church of Smyrna, describes qualities that are to be expected of spiritual leaders within the church.

Spiritual leaders are to be compassionate and merciful to all, just, good and faithful servants, holding onto what is true.

Compassionate and merciful to all.

  • Seeking to restore those who have fallen away doctrinally or morally
  • Visiting all the sick
  • Caring for those in need, such as widows, orphans, and the poor.
  • Being merciful in judging or making decisions
  • Being quick to forgive others.
  • Maintaining control of one’s anger


  • Not showing favoritism to certain people because of, for example, their wealth or status
  • Avoiding the temptation of dishonest or self-serving judgments/decisions
  • Not being greedy or motivated by desire for others wealth or status.
  • Not quick to believe bad things about other people (even if it is tempting to think so)
  • Recognizing that we all are guilty of sin at times

Be a good and faithful servant

  • Serving God with fear and reverence,
  • Obedient to the commands of Christ, the words of the apostles, and the Old Testament Prophets.
  • Pursuing zealously that which is good.

Holding onto what is true.

  • Not actively or passively causing offense or confusion in the church
  • Avoiding apostasy and those who confuse people in the church with false doctrines.

These seem like good benchmarks for spiritual leaderhip both in of the church and out.

“Theology and Missions” Book

I just started working on my newest book. Not sure what it will be ultimately titled. So far, it is just called “Theology and Missions.” Note… it is not “Theology OF Missions.”

Actually, I am still working on a book with my wife “The Dynamics of Pastoral Care” as a follow-on to “The Art of Pastoral Care.”theology-and-missions But that is going to take awhile. I really wanted to work on a book that looks at several interconnections between Theology and Missions (hence it’s name).

It is expected to cover several major topics:

  1.  Theology of Missions. I won’t focus too much on this. Some others have done a pretty good job in this area. (Of course, in some missions books, the topic has devolved into “cherry-picking” a few verses that seem missional.) But I am looking towards a more “Biblical Theology” (both OT and NT) look in this area, rather than Systematic or Practical.
  2. Reflective Missions Theology. This is Theological Reflection, as it pertains to the practice of missions. So this will look at the incorporation of theological reflection, mission practice, and case conferencing.
  3. Contextualization of Theology. Despite the fact that ALL theology (even Biblical Theology) is contextual, it still seems to be, as a discipline, the expertise of those in Missions. So this will primarily be looking at the work of Bevans and Moreau.
  4. Criteria for Evaluation of Contextual Theology. This is a surprisingly silent area for many. It is hard to see why, since it is so important. I will loosely follow some of Bevans work, with my own ideas. This section and Section 2 will probably be the most innovative of the 5 sections. The others will be more a look at what others have done… and, in fact, have done better.
  5. Inter-religious Dialogue. IRD has been covered a LOT by a LOT of people… but I want to look at it as it pertains to Missions interactions. As such, I will look less to a Relativistic Approach, or an Apologetic Approach, than to a Clarification Approach. Also I will try to look at it theologically as well as pragmatically.

I have MOST of the research done, and a number of sections completed. I guess it will just depend on how long it takes to make a bunch of loose topics all mend together.

Like “Ministry in Diversity” and “The Art of Pastoral Care,” the goal is to have a book that can be useful for Bible School or Seminary students… particularly in Southeast Asia.

Role of a Missionary

I have struggled with a good job description for a missionary. Some descriptions appear to me to be entirely inadequate, or even counter-productive.

  1.  Missionaries are cross-cultural ministers. This is a common descriptor. There are  three major problems with this one for me. First, it doesn’t pass the “Paul and Barnabas Test.” We often think of Paul and Barnabas as quintessential missionaries. However, Barnabas was a Hellenistic Jew from Cyprus, and Paul was a Hellenistic Jew from Asia Minor. Where did they go on their one joint mission trip? To Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Gentiles in Cyprus and Asia Minor. If a descriptor does not include them, it hardly seems a good descriptor. Second, the functions associated with missionaries, such as church-planting and evangelizing under-reached people groups in local or diaspora settings, often are the same as truly cross-cultural ministry. To take these types of pioneering work outside of the field of missions research and education seems… fickle. Third, the closest term in the New Testament to the term today of “Missionary” is “Apostle.” Apostles appeared to be ministers who were called as “sent out ones” from the church to reach those outside of the church and establish new churches. I can see value for the term “missionary” to be broader today than the term “apostle” since the church has broadened in 2000 years. However, I struggle to see value in narrowing the term. Apostles were clearly not always cross-cultural. Peter was, after all, described as an Apostle to the Jews.
  2. Missionaries are full-time and fully financed. The same problems exist here as for the term “cross-cultural.” Paul and Barnabas were neither full-time nor fully financed. Both supplemented income with non-ministerial work. Both stepped back from churchplanting for periods of time. The skill sets for part-time or bivocational missions workers are pretty much the same as full-time and fully financed, so taking these ministries outside of the study of Missions research and education appears to me to be unjustified. And again, apostles in the New Testament seemed to have a pragmatic fluidity as far as support and schedule, so it is hard to see why the term missionary should be more limiting.

While I see value in the Missionary process described by four Ps (pioneer, parent, partner, participant), I still prefer to go with descriptors in terms of three relationships with the church:

Relationship A:  Where the Church IS NOT.  Where there is no viable church, missionaries work to establish churches. Ideally, this is temporary in a specific location.

Relationship B:  Where the Church HAS NOT. Where there is a viable church, but one that is not yet competent, or not yet motivated, to carry out some of its functions, missionaries can come along side at motivate, train, and empower the church. Ideally, this is also temporary in a specific location, unless of course the missionary serves in a specific location, and church ministers come to them for training and empowerment.

Relationship C:  Where the Church CANNOT. Even viable and skilled churches may lack certain functionality for ministries that need to be handled by missionaries for an extended period of time. Hospitals, Christian radio, translation and publishing, may be outside of the skill set or financial capacity of local churches for an extended period of time. This still should not be forever, but missionaries may be needed to serve in a specific location and ministry on a long-term basis.

These descriptors seem fairly useful.

  • They are consistent with Paul and Barnabas’ ministry on their first missionary trip of church-planting. But they are also consistent with the stated purpose of the second missionary trip of Paul:  “Let’s go back and visit the brothers in every town where we have preached the message of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” (Acts 15:36). It would also make the epistles of Paul an important aspect of his mission work.
  • The three descriptors would also draw together various forms of research and education that cover evangelism, churchplanting, and church empowerment (especially as an “outsider”).
  • They would include the functions of the New Testament apostle. The descriptors may be broader than our understanding of the term in the New Testament, but it does not exclude the functions of an apostle. (Note: I am describing the term “apostle” as used in the 1st century church, not the second century, and CERTAINLY not the way it is used today by “apostolic” Protestant churches.) 41nm958yhyl-_sx344_bo1204203200_

There is a fourth item as well. These descriptors would strongly embrace both Diaspora and “Reverse” missions. Since there are many unreached groups in traditionally mission-sending countries, missionaries to these countries are very justifiable. In a very realistic sense, there is much work in the US, Canada, Europe, and more– where the church “Is Not.” Additionally, many churches in traditionally “Christian” nations are unable or unwilling to carry out ministries. As such, missionaries from other areas are quite justified to come in and work with churches that “CANNOT” or “HAVE NOT.”

Food and Missions

I was sitting at a small Ibaloi restaurant a few years ago. My Filipino friends ordered something called “Mix-Mix” (not “halo halo”… that’s different). They were all chuckling with each other. My language skills, poor now, was even worse back then, but I kept hearing the word “aso” over and over again, which is the Tagalog word for “dog”. Dog is an occasional delicacy among many of the Highland peoples. Soon the food was served. It was clear that “Mix-mix” is a meat dish with broth consisting of the parts of some animal– parts that most Americans would assume a butcher would throw out. The moment of truth arrived.papaitan_kambing
I took some “Mix-mix” and rice. I ate with gusto and had seconds or thirds. The cooks showed surprise and appreciation in seeing an American enjoying Ibaloi food. I was told later that the dish contained no dog… but I wonder. Supposedly it was pig. It could have been a version of “pinapaitan”– essentially “goat innards soup.” (I have told my friends that if they want to serve me dog for a meal… don’t tell me until afterwards. As far as I know I have never eaten dog… but again… I wonder.)

Food as a Bridge1pot5-grubworm
I spend a lot of time here on food, but it applies to many other cross-cultural experiences. If one can get used to the value of food as a bridge, one would find that other cross-cultural experiences can also be an effective bridge. Food is a common part of every culture. Everyone must eat.
Food can draw strangers together, or drive them further apart. The dietary law of the ancient Jews help maintain their “separateness”. But as a missionary, we try to build bridges, not walls. But how do we build bridges when we have spent years developing personal preferences?

Eating is a Social Event
The first key is to recognize that eating is a social event. Social events are for the sake of the group, not the individual. A wedding is a social event set up to bring a bride and groom together before God and witnesses. A wedding is not to make any one member of the audience happy. The individual subordinates his own personal tastes to help the social event be a success.
If one realizes that eating is “not about me” than one can recognize that showing appreciation for food builds bridges that will not be easily broken. And refusing food builds walls that will not be easily overcome.

Food is to Stay Alive
Americans are a group of people who tend to forget that food is used to stay alive. Living amidst plenty, food has become an aesthetic issue. Food that satisfies the palate is accepted, while food that only satisfies hunger is refused. But when dealing with those from a different cultural background, such as one where food is scarce, refusal of food can be viewed negatively. Refusing food because it does not meet one’s own personal preference is often not a valid excuse.

How to Have Culinary Proactivity.
A.  Try different types of foods. The best way to react positively to a food is to have tried it before and to have gained an appreciation for it. Try different cuisines, different recipes. Visit ethnic restaurants. Learn to appreciate variety. Eat a little of everything. Eat even more of things you don’t care for. Expand your palate.
B.  Avoid first reactions. The typical response to something new is one of distaste… especially if you are nervous about trying new things. Take the first bite or drink and force yourself to have no opinion of it. Simply analyze the taste and consistency. Only after the second or third bite, take time to consider whether it is something you like. It is surprising how many things taste better once you settled your mind to avoid first reactions.
C.  Don’t be too quick to label foods “off-limits”. The world is full of people with foods they avoid. Some eat only vegetables, some won’t eat fish. Some won’t eat food that is cooked. Others fear food that is raw. Now if you truly have a moral problem with something, than follow the dictates of your conscience. However, if a habit has become a law in your life, try to develop a broader perspective. While we all will have some food taboos, the fewer we have, the fewer problems we will have when the food we are given has a surprise in it.
D.  Don’t develop required foods. Some people must have bread at a meal some must have
potatoes, or rice, or meat. Just as having foods that are off-limits can cause problems, so can having foods that we feel we must have every day, or every meal. Break the rules you have set up for yourself. Just as being a vegetarian may build walls in some societies not bridges, so can being one who must have meat daily in a society that is vegetarian. Avoid culinary ruts.
E.  Determine beforehand what you will do if someone offers you something that you consider taboo. Some people do not drink alcohol, but sometimes having a sip of an alcoholic beverage eases relations at a social event. If you honestly feel that you must drink no alcohol at all times, than determine beforehand your response. If you believe you cannot eat insects, likewise determine how you will respond to a dish of grubs. Decide beforehand what are moral issues for you, and what are personal standards of conduct. Think things through. One may find it strange to drink milk from a water buffalo, only to realize that it is no more inherently strange than drinking milk from dairy cattle. Maybe with thought, one might realize that there is nothing more strange about eating grasshoppers than eating shrimp. Bamboo grubs can be quite tasty if fried up right (doesn’t frying make everything better?) If you cannot bear the thought of eating something, admit it, and admit the reasons for your feelings. If you cannot eat pre-masticated food, admit it, and predetermine your response to it. But by recognizing that the issue is a matter of personal taste, not morals, you can become more accepting of others.

In some social situations there are acceptable methods of avoiding things. In other words, if you believe you cannot join others in a food or a drink, there may be socially acceptable ways you can still build bridges. This requires really understanding the culture you are in. For example, when I was in the US Navy, we had a custom called a “Dining Out”. It was a formal dinner with many customs. One of the customs was for each member to have wine in his glass, and take a sip after each toast. Anyone who did not join in a toast, would be thought of as one who disagrees with the toast. So, for example, if someone toasts the president of the United States, whoever does not drink the wine would be considered to be unpatriotic. At that time, I had chosen not to drink alcoholic beverages under any circumstance. However, a room full of military officers was the last place I wanted to appear unpatriotic.

Fortunately, there was a socially acceptable alternative within the Navy culture. For someone who does not drink, at each toast one could take the glass up to one’s lips, not drink, and place the glass back on the table. That way, one is saying, “I don’t drink alcohol, but I am in agreement with the toast that is spoken.” Other ways may exist to avoid problems as well. If you are invited to a fiesta, there may be several dishes to choose from. Instead of emphasizing what you are not eating, emphasize the foods you choose to eat, and mention how much you enjoy them. After all, often a good excuse for not eating buru (fermented rice and fish) is that you have already stuffed yourself on so much of the other good foods on the table. Once again, you are trying to build bridges, not walls.

I don’t drink alcohol… but in some communities in the Northern Philippines it is considered offensive to refuse a glass of “tapuey,” a locally made rice wine. So I normally accept it and have a sip. One time, I had my 11 year old son with me on a medical mission trip, and the group was sharing around tapuey. I told them that I would normally gladly receive their tapuey. However, I don’t normally drink. Since my son was with me and I don’t want him to see me drink alcohol and pick up the wrong message from me, I must ask their forgiveness in declining a drink. Truthfully, they seemed to understand. There are usually ways balance dietary rules with social obligations. It takes a bit of honesty, respect, and flexibility.

Theostorying as Creative Reflection

Excerpt from Chapter two of Theo-Storying:

Theostorying is “the act of creative reflection on God, and our associated relationships with Him and each other, crafted artistically into the medium of the story, so as to allow the listener to join in the reflection through experiencing the story, being challenged by the story, and inspiring further questions.”

Let’s work through the proposed definition.

1.  Creative reflection. Theostorying should neither be a rehashing of dogma, nor be (inherently) heterodox. It should, however, push and challenge our understanding of truth. It should look at theology from a different perspective. It should provide a new voice to old questions, as well as new questions.

2. Crafted artistically. Storying (both the creation of stories and the telling of stories) is an art. Storying in this case would normally be a short story or anecdote rather than a novel or epic. It should draw interest and entice the listener. But regardless of the form, creativity and imagination are required to create the story and transmit the story.

3. Medium of the story. The story is the medium but it is also inextricably intertwined with the message. If one ends with “the moral of the story is” or “the lesson we can learn from this is,” such a lesson would only be one prepackaged idea drawn from the story… not the total sum of all possibilities of the story. If the story could be adequately summed up in one sentence, the story, does not adequately inspire theological reflection.

4. Experiencing the story. We are given the opportunity to be drawn into the story. We tend to learn best through reflection on our own life experiences (and sometimes through the life experiences of others). A good story allows us to join into the story… often from the perspective of different characters. Doing so, we experience, reflect, and learn.

5. Challenged by the story. A good story doesn’t just tell us what we already know, or what we already believe, or what we already believe we know. It challenges us culturally, theologically, and personally. An example of a personal challenge: The parable of the ewe lamb, challenged King David. The story did not challenge him culturally or theologically… he knew theologically and culturally what should be done and the story did not question that. Rather, it challenged him personally when he was told that he was experiencing the story from the wrong perspective. He was experiencing it as the kingly judge, when he should be experiencing it in the role of the rich neighbor.

6. Inspire further questions. Good theostories don’t just give the full answer. They inspire questions. They might inspire questions because the story seems unfinished, or because the story doesn’t explain why things went in one direction versus another, or because it suggests conclusions that are personally uncomfortable.

What are some good questions associated with theostories?

  • What next? In the Bible, we don’t know what happens to Jonah after chapter 4 of the book. We don’t know (for sure) what happens to Japheth’s daughter. What did the Prodigal Son’s elder brother do next? In missions we often do case studies where the situation is set up but the ending is intentionally unfinished. We are supposed to place ourselves within a specified role in the story and say what we would do next and why. It is highly educational and far superior to memorizing a bunch of rules.

  • What if? What if pharoah had let Moses and the people of Israel go without a fight? What if Judas had confessed and asked for forgiveness? What if Job did curse God? What if Zedekiah had stood up to the power elite in Judah?

  • Why? Why did Judas decide to betray Christ? Why did God place enticing fruit in the garden and then tell His inquisitive creations not to eat it? Why did God save us through a blood sacrifice? (Was God “handcuffed” into doing it that way, or did He choose that way as a lesson for us?)tumblr_inline_mij0dqjvoi1qz4rgp

  • Who? Whose perspective do you connect to in the story. What if you placed yourself in a different perspective. What if you were not one of the Israelites invading Canaan, but a person living in Jericho desperately trying to protect your family? What if you were the Levite, in the story of the Good Samaritan, hurrying to your next appointment… perhaps afraid of being attacked, with no medical skills)… how would you respond seeing the dying (possible dead) man… honestly?

But there is more. Stories are part of the message. In this, one is going along with the popular Marshall McLuhan statement that “The Medium is the Message,” the idea that the message as it is received is an amalgamation of the medium used and the purposed content. There is a growing belief that theology is inadequately handled by propositional truths. Stories are not merely a vehicle to transmit a propositional truth. If stories were transporting truth without affecting truth or being a part of that truth, at the end of the storying process, the hearer or reader could simply extract that truth and discard the story, like the waxed paper that can be discarded from a fast food lunch. However, the story IS part of the truth. Narrative Theology and Asian Theologies place a greater focus on the story over just “facts.” Likewise, new ways of interpreting the Bible, to a large extent a book of stories, sees the story as part of the teaching.

Medical Missions Reprise

Some things go away but don’t stay away. For the most part, my wife and I stopped doing medical missions back in 2010. From 2005-2009, we were with a group called Dakilang Pag-Ibig Diadem Ministries. During that time, we served about 30,000 patients in about 70 different sites. Then, in the first couple of years But of our present ministry (Bukal Life Care) we continued to do some medical missions– especially when tied to disaster response. I think the last medical mission that we organized and ran was in 2013… although we have helped with bits and pieces of some since then. I think it is a good ministry… but does have some potential pitfalls.

But just in the last month, we have been asked by three different groups advice regarding medical missions. That can be tough because there is such variety that can be involved in the methodology and long-term strategy. But since questions keep coming in, here are a few resources. Some are directly related to medical missions… and some a bit less so.

Article #1.  Healthy Medical Missions

Article #2.  Models for Church-Based Relief and Development

Article #3.  Changing Priorities and Practices

Article #4.  From Baguio to Baguionas

Book:  Principles and Practices for Healthy Medial Missions41l78twlool



Joshua on the Plains of Jericho

A reflective story loosely based on Joshua chapter 5.

When Joshua was near Jericho,religion-war-cartoon-02_slideshow he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in His hand. Joshua approached Him and asked, “Are You for us or for our enemies?”

“Neither,” He replied. “I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.”

“Ah,” said Joshua, “We are the chosen people of the Lord. So you are for us.”

“No!” responded the man.

“Then you are for the enemy!” declared Joshua, readying his sword.

“Listen to me. I will say it again. ‘Neither. I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.'”

The man continued. “The fool speculates whose side does the Lord favor. The wise rejects such nonsense and declares, ‘I will serve the Lord.’  I have now come as a commander of the Lord’s army. Who do YOU side with?”

Then Joshua bowed with his face to the ground in worship and asked Him, “What does my Lord want to say to His servant?”