Philip (of the 7) and the (3) Little Pigs

I wrote a story based (sort of) on the Three Little Pigs. The story is Reflection, Restoration, Redemption and Three Little Pigs

However, I think I want to change the story a bit. I think that first little pig representing Reflection is wrong. Rather, it should be Resignation.

The responses to a bad situation (choosing three from among many) are:

  1. Resignation. Accepting the situation without doing anything about it.
  2. Restoration. Fixing or undoing the situation.
  3. Redemption. Making good out a bad situation.

The difference between restoration and redemption the assumed endpoint. In Restoration, the goal is to return to status quo. Classically, in a sitcom, the goal is to bring up a (sometimes ridiculous problem) and end the episode with a return to normal. This is useful because it makes it easier for the writers. They start from the same place each time. Of course, this can be unsatisfying. It is nice to have characters learn and grow. It is nice to have story arcs that are more than 22 minutes long. With redemption, the bad stuff is used for good. Ideally, the end would not have been as good if it were not for the bad. This theme is not unusual in the Bible. The Joseph arc in Genesis starts with jealousy, family conflict and enslavement, and ends with family restoration and salvation. The viciousness of humanity in the Passion story is used as an opportunity to demonstrate God’s sacrificial love, and message of salvation.

A great example of this sort of redemption is found in Acts 8 with Philip of the Seven (or the Evangelist). The church has been growing in Jerusalem but appears not to be spreading much outside of the city. Conflicts with the religious establishment leads to great persecution. Followers of the Way begin to escape from Jerusalem. Curiously, it is noted that among those that did not leave were the Twelve— the ones who were specifically called by God to leave Jerusalem. (See Acts 1:8).

Those that left began to share the gospel message to their fellow Jews in Judea. The persecution in Jerusalem was like a blowing on a fire to put it out, but instead of putting it out, it causes the flame to spread faster. Among those who left was Philip. Philip did something different. He did not go to the towns of Judea. He went to Samaria. There was not a lot of warm feelings between the Jews and the Samaritans. It is quite possible that Philip was not only one “of the 7” of Acts 6, he may have also been one “of the 70” from Luke 10. While the Twelve were sent to the Jews, the 70 (or 72) had no such constraints placed upon them. And Philip was probably a Hellenistic Jew (based on the Greek name and his call to minister to Hellenistic Jewish widows in the church. If so, he would be bicultural and perhaps more open to minister to a group that was arguably rather bicultural (or syncretistic). Reaching out to a Jewish proselyte (assuming the Ethiopian Eunuch was a proselyte) would be quite consistent with his adventurous spirit in sharing the faith across cultural divides.

You can read starting in Acts 8 in his role not only of bringing the Christian faith to Samaritans, but also getting some of the apostles to leave Jerusalem and begin to share their faith beyond. Then you can read about his ministry of bringing the Ethiopian Eunuch to Christ. The Ethiopian church sees this man as its founder. Is that true? It is hard to say, but he certainly inspired the Ethiopian church— one of the most enduring vibrant ancient Christian groups. Then one can read about his work in Judea, and eventually settling in Cesarea and ministering there with his family.

One can focus on Philip. Why not? It certainly makes sense to look at it biographically. But this story can be seen in terms of redemptive responses to problems.

  1. In Acts 6, there is conflict in the church over racism. The response was to give a ministerial role and authority to seven Hellenistic Jews (including Stephen and Philip). The story shows this to be more than simply restoration. Acts doesn’t simply show things as “fixed.” Out of this situation, Stephen is described as a courageous preacher, and first martyr. And Philip is described as the cross-cultural missionary of the church.
  2. The persecution of the church… leads to the Gospel spreading in all directions, including crossing cultural boundaries.

There is a lot of redemption. In grief response, one of the responses is that of the Activist. This person is inspired to turn tragedy into something positive. This is not the only positive response, but it can be valuable when this happens.

Of course, I have talked of redeeming and restoring, but what about resignation. Resigning oneself doesn’t always mean enduring with a sigh. Ultimately, resignation is to not fix and not redeem. It does concern me that I see so many on FB and Twitter (especially before I started to back out of those platforms) who would share stories like this:

—Here is a story… you should be fearful about it.

—You are fearful? Well now here is a story for you to be angry about.

—Angry now? It’s time to hear a new story so that you can be fearful.

—Fearful? Now here is something to be angry about….

And so on… more and more. I never really figured out the reason why people share these things. Ideally, they can inspire fervent prayer, and action to to restore what is good… or redeem the problem for good. More often it is just to cycle people through useless or even destructive emotional cycles.

I think we can do better. Philip did…

Book on Missions Here

I decided to put my book “Missions in Samaria” for free on the Web. Previously, I had put an old version of the book. However, I then decided to put the newest version on and

I am doing this much like I did for my book on Missions Theology (CLICK HERE FOR THIS)

The final step of localizing a video game for a new market is Quality Control. The steps of Internationalization and Localization are meant to make a game that feels natural in a new market. I noted in the last post, the goal is not to make the game feel local, but rather to make the player feel like a local within the game. The game should feel comfortable and immersive to the players in the new market but still have the plot, characters, and objectives of the original game so that people all over the world can “feel” as if they are united as players of the same game.

But there will be mistakes. No work is ever done without mistakes, oversights, and more. In some cases, it may have been done right, but could be done better. My daughter showed me a well-known error in video game localization. In the orginal, Japanese, version of a game (I think it was one of the Pokemon games but I could be wrong), a character buys a rice ball, and then begins talking about how much he enjoys eating rice balls (I don’t remember the Japanese name). Here in the Philippines, there are many possible equivalents— Puto or Buchi come to mine. No problem. But in the American version, rice ball is traded for jelly doughnut. On first consideration this seems like a perfectly good localization. Jelly doughnuts are a nice hand-held sweet treat. It arguably could have worked. But there were a couple of problems— one obvious and one far more subtle. On the obvious side, the picture did not match up. The imagery was part of the game that was held constant in internationalization. It was not changing in localization. While the image did not clearly identify what the food was, it looked quite a bit like a rice ball, and not at all like a jelly doughnut. That pulls one out of the immersiveness in the game. The words don’t line up with the visuals.

A far more subtle problem was in that the change was unnecessary. As I said, localization does not mean making the story look like it is happening in the new culture (such as making a game that takes place in Medieval France, now take place in 21st century Chicago). Rather, localization means making the game so that a person from Chicago will feel as comfortable there in the game world as someone from France, Brazil, or China. So turning a rice ball into a jelly doughnut is sort of like changing the visiting of the Great Wall of China to visiting the Grand Canyon in the game… or turning all of the sushi bars into taco stands. It is an unnecessary change and looks like the localizers don’t really understand what is important for the gameplayers. It is a bit akin to a foreign preacher coming to the Philippines and constantly bringing up famous Filipinos (Manny Pacquio, Pres. Duterte, Vice Ganda, Sharon Cuneta, etc.) or cultural artifacts (balut, adobo, bahay kubo, barong tagalog, etc) in a fruitless attempt to make the sermon “feel local.” IF THE MESSAGE IS NOT DRAWN FROM GOD’S WORD, AND DOES NOT DIRECTLY SPEAK TO THE FEARS AND HOPES OF THE AUDIENCE, IT WILL NEVER BE TRULY LOCALIZED.

In video game localization, quality control is done a number of ways (far above my knowledge) but most famously through lots and lots of gameplay. Just as the saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting,” the proof of the localization is in the playing— by locals.

And this brings up the issue of role. Who does the steps.

  1. Internationalization. Much of this really must be done by the programmers in the home country. They have the code. They know the game. However, it may help to have consultation from outside. Ethnocentrism and mono-perspectivity of the programmers and gaming company can make it so that they don’t have a clear understanding of what aspects of their game are universal, and what things are culturally distinctive. So dialogue with those from other cultures (especially of potential markets is useful). If we say that the initial game market is “A” or “a,” and the future market in a different culture is “B” or “b,” then at Internationalization, the Dialogue/Partnership could be described as “Ab”— the home culture dominates this process, but needs inputs from the potential new market.
  2. Localization. Localization is best done by those from the market culture “B” who are already comfortable with original culture “A.” They should then be bicultural in a sense, but fully immersed and enculturated or acculturated in culture “B.” However, those from culture “A” have a role. After all, part of their role is to help the localizers really understand the lore, characterization, plot, and objectives of the game. These can be subtle things. Of course, to be effective in this, those from Culture A, but also be pretty comfortable in Culture B;, to be able to communicate these subtleties effectively. Still, this Dialogue/Partnership could be described as “aB”— the local culture dominates the process, but with effective communication going on to ensure nuances are not lost in translation.
  3. Quality Control. This process would be dominated by locals of the new market. After all, they are the ones who must feel comfortable and entertained in this new version of the game. Still, the original creators of the game should be part of the process to make sure that the game still “feels” like the original game. Again, this Dialogue/Partnership could be described as “aB.”

This dialogue applies to localization as well. There is need for dialogue between the “Missionary culture” and the “Recipient culture” at each level. At the Internationalization level, outsider perspectives are needed to make sure that theology that is comfortable in “A” (Missionary Culture) is not being passed along to Culture “B” with too much of that Missionary Culture embedded in it. This can most easily happen when theology is passed on with focus on proposition rather than narrative. I noted that case previously of “The Fundamentals” where the death of Christ (and universally relevant story) is boiled down into a limited explanation (substitutionary atonement for sin) that, while true, does a disservice to the broad implications that flow from the story, as well as the wide variety of canonical statements that exist. We want our contextualized theology to be “Biblical.’ However, as Jackson Wu (in the article I referenced and linked to in my previous post) described a statement of a friend of his, there is an unconscious tendency of “We do it because it is Biblical” to become “It is Biblical because we do it.” Culture A theologians need to fight paternalistic tendencies and listen openly to the challenge of Culture B theologians.

I remember when I was attending a Baptist college where we learned Baptist doctrines and theology. In so many cases my professor would express a Baptist doctrine, point to the Scriptural and Theological basis, and it is clear, understandable, and cohesive. They would often contrast this with perspectives of some other groups that appear pretty eisegetic and convoluted. However, then there were certain topics of Baptist doctrine where the professor would suddenly shift. The argument is no longer clear and cohesive but having a muddy dance around Scripture to justify it. One of those examples was the Baptist predilection for having a single pastor in a church… rather than having several pastors or a board of elders. Even as a 19 year old I realized that this was an area where my professor had drifted into “It is Biblical because that is the way we do it.” (By the way, I don’t care whether there is one pastor, many pastors, or no pastors. But this appears to be more of a cultural issue than an issue of sound Biblical interpretation.) Without outsider perspectives, there is a tendency to keep slipping into the same ruts.

Of course, this works both ways. When one looks at Bevans work on evaluating contextual theologies (“Fair or Foul”) he notes a few things relevant to this post. For one, the theology should come from the users. It should not come from an outsider or a single prophetic figure. Ideally, it should come from the community of faith. In the way I am describing it, the localization process is driven by locals. It may not be “from the masses” but it would come from a group within the church culture. A second thing is that the localized theology should challenge and be willing to be challenged by outsiders. Much like in video games, there needs to be challenging dialogue from both sides. A third thing is that it should be understandable and utilized by the populace. In other words, it should not be narrow and esoteric. If it is localized, it should be felt as if at home in the church and the church in it. This is in line with video game localization where the tests are Quality Control where it is evaluated by actual use, and by sales (its use and acceptance by the general gamer population).

I think I have dealt with this topic enough. But I do think that the process of video game localization has value in the localizing of theology. Among these values are:

  1. Recognition that one must identify aspects of theology that must be embraced as universal… in that removing it would its universality across cultures.
  2. See that the distinctive “DNA” of a theology is found more in its characters, plot, and objectives. Propositional statements are more likely to be developed from the stories to give answers to needs that are based in church history or church locality. As such, the Biblical story should be held constant as well as key characters and objectives in the story. These should not be localized by being changed, but presented so that people in different cultures can feel at home in that outsider story.
  3. Theology needs to be evaluated as a two-way street… developed dialogically and challenged dialogically. Its successful localization is determined to the extent that it is successfully used and understood by Christians in that culture.
  4. The church, living out its theology, should look different in different settings. However, it should feel as if it is a common faith worshiping a common God— Savior and Lord.

Internationalization and Localization of Theology. Part 3

Localization is the process of taking a video game whose file structure and user interface has already been “internationalized” (as mentioned in the previous post) and adapting it to be understandable, immersive, and entertaining in a new cultural setting (market). Doing so should not make it feel like two players in two different markets are playing two different games.

An obvious part of the process is Translation into the language of the new setting. Of course, it is far more than just translating the words… it involves making the translation sound natural… local. This also may require local jargon or turns of phrase. This should also show itself in accent (for audio). Of course, it is not wrong to have stilted language or foreign sounding accent when appropriate. When two nations battle in a game it is reasonable that they would speak and sound different. This is even more true of extraterrestrial beings. However, these decisions should match up the expectations of the player.

This is not always easy. In Chinese lore, there are Jiangshi. These are “jumping vampires” or “jumping zombies.” These can look quite humorous to Western viewers, who have no experience with them. However, it is possible, I suspect, to bring the feeling across the cultural gap… but it takes both knowledge and wisdom. Here in the Philippines, there are many legendary creatures— including Aswang, Manananggal, Duwende, Capre, Tiyanak, and many more. I remember watching an episode of the TV show Grimm. In that episode they were dealing with an Aswang that was living in Oregon in the United States. The Aswang was clearly identified as foreign— of Filipino origin, and tied to a Filipino family living in Oregon. Yet, it felt quite fell localized to Oregon and the United States, because it felt quite natural as a foreign creature in a local setting. Also they did a good job of portraying the Aswang in a way that is horrible and terrifying, just as it would be understood in the Philippines. Of course, part of making this work was the upfront worldbuilding. In Grimm, there is a blending of the natural and supernatural, the mundane and the fantastical. Much of the supernatural and the fantastical in Grimm came from Western sources (like werewolves and European fairytales). The Aswang is an Asian character, but the show was set up to make room for it… and it worked.

Some can be more difficult, of course. I love the Japanese animated movie, Spirited Away. It is beautiful. However, many of the creatures and imagery in it did not make sense to me. My children, who are much more aware of Japanese folk beliefs than I, were able to explain quite a bit of it to me. Still, I remain an outsider. Wonderful movie, but on some level, I am well aware of its foreignness to me (or my foreignness to it) despite the admirable job of translation and dubbing.

Frankly, however, when you think about it, it is not so much true that the game is localized to the new market culture. The world of the game does not change necessarily to fit the “foreign” player. Rather the world of the game changes so that the “foreign” player can feel like a local in the foreign world of the game. For example, my daughters love playing Genshin Impact. It is a game set in a world that does not exist on earth. However, the world it creates FEELS quite Eastern Asia. In the English-friendly versions of the game, the map does not change (except in making sure it is readable). Many of the characters maintain names that sound foreign. The localization doesn’t make the world of Genshin Impact feel more American. Rather, it makes the American feel more like a local while playing the game in the world there created.

Now let’s bring this to theology. I suggested that in the process of Internationalization, the goal is to identify the core factors of Christian theology and those features that are more cultural. It can be hard to identify which is which. However, I suggested that, in line with video games, the core features are more in the objectives, characters, and narrative. So for example, when portraying Jesus to a new culture, that part should not change. Jesus is who Jesus is. Making Him a Marxist Revolutionary for one culture, a dispassionate contemplative in another, and a Neo-conservative Capitalist in another will be flawed. Three different images of Jesus tend to make the different contextualizations of Christianity fail to resemble each other. One should hold onto the narrative, the characters, and the objections… much like in internationalizaiton in a game.

In localization, the goal is not make Christianity mirror the recipient culture. That will lead to syncretism and essentially a “state religion” or “culture religion.” The same thing happens when Christianity mirrors the missionary’s culture. The story of the Bible will always be a little foreign to all of us because its narrative is founded in cultures that no longer exist today. To remove the cultural elements removes the worldbuilding. The art of localizing is in making it feel natural for a person in the recipient culture to enter the narrative of the Christian faith as a local. The story interacts with the person in ways that may be unique to him, but natural.

Salvation in recent years has often devolved into a short statement of belief and a prayer. And it is usually built around guilt. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. Guilt is very much a valid problem that Christianity speaks to. However, it is far from the only one. The Bible describes the blessing that God seeks to bless His people with in many different ways. Some will resonate with certain one more than others.

For those who feel guilty, God gives innocence

For those who feel shame, God gives honor

For those for feel conflict, God gives harmony

For those who feel trapped, God gives liberty

For those who feel lost, God gives meaning and direction

… and the list can keep going.

When we lock into the propositional side of Christianity, we are commonly taking the story and then limiting it to a single culture’s values. I used the example of substitutionary atonement in the last post. The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is open for a wide variety of perspectives… and the gospels and epistles give written support to many of these. However, when a core issue is that the death of Christ is for atonement for our sins… there is often the unspoken, “and that is all His death was for.” Focusing on the narrative opens up broader points for attachment to local cultures.

Does this solve all of our problems? Will we be able to localize successfully now? Not necessarily. In fact, problems are pretty much guaranteed. But this is where the next step comes in (along with roles). That is in the next post.

Internationalization and Localization of Theology— Part 2

A critical step for converting video games to new culture/market is Internationalization. On initial consideration, it seems as if this is unnecessary. Why would one need to “internationalize” so as to ‘localize.” However, this step is needed unliess one wants to make the localization process incredibly distressing.

I must note that I am not a programmer (the only two languages I have ever programmed in are FORTRAN and Commodore-BASIC— pretty old-timey). However, there is a certain logic here. A game has storyline/plot, objectives, characters, language, scenery/scenes, mapping, and so forth and so on. For the game to be effectively localized to a new culture (consider taking a Japanese game and making it appreciated in the United States), many key things should not change. Storyline/plot, objectives, characters, map, scenes, and so forth probably shouldn’t change, or at least they shouldn’t change much. However, some things need to change a lot. The language (narration, dialogue, audio clips, street signs and more) need to change. While characters should stay the same generally, their names may need to change (but not always). Some plot points may need to be explained or modified somewhat to make it more understandable. Music may need to change (or not). Famously, Tetris kept its Russian folk music theme song as it spread around the world, but that doesn’t work.

Changing too many key elements would undermine the game… or at least cause it to lose its “DNA.” That is, an American playing a game should feel like they are playing the same game that is played in Japan, or in Germany, or in Zimbabwe. Change too much and it is no longer “the same game.” Change too little, and the foreigness can be distracting, non-immersive, or even incomprehensible.

To internationalize, the game is structured so that the core elements are kept constant, while the culturally dependent aspects are put in separate files. Additionally, the constant aspects are configured so as to accommodate localization. For example, if there is written text… the written text should be in a file that can be changed for different markets. However, the imagery that doesn’t change needs to be configured so that different languages with different scripts will still have ample room to be read. Ultimately, a good internationalization sets things up so that localization can be done so that it is local and immersive, while maintaining the same identifiable gameplay.

In theology there needs to be a similar thing going on for localization. There needs to be a genuine attempt to identify what is core and what is non-core.

Yes. This is not easy. However, part of the difficulty is that we as Christians have never been that good at identifying core issues. One might say that we have done better at one time with the great historical creeds of the past. And perhaps this is true… but the temptation to spread it out and nitpick on things tends to cause things to get to the point it is hard to identify what is critical and what is not.


Let me try an example for you. I was raised up a Christian Fundamentalist. Christian Fundamentalism has its roots in American Protestantism. While it seeks in many ways to stand out counterculturally from the broader American society, in many ways it is a product of that same culture. I don’t generally use that term to describe myself… yet in the classic sense of the term, I feel it may still apply to me. In the classic sense of the term, there were identified certain things that were seen as fundamental faith positions. In 1910, the following were set up as Fundamentals by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church.

  • Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture
  • Virgin birth of Jesus
  • Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin
  • Bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus

If I remember right, when I was young, we also had the Trinity (Oneness of God in Three Persons) as a Fundamental belief. Not sure why that wasn’t included. Anyway, if one adds that one, you have six.

But let’s consider a couple of the challenges of using these to provide a basis for internationalization of Theology.

  1. Temptation to keep adding to the list. As time goes on, new concerns come up. As such, some things become less relevant, while other things become more relevant,. In the list above, the Virgin birth of Jesus seems pretty out of place. After all, if one accepts the “infallibility” of Scripture, and “the Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus,” it hardly seems worth mentioning the Virgin Birth. Perhaps it could be justified on the grounds that it stands against Adoptionism— a theological view that pops up in history here and there. However, when the list was made, the “Search for the Historical Jesus” was intense. As such, many thought it needed to be specially singled out. However, as time went on, other issues pushed to the front and those led to more “fundamentals,” For example, some added that Genesis 1 must be interpreted in a very literal (seven 24-hour period sort of literal) manner. I can see how we may say that “God is Creator and Designer and Sustainer of the Heavens and the Earth” is a Fundamental issue. But the question of “literalness” seems to be an argument over genre… not particularly fundamental. Just today, I was reading an article by Jackson Wu regarding the reaction of some religious leaders that Saddleback Church has ordained three women. Some of the language used by Tim Keller, John Piper, and D.A. Carson who were discussing this topic showed how deeply important it was to them that women should not be pastors. The article is HERE. Some others that agree with them in spirit but who are more vitriolic in language suggested that a church that has a ordained woman is not a church at all. Since there really is an awful lot of wiggle room in Biblical interpretation in this area (without even getting into the question of culture), this seems very much like an area where “good people can disagree.” However, the upheavals in society regarding gender roles and norms in recent decades has led to a hardlining (and demonizing) of beliefs, such that it looks almost as if this is a new “fundamental,” despite lacking a good theological basis for its prominence.
  2. What may be fundamental in one culture, may not necessarily be fundamental in another culture. A good example of this is the 3rd fundamental above… “The belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin.” Is this true? Yes, I definitely believe it is. Is it fundamental? In a sense it is… but in a sense it isn’t. What in the world do I mean by this? Well, the Bible does teach that Jesus died for our sins. But the Bible says that Jesus died for many reasons. Perhaps the most well-known passage in the Bible (John 3:16-17) says that Jesus was sent to us because of God’s great love for us (verse 16) and so that people will believe (verse 17). Of course, one could read those verses through a substitutionary atonement lens (God loved the world so much that He sent Jesus to die as an atoning sacrifice for our sins… For God did not send Jesus into the world to condemn it but to cover the sins of those who believe). However, it could be just as reasonable to swap it around and say that God’s great desire was to show us how much He loves us, and so chose sacrifice as a way of demonstrating that love in a way that we can identify. I would argue that both statements are true, and one is not necessarily more fundamental than the other. And when one brings in Honor-Shame theology utilizing the Biblical language of Adoption, and Family of God, a whole other perspective is there that is equally fundamental. (One can find other themes in the Bible regarding Christ’s death that are also arguably fundamental.) Of course, it is hard to know where to stop on this path. Going back to the ordaining women issue, if one is bringing Christian theology into a culture that is more gender egalitarian, is it “fundamental” to undermine this and promote a patriarchal structure? Maybe… maybe not. Certainly that is what has often been done here in the Philippines— a country where women have often had more power in society than in the US (including two being President of the Philippines). Yet many churches are horrified at that thought of women taking up prominent roles in church. This has come through both Catholic and Protestant missionaries. A local pastor went to one of our student’s parents to tell them that their daughter was “going to hell” (literally?) because she committed the sin of planting a church while being female. Is this a fundamental issue… or is it a cultural one driven by social conflicts?

Instead of adding other examples… creating even more discomfort… I would like to suggest something. In internationalizing theology, we should consider a more narrative approach rather than propositional approach. I know it has been popular to identify the “kerygma,” the core essence of the Gospel. However, the attempts to do that end up in expressions that tend to focus on contemporary theological concerns in a specific setting. A list of propositional truths commonly are really a list of statements that come from the results of debates in one cultural setting.

The core is the story. The Bible is the story of God… a love story in a sense. The leading characters, narrative and objectives are key. Changing the characters… changing the narrative,.. changing the objectives… these would destroy the “DNA” for the Christian message much as doing these would destroy the unique core of a video game.

I think the 3-culture model of contextualization has value. You can look AT THIS REGARDING THIS MODEL. It seeks to filter the message coming from the Missionary Culture (Culture A) through the “Biblical Culture” (Culture B) to get something that is somewhat ‘supracultural” that can be then contextualized (localized) into the Recipient Culture (Culture C). However, the question doesn’t go away. What is the core… what is supracultural? Charles Hodge felt, back in the 1800s, that slavery could not be seen as wrong in the sight of God because the Bible allowed it in the cultures in which it was written. Is that good theology? Does God allowing a certain practice to be done in a culture separated from ours by 2 to 3 millenia take precedence over God’s actions, and guidance to us as Christians? In the Biblical narrative, the Christian message is one of moving mankind from bondage to freedom. I would argue that it is this narrative that is at the heart of the Christian message— more “fundamental” to the core, the essence, the DNA of the Christian faith.

Will there be mistakes in this effort? Of course. MANY MANY MANY. But that is why there is dialogue in the process. In the next post (hopefully) I will suggest the roles in this process in the next installment.

Internationalization and Localization of Theology. Part 1

I am not a video game person. I am pretty much limited to “Match 3” games. I was addicted to Bards Tale back in the 1980s. However, I have been talking to my daughter who is very interested in video games. She is interested in playing them, but also has a considerable interest in their development— especially in terms of the process of voice acting and directing, and the localization of video games. The latter of these, localization of video games, has do with the process of taking a game that was developed in and for Culture A, and make it localized and immersive in Culture B.

As I was looking into that process, I was interested in a number of aspects of it that arguably may relate to the localization (as part of contextualization) of theology. The most interesting part of it, to me at least, is the step called Internationalization. I can see how it could be seen as part of the process known as the “Three Culture Model.” However, I feel like there is enough differences, that it is worth exploring further.

In general, Internationalization is the step that allows easy Localization. Without this step, the development of a localized version of a video game can be laborious. Also, it may open the door for losing key aspects of gameplay that would ultimately ruin what made the game great.

In the next few posts I will explore this process. The image below shows the process very simplistically. In reality, there is nothing really linear about the process.

Should Missionaries be Evangelists?

So I was talking to a friend of mine named Tom (his name is NOT Tom) who is a minister in an Asian Country where Christians are a tiny minority. He was talking about mission work in his country. He noted that missionaries had brought a lot of good things to his country… such as hospitals, church buildings, and community development projects— among other things.

However, he said that one way missionaries haven’t been that helpful have been in terms of Evangelism. He noted that foreign missionaries are not all that good at evangelizing people in his country… because they are foreign. He noted, that in some rural areas, they have had some success in gifting the poor with things they need and these poor respond, converting and joining the church. Later, however, when the missionaries are gone, the gifts stop or slowly break down, and the people drift back into their community’s majority faith.

Of course I have heard this before… even here in the Philippines where many Filipinos are comfortable with English, and the there is commonly enough Bible literacy so that the American-style gospel presentations are effective. (I will not address the question of whether these presentations lead people to Christ, or bring people who are already saved to a different denomination.) It is well understood here that Filipinos are better at evangelizing than foreigners. Foreigners are not that effective even with other religions. I mean, even the American Mormon boys (and girls) sent to the Philippines to proselytize their own message are more and more often matched up with Filipinos. It is entertaining to listen to American youth stumbling through the Mormon message in Tagalog or Visayan or Ilocano, but it is simply not that compelling. The biggest mosque here in our city has worked very hard to fund local boys so that they can train them to evangelize their Tawhid to others here. There are many foreign Muslims here… but few if any have any impact in the presentation of their faith.

But if Christian Missionaries are not good Evangelists, is this a new thing? No. Apparently, Occam (a Native American) was a much better evangelist to Native Americans than Wheelock (a European) in the 1700s. In the 1800s, Karen Evangelists were more effective in sharing the gospel than their American counterparts. Of course, one may go back to 1st century missionaries, such as Philip and Paul and Barnabas in hopes of finding something different. However, in these cases, these missionaries were reaching out to people who were not that different from themselves (E-1 or at most E-2). Paul and Barnabas were Hellenistic Jews from Asia Minor and Cyprus, who reached out to Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Gentiles in Asia Minor and Cyprus. Philip, presumably a Proselyte to Judaism before becoming a Christian, reached out to Samaritans (who shared the language used by the Jews, and almost all of the beliefs of the Jews), and a (presumably) proselyte to Judaism from Ethiopia. Their effectiveness, outside of divine empowerment, was linked to the commonality of language and culture.

So let’s look at it a different way. Consider three settings where a Missionary can Serve.

#1 is Where the Church IS NOT. (No viable church within the region, or culture)

#2 is Where the Church HAS NOT. (The local church may be weak or young and needs help to empower them to carry out its work.)

#3 is Where the Church CANNOT. (The local church may be strong, but still lacks unique capacities such as ability to support radio transmission, publishing, medical services, and so forth.)

So what should the role of Missionary as Evangelist be in these three situations?

For #1. Of course, The missionary is an apostle in the classic sense— sent into a place where the church is not. As such, his (or her) role is to proclaim God’s message of love, and draw those who seek to follow Christ to come together as church bodies. Yes, such a missionary pioneer should evangelize, but really should focus on training new believers to evangelize and then move to new roles of discipling and leader development so that the missionary (as soon as possible) is not needed there.

For #2. Maybe. The Missionary MIGHT be needed to evangelize occasionally— especially if the local church has not embraced its role as a proclaimer of the gospel in its area. But such a role should be very temporary and cautious. After all, even a young church can have young believers who can effectively evangelize. Thus, if it is not happening, having missionaries do the job can easily maintain an unhealthy dependence on missionaries. In fact, that unsatisfactory condition may exist because missionaries as pioneers focused too much on evangelizing and not on encouraging that role to be passed on to locals.

For #3. No. Every church can evangelize. The local church may not be able to establish a publishing house, or operate a counseling center, but they can share their faith with others. Missionaries doing the evangelism in these settings is unhealthy… except as simply a fellow participant with local Christians.

Tom when noting all the good things that missionaries brought to their country noted one thing that they really did not bring. They did not establish seminaries. Mission groups come over to evangelize, and they come in to teach locals how to share their faith like a foreigner. But they did not help establish schools for locals to be trained to contextualize/localize the Christian faith… and remove their scholarly dependence on foreigners.

A few years ago, I was investigating joining a major mission agency. At the time this agency was moving away from theological education and developmental ministries, and seeking missionaries who had a strong “evangelistic spirit” and focused on rapid church multiplication.

On the surface, this seems so right… but I think it is flawed. Most countries don’t need a bunch of foreign evangelizers coming in with big dreams of saturation strategies and CPMs. Are these things wrong? Probably not. However, Big Dream Missions (DAWN, AD2000, and other such missionary-driven movements) promise much but tend to deliver little. The biggest movements come from small groups of local Christians faithfully doing small things to transform their small places.

So should Missionaries be Evangelists? Sometimes, but few if any should have it as their primary passion. The vast majority should be passionately motivated to empower local Christians and local churches to reach their Spirit-empowered potential.

Cultural Patterns and Social Motivators

Robert and Christopher Strauss in their book, “Four Overarching Patterns of Culture: A Look at Common Behavior” speaks of four “Cultural Patterns.” These are:

  • Justice
  • Honor
  • Reciprocity
  • Harmony

I find these to be useful categories for a framework. Of course, the test of categories in a framework is its usefulness, not its correctness. So if one person has a 2 category system (hot versus cold climate cultures from Sarah Lanier) and another has 10 (like the “clash of civilizations” model from Samuel Huntington) it is not a matter of who is correct, but rather which model is more useful in which setting. Of course, if a model appears to have neither clear basis in reality, nor usefulness (such as the “color races” of the Urantia Book— red, orange, blue, green, indigo…), then it is understood that such a model is discounted. Lanier’s model often does hold true, and is a useful starting point in initial contact, such as in tourism. Huntington’s model, I am not so sure about… but in theory may have value in political science.

For me, these four categories (justice, honor, reciprocity, harmony) look useful. These, however, also look a lot like another model, one by Jayson Georges et al, and promoted in It has three categories. These are cultures that center on:

  • Guilt/Innocence
  • Shame/Honor
  • Fear/Power

I claim no expertise in either model, so I am just doing some speculation here. Obviously, “Justice” in the Strauss Model lines up fairly well with “Guilt/Innocence,” much as “Honor” with “Shame/Honor.” But Fear/Power doesn’t fit at all with the Strauss model. Nothing wrong with that, but is there an underlying reason?

Looking through the materials on the Honor/Shame website, it does seem as if the Fear/Power is tacked on a bit. It feels as if it was added more for theological reasons (Christus Victus, or Power Encounter) than for sound cultural reasons. In fact, their own cultural test shows very few places on earth where Fear/Power dominates, despite the how ubiquitous animism is in much of the world. Additionally, I live in the Philippines where the 3 category model doesn’t work that well. The test on their website shows the Philippines as vacillating depending on region and age between shame/honor and guilt/innocence.

From the Strauss Four Patterns model, things work much better for the Philippines. Even though the Philippines does prefer ascribed status over achieved status (a characteristic of an Honor-focused societies. However, one of the most recognized cultural values in the Philippines is “Utang na Loob.” While it translates literally to something akin to “Debt of the heart,” it is closer to the American idea of “Implied Debt” or “Implied Obligation.” It strongly links to the common relationship of Patron-Benefactor. The patronage system and implied obligation are very much characteristics of the Reciprocity Pattern. A similar thing comes to mind for me in parts of Eastern and Southeastern Asia where Harmony is a core pattern supported by Daoist, Confucian, and Shintoist thought.

So am I saying that I think the Four Pattern model is better than the Three? Probably not. My thought at the moment is to look at the Four Pattern model as being more about cultural types, and the Three Model as more about social or cultural motivators.

Think of personality tests for a moment. Tests commonly come in two flavors— type tests and trait tests. Type tests include AB Test, MBTI, Enneagram, and more. In each of these, the test taker ultimately is put into a category along with a lot of other people. These tests are imprecise for this very reason, but are often more practical and intuitive. Trait tests are like PRF (that looks at 20 different psychogenic needs and figures out percentiles for each in the test-taker) or the Big Five (that looks at spectra for five major qualities). These tests are more precise but not as intuitive. For example, if I tell a MBTI fan that I am an ISTJ, or perhaps I share that I am a Type 5 in Enneagram, the hearer would already know a fair bit about me. On the other hand, if I say that I am 58percentile on Abasement, and 37percentile on Harmavoidance, (and then different percentiles on all of the other traits) it is hard to wrap one’s head around it.

So maybe the three items, guilt, shame, and fear, can be thought of as traits of cultures (social motivators) rather than types of cultures. Trait tests are used in cultures as well, including Lingenfelter and Mayer’s Model of Basic Values, or Erin Myer’s Culture Map.

So maybe we should see Justice, Honor, Reciprocity, and Harmony define useful types of culture, but each one have societal motivators of guilt, honor, and fear to varying degrees.

At least this is where I am at the moment. This may change. I certain welcome others; thoughts.

IRD, Culture, and “Just Making Sense”

I am teaching a class on Asian Faiths with focus on Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). I gave this scenario. The story is real, with only trivial changes.

Baha’i is a rather uniquely challenging religion in a number of ways. Years ago I had an acquaintance who was Baha’i. I found one challenge was its pluralism. Brian would say that Baha’i and Christianity agree in theology— and would say that other major religions also agree with Baha’i. When I would bring up some fairly obvious differences, Brian would say, “No, we are in agreement.” I felt like he was being deceptive or perhaps illogical.

Right or wrong in this, my error in talking to him was probably in trying to focus on the differences between Christianity and Baha’i. When I am focused on pointing out differences between the two faiths, and Brian is focused on pointing out similarities between the two faiths… the conversation definitely struggles.

Question:  What should I have done to make the conversation go better, and ultimately (prayerfully) be able to express my faith in a way that would understood and appreciated by Brian?

1.  Should I have stuck with my plan of argument based on differences?

2.  Should I have adjusted to Tim’s aim, in focusing on similarities?

3.  Some third option  (State what that would be)

Explain your answer.

From the answers I got, I had a couple of thoughts.

A. I got some interesting answers from my students. Probably the most interesting was one student who suggested that the best answer was to neither focus on differences or similarities. Rather, he suggested to focus on personal testimony. In other words, spend less time on issues of religion as it is believed, and more on religion as it is experienced. This is actually a recommendation I have heard given for talking to people who are more post-modern in worldview. (I believe that Brian McLaren suggested this in his book “Finding Faith.”) Pre-modern tends to look to ancient authority (focus on the past). Modern tends to look at issues of expertise— looking to experts and (perhaps) an empirically-centered form of rationality. But in Post-modernism, there is doubt of both ancient authorities and present-day “experts.” As such personal experience is more… compelling. The issue in all three cases is not what is true but what is more likely to be accepted as good evidence— what is more compelling.

B. I also noticed a trend. Most of my students come from places where Christians are a minority sub-culture within a majority culture of a different faith. In the case of my students, it was either Islam or Buddhism. However, there were a few who come from places where Christianity is either the majority faith, or a strong sizable sub-culture within the larger society. I noticed that those who come from a more Christian-dominant society tended to prefer Option #1— argument… focusing on differences. Those from a place where Christianity was a much smaller and weaker sub-culture, they tended to prefer Option #2. They prefer to focus on finding similarities.

Why is that? One reason may be that those who come from cultures where Christians are a small minority, know not to “make waves.” Don’t rile up or upset the majority group. And YES, that can be a genuine concern. But there are other possibilities as well. Cultures are an amorphous changing set of values and ideas that people share and transmit to each other. One of the products of culture are the “Just Makes Sense” perspectives. One could call it a “worldview.”

Within a culture, it is the dominant group that tends to define what “just makes sense.” I am from the United States where there is a strong tendency towards Religious Relativism/Pluralism, as well as a more secularist view that we are ultimately the result of a near infinite series of happy (or unhappy) accidents. From a strictly outsider perspective, it is no more reasonable to think that all religions (except for small little unpopular ones) are essentially correct, than it is to think that one is correct, or that all are wrong. It really is no more reasonable to think that happy accidents with no defined purpose resulted in our Universe, than that it was designed with intellect and forethought. But, depending on the culture or sub-cultures, one will tend to “just make sense” while the others seem dubious or foolish.

So… when a Christian lives in a small sub-culture in a society dominated by another belief system, the Christian faith is on the losing side (culturally-speaking) of the “just makes sense” battle. Thus, the reasonable way to sound compelling is to show how one’s faith fits with the “just makes sense” beliefs in the society. On the other hand, if one lives in a place in which Christian beliefs and values are predominant, the more compelling argument is to show how other faiths fail in the “just makes sense” test.

Let’s take a simple, but obvious example. In Islam it is humiliating, even blasphemous, for God to be born physically (incarnated). In cultures dominated by an Islamic worldview to argue against their point just sounds really foolish. On the other hand, the opposite occurs in a place where a Christian worldview dominates. That is because both Christianity and Islam claim an all-powerful and loving God. In the Christian worldview, God is loving because He identified with us, and sacrificed for us, and rescued us when we cannot rescue ourselves. In a Christian culture, to believe in a loving God but then undermine the primary evidences of that love is… well, again, foolish. Because of this, the strategy is quite likely to be at least a little different depending on the dominant faith.

Of course, there are other factors to consider… I am being oversimplifying here. But I do think the general trend holds true. We want to sound compelling to others in our society. We don’t want to sound stupid (although I have met Christians who are exceptions in this). As such, the strategy we use to sound compelling will differ somewhat depending on the role that Christianity has in the broader dominant worldview.