Writing Dispassionately for Passionate People

I have complained at times about the culture of academic papers where writing is supposed to be dispassionate in tone. One is not supposed to put in exclamation points (!!!) or ALL CAPS or use strongly emotional language to express arguments or ideas. The reason I was given was that research is supposed to be a rationalistic enterprise and any use of language, style, or symbology that appears to seek to be persuasive by any other means than pure rationality was problematic. The problem is that research is changing, especially with the recognition of the value of qualitative research and greater respect for research that is more subjective, phenomenological, immersed in its context, has led to major reevaluation of dispassionate writing.

Recently, I was asked to review a paper for an online service for papers. Some people want to be peer reviewed without going through the fickleness of seminars and journals. (Only twice in my life have I submitted a paper for review to a seminar or journal. The first was submitted to a seminar and it was turned down because my topic was more than slightly off topic to the main thrust of the event <worth a try>. The second was submitted to a journal and was accepted. However, the journal got delayed so many times that I pulled my article back and put it online myself. Just lost interest in that whole thing.)

Sorry, got off topic. I was asked to peer review a paper. It was written by a missiologist I have a fair bit of respect for. I was expecting to find the paper valuable. It was a paper on problems with using anthropology in missions. While I think pretty positively of cultural/social/mission anthropology, I am certainly open to hear valuable insight and critique.

Unfortunately, I began to glance at the article before reading it and saw “GOBBLEDYGOOK” put in all capital letters more than once. Looking at the context around it I found that the writer viewed anthropology as deserving the aforementioned label. Disparaging terms are not very endearing, but I began to read the article. Almost immediately I was thrown by a sentence. The writer was complaining that missionaries were using anthropology, which is secular. The writer suggested that this was a problem. The metric system, the alphabet, and my Moto G cellphone are also secular but these seem to be perfectly fine to use for missions. The claim that something is secular is not an argument against it (in the slightest), and frankly few fields of study have been more influenced by Christian missionaries than cultural anthropology. Clearly, to me at least, using the argument that anthropology is “secular” is an attempt to disparage a field by using a term that is emotionally disruptive to many Christians. It is akin to someone who says, “_______________ is (Good/Bad) because it is (Liberal/Conservative/Communist/Fascist/Etc.)

Now I need to step back a minute. I seem to be giving the impression that I think the article was a bad article. Actually, I have no idea. I ended up not reading it. I took a bit of offense to the language and emotional argument. I did not wish to review it. Mostly, if I read it, I may be tempted to review it. If I review it I might be tempted to disparage it. Or course, I might find the article valuable. I am simply not giving it a chance.

I think that is the point. Academic articles are not written dispassionately because dispassionate is better, or that the readers are dispassionate. Rather, readers are highly emotional people, invested in their own prejudices. This is, frankly, by divine design. God is passionate and invested as well. The writer, if he or she wants to influence the reader but keep them reading without shutting down, must find a way in the writing to do this. Ideally the researcher would write in such a way as to show deep respect for the reader. That is hard to do through a media as cold as black text on white background. Thus, the best they can do generally is write neutrally, dispassionately.

In my dissertation, I offended one of my readers greatly in the way I wrote. The reader said that someone involved in the researcher must be horribly offended at something I wrote. I was pretty sure that wasn’t the case since that particular individual was intimately involved in (and agreed with) the exact section of the paper the reviewer was referring to. Nevertheless, as the years went by, I do realize that when I wrote my dissertation, I was a bit hot-headed. I was trying to be a bit of a trailblazer pushing qualitative analysis at a school that was almost entirely focused on quantitative analysis. That hot-headedness showed itself a bit subtly mostly— being overly defensive, polemic and argumentative, in such things as not using hypotheses, or recognizing the researcher as the main instrument rather than the list of questions for the semi-structured interviews.

Being dispassionate in research writing is not about embracing a relic of the Enlightenment, but understanding that we are emotional beings. We fake being dispassionate in writing so that others can fake being dispassionate, and read it without being triggered into too much pushback.

One of my professors had the joking statement that “Professors have many degrees but little temperature.”

It is funny, but I don’t believe it.

Mulling Weakness Missions

I am considering writing a book— or maybe only an article, we will see— on a model of missions that embraces Weak, Small, and Poor as positive, even defining, characteristics. In line with that, I was looking a bit at Mission from a Position of Weakness by Paul Jeong (American University Studies Series 7— Theology and Religion Vol. 269, New York, Peter Lang, 2007). It looks at Missions from a position of weakness rather than power as consistent with the model given us by Jesus, continued by the early Apostles, and modeled by many missionaries and mission movements since then. I hope soon to read Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry by Timothy G. Gombis. The title of this second one sounds interesting even if I am not convinced the vision is in any way original to Paul. But one can not know a book by either its cover or its title.

Back to Jeong’s book for now, Ed Schroeder wrote a review of the book for the journal “Missiology.” In it he gave a critique of the book where he suggested that it lacked an underlying theological foundation (not unusual in Missions writings). Jeong suggested that there are different ways to do missions, but Weakness is best because it is consistent with the example of Christ. While this Biblical argument may be good, it is incomplete. Jesus did not use satellite communication for spreading His message, but that is not enough to throw out all electronic technology in mission work. Schroeder suggests that Weakness Missions is not only the most Biblical form of Missions, it is the most theologically sound. He suggests that Weakness Missions aligns with Theology of the Cross, while Power Missions aligns with Glory Theology. Glory Theology is oriented towards power and success— seeing the Christian life as progressive towards accumulation of authority and blessing. The Theology of the Cross (consider the writings of Martin Luther) sees ourselves as weak and suffering but in a state of Grace due to what Christ has done on the cross. I will have to look into it a bit more. I am not an expert on any of this, but am aware that Glory Theology is a bit of a “straw man” to contrast Theology of the Cross. It is, however, a straw man that many take as their Christian worldview.

At this time, it seems to me that there are three pretty good arguments for Weakness Missions over Power (money, social control and political coercion, for example) Missions:

  • Biblical (Jesus gave us the example that we are suppose to follow, as well as the example of the apostles that followed the example of Christ.)
  • Theological (God’s Word leads us to an understanding of our living in a state of weakness and suffering that compels us to live and minister in complete dependence on God, rather than on utilizing strategies and forms of influence to coerce others to align with our goals and faith.)
  • Historical/Practical (History has shown that many of the most successful mission movements have followed a model of weakness, not power, and those that successfully utilize power missions often create problems that undermine their short-term success.)

An area that I struggle with is the area of divine power. If we are to rely on God, to what extent is Weakness Missions consistent with things like Power Encounter. There are many who support some form of “Vulnerable Missions” who still also promote miracles/signs as part of the ministry. Biblically, this appears to be sound. Jesus did use miracles— sometimes as an act of compassion, and sometimes as a sign of His authority to give a message. The early Apostles did the same. A look in the Gospels and the Book of Acts shows that (1) there is some ambivalence as to the results of such work, and (2) it seems as if miracles were used more at the start of ministry work and less as time went on.

But my question is whether these should be considered to work against the idea of Weakness Missions. My short-term answer (that may change) is SOMETIMES. I feel that in Missions, promoters of Power Encounter such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner clearly embraced Power Missions. (It is interesting that Jeong’s book was originally a dissertation at Fuller, a seminary that has had such a major role in promoting Power Missions (in my opinion at least).) I come from a faith tradition that is pretty skeptical of miracles in the present era. While I do believe that a somewhat open-minded skepticism is probably for the best, that doesn’t really answer the question here. If Weakness means demonstrating dependence on the power of God rather than on the power of man, when does the use of God’s power drift from dependence to exploitation and abuse. From New Apostolic Reformation, to preachers in Africa calling down curses on their competition, there is a place where what should be seen as good becomes toxic.

Still mulling this. Hopefully I will have a good tentative answer by the time I am ready to publish something.

My (Tentative) Rules of Interreligious Dialogue

I was starting to develop a list of rules of IRD by applying Grounded Theory Analysis to several other lists developed by others. I completed the first step (Open Coding) and got a ways into the Axial Coding. However, I sort of lost steam at that point and so I came up with a list of Six Rules (or Roles may be better) for good IRD. Some day, I may update these but generally I am quite comfortable with them as they are.

Six Roles in Interreligious Dialogue

#1. Be a Spirit-Led Mediator— Knowing that God is the third member of the conversation: active before, during, and after.

I consider this one to be very important. Strangely, only Max Warren discussed this point directly. Perhaps that is because most of those who were making their lists did not want to give the suggestion that one person is closer to God than another. One, however, does not have to make presumptions of how another person relates to God to recognize one’s role as a mediator, serving God and working with God.

#2. Be a Humble and Curious Learner— from the other and from God, knowing that God may speak to you in the conversation.

As much as you or I are convinced that we have unique access to the truth, we should never assume that we have nothing to learn. We are to be learners as long as we live. Frankly, an inability to express genuine interest in what another cherishes is likely to squelch any interest the other has in what you cherish.

#3. Be a Competent Witness— knowing one’s beliefs and able to express them honestly and with integrity.

Know what you believe and why you believe it. If the other person is truly interested in what you believe (and this is something you should certainly hope) do your homework not only for your own sake, but for the sake of the other.

#4. Be a Respectful Ambassador— demonstrating courtesy at all times and expecting to receive no more or less respect than one gives.

It has been jokingly stated that diplomats manage to say the worst things in the nicest ways. As a Christian dealing with religious beliefs (one of the most intense hot-button issues out there), one must find ways to express truth in courteous ways. If the other person is a person created by God in His own image, and the he or she is sharing his or her deeply treasured beliefs, they truly do deserve your respect. Tied to this role is Mutuality. If one truthfully demonstrates respect in word and deed to the other, one should expect and enforce some level of respect from the other.

#5. Be a Fair and Skilled Interpreter— able to express your beliefs in a manner that is clear and relevant to the other.

It is your job to express your faith in a way that is understandable and relevant to the other. Even though it is the Spirit of God who ultimately illumines his message to the other, it is your job to understand their world from their perspective, and remove barriers that lead to miscommunication or misinterpretation.

#6. Be a Golden Rule Disciple—Speaking, Listening, and (seeking) Understanding as one would desire of the other.

This is the application of the Great Commandment. Regardless of the words or behavior of the other, one is required to follow the example of Christ. Speak and Listen in a manner that you would desire of the other… and try best as one can to understand the other as one would seek the other to try as well.

These roles are aimed more at a Clarification Approach to IRD, as opposed to an Apologetic (Argumentative) approach, or a Relativistic (Common Ground) Approach. I believe such an approach is consistent with a form of evangelism, but does not force all dialogue into a polemic or apologetic form of evangelism. It also accepts that much IRD may not be directly evangelistic at all. Even the most dedicated evangelist needs to learn and listen, to be able to understand the other and effectively interpret.

I believe this approach is also effective for those who do not embrace a primarily evangelistic role, but seek to work with those of other faiths competently, while still “adorning the gospel” (Titus 2:10).

Book Review: “Pursuing the Call” by Danny Lamastra

One thing I like to say, although often fail to practice, is that when trying to teach, one should aim for 50% Information and 50% Inspiration. Information can be gathered through research or personal experience, but Inspiration is a bit harder to attain. I think it is partly a work of God, but also a personal passion, and skill in the art of communication.

With this in mind, I enjoyed the information and inspiration associated with the reading the recent book by Danny Lamastra “Pursuing the Call: A Practical Guide for New and Prospective Missionaries.” (Aneko Press, 2021). The work gives guidance, especially to those early in the journey, in being a vocational missionary. The guidance is tied to his own experience and early on, his personal story provides the structure for the book.

I appreciated his balanced and personal path into missions. While he described his own journey, he also talked about other paths he could have taken, but did not, especially pertaining to mission agencies and support. As one who trains future missionaries, I found his perspective quite helpful. My path was very different from his. He was a single mission candidate who joined a “faith-based” mission agency right out of college. I was married and never went through support raising, sent by my home church, and going into missions as a second (or arguably third) career. I believe Danny Lamastra’s presentation in terms of mission agencies and funding is pretty fair and balanced.

The second half of the book looks at some common issues that relate to new missionaries— issues that are commonly put under the labels of either Missionary Member Care or Missions Anthropology. These include culture shock, burnout, contextualization, spiritual discipline, and health, legal, and tax issues. The guidance is good and peppered with examples that make difficult ideas more clear. Many of the things the writer talks about I would have benefited from in knowing early back around 2003. As self-funded, church-sent missionaries, we kind of “winged it” in many ways. This book would have helped in many ways, especially in terms of health and legal issues.

Truthfully, there is little I would add or change. Maybe I would downplay the value of fasting as a Christian discipline (especially considering the mixed reviews of this practice I get from others and seeing how ambivalent the Bible is to this practice). Maybe I would say, do it if you find it valuable— otherwise, don’t. I would also caution that tithing to one’s local (in-the-field) church fully can be a bad idea if the church is small. Such a church can easily become dependent on the missionary’s giving. It may be better to split up one’s giving— after all, you can bring your tithe to more than one storehouse.

3F (Full-time, Fully funded, Forever) missions is not for everyone. But for those who suspect that God may be leading them on that path should definitely give this book a read.

Who Are The Appropriate Targets of Christian Missions/Evangelism?

Found a nice article today that I had not read before. It was written around 1994. It is on the Missio Nexus website, titled “World Evangelization by AD2000: Will We Make It?” (https://missionexus.org/world-evangelization-by-a-d-2000-will-we-make-it/). The article was written by “Anonymous.” I don’t know who wrote it, actually, but the address for queries suggests that he or she is linked to the International Mission Board of the SBC. Anyway, the article pointed out some things that were problematic in the early 90s with the AD2000 movement. One of these was the artificial due dates. Things have to happen because the time is short— maybe only 24 months. Maybe only 3 or 4 years. There was no real basis for this seemingly. The timeframe appeared to be chosen simply because it sounded inspirational and motivational. I don’t consider that to be particularly excusable and does speak poorly of those who were doing this.

A second concern was that the goals were not measurable. There was no consistent standard or reliable measure for verifying metrics. What makes a group unreached? Standards varied. How does one determine that it is now reached? It is hard to hit a goal (or even be certain of missing a goal) if one can’t agree on what the standards are, and if there is no good way to measure whether these standards have been met.

The third concern was what to do regarding Roman Catholics, Eastern Church groups, and Mainline Christian groups. Many of the mission groups considered such Christians as unreached. The article referenced above pointed out many of the problems associated with this. I would also add that one has to deal with the theological questions associated with excluding at least two-thirds of all Christians from being… Christian. If a person worships the same God and calls upon the same Savior in faith… what beliefs or values would they have that would cancel such faith?

This is not a trivial question. I serve as a missionary in a country that is 90% Christian… around 5% Evangelical Christian. Does this mean 90% of the people in the country I serve are redeemed people bound for paradise? Very doubtful. Does this mean that only 5% are redeemed and the rest are lost? Very doubtful as well.

There are costs to struggling with this issue. As “Anonymous” wrote back in 1994, if much of the resources of a mission agency are being utilized to lead Catholics and Orthodox “to Christ,” it is possible one is not doing any such thing but merely “sheep-stealing.” But if the person was in need of salvation, the question is whether to pressure them to leave their church and join an Evangelical church or remain within their present church. Resources that could be spent on bringing people to Christ who have never heard the good news would be limited because of the internecine conflict.

My view as a missionary in a predominantly Catholic country is not that popular. Usually the argument is that Catholics believe that they need to work for their salvation as well as receive grace through sacraments, so they can’t be saved. Others point out the excesses of iconography and pagan beliefs associated with folk Catholicism are indicators that they are not redeemed. I do believe that these are indeed concerns. However, I think there are better ways to address these than all-out war.

Believe it or not, my focus here is not on trying to convince Protestants and Catholics to get along. It would be nice if they did, but this post is not going to change anything. Rather, my hope is that people will see the cost of this warfare. The biggest one is that it demeans the gospel message. However, when I teach Interreligious Dialogue with other Religions, I find several things keep recurring with seminarians.

#1. The seminarians have little experience talking with people of other non-Christian faiths. In fact, when I tell my students to have a rich conversation with a non-Christian, I commonly have to say over and over and over that Catholics don’t count (as qualifying as a non-Christian for the assignment). Finally, I end up saying something like, “I need you to have a conversation with a person from a faith that has NO roots in Historic Christianity.” Alternatively, I may broaden things to “I need you to have a conversation with a person that is from a non-Nicene faith group.” If I don’t I will invariable get people who will give me a dialogue with a Catholic friend. This just perpetuates the communication barrier with non-Christians.

#2. The seminarians, when they seek to share their faith with another, will almost always drift into a presentation that is designed to get nominal Christians or non-Evangelical Christians to say the Sinner’s Prayer. Regardless of whether you think this is good or bad, the point I am making is that they will then do this even with those from completely non-Christian backgrounds. Therefore, their presentation presupposes a Christian or Jewish conception of God, and a Christian understanding of who Jesus is and the authority of the Bible. Little time or effort is made to know what other groups think, or what their hopes and fears are. They prefer the “low-hanging fruit” of reaching someone who already agrees with everything the seminarian already believes, getting them to express their faith in a slightly different way.

Does this mean I believe that Evangelicals should never reach out to non-Evangelical Christian groups. No. But I would suggest the following:

A. Don’t approach members of these groups antagonistically, or focusing on drawing them away from their church. We were working with a Catholic nun, when a member of her religious order came up to visit to make sure that we were not trying to pull her out of the her order and her church. At the time I thought that was ridiculous. I was convinced of her personal faith in Christ so why would I seek to undermine that trying to cast doubt on her community. Later, however, I discovered that the pastor at our church was actively trying to get her leave her community and join his church.

B. Speak openly and honestly (and gently) about the similarities and difference of our faith traditions. Take BOTH the similarities and the differences seriously.

C. Have some humility. There is a lot of things messed up in every branch of the Christian “tree.” Each group needs a bit of healthy soul-searching before pointing out the mote in the eye of another. Relatedly, don’t be sure you know exactly who is redeemed and who is not. God knows… because God knows the heart and God knows whose is His own. We don’t. Therefore, we should not act like we do.

D. Since we don’t know who is saved (both Christians who are quite similar to us and those quite different) rather than focusing on salvation… focus on bringing people closer to Christ. (Hiebert would describe this as related to a ‘center set’ approach.) In other words, for those who are self-described Christians, focus on discipleship and let the Holy Spirit convict based on His true understanding, rather than our convicting based on our own prejudices and presumptions.

You might be asking, if I am in a country that is 90% Christian (by self-identification) and I believe that Evangelicals really should not focus on evangelizing self-identified Christians (at least not as a primary activity), why am I here? Shouldn’t I be somewhere else? Possibly. However, my ministry is training Christians in Asia for reaching out to non-Christians in Asia. Doing so in Asia actually makes a lot of sense, I believe. Perhaps I could do it in a Christian-minority country, but at this point in time, those who live in such countries have been able to come to where I live for training. Additionally, the country I live in is one that is transitioning into a missionary sending country. As such, I think it is a good place to be.

“When Bill Caught Death”— A Reflective Story

Bill texted me early today. “I CAUGHT DEATH!! GET OVER HERE NOW!” Bill was not one to CAP LOCK his messages so I figured it was important.

I drove over and Bill opened his door even before I got out of the car.

“Get in here now! I got him… or it… or whatever!”

I followed him in and down the stairs. He kept talking but was a bit incoherent. His basement was unfinished. It had a ping pong table with dart board and couch as if an attempt to have a game room. Dust and general clutter had long taken over this space. Opposite the stairs was a solid metal door. I believe the room beyond was mostly used to keep food stuffs, especially preserves of fruits from their garden— before the divorce.

Bill walked over to the door and put his ear to it as if listening for something.

“Be careful,” he warned me. “I am going to crack the door open so you can look in. Be ready to pull it shut immediately if he tries to get out.”

Bill undid the padlocked hasp, and then unlocked the door, and with great care began to crack open the door. He motioned me over to look over his shoulder into the space beyond. The room was well-lit with a flickery fluorescent tube that brought back memories of the unpleasant lighting at our high school years back. However, one corner of the room had a shadow. It took me a moment to realize that there was no object that would create this shadow. It just seemed to exist there slowly undulating. I realized that beyond the hummmmmm of the light there was a strange whooshing sound coming from the shadow. Within the amorphous darkness, two lights glowing red suddenly appeared, Then a voice came out of the shadow and whooshing that sounded like three voices— one child, one adult, and one aged— speaking as one, “Release me… release me… release me…”

The shadow started to fill one end of the small room and move towards the door. Bill quickly shut the door and double-locked it.

“What in the world was that?!” I asked.

“Death I told you. I saw it following me around this morning. It was trying to avoid being spotted, but I knew my time must be over, but I am no fool. You know that I am not one to give up without a fight, right Bob?”

“Yes Bill. You are always ready to fight.” Not one of his better traits, I added to myself.

“So I pretended not to notice him and I nonchalantly went down to work in the storeroom. It followed me and settled into the corner where you saw it. I quickly dashed out and secured the door. It made such a ruckus. The house literally shook for a bit— but it was trapped.”

“Okay… so what are you going to do now? You can’t just keep it there, right?”

“Of course I can!” responded Bill. “I will just leave it in there. I am thinking as long as it is in there, I am immortal! Maybe everyone is.”

After this, Bill invited me to have some coffee with him. But he just kept going on and on about death. I didn’t need this, so I declined coffee. I gave my apologies and gave some excuse about having to take care of some chores for my wife, and returned home.

I returned to an empty house— the rest of my family were up and out running errands or visiting relatives. Maybe today is a good day to work on taxes. However, as I was preparing my morning coffee, I kept thinking about death. I rarely do— I am hardly a morbid person, but the dark shapeless shape with glowing eyes in Bill’s basement really left me unsettled.

As I sat thus, I noticed a shape moving on the edge of my vision. I turned my head suddenly and saw it. It looked like a gnome, or fairy, or leprechaun, elf, duwende, or some such small creature from folklore. (I never really learned the subtle differences of mythical creatures.) It looked so familiar like I had seen it many times before, but I had never really noticed it… like a poem that is framed on a wall that one knew was there, somehow, yet was never read.

I knew what it was. It was Death. It looked nothing like the horrifying creature at Bill’s house, but something in me just knew. This was Death.

I immediately turned away and shut my eyes hoping that if I did not notice it, it would not notice me. But that seemed stupid, every bit as stupid as locking Death in one’s basement.

I tentatively turned back and it was still there, smiling at me but silent.

“Uhhh… Hello Death,” I said as I realized how stupid that sounded. “I thought you were locked up in Bill’s basement.”

“No,” Death replied. “That is Bill’s Death in his basement. Everyone has their own Death. I am yours.”

“So this is my time? I am dying today?”

“No,” said Death again. “I mean, not as far as I know. I don’t know when your time comes, anymore than any other Death knows when their living one’s time will come. I am always with you until you die.”

“That’s creepy,” I thought, but knew better than to say out loud.

Apparently reading my mind, Death responded, “It is not creepy at all. I am here to help you. When you need me I will be there.”

“No offense,” I countered, “but if there is one thing I don’t need or want is help in dying.”

“I have never understood this. Everyone needs help with dying. Most humans love life and hate or even deny death. Some love death and hate life. Both attitudes are equally disturbing in my opinion. Life and Death are the two greatest gifts humans have been given. Why not be thankful for both?”

I could not think of a response to this. Instead I said, “Why have I not seen you before? No one else has seen you or any other ‘Death’ as far as I know.”

“Oh you have seen me before. You have even listened to me on occasion. But like most people, you look away, consider my words a random thought, and most commonly just block me out of your perception. For most people, Death is the ultimate blind spot. It’s okay. Even today, you left Bill rather than talk about death, and now you are trying to change the subject.”

I had to admit that Death had a point.

“Okay then, tell me this. If you are Death, and Bill’s Death is also Death, why do you two so different.”

“Well, like I told you, my job is to help you with what you need, even when you don’t know what you need. Bill needs Death to be something that he can fight and conquer. Most likely as his time comes closer, his attitude will change. Is that what you need? Do you need me to be a monster to fight and conquer?”

“No,” I admitted. Reflecting for a moment, I added, “I suppose I need you to be with me helping me to value the life I have and accept what I need to let go of.”

“I can do that,” said Death as we sat there sipping coffee on a Saturday morning.

“Rules of IRD” Project— Part #1

I have been teaching Inter-religious Dialogue (IRD) for several years now. While teaching it, I teach several different list of “rules” associated with IRD. However, the one I tend to focus on is the 7 Rules compiled by Max Warren. But as I have been thinking about it, it occurred to me that I should make my own list, or at least my own model for IRD. However, I am not sure that I am suitably experienced in IRD to ignore others and simply create my own list.

After thinking about it, I decided to use the various perspectives of several to come up with a model. So I am taking several lists and bringing them together and inductively creating a model… or a list of rules.

Here is the background information of the Who, What, Why, and How of this project:

  1. Who am I doing this for? I am doing this for Christian missionaries first of all who work in multicultural and/or multi-religious settings. As such, I am not seeking data from sources at the extremes of dialogue. I am ignoring data that views dialogue in terms of argument or debate. I think argument has little value in missions. However, even if it does have value in some rare circumstances, I feel it really stretches the meaning of dialogue. Dialogue in my view is more focused on mutual discussion rather than a more adversarial relationship. On the other hand, having a role where one brackets one’s own beliefs and enters the conversation without presuppositions with regards to faith, may be valuable to some, but seems hardly of value to missionaries, whose role is, in part, proclamation.
  2. Who am I using as informants? For the most part, people or groups who are viewed as experts in dialogue who have created lists of rules regarding IRD are used. The lists are rules that are deemed by me to be valuable to Christian missionaries. As such I chose to use experts who would describe themselves as Christians. (One at this time would no longer consider herself to be a Christian.)
  3. Method of Analysis? I am using Ground Theory Analysis. I am utilizing lists from 11 experts in IRD with a total list of statements being 78. Each of these statements goes through three levels of coding— open, axial, and selective— to ultimately produce an model that is grounded in the data.

Grounded Theory Analysis is sometimes thought a bit… “soft” in that it does not have the rigorous statistical checks that are associated with Quantitative Analysis. In my view, this is not true. Quantitative analysis is rife with problems that qualitative analysis lacks. I am not saying that GTA is always better, but it is certainly better in these circumstances. But people are often concerned with the Reliability, Validity, and Generalizability of GTA. With that in mind, for GTA:

Reliability: In Quantitative Analysis, reliability is demonstrated by randomness of the sample population. For GTA, reliability is established by the diversity of the interviewees (especially in terms of perspective).

Validity: In Quantitative Analysis, validity is demonstrated by careful definition of the target population (ensuring one is not analyzing two or more populations by mistake). For GTA, validity is established by expertise of the interviewees.

Generalizability: In Quantitative Analysis, generalizability is demonstrated by having an adequately large sample size. For GTA, generalizability is established by achieving data saturation.

This research project is not for peer review (probably) but I still don’t want to do something that lacks rigor. In terms of reliability, I chose a pretty good range of experts in terms of IRD. These range from relatively conservative (Warren, Stott, and Neill) to fairly liberal (such as Panikkar and the World Council of Church). I have not included all views, as I noted above, centering on Christian practioners in IRD who tend to value clarification over argument or common-ground. The range should be adequate for the reliability I am seeking.

Validity is no problem. I am using established experts in IRD. Generalizability is the most uncertain thing. Because of the range of perspectives and the limited number of interviewees, it is quite likely that I will not achieve data saturation. However, I believe that I will be able to achieve a model that is grounded in the data and plausible based on the data. I am will to accept the possibility that there are issues not addressed in the informants.

I will give more info as things develop.

Doing Missions Both Wrong and Right

We live in a world of nuance, but as humans we like to categorize things. Nothing wrong with that. Things are complicated and so we simplify things to understand them.

One way we simplify things is to assume that much in the world can be placed into one of two bins— “The Right Way” or “The Wrong Way”— or sometimes truncated to “Right” or “Wrong.” While we know this is way too simple, such a binary can become a default setting for us. It is not always bad. The Bible uses binaries to teach— Wide versus Narrow Ways, Light versus Darkness, Adam versus Christ. We know there is more nuance than that, but there is value in the simplicity of the model.

But we live in the real world and not in an idealized simulation of the real world. The real world is messy… by design. Back when I was a mechanical engineer, I would have to have designs evaluated, and evaluate the designs of others. The evaluation was never “Good” versus “Bad.” Each design would have its good points and its bad points. And there were points that were both good and bad— and alternative designs could be better, worse, or equivalent in different aspects.

Christian missions is grounded in the real world and as such, similar messiness should occur. One of the great Biblical examples of this is found in the book of Galatians.

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

This passage can be viewed as an argument regarding Theology of Missions. Paul says Peter, Barnabas and some of the Jews in a multi-cultural setting associated with Jews rather than Gentiles.

This story has been controversial for many years. St. Jerome had an interesting theory regarding this episode. He considered it to be a form of Theo-Drama. In other words, Paul and Peter were play-acting— to teach the others a valuable lesson. While I don’t find this view convincing, I do find it interesting. I think it may have been motivated in a desire to “sanctify” them. As “Saints” of the Primitive Church, it is uncomfortable to think that either one could be wrong. Such a view is common today as well.

  • I have heard arguments why Elisha was not wrong in placing a curse on a bunch of youths… and then Gehazi some time later.
  • I have heard arguments why Peter was not wrong in cursing Ananias and Saphira.
  • I have heard arguments on why Paul was not wrong in his conflict with Barnabas, and later in his conflict with church leaders about going to Jerusalem.

There is often a temptation to believe that our leaders are always right. But sometimes they are not. I think Luke knew this. I would argue that Luke expresses considerable ambiguity regarding Peter with Ananias and Saphira, and Paul’s trip to Jerusalem. Despite this, we want our leaders not to have failings. I think Jerome wanted to find a way to make Paul and Peter both be right. Personally, I doubt Jerome is correct, but it is clever.

St. Augustine was very bothered by Jerome’s interpretation. In Augustine’s view, that would mean that Paul and (or?) Peter are liars. I don’t see that. Telling a story utilizing drama seems to be no more of a lie than telling a story of something that had not actually happened (like the parables and illustrations of Jesus). Theo-drama was used in the Old Testament on a number of occasions, Ezekiel being an example. I am not studied up on Augustine’s arguments but perhaps he was embracing the Western tradition of Tertullian that saw theater (in both performing and viewing) as being sinful. In such a case, Paul and Peter would both be wrong because they were doing something wrong (taking on the role of actors). For Augustine, I guess Paul had to be right and Peter had to be wrong, because it assumed that what Paul wrote was… true.

I think Jerome’s interpretation is more creative than Augustine, which is hardly surprising seeing that creativity was never really a strength of Augustine. Still, creativity is hardly a test for (or against) truth.

But there are other options… What if Paul and Peter were both right… AND both wrong?
Such a perspective may not fit easily into a two category system.


Paul seems to be right. The Gospel of Christ tears down the artificial boundaries that separate Jews from Gentiles. As religious leaders, it is a great lesson to others to show that these boundaries are gone.
Paul seems also to be wrong. Making a scene with Peter undermined any attempt to demonstrate Christian community. Being right, but handled poorly, is still wrong.

Peter seems to be right. When dealing with people who are uncomfortable with Christian liberty, sometimes one must help them by being supportive, rather than risking their stumbling. Paul taught this very same thing.
Peter seems also to be wrong. In the attempt to be supportive of his Jewish brethren, a controversy arose that divided the room. Multicultural settings are often challenging. If missionaries from country A are serving in country B, who would they join with when people from country A visit. Do they show their rootedness in their mission field setting, or do they show themselves as good hosts to the guests from their sending country? Either decision could be problematic unless it is done in the context of good communication. Being right, but handled poorly, is still wrong.

The idea that both Paul and Peter were both wrong and both right makes sense to me. That does not undermine the passage in Galatians. Paul is correct that Peter was wrong. The reliability of the epistle is correct, and its canonicity is unchallenged. However, if Peter decided to have this incident described in his first epistle, he could also have pointed out Paul’s errors. Both would be accurate… but having both perspectives would be even more accurate than having only one perspective.

Martin Luther seemed to struggle with the fact that Paul expresses faith in a way that is different than James. Thankfully, we have writings from both. I believe that a far superior understanding comes from embraces these writings as accurate but viewed through different perspectives. We have certainly seen unhealthy understandings of faith that fail to be interperspectival within Scripture.

In Missions we should expect the same things to occur. It is fine that people argue:

—Should mission work flow from and through the local church, or from specialized sodality structures?
—Should mission work focus more on evangelism and churchplanting, or more on compassion ministry?
—Should we seek to focus on BIG “God-sized” vision and projects, or on small “God-sized” vision and projects?
—Should most mission work be done by foreigners or locals?
—Should churches send people, or send money?

These questions are useful… but they become destructive when they are viewed as Either/Or or Right/Wrong. The “Creative Tension” should lead to creative and nuanced (and tentative) answers. Forcing answers into completely right or completely wrong, is likely destructive.

Maligayang Pasko 2021

I wrote an unnecessarily long article on asceticism and Christmas, and then added the positive spin on Christmas having both sacred and secular symbols and stories. I argued that there is a balance needed in Christmas between the pressures to embrace asceticism or revelry. I also argued that there is value Christmas as a sacred activity that welcomes the secular.

BUT… then three hours of writing disappeared. That made me think that it was for the best. I think the principles were strong, but the writing convoluted. Therefore, I would recommend sending anyone interested to better posts I have done in the past. Click on the post below. God bless.

Christmas Musings

Robbery and Missions— a Generally Balanced Reflection

<I put this on my other webpage… the missions page of my wife and mine. But it is relevant here as well… so here it is.>

One of those things that is considered “normal’ in the mission field is getting robbed. It is simply presumed in many cases that since one is moving to a developing country one must be constantly vigilant because you know just know that you are surrounded by people in great need who will steal from you if they can. Moving to the Philippines, we had no reason to question that perspective. Most houses have bars on the windows, and when possible, there are courtyards with walls with sharp things (wrought iron commonly, but sometimes broken glass) embedded in them. I became so used to this I was afraid that I would feel freaked out by the windows and lawns in the US that welcome home invasion. In the Philippines, all but the smallest businesses have guards who appear to be well-trained and friendly, but have deadly-looking weaponry on them. Cashing a check is so difficult in the Philippines as almost any imperfection is a sign to the bank that it must be fraudulent. So much of the way things are handled in the Philippines just screams, “This is a place where criminals are everywhere.”

Despite this, in just over 17 years I have never been robbed. Well, maybe once or twice. One time I dropped my wallet without knowing it. Even then I got my wallet back. There was 500 pesos missing (about $10). Since that would be what I would have given the person for finding the wallet, it hardly seems like a robbery. One time I was shaken down by a member of the police for P2500 for some alleged traffic violation. Yes, I do consider that to be a true robbery… but thankfully the vast majority of my interactions with the police in the Philippines have been positive.

Not all have had this experience. One friend of mine, an American missionary who lived a few kilometers from us, got his house broken into numerous times. Since that individual had anger management problems (definitely a “No-No” in the Philippines) my suspicion was that the break-ins were not so much ‘we want your stuff’ and more ‘we want you to leave.’ Another missionary related how his house was robbed, and how the police put up obstacles in the investigation, only moving forward with an arrest after that missionary had actually worked the case and found proof of who the perpetrators were. Even then he actually had to go over the head of the ones assigned the case. His theory was that the local police received money from the gang who were doing the break-ins. No idea if that was true. Yet another missionary experienced a very well-orchestrated home invasion… and would have most likely suffered a second if one of the compound guards had not happened upon one of the members of the team during his rounds.

For me, my problems have not been in the Philippines but in the US. The only house robbery I ever experienced was in the US, as well as the only car break-in. Most recently, we had a different sort of crime here in the States. We had to buy a (used of course, does anyone actually buy new?) car. Knowing the reputation of used car dealers, I get pretty nervous. Renting a car was clearly out of the question. The cost of a decent used car was about the same as the renting the cheapest car available for around 3 months (a different form of crime I suppose). We started researching online. Eventually, we had narrowed things down to about four or five cars that looked good on Carfax. We went to the first place— I will call it “A Used Cars.” I will admit that the people who ran it (brothers) were pretty friendly and accommodating. However, I felt that there were some reasons to think that MAYBE I should not trust them. Anyway, there were a couple of cars that looked pretty good, but nothing that was PERFECT for us. Then we went to the second place “B Motors” (still protecting their names even though I suppose I don’t really have to). They were also friendly and had cars in our price range. One car, however, seemed about perfect for us. After a test-drive and a bit of research we decided it was just what we wanted. We got a loan approved with our credit union, filled out the paperwork, decided to get a used car warranty insurance for it, and within four days of first seeing the car, it was now ours with temporary dealer tags. We were told that we will be given a call when the regular tags and registration show up.

Thirty days later we heard nothing from “B Motors.” I give them a call, but their number was not working. I check them on the Web and it says that they are “Temporarily Closed.” It was Thanksgiving Weekend. I figured them may have shut down for a few days. After that weekend, I tried to call again, and the phone was still not working. I check the Web and now it is supposedly “Permanently Closed.” That is not good. Despite what Google says, their website suggested they were open, so we sent a direct message to them through their contact page, but got no response. However, now Google was back to saying that they were open. Between that and the fact that we were busy turning the new house we bought into a home, we did not take things too seriously. However, when December came with no permanent plates and no word from our dealer, we realized that we had to act.

We drove to the dealership finding, NOT to our surprise, that there was a totally different name on it— now it was, I shall say, “C Autoworld.” I went into “C Autoworld” and found, again not to our surprise, that the people running the place were entirely new. We talked to the lady who appeared to be in charge. She said that we are part of a whole stream of people who have been coming to their place about “B Motors.” According to her, “B Motors” had been owned by a guy who had a history of scamming. He would set up a dealership under a false name, and then steal from customers. It seems like the stealing was not in terms of actual cars, but in processing fees and DMV (department of motor vehicle) charges. Anyway, DMV shut them down. She did not know how to get hold of any of them, but gave us the number of the Virginia department that oversaw car dealerships. We called the number and then turned in a complaint. That department appears like it will be helpful, even though the timetable they gave us is pretty slow. Not sure if we will have to repay some of those fees. We shall see. That got us thinking. We bought a used car warranty insurance. We had actually carefully investigated before and found that this particular warranty insurance has a very good reputation (not all of them do) so we got it through the “B Motors” dealership. We went online to check on the status of our insurance policy and found, yet again not to our surprise, that they had never heard of us. The auto dealership had pocketed our money.

It does appear that we have a legal car and a car that works well. That is a blessing. However, we were robbed in terms of insurance money and the official paperwork from the DMV. It looks like this can be fixed without too much pain. It, however, is slowing down our return to the Philippines.

It is human nature to profile. Some profile based on nationality or race or economic status or others. Most of us, I think, feel that people who are like themselves are less likely to cheat them than people that are different. Over and over I have found this not to be true. Criminality is more a case of the heart than of other factors. Sure, desperation may apply pressure on someone to do wrong, but from my own experience, I have only been cheated by people who did it because of greed, not economic desperation.

The first car dealership, ‘A Used Cars,’ the one I felt a twinge of concern about, they are active, doing well, and on the NICE, not NAUGHTY, list at the Department of Motor Vehicles. I would say Lesson Learned, but some lessons one must learn again and again. I remember a guy who was in Brazil who had a pickpocket come upon him. The thief reached into his pocket but made a mistake and was caught as he removed his hand. Money went flying all over the place and he ran off. Immediately, other Brazilians hurried over to the where the American tourist was and began grabbing the money. Then they brought the money to the tourist and apologizing for what he went through. They want to be thought of as a safe and moral nation. It is all too easy to remember the pickpocket and see that as ‘the norm.’ However the REAL norm was the Good Samaritans (Good Brazilians) who sought to help the tourist in his time of need.