Category Archives: culture > disciple making

Newbigin applied

I first heard of Lesslie Newbigin at a conference in 2007. I’ve been a fan of his writing since. In an article in CT Newbigin is applied to church planting but it has a broader appeal to all churches, especially the “embassy” bit. Read on by clicking HERE.

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more Keller on prayer as disciple making conversation

Prayer is simply the key to everything we need to do and be in life. We must learn to pray. We have to.

I’m reading the @YouVersion plan ‘Prayer: A 14-Day Devotional By Tim Keller’. Check it out here:

This app could provide you and a fellow disciple with great disciple making conversations.

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Orwell on Fascism

In the article I referenced yesterday, the author quotes George Orwell. Orwell wrote about Hitler and Fascism in the context of his review of Mein Kampf. Consider these words:

Fascism is psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life… Whereas socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet… We ought not to undermine it’s emotional appeal.

When I read this I immediately thought of Putin sounding a similar call to his people as they take on so many of their neighbors over the years , the most significant being the current war with Ukraine.

Yet last week he was welcomed in Budapest as an economic savior of sorts. Of course the Hungarian PM is sometimes prone to such speech himself isn’t he?

There is a warning against such nationalism in Nicholas Wolterstorff’s Until Justice and Peace Embrace:

Idolatrous nationalism is not healthful; it is intensely poisonous. When a nation suffers from nationalism unchecked, the life of his members is twisted and distorted, and the nation becomes a menace among nations because it accepts no standards for international peace and justice.

Be very careful that your love of country does not become an idol that takes your attention away from God’s sovereign rule of the universe which should include your heart and mind.

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Looking back to Sarajevo

On this trip I was on my own a lot and was able to explore beautiful Sarajevo on my own terms.

Here are a series of pix I took in a neighborhood up the hill from Old Town. They are of a kind of neighborhood mosque with many graves from 1992-1995 and the main mosque in the Old Town.




My assumption is that these died in the siege during the war when Serbs bombarded the city from the surrounding mountain tops.


Down the hill, I went to the main mosque, it’s minaret was visible down this alley…


And upon entering you are given the rules…


On Fridays this mosque is filled with Muslims…


Walking by the side I noted the extra prayer rugs stacked in the window…


Martin Luther said that Muslims (among many others including Jews and many “Christians”) worship the same God, but they worship him incorrectly. As I study Islam (for my Cross Cultural Studies program) and read from many sides of this discussion, it seems Luther makes a sound argument. The enemy of God wishes to keep people away from him and the best way is a way that looks right while being wrong. A one degree error send KAL 007 into Soviet airspace and hundreds died when the Soviets shot it down. Worshipping the right God the wrong way, through works, may look good, but is not His way.

We depend on grace alone, trusting in the final and complete work of Jesus: death, burial and resurrection. In Christ alone.

Allow not a desire for pluralism to water down the way and the truth.

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Not unpacked: either baggage


or in my head, but it is so good to be home after a great trip. Some fresh thoughts on disciple making are brewing after this trip.

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Where cultures meet: Sarajevo

In the old town of Sarajevo one finds endless little shops selling, primarily, Turkish coffee sets hammered out from brass that, presumably, comes from a seemingly endless supply of brass shells left over from the war. A testament to how many shells were fired at this city.

On the main walk to the old town from, what I call downtown, (it’s old too, but is more of what I call a downtown), kinda where the old town and downtown meet, is this…


This really is a place of cultures meeting.

This city is, according to a reliable source, over 90% Muslim, I counted 13 minarets visible from my window…


Which a friend told me includes this one, the main mosque…


I was here to visit my friends who serve among these people and his focus is the study of Islam toward helping Muslim friends come to a true understanding of Jesus.

With my doctoral studies in mind and what I had learned from our conversations and the books I’d read in preparation, I struck up a brief conversation with a young economist. I asked him who Jesus is. He replied that it depends of what you believe and that he wasn’t religious.

He may not have been, but I made one observation that is not scientific. When I first came to Sarajevo in ’07, there were not many women wearing head coverings. 8 years later, head coverings are common. My count, based on video survey was that as much as a third of women are now covered.

While waiting…


for my favorite Sarajevo food, burekški…


we observed that all the women working in the eatery were covered. This is a sign, I concluded, of increasing emphasis on the Islamic culture becoming more defined in this city where cultures meet.

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thinking about culture as key to disciple making part 2

In the first post I stated that for one to serve Christ well in a culture other than her own, one should become a student of that culture. In this post we think about the question: What is Culture?

The best place to start is with definitions. According to “The Willowbank Report,” the word ‘culture’ “…means simply the patterned way in which people do things together.” To get a broader definition, we turn to scholar and co-founder of The Gospel Coalition, D. A. Carson, who, in his Christ and Culture Revisited, relied on the widely used definition of Princeton cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Geertz defined culture as

an historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbols, a system of inherited conceptions expressed in symbolic form by means of which men communicate, perpetuate, and develop their knowledge about life and attitudes towards life. (Carson, p.69)

Symbols were key in the work of Geertz and, as I consider the word ‘symbol,’ I realize my gesture with the tissue (in the previous post) was just that, a simple, living cultural symbol. One that communicated sensitivity because the unknown sniffler and I understood that it was unacceptable in Hungary to sniffle. Having previously observed strangers giving people tissues , I learned that this was generally viewed as an acceptable gesture. This may well have been used, on another occasion, as an open door for conversation.

I think Geertz’s definition also relies on the word ‘historically’ as a kind of fulcrum on which the leverage of culture depends. American author and social activist George Weigel described the importance of history as it is contained in “literature, music, and dance;” … “painting, sculpture, and architecture;” … as well as “theology and ethics and religious ritual;…” Thus history is the basis for the means by which culture is passed down and even changed via “relationships between men and women, young and old, parents and children, teachers and students, the powerful and the powerless.” Hense, according to Weigel, history is culture. At the very least I will agree that ‘history’ is essential to the transmission of culture. To clarify, history, in this context, is not just an academic subject or a book, it is the inter-generational transmission of culture, whether it be from my mentor to me, or from me to my grandson.


Weigel brings specificity to our discussion when cataloging “painting, sculpture, and architecture” and then “theology and ethics and religious ritual.” In the modern (postmodern? is that still a thing?) West, some argue against the value of religion, but Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, a leading thinker on the subject of culture and Christianity, disagrees: “In most human cultures, religion is not a separate activity set apart from the rest of life.” Indeed religion is central to culture.

It would be inappropriate to go further in our exploration of ‘culture’ without considering the work of Richard Niebuhr. He provided a cornerstone for the study of culture in the Christian context over half a century ago (even though many have contended that this cornerstone was not well laid). In the early pages of Christ and Culture we may glean a definition that is embedded in five pages of elaboration: “Culture is…” “…always social”… “…human achievement…” “…a world of values…” “…for the good of man…” and “…is concerned with the temporal and material realization of values.” Timothy Tennent, president of Asbury Theological Seminary and missiologist, provides a helpful summation of Niebuhr’s position on culture as “…that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capacities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Further, Tennent asserted that Niebuhr “inadvertently secularizes culture, creating an unbiblical dichotomy between human cultural activity and Christ.” His assertion is that “Niebuhr’s understanding of culture was constructed on the foundation of secular anthropology.” Tennent later stated that his own “…central concern is whether secular anthropology can really provide an adequate foundation for Christian anthropology to build upon…” Perhaps this is a fair critique of the philosophy behind Niebuhr’s work, but I assert that one should not throw the anthropological baby out with the secular bathwater. Let us not discard research simply because it is ‘secular.’ Tennent stated that “every culture is dynamic, adaptive, and changing.” Thus, while I consider his work extremely helpful, I will not discount Geertz or Niebuhr’s work on the basis of ‘secular’ anthropology. Looking now from definition to roots of the word, we continue with Tennant’s work.

Tennent’s etymological research is helpful: “the English word culture is derived from the Latin verb colere (to cultivate or instruct) and the noun cultus (cultivation or training)….” These Latin roots undergird the importance of the intergenerational passing on of culture. As culture passes from one generation to the next, the natural outcome is change. Some call this progress because it, ostensibly is development for the good of the people. Whether considered progress or not, culture is dynamic, not static.

Finally, I would submit a working definition: Culture is the dynamic collection of beliefs and norms that are passed down (history) and cultivated (development) regarding the language and actions (behavior) of a people. These characteristics distinguish one group from others. That said, how does this line of thinking help us in our mission within God’s Kingdom? That question will be foundational to the next posts in this series.

*This is part two of a series of posts that are the fruit of some work I am doing toward a doctorate in cross cultural ministry.

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