Resources on Gospel &Culture
Books on Gospel and Culture
Globalization has raised numerous questions about theology and culture for evangelical Christians. How should we respond to outsourcing and immigration? How does anti-Western sentiment affect the proclamation of the gospel? What is the role of the church in wider society? Does God even want us involved in culture? This book argues that Christians will be most fulfilled and most effective if they embrace their cultural activity rather than feel ambivalent about it.
The central question of this book is “How does bearing God’s image relate to cultural activity?” Nehrbass explains that “spheres of culture,” such as political, material, technological, and social structures, are systems that God has instilled in humans as His image bearers, so that they can glorify and enjoy Him forever. By examining Tillich and Niebuhr’s theologies of cultures, Nehrbass shows that a theology of culture involves recognizing that the Kingdom of God encompasses heaven and Earth, rather than pitting heaven against Earth.
The text surveys anthropological explanations for humanity’s dependence on culture, and shows that each explanation (functionalism, structuralism, etc.) provides only partial explanatory scope. The most satisfying explanation is that a major functional aspect of bearing God’s image is engaging in culture, since the Trinity has been eternally engaged in cultural functions like ruling, communicating, loving, and creating.
Nehrbass evaluates the value orientations described by scholars like Edward Hall, Lingenfelter and Mayers, through biblical criteria; but he explains how recent critical theories of culture raise problems for traditional theories within intercultural studies. With so much crossing of borders (geographic and cultural), ethnic and national cultures are increasingly heterogeneous rather than static. We must find a way to explore cultural value orientations while also recognizing that humans are creative enough to break out of these cultural bonds.
Each chapter ends with a summary and reflection questions about what it means to be a World Changer in this globalized world of the 21st century.
Advance Praise for God's Image and Global Cultures
"A well-written and insightful exploration of the multiplicity of issues related to changing cultures in the globalized world..[It] opens up the world of culture to discover both the diversities and the universalities of human life and experience."
-Dr. Eloise Meneses, professor of anthropology at Eastern University
"A timely and needed work as it aims to assist the evangelical Christian in appropriately relating to global cultures while in the work of mission. Nehrbass combines evangelical convictions (a high view of Scripture) with training in cultural anthropology for a useful 21st century text on an evangelical theology of culture."
- Dr. Edward L. Smither, Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies at Columbia International University
"I starting reading (couldn’t stop) and quickly realized that Kenneth Nehrbass has written a book that we need...Well written, well researched, and a very readable introduction to a missiological theology for understanding the meaning of culture. He combines a solid multidisciplinary perspective with sound biblical thinking to focus on culture in relation to God’s Kingdom... This book will be on my students’ textbook list."
-Dr. Marcus Dean, Associate professor of intercultural studies and missions at Houghton College.
"Every year when I teach Cross-cultural Communication and Anthropology for Cross-cultural Ministry, I look for good textbooks for my students... Nehrbass’ willingness to engage in the subject from today’s perspective makes this book very interesting...Nehrbass poses questions and answers as if readers are in a conversation with him and the flow of the content is natural...I can’t wait until I see a copy of this book on my desk and use it in my class."
-Dr. Hansung Kim, Assistant Professor at Asian Center for Theological Studies and Mission, South Korea
"As a professor of intercultural studies I believe this book would be one that anyone who studies the theology of culture and globalization and the gospel would be interested in."
-Dr. Dave Beine, Professor of Intercultural Studies at Moody Bible Institute
In this book, Kenneth Nehrbass examines the interaction between traditional or animistic religion (called kastom) and Christianity in Vanuatu. First, he briefly outlines major anthropological theories of animism, then he examines eight aspects of animism on Tanna Island and shows how they present a challenge to Christianity. He traces the history of Christianity on Tanna from 1839 to the present, showing which missiological theories the various missionaries were implementing. Nehrbass wanted to find out what experiences in the lives of the islanders distinguished those who left traditional religion behind from those who held on to it. In the end, he contends that there are twenty factors of gospel response and cultural integration that determine whether an animistic background believer will be a mixer, separator, transplanter, or contextualized.
"Ken Nehrbass has given the churches in Melanesia a wonderful gift. We desperately need ethnographically rich studies like this that help us understand how Melanesians can become fully followers of Jesus while expressing their faith in culturally appropriate ways. Christians from animistic societies around the world live with the terrible tension of dual religious systems which creates a split-level Christianity. They are "Christians" at one level but their underlying animistic worldview has yet to be transformed by gospel values. We know that the gospel affirms most of culture, critiques some of culture, and transforms all of culture. Nehrbass has demonstrated how this has happened form the earliest days of missionary contact to the present on the tiny island of Tanna in Vanuatu, in the South Pacific, but his study has important implications far beyond Melanesia and is likely to become a classing in the literatures of gospel and cultures.
- Darrell Whiteman, Author of Melanesia and Missionaries.Vice president and Resident Missiologist, The Mission Society, Atlanta, Georgia.
Ever since Alan Tippett's Solomon Islands Christianity, modern missiological inquiry has richly benefited from case studies addressing the spread of Christianity into the South Pacific. Christianity and Animism in Melanesia continues that rich tradition by examining a variety of missiological practices and their outcomes in forming Christian Communities in Vanuatu that has implications for missions around the globe."
- Doug Haward, Professor of Intercultural Studies, Biola University
Peer-reviewed Articles on Gospel and Culture
Do Multilingual Speakers Understand the Bible Best in Their Heart Language? A Tool for Comparing Comprehension of Translations in Vernacular Languages and Languages of Wider Communication
It has been argued that speakers who are fluent in a vernacular and language of wider communication (LWC) will inevitably understand the Scriptures better in their “heart language.” I designed an experiment to determine the validity of that argument, using comprehension checks of seven passages in the New Testament that are difficult to comprehend. Preliminary results suggest that bilingual speakers performed better during checking sessions conducted in the LWC than they did while using the receptor language (RL), but their ability to identify key themes in either language was equivalent. While the experiment calls into question the validity of the “heart-language argument,” I conclude that there are several other more compelling reasons for producing vernacular Bible translations.
(2014). Bible Translator. 65 (1). 88-103.
Dealing with Disaster: Critical contextualization of misfortune in an animistic setting
Tribal peoples make sense of their world by formulating supernatural explanations for misfortunes that befall them. At times, their explanations are at odds with biblical theology. The author held “sickness workshops” in order to engage the host culture in critical contextualization of misfortune. This article reports on some of the salient findings from those workshops, including (1) the sociological function of tribal discussions about misfortune, (2) an emic’ conceptualization of misfortune causation, and (3) ideas for engaging the national church on issues sur- rounding misfortune, such as local cosmology, dreams, retribution, and the breaking of taboos.
Does missiology stand on three legs? The Rise of interdisiplinarity
A common heuristic device for depicting the interdisciplinary nature of missiology is the metaphor of a stool that stands on three legs (or academic disciplines). However, missiologists have disagreed on exactly which disciplines comprise those legs. That theology is central is hardly contested; but there is less agreement about the role of the social sciences, history, education, mission strategy, and so forth. In this article, I argue that we should move beyond the three-legged stool metaphor, as it fails to describe the true interdisciplinary nature of missiology: The academic influences on missiology are more numerous than the stool metaphor allows for; the borders between these disciplines are fuzzy and changing; and the influence of academic theories on mission strategy is not merely one-way. In quest of a more satisfactory metaphor, I begin by suggesting a definition of missiology as the utilization of multiple academic disciplines to develop strategies for making disciples across cultures. Drawing on that definition, I develop the image of missiology as a river with countless tributaries (theoretical disciplines) that converge for this common goal. Since scholars of Christian mission cannot be experts in many fields, we must be intentional with the sort of interdisciplinarity that is most useful for designing effective mission strategies.
Melanesian Morality and Biblical Virtues
This article focuses on moral reasoning in Melanesia, and
especially on Tanna Island, where I lived and did fieldwork from 2002
to 2012. Some moral concepts that I explore within Melanesia are
more or less generalizable to other animistic societies, such as the
dyads of honor and shame, right and wrong, or the link between
taboos and misfortune; other ideals like “payback” are specifically
emblematic of Melanesia but are also found in some other cultures.
Click here for the article
Reaching out to diaspora Chinese in East Africa: Barriers and Bridges
The influx of Chinese in East Africa presents churches with an opportunity to engage in cross-cultural evangelism right in their own neighborhoods. East African churches are well equipped to engage in evangelism and discipleship, yet Chinese immigrants in these urban areas are largely overlooked. This qualitative study seeks to understand the barriers and cultural bridges that East African church leaders identify regarding outreach to their Chinese neighbors. While language and cultural distance cause barriers, church leaders say they can bridge the distance with some extra cultural knowledge and the help of mediators. We conclude that church leaders’ understanding of reaching Chinese people is a good start—though incomplete—and can be informed with more exposure to cross-cultural strategies and issues related to contextualizing Christianity within Chinese culture.
The half-life of missiological facts
An obscure field called scientometrics—the study of how rapidly academic research is produced and how quickly it becomes outdated—has recently been popularized by Stephen Arbesman’s (2012) book, The Half-life of Facts. This article employs the methods of scientometrics to measure the rate at which new missiological information is being published, and the rate at which this research is going out of date. Mission leaders can use this data to obtain a clearer picture of how the discipline of missiology is reacting to a changing world. This will allow us to concentrate on trends that matter, and on theories and strategies that will have maximum staying power.
Formal Theological Education in Vanuatu: Hopes, challenges and solutions
The stakeholders in theological education in Vanuatu have varying expectations and goals for this type of education. At times, students see formal theological training as a "stepping stone" toward a better job, whereas denominational leaders are looking to these institutions to fill church leadership positions. Professors at Christian training institutes primarily see theological education as a means for making disciples. This study examines the hopes, dreams and challenges of 18 stakeholders in formal theological training in Vanuatu. Professors are concerned about the "intake" of students, since many lack quality secondary education. Also, sometimes students are chosen by village leaders to attend these schools, regardless of the students' commitments to the Lord or a sense of calling to ministry.
(2011). Melanesian Journal of Theology, 27(2), 54-72.
Korean Missiology: A Survey of dissertations and theses from Western Institutions
This article surveys 100 missiological dissertations by Koreans to discover 1) where is the majority of Korean missiology taking place, 2) what questions are Korean missiologists studying and not studying. Korean missiology has focused on the following areas:
(2012) Reformed Life Theology and Mission (vol 2) 149-173
Managing Missionary Identity in the Digital Age: How Missionaries Utilize Digital Media among Multiple Social Groups
The way that missionaries manage their identities has changed significantly since the days they mailed out several printed newsletters a year to a small audience “back home.” The space for this negotiation of identity has moved from private to public; and the interlocutors who access these blogs, emails, and posts are no longer homogenous. This original research study uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand how missionaries avow the multiple layers of their identities in the digital age. I conclude that missionary updates are encoded along indexical “cultural scripts” that can be decoded idiosyncratically by various audiences.
Higher Education as Mission
While missiologists have been paying attention to business as mission, few have studied the value of securing teaching positions in foreign secular universities as a missionary method. Th.is article bases "Higher Education as Mission" on the Apostle Paul's four-fold taxonomy for reaching the educated and uneducated at home and abroad. Teaching in universities can be a legitimate platform for gaining an entry point in restricted access countries. More than that, as Christian scholars pursue excellence in their own academic fields, they can model to the future elites of societies what it means to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives.
An Evaluation of Holy Yoga as a