International

 

Mar

17

2014

Mike Pettengill|12:01 AM CT

St. Patrick: Reclaiming the Great Missionary

Today most people know St. Patrick for green beer, banishing snakes from Ireland, using shamrocks to teach the Trinity, or his walking stick growing into a living tree. Indeed, none of these legends has anything to do with the real Patrick.

However, the factual accounts of Patrick, missionary to Ireland, are even more compelling than the folklore. Telling the true story of Patrick provides an inspiring lesson in God's grace and mercy.

While other 1,500-year-old characters in history are difficult to research because too few writings have survived time, Patrick is hard to study because so much has been written about him. The bulk of the writings on Patrick are lore, fiction, and embellishment. In uncovering the real Patrick we must sift through ten fictional accounts of his life to find one factual work.

patrick_shamrock_0From Slave to Evangelist

As a teenager Patrick was kidnapped, taken from his home in southern Britain, and sold into slavery on the island of Ireland. During his six years as a slave he converted to Christianity and earned a reputation as a fervent evangelist. In the dark of the night Patrick escaped his bonds and fled Ireland. Following a long journey home he entered theological training and full-time service to the Lord. God spoke to Patrick in his dreams and told him that he would return to Ireland and serve as a missionary to the people who had kept him in servitude.

In AD 432, 25 years after fleeing Ireland, Patrick returned to the place of his bondage. He did not return with malice in his heart, but as a missionary eager to convert the Irish. Patrick served in regions of Ireland where outsiders had never traveled. While roaming through Ireland he preached to pagans and also instructed Christian believers. Patrick trained Irish helpers and ordained native clergy. He was bringing a new way of life to a violent, war-oriented pagan culture. His work was both groundbreaking and Christ-honoring.

"Daily I expect to be murdered or betrayed or reduced to slavery if the occasion arises," Patrick wrote while serving in Ireland. "But I fear nothing, because of the promises of heaven."

Many brutal kings and warlords felt threatened by Patrick's work. In order to obtain the favor of local leaders and to gain safe passage, Patrick paid penance, or bribes, to authorities. He used the rulers to gain access to their lands just as they used Patrick to gain wealth and favor with Christians. Of the bribes he paid, Patrick proclaimed, "I do not regret this nor do I regard it as enough. I am paying out still and I shall pay out more."

Missionary Ahead of His Time

In fifth-century Ireland women were a commodity. Selling a daughter or arranging a politically strategic marriage was common and advantageous to a family. Patrick upset the social order by teaching women they had a choice in Christ. As God converted these women to Christianity, some became full-time servants of Christ in the face of strong family opposition. Patrick told women they could be "virgins for Christ" by remaining chaste. This newfound control was appealing to many women, but it angered many men who believed Patrick was taking away their prized possessions.

At the time many scholars regarded Ireland as the end of the earth, or at least the edge of the inhabitable portion of earth. The collapsing Roman Empire supported many beliefs that civilized society was drawing to a close. Politicians and philosophers viewed Ireland as barbaric and untamable. Many Christians did not believe the Irish were worthy of being saved. At that point in history, Patrick truly served as a pioneering missionary to a forgotten people.

Patrick advocated learning among Christians. He promoted the ascetic life and monasticism. The Irish culture did not place great value on literacy or education. Patrick, however, promoted studying the Scriptures as well as reading books written by fathers of the faith.

Recovering the True Patrick

Patrick entered an Ireland full of paganism and idol worship. But just a few short decades after Patrick arrived, a healthy, Christ-honoring church was thriving. The Irish church was so strong that in the centuries to come it would send missionaries to evangelize much of continental Europe. Patrick's legacy lives on through the countless spiritual grandchildren he left to continue his work.

Patrick lived in a way that brought honor to God. His devotion and resolute obedience offer examples for all followers of Christ. Patrick stood in the face of great challenges and did not falter. His service, his life, and his unwavering commitment to spreading the gospel of Christ are as commendable today as they were in the fifth century.

We as Christians have allowed the modern, secular customs of St. Patrick's Day to steal away one of the greatest missionaries in Christian history and reduce his memory to leprechauns, green beer, and fictional tales. Let's take back our beloved servant of Christ and share God's glory achieved during the life of Patrick the missionary to Ireland. Let's share the true legacy of this great Christian evangelist.

 
 

Mar

14

2014

Bill Walsh|12:01 AM CT

TGC IO Update: ESV Global Study Bible Distribution

At the beginning of 2013, TGC International Outreach partnered with Crossway to raise almost $19,000 (including a matching grant) to obtain 3,000 copies of the ESV Global Study Bible. Our purpose was to make these Bibles available to our worldwide missions network with the goal of putting them into the hands of Global South pastors who badly need them. Here's a quick report on what happened in 2013.

ESV_Global_SB-410x267-2

We believe God has uniquely blessed us with a global network of likeminded churches and missions who are able to get these Bibles to church leaders—leaders who often lack access to solid biblical teaching and training. As you'll see below, the distribution was tremendous. We invite you to join us in praising God and praying for kingdom fruit in the lives of the recipients and their congregations.

In about 12 months we were able to distribute 166 cases—2,656 Bibles—to church leaders in 28 countries: Brazil, Cambodia, Chile, China, Ethiopia, France, Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Liberia, Myanmar, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Portugal, Poland, Romania, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Swaziland, UAE, Uganda, South Africa, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

I'd also like to share with you a few quotes from our missions partners who distributed this resource in their respective fields:

Students in Cambodia are so eager to learn the Bible and learn English; we hope these Bibles will serve both purposes and have the students understand the deep meaning of the gospel.

The opportunity for local pastors to own a personal Bible which they can not only use in their training and personal studies, but also in their day to day ministry would be a major benefit in advancing the gospel in Malawi.

A main part of our focus in Liberia is to assist and encourage local pastors in rural communities who have little to no resources. These Bibles will help fill a void for many pastors who have no study resources, giving them a greater understanding of God's Word, and helping them in both their personal devotion life and their public proclamation of the gospel.

Read the full update here.

Other news from TGC International Outreach:

 
 

Feb

25

2014

Will Bankston|12:01 AM CT

Global Theology in English: Promising or Problematic?

When it comes to fighting theological famine around the world many consider English resources to be only temporary tools. To be sure, there is no substitute for hearing the great things of God in one's own heart language. So we often defend English resources by way of their availability and efficiency while waiting for translation projects to faze them out.

English-dictionariesHowever, the availability of English resources presents opportunity not often acknowledged. English resources enable two-way exchange in which Christians across the globe study common sources and offer their unique insights to the worldwide theological dialogue. English dominance complicates issues, of course. So we must proceed with sensitivity as we explore the precedents, problems, and possibilities of English as a common theological language.

Need for Global Dialogue

A global church demands dialogue that spans all cultures. However, in addressing this need, we must begin by setting a course that navigates between two extremes. On one end some deny the ways culture shapes their theology. On the other end some react harshly to anything that appears Western in its theological character. We might call the first problem didacticism and the second one diatribe. Neither is dialogue. However, theologian Kevin Vanhoozer provides us a helpful and hopeful middle path between these two poles. He writes:

Theology must not hearken to Western voices only. Nor should theologians attend to voices that come only from their century or social class. All cultural scenes are equally valid (and equally limited) in the drama of redemption. By contrast, theology should not be anti-Western either. The West has had a considerable head start when thinking about how to apply and contextualize the gospel. . . . Ideally, theologians in one culture will dialogue and learn from theologians in others. [1] 

Common language fosters such global dialogue. And theology is not the only discipline that benefits from widespread English usage. Understandably, many do not welcome this trend. For instance, a recent study investigated the perceptions of Spanish scientists toward the prevalence of English in scientific discourse. [2] Participants responded with resignation. As the researchers explain, "A surprisingly high proportion of subjects (83 percent) believe there is a need for one international language of science." At the same time, 96 percent of participants said the current system privileges native English speakers.

Historically speaking, English is not the first language to function in this role as a common language that transcends borders and cultures. For instance, Persian, Sanskrit, and Arabic have also done so in certain times and places. Likewise, much of the church developed and communicated its theology through Greek and Latin. And today's theology students must study still more languages in their work, such as Hebrew, German, and French. In every case the language shaped the discourse in ways we cannot always comprehend.

English and Local Languages

Contrastive rhetoric has examined some effects of this interaction between language and culture, especially as it relates to reading and writing. In particular, Robert Kaplan's pioneering research in this field, although initially overstated, demonstrated that different cultures operate with different "cultural thought patterns."  For instance, English writing tends to favor linear organization, while other languages often take a less direct form. For example, Arabic favors a parallel structure, and many East Asian languages prefer spiral organization that gradually brings the reader from the general to the specific.

In practice, these patterns can significantly affect cross-cultural reading. Common English patterns may even offend certain readers. This perspective may sound like an exaggeration, but many around the world blush at the directness of English communication. They regard it as rude. Likewise, we in the English-speaking world tend to consider the writings of other cultures as "not to the point" and much too "flowery."

These differences need not battle it out with each other for a kind of cultural supremacy. Kaplan stresses that contrastive rhetoric has always aimed at "contributing to the resources available for discourse-building among bilingual populations." [3] Different patterns can be learned by different cultures without obliterating local norms. In fact, this process of adding patterns, as Kaplan indicates, supplies us with more resources for global dialogue. However, if English forms replace other cultural thought patterns, we confront a twofold danger. First, we limit the effectiveness of non-native English speakers in communicating theological truths in their local settings, and perhaps even in their own local languages. Second, we deprive the rest of the world of learning from their unique cultural perspectives.

What Is English?

If a common language frames worldwide dialogue, the culture of origin for that language will enjoy a privileged status. Maybe English isn't such a bad fit, with its varied origin and habit of sampling vocabulary from languages the world over. But what exactly is English anyway? Does it refer to British English or American English? And if so, which regional dialect? And what about Australian, Indian, or Singaporean English? International English curriculums often look to Received Pronunciation, the prescribed British dialect, as the proper form. But if we judge media prevalence to be the deciding factor, American English tends to be the standard. Ultimately, English has no "pure" form.

As a result we now see many World Englishes. As different cultural groups use English to express their unique social settings, they infuse English with aspects of their local languages. For example, if two theologians from different East Asian countries interact, they will most likely communicate in English, even if their cultures have more in common with each other than either does with British or American culture. Yet they will use English in an "East Asian" way.

This trend challenges the assumption that English aims only to connect other cultures to us. And World Englishes grant non-native English speakers a voice in the continued development of English as a truly international language. This voice helps preserve the diversity of cultural thought patterns even as it adds lushness to English expression that only a choir of culturally varied voices could provide. As one Southeast Asian student writes of her English graduate school experience in Australia:

I have now realised more consciously how useful and valuable writing in two tongues is to my creation and choice making. If the English norms give me the privilege to assert myself with the use of constant "I" and spell out my intentions in "maps," then [my local language] norms legitimise my employment of poetic language and create a subtle flow in writing. As the English norms require me to explain everything explicitly, why do I have to hide my emotional feelings as well as show my engagement with the topic? [4]

Though not originating in a theological context, this quotation speaks volumes about the possibilities of English in global theological dialogue. Theology articulates the deepest truths of our being, the most foundational truths of our entire worldview. This reality demands a church that reaches across all cultures in effort to understand and thereby worship God more fully.

As the ancient Augustine amazes us with his elated eloquence and penchant for sudden doxologies, so might the Western church need its rhetorical standards stirred by brothers and sisters of more exuberant, and maybe even exultant, expression. There are certainly dangers in English as a common theological language, but the dialogue it enables will ensure that theological famine relief is a two-way exchange. [5]


[1] Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine: A Canonical-Linguistic Approach to Christian Theology (Westminster John Knox Press: 2005), 323.

[2] G. Ferguson, C. Pérez-Llantada, C., and Plo, R. "English as an International Language of Scientific Publication: A Study of Attitudes." World Englishes 30, no. 1 (2011), 41-59.

[3] "Foreword: What in the World is Contrastive Rhetoric?" In Contrastive Rhetoric Revisited and RedefinedEdited by Clayann Gilliam Panetta, vii-xx. (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2001), xv.

[4] R. Viete and P.  Ha, "The Growth of Voice: Expanding Possibilities for Representing Self in Research Writing." English Teaching: Practice and Critique 6, no. 2 (2007), 50-51.

[5] For further exploration of this topic see Cheri Pierson and Will Bankston, "English for Bible and Theology: Understanding and Communicating Theology Across Cultural and Linguistic Barriers." Teaching Theology and Religion 16, no. 1 (2013), 33-49.

 
 

Feb

04

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:05 AM CT

Returning Home to Ex-Cannibals

The Sawi were headhunters and cannibals when Don and Carol Richardson arrived in their Indonesian village carrying their seven-month-old boy, Steve—and a message that would change the tribe forever. The year was 1962, and Steve and his siblings would spend their youth among the Sawi, learning the language and embracing the culture in ways that would shape the rest of their lives. The Richardsons' story was immortalized in Don's bestselling book, Peace Child: An Unforgettable Story of Primitive Jungle Treachery in the 20th Century and a feature film of the same name, inspiring a new generation to take the gospel to the remaining isolated tribes of the earth.

Fifty years later, Steve joins his father and brothers to visit the Sawi village where they grew up. Does a gospel church remain? Are their childhood friends alive? Will anyone remember their family? Thanks to this short film produced by Pioneers, we can journey with the Richardsons to the Sawi swamps and explore the gospel's effect among a once-unreached people.

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The Storyframes Collective is a collaborative effort between The Gospel Coalition and the Austin Stone Church for the purpose of celebrating the extraordinary work of God in the lives of ordinary people. Through excellence in the art of storytelling (film, photojournalism, spoken word, and writing), this project aims to recount God's redemptive, transforming work in the lives of our brothers and sisters. In form, this website collects encouraging stories about God's grace. In function, we want these stories to inspire you to praise God.

As a collective, we hope that people from around the world will join us in collecting and telling the amazing stories of God's grace and the power of the gospel. We hope this project will increase your faith, encourage your spirit, and open your eyes to the extraordinary work of God every day in your life and in the lives of others around you.

While these stories differ in characters, formats, and locations, they share the same hero: God. Whether highlighting addiction recovery, healing, renewal, transformation, or any other form of good news, they testify to God's power and grace, made available to us through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

We hope you not only enjoy reading, hearing, and seeing these stories, but also take time to observe the stories of those around you. Tell others the story of what God has done for the world in Jesus Christ, and tell us your story—what God has done in you.

 
 

Jan

30

2014

Matt Smethurst|12:05 AM CT

Christian, You Are Crazy

What does it mean to be an ambassador for Christ? Among other things, it means being considered crazy. And is that such a bad thing?

"We represent the foreign power of the kingdom of God," Mack Stiles explains in an interview with Mark Mellinger. "There's a chain that stretches from the throne of God through us to our friend when we're sharing the gospel." Sometimes, Stiles has seen, perceived craziness is precisely what it takes for unbelievers to stop, wonder, and explore.

"As a young Christian I had to learn evangelism isn't some sort of 'raid' on people," says Stiles, general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates. "I came to realize what matters most is living my whole life in line with the gospel."

And what about the tricky issue of calling to missions? "There are three things to understand about calling," he explains. "You must be inspired by Scripture, informed by the gospel, and confirmed by a church."

Watch the full 12-minute video to see Stiles, author of the forthcoming Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus (Crossway, 2014), talk street preachers, spousal skirmishes, why he packed his bags for the Middle East, and more. You can also listen to Stiles's message from our 2013 Missions Conference, "Being Ambassadors for Christ: The Ministry of Reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:11-21).

Mack Stiles from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 
 

Dec

11

2013

Ben Peays|10:47 AM CT

TGC Hires Seth Magnuson and Expands Translation Efforts

The Gospel Coalition is pleased to announce the addition of Seth Magnuson to our team. Seth will serve as the director for translated content strategies for our new expanded translation initiative, which significantly increases our bandwidth in resourcing the global church. Seth is an incredible answer to prayer for TGC.

MagnusonSethSeth spent the previous six years at Desiring God developing their content strategy and managing their translation teams. He also coordinated international events, managed global partnerships, and oversaw logistics for resource distribution. In the spirit of gospel partnership, TGC intends to serve Desiring God by continuing to provide professional translations of John Piper resources for various multimedia platforms. The need around the world is staggering for this sort of work. The global church faces a profound theological famine. Seth will be a great aid to help us resource the global church who so desperately desire to hear from God.

Seth will expand the translation teams to include more translators, working in more languages, and translating a broader collection of voices. We will be building an international, multi-language database of the world's best resources—working hard to not just translate U.S. voices, but to also provide a platform for the great teachers around the world already serving a particular language or people group. We will also be able to expand the editorial teams for our French and Spanish websites and increase the number of live translations at our conferences.

The addition of Seth will also increase our ability to produce more translated physical books for distribution to places around the globe that do not yet have reliable access to the internet. Last year, TGC International Outreach, under the leadership of director Bill Walsh and thanks to your generosity, completed a remarkable number of projects allowing us to distribute more than 63,000 physical resources in 11 languages to 40 countries (read the stories)—with thousands more still available for free through our Packing Hope program.

These are exciting times, and we are grateful to God for his grace and provision. We are excited that God would provide us with Seth, and we wanted you to join us in welcoming him to the team.

 
 

Dec

03

2013

Bill Walsh|12:01 AM CT

Relief Still Needed for the Philippines

The news of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines this past month has been horrific. As we've watched the devastation, it is so hard to get our minds around the toll on human life. In the wake of this tragedy, we pray that God would comfort and protect these people. And thankfully, so many across the world are supporting the relief efforts, which we encourage you to do.

White TableI want to also share with you some good news from Davao City, Philippines, where a pastors' conference was held this fall. (I checked online to see if this region was impacted by the storm, and was gratified to learn that the city was in a position to send rescue teams to some of the most affected places.) Jeffrey Co and his team worked to train pastors, and we partnered with them by providing ESV Study Bibles for these church leaders. Here's an excerpt from Caitlyn Barbee's story:

One pastor . . . was so determined to attend a conference in San Jose, Mindoro, in October that he traveled 20 hours to get there. He arrived with tattered shoes and his Bible. He and the other pastors left the conference with ESV Bibles. . . . Jeffrey Co says these Bibles will be the most valuable thing that many of the pastors will own.

Another TablePlease read the rest of the story and continue to pray for the people and the church in the Philippines as they rebuild their lives and communities.

Other current news from TGC International Outreach:

 
 

Nov

14

2013

Matt Smethurst|12:02 AM CT

Global Gospel Generosity with Lausanne's New CEO

"By an unleashing of generosity," Michael Oh believes, "we can double the number of missionaries in the world to effectively target 6,600 unreached peoples of the world."

Earlier this year Oh, newly appointed executive director/CEO of the Lausanne Movement, sat down with Mark Mellinger to discuss "the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world." Such world evangelization will not happen, however, without a fresh army of sacrificial senders. "Some of the greatest global generosity comes from the poor," Oh explains. We in the middle-class West need to catch up.

Additionally, Christians must be more strategic in how we allocate resources. Even in current missions giving, he admits, "only five cents of every dollar is going to unreached people groups."

Watch the full 10-minute video to hear Oh discuss his "never say no" policy, the dog food problem, whether it's okay to play golf, and more. After watching the video, check out his recent talk on "The Individual's Suffering and the Salvation of the World."

Global Gospel Generosity from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 
 

Nov

12

2013

Matt Smethurst|12:02 AM CT

David Platt on the Epitome of Hate

Given the beauty of Christ and the reality of hell, it is "the epitome of hate" to withhold the gospel from those who don't know it, David Platt argues. As Christians, we want "God's grace to extend to more and more people for God's glory among all peoples."

Earlier this year Platt sat down with Mark Mellinger to discuss how all Christians practically fulfill the Great Commission according to our diverse callings. Following his powerful TGC13 Missions Conference message, "Why the Great Commission Is Great: Reaching More and More People," Platt discussed how global missions "infiltrates everything" at the Church at Brook Hills. Missions isn't relegated to a committee and a weekend. Members are regularly encouraged to ask three questions: How can I pray? How can I give? How can I go?

Watch the full 12-minute video to hear Platt discuss self-investigation, seating vs. sending capacity, the time a missions board president talked him out of going overseas, and more.

Don't Be a Hater from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 
 

Nov

01

2013

Darren Carlson|12:01 AM CT

The Complex Problem of the Persecuted Church

November 3 has been set aside to pray for the persecuted church, and it prompts a good question in many minds: How exactly should the American church help our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world? A recent spate of articles has accused U.S. churches of not speaking out or sufficiently expressing concern. But the real problem is not silence, either in the United States or around the world. The problem is a lack of workable solutions.

609683This is a complicated issue, made even more difficult by our failure to adequately define just what constitutes persecution. I would argue for three broad, general categories we have in mind when we use the term: suffering, marginalization, and martyrdom.

The first and broadest classification is suffering, which can include things such as war, poverty, sickness, or natural disasters. Persecution involves suffering, but not all suffering is persecution. We should be careful, then, about what we include in this category. While Christians are often caught up with wars and disagreements that have religious overtones, such conflicts are also sometimes driven by political battles, economic conditions, and tribal rivalries. Take the Rwandan genocide where Christians killed Christians. Is that martyrdom, or does it have to come at the hands of someone of another faith? The point is not to downplay the death of Christians, but for us to realize that it is not always easy to determine what should be considered persecution.

The second category involves marginalization that causes physical, economic, social, and psychological pain, distress, or loss inflicted on Christians because of their beliefs. Plenty of Christians can't get permission from local officials to hold events or build churches. Some Christians lose their job because of their faith. But not all cases of marginalization are because of a Christian's faith—it could also be because of their tribal, ethnic or racial identity. Again, nailing down the exact reason for hardship is not simple.

The third category is the one most often associated with persecution. Martyrdom is when Christians suffer death for their witness and refusal to renounce their faith.

It's Complicated

Despite the variety of types of persecution, many Americans tend to advocate for the same, overall solution: greater involvement by the U.S. government.

But what sort of intervention would help our brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe? And what exactly should that involvement entail? What would they suggest, for instance, that our elected officials do in North Korea? Create even more sanctions that lead to even more suffering? Or what about China and Saudi Arabia? These governments engage in terrible acts, but intervention is entangled with all sorts of other concerns.

While the U.S. government may be able to pressure other nation-states, most attacks do not come down from governments, but from individuals as in Kenya and Pakistan, for example. Syria and Egypt are even more complicated—should we try to remove a brutal dictator in favor of a group that promises to persecute Christians even more? State intervention can sometimes be necessary, but it is rarely a sufficient answer to the problem. Often individuals and organizations must directly intervene to strengthen local churches.

Many younger Christians are beginning to recognize this need. Skeptical that the solution can come from governments, they are instead working through the grassroots level to affect change. While you might not find pastors advocating for international justice or starting non-government organizations, you might see the people in their churches doing so—and the pastors and leaders directing funds to organizations that aid, relieve, and support the persecuted church. These organizations have been involved in multiple avenues of aid, including advocacy. You won't find their staff or volunteers listed anywhere because it would put them in danger. You might also be uncomfortable with some of the actions of these organizations. But their work shows that the American church has at least observed the persecution taking place around the world.

By getting involved in such organizations we can better see the need to give up the false dichotomy of Western church versus global church, and move toward the global church serving the global church. Those of us in the West are not the only ones aware of the persecuted church. We can all stand in solidarity with each other when we realize the West needs help too.

Pattern and Power of Prayer

So what can we do right now? Start by simply praying. Sometimes we roll our eyes when we hear that we should pray for the persecuted church, as if praying is nothing. But consider how the early church prayed when being threatened (Acts 4:22-31). They affirmed who God was, quoted Scripture applicable to their situation, and then asked God for boldness and confirmation of their message.

We can learn a lot from following their pattern, and from recognizing that God is the only one that can truly protect his people. Let's cry out with the saints across all time: How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?