Book Reviews (Journal of Missions Fall 2012)
Fortosis, Steve. The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2012. 205 pp. $13.99
Reviewed by JT English. English is the Assistant to the Director of Research Doctoral Studies and a current PhD student in Systematic Theology.
What does it cost to translate the Bible into a new language? It costs the very lives of the translators. Some have described Bible translation as one of the most intellectually complex activities one can engage in. The task of intimately learning a new language, followed by the faithful and careful translation of the biblical text, while maintaining cultural sensitivity is not an undertaking of the weak willed. However, the great complexity of Bible translation is far exceeded by the great urgency of the task as the church takes the gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth.
Steve Fortosis, not a Bible translator himself, became aware of the challenges that Bible translators face and grew to admire the resolve with which Bible translators were facing the difficult task. The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation is Fortosis’ attempt to demonstrate how difficult the task of Bible translation is. His book is also meant to serve as a tribute to the many men and women who have given their lives to this worthy task.
This book is organized into 16 chapters, each attempting to use actual stories from the field of Bible translation to demonstrate a different challenge that translators face. Some of the chapters include stories on how Bible translators decide if/when to use cultural idioms, and how to remain faithful to the original language of the biblical text while also trying to be faithful to the receptor language. Certainly these compelling and thought provoking stories make evident just how many difficult linguistic and cultural obstacles are presented to Bible translators. In addition, the use of literally hundreds of real examples and stories ‘puts flesh’ on real translation challenges. Furthermore, I rejoiced at many of the stories that told of the conversion of many men and women whom have never heard the gospel.
Despite the various strengths of the book it nonetheless still contains several fatal shortcomings of which I will only address two. First, Fortosis’ work does not sufficiently account for permanent and unchanging theological language. The Christian faith, a faith centered on the logos of God, is necessarily a faith that includes precise theological articulation. Further, as sons and daughters, we are adopted into the family of God, a family that has a specific way of speaking about God. Therefore, there must be instances when the adopted children also adopt the family language. For example, when discussing how translators have met the task of naming God, Fortosis seems to approve of the use of the name of a cultural pagan deity, so long as this deity has similar attributes and functions as the God of the Bible (36). Unfortunately, this view severely discounts the nature of the one true God. In the midst of translation decisions, Bible translators should not be afraid of introducing new concepts, words, and paradigms into a people group by asking them to adopt distinctively Christian language.
My second critique of Fortosis’ work is its overly pragmatic nature. He seems to assume that by presenting several stories of “success” we can now follow similar translation decisions. A pragmatic drive will also eventually encourage sloppy translation methods. Fortosis’ work would be much stronger with a clear appeal to the theological nature of Bible translation.
Fortosis clearly paints a compelling picture. There are billions of people who have never heard the name of Jesus, they have never heard the gospel, and they have never felt the weight of God’s word in their hands. In addition to the great need for Bible translation, Fortosis has rightly honored the thousands of men and women who have given their lives to the transmission of Scripture. In light of this portrayal Fortosis’ work has several clear shortcomings. These shortcomings are too great to overlook when looking for a helpful primer on Bible translation/translators.
Stiles, J. Mack. Marks of the Messenger: Knowing, Living, and Speaking the Gospel. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010. 128 pp. $15.00
Reviewed by Jeff Reynolds. Reynolds is Associate Pastor of Adult Faith Development at Hillvue Heights Church in Bowling Green, KY and Garrett Fellow to Dr. Timothy Beougher at Southern Seminary. He holds an M.Div. from Southern Seminary, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D.
Since the latter part of the twentieth century, many works on evangelism have focused on pragmatic methodologies whereby potential soul-winners might hone their craft by picking up various techniques from others who have found such methods to be profitable. Such books were written with good intentions and have served the church by providing needed methodological helps to good, Christian folks who just needed a nudge out of the ecclesiastical nest to be sent out, armed with the gospel and some good evangelistic procedures, into a lost and dying world.
J. Mack Stiles prefers a different approach to evangelism. Stiles, who is CEO of Gulf Digital Solutions and general secretary for the Fellowship of Christian UAE Students (FOCUS) in the United Arab Emirates, moved his family to the Middle East just days after September 11, 2001 and has devoted his life to carrying the gospel to the nations. In Marks of the Messenger, Stiles asserts that before a Christian can be a healthy evangelist, he must first be a healthy Christian. For too long, he says, the church has produced unhealthy disciples and evangelists who, by default, produce unhealthy disciples, evangelists, and churches. To remedy this situation, Stiles stresses that Christians must first answer this question: “Who would Jesus have me to be—period?” (18).
Who would Jesus have Christians to be? According to Stiles, Jesus would have Christians to be people of faith first by believing in Christ and second by actively and faithfully following him (18). Stiles believes that “the greatest obstacle to healthy evangelism is pragmatism: ‘doing evangelism’ before we ever think who we are meant to be as evangelists” (19). In Marks of the Messenger, Stiles seeks to remedy this problematic paradigm.
Each of Stiles’ chapters addresses some component of who Jesus wants his followers to be and the implications of these expectations in evangelistic ministry. Stiles encourages his readers to ensure that they are neither adding to nor subtracting from the gospel message in an effort to make it more palatable to the lost, and he urges readers never to assume the gospel but rather to speak and live it out in every aspect of life. He provides a helpful discussion of the difference between social ministry and evangelism—noting that while social ministry is vital, it is not evangelism—and he helps his reader develop a firm grasp on biblical conversion by setting forth five principles thereof. Stiles encourages his readers to be bold in the gospel, to eschew worldly love in favor of God’s true love, and to live their faith within the context of the local body of Christ. He ends his work with a capstone “Manifesto for Healthy Evangelism” in which he summarizes and recapitulates his assertions of what Jesus expects his followers to be.
The primary strength of Stiles work in Marks of the Messenger is his underlying assertion that the health of the evangelist directly influences the health of evangelism. Stemming from this assertion, one of the book’s most helpful portions is Stiles’ word of caution against assuming the gospel. In the third chapter, “On Your Guard,” he says that it takes only four generations to lose the gospel. In the first generation, the gospel is accepted and understood, and it explicitly drives the ministry of the church. In the second generation, the gospel is assumed. Stiles says that the clearest indication of an assumed gospel is that one just does not hear it anymore (41). In the third generation, the gospel is confused. In other words, the gospel is seen as being equal to morality or social action or some other good work. Finally, the gospel is altogether lost. The church must engage social ministry in the context of the gospel, but the church must not assume the gospel as it so does.
The book’s only weakness appears in the eighth chapter, which is entitled “Worldly Love and Its Fruits.” As he differentiates between the love of God and the love of the world, Stiles asserts that God’s providential love is different from God’s saving love. His assertion is valid and true, but in closing the chapter, Stiles encourages his readers to “expand God’s love beyond the clichés of universal love. Do not fear a love that sets God’s conditions plainly for all to see; to do otherwise is unloving. Speak of the exclusiveness of Christ’s love” (99). The assertion is not the weakness, but if some readers do not read the work carefully, they might come away denying the love of God for all people instead of differentiating between God’s providential love and his saving love. Stiles could have more clearly concluded this chapter to indicate that, while God indeed loves all people in some sense, he exhibits a special kind of love to those who repent and believe in Christ.
Overall, this book is a valuable contribution to the fields of Evangelism and Missions. His work is devoid of cultural constraints that lend to its being useful in only one context. Stiles communicates to all Christians in all contexts and urges them to engage in some healthy, biblical, Christ-centered introspection as they consider evangelistic ministry. His book will serve well, both in the academy and in the pews, to equip followers of Christ for healthy evangelism that produces healthy disciples and churches.
Fryling, Robert A. The Leadership Ellipse: Shaping How We Lead by Who We Are. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2010.
Reviewed by Chris Hefner. Hefner serves as the Missions and Evangelism Pastor at Mud Creek Baptist Church in Hendersonville, NC. He is currently in the dissertation stage of his PhD in Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Seminary. Additionally, Chris is a professor at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, NC. He and his wife, Jean, have been married nine years and are blessed with one son, William.
Fryling is the publisher at InterVarsity Press, and a sought-after speaker on the seemingly polarizing topics of leadership and spiritual formation. He served in various capacities at InterVarsity before becoming a publisher, and he currently sits on various boards for Christian organizations.
Fryling addresses the topic of leadership from a unique perspective in The Leadership Ellipse. Observing the reality that one cannot divorce his personal and public life, Fryling embraces this inner tension and contends that Christian leaders should recognize that any eternally significant public life begins with inward personal devotion.
The book divides into three sections. In the first, Fryling focuses on the inner person by dealing with the private life of the leader. He advocates the inward spiritual practices of rest, pruning out temptations and sins, renewing one’s mind, and caring for others. In the second section, Fryling shifts to one’s outward or public life. He offers solutions to leadership tensions we all face – the frenzied nature of life with prayer, the lonely nature of leadership with relationship, and the fragmented chaos surrounding us with a pursuit of biblical peace. In the final section, he suggests some healthy leadership practices. Fryling believes leaders should identify and address the personal obstacles of pride and self-pity while learning to be intentionally attentive and grateful to those around us.
The Leadership Ellipse offers many practical applications. In fact, the book’s primary strength is its brutally honest assessment of the effect of an individual’s private life to his influence as a leader. Those familiar with the biblical characters and their flaws (David’s lust, Moses’ self-pity, etc.) will not be surprised to recognize the seminal connection between the quality of a person’s inner life and the effectiveness of his outer life. Fryling addresses the reality of sinful ambitions, the longing for recognition, the existence of loneliness, and the constant need for pruning out sinful and tempting influences. In today’s fast-paced life, it can be easy to deemphasize the apparent insignificance of one’s private life in comparison with the career, influence, and activity necessitated by leadership responsibilities. With honesty, humility, and practicality, Fryling seeks to remind Christians that we cannot separate what we display to others as leaders from the inward life that only God knows.
Fryling suggests helpful strategies that are designed not only to aid the Christian in spiritual growth, but also to assist the leader in effectiveness. For example, Fryling emphasizes that being attentive to others is not merely satisfying, but essential to the leader (173). Furthermore, he notes that gratefulness to others develops from a sense of thankfulness to God (189). He argues that practicing thankfulness as a leader points toward humility and a genuine recognition of others. Fryling feels that the inward qualities of humility and submission form the foundations of attentiveness and appreciation of those we lead.
The book’s only significant weakness is related to chapter seven and the pursuit of shalom in a fragmented world. Fryling believes that sin is the ultimate cause of the fragmentation and frustration in society. He accurately assesses the problem and suggests that peace brought from the gospel should impact all of our relationships. While his applications throughout the book are generally precise, he connects the major implications of shalom to issues of gender and race. While I do not disagree that these are issues within American Christian leadership, nor do I dispute Fryling’s conclusions, I believe the chapter’s effect minimizes the gospel in favor of gender equality and racial reconciliation. He raises these concerns without offering specific, helpful applications. A more beneficial conclusion to the chapter could have described how the gospel can bring peace within interpersonal relationships.
Fryling displays his affinity for pietistic Christianity without negating the believer’s responsibility to engage the world. This book is a candid discussion of the tension between the inward and outward life of the leader. Christian leaders will find a mixture of conviction, encouragement, and direction in The Leadership Ellipse.
Purves, Andrew, The Resurrection of Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010. 153pp. $15.00
Reviewed by Craig Thompson. Thompson is the pastor of Malvern Hill Baptist Church in Camden, SC. He holds an M.Div. and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. from Southern Seminary.
I feel bad when I have to give a book a bad review. I don’t feel too bad if I perceive it to be harmful to the Christian community, but I do feel bad when the book is not necessarily harmful, it’s just painful. I feel bad because I know that an author somewhere spent many hours toiling away at this book and yet this review shows little appreciation for that toil. Nevertheless, just as the author spent time writing, I spent time reading and as I was once told, if you are going to write a book, you should be prepared to be criticized.
The Resurrection of Ministry by Andrew Purves opens with great intention. The author desires to deliver ministry from the sadness, loss, and misdirection of Holy Saturday into the resurrection life of Easter Sunday. In fact, I believe Purves is right in his words, “God raises up our ministries on their proper ground in the ministry of the resurrected and ascended Jesus, and we minister henceforth in the joy and hope of his life” (11).
The basic premise of the book that pastors should minister in light of the resurrected Lord and not in their own power is right and good, but the way that the author suggests accomplishing this goal is perplexing. First, it’s worth pointing out that Purves obviously comes from a much more liturgical background than me and that he envisions redeeming churches through proper and appropriate understandings and movements of liturgy through the Christian calendar (19). It’s not fair for me to criticize this method simply because it doesn’t appeal to me, so I won’t.
However, that’s not the greatest weakness of the book. The greatest weakness of the book is that it is convoluted. This book is not a five step, ten step, or even a twelve step program. No, this is a nineteen step program. Nineteen steps spread out over 130 pages. If a book has the statement, “Nineteenth step,” the issue is not simply a loquacious author; there is the greater issue of editing that was not done well. To glean the most from this book and its nineteen steps, one should sit down and read it in one sitting, but the book did not hold my interest well enough to enable such a feat.
Another weakness is found on page 79, as Purves writes the following,
Our primary job is to be martyrs. Luke 24:48 tells us that we are witnesses, that is martyrs, in the Greek martyres, of these things: that the Messiah had to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations. A martyr is someone who bears witness–it can mean someone who bears witness unto death, so-called red martyrdom, but it need not carry that ultimate sacrifice.
Certainly, martyr in the original Greek meant witness, but since the earliest Christian times a martyr has been understood to be one who suffered and or died for their faith. It is confusing to refer to believers as martyrs. This passage suffers from the same malady as the rest of the book–a shocking lack of clarity. Like the passage above, the book is muddled. This is unfortunate because the subject matter could have been treated with much more clarity.
To be sure, this book is not all bad. I am grateful for Purves’ emphasis throughout on serving Jesus in light of his resurrection power and not in human power. I felt that its greatest strength was the author’s admonition to connect people to the person of Jesus and not only to Christ, his title (27). Jesus was the Christ, but he was also a real flesh and blood person. Too often people view Christ in an ethereal sense, but we need to connect them to a living Savior who really died and really rose from the grave on the third day. He also, in chapter two, gives emphasis to the role of minister as active participant in the continuing ministry of Jesus Christ. Pastors do not merely attest to a past ministry of Jesus Christ, they are ongoing participants in his active ministry in the present.
I’m sure that Purves is a wonderful man and a gifted scholar, but this is not a great book. There are good parts, but the book as a whole is simply not clear and is certainly not a necessity in your library.
Hale, Thomas, and Gene Daniels. On Being a Missionary (Revised Edition). Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2012.
Reviewed by Matthew Pierce. Pierce is a Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served with the International Mission Board in Northeast Thailand and is currently a deacon of international outreach at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY.
Thomas Hale “does not put forward new theses, new approaches to mission . . . and makes no attempt to break new ground” (vii). Hale provides a book full of insights that were distilled from issues he encountered through his lifetime of service in Nepal as a medical missionary. His desire to avoid advocating new theses was refreshing because missions literature seems to thrive on the new, different, and exciting. Missions practitioners are sometimes like the people of Athens in Acts 17:21 that “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” Throughout this book Hale succeeds in putting forward no new ideas and provides a helpful book “written by a learner for learners” (1).
On Being a Missionary is a helpful read for both the seasoned missionary and those who have just arrived on the field. Missionaries who have been overseas for many years begin to lose contact with the younger generations who desire to serve alongside the older generations on the field. With each successive generation come new ideas and new outlooks. This book will help seasoned missionaries better understand how to deal with new generations of missionaries who are arriving on the field each day. New arrivals to the mission field need to be made aware of the pitfalls that are common to all cross cultural mission workers and will be served well by learning from the mistakes of those who have gone before them.
Hale and Daniels provide many insights for veteran missionaries. Veteran missionaries who may avoid this book because it is over 500 pages long would be best served by reading chapters that are most applicable to them. The chapter on sin and interpersonal conflict provides biblical responses to conflicts that inevitably happen when sinners begin to work together. This chapter should be followed by resolving interpersonal conflict, fitting into the team, and then keeping the focus. Hale reminds mission administrators that they should avoid being autocratic and remember that “man’s spiritual need is infinitely greater than his physical need” (297). It is easy for missionaries who serve those in desperate poverty to pour all their time and resources into serving the physical needs of the people while ignoring their greatest need, which is to be reconciled with their creator. Hale recognizes that Christians do not ignore the physical needs of those around them, but they can become overwhelmed by the desire to care for the physical needs of others and begin to ignore their spiritual needs. The last chapter that should be read by veteran missionaries is about recent developments. In this chapter he covers tent making, student missionaries, nonresidential missionaries, and how Western missionaries can help their brothers and sisters from the Global South.
The rest of this book is written with the new missionary in mind. Christians who are thinking about serving internationally need to think about how to discern whether or not they are called to be cross-cultural missionaries. The chapter entitled “The Call” provides help for Christians thinking about serving overseas. Hale helpfully reminds believers not to wait for 100% pure motives, for one will never leave home if he waits for 100% pure motives. Before leaving to serve long term the new missionary candidate should receive the training he or she needs. Do not feel guilty about delaying your move to the field. The missions task is urgent, but God took eighty years to prepare Moses and fourteen to prepare Paul (43). Anything done for the Lord should be done well.
This is a great book for all serving cross culturally. It is a fairly lengthy book, over 500 pages, but the book has been written so one can read individual chapters that apply to the individual missionary or mission team. Hale and Daniels succeed in providing a handbook that helps one see how to successfully live out the practical spirituality of cross-cultural missions.
Tippett, Alan R. The Jesus Documents in “The Missiology of Alan R. Tippett Series.” Ed. Doug Priest. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2012. 116 pps.
Reviewed by Anthony Casey. Casey is a Ph.D. student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. His interests include missions, cultural anthropology, and orality.
The Jesus Documents is one volume in the series “The Missiology of Alan R. Tippett,” edited by Doug Priest. Tippett (1911-1988) was an anthropologist and missionary who served in Fiji for twenty years and went on to teach at Fuller Seminary. In this work, Tippett examines the four Gospels in light of his anthropological background and attempts to shed light on their message and meaning by analyzing the narratives in their cultural and historical settings.
Tippett approaches his work as an anthropologist, working from a holistic and functional background. Holistic anthropology views all parts of human life and society as interconnected. Tippett was frustrated with the biblical criticism of his day in that it segmented the gospels and analyzed their components rather than viewing each document as a complete whole. As a functionalist, Tippett believes the Gospel writers wrote to motivate others, explain why Christians behaved as they did, and to pass on unique cultural customs such as the Lord’s Supper, baptism, and Sunday meetings (82-83). Each Gospel was written with a particular function or purpose in mind, hence the different perspectives submitted in each of the four Gospels.
Writing in the midst of those critical of the claims and reliability of the Bible, Tippett states that the Gospels contain literary and cultural elements germane to real time and space when the message was being proclaimed (85). Viewing the writings holistically and in their cultural setting causes the biblical criticism to fall away and the portrait of Christ to shine through (88). He does not struggle with the Synoptic problem or other critical approaches to the Gospels because he believes the accounts do not have to mesh perfectly. Each writer tells the story of Jesus with a distinct purpose in mind.
The major contribution of the book is its argument that one must take the Gospels seriously in their own cultural and historical timeframe. The book reads as most introductions to the Gospels do today – providing a bit of the cultural background of the Roman Empire, Koine Greek, and pagan religions of the day.
Anthropologically speaking, Tippett views the transmission of the Gospel stories as living performances, couched in normal behavioral patterns and structures of the day (29). Evidence of the oral tradition informing the written Gospels is seen in the rhythms, couplets, acrostics, and genealogies in the Gospels (52). For example, Mark’s Gospel is one of power, written to show the might of Jesus over the Imperial cult deities and general animism of the day (37-38).
Despite Tippett’s proposal to examine the Gospels in light of anthropological methods, little evidence or fruit of such an examination comes through in the book. The book is too short for Tippett to draw out any anthropological insights related to animism, linguistic structure, oral delivery methods, or contextualization strategies. I was hoping for a more thorough anthropological examination but was left wanting.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the book is Tippett’s handling of the Greek language used in the Gospels. Tippett shows that missionary anthropologists must be scholars of the Bible as well as the culture they are working in. Tippett repeatedly dismisses himself as a biblical scholar but has nonetheless written a helpful overview of the cultural, linguistic, and historical background of the early church era. Though he does not offer any extraordinary insights from his supposed anthropological study of the Gospels, he does make a solid case for the reliability of the accounts based on their cultural and linguistic background.