In the Beginning, God: Creation, Culture, and the Spiritual Life
By Marva J. Dawn
Marva Dawn is an independent scholar who has established herself as a significant voice on numerous contemporary matters, including Sabbath and sexuality, powers and principalities, pastoring and prayer, worship and wellness, and on and on. Through her many books she shows herself to be an astute theologian, a careful Bible scholar, an insightful observer of culture, and a passionate prophetic and pastoral advocate for the many in our culture who are trapped by poverty and injustice or affluence and consumerism. A follower of Jesus, she is not afraid to live sacrificially because she knows that is the way of true joy and abundant life. We never quite know what she will write next, and one may be forgiven for wondering whether she has anything left to say. But her latest volume, one of her best-written books to date, proves once again that Dawn’s creative voice still deserves to be heard.
The title of this book alone is not enough to inform us of what Dawn is doing here. I was particularly attracted to the subtitle, wondering how she would see the interaction between culture and the spiritual life, both topics of considerable interest to me. The title itself made me think the book is about worship, one of Dawn’s important bailiwicks. The slender book—only 124 pages in all—covers these topics and more by entering into an in-depth exploration of Genesis 1 to 3. In that respect, it resembles Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1–3.
This is a breathtakingly bold move. After all, in our culture-war-riven congregations, the first chapters of Genesis raise many vexing questions: matters of myth and history, creation and evolution, meaning of the garden temptation, gender relationships, varying creation accounts in the first two chapters, et cetera. Many prudently choose to ignore or overlook this part of the Bible. But Dawn never goes for the easy way out. More importantly, she makes an impressive case that almost everything we need to know and believe as Christians is rooted in what can be discerned in the first chapters of Genesis.
Dawn argues that faithful Scripture study teaches us first and foremost about God. Too often we read the Bible wondering how it applies to us, a narcissistic approach in her judgment. She contends that in studying what we can learn of God through the Bible we will be properly informed, formed, and transformed. She believes that that is the way faithful character formation can occur.
We were created primarily to worship God. This is such an intrinsic part of who we are that Dawn actually calls it a “law.” Worship is not only what happens on Sunday mornings in sanctified spaces—as important as that is. Rather, worship means that all of our lives—our words, thoughts, and deeds—give glory to the God who created us. Those deeply familiar with Dawn’s work will not be surprised to learn that this has ethical implications. And so we hear commentary on environmental concerns, gender relationships, sexual faithfulness, combating world hunger, rejecting racism, and concern for the poor and the oppressed. She rejects assertions that Genesis 1–3 lends credence to human “domination” over and destruction of the environment or that the creation and fall stories in any way justify gender inequality. Dawn argues that “glory to God” and “the good of the world” are inextricably bound up with each other.
This book is worth carefully reading on one’s own or could serve as a supplement to a study of the early chapters of Genesis for use with an adult study group. Dawn’s work here is sure to spark serious discussion; she does not fit into tidy categories of left or right, liberal or conservative, and that makes her writing all the more intriguing and refreshing.
Arthur Paul Boers
Author of Never Call Them Jerks: Healthy Responses to Difficult Behavior (Alban Institute, 1999)
Preaching from Memory to Hope
By Thomas G. Long
Tom Long is a household name in pastoral ministry. The Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology and author of more than a dozen books—some of which are used as seminary text books—he has devoted his life to advancing the field of homiletics.
His latest book is a critique of what he calls the neo-Gnostic movement (which in actuality is not very neo since Gnosticism has been around since the beginning of Christianity). However, Long makes the point that recently Gnosticism is rearing its ugly head very quietly to parishioners in the pew. Recent best sellers such as Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time have planted seeds of doubt into the veracity of the gospels and the core doctrines of the Christian faith. These works reveal a very human Jesus—the teacher and preacher of love and neighborly kindness—but with very little mention of the cross, hope, or redemption. In other words, what these books miss is eschatology.
Long takes the neo-Gnostic movement to task by emphasizing a renewed effort in preaching, especially eschatological preaching. Sunday worship, he says, should not be reduced to nice stories about love, hope, forgiveness, and spiritual struggles, but rather should create a narrative arc that brings the redeeming hope of the gospel to the forefront of people’s lives—to connect their lives in the here and now with the approaching hope of the crucified Christ, the hope of the gospel that feeds and nourishes us. This is the hope that was proclaimed by the apostle Paul, Irenaeus of Lyons, Augustine of Hippo, John Chrysostom, and others. This same hope is needed today.
To combat neo-Gnosticism, Long proposes a nuanced or renewed form of narrative preaching, one that is biblically based and provides meat, not just milk, for parishioners. He argues in the introduction of Preaching from Memory to Hope that narrative preaching needs to regain its core values as a way to proclaim the full gospel of Jesus rather than just bits and pieces of the gospel. Here is where the book is a bit weak. Long makes several volleys against the current stream of narrative preaching without showing specifically where it has faltered. However, despite this oversight, he includes four pillars for a renewed narrative preaching: narrative as dress rehearsal, narrative as congregational canon, narrative as a means for remembering the lost and silenced, and narrative as a process of coming to faith. Each subsequent chapter in the book deals in various ways with these core values.
Preaching from Memory to Hope is a book worth reading, especially for those of us who earn our bread by proclaiming the gospel Sunday to Sunday. Long reminds us that our parishioners are being bombarded by non-gospel messages all week long, and for at least one hour per week we have a captive audience, so why not use this time to teach them about the coming hope of the crucified Christ?
William C. Mills
Nativity of the Holy Virgin Orthodox Church/Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina
Cultural Intelligence: Improving Your CQ to Engage Our Multicultural World
By David A. Livermore
Early in my career, I served as a missionary in Trinidad. Once, I took a group of East Indian children from my Sunday school, which was located near the central rice-growing region of the country, to perform a Christmas program for mainly black children in a shantytown just outside the nation’s capital.
The idea was a good one, but I failed to anticipate the major cross-cultural challenges we encountered. Both visitors and visited (except fo
r myself) were all Trinidadians who lived just twenty miles from each other, but that seemed to be where the commonalities ended. Our on-stage communication was awkward and the audience feedback was unnerving. The food we brought and exchanged was a strange mix. And while the kids got on quite well together, the Christian message I wanted to present seemed lost in chaos and I wondered whether the trip had been worth the effort. Had I known then what I know now from a careful reading of David Livermore’s Cultural Intelligence I might have been better equipped to assess what was happening and make some helpful adjustments.
Today, cross-cultural challenges are commonplace for many of our local churches. No longer do Christians have to travel to distant lands to experience the clash of cultures I have just described, making Livermore’s insights in Cultural Intelligence important reading.
In this book, Livermore helpfully blends good scientific and missiological theory to bridge chasms of cultural difference. His study is an integration of theory and personal experience. His book promotes praxis—a creative admixture of understanding ourselves and our own cultures while interacting with the Other. Applying qualitative, current sociological/cultural theory to ministry challenges is not new, but this book is special in that it provides a highly developed, practical response to the problems of cultural difference.
Livermore helps us understand that culture is contextual and undergirds what we think, how we live, and the way we view the world. He also shows how intercultural intelligence flourishes in diversity and is applicable to many settings. In Cultural Intelligence we learn that understanding race as both a barrier and a bridge to communication is important, that language is culture—that words are symbols with tangible and intangible meanings—and that place shapes how we engage reality and explains why people who live in close proximity may experience life differently.
If I were to bring those Trinidadian children together today, I would look upon what happened in light of the insights Livermore offers in Cultural Intelligence. Starting with myself, I would consider the theological basis for having such encounters. I would realize that love and mutual respect (not the making of teaching points) are my primary concerns, and that these are more than concepts; they are behaviors. (I had been so wrapped up in my concepts that I missed a lot of the good that was going on around me.)
Twenty-first-century church leaders everywhere in the world, in settings old and new, need to become experienced cross-cultural emissaries with a desire to birth, nurture, and reproduce faith communities that are equipped to function in postmodern and socially pluralistic contexts. Cultural Intelligence offers insights and advice that can help us to become such emissaries.
Wayne A. Holst
St. David’s United Church