Discipling in a Multicultural World | Book Review


The Great Commission (Matthew 28:16–20) commands Christ’s followers to “make disciples of all nations.” That discipleship has at least two basic components:conversion, symbolized by baptism, and change, realized through ever-increasing obedience to Christ’s commandments. Notice also its multicultural shape. Christ commands His followers to disciple “all nations,” which means “people groups,” not “nation-states.”

In Discipling in a Multicultural World, Ajith Fernando outlines “biblical principles about discipling” and presents “examples about how they apply in daily life and ministry.” Fernando is the former national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka, which he now continues to serve as teaching director, and the author of seventeen books. This book is the fruit of mature biblical reflection and decades of practical ministry experience.

Fernando divides the book into two parts: “Introducing Spiritual Parenthood” and “How People Change.”

Part 1 uses the metaphor of spiritual parenting to describe discipleship, which he defines as “an affectionate relationship of caring between people who see themselves as having a parent-child relationship.”

Part of the genius of this metaphor is that it’s multiplicative. Consider what Paul wrote to Timothy: “the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2). As Fernando notes, “Four generations of Christians are mentioned here”: Paul, Timothy, reliable people, and others.

“Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” –Ajith Fernando

The parenting metaphor also jibes well with the New Testament understanding of the community of believers as a spiritual family. This understanding cuts against the grain of both Western individualism and the familism of the developing World. “Many church communities [in the West] have diluted the biblical idea of the solidarity of the community and its importance in the life of a Christian,” Fernando writes. The challenge of discipleship in Western contexts involves, in part, incorporating individuals into the body of Christ.

By the same token, however, the familism pervasive in most traditional cultures, including that of the Bible, presents a different challenge. For many converts in Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim contexts especially, to become a Christian is a lonely experience because one is immediately cut off from one’s family and extended community. Fernando wisely notes that converts belong to “two families—their earthly family and the family of God.” Discipleship in such contexts requires a delicate balance between honoring one’s earthly family and ongoing membership in one’s spiritual family. Disciples in these contexts often experience suffering, persecution, and loss of honor — a pattern we also see in the New Testament. Fernando offers wise advice about how disciplers can help disciples navigate these negative experiences.

Drawing on the work of missiologist Paul Hiebert, Fernando identifies three kinds of transformation in Part 2, “How People Change”:

  1. cognitive transformation, where a person’s belief system changes;
  2. affective transformation, where we personally experience God; and
  3. evaluative transformation, where we evaluate the beliefs and practices of the prevailing culture.

He devotes the bulk of this part of the book to describing what the Bible says about these three kinds of transformation, highlighting the role of Scripture, prayer, the discernment of  right and wrong, and the experience of healing in the discipleship process.

Three chapters — 10, 11, and 12 — focus on right and wrong. “In the Bible and in today’s culture,” Fernando writes, “people respond to issues of right and wrong along three lines: (1) guilt and forgiveness, (2) honor and shame, and (3) fear/bondage and power/liberation. Although all three lines are present in every culture to a degree, Western culture typically follows the guilt/forgiveness line, while traditional cultures follow the other two.

In a multicultural world, disciplers must understand all three so they can help disciples make sense of Christian faith and practice in culturally adequate ways. While the entire book contains mature biblical reflection seasoned with practical ministry experience, these three chapters are the best part, in my opinion.

I close this review with two sentences from Fernando’s concluding paragraph. First, “Disciplers are servants of disciplees, doing all we can to help them grow and be fruitful.” This mindset is crucial, both to avoid authoritarian forms of discipling and to count discipling’s costs. Spiritual parenting, like parenting, isn’t easy.

Second, in light of that cost, Fernando prays: “In this busy world, may many Christians rise to pay the price of investing in people in this comprehensive way.”

Amen to that!

Book Reviewed
Ajith Fernando, Discipling in a Multicultural World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019).

P.S. If you liked my review, please click “Helpful” on my Amazon review page.

P.P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

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Translating the Great Commission


Produced by Barna Group in partnership with Seed Company, Translating the Great Commission examines aspects of Christian missions, including knowledge of the Great Commission, the definition of missions, the relationship of evangelism and social justice, and the role and value of Bible translation. As usual with Barna reports, Translating includes a mix of quantitative and qualitative research, together with expert Q&As and infographics. It offers a valuable snapshot of current opinion about these aspects of Christian missions.

Book Reviewed
Barna Group, Translating the Great Commission: What Spreading the Gospel Means to U.S. Christians in the 21st Century (Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2018).

Thursday’s Influence Magazine Article


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • Kristi Northup wonders whether the Great Commission is going out of style. (Hopefully not!)
  • John Davidson interviews Bruce Statements about making your church safe for the Influence Podcast.
  • Christina Quick notes the projected continuing growth of Christianity in sub-Saharan Africa.

Please make sure to follow and like InfluenceInfluence magazine on Facebook, Twitter, and iTunes!

“The Challenge of the Great Commission” by Nino Gonzales


In this video, Nino Gonzales speaks to the Assemblies of God National Office chapel service about two challenges to sustaining spiritual revival, based on Acts 8:4-9a. What I especially like is his spiritual–rather than political–interpretation of immigration.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

People of the Great Commission


Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen, Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong (Well, Almost Everything): An Insider’s Look at Myths and Realities (Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks, 2010). $16.99, 224 pages.

What is evangelical Christianity?

In Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong, Steve Wilkens and Don Thorsen set out to discover “an adequate and accurate definition” by identifying and critiquing several caricatures of the movement on the basis of “the empirical realities of evangelicalism’s history, its present composition, and its trajectories toward the future.”

The chapter titles identify the caricatures. Readers learn that “Evangelicals Are Not All…”

  • Mean, Stupid, and Dogmatic (ch. 2)
  • Waiting for the Rapture (ch. 3)
  • Anti-evolutionists (ch. 4)
  • Inerrantists (ch. 5)
  • Rich Americans (ch. 6)
  • Calvinists (ch. 7)
  • Republicans (ch. 8 )
  • Racist, Sexist, and Homophobic (ch. 9)

Wilkens and Thorsen don’t deny that some evangelicals are any—or all—of these things. Rather, they argue that “we should not confuse the social [or theological] agendas of particular evangelicals with evangelicalism’s agenda.”

Both outsiders and insiders to the evangelical movement contribute to this confusion, by the way. For example, the New Atheists caricature evangelicals as anti-evolutionist and anti-science. What to do, then, with Francis Collins, who is both an evangelical and an evolutionist? Some evangelical historiographers caricature the movement as Calvinist revivalism. What to do, then, with my denomination, the Assemblies of God, which is a founding member of the National Association of Evangelicals and not Calvinist?

Caricatures aside, evangelical Christianity encompasses a diversity of theological commitments, denominational loyalties, political affiliations, ethnic identities, and social classes. It always has. The leaders of the Great Awakening—Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John and Charles Wesley—exemplify this diversity. Edwards and Whitefield were Calvinists. The Wesley brothers were Arminians. Edwards was a Congregationalist. Whitefield and the Wesleys were Anglicans. Edwards died before the American Revolution, but his sons were Patriots. John Wesley publicly denounced the Revolution. He also published expurgated versions of Edwards’ writings on revival and preached Whitefield’s funeral sermon.

Does anything hold this diversity together? Evangelicals tend to be conservative doctrinally, although this conservatism is generic rather than specific. Remember, not all evangelicals subscribe to a pre-trip rapture of the church, young-earth creationism, biblical inerrancy (as opposed to biblical infallibility), or Calvinist soteriology. For evangelicals who subscribe to these specific beliefs, chapters 3, 4, 5, and 7 may be tough to read. Evangelicals tend to be conservative morally, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into political conservatism or allegiance to the Republican party. White evangelicals tend to be Republicans, but African-American and Hispanic evangelicals tend to be Democrats.

At the self-acknowledged risk of oversimplification, Wilkens and Thorsen settle on this definition of evangelical Christianity: “Evangelicals are people of the Great Commission.” In the Great Commission, Jesus commanded his disciples to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). This is “the basic impulse of evangelicalism,” which derives its very name from euaggelion, the Greek word for “gospel.”

Evangelicals are gospel people.

I heartily recommend Everything You Know about Evangelicals Is Wrong to anyone, whether an outsider or an insider, who struggles to understand the meaning and significance of the evangelical movement. The book debunks stereotypes, complexifies issues where needed, and simplifies definitions where possible. Most importantly, clarifies the nature of evangelical Christianity, which has tremendous influence in North America and growing influence worldwide.

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P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

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