Some years ago my wife, Barby, and I started a tradition of giving books to our children.
We'd been doing it for a while, but fresh momentum came at a couple of different times. One was when John Stott died in 2011. He had been such a massive influence in my life and I wanted a deposit of that legacy to find its way into the lives of our children. I remember selecting, very thoughtfully, two different Stottian books for each one of our five children.
The second was when we moved away from home to go and live in South Asia. We felt the distance in more ways than we anticipated. One was the sense of losing a voice of influence in the lives of our children, as they set off in their different vocations and locations and communities. Giving them, every now and then, a significant book (to me, anyway!) seemed to be one way to keep speaking a little voice into their lives.
Whether they take the time to read them is a different matter altogether!
In my sixtieth year, another reason to give them books came into focus. After a decade of working in a Majority World context, I found myself wanting my children to be more exposed to Majority World authors writing from within those contexts. Here is the inscription I placed in three books given to them on the occasion of this birthday.
Both the church in the Majority World and the church outside the Majority World are struggling. With the former it is often about too much suffering – and with the latter it is often about too much comfort. It is Revelation 2–3 all over again. Both of those church experiences can be found in those chapters, just as they can be found right through history. Stealing a couple of lines from my teaching notes... some of these seven churches are in “a time of poverty and persecution with little hope of justice and an enemy that is external,” while others of these churches are in “a time of complacency and compromise with a great need for warning and an enemy that is internal.” While the division is not neat or clean or conclusive, this does suggest to us something of the difference between churches in, and outside, the Majority World today.
There is a little irony in all of this. The churches outside the Majority World (like in my home of New Zealand) are pragmatic. The context is tough. I am full of admiration for biblically-faithful pastors. “No religion” statistics are raining down on them. The church is in decline. Understandably, they are on the lookout for ideas that work and bring success. But here is the irony. They tend to keep looking for these ideas from other places where the church is in decline! Why? I don't understand it. I am old enough now. I've seen it again and again over the decades. These ideas build like waves out to sea, and as they rise, churches ride them – until they crash into the sand and disappear. The next big thing, yet again, has become the most recent little thing, at great cost and with little influence. Why not turn to places where churches are on the rise and people are coming to faith in Christ in huge numbers – like in so many places in the Majority World? Is there not something we can learn from them?
[NB: Two possible reasons for not turning that way come to mind. One, as my friend put it yesterday, is that no one puts up their hand for suffering. Living under fire sounds too hard. Fitting in and going with the flow is easier than standing out and going against the flow. Books about cultural relevance are easier than books about cultural resistance. It looks like a tough world for Christians over here in the Majority World. It is. A second reason might be the sheer wealth and power and reach of publishing houses, with their authors and seminars, outside the Majority World. The marketing can batter people into purchase, while the focus has to be on books that people want (i.e. that sell), rather than the books that people need.]
We need to find a better way. Pastors, leaders and thinkers outside the Majority World need to grow some gurus from within the Majority World. It will be so good for them.
1. To Learn
People tend to live in bubbles, preferring to hear only the reassuring echoes of what they already believe. Same authors. Same schools. Same publishers. Same organizations. What they really need to do is burst out of their bubbles and venture forth. Living in multi-cultural societies might be new for us, but it is ancient for many in the Majority World. Bearing witness as a minority faith in a majority faith religious context (and yes, the “no religion” folks do form a majority faith religious context) might be new to us, but it is ancient for many of them. Discovering that a biblically faithful life invites persecution in the public world might be new to us, but it is ancient for many of them. If this is all true, then why, for God's sake, are we not more willing to learn from them?
2. To Change
If it is the bubble that is the concern above, then it is the blind spot that is the issue here. Using the language of the scholar for a moment, we can affirm that all knowledge is “perspectival” and that there is a “pre-understanding” that we bring to the text before we even open the text. We gotta find ways to get in and mess with that perspective and that pre-understanding because you can be sure there are blind spots in there that are at work. The best way to do this is to read familiar things through other peoples’ eyes. The suffering church sees different things in the text than the comfortable church. My next literary task is to take a final look at a book by a Palestinian scholar entitled, Reading the Gospel of John through Palestinian Eyes. Yes! This is how to expose blind spots – and it is also a jolly good way to melt the fears and evaporate the threats which so often surface when we encounter something that is alien to us.
3. To Identify
It is a small step from “reading through other people’s eyes” and beginning to identify with them. This is how friendships are built. This is how partnerships get started. This is how solidarity seeps in. This is what we need to heal our lands and assist God with his mission in the world. Let’s give our lives not just to the unity of the local church, but also to the global church. Let's extend the canvas on which we paint those experiences of “weeping with those who weep.” Let's see churches in the Majority World and churches outside the Majority World getting it, together. The books will help. In fact, the books can lead the way...
Yep – pastors, leaders and thinkers outside the Majority World need to grow some gurus from within the Majority World. It will be so good for them.
Now this one is harder, much harder. The books and the authors are hard to find, while the steps that need to be taken to be able to hear Majority World authors in languages like English can have difficulties. One publisher trying to contribute here is Langham Publishing. A new website has recently gone “live” and so you can now push your little cart through its virtual aisles and shelves, making your orders (and enjoy 'free shipping on all international orders'). They publish about fifty books a year of which roughly 80% are written by Majority World authors. What a gift.
Here is a handful of advice on how to get started...
- Make a little covenant before God with yourself. There is going to be no marketing coming across your desk. There will be no peers enthusing about this idea. So quietly, in your own heart, make a commitment to read one book by a Majority World author each year. The books will quickly add up...
- Start with Hikmat Kashouh's Following Jesus in Turbulent Times. It is short. It is engaging. It is a simple apologetic for the value of all that I am affirming with this post. While I did write a little review here, it is far better that you read the book for yourself. Another good starting place would be Ajith Fernando, but you'll need to push your cart on another website for his books, starting with The Call to Joy and Pain; The Family Life of a Christian Leader; and Discipling in a Multi-cultural World.
- Purchase a one-volume commentary. This vision is extraordinary. Within one cover, commentaries on every book of the Bible, together with close to 100 articles from and for the context, written totally by Majority World authors. There are a few of them now (see the photo), but if I was pushed to recommend one that is available in English, I'd go for the South Asia Bible Commentary, mostly because the Africa one is more than a decade old and they are beginning a revision/updating project. [I still have vivid memories, from long ago, of my EA at Carey Baptist College, Rachel Murray, announcing to me that "your Africa Bible Commentary has arrived – it’s over in the dining room." I really did drop everything and run...].
- On the home page, go to 'Books', click on 'Series' and then on Global Christian Library. Plenty of browsing to be done elsewhere on the site, but I think this is the next best place to go and make purchases to read and ponder.
- Scroll through the Langham Monographs. You may not be as easily drawn into adding these volumes to your cart. After all they are mostly PhD dissertations! But, once again, what a vision. Outside the Majority World, dissertations sell routinely for USD100, or more, if they can even find a publisher. How many people in the Majority World are going to be able to buy such volumes? Here is a way for Majority World authors to have the thrill of seeing their labours in print – and then be available at a price that is affordable in the Majority World. Take the time to read each title aloud and get a sense of the range of issues being addressed.
A personal favourite of mine is the volume by Conrad Mbewe – which I blogged about here, before the book was published and after I heard the story from Conrad himself at a table in a restaurant in Sheffield. Interestingly, one of the unexpected consequences of the Langham Monographs series is that they are proving to be very popular with seminaries and colleges outside the Majority World. That is a good sign, isn't it?!
Director – Langham Preaching
This post is taken from Paul’s blog – The Art of Unpacking