Saturday, January 17, 2004

Notes on 'gospel vehicles' and rhetoric

Rev. John Payne, executive director of development for San Francisco Theological Seminary, was prompted to share a comment after reading yesterday's blog, "How to bridge into new cultures."

He related a point Rev. Louis M. Evans made to him years ago in Tulsa: "John, the message of the Gospel is constant, never changing. But our understanding of the Gospel changes as we mature in the faith; and the vehicle by which the Gospel is shared with different generations and cultures must change so people can hear in their own language."

Dr. Corey Schlosser-Hall, director of communication for Seattle Presbytery wrote to say, "One of the most influential communication scholars of the 20th century -- Kenneth Burke -- said that 'rhetoric' (meaning communication with the intent to coordinate or move to action, alter belief, change attitudes) is not about 'persuasion' as much as it is about 'identification.' By identification, he meant what you are saying -- building a bridge with an audience so that they can see themselves participating in the identity you are inviting them to adopt. Starbucks invites the French to an American coffee with French pastries -- building a bridge of identification -- making it inviting for folks to try on the coffee by accompanying it with something they already identify with. I often think of words like clothing. When I try it on does it fit? And change happens when the language, image, practice inspires us beyond fit to something greater than ourselves. That nudge, stretch, synapse between fit and something new is the space in which this art you are talking about becomes, well, mysterious -- artful not scientific, Godís room to move."

I welcome reader responses to my Frontier Blog articles. Just click on the "Email Dave Hackett" link above and write away.

-- Dave Hackett

Friday, January 16, 2004

Lessons on contextualization from unlikely sources...

How to bridge into new cultures

The Associated Press has two stories today that illustrate the ingenuity of American marketers to bridge into new cultures with their products. If we squint a little (ok, a lot), these stories have lessons for us on making the gospel relevant, "indigenous," and invitational to the world we are trying to reach with Christ.

The first story, about today's opening of the first Starbucks Cafe in Paris, admits that bringing coffee to Paris is as unlikely as bringing coals to Newcastle. But, the article says, the French are already aware of the brand. "Their curiosity will drive them into the stores," says Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz.

And Starbucks has found ways to "lessen the culture shock when the doors to the new Starbucks premises on the prestigious Avenue de l'Opera swing open to the public today," the article says. "There, familiar croissants and 'pains au chocolat' await them."

So the first lesson is that chocolate bridges the gap. Wait - no, that's not it. It's showing that this "new product" fits comfortably with old cultural favorites, maybe even enhances them.

The second AP story is about KFC in China. Apparently, fast food is making a fast rise among Chinese consumers -- and KFC is flapping its mental wings to bond its products to the culture. This article describes how KFC has adapted with indigenized versions of its fare, such as creating the quite new "Old Beijing Twister" -- a wrap modeled after the way Peking duck is served, but with fried chicken inside.

Appealing to longtime traditions and food specialities is a way of conveying that maybe, just maybe, eating a KFC Old Beijing Twister will come across as a modern version of something very Chinese. Clearly it's not American.

The gospel can "fit" into the forms and ways of each of the world's cultures. A skill that missionaries develop is to discern cultural images, forms, language, idioms, and appeals to cultural authorities so that the gospel can take root within the culture rather than being an import of our Western culture. Savvy international business marketers use this skill, too.

In a recent Letter To The Editor in The Presbyterian Outlook, Rev. John Haberlin of Centralia, Washington made this astute comment: "What we are ultimately dealing with here is a last bastion of "colonialism" -- exporting a culture rather than a life changing and gripping message." Haberlin is affirming attempts to de-westernize the gospel in our mission work, and to help us recognize that we too have to shake loose our overidentification of Western culture with the timeless, culturefree truths of the gospel.

-- Dave Hackett

Thursday, January 15, 2004

"Look for the bridge that God's already created"

Touching the world Frontier Mission style

John Buckingham, an activist member of a smaller Presbyterian church in Alabama, knew what he wanted. "Our church needs something that's going to take us outside ourselves, that is going to be so big that when it happens, we'll know it wasn't us. We'll know God was in it."

Buckingham and his church found it in pursuing frontier mission among an unreached people group through Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship.

Read about it in The Presbyterian Outlook's article entitled, "A Miraculous connection - An Alabama church finds its mission in a Cambodian village," by Outlook National Reporter Leslie Scanlon.

Scanlon writes about how a church from Moody, Ala. -- "a pretty typical Presbyterian congregation, fairly small, more one-tone than ethnically diverse -- ended up dedicated heart-and-soul to an impoverished village in Cambodia."

It's a heart-warming story. As those churches who have entered into direct participation in frontier mission readily testify, this frontier mission catalyst will turn your church rightside-up and outside-oriented up no matter what size you are.

[Find the article at]

-- Dave Hackett

Thursday, January 08, 2004

"I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some." (1 Cor 9.22 NRSV)

Two trajectories for crossing over

How is it that some notably "Christian" music artists successfully make the leap, crossing over into mainstream secular popularity? I'm talking about artists such as U2, POD - Payable On Death, Jars of Clay, and Sixpence None The Richer.

I see two trajectories for Christian crossover music; one we can celebrate and the other we mourn. They represent as well two approaches our churches are using to connect with the secular world around us.

Both are crossovers from an exclusively "Christian" audience to a "mainstream" world. But one is creatively employing faith and the other is losing faith.

One crossover trajectory is "successful" (in only the popularity sense) because the artist is dilluting or skirting around a faith-affirming message, focus and intent. That these artists' music is now acceptable is more due to its loss of Christian goals and adoption of the values of its non-Christian audience. They become no different than their new secular counterpart artists.

The other crossover trajectory works because the artist is employing creative analogies, words, and imageries that are not instantly rejected by that secular public audience. The artist has an intentional focus to evoke an interest in Jesus Christ and faith from a secular, mainstream audience. The composition is attractive to the audience by tapping into their perhaps unspoken and unrealized hungers for the satisfaction that only Christ can offer.

These artists are speaking the gospel in the vernacular. They are making the gospel make sense in wonderfully contextualized ways. In other words, they are doing what missionaries do - contextualizing the gospel in order to reach the lost.

Giving up the ghost or ministering with the Spirit? Imaginatively connecting or selling out for popularity? Which trajectory is your church on?

-- Dave Hackett

Friday, January 02, 2004

From the Presbyterian Outlook

Presbyterians challenged to do mission in ways that relate to world realities

Leslie Scanlon of The Presbyterian Outlook has written an outstanding article on mission called "Presbyterians challenged to do mission in ways that relate to world realities". I encourage you to read it. She's reviewing many of the missional points raised by Ray Bakke in his talks to the Association of Presbyterian Mission Pastors that met recently in Louisville.

-- Dave Hackett