Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership


James E. Plueddemann.  2009.  Leading Across Cultures:  Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

As you exit the parking lot in my home church, a sign reads: you are now entering the mission field.   Few years back on a Sunday morning Evangelist Hussain Andaryas ( cited the Great Commission in Matthew 28 and said:  because you would not go across the seas to bring Christ to your brothers and sisters, God has given you a second chance.  Now, they live across the street from you.  Now, will you go?  Each of us, if we lead at all, must now lead across cultures.


In his book, Leading Across Cultures, James Plueddemann cites Geert Hofstede and likens leadership like learning to play an instrument and likens leadership across cultures as like learning to play several instruments (11).  For Plueddemann:  A missionary is anyone, from any country, who leaves home in order to proclaim the gospel, usually in another culture (13).  For Plueddemann, a Christian leader focuses, harmonizes, and enhances the gifts of others for their own growth while cultivating the kingdom of God (15).

From Everywhere to Everywhere

Plueddemann summarizes the challenges of multicultural leadership with a slogan—from everywhere to everywhere (25).  Mission challenges include short-term missions, church-to-church partnerships, leadership development strategies, and working under leadership of another culture (25-27).  Short-term missions, for example, imply that missions are undertaken with little or no experience with either missions or the cultures involved.  Clashes in culture are often therefore immediate and unexpected.  For example, the American assumption of “equal partners” is foreign in most of the rest of the world where the usual assumption is a senior and a junior partner (26).

Cycle of World Missions

Plueddemann envisions a cycle of world missions composed of 5 steps:

  1. Pre-evangelism,
  2. Evangelism,
  3. Church planting and nurture,
  4. Leadership development, and
  5. Partnership (48).

For Plueddemann, pre-evangelism involves both caring for people’s physical needs and their eternal needs through medical help, humanitarian relief, schools and development programs (51). Evangelism Is bringing people to Jesus and sharing the gospel:  that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3-4 ESV; 52).  In discussing the need to plant churches, he writes:  Evangelism without discipleship is like giving birth and then leaving the baby in a dumpster.  Newborns can’t live more than a few hours without the help of a family (53).

Role of Leadership Training

On leadership, Plueddemann observes that:  Jesus taught and healed the sick, but his lasting ministry came from the training of the 12 disciples.  Leadership development was also at the core of Paul’s evangelism (55).  Leadership development naturally leads to partnership because Plueddemann observes:  mature churches are characterized as self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing (56).  It is indeed ironic (and a bit embarrassing) to see former mission partners now sending missionaries to North America.

Dr. James E. Plueddemann  is Professor of Mission and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School [1] in Deerfield, Illinois just outside Chicago. Leading Across Cultures is written in 12 chapters divided into 4 parts, including:

  1. Multicultural Leadership in the Worldwide Church,
  2. Leadership and Culture,
  3. Contextualizing Leadership, and
  4. Global Leadership in Practice.

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue (7-8).

Clearly, there is not time to summarize all that Plueddemann has written.  However, I will never forget his comments specifically about culture.  He defines two concepts—context and power distance—which bear summarizing.

High and Low Context Cultures

Citing Edward Hall’s book, Beyond Culture (New York: Anchor Books,1976), Plueddeman high-context and low-context cultures.  In a high-context culture, information is passed informally with very little being communicated through formal speech.  What is important are the atmosphere of the room, the sounds, smells, facial expressions, and body language.  This is the norm in Africa, Asia, South America, and the Middle East.  In low-context cultures the opposite is true.  People pay attention to what is explicitly said.  For example, people remember ideas, but forget who said them.  Highly expressive forms of speech are valued in high-context cultures and viewed with skepticism in low-context cultures (78-79).  In low-context cultures, speaking the truth face-to-face is valued; in high-context cultures, relationships are more important and difficult conversations take place through intermediaries (81).

Power Distance

Leadership always involves use of power so attitudes about power are culturally important.   Plueddemann cites a study by Robert House (and others) called Culture, Leadership, and Organizations:  The GLOBE Study of 62 Societies (London: SAGE Publications, 2004) which defines power distance as: the degree to which members of an organization expect and agree that power should be shared unequally (94).  In a high-power distance culture, everyone agrees that leaders should have more authority, respect, and status symbols (fancy cars, expensive clothes, and so on).  In low-power distance cultures, leadership is more participatory and leaders are expected to act like a peer and have a minimum number of perks (95).

Attitudes about the role of context and power distance can be dramatically different not only internationally, but between ethnic and age groups within a society.  This is, in part, why pastors are sensitive to the style of dress and musical preferences when speaking at new churches.


Plueddemann’s writing on leadership in a cross-cultural setting is insightful.  His writing is filled with personal accounts, particularly focused on his time as a missionary in Nigeria.  However, keep in mind that he writes primarily for the seminary student and professional missionary.  The growth of North America as a mission field, however, widens the number of professionals who need to take his counsel.


Plueddemann: Cross-Cultural Leadership

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Graham Shares his Journey


Billy Graham.  2013.  The Reason for My Hope:  Salvation.  Nashville:  W. Publishing Group (Thomas Nelson).

Reviewed by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Billy Graham celebrated his 95th birthday on November 7, 2013 with a new book: The Reason for My Hope.  He writes to summarize the Good News that he preached during his ministry (vii).


Graham organized his book into eight chapters.  The chapter titles are instructive because each chapter is well-named and self-contained.  The titles are:  Rescued for Something, The Great Redemption, Sin is In, The Price of Victory, Where is Jesus?, Defining Christianity in a Designer World, No Hope of Happy Hour in Hell, and He is Coming Back.  Before these eight chapters is an introduction focused on hope and after them is an afterword, Living Life with Hope.  The afterword talks about how to find Christ in six steps and includes a believer’s prayer.

Graham’s Distinctive Style

Graham’s writing style is distinctive.  As a master of collage, Graham reads the times through highly personal stories of individuals that are like Norman Rockwell paintings that spring to life.  In chapter one, for example, Graham takes us aboard the cruise ship, Costa Concordia, as it runs aground off the Italian coast.  In an age of seemingly miraculous technology, Graham questions how the crew could make such simple mistakes and, having made them, could be so indifferent to the safety of passengers under their care (11).  As the chapter draws to a close, Graham observes:  when we are rescued from something, we also saved for something.  In the words of former president, Ronald Reagan, after the assassination attempt on his life—I believe God spared me for a purpose (12).  Indeed.  We yearn to learn that purpose.

Observations on Culture

Graham’s  comments about the dark side of postmodern culture are particularly pointed.  Popular music, art, and film are infatuated with evil.  The increasingly frequent occurrence of mass shootings, such as during the 2012  Dark Knight showing in Aurora, Colorado, almost panders to this infatuation (158).  If God was willing to flood the earth in the time of Noah, exactly how can this generation avoid judgment when Christ returns? (168).  In some sense, we are judged by our own indifference.  Graham helps us taste, touch, and see our need for salvation in each of these accounts.

How to Evangelize

Part of the My Hope with Billy Graham campaign is to teach Christians how to assist seekers in coming to faith.  Graham’s six steps to finding Christ include a series of musts–[you must] Be convinced that you need him, Understand the message of the cross, Count the cost, Confess Jesus Christ as Lord of your life, Be willing for God to change your life, and Desire nourishment from God (170-182).   In the words of the Apostle Paul:  everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:13 ESV).

Graham as Innovator

To understand Graham’s success as a writer and as an evangelist, one needs to understand that he was one of the first evangelists to understand how truly to engage the culture and present the Gospel with multi-media.  His use of collage in writing, for example, shares a lot in common with the use of vignettes in a mini-series.  Collage appears simple, but its construction is highly complex.

Graham’s writing is very engaging. The Reason for My Hope is classic Graham.

Graham Shares his Journey

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Monday Monologues: More Caught than Taught, June 25, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W. Hiemstra,
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I share a sermon, More Caught than Taught, translated from the Spanish (Más Atrapado Que Enseñado)

To listen, click on the link below.

After listening, please click here to take a brief listener survey (10 questions).

Monday Monologues: More Caught than Taught, June 25, 2018 (podcast)

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Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Sermon: More Caught than Taught

Stephen W. Hiemstra,
Stephen W. Hiemstra, 2017

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Sermon presented in Spanish at El Shadai, Manassas, Virginia, June 21, 2018. (Sermón: Más Atrapado Que Enseñado)


Good evening. For those who do not know me, my name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and Christian author. My wife, Maryam, and I live in Centreville, Virginia and we have three grown children.

Today we continue our study about co-workers in evangelism. We are blessed to be a blessing to others. And as Christians we know that we can best bless others when we share the Gospel through our daily lives.


Let’s pray.

Almighty Father:

We praise you for creating us in your image and loving us as your children. Be especially present with us in this time and place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, bless our praise and send your Holy Spirit ahead of us as we extend your light in the Georgetown South Community. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Today’s scripture lesson comes from the Book of Genesis 12:1-3. Hear the word of the Lord:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


Which of you have had mysterious problems with your computer or, perhaps, your telephone?

This past week as I was writing this sermon, my system began, without any input on my part, to use a different keyboard, the international standard, ISO, when in the USA the ANSI standard is normally used. After three or four hours of research, I could not correct the problem. It is difficult to change the default configuration of this system because at this point I am not an expert in this field.

Because we have complex personalities, we also have default configurations. (2X) It is difficult to change them, even when we do not want to accept our default configurations. Our default configurations consist of our daily habits and hopefully of our Sunday habits (Smith).

In the writing of the Apostle Paul, this is the difference between the new person in Christ and the old person of the fleshly nature. (2 Cor 5:17) Our default configuration is exactly the same concept as Paul’s old person of nature. This was the source of much pain for Paul, as he wrote: Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” (Rom 7:20 ESV) But, our hope arise because we were created in the image of God and want to become like God in Jesus Christ, our role model.

Today’s Scripture

We are blessed to bless others (2X, McDonald)

We discover this concept of blessings in the covenant of Abram and God in Genesis 12:1-3. This covenant is interesting because Abram needed to leave his family, his tribe, and his country—all the sources of security—at a time when the world was very dangerous. And for the most part, Abram never experienced the promises of God during his life. (2X) He traveled around the Promised Land, observed it, and was buried there. It is like being promised a barbecue to receive only the sweet aroma of it. Yet, “he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6 ESV) We receive the same promises of God through Abram and we need to bless others, exactly the same as Abram.

How do we know this? We know it because we are created in the image of God and Christ has told us: As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (2X; John 20:21 ESV)

We are blessed to bless others (2X)

More Observations

For many years it has been said that Christianity is more caught than taught (2X). At lease three stories make this point.

The first story concerns the first letter of Peter, where the most famously quoted verse is: always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15 ESV) The thing is that the rest of the book focuses on lifestyle evangelism, as it says.

“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:12 ESV)

Works like hospitality speak directly to the heart without words. As you know, works speak louder than words alone. (2X)

The second story arose in the fourth century when we see that Saint Patrick was famous as the first successful evangelist in Ireland. His success was not anticipated because Patrick, as a teenager sixteen year old, was kidnapped by Irish pirates and sold as a slave in Ireland. For the next six years he worked as a slave caring for his master’s cattle in the Irish wilderness. Later, he escaped and traveled abroad to study to become a priest. Much later, he returned to Ireland as the church’s first missionary bishop and evangelized the Irish out of love for them. His love of the Irish was obvious and his evangelism focused on offering hospitality. In the end, Patrick and his companions planted more than 700 churches in Ireland (Hunter 2000, 13-23).

The third story is more recent. In the city of Rio de Janeiro  there are many young people caught up in the gangs of the drug culture. In Brazil they call young people with mixed blood (blacks and Indians) as the “killable people.” Many of them die from the violence, but those that survive and are incarcerated by the police also don’t have much hope. In the jails, the police do not feed them or offer medical care. For the most part, the gangs control daily life in the prisons. In this hellish world, there are few visitors, not even Christians, but those that come are mostly Pentecostals who provide food, medicine, and worship services. As a consequence, the gangs respect the Pentevcostals, providing security for their services and allowing young people who really come to Christ to leave the gangs (2X; Johnson)—the only option other than a body bag.

As we have seen, hospitality can be more than just food. In these stories, it can be a faith journey.


Finally, we are blessed to be a blessing to others. Because our blessing is Christ Jesus, when we share the evangelism in our daily life, we bless others most effectively. After all, the Gospel is more caught than taught.


Let’s pray.

Holy Father,

Thank you for your forgiveness and your presence in our daily lives. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us strength for life and the wisdom to share your living Gospel. In the precious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Hunter, George G. III. 2000. The Celtic Way of Evangelism: How Christianity Can Reach the West…Again. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Johnson, Andrew. 2017. If I Give My Soul: Faith Behind Bars in Rio de Janeiro. New York: Oxford. (Review)

Suzanne McDonald. 2010. Re-Imaging Election: Divine Election as Representing God to Others & Others to God. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. (Review)

Smith, James K. A. 2016. You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, Grand Rapids: Brazos Press. (review part 1;  part 2 ).

Sermon: More Caught than Taught

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Blackaby Expects Answers to Prayer 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Prayer for Evangelists

Photo of Stephen W. Hiemstra
Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father,

I pray for evangelists whose words of faith that can be shared, heard, and responded to.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on all those that have yet to hear your name

or have yet to listen to your voice

or have yet to open up their hearts.

Be especially present with those whose ears have been stopped.

Soften their hearts and our own.

May your voice be heard even as we mumble incoherently to one another.

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


Prayer for Evangelists

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End Prayer Shaming

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

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Evangelist’s Prayer

Billy GrahamBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Almighty Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit,

We give thanks that you bless us in so many ways—with your word and your presence, with family, good health, and our many needs. May we model your mercy by blessing those around us, that your love would indeed be multiplied over and over again. Go with us now as we speak into the lives of those around us in word and in deed, especially in this Advent season. Grant us strength for the day; grace for those we meet; and peace. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Evangelist’s Prayer

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Packer Explains God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

J_I_Packer_review_06182016J. I. Packer. 2008. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Orig Pub 1961). Downers Grove: IVP Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time of spiritual lethargy, which is often rightly equated with laziness. In part, this lethargy is the result of philosophical postmodernism that winsomely accepts ideas in obvious tension. Tension arises when my reality and your reality differ, but rather than work out the differences we just ignore the tension, as if it would just go away. But when the subject turns to God, this tension will not simply go away because God’s salvation is not defined by our convenient, custom realities; God defines the one reality that matters because he created it. If we are going to understand God’s reality, then we need to study theology.

In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer addresses the question: “if God is in control, why should we do anything at all?” (8) Packer answers the question by first observing that the apparent contradiction between divine sovereignty and human response is just that “an appearance of contradiction” (24), not a real contradiction, which arises because God is both king and judge (27). As king, God makes the rules; as judge, he holds us accountable. Packer writes:

“What the objector has to learn is that he, a creature and a sinner, has no right whatsoever to find fault with the revealed ways of God. Creatures are not entitled to register complaints about their Creator.” (28)

Because we are created by God as moral agents, we must not be tempted neither to believe that we alone are responsible for the Gospel’s effectiveness nor that God will sovereignly bring the Gospel to everyone on his own (30-40).

Packer sees evangelism as “to present Christ Jesus to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come” (44) to him in faith and as having only two motives—the love of God and the love of mankind (74).

The presentation of the Gospel message, according to Packer, has 4 parts: it is a message about God, sin, Christ, and a summons to faith and repentance (60-71).  Of course, the details here matter. For example, Packer see the true conviction of sin as having 3 aspects:

  1. Awareness of a wrong relationship with God;
  2. Conviction of sins always includes conviction of particular sins.
  3. Awareness of our sinfulness—complete corruption and perversity in God’s sight. (64-65)

Another obvious detail is that the person of Christ and his divine work should not be separated (66-67).

At the time of publication, J.I. Packer was a professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) and is best known for his book, Knowing God.  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is written in 4 chapters:

  1. Divine Sovereignty.
  2. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.
  3. Evangelism.
  4. Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism.

These chapters are preceded by a foreword, preface, and introduction.

One of the more memorable points that Packer makes, is also one of his first:

“…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the lordship of his God” (16).

Yes, yes, yes! Unfortunately, not everyone prays and prayer can be difficult in the absence of a clear theology to lead us. In a period of spiritual lethargy, when theology is held in contempt, this can clearly be a challenge.

As here in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer is distinguished by his clear exposition of biblical truth. Oftentimes, his clarity makes the Gospel seem simpler than the many theological controversies would lead us to believe—thank goodness.


Packer, J.I. 1993. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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3 Reasons that Christian Apologetics and Spirituality Should not be Separated

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Interviewers love experts. Specialists dominate public discourse. Problems arise when one field depends heavily on another and experts have to depart from their expertise. The fields of Christian apologetics and spirituality suffer from this problem.

Christian apologetics focuses on defending the truth claims of Christianity[1] while spirituality focuses on living them out[2]. Balance between these two fields is clearly needed in a world of imperfect information because learning more about the truth claims of Christianity informs how they are lived out and vice versa. Thus, treating either field independently of the other renders the spirituality dead and the apologetics impractical.

At least three reasons can be cited for why apologetics and spirituality should be closely linked.

The first reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises in the context of the apologist’s favorite Bible verse fragment:

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you…” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV)

The context of this fragment—in fact, the entire book of 1 Peter—is one of “lifestyle evangelism” in the midst of persecution. For example, we read:

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy … [fragment] … having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” (1 Peter 3:13-16)

In other words, the Apostle Peter says to shame your tormentors with your godly lifestyle!  We to offer a verbal defense only in the context of an authentic Christian lifestyle (spirituality).

The second reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises because their separation affects a division between heart (spirituality) and mind (apologetics)—an example of Greek dualism. The Bible teaches that heart and mind cannot be separated, in part, because God created them both just like God created the earth and heaven (Genesis 1:1). Jesus’ bodily resurrection also speaks to the unity of the body (heart) and spirit (mind; e.g. Luke 24:36-43).

The need for unity of heart and mind has been debated throughout church history.  For example, Pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards (2009, 13)—when writing in 1746 about the effects of the Great Awakening—noted that both head and heart were necessary for effective discipling. More recently, Matthew Elliott has argued that God of the Bible is an emotionally stable deity and consistently expresses emotions in keeping with his character. This is unlike other deities in the ancient world who were typically characterized as selfish and capacious in dealing with humans[1]. In other words, God displays emotions consistent with his thinking more frequently than we do with ours!

The third reason for unity of apologetics and spirituality arises from the observation that separation leads to serious lifestyle problems. If our spirituality is not informed by our thinking, then we will be more likely to act solely on emotions—doing what feels good.

Working as a chaplain intern in a Washington hospital in 2011 and 2012, I noticed a disturbing trend among patients. More than half of all patients admitted to the emergency room had problems stemming from relational problems and poor life-style choices[2]. Overweight patients came in with diabetes, asthma, joint problems, and cardiac problems. Men passed out on the street from excessive drinking or other drug abuses. Young men and women fearful of contracting AIDS came in to be tested. These trends were even more pronounced among psyche patients.

We should expect these patient outcomes—doing what feels good comes naturally. The standard behavioral learning model teaches that even an amoeba will response to a positive stimulus by repeating the behavior that evoked the positive stimulus and doing less of the behavior associated with a negative stimulus. When the standard behavioral model breaks down, as it does in most moral dilemmas, then disaster directly follows. For example, this is the story of many addictions.[3] In this respect, the Apostle Paul lamented:  “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out” (Romans 7:18).

Knowing that apologetics and spirituality inform each other, are treated as part of a unified whole in the Bible, and serve to strengthen our moral resolve in a world of temptations, Christians and theologians need to reflect on how this integration of heart and mind can be strengthened both in theory and in practice. Let’s start today.


Chan, Simon.1998. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove: IVP Academic.

Cross, John G. and Melvin J. Guyer. 1980. Social Traps.  Ann Arbor:  University of Michigan Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 2009. The Religious Affections (orig pub 1746). Vancouver:  Eremitical Press.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament.  Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional.

Sproul, R.C. 2003. Defending Your Faith: An Introduction to Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway Books.


[1] “The term apologetics comes from the Greek word apologia, which literally means ‘a reasoned statement or a verbal defense.’” (Sproul 203,13).

[2] “Generally,spirituality refers to the kind of life that is formed by a particular type of spiritual theology. Spirituality is the lived reality, whereas spiritual theology is the systematic reflection and formalization of that reality.” (Chan 1998,16).

[3] Elliott distinguishes 2 theories of emotions:  the cognitive theory and the non-cognitive theory. The cognitive theory of emotions argues that “reason and emotion are interdependent” (47) while the non-cognitive theories promote the separation of reason and emotion (46). In other words, the cognitive theory states that we get emotional about the things that we believe strongly. Our emotions are neither random nor unexplained—they are not mere physiology. Elliott writes: “if the cognitive theory is correct, emotions become an integral part of our reason and our ethics” (53-54) informing and reinforcing moral behavior. Review at: (

[4] Speaking later with the head surgeon, he corrected my observation.  He reported that not half the patients but three-quarters of them were admitted with relational problems and poor lifestyle choices.

[5] Behavioral psychologists are well aware of this moral dilemma.  See, for example, Cross and Guyer (1980).  Review at: (


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Schnabel: Treat Missions as a Hermeneutic

Schnabel_vol_1_03162015Eckhard J. Schnabel. 2004. Early Christian Mission: Jesus and the Twelve: Volume One.  Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press. Review By Stephen W. Hiemstra Evangelism is one of the fault-lines in the postmodern church. Some critics see evangelism as cultural imperialism; most just neglect it. What was the role of evangelism and missions in the early church? In his book, Early Christian Mission, Eckhard Schnabel makes an audacious claim: the bible is a missionary document written by missionaries. He writes: “The fact that it is not possible to find a defined concept of ‘missions’ in the New Testament (NT) does not alter the fact that early Christianity was controlled by the missionary task in their entire existence and in all their activities…The body of literature on the early Christian mission is not large. This is true even for Paul’s missionary activity—a fact that may be traced back to the conviction that ‘Paul is important for us today as a theologian’ while being ‘primarily a missionary for the early church.’” (5-6) The NT focus on missions runs much deeper than a few obvious scriptural references, like the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20[1] or Acts 1:6-8[2].  Schnabel writes: “The first Christian missionary was not Paul, but Peter, and Peter would not have preached a ‘missionary’ sermon at Pentecost if he had not been a student of Jesus for three years” (3). If the Bible, particularly the NT, has a missional intent, then the interpretation rendered should simplify the text, much like the Copernican Revolution simplified the mathematics of planetary motion [3]. Schnabel defines missions as: “…the activity of a community of faith that distinguishes itself from its environment in terms of both religious belief (theology) and social behavior (ethics), that is convinced of the truth claims of its faith, and that actively works to win other people to the content of faith and to the way of life of whose true and necessity the members of that community of convinced.” (11)[4] The core missionary intent is evident, for example, in Jesus calling his followers to be “fishers of people” and are referred to as “Apostles” which means: “envoys sent by the risen Jesus Christ to proclaim the good news.” (10-12) Jesus describes his own mission when approached by Syrophoenician woman:[5]  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 15:24 ESV)[6]  Jesus saw himself as a missionary primarily to Israel, but mandate for disciples was to:  “be my [Jesus’] witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8 ESV)  Still, because he was asked, Jesus healed the woman’s daughter (207). If evangelism is a core concept for Christ and his disciples, then clearly a Christological view of the Old Testament (OT) must also have a missional intent. The need arises out of sin—some turn to God and some do not—those that turn to God need to make others aware of their shortcoming when faced with judgment.  Schnabel sees God’s blessing of Abraham as a key to understanding missions in the OT: “Now the LORD said to Abram, Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:1-3 ESV) Abraham is blessed to be blessing to others (61-62) [7]. Did the Nation of Israel lean into this idea of being a blessing to the nations around them? For the most part, no. The Prophet Jonah is instructive. God sends Jonah to preach to the Ninevites and he refuses; nevertheless, after being swallowed by whale, Jonah relents.  He  goes to Nineveh, prophesies their destruction, and the Ninevites turn to God (86-87). Jonah is neither surprised nor happy about this outcome (Jonah 4:1). Dr Schnabel was one of my New Testament professors at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  He taught previously at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago, Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Phillippines, and Freien Theologischesn Akademice in Giessen, Germany.   He writes in 2 volumes designed as comprehensive references.  The subtitle for the first volume is—Jesus and the Twelve (pages 1 to 913)—while the subtitle for the second volume is—Paul and the Early Church (pages 920 to 1928).  Volume 1 divides into 4 parts:
  1. Promise—Israel’s Eschatological Expectations and Jewish Expansion in the Second Temple period.
  2. Fulfillment—The Mission of Jesus.
  3. Beginnings—The Mission of the Apostles in Jerusalem.
  4. Exodus—The Mission of the Twelve from Jerusalem to the Ends of the Earth.
These chapters are preceded by an introduction along with an outline, preface, abbreviations, and lists of maps and figures.  Subject, author, and ancient text indices are found at the end of volume 2 along with an exhaustive bibliography. The distinctiveness of Schnabel’s writing arises in the way that he systematically describes events, towns and regions, chronological issues, and persons (15).  In this way he teases out details that would not appear in a less comprehensive treatment.  He takes advantage of his intimate knowledge of extra-biblical writing, map making, archaeology, and business practices from the first century to provide a fresh look at NT evangelism.  As such, this book is more than a good literary or exegetical study. This could be described as a work in biblical theology, meaning that the entire counsel of scripture is consulted and expanded upon through extra-biblical research. It is hard to summarize a reference with the scope of Schnabel work.  Still, the merit of his work is beyond question—Scot McKnight aptly describes it as a masterpiece.  Schnabel’s  Early Christian Mission convinced me that missions is central to the work of the church and to interpreting scripture [7].  This work belongs in every seminary library and missions professionals will want to be aware of its contents. [1]“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20 ESV)  A parallel statement in John is much more comprehensive—“Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21 ESV)—even though it is often ignored. [2]“So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8 ESV) [3]In like manner, if the Christian worldview is true, it should simplify a complex life; it is not a simpleton’s lifestyle. [4]This is an interesting definition. If X and Y, then Z. Conversely, if Z, then X and Y must be true. In plain English, missions is a test of: having a different theology and lifestyle, and really believing it. Ouch, if you don’t and/or if you won’t! [5] Also: Mark 7:26. [6] “but he said to them, I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose. And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.” (Luke 4:43-44 ESV) [7] When I sign copies of A Christian Guide to Spirituality (, I normally paraphrase the blessing of Abraham—an echo and reminder of my study of Early Christian Mission.

Schnabel: Treat Missions as a Hermeneutic

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A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith

King Tomislav
King Tomislav, Zagreb, Croatia

By Thomas Smith

Our guest blogger this week is Pastor Thomas Smith who works with his family as a missionary to the reformed churches in Croatia, a part of the former communist country of Yugoslavia.

A New Life in an Old Land

Sparkling crystal clean water along pristine beaches on hundreds of islands and inlets loom large on the tourist promotions for Croatia.  Rightly so, Croatia’s Dalmatian and Istrian regions really are spectacular.  If you have not yet visited Croatia, you should. Visiting a country like Croatia for vacation is one thing, living and working here year round is a different experience.

Over much of the past two years, I have lived in Zagreb, the capital city of Croatia where I have been a theology lecturer and helper to a Protestant church.  This is the first time I have lived outside the United States.  I am still adjusting to the culture and rhythm of life here.


Croatian culture puts more value on family, traditions, and relationships than does American culture.  While Croatians value convenience, pragmatism, efficiency, and quality, they do not rate these quite as highly as Americans.  So as an American living here, I find myself feeling frustrated at times with products, services and rules because they are different than in America.  So, I am learning to change my expectations and my ways of thinking and doing.

I remind myself that I want to be here, I am called to be here to help the evangelical community in general and the Protestant Reformed Christian Church ( in particular.  The Protestant community is small, less than one percent.  Roman Catholicism is woven into the fabric of society.

Identity Issues

Here church membership is about identity. Church membership is not about being a disciple of Christ. If you are Orthodox, then you must be Serbian. Or if you are Muslim, then you must be a Bosnian. Croats are Catholic. But, Protestants are just odd and don’t fit any hole–it would better if you were an atheist.

The Croatian people are wonderful friends.  They are kind, helpful, generous and hardworking.  Most work at their jobs and are paid very little. The transition from communism to capitalism has been rough and inhumane.  My friends tell me life under Tito’s communism was better than conditions today.

While there is plenty of despair to go around, the people are great and love life. They love children, dogs, a good cup of coffee, conversation, and a good story. They appreciate home-made food, fine wine, music, and dance.  Enjoying the same things, I feel at home here. Like death and taxes, frustration and bureaucracy are unavoidable no matter where you live.

Croatian History

Croatians are primarily a Slavic people, but through the centuries they have absorbed the Illyrians, Romans, Celts, Germans, and other ethnicities.  The Slavic tribes came to this part of Europe in the early 600’s.  The first united kingdom arrived in 925 AD, but the royal line died out by 1100 AD.  They later merged their kingdom with Hungary until the 1500’s when they joined the Austro-Hungarian Empire to avoid being overrun by the Turks.


During the 1500’s Luther’s ideas about reforming the Roman Catholic church across Europe because of Gutenberg’s printing press.  The Protestant Reformation came to the edges of the country. In this time period, Croatia was a battleground between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Turkish Empire.  Due to the military and political situation, the Protestant Reformation was unable to penetrate Croatia. During the 16th and 17th centuries diffe

rent Popes assembled Catholic nations to battle the Ottoman Turks and, as a consequence, the Croatians saw the Vatican as their best defender and friend.  Catholicism became an important part of their identity and Croatians remained loyal to the Roman church. The Counter-Reformation led by the Jesuits effectively reduced and eliminated the Protestant presence.

Reformation in Croatia

Nevertheless, during the Reformation in eastern Croatia a priest named Michael Starin embraced Luther’s ideas. He introduced people to Christ; spread the idea that the Bible alone is the highest authority in the church; and proclaimed “Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” in the region.  A total of 130 parishes converted.  For example, in the village of Tordinci, a Protestant church was created in 1551 and remains active today–despite the Counter Reformation and persecution–463 years later!  In 2001, it voted to leave the Reformed Calvinist Church (which is mostly Hungarian), along with some other parishes.

Friends in Christ

The pastor at Tordinci, Dr. Jasmin Milic, is a close friend and he invited me to join him as a church planter in Zagreb. Much like Paul’s vision of the Macedonian begging him to “come over … and help us” (Acts 16:9), I prayed and felt God’s call to join this church.  In 2011 and 2012, I transitioned from being a Pennsylvania pastor to working as an evangelist inside the church in Croatia.

My task here is to preach, teach and do outreach, but I also mentor young church leaders and teach seminary classes.  Friends, family and churches in America feel called to support my family and work through contributions to the International Theological Education Ministry (ITEM).  As our expenses grow and our savings shrink, new partners in Christ step forward to support my wife and I in this work.  The crystal clear waters of the Adriatic remind me of the waters flowing from the throne of God (Revelation 22:1).  Here is the crystal sea and before it are every tongue, tribe, and nation worshiping the Lord!  The Lord beckons:  come to Croatia; see the crystal sea; make disciples; join the new life in Christ!

Tom and Anna Smith
Tom and Ana Smith


Rev. Thomas J. Smith grew up in York, PA.  A graduate of Penn State University and Covenant Theological Seminary, he has been an ordained Teaching Elder in the Presbyterian Church in America since 2004.  He is married to Ana with whom he has three daughters, Katherine, Kristina, and Evelyn.  Tom and his family have been living and working in Croatia since 2012.

Financial contributions (designated for Tom Smith) may be sent to ITEM, Inc., P.O. Box 31456, St. Louis, MO 63131-0456  or through PayPal at .

A New Life in an Old Land by Thomas Smith

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