Hope for a Changing World.
Grace Ji-Sun Kim /
Jann Aldredge-Clanton, Eds.
Paperback: Judson Press. 2017
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Reviewed by Kevin Book-Satterlee
One of the most important starting points for bringing differing people together is being open with one’s own story and understanding of their story. The act of being self-reflective auto-locates a person within their social imaginary. If anything is taken from Kim and Aldredge-Clanton’s book, Intercultural Ministry: Hope for a Changing World, it is the persistence of self-reflexivity as a foundation for bringing people together. Nearly every case study in the book begins their success and recovers from their failures by fostering a place of telling and admitting their story; an open space for people to participate, dialogue, and forge paths of coming together where they might not have before. Each and every author demonstrate a commitment to forming an intercultural, inclusive faith community, and the case studies within this book can serve as encouraging examples for both the novice and the experienced embarking upon this path. The book is as confessional as it is encouraging.
In the spirit of the book, I must recognize my own social imaginary . I am a white, anglo-saxon protestant, born and raised in one of the wealthiest areas of the world. Despite the family that I was born into, I watched as our technological community grew in cultural diversity. I came to my own faith as an Evangelical Christian by the influence of second-generation Taiwanese-Americans and second-generation Korean-Americans. My first faith expressions were surrounded by contextual meanings that I only recognized upon visiting my friends’ homes, and I am grateful to have come into my own faith through such a diverse backdoor. I applaud Kim and Aldredge-Clanton’s edited text and all their authors because I have been deeply formed to experience God in contexts and sub-cultures that I would not naturally call my own.
Kim and Aldredge-Clanton’s edited work brings story after story of those who truly struggle with the day to day of being an intercultural church, reframing the narratives, and particularly confronting the dominant narratives. The practical realities, the heart-breaking stories, and the unwavering hope from these cases is as joyous as it is challenging. Despite where one is on the authority of scripture, this book is a worth-while and relatively easy read that will challenge the way one even looks at intercultural church; even and maybe especially for those who find themselves in a budding or seeking to form an intercultural church.
While all the case studies address churches within the United States, having lived in the heart of Mexico City for a number of years, and living now in continental Europe, it is quite evident that intercultural ministry has its place well beyond the USA. Urban immigrants from indigenous tribes and their children find themselves in new realities, with a 1.5 generation stuck as outsiders in their city as well as when the go to their cultural festivals in the mountains. The Church may be one of the key driving social forces to invite these families in, not on their nationalistic dominant culture and power, but in intentional listening and connecting in the participation of an intercultural church. As an Evangelical in a predominantly Roman Catholic country, I have noticed that at least half of the Evangelical population have come from radically different contexts in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere. In a continent wrestling with neo-nationalism, and in some cases neo-fascism, the Church has one of the most prophetic-by-example opportunities for true multi- and inter-culturalism. Intercultural Ministry is a good volume, but in its own spirit, ought to spur the compilation of another volume, this time from multicultural experiences throughout the globe.
Where Intercultural Ministry is prophetic in reconciliation and the commitment, despite the challenges, to bring people together, it would be remiss of me to wholeheartedly agree with the total inclusion that most of the studies in this book promote. There is no doubt that all the authors draw on the Bible for inspiration, and there is no doubt the Bible requires reconciliation and radical inclusion. There is ample scriptural evidence for this. However Intercultural Ministry also tends to be uncritical of the contemporary trends of unchecked tolerance over and against scripture, even seeking to reinterpret scripture in order to fit this contemporary meta-narrative. In my opinion, the hermeneutic presented in many of the chapters of this book is reversed. Where the intentions are laudable, by reversing the priority of scripture, they limit the true impact of Christian reconciliation and inclusion. My criticism stems directly from my own Evangelical location in a social imaginary. So the reader of this review may take it or leave it.
Forming an intercultural work seems to take on a lot of the characteristics necessary in community organizing and conflict resolution. Few pastors are trained in theological education from these perspectives. This book should serve as a case-based tool for every church and seminary to challenge how inclusive they really are and the way they are going about it. No two stories are alike in this work, but no one story really stands out as the exemplary model. Yet, the collection of them included in this book requires people to challenge their intercultural self-reflexivity. As such, I would recommend this text to any church or organization. It may not be a seminal book in my library, nor do I agree with all the outcomes discussed in the book, but as a way to challenge myself and those in my community, this text will rarely be out of arm’s reach.
Kevin Book-Satterlee serves as a missionary in an intercultural team in Southern Spain and is working towards a PhD in Theological Education from South African Theological Seminary.