Lee Irons’s Greek NT Syntax Guide, Reviewed

One of my favorite seminary classes was a Greek exegesis course in the book of Hebrews. The Greek of that book is difficult! Hebrews can even be a challenging read in English translation.

Part of our required assignment was to keep a translation and exegesis notebook, translating much of the book verse-by-verse, with our own comments on the vocabulary, grammar, and theology.

In those days Charles Lee Irons had a boatload of free PDFs on his Website, syntax guides for each book of the Greek New Testament. I printed out his Hebrews guide and kept it close at hand.

Now, some years later, Irons has turned his helpful work into a full book: A Syntax Guide for Readers of the Greek New Testament (Kregel, 2016).

This new resource is beautifully produced:

 

 

Irons’s goal is to help the reader toward fluid reading of the Greek New Testament: “to assist readers of the Greek New Testament by providing brief explanations of intermediate and advanced syntactical features of the Greek text.” The focus is on grammar and how words work together, rather than vocabulary helps for individual words per se.

In addition, should a sentence in the GNT lose the reader due to length, word order, or idiom, Irons’s guide provides the needed translation. Here’s an example:

 

 

Irons has created the book to be used in tandem with a reader’s GNT (see here or here), or with Kregel’s excellent New Reader’s Lexicon of the GNT.

The book’s size and production is such that it fits right with other GNTs:

 

 

 

 

Here it is next to a larger Reader’s GNT:

 

 

The binding appears to be sewn. This is as hoped for with a book that a reader might want to use for many years.

 

 

One pleasant surprise is how often Irons details Hebraisms and keeps an eye on the Septuagint and its influence on the GNT. He does that right from the beginning, in fact, as with this entry for Matthew 1:2

1:2 | Ἀβραὰμ ἐγέννησεν τὸν Ἰσαάκ = LXX 1 Chron 1:34 – note the unexpected definite article τόν before the name of the person begotten, and so throughout vv. 2–16. Formula used in the LXX genealogies: x ἐγέννησεν τὸν y (see LXX Gen 5:6 ; 10:8 ; 1 Chron 2:10ff)

Here is a full sample page:

 

 

It is difficult to imagine an intermediate Greek reader working through the New Testament with just a Greek text and this book… as the author notes, the Syntax Guide is best used with a Reader’s GNT where infrequently occurring vocabulary is already glossed. And of course a book of this brevity will (inevitably) include grammatical matters that Irons does not comment on—it covers fewer words and phrases, for example, than “Max and Mary” (A Grammatical Analysis of the Greek New Testament).

But in the dozens of Greek chapters I read with just a Reader’s GNT and Irons’s book at hand, there were very few times when I had a grammatical question Irons didn’t treat.

You can check out a longer excerpt of the book here. And you can purchase it at Amazon here or through Kregel here.

 


 

Thanks to Kregel for the review copy, given for the purposes of this write-up, but with no expectation as to the content of my review.

New Title from JPS: Justice for All

 

Readers of this blog (yes, it’s alive!) may recall my immense appreciation for commentaries and other works published by The Jewish Publication Society. You can find a host of JPS reviews and book notes I’ve written here.

JPS has just released Justice for All: How the Jewish Bible Revolutionized Ethics, by Jeremiah Unterman.

Biblical justice has been a recurring theme in our congregation this past school year–both in my preaching and in our adult Sunday school classes. I’m eager to dig in to this volume.

Here’s the publisher’s description:

Justice for All demonstrates that the Jewish Bible, by radically changing the course of ethical thought, came to exercise enormous influence on Jewish thought and law and also laid the basis for Christian ethics and the broader development of modern Western civilization.

Jeremiah Unterman shows us persuasively that the ethics of the Jewish Bible represent a significant moral advance over Ancient Near East cultures. Moreover, he elucidates how the Bible’s unique conception of ethical monotheism, innovative understanding of covenantal law, and revolutionary messages from the prophets form the foundation of many Western civilization ideals. Justice for All connects these timeless biblical texts to the persistent themes of our times: immigration policy, forgiveness and reconciliation, care for the less privileged, and attaining hope for the future despite destruction and exile in this world.

You can read a .pdf excerpt here. The book’s product page is here, and is also available through Amazon.

How I’m Keeping Greek and Hebrew Fresh

I’ve been practicing reading Greek fairly regularly all year. Hebrew had fallen a bit by the wayside until recently. As of the last two weeks, however, I think I’ve got a good rhythm now for keeping both fresh.

I know I’m not the only pastor who finds it a challenge to not lose the heard-earned results of semesters and years of Greek and Hebrew in the classroom.

Here’s what I’ve been doing:

 

1. Reading through the Greek New Testament, roughly a chapter a day.

 

To become more fluent in reading, there’s no substitute for… you know… reading. I just got through 2 Corinthians, which I think might be the most difficult book in the New Testament—in both Greek and English!

 

2. Working through the Baylor Handbooks.

 

Baylor’s got two solid series in progress: Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (BHGNT) and Baylor Handbook on the Hebrew Bible (BHHB).

 

 

These are books to read cover to cover, especially when you want to move from “rapid reading” to more detailed analysis of the text. I just finished Jonah and have started in on †Rod Decker’s Mark. You can see more about the series in my reviews of Luke and Malachi (here and here).

 

3. Reading my preaching passage in the original language, maybe even making my own translation.

 

Mark 1 in GreekI just preached through Ephesians. I translated much of it as I studied the text—either typing it out or doing it in my head. Especially with Paul’s longer sentences and more involved lines of thought in the first three chapters, this was challenging, but also essential in my grasping the text.

Now with the Old Testament lectionary readings in view (hello, prophets!), I’ll have a chance to reactivate my Hebrew reading.

If you (a) preach somewhat regularly and (b) want to make use of your Greek and Hebrew, why not combine the two endeavors? Both your preaching and your languages will be the better for it.

(NB: I teach a Webinar on this very topic, with more dates TBA. Here’s the handout.)

There’s also an invaluable chapter in Baker Academic’s Preaching the Old Testament called “Keeping Your Hebrew Healthy.”

 

4. Reading Greek with another person.

 

I’m really fortunate to have a reading partner for #1 above, reading through the GNT. This is an immense help and likely deserves its own post. Just remember that skill-building often happens best in community.

 

5. Learning to enjoy reading Greek and Hebrew.

 

Lack of proficiency for me is a great way to not enjoy a task; conversely, the more I read, the more comfortable I am with the text (Galatians was almost easy after 2 Corinthians!). Reading the Bible in its first languages also forces me to slow down and carefully consider what I’m reading. Greek and Hebrew reading fit well into devotional practices. (Great book on this, by the way, here: Using and Enjoying Biblical Greek: Reading the New Testament with Fluency and Devotion).

 

How about you? If you’ve been keeping your Greek and Hebrew active, what’s been helpful? What pitfalls are you facing? What other resources should I and others like me be using?

What I’m Learning About Preaching, and a Massive Resource that Helps

Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching

The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching (Zondervan, 2005) is a massive and indispensable reference work for preachers. It is true to its sub-title: A Comprehensive Resource for Today’s Communicators. When it comes to the process of preaching–start to finish–there is very little the book does not cover. Virtually all aspects of sermon preparation and delivery are here, such as the call of the preacher (chapter 1), careful consideration of the listeners (chapter 3), sermon structure (chapter 5), delivery (chapter 8), and seeking sermon feedback (chapter 11).

The book’s 201 (!) chapters vary in length. A handful of the articles are barely a page, while others approach ten pages. Not that length correlates with quality. One of the most beneficial articles is the one-page set of self-evaluation questions by Haddon Robinson (“A Comprehensive Check-Up,” 701).

The quality of article is high, with just a few exceptions along the way–perhaps inevitable among over 100 contributors. (A handful of articles feel more vague than I would have hoped.) There is also an overwhelmingly disproportionate inclusion of male contributors, while there are just a few articles from female contributors, and no women on the book’s accompanying 14-track sermon audio CD. The CD is otherwise a great inclusion, since you get to hear great preaching examples in action. My five-year-old loved the first few stories on the disc.

The Art & Craft is a joy to read and a goldmine of a resource. Following are three highlights of the rich book, as well as some reflections on how they have informed my preaching.

 

1. Preaching with Intensity

 

“Preaching with Intensity” (596), by my friend Kevin A. Miller, is one of the best essays in the book. I first read the article two years ago, and only realized when re-reading it recently how much of Miller’s advice I’ve internalized. It’s that good.

He leads off by asking, “Why is it that sometimes we as preachers feel a message so deeply, yet our listeners don’t feel that? Why is something that’s so intensely meaningful to us not always communicated in a way that grips the congregation as intensely?” (596) He suggests four factors as to “why intensity doesn’t transfer.” One of these is “the time factor,” and Miller’s point hit me so hard the first time that I’ve never forgotten it. (That’s a rare occurrence for me.)

By the time I step into the pulpit, I have studied for this message all week. I meditated on the text. I read commentaries. I prayed about the message. I gave this sermon from eight to twenty hours of my best thought, prayer and energy.

Amen! say the preachers! But here’s the blunt truth:

But the people listening to me are hearing the sermon cold. What’s become so meaningful to me has had no time to sink in to them. I can’t expect the truths that have gripped me during hours of study to automatically grip a congregation–unless I practice the skills I describe below.

Once you pick up this book, turn to page 597 to pick it up from here. Miller will walk you through what to do next.

Because of “the time factor,” one of my first steps in preaching prep (on my better weeks!) is reading through the text out loud in English, since that is what will happen immediately before the sermon in the actual church service. With note-taking capability ready at hand, I try to anticipate what questions and reactions might come up when the congregation hears it Sunday–that is what will be top of mind for them (not my hours of study!) as soon as I begin the sermon. It’s not that I need to try to come up with FAQ For Sunday-Morning Hearers of This Passage to start off every sermon, but keeping the congregation in mind like this has become an essential part of my process.

One more takeaway from Kevin Miller, since it’s stuck with me: don’t over-nuance your points. I was a philosophy major, and I have an educated congregation, so this is difficult for me. Miller doesn’t mean don’t be nuanced–our faith requires it at times. He just means:

Every nuance and qualifier, though it may add technical accuracy, also blunts the force of the statement we’re trying to make. Even if we believe something intensely, we can drain the energy out of our statement so that the congregation doesn’t sense that. It’s good to be accurate, to use nuance, to balance. But we must never let those good practices dull the share edge of the Bible’s two-edged sword. (598)

I’ve kept this advice close during my sermon editing process in recent months. Almost every draft revision includes taking out an overly (and probably unnecessarily) nuanced sentence or two.

 

2. Manuscript, Outline, or No Notes?

 

After my first 60 or so weekly sermons in the church I pastor, I remember moving from a 10-page manuscript to a 2-page outline. That entire fall I thoroughly enjoyed the flexibility of an outline, and found it enhanced my preaching, not made it worse (which I had feared). I swore off manuscripts forever.

The next spring, and ever since, I’ve been preaching from word-for-word manuscripts. (Ha!) Of course I add and delete and rephrase on the fly, once I look at the congregation and make connection with them. But I’m also thinking it’s time again for me to go back to using a more minimal outline.

Whether a preacher should write out her or his sermon, whether she should preach from an outline, or whether he should go into the pulpit with nothing but a Bible is a matter for the preacher to decide. It is, after all, a matter of style and personal preference.

In “No Notes, Lots of Notes, Brief Notes” (600), Jeffery Arthurs explores the benefits and drawbacks of each approach. I was pleasantly surprised by the nuance and balance offered, since Arthurs teaches at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where the modus operandi is to require preaching with virtually no pulpit notes. Arthurs explores “no notes, lots of notes, and brief notes” (600). For each he asks, “Why Use This Method?”, “Why Avoid This Method?”, and, “How to Use This Method.”

The point I found most useful was under the “Lots of Notes” section. Two of the drawbacks to such an approach (as in my current practice of preaching from a manuscript) are, “Most readers cannot read with skill” (604) and, “Eye contact is difficult or impossible” (604). Those two points have not been challenges for me, but the third drawback has been an area of growth: “Most writers write in a written style” (604). Arthurs suggests preachers should write for the ear, and specifically gives tips to that end. “Your writing will seem redundant and choppy,” he says, “But that is how we talk” (605). So I’ve made efforts this year to preach with orality in mind.

 

3. The Value of Sermon Feedback

 

Since I’ve been soliciting preaching feedback from a few members recently, I was especially eager to read Part 11, Evaluation. Bill Hybels leads off with “Well-Focused Preaching” (687), one of the longer essays in the book. Hybels shares in detail how he looks for sermon evaluation, especially from his church’s elders. It’s a refreshingly honest essay. Hybels also helped me see again the connection between what the sermon is trying to do in relation to larger church goals and vision. This is a link that is too easy to forget when yet another Sunday message seems to be just around the corner.

William Willimon includes a questionnaire for sermon evaluation: “Getting the Feedback You Need” (698). I’m not sure I would use his numbers for rating a preacher’s sermon, though. To my mind there’s a subtle but important difference between sermon feedback and sermon evaluation. The book speaks in terms of sermon evaluation, but I prefer to use feedback when soliciting input from congregants. The sermon is not a performance to be graded or an initiative to be voted on by the congregation. Using the language of evaluation could easily put a congregant in a mindset of grading a sermon, which feels like a category mistake for something that is supposed to be formative. There may already exist among churchgoers the evaluation of, “I liked it” or, “I didn’t like it,” and asking for “evaluation” could unintentionally encourage that. Of course, preachers need feedback to know what’s connecting and not, and we can always improve in our proclamation of God’s Word. Either way I found benefit in the section on evaluation.

Haddon Robinson’s “Comprehensive Check-Up” (701) is short but sweet. He gives the preacher a host of good questions to ask herself or himself. There are questions especially for the introduction of the sermon (“Does the message get attention?”) and its conclusion (“Are there effective closing appeals or suggestions?”). There is a sense in which some of these questions read as common-sense measurements, but in the press of weekly ministry and preaching, it’s really to forget them. Robinson does preachers (and has done me) a great service by putting so many good self-evaluation questions in one place.

Barbara Brown Taylor offers a refreshing perspective in her “My Worst and Best Sermons Ever” (710). Her account of a sermon at the death of a baby girl is moving:

When it came time for the service, I walked into a full church with nothing but a half page of notes. I stood plucking the words out of thin air as they appeared before my eyes. Somehow, they worked. God consented to be present in them. (710)

She concludes–in a subtle corrective to the use of sermon “evaluation”–that there is value in being “reluctant to talk about ‘best’ and ‘worst’ sermons” (710). Indeed, “Something happens between the preacher’s lips and congregation’s ears that is beyond prediction or explanation” (710). The reader finishes her short piece wishing her writing had been featured more than in this and one other article.

Finally, “Lessons from Preaching Today Screeners” (704), features 10 questions “by which we evaluate all the sermons received by Preaching Today, and some of the lessons we’ve learned from listening” (704). It’s a fascinating read, and a set of questions to use in sharpening one’s own preaching. I was especially convicted by, “Is the sermon fresh?” There Lee Eclov cautions against preaching to the congregation “things they surely already know and believe, and doing so in terms the congregation would probably find overly familiar” (705). This one is a big challenge for me.

 

Conclusion

 

The Art & Craft of Biblical Preaching easily lends itself to both quick and sustained study. Whether you just pick it up and read what you need to give you a boost one week, or whether you spend hours poring over its advice, it’s an outstanding resource to keep at the desk or quick-access bookshelf. In “How to Use This Book,” the editors wisely say, “A manual like this–overflowing with helpful information–must be managed. …You will consciously focus on one important principle from a chapter for weeks or months. Eventually it will become second nature, and you will be ready to focus deliberate attention on another principle” (15).

As a production note, the book’s glued binding is an unfortunate choice for a rich reference book like this.

The editors are right in their expectation: “We expect this manual is one you will grow with for years to come” (15). I’m looking forward to my own continued growth as a preacher, and grateful to have this resource to help me to that end.

Here are all the main sections in the book, with the questions they set out to answer:

Part 1: The High Call of Preaching (“How can I be faithful to what God intends preaching to be and do?”)

Part 2: The Spiritual Life of the Preacher (“How should I attend to my soul so that I am spiritually prepared to preach?”)

Part 3: Considering Hearers (“How should my approach change depending on who is listening?”)

Part 4: Interpretation and Application (“How do I grasp the correct meaning of Scripture and show its relevance to my unique hearers?”)

Part 5: Structure (“How do I generate, organize, and support ideas in a way that is clear?”)

Part 6: Part and Style (“How can I use my personal strengths and various message types to their full biblical potential?”)

Part 7: Stories and Illustrations (“How do I find examples that are illuminating, credible, and compelling?”)

Part 8: Preparation (“How should I invest my limited study time so that I am ready to preach?”)

Part 9: Delivery (“How do I speak in a way that arrests hearers?”)

Part 10: Special Topics (“How do I speak on holidays and about tough topics in a way that is fresh and trustworthy?”)

Part 11: Evaluation (“How do I get the constructive feedback I need to keep growing?”)

You can find the book at Amazon or at the publisher’s page. It’s available in both Accordance and Logos Bible software programs, too.

 


 

Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy, given to me with no expectation as to the review’s content, and certainly not with the expectation of a 2,000 word review essay!

Systems Thinking 101: How Your Church Family Works (Steinke)

Steinke_Healthy CongregationsA “system” is a process with its distinct yet interrelated parts. Interlocking systems (nervous, skeletal, respiratory) make up the one human body. The human body is itself a sort of system of systems.

The Bible uses systems imagery when it describes the body in Romans 12: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” In a healthy body, all the systems do their part and work together as one toward balance and health. As Peter L. Steinke says in Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach, “Health is a continuous process, the ongoing interplay a of multiple forces and conditions.” One thinks of the biblical notion of shalom, where health, wholeness, peace, and justice are all present.

Systems thinking offers what Steinke calls “a way of thinking about life as all of a piece… and how the relationships between the parts produce something new.” The key is not just the individual parts, but the interrelatedness of the parts and the dynamics they produce and reinforce together.

In How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems, precursor to Healthy Congregations, Steinke suggests that the church is “an emotional unit” and that “the same emotional processes experienced in the family operate in the church” (xvi). Just like the hand cannot say to the foot, “I don’t need you!”, the budget-setting process of the church cannot say to the strategic planning process, “I don’t need you!”

Similarly, anxiety in one part of the system or church affects what is happening in another part of the system or church, as when a parishioner loses a loved one and directs the anger outward at a church leader or other member. (Steinke later refers to this as shifting the burden.) Systems crave homeostasis, and sometimes anxiety in the system causes its members to pursue survival in less than healthy ways.

 

 *   *   *   *   *   *

 

In How Your Church Family Works Steinke aims to

conceptualize emotional processes so that we can recognize them and, ultimately, let them serve rather than corrupt the purpose of our bonding together–“for the sake of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), that “every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:11).

There are two main parts to the How Your Church Family Works. First there is “Conceptualizing Emotional Processes.” Here Steinke talks about systems and their “emotional processes” (“anxiety and reactivity,” “stability and change,” and so on). Second is “The Congregation as an Emotional System,” which uses anecdotes to show the theory of the book’s first half in action.

 

The Whole, Not (Just) Parts

 

How Your Church Family Works is one of the most insightful books I’ve read in a long time. My first exposure to systems thinking a decade ago (through Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline) permanently altered how I make sense of relationship dynamics, especially in an organizational setting. The idea of systems thinking is generative for creativity and problem solving. “Instead of seeing isolated, unrelated parts, we look at the whole” (3). But it’s far easier in pastoral ministry to fixate on isolated parts, or to fail to see an interaction as situated within a larger system. I have personally experienced what Steinke says, that systems thinking “deepens our understanding of life” (4).

 

Anxiety and Its Targets

 

Steinke_How Your Church Family WorksI loved Steinke’s section on anxiety. He remarks, “The most vulnerable or responsible people in the relationship network are the usual targets” (15) when anxiety hits. This would explain why pastors (and other organizational leaders) serve as lightning rods when the people’s anxiety is high. It’s not that anxiety itself is bad, Steinke says. It can provoke positive change (16), but only if it’s regulated. Otherwise, “what is stimulus becomes restraint” (16). In part this is because of the automatic reactive processes from the 15% of our brain’s functioning that is rooted in the brain stem (“survival processes”) and limbic system (“emotional response”) (17).

I’ve been in the Church long enough to no longer expect that a Christian community should magically be conflict-free. Neither do I expect that conflict is always handled in a healthy way. Steinke brilliantly notes just what is going on when anxiety is high in the body of believers: “Threatened, any of us may dispense with our Christian convictions and values. Anxiety is no respecter of belief systems” (21). Indeed, since the stakes are higher in Christian communities (centered as we are around the deepest truths of life), unchecked reactions to anxiety may ripple throughout the system with even more impact.

 

Difficult? Do It

 

So how should church leaders respond to anxiety? Here was one of my favorite takeaways from the book for my own ministry. Leaders ignore anxiety in systems at their own peril. (People-pleasing pastors will especially be attempted to just keep the peace.) Steinke cautions:

But “benign neglect” only reinforces malignant processes. Moreover, ignoring is as reactive as placating or attacking. VICIOUS CIRCLES CAN ONLY BE DISABLED THROUGH EXPOSURE. They are enabled by secrecy and avoidance. (27, all caps are original to Steinke)

Exposure is difficult, but a Christian calling. One thinks of the warnings in the New Testament about deeds of darkness and bringing them into the light. I was fortified by Steinke’s quotation of Rainer Maria Rilke: “That something is difficult must be one more reason for us to do it” (43). Difficult ministry-related conversations get easier the more experience I have, but a part of me would would rather just keep the peace. However, to apply Steinke’s insight, that risks perpetuating anxiety and reactivity in a system, in a way that is less than helpful. The better thing is to seek (in humility, love, and confidence) to expose and address those parts of a system that seem to be exacerbating problems. (Realizing, too, that I myself am part of the system and capable of contributing for good or for ill.)

 

Case Studies

 

The book’s second half provides ample case studies to help the reader better understand the concepts. Steinke breaks down one church’s dysfunction into a series of triangulations, which he diagrams for clarity (84-5). Earlier in the book he describes a church he consulted with, where he encouraged them to redefine problems they’d articulated “without focusing solely on a person or issue as presented in the original problem” (57).

His “Presenting Problem” vs. “Redefined Problem” chart is a model for how to reframe conflict. His ten group reflection questions that follow are virtually alone worth the price of the book. Here are two highlights: “What would it take to have a pastor stay here ten years, twenty years?” (59) and, “How would you be willing to invest yourself in the process of creating the image you defined above?” (60) I photographed these ten questions and saved them to my Evernote, so I can access them for future work in church evaluation.

I’ll be mulling over these systems thinking concepts for years to come. Both of these books by Steinke are worth reading a.s.a.p.

 

Where to Find out More

 

How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems: Amazon / Publisher’s page

Healthy Congregations: A Systems Approach: Amazon / Publisher’s page

 


 

Thanks to Rowman & Littlefield for the review copies of both books, given to me for review purposes but with no expectation as to the content or nature of my evaluation.

Honing in on Your CQ (Cultural Intelligence)

CQDavid Livermore’s goal in Cultural Intelligence is to effect cross-cultural transformation, rather than just impart information (12). Across the barriers of difference and “the barrage of cultures around us” (11), we still “have so much in common” (11). As we navigate the tensions of sameness and difference, Livermore notes, “These points of difference are where we find both our greatest challenges and our greatest discoveries” (11). Yet Livermore wants more than just cultural awareness. He says, “We must actually become more multicultural people so that we might better express love cross-culturally” (12).

Undergirding all levels of cultural intelligence is Livermore’s call to love, coupled with a robust theology of the Incarnation. I appreciated this theological and practical grounding. He writes, “The language of God is Jesus. The incarnation is the ultimate form of contextualization, the fullest embodiment of cultural intelligence” (33). As a result, Livermore warns those who think the Gospel can only be expressed in “one right way” (34). Jesus himself was a culturally situated figure, and yet a liminal one. The Gospels show Jesus’ interaction with 1st Century Palestine’s institutions and structures, where sometimes he embraced and other times he protested against the cultural values and practices of his day. Even if some readers will find his theological exposition familiar territory, it is nonetheless compelling.

CQ (cultural intelligence quotient) goes beyond educating ourselves about culture—even if it must start there. CQ “measures the ability to effectively reach across the chasm of cultural difference in ways that are loving and respectful” (13). An important step toward a fuller expression of love across lines of difference is growth in self-awareness. One must not only learn about other cultural mores and traditions, but one must know one’s own cultural heritage, and how that shapes one’s identity.

Livermore divides Cultural Intelligence into four basic types, which constitute the major sections of the book. First, there is Knowledge CQ, which pertains to a basic “level of understanding about culture and culture’s role in shaping behavior and social interactions” (48). This is CQ at the level of cognitive awareness. There are several important kinds of awareness: my awareness of my culture, my awareness of your culture, and my awareness of your perception of my culture (49). Livermore provides some practical metrics to help readers measure their Knowledge CQ: fluency in other languages, awareness of how other cultures resolve conflict, knowledge of cultural differences in how Christianity is expressed, lack of projecting our values onto others’ cultures, and so on (58, 61). Especially helpful is Livermore’s division of culture into three domains: socioethnic culture, organizational culture, and generational culture (93). His description of these domains addresses what would otherwise have been a concern of mine: that “culture” is not just a racial-ethnic phenomenon. I’ve worked at churches where the socioethnic culture and even generational culture were similar, but the organizational culture (“shared personality”) between the two was vastly different. Ministry methodologies and initiatives that worked in one church simply would not fly in the other.

Second, there is Interpretive CQ, which is metacognitive, since it relates to thinking about how one thinks. Interpretive CQ is essentially applied Knowledge CQ. If Knowledge CQ is basic exegesis, Interpretive CQ is hermeneutics. A key virtue here is that of empathy: “noticing what’s apparent about another person and trying to tune into her or his thoughts, emotions, and feelings” (158). Livermore connects Knowledge CQ and Interpretive CQ together into “cultural strategic thinking.”

Third, Livermore outlines Perseverance CQ, which is “our level of interest, drive, and motivation to adapt cross-culturally” (213). Anyone who has sought to form deliberate partnerships (or even just close friendships) across cultural lines is aware of the potential for discomfort, miscommunication, misunderstanding, and frustration, especially as intimacy builds. Perseverance CQ is the desire to push through these feelings for the sake of expressing love across the cultural gaps the author describes. Livermore offers an important set of questions and considerations:

What fuels our motivation? Why are we reaching into a new cultural context in the first place? We have to honestly face the motives behind our service, travel, and work. And we have to bear in mind that we are the Other to billions of other people. (225)

To push back, one may find oneself in cross-cultural relationships without deliberately engaging in service, travel, and work. They may exist “at home,” so to speak. Even so, the questions are worth asking. And the emphasis of othering the self that pops up throughout Cultural Intelligence is a needed (if difficult) perspective.

Finally, there is Behavioral CQ. This is the on-the-ground evidence that we love the Other. Livermore describes it as “the extent to which we appropriately change our verbal and nonverbal actions when we interact cross-culturally” (233). True CQ leads to action. We will not be able to “accomplish flawless cross-cultural behavior” (240), but we can become more faithful in “reflect[ing] Jesus to the Other through culturally intelligent communication” (241).

Cultural Intelligence concludes with a practical “What now?” chapter with “Twenty-four Ways to Advance Your CQ” (242). Then follows a CQ self-assessment, which is a brilliant inclusion. I first took the CQ self-assessment six years ago. I was surprised then to have tested so high (“excellent”) in the last two modes of CQ: Perseverance and Behavioral. Re-taking the test in 2016 I oddly dipped in Perseverance and Behavioral CQ, but went up in my “Cultural Strategic Thinking” (Knowledge and Interpretive CQ).

I wonder whether this is because my cross-cultural awareness has grown over the years, while my comfort with my own culture (and my being content with that comfort, to some degree) has led me to make cross-cultural stretching less of a priority. It’s not that I don’t interact with people from different cultures on a regular basis (whether socioethnic, organizational, or generational cultures); it’s just that given the choice I might default to monocultural settings, since they are “easier” (in some senses) to navigate. This is especially true when it comes to workplace and organizational culture. This may be sin I need to repent of—or just a reflection of my plate being over-full already, and the fact that my focus is strained until I graduate from seminary! I found the assessment to be somewhat limited, with its forced choices.

Readers will likely note at the beginning of Livermore’s book that the tasks the author sets out could be more difficult for “white” people who think of themselves as people who “have no ethnicity.” The outdated (but still present!) “Ethnic Foods” aisle is instructive here. “Ethnic” is understood all too often in opposition to “non-ethnic,” or “regular,” which then becomes culturally normative. The insidious danger is when this move happens subconsciously. Everyone has ethnicity, and all foods (and churches) are “ethnic.” The question is rather, “Of which ethnicity?” Livermore’s book reads, in some senses, as being geared toward such a person. However, even those who have done more extensive reflection on their own ethnic and cultural identity can benefit from his work.

Cultural Intelligence is an excellent primer for anyone seeking to enhance their cross-cultural fluency. Livermore is patient with the reader, but not overly so—he’s not afraid to challenge where needed. His truth-telling and practical step-by-step explanations combine to have a powerful impact. Anyone who gets lost in the various interdisciplinary concerns of the book will have a handy Glossary to refer to. Church leaders, Christians, and concerned citizens alike should carve out the time to not just read but also work through the concepts of the book—maybe even with someone with whom they have cultural differences.

You can find the book here at Amazon or here at the publisher’s page. Go here to read a .pdf sample.

Children’s Book Review: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories!

daniels-grr-ific-stories!-9781481443913_hrDaniel Tiger (a.k.a., “D. Tiger,” according to our three-year-old) continues to be a hit around here. I expressed some skepticism two-and-a-half years ago toward a tiger replacing Mr. Rogers (see here). And of course no one could ever fill those shoes and that sweater. But Daniel Tiger–both the character and the show–has turned out to be pretty awesome.

 

Now… Books!

 

Yes, we enjoy the show. And the music is a favorite soundtrack at home. Last year our three-year-old (then two) got the toy trolley and some character figurines for Christmas.

I wonder whether the franchise has been slow to merchandise since heavy consumerism isn’t exactly a Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood value. However, I have wished on numerous occasions for D. Tiger books to read to my daughter. Now Simon & Shuster and The Fred Rogers Company are releasing a slew of volumes for children.

 

Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories! (6 of Them!)

 

One such release is the surprisingly affordable six-book boxed set: Daniel’s Grr-ific Stories. It includes six short stories (22 pages of story text in each) with full-color illustrations:

  • Welcome to the Neighborhood!
  • Daniel Goes to School
  • Goodnight, Daniel Tiger
  • Daniel Visits the Doctor
  • Daniel’s First Sleepover
  • The Baby Is Here!

As with the show, each book uses an interesting (and, let’s admit it, cute) narrative to help children deal with the many and diverse feelings that life throws their way.

Daniel is a big helper with the new baby–he helps get her room ready, holds her when she’s born, and even helps change a diaper! Smoother sailing then one might expect when a new baby comes and shakes up a family dynamic. (This may be one reason Honest Toddler does not like Daniel Tiger.)

The books are true to the show, which is nice–you’ll see, for example, familiar songs here:

Daniel is not sure what he’s going to do at the sleepover. He sings, “When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!”

Daniel and Prince Wednesday have a pajama dance party and brush their teeth together, but then Daniel gets scared:

Now it’s time to turn out the light and go to sleep. But wait! There is a great big shadow on the wall. It looks scary to Daniel! What could it be?

But, lest you worry our own child should get scared, the authors are on it:

Daniel remembers, if something seems scary, “See what it is. You might feel better.”

Sure enough (spoiler alert), “It’s just Mr. Lizard!” It was only a stuffed animal.

“When we do something new, let’s talk about what we’ll do!” comes up, too, when Dr. Anna sings it to Daniel in his check-up. Nothing to fear. He’s growing stripes just as he should!

All six of the books are of the quality you’d expect. (Though, be advised: they’re paperback.) Your kid may want you to read all six before going to bed, but one or two or three will probably fill 10–15 minutes easily enough. There’s a lot of good content here.

The illustrations are well-done, too:

 

Welcome to Music Shop

 

Waiting for Doctor

 

Baby Sister

 

Plus, A Super-Cute Growth Chart

 

Also included in the six-book box is a full-color growth chart parents can put on the wall. It starts at 17 inches (so you hang it 16 inches above the floor) and goes up to 59 inches. Daniel, Miss Elaina, Prince Wednesday, O the Owl, and Katerina Kittycat are all there cheering for your growing wee one. A nice touch is that at three parts there is, “Now I’m big enough to _” that you can fill in.

 

Growth chart

 

Where to Get It

 

Here’s what the whole thing looks like:

 

Box Contents

 

You can find the boxed set at the publisher’s page here, and here at Amazon.

For how much is here, both the list price and the discounted price on Amazon make it easily worthwhile.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Simon & Schuster for sending the boxed set for review, though that did not influence my opinions.