Thursday, August 25, 2011

An Interview with Shaun Groves

Shaun Groves is releasing a new album called Third World Symphony with songs drawn from his numerous years working for Compassion International and leading blogger mission trips/tours to see the work that Compassion does in developing countries. If you want to learn more about how this album came to be, there is a brief video here. It's worth a look.

As part of the record promotion, Shaun is allowing bloggers to interview him and ask 3 questions. All my questions focus on Compassion's work, so if you want a background on what child sponsorship is, you can read about that here.

Switch Interview
Case {'Q1','Question_1'}
'Doug: Having been in several third world countries, do you ever
get the feeling that educational advancement is outpacing economic
development in certain countries? I’m not speaking about the value
of education in and of itself (my wife has a bachelors in
engineering and stays home with our 4 kids). I’m speaking of the
utilitarian quality of people being able to use their education
in the working world when they get a paying job.

Shaun: I haven't been traveling long enough to notice a change in
the value of education. So, I cannot answer the pacing portion of
the question. But I can speak to the value of education provided
by Compassion. In addition to receiving a standard education -
the kind I received, reading writing, social studies, science, math,
language, etc - child served by Compassion receive vocational
training. Every community, child and family is different. Some will
be able to put their science studies to use, go to college, work
in the sciences. Others will do the same with language, math, etc.
But some students will work as cobblers, repairmen, beauticians,
barbers, farmers - and for these jobs a basic education is
certainly valuable but the more technical vocational training they
receive because of Compassion's sponsorships program is priceless.

Compassion's aim is to develop the whole child, in part to
foster independence. In the cognitive and economic realms both
a basic education and a vocational training are essential to reaching
this goal.')

Case {'Q2','Question_2'}
Doug: How do the sponsored kids you've met refer to their
sponsors? I've heard many people refer to their sponsored
kids as "our kids" or "our grandkids" but that has never felt right
to me. I understand the sentiment, but the kids already have
parents, and I feel that would be a slight to their parents, many
of whom are working extremely hard to provide for their family in
circumstances I can't even imagine having lived my entire life in
the US. At the same time sponsored kid/sponsor, pen pal and other
titles seem impersonal and inadequate to describe the unique,
long-distance friendship that can develop over the many years of
sponsorship. How do kids you have met in Compassion's program
describe their sponsors? What sorts of titles and descriptions do
they use to describe the people and the relationship that develops?

Shaun: Almost every sponsored child I've ever talked to simply
calls their sponsor their "sponsor." But, once, when I was in
Ethiopia, I was at a Compassion child development center on the
day that a sponsor was coming to visit their sponsored child. A
party was planned with cake and balloons. And all around the
center were signs welcoming the child's "mother." It bothered me
so I asked the center's director about it and he explained that
in their culture caregivers are called "mother" or "father" - not
only the man and woman who conceived the child. So, culturally,
it was not at all strange that a sponsor, someone who had been
part of caring for a child, would be called "mother" or "father."
It was an honorable thing for the Ethiopian staff and child to do.')

Case {'Q3','Question_3'}
Doug: Does Compassion have numerical goals for sponsorship in
individual communities? If so, what sorts of factors go into
making that decision? For instance, does Compassion aim to
simply sponsor everyone who needs help, or do they aim for a
percentage of kids before moving on (e.g. 50% of kids in poverty,
etc.). Does Compassion prefer to spread out the help throughout
the many countries they serve or to saturate particular areas to
provide more concentrated help? What sorts of things go into
such the decision to grow a particular program or to start a new

Shaun: As far as I know there is no percentage goal. Each country
arrives at measures to define the poorest of the poor. Church
partners in communities where these poorest children live are
sought after. And once the partnership exists, Compassion staff
work closely with the church to locate and register the poorest
children in that church's community.

For instance, Compassion's work in India and the Philippines
began in East India and Northern Philippines where there were
more church partners and plenty of impoverished children to
serve. But the long term goal is to grow out from these regions
into Western India and Southern Philippines where there is also
a great deal of poverty but where there are fewer churches with
which to partner. There is no percentage goal that I'm aware of
in place. The progression across the country is a practical one
- start where there are qualified church partners surrounded by
impoverished children and as progress is made in these regions
continue that work but expand to areas where the work will be a
bit harder due to there being fewer potential church partners.')

End % Switch Interview

If you've read this far, I hope you found that helpful and informative. Thanks to Shaun Groves for taking the time to read and answer my rather verbose questions. If you want to listen to or purchase Shaun's latest album, that would be fabulous. If by some miracle you want to change a child's life through Compassion's Child Sponsorship Program, that would be even better.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Why the Apostles Didn't Read Their Bibles/Torahs

Scott Kistler posted a month ago about efforts to evangelize people in oral cultures. There seems be be some amount of debate about the best methods to go about doing this. What struck me at the time was the total absence of reference to the early church's methodology. Here was a group of people with almost unparalleled success in evangelism. They literally took Christianity from a rag-tag band of at most 100 misfits to half the Roman Empire in just 300 years. While perhaps one can point to the evangelism of the New World in Spanish speaking territories as another highly successful example of evangelism to an oral culture (7 million converts in less than 10 years), that happened in the wake of the apparition at Guadalupe and was not something whose methods can ever be duplicated or used as a pattern. I really can't think of another outreach to an oral culture that was as consistently successful as what was accomplished by the Holy Spirit through the early Church, so I would think that people studying this would give it more attention than they do.

That got me thinking that perhaps the reason the early church gets short shrift is the extreme reliance in some Protestant circles on the extraBiblical doctrine of Sola Scriptura. People look at the book of Acts and say, "The Bereans went home and read for themselves what the Prophets said, and that is what we need to do." This is assumed to be taken as the pattern for what we should all do as individuals. Therefore, any evangelistic activity that does not bring the individual into close personal literary contact with the Scriptures is doing something dangerous and setting these people up for a fall.

However, I think if one looks at the passage closely, one sees that things were really quite different than what is conveyed in the popular imagination. The Scriptures say in Acts 17, "[10] The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Beroe'a; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. [11] Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessaloni'ca, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. [12] Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men."

Notice where the preaching was done: in the synagogue. That is also where the examination of Scriptures was done. Ancient Jewish culture, Roman culture, Greek culture, and indeed all ancient cultures were oral cultures in very important ways. They had to be, because the cost of books meant only the most wealthy could own one personally. All reading and study of the Scriptures was done in community because books were scarce and extraordinarily expensive resources. People might ponder the Scriptures when at home or at prayer, but they didn't actually study them on their own. That's why we read in several places about Jesus going off by himself to pray, but we never read about him going off by himself to read the Scriptures. He couldn't have afforded it and neither could his disciples. Pretty much nobody, not Jesus, not the apostles, not anyone but the most wealthy could have afforded to have the Scriptures in their home. Incidentally, I haven't read this and don't know it for a fact, but I would doubt that any but the oldest and most established house churches could have afforded a complete set of the Scriptures. Given growth rates in the early church, I think this pretty much precludes a large percentage of congregations from obtaining a complete set of the Scriptures in the earliest years. They would have had to share and pass around well-worn copies until they grew enough to be able to afford a full set, which also strikes me as a great promoter of unity... but I digress.

The point is that the study of Scripture during the most sustained growth ever experienced in Christian history was entirely communal in nature, and this has tremendous repercussions on how they would have viewed interpretive authority. The primary reason for discomfort with oral methods among Protestants, I believe, lies in the difference conceptions of the place of interpretive authority between the early Church and Protestantism.

Protestantism says, "4. Will we clarify for them that, although all other holy books may have some helpful religious insights, nevertheless they do not have any final authority from God, but only the Bible does?"

The pre-100 AD church said, "But I shall not be unwilling to put down, along with my interpretations, whatsoever instructions I received with care at any time from the elders, and stored up with care in my memory, assuring you at the same time of their truth. For I did not, like the multitude, take pleasure in those who spoke much, but in those who taught the truth; nor in those who related strange commandments, but in those who rehearsed the commandments given by the Lord to faith, and proceeding from truth itself. If, then, any one who had attended on the elders came, I asked minutely after their sayings,--what Andrew or Peter said, or what was said by Philip, or by Thomas, or by James, or by John, or by Matthew, or by any other of the Lord's disciples: which things Aristion and the presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, say. For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice."

and the early 100's church said, "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is[administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude[of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid."

and the late 100's church said, "It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to "the perfect" apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men; which men, if they discharged their functions honestly, would be a great boon [to the Church], but if they should fall away, the direst calamity.

2. Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority,6 that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."

So, what's the point? Are the Scriptures not to be read by individuals, now that books are cheap and we have the opportunity? Of course they should be regularly read by individuals. The Scriptures are the Word of God, supremely authoritative for our lives. However, I think there is a danger in pridefully imagining that because we have personal access to the Scriptures, we actually understand the gospel better than those who relied primarily on congregational reading and preaching to learn about Christ, or better than the bishop God placed over us.

My main point in writing this is to point out how odd it is that people who acknowledge that the world of Jesus was an oral world and spend millions on conferences sharing the latest methods to spread the gospel in oral cultures have near zero interest in the most sustainably successful evangelistic effort to oral learners of all time. I suspect it is because what Newman wrote 100 years ago is as true today as it was back then, "And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period."