Evangelicals and Missions —Book Review

Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models by A. Scott Moreau, Kregel Academic, 2012.

For the general reader or non-specialist, this book can be a challenging read. For those with extensive mission research and background, the author provides a valuable survey of mission approaches and current thinking. Although I am not a formal missionary nor do I teach missions classes, I found the book very helpful in sorting out the current evangelical mission scene and potential approaches to mission work. My field of study is exegetical theology, with some work in translations. While reading the book I found several areas in which my interests and the book’s topics overlapped. On a practical level, because I serve in an area that is 98% unchurched I am actively involved in mission. I found this book timely and helpful, especially the examples in the second part of the book.

Contextualization in World Missions
Contextualization in World Missions

Moreau divides the topic into two sections:

1. Foundations for Evangelical Contextualization

This is a critical section because Moreau appropriately lays out the dominant writers in Contextualization and mapping models. He compares and contrasts each position, and then provides an assessment of the major positions. Additionally he defines the key terms; for someone like myself this provides an vital function. Some of the terms used historical are slightly different (i.e. “evangelical”). Mapping this context was a relatively new term; Moreau notes that mapping is flexible and can be an activity, a means, a chosen set of rules, which results in a product.

Chapters 2 and 3 offer insights into Revelation and Interpretation and how these are shaped, as well as how they inform the understanding of contextualization. The temptation is to consider this only an academic book. However, Moreau shows the practical value of this book: “The average American Christian experiences, or knows of, translation model examples…without even knowing that these are translation models” (p. 44). He summarizes the academic investigations, then provides an overview of that process, which is helpful for all students of mission. I particularly appreciated chapter 3 because he approaches Interpretation from the perspective language, form and meaning, and hermeneutics, all areas that relate to my specialities. Moreau concludes that evangelicals are concerned with the “core ideas about how interpretation should take place” (pp. 95-96).

While chapter 4 is short, the author provides a helpful summary of how mission models have been mapped. But even more important, he notes Markers of Good Contextualization. Chapter 5 addresses those things that shape and constrain Contextualization. He especially addresses the problem of syncretism, not a unique problem of 21st century nor evangelicals. The problem today extends beyond evangelicals; Roman Catholic missions have faced this challenge for centuries. He also addresses the concern that there can be a close relationship between Contextualization (positive) and syncretism (negative); the table of five questions on p. 133 is invaluable in examining when crossover takes place.

2. Mapping Evangelical Models of Contextualization

This section of the book struck me in two opposite ways. The author’s separation and dissection of missionary approaches seemed not always helpful, at times even artificial. Yet, at the same time, the author offered more detail about examples of the taxonomy he was proposing. In the long run, I found the later the best part and concentrated on that, rather than the specific category in which Moreau placed the example.

While his concluding chapter on “Future Trajectories” was short, I think he addresses some significant issues that missionaries and church bodies face in the future. Obviously the shift of Christianity to Africa and Asia will dominate what future missions will look like and even the direction of mission work, and that may also relate to what he considers the biggest change: generational differences. That may be true in the immediate future as globalism in mission reaches maturity, but may not be a lasting issue. Although he limits his study to contemporary evangelicals, the interconenctions with Roman Catholic and Orthodox efforts will come more to the front throughout the world. I was a little surprised that he did not address monumental changes in technology; he briefly mentioned it in the chapter overview, but he did not expand on any aspect of technology.

Summary

Moreau has provided a valuable resource for orientation, study, and synthesis of many attempts at formally looking at Contextualization in mission. He provides insights into problem areas, alternative solutions, and points of further investigation. In each chapter, the author offers a practical example of the specific topic to get the reader to focus and reflect. He includes tables of key comparisons throughout the book, an excellent summary as well as a quick reference when reviewing. The Appendices are instructive for the reader. And the bibliography is extensive, but not overwhelming.

Three important aspects of the book are: at the beginning of each chapter, Chapter Overview and Chapter Outline; at the end of the chapter, Keywords for Review, Questions for Reflection, and For Further Study. Sometimes when (reflective) questions are included, they seem almost superfluous. In this case, Moreau provides only a few questions, but they are thought-provoking, focus on the key chapter points, and cannot be answered in one sentence. Each of these additional features make this a valuable resource and study book!

Thanks to Kregel Academic for providing a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Genesis 37-39 HCSB

Genesis 37:3

“coat of many colors” reflects the traditional rendering. The footnote has “Or, robe with long sleeves.” However, no source is listed as to why that could be a valid translation, or if that is a translation of something else. It would help to include in the footnote, something like: “Hebrew meaning uncertain; Septuagint and Vulgate (and Syriac): robe with long sleeves.

GENESIS 37:30

Upon discovering Joseph’s disappearing, Reuben asks, “The boy is gone! What am I going to do?” Footnote: Lit And I, where am I going?

This may be a matter of style, but the “literal” question seems more pertinent. The only place they were going (prior to this incident) is back to their father, Isaac. But now with Joseph gone, the question is “And I, where am I going?” In other words, the context seems to fit this question more than “What am I going to do?” Certainly that will be the process he goes through when he faces his father, but at this moment, the “where” is center. Thus, I would recommend the switch of the text and footnote to give better clarity to what Reuben was struggling with.

GENESIS 37:35

“No,” he said. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.”

This is a case of awkward wording, especially for oral reading. Notice that the way it is written, it could be that “my son” is the one who is mourning. Granted the comma helps in the written word, but read it aloud, even with a pause, and it is confusing.

But it could also be misleading. Do we know that he is claiming that his son is in Sheol? Nothing in text supports that view (at least what I could find). The Hebrew suggests that Jacob will go to Sheol, and will be mourning in the process of getting there (i.e. the rest of his life). It seems that it should be “No, I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.”

38:26  “She is more in the right than I…” (with footnote, “more righteous”). For me, “more right” just doesn’t sound appropriate in this text. I would switch the text and the footnote.

GENESIS 39:3, 4, 6, 8 “in his hand”

The same phrase occurs in each verse. But HCSB misses what seems to be a critical connection with v. 3

MT (39:3, 4, 6, 8):  בְּיָדֽוֹ׃ ( “in his hand”)

HCSB: When his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD made everything he did successful

39:4 under his authority

39:6 under Joseph’s authority

39:8 under my authority

Granted, for vs. 4, 6, 8 HCSB offers the footnote “in his hand” it does not do so for vs. 3. Thus, the critical connection with God’s blessing “in his hand” is lost.

 

 

 

Genesis 28-36 HCSB

Genesis 28-31

Two items. The stark contrast in using Yahweh and LORD now comes to the forefront.

Yahweh was standing there beside him, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land that you are now sleeping on. (28:13)

When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (28:16)

In such close proximity to each other, yet not providing the reader the connection that Yahweh = LORD. This illustrates my continuing complaint with HCSB and the name of God.

The second item is more awkward than being wrong. The Hebrew word הִנֵּה, (hineh from root “see”) has the sense of drawing attention to what is said or done. Thus it is often translated “behold,” (NAS, ESV) or “remember” (GW), “what’s more” (NLT), “know” (NAB, NRSV) and even not translated (NIV 2011). NET offers this footnote:

Heb “Look, I [am] with you.” The clause is a nominal clause; the verb to be supplied could be present (as in the translation) or future, “Look, I [will be] with you”

For me, “look” is the least effective translation, almost a colloquial, to the point of being faddish. “Pay attention” seems to be more effective translation.

Again, HCSB offers a readable translation throughout this section.

Genesis 32-36

HCSB continues to alternate between the Hebrew name for a place and the translation. In 33:20 the translation is given in the text (“God, the God of Israel”), and the Hebrew name is given in the footnote (El-Elohe Israel). Notice the opposite in 32:30 with Peniel in the text and “face of God” in the footnote. We also see this switch in 35:7 where HCSB has “God of Bethel” and in the footnote “El-bethel.”

In 33:19 we read:

HCSB: He purchased a section of the field where he had pitched his tent from the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for 100 qesitahs

NAS (ESV/NRSV/NET): He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money.

NIV 2011 (GW): For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.

HCSB offers the least satisfactory solution. While the specific word is unknown in terms of equivalent money, HCSB does not help the English reader. It includes this footnote:

The value of this currency is unknown.

Unfortunately that explains what is going on, but still does not help the English reader.

Overall still a readable translation.

Genesis 21-27 HCSB

Genesis 21-23

No major translation issues or readability issues in this section. So far, Genesis 21–23 has been the best for oral reading. The only note I would make is the inconsistent use of Yahweh vs. LORD (21:33).

Genesis 24-27

Once again the confusion in HCSB about God’s name comes into play in the reaffirmation of God’s covenant with Isaac:

and the LORD appeared to him that night and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will bless you and multiply your offspring because of My servant Abraham.”

So he built an altar there, called on the name of Yahweh, and pitched his tent there. Isaac’s slaves also dug a well there. (26:24-25)

Here in the same context, the switch between LORD and Yahweh seems artificial at best and confusing.

Genesis 25:18 is an interesting text to translate. HCSB does better than most:

Hebrew: עַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־אֶחָ֖יו נָפָֽל (“he fell [over] against the face of all his brothers”)

HCSB: He lived in opposition to all his brothers

NAS: he settled* in defiance of all his relatives. (footnote: fell over against)

ESV: He settled* over against all his kinsmen. (footnote: Heb. fell)

GW: They all fought with each other.

NIV 2011: And they lived in hostility toward all the tribes related to them.

At times HCSB is inconsistent in referring to place names. Sometimes, the Hebrew transliteration is used in the text, and the translation in the footnote:

So he named the well Quarrel* because they quarreled with him (26:20)
Footnote: Or Ezek

Then they dug another well and quarreled over that one also, so he named it Hostility*(26:21)
Footnote: Sitnah

Other times, the translation is used in the text and the transliteration is used in the footnote.

Now Isaac was returning from Beer-lahai-roi,(25:62)
Footnote: A Well of the Living One Who Sees Me

It would seem to make more sense and provide consistency to have the Hebrew transliteration in the text and the translation in the footnote. We even do that in English, in which a place or city name is used, but only a footnote to a translation: i.e., Milwaukee, which means “Gathering place [by the water].”

As for readability, nothing was jarring or out of place.

Genesis 15-20 HCSB

Genesis 15-17

The only issue I found in this section was how HCSB translated the Hebrew word, זְרוֹעַ, as “offspring” (which I think is good), but then in the New Testament translating the Greek word, σπέρμα (sperma), as “seed.” While two different languages are used, the semantic domains of each overlap considerably. And that seems to be Paul’s whole point in Galatians 3. Thus, it would have better to translate both words the same, “offspring” or “seed” to avoid confusion and to see the connections that Paul was indeed making. Surprisingly in Hebrews 11, HCSB uses “offspring.” Thus, the inconsistency of HCSB arises again.

Genesis 18-20

At the end of Genesis 18:8, we find that by its translation HCSB adds to the text:

HCSB: He served them as they ate under the tree. (footnote: “was standing by”)

NAS: and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

GW/ESV: Then he stood by them under the tree as they ate.

NIV 2011: While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

So also in 18:12, HCSB uses “shriveled” instead of the more common “old.” The problem is that “shriveled” carries more weight than just the fact of being old, which is the point she is making. If anything, “worn out” would have been a better choice. Granted there are two separate words (בלה) and (זָקֵֽן) used in this verse for old, but the context does not seem to dictate that kind of distinction since bother words designate “old.”

In 19:10, 12, HCSB translates the word אִישׁ, normally “man”(singular) or “men” (plural) as “angels.” Some might question this almost as reading into the text. However, the Hebrew הַמַּלְאָכִ֤ים, “the angels,” in 19:1 sets the stage for this reference.So while the translation “man/men” seems most appropriate, HCSB is making the connection back to the beginning of the narrative.

In Genesis 20:17 the repeated word ( כִּֽי־עָצֹ֤ר עָצַר֙), infinitive absolute form followed by the Qal perfect form, stresses the action. In this case, HCSB offers an readable and acceptable translation(better than NAS or NIV 2011; ESV is weaker in this sentence as well)

HCSB: for the LORD had completely closed all the wombs

NAS: For the LORD had closed fast all the wombs

GW: The Lord had made it impossible for any woman…to have children

NIV 2011: for the LORD had kept all the women … from conceiving

ESV: For the LORD had closed all the wombs

Overall, this section in HCSB did not offer any jarring reading experiences. Translation choices seemed acceptable and workable.

Genesis 9-14 HCSB

Genesis 9-11 HCSB

Two choices stand out that require note.

The first choice is the description of Noah in 9:20

HCSB Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
NAS: Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. (footnote: “to be a framer”)
GW:  Noah, a farmer, was the first person to plant a vineyard.

I scratch my head on this choice. I grew up on a farm. We were described as “farmers (as well as “loggers”). But to be called “a man of soil” does not reflect contemporary English.

The second choice involves the awkward phrase from yesterday’s post, illustrated by inconsistency in today’s reading.

9:29 So Noah’s life lasted 950 years
10:32 Terah lived 205 years

The repeated use of “xxx’s life lasted” that was prevalent in Genesis 5, and followed in 9:29 now in 10:32 is translated more in line with contemporary English.

Otherwise, this was a good readable section of Scripture using HCSB.

Genesis 12-14 HCSB

Two choices stand out that require note.

The first choice is the description of Noah in 9:20

HCSB Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard.
NAS: Then Noah began farming and planted a vineyard. (footnote: “to be a framer”)
GW:  Noah, a farmer, was the first person to plant a vineyard.

I scratch my head on this choice. I grew up on a farm. We were described as “farmers (as well as “loggers”). But to be called “a man of soil” does not reflect contemporary English.

The second choice involves the awkward phrase from yesterday’s post, illustrated by inconsistency in today’s reading.

9:29 So Noah’s life lasted 950 years
10:32 Terah lived 205 years

The repeated use of “xxx’s life lasted” that was prevalent in Genesis 5, and followed in 9:29 now in 10:32 is translated more in line with contemporary English.

Otherwise, this was a good readable section of Scripture using HCSB.

HCSB translation comments

I have decided to split the devotional reading from the HCSB evaluation posts. Here are some posts on the other site related to HCSB:

Genesis 1-3 HCSB

Genesis 4-5 HCSB

And I will adjust the other posts and bring the HCSB comments here.

 

Genesis 6-8 HCSB

6:3

HCSB: And the LORD said, “My Spirit will not remain with mankind forever, because they are corrupt.
NAS: Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh;

It seems that the two translations are radically different, and in both cases. However, in the first instance what isn’t noted in the HCSB Bible is that “remain” (or “abide in”) comes from ancient versions, not the Hebrew. While HCSB provides a footnote, it only states “or strive” without indicating how that came to be. In the last part of the verse, HCSB includes a footnote “lit. flesh.” That choice seems to fit with the context and makes sense; a corresponding text is Psalm 78:39.

6:6

HCSB: the LORD regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
NAS: The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.
GW: The Lord was sorry that he had made humans on the earth, and he was heartbroken.

I think HCSB offers the best translation of נחם (naham). In the niphal the word can mean “regret,” “to be sorry,” “to console oneself.” In English “sorry” carries the connotation of some kind of sinful action for which the person is sorry. Thus, I think “regret” carries better the sense of the verse regarding God’s disposition for the current sad state of affairs; God didn’t cause this, but he sees the consequences of the sin.

“Grieved”— the form (hitpael) is only used in two places in the OT, here and Gen. 34:7. One reference translates it as “deeply wounded” (HALOT, Vol. 2, p. 865). This fits well with “grieved” but I think even better with the GW rendering, “heartbroken.”

8:1

HCSB: God remembered Noah
NAS: But God remembered Noah

The waw-consecutive form of the verb can be a continuation, but also can be used in contrast to what had been previously stated (see 6:18 where HCSB does indicate the contrast with identical construction). It seems that the context suggests that “but” is essential in noting the change from 7:23-24 (“they were wiped off the earth. Only Noah was left, and those that were with him in the ark”).

Summary

The only changes I would make: in 6:8 change “Noah, however,…” to “But Noah….” While both indicate contrast, the secondary position of “however” weakens the effect. I would change 8:1 to include the contrast, “But God remembered…”

This section HCSB seemed to hold up well. Translation choices (except the two noted) appear to be appropriate and very readable.