Using henna to communicate the Gospel

Henna Stories websiteA couple of years ago I posted on a fantastic example of how the art of henna might be used in Bible engagement (you can read that post here: Henna storying the Bible). People still come across that post most days, which suggests the concept intrigues and resonates with them. I’ve also had the privilege of seeing a student submit some henna designs for an assignment on the Psalms here at Redcliffe.

Revisiting the topic I notice that there are now quite a few links out there on the subject. The Henna stories website is a good place to start, as is the section on Henna in the AfricaStories website. Two interesting articles can be found on the Indigenous Jesus blog: Contextualized Henna Art and Mehndi Gospel Paintings.

You may also like to check out a couple of videos: Creation to Christ and Henna and the Gospel.

What about your own context? What expressions of creativity are prized in your culture and how might they be used to convey the message of the Gospel?

Lausanne World Pulse on the Bible and Orality

The latest issue of Lausanne World Pulse features an article titled, ‘International Orality Network’s Declaration on Making Disciples of the World’s Oral Learners through Audio Scripture Engagement’.

It it they make the point that

There are 4.35 billion people in our world who are oral learners. They are found in many cultural groups in the villages and in global cities around the world. We recognize that sixty percent of the world’s population can’t, won’t, or don’t hear the gospel when we share it simply because it’s often coming through literate means they don’t understand and to which they do not relate.

The word of God is unchangeable, but the manner or method in which it is communicated does change. We celebrate that God has worked intentionally throughout history to bring his word to the peoples of the world utilizing various media formats, including oral communication, scribe and hand written text, the printed page, and digital means.

The Gutenberg Press enabled a print revolution and unprecedented spread of the word of God. Oral means were available prior to Gutenberg, but a scripture literacy revolution was empowered by means of making the full Bible available to every person who could read. We stand today at another seminal point in history in which digital technology makes it possible for every oral learner to engage with God’s word in audio and audio/visual formats.

The International Orality Network aim

to influence the Body of Christ to make disciples of all oral learners. We believe that the foundation of discipleship is the shaping by, and obedience to, the word of God. It is the inalienable right and privilege of every person to have access to the word of God in his or her own heart language and in a media format he or she understands.

They then issue a number of challenges:

We call upon the Body of Christ to expand the reach of this revolution by making the entire word of God available to every person who can hear.

We call upon the Church to embrace engagement of the audio scripture among oral learners with great urgency.

We call upon the Church to engage all unengaged, unreached people groups and to place into their hands any and every available audio portion of God’s word in their heart language.

We call upon the Body of Christ to devote energies, strategies, and resources to provide access for all oral learners to engage the entire word of God through audio/digital means, so that every tribe, tongue, and people group may hear, understand, and have the opportunity to respond!

Bible Engagement and Oral Culture

International Orality NetworkIn a previous post I highlighted the Cape Town Commitment’s inclusion of the key issue of communicating the Bible in oral cultures.

The Bible and orality is a theme I will be returning to with more frequency, not least because over the Summer we will be preparing a new final year module as part of Redcliffe’s BA Degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts on ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’.

As a helpful orientation here are a couple of excerpts from the website of the International Orality Network. The first gives a definition of their understanding of ‘oral learners’ or ‘oral communicators’. The second gives some statistics and facts.

Those of us who have tended to learn through literate means simply must get to grips with what this stuff means. Not only will it make our efforts to communicate the Bible more effective. I would argue it would also enrich our appreciation and understanding of the Bible immeasurably.


An oral learner or oral communicator is:

1. Someone who cannot read or write.

2. Someone whose most effective communication and learning format, style, or method is in accordance with oral formats, as contrasted to literate formats.

3. Someone who prefers to learn or process information by oral rather than written means. (These are literate people whose preferred communication style is oral rather than literate, even though they can read.)


Statistics and Facts

1. Over 4 Billion people in the world do not read as their primary method of learning – either they cannot read; they do not read; or they will not read.

2. The vast majority of missions work has been done for a literate audience. Unfortunately the vast majority of the true audience is therefore not able to connect with the Gospel.

3. Oral cultures are very relational – they share their lives with one another.

4. Most oral cultures will communicate with one another in narratives, dialogues and dramas, proverbs, songs, chants, and poetry. When asked what he thought about a new village school headmaster, a Central African replied “Let’s watch how he dances”

This leaves us with some serious questions to answer: how different would our missionary efforts look if we truly took the phenomenon of orality seriously? What could we learn that would apply to a (if I can use this term) ‘post-literate’ society? How much to I base my efforts to communicate on how I would understand something, as if my preferred learning style is objective?

Lots to chew over in the coming months. In the meantime, check out ION’s website

The internet device boom and the future of Bible Engagement

BBC’s website published a news item this afternoon on a report by CISCO predicting an ‘internet device boom’. Here’s an excerpt from BBC’s report:

The number of internet connected devices is set to explode in the next four years to over 15 billion – twice the world’s population by 2015.

Technology giant Cisco predicts the proliferation of tablets, mobile phones, connected appliances and other smart machines will drive this growth.

The company said consumer video will continue to dominate internet traffic.

It predicts that by 2015, one million minutes of video will be watched online every second.

The predictions come from Cisco’s fifth annual forecast of upcoming trends.

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index also estimated that at the same time more than 40% of the world’s projected population will be online, a total of nearly three billion people.

What do these staggering statistics mean for the ways in which participate in God’s mission and engage people with the Bible? A few initial suggestions:

1. We need to take technology seriously and on its own terms. This isn’t just a sideline for a few interested people.

2. We need to work hard at ‘digital contextualisation’. Just as recording a text doesn’t automatically make it ‘oral’, so we must develop ways of engaging people with the Bible in the digital sphere that are not just ‘digitial’ versions of analogue engagement.

3. In particular, how might we harness video and the social networking that goes with it to greater effect?

4. Connected with issues of technology are issues of wealth and power. Technology will not lead us to a new utopia; what will be the particular ways that humanity finds to sin in the digital sphere? How will abuses of digital power be worked out in this context and how will the church respond biblically?

5. 40% of the world’s population being online is a huge number, though I’d like to know how ‘being online’ is defined. But that still leaves 60% who won’t be online. It would be interesting to see how oral cultures engage with  the digital boom. Is it the preocupation of literate cultures? Ironically, you could argue that technology is actually creating new oral cultures within literary ones as people’s preferred means of experiencing and sharing information changes. Also, let’s not get so preoccupied with the 40% that we forget the 60%.

Just a few thoughts to get the ball rolling. What would you add? Do you have any good examples of digital contextualisation or Bible Engagement. What you think the implications are?

Finally, given my context of preparing people for cross-cultural mission, I’d like to note a few ways in which we at Redcliffe College are seeking to ensure that our students are equipped to engage in this stuff. Here are some examples:

Students on the first year of our degree in Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts they can take a module on contemporary communication skills, which takes a practical look at using technology;

second years doing Luke/Acts and/or Genesis 1-11/Psalms can opt to do a creative piece for their assignment that might involved writing a blog, making a video, or something similar;

third years have the option of doing our brand new module, ‘Story, Song and Social Networks: Bible Engagement and Oral Culture’;

finally, students taking the MA in Bible and Mission have to do a module in ‘Bible Engagement in Intercultural Contexts’, and can use this as an opportunity to explore Bible Engagement in a digital context.

The process of Bible engagement

Harriet Hill, co-author of Translating the Bible into Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in all Languages and Cultures has posted a very helpful document on the Lausanne Global Conversation and Scripture Engagement websites.

It talks about Bible/Scripture engagement as a process covering:

  • Bible Availability – Do people have access to the Bible in a language and media that they are able to use?
  • Bible Awareness – Are people aware of the Bibles that are available? Are they exposed to them?
  • Bible Use – Do people choose to read or listen to the Bible?
  • Bible Understanding – Do people understand what they read?
  • Bible Engagement – Through interaction with the written word, do people encounter the Living Word (Christ)?

You can read the whole document here. She has invited feedback so why not have a look and then add your comments to one of the sites mentioned above?

Understanding and using the Bible in different contexts

SPCK sent through a review copy today of a very interesting looking book called Understanding and Using the Bible, edited by Chris Wright and Jonathan Lamb (both of Langham Partnership International). It is part of the SPCK International Study Guide Series.

About the series, Rene Padilla comments:

‘To be relevant to life, theology must be contextual. The International Study Guides are a tremendous help to people. They broaden their concept of the mission of the Church and their Christian responsibility.’

The contributors to Understanding and Using the Bible represent a variety of cultural contexts including the UK, Latin America, South and South East Asia, and Africa. Here are the blurb and contents:

The Bible claims to be, and the Church confesses it to be, the word of God, but what does this mean? Understanding and Using the Bible encourages you to take the Bible seriously, whether you are a student, pastor, lay leader or just an ‘ordinary’ believer. Packed with wisdom and examples from around the world, this helpful book shows how the Bible is being used creatively to transform lives – and how simple techniques of Bible study and exploration can be employed across countries and cultures.

The book is in two parts. Part One explores key Christian belief about the Bible and why it matters; encourages effective use and application of the Bible in different cultural and social contexts; teaches on right and wrong use of the Bible; models different possible ways of approaching and using the Bible with integrity; encourages readers to take the Bible as a whole and build a biblical worldview.

Part Two, Using the Bible, illustrates examples of applied Bible use in different contexts with contributions from a variety of authors.

Table of contents:

Part 1  Understanding the Bible
1. Understanding the Bible as the word of God – Christopher J.H. Wright
2. Understanding the Bible as the words of human authors – Christopher J.H. Wright
3. Understanding the Bible as a whole – Christopher J.H. Wright
Selected reading

Part 2  Using the Bible
4. Using the Bible devotionally for life – Jonathan Lamb
5. Using the Bible in evangelism – Ajith Fernando
6. Using the Bible in groups – Catherine Padilla
7. Using the Bible in the context of Islam – Ida Glaser
8. Using the Bible in oral cultures – Steve Evans
9. Using the Bible with women – Emily Onyango
10. Using the Bible in the family as a guide for life – Anthony and King Lang Loke
11. Using the Bible in preaching – Jonathan Lamb

Engaging young people with the Bible

This crucial issue is one of the subjects covered in this Saturday’s Youth Ministry course at Redcliffe. Here are further details taken from Redcliffe’s website:

Youth Ministry Course – day two: Discipleship with bite (and boots)

Saturday 27 March 2010

9.30am (for registration) – 4pm

Two buzzwords in youth ministry at the moment are discipleship and evangelism. It is all very well using these words with young people but what do they really mean on a day to day basis? And perhaps more importantly how can we get young people to engage with discipleship and evangelism? The second of three Saturdays aimed at equipping youth workers and volunteers in churches will give us ideas how to do this.

Do your young people appear unmotivated when it comes to church and especially sharing their faith? Dot Tyler from Emerging Generation will be talking about the practicalities involved in getting young people excited about their faith, and encouraging them to share that faith with others.

Where does the Bible fit into all this? How can we get young people excited about, and actively reading God’s word? Fiona Bridges has been involved in youth work for a number of years both in Australia and the UK and will look at how we can get young people engaged with the Word!

Are your young people talking about doing short term mission in some far off corner in the world, or perhaps they are planning out a gap year before heading to university? Maybe you are even planning to take a group of your young people on a mission trip. Mike Frith runs OSCAR, a website about everything to do with mission, and has also been on mission to a wide range of places himself. He will be speaking on the ins and outs of young people and mission and the issues that you, as a youth leader, should be aware of.

In addition to seminars, the day will provide plenty of opportunity for networking and finding out about resources. 

Cost: £18 per day or £50 for all three days. This will include a buffet lunch and refreshments.

For more details and to book visit Redcliffe’s website

The Gospel Among the Nations

This is the title of a forthcoming book I came across today, which will be published at the end of June. The Gospel Among the Nations: A Documentary History of Inculturation by Robert A. Hunt looks like it will be a very helpful reference work for those thinking through the crucial issue of how Christians might engage cross-culturally with the Gospel. Obviously I’ve not had a chance to read the book yet but I imagine it is likely to make its way onto the bibliography of the ‘Bible Engagement in Intercultural Contexts’ module of our new MA in Bible and Mission.

Here’s the publisher blurb:

Offers the most comprehensive collection available of original texts illustrating how Christians throughout the ages have struggled to inculturate the gospel.

The Gospel Among the Nations brings together in a single volume the most important primary documents illustrating how Christians have dealt with the most fundamental issue of the church’s mission: how to translate the gospel in new cultural settings.The texts range from Pope Gregory’s famous instructions to Augustine of Canterbury on his mission to England, to W. E. Hocking’s fateful “Attitudes toward People of Other Faiths.”

Beginning with a masterful introduction to the theme, Robert Hunt assembles scores of texts that reveal the way that missionaries, church leaders, and local Christians have contributed to the extension of Christianity over two millennia, and thus made it truly a world religion. The Gospel Among the Nations is an essential resource for students, researchers and practitioners in world Christian history and mission studies.

Robert A. Hunt is director of global theological education at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University, Dallas,Texas. He is a past president of the Association of Professors of Mission and a member of the American Society of Missiology’s Renewal and Strategic Planning task force.

Storytelling the gospel

How do you engage people with the Bible when they live in an oral culture? The whole area of literacy, oral culture, Bible translation and ‘storying’ is a crucial one in mission today. After all, as Grant Lovejoy of SIL puts it:

Does the spread of the Gospel depend on literacy? Jesus Christ is the eternal and living Word, after all, as John declares (John 1:1). The timeless message of His saving grace is proclaimed from one generation to the next in the Bible, the written Word of God. Are those who cannot—or will not—read the Word on the printed page essentially cut off from the Good News of salvation?

For one resource, have a look at the Jan/Feb 2008 edition of Momentum, which looks at the whole issue from a variety of perspectives:

Here is the contents

The Gospel’s advance can’t wait for literacy by Grant Lovejoy
Storytelling: frequently asked questions by Karl J. Franklin
A case for the longer-term use of storying by Roy Sloane
Storytelling among the Kao Bu by Tai Kadai
Doing something different by Steve Douglass
Oral approaches to augment a Bible translation process by Jim Stahl
Orality and translation: focusing on images rather than words by Janet Stahl
My journey into the world of narrative by Larry Dinkins

There is also a very helpful page on resources, both in electronic and book form.