LIBERTY UNIVERSITY

CROSS-CULTURAL SERVANTOOD: SERVING THE WORLD IN CHRISTLIKE HUMILITY
BY DUANE ELMER - A BOOK REPORT

A PAPER SUBMITTED TO DR. JONES KALELI IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR
THE COURSE ICST 650

LIBERTY BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY

BY ELKE SPELIOPOULOS

DOWNINGTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 5, 2012

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION ...................................................................................................................... 1 ABOUT THE AUTHOR............................................................................................................. 1 SUMMARY ............................................................................................................................... 2 EVALUATION AND CRITIQUE .............................................................................................. 3 PERSONAL APPLICATION ..................................................................................................... 5 CONCLUSION .......................................................................................................................... 6 BIBLIOGRAPHY ....................................................................................................................... 7

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INTRODUCTION Encountering people that are different from the way one perceives the world is a challenge in the best of circumstances. With the arrival of modern technology in the form of jet travel and a plethora of Internet-enabled tools, it appears to have become much easier to travel to far-away destinations both in person and virtually. The world seems to have grown much smaller, yet human minds continue to struggle to grasp the complexity of cultural differences of those living in lands far off. This perceived strangeness may equally apply to those living just down the block, proverbially speaking, but who come from a vastly different background, whether ethnically or societally. Duane Elmer¶s book Cross-Cultural Servanthood is written to those who seek to reach out with the Gospel of Christ to people who might be not just geographically removed, but vastly different in their approach to life or their expressed values and opinions. Based on many years of international experience, Elmer focuses on the message of the Bible, i.e. the character of God and the redemption of mankind through Jesus Christ, and how it intersects with, challenges, augments, and ultimately strengthens cross-cultural communication. ABOUT THE AUTHOR Duane H. Elmer has traveled and taught in over seventy-five countries, where he has provided cross-cultural training to a diverse clientele, ranging from mission organization and churches to development agencies and Fortune 500 companies. Notable is also his work in peace and reconciliation efforts. Recently, Elmer taught faculty development workshops in Europe and the Middle East. He serves as the director of the Ph.D. program in educational studies. Elmer is also the G. W. Aldeen Chair of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in

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Deerfield, Illinois. He has authored numerous articles and several books, on biblical topics, cross-cultural conflicts and connections, and on inter-cultural relationship building.1 SUMMARY A line that Elmer writes late in the book could encapsulate the message he is trying to get across to his readers: ³Everyone is ethnocentric.´2 It is from this understanding and its associated belief that only one¶s own culture is natural (and therefore good) that Elmer engages his readers. Elmer breaks down his book into three distinct parts, each consisting of several chapters. The first part addresses a basic understanding of servanthood. Elmer looks at servanthood¶s burdens and challenges (chapter one), the basic understanding of one¶s place, exemplified through Jesus¶ servanthood behavior towards His disciples, and choosing said place (chapter two), and the posture of humility displayed by the servant (chapter three). Part two, making up the largest portion of the book, addresses the actual process of becoming a servant to others. Elmer addresses several aspects that will facilitate entry of the believer into a cross-cultural setting: openness, which allows others to feel welcomed (chapter four), acceptance, which is a communicator of respect towards those encountered (chapter five), trust, which expedites confidence building in new relationships (chapter six), learning, which needs to be viewed from an information-seeking and a biblically-founded perspective (chapters seven and eight), understanding, which permits the entrant into a new culture to see other¶s through their eyes (chapter nine), and ultimately being able to serve, which equals becoming like Christ to others (chapter ten).
InterVarsity Press, IVP Books by Duane Elmer, http://www.ivpress.com/cgiivpress/author.pl/author_id=328 (accessed February 5, 2012). Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Manner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 143.
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The third and final part of the book reviews some of the challenges that present themselves as a believer steps into another culture. Chapters eleven through thirteen address topics ranging from understanding and appreciating different views in leadership style, to the need to differentiate between relinquishing power in given situations and exerting godly power in others, and finally to the battle between mind and emotions that can envelope the Christian worker. Elmer concludes his book by taking a look at an outstanding biblical example and role model of someone who gained the trust and insights of another culture: Joseph who is depicted in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Joseph, in Elmer¶s description, embodies the characteristics of a successful servant-like approach to another culture: his openness, acceptance, trust, learning, understanding and serving show how someone who is new to a foreign culture can gain entry into it and thrive in it, while not compromising his convictions. Elmer describes Joseph in this manner, which encapsulates everything the book is about: In the end Joseph, a cross-cultural servant, engaged people in positive ways, adjusted to the cultural realities and fulfilled God¶s purposes without compromising his faith. His work was exceptional, his character proven to be above reproach and his motivation drawn from a kingdom not of this world. In times of intense mystery, he was neither doubtful nor bitter. In fact, it seemed to strengthen his belief that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the one true God who would never leave nor forsake him. Then, like any good servant of the Lord, he chose to accept what God gave him, and prospered despite the circumstances. ³The Lord was with him.´ And he is with us.3 EVALUATION AND CRITIQUE Elmer¶s book is a valuable addition to the library of someone who seeks to work in crosscultural settings, whether in a short-term engagement or in a long-term deployment. The information contained within Cross-Cultural Servanthood is essential in encountering other cultures, whether they are far away or in one¶s proverbial backyard. For many in the body of Christ who seek to go on short or mid-term mission trips, Elmer¶s writing can add tremendous
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Ibid., 197.

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preparatory insight into encountering a new group of people who will undoubtedly not be like the people one is accustomed to come upon. While much of his writing embraces general sociological concepts widely taught in university settings, the difference in Elmer¶s book is the linkage to Scripture and to the expressed character of God and His heart for the nations. From a reading perspective, Elmer¶s working definitions for terms such as openness or acceptance are a welcome addition to the book. Many authors never define the terms they use in their writing, so being given clear definitions that put a context around a topic at hand is very useful, e.g. when he writes, ³Acceptance is the ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person.´4 What sets Elmer¶s book apart is his tying the concepts discussed to biblical texts. While topics such as ethnocentrism or cultural openness are recognizable concepts taken from social studies, Elmer highlights that these are not human invention, but rather are issues and values described in the pages of Scripture. As such, the reader is reminded that God created His people for relationship with Him, but also with each other. At the same time, Elmer does not overwhelm the reader with proof text after proof text, but rather focuses on a few fundamental and applicable verses for each topic. Likewise, Elmer does not leave the reader with a simple observation of desirable attributes in relationship building, but also provides pragmatic observations of what will encourage or discourage a certain behavior. When he speaks about acceptance, e.g., Elmer points out that a lack of a common language, openly displayed impatience toward another, ethnocentric behavior, the inability to widen the definition of a category to include cultural differences, and dogmatic rigidity can be true hindrances to acceptance.5 With each of the points he makes, Elmer adds useful field observations from his many years working in other cultures.
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Ibid., 58. Ibid., 66-70.

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Elmer¶s focus on openness is a critical one, yet this openness towards other cultures cannot dilute to simple tolerance if the truth of Scripture is not to be put at risk. Elmer writes, While openness is a wonderful virtue, it is not to be misconstrued as religious relativism«Our challenge is to be inclusive in extending grace to all people yet exclusive in affirming that the Bible is the authoritative truth of God. While this often brings charges of exclusivism, narrowness, rigidity and elitism, the fact is that to make the Bible one of many truths is to destroy its claims«We can remain open to cultural diversity as long as it doesn¶t violate a clear mandate of Scripture.6 PERSONAL APPLICATION Speaking from the author¶s European perspective, Americans often appear to feel their culture is superior in so many ways that it is the only valid form of culture that exists. Elmer lays this misconception to rest in this book, which is a very welcome perspective. Just because a behavior or practice is different, it is not automatically bad or unworthy of consideration. One learning for the author from Elmer¶s writing is that openness requires a believer in a cross-cultural setting (and it would seem equally so in a same-cultural setting) to have - what he calls - positive attribution. This is a truly unique proposition for encountering those that are different from what the observer is accustomed to. During inter-cultural experiences, it can be somewhat of a control factor to view ³otherness´ as strange or even threatening, yet by adopting such a positive ³first review´ approach, the opportunity presents itself to not only begin a relationship from a fresh perspective, but to open oneself to learning about another¶s values, opinions, behaviors, and ultimately lifestyle. Another aspect of learning from Elmer¶s book is the more relaxed approach towards dogmatism. While, as he correctly identifies, there are times when one needs to hold to certain doctrines of the Christian faith, it is certainly advisable to be more flexible on those topics that are of secondary relevance, such as the example Elmer uses regarding worship styles7. Especially
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Ibid., 56. Ibid., 71.

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when traveling to parts of the world where time is viewed in a much more relaxed manner, one should probably not expect to find a standard 1:15 hrs. worship service ± and that is okay in this cultural context. The same might apply even in a setting that happens in the same geographical location, but features two cultural subgroups. To give one example, an AME church may operate on a different concept of worship times and lengths than a predominantly Anglo-Saxon Protestant congregation. Elmer offers much to think about and to apply to situations encountered in one¶s life, whether far or near. CONCLUSION Cross-cultural servanthood for many believers may primarily take place in a cultural setting outside of the national boundaries of a believer¶s home country, yet many of the principles laid out in Elmer¶s book will also apply when working with subcultures within one¶s own country of origin. This book offers practical and pragmatic advice on how to become a believer who is open to inter- or intra-cultural encounters in order to be given the right to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. By telling stories from his own experience and coupling the observations with truths from Scripture about God¶s character, Elmer challenges his readers to look beyond their own horizon and to see that while God created all in His image, there are differences in how individuals and people groups experience the world around them. These expressions of human emotions, views and practices are not in and of themselves exclusions to a fruitful one-on-one meeting of each other. Cross-cultural servanthood becomes a reality when the believer is willing to learn and to be open and accepting to those precious people God created and who are living in another part of the world«or the city.

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BIBLIOGRAPHY Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Manner. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006. InterVarsity Press. IVP Books by Duane Elmer. http://www.ivpress.com/cgiivpress/author.pl/author_id=328 (accessed February 5, 2012).

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