Hill & Hill Translating the Bible into Action


What can parish ministry learn from missiology? Loads!


What can first world ministry learn from those working cross-culturally in developing countries? Loads.

In Translating the Bible in Action: How the Bible can be Relevant in all Languages and Cultures (Piquant, 2008) Harriet Hill and Margaret Hill take us through seven areas involved in taking the Bible and putting it into practical use. It’s written in world english which means clear communication using a limited vocabulary. There is a french language translation Traduire La Bible en Actes: Manuel pour faire un bon usage de la Bible dans chaque langue et culture (Presses Bibliques Africaines, 2011)


You don’t have to be working cross-culturally, or even in Africa to benefit from this book. We all face the same barriers to understanding and application. In the first section (after an introduction) the authors consider the theological foundations of language and culture. The key point for me is that real paradigm shifts happen when you’re reading in your mother tongue. Thus although you may be able to read in another language and gain content, there will always be far, far better engagement if you encounter the material in your ‘home’ language. This is a strong argument for Bible translation into local languages, and not settling for national languages (French, Portuguese, English, Swahili). A similar argument applies to the way the English language has changed since the seventeenth century (When the 1611 Authorised version of the Bible, and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer were published), and indeed since 1984 (when the NIV was published).

A particular challenge in many African countries, as elsewhere in the developing world, is multi-lingual churches, where the congregation is drawn from several tribal groups, and this topic forms the second main section. Yet this phenomenon has its European counterpart too. Within a single culture, there are gaps between the generations. And Great Britain is a multi-cultural nation: even in Somerset, surely one of the least ethnically mixed places in the UK, there are sizeable Polish and Portuguese communities.How do we aim to reach and include them? We are far behind our African brothers and sisters here!

Section three, Relevant Bible Use covers the basics of understanding the Bible and making pertinent application. It’s the reason I came across this book, because we distribute these on behalf of Langham Literature at the Langham Preaching seminars that I have been part of in francophone Africa. I particularly found the chapter on ‘Providing Necessary Background Information’ to be a helpful reminder of just how much knowledge we assume for interpreting the Bible.

Sharing faith is really helpful on doing so in oral contexts. You don’t have to be in a developing world to meet one: a sizeable number of people in the UK are functionally illiterate. (Section six on literacy deals with teaching literacy, especially with African context in mind). And if you think about it, an all-age Family Service is an oral context: we tell stories, use pictures and drama, and aim to communicate the message of the Bible in a way that engages all ages, all of the time. I would like to hear more of Chronological Bible Storying, and work out how Langham Preachers could apply their sound exegetical and hermeneutical skills to this setting.

Section five looks at using your gifts of music, art and drama – chapters that any church would do well to take on board. Finally section eight Passing it on helps the reader think through the logistics of launching a new product, usually a Bible translation. There is a helpful chapter about ‘Bringing about change’.

I would recommend this book for the following reasons

1. In any context, there are sound principles to help you translate the Bible into action. If, like me, you are basically an Anglophone but working with francophone people, the french translation is a great help.

2. In any context and including the West, it’s a great summary in simple language of key concepts of missiology and ministryt

3. It’s great to think about everyday ministry through new eyes. Pastor Simon’s situation is a million miles from my own: but the obstacles in people’s hearts and in his own are not really that different; and his resources are the same – biblical wisdom and good Christian friends.


Three Strands of Powerful Biblical Preaching


Neil Powell in his blog a faith to live by helpfully distinguishes three strands to powerful biblical preaching, under these three names:

  • Biblical preaching is preaching that is faithful to the text.The key issue is what does this text say?
  • Gospel centred preaching has the focus of showing how this text speaks of Jesus Christ, wherever it is drawn from in Scripture. The key issue is now what does this text say about Jesus Christ?
  • Gospel driven preaching looks to the Gospel to enable us to obey the text. Remember that the Gospel is a message of grace, but if our sermon says, ‘try harder!’ or some variation on that theme, we preach law. Gospel Powered Preaching asks how the Gospel enables us to become the people God wants us to be. The Gospel is the enabling part of the application. The key issue now becomes, ‘what does this text say about Jesus Christ so that he may enable me to glorify God?’.
Some resources for each focus include:

The Cascade Effect in Benin


The latest edition of Langham Partnership’s news has an article about the work in Benin, called the Cascade Effect in Benin

It follows my earlier post OK – Good – Better.


OK – Good – Better Training preachers


Some mission pictures tell better stories than others.

Consider these three pictures below, taken from a Langham Preaching conference in Benin, in which I was privileged to take part.

OK. We give them things

At the end of the preaching conference, the participants each received a Bible Dictionary or a couple of books. Imagine receiving an iPad at the end of a training course and you might grasp the relative value of books in this context.

Giving books is not a wrong thing to do. But it’s only ‘OK’ because we’re giving them ‘stuff’ and it’s done on our terms. We are also very visible, despite our african clothes.

 Good. We give them training

The Training of Trainers program is made available once three levels have been followed. It equips local participants to become to the trainers and the Langham facilitators move from doing the training to enabling others to give training. In this photo the local trainer is giving the talk with facilitators Ed and Gordon are watching, and will give feedback later on.

This is ‘good’ because we are explicitly trying to equip the national movement and to step back ourselves.

Better. They give their plans

Preaching clubs are a key element in launching a national preaching movement. At the end of the conference, participants gathered in their preaching club groups to decide on a plan of action. All agreed that they would meet again, many even fixing the date of the next meeting. Some also set a date for running a local training event. This photograph shows the spokesperson for one group giving his action plan, watched over by the President of the Day, who is a member of the Training of Trainers group. These plans, then, are fully owned by the national believers. Hurray.

Inside Story: The Life of John Stott by Roger Steer


Reposted with a correction. Roger Steer kindly pointed out that there IS a hunt for the snowy owl story. My apologies to Roger for the error.

If the news of John Stott’s recent promotion to glory has left you wanting to know more of the man’s life and incluence, a brief biography is called for. Here is a review I wrote some time ago for Churchman magazine. 

John Stott towers over the history of twentieth century evangelicalism, and remains a man of enormous influence through his writings, his preaching and his personal leadership. Roger Steer has written an accessible account of a John Stott’s life.

The biographer’s first challenge is to reckon with the sheer number of people who are significant in the story – and in whose stories John Stott is significant. The Table of Contents helpfully doubles as a timeline as we follow the subject through his early steps in life and then as a Christian into his emergence as a leader. From the moment Stott hits his stride, the pace of the book is fairly breathless. If this were a stage play rather than the book, then it could be set on a moving stage so that a long succession of leading christians may efficiently be shuffled on stage left, be introduced, and then slide off to stage-right. Perhaps life around John Stott was really like that. As the book continues it is with some relief that the train of visitors subsides and more of the man’s personal passions emerge: the certainty that life for Christ is the only and best way to life; his personal discipline and holiness; his passion for preaching; his gifts coupled with humility and sense of humour. The middle section manages not to leave the reader intimidated; the final section manages to leave the reader inspired. John Stott is also a prolific author and Steer does a good job of summarising the major works and the contexts from which they sprang.

This is a good introduction to John Stott’s life and writings given the space available, but we get little chance to reflect on his inner thoughts. We discover that he was criticised by people who did not work as hard to understand his position as as he did to understand theirs. But there is no clear engagement with his evangelical critics’ views, and the struggles he faced are mentioned but hardly analysed: tensions with his father about war service; differences with evangelicals over Billy Graham’s mission and methods; divergence with Martyn Lloyd-Jones; differences between the ‘narrow’ and broad’ views of evangelism in the Lausanne process; disputes over conditional immortality. We also hear little of the theological currents at each stage, again for lack of space. The fact of John Stott’s birdwatching is of course mentioned: the passion of it does not quite come across. (And there is no ‘quest for the snowy owl’ [Correction: the quest for the snowy owl is on pp 243-244; my apologies for the error]). Those who did not live through these times personally will do well by reading a biography of Stott, and Steer’s life is an excellent introduction, much shorter than Timothy Dudley-Smith’s two volumes. It will help us begin to appreciate the influence of Stott’s writings in shaping evangelicalism today in Britain and beyond. And readers of any age should be inspired by Stott’s example, humbled by his godliness, and stimulated to serve his Master.

A Preacher’s Prayer


I have been working my way through Greg Scharf’s Relational Preaching in the Langham Preaching Resources series. He says (p183):

For many years my custom was to pray Philippians 1.9-11 aloud at the beginning of each sermon, placing emphasis on the “my”

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11)

Think of it as a prayer for success in preaching. We ask God to work in our hearers in such a way that they gain not only knowledge but also insight and ethical discernment. We ask that these will yield abundant righteousness and love. We ask that all these virtues and graces will be seen as coming through Jesus Christ, that he will enable them to stand before him on the last day, and that they will all reflect glory and praise to God, both now and then. That is praying theologically!

Amen to that!


The Langham Logic


When I was a younger christian, my experience of walking with Christ was such an up-and-down picture that I longed for the stability that wold come ‘when I am a mature Christian’.  Now that I am older, I realise that there is still a long way to go to full maturity. If anything I see my weaknesses all the more, and of course perfection will only come when Christ comes to us or he calls me home.

But I also see that the desire for maturity is a godly and biblical one. God wants us to grow up to maturity in Christ. It is right to seek maturity, and frankly wrong to neglect it. Maturity comes through encountering God in his living word, the Bible. God gave different kinds of word ministries so that the body of Christ may be built up and become mature (see Ephesians 4.11-12). We cannot grow to maturity if we neglect the word.

John Stott pithily summarised this in what has become known as the Langham Logic:

We believe that God wants the church to grow up.
We believe that the church grows through God’s Word,
and that this word comes to people, primarily, through preaching.

Langham Preaching is a ministry originally founded by John Stott to follow through on the Langham Logic. Langham Preaching is about putting the bible back into the hands of local preachers and their churches. A fuller statement of their purpose goes something like this:

Langham Preaching is about training in a way which builds and sustains an indigenous movement of biblical preachers which changes the culture of preaching in the majority world … to impact church and society.

It’s a great work, and if you are interested in finding out more, and seeing how you can support it, visit their website at http://www.langhampartnership.org/preaching/