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.


Helping without Hurting (4) Relief, Rehabilitation and Development


It is vital to give the right help.

Here is a really helpful diagram similar to one in Cobbett and Fikkert (p. 100)

The lightning bolt represents an event which brings the person to a point of need, let’s say it is an earthquake.

  1. Relief is needed immediately after because the victims are utterly unable to help themselves. Relief must therefore be  seldom, immediate and temporary. After an earthquake for instance, this means food and tents, and they need to be already in store so that help can be given immediately.
  2. Rehabilitation is the work of getting the individual or the community back on its feet – back to where it was before. After an earthquake this is rebuilding shelter, infrastructure and food supplies to restore the community.
  3. Development is just what it says, developing the community or individual to help it improve.

Too often we give the wrong help. A stable but poor community does not need ‘relief’ in the form of food handouts as a long term solution. It will cause the beneficiaries to abstain from work. Rather they either need rehabilitation if something has caused them to stop working and producing, or development if they can improve capacity.

As easy as ABCD?

Paternalism (doing for people what they can do for themselves) is harmful because it pushes the beneficiaries into the relief phase. C & F advocate Asset Based Community Development, a widely used approach that begins with the community and what it can offer. It believes that God has gifted every individual and community with gifts (p. 120). Since Poverty alleviation is about restoring relationships (see post (1) What is poverty), ABCD starts with ‘what gifts do you have?’ long before asking, ‘what needs do you have?’ It also avoids giving resources that are either too much or too early or both.

Some common approaches mentioned are

  • Asset Mapping, A questionnaire along the lines of ‘Hi … what can you do’ (it’s much more sophisticated than that!)
  • Participatory learning and Action is done by the community. Later F & C say, ‘Participation is not just a means to an end but rather a legitimate end in its own right’ (p. 136)
  • Appreciative Enquiry applies the past successes to the future and works by shifting the sense of shame and inferiority.

In all cases the warning is that initiatives fail because of inadequate participation of poor people in the process. The materially non-poor make all the decisions. Yet the poor are more likely to own solutions that they have developed and will also know their complex situation better than outsiders.

At a simple level this is the difference between the modern water pump installed by Westerners in a fortnight that now lies unused and broken; and the water tank painstakingly discussed with and by the local community and built of local materials.

When Helping Hurts (3) Walk with them


Following on from last time:

Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us (p. 75)

Poverty alleviation is a ministry of reconciliation, seeking to restore all the relationships involved in the ‘Shalom’ diagram:

Unbelievers can change some of the key relationships and do better, but ultimately deep and lasting change comes only through Christ. The long, hard road to lasting change is through helping people change their worldview. This is hard to spot, and therefore hard to fund: donors would rather put up a building and see someone spend time just talking. But if through that talk God can bring reconciliation, then there is hope for the poor.

Here are some of the main worldviews that F & C mention:

  • Biblical theism. God is distinct from creation but linked.
  • Deism. God is both distinct and separate; he therefore has no further influence and problems must be solved by human reason alone
  • Modern. The universe is a machine and God is irrelevant. Poverty is material in nature, and therefore requires materials and technology for a solution. The heroes are the masters of technology, who happen to be Westerners (and therefore have a god-complex).
  • Evangelical Gnosticism encourages the sacred/secular divide and fails to communicate the full implications of the lordship of Christ. In other words there is more to salvation than the reconciliation of the soul to God. All of life’s relationships must come under the reconciling lordship of Christ.

Changing worldviews is hard work. For those involved in local church ministry it should not come as a surprise. After all it is how we address the poverty of the materially rich with whom we work in our parishes.

When Helping Hurts (2) The Helping Equation


What happens when materially rich Christians try to help the materially poor? Fikkert and Cobbett have this fascinating equation, whihc they call the North American Church Helling Equation (in When Helping Hurts p. 64). It’s easier for me to write it vertically:

    (Material Definition of Poverty)
+ (god-complex of materially non-poor)
+ (feelings of inferiority of materially poor)
= Harm to both materially poor and non-poor

We can reduce the harm done by reducing each of the three terms in the equation:

  • We saw last time that the material definition of poverty is inadequate if we understand poverty to be the absence or disruption of all the relationships that make for ‘Shalom’. If we really want to help, we should revise our definition of poverty.
  • The second term recognises that too much ‘help’ is about US more than about them. It feeds the ‘god-complex’. I recognise this temptation in myself and see it in others. If we want to avoid spiritual harm to ourselves, we must meet it with ongoing repentance.
  • The third term is masked by the gratitude and hsame that our friends feel when they are helped with gifts that reinforce their helplessness. We need to help them see that they are people with gifts and abilities.

A final comment:

Although all are poor in some way, the materially poor have a special place in God’s heart (p. 67)

When Helping Hurts (1) What is poverty?


It is an extraordinary idea that helping can actually harm. Damage is done to both to those we intend to help and also to us the would-be saviours. The possibility must give any Christian, and especially any Christian in paid ministry, pause for thought.

Steve Cobbett and Brian Fikkert’s When Helping Hurts: how to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor … and yourself has been a great help to me as I think these things through.

One of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame (p. 62)

What is poverty?

A good solution begins with good diagnosis. In order to tackle poverty, we need first to ask, “What is the problem?”
  • If we think that the cause of poverty is a lack of knowledge, then we will work primarily for Education:
  • if it is oppression, we will work primarily for Social justice.
  • if it is sin, we will work primarily for Evangelism.
  • if it is lack of material resources, then we will work primarily to give material resources.

It is not hard to recognise different aid strategies here, as well as familiar emphases in ministry. Following Bryant Myers, Corbett and Fikkert propose that a more biblical framework is multifaceted. It begins with what we are made for.

Made to be in right relationships

We are made to be in right relationships, first with God, and then with ourselves, with others, and with the rest of creation.
‘Shalom’ is the state of being in these right relationships. Sin has broken and spoilt every dimension of that Shalom, and as a result
Poverty is … the absence of shalom in all its meanings (59)
It follows that if poverty is multifaceted, then poverty alleviation must also be multifaceted. It is certainly the case that a simple, single, diagnosis (see above ) is likely to fall short of the true picture and the solution will fall short of helping.

Why giving isn’t enough

Specifically, it shows why giving people material resources, or even education, will fail unless it is accompanied by restarted relationships. That is why rich people giving poor people material goods will never solve the problem: it merely reinforces the problems on both sides: a god-complex for the rich, and helplessness and shame for the poor.
Never thought that a god-complex was a problem? Tune in next time.

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.

Funny if it were not so sad


In an ironic twist to go with my post  ‘So … what IS the mission of the Church’, I came across a news item here and here that the mission society USPG has changed its name.

USPG stands for United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel. But they say

No doubt this name worked well in its day, but words like “propagation” are simply out-dated in the twenty-first century. So it was time for a change.

‘Our new name, Us, is directly derived from USPG, so it speaks to our heritage, but it also speaks about inclusivity. There is no “them”; we are all “us”. Our work – in partnership with the churches of the Anglican Communion – is for the benefit of the whole community, regardless of ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality, age or faith. No-one is excluded.’

So there’s no propagation of the gospel involved in mission as far as ‘Us’ is concerned. It only about unlocking the potential of every community.

See also this comment along similar lines.

What do you think?