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African Proverbs Reveal Christianity in Culture

by W. Jay Moon

Jay Moon’s wonderful book deserves a place in the collection of anyone who has an interest in contextualization or effective ministry in oral settings.

Pickwick Publications, 199 West 8th Avenue, Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401-2960, 2009, 220 pages, $26.00.

Reviewed by A. Scott Moreau, professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College Graduate School, Wheaton, Illinois; editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly.

Jay Moon’s wonderful book deserves a place in the collection of anyone who has an interest in contextualization or effective ministry in oral settings. Part of the American Society of Missiology monograph series, this is Moon’s Ph.D. dissertation done (under Darrell Whiteman) at Asbury Seminary. For anyone who enjoyed his 2004 EMQ article, “Sweet Talk in Africa: Using Proverbs in Ministry,” the full dissertation is a must read! Moon divides African Proverbs into three sections. In the first section he lays the theoretical foundations necessary for the project’s focus, which is to enable local theological development by empowering oral societies to use their own vernacular proverbs in decision-making and theological reflection. He frames his approach in light of Paul Hiebert’s critical contextualization model, integrating an anthropological approach to signs and symbol in light of constitutive communication theory. The basic approach is to recognize the value of proverbs as expressions of cultural wisdom that illuminate scripture and, when used properly, enflesh it in a local setting.

The second section is the meat of the book. In a fascinating and engaging presentation, Moon paints a narrative picture through a series of short scenarios (two to five pages) and missiological reflections, which together offer a window into the lives of two local pastors, a relatively new Christian, and a missionary. As the scenarios progress, the main characters struggle through the process of learning how local proverbs engage the scriptures and vice versa in the context of a community. As they grow in their understanding of this process, deeper contextualization takes place in their lives and the church community as a whole. They learn new ways to respond to issues faced by the church in light of culture. They also learn ways to get to the root of issues they face, which they had never openly discussed as a church.  

The final section of the book is a summarization of the lessons learned with application considerations for other settings. Moon clearly demonstrates that the methodology is not only for oral or rural settings, but is broadly applicable. I commend Moon for this highly readable and motivating work. Reading a doctoral dissertation can often be tedious and conducive to sleep. Not so with Moon’s work. Especially in the narrative section, I was as motivated to get back to the book as I am when engaged in a good novel. For a doctoral dissertation, that speaks volumes!

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