by Gary Corwin
Under the general editorship of Lynn Giddings, the trilogy under review is addressed to church workers and comprises a collection of forty-one pieces by fifteen authors.
Under the general editorship of Lynn Giddings, the trilogy under review is addressed to church workers and comprises a collection of forty-one pieces by fifteen authors. A core team of six (Darrell Whiteman, Ennio Mantovani, Mary MacDonald, Brian Schwarz, M. John Paul Chao, Gernot Fugman) contribute thirty articles among them.
The first of these books, as its title implies, provides an overview of Melanesian cultures, considering origins, leadership, land tenure, economics, traditional values, change, and urbanization. It is perhaps one of the best general introductions I have read. What it lacks in local and anthropological detail it makes up for in succinct and pointed generalization. Most useful and pertinent to this reviewer, however, were the chapters (Darrell Whiteman) on the concept and meaning of culture. A sentence sums it up: One way of understanding culture is to see it as the language God has used to reveal himself; therefore all cultural systems are essentially usable by God (p. 66). Once that has been fully digested, church workers (as well as social scientists) may go forward with confidence.
The second book is more problematic. Other peoples’ religions always are. The first three chapters (Ennio Mantovani) consider the relations between Christianity and tradition religions, what religion is, and the relations between cultures and religions. These essays set a generous and tolerant tone reiterated in contributions dealing with myth, ritual, symbolism, magic, medicine, sorcery, and Cargo and Holy Spirit movements. The reader is instructed and informed. Nevertheless, questions remain. What is the relation of Christian faith and witness to cultural activities of those who claim to be Christians? Mantovani shows that most of these issues tend to be cloudy, ambiguous, not cleanly identifiable. I found myself instructed, but still puzzled and confused.
The third book in the trilogy continues in the standards set by the first and second. Summarized in the introductory articles titled The Role of the Church in Society (Gernot Fugman), the volume gives a very useful historical summary of the activities of the main missionary bodies in Melanesia (Rufus Pech) and goes on to consider ministry in urban and rural communities, in development projects, education and, finally, a beautiful piece by John Momis on the role of a religious person in politics.
Living as we do in a world becoming accustomed to an explosion of words and learning, this trilogy has been brilliantly conceived, planned, researched, and written. It is most welcome. All who read will learn. Yet, what church workers are working for is taken very much for granted. Should it be? Does so much learning, so many implicit cautions, so wide a tolerance, hide or reveal that core of meaning to which the ordinary human being should respond?
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM.
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