"Ministering Cross-Culturally" is a practical book useful for all Christians, bur intended specifically for those who minister among people of another culture. Cultural differences often lead to misunderstandings and conflict as a person of one culture does not behave as a person from another culture expects. To avoid prolonged conflict, Sherwood Lingenfelter, provost and senior vice president of Fuller Theological Seminary, presents the anthropological work of Marvin Mayers and applies it to cross cultural ministry.
Marvin Mayers work analyzes cultural values and divides them into twelve dimensions. Each of these dimensions has a contrasting value, making six competing value pairs that can be plotted on a grid. Lingenfelter provides a simple test so that the reader might plot himself on a each of the six grids, and determine his personal/cultural values. These pairs of values are as follows:
Time (time conscious and punctual versus event-oriented)
Judgment (seeing the world in "black & white" versus "shades of grey)
Handling Crises (focus on preparation versus comfort thinking on your feet)
Goals (task orientation versus relationship orientation)
Individual Worth (is honor achieved by works or bestowed at birth)
Vulnerability (is it OK to show weakness?)
Lingenfelter then analyzes the six pairs of values to illustrate the similarities and differences between Western values, Yapese (from the Island of Yap, where Lingenfelter did most of his doctoral/mission work), and the values displayed by Jesus. This knowledge of our own Western values and the often-contrasting values of others is necessary to achieve the purpose Lingenftelter advances for the reader.
Should the reader find himself working or ministering to those of another culture, Lingenfelter encourages the reader to follow the example of Jesus and become incarnate within that culture. That is, just as Jesus was born into a particular (1st Century Jewish) culture, learned the language, customs, values, etc. and thereby ministered to the Jewish people, so we (as Christ's followers) ought to adopt our host culture, learn its language, values, customs, etc., and thereby equip ourselves to minister to them. Mayers' work gives us a tool by which we can understand our cultural values and the values of a host culture so that we might more easily embrace a new culture.
While the idea that missionaries should, as best as they can, live like those to whom they hope to share the Gospel, the presentation of its rationale is problematic. For one, the author's founding assumption (equating Christlikeness with adopting a local culture) is problematic as it equates horizontal righteousness with vertical righteousness. That is, ends up arguing that I can best be God-pleasing by simply adopting local values and norms. But even in this, Lingenfelter contradicts himself as he argues that we must rise above simple horizontal righteousness (12), free ourselves from our cultural prison by adopting other cultures' values (22), and even commends Jesus for NOT bowing to societal pressures (89).
Theologically, Lingenfelter does not properly interact with the doctrine of vocation and the closely-related theology of the Body of Christ. Jesus distributes many gifts to individuals within the Church so that these gifts might be used to his glory. To some he gives the gift of being task-oriented, to others he gives the gift of building relationships; to some he gives the gift of vigilance/preparedness, to others, he allows them to think well on their feet. Each is to be used to God's glory because each is necessary for the Church. One is not to be elevated over the other, but the beauty is to be found in the diversity of gifts. It can be argued that we are not to be jealous of others' gifts or try to be like them , but rather to take joy in our own gifts and use them in love.
Lingenfelter, in this short book, provides some thought-provoking anthropological analyses and encourages the reader to expand his boundries ("become a 150% person"), but the overall argument is poorly supported and doctrinally problematic. Neither recommended nor not-recommended.