Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Global Theologians

Written by: on June 1, 2018

  “You are a criminal, you have committed a crime and need to confess.” While looking around to see if anyone heard you, they respond, “I am not a criminal, what crime have I committed? I am a good person in this community. Criminals should be lock away in prison and that is not me.” You may think this is a strange interaction until you realize that the Chinese Biblical translators used the word “Zui” -Crime, for Sin and “Zui ren” -criminal, for sinner. So for those that come from Western countries that utilize evangelistic techniques emphasizing sin, there can be great confusion. Discussing theology in a non-Western way is essential for us to begin to see Jesus as an unbounded God that moves and speaks in ways that are sometimes challenging and uncomfortable.

Each religion – just like each culture, incidentally – has a certain dynamic that allows change as a result of internal development or outside events. Cultural clothing can be changed. That is why the question arises: ‘Must God or Jesus remain Greek?’”1 Jesus lived and preached in a specific time and place on the earth. Does that mean he is most comfortable or most at home in that culture? How about the Western culture? I am sure intellectually we all agree that God isn’t Greek; he isn’t locked into a single perception. The question arises than what must he be then? What hat would fit him best? The Chinese have an apropos expression for offering someone something that does not really fit them: “placing Mr. Chang’s hat on Mr. Li’s head.” If it is Mr. Chang’s then it obviously will not fit Mr. Li’s head. So what can be done? Can we change the shape of Mr. Li’s head to fit Mr. Chang’s hat? And does it mean that God, instead of remaining Greek, must now become Korean, Chinese, Indian, South African, Kenyan, Ghanian, or Rwandan? 2 Wrapping our head around God in our own culture is something we all endeavor to do. Yet in context of another culture this seems out of our reach. This means that how Christ is understood, as well as lived out, needs to be shaped by cultural understandings of the Biblical Scriptures.

Culture as the collective mental programming of the people in an environment…not a characteristic of individuals; it encompasses a number of people who were conditioned by the same education and life experience…culture refers to the collective mental programming that these people have in common”3 This means that Christ has to be understood through a lens of the stories of a culture. We have to see how God has interacted with the founding fathers in the United States, the emperors of China, the religions of Buddha, Islam and Hinduism. More than that we have to see how the stories that have come out of our own culture have influenced how we read the Holy scriptures. Christ and His truth can be found in every culture. We have to see Him through the lens of Buddhism, through a lens of Confucius, and of Mohammad, so that Christ is glorified in a way that that local culture can understand. Don’t worry I am not talking about Universalism, rather a search for Christ and His truth in the heart of cultures that He has created. Looking and talking about God should allow us to bring benefits to the church as a whole. Simon Chan, author of Grassroots of Asian Theology, says, “An authentic Asian theology is not just for the church in Asia but for the worldwide church…Theology is first a lived experience of the church before it is a set of ideas formulated by church theologians.”4 The Global Church in Asia, in Africa, the Americas and more, are changing the way we see ourselves and God; knowing that he is one that has created the cultures we live in. Theologians from many parts of the world are writing about new ways to talk about God that can be understood to those outside a western view.

Simon Chan desires for the world to recognize the importance of Asian theologians and their voice in this conversation on how Jesus is viewed and understood. One area is on honor and shame as a relationship to sin and salvation.5 In a relationship based culture, your sin (crime) is seen as affecting your family and community. In this context, sin is the loss of honor (face) and thus it is God who can restore your place, restore your honor and your worth. For Asian Christians, sin is not something you simply know is wrong and choosing to do it anyway, it is to be seen as being labeled an outcast and dishonoring ones loved ones. This has deep implications as one that sins and has broken communal trust can be offered restoration as well as forgiveness.

When we as Westerners have an inflexible concept of God, we not only show our arrogance but our own ignorance of a creative God. I wonder sometimes if we will be surprised at what God considers important and if there are things we spent a lot of time defending that was just our own cultural interpretations. I live in a province that has different language groups and culture from one valley to another. Great confusions still happens even though there is a common language. I wonder if for those that live in Western countries where everyone speaks the same language, if there is grace given and understanding extended to those whose culture and interpretation of the scriptures are different? Unfortunately, probably not as often as we all would like. We are global theologians discussing theology and that is essential for us to see Jesus freed to move and speak in unique and creative ways.


1Brinkman, M. E., et al. The Non-Western Jesus : Jesus as Bodhisattva, Avatara, Guru, Prophet, Ancestor or Healer?, Taylor & Francis Group, 2014


3Hofstede, Geert. “Motivation, Leadership, and Organization: Do American Theories Apply Abroad?” Organizational Dynamics 9, no. 1 (1980): 45

4Chan, Simon. Grassroots Asian Theology; Thinking the Faith from the Ground up.(Downer Grove, Il. InterVarsity Press) 2014. 7

5Ibid, 80-91

About the Author


Greg has a wife and 3 children. He has lived and work in Asia for over 12 years. He is currently the Asia Director of Imanna Laboratories, which tests and inspects marine products seeking US Coast Guard certification. His company Is also involved in teaching and leadership development.

14 responses to “Global Theologians”

  1. M Webb says:

    Good introduction and setting the challenge of for us working in cross-cultural contexts. While I believe all of us need the exposure to other worldviews and multicultural contexts, I also believe the Scriptures, despite who translates it, has the divine power to transcend any human error and cultural limits that we as theologians seem to impose on His sovereign and eternal Word.
    I suppose if the HS can get 66 books written over thousands of years from dozens of authors to be canonized by a bunch of theologians from all over the known world (at that time), then He can for sure continue to get the Good Word out a couple of thousand years later to anyone anywhere. The amazing part is that He choses to use us in that role, getting the word out.
    Thanks for your service in your location and context. I wonder if the language you use will resemble what we will experience in Hong Kong’s Cantonese version? I am trying to do some research on the side. They publish that English and Chinese are the two approved languages, but I know from experience there may be many other variants that are used and spoken in certain geographic areas. If I wanted to translate Truth, Love, Righteousness, Faith, Salvation, Spirit can you make a recommendation?
    Stand firm,
    M. Webb

    • Greg says:

      Mike. I 100% agree the the Holy Spirit has protected the writing and story of salvation through the years. The chinese Bible has been used in evangelistic work as well for a number of year. I think God is truely able to use us even when we make it difficult. I do believe that he also gives us free will to decide how things are used. There are many times I know I have been a hinderance to God but he was glorified in how he work through or around the issues I caused.
      Concerning your translation: Mandarin Chinese is not the native language of Hong Kong, Cantonese is. If you can translate in Cantonese that would be best otherwise Manderin is the second best. If you are wanting help with translation send me a note and we can talk about it.

  2. Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Greg,

    Great closing statement, “We are global theologians discussing theology and that is essential for us to see Jesus freed to move and speak in unique and creative ways.”

    I am glad we have this book by Chan stacked soon after Livermore and “Leading With Cultural Intelligence” because both books have helped me with the “global theologians” part of this program.

    So, I say it again, I am so thankful to have you in this Cohort! I only hope we are helping you as much as you are helping us…

    • Greg says:

      I appreciate it Jaye. If more districtnor area leader were open and willing to challenge their pastors to think globally I think that could trickle down and have a huge impact.

  3. Greg,

    Fascinating to read about the Chinese concept of sin. Thanks!

    You said, “Discussing theology in a non-Western way is essential for us to begin to see Jesus as an unbounded God that moves and speaks in ways that are sometimes challenging and uncomfortable.” I thought of you when reading Chan’s section on ancestor worship. How have you grappled with this idea in your context? I’m sure it is not easy.

    • Greg says:

      This idea of ancestor “worship” or veneration is an on going struggle of how to honor those that have come before or that just died and still not worship spirits. There are some groups that teach that Christians can not even attend funerals or need to stand defiant while everyone else kneels. We usually teach that what happens in you heart is the most important thing. If you kneel at your grandmother’s casket to honor your love for her and also give face to your family, often you have an opportunity to talk to your family about Christ, his love and the afterlife. If you do not then you have embarrassed your family in front of the community and there is no chance to talk about Christ. Ultimately we have encouraged chinese to pray and let the Holy Spirit direct them.

  4. I figured you would teach me about the Asian culture once again, and you did not disappoint. I’m sure you come across many Westerner things each day that do not translate very well for the Chinese culture or language. You bringing out how their stories in culture was a fascinating insight into how that context is so important if we (you mostly 🙂 are to minister to that culture effectively. Great post once again Greg! (also I’m not sure why none of your pictures showed up in your post…very disappointing!)

  5. Jason Turbeville says:

    Great post, your discussion on how different cultures see Jesus, (Greek, Asian, African) reminded me of a discussion I had not to long ago. We had a picture of Jesus up in our church in one of the halls, I have never been to fond of it, it is a very American Jesus. I had a discussion about taking it down as it is very old and really does not belong. One man was so offended I would take down a picture of Jesus, I told him this is not how Jesus would have look anyway and this just served to offend him more “if it was good enough for my grandma it is good enough for you”. I wondered what he would say to the African family who has a picture of Jesus who is black, or a picture in a hispanic home of a hispanic Jesus. I think we all tend to see Jesus like ourselves don’t you think? I also think this is a problem as he is so much more.


    • Greg says:

      Another reminder how our own culture influences our perspective on Jesus. I hear my pictures didn’t show up but I have 2 different depictions of Asian Jesus. Sounds like you need a sermon series on what color is God’s skin:-)

  6. david says:

    Hey Greg,
    Thank you for this post and insight from your world! I especially appreciated the way you developed the theme of sin (crime) and sinner (criminal) in the post. Not only a translation question, but also, relating to the more communal nature of Asian thinking. In contrast to a Western sense of individual guilt, you’re describing the “shame”, which is different, but would also affect a family or one’s standing in the community. Very cool to read this.

  7. Trisha Welstad says:

    Greg, thanks for helping us consider the varying ways to consider Christ from a global perspective. In particular, looking through the lens of our context while finding the truth of God that transcends all contexts. Have you fond that some of your own perspectives on God and Christianity have been challenged or even changed since you have lived in Asia?

  8. Jean Ollis says:

    Hi Greg! Of course I was anxious to read your thoughts on this text. As always, thank you for schooling us! I admire your long term connection in your context – truly that is the only way to build trust there. This statement – “When we as Westerners have an inflexible concept of God, we not only show our arrogance but our own ignorance of a creative God.” is so true and should be humbling to us all. Do I dare say Westerners are inflexible in many areas – not just Christianity? Are you able to take away any new learning from our texts? I will be anxious to hear how you are being stretched as someone who lives and breathes this culture.

  9. Shawn Hart says:

    Greg, again, I always appreciate the “China” outlook you are able to offer in these discussions. However, I struggled a little with your comment in this post where you wrote, “This means that how Christ is understood, as well as lived out, needs to be shaped by cultural understandings of the Biblical Scriptures.” Though I know the point of this particular reading was useful for understanding that perspectives and motives are not always going to be the same through varying cultures; I personally believe that though the impact, or even the methodology of the ministry may vary, the message of Christ does not change. I am not really arguing with the point you are making here, I just caution that there is a fine line between understanding the culture to teach the message and changing the message to accommodate the culture. Romans 12:2 warns us with this statement: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable perfect will of God.” See, this passage reminds us that our minds need to be renewed…and the reading reminded us that sometimes our minds just need to be retaught; however, the message of Christ does not change. In fact, it is the very fact that it is unchanging and reliable that gives us the confidence in it that we have; regardless of whether I am in the USA, Canada, France, or Hong Kong. Learn the culture, understand the differences, but never…and I mean never…change the Message.

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