Review: Crossing Cultures in Scripture

9780830844739Marvin J. Newell is senior vice president of Missio Nexus, a network of evangelical mission agencies, churches and training centers in North America. Newell previously served as the executive director of CrossGlobal Link and served as a missionary to Indonesia for twenty-one years. Newell also served as professor of missions and intercultural studies at the Moody Theological Seminary. He is the author of a number of books, the most recent of which being Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principles for Mission Practice.

Crossing Cultures in Scripture is a stimulating canonical exploration that presents a biblical theology of culture and God’s activity therein from Genesis to Revelation. Newell divides the book into three major sections: (1) foundational cultural considerations, (2) crossing cultures in the Old Testament, and (3) crossing cultures in the New Testament. The presupposition that guides the overall existence of this investigation is discovered in Newell’s adherence to the Reformation principal of sola Scriptura. For Newell, the Bible is “the first and final authority for all that we believe and practice” and the “primary point of reference” for studying and engaging culture (p. 13). Therefore, when it comes to the task of cultural and crosscultural engagement, for Newell, “the Bible itself is a textbook on cultural understanding” that displays itself within three primary realities: (1) the Bible is the portrayer of cultures, (2) the Bible is a sculptor of cultures, and (3) the Bible is an appraiser of cultures (p. 13-14).

The foundation of Newell’s approach is strengthened by the excellence of his guided cultural tour through the biblical narrative of both the Old and New Testament. The definition of “culture” explored in Newell’s study is bound to human existence. Newell explains, “Culture is the distinctive beliefs, values, and customs of a particular group of people that determine how they think, feel, and behave” (p. 17). As such, Patrick Fung rightly recognizes the usefulness of Newell’s work in his forward to the volume, writing, “Crossing Cultures helps us to both decode the Bible stories from the biblical cultures and to encode the Bible stories for different cultures today, so that God’s message remains relevant and universal” (p. 11). The chapters are numerous (36 chapters total) and brief (roughly 7 pages per chapter). Newell rounds out the volume with several helpful appendices, including a sermon series guide that stretches 13 weeks and allows Pastor or Bible study leaders to engage their people in the content of the book.

There are a number of positive aspect of this book apart from the content. Two of those deserve mention here. First, Newell has including numerous graphs and diagrams throughout the volume to help the reader visualize the content in a manner that cultivates learning and application. There is also a table and figure list at the end of the volume for future reference. Second, each chapter in the volume is organized into at least three section: (1) setting, (2) crosscultural insights, and (3) crossing takeaway. The latter provides the reader with a quick paragraph of easily digestible and applicable content for each chapter.

The Bible is overflowing with cultural significance, and Crossing Cultures in Scripture: Biblical Principles for Mission Practice by Marvin J. Newell helps readers explore it through the lenses of cultural engagement. Newell has provided a stunning parade of the practical importance of biblical theology as it pertains to the life and wellbeing of Christian missions and culture in the twenty-first century. This is a book that will surpass its reputation in usefulness and impact for those actively involved in cultural or crosscultural engagement, which should be every person seeking to faithfully follow Jesus. If you are looking for a book that will both equip and challenge your understanding of Scripture and culture, your time will be well invested here. This book comes highly recommended!

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