IVP - Behind the Books - April 2011 Archives

April 21, 2011

We're In a La Nina Year

In honor of Earth Day tomorrow, we present this lovely meditation from Lisa McMinn, author of the book Walking Gently on the Earth. Here she reflects on the rhythms of life on their small farm, Fern Creek.

In the Pacific Northwest we’re still in the 2010-2011 La Nina year, which means cooler, wetter springs than usual. Mark and I walk Fern Creek’s gardens most afternoons like hovering parents checking on the young broccoli and cabbage transplants to see how they are managing the hardship of a cold wet spring, and to see if more snow peas, arugula and spinach have decided to break ground.


When we aren’t teaching, writing, or preparing talks we’re often occupied with tasks related to food: growing, preserving, preparing or eating it. Last night for dinner I poured a jar of last season’s spicy tomato sauce into a pan, added a few pesto cubes and a handful of oven-roasted tomatoes from the freezer, crushed up half a dried cayenne pepper, splashed in some red wine, and simmered it all for a bit before ladling it over homemade pasta. That we are still eating bounty from last year’s crops while this year’s basil plants are under the grow lights downstairs and the tomato plants are filling out in the cold frame inclines us to give thanks. Even given our worrisome, cooler, wetter-than-normal spring. La Nina or not, the earth will explode with flavor, color, and aroma as fruits, vegetables and flowers awaken. It always does.


So as we walk down rows of strawberries, or sit down at our table to eat we give thanks. Besides creating an Earth that bursts with plant life, God designed a world where one creature’s action helps another creature flourish. We thank God for that, too. I love our interdependence—all creation groans together in harmony, yearning to come into the fullness of God’s intention and glory (Romans 8:19-23).

We thank God for people who bring us food we don’t grow on Fern Creek, like dairy, wheat, and of course, cocoa farmers—who I’m especially thankful for, since we consume a lot of chocolate. Thanking God for cocoa farmers reminds me to buy cocoa in ways that help farmers and families in West Africa flourish, which means buying fair-trade chocolate instead of more familiar brands that buy cocoa funneled in from plantations using trafficked children for farm labor.


I’m also thankful for God’s critters who contribute to the food on my plate, like bees who pollinate fruits and vegetables and from whom we collect rent in exchange for housing. Or Chicken Little, Penelope, and Greta (to name a few) who give us eggs, fertilize our gardens in the winter, and eat larva that would otherwise grow to wreak havoc for organic fruit growers. And when we venture from our typical vegetarian fare to eat Tilapia for Easter I will be thankful for the fish that died so that we might celebrate life and family while drawing nourishment from its flesh.

Eating is a sacred act. Jesus used the metaphor to refer to his own life-giving sacrificial act, commanding Christians to eat in remembrance of God’s saving grace. Could I prepare and eat every meal mindfully, remembering God’s love, and reflecting God’s desire for life on Earth to flourish?


I think about these matters more now that spring has arrived and we’ll have 12 families depending on us for food. (In addition to our teaching jobs, Mark and I operate a small CSA—Community Supported Agriculture.) We find the work of farming as deeply satisfying as the joy of eating from Earth’s abundance, both acknowledgements of our responsibility to be good caretakers of God’s Earth.

Tonight we noticed the potatoes we planted in March are beginning to leaf out, and that we’ll have asparagus in time for Easter.


Lisa Graham McMinn (Ph.D., Portland State University) is professor of sociology in the department of sociology and social work at George Fox University in Oregon.

For more from Lisa on how Christians can live with intention, using the power of our choices to walk gently on an earth that is beautiful and broken, check out Walking Gently on the Earth.

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 9:24 AM

April 18, 2011

William Wadé Harris and Other Christians You've Never Heard Of


When Clouds of Witnesses, the new book by Mark Noll and Carolyn Nystrom, appeared on my desk recently, I was intrigued by the premise: an up-close look at seventeen Christians from Africa and Asia who lived remarkable lives of faith and leadership. I scanned the chapter list and was also interested to note that I had not heard of any of them. This was not the usual roster of Western heroes of the faith.

I have the extraordinary privilege of attending church with Carolyn and Mark, so I was excited to learn that they would be leading a six week Sunday School class based on the content of Clouds of Witnesses. After just one class I was hooked!

We explored the fascinating life of William Wadé Harris, an African evangelist/apostle who traveled the Ivory Coast during the early 1900s making converts to a unique brand of Christianity that sprung from his own mixed background: a combination of native religion, Methodism, Anglicanism—and a visit from the angel Gabriel in which Harris was supposedly commanded to wear a long white robe, burn all his tribal fetishes, perform Christian baptisms, carry a long cane, preach Christ everywhere and become a prophet like Elijah. He was eventually instrumental in establishing hundreds of churches along the Ivory Coast, many of which still survive today as “Harris churches.” He is also considered by many to be one of the originators of today’s prosperity gospel.

Harris is a controversial figure. Historians ask, “Was he truly Christian? Was he sane? (His wife thought not.) How did African indigenous religion and culture shape the Christianity that Harris practiced? What good did he accomplish? What evils resulted? How did his influence shape African and now global Christianity?”

After hearing Carolyn describe his life and legacy in more detail, I find those questions all the more perplexing. Perhaps the most interesting part of the story for me was this: when Harris moved on from one town to the next, he would create “churches” to continue his mission, appointing 12 apostles, often from recently converted fetish witch doctors. He instructed them to build churches and to “wait for a white man with a Bible,” someone who could come and explain to them the meaning of their conversion more fully.

And here’s the amazing part: they did—by the thousands! Imagine the scene when, after World War One ended, white missionaries began returning to Africa to resume their pre-war work:

“Ten years later British Methodist missionary W. J. Platt was among the early white arrivals on the scene. In town after town he found church structures full of people waiting for ‘teachers of the Book.’ In the meantime they had learned a few hymns from store clerks; some of their leaders had walked great distances to hear a Christian sermon, then walked back to repeat it as best they could to their own people. One of their few readers would select a single verse from the Bible and explain it over and over to those who listened. By 1924 thousands of people waited in and around these buildings for missionaries to continue the work that their Prophet Harris had begun.”

I get chills just thinking about it. And I ask myself, am I as hungry as they were to learn from the Bible? They waited for a decade for someone to teach them about God's Word. I have access to all kinds of resources and teachers, and yet I have to remind myself to study the Bible regularly.

I can’t say for sure that all of Harris’s theology was sound (at least by today's theological and cultural standards). He did get some major things wrong—like polygamy, for instance. But I believe the Spirit of God used him, with of all his syncretism and imperfections, just as he uses the strange blend of cultural influences and theology we all carry with us. It’s encouraging to think that if God could use a character like Harris, then he can use a broken, imperfect character like me. And it's humbling to realize how unaware most of us are of the history and contributions of the non-Western church, and how much they have to teach us.

There are many other fascinating figures just waiting to be discovered in Clouds of Witnesses. Ever heard of Watchman Nee? Yeah, he’s not in there. But the Chinese revival preacher Dora Yu, who was instrumental in Watchman Nee’s conversion to Christianity, is. I hope you’ll take the time to read about these more obscure—yet no less important—figures of Christian history, these stories behind the stories. May their lives give you cause to think, pray, marvel and hope in the God who is always at work bringing people to himself and accomplishing his purposes through vital Christian faith lived out in a diversity of global contexts.

Posted by Rebecca Larson at 2:52 PM

April 13, 2011

Apprentice Series Continues to Impact Lives


When my friend Greg Bowman speaks, I can count on him to shoot as straight as a west Kansas highway - even when I may not like what he says. We all need people like that, right?

So I listened closely when Bowman, a close friend for more than a quarter century and a small group pastor for nearly that long, told me, “No resources have had a more profound impact on my life and ministry than the Apprentice Series,” and went on to declare that “the books are making true life-change possible for the first time for so many.”

I listened. And I liked what I heard.

Continue reading "Apprentice Series Continues to Impact Lives "
Posted by Rebecca Larson at 12:46 PM

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