Book Review: Cross-Cultural Servanthood by Duane Elmer (IVP Books, 2006)

Although the book is subdivided by several sections, there are really two concepts to this book: (1) See the image of God in others— which encompasses the ideas of “welcoming others into our presence,” “communicating respect for others, “ “building confidence in relationships,” and “seeking information that changes you;” and (2) Show Christ to others— which involves “posture of the servant,” “becoming like Christ to others,” “biblical foundations for change” and “the servant and leadership/power.”


The section entitled, “Acceptance,” basically suggests that Christians ought to see the image of God in others.  Acceptance is “The ability to communicate value, worth and esteem to another person” (58).  To illustrate the meaning of “acceptance,” the author shares 1 Corinthians 8:13—“An accepting Christian values the other person so highly that he or she would rather sacrifice a personal preference, even a right, than risk losing the relationship or being a stumbling block to that person” (61).  If a Christian believes that people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then there is “common grace” that is bestowed on all people. 


The author explains it in this way, “Acceptance of others is to proactively communicate respect and dignity to each human being based on the fact that each is an image-bearer of God” (75).  In a similar way, acceptance of others as image bearers of God is found in Galatians 3:28—“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (NIV).  One does not need to be a Christian in order to bear the image of God as illustrated in this passage:  “Yes, you must execute anyone who murders another person, for to kill a person is to kill a living being made in God’s image” (Genesis 9:6).


The author reminds the reader, “By virtue of being made in the image of God and God’s common grace, every person can contribute to our learning” (109).  He then shares a story about his wife, Muriel, who used the villagers’ story about killing lice to help lower infant mortality in Mozambique (110).  This type of humility helps Christians to become better servants (115).  Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him (Christ) all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or power or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him” (NIV).  If Christians truly believe this passage, then what the author says in page 119 makes sense: “For the priesthood of all believers to function properly, we must all nurture each other, listen to each other, see the beauty of Christ in each other and seek God’s grace from each other.”


Elmer shares a story of missionary who set the example of true hospitality towards people in the area by inviting them through the front door to dine with him (183).  This practice was unacceptable to the other missionaries so as a result he was ostracized by them.  However, this act of showing Christ to others changed the way foreign mission was done in that country (184).  The reaction that this particular missionary received from the other missionaries was very much like the reaction Jesus received from the Pharisees in Luke 15:2—“The Pharisees and the Scribes complained saying ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’.”  This is a good example to follow—invite the people in the area to eat with us.  Extend the invitation for them to join us over a meal.  The Book of Hebrews supports this idea, “Do not forget to do good and to share” (Heb. 13:16).


The act of sharing a meal is what the author calls “openness,” which is to “accept people as they are and build trust with them” (196).  Elmer supports the idea of “openness” by stating, “This is the foundation for revealing Christ to others” (196).  In fact showing Christ to others is a way of revealing the Gospel to unbelievers.   It is having the light shine through us so that others are pointed to Christ (Matthew 5:14). In a way, it is doing what John the Baptist did—“God sent a man… to tell about the light so that everyone might believe because of his testimony… he was simply a witness to tell about the light… the One who is the true light… to all who believed Him and accepted Him, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:6-12).


Christians are to be different—“If you love only those who love you, what good is that? If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?” (Matthew 5:46-47).  The idea of being different is also expressed in Mark 10: “But among you it should be quite different.  Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others” (Mark 10:33-35).


“Cross-Cultural Servanthood” is not only for international missions; it is very useful for pastors of stateside churches in rural or ethnic regions of the country.  It supports the biblical fact that we are to see all people as an image of God and to be different in our expression of being “salt” and “light” to the community.  The book made me realize that despite the criticism that we may receive from other churches for doing unconventional things, we must continue in our efforts.  We must follow the example of Jesus and “dine” with sinners.


Copyright © 2008 M. Teresa Trascritti

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