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Video: J.R. Woodward & the Five Equippers

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In the video below, J.R. Woodward, author of Creating a Missional Culture, suggests a way of understanding the five equipping leadership gifts in Ephesians 4. What do you think of this suggestion? Does it square with the text, and will it change the way we do church?

Watch the video and then leave a comment:

[youtube=http://youtu.be/vy-B0OJ4Ie4]

Also, check out the videos explaining each gift individually in this playlist.

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6 responses to “Video: J.R. Woodward & the Five Equippers

  1. Hello! I am following up after Twitter this morning. Let me start by saying I appreciate all the work you do, and our Board found J.R.’s book really helpful. I am grateful for you all. Here are some concerns about APEST –

    I think it is a mistake to read Ephesians 4 and distill a model for church structure out of the gifts Paul lists. It is understandable, given 21st C American assumptions about power, organization and leadership, but I don’t believe Paul was making the point claimed. I think Paul is trying to address the cultural values of his day which led in to churches divisively organizing around gifts. In 1 Cor he addresses headlong the error of valuing some more than others by showing them how they are unified, love is more important, etc., and I think that’s what’s going on in Eph4, too. It seems almost contrary to find a new way to strain things apart based on giftedness and claim it’s how God has
    organized it, if Paul is redeeming a cultural belief by uniting them. Anyways, I don’t read him as ascribing structure through the gifts.

    I wonder then, if APEST simply mirrors evangelical assumptions about power and leadership shaped in us by the western world. Though couched in the language of spiritual gifts, it is deployed like a technology in Christian writing, like a technique
    the Church needs for its mission, suggesting the problem we face is largely organizational. It is described like gifts from the spirit, but treated like a method. And we must consider how even spiritual gifts may be cultural expressions uniquely given to people in times and places. Does APEST lay out God’s will for the church or does it reflect our own confidence in a division of labor, efficiency, and a mastery of words? I am more comfortable insisting that we suffer with others, laboring for our neighbor, and making that a kind of leadership description. (I suspect too, it could be sussed out how notions of power inherent to APEST are dependent upon hierarchical notions)

    The interesting thing about APEST, unlike, say, a gift of “miracles,” is that the western church has a fair understanding about how these gifts look and can appropriate them into its preexisting definitions of leadership,- which is always already a discussion about power. It is also significant to me that many proponents reference Bobby’ Clinton’s assertion that these are “word Gifts”; a special category of Spiritual gifts uniquely centered on communicating God’s word that all leaders must possess. To me, Clinton’s leadership theory is profoundly modernist, indebted to the business literature of the 90s which is honestly very white, and leads me to believe it reflects American notions of power more than a structure God has given for the church for all time.

    Ultimately, my concern is that it grounds the discussion about mission in the church instead of the world. It begins with church and ends in world, not the other way around. We might instead ask, “What are the needs of the world around us, and how should
    we organize to best minster the presence of Christ to it?” I think that question would yield different answers, and help us to be missional. It would make us listen before speaking and seems more sure than establishing a mode of organization based on vaguely defined roles without reference to the world. I recognize that in tightly bound church hierarchies it can be a really freeing break from tradition, but I worry it makes it easier to choose technique instead of actively engaging the world.

    I need to say though, the folks I know who have been proponents have been wonderful people (!), really trying to engage with the Gospel. I don’t question their motives, I just think we need to consider the cultural location and power claims inherent in our exegesis. Thanks!

    1. E. Hamilton,

      First of all, thank you for such a thoughtful response to not just this short video, but various works, including my own, who are seeking to help the church more fully live into her mission.

      To respect your thought process, I will seek to engage in some dialogue around the ideas you presented here. While I’m sure there are many other elements
      we could talk about, what you present is a great start.

      First, I think one can appreciate the five-fold gifting in the body of Christ beyond it being a model for church structure, though it could also be a helpful way to reimagine and speak to common inherited structures of our day that simply focus on the pastor/teacher.

      First, let me say that Paul isn’t necessarily giving us the five-fold for structure per se, as much as helping us understand five kinds of intelligences that Christ has given the church, which by the way are grounded in Christ himself (his life and ministry). The sad reality is that many churches in our current context snub the people that God has given to us for both our unity and our maturity, which isn’t very loving, and doesn’t bring unity. Because Christ has given the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, we should find ways to help each of these kinds people discern who God has made them and cultivate space for them to live out their calling in the church for the sake of the world.

      Many churches seem to only try to identify and cultivate pastors and teachers, often times because these are the “titles” we give our leaders, and being that we are imitative creatures, some who are evangelists, prophets and apostles may feel
      that there is no place for them to be who they are. This probably accounts for the high number of apostles, prophets and evangelist that have started para-church organizations, finding no place for their ministry in the church. So if the issue is unity, then the church needs to find ways to receive all the gifted people whom Christ as given the church, at every level of the church.

      While many churches emphasis the pastor/teacher today, the group that I happened to join when I became a Christian actually de-emphasized the pastor/teacher and elevated the apostle and evangelist (probably because it was a new movement of churches), and as a result, many of the pastors and teachers in our fellowship were devalued, which again is unloving and creates division.

      So the most loving and unified thing we can do is learn to identify all the gifts that Christ has given the church, instead of selecting only a few to prize. Not only can everyone live out their calling better, it will allow us to grow in unity and maturity, because it is difficult to see how we will become more like Christ who is the archtypical apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher if we devalue any of these “people-gifts”. When we start to appreciate each of these people gifts, identifying, cultivating and allowing them to grow, it will likely re-shape how we structure ourselves as well.

      This starts to speak to your second major thought, which if I am understanding you correctly shares a concern that this is a new “technique” or that our primary problem is organizational in nature, or that gift language in scripture might be more situational and applicable to local theology. You are bringing up a number of issues here. I would agree with you and say that I don’t think our primary problem is structure, though I also do not believe that structure is neutral. We shape our structures and our structures reshape us in the process, which is why a five-fold approach is better than a one or two fold approach, which ever gifted people we happen to prize.

      But more importantly, I see the five-fold as one of the ways to discern our sense of calling. I believe that God has embedded a theo-genetic code in everyone, and that as we uncover and awaken, will allow us to live life to the full. All of us have certain longings, talents and desires. You have a calling and I have a calling. And this is what Paul talks about in verse 7. “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” (By the way, in every place that God has granted me to do ministry, in my church plants and travels to 35 countries, I have see the five-fold in each situation. In fact, the place the five-fold is treasured the most, the church in the south (Africa and Asia), the church is flourishing the most – so maybe those of us in the West should take heed!)

      At any rate, each one of us has been given grace as Christ apportioned it, then we are told in v. 11 (we will come back to the verses in-between in a moment) he says, “So Christ himself gave the apostles,the prophets, the evangelist, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

      Notice that these are not external gifts given to people (or simply word gifts), but the people themselves are the gifts. Christ gave the apostles, prophets, evangelist, pastors and teachers to the church, so that we might become mature. These are people gifts, vocational intelligences, Theo-genetic codes that have been planted in each one of us, that when we discover makes all the difference in the world.

      Tim Catchim and Alan Hirsch remind us in The Permanent Revolution that there are three primary passages in the Scriptures that talk about gifts. Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and I Cor. 12. The key to knowing how each of these passage relate to each other is each list begins with a key word that gives us a clue about the nature of what we are to read. The key word that precedes the I Cor. 12 list is “manifestation”. These are manifestation gifts. The key word that precedes Romans is “praxis”, for these are action-oriented skills, and the key word for Ephesians is “calling” because these are people gifts, vocational gifts. The people themselves are the gifts to the community.

      So God has wired each of us with a theo-genetic code involving a primary and secondary vocational intelligence. It is built right into who we are, and the other gift lists are like gifts given to help us live out the vocational calling God has given us. So if God gives you a word of knowledge (a manifestation gift listed in I Cor. 12), if your vocational intelligence is a pastor, you might use that to help someone work through past hurts and move toward wholeness. It if is an evangelist, you might use that word to help someone come to Christ and so forth. The five fold is important to recover, because these vocational intelligences are essential to understand if we want to help people to discover and live out their calling in the world, for the sake of the world.

      But let’s take a moment to go back to the verses in-between v. 7 and 11. Verses often overlooked, but important to understand. Paul says, “But to each one
      of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” That is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.” (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the
      heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)”

      My friend Andrew Dorsett, from the UK, has written a book (that is yet to be
      published) on the five-fold. One of the many contributions he makes is when he talks about how these five people gifts, these five vocational intelligences, these five theo-genetic codes are part of both God’s created order as well as his redemptive order. We see here that Paul injects Ps. 68:18 into this passage. When you take a look at Ps. 68, you realize that is a multi-layered depiction of God descending from Mt. Sinai and ascending to Mt. Zion, summarizing in poetic form the dramatic sweep of the history of God’s people from the time of Moses to the time of David and Solomon.

      God descended from Sinai, to deliver his people from captivity and then to dwell
      with his people and to bring his people to the Land he had promised to Abraham’s descendants. This descent was with the purpose of bringing his people on a journey from the place of decisive liberation to the place of living out their freedom. His ascent on Zion represents his rule over all, at the center of a people set free in order that all people’s might be blessed through them.

      In Ephesians 4, Jesus is described as having first descended to the earth and then
      ascended to the heavens. Paul interprets Ps. 68 as applying to, or being fulfill in Christ. The descent, referring to his incarnation, to the embodying of the Word of God, to dwell among us, to show us how to live-out the freedom he had decisively worked for us. This is followed by his ascent, to where Jesus is over all, and in all that is to say, that his life is lived out through us, as he apportions it. In his ascension, Jesus takes what was held captive and has been set free, and makes it free indeed.

      Here is the point. Everyone made in the image of God reflects this five-fold typology, but when we surrender our lives to Christ, we are set free to the point these theo-genetic codes start to animate our lives. In other words, Paul seems to
      be interpreting this passage as an image of Jesus’ incarnation and ascension,
      to explain how Jesus has set prisoners free, received them as tribute, and then
      giving them to his people for the purpose of the expansion of his family and
      the extension of his kingdom. In other words, being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher is what Jesus created people as, and as a result of his incarnation and ascension, when we recognize Jesus as King and offer ourselves to his service, then he gives us to his body.

      And this makes sense doesn’t it. We can see this in the created order. We find this five-fold typology in most any successful organization. Apostles are like entrepreneurs or pioneers. Do you have to be a Christian to be an entrepreneur? No. Prophets are visionary activists posing important questions to our world in regard to social justice issues. Some of the most amazing prophets today are making Indy films and music, posing important questions to society, yet many are not yet Christians. Evangelist are like your recruiters or salespeople, we find them in the created order, don’t we? Pastors are like your nurtures, counselors or HR department and teachers are those gather wisdom, knowledge and understanding. We see all of these people in the created order. (This speak to mission as well. For if mission is theocentric, which I believe it is, then lacking an understanding of the five-fold is detrimental).

      Our identity is our identity. But our identity finds its fullest expression in covenant relationship and kingdom purpose.

      So if we want to help people be fully human, to feel most alive and look back at the end of their lives with the greatest sense of satisfaction and meaning, it is
      important to help them discover and live out their calling. And an important part of that discovery process is helping them understanding your primary and secondary vocational intelligence within the five-fold typology. In practice, I have found that when people discover the type of seed that God has implanted within them, they learn to be true to their God-given self, and this is a good an important thing.

      Understanding the five-fold in my own life has allowed me to be who God has made me to be, and not feel I need to be someone he has not made me to be, while at the same time growing in the fruit of the Spirit, which I think speaks to the larger issues of the church. If we can learn to live out our calling as we walk in the spirit and have the fruit of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) we would start to be the sign, foretaste and instrument of his kingdom, and more effectively point others to this reality, which speaks directly to mission. I think this also speaks to your final point.

      I hope you find these thoughts helpful. And as time permits, I would be glad to have more dialogue, though just getting back from Europe, my response time might be delayed.

  2. (Posting probs, sorry)

    Thanks for your response; I know you are very busy. These posts are completely tl;dr! I feel bad that I responded under a short video, btw. I was on twitter just running my game when M.A. tweeted about APEST, so I posted unaware. I am grateful for your work and am committed to polycentric leadership: it appeals to the Anabaptist in me, so thanks!

    In the end, my concern is not with the practice of APEST. My concern with APEST is that the arguments to sustain it are neither exegetically nor structurally satisfying. It replaces a leadership structure of 2 roles with 5, but it must create types of people and label it as God’s will for all of humanity to do so.

    I say this tentatively, aware that your academic friends undoubtedly have a deeper understanding of the text, but I think worth reexamining if πρᾶξιν, φανέρωσις, and ἐκλήθητε, denote ontic differences in Paul’s understanding. The “calling” in Eph 4 is to one hope in Christ. From there the text moves on to different people/gifts given, but it does not discuss this diversity as a necessary part of the calling of faith. It might even be argued that part of the “futility” of the Gentiles mentioned later is their insistence on these special gifting/people,etc. as a part of their pagan world: we must consider whether or not these gifts are uniquely Christian or also already Greco-Roman concepts. It is also here that the APEST discussion starts to sound like a discussion of gifts as offices.

    Another way to understand these passages might be that Paul is faced with sophisticated multicultural audiences who assume theses gifts – they cannot imagine a body that doesn’t function without the impressive types of people they see at work in the world around them. There is precedence that people argue and organize around them so as a matter of practice, Paul might explain the gifts by reining them in (whether pneumatic/ people/ praxis) and rooting them in Christ. He unifies their disparate strivings and understandings by pointing out how all things are given from God. In this view, Paul is not imposing a theological anthropology; he is discerning how the Spirit is at work in the world and correcting people’s understanding of the gifts’ source and meaning.

    You ask, “This makes sense, doesn’t it? We can see this [5 types] in the created order?” I know I haven’t seen as much of the world, but I just don’t see it. I am really wary of appeals to created order. If we cling to this rationale should we also follow the prohibitions in Timothy about women and authority? How much of 1st C. cultural assumptions must we agree to? I worry appeals to created order allow leadership exclusivity in through the back door. Instead I want to see Paul mooring the variety and difference we see in people as unified under Christ, and allow that variety to define our roles addressing the specific local needs in our churches without appealing to a theo-genetic code. The appeal to created order makes me very nervous, and I am not prepared to ascribe to the implied anthropology, or the implied theology of “calling.”

    Of course, I really do dig it in practice, so I am not trying to be a problem, I just think it needs a different theological mooring or will eventually become another way churches use roles to deny different kinds of people different kinds of power in our churches. I suggest we should understand Paul addressing the variety and difference we see in people as unified under Christ, and allow this variety to define our roles, without imposing the theo-genetic code shapes we assume within our cultural lenses as the biblical truth.

    Enough from me! It’s good of you to hammer out the confusions and misunderstandings of random internet pundits, so I’ll leave it be, here. I promise not to perpetually harangue you online.:) Thanks for your generosity and come home safe!

    1. Hello E. Hamilton. Great to see these ideas being explored via the blogosphere. Like JR, I appreciate your voice and your perspective. I want to offer a few insights here to weigh in on this subject. For clarity, I will cite previous posts in quotations.

      “In 1 Cor he addresses headlong the error of valuing some
      more than others by showing them how they are unified, love is more important,
      etc., and I think that’s what’s going on in Eph4, too.”

      There is no hint in the text of Ephesians that there were any disputes about some gifts being valued above others and that Paul is somehow coming to the rescue. No where in Ephesians four is he being polemical about resolving an issue related to valuing some gifts above others. On the contrary, he is quite neutral in his presentation of APEST. Remember, Ephesians is a general epistle, meant to be circulated among several churches. It appears to me that you are attempting historical reconstruction with no reliable sources to lend your thesis credibility.

      “Does APEST lay out God’s will for the church or does it
      reflect our own confidence in a division of labor, efficiency, and a mastery of
      words?”

      It seems you are begging the question here about what Paul is
      intending to say in the text. Paul makes several claims in Ephesians 4 that he
      makes nowhere else, namely, that growth and maturity into the fullness of Christ is predicated on the fivefold ministry of equipping. It is absolutely central to the text, and his logic within, yet it does not feature in your reflections??? Based on your hypothesis, how would we grow and mature into the fullness of Christ without a fivefold approach to ministry?

      “Another way to understand these passages might be that Paul is faced with sophisticated multicultural audiences who assume theses gifts – they cannot imagine a body that doesn’t function without the impressive types of people they see at work in the world around them. There is precedence that people argue and organize around them so as a matter of practice, Paul might explain the gifts by reining them in (whether pneumatic/ people/ praxis) and rooting them in Christ. He unifies their disparate strivings and understandings by pointing out how all things are given from God. In this view, Paul is not imposing a theological anthropology; he is discerning how the Spirit is at work in the world and correcting people’s understanding of the gifts’ source and meaning.”
      Why engage in such speculative hermeneutical gymnastics when Paul is clear that these “gifts” were given by Christ at the ascension, and that they are directly correlated with the liberating work of Christ (taking captivity captive) so that he might fill all things. Your hypothesis is blatantly anachronistic and engages in fictional socio-historical reconstructions that find no warrant in the text. There is no hint of such strivings in the text. Paul is not retrofitting a culturally determined grid back onto the narrative of Christ. It is just the opposite. There is a narrative sequence in Ephesians 4 and it is clear that APEST was given at the ascension, not a socio-cultural framework imposed after the fact to explain or resolve vocational or communal ills. The text itself tells us when they were given, this should be enough to clarify their origins. Not much socio-cultural imagination is required about their origin if we stick with the text.

      Regarding the issue of power, we can not escape it. No
      amount of organizing, or lack thereof, will dispense with dynamics of power and authority. Often those who want to veer away from organizational realities associated with power and authority end up cloaking the real existence of power and authority in the group through its denial or denigration, thus making the group vulnerable to forces it refuses to acknowledge or engage. This means power and authority end up operating in
      cognito, unchecked or scrutinized. The real queston is “how do we steward power and authority in a cruciform way?”

      I think we need to deal with what Paul is saying in the text. He makes some pretty big claims in Ephesians four. The capacity for the church to grow and mature into the fullness of Christ is one of those really big claims, and it is directly linked to APEST. I don’t think Paul would have made such lofty claims if APEST were somehow tied to the unique features of a particular historical/social/cultural landscape. No, these are clearly said to be given by Christ at his ascension, which not only qualifies their origin, it also gives us a framework for understanding their purpose and overall telos….Paul says it is equipping people for ministry so we can grow and mature. It is pretty straight forward.
      Regarding organization around APEST, I think if you are going to move from theory to practice, you will have to eventually deal with the issue of organization. Ephesians four is the only text we are told to equip other people through our “gift.” None of the other giftings passages instruct us to equip others to do what we are gifted at. The act of equipping for ministry implies action and reciprocity in the body. Getting people together on any scale requires intentionality and organizing. So in order to obey this command to equip, we have to organize. It will not just happen organically in any sustainable way without any structure or systems in place. What those structures or systems are to be should be contextually determined though collective discernment etc. But organization is definitely involved.

      E. Hamilton, I enjoy a good discussion about APEST, so I hope you receive my push back in a spirit of rigorous engagement with the text. Obviously, I see Ephesians four as being critical to the churches capacity to fulfill its calling, but I derive that sense importance form the claims Paul makes about APEST in the text. I appreciate your vulnerability to put your ideas on the net and invite public discourse. Blessings to you and your journey.

  3. Thanks for your feedback: I am really bad at being precise and appreciate the chance to clarify. I wrote using questions and speculation to open up a different viewpoint, but my intent wasn’t to speculate. I will try and speak flatly, but again, my preface is that I am actually quite pleased with a practice of APEST. Here is what I understand of it so far:

    -APEST is an archetypal structure of creation for the building up of the body to maturity
    -It is secured at the ascension as an integral component of Christ’s delivering work

    -These 5 ways people minister represent uniquely ordained ways grace works in humanity toward maturity for the church.

    -They are definitive and timeless.

    -These conclusions are born of an interpretation primarily of Ephesians 4 in which APEST is a uniquely central tenet of Paul’s understanding of Christ’s work.

    —–The other Pauline passages regarding “gifts” are not in view because of the different introductory phrases, πρᾶξιν, φανέρωσις, and ἐκλήθητε.
    —–In Eph 4 the gifts are people, not spiritual gifts, per se

    Is this fair? If so, I still disagree. I take Paul to be identifying gifts they saw operating and rooting them in Christ, not establishing an eternal order of creation. My contention is that the hermeneutic that produces APEST is unable to account for Paul’s own culture and the cultural embeddedness of the text. Because of this, it makes ambiguous cultural categories definitive and asserts a relatively new article of Christology in its specificity. This article is not one greatly attested to by the church fathers, nor is it attested to in the rest of scripture, especially the Gospels. It makes an absolute point in a passage the church has seemed to take more generally.

    I think APEST, as stated, privileges a smaller argument Paul employs in Ephesians 4 over his larger rhetorical concerns and must disallow consideration of other NT data to do so. Specifically I think 1 Cor and Romans must bear on the interpretation of Eph 4. I also believe that if the same mode of interpretation establishing APEST is followed in the rest of Ephesians, the results in ch5 and 6 are be alarming when applied to wives and slaves. At the very least, I believe a hermeneutic able to generate APEST as a new created order must demand a subordinate role for women as part of created order since they are also described in connection to Christ’s salvific work in the body. I am unable to accept this for theological and exegetical reasons. I really do think APEST is motivated by a desire for greater diversity in church leadership but feel it ultimately will limit it in insisting “this is the only way it is.”

    Finally, I believe that the privileging of the smaller portion of Ephesians 4 happens for a reason – there is a motivation (not conscious or illicit) to highlight just this point that should not go unexamined, and I suspect it has to do with our own cultural location as 21c American evangelicals. My bottom line is that APEST is too definitive, overreaches, and shortchanges the variety of gifts God gives for the building up of the body. I expect you will disagree with my concerns, and I can respect that. I fear the discussion will come to an impasse because of hermeneutical commitments, but I enjoy the exchange and appreciate the chance to learn to communicate better. Finally, I think APEST can be great tool to empower different expressions of love in the Body of Christ, so I’m delighted for churches to work with it. Thanks everyone.

    1. Hey E. Hamilton, I appreciate the thoughtful reply. Your comments about the hermeneutical impasse I think are insightful, and I tend to agree with you. You did bring up one point about the hermeneutical approach to Ephesians 4, if applied to Ephesians 5/6, proves too much too bear. I see where you are coming from, but I would disagree as it appears to be conflating 2 distinct literary and rhetorical devices into one overarching from. Technically speaking, the rhetorical device Paul is using in Ephesians 5 is analogy. He is taking one thing, the marriage relationship, and saying it is analogous to another thing, Christs relationship to the church. He is not saying the marriage relationship itself is rooted in the salvific work of Christ. The “thing” being addressed (the marriage relationship) does not at all originate in the salvific work of Christ. Otherwise, marriage could not exist until the cross etc. Being analogical in its rhetorical form, Paul’s instructions on the marriage relationship in Eph 5 is utilizing the work of Christ, and therefore applying it in a significantly different way than he utilizes and presents APEST in Ephesians 4. In Ephesians 4:7-12, Paul is not doing analogy, or even simile (although he eventually does metaphor with his reference to the church as a ‘body’ and it having ligaments/tendons etc.) No, Paul is using a rhetorical device commonly known in the Jewish rabbinical field as midrash. In other words, he is integrating Israel’s scriptures, interpreted through the Christ event/narrative, and extrapolating Christological significance for the life of the Church universal. This is why I say it is significant to me that Ephesians is a general epistle, attested by multiple scholars as a cyclical letter meant to be distributed to multiple churches (with various cultural contexts mind you) Even the content of the letter lends itself to being generic and universal in its scope and content. This to me gives APEST much more universal application, as it was not tailored for a specific community or cultural setting, but intended to be read in multiple contexts with a variety cultural grids operating in the background. The fact that he links the growth and maturing of the church into the fullness of Christ to APEST further substantiates that he is giving us universal truths here, not something derived from cultural particularities only to be found in a unique cultural pocket of his ministry. Well, that’s my last push back 🙂 Appreciate the engagement and I am honored that you would engage the book and material with intellectual rigor. Blessings to you brother.

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