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I Understand
Volume 7.1 / Preaching With Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons

Book Review


Preaching With Cultural Intelligence: Understanding the People Who Hear Our Sermons

Book Author: Matthew D. Kim
Publisher: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017. pp. xvi + 269. $24.99, paper.
Reviewed by Ivan Kalabric

Cultural intelligence has been a widely discussed topic in the business world for more than a decade. This is due to an ever increasing need of outsourcing the production of certain goods to the non-Western world to maximize income and efficiency. However, proponents of outsourcing soon encountered a whole new sphere of challenges, and it had nothing to do with how well a foreign worker understood the job. The challenges related to how fast managers and employers could develop an understanding and awareness of different cultures and hence interact more effectively with people from different backgrounds. Suddenly both employers’ and employees’ success depended on how well certain individuals could relate and work across cultures. Although cross-cultural communication was something that most people were aware of, the need to develop a cultural intelligence was a fairly new idea. 

Developing a cultural intelligence, even if it found its origins in the business world, has become increasingly important in church and ministry settings. Increased migration in the 21st century has brought forth many challenges to churches, pastors, and mission agencies as the overall migration rate has gone up by 25 percent in just the last decade. Often quite unexpectedly, a number of churches in the Western world that once were culturally homogenous became progressively international. People attending these churches and those who were beneficiaries of para-church organizations needed not only to understand God's word, but to be understood as well.

Matthew D. Kim treats this two-fold challenge in his book, Preaching With Cultural Intelligence. Being aware of the complexity of the subject he wrestles with, he poses a very important question: “Do we understand the people who hear our sermons?” From the very beginning he proposes a paradigm shift since most of our exegetical efforts are committed primarily to unpacking the text and striving for correct interpretation. However, Kim suggests that our hermeneutics also should be saturated with cultural intelligence. Since the interpretations are varied with regards to our listeners, we need to strive to interpret faithfully the text that we explore, while effectively engaging interpretively with the listeners’ cultures, experiences, questions, and concerns. By exploring such an important question, it would be fair to say that the author of this book boldly puts himself in a very vulnerable position.

Still, Kim is not naively assuming that by proposing the right and sound theory he will manage to fix a problem. Therefore he rigorously divides his research into two sections: theoretical in chapters one through four, and practical in chapters five through nine. In the theoretical chapters, he tries to redefine biblical expository preaching and proposes an addition to our interpretive lens which commonly is present in most evangelical traditions. Besides being a communication of a biblical concept, derived from and transmitted through a literal, historical, grammatical, and literary study of the passage in its context, Kim proposes a fourth dimension to the task of sermon preparation: a meticulous exhuming of the biblical cultures represented in Scripture (p. 36). Moreover, such an effort should not end there, but from that vantage point concomitantly explore the correlations with the various cultures represented in today’s world. Such a hermeneutical model, as Kim says, underscores the importance of the biblical author’s culture and then progresses toward understanding contemporary cultures in the pews (p. 37). The diachronic style in which the writer presents the cultural intelligence in theory gives readers the unique opportunity to engage in the discussion and get a wider perspective of the concept. He goes from commonly used homiletical templates, via hermeneutical implications of the culture explored in a certain text, to even exegeting a preacher, taking into account one’s own culture and habits. In doing so, Kim invites us to a journey from a xenophobe to xenophile, from cultural stereotypes to cultural empathy, and from cultural assimilation to cultural celebration.

The practical section of the book excels in the application of real-world suggestions of cultural intelligence in everyday ministry, ranging from very helpful diagrams to practical examples of the message delivery with regards to language, dialect, context, and cultural heritage. The author boldly wrestles with some of the challenging topics that shape our thinking and, consequently, our preaching. These include denominational background, gender roles, ethnicities, locations, and even different religions. He rightly observes that each religion holds theological presuppositions about the Christian God and their god(s), and as such, embraces a set of core beliefs and doctrines (p. 195–96). In practical terms, Kim suggests that the starting point for understanding any religious faith is taking it one step at a time, since grasping other religions’ core beliefs is an important foundation to build on as we move toward cultural intelligence.

All of this culminates in the short and concise conclusion, where the author shares some of his painful experiences on a journey of becoming a more culturally aware and intelligent minister. Though he succeeded in exploring both theoretical and practical contemporary implications of cultural intelligence, he admits that the intention of the book is to be a conversation starter.  Kim managed to ingenerate both the exegetical-hermeneutical study of the topic and its historicity in terms of interpretations, and in doing so, he released the tension and engaged with the difficult task of faithfully interpreting the text, exegeting the culture, and understanding the people who hear our message. Although he has taken part in a complex discussion, the author proves his competence and skillfulness by presenting his ideas in a comprehensible manner, such that the students of theological and cultural anthropology can have both the broad resource in their hands and the valuable guidelines for further research in this field. Still, the book is written in a manner so that it can also serve as a manual, a handbook to preachers and pastors who wish their preaching to demonstrate cultural intelligence and their love for God and others.

One final point should be made: Kim observes the non-Western theologies are a direct response to oppression and marginalization experienced by members of minority groups. He states that such theologies are directed less toward God and targeted more toward the societal powers that restrict freedom and power for minority groups (p. 109). Just a bit later, Kim presents the parable of the good Samaritan as a positive example, where Jesus challenges the Jews’ “pejorative understanding of who these half-blooded Samaritan people are” (p. 215). So, the questions remain: is it not Jesus himself who directs his theology here as a direct response to the oppression he sees? What, in response to that, could we learn about God, if we discover him in the non-Western theologies as God of the other, of the oppressed, and of the marginalized?

The book Preaching With Cultural Intelligence is a “must read” for all who desire to gain a better understanding of the cultural intelligence in preaching with respect to the inerrancy of Scripture, and a literal, historical, and grammatical analysis of the text as well as the exegesis of various cultures widely presented throughout the text of Old and New Testament. 

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