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Updated: 33 weeks 19 hours ago


Tue, 04/22/2014 - 20:56
Language English

A while ago I mentioned that

When you start learning Japanese you will be told that aoi means “blue” and midori means “green”. And then someone else who’s learning Japanese will tell you “Hey, did you know that the Japanese think that green traffic lights are blue, ha ha ha isn’t that stupid?” But of course they don’t. They don’t say that traffic lights are blue, because “blue” is English; they say that traffic lights are aoi. It’s only English speakers who say that traffic lights are blue. Aoi doesn’t really mean “blue”—because words don’t have meanings, they have uses. Aoi is used to refer to light with wavelengths of between roughly 400 and 500 nanometers, while midori is used for light between about 490 and 550nm. Traffic lights really are aoi, but it’s our broken system of translation-as-symbol-substitution that makes us think that Japanese think they’re blue.

Just as a follow-up:

See? Traffic lights really are blue. Uh, I mean, aoi.

Subject tags: languagejapanese

A theology of work

Tue, 04/01/2014 - 11:04
Language English

Japanese churches are, in general, pretty dualistic. They only really deal with “spiritual” subjects; they may be excellent at giving you a theologically correct exposition of a Bible passage, and even at showing how that should affect your religious life, but they have very little concern for the “secular” life. For all that Japanese churches can teach you about how to relate to God, from the reaction I’ve received, providing teaching on how to relate to the world seems pretty revolutionary here. But then maybe that’s common elsewhere too; I’ve been doing some writing and preaching in Japanese about having a theology of work, and let’s face it I haven’t found all that much written about this English either. So here are a few brief thoughts about relating Sunday to Monday.1

First of all, it’s important to see that work is ordained by God. The very first thing that God says to humanity is to go out and do some work. (Gen 1:28) He blesses us, and then he commissions us, taking us on as his staff, and delegating to us the responsibility for the administration of the earth. We could get into a big discussion about what form that administration is meant to take, and that’s a valid discussion to have, but the point here is that the very first commandment God gives us is a mandate to work on His behalf for the good of creation.

And that has to make a difference to how we see work. I remember when I was a student most of the other students in church were planning to be doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers—I guess somewhere along the line there was an unspoken theology that good Christian jobs are those which involve directly taking care of people and showing love to them. But the creation mandate is bigger than that; it’s about taking care of everything. Refuse collection is a good Christian job because it involves reducing the earth’s entropy. This applies indirectly as well. Being a bank clerk is a good Christian job because, by allowing others to work in safety and without worrying about how to secure their possessions, you’re helping others to fulfil their creation mandate. The problem isn’t what job you do, it’s what you’re doing it for. If you can connect your work with your creation mandate, then you’re no longer working for your boss or your pay cheque, you’re working for God.

Next, work is an opportunity to express Kingdom values. The Old Testament gives us patterns for how to go about our work in the way that God designed. For instance, right here, the kingdom value which work most needs to—and consistently fails to—express is that of Sabbath. God did not design us to work ourselves into the ground, or to see ourselves primarily as “workers”, but when we lose the Sabbath principle we lose that sense of our own identity as humans. This is an area where Christians can have a countercultural impact in a very busy—and dehumanizing—society. Similarly, the OT teaches about the principle of Sabbath for the land; we rob the world around us of the glory of God when we see it purely as a means of production and profit. Instead, Kingdom business declares counterculturally that there are more important priorities than exploiting resources to the maximum extent possible. Another principle is that of social justice; if we “reap to the very edges of our field” then we are denying opportunities from those who need it most. The prophets decry economic sins such as mistreating workers or withholding pay with as much vigour as they do spiritual sins like magic and idol worship—in fact, Ezekiel (in 28:18) directly links one to there other. And I’m going to go out on a limb and say that tax avoidance is, like reaping to the very edges of the field, a form of stealing from those who cannot support themselves. At any rate, the point is that there are principles for business by which we can build the Kingdom of God through the workplace.

Similarly, the workplace is an area for expressing Kingdom relationships. There isn’t much in the Bible about managers and subordinates; the nearest you’ll get is about masters and slaves, because that’s how the business economy of the time worked. What it says in Eph 6, Col 3, 1 Pet 2 and so on is that subordinates are to serve diligently knowing that they are really working for their manager in heaven—as we said initially, you’re really working for God. Managers, on the other hand, are told to treat their workers “in the same way”—that is, serving them wholeheartedly. The essence of servant leadership in the workplace is understanding the creation mandate of those you supervise and giving them the support and the opportunities they need to fulfil that mandate; I think that’s what it means to say that God “is both their Master and yours.”

Finally, I recognise that, well, most workplaces don’t express Kingdom values and Kingdom relationships, and most workers don’t really have the opportunity to change that. And that’s why work is a battle. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that right after the section on masters and slaves in Ephesians 6, Paul goes on to talk about the whole armour of God. It’s an extended military metaphor that he later makes clear is about the conflict between the world’s values and the Christian’s values: he talks about truth, the essential armour that maintains our integrity; righteousness, which protects our heart from feeling like we’re just as bad as everyone else around us; the helmet of salvation which protects our thoughts; the sword of the Spirit which gives us the right words to say to cut through difficult situations, and so on.

Two more things about being in a battle: first, you prepare yourself for it. You can’t expect to thrive as a Christian in a hostile working environment if you don’t put the time in to prepare yourself. If you get up, dressed, have your breakfast and go off to work, you’re not going to be spiritually ready for the day ahead. Second, you don’t fight a battle alone. Find someone to share the struggles with. After I preached about this last Sunday, two ladies came up to me, both of whom were going back to work after a break and were feeling uneasy about it—well, meet together, talk together and pray together. Help each other discover the meaning of that work in terms of fulfilling the creation mandate, and think together how you can use your work to serve others, honour God and build His Kingdom here on earth.

  • 1. This is obviously a very brief summary of what is about to turn into a six-article magazine column, in Japanese. You’re welcome.
Subject tags: theology

Jesus' words

Wed, 03/19/2014 - 00:08
Language English AttachmentSize Cloud 1.svg269.48 KB

This morning I found myself wondering “what did Jesus actually talk about the most?” “What did Jesus talk about the most?” is a theological question which makes it hard to answer, but a related question—“What words did Jesus use the most?”—is a data journalism question, one that we can quantify and analyse. (It is worth reminding ourselves that answering the second question doesn’t necessarily answer the first, but it’s an interesting question nonetheless.)

There are word clouds of the Bible and of the Gospels, but I couldn’t find any of Jesus’s words. So I made one.

(Click for a bigger image.)

Technical details follow!

The initial problem is getting a list of just Jesus’ words. The OSIS-tagged King James in my open source Bible data collection has a <q who="Jesus"> tag for Jesus’ speech (presumably for producing red letter Bibles). I couldn’t find any other Bibles with such tagging, so I went with that.

I then case-folded, number-folded, stopped and histogrammed the text with a quick Perl script, and then used tagul to generate the cloud.

Fun fact: Jesus mentions the word “sin” 36 times in the KJV, roughly as often as he talks about “sheep” and “mother”. By contrast, he mentions the word “man” eight times more, at 285 occurrences, rather more than he talks about “God” (183). Any attempt to draw theological conclusions from these numbers would be misguided.

Subject tags: theologytechnology

By all means, self-publish...

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 23:19
Language English

Technology brings democratisation. When the first camcorders appeared on the consumer market, people would record their own “home videos”, something that was previously the preserve of professional videographers and film makers. The problem was that home videos were invariably poor: full of jerky movement, curious zooms, strange camera angles and bad framing. Fine, perhaps, for private consumption, but you wouldn’t really want your friends to inflict their home videos on you.

What happened was that although people had access to the technology, in all the “anyone can do it!” hype, nobody stopped to point out that making a good movie is not just a matter of having the technology. In fact what set the professionals apart was not the technology, but what they did with it; the body of knowledge that they applied with that technology to make movies look good. And a good videographer is like a good train driver—the only time you actually notice them is when something goes wrong. Because the technique of good video making is basically invisible, home movie makers didn’t even realise there was anything to learn. But there really was.

So amateur film makers gradually had to learn not just how to physically use their camera, but how to craft a good-looking movie: to use tripods or steady-cams, to avoid too much motion, to try and keep the framing the same and keep the camera focused for the whole duration of a shot, and so on.

Technology again has done its democratising trick, bringing the ability to publish books, something previously the preserve of large publishing companies, to the mass market. Anyone with a message and a word processor can get their words out in paperback and sold across the Internet. It’s fantastic. I love it. But we’re rather at the “home video” stage of the self-publishing revolution, and unlike home videos, publishing is essentially, well, public. There are now a lot of books out there which are fine for private consumption, but books aren’t for the private consumption of their authors; you wouldn’t really want your friends to inflict their novels on you.

Good typography and typesetting, like videography, is invisible, because its job is to get out of the way and focus attention on the message, not the medium. But that doesn’t mean it’s automatic, and it certainly doesn’t mean that your word processor does it well by default. If I pick up a book I can generally tell within a page or two if it’s self-published, because a lot of self-published books make the same mistakes every time. Here are a few ways to avoid those mistakes. If you’re thinking of self-publishing, do go ahead, but do these five simple things and your books will look a lot better for it—and that will focus the reader on what you have to say.

Banish bold. Boldface in running text is the biggest mistake I see in self-published books. Boldface is for titling, and nothing else.1 The standard for emphasis in published work is italics. If you feel that making your words italic doesn’t give them enough emphasis, rewrite the text to make it more powerful. Many of the professional “book” fonts I use for typesetting Wide Margin books don’t even contain a bold face. Why would they? (Needless to say, the same is true for underlined text. You are not writing a business report, and even if you were your business reports would look better if you applied these rules to them as well.)

And let me hang here the big secret of learning good typography: read a lot of books. Typography is a visual language, so learn it by immersion. It’s a language which is full of conventions—most books look more or less the same. If your book looks distinctly different, you’re probably doing something wrong. So read a lot of well laid-out books and look at the conventions that they use. After a while you will pick up these conventions by osmosis. Count how many times they use boldface, underline and so on. You will notice that it is somewhere between “rarely” and “never”. I’m sorry to say this, but if I see a badly laid-out self-published book, my first thought is that the author is probably not reading very many good books.

Justify yourself. This is the second most common mistake. Almost all books—with a few exceptions such as children’s books and poetry—are set fully justified. That is, the spaces between words are altered so that the right edge of each line of text is constant and text forms clean blocks. All of the paragraphs on this blog are set fully justified, apart from this one, which is set ragged-right; inter-word space is constant, and the right margin varies for each line. Most word processors default to being ragged right. I have no idea why this is, because it’s almost always the wrong answer. Change it right now.

Make it smaller. While we’re talking about bad word processor defaults, the default font size for most word processors is 12pt. This is already too big when you’re dealing with the default paper size, (A4 or letter) and looks even more ridiculous when placed on the smaller page sizes used in paperbacks. Dial it down to 10pt or so.

Change the font. While we’re still talking about bad word processor defaults… For ages the default font in Microsoft Word was Times New Roman. Nobody changed the default font, so every paper, report or whatever was written in Times New Roman. If I pick up a book which is set in Times New Roman, it looks like (a) someone’s high school essay, and (b) the author was too lazy to change the default font. Now the default font is Calibre, which has probably one or two years left before it become the Default High School Essay font. Don’t use that either.

Good font choice is a matter of personal taste. Once again the job of typography is to get out of the way, so don’t change from one boring omnipresent font to an overly exotic one just for the sake of being different. “When in doubt, use Caslon” used to be a golden rule. Palatino is a good choice. I like Garamond and Gentium.

Needless to say—or perhaps not—don’t use sans-serif fonts for running text in books unless your target audience are hipsters. Rob Bell can pull it off, but you can’t. Word processors which default to sans-serif fonts are even more perverse than the others.

In fact, I’ll come right out and say it: pretty much everything that word processing software does by default makes a book look bad. I don’t know why they do these things. It’s possible to make a good-looking book in a word processor, but you will have to fight it every step of the way. It is worth your while either investing in a copy of InDesign or learning TeX.

But once again, it’s not about the technology. It’s about what you do with it, those little things that seem invisible but which are actually vitally important. Don’t just learn to use the technology, but learn about book design too. There are a few good free resources out there; my favourite is “A Few Notes On Book Design”. You should also get a copy of “The Elements of Typographic Style” by Robert Bringhurst.

By all means self-publish. It is great that there is a forum whereby anyone can bring their ideas to global audience. But think back to jerky, out of focus home videos, and make a book that people will enjoy reading.

  • 1. Naturally if you know why you should break these rules, you can. But until you do, it’s best not to.
Subject tags: typographybookstypesetting

Stick a fork in it, it's done

Tue, 03/04/2014 - 10:52
Language English

What benefit do people get from all the effort
which they expend on earth?
A generation comes and a generation goes,
but the earth remains the same through the ages.

Last night, Henrietta and I watched a good Horizon documentary about cognitive biases. I knew about most of the ones highlighted, but one of them was new to me: the IKEA effect. Simply put, it’s the problem that we consider things that we helped to make as having intrinsically higher value. And it struck me that this particular cognitive bias has a huge implication for the way we do church planting.

The IKEA effect is thought to contribute to the sunk costs effect. It occurs when managers continue to devote resources to sometimes failing projects they have invested their labor in. The effect also is related to the “not invented here” syndrome, whereby managers disregard good ideas developed elsewhere, in favor of possibly inferior internally developed ideas.

One wise missionary here told me that he’s always reluctant to start something new, because he knows that in the Japanese culture, if you start something, it has to continue for ever and ever; things can’t stop, because stopping is failure. And as church planters, individually and organisationally, we’re absolute suckers for the IKEA effect. We love our churches, our ministries and our programmes, we think they are the best, for no other reason than that we were the ones who had a hand in getting them going.

I have seen churches continue well past their use-by date due to a combination of these two factors. Nobody wants to admit defeat, because it would be a loss of face to do so, and nobody wants to offend the memory of the missionary (whether on the field or off) who started the project in the first place. Innovation quickly becomes memorial. New members come along who do not share the institutional memory or accept the importance of the organisation’s sacred cows, and can spot the waste and decay that everyone else can no longer see; but precisely because they are new members their power to effect change in these areas is limited.

I can understand, of course, the desire to leave behind one’s fingerprint, to validate one’s activity by being able to point to a church, a project, a ministry and say “I did that!” We want to create things which will last. But as Keynes put it, in the long run we are all dead; or as the Bible puts it, that is chasing the wind. I know, I know this is a theme I keep harping on about, but it is a misplaced pride to find our work’s meaning in our temporal achievements.

Pride is, of necessity, a failure to trust God. If we shut down our church tomorrow, what will happen to those in it? I have heard this argument, from a very experienced missionary, against shutting down churches that are failing, sucking resources and going nowhere. The idea being that the missionaries should assume total responsibility for the spiritual life of those in their care, for ever and ever. It is a kind of arrogance—if we are not there, then they will be stuck. Contrast this with the approach of Paul, who “when they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed.” When we over-invest in our churches, we are essentially admitting that people are relying on us more than they are relying on God. What position does that put us in?

The other day, we were discussing a major ministry of our organisation. Like most of our major ministries, it’s a bit stale around the edges, and pretty much only continues because We’ve Always Done It That Way. How should we proceed with it? I argued that we should disband it.

“Why?” “Practice.”

Subject tags: theologymissiologychurch planting

The Family Business

Wed, 02/26/2014 - 21:18
Language English

So, apparently one way to prevent an embarrassing ministry scandal is

Don’t build a family dynasty

There is nothing in the Bible that says a Christian leader is supposed to turn his ministry over to his family. And nepotism is often the cause of financial scandal. If a leader stacks his board or church staff with family members, they will be tempted to make financial decisions that benefit themselves. And in many cases, parents who employ their children find it difficult to bring correction when there are serious offenses.

Why does the author say this? Let’s analyse it from a cultural perspective.

The article is written by an American; America is a culture that is profoundly anti-dynasty. One of its founding principles, as a revolution against the behaviour of a monarchy, is the distrust of family dynasties—the prohibition of titles of nobility is enshrined in the Constitution.

Another principle of modern America is the concept of the American Dream, which is one of individual progress. In other words, if you’re doing the same job your father did, that’s seen as failure, rather than—as in most of the world, and as in the West up until the end of the nineteenth century (later?)—the normal course of events.

Because of American cultural influence, Western Christians are intensely suspicious of family ministry, which is a great shame; the Western church doesn’t take the idea of family faith and family organisation seriously, due to its hyper-individualisation. Where I live, again, transfer of power to the real (or fictive) heir is a very normal and generally pretty effective way for a leader, in any sector of society, to pass on leadership. Certainly in church terms, it’s the way to pass on a ministry which has the lowest possibility of splitting the church.

While there are problem areas, as there are with any form of leadership transition, there are also little-reported upsides to family dynasties: when the family organisation is passed to a disciple or follower of the leader1 then they can feel a pressure to maintain the organisation in exactly the same way as the revered founder. But sons naturally react against their fathers and are more painfully aware of their failings, and so want to do things differently, creating an opportunity for much needed change.

So what is normal in Asia is certainly not what is normal in America. But the fact that it is not normal in my culture for you to do something does not necessarily mean that it is wrong for you to do it. That is called ethnocentrism.

Having explored the cultural background, let’s look at this statement again:

There is nothing in the Bible that says a Christian leader is supposed to turn his ministry over to his family.

Hopefully you spotted the argument from silence (there’s also nothing in the Bible that says a Christian leader is supposed to wear a suit, but people don’t seem to accept that argument when I try it), but did you also spot the fact that the author appears to have missed the entire Old Testament?

  • 1. Yes, we should all be followers of Jesus, not humans, I know, but we also live in the real world. Leadership is about having followers; if you don’t have followers, you’re not leading.
Subject tags: theologysociologyAmerican Christianity

Most Mission Isn't Missional

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 08:48
Language English

I have about five or six blog posts in the queue to finish writing, most of which are either quite long and involved, or require tact, or both. I have been getting stuck in my writing, so here’s something quick to get the ball rolling again.

I am involved in a writing group trying to put together a joint paper on new paradigms of mission in Japan. After listening to a few amazing stories of things that God is doing around the country and how He seems to be working in quite a new way, I drew up a list of characteristics of mission in the current and emerging paradigms. So far, most mission practice in Japan has been:

  1. Calling people to gather to us
  2. Not being involved in local society
  3. Building a church separate from local society
  4. Creating encounters with the Bible
  5. Missionaries talking about Jesus
  6. Prioritizing an intellectual understanding of the Gospel.

What seems to be happening more and more in Japan right now is

  1. Being sent out to where people are
  2. Getting involved in local society
  3. Building the Kingdom of God within that society
  4. Creating encounters with the God
  5. Jesus himself speaking
  6. Prioritizing an experiential understanding of the Gospel.

Well, we are going back and forth about some of the details of those lists, but the idea is basically that. And if you’ve been following anything that’s been going on in evangelism in the past ten years, then at least the first three items should not sound radical to you. 1-3 is the movement that’s come to be called “missional church”, and 4-6 is what God seems to be doing when people try it.

The idea behind “missional church” is essentially to do church in a way that recognises that we are in a missionary situation and think as missionaries would think. That’s tremendously gratifying, but what I can’t help noticing is that, at least here in Japan, and probably in other places too, a lot of missionary practice is much more like the first model than the second model. Our mission work isn’t all that missional.

And so, for want of better terminology, I reclaimed the “missional church” moniker, and headed the first list “traditional mission”, and the second list… “missional mission”?

Subject tags: theologymissiology

Why all Biblical studies people should learn XeTeX

Tue, 01/28/2014 - 04:59
Language English

I spent five years in university, theoretically studying Japanese and linguistics. What I actually spent my time doing with messing with computers. I turned my final year dissertation into a computational linguistics paper with a Japanese pretext. Basically, I was a scientist trapped in a humanities major.

When it was time to hand in an assignment, all the comp scis and mathematicians wrote them using a piece of software called TeX. And so I, being a comp sci and mathematician in denial, wrote my Japanese essays in TeX. Now actually, because of some of the features I am going to describe, it turned out to be an extremely efficient tool for the job.

When I went back to Bible college to train to be a missionary, I had grown up a little bit and accepted my fate as a humanities student. But after a few attempts of trying to wrangle multi-language (English, Hebrew, Greek and Japanese) academic papers in other word processors, I quickly came back to TeX, and in particular, its newer, SIL-sponsored cousin XeTeX.

Here’s why I think all Biblical studies people should know about XeTeX, and at least give it a shot. This isn’t going to be a comparative study, since I have been using TeX and friends for so long I have lost touch with what else is available. I’m just going to mention some features which make XeTeX the best tool for what I do.

Professional output

This is what hooks me, although I admit it may not be of obvious use to a lot of people: XeTeX’s output just looks great.

I tend to tell people that XeTeX is not a word processor, it is a typesetter. There’s an important distinction. The job of a word processor is to produce a document that looks exactly like what you type on the screen. XeTeX takes what you type and considers it instructions for producing a document that looks as good as possible.

A note on terminology

TeX is both the name of a typesetting language (for specifying typesetting instructions) and the name of a computer program which turns those instructions into document files. Both the language and the program date from the late 1970s, and both have been extended in various ways. To keep up with changes in technology, TeX-the-program has been reworked to support creating PostScript files (“pstex”), PDF files (“pdftex”), typesetting right-to-left scripts such as Hebrew (“etex”), right-to-left scripts and PDF (“pdfetex”),1 and, most recently, modern fonts and Unicode. (“xetex”)

The original TeX-the-language is rather tricky to use, and so a set of higher-level extensions based on it was written by Leslie Lamport, and called “latex”. (Lamport’s TeX) The typesetting technology I use, and the title of this article, is the modern-fonts-and-Unicode TeX—XeTeX—but the version I actually use to produce documents is the modern-fonts-and-Unicode TeX together with Lamport’s macros—“xelatex”. TeX is still the overall name for the whole ecology of TeX-derived software.

For instance, in a word processor, you keep typing and when you hit the right margin, your cursor will move to the next line. It is showing you where the lines will break. TeX doesn’t show you where the lines will break, because it doesn’t know yet. You can type and type and type as long a line as you like, and when TeX comes to process your instructions, it will consider your input (up to) three times over in order to work out how to best to break the lines to form a paragraph. Did we end two successive lines with a hyphenated word? Go back and try again.

Similarly for page breaks. When you type into a word processor, at some point you will spill over onto a new page. In TeX, you keep typing, because the page breaks are determined after considering the layout of the whole document.

The end result is that documents done in TeX and those done in Microsoft Word are a world apart. And it’s not just about breaking; font kerning, ligatures, hyphenation (even of unusual languages), character protrusion and so on, are all done at a level comparable to Adobe’s InDesign—something that will set you back $700. (Did I mention that TeX was free?)

TeX is a professional publisher’s tool, to the extent that one upon a time pretty much all scientific journals would expect contributors to send them a TeX file and they would then typeset it themselves. That’s less and less the case these days—because typographic standards are slipping—but if you see a well-designed and well-typeset academic journal, the chances are that they used TeX to produce it.

Bibliography management

While professional typography is going to swing it for font geeks, what’s really going to swing it for undergraduates2 is that TeX offers support for bibliography management, built-in, for free.

As I mentioned, I’ve been using TeX a long time, ever since I needed to write academic papers and essays. I’ve often heard classmates complain about the need to follow arcane citation standards, or spending hours preparing and ordering bibliographies. All this has been strange to me, because bibliographies have been easy. All I’ve ever done to prepare a bibliography has been to say:

Similarly, \citet[81]{parratt1995reinventing}, writing about African theology... \bibliography{mission}

and TeX has automatically turned that into

Having to submit a paper to a different journal with a different referencing style? No problem; just change one line:


and the bibliography will be changed to reflect the new style.

Again, this is the point about being a typesetting language rather than a word processor. I am telling TeX what I want to do—insert a citation from page 81 of the document called parratt1995reinventing in my citation database—rather than what I want to see. (“Parrat (1995, p81)”)

Semantic markup

More broadly, this whole concept of telling the program what you want to do instead of what you want to see is called semantic markup. Word processors like Pages or Microsoft Word do this to a limited extent—you can define “styles”, and apply these styles to certain paragraphs. So when you come to a section heading, you can—in theory—click “Section heading style”, and everything is consistent and beautiful. Except in reality, half of the time you will click “Section heading style”, and half of the time you will manually ratchet up the font size, embolden the text, and change the font to Helvetica. Nobody uses styles properly.

LaTeX, on the other hand, practically forces you to use semantic markup. Because TeX documents are processed after you’ve written them rather than at the point of authoring, you spend less time—in theory—messing around with how your document looks and more time with what it says. If you want a section heading, you say

\section{Contextual christology}

How does that look? That’s up to your document class, hopefully designed by someone with more typographic chops than yourself. (True, once you get seriously into TeX you will spend hours fiddling with the implementation of these markup elements. But the principle is sound.)

You can also use this to delegate the layout of some fairly complex structures. For instance, you can lay out figures, tables, and so on, and each will have their own counter, so that

\begin{table}\label{mytable} \caption{Hello} \end{table}

as the second table in chapter two would produce “Table 2.2: Hello”. (If you want to number things consecutively throughout the document instead of per-chapter, you can of course change that in one place, and TeX will renumber everything.) You can then say \listoftables to get a list of tables, and also See \vref{mytable}... to say “See table 2.2 on page 45…” or whatever it might be.

Basically, TeX does all the hard work for you.

Complex script support

So far these have been pretty general points. Why do I think Biblical studies users in particular should be looking at XeTeX? Well, if nothing else, XeTeX was designed by SIL precisely for the job.

Most word processors are produced by Westerners, and, although things have been improving recently, the basic assumption is that non-Western scripts are just the same as Roman scripts but with funny curly letters. That’s obviously not true, and, for Biblical studies scholars, especially not true. In particular, Biblical Hebrew and Greek can occasionally do some very funny things.

Here is a portion of Job 7:11, containing the Hebrew sequence alef + hataf patah + meteg + dehi. It was copied from Accordance and pasted into Pages using the SIL Ezra font.

And here is precisely the same text, again copied from Accordance but this time pasted into a XeTeX document using the same SIL Ezra font.

Same characters, same font, but see the difference? The Society of Biblical Literature comment on the first version:

This very incorrect example shows the same sequence crudely displayed by an application that … cannot implement the glyph positioning intelligence in the SBL Hebrew font. The marks are blindly centered below the consonant, but they collide and do not interract correctly. In some applications, the marks may not even be centered below the consonant, but will cluster between it and the next letter.

XeTeX contains a technology called Graphite, which was designed by SIL to intelligently position elements of complex scripts—and they work with some of the world’s most complex ones. XeTeX itself was originally created by SIL for the purposes of typesetting unusual and non-Roman scripts. So your puncta extraordinaria, reversed nuns, and variant meteg positions will all work nicely.

Of course, it goes without saying that XeTeX will correctly handle multiple lines of right-to-left Hebrew within left-to-right text, and equivalently left-to-right text within Hebrew. That has already saved at least one thesis.

Sidenotes/apparatus/other clever things

If your word processor doesn’t quite have the feature that you want, you have to try and do something clever with the features that it does provide. But since TeX is a programming language, it’s extensible. If it doesn’t quite have the feature that you want, chances are that someone has already written a “package” which does.

For instance, if you’re writing a book—and a thesis is very definitely a book—which comments on textual variants, you might find yourself wanting to do something like this:

In most word processors, you’re pretty much out of luck, and even if you got close you would have to be typesetting the footnotes by hand. In TeX, you use the “minipage” package to constrain footnotes to a certain area of text, the “ledmac” package for typesetting multiple critical apparatuses, and the “ledpar” passage for typesetting parallel aligned text.

Need to draw parse trees? There’s a package for that. Discussing scholastic theology? TeX package. Catechisms? Liturgy? TeX has all kinds of packages to make the job easier.


The reason TeX has all kinds of packages to make the job easier is that, to be honest, TeX is something of a beast to learn. But it’s only a beast to learn because you’re already used to word processors which show you immediately what they’re going to do, and you’re not used to using typesetting languages. “Why can’t it be as easy as Word?” is a good question, but the answer is obvious: Because it’s not Word. If you’re the kind of person who likes to experiment—or has to typeset a thesis with a large bibliography and is dreading it—you could do a lot worse than pick up a copy of TeXShop for the Mac or TeXWorks for windows (available as part of the TeX live distribution), read your way through the not-too-short introduction, and start playing.

  • 1. There are other combinations of the above, plus other directions that TeX has been extended in, that I mention here for completeness but which do not add much to the narrative.
  • 2. I’m presuming that graduates have already either gone out and bought Endnote, or have already lost their minds. Either way, a lost cause.
Subject tags: theologyxetex

Something to be grasped

Sat, 01/25/2014 - 21:39

A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. So Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is seated at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

- Luke 22:24-27

A recurring theme of my personal journey over the past few years has been the idea of learning to choose the quiet, unassuming path for God’s glory rather than shooting for the big, impressive goal of my own.

I am still learning, and old temptations die hard. One of the biggest temptations I face is how I talk about our work—the temptation to talk big. Not to lie, but to embellish, to give the impression of being more important and impressive than we are in reality. I am constantly amazed that this is still a temptation that Christians face. After all that Jesus said to us, we should be falling over ourselves to downplay ourselves and our work, to be more humble, to shun self-promotion and embrace radical honesty… and yet so often we want to have ourselves measured by the world’s standards.

As an example, I visited one church in the UK whose promotional material talked about the pastor as being the leader of a national church network. What this national network actually looked like was one small congregation in the center of the city and one smaller one just outside the city. His description was strictly true, but arguably misleading. It does seem reasonable to ask for whose glory it was that he wanted such a description.

And I don’t think he’s alone. In fact, I know he’s not alone, because I’m guilty of doing exactly the same. It was hubristic to talk about “establishing a house church network” when what we had was three small weekly meetings, and even more so now that two of them have ceased. There is simply no reason for my addiction to puffery; why do I seek my identity in the way that others appraise my work? It doesn’t make any sense. My usual answer to myself is that I am always seeking to justify myself before my supporters, who want to give their hard-earned cash to something significant. And of course I want to be giving my life to something significant.

But once again, if we follow the life of Jesus, we should have realised by now that significant isn’t the same as impressive. For Christians, the most significant thing that Jesus did was to be tortured and executed as a criminal to the scorn and outrage of the crowd. Significance was found in not sharing God’s glory, but rather in emptying himself, taking on the form of a slave before humanity, and dying on a cross. That is not something you can dress up in impressive-sounding promotional copy.

The irony is that deep down I think our supporters are probably realists, and probably understand this. I’m not going to change the whole of Japan single-handedly, and nobody expects me to. The pressure is entirely from within.

In a couple of months I’ll be guest preacher at a pretty big (by Japanese standards) church. They’ve asked me to send in a bio paragraph. Perhaps this is an opportunity to practice radical honesty: “Simon Cozens lives with his wife and children in the south of Kyoto, and tries to talk to people about Jesus. This is made more difficult by the fact that he normally hides behind a keyboard. He wants to establish a network of self-reproducing, self-supporting house churches, but in three years of trying hasn’t really got anywhere yet.”

You’d listen to that kind of preacher, wouldn’t you?

Language English

The congregational leadership crisis still facing the Japanese church

Thu, 01/16/2014 - 00:14
Language English

Eight years ago, Thomas Hastings and Mark Mullins wrote an excellent article about the congregational leadership crisis facing the Japanese church [free subscription to IMBR required]. They said

Looking ahead, a demographically based shortfall in trained pastoral leadership, tied to the graying of the Japanese populace and the exceptionally low birth rate (around 1.3 percent), is rapidly approaching… Demographic realities are significant—between seventy and eighty pastors retire each year, with only twenty to thirty new seminary graduates available to replace them—but the crisis has multiple facets… The number of students being graduated is insufficient to replace those who will be retiring in the next decade. Clergy imbalance is further compounded by the effects of Japan’s postwar population shift from rural to urban…

Without a significant transformation of Japanese Christian attitudes and a mobilization of the laity for greater participation in congregational leadership, the future of these Protestant denominations seems very much in question.

That was eight years ago. So we were warned. We knew that unless we radically changed the way that churches in Japan organised themselves and functioned, we would soon run out of clergy. We knew we needed to change.

Instead of doing that, we chose to paper over the cracks—having missionaries pastor churches as a short-term fix; 1 putting pastors on a preaching rota served the main need of church ministry, because of course the sermon is the important part of church ministry—which made it look like we could cope, like we could get away without changing anything. Meanwhile we prayed to God for new leaders and seminarians. They didn’t come. We couldn’t imagine that God would want us to try something different to what worked in the past.

Mullins and Hastings spell out why the crisis is happening. First, pastors are old, and few young pastors are replacing them, which means that 3% of Japan’s pastors die or retire every year. They point out that churches are divided politically and possessive of where they place new pastors. But they also point to a deeper issue.

Both churches follow a clergy-centered style of leadership (seishoku, or bokushi chushin shugi) that most clergy in both denominations readily admit encourages passive dependence among members. While pastor-centered leadership provides a sense of long-term continuity, it has not fostered active training of lay leaders…

The theme of the priesthood of all believers has long been regarded as central to the Protestant tradition. This doctrine, however, has had little impact on the understanding of congregational leadership by either the UCCJ or the NSKK. Traditional Protestant concern for a well-educated clergy, combined with a hierarchical Confucian leadership model that emphasizes the positional authority of the pastor/teacher, has not encouraged an active role for the laity. Howard Snyder has astutely observed that the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer has generally been “understood soteriologically rather than ecclesiologically. That is, it has been understood to mean that all Christians have direct access to God without the mediation of a human priest. But the implications of this doctrine for Christian ministry have seldom been drawn out. Perhaps the reason is that these implications radically call into question the clergy-laity split by asserting that all believers are priests and therefore ministers.

The crisis we were warned about is now at hand. Japanese churches can’t go on much longer the way they have done so far. Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. We could address the crisis that by now everyone can see is here, or we can continue to hope that it won’t affect us. Only one of these options will enable the Japanese church to thrive.

I’m excited about the change that’s going to happen, because I can see we need to do something different. But it will be painful for those denominations who do not prepare for it right now.

  • 1. In particular, Hastings and Mullins point out that having Korean students propping up the numbers in Japanese seminaries has been the only reason these seminaries have been able to survive financially.
Subject tags: theologymissiologyjapanpassivityecclesiology