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Don't Throw the Book at Them: Communicating the Christian Message to People Who Don't Read.

Don't Throw the Book at Them: Communicating the Christian Message to People Who Don't Read.

By Harry Box. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2014. Pp. xvi, 209. Paperback $19.99.

While often overlooked, Jesus' strategy for making disciples did not include writing a book or even requiring his followers to read one. Harry Box's volume takes Jesus' strategy seriously, providing a valuable introduction to the legitimacy of oral communication systems and the implementation of oral strategies within missions. The author's contagious enthusiasm permeates his writing; the time has clearly come to leverage oral communication methods for transformation within communities that value the spoken word.

Box's premise challenges the status quo of many mission strategies: "If we want to communicate the Christian message to people who do not read, then a literacy based strategy is probably not the best way to go" (xiv). His model for reconceptualizing missional communication strategy is none other than Jesus' own approach. Instead of using a literate method that would have been accessible only to the educated elite, Jesus followed the first-century rabbinic tradition of oral pedagogy. Furthermore, Jesus' oral communication techniques ensured that everyone could not only learn but also then reteach what was learned (55-56).

Two central motifs emerge. First, oral communication systems are not inferior or merely illustrative for sharing the Gospel. Therefore it follows that, for an oral, event-oriented people group, oral methods resembling their favored communication style will be the most effective for enabling that group to understand the message of salvation. This approach requires that cross-cultural communicators be willing to set aside their typically literate orientations and openly seek to understand and implement "local" oral paradigms and techniques.

Second, Box argues that oral methods are actually the most effective way to train Christian leaders within oral communities. This view is contrary to the usual Western theological education paradigm, which associates leadership development with formal, literacy-oriented practices. It is worth noting that Box does not ignore the pervasiveness of the printed word but offers insight into literacy's role among oral communicators.

Interaction with more recent scholarship would strengthen Box's well-developed thesis. He provides ample case studies regarding the use of oral communication strategies from among diverse people groups, but many of the examples are thirty to forty years old. The growing missiological interest in orality, coupled with emerging academic research, offers numerous sources for bringing his research up to date. Furthermore, engagement with contemporary discussions regarding the utilization of cell phones, social media, and digital technology would prove fruitful for encouraging the adaptation of oral strategies within missions. --William Coppedge

William Coppedge (World Gospel Mission) utilized oral methodologies for pastoral leadership development in Uganda and South Sudan, 2008-13. He currently is pursuing further research related to orality at the University of St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland.

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Author:Coppedge, William
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2015
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