Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Book Review-- Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures by A. H. Mathias Zahniser

Symbol and Ceremony: Making Disciples Across Cultures by A. H. Mathias Zahniser gives much food for thought regarding missions and discipling cross-culturally.  

Zahniser's purpose is to explore how ritual and ceremony can be used as tools for discipling followers of Jesus, by those who are from another culture. He cites and explains the importance of symbols and ceremonies (pilgrimages, initiation rites, etc.) for bonding religious meaning to personal faith in indigenous cultures, and the danger of not utilizing these resources ("split-level Christianity"). He gives several examples of religious rituals and ceremonies (most of which come from other religious traditions) and then adds his thoughts on how they could be adapted for Christian use.

I applaud his approach to contextualization which strives to avoid syncretism (chapter eight is an excellent review and presentation on the meaning and process of contextualization). Ironically, I felt that a few of his more western (Christian) examples of various rituals felt a little too "churchy," i.e., a bit traditional and boring.  But overall, I'd love to read more along these lines, including further examples and experiments in additional nonwestern contexts.  The book certainly challenges the western/modernistic approach to discipleship which stresses head knowledge and systematic theology without connecting it to the struggles of daily living.


  1. Sounds similar to Hiebert. I agree split-level Christianity is a problem. I see need for more focus on rites of healing and guidance.

  2. Actually, he directly references Hiebert's work in that part of the book. The more I've thought about it, the more it seems that we need this type of thing in the *western* church... I can say for myself and a lot of other people that split-level Christianity is unfortunately not all that uncommon these days.