Jeff Iorg Blog

Cultural Connections

Apr 28 2008

One of the unique features of Golden Gate Seminary is our multi-cultural and intercultural learning environment. On all five campuses, we have students and faculty who represent different cultural backgrounds. This year, about 58% of our students are non-Anglo. Because of this, we are constantly observing and learning from culture. 

On a recent trip to Jordan and Israel, observations of two different groups produced new insights for me. The groups were women and Bedouins. My cultural expectation of women in these two countries was conservative dress, limited social interaction, and little public responsibility. My observations revealed a much more complicated situation. In Israel, where military or national service is mandatory for young men and women, it was not uncommon to see young women in military uniforms armed and prepared to defend their country. It was somewhat unsettling for me to see college age women in such roles. In Jordan, women were seen wearing everything from the traditional burqa to designer fashion from Europe. According to our guide, 54% of all university students in Jordan this year are female. Granted, when we drove through more rural areas, women were largely not visible (and those we did see were in more traditional dress – and probably more traditional roles). Still, my experience of observing culture (even through tourist eyes) convinced me my expectations about women in these countries were wrong. 

My initial impressions about the Bedouin were equally off base. When we first saw Bedouin tents, my immediate thought was “those poor Bedouin.” They live nomadic lives in tents, following herds from grazing spot to grazing spot and from water hole to water hole. But then two other observations starting changing my perspective. First, some of the tents had satellite dish television receivers. Second, some of the tents had Toyota Landcruisers parked next to them. The poor Bedouin didn’t seem quite so poor or backward anymore. Then we engaged in conversation with a Bedouin proprietor of a trailside gift shop. We learned he had been to the United States as a part of his university’s debate team. He particularly liked Iowa! He was one of nine brothers, all university graduates. When asked why he wasn’t working in his field of study, he replied with a twinkle in his eye, “I make more money running this stand!” 

These two groups, and my experience with them, remind me how easy it is to make wrong assumptions about culture (from our perspective) and miss the richness of genuinely experiencing and understanding other people. Many Americans view other cultures through a “right and wrong” lens. A better perspective is a “different and fascinating” lens. If you live in a monochromatic world, or if you too easily project your cultural bias on others, ask God for fresh eyes to see and learn from the complex mosaic of 21st century culture.


Is Preaching Still Important?

Apr 21 2008

One of the more bizarre developments in the past decade has been the precipitous decline of both the quality of and value placed on preaching in the modern church. Students ask me, “Is preaching still a valid communication method and an important part of meaningful worship services?” Just the fact the question is being asked is startling enough. Even more, the fact they are asking because they assume the answer is “yes.” 

Preaching has not passed out of vogue. People are less and less interested in hearing bad preaching. People today are accustomed to hearing good communicators so a poorly prepared preacher has little hope of gaining a hearing. Cultural evidence is overwhelming that people still want to hear an authoritative person with authoritative conclusions about important issues about life. For proof, you need look no further than the current presidential campaign. When McCain, Obama, or Clinton speaks – people gather in large numbers and news networks show up en masse. Why? To hear a politician preach their passionate message of change, improvement, and reform. They don’t want a seminar, a Powerpoint presentation, or a quaint talk. They expect a message. 

Golden Gate has made a strong statement this spring about its commitment to preaching. First, we hosted our annual Hester Lectures on Preaching with Dr. Mark Dever, pastor, Capital Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C. Dr. Dever challenged us with two outstanding lectures on preaching. Second, our spring academic convocation address was given by Dr. Paul Smith, associate professor of Old Testament and pastor of First Baptist Church, Chandler, AZ. Dr. Smith lectured on “Creative Expository Preaching” citing references and examples of each of the three words in his title in his presentation. (Audio files of these presentations are available at These two special events – coupled with preaching courses taught by Dr. Claybon Lea (African-American pastor in the Bay Area) and me – have given us the opportunity to teach students the practical application of the challenges in these special lectures. 

Preaching is not a method or a strategy. It is a timeless symbol of God speaking to his people. It is an opportunity to focus attention on the Word as central to worship. It is a moment to be silent, listen to the Word, and the words of a person whose thoughts are profoundly shaped by the Word. It is a holy moment. Preaching deserves our best preparation in every way – content, delivery, and preparation. 

My experience has been people – believers and unbelievers alike – respond positively to good preaching. By good, I mean biblical, articulate, passionate, to the point, and applicable to contemporary life. May God give us the grace to preach like that – and end the debate about preaching passing out of vogue.