Introducing Utter Wisdom

Using the insights and framework laid out in Dan Strange’s Making Faith Magnetic, Utter Wisdom is an ESL conversational English teaching resource based around 60 World Proverbs. Packed with engaging teaching activities and illustrations produced by experienced Christian ESL teachers, it contains specially written questions to help churches explore with learners the searching issues of life, and introduce the person and work of Jesus.  Its co-author is Crosslands Tutor and cross-Cultural Ministry Lead, Dr Jonathan Norgate. 

We asked Jonathan to explain the background behind this excellent new resource:

Proverbs are powerful. Just read and reflect on this Kurdish proverb: ‘Death on your feet is better than life on your knees.’ In the space of just a few words a nation’s history of struggle and dignity is expressed.

Proverbs can also be amusing. Enjoy this Tibetan proverb: ‘It’s hard to be the mother of many pigs’! How beautifully this captures the demands of family life.

I have recently co-authored a book for two:nineteen Teach to Reach ( called Utter Wisdom. Written for churches to use in English language teaching outreach, Utter Wisdom is based around 60 World proverbs, each with a short English teaching plan and illustration, with sets of questions in simple English aimed at discussing how the themes which emerge in these proverbs help us to consider the deeper questions of life. Each of these themes (based around J.A. Bavinck’s 5 ‘magnetic points’ which Dan Strange lays out in Making Faith Magnetic) leads on to a short study where learners can see how these deep themes connect with and are confronted by Jesus the ‘I am’.

We wanted to create a teaching resource which would help churches make that challenging step from teaching English to introducing the gospel. Not an easy task, especially when we include the challenge of ministering across cultures and with language barriers. But proverbs are a great way to bridge that gap.

In A Proverb in Mind: The Cognitive Science of Proverbial Wit and Wisdom (1997) Richard P. Honeck shows how proverbs are the product of highly sophisticated cognitive processes. They demonstrate that extraordinary human capacity to reflect, reason and communicate truths, wisdom and insights in ways that engage our intellects and imaginations. It is a genre which somehow makes us slow down, ruminate, and think. The writers of the Old Testament book of Proverbs realised this. Though we need to be careful not to read biblical proverbs as though they are merely pithy expressions of moral instruction, as Raymond C. Portland Jr. helps us see in Proverbs: Wisdom that Works (2012), they help us to stop fidgeting and reflect on wise counsel that helps us to know how to live.

They help us to slow down.

They also help us to dive deeper into the worldviews out of which they have emerged. At an early stage in our writing process we wrote to scores of people around the world asking them to share with us proverbs that had particular resonance in their culture. It was a joyful and sometimes puzzling process as we sifted through them. Sadly we had to leave many out (a particular favourite not to make the cut was this one from Ecuador: ‘Each pig gets its Saint Martin’!). We saw in proverbs emphases that reflected a culture’s preoccupations or experience of history (note for example the echoes of suffering in the Yiddish proverb, ‘He who has not tasted bitter does not understand sweet’). Yet we also saw deeper themes that crossed cultures. Across cultures and peoples there are those yearnings, those magnetic points to which we are all pulled. The need for connection to something greater than ourselves. To know what is right and wrong. To be in control. These and other aspects of a human search that only finds its resting point in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have sought to create a resource that churches can use to take their learners on a journey to Jesus in hope that they will discover that “fear of the LORD (which is) a fountain of life, turning a person from the snares of death’ (Proverbs 14:27).

Aimed at churches using English language to serve and reach out to language learners, Utter Wisdom contains a wealth of material including:

  • 60 teaching activities and illustrations based around World Proverbs
  • 20+ carefully selected ‘Bridge’ proverbs with questions in simple English to help teachers talk about the deeper issues of life
  • 5 sets of questions and illustrations introducing Jesus the ‘I am’
  • 8 specially commissioned works of art based on World Proverbs
  • Introductions written be experienced EFL/ESOL teachers and mission workers

Utter Wisdom and 2:19’s other teaching materials can be found here.