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APRIL 2015


Looking for Patterns

Theology and the Disciplines of the

Foreign Service: The World’s Potential

to Contribute to the Church

Theodore L. Lewis, Wipf & Stock Publishers,

2015, $22, paperback, 169 pages.

Reviewed By Ruth M. Hall


Theology and the Disciplines of the

Foreign Service

, retired FSO Theodore

L. Lewis explores the ways in which his

diplomatic career and priestly calling

enhanced, informed and enriched each

other. Part memoir and part theologi-

cal discussion, the book draws on the

author’s 30 years at the State Depart-

ment and other overseas experiences.

Lewis analyzes how our cognitive

patterns—formed by experience in

trades, crafts and other disciplines,

including the Foreign Service—can

illuminate our understanding of the

Bible, and clarify its meanings for us

as individuals living in modern com-

munities. Early in his career, Lewis

“recognized the affinity between the

approach of biblical criticism and the

critical approach I had developed in the

Foreign Service.”

While serving in the U.S. Army

during World War II, Lewis worked

as a linguist during the occupation of

Japan. He then used the GI Bill to earn

a master’s degree from Harvard, where

Lewis, the son of a Quaker mother and

an Episcopalian father, turned toward

the Episcopal Church.

After Lewis joined the State Depart-

ment in 1952, his first Foreign Service

assignment was in Saigon, where he

researched and wrote economic reports

on local industries. “Allowing the pat-

terns to emerge,” as he puts it, from

the data he collected via his field work

helped make up for the absence of reli-


able statistics. After a subse-

quent tour in Pakistan, Lewis

resigned to attend Virginia

Theological Seminary, earning

a doctorate in divinity.

At seminary his analytical

and language skills, as well

as exposure to non-Western

cultures, helped Lewis master

biblical scholarship and criti-

cism. Viewing Roman society

in terms of his overseas

reporting, for instance, was fruitful.

Lewis also observed the same organiza-

tional duality in the English Reforma-

tion as in the Foreign Service: “a calling

forth of talents but at the same time,

stifling them.”

In the early 1960s, Lewis rejoined the

Foreign Service, returning to Vietnam

under challenging circumstances. His

theological studies helped him cope

with 60-hour workweeks and intense

economic reporting demands in the

joint embassy-USAID office. Among

other things, he visited slaughterhouses

in the pre-dawn hours to report on pork

supplies, the second-most impor-

tant food staple after rice and a proxy

indicator for Viet Cong control over the


A later tour in the Congo brought

Lewis into contact with the legacy of

Apolo Kivebulaya (1864-1933), a priest

and evangelist whose work in Boga

(eastern Congo) established the Angli-

can Church there.

Lewis recalls Foreign Service col-

leagues who committed suicide after

the shame of being selected out and

deplores the arbitrariness of unfair

employee evaluations kept hidden from

employees. “Under the regulations

existing at the time,” he recalls, “I was

not allowed to read [my own evalua-

tion], but only to have it read to me.”

In the mid-1970s,

after a meaningful

discussion with an

International Mon-

etary Fund official,

Lewis decided to write

a dissent cable, urging

the administration to

re-establish diplomatic

relations with Vietnam

early on—but “with little

effect. It seemed the

resentments from hav-

ing lost the Vietnam War were still too


Lewis also describes the terrific

strain that multiple hardship tours

placed on him and his family, including

traumas and serious illnesses, as well

as how his faith helped him to cope.

His connection with various expatri-

ate churches is also vividly described

(including photos).

After leaving the Foreign Service

in the mid-1980s, Lewis worked on

his theological writings at Cambridge

and Oxford, partly guided by Alistair

McGrath. In 1996 he self-published


Restore the Church: Radical Redemp-

tion History

to Now

, which took 25 years

to research and complete. Prominent

theologian Stanley Hauerwas of Duke

Divinity School also influenced him,

and wrote the preface to this volume.

That said, any member of the Foreign

Service community will find much to

ponder in these pages—even readers

who have no interest in theology.

Ruth M. Hall is a member of the Foreign

Service Journal Editorial Board. Since join-

ing the Foreign Service as an economic of-

ficer in 1992, she has served in New Delhi,

Kathmandu, Frankfurt, Jakarta, Baghdad

and Washington, D.C., where she currently

works in the Office of Civil Rights.