IRD Intro

I decided to make some minor updates to my book, “Dialogue in Diversity: Christians in Conversation with a Multi-faith World” during quarantine.

I decided to put the Introduction here.

Imagine that you have a toolbox. Maybe you are a carpenter, but in your toolbox you have only one tool — perhaps a hammer. Can you build a house only with a hammer? Poorly at best. Can you hammer screws? Again poorly. Other tasks are likely even worse — leveling, sawing, drilling, and more.. The carpenter would be exhausted and the constructed house would be a disaster.

A wise carpenter has three things:

  • What. A toolbox with a variety of tools associated with his craft
  • How. Skills to use each of the tools effectively
  • Which/When. Wisdom to know the right tool to use for each task

Now imagine that each Christian has a toolbox of skills associated with serving God. Some tools may be spiritual disciplines such as prayer, Bible study, witnessing, and meditation. Other tools may be less specifically religious such as teaching, polemics, argument, encouragement, and counseling. Having a wide variety of skills/disciplines is important, but this is not enough.

One must know how to use each tool well. A carpenter may own a power saw, but still need considerable training to use it expertly. A minister may “know how to preach,” but still there is a great distance between this and preaching well or effectively.

Skillful use is not enough. One must have the wisdom to know the right tool to use in each specific circumstance. Some people are very skilled in prayer, but as important as prayer can be, there are times when prayer is the wrong tool… or at least an inadequate tool. A hungry neighbor needs something in addition to prayer. There are times when preaching is needed, and times when it is inappropriate or unhelpful.

This book is about a tool — dialogue. Specifically, it is about the tool of dialogue, and how it can be used effectively as a Christian minister in interacting with people of other faiths.

At a basic level, most everyone knows how to do dialogue. But this does not mean that everyone is equally competent to dialogue well. This also does not mean that everyone knows when to use it and when not.

This book is primarily aimed at missionaries and ministers who work in cross-cultural or religiously pluralistic settings. However, the places on earth that are monocultural or religiously monolithic are decreasing rapidly. Therefore, there are fewer and fewer ministers who can say that they are competent in their ministry without skills in interreligious dialogue.

Philosophically, this book sees interreligious dialogue as seeking understanding. This is in contrast to those who see it primarily in terms of either focusing on similarities (“common ground” or relativizing approach) or on differences (apologetic approach). As such it is consistent with Evangelicals, who take very seriously their own truth convictions regarding religious faith. However, it also challenges the presumption of many Evangelicals that the most effective way to interact with people of other faiths is through preaching, teaching, or arguing.

Sadly, a book is by its nature a form of one-way communication. Since this book is about dialogue, it is my hope that readers will have an opportunity to go through this book with others — and especially with others of a variety of viewpoints. Dialogue, as a tool, is practiced, not simply read about; and is made sharp through practice with those of diverse opinions.

When Bad Theology Kills

Many years (decades) ago I read the book, “The History of Anti-Semitism” by Leon Poliakov. I found the book thoroughly fascinating. A section that was especially interesting to me was Spain shortly after 1492, the Fall of Granada. Christian Spain had driven out the last Muslim stronghold from Western Europe. Of course when so much time and energy was expended on warfare, the question is what to do after the fighting is over. The answer was consolidation of the gains at the individual level. The Spanish government decided to try to make it harder and harder to be Jews or Muslims or “heretics” within their domain. This became a key component of the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834).

Zika and the Bubonic Plague: A Lesson From the Middle Ages ...

Of course, when one lives within a tyrannical system that will imprison, torture, and on occasion kill over religious belief, conversion to Roman Catholic Christianity was common. In some cases this was a very genuine change of faith (or was at least genuine in subsequent generations)— but, in many cases, such conversions were put on for show. Of course the government knew this and so would try to identify those who were “faking” their Christianity. Shibboleths were developed to find these individuals and families. This was done through looking at family trees (to see if the family consisted of “Old Christians” or “New Christians”), seeing if a person tended to avoid pork, and identifying those who fast at certain times that were out of schedule with the Christian calendar.

A rather strange one was regarding cleanliness. Jews, especially, abided by rigorous cleanliness laws. Good physical hygiene became seen as an identifier of being one of these fake Christians. (After all, didn’t Jesus say something about how eating with unwashed hands does not make one unclean?)

Okay, let’s use some logic here and play, “What Happens Next?”  See if this makes sense to you…

  1.  Those who followed good hygiene practices began to be identified as an enemy of the state by the government, and an enemy of Christ by the church.
  2. Christians, wanting to ensure their own safety, and their good status in the community, avoided washing and other hygienic practices.
  3. Bad hygiene, as an identifier of good Christians, began to be moralized and theologized, at least on the level of folk theology.  Good hygiene is now a “sin.”
  4. Plague spread by rats and fleas killed Christians in disproportionately high numbers compared to non-Christians, especially Jews.
  5. Christians blamed the Jews for spreading the plague.  (I hope you guessed this last one at least.)

What an unnecessary waste of life.

Well, guess what? We live in a new pandemic. COVID-19 is not as deadly as bubonic plague and some other diseases that swept through Europe, as well as the Near East and Middle East, in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, its vector makes it spread more easily.

Maybe this is a time for us to look at our theology. There are a number of folk theologies that are being held onto by some Christians that just might prove a bad thing.

  • Trusting in God will keep one from getting the disease. It may be a part of “Word of Faith” theology where disease is thought a punishment for sin. However, even some groups that are not in that camp have a version of it. It goes something like: “God wants us to assemble together in the same room to worship Him. Therefore, if we do that, God will be pleased and will keep the gathering from being a cause of disease spread.”
  • Embracing “edgelord” culture of sharing the most shocking or controversial clickbait because it sort of meshes with one’s own political or personal positions.
  • Spreading the idea that vaccines are bad. Perhaps they are bad because they cause some bad things in people. Perhaps they are bad because they undermine our faith in God as healer and protector. Perhaps they are bad because “They” will put microdevices under our skin, and we will be tracked and our freedom crushed by the Antichrist and one world government.

I have no interest in arguing these theological positions. I don’t think pointing out that quarantine was very much a Biblical concept would make a difference.

I would note, however, that theology has consequences. Bad theology can kill, and has killed. As Christian leaders we need to remember our (physical and metaphoric) pulpit gives us considerable power to influence.

We need to be cautious in our prophetic roles to be certain that our words are words of life, not death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Takes a Network

Back in May 2005, we had an opportunity to do a ministry project with the market kids of Baguio City, Philippines, The market kids (also known as “batang palengke” or “plastic boys”) are children who work in the public open market in the center of Baguio City. They sell plastic bags for the shoppers, offer to carry goods for the shoppers, and sometimes beg. Some are street children, lacking a permanent resident. However, most do have families and homes. About 25% do not go to school, and about 25% are children of Muslim merchants who have moved to Baguio from Southern Philippines.

Our involvement started small. It began in Cultural Anthropology class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. Celia and I were part of a team set up to analyze of cultural group and do a project with them. Our other team members included a pastor from Nagaland, India, and a pastor from Cambodia. We decided to work with the market kids. We discovered that two students we knew, one from the Philippines and one from Papua, New Guinea, worked with them and a ministry set up by Korean missionaries. After spending some time in the public market, and working with the children at the Saturday ministry headed by the Korean missionaries, we decided that we would partner with them to do a medical mission for the children.

Ultimately, the project was fairly successful. Eventually, it faded away and different partners moved away. But many of the children were helped and grew up healthy and godly.  In fact, a number of them are serving in Christian ministry. Below are some of the groups that were part of this somewhat informal partnership. Some were partnered long-term, and some partnered on an event-basis. It does take a healthy network to do ministry. Below is a list of a number of the groups and their role(s) in the ministry partnership, with focus especially on the medical mission that was held.

Korean Missionaries                              Lead Weekly Children’s Program

American Missionaries                           Lead Medical Mission Event

Mission Center/Church                            Provide Location for mission

Filipino Missionary                                  Follow-up Muslim children who come

Several Other Filipino churches             Follow-up children/adults who come.

American Church                                    Fund Medical Mission

Korean Church                                        Fund Children’s program

Filipino Medical Professionals                Provide Medical Care

Numerous Filipino volunteers                 Evangelism, Crowd Control for medical mission

Seminary Students                                 Established initial plans and contacts

Dental School                                         Provide Dental Trainees

Missionary Training School                    Do Circumcisions

COVID Musings

The following is the Conclusions of the book I finished during COVID-19 quarantine here in the Philippines. The book is Missions in Samaria.

Conclusions

I am writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic.Samaria Front Cover On one side the disease drives us apart. It places us in our own homes, physically distanced and masked. We may live in voluntary quarantine, or in enhanced quarantine, or in lock-down. And yet it can also tear down barriers. When faced with a common curse, if you would prefer such language, we begin to identify the commonality that we have as human beings. Before, we may focus on our differences, but the common enemy can lead us to recognizing our commonality. It can drive reconciliation.

Yet it doesn’t have to happen. The Roman threat did not really bring the Jews and Samaritans together. Today, we still find many people trying hard to make barriers higher— blaming political, national, or ethnic groups for the virus and the suffering we are undergoing during this disease event. Self-labeled Christians appear to be as prone to this as anyone else. Nations are being blamed for the problem, right or wrong. But clearly wrong is the temptation of some to blame people of certain ethnicities tied, no matter how loosely to those nations. If a common experience, a common enemy, cannot bring us to break down our prejudices, what will? And as Christians, if the example of Christ of building bridges (to Samaritans, Gentiles, publicans and sinners, to religious elite) cannot inspire us as Christians to do likewise, than what would inspire us?

Perhaps this is a good time— many of us have some time right now— to think about what are our Samarias? Who are the Samaritans in our lives? How can we be different in the future to reach out to them, tear down barriers, and create beautiful moments of reconciliation, regardless of the fear and anger that appears to dominate our society. There was a study that came out a few years ago that looked at various forms of written media, in the English language for approximately a century. The researchers identified different feeling words and their prevalence. The researchers discovered that most feeling words declined over the decades, except one. That one is FEAR. It grew throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. Fear is a God-given emotion. We are called upon to have courage through fear, rather than called to not feel fear. One of the great fears is “Fear of the Other.” <Endnote 13>

However, when Jesus spoke to His disciples, now described as Apostles (“sent out ones,” ambassadors/missionaries of Christ) Jesus said that they will receive power from the Spirit of God. From there they would be able to serve in their apostolic role as missionaries, witnesses of the good news of Christ, starting at home (Jerusalem), and Judea (moving out into the broader neighborhood), and Samaria (those people you once wanted fire from heaven rained down upon) and even to the ends of the world (the most terrifying and alien places). In all of those places, God will already be there waiting for them, and providing power for them.

I don’t believe God has changed in this. Do you?

The Cheshire Church

The following is a quote from the book by James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness, “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Who can fault legendary evangelist Dwight L. Footnotes: The Cheshire CatMoody, who captured the mood of evangelicals at the end of the nineteenth century in his declaration, “I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'” In other words, all hopes of transforming society with the gospel were dashed, in his eyes, until Christ’s return in glory, leaving only one option, the lifeboat— a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.

While few would echo the words of Moody and his contemporaries today, we still hear a distinct but largely unrecognized carryover. Ever since the late 1800s, dominant evangelical voices have called for accelerated church planting to evangelize the maximum number of unreached in the shortest possible period of time. The return of Christ became the dominant motivation for missions— only this return would bring about the transformation that the gospel required. The only human effort required was an announcement of the message. ….

There never has been a dispute that evangelism is indispensable as the first step in making disciples in all nations, but now voices were heard calling for the first time for completion of world evangelization in this generation. It would almost seem as if the future world and the ultimate victory of Christ had become dependent on human initiative. Little wonder that evangelicals were quick to embrace the wonders of a technological age and to mobilize Christian resources in an unprecedented way. In the process, it became tempting to disregard the essence  of the Great Commission …. where it is abundantly obvious that human efforts are futile, or at least inadequate,without the convicting, regenerating and sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, among those who referred to themselves as evangelicals, there was almost total silence in response to God’s call for social justice to alleviate the burdens of ignorance, poverty and hunger, racism, the loss of cultural identity, and other forms of oppression (Amos 5:21-24, Luke 3:10-14; 4:18-21). Oss Guinness prophetically observed that the outcome of this silence is a church that has lost its impact by becoming “privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”

Guinness uses the analogy of the Cheshire Cat in the famous story Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In this fable, the cat gradually loses its identity until all that remains is its famous lingering grin. So it is with the church, which by and large now has only the ‘lingering grin, ‘ a surface indicator of a privatized faith without moral and social impact. In so doing, the church has dug its own grave, while the smile lingers on.

(Pages 64-65.  Os Guinness quote is from “The Gravedigger File”)

… Not Inspire Them with a Passion for Political Change.

There has been an enduring belief that Christian missionaries, during the colonial era, often served as de facto operatives of the colonial powers. It is understandable why this belief would exist and persist. British missionaries, for example, would commonly serve in lands that were under the British flag. Commonly, but not always, being a British citizen in British colonial lands would be easier than being a British missionary serving in Spanish colonies, or regions that were not colonized. As such, missionaries may be rather pleased if their nation expands its colonial holdings since it provides potential new places to work.

But that is not the whole story. Often missionaries were seen as being a bit treasonous. That is, they were seen as undermining their home country. Again, this view is understandable. Missionaries were doing things for the benefit of the local people that, to the eyes of colonial powers could undermine their control over the people. Colonial nations and companies wanted the colonized to be compliant. That meant they sought to avoid education, or sociological stressors that could lead to angering traditionalists, or development revolutionaries.

Max Warren, in his book “Social History and Christian Mission” (SCM Press, 1967) speaks of some of this. He uses the example of the Serampore Trio (Careys, Wards, and Marshmans) in the Bengal region of India. For those familiar with the story. William Carey, a British citizen, was harassed by the East India Company during the early years of his stay. His desire to convert the natives to Christianity was seen as bad for business, and therefore bad for England. For a time he ministered in the Danish colony of Serampore to avoid arrest and deportation by his own country.  Years later there was a change of heart and he was seen as an asset to British colonial leadership. Generally, however, this was a change in colonial leadership rather than change in Carey.

It wasn’t, however, just the colonial leaders who were concerned. Warren uses the case of Sydney Smith, the Canon of St. Paul’s Cathedral. Smith who wrote considerably to the Edinburgh Review, an influential journal, in the early 19th century. The following is quotes from Warren’s book (Chapter 3, excerpts  from pages 60-63), who in turn quotes several times Smith’s writings:

After a number of caustic references, he (Smith) dismissed as folly the idea of sending missions to India because of

‘the danger of insurrection from the prosection of the scheme, the utter unfitness of the persons employed in it, and the complete hopelessness of the attempt while pursued under such circumstances as now exist.’

It is interesting to note his concern with the ‘danger of insurrection.’ This concern, widely shared as we shall see throughout the century, needs for its full  understanding an awareness of the almost romantic attachment of the nineteenth century Englishman to the idea of ‘our Indian Empire.’     ….   The passionate anger engendered by the Indian Mutiny showed our jealous fear of losing that empire. The ethical idealism of the Indian Civil Service showed our responsibility at its best. At all times India was felt to be vital to British interests.   ….  Sydney Smith, in this respect at any rate, gave expression to a suspicion which led countless political officers in Asia and Africa to view the missionary with a slightly jaundiced eye, and when (as most frequently happened) the missionary had got there first, to view him as a potential security risk. …

At least we may be very certain that down until 1947 and the subsequent celebrations of Independence, virtually every such political officer would fervently have endorsed Sydney Smith’s statement that

If we wish to teach the natives a better religion, we must take care to do it in a manner which will not inspire them with a passion for political change.

But he dropped to a rather lower level when he went on to say that missionaries

would deliberately, piously, and conscientiously expose our whole Eastern empire to destruction for the sake of converting half-a-dozen Brahmins, who after stuffing themselves with rum and rice, and borrowing money from the missionaries would run away and cover the Gospel and its professors with every species of impious ridicule and abuse.’

We see there a continuing preoccupation with the empire. …

There we may leave Sydney Smith simply observing that in two respects he did, albeit with some unnecessary malice, help to form an image of the missionary as being, somewhat paradoxically, a stupid and presumptuous person, and at the same time a threat to the security of the Empire. These elements in the stereotype endured. In passing it may be noticed how very closely they coincide with the portrait of Christians painted by Celsus and other antagonists in the early centuries.

Again, this is simply a case study of a broader view that missionaries undermined the colonial power’s hold on colonial lands.

… And in some ways they may have been correct. The Serampore Trio did, arguably, have a role in the Bengal Renaissance of the 19th century. They did take seriously the education of the Bengali, both men and women, and the case could be made that this work did breed new ideas that ultimately led to revolution.

So suppose Sydney Smith and others were correct and that Christian missionaries did promote attitudes and beliefs that would lead to insurrection, does that mean they were doing wrong? I believe not. Their call is to serve God, not empire. As British citizens, in the case of the Serampore Trio, it would be quite inappropriate, legally speaking, to lead a revolution against the British Empire. It would, however, be equally inappropriate to instill a passive acquiescence to the status quo (much like some of the Christian education of slaves in the US in the early 19th century that sought to ensure and justifyu the maintaining of the economic system of Black slavery. Christianity was expressed in terms of maintaining the status quo.

This is the challenge. A Christian is a citizen of heaven and of one’s nation. A Christian missionary has those citizenships, but also is a guest of a different government.

It is very tempting to confuse roles. And the confusion is often in the extremes. A missionary may try to avoid all politics and focus on the word of God. But doing so, can in fact be teaching people to disconnect from the world they are in. It is not surprising that many missionary receiving countries have Evangelical populations that have little involvement with social ills and provide no common voice against corruption. On the other hand, it is also not the calling of a missionary to be a revolutionary leader seeking to overthrow. It is further not the role of missionary to push his or her own political agenda on the people he serves. (This last point I see a fair bit as the weird and curious politics of popular American Evangelicalism often gets brought with the missionary to the mission field where it doesn’t really belong. Of course, the answer is not necessarily to be politically neutral either.)

I would still say that if one has to be unfaithful, be unfaithful to one’s country. One’s country is one’s place of birth, but God’s work is one’s calling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Man of the Sun

Man of the Sun. That was his name— ironic that he

File:Lovis Corinth - Der geblendete Simson - Google Art Project.jpg
Lovis Corinth – Der geblendete Simson

had not seen the sun in many months, and would never see it again. A cruel joke of a name. But there were many cruel jokes.

People would listen to his every word with deep reverence. Now he was a laughingstock.

His fabled strength was only matched by his many weaknesses.

He was favored by God— gifted beyond his peers. Born to lead a nation, but now he had to be led by a child.

He embraced freedom that few of his time could dream of, but now was in chains.

He was so clever– none dare disagree. But now the cleverness is gone. He was established to be “the man of the sun,” but he could not bring light or life… only death.

And so all he could do, a final offering to the One who made him, was destruction— a sad yet fitting end.