Slow Food and Slow Missions

Before reading this little post, I hope you will take the time to read the excellent article:

Be Patient, Missions is Urgent” by Josh Manley

An quote from this article worth meditating on is:

“Among other things, Paul’s priorities teach us this: The urgency of the mission requires patience to ensure that the integrity of the mission is not undermined. Undermined by what? Any method that sacrifices faithfulness on the altar of fast, or pastoral care on the altar of impressive numbers.”

Sloppy and fast has not only often beenslow-food-logo-1 the methodology but even the rallying cry. Some might note the slogan of  SVM ““The Evangelization of the World in This Generation” to AD2000 (“the largest, most pervasive global evangelical network ever to exist” -Ralph Winter) seeking “cooperation in establishing a church within every unreached people group and making the gospel available to every person by the year 2000.” to DAWN’s “Saturation Church Planting.” I am NOT saying any of these organizations were or are bad. Rather, the language of them can lead some people to embrace a manic behavior of missions, rather than one of planning and discernment.

Big programs with lofty dreams are… commendable… to a point. But they get wrongly understood by many.

Bigger is not Better

Faster is not More Effective

Jesus certainly did not use a Fast strategy. In fact, one could make the argument that He rejected a “fast strategy” rejecting public demonstration of his Messiahship at the temple, and rejection of a quick rulership of all nations (from His temptations in the Wilderness). One could further argue, that the success of Slow ministry during the first three centuries of the church, compares quite favorably with the Fast ministry strategy of the 4th century post-Constantine church.

Strangely, the article got me thinking about the Slow Food Movement. It is a move to localize food, focus on quality food, and ensure healthy/clean food. As such, it rejects much of the industrial food infrastructure. The theory is that slow food is healthier, is tied to a higher quality of life, and establishes a more harmonious relationship with the world. The key terms are “good,” “clean,” and “fair.” You can read about the movement at www.slowfood.com

For fun, let’s take the definition for one of their terms: NEO-GASTRONOMY

– Neo or ‘new’ gastronomy is a concept of gastronomy as a multidisciplinary approach to food that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people and culture. The term was coined to correspond with the evolution of the Slow Food movement, which began with an initial aim to defend good food, gastronomic pleasure and a slower pace of life (eco-gastronomy), and then logically broadened its sights to embrace issues such as the quality of life and the health of the planet that we live on (eco-gastronomy).

Is there a point of correspondence here between Missions and Slow Food? Could missions become so focused on volume and speed, that it is producing sloppy, unhealthy churches and “believers” who are ill-equipped spiritually or socially to impact the world in a positive way? Is there a more holistic view of God’s Kingdom than missions as a multi-level marketing scheme?

Instead of Neo-Gastronomy, what about Neo-Missions? Or perhaps it is better to say “Archaeo-Missions. ” (One could argue that neo-gastronomy is also archaeo-gastronomy). One might come up with a  definition that sounds a wee bit like the definition above:

Neo or ‘new’ missions is a concept of missions as a multidisciplinary approach to kingdom growth that recognizes the strong connections between faith, action, community and culture. The term was coined to correspond with the evolution of the Biblical Missions movement, which began with an initial aim to empower evangelism, discipleship and add savor (salt and light) in the world, and then logically broadened its sights to embrace issues such as human rights and other aspects of shalom on the planet that we live on.

Frankly, I think it is safe to say that the Fruit of the Spirit is most evidently a “slow food.”… good, clearn, and fair.

In Search of Missions’ Flexible Boundaries

So what constitutes “missions”? This is a continuing argument between me and myself. I am working on a book on Mission Theology. One of the many aspects of Mission Theology has to do with what are the boundary lines of what we call “missions.”

Some might see this as an irrelevant concern… or perhaps just an academic one, but it can hit home in important ways. I have had missionary friends who run an orphanage in a developing country be completely defunded because their supporting church determined that caring for orphans in a cross-cultural setting was not missions. I have seen a major mission orga12a848591ed70253f18d2ee6a1389562nization “gut” its education arm because it determined that valid missions was evangelism and churchplanting by foreigners in UPGs. I struggle to see falling back on the, in my mind, debunked slogan “evangelize not educate” is a positive step. (Curiously, in recent years that same mission organization has reversed direction again… but is it too late?)

Personally, I like a broad definition, but must acknowledge that calling EVERYTHING missions in Christian ministry can have negative impact. So I had recently done a couple of posts that suggest a more narrow definition. My last one on this subject even suggested that it might be best to separate between “missionary” and associated mission work, and “cross-cultural minister” and its related ministry work.

But NOW, I would to flip-flop again and make the counter-argument, suggesting a broader definition again. And I would like to do so in terms of a story:

Some time ago, I was serving as a dissertation supervisor for a student here in the Philippines. I am a professor of Christian missions, and the topic of this student was the use of some principles from the Missional Church movement for cross-cultural outreach in a specific locale. As the prospectus was being reviewed by some of the professors, two expressed considerable concern about the topic, suggesting that utilizing “missional church” principles is not “missions.” Truthfully, such feelings have some merit. In fact, some aspects of the missional church movement can be quite Anti-Missions (as strange as that may seem). Additionally, since the missional church movement is more often focused on E-1 and E-2 outreach (rather than the more undeniably “missions-ish” category of E-3 outreach) one could make the point that such a topic should not be seen as valid for a missions dissertation at all.

At the defense of the prospectus, these concerns were reiterated. I acknowledged them but noted reasons I felt it was appropriate for a missions dissertation, even if it may not be smack dab in the center of what we think of as missions research. I won’t go over my reasons here. But I noted that my dissertation was accepted at the same school years before, and was on doing medical mission events in the Philippines. Based on the criteria suggested for what constitutes missions at this present board, my dissertation would not be a missions dissertation either. The response that came back from one of the professors was that the understanding of missions has changed so maybe my dissertation would (should?) be refused today. Interesting response. That got me thinking a bit. That would be the implication of accepting a “newer” understanding of what constitutes missions.  I, however, struggle with the idea that medical mission ministry that is international and cross-cultural should be researched and taught within a missions department of a seminary while medical mission ministry that is local but in every other way the same as its international counterpart should be researched and taught in an entirely different department. But one does have to have boundaries around what would be considered missions— at least in academia.

In the end, the prospectus was accepted with only minor changes. Part of that was that the dissertation clearly did not fit into any of the other accepted categories at the seminary. As such, if it is a valid research, it has to be under Missions. We did not continue the discussion of what should constitute missions and what should not, but acknowledged that it should be reviewed at a future date.

But… if I was going to make my case for a wider definition of missions as a counterpoint to the “newer and narrower” definition(s) for missions, this is what I would offer:

The definition of missions has not only changed in recent years, it has been changing for decades, and even centuries. The 1932 “Hocking Report” was one of the early (modern) attempts to aggresively redefine missions, but there have been many changes and attempted changes through the IMC, WCC, the Lausanne movement, and more.

So think about it this way. If the newer definitions are better than the older definitions, they have come to be through flexibility (old cannot change to new unless there is flexibility to allow such change). So if the new is good, so is the flexibility that allowed the new to be developed. And,  if flexibility is good, then the boundaries of what constitutes missions should constantly be challenged. Without challenging boundaries, boundaries become rigid… inflexible… unchanging.

In the 1960s (as I noted in a previous article) there were attempts to redefine missions in terms of “Christian Presence” and (relativistic) dialogue, on the WCC side of missions. During this same period, on the Conservative Evangelical side, there were attempts to narrowly define missions in terms of proclamation-style evangelism and cross-cultural churchplanting. In my mind, it is good that none of these completely won out the day.

Missions, as understood in academic circles as well as in mission organizations and denominational groups,  is strongest with a flexible boundary– one that allows new ideas and old ideas to be challenged and evaluated.

Sometimes we need ministry and research where people ask “Is this missions?” The answer often should be “We will find out.”

 

 

Lack of Early Protestant Missions

For three centuries (of five centuries) of the Protestant movement, there was little to no foreign missions. Why was this? There are a number of theories. Catholics during that time saw the lack of mission vigor as evidence of the illegitimacy of the Protestant movement. This argument actually held some merit… at least until things changed in the early 19th century.  So let’s consider some other problems.

There have been numerous reasons given.

  • In the first century or so the Protestant movement was focused on establishing itself–dealing with internal matters… conflicts..
  • They were often fighting for survival
  • The Protestant nations were not connected to the outside world… and Protestant rulers lacked interest in missions (until King Frederick IV of Denmark)
  • The lack of writing and interest by the Reformers (such as Luther and Calvin). I know some have argued against this point; but a few quotes that express value in evangelizing the lost hardly outweighs the bulk of writing that minimized missions, if not ignored it. Additionally, in the case of Calvinism, the Council of Dort codified an extreme version of that theological perspective, undermining Calvin’s (admittedly non-vigorous) call to missions, and promoting a viewpoint that would make missions ineffective or even presumptive.
  • Some note the eschatology of the Reformers. I can hardly speak to that, but considering how sloppy eschatology has undermined missions in the 20th century, I can see how that could be.

But I would like to note a couple of things.

Different ecclesiology of the Reformers. One might think of the Roman Catholic church as consisting of four major components (such a classification is useful for this explanation only… does not accurately describe the organization of the Roman Catholic Church):

hiearchy-1

The Reformers rejected two parts of this pyramid. First, they rejected the Monastic Orders. Second, they rejected the Papacy. While there are biblical/theological reasons for getting rid of them, there was a cost. In the Catholic church, the monastic orders were the missionary arm of the church. To get rid of them meant that for Protestant churches to be effective in missions, they would have to develop new institutions with, or along side of, the church. The papacy was at times quite missional. After all, often the monastic orders provided the popes, such as in the case of Gregory the Great, the first missions-oriented pope. Many popes were not particularly motivated in missions, but many were. Regardless, the underlying theology of the pope gave impetus to missions. As the “vicar of Christ,” the pope effectively had the world as his parish. As such, he was viewed as responsible for the spiritual well-being of people everywhere. By eradicating the papacy, Protestants would have to find a new way to recognize themselves as responsible for the entire world. In the end, Protestants ended up with the following:

hiearchy-2

In the Roman Catholic church, the parishes and church hierarchy were typically the least missional parts of the church. It is hardly surprising that the Protestant church for many decades, even centuries, would struggle with gaining a missionary vision.

Cuius Regio, Eius Religio. This translates as “Whose Reign, His Relgion.” With the Peace of Augsburg, this pattern was established, and then  expanded with the Peace of Westphalia. The ruler of a region could determine the religion of his subjects. For Protestants, with no pope, this essentially meant the development of State Churches. The church boundaries would be the same as the boundaries of the state. It is hardly surprising then that missions would not occur in this situation unless the state expanded its territories.

It may also be anticipated that the groups that were most interested in missions were those groups that did not follow “Cuius Regio, Eius Religion.” Most notably, this would include the Anabaptists, and some later Dissenters. Further, those groups that did accept the State Church concept, actively and even violently opposed Anabaptists and other similar groups— as well as their missional practices.

Those interested in this can look at Latourette’s history of Christianity, as well as that of Justo Gonzalez. Additionally, an oldie but goodie: “The Theology of the Christian Mission” with Gerald Anderson as Editor. Especially in that book, one can read Willam R. Hogg’s article “The Rise of Protestant Missionary Concern.”

 

 

Missions Theology and the 60s

The 1960s was an important decade for a number of reasons. Though down the list for many, the transformation of Missions Theology during this time was huge.

Sometimes, it seems like a lot of changes happened back in the 1920s and 1930s. During this time there was disillusionment with Christendom, and Christian missions as a (Western) Civilizing influence. Also W. E. Hocking’s influence and his work in developing “American Report of the Commission of Appraisal of the Laymen’s Foreign Mission Enquiry” that pushed a pluralistic agenda  away from evangelism and conversion, had an influence. Despite this, the dominant views of missions stayed in many ways in line with missions of the 19th and early 20th centuries.And this continued into the early 1960s.

For example, at the 1961 gathering ofjohn-stott-love-truth-themajestysmen the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, the purpose of the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism was “to further the proclamation to the whole world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the end that all men may believe in Him and be saved.” (“Christian Mission in the Modern World” by John Stott, p. 133). This view was in line with the mission thought for decades. It is true that Evangelism was often seen in terms of a partnership of proclamation and social ministry, but that hardly is out of line with the practice of missions through the Great Century and before.

Dialogue was recognized in the early part of the 1960s as an important part of dealing with other religions. However, it was understood in a manner quite different than the relativistic form that was popularized years later:

“True dialogue with a man of another faith requires a concern both for the Gospel and for the other man. Without the first, dialogue becomes a pleasant conversation. Without the second it becomes irrelevant, unconvincing, or arrogant. Whatever the circumstances may be, our intention for every human dialogue should be to be involved in the dialogue of God with men, and to move our partner and oneself to listen to what God in Christ reveals to us, and to answer him.”  (Ronald K. Orchard, ed., “Witness in Six Continents: Records of the Meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches Held in Mexico City, 8-19 December 1963”)

However, as the decade advanced, changes continued. There was a growth in seeing Mission in terms of “Christian Presence” which called for behavior that appeared to be every bit as vague as the term sounds. With “The Church for Others” published for the WCC in 1967, things had radically changed. Missions did not really involve a call to repentance. Proselytism is seen as “the opposite” of missions. Conversion is not seen so much as individual and personal, but is seen as more corporate in form. That is not to say there were no good points in the work… but rather than mission theology had radically changed… and much of those changes undermined the historical purposes of doing mission work.

“Presence” became a word that was used as a substitute for “witness,” “mission,” and “evangelism.” Charles de Foucauld described a missionary as ‘a person who is in the place with a presence willed and determined as a witness to the love of God in Christ.’” (“Missions Theology” by Rodger C. Bassham, p. 73)  This definition is not so much wrong or bad, but so vague that it could entail doing almost anything or nothing. Panikkar during this same period, saw missionaries not so much as bringing Christ to other cultures, but helping other cultures “discover Christ” in their culture through the missionaries service to the people.

Why would there be such a radical change during this time? I really don’t know. However, the IMC, International Missionary Council, formally joined the World Council of Churches in 1961. Perhaps the IMC, a thoroughly missions-oriented organization, provided a strong influence on the WCC gatherings in 1961 and 1963… but that influence declined later in the decade, and was driven more by churches that had a different perspective and agenda.

The 1960s also saw the growth of Conservative Evangelical Missions with competing gatherings of their own in the 1960s at Wheaton and Berlin. Sadly, some of the missions theology with the Evangelicals was little better than that of the WCC, especially in the early years of the decade. In Wheaton there was a tendency to broaden missions to including drawing people into Evangelical groups from non-Evangelical Christian groups. At the same time, there was an even stronger push to narrow missions. Missions was so narrowly defined by some as to reject education and social ministry. Some like members of MacGavran’s Church Growth movement, sought to view missions as only entailing churchplanting, and separating between discipling (a missionary role) and perfecting (something almost the same as discipling, but not a missionary role).<Part of my appreciates the definition of missions as only churchplanting. It is simple… logical… elegant. However, it is also unscriptural, and establishes missions without a firm foundation.>

Thankfully, much of these views did not end up being approved in finalized statements. But the views in the 1960s have had a strong impact on Evangelical missions even until today.

There were some, like John Stott, who managed to be relevant/influential with both sides. While I don’t really believe that unity for the sake of unity is a virtue. Spiritual unity can occur with organizational diversity (but spiritual unity probably does not exist when we focus on stealing people from other Christian churches, and define such activity as “the Lord’s Work.”) I feel like some of the greater eccentricities of missions theology that grew in the 1960s may have been hammered out better with greater dialogue between both sides. The focus on missions as expressing God’s love through personal presence in the world is nice but wholly inadequate. But so was missions that embraced proclamation of the Word without Christian service. Maybe the two sides could have grown from each other.

But I could be wrong.

Cultural Perspective and the Prodigal Son

Osobo O. Otaigbe, in his book “Building51jtl2ynvgl-_sx331_bo1204203200_ Cultural Intelligence in Church and Ministry,” tells a story from Mark Powell regarding different cultural responses to the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Numerous Christians from three nations (United States, Russia, and Tanzania) were told the story, and asked about the story. The question was why did the prodigal son end up in the pig sty?

  • The majority view of Americans was that the prodigal son ended up in the pig sty because he squandered his money.
  • The majority view of Russians interviewed was that it was because of a famine.
  • The majority view of Tanzanians was that it was because no one helped him out.

Who is correct? Well, let’s look at the passage (Luke 15:13-15):

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.

So who is correct? They all are. He squandered his money, there was a famine, and no one helped.

One culture focused on the Individual, one on the Community, and one on Fate.

Culture filters what we see and hear, and guides our interpretation and behavior. But in this particular case all three views have a point, but none ultimately matter. The story is ultimately about the Father (God) who welcomes and restores– regardless of whether the problem is due to individual fault, community failure, or kismet.

However, if I could only choose one viewpoint, I might focus on the one of the Tanzanians.

  • Individualism can lead one to see solutions in oneself… and that is the wrong place.
  • Fatalism can lead one to see solutions in luck or perhaps “calling.”… and that ultimately does not bring solutions.
  • Collectivism can lead one to see solutions in relationship to others… and that is a better place to look.

A Christian understanding probably comes closest to seeing things in the third sense– our relationship with God and with others.

Regardless, multiple viewpoints can be beneficial… not forcing new ideas into the text– but helping us find our own blindspots.