Missions and History

Justin the Philosopher, icon by Theophanes the...

Justin the Philosopher. Image via Wikipedia

Short Story #1. Years ago in my engineering days, I walked into Lifeway Bookstore. I saw they had a copy of Eusebius’ Church History. I brought the book up to the check out counter and the cashier said, “Oh, I’m SO glad you bought that. My manager wanted to discontinue selling that book because Baptists don’t buy books on church history. But I held out and so it makes me feel great that you bought it!” I should explain that Lifeway Bookstore is the main bookstore chain of the Southern Baptists, and most customers would be Baptist or conservative Evangelicals. But one of the greatest classics in the area of church history apparently was almost completely ignored there.

Short Story #2. More recently, I was teaching Missions History. One requirement for each student was to give a lecture/lesson on a Christian missionary to a group (Bible study, Sunday school class, etc.). A second person was to critique the trainer. I had 11 people in my class, and 4 of the students chose to do their lesson on St. Paul. I had specifically told students that the missionary they chose must be dead. I meant to require that the missionary not be in the Bible, but I must have forgotten. Why did I not want them to choose a missionary from the Bible? Because this wasn’t a Biblical studies class. Part of the purpose of the class is to show that we are part of a chain of churches, missionaries, and Christians that began in Biblical times and continue to the present. I got it right the next year.

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These two stories point out what most Evangelical Christians already know. Evangelical Christians are willfully highly ignorant of church history. I was recently sitting in a restaurant with an Anglican priest and a Catholic nun. The two of them got into a lively discussion (practically gossiping) about St. Theresa. Evangelicals focus on the NOW. Those who are interested in Prophecy may be interested in the FUTURE. But few are interested in the PAST… especially early church history. Here in the Philippines, many churches are nervous about other churches that use traditional Philippine musical instruments (such as gongs) because they are “Satanic”. These same churches use drums and electric guitars, which were considered “Satanic” by many 50 to 60 years ago. (Since I play the saxophone and the saxophone was a banned instrument back in the Jazz age, I am a bit sensitive to such bigotry.) Ignorance of history tends to leave us going in confused circles. What are the repercussions of this ignorance?

1. Evangelical Christians get confused by people who claim to know about Church history. I had a friend who was convinced that Dan Brown’s writing on church history in his works of fiction were “the truth”. He had decades of training in church. However, essentially none of that training covered the period from around 100 AD to the mid 1800s. So when someone came along and spoke with seeming authority about the ante-Nicene church, he was ill-prepared to critique the work effectively. I have come across Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim that the primitive Christian church was really made up of groups of their respective religions. The early Church was not Baptist, or Pentecostal, or Methodist, or Charismatic, or Presbyterian. But neither was it Roman Catholic or Greek Orthodox (in its modern constructs). The early church was a complex mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar. Studying church history can help us critique the claims of others and critique ourselves.

2. Ignorance hurts our Biblical understanding. Curiously, Evangelical Christians often seem to confuse issues of canonicity with edification. Therefore, if the Apocrypha, I Clement, the Didache, or the Apology of Aristides is determined not to be canonical, it is deemed unworthy of study. This makes no sense, any more than saying one should not read “Purpose Driven Life” since it is not canonical. Much of Biblical theology and exegesis is dependent on understanding the historical context of Scripture and understanding the historical understanding of passages. Much of the problems we see with modern ecclesiology and eschatology (as well as missiology) comes from grabbing Bible verses based on how they sound today regardless of what was actually meant.

3. It tempts Evangelical Christians to replace history with dogma. Among the Southern Baptists, there are those who believe that the Baptist “denominaton” was started by John the Baptist. This makes no sense Biblically and even less historically. The trail of blood (within Landmarkism) is historically doubtful… the idea that Baptists (as they are presently understood) have existed hidden from view by dominant Christian groups. Pentecostals have tended to do the same thing… grabbing a few odd anecdotes from church history and seeking to develop a historical continuum from it. Evangelical Christians should draw and grow from history rather than create dogma that is founded on, and perpetuates, ignorance.

4. It saps us of much of our important heritage for inspiration and ministry. We can learn and grow from the other members of our “family”. These include Justin Martyr, Augustine of Hippo, St. Anselm, Francis of Assisi, and more. We are ignoring a rich resource when we reject them as family, or assume them to be irrelevant. The work of Gregory the Great, Raymond Lull, St. Boniface, and William Wilberforce provide good and bad examples for our ministry. We can grow from the analyzing the various modality and sodality structures (to grab Ralph Winter’s terms) through the whole range of Jewish and Christian history. The controversies at Nicea, Chalcedon, and more help us to understand why we are as we are (both good or bad). To ignore the past leads us to a rootless pragmatism of teaching and structure.

 

Confession as a Mission Method?

Christians tend to downplay the concept of public confession. Christians tend to emphasize confession as personal and private. Even among those churches that practice the rite or sacrament of confession (penance), they accomplish it in a private chamber between an individual and a priest. The one who confesses need tell no one else, while the one confessed to is to keep silent the matter.

But here are two stories of Public Confession. Think about them for a bit.

Story 1. A few years ago, I visited the main mosque in Baguio City, Philippines, and sat with the imam as he expressed his understanding of Islam (in contrast to Christianity). He was generally pleasant, but clearly had some strong opinions about Christians. It seemed to be clear that he was being careful to choose his words carefully—being a good host. But there was one point where he was unreservedly positive about some Christians.

One day a group of Americans showed up at his office. He, at first, assumed that they had come to learn about Islam. They told him “No”, they had already studied Islam. Rather, they had come to apologize to him and other Muslims. Why? Because of the behavior of their government. They did not believe that the US government should go to war in Iraq. They told him that they were going around to different mosques to apologize. Then they were going to Iraq to act as human shields—attempting to protect Muslims from being struck by bullets and missiles.

I have to be honest with you. I have mixed feelings about the story. I have always had mixed feelings (at best) about the war in Iraq. However, I would not get involved in something like this group. And part of me sees their behavior as walking the edge between public dissent (a good thing) and treason (generally considered a bad thing). I also wonder if one can really apologize for a government. I have and am opposed to many things that my national government does, but to apologize for a government I cannot control— how could I (and why should I) apologize for it?

But this is not the point of the story. An Imam was amazed that American Christians would come all the way from the US to the Philippines to tell him that they think it is bad that their government is seeking to kill some of his spiritual brethren. They further said that they will take active means, risking their own life, to protect “their enemies”. Regardless of whether you agree with their politics, there is one thing I consider undeniable. This is a very power expression of demonstrating the life of Christ in action.

Story 2. This comes from the book “Blue Like Jazz” by Don Miller. Don attended Reed College as a young Christian. Reed College is extremely secular, and generally opposed to Christianity. During a bacchanalian-style college celebration, Don and his Christian cohorts on campus, set up a “confession booth”. A student came up to find out what they were doing. Possibly he thought that the Christians wanted him to confess his many sins to them. But it was just the opposite. They wanted to confess the sins of Christians to him. So one started to confess various corporate sins of Christians—Crusades, Inquisition, racism, slavery, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and so forth. The Christian told the student that since Christians are supposed to follow the example of Christ, these actions were without justification. He wanted the student’s forgiveness. The shocked student forgave him, and told him that what they were doing was “really cool”. The student went off and told other friends about the booth. Soon there was a large group of Reed students at the booth to hear the confessions of the Christians. The action opened up doors and hearts in the campus that had been closed.

Being honest again, I don’t know how meaningful it is to apologize for people I never met—who may not be at all sorry anyway. My ancestors were the Norsemen, who did many bad things. I don’t feel a whole lot of interest in apologizing for them. What benefit is that? There is also the side of me that is quick to say that the Muslims triggered the Crusades and were at least as bad as the Christians. There is a side of me that wants to point out that on many social issues, most other religions have similarly bloody hands. But that was not what the students at Reed College needed to hear. They needed to hear that Christianity is supposed to be based on the life of Jesus Christ. Christians fail all too often to live up to the standard of Christ. Christians would rather be judged by their ideals than by their actions, but understand that their actions are rightly judged by unbelievers around them. Christians don’t need to justify their own behavior, but need forgiveness.

Many companies have discovered a strange thing. When a company makes a mistake (in the eyes of the customer), the response to the issue is of critical importance. If the company is defensive and unhelpful, customers are lost. They may have created walking, talking advertisements for their competitors for life. One the other hand, if the company responds in a positive, forthright, customer-focused way to the issue, the customer is very pleased. Curiously, the company is likely to develop a more loyal customer base by dealing with a problem in a good way, than if they had done things right the first time.

The Bible says that confession is to precede worship. But maybe confession can also be an act of worship. And maybe confession can be an act of love… or even a form of outreach to the world around us.

The “Toolbox” and “Bigger Hammer” Theories

Suppose you wanted to build a house. You were given all of the raw materials, but (for some reason) you were only able to use one tool. Which tool would you choose? You could choose a saw. It is good to have things cut properly to size. Perhaps you could use the handle like a hammer and the blade as a screwdriver. Of course you could use a hammer. A hammer is great with nails and you can use the claw feature for screws. And with enough work and determination you can break apart 2×4 lumber to size (approximately).

Limiting oneself to using one tool could be called “THE BIGGER HAMMER THEORY,” based on a friend of mine that liked the quote, “Any problem can be solved with a bigger hammer.”

The bigger hammer theory works up to a point. One can build a house only using a hammer (perhaps) but the amount of time and effort would be huge and the results unsatisfying.

An answer to this could be called “THE TOOLBOX THEORY.” It simply suggests that certain tools work better for different tasks and situations. Using “the right tool for the right job” will normally be easier and give better results.

These two theories apply to other things beyond building a house. Consider psychotherapy. One person may follow a psychodynamic model (such as Freudian or Adlerian). Another may follow a Behaviorist, Rogerian, Gestalt, or others model. Each model has its own methods, and goals. Following one of these methods strictly is the “bigger hammer” approach. However, in recent years there has been a greater appreciation of eclecticism. That is, the therapist uses different methods from different models. Some even go further and are eclectic in underlying model as well.

Evangelism is another area to consider. Some people memorize the Roman’s Road, or the Wordless book, or the Bridge Illustration or the Gospel Hand. Some do evangelism magic or chalk art. Others focus on mass media or friendship evangelism. Are these useful? In my mind, it is like asking whether a screwdriver is useful or a cordless drill. The answer is that these methods can be useful with the right training in the right circumstances. An effective evangelist adjusts the method to the audience and situation.

What are some of the problems with “THE BIGGER HAMMER” approach to evangelism?

  1. More work. Consider those methods that focus on freedom from the punishment of hell. A recent study suggested that 97% of Americans (for example) do not have a fear of hell. Some don’t because they believe they are saved from hell already. Some don’t fear hell because they don’t believe in it. Some are open to its existence but don’t find it emotionally relevant. Since these methods commonly focus on a cognitive and emotional event typically linked to what is often called the “Sinner’s Prayer,” these methods must involve extra time trying to remove the security of their salvation. Or extra work must be spent on convincing them hell exists. Or effort is expended to make them care about hell.
  2. Adverse/low quality results. Since the goal is conversion, not insecurity or fear in hell, the result may be off target and may even produce an adverse result. One may leave a person who is already a believer in a state of unreal insecurity. Or the person may still reject God but now also believes that God is sadistic.

A Suggested Evangelist’s Toolbox

  1. Classic evangelistic methods. These can still be useful, particularly for unbelievers who were raised with a Christian worldview. It may also be useful for immature believers who are shaky in their faith.
  2. Methods designed for people of other worldviews. The Camel method is one of many used reaching out to Muslims. It is good for those Muslims who are neither too scholarly nor too secular. Other methods may work better for Muslims not in this category. Brian McLaren has a recommended model for reaching out to American post-modern methods. Other methods exist for other groups. Paul shared the Gospel to Athenian philosophers using a method tailored to them.
  3. Proclamation. Peter preached in Acts 2 and thousands responded. In group settings, proclamation based on Christ and Scripture can be valuable.
  4. Testimony. Every Christian should be able to coherently (and accurately) describe what God has done, and is doing, in his or her life. The story does not have to be exciting. The truth is definitely exciting enough.
  5. Apologetics. There are times when one must argue/defend/persuade. Some others like to argue and it is good to be able to express one’s faith in a way that can stand up to the scrutiny of others. It is difficult to convince the one you are arguing with that you are right (how do you convince a salesman that the car he is selling is no good?). However, it may be a help for others that are around. However, Peter’s call in I Peter 3:15 regarding gentleness in explaining our faith is important.
  6. Dialogue. Discussing beliefs can be very useful, even if it does not have the clear goal of conversion. Dialogue can lead to greater understanding and can break down barriers. These all are important in evangelism.
  7. Lifestyle. Lifestyle/actions are often more important than the words we say.
  8. Closeness to God. We are told in the Bible that the Holy Spirit can tell us where to be and what to say… but we have to be listening. And since much of what God tells us is from the Holy Bible, it is important that we know it well. Spiritual maturity is not a requirement in evangelism (young Christians are often very effective) but older Christians that do not evidence maturity will be ineffective.
  9. Friendship. Unfriendly evangelists often do more harm than good. Conversion often follows friendship.  But friendship that is fake (be a friend to get a conversion… rejecting them if they reject God) lacks integrity and lack of integrity is also destructive.
  10. Love. Love that flows from God and through us to others has impact that goes beyond all of the others combined. Love also means acceptance of who they are (as God’s special creation) and treating them with respect. While some of the other items in this list can be used or put aside as needed, love is different. Love is like work gloves or safety glasses. It should always be worn.

Who Is Most Important?

Consider this actual case (with nearly all important details removed… you will understand why).

A Muslim teen was led to convert to Christianity. This is not news. Some Christians act like this is a rare thing. But dialogue between Christians and Muslims has led to many questioning their faith on both sides in recent years.

Here is the story. Those who led the teen to “accept Christ” decided to “out” this person. That is, they decided to share the conversion experience world-wide through social media. This teen is the child of harsh parents (by any standards). This information distinctly did not help.

The result?  The teen feels manipulated and feels that no one can be trusted… least of all, Christians.

Why did the “friends” of this teen decide to do what they did?

1.  Perhaps they felt that salvation was tied to public confession of faith. But this makes no real sense since such a confession of faith can’t be done 3rd person. Even if they wanted to encourage the teen to make the decision public, most of us would feel that such a confession does not need to be put up on the world wide web.

2.  Perhaps they were guided by who (or what) is important.  Let’s consider some options:

a.  God. If God is most important? I would suggest that God does not need to read about it on the Web.

b.  Mission of God. If God is not the most important, but God’s mission is the most important, one might decide to post this information IF one thinks that the positive value of such a testimony in the general public would be greater than the negative impact one could expect in the small scale. But is such a Machiavellian attitude justified?

b.  Friends.  If friends are the most important. then one gives them things they will enjoy. If they enjoy inspirational gossip or newsy chitchat, one might prioritize giving such sensitive information.  But how many friends does one have? Certainly putting information on a website that is accessible to most of the world goes beyond one’s list of friends.

c.  Self.  If oneself is the most important?  Well, you do whatever makes you look good. If you think that hurting someone else makes you look like a great Christian, is that enough of a justification to tell the world? I don’t think so.

d.  The young convert. What is best for the new believer. The young believer needs to be put into an environment guided by Christian love, and gently guided on the path that Jesus (Isa) walked. The young believer did not need to go through all of this other stuff.

I believe the priorities have to be God and the young believer. Self and others have to move down the list. And as tempting as it is to prioritize the “Mission of God” the risk of a destructive pragmatism is too great.

I do understand that sometimes to issues can get very murky. I am familiar with some missionaries that were planning to work in a “closed” country. They needed to raise money for support. This means going around talking about what they plan to do, their vision, and the needs. However, their agency gave them many warnings about the risk of causing problems by giving information. Following the agency’s advice to the letter would almost certainly sabotage raising the support they needed. In the end, a balance had to be found.

Balance is so important, but so hard to find.

Mystery and Missions

How do we deal with mystery? I am not talking about “Whodonits” of modern parlance. I am not talking of mystery in the old idea of “revealing”. I am talking about the middle of the road mystery– something that we “know” but do not fully comprehend. In Christianity (as with many faiths) there are  several major ways we de deal with mystery. Here are three.

  1. Simplified heterodoxy
  2. Absolutized orthodoxy
  3. Orthodox mystery

Let’s take two common areas.  (a) the nature of God and (b) the nature of Christ.

(a) The nature of God. Historically, the church has been Trinitarian (some would argue  Binitarian, but I will stick with Three in the Godhead). The concept of the Trinity flows out of the fact that the Bible does describe Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit as persons, as divine, and having mutuality in their relationship.

-Simplified heterodoxy takes what is hard to understand on the human level and makes it more accessible. Radical monotheism, modalism, and (Mormon, for example) henotheism/polytheism are some of many ways this is done. Ultimately, the goal is to simplify that which is mysterious. When this is done, the Bible is moved subtly from a position of revelation, to proof-text. This position opens one up to the charge leveled by atheists or agnostics that theists are “creating God in our image.”

-Absolutized orthodoxy in the case of the Trinity draws from the Bible, but then removes the mystery. In essence, one comes up to a confusing situation and says “This is the complete understanding and variations from this are necessarily wrong.” So in absolutized orthodoxy, one must decide the nature of the relationship within the Trinity, whether it is efficient or essential, and what is its place within the full scope of history. It is creedal and inflexible. These can be charged with being narrow-minded.

-Orthodox mystery accepts the Bible as God’s revelation, but does not seek to go beyond what is revealed to us. If God self-describes Himself in three persons while being one, it seems reasonable to accept this without fully understanding what it is like. Of course one can be charged with being irrational or lacking curiousity (and if one does not seek to learn and grow but wallow in ignorance, perhaps such a charge has merit). Years ago there were conjoined twins who were joined at the skull. The two even shared some common brain matter. It was suggested that these girls, before surgery, were perhaps the only two humans who could genuinely share thoughts, who could genuinely read each other’s mind. Perhaps if allowed to grow up in this manner, they would have helped us understand what it means to share thoughts and feelings while being two separate individuals. But perhaps even with such an example, we could never truly understand it. Our understanding is limited by our limited perspective and experience. Thus, the mystery. Mystery is normal and healthy.

b.  The nature of Christ has been a big question throughout history. Despite popular fiction in recent years, the early church had no real issues with Jesus being divine. They seemed to accept this quite readily. They also had to deal with eyewitness accounts that definitely supported his humanness. But in the accepting of His humanity, these same eyewitnesses did not appear to have a problem with accepting His divinity. Here is, indeed, a challenge.

-Simplified heterodoxy seems an easy answer here. One way this is done is to make Jesus only human. Islam does this. So does some branches of Liberal Christianity. The Gnostics/Docetists tended to go the opposite way. Jesus was God (or at least divine) but only gave the appearance of being human. Once again, these viewpoints must be supported more by experiential logic than by Scripture.

-Absolutized orthodoxy was seen in many of the early church councils. It was not enough to say that Jesus was both human and divine. They sought to determine exactly how this was and what effect it had. Did Jesus have two natures? One nature? How many essences? Understanding Jesus in a way that is consistent with Biblical revelation but not with the philosophically-based creeds could cause one to be thought of as heterodox.

-Orthodoxy mystery. To accept the Bible without understanding the How (especially if the How is not given) is rather freeing. It provides room for meditation, study, and growth.

BUT WHAT DOES THIS ALL HAVE TO DO WITH MISSIONS. Let me suggest a few ways.

A.  Apologetics. We live in a universally skeptical and periodically hostile time. We want to share our faith and beliefs in a way that is accepted. If it is not accepted, we want our beliefs to be considered “reasonable”. Muslim scholars like to challenge Christianity as to its rationality (of course, the Islamic doctrine of the uncreated, co-eternal Quran opens up that faith to charges of irrationality as well). Logical positivists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and even some theologically liberal groups within Christianity like to challenge Christians for their seeming acceptance (by faith) of the irrational. The quote by Mark Twain that said that faith is “believing what you know ain’t so” seems appropriate. Because we want to appear to be rational people, we may have the temptation of simplifying our beliefs to conform to cultural pressures (simplified heterodoxy) or crystallize our contrast with that culture by absolutizing a narrow interpretation (absolutized orthodoxy).

2.  Contextualizing our faith. Starting churches in other cultures means taking people and discipling them in the Christian faith. How much range is allowed. Some C4 and C5 churches (two types of Muslim Background Believer churches, although such terms could have meaning in other cultures as well) go to great lengths to maintain cultural distinctives of the people while developing them in the worship of Isa as both Messiah and Allah. But when does one cross the line from orthodoxy to heterodoxy. If one looks in a Korean Bible (at least some Korean Bibles) you will find that the Eastern concept of “Chi” is in there and is created by God (in Genesis 1). This sounds heterodox. However, in the West we are pretty comfortable with the concept known as “Energy”. Having been a mechanical engineer for many many years, I can tell you that “energy” is an extremely difficult and abstract concept to wrap one’s head around. It may be inappropriate to assume that “energy” is Biblical while “chi” is not. Maybe both words have aspects that are Biblical and aspects that are not. This can certainly lead to mystery.

3.  Sharing with children. When we share our faith with children, we want them to understand things… even complex things. We might use a clover leaf (like St. Patrick) or an egg to try to explain the Trinity, but we may be guilty of oversimplifying when we do this (developing the seeds of heterodoxy). On the other hand, we might give a simple answer (in form of creed, proof-text, or catechism). In this we may be absolutizing… providing no room for growth or exploration. I think it is perfectly appropriate to draw our faith from God’s self-revelation while recognizing the limits of that revelation and our limits in understanding that revelation.

  • We don’t need to have all of the answers (“I don’t know” is a fine answer sometimes).
  • We should recognize that mystery opens us up to study and growth (something that oversimplification or absolutization does not).
  • We need to contextualize our faith to the culture, but not by oversimplification or changing of Biblical essentials. Neither should we live reactively to the local culture by setting up narrower and narrower interpretations of orthodoxy to attack and contrast local culture.

Grob Gob Glob Grod. A pop culture (Adventure Time) experiment in Multiple personality unified being.

Missions in “Five Worlds”

Mars (back left), Mercury (back right), Moon (...

Image via Wikipedia

Suppose you were trying to get a person to stop smoking (tobacco products). How would you do it?

Method 1. Come up with a message and use it consistently. For example, one could tell everyone about the health risks of smoking.

Method 2. Discover what each person values, and tailor the message to that person.

I would strongly recommend the 2nd method. This might be demonstrated as follows:

  1. John is an athlete. The message may include information on how smoking reduces lung capacity and overall reduces performance and endurance.
  2. Kim is looks conscious. The message could show the negative effect of smoking on teeth, hair, and skin.
  3. William is concerned about money. The message could emphasize the huge yet subtle cost of smoking and what the person could have if he had invested his money differently.
  4. Ann has a fear of death… or at least premature death. The message could emphasize the effect on average lifespan.
  5. Tim is young. The message could be the repercussions of underage smoking with his parents and his school.

This is not the limit on the options. Someone who is concerned about quality of life/health more than longevity or physical performance may require a different message.  This is not to say that choosing one message means the other messages are left unsaid. Rather, the receiver of the message needs to primarily hear the message that most resonates with his/her personality, values, and perceived needs.

What about the message of Christ?

W. Paul Jones describes five theological “worlds” in his book Theological Worlds:  Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989)]. The five he describes are:

  • World 1.               Separation and Reunion
  • World 2.              Conflict and Vindication
  • World 3.            Emptiness and Fulfillment
  • World 4.            Condemnation and Forgiveness
  • World 5.            Suffering and Endurance

All of these are valid expressions of Christian faith. Different people, both Christian and non-Christian, find different worlds “resonant” with who they are and what they value.

Evangelism tends to focus on World #4.  We live condemned by our sins against God, and we need His forgiveness. Sometimes evangelism may also focus on World #2. Man, the world, and the powers of darkness are at war with God, but God gives us the power to have victory… the victory of and in Christ. Occasionally, World #1 may be dealt with as well. We live separated from our Creator… paradise lost. But through God we can be restored to our rightful place in the family of God… paradise restored.  Worlds 3 and 5 are commonly ignored.

Strangely, many people are resonant, find special meaning, in these other “worlds”.  I find World 5 most meaningful. We live lost and struggling in a fallen world. But Christ comes alongside and helps us endure and grow, leading by example and suffering with and for us. Many other people find the post-modern World #3 as especially meaningful. We live in a confusing world without meaning and purpose… an existential crisis. But through Christ we find fulfillment and purpose—our proper place.

I would like to suggest missions and evangelism should operate in all five worlds. In this, I am not suggesting that there are no other possible worlds, but rather that these are major ones that are directly tied to the Christian message. A few points are worth noting, however.

  1. A problem with picking only one world is that the message may not be appreciated/understood by the receiver of the message. We often describe people as being “receptive” to the Gospel. However, perhaps at times we end up doing the weeding out of potential converts (rather than the heart of the person or the Holy Spirit) by our presentation of the message.
  2. A second problem is that when one tries to make one world message the message for all, much of the time and energy is expended trying to get the respondent to focus on the same thing the message focuses on. Therefore, a person who may have needs associated with World 1 is “talked into” being concerned about condemnation so that a World 4 message would be effective. It is like talking to a smoker concerned about health, and trying to convince him that money is the big concern so that he would respond to a message about the monetary cost of smoking.
  3. A third potential problem is making a message that ONLY works in one world. If all of the 5 worlds are valid on some level, then on some level the full benefits of the Gospel should be dealt with. Therefore a person concerned with suffering should still understand that through Christ we have, in addition to endurance, also forgiveness, reunion, fulfillment, and vindication.
  4. A fourth problem is that we must realize that this is not merely pragmatism. That is, we are not just doing “whatever it takes” to get a positive response. If someone has the felt need to abuse others, we don’t modify the message to suggest that in Christ we can fulfill our desires to abuse others. The message of the Gospel of Christ must still be constrained by the truth of Christ. For example, some use a “prosperity” teaching… that in Christ we get all of our selfish desires without any struggles or suffering. This is a corruption of the message in World 2.  Likewise, some give a message that is sometimes called “easy believism” or “cheap grace”. This is a corruption of World 4 or World 1.
  5. A fifth problem is suggested by the 4th problem. Perhaps corruption of the message of the Gospel becomes less likely if we recognize the validity of all five worlds. For example, the corruption of the message based on World 2 would be less likely if we also recognize the validity of suffering and endurance of World 5. Likewise, the corruption of a World 5 message that might prove to be too  pessimistic and fatalistic could be mitigated by World 2’s focus on our victory in Christ.

Ultimately, our message and our missions should broaden to the broadness of Christ’s message. Narrowing it to our own preferences or the theological focus of our “group” makes the message smaller and our missions work less effective.