The Power of Weakness: Part 2

Terminology and Classifications

I planned to get to Missions Theory. But the topic got me thinking about terminology and classifications. “Weakness Missions”  is not a satisfying term. After all, there are a lot of ways to be weak… many of them are unproductive.

I considered “Subversion Missions.” Unfortunately, there are a lot of definitions for subversion, some of which are completely inappropriate. Subversion may mean undermining the beliefs and power structures in a society from a position of weakness. Sometimes, it can be used more broadly of overthrowing, regardless of method. It also can involve overturning moral constraints regardless of whether the moral structure is good or bad.

So I started looking at non-violence theory. I have never really studied that topic much. I was in the military so I know more about power projection, and control. My problem is that nonviolence theorists often start from a belief that utilizing nonviolent means is more likely to lead to success than utilizing violent means. While nonviolence has had its share of successes, its failures have been equally legendary. Many changes, even positive changes, have occurred through violence.

I found, however, a lot of interesting thoughts in nonviolence theory as it pertains to missions. But there is the question of power as well. Power, after all, is not necessarily related to violence or non-violence.

NonviolenceOn the violent side, things are pretty clear… some types of violence are used from a position of power and some types are used from a position of weakness. We sometimes forget that terrorism is used because the individuals conducting terrorism are weak. Of course, their use of violence is meant to pressure change while masking the underlying weakness.

Okay, but what about the other two? Well, looking at the various types of non-violent response, some seem to have merit and some don’t (at least as it pertains to missions). Two that fit well into the graph above are types described by Mahatma Gandhi.

Satygraha (I am pulling from Wikipedia here under Nonviolence) literally translates as “insistently holding to the truth.”  Gandhi described it as a position of the strong, but not necessarily utilizing “power tactics.” As such it is a matter of choice rather than necessity. The focus is on utilizing truth and love, working through patience and willingness to suffer.

Duragraha literally translates as “holding on by force.” It is also nonviolent, but may use forms of non-violent harassment, and may not be focused on the truth. A lot of non-violent protest (PETA, Greenpeace, anti-abortion movement) utilizes this one.

As such, Satyagraha seems quite similar to what (in my opinion) is best in Christian missions. I would like to suggest that Jesus worked from a position of non-power and non-violence. As noted above, such a position does not mean lacking in strength or potential to act on power, but a conscious choice to not utilize power… focusing on love and truth with a willingness to suffer to the end to cause change. I could describe good Christian Missions as Christian Satyagraha Missions. Some might be offended by this because it may sound a bit Indian or Hindu. But that is a Western prejudice. The term Missions has its roots in pagan Roman terminology. It is just that people in the West have gotten use to Latin and Greek and German and English, but haven’t gotten used to Asian terms.

Frankly, I am unconvinced that nonviolence is more effective than violence in creating change. I am unconvinced that operation from a position of non-power is more effective than operating from a position of power. However, I believe as Christians we are called to operate from a position of meekness (having power but  acting with loving constraint). And in missions, this position has been extremely successful in causing change. Personally, I think that this fact comes more from the work of the Holy Spirit than it does from the inherent strength of such a strategy.    …. but I could be wrong.

Next post, I will look at some Christian mission work from this view.

The Power of Weakness: Part 1

I am teaching a History of Missions class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. Again, I have been struck at two streams of missions work. The first might be called “Power Missions.” The other might be called “Weakness Missions.” Others have written on this (at least one that I know of), but I feel that not enough has been focused on this issue.

English: Medieval miniature painting of the Si...

English: Medieval miniature painting of the Siege of Antioch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I am teaching on the Crusades. Most don’t consider it a missions activity. However, it did spring, in part, from a missional zeal, motivated in part by the desire, and missional activities of  pilgrimages (peregrination pro Christo (“wandering for the sake of Christ”)) and martyrdom. It  also was guided by doubtful missional innovations of Charlemagne centuries earlier. These include “the cross and sword” missions method, and missions work as an arm of the State. The Crusades were, in part, a method for the Church and ‘Christendom” to deal with people outside the faith (be they “infidels” or “heretics” or pagans).

I am also talking about St. Francis of Assisi and his attempt to reach out to those not of the faith. He was not hugely successful, but arguably far more successful in overall missionary impact than the Crusades. He was carrying out missions from a position of weakness.

When I speak of Weakness missions… I am directly referring to the following:

  • Missions carried out without military or governmental support.
  • Missions carried out in places where the missionary is exposed to danger rather than being a source of danger.

Less directly, I would include::

  • Missions is done “incarnationally.” In this, the missionary joins the people as a fellow citizen and fellow struggler.
  • Missions is focused on loving encounters more than power encounters.

I think I will do a couple of more posts on this topic. It is not fully developed in my mind yet… but that is part of the reason for writing it down.

A Healthy Mind, and the God Who Is

Although I do missions work, and teach missions in seminary, my primary day-to-day job is as an administrator of a pastoral care and counseling center in the Philippines. As such, I read more books on counseling and pastoral care than most in missions. A recent one I have been reading is “Theology & Pastoral Counseling: A New Interdisciplinary Approach” by Deborah van Deusen Hunsinger. Chapter 4 speaks of the issues of Theological Adequacy and Psychological Functionality. The chapter depends considerably on another book (that I have not read): “The Birth of the Living God: A Psychoanalytic Study” by Ana-Maria Rizzuto.

I thought I would adjust some of the materials to be more useful (to me at least) from the perspective of missions.

psychology and Theology 2The above chart would make a bit more sense as a 3-dimensional chart (cube), and would include more options (for example a person with correct views about God that are at odds with the religious environment that he or she resides within). However, the chart here appears to be adequate for most cases.

The X-axis has to do with a persons understanding with regards to God. There are three choices shown:

  • The God Who Is. The individual’s understanding of God conforms closely to the God who is (God as actuality, not projection).
  • Heterodox. God Who Is Not. The individual resides within a faith community that teaches about God, and that teaching conforms closely to the God who is. However, the individual’s own projection of God differs from his or her own faith community (and the God who is). This the person would be  thought of as heterodox within his or her own faith community.
  • Orthodox. God Who Is Not. The agrees with his or her own faith community/religion, and agrees with their beliefs. However, the teachings of that group are of a god that does not correspond well with the God who is. The individual has false beliefs but would be viewed as orthodox beliefs with respect to his or her own faith community.

The Y-axis has to do with the psychological well-being based on the individual’s understanding of God. There are two choices listed:

  • Healthy/Edifying. The individual’s beliefs about God support a healthy mind and emotional state (and social life) allowing the person to grow as a person.
  • Unhealthy/Destructive. The individual’s beliefs about God create an unhealthy mind and emotional state (and social life) creating stunted or regressive development as a person.

These axes and options covered create six options.

  1. “X”: I put an “X” through one of the options. This is, admittedly, a faith position. However, I believe that a healthy understanding of God as He truly is, will help promote a healthy holistic life. This does not deny problems… but rather assumes that a correct understanding of who God TRULY is is a key factor towards healthy mind and relationships. Since we were created by God and created to have a healthy relationship with God… it seems doubtful that a correct understanding of God would promote problems.
  2. “A”: This category is the IDEAL situation. The individual has a belief system about God that closely conforms to God as He truly is. That belief promotes a healthy mind, emotional state, and relationships. This is aided by being in a faith community that has an understanding of the God who is, and appropriate nurture, conversion, and sanctification/discipleship within that faith community.
  3. “B”: This category is covered in two squares but both involve having an unhealthy psychological condition that comes from a projected god, rather than knowing God as He is. The person may be in a faith community that teaches the truth or a faith community that does not. Regardless, correcting the falsehoods is key. The difference is to what extent one utilizes the structure of their own faith community. If they are “heterodox” within their own community (believing what is false, but in a community that believes what is true) it MIGHT be easier than if they are in a community that believes and teaches what is false.
  4. “C”: Things are more difficult here. The person has a belief system that “works” at least at a psychological level. The goal is to move them to the box marked “A”. However, careless (and uncaring) work may push them to one of the boxes marked “B” or “D”. In fact, it is quite common. People sharing faith may lead a person to question their own beliefs, but that may only open themselves up to new thoughts and allegiances that our farther from where they need to be. In this category, “C”, they are in a faith community that teaches what is true, so gently working with them and utilizing the support structure within that faith community is important.
  5. “D”: This is, perhaps, the most difficult. The person is in, and accepts, a faith community that believes what is not true about God… but the belief system “works” for the individual, at least psychologically. Again, it is important not to do damage where the person shifts into a “B” box. But then the question comes as to whether one can utilize the support system in the faith community that they reside in. In Pastoral Care, it is assumed that healing can occur in the faith community a person is in, even if the beliefs within that community are false. I think that this can be true, but some groups have beliefs that are very unhealthy and it is uncertain that they can be utilized to help the person. One may focus on getting them to change allegiance fast… to a group that teaches the truth. That may, however, move them to a “C” or a “B” box… not necessarily an improvement. Those in a “D” category box will be hard to change because their belief seems to work for them. Gentleness and understanding is important here.

No real answers in this post… just some things to think about. Looking this over… I can see now that the 3-dimensional graph may have important insights that are lost with this simplified one. But as a tentative, preliminary look… I think it works.

By the way, I am not suggesting that psychological well-being is only a function of having “Right Thoughts.” Far from it. I am simply noting the relative importance temporally of knowing God as He is in the lives we live.

 

Why do Christian Missions Anyway.

In “Ninety-two Questions on Humility in Theology and Science” (1999), Sir John Templeton listed as question #74:

“Is trying to help in God’s creativity processes a way to express our worship and thankfulness?”

I suppose that is a good question. One of the seeming defining characteristics of Man is the ability to

John 3:16

John 3:16 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

be creative, and the desire to act on that creativity. At times such creativity is squelched or hindered with the argument that such creators are “playing God.” And perhaps they are right. Certainly creating for the sake of creativity, without the canvas of moral limitation is dangerous (and probably mediocre… creativity in humans seems best drawn out within the context of prescribed limitations).

But for me, let’s bring this back around to missions.

“Is trying to act in concert with the Mission of God a way to express our worship and thankfulness?”

It does make one wonder why we do missions anyway. I would like to suggest, first of all that joining God in His mission is NOT a challenge to His sovereignty, any more than being creative is a challenge to God as creator. That point never made much sense to me anyway. I believe He could act without me… but does that mean that He would find offense if I, in some small way, seek to join? So ignoring this, here are a few possible reasons:

1.  Obedience to God. The Great Commission (in its various forms) seems to be a general command to all Christians at all points in History. So I suppose one could argue that we are constrained by orders. But is “legalism” our sole or primary argument for doing missions? I am not sure that Christians live in a state of Grace, while missionaries live in a state of Law. (Yes, I am stretching the point… but we are considering if obedience to the Great Commission is THE or PRIME  reason for doing missions, not merely a factor.)

2.  Duty to God (or Calling). This is related to the first. However, the first could be seen as acting on a general command to all Christians. This second may be more individualized. I feel “called” uniquely by God to carry out a unique aspect of God’s mission… so I act in accordance to the duty associated with God’s calling. If one accepts this as the primary or only reason for our doing missions, then we are using as justification a doctrine that has (frankly) little Biblical support. Not a good basis for missions. Second, since few of us really have an “Isaiah” or “Burning Bush” experience anyway, in practice such a basis has stronger roots in our passions or desires. Is the primary motivation for missions really that we “feel like it”? I hope not.

3.  God’s Glory. God has done much to restore a broken world, so when we join in the task to restore it, we reflect or increase God’s glory. I guess I have a problem with this as well. I really enjoy the book “Cat and Dog Theology.” In the book, Sjogren and Robison make a strong point that everything is to be for God’s glory and everything God does is for His own glory. Although there are verses that can be used to support it, I can’t quite accept it (not attacking the book as a whole… just questioning a bit of how I interpreted parts of the book). First, the term “glory” is pretty vague, so even if everything is to be for God’s glory, such a fact is not very informative as to what I should do. Second, if everything God does is for His own glory, then some pretty nasty things (floods, disease, and human misdeeds) were also part of God’s self-glorification activity. Again, if these things can be for God’s glory, what things could I do that would NOT be glorifying. Third, some statements seem to cast doubt on glory as the end all. Take the classic John 3:16. It says that God’s mission was motivated by His love, not His desire for personal glory.

4.  Love of Man. If John 3:16 says that at least a major part of God’s mission was motivated by love for man, perhaps that could be our prime motivation as well. It seems like our love for man should at least be a sizable part of our response to God’s initial love for us. Caring for people because we care about people is good but seems pretty limited. Our mission is greater than a social gospel. Our role is more than doing nice things because we are nice people.

5.  Great Commandment. Our activity as a response or an outflowing of our love for God (and Man) seems to be closer to the truth. Of course, one problem is that love is a concept that doesn’t give much guidance in how to act.

To me, the Great Commandment and the Great Commission together provide a pretty good justification. We respond to God’s love by loving God and loving what God loves. This is the Great Commandment. The Great Commission provides one important guidance in how to express that love.

Another way to look at it is that God loved us and we respond in like fashion due to thankfulness (the Great Commandment) and then respond in service as worship (Great Commission). Maybe the statement, “”Is trying to act in concert with the Mission of God a way to express our worship and thankfulness?” both true and highly relevant for our basis for missions.

A Parable in Search of a Purpose

Commonly, one has a principle, and creates a parable (or myth or illustration) to enhance clarity of the principle.

even, dense and old stand of beech trees (Fagu...

even, dense and old stand of beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) prepared to be regenerated (watch the young trees underneath the old ones) in the Brussels part of the Sonian Forest (Forêt de Soignes – Zoniënwoud) in Belgium (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But is that always the way it must be?  Can it be useful to have a parable, and then come up with a meaning. To me, the answer is YES. When one starts with a principle one puts a high level of constraint on the creative process. If one starts with a story, it opens (I think) one up to discovering something new. Now I understand that the interpretation process also narrows things… and a story, regardless of how or why it was produced can still open one up to new ideas. Still, since a story can transcend its initial purpose, perhaps it is just as valid for it to exist first as a story before a meaning is ascribed to it.

What in the world am I talking about? Well, here is an example of a story that existed without previous intention of meaning. It was inspired by a poem by Howard McCord (“Ontology”) and by the expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” But these were inspirations not purposes or meanings.

Thomas lived in the desert lands as a child. There is much beauty in such barren places, but also many important things lacking. Thomas would ask his father, “When can I see a tree? I have heard of them, but I have never seen a tree.” His father would say, “I am sorry, Thomas. Here there are cacti. There are shrubs, but if you want to see a tree, you need to go to the great forest on the other side of those mountains you see to the East.

Thomas dreamed of a time when he could see a tree… no matter how little he knew about trees. He had some idea that they were alive, came up from the ground and had limbs or branches. Perhaps they were gigantic dwarfing the great rocks that were near his house. Perhaps they moved from place to place as they had the desire. His father’s explanations were not helpful. They were like a shrub but bigger. Some of the cacti were bigger, but apparently they were different from trees in some way.

One day as a young teenager he decided the wait was over. The mountains weren’t that far away. They looked like a short walk would get him there. Thomas could certainly go to the great forest and be back before dark if he hurried. Or so he thought. The mountains were much farther away than he suspected. As he walked towards them, it seemed as if they were drawing away from him as fast as he was walking. But as he arrived at a road in the desert, a truck came up. He had seen trucks before but never had been able to touch one, to say nothing of ride in one. But they stopped to see why this boy was walking so far away from everything. Thomas explained that he was seeking to go to the great forest on the other side of the mountains to the East. The two in the truck said they were driving that way and could give him a lift if he wanted.

What excitement! It was almost like flying. They were moving so fast it was hard to believe. Why didn’t his father have a truck. It is such an amazing thing. Even though the land was moving past them so fast, the mountains were moving much slower. It almost seemed like they were still trying to get away from them like when he was walking, but that they could not move as fast as the truck. Slowly, the mountains got nearer and they started to go up the mountains. The mountains were much bigger than they seemed back at home. It would have been no fun to walk, but it was amazing at how the truck could go up as easily as it went down. One day, Thomas reasoned, he must have a truck.

As they crested the highest point on the road, the driver pointed to a large area of green that seemed to go on as far as one could see. “There is the great forest you were talking about, I reckon. Where do you want to be left off.”

“I don’t know,” said Thomas. “Anywhere I guess. I wanted to see a tree, and my father said I could find one in the great forest.”

The other two laughed. “Yes. Yes,” said the other passenger. “If you go into the great forest and look around, I am quite confident you will see a tree.”

As the great green mass that was the great forest got closer, Thomas was amazed as the road went right into it and seemed to be swallowed up by it. “If this is a good place to see a tree, you can let me out here,” said Thomas.

Thomas left the road and went deeper into the great forest. It was hard for him to rap his mind and senses around it. It surrounded him and covered him. Even though it was noontime, the forest was shadowed. It was cool but also uncomfortable. It was still and yet constantly in movement. It looked the same in every direction and yet each individual part of the forest was unique. It was so very alive and yet was full of decay. The forest seemed so quiet at first, but when one took the time, it was full of strange rustlings from sources unknown.

Thomas stood and stared and listened, smelled and felt the forest. It was too big, too astounding to take in. It took him awhile to even remember why he came. But then it came to him. He was there to find a tree. He looked around and around. All he could see was forest. He could not even see the sun or clouds except if he stood in just the right places and looked up. He could not see the rocks except an occasional one covered with the cool moist green of the forest.

“There is nothing here but the forest,” lamented Thomas. “My father assured me that if I went to the great forest, I would see a tree. The guys in the truck also assured me of the same. They even seemed to think it funny that I thought it possible to be in the forest without seeing a tree. But the only thing here that is not the forest is… me.”

Thomas gasped as he remembered that a tree was bigger than a shrub, coming up from the ground like a cactus with branches. How foolish am I, thought Thomas, and how cruel of the others to play such a joke on me.

I am a tree.

So what does it mean? I don’t know. Looking at it for awhile, I feel it is the journey of a young man who seeks “the truth,” whatever that exactly may be. His father gives him a taste of that truth but gives him inadequate guidance on its nature and does not empower him to find it himself. The truckers give him the ability to find it himself but give him no information to identify it when he finds it. The young man becomes filled with experience and knowledge, but, lacking training to process the new experiences and knowledge, is led into deeper confusion.

It ends up being a cautionary tale for missionaries and others who are called to share the truth, I think. But you may see something totally different. No problems.

<Another nice “forest” parable in the Related Articles below.>

What is Transformation

Definitions may be boring to many… but a lot of confusion and wasted activity occurs when we don’t know our terms. If we think that transformation is a worthy goal… we best should have it well-defined.

Stantheurbancheguy's Blog

TRANSFORMATION DEFINITIONS
Let us look at seven definitions of Transformation as used by different organizations

A definition given by Bryant Myers of World Vision International in his book Walking With the Poor:
“I use the term transformational development to reflect my concern for seeking positive change in the whole of human life materially, socially and spiritually . Changed people and just and peaceful relationships are the twin goals of transformation . . . Changed people are those who have discovered their true identity as children of God and who have recovered their true vocation as faithful and productive stewards of gifts from God for the well being of all” (Bryant Myers, Walking with the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development [Marynoll: Orbis Books, 1998]

The Opportunity International Network (OI) defines Transformational Development as:
“A deeply rooted change in people’s economic, social, political, spiritual and behavioral conditions resulting in their…

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In Search of… A Stable Foundation

I have read a number of blog posts and such which are “trashing” postmodernism or postmodern Christianity or postmodern-emergent theology. I have to admit that I cannot describe myself as being postmodern in any sense of the word. However, I feel that some of these posts are really misguided.

1.  To say that one disagrees with postmodern thought begs the question of what one agrees with. When one says that postmodern thought or theology is wrong, the impression is that one supports or agrees with modern thought, since postmodern thought came out as a reaction to modernistic thought. Postmodern thought came about as a result of fairly obvious flaws in modern thought. I am going to include a quote that my wife Celia wrote in an article she did on postmodernism in seminary, referring hear to a work by Stanley Grenz:

“The postmodern situation requires that we embody the gospel in a manner that is post-individualistic, post-rationalistic, post dualistic, and post noeticentric.” (Grenz, Stanley, A Primer of Postmodernism, 167) Post-individualistic means that there is a requirement for community. “The community mediates to its members a transcendent story that includes traditions of virtue, common good, and ultimate meaning.” (Grenz, 168) Post-rationalistic is a revolt against many of the beliefs of the Enlightment. A greater emphasis is placed on the transformation of life rather than the cognition of the individual. (Grenz, 171) Post-dualistic means that one no longer thinks of mind and matter as unrelated concepts. Rather, there is a seeking of wholism. The individual, body, mind, soul, spirit, emotions, intuition, and so forth, are interrelated within the person. Post-noeticentric means that faith dominates every dimension of life. Once again, the focus is on renewal and transformation of the believer’s entire life.(Grenz, 173)

(Celia P. Munson, POSTMODERNISM AND ITS IMPLICATION TO THE TASK OF DOING THEOLOGY, Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, 2006)

To say that there are errors in postmodern thought is essentially a truism. Of course. It could be said of any thought… all human philosophical constructs have flaws. Are the flaws in postmodernism greater than modernism? Probably. After all postmodernism is, for the most part, a construct that is post-WWII.  Modernism is a construct of the Enlightenment and had a couple of centuries to deal with its weaknesses. Modernism tended to focus on positivism, naturalism, and individualism. Christians should cheer for its demise (or at least illness). So, if one wants to complain about postmodernism, that is fine, but one better make it clear what one thinks is better (and it is NOT modernism).

2.  Often the complaints about postmodern thought focus on an extreme form of postmodern thought. For example, critics often charge postmodernists with rejecting objective truth. While it is true that some hold to that, this is not the normal or common view. More commonly, postmodernists  don’t doubt truth, but doubt human certainty regarding truth. Objective truth may well exist, but how do we know it when we see it? As such, postmodernists are more prone to talk about subjective truth or intersubective truth. Since Christians focus more on faith (acting on a personal (subjective) understanding of truth, and allegiance to that truth without certainty), this understanding should not be seen as very problematic. While emphasizing extreme forms may be satisfying, such caricatures are no more useful than attacking modernism based on the ill-thoughtout logical positivism of the 1920’s. It would be similar to attacking Calvinism based on the sermon that Andrew Carnegie heard on “infant damnation” back in Scotland a couple of centuries ago, or attacking Islam based on the words of the most radical Islamicists.

If one is going to critique a system of thought, one really should respect it enough to hear what it says… not quote the extremes that appeal to your prejudices.

3.  Like it or not, the people the church is called to reach out to are often postmodernists. If you care about people, you should at least care enough about their thoughts to understand them. This is basic to contextualization. Doing the bumper sticker theology “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” is not very appealing to most non-believers, and many believers as well. One can even argue that the statement is not even Biblical. The Bereans were applauded for testing the message they received, Paul said to test the spirits, and John (repeating the words of Christ) applauded the church of Ephesus for testing prophets/apostles that came their way. If theology is the bridging of God’s unchanging revelation with the changeable nature of human culture and human hearts, we need to do some work on our theology. Such a theology may not have to be “postmodern” but such a theology must address the questions and concerns that postmodernists have. Such a theology must “scratch where it itches.” Quoting from the blog of David Clemente,

In the Western world, most especially in the USA, postmodern thinking is posing great challenges to missiology, church studies, and Christian theology. American church leaders are experiencing a declining growth in their local churches (Gibbs and Bolger 2005:19-21). Pastors are discovering that more and more young Americans are avoiding Christian activities and Sunday morning services. Neil Cole describes the problem as “a lack of life in the core” (2010:113). Every day, we are realizing our “old school theology” from our modernist churches that has worked for many centuries are becoming irrelevant to this new generation. As Grenz has concluded: “The shift from the familiar territory of modernity to the unchartered terrain of postmodernity has grave implications for those who seek to live as Christ’s disciples in the new context” (1996:162). Whether in Asia or in the Western world, the challenges are real. We need to face these challenges that postmodernist people have for Christianity.

http://davidclemente.typepad.com/davids-reflections/2012/06/postmodernity-and-christian-missions-in-asia-an-essay.html

 If one is seeking to be missional. one needs to understand postmodernity, and adapt one’s message to those who accept it.