The Necessity and Danger of Polemical Theology

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Justin Taylor:

D. A. Carson argues that polemical theology is biblical but can also be dangerous:

. . . any robust theology that wounds and heals, that bites and edifies and clarifies, is implicitly or explicitly engaging with alternative stances.

In a world of finite human beings who are absorbed in themselves and characterized by rebellion against God, polemical theology is an unavoidable component of any serious theological stance, as the Bible itself makes clear.

But then he points to the dangers:

Nevertheless there is something wrong-headed about making polemical theology the focus of one’s theological identity.

This can be done in many ways.

There are well-known scholars whose every publication has an undertone of “everyone-has-got-this-wrong-before-me-but-here-is-the-true-synthesis.”

Some become far better known for what they are against than for the overflow of their worship or for their generosity to the needy or even for their affirmation of historically confessed truth.

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Contextualization Presentation of the Gospel

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Contextualizing the gospel” target=”_blank”>Contextualizing the gospel</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Werner Mischke</a></strong> </div>

Great presentation on Contextualization of the Gospel.

Related Sites:

Jackson Wu Blog

Werner Mischke Blog

FB Page for Missions Theology

I decided to create a Facebook Page where some of the articles in this blog get mirrored. There are several reasons for this.

1. I wanted to have a place that focuses on Missions Theology (or Contextual Theology). However, I did not want to limit this blog.

2.  FB has its own type of reader. Although most people who visit my WP blog also visit FB, there are demographic differences in the two groups. Wanted to broaden the audience, but also get people from both groups accessing in both directions.

3.  It kind of forces me to revisit and “clean up” my old posts. In theory one should go back and fix grammatical errors, and update thoughts and so forth. But when one has nearly 400 posts, it is an onerous task. But selecting posts to mirror in FB gives me a good opportunity to review and “fix.”

4.  Some are more open to dialogue in the FB environment than in the WP environment. Perhaps the page will be educational for myself as well.

The FB Page is titled “MMM-Mission Theology”

Four “L”s from Missions History

Successful missionaries, mission programs, and mission movements in Christian history seem to have four characteristics. They don’t always have all three, there is a priority to them. Now some that have been numerically successful (such as the invasion and subsequent colonization and “Christianization” of South America) fail to meet the criteria of sound Christian missions, in my opinion. So maybe there is some bias up front. Decide for yourself.

1.  Letting Go of the Ministry.

  • The missionary is not focused on consolidating power, property, or people. He maintains a “light touch on the reins” as well as light touch on the reign.
  • The missionary is willing to share power, and let go of power.
  • The missionary prepares his people and organization for his temporary or permanent absence

2.  Localizing God’s Work.

  • Translate Scripture, songs, and liturgy into the local vernacular
  • Create an indigenous (3 or 4 self) church
  • Christians should be part of the culture (perhaps counter-culturally, but still part), not part of a different/foreign culture.

3.  Loving God’s Lost and Found

  • The missionary loves the people more than himself, and demonstrates more concern about their well-being than the well-being of his “own people.”
  • The love the missionary has for the people overflows the small cup of eternal destiny to all aspects of their lives as individuals and as a community.
  • The people understand, in some small way, the depth of God’s love for them through the love demonstrated by the missionary.

4.  Linking Up Partners for God’s Work

  • Training up local partners in the field
  • Developing and organizing organizations for training and mobilizing missionary partners.
  • Building and encouraging support back home for mission work.

I don’t find these to be equally weighted. Of these four the least important (although still important) is Letting Go. Power is intoxicating, and even good missionaries become addicted. It takes strength of godly character to be weak, to be vulnerable, to maintain limited control, to empower others.

The middle two are Localization and Linking Partners.  I am not sure which is more important. Both really are needed. These seems to be more important and there appear to me to be fewer exceptions— fewer examples of successful missions where there was not localization or where there is no development of people in the field or agency or home.

The most important appears to be Love. A lot of “sins” and failures appear to be overlooked by the people being ministered to where the love of God is identified in the self-sacrificial love that the missionary shows the people he works with.

For me, at least, these seem to be important aspects for training and evaluating new missionaries.

Praying for WEAK Christian Missions

Missions tends to reflect the mindset of the missionaries, and the mindset of the missionaries tends to reflect the mindset of the churches they come from, and the mindset of these churches tend to reflect the surrounding culture.

The Coronation of Charlemagne, by assistants o...
The Coronation of Charlemagne, by assistants of Raphael, circa 1516–1517 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Since missionaries during the “Great Century” of Missions and into the 1900s, Christianity has had a triumphalistic edge to it. Going back a bit to Constantine, and far more so to Charlemagne (PERHAPS picking up some ideas from his grandfather and Islamic interaction),
  • Christianity has often been tied to powergovernmentally and militarally.
  • With the “Enlightenment” it became tied to power educationally.
  • With the Industrial era and the colonial expansion of Western powers, it became tied to power economically, and technologically.
It is hardly surprising that the dominant church culture and associated missions culture became fascinated with such power and often used these powers to carry out its work. Christendom seemed more than an abstract concept but a workable goal.
Is this always wrong. Is it always wrong to utilize resources one has to carry out work for the Kingdom of God? I believe the answer is “NO.” However, as useful as power is… it is also dangerous. Christian Community Development has shown that internal assets in communities are more important for meaningful transformation than pumping in support from outside (Christian) communities.
An interesting quote from Stan Nussbaum is from his article: “Vulnerable Mission Strategies.” It is to be found in Global Missiology (January 2013). For the PDF, Click Here.
When we try to use money as our strength in so-called partnerships, are we not overlooking 1 Cor. 1 as the default setting for mission—God using the weak to confound the strong? Are we not relegating that “weak” and vulnerable method of mission to those who are too poor to be able to afford to do mission the way we do it? Are we not assuming that people do mission from a position of strength if they can and from a position of weakness if they must?
There is a very difficult choice for the next generation of Western Christians. I see no easy answer. Should we complement the “weak” vulnerable mission of the Majority World church with our strength, or should we forego our strength and copy the vulnerable mission that the Majority World uses by necessity? If missionaries and mission agencies are so interested in bringing more glory to God, why would we not cut back on the mission methods that are failing to bring much glory to him? Why not replace them with a more vulnerable strategy, one that for its inspiration harks back to the cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost instead of the conquest of the Promised Land?
Why not pay the prices of vulnerable mission and bring to God the glory that vulnerable mission in his name brings?

1.  Jim Harries’ Mission. This page was recommended to me (Thanks, Jonathan). Jim is a missionary in Africa and has done a lot of work and writing on Vulnerable Missions. He has some interesting thoughts including the (very interesting idea in my opinion) that the proliferation of “Prosperity Gospel” in Africa came, mostly inadvertantly, from missionaries not utilizing vulnerable missions. That kind of makes sense. Using sender-based communication rather than receptor-based communication can lead to miscommunication… including miscommunication of doctrine. Missionaries coming to an impoverished people from a position of (relative) wealth and power can easily add to the confusion of message.

The Harmful Reach of Christians: A Critique of Cross-Cultural Missions

Cardboard Magazine

missionsBy: Michael Simmelink

You know what’s right in the world? Young adults are understanding the words of Jesus to “go and make disciples” to mean spending their time and resources helping those less fortunate. You know what’s wrong in the world? As Paul Borthwick says in his book Western Christians in Global Missions, “although globally aware, these young people seem unclear on what the gospel is beyond just ‘doing good.’”

Mission work has become synonymous with good deeds, and that is the heart of the current crisis in missiology. A good deed can be defined as a usually spur-of-the-moment act that is not expected to be replicated or establish any sort of long-term partnership. It is simple examples like holding the elevator for a guy with his hands full or lending change to the woman who is a little short at the cash register. They say “thanks,” you say…

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Oh, You Beautiful Fool

If you haven’t heard the song “Beautiful Fool” you might want to take a moment to look it up. It was popularized by Country artist, Kathy Mattea. However, the version I am familiar with is by its composer, Don Henry (also wrote “Mr. God” a funny but definitely instructive song). It is an ode to Martin Luther King Jr. (and some others). The chorus is:

Oh, you beautiful fool

Swimming upstream,

kicking up waves.

Dreams weren’t meant to come true,

That’s why they call ’em dreams…

Oh, you beautiful fool.

In my last post I mentioned Baron Justinian Von Welz (1621-1668), who renounced his title becoming, I suppose, just Justinian Welz when he went on his ill-fated mission trip to Surinam

He was a man before his time. Few listened to him as he gave excellent suggestions on how Lutherans (and Protestants in general) could do missions, just a matter of years after the Treaty of Westhphalia (ending the sectarian Thirty Years War).

Few if any listened to him or took his ideas seriously. Finally, he took up his own call and went by himself to Surinam as a missionary, and died soon afterward… no measurable impact from his mission work.

Yet, his ideas reappear in the Danish-Halle missions of the late 1600s and the Moravian missions movement in the early 1700s. And all of these inspired William Carey, the London Baptist Society, and what we sometimes call the “modern missions movement.”

Baron Von Welz was before his time, and died with no measurable impact of his ideas. Yet he inspired a whole movement that is alive and well today.

Instead of giving his biography. Here is a nice simple biography of his life and impact.  CLICK HERE

Definitely a beautiful fool… may those like him increase.