A Missions “Trainwreck.” Follow-up

After writing this the main post earlier… I thought of more I wanted to say. I thought of rewriting the original post and turning it into a two-parter. Maybe I will eventually. For now, I decided to add some clarifications. For now, this post has little meaning without  first reading the other post.

Looking down at collision chamber.
Looking down at collision chamber. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1.  On metaphors. I used the term “trainwreck” following Beck’s usage. However, the metaphor is more commonly applied to something that is horribly messed up. But I guess I have the Mythbusters mentality that there is something beautiful and instructive in the chaos of collision and explosion. How does one deal with competing fields of study and how does one describe it metaphorically.

One way is “compartmentalization.” Act as if the two do not hold relevance to each other. This image is the least combustible (keeping the steel and flint in separate drawers).

Another thought is “dialectic.” The idea that a thesis and an antithesis morph into a synthesis. This is not a bad view. Still there is a sedateness to feel of this.

A stronger image is “creative tension.” This is a David Bosch expression. It emphasizes the stress of the interaction of two perspectives but without combat imagery.

I also like “strange attractors” from chaos theory. They emphasize the complex interaction of the two perspectives.

These are okay, but sometimes the interaction is better understood in terms of combat or collision. I chose train wreck because of the article by Beck. However, War or Particle Collider may better express the relationship. A crash/collision is destructive, but in the world of ideas, it is also potentially creative.

I think that it is the (metaphoric) violence is that it is necessary for paradigm shift. Systems tend to adapt or react to modest tension or interaction. It takes some kinetic energy to redirect a train of thought.

2.  Some would look at the fact that I am treating theology and social sciences in an even-handed manner as problematic. Some would argue that they should be treated as different levels since one is from God and one is from Man.

But that is incorrect. Theology is man-made. It is the human construct that creatively links divine truth with the changeable human condition. Social sciences are also human constructs. These attempt to analyze creatively God’s design (also a divine truth of a different sort).

Since Theology and Social Sciences are both human constructs they can be treated as equals. Of course; the conflict of the two should not lead to rejection of God’s divine truth, just as the conflict should not lead to rejection of reality.

A Missions “Trainwreck.”

I am actually using “trainwreck” in a positive way. Surprise surprise. I am using the idea of Richard Beck in a blog he wrote on “Musings on the Integration of Psychology and Theology.” Three areas of missions

In that, Beck described his method for integrating psychology and theology.

It’s a three step process:

1. Get really good at psychology.
2. Get really good at theology.
3. Find an interesting question.

Sounds pretty simple, but imagine two boxers. Train one and build him up very well (be very good at psychology). Train the other and build him up very well (be very good at theology). Then have them fight it out in a ring (find an interesting question).

Although I am using boxing here, Beck preferred the idea of a train wreck. The collision of analysis from two very different well-informed perspectives can lead to creative results.

Beck also noted that being “good in psychology” involved more than simply being good in clinical psychology or psychotherapy. In other words, one needs more than good methodology. Beck did not mention (if I remember right) but there is parallelism with theology. One can focus on practical (or applied) theology while knowing little if anything about the broader systematization of missions. Again, methodology is not enough.

Let’s carry the idea over to Missions.

Consider the drawing above. Missions involves three aspects… One could describe missions in terms of the integration of theology and social sciences. Yet in many cases, missions is more about methodology. In fact, in missions, the general, the justification for missions methods tends to be that “it works.” Not the worst justification, but does not have roots in theology or the social sciences.

Looking at the above drawing, the gray region is social sciences and methodology without being informed by theology. This could be seen as secular missions. Social sciences include, sociology, anthropology, among others.

The blue region is academic missions, with no real methods.

The pink region is perhaps spiritualistic missions, poorly informed by the social sciences.

A healthy missions should integrate theology, social sciences, and methodology.

But I would like to suggest a different way.

  1. Get really good at theology (not just practical theology)
  2. Get really good at the social sciences (not just applied social sciences)
  3. Come up with a good question.


And then… allow the two to collide. Just as particle physics owes much to particle colliders, there is room for a great deal of creativity.

Let the creative interaction (“trainwreck”) of the two to be the breeding ground for valuable insights into missions methodology. That is not to say that pragmatism is totally tossed out. Creative ideas still might not work, but imagine the fruit of the interaction of sound theology and sound social sciences?

Not sure how practical this is… would love to see it tried out more often to find out.