Consciousness One Two Three

Harvie Conn wrote the book. Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue back in 1984, based on lectures he gave at Fuller Theological Seminary. It has been noted by multiple people, that Conn was limited by a tendency to use rather unclear language. That is one reason I have tended to like the work of Paul Hiebert. He often did much better in making complicated concepts… well… less complicated.

However, one strength of this book is thatapplication-communication2 although written in 1984, it does appear a bit prescient in identifying some trends that have continued to develop over the last 30 years.

Conn chose terms Consciouness One, Consciousness Two, and Consciousness Three. Frankly, I did not feel they were explained well, but they seemed to point to generally valuable insights in the rlationship between theology and anthropology (as well as mission).

Below is how I tried to explain these three concepts to my students. If someone says “Bob, you got that completely wrong,” I would welcome correction, as long as you can make it clear…

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Consciousness 1. Ethnocentric Mindset. A non-Western culture is seen as a “Disease to be Cured.” Non-Western arts were commonly seen as devilish. Missionary work is seen both as an attempt to Share the Gospel, and to “Civilize” (bring in line with Western culture). In fact, it was difficult for many to separate the Christian faith from Western culture. Three reasons for this difficulty:

  • Western culture was assumed to be the highest culture, and the “most Christian.”

  • Other cultures were seen as lower cultures, and bringing them in line with Western culture was seen as aligning them with the Christian faith.

  • Commonly those of other cultures were also deemed to be lower– both intellectually and morally.

Mission work was seen as sharing the gospel in non-Western lands, because the Western world had “already been reached.” Because of this Americans and Europeans are active missionaries, and other peoples are to be passive receivers of the message.

Christianity will always look foreign to people from non-Western cultures.

Consciousness 2. Indigenization Mindset. There is now no necessary presumption that the West has all of the answers. Rather different cultures are legitimate. Christianity may exist in a different culture through appropriate TRANSLATION of the message and theology from the West.

Religion is seen more positively in a culture (Consciousness 1 tends to see religion as a problem… both by secularists and even by Christian missionaries). However, there is a tendency to see culture as made of of individual institutions… including religion. Therefore, to transform culture means to replace (indigenize) those things that need changing, and leaving alone those things that don’t.

Greater focus is placed on plurality of cultures (rather than “cultured” versus “uncultured.”) Also greater recognition that cultures and languages are fluid… changing.

There is a recognition of “Contextual Theologies,” but often see them as existing in local competition of sorts to “Real Theology,” based on the presumption that the theological formulations of Europe and America are in some sense supra-cultural.

While cultures are more respected in Consciousness 2, the agenda still is primarily driven by the West, in terms of theology and missions.

Consciousness 3. Contextual Mindset. Harvie Conn never really defined this one well. He focused on problems in the early 1980s and what he hoped would change.

Not only are there many cultures, and they exist dynamically, but each exist holistically. That is, one can’t just break the culture apart into different components or institutions. Religion is an integrated with the culture, not a separate part.

All theology is contextual. There is no such thing as supracultural theology, only well-contextualized theology and poorly-contextualized theology.

The translation model of of theologizing and ministry is inadequate because it is uni-directional. Rather, there needs to be dialogue between cultures, as well as tri-logue between theology, anthropology, and mission.

Different contextual theologies (and expressions of faith) are challenged by the canon of Scripture. But different contextual theologies need to be in dialogue– challenging each other and allowing the possibility of learning from each other.

Missions is now a whole world task to the whole world.

 

The “Fish” Model of Project-based Outreaches

A model for doing not only medical missions, but many forms of short-term projects (partnered with a long-term ministerial presence) looks a bit like a fish (or an ICHTHUS if you prefer). It is based somewhat on the model used for CPM (Church-Planting Multiplication). The same basic principle can be utilized.

Visioning/Organizing

Rapid Seed Sowing

Filtering

Consolidating

Expansion

This comes from my book “Principles and Practices of for Healthy Christian Medical Missions: Seeking the Church’s Role for Effective Community Outreach in the Philippines and Beyond”

ICHTHUS

A: The idea of a medical mission comes to one person or a small group, and there is the decision to attempt to move forward with the idea.

B. This is the team-building phase. Buy-in is developed within the community and with outside help. Partnerships are developed and plans are worked out.

C. Others are told about the mission. The community is invited and the outside team supporters are told and encouraged to pray and help in tangible ways. Eventually a maximum number of people are involved as the entire community (ideally) is involved or invited, and the outside team is sent off.

D. This describes those involved in the medical missions. This number is smaller because not everyone who is invited actually comes. In the Philippines approximately half to 2/3s of those invited actually come (at least in rural areas).

E. This describes those who respond to the Gospel based on assent. In some cultures, this assent is to the Gospel (expressed perhaps in saying the “sinner’s prayer,”) In some cultures, such as the Philippines, this sort of response may be made without any real conviction. As such it may not be the most useful guide for follow-up. However, it is important to keep records of all who attended and all who made this decision.

F. It is also useful to find a narrower filtering of those who come. This may be with a desire for Bible Study, or for home visitation. In the Philippines, for example, many will express an interest to “pray to receive Christ” as a way of expressing gratitude for the medical care provided. However, there is no such feeling of debt to agree to a Bible Study (for example) so it is often a better guide for community spiritual response.

G. After the medical mission, the hosts can do follow-up. They would probably start with Group F as priority, then to Group E, and finally Group D. However, in all likelihood those who actually act on their spoken decision will be smaller than the other groups. So for example, in the case of a Bible Study, one may have hundreds attend the medical mission, with dozens responding in faith, and perhaps 2 or 3 dozen desiring a Bible study. Of these, perhaps 10 or 15 actually respond. These can be put into 1 Bible study, or perhaps 2 growth groups, or maybe a handful of accountability groups.

H. It is from the core group G that growth will occur with multiplication of small groups, or development of house churches, or creation of a church, or whatever.

Our Racist Church

segregation

I am going to start with religion, not race… but I think it comes together. A few weeks ago, there was a seminar here on Christians reaching out to Muslims, particularly in sharing their faith. An interesting statistic was brought up. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but relationship of the numbers makes exactness unnecessary. A survey was done in the United States with Muslims who had converted to Christianity. The main question was what led them to embrace the Christian faith. There were several reasons given. The top three (given in no particular order) were:

  • Miraculous signs
  • Revelatory dreams
  • Love expressed to them by Christians

If one wants to shove things into the Encounter Model, Miraculous Signs and (to a lesser extent Revelatory Dreams)  could be seen as Power Encounter, while the third one could be labeled Love Encounter. It is not surprising that Truth Encounter wasn’t really on the list… almost no one changes religion due to arguments. Apologetics is more to comfort the faithful than to confound the opposition. I was well aware that dreams are seen as a powerful motivator for Muslims to convert. I had a copy of the DVD “More than Dreams” until it disappeared— like a dream. I have heard some suggest that Muslims will only convert through Power Encounters (clearly well-schooled in “Charles Kraft” theology). What made the survey interesting was the extent to which the statistics contradicted that assumption. The number of people who converted through Love Encounter was more than 4 times greater than those who converted by Power Encounter.

You know, that should be awfully exciting!! If we want to reach out to  people of other world faiths, or different cultures or races, we have real hope of eternal impact by expressing Christian love to them.

But there is a problem…

Christians are not all that good at expressing Christian love to people who are unlike themselves. (Frankly, Christians are not all that good at expressing Christian love to people who are quite similar to themselves– as evidenced by the ridiculous interdenominational and intradenominational squabbles we see). The Syrian refugee crisis is a case in point, where so many Christians have sought governmental policies that would perclude even the opportunity to express Christian love, on any level, for this national-ethnic group.

There have been all sorts of studies over the last several decades attempting to determine whether being religious makes one more prejudiced or less prejudiced (regarding race, or any other grouping). Much of the studies were done in the United States, so much of the data can also help to determine whether being more religiously (American-style) Christian makes one more or less prejudiced.

The results? Mixed. I will have to point you to Angela Sabates’ book “Social Psychology in Christian Perspective” since it really gets too complicated to boil down in a way that is both accurate and simple. In chapter 8 there is a section on this very issue. Lots of factors were added in, including the reason for one’s religiosity, or the intensity of the person’s faith. In the end, it seems like the more religious one is, there is a slight tendency to be more prejudiced than one who is less religious.

So let’s put this into perspective for a moment, and then apply it to Christians. The typical non-religious person is, frankly, a bigot. He will identify himself by a number of labels or groups that establish a complex set of dualities– US versus THEM. He will tend to attach positive traits to those he identifies as being in the US side of the duality, and more negative traits to those on the THEM side.

So if we acknowledge that non-religious people are bigots, we then must face the uncomfortable truth that it is likely that devout Christians are even more bigoted.

Why is this? Paul said that in Christ, there is no Greek nor Barbarian, Jew nor Gentile, Male or Female. Seems clear enough within the church. Jesus said that we are to love everyone, even our enemies… that includes everyone else. And the Imago Dei in Genesis 1 seemingly would erase any more questions about race. But problems remain. Why is that? I don’t think saying that it is due to sin is really enough. Presumably (hopefully at least) devout Christians are not more sinful than the non-religious. Since the psychological studies don’t give clear-cut answers, here are a few tentative thoughts.

  1.  Many devout Christians see answers in the past, rather than the present or the future. Many idealize other times. Despite the warning of Ecclesiastes 7:10, many Christians see an absence of today’s problems in the past… whether it is the New Testament (first century) church, or it is the 1950s, the 1780s, or the 1620s. Why would this matter? Well, with the exception of the first century church, where racism was a major concern, the other times in history did not prioritize racism. Many Christians during this time both practiced and defended systematic racism. So for example, if one thinks that things were wonderful in the 1950s and different races related to each other just fine by staying on different sides of the railroad tracks and attending different schools, then racism is not really a concern.
  2. Some Christians misunderstand the Biblical metaphors. A number of dualistic metaphors are used in the Bible, such as the Narrow Gate vs Wide Gate, The Way of Life vs the Way of Destruction, and Children of God vs … those who are not. While useful metaphors, they can be easily confused with the cultural tendency to create US vs THEM… and from there to prejudices of various forms. After all, if we are the US in church, who are the THEM? Typically, they are “the Lost,” “The Unrepentant,” and “Sinners.” The same issue applies towards the War metaphors in the Bible. In war, who are the THEM? The Enemy. Many Christians like the War metaphors to describe their attitude to dealing with the world. War stigmatizes and divides, and it is not surprising if Christians forget that we do not war against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12-13). Misusing metaphors can often lead to stigmatizing others, and it is a small leap from there to all different forms of prejudices.
  3. Many Christians confuse their Christian faith with Nationalism. I see this problem a LOT in the USA. But it can happen elsewhere as well. I say this with a bit of caution, because I have many friends who are wonderful people in so many ways, but take their honor of and duty to country to rather… ummm… disturbing ends.  (Google “cross and american flag images” if you doubt this.) Strong nationalism tends to breed strong prejudices.
  4. Religion is the biggest institution in America, the Philippines, and many other countries that has resisted racial integration. Tony Evans has stated that in the United States, Sunday Morning is the most segregated time of the week. Some of this comes from very active and intentional racism. Some on the other hand flows more passively from Protestant values of Individualism and Voluntary Religion, as opposed a parish or community understanding of the church.  In the end, the result is the same, that churches, unlike schools, government, military, and business has maintained the right (and tendency) to segregate. Is that wrong? Hard to say, but a survey of military personnel will to some extent demonstrate the influence of how the military operates. In the same light, a survey of church members is likely to reflect how churches operate.
  5. Poor Theological Anthropology. While many Christians may look to the church and to the Bible for a clear understanding of God and salvation, they often go to culture for an understanding of humanity. I teach cultural anthropology and recognize considerable value in it. But there is much to be gained from theological anthropology. Interestingly, although many Christians have problems with prejudice and racism, even those who would describe themselves as devout, it has been found that those who  are “orthodox”– theologically, biblically grounded– in their Christian faith do have less of a problem with prejudice/racism.

So what to do? Not fully sure, but some obvious things would be to:

  • Confess to God and others our sub-biblical understanding of mankind. Related to this, we need to take Theological Anthropology more seriously, to see Mankind as God made it. (At risk of annoying some people, the move in different parts of the world for the so-called “Biblical Manhood” and “Biblical Womanhood” appears to be more of a tug-of-war with culture (pulling towards an idealized cultural past, and pushing against a less-than-ideal present) rather than a theologically integrative understanding of God’s revelation as to the nature of Men and Women.
  • Stop making things worse. I am not against Ethnic Churches, and in some locations they have provided a strong sense of support and community where there was and is oppression from the outside. Additionally, as noted by many, people prefer to worship in their own language and in their own context. That being said, there are downsides. Consider this– I know a churchplanter who establishes ethnic (single race) churches. He does it by finding Christians of that ethnicity who are active and integrated members of multicultural churches and convincing to leave to join the new homogeneous church. I must say that I have problems with that. If multi-ethnic multi-lingual worship is described, and extolled, in Revelation 9, it seems like it should be seen something not to reverse. Churches should learn how to embrace those who join regardless of their ethnic background. If a church is not ready to actively reach out to other ethnicities, at the very least they should LEARN to passively accept and then to embrace those who come in. When my wife and I were in Virginia, there was a church in town that most of the Filipino Protestants attended. My wife is a Filipina, and if she really wanted that, I would have gone along. But instead we attended an almost completely “White” church. Despite its lack of diversity, she was not only welcomed but seen as a potential asset to the church.
  • Embrace dialogue and an ecumenical view. For many Evangelicals, “dialogue” and “ecumenicism” are ugly words. They point to a weak, wishy-washy, lowest common denominator type of relationship. But that understanding of those terms developed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. We no longer live in that time period, We can grow up. The view from the 60s and 70s is due to the problem they had with dualism. If we are seeking to interact with others and talk with them while still maintaining a strong US versus THEM dichotomy, the common solution is to find some sort of common ground, while ignoring differences.  But properly done, ecumenical dialogue is creative and accepts and wrestles with differences, rather than white-washing them. Connect with others of other denominations, and with people from other ethnicities and nationalities. It is an enlivening experience.

None of this is easy. I am a member of two separate churches separated by 12 timezones. One of them was racially integrated over 160 years ago, but being in a “slave state” in the United States, there were deep inequities underlying the integration. After  the American Civil War, the church became segregated as African-American members formed their own separate church. That might be seen as healing at the time, but it has taken over a century to work towards a multi-racial church of equals. I am also a member of an intentionally multi-ethnic church here in the Philippines. It is far from perfect. But it does see its strength and unity coming from its diversity. That is not such a bad place to start.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Herodotus and Monumental Hubris

Herodotus (born around 485BC) was a Greek traveler and chronicler of stories. He was quite open to sharing tall tales… intermixed with solid history. In his book “An Account of Egypt” Herodotus recounts his conversation with Egyptian priests. In that account, the priests tell the story of the building of the great pyramids of Giza, especially the pyramid of Cheops (aka Pharaoh Khufu, 2589–2566 BC)  gpgoodshot

According to the priests, Cheops was a heretic and a tyrant.

“Egypt was excellently governed and very prosperous; but his successor Cheops (to continue the account which the priests gave me) brought the country into all sorts of misery. He closed all the temples, then, not content with excluding his subjects from the practice of their religion, compelled them without exception to labor as slaves for his own advantage. Some were forced to drag blocks of stone from the quarries in the Arabian hills to the Nile, where they were ferried across and taken over by others, who hauled them to the Libyan hills. The work went on in three-monthly shifts, a hundred thousand men in a shift. It took ten years of this oppressive slave-labor to build the track along which the blocks were hauled– a work, in my opinion, of hardly less magnitude than the pyramid itself, for it is five furlongs in length, sixty feet wide, forty-eight feet high at its highest point, and constructed of polished stone blocks decorated with carvings of animals.”

The story goes on as far as the extravagance of the pyramid for his own sepulchre and pride. According to the priests, he even had his daughter prostitute herself to get more blocks of stone for the pyramid. (Yes, this sounds more than a bit apocryphal… though not impossible.) According to Herodotus, between the reign of Cheops and his son, the temples were closed for 106 years. This is most likely an exaggeration, but regardless suggests a great audacity and lack of concern for the people. The Egyptians of old were highly religious. This religion manifested itself in concerns for the future, and the sacrificial system and rituals maintained by the priests gave the people a sense of hope and control over what lay ahead. The shutting down of the temples, and shifting of all forms of labors to building a necropolis to himself, arguably suggests that Cheops saw himself more than simply being part of the divine cycle of Egyptian theology. He was, rather, above and more important than the pantheon. It also suggests that his own well-being, especially in the afterlife, was more important than the well-being of the entire population of Egypt. There has been a disagreement as to whether the pyramids were built by slaves or by freemen. The story of Herodotus suggests a mediated position. The workers were commonly not slaves in a legal sense, but served as slaves in a practical sense as conscripts.

Herodotus goes on to speak of Cheops and his son Chephren:

“The Egyptians can hardly bring themselves to mention the names of Cheops and Chephren, so great is their hatred of them; they even call the pyramids after Philitis, a shepherd who… fed his flocks in the neighborhood. The next king of Egypt after Chephren was Mycerinus, the son of Cheops. Mycerinus, reversing his father’s policy of which he did not approve, reopened the temples and allowed his subjects, who had been brought into such abject slavery, to resume the practice of their religion and their normal work. Of all kings who ruled in Egypt he had the greatest reputation for justice in the decision of legal causes, and for this the Egyptians give him higher praise than any other monarch; for apart from the general equity of his judgments, he used to compensate out of his own property any man who was dissatisfied with the result of his suit, and so leave him with nothing to complain of…”

Diodorus Siculus (90-30BC) was a Sicilian historian who added to the stories of monuments in Egypt.

“It is generally agreed that these monuments [the pyramids] far surpass all other constructions in Egypt, not only in their massiveness and cost but also in the skill displayed by their builders. And they say that the architects of the monuments are more deserving of admiration than the kings who furnished the means for their execution; for in bringing their plans to completion the former called upon their individual souls and their zeal for honor, but the latter only used the wealth which they had inherited and the grievous toil of other men.”

There is something rather refreshing in the Egyptians’ attitude. Despite granting divinity to their rulers (which is quite a thing to grant), they found ways to undermine their leaders’ hubris. For Cheops and Chephren future leaders avoided using their names, and referred to their pyramids by the shepherd who lived in the vicinity. They also noted that the architects and the workers were more deserving of praise than those that sought praise by forcing others to design and build these structures for themselves. For Pharaoh Mycerinus, who also had a (smaller) pyramid built for himself, he is given praise two millennia later, not for his monuments, but for his compassion and justice for his people.

It is rather a shame that we lack such wisdom today. Even in Christian circles (or perhaps ESPECIALLY in Christian circles) we commonly feed the hubris of those who seek to build monuments to their own gods… themselves.

In line with that, I will offer two bits of literature

tumblr_inline_nsk9pchoc81sfjjkp_1280
Stature Fragment of Ramesses II in the British Museum

on Ozymandias (Ramses II). The first is Diodorus (again), and the second is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

“Ten stades from the first tombs… in which, according to tradition are buried the concubines of Zeus, stands a monument of the king known as Osymandyas… beside the entrance are three statues, each of a single block of black stone from Syene, of which one, that is seated, is the largest of any in Egypt, the foot measuring over seven cubits, while the other two at the knees of this, the one on the right and the other on the left, daughter and mother respectively, are smaller than the one first mentioned. And it is not merely for its size that this work merits approbation, but it is also marvelous by reason of its artistic quality and excellent because of the nature of the stone, since in a block of so great a size there is not a single crack or blemish to be seen. The inscription upon it runs: “King of Kings am I, Osymandyas. If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works.”

Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

<The quotes, except for the poem by Shelley were from Herodotus and Diodorus, as quoted by Leonard Cottrell, The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, 1962, starting around page 288.>

 

 

 

 

The More Difficult Task

A relevant question that could come up here is which is more difficult? Is it harder to to make theology relevant to a community, or faithful to God’s Word. At first glance, it may seem that it really depends on the person. For example, an untrained person who is fully enculturated (born into) culture “B” would be quite well-suited to providing a relevant theology– but one that is likely to be not true to God’s Word.

On the other hand, a seminary student enculturated and trained in culture “A” could be reasonably thought to be able to provide a theology that is true to God’s word, but is not relevant in culture “B.” But this is a mistake.

Consider the following figure.   While there are some definite limitations to this figure, it does show a couple of things fairly well. Culture “A” has within it a number of theologies that are relevant to it. The same is true of Culture “B.” Overlapping God’s Revelation with it, creates smaller regions. God’s Word as canon, provides a standard or limiter of what is acceptable to God. theologies culture

Region 1 is Theology that is well-contextualized to Culture A. It is relevant to the culture and is faithful to God’s revelation. Region 2, is a culture “A” that is conformed to or fulfilled through God’s Word. Similarly, Regions 4 and 3 are well-contextualized theology and fulfilled culture with respect to culture “B.”

But, of course, these are not all of the options. Region 7 is Culture “A” that is not conformed to God’s Word, and Region 8 is the similar situation for Culture “B.” Regions 5 and 6 are Theologies that are not conformed to God’s Word in Cultures “A” and “B,” respectively.

For a new believer enculturated in Culture “B,” poorly versed in God’s Word, it is much more likely that a theology developed by him (or her) would not properly be conformed to God’s Revelation. That is why Region 6 is shown as much larger than Region 4… God’s Word provides a limitation on all theologies that may be seen as relevant to that culture. It is much easier, and more likely, for this person to develop a theology that is relevant, but heterodox, and work towards developing a sub-culture that fails to be fulfilled by God’s Word.

For a seminarian enculturated in Culture “A” and trained in theology from that culture, the challenge is different but no less challenging. The seminarian would be challenged considerably in ministering in Culture “B.” He (again, or she… but I will use he here for simplicity of language) will be tempted to simply transport his theology over based on the presumption that it is the “correct” theology. The same struggle will occur with culture. He will be tempted to simply see the culture of his upbringing and training as the correct culture… and teach it. Unfortunately, the culture brought will seem foreign to the potential respondents, and the theology is likely to not deal with the situation of people in Culture “B.”

But suppose that the seminary graduate does intentionally seek to contextualize. He will be hit by two major limitations.

Limitation #1. His relative ignorance of Culture “B” will make it hard to find a Biblically sound, relevant theology (Region 4). It is a target easier to miss than to hit.

Limitation #2. His relative ignorance of God’s Revelation. One might assume that the seminarian is well-versed in Scripture. But he is versed in God’s revelation as it applies to his own culture (or sub-culture). God’s revelation is much greater than that.

(You may now be noting why I sort of apologized for this figure earlier. Overlapping contextual theologies, cultures, and God’s revelation is sort like overlapping varieties of apples with different forms of government– they are different types of things. Still, I hope that the relationships of the regions can make sense on some level.)

But which limitation is greater for the seminary graduate? It is the second one. Spending time in Culture “B” will gradually reveal the nuances of the culture… and subtleties that are beyond him can be filled in by host believers eventually. However, the expansion of one’s understanding of God’s Revelation to the point that it is clearly seen as it relates to a different culture is much harder. One might even suggest that without the Holy Spirit’s illumination, the task would be impossible.

An Example from the Bible

A.  As the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they eventually arrived at Mt. Sinai. There Moses went up to commune with God, while the Isrealites and the other non-Israelits who had escaped with them waited. When Moses failed to come down from the mountain after a long time, the people feared and asked Aaron to deal with the situation. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes an altar and a golden calf. Why would he do this?

In Egypt, the bull is sacred, and so he may have been drawing answers from the culture he was raised in (heterodox theology from culture A). On the other hand, knowing that they are heading to Canaan, where the bull is a symbol of Baal, “the local god,” this may have been a heterodox theology seeking relevance in culture B.

Before one get’s too critical, it must be noted that there are considerable similarities between orthodox Israelite Theology (as guided by the Mosaic Law) and Egyptian theology. According to Herodotus (The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, by Leonard Cotrell, page 288ff), the Egyptians:

  • Practiced circumcision

  • Had a priesthood

  • Practice rites of cleanliness

  • Had rules regarding “clean” and “unclean” foods

  • Had animal sacrifice with requirements that the animals are unblemished.

  • Maintained rules of endogamy

In Egypt, the Bull was sacred to Apis, a god popularly worshiped in Memphis (Egypt) and often seen as a go-between of man and the higher gods. It is hardly surprising that Aaron might go in that direction. In Exodus 32:6, part of the worship was to “play,” suggesting the sexual activities associated with the Canaanite faith. This sympathetic magic was tied to fertility of families as well as the land. Apis, in Egypt, was also often seen as a god of fertility.

Aaron, with limited understanding of God’s will, made a pretty good attempt at guessing what God would want based on his understanding of Egyptian culture, and perhaps his limited understanding of Canaanite culture. It wasn’t all that hard.

But he was still wrong. It took God’s Word, coming through Moses, to clarity what God expected of them. The result was something that would “make sense” to most of the people, while still deeply challenging them to change.

Interestingly, God’s revelation to Moses actually was not simply to one culture, but to two. The revelation was to Israel, a nomadic people– but also to Israel, a sedentary people.

B.  In the New Testament, we find the Apostles and church leaders struggling with the issue of how God’s revelation would apply to non-Jews. The Apostles and church leaders would be seen as well-versed in Scripture, as well as the words of Jesus. Yet, they truly struggled with this. The Jerusalem Council was where this was dealt with as a body. The action of the Holy Spirit helped to sway the body to the understanding that Greeks do not have to become Jews to become Christians. Even after the council, however, struggles remained, as seen in differences between Paul’s understanding and the council decision (there is no indication at least that Paul rejected the eating of blood for Gentiles). It is also seen in the Epistle to the Galatians (if one accepts that that letter was written after the Jerusalem Council), where people who were apparently well-versed in the Hebrew Bible differed considerably from Paul and the Apostles in its application to Greeks.

Knowing Scripture is not enough. It is a huge challenge to understand Scripture to see its relevance and application in a different culture than one’s own. In truth, understanding a different culture is “the easy part.”

Theology as a Contextual Activity

The following is the very first draft of the very first chapter of the book on Missions and Theology I am working on. It is not meant to be highly in-depth, but more for Bible schools.

Chapter 1

Theology as a Contextual Activity

Contextualization has become a well-respected term in missions, since the term was coined over 40 yeas ago (footnote this). It’s value in theology has slowly grown. When one speaks of “Contextual Theologies” it often refers to theological systems tied to minority populations. For example, Black, Feminist, Womanist, Liberation, Dalit, and Minjung are labels for just a few of many identified “Contextual Theologies.”

While it is certainly true that these are indeed Contextual Theologies, there is often the presumption that they contrast some sort of theology that is “real” or “supra-cultural.” This writer recalls reading an article in which the author stated that another term for “Calvinist Theology” is “Biblical Theology.” Since Calvinist Theology is a type of Systematic Theology (or more narrowly perhaps, Soteriology) it is clearly not “Biblical Theology” as a category. It must be assumed then that the author was suggesting that Calvinist Theology is Real Theology… the Theology that supraculturally makes up the Bible.

This idea falls apart (for Calvinist or any other theology) fairly quickly, since the Bible is a work of Revelation not Theology. Theology bridges the chasm between God’s revelation and man’s culture. Based on this, all theology is contextual (footnote on Stephen Bevans).

Let’s Consider, for example, Millard Erickson’s guidelines for good theology. Refer to Table 1. Several of the guidelines of good theology are dependent on the context. Of course, Erickson is concerned with Systematic Theology, but as we move forward, we will see that all theology categories are, to some extent, contextual.

Characteristic

Permanent/ Unchanging

Changing (Contextual)

Biblical (based on, consistent with)

X

Systematic (coherent, harmonious, drawn from the whole of Scripture)

X

Relates to issues of general culture and other academic fields

X

Contemporary, Contextualized to the time and place to be used.

X

Practical

X

Table 1. Characteristics of Good Theology

cultural-bridge

Figure 1. The Contextual Bridge

One way to look at this is that theology provides the bridge between God’s revelation and the cultural context of the respondent. See Figure 1. For the most part, God’s unchanging revelation is, well, unchanging– but not completely. God’s special revelation, the Holy Bible, and the life of Christ is unchanging, except to the extent that Biblical studies and archaeology gives new understanding of these. God’s general revelation (creation and history) are more dynamic, but have less impact in theology except in Philosophical and Historical theology.

Man’s culture is much more dynamic and more varied. This dynamism is most relevant for Practical theology since it most clearly connects Theology to ministerial practice. Such practice is irrelevant unless it is understood and valued by the recipients in each culture. The process is often seen as somewhat iterative. A cycle of action and reflection. There is similar here to a Praxis Contextualization as described by Stephen Bevans (footnote this). Refer to Figure 2. There are, however, differences. Praxis Contextualization is, in theory at least, driven initially by action, not reflection. Secondly, the reflection in Praxis Contextualization may not be intentionally grounded on Scripture– often, in fact, guided by Marxist class politics (in Liberation Theologies).

But what about the others? Good systematic theology is clearly contextual as shown by Millard Erickson. One can refer back to Table 1 to see the contextual aspects of Systematic Theology.

cycle-of-reflection

Figure 2. The Cycle of Practical Theology

Less obvious would be that Historical, Philosophical, and Biblical theologies are dependent on the context of the recipient– yet they are. Consider the Method of Correlation. Tillich meant by this, in part, that theology must answer the existential questions of human existence. One can take this further. It should answer the questions of cultural existence as well. It must answer the Big Questions that we as humans keep asking, but also must answer the questions that concern specific cultures. A failure to do this leaves a theology irrelevant to a culture. Consider, for example, historical theology. Theology over 2000 years of church history, even a narrow aspect of that, is far too broad to be handled in any work. Any historical theological work would involve the synthesis and distillation of many sources. For such a process to have relevance to the reader it must correlate to the concerns of the reader. The same applies to Philosophical and Biblical Theologies as well. In all of these categories of theology, it must scratch where it (contextually) itches. Additionally, while some aspects of reason are supracultural, much of it is culturally embedded… so the logical structure of theologies are also bound by the cultures that they are connected to.

It is inaccurate, then to say that theology can be contextual or non-contextual. Rather, it would be more accurate to say that theology is contextualized well or contextualized poorly, to a specific cultural group. Additionally, a theology may be aware or unaware of its cultural connections. Referring to Figure 1, for a theology to be unaware of its contextual supports is like a bridge that is blissfully unaware of what it connects to. On the other hand, if it is not faithful to God’s revelation, it may appear to be relevant, but is not important.

Discussion Questions

  1. Paul Hiebert describes three forms of contextualization in missions. They are non-contextualization (failure to adjust ministry to the new recipient culture), uncritical contextualization (over-adjustment to the recipient culture, losing critical aspects of the Christian missage) and critical contextualizaiton (dynamic interaction of culture and God’s word. (footnote). Are these categories relevant to contextualization of theological categories? If so, how?

  1. David Bosch has argued that in addition to the classic Three-self model of indiginization of the church, one should add a fourth category– self-theologizing. That is, that an indigenous church should go beyond simply self-governing, self-propogating, and self-sustaining. In fact, it could be argued that the difference between an “Indigenous Church” and a “Contextualized Church” is the issue of self-theologizing. Are there dangers to having local groups developing their own theology?

2003 Missions Reflections

This is a sermon I spoke at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary chapel, on February 28, 2017. Actually, I suppose it is more of a testimony than a sermon.


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A number of you will be doing internship this Summer: It could be Short-term Missions (STM), it could be church internship, it could be Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). Some won’t be officially doing internship, but will be serving God somewhere, perhaps your home church, during the Summer break. You can look at it as a burden… a task you just got to do… Or you can learn and grow through it– become a better person and minister through it. I like the fact that PBTS now requires Interns to give a testimony of their summer. When I was a student, this was not done… and that was truly a missed opportunity.

I am going to use, primarily, the example of a short-term mission trip I joined way back in 2003. That was a year before my family and I came to the Philippines. I joined a group that went to Londrina, Brazil.

Lesson #1. Talk About It.

Talk about your internship. I don’t mean up in front of church showing a couple of pictures of you standing in front of a Buddhist Temple, or dressed in a Highlands costume. I don’t mean a quick little “Praise God” testimonial. I mean find people who have the interest and the ability to understand non-judgmentally what you went through and talk to them about the good and the bad, the miracles and the struggles. That is not always easy to find. When I came back from Brazil, I never had much of a chance to share my feelings about the trip with anyone except family and a couple of team members. Until today…

A couple of years later that happened again. Celia and I, and our kids, went to the Philippines for a year. We promised ourselves we would stay at least a year and then see what God has for us. We decided to stay long-term, but returning to visit our sending church I expected people would be so interested in wanting us to talk about what we had experienced. Surprise surprise, they really weren’t. Sure, they would ask a question or two, but then would quickly switch the topic to something they were more interested in– purchasing a new car, refinancing their house, local sports. So boring… I was really quite surprised. Then a friend of mine, came over and started talking. He said “Bob, I would like to share with you about my mission trip to Belarus… because I know you would understand. I had been in the Philippines for a year, and he wants to talk to me about a 2 week trip to Belarus? But I thought for a moment. He must have had a similar problem of people who did not appreciate what he had experienced. Something important happened in his life and he needed to be heard. He thought I would understand. So I listened. Soon after, friends who did a mission trip to Italy shared about their trip, and we listened. It’s important. Since then, we found two families at our home church who understood and would listen.

Years ago, Randy Friesen, a missiologist from South Africa, did his dissertation on the results of Short-term missions– particularly on the participants. Many of the results were positive. One negative, however, was that participants in short-term missions commonly were less involved in their home church one year after the trip. Why was this? Part of it was that there was no debrief, no evaluation, no follow-up to the trip. The church never helped them put their experience into proper perspective and to integrate that into their spiritual life journey.

The church assumed that the STMers had not changed, but they had. The church sought to put them back in their old roles in the body, but those roles no longer fit. The STMers no longer felt that they fit in their home churches. This is completely unnecessary. Debrief not only helps the STMer understand what they experienced, it helps the church understand as well… and then to work together afterwards.

Talking provides an avenue for personal reflection. We went to Londrina, Brazil to build a church building. We also did some speaking, some music, and two members worked with a children’s ministry.

The local pastors asked a favor from us. People who come up to us will ask us, either in Portuguese or in very very broken English, what we do back in the United States.

American STMers typically don’t like to answer that question, but will give some Christian-ish phrase like “Well, I am just a fellow brother in Christ” or maybe “A sinner saved by grace, just like you.” (Much like the Greenwich commercial: sobreng cheesy.) The Brazilian pastors asked us to answer truthfully. The reason? Brazil has that Portuguese/Spanish belief that professionals do not get their hands dirty with hard work. If you are a nobody, you do menial work… if you are a somebody, you don’t…. that labor is somehow, degrading. The Brazilian pastors said that they wanted to change this attitude. They wanted the people in their church to recognize that all work done for God is honoring. On our team I was a mechanical engineer, but we also had an electrical engineer, an owner of a construction firm, a retired Air Force major, a company manager, two teachers, and more. It actually seemed to work. We did have at least some small role in changing attitudes at the mother church– Igreja Batista Monte Siao (Mount Zion Baptist Church).

The time there was strange. The church put us up in a 4-star hotel. Crystal Palace Hotel. Strange… We could have stayed in the host church. It was a big church. We could have stayed at a livelihood center they owned. We could have stayed in a much simpler hotel. Hey, we could have stayed in tents on the construction site. We don’t need to be at a fancy place.

We would get up and have a wonderful breakfast and Brazilian coffee (50% espresso, and 50% milk) at the hotel restaurant. Then we would dress for work, and drop off our keys with the concierge, walk through the atrium of polished marble past bellboys and doormen in perfect uniforms and load up in a van to go to the worksite. We would put in a long, hard, day. Then we would get back to the hotel. We would walk past the doormen and the bellboys in perfect uniforms, while we were covered in dirt and sweat dropping bits of red Brazilian mud onto the immaculate polished marble floors of the atrium. I would go up to the conscierge and say “Dos Sero Seis” (206) to get my room key– I still remember the room number. We did this day after day after day. It was actually rather embarrassing.

But then we would clean up and they would take us to a churroscaria or a rodizio-style pizzeria— absolutely fabulous Brazilian-style restaurants, drink a LOT of guarana (a wonderful Brazilian drink… non-alcoholic in case you were concerned) and then go back to prepare for another day. But all the time I kept wondering. “Do they think that just because we are Americans, we expect things to be this fancy?”

Finally it hit me. I understood. Our partners in Brazil put us in a fancy hotel because they were putting into practice what they were teaching their people. Every work for God is honoring, and everyone serving God is honored no matter what they do. To make that clearer to their church members, they treated us with honor. It makes sense. If you want people to honor someone, don’t just talk about honor… you demonstrate honor. That revelation came to me two months ago as I was preparing for this talk… 13 years late. We need to talk to others, who are interested and have some understanding of our experiences, and through this, reflect on it– learn and grow.

Lesson #2. Respect the Hosts as Experts

One of the former students here at PBTS was telling a story of talking to an American guy who was doing short-term missions in the Philippines. This American guy liked to describe himself as a “cross-cultural missionary” and threw around some fancy terms in missions, but my student quickly, correctly, realized that this guy really knew next to nothing of cross-cultural interaction and missions. This can happen. Many who do short-term missions go with enthusiasm but without knowledge. But even for the best prepared, the best trained STMers, they know less about what is needed in a community than the host.

We were working on the church building, and discovered that there was a 5 meter wide lot right next to the church lot that was for sale. We started discussing amongst ourselves. Maybe our team could come up with the money to buy that plot of land. If we can’t, maybe we could contact people in our church to come up with it. It could be used for parking. They only have parking for like 3 vehicles. It’s crazy!!

That’s not enough. We tell our hosts, and they smile and say that is not necessary. We persist and they say, “Thank you… but no.” We still persist, and finally one of our hosts, the one with the strongest English talks to us and says. “Look. They don’t need that land. They don’t need more parking, and if you did raise money for that land, they would use the money for something else… something that they need more.” So we stopped. And over the next few days, we learned about our hosts. They took us to their prayer room, where they prayed as a group and did their strategic planning. They showed us the master map in which they are sketching out their churchplanting activities. The churches they have completed, the ones presently being established, and the ones planned over the next few years. They talked about why they chose the location for the church we all were building. The location was a bit out of the way, but in 5 years, the new airport would be opening, and the road the church is on will be on the primary road to that airport. During our visit we met the members of that new church and the pastor of that church. Close to two years before they move into the new church building, a pastor and core group had already been established for the church. We realized that the Brazilian Baptists were an awful lot more organized and diligent in their planning than we were in the United States. They knew more about what they have and what they need than we know.

On the final Friday, three days before we were flying home, our hosts said that tomorrow we were going to the hot springs. We said, “No no no. There is so much more that can be done. Sunday is the commissioning of the church building, we want to get more things done.” They said, No. Enough has been done, it is time to rest. They were right. Enough had been done. Short-term missions is not primarily about getting stuff done, it is not about being experts, but it is about relationships that develop with others from other parts of the world. A reminder that God’s church is ultimately a unity despite its diversity, and because of its diversity.

Lesson #3. Have Proper Priorities

On the final Friday that we were there, we were concreting the floor. This was no simple thing. It is a large church and was designed stadium-style so much of the floor was sloped. In Brazil they build backwards. Roof first, then the walls, and finally the floor. But it seems to work.

They used to build smaller churches but found that the membership would exceed the building capacity within 6 months. My task was to shovel sand for the concrete. I was partnered with Cesar, a Brazilian man. We developed a bit of a competition.

Who could go the longest shoveling sand without taking a break. It was hard. Cesar was a good worker… but I kept going, pacing off of him. I felt tired, I wanted to quit… but I told myself that I wasn’t going to lose, I had to win. On and on it went. But I refused to give up. I kept looking at him and screaming in my head, “Why don’t you stop!!” Finally… Cesar put down his shovel, grabbed a water bottle, and sat down. I kept going ten seconds longer just to make it quite clear that I had won, and then I rested.

Do you think I felt good about that victory? Truthfully, not that much, for a few reasons. The first reason was that Cesar was twice my age. Literally. I was 38 at the time and he was 76. Second, he was half my size. I was 100 kilos. He might have been more than 50 kilos, but certainly not more than 60. Third, is that Cesar did not know that we were competing. I didn’t tell him we were competing and since he did not know a single word of English, it would not have helped if I had told him. In fact if he knew that we were competing, he probably would have just kept going until I was taken to the hospital. So NO… I did not feel all that great about winning. And perhaps, fourth… competition is not really a good motive for missions anyway.

But we struggle sometimes, because we bring our strange quirks and motives into missions. It is uncomfortable feeling like little children, unable to communicate. It is embarrassing to need help with some of the simplest things. I remember the first time I had to use the CR in the Philippines. I went in and could not figure out how to make the toilet flush, nor the shower to work. I had to ask for help. It’s frustrating. These stresses sometimes bring out the worst in us. We bring our pride, our selfish goals, our ignorant expectations into our missions. Frankly… we can’t really do that much about it. You can’t remove your attitude and prejudices and lock them in a drawer at home while we travel on mission. They come with us.

But some motives have to be set aside, or we must be set aside. Barry Philipps, a missionary that visits PBTS periodically, wrote a book on short-term missions and he tells a story of a guy he knew who joined a short-term mission team who clearly came with the intent of exploring the potential wonders of international dating. His behavior, in fact, sabotaged ministry work in the area for years. Another, appeared to think his role is to be taken care of hand and foot like he was staying at beach resort. The local hosts were too kind to complain, publicly, but the following year when the same church wanted to send a team, the hosts had to tell the US church that this one guy will not be accepted back and that the church needed to do a better job of screening applicants.

Some other motives are not as bad as long as they are not given priority. For those who want to experience “new places and adventure”– no problem, but that should not be your highest priority. For those on internship, getting credit so you can graduate… no problem, but that really shouldn’t be your highest priority either. What about the Great Commission? Should that be your highest priority? At risk of being controversial, my answer has to be NO… the Great Commission is simply an application of the Great Commandment. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul and might, and love your neighbor as yourself.” I feel like if that is your priority, much of the rest of the chaos that is missions will become more clear.

So for upcoming 2017 Interns, here is my advice:

  • Talk about it. Share concerns, questions, and insights, before, during and after your internship. Reflect on your experiences, open to gain new insights from it. Find those that are able to understand, and willing to listen non-judgmentally…. rejoice with you, grieve with you… pray with you. Don’t wait 14 years.

  • Respect the Hosts as Experts. Are they experts? Maybe… maybe not. But they know their community better than you do, and are the long-term presence there… so work with them, not over them, and not against them. Be a learner.

  • Have proper priorities. Loving God through serving others needs to take priority over the other motives that we tend to bring with us. But acknowledge that you have other motives and desires. If you take care of what is most important, there is a pretty good chance that the less important things will turn out okay.

And if you want a fourth bit of advice. Try to have fun… but even if you find it miserable (and that does happen sometimes)… be ready for God to still use it to transform your life and the lives of others… flowers for ashes… making all things beautiful in His time.

Thank you for taking the time to listen.