Ya Ain’t So Smart…

It is sometimes useful to be reminded that we aren’t as smart as we sometimes delude ourselves into thinking. And this has considerable bearing on ministry and on theology. What reminded me of this was two-fold. Yesterday, I was teaching Cultural Anthropology, and my students kept asking questions that I could not answer. Truthfully, most of the questions were ones that no one could answer— or at least answer with justified confidence.

Today, as I was throwing away papers in preparation of our house move, and I found an old test from my days in the Nuclear Navy. The test claimed to be the “Naval Reactors Aptitude Test.” Even though I was given the test approximately three decades ago, I was never actually required to do the test. That and the fact that it is one of the few documents I have seen come out of US Naval Reactors lacking a classification stamp makes me suspect that maybe— just maybe— the test was not meant to be taken completely seriously. Regardless, it is a good reminder that “ya ain’t so smart.” Here is the test. (Remember that the test is at least 30 years old since a couple of the questions are a wee bit out of date.)

NAVAL REACTORS APTITUDE TEST

Instructions:  Read each question carefully. Answer all questions. Time limit 4 hours. Begin immediately. Work in numerical order (equipment remaining from question 1 may prove useful with questions 3 and 6).

  1.  Medicine. You have been provided with a razor blade, a piece of gauze and a bottle of Scotch. Remove your appendix. Do not suture until your work has been inspected. You have 15 minutes.

  2. History. Describe the history of the Papacy from its origin to the present day, concentrating especially but not exclusively, on its social, political, economic, religious, and philosophical impact on Europe, Asia, America, and Africa. Be brief, concise, and specific.

  3. Public Speaking. Two thousand drug-crazed aborigines are storming the classroom. Calm them. You may use any ancient language except Latin or Greek.

  4. Biology. Create life. Estimate the difference in subsequent human culture if this lifeform had been created 500 years earlier, with special attention to its probable effect on the English Parliamentary system.

  5. Music. Write a piano concerto. Orchestrate and perform it with flute and drum. You will find a piano under your seat.

  6. Engineering. The disassembled parts of a high-powered rifle have been placed in a box on your desk. You will also find an instruction manual printed in Swahili. In 10 minutes, a hungry Bengal tiger will be admitted to the room. Take whatever action you feel is appropriate. Be prepared to justify your decision.

  7. Sociology. What sociological problems might accompany the end of the world? Construct an experiment to test your theory.

  8. Management Science. Define management. Define science. How do they relate? Create a generalized algorithm to optimize all managerial decisions. Assuming a 7600 CPU supporting 50 terminals, each terminal to activate your algorithm, design the communications interface and all necessary control problems.

  9. Economics. Develop a realistic plan for refinancing the national debt. Trace the possible effects of your plan on these areas: Cubism, the Donatist controversy, and the wave theory of light.

  10. Psychology. Based on your knowledge of their works, evaluate the emotional stability, degree of adjustment and repressed frustrations of each: Alexander of Aphrodinias, Ramses II, Gregory of Nicea, and Hammurabi. Support your evaluation with quotations from each man’s work. It is not necessary to translate.

  11. Epistemology. Take a position for or against truth. Prove the validity of your position.

  12. Classical Physics. Explain the nature of matter. Include in your answer an evaluation of the impact of the development of mathematics on science.

  13. Modern Physics. Produce element 107. Determine its half-life.

  14. Energy Resources. Construct a working fusion reactor.

  15. Philosophy. Sketch the development of human thought. Estimate its significance, and compare with the development of any other kind of thought.

  16. General Knowledge. Describe in detail, briefly.

  17. Extra Credit. Define the universe. Give three examples.

Actually, it is good to remember that one is not that smart. Our identity as humans starts from the recognition that we are not God. We are limited beings— limited in time, space, power, knowledge, and understanding.

This is true in terms of theology as well. Stephen Bevans suggests that in all theological reflection, we must be humble. Millard Erickson describes good theology as tentative. Some might balk at this. Many theologians (arm-chair or otherwise) and ministers seem to be awfully certain that what they believe is true. Their argument for this confidence is often built around the logic that they simply believe what God revealed in His word. That may seem sound. If the Bible is fully reliable, it may seem reasonable to suggest that our own theology should also be fully reliable. The problem is that theology is a contextual interpretation of divine revelation. As such it is a human construct. So a person who is 100% confident in their own theology is 100% confident that they can comprehend and interpret God’s message and intentions as it applies to their own context.

Frankly, none of us are that smart. A bit of humility, recognizing our limitations is a wise start to hermeneutics, theological reflection, and ministry. Our faith should be in God, not in ourselves.

Can Bad News Still Point Us to the “Good News”?

I read an article recently (not sure I could figure out which one) that said that Pat Robertson of 700 Club/CBN fame would not allow testimony stories on his show where God did not answer the prayer of the testifier. Or to be more accurate, God did not do what the praying person wanted God to do. Is that true? I have never seen 700 Club so I don’t know. But I know the temptation of many churches, and not merely those that preach (material) prosperity, to seek “happily ever after” testimonies. To encourage unbelievers to accept the Gospel (Good News) and believers to trust God more, it just seems to make sense to tell stories of God granting what we want.

But there are problems with this. I think some testimonies of “bad news,” meaning not getting exactly what we want, can be useful to point us to the Good News, or strengthen our trust in God.good-bad-news-400px

  1.  Some “bad news” stories can be more inspirational than other stories. Joni Eareckson Tada’s life story, or the story of Fanny Crosby would not be more inspirational if Joni was healed of quadriplegia or Fanny of blindness. Many of us really need to know that an abundant life is still attainable in whatever state we are in. If God’s benevolence can only be seen in the lives of the healthy and wealthy,  how can the downtrodden visualize a great future that still dovetails with there present condition?
  2. “Bad News” stories can help us be sympathetic with those whose lives are painful. I can’t help but think the theology of Job’s friends would be a little better nuanced if they had suffered in ways that they could not connect to their relationship with God. A friend of mine had skin problems. Well-meaning Christians would suggest all sorts of things to “fix” him. That is okay I suppose, although it certainly gets old. Others would try to sell him stuff to solve the problem. This is a bit self-serving, but perhaps they honestly thought they could help. Others would subtly, or not so subtly, suggest that he had sin in his life, or perhaps his ancestors who had sinned.  Not all that helpful, frankly. Skin problems are especially difficult because they are visible. People can hide other problems, and look like things are okay. But humans can only see the external, and skin problems are external. Much of Job’s suffering was in the boils, and much of the suffering in the boils wasn’t physical, but social. Job needed more sympathy and support, not finger pointing. He needed friends who were not only familiar with Deuteronomy and Proverbs, but also Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, and I Peter.
  3. “Bad News” can strengthen faith. This seems a bit counter-intuitive, yet our faith in God as our Good Shepherd is not only found in His bringing us to greener pastures and stiller waters, but also in leading us (and protecting us) through the valley of the shadow of death. For us, a few years ago, we had a major financial setback. It was of a sort that we were pretty sure that one or both of us would have to leave the mission field. However, we kept delaying going back and delaying going back. God did not suddenly deluge us with new financial support… just a trickle. But it has been enough. We have been able to more than survive. Before, we could quote verses like in Matthew 6 where Jesus talked about the Father knowing our needs and His intention to care for us. But in living that out with God sustaining us, despite Him never completely reversing the situation, has definitely increased our faith. Frankly, I believe that testimony would strengthen/embolden a Christian in ministry more than several “Praise Jesus” TV testimonials. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 11, a section known as the “Hall of Faith,” sought to strengthen the faith of young Jewish Christians by looking back at Old Testament saints. Half were happy and half were sad. In some cases, God gave victory and vindication, and in some God comforted those who were faithful despite torture, killings, and losses. We need both sides.
  4. “”Bad News” can empower our theology. I periodically get responses from students or ministry partners where they struggle with the fact that God doesn’t seem to be answering their prayers. For many, the theology they were taught suggested that through the right kind of prayer, they could get God to be their servant, rather than they becoming His servants. Flabby theology is disconnected from reality. A strong theology is reflective and iterative. Our theology should help us through the dry and cold times in life, not just the rosy and lush. Is this important? Absolutely. Our theology is tied to our sense of purpose, and our ethics. A good theology gives us an understanding of who we are, and our relationship with both our world and our God. A theology that misrepresents these areas will not stand well when our circumstances change. And if bad theology leads to bad ethics (understanding of what we should do and should be), our responses to adversity are likely to lead to wrong, or at least unproductive, activities and thoughts.
  5. “Bad News” helps us identify the Good News. We identify things typically through contrast. In biking, it is the uphills that help us understand the good news. This may be a bit obvious… but it is still worth dwelling on. The goodness of God is not really identifiable except in contrast to struggles and pain. But perhaps that doesn’t go far enough. Sometimes those very struggles of pain help us to recognize God’s goodness in their  presence. In Proverbs, King Agur prays

Give me neither poverty nor wealth;
feed me with the food I need.
Otherwise, I might have too much
and deny You, saying, “Who is the Lord?”
or I might have nothing and steal,
profaning the name of my God.

Proverbs 30:8-9

Our continual need of God’s care makes us more dependent on God. Having all of our prayers answered, can make us forget God. We are forgetful people. We need some bad news to remember that one who cares for us.

Three Functions of Contextualization

If you want to read the article by Darrell Whiteman, you can click HERE. But grabbing some excerpts, the first  purpose is as follows

Darrell L. Whiteman

Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context, presenting Christianity in such a way that it meets people’s deepest needs and penetrates their worldview, thus allowing them to follow Christ and remain within their own culture.

This function seems at first to be self-evident, but it is clear we have not always done mission in this mode. Why, then, this sudden burst of energy and excitement, at least in the academy, about this notion of contextualization? I believe the answer lies partly in the postcolonial discovery that much of our understanding and practice of faith has been shaped by our own culture and context, and yet we often assumed that our culturally conditioned interpretation of the Gospel was the Gospel. We are now beginning to realize that we have often confused the two and have inadvertently equated our culturally conditioned versions of the Gospel with the kingdom of God.

Now the second function

Another function of contextualization in mission is to offend—but only for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Good contextualization offends people for the right reasons. Bad contextualization, or the lack of it altogether, offends them for the wrong reasons. When the Gospel is presented in word and deed, and the fellowship of believers we call the church is organized along appropriate cultural patterns, then people will more likely be confronted with the offense of the Gospel, exposing their own sinfulness and the tendency toward evil, oppressive structures and behavior patterns within their culture.   …

Unfortunately, when Christianity is not contextualized or is contextualized poorly, then people are culturally offended, turned off to inquiring more about who Jesus is, or view missionaries and their small band of converts with suspicion as cultural misfits and aliens. When people are offended for the wrong reason, the garment of Christianity gets stamped with the label “Made in America and Proud of It,” and so it is easily dismissed as a “foreign religion” and hence irrelevant to their culture.  When this happens, potential converts never experience the offense of the Gospel because they have first encountered the cultural offense of the missionary or Westernized Christians.

Ant the third function:

A third function of contextualization in mission is to develop contextualized expressions of the Gospel so that the Gospel itself will understood in ways the universal church has neither experienced nor understood before, thus expanding our understanding of the kingdom of God. In this sense contextualization is a form of mission in reverse, where we will learn from other cultures how to be more Christian in our own context.

This is an important function of contextualization in mission because it connects the particular with the universal. The challenge is creating a community that is both Christian and true to its own cultural heritage. Peter Schineller points out in addition that “every local Christian community must maintain its link with other communities in the present around the world, and with communities of the past, through an understanding of Christian tradition.”

Encountering Theology of Mission

I recently finished reading Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues, by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, and Timothy C. Tennent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I enjoy Mission Theology, and have long been concerned that much of missions has a sort of Machiavellian quality to it (do what seems to work), partly due to a failure to recognize the foundational nature of theology to sound ministry practice.9780801026621

I read as an interested party rather than a reviewer. As such, I probably lack the critical eye needed to give a proper analysis of the work. What I can say is that I felt that the first two parts (‘Biblical Foundations of Mission’ and ‘Motives and Means for Mission’) were excellent giving a good overview of the subject matter. Although clearly from an Evangelical perspective, the picture given was broader, and appropriately tentative, commonly, with regards to conclusions.

Perhaps I need to read it again, but the third part (‘Mission in Local and Global Context’) left me rather unsatisfied. It seemed to me that the coverage of contextualization of theology was inadequate, with no serious mention, as I recall, of evaluating localized theologies. I think the weakest section was the final chapter, dealing with ‘The Necessity of Mission: Three Uncomfortable Questions.’ It seemed like the rather balanced and theological tone of the previous chapters disappeared, and was replaced by a more apologetic approach to some awkward questions in Evangelical circles. There is a tendency here to challenge the arguments for non-traditional viewpoints (to an Evangelical) with equally disputable arguments. To be fair, they were dealing with tough questions that will always be open to honest disagreement, and maybe I am being unfair since my views may not be entirely in line with the authors in this section.

For me the strongest section would probably be chapter 6 where I feel the authors did an excellent job of dealing with the difficult balance of “Spiritual” and “Social” aspects of Missions. Additionally, the historical and contemporary motivations and understanding of mission tasks I felt to again be fair and address intelligently the diversity that has been associated with the Christian mission.

All in all, those interested in theology or missions (or theology and missions) should find this book interesting and valuable. To me, it establishes a good foundation historically and biblically for viewing a number of issues regarding theology of mission. At its strongest, I found it greatly rewarding without getting bogged down in minutiae. Even in its less strong points, it still provides a good starting point for additional research. Of recent books that I have read on a theological or biblical foundation for missions, I would place it second only to C.J.H. Wright’s book, “The Mission of God.” And compared to Wright’s book, this book is shorter and more accessible. That does have its advantages.  Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission” is hard for me to compare to this book because of the years separating the reading. I guess I would have to say that one should really read all three books… and value each one for its own strengths.

 

What if the Ten Spies Had TOO Much Faith?

When I was young, we sang a little chorus in Sunday School. The lyrics went like this:

Twelve men went to spy out Canaan,
(Ten were bad and two were good)
What do you think they saw in Canaan?
(Ten were bad and two were good)
Some saw giants, big and tall!
Some saw grapes in clusters fall,
Some saw God was in it all.
(Ten were bad and two were good)

It was a fun song, and I think it helped teach us something from the Bible— particularly Numbers chapter 13. Still, when the song says that 10 were bad spies and two were good spies, I think it begs the question, “In what way were the 10 bad?”

First of all they were all pretty competent spies. They went into the land, did surveillance, and came back out and gave a fairly accurate picture of the land and its inhabitants. In that sense they were good.

Second, they were probably considered generally good people anyway. They were considered leaders of their respective tribes. Of course being recognized as a leader doesn’t mean that one is good (far from it). However, Moses probably chose these leaders. Moses had a tendency to be a bit of a micro-manager, and it seems doubtful that even after the advice of Jethro that he would allow representatives from each tribe to be drawn by more democratic processes.

Third, the things they did wrong were not necessarily evidence of true “badness.” One thing they, perhaps, did was confuse the purpose of their mission. For Joshua and Caleb, they appeared to understand their mission as determining “HOW” to enter the land. The same understanding was held by the spies years later in entering the land of Canaan via crossing the Jordan. For the ten spies, it seems as if their understanding of their mission was to determine “IF” to enter the land, rather than how. Although I will question that view later. The other thing is that they did their own interpretation of their findings. The passage described the spies as “lying” to the people. This is the English translation, I don’t about in the Hebrew. It seems as if lying is a bit strong of a term. They interpreted their findings and then gave the findings a certain… spin… based on their interpretation. Arguably, that makes the ten spies bad in their profession… however, Joshua and Caleb also gave an interpretation or spin to their findings. Additionally, since God sought leaders from among the tribes, it seems likely that a certain amount of discernment or interpretation was expected of them. Perhaps from a professional standpoint, they did some aspects of their job badly.

But there is a different interpretation.

What if the ten spies had TOO MUCH faith.  Or perhaps it would be better to say, Too much of the wrong kind of faith. Consider their recent history.

  • The Israelites were helpless to leave Egypt, and God miraculously brought them out.
  • The Israelites were helpless trapped between the Egyptian army and the Sea of Reeds, and God miraculously brought them to safety.
  • In the following months, the people of Israel complained about bitter water, lack of food, and lack of meat. In each occasion, God miraculously solved their problem.

In each case, Israel’s helplessness brought about God’s miraculous response. It is possible that these leaders picked up the pattern all too well. They come back and said, “The task is too big, the enemy is too strong. We are too weak. We can’t do it. We should go back to Egypt.” They expected Moses to come back an say. “God wiped out your enemy, go ahead and enter at your own leisure.” But God did not do things that way. He said, “Too bad. Wander around in the desert for decades.” At that point, it is obvious that the declaration of going back to Egypt was only a ruse. Once that ruse failed, they were all motivated to push forward into Canaan… and failure.

If this scenario is true, the spies were not bad people necessarily. They also were not bad because they lacked faith. Rather, they were bad because they had the wrong kind of faith.

About half the time God did what the people wanted, and half He didn’t.

The bad faith they had was a faith in themselves in knowing what God will do. They believed they had “figured God out.” If they whine and complain and act helpless, God would do what they wanted.

I rather like this interpretation, and it is certainly still a problem we have today. We still want to manipulate God—

  • Throwing around pleasant sounding but poorly grounded bumper sticker phrases like, “Let Go, and Let God” or “Expect a Miracle.”
  • Taking a Name it and Claim it attitude regarding life as if God is our servant rather than vice versa.
  • Grabbing promises that were given to other people and saying that they apply to us. (A strange form of thievery indeed).

A good faith is based is based on the object of our faith rather than presumptions about our own discernment. As such, the words of Caleb and Joshua seem a better faith. They stated that if they obey God, God has promised victory. This is certainly better than trying to presuming how God would give them victory, or trying to manipulate how.

At the same time, two of those who had explored the land, Joshua (son of Nun) and Caleb (son of Jephunneh), tore their clothes in despair. They said to the whole community of Israel, “The land we explored is very good.  If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. This is a land flowing with milk and honey! Don’t rebel against the Lord, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land. We will devour them like bread. They have no protection, and the Lord is with us. So don’t be afraid of them.”  Numbers 14:6-9

This same good faith is demonstrated in Daniel 3:16-18.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to explain these things to you.  If you throw us into the hot furnace, the God we serve can save us. And if he wants to, he can save us from your power. But even if God does not save us, we want you to know, King, that we refuse to serve your gods. We will not worship the gold idol you have set up.”

So maybe the children’s song is correct. Two spies had faith in God that led to obedience, and ten spies had faith in their ability to manipulate God. Indeed ten were bad and two were good.

Perfection as Holy Defect

I am working on an article right now that

ptforsyth

P.T. Forsyth.  (Image from Wikipedia)

considers a different metaphor for understanding the goal of “perfection” as a Christian. So this post is a bit of a scratchpad where I put down my thoughts. Commonly, the term is linked with moral holiness and holiness often is connected to the metaphor from the OT sacrificial system, an animal “without spot or blemish.” It is indeed a metaphor… a lack of problem externally in an animal, or lacking variety in coloration hardly means in some “real” sense that the animal is particularly holy, to say nothing of perfect. One only has to consider the illustration of Jesus regarding “whited sepulchers.”

One of the challenges in the Bible is that in Greek thinking, there was at least two very different ways to look at perfection. Aristotle listed three, but two of them overlap considerably. One can think of the perfection in terms of Substantive Perfection, or Functional Perfection. In one case, perfection is seen as something absolutely complete, inherent to the item, and lacking the possibility of being improved upon. The other means that it meets the need or function it was designed for… perfectly. As such, the perfection is not inherent but in its role. In the former understanding, perfection is static, final, unchanging. With the latter, there is no such assumption.

Consider Jesus in Luke 2:52. Most of us would see Jesus as perfect. The passage speaks of Jesus growing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. With the first definition, Jesus would be transitioning towards perfection but as a child would be imperfect. However, with the latter definition, children are suppose to learn, grow, and develop. As such, there is no reason to presume that Jesus was imperfect as a child. He was growing exactly as a child should. Likewise, Jesus scars after His death and resurrection are not imperfections, but demonstrations of God’s perfect faithfulness and power.

For me, a useful metaphor for the perfection of the saints is not in line with the Holiness movement… or with linking perfection with holiness at all. If we are called for perfection, even though we are flawed and constantly changing, it seems as if we have to see perfection as unattainable—- OR we have to rethink our understanding of perfection.

<A similar thing comes up with Righteousness. Some link righteousness with holiness. But the OT word for righteousness “tsedeq” has more to do with “right relationship.” So when we are told in the New Testament that through Christ we are righteous, this is more than simply a legal sleight-of-hand (“penal substitutionary atonement” may be a useful explanation, but it misses the point in this case). Through Christ we have a right relationship with God, so in that sense we are righteous even though we are not sinless.>

I am getting long-winded and I haven’t even gotten to writing the article. But I found a very nice quote by Forsyth:

“Perfection is not sinlessness. The perfect in the New Testament are certainly not the sinless. And God, though He wills that we be perfect, has not appointed sinlessness as His object with us in this world. His object is communion with us through faith. And sin must abide, even while it is being conquered, as an occasion for faith. Every defect of ours is a motive for faith. To cease to feel defect is to cease to trust.”  –Peter T. Forsyth (1848-1921)

Anyway, I am still researching. I may change my mind still.  But my hypothesis of perfection being a more dynamic rather than static quality appears to be good… so far.

Bad Contextualization of the Gospel

I am happy to say that I don’t hearblog_ifyouonlyhaveahammer this much anymore… the idea that the gospel message needs not be contextualized or made to be recognized relevant to the hearer. On occasion, one hears someone quote Isaiah 55:11, believing that God word accomplishes what it is supposed to do, despite us.

So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

Usually, rather than attacking contextualization, what is challenged is the motive behind contextualization… the belief (or perhaps fear) that contextualization is some sort of pluralistic relativism, diluting the Christian faith. Can it be that? I suppose… one can interpret almost anything as anything… that is the characteristic of pure symbols. However, such fear can be a lazy excuse to use just one presentation of God’s message, even where such a presentation would in all probability be a failure. Or it may be a lazy or selfish choice to not understand others.

Let’s consider a rather extreme case of bad contextualization of the Gospel. It is the story of Emperor Atahualpa, and the Conquistador Pizarro. You can read the story in one of my previous posts… HERE. This version of the story is from Jared Diamond in “Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.” Look at the method of presentation of the Gospel, and the results.

On the quick read one might argue that it wasn’t a presentation of the gospel at all. For Evangelicals it does not push toward the tradition of the “Sinner’s Prayer.” There is also no focus on sin, repentance, and faith. Yet it does have a couple of  features that make it an even more theologically sound presentation of the Gospel. Consider the following:

A.  The friar was offering to teach the people to be friends of God. This focus on discipleship certainly places it superior to calls for belief without Lordship of Christ, or a call even to follow Christ in any meaningful way.

B.  The message of Good News was actually from God’s Word, the Bible. In fact, the friar gave the Emperor the Bible, and sought to help him use the Bible. This certainly places it superior to presentations that are more logical or clever, but clearly outside of utilizing the whole of Scripture.

So if this was such a good presentation of the Gospel, why did it fail so miserably. (Frankly, I hope most readers would identify the killing of thousands of non-Christians and the subjugation of the rest as an undesirable result of a gospel presentation.) Many of the problems with the presentation were due to the cross-cultural gap that had to be bridged. But there were other problems as well that may not have as much causation from poor contextualization. Let’s consider the contextual issues first.

  • The Word of God wasn’t really presented in a way where it could be responded to. The Incan Emperor did not know how to read Latin, so he could not have read it, to say nothing of responding to it after understanding it. Giving the Bible to someone who can’t understand it, thinking it will have a positive result is quite foolish. The power of the Bible is in the message it conveys… not some magic associated with it, and not the physical structure of the Bible.
  • The Bible was not even in a medium that the Emperor could appreciate. The Incans had no written language, so he had no concept of written language. He did not even know how to open the book. The present the Bible utilizing a medium that the people cannot connect to is much like establishing a Christian radio station in the 16th century— an impressive accomplishment, but no one will be able to receive the message. They won’t even know that there was a message being sent in the first place.
  • The message was given disrespectfully. When the Emperor did not know how to open the book, the friar tried to reach up to help. The Emperor was angry. Probably, although I am just guessing, the behavior was inappropriate when dealing with the Emperor. Of course, making the emperor angry through a social faux pas is quite likely to drive a wedge between the two rather than leading to agreement.
  • The behavior of the friar and Pizarro was thoroughly ethnocentric. It was so ethnocentric that when the Emperor tossed aside the Bible (tossing something he had never seen before– and did not look all that interesting since he could not read), the friar called them enemy dogs and the Emperor a tyrant. In all likelihood the friar did not know the Emperor well enough to know if he was a tyrant. He may well have been no more of a tyrant than the Spanish royals. Calling them dogs is a disappointingly classic form of dehumanization and of self-elevation. In the 1500s explorers and theologians struggled with the question of whether the strange beings they found in other lands were truly human or not. The wise of that time didn’t know the limits of what is, so it is understandable if there was some confusion. Still, if one was actually superior, it hardly seems appropriate (or even necessary) to degrade the others further. Certainly presuming that their deaths were less of a tragedy than one’s own people, qualifies as ethnocentric.

There were other problems as well:

  • Mixed motive. Pizarro was a conquistador… driven forward by the desire for conquest (thus the term “conquistador”) and wealth. The friar actually joined the group because of his desire for plunder, not hearts turned to God.
  • Mixed allegiances. Pizarro calls for the Incans to be subject to God, the the King of Spain, and the Roman Catholic church. It is understandable that missionaries sometimes identify themselves with their nation of origin or their own denomination so strongly that they struggle in separating those allegiances from allegiance to God. History does have many stories that may lead one to concern about mixing denominationalism (or creedalism) or nationalism, with allegiance to God.
  • Mixed methods. Mixing the message of God’s desire to make peace with all mankind with an army bent on destruction and colonization certainly sends a double message.

I think it is safe to say that contextualization, and proper motivation has a strong effect on how people respond to the Gospel.