The IMB Mission Statement and Holism

holism

I facilitated a lecture on Social Ministry. The students’ readings were:

  • Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2009).
  • Jerry Ballard, “Missions and Holistic Ministry” in World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Missions Congres, ’90 (Asia Missions Congress, 1990), pages 340-348.
  • J. Jeffrey Palmer, Kingdom Development: A Passion for Souls and a Compassion for People (Chiang Mai, Thailand, ARLDF Publishing, 2004).

Ballard spoke of four Evangelical perspectives on Social Ministry as it relates to Christian Ministry. I will add a fifth one— one that was suggested to me by Dr. Dan Russell. These are:

  1. Convenience.  Christian ministry really is NOT about doing social ministry. Christian ministry is really about “spiritual ministries”— converting people to Christ, baptizing, church formation, training up religious leadership, Bible study, prayer ministry, etc.  However, if one can meet a physical, social, or other sorts of needs in people, it is not a bad idea… as long as it is “convenient.” In other words, as long as it doesn’t distract from “real” ministry. IT IS NICE TO BE NICE.
  2. Social Gospel. Christian ministry IS social ministry. The so-called “spiritual ministries” listed above are downplayed or at least seen not as central concerns.
  3. Ulterior Motive. Like Convenience, Ulterior Motive sees “Real” ministry as spiritual ministry. However, it diverges from Convenience in one major thing. Ulterior Motive does not say simply that “it is nice to be nice.” Rather it says “it is more effective to be nice.” In other words, social ministry can be leveraged to more effectively do spiritual ministry.
  4. Holism. Holism says that Christ’s call to ministry is holistic. Humans are holistic and so compartmentalizing and prioritizing types of ministry is a mistake. Christian ministry IS SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL. Our call to bless is transformational in all spheres of human existence.
  5. Spiritualistic. This is like Convenience in that it sees “real” Christian ministry as spiritual, not social. However, it sees social ministry as a distraction from spiritual ministry. Thus, in practice, it is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO BE NICE. Evangelical missions in the 1960s seem to have embraced that as has some small group multiplication strategies today.

Speaking of today, I would say that I generally support the Holism stance. I understand the logic of the Ulterior Motive stance, although I would probably add a bit of a John Stott spin to it suggesting that while social ministry can be leveraged to support spiritual ministry, spiritual ministry can likewise be leveraged to support social ministry. The two are synergistic. Still, I would say that doing good does not really need a spiritual justification.

This leads me to the mission statement of the International Mission Board (of Southern Baptist Churches). I am not IMB, but I am sent by a Southern Baptist Church, and I teach in a (Philippine) SBC seminary. As such, their mission statement is of at least academic interest to me.

IMB partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.

It sounds pretty spiritualistic. It has many of the categories of “spiritual ministry,” including evangelizing, discipling, churchplanting, church multiplying, and leader training. My suspicion is that the statement was actually written by people of the Convenience stance or Spiritualistic stance (or more likely a combination).

However, as I am reading it, it occurs to me that one could have a more Holistic stance and still agree wholeheartedly in it. (Actually, the one term I don’t like is the word “limitless.” It seems to be chosen to sound visionary to potential donors, but is actually vague… immeasurable… meaningless.)

But let’s consider the other terms:

-Evangelism. This term sounds quite spiritualistic. It suggests taking on the role of a messenger of God to serve as proclaimers of the good news of Christ. This draws naturally from the Greek that emphasizes its link to a “good message.” However, David B. Barrett in his book “Evangelize: A Historical Survey of the Concept” notes that both in the Bible and the early church, the term was used and applied very broadly. Sometimes in the Bible the term is used simply for verbal proclamation. Other times it describes the total activity of Christians to make known God’s message of peace to all people. Since Southern Baptists place great emphasis on the Bible as authoritative (and perhaps less commendably their tendency to idealize the primitive church) presumably they are using the term as it is used in the Bible and early church, rather than how it is commonly used today (and rather than based on its etymology). If so, that would be commendable. Good Biblical theology draws from usage, and “evangelize” is used quite broadly in the Bible.

  -Discipling.  Again, there can be a question of what the term means. In its common usage, it is often limited to a form of indoctrination— learning to read the Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, and so forth. However, if it is understood in its Biblical-Historical sense, we draw back to Christ and his process of discipleship with the Twelve (and others). Baptists are Christocentric and so see Jesus as both our example for practice, and our goal. As such, we would look to Christ to understand how to disciple and see that being like Christ would be the goal for a disciple. Again, discipleship in this sense is much broader than the cognitive-dominated sense we use it today. It could quite reasonably be argued that Jesus discipled holistically (whole person, whole need, whole context). Additionally, a disciple arguably should have more than simply the same doctrines as Jesus, but have similar behavior, motivations, priorities, socialization, and spiritual focus as Jesus.

-Healthy Churches. The mission statement speaks of planting and multiplying healthy churches, but that begs the question of what constitutes being healthy. Perhaps the creators of the vision statement were thinking of being “3-self” (or perhaps 4-self). Since, however, self-propagating (one of the 3-selves) could be seen as redundant (seeing that the term multiplying is just prior), it seems unlikely. I might suggest that healthy means having healthy members in healthy relationships. This draws back to the work of Stan Rowland and Medical Ambassadors (now Lifewind). They define health in Christian ministry in terms of four healthy relationships. These are God (spiritual), Others (social), Self (psychoemotional), and Physical World (own body, ecological, and economic). I don’t know if the creators of the statement thought through the use of the term “healthy” that much. However, it seems reasonable that if any of the above four areas of healthy relationship are bad, one cannot really saying that one is planting and multiplying “healthy churches.”

-Training Leaders. I don’t really know what is meant by this. However, if it is correct to understand the other items previous in holistic terms, then certainly training leaders must certainly mean to train leaders to recognize both spiritual and social ministry as vital to the church, and both as parts of God’s total call to serve.

Again, I don’t know what the creators of the IMB mission statement meant but I certainly hope that a holistic broad (God-sized?) vision can be its interpretation in the future.

(Just get rid of the word “limitless”…)

Backpedalling in Samaria

I am working on a book, “Missions in Samaria.” It is based on an article I wrote before. It started with the birth of the Samaritan identity up through the book of Acts. Then I jumped to how one can think about Missions in terms of OUR Samarias today. In other words, what places are we called to share the gospel that may be close to us but we have the tendency to ignore ministering to, or even sabotage doing ministry?

But then I did some more research and found that an important chapter was lost in looking at Samaria. In the first century, Samaria was a region with a sizable populace and a vibrant faith. Not so today. Why is this? One might suspect that they lost the war in battle of ideas/ideologies. Or perhaps there was a mass conversion to Christianity since the Book of Acts describes such a mass conversion.

The truth is that the Samaritan faith did not die so much as was murdered. Samaritism did not just fall, it was pushed.

During the time of the Byzantine Empire, Samaria was a turbulent place. Christan writers often used Samaritans or Samaritanism in negative analogies. The government was oppressive, and under Emperor Justinian, the faith was essentially made illegal. There were several uprisings that were crushed violently, killing hundreds of thousands of Samaritans. With the Islamic invasion, there was a bit of a temporary reprieve. However, that reprieve was far from complete with periodic forced conversions to Islam by the more “evangelistic” caliphs.

Today, the people who identify themselves as Samaritans are located in two small communities and number in the hundreds. There seems more of a tendency today to see it as a unique sect of Judaism, as opposed to a distinct competitor of that faith. In some ways, the remaining Samaritans are a testimony to the tenacity of faith.

Sadly, they are also a testimony to the tendency of Christians not to take the message of Christ seriously. Jesus sought to undermine the prejudices of the Jews regarding Samaritans, and specially commanded His apostles to reach out to them with the Good News. Yet as Christianity grew in power these prejudices grew in strength and violence, in opposition to Christ’s message.

This should serve as a warning to us.

A Theology of Celebration (Part I)

There has been a move within the “Cell Church” movement to describe Sunday morning gathering as “Celebration.” I never really cared for the terminology, although I grant at least the somewhat clever alliteration of church involving Cell Groups (another term I don’t care for) and Celebration. It seems to me that “celebration” is a sub-biblical understanding of gathering as a church body. But then, I don’t think “Worship Service” does better by combining two inadequate terms.

That being said, one thing I do like about calling the morning gathering Celebration is that it embraces a positive Christian understanding of the term. With the popularization of Spiritual Disciplines among Protestants in the 20th century, the term celebration has been seen more positively with both Richard Foster (in “Celebration of Discipline”) and Dallas Willard (in “The Spirit of the Disciplines”) describing celebration as a discipline that leads to spiritual growth.

Some, however, struggle with this. A wonderful

Image result for babette's feast
Babette’s Feast (1997)

Danish film that came out in 1987 was titled “Babette’s Feast” (based on a story by Isak Dinesen). The setting was a Protestant group that embraced a certain ascetic frugality. It appears as if celebration and joy were seen as wrong.

 

A friend of mine, a missionary, visited a group of devout Christians in an Asian mountain village. Discovering that one of them was having a birthday, the missionary asked if there would be a birthday party. The answer was “No.” In fact, there would be no public recognition at all. “Everything is about God. Every day is God’s. Isn’t it hubris to say to take even one day a year and say that it is about me instead of God?” That missionary was rather impressed by their piety. He may have a point, but I am wondering whether this is a healthy belief system.

A friend of mine, admittedly Jehovah’s Witness, not Christian, was talking to me about the soul-searching he was having about taking a piece of cake at the office we worked at. His religion tells him that birthday celebrations are forbidden because these celebrations are “pagan.” However, at the office, there really is no party. The secretary simply brings out some cake for people to eat when it is someone’s birthday. As my friend would say, “It feel like it is not wrong to eat cake. It is not a party, and I am not part of a celebration.” His religious training, however, leads him to a lot of guilt.

Facebook (and to a lesser extent Youtube) has become the dumping ground for people to share why celebrations are “pagan,” “devilish,” or just plain wrong. A few months ago the issue was Halloween as demonic because of its loose connection with Samhain (an animistic Druidic festival), while ignoring its strong connection to All Hallows’ Day. A few weeks later no one complains about American Thanksgiving (strangely since a stronger case could be made for its pagan roots than the others), but then complaints start up again for Christmas (linking it to a pagan holiday that doesn’t even line up with it). Now it is Valentine’s Day and people on FB again are suggesting that it is also celebration of a pagan holiday. Soon, it will repeat for Easter/Resurrection Sunday (even though it is the weakest of any of the arguments).

Why do Christians seem so quick to be bothered about celebrations— actually searching for arguments why they should not participate in celebrations? Why do so many Protestants here in the Philippines believe that culturally significant local festivities are wrong, priding themselves with their disinvolvement, while often embracing celebrations from other cultures? Why is it that when my daughter’s classmates discover that she is Baptist they react with pity because of the presumption that Baptists are against anything that brings happiness?

Perhaps there is a need for a good theological understanding of celebrations.  I would like to start the ball rolling on this one in Part 2.  You can Click on it Here.

<As one who is not much of a celebrant or any sort, it feels strange that this is a topic I would take up. However, from a missions standpoint, it is quite relevant. One of the most crucial ways that Christianity remains foreign is to reject local festivities. And one of the ways that problematic aspects of festivities are passed on generation after generation is when Christians ignore them rather than seek to reimagine and redeem them.>

 

 

 

3 H’s of Persuasion

I have been going over different Asian religions in my Dialogue in Asian Religions course. I started with Judaism in Western Asia and worked my way across to Shinto in the East. Now I am looking at Atheism. Atheism has deep roots in Asia. Some forms of Buddhism and Hinduism could be described as Atheistic, as can some modern political movements in Asia such as Bolshevism and Maoism. Of course, Atheism is so diverse that it is hard to find commonalities between many atheistic perspectives. That, however, is the point. One doesn’t truly know what another person believes simply by knowing the label they use to self-describe. One must talk with them.

Image result for captain disillusion

I decided to use some comments from my favorite “skeptic” online. His name is Alan Melikdjanian. He is more commonly known as “Captain Disillusion” on Youtube. He is a debunker— particularly of videos that seem to show the impossible. He shows how many of these are made through special video “tricks.” Very interesting. However, I am bringing him up for a talk he gave at Skepticon Australia (2018 I think). The title of his talk to a group of skeptics was “The Unbearable Loneliness of Being Right on the Internet.” While he doesn’t say it directly, the talk is essentially a critique of the “New Atheism” movement that developed in the early 2000s. I really don’t think the movement truly exists. Rather, it was a term coined by a journalist around 2003 (I forgot the journalist’s name) to refer to a rather aggressive evangelistic form of atheism that often shows itself in seeing belief in God or in a religious belief system as a sign of mental deficiency or delusion.

Melikdjanian does not seem to have problems with the evangelistic fervor of these people, but rather that their method often has the opposite effect of what they are seeking. The aggressive negative stance of the “new atheists” tended to lead to pushback seeing these skeptics as jerks (or as Melikdjanian said, falling into the “black hole of assholery”).

He suggested three H’s to describe how skeptics (a term that itself is generally understood as rather negative) can be more persuasive.

H is for Humor. Melikdjanian commonly uses humor to entertain and to educate. Good humor builds bridges between people. Bad humor such as sarcasm (“cutting of the flesh”) drives a wedge. Humor also makes one’s message more interesting, grabbing the attention and sympathy of the respondent. Such humor must be humor that resonates with people outside of the echo chamber of the skeptic community. When humor is used in a self-deprecating fashion (pointing out one’s own weaknesses or mistakes), it can lead into the second H.

H is for Humility. In theory a skeptic is a doubter (even though it has often been used to describe those who are rather uncritical of a naturalist worldview). As a doubter, one should be ready to admit one’s mistakes, and express uncertainty and a willingness to learn. Skeptics too often have been known for embracing a certain “know-it-all” attitude with an associated condescension of other’s views. This seeming lack of humility is not a popular attitude, and even less so in a time being dominated by post-modern thought.

H is for Hope. Melikdjanian notes this is very important. Many people hold to faith beliefs that are out of line with the beliefs of skeptics. Many such believers do so, in part, because it provides a source of hope for them. For a skeptic to encourage a person of faith to leave that faith, the hope lost must be replaced with a new hope. The goal should never be to replace hope with hopelessness.

I think there is a lot of wisdom here, and I believe it applies as much to Christians as anyone else. Christians need to be able to express their faith in a manner that is humorous… entertaining, and enlivening the interest of those who are not Christians. Far too much Christian media is designed to be consumed only by Christians or those who are fully immersed in a Christian worldview. Much of it is boring or nonsensical to those outside of the subculture. It is maddening at times the Christian productions out there. Much of it is low quality. That is worthy of complaint. Worse, however, is that it is often marketed as Evangelistic, and yet uses language and cultural references that are only meaningful to insiders. To insiders, it may be seen as simplistic and boring… but to outsiders, the reaction can be far worse. The Gospel poorly presented CAN be do worse than the Gospel not (yet) presented.

As Christians, we recognize that God knows all things, and that we are not God. As such, we have every reason to be humble and joyously embrace our own ignorance. This should not mean that we revel in ignorance (it is good to study and try to understand), but we should not assume that we know it all and that we are always right about everything. Christians are supposed to be humble, so why not embrace that role? We also should avoid espousing the lie (or at least mistaken belief) that doubt is the opposite of, or contradiction of, faith.

As Christians, we need to help others know that we offer a message of hope. Often we do the opposite, spending more time on judgment than on hope. Why? I think there is still a part of us that think that the Medieval practice of the Morality Play (scaring people into formal adherence) is still a good method today. I am not sure it ever was. We must realize that the Gospel message is an offense to some and foolishness to others. It also undermines much of what others base their lives on. Therefore, when we express the Gospel message, the focus should be more on hope.

 

 

Snapshots of Faith

Years ago, my wife and I wrote an article for a symposium on disaster response held at University of the Philippines (Baguio branch). We started writing it and then when more details came out it was clear that the topics they were covering were FAR different than our focus. We finished the article anyway (at least a solid First Draft). Years later (today) I made a few small corrections, so if you are interested in reading it, you can read the updated version of Academia.edu.

Snapshots of Faith, Hope, and Growth in Disaster Response Chaplaincy