Missionaries and Nationalism. Part Two

Continuing thoughts on the 1970s era book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Written in the time of the many independence movements around the world as well as the height of the Cold War, it has much more to say on the relationship between missionaries and nationalism than more recent works. For Part Two, I am looking at what Kane said regarding the fact that national churches in colonies (I assume he is speaking of Evangelical churches… some other churches definitionally embraced Liberation Theology and independence) have often been little involved in independence movements. He gives a number of reasons.

A. Mission churches were the products of missionaries, who were typically Westerners. Mission churches were essentially a product of colonization.

B. Mission churches were founded by missionaries, and missionaries commonly have little interest in politics. I can relate to this. I have little interest in politics and so if people I supervise are highly political (and a few have been) they are that way in spite of me rather than because of me. I recall Billy Graham saying that if one wants social change in a country… then focus on evangelism. Social change will happen naturally as more are saved. I don’t know if he truly believed that or was being self-serving… but that is simply not how it is. If missionaries and churches focus on evangelism and ignore social injustice, they will create new Christians and churches with little interest in social injustice or political change. The fruit you get depends on the seeds you plant.

C. In many countries, Christians were a small, and sometimes persecuted group. Many believe (often correctly) that independence movements are not likely to benefit Christians. Often the opposite could be expected.

D. Many nationalistic movements were linked to non-Christian groups… and sometimes anti-Christian groups. I am from the United States and among Evangelicals if one wants to crush a social justice initiative, all one has to do is suggest that those seeking justice are Communists. Of course, the result of this sort of fearmongering is that Evangelical Christians are identified as rejecting social justice, and Communists supporting the same. Of course, if a nation becomes independent, it is no benefit for the Christian churches to be seen as collaborators with the colonial powers.

E. In many mission churches, the majority of the people are poor and illiterate or semi-literate. This sounds a bit insulting. At the same time, in many places this could be true. Generally, changing which rich and powerful people are in charge has more of an effect on rich and powerful people. The destitute and working poor, often are little affected by such changes.

F. Perhaps most importantly, many mission churches, and even more missionaries were beholding churches, mission agencies and individual supporters from the colonizing countries. These supporters were often very much not in support of independence movements. And even if there were those who did support independence, it had to have been scary to risk loss of financial and other forms of tangible support

Although many of the exact situations have changed, the basic issue remain. We would do well to learn from the ambiguous lessons and examples of the past.

Missionaries and Nationalism. Part One

I have been reading a bit of a book by J. Herbert Kane (1910-1988), “Understanding Christian Missions.” Originally published in the 1970s, the book is woefully out-of-date. And yet, it is that quality that makes it valuable in some ways. For example, it has a very interesting chapter on political involvement. A major part of that is on the issues of colonialism and nationalism. Nowadays, we may talk about semi-autonomous regions, national territories, or spheres of hegemony— but we rarely think in terms of colonial powers and colonies. However, in the 1970s, this was very much a still current issue. At that time, the colonial powers were rapidly disintegrating as national independence movements were moving towards final victory. It was also the time of the Cold War, so much of this process is also seen occurring linked to the geopolitical chess match between the NATO alliance and the Warsaw Pact countries.

Much of the discussion is out of date because many of the questions have shifted… and yet the broader questions remain. Today, many look on with disdain at missionaries in history as being supporters of colonization, and also waging a war of cultural imperialism. As vigorously as some have argued these points, others have challenged these views. Some have portrayed missionaries as empowering nationalistic movements.

Kane does a good job of avoiding the extremes here (the extremes are almost always being wrong, as most people over the age of 22 typically learn). He notes several things (drawing from pages 252-255, of the 4th edition, 1986) that relate to missionaries who served in colonies.

#1. During the colonial age, imperialism was a way of international life. Perhaps I would say, it was the worldview. It was the world they were born into, and thus the system that makes sense. It is hard to picture a new reality, and so many missionaries supported colonialism simply because it is what everyone they were brought up with supported. Relatedly, even if they thought some colonialism is bad, it is likely that their brand of it (their own nations colonies) is better than other brands.

#2. Those missionaries who had concerns about colonialism often saw it as the ‘lesser of two evils.’ They saw suffering of various groups and believed that through colonialism, some of those evils could be addressed. Some believe that colonies brought CHRISTIANITY, COMMERCE, and CIVILIZATION. These were commonly seen as all inherently good. Even countries that eschewed colonialism could fall for that logic. The United States, a country that supposedly supported freedom from imperialists (at least from those lands that were not affected by the American belief of ‘Manifest Destiny’) still did embrace colonialism in certain places— specifically those lands they gained from the Spanish American War. While the US did not use the term “colony,” in practice that is what they were. However, the acquisition of these lands was couched in non-economic terms. Rudyard Kipling’s poem, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ argued that it was American responsibility to ‘help’ the Filipino by ruling over them— and President William McKinley also described the take-over in terms of benevolence. Frankly, I tend to see the “Lesser Evil” principle as an ethical weak position. I prefer the “Greater Good” principle, while acknowledging that good can be hard to find… especially in the political arena.

#3. Many accepted colonialism as part of the “Sovereignty of God.” Sadly, this is truly horrible theology. Kane himself did seem to find it hard to imagine that previous generation missionaries truly believed this. It is essentially states, “’What is’ is what is meant to be.” That seems to be way out of line from the Bible, where prophets and apostles pretty consistently state, “’What is’ needs to change.” Often God’s sovereignty becomes little more than a call for laissez-faire politics— for maintaining the ‘status quo.’ Yet, if a missionary felt called to stand against the status quo and seek to cause change, it certainly seems reasonable that he or she could claim to be acting according to the Sovereignty of God as well— especially if they succeed.

#4. Missionaries were commonly among the first to identify evils in the colonial system in which they resided. While missionaries sometimes flourished within the colonial system (at least when the colonial power was supportive of what they were doing and where they were doing it), they commonly stood against the many evils and exploitative practices carried out by colonialists. This is difficult. If one is asked to serve God within an evil and despicable system, should one focus on especially egregious abuses while ignoring the overall bad system, or attack the system itself?

#5. Missionaries have always (or at least mostly) saw themselves as ambassadors of Christ, not of the colonial government. I don’t think this viewpoint answers the question of what response is appropriate. Still, clearly, the charge that missionaries were pawns of the colonizers had more basis when their relationship with colonial powers were too chummy and when they embraced a sort of “Christendom” with church and state getting mixed up too much. As one who likes to minimize my relationship with all governments (a very healthy attitude I am prone to believe), I can see how focusing on one’s role as an ambassador of Christ may mean not dealing with problems that come from a tyrannical and/or corrupt government.

#6. Missionaries have stayed at their posts. With the transition to independent governments in countries that had been under colonial rule… missionaries have typically stayed to work, while other people from the colonial powers have generally left. That does, in some way, point out that their connection and commitment was to the people not the colonizers.

#7. Few missionaries have mourned the passing of the colonial era. Serving in the Philippines, I am thrilled that this nation achieved its full freedom in 1946. Would it have been better if they had gotten their full freedom in 1898? Perhaps, but that is something that cannot be changed. I have actually met a few Filipinos who wish that their country was never separated from the United States, but I can’t share that. I doubt things would have been better.

Part Two we will explore a similar but slightly different issue from Kane’s b

Quote… As it is Supposed to Be

These impious Galileans give themselves to this kind of humanity: as men allure children with a cake, so they… bring converts to their impiety. … Now we can see what it is that makes these Christians such powerful enemies of our gods; it is the brotherly love which they manifest toward strangers and toward the sick and the poor, the thoughtful manner in which they care for the dead, and the purity of their own lives.

Juliani Imperatoris (aka “Julian the Apostate”) “Quae Supersunt Praeter Religious apud Cyrillum: Omnia, 1:391 f. <Quote as translated I got from combining two sources: “Healing & Christianity” by Morton T. Kelsey (1973) page 147, and “The Growth of Medicine from Earliest Times to about 1800” (1917) by Albert H. Buck.>

I know many who bemoan that Christianity is not like it was in the earliest years of the church. Maybe the worship today is not as sincere as it was back then. Maybe we are not as united today as we were back then. Perhaps we lack the doctrinal purity or maybe some obscure practice of then has been lost today. Maybe we don’t have the same ecclesiastical structure as then.

For me, I think the quote by an enemy of the church is revealing. If such as an “enemy” today could say that our secret is “… the brotherly love which they manifest toward strangers and toward the sick and the poor, the thoughtful manner in which they care for the dead, and the purity of their own lives”, we wouldn’t have to be searching for problems…

… and we won’t have to ‘toot our own horn’ by saying things that sadly or commonly far from true like “And they will know we are Christians by our love… by our love. Yes, they will know we are Christians by our live.”

The Challenge of Missionary Biographies

I am presently putting together a “max-flex” course on Missions History for a Bible College in the United States. I am using “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” by Ruth Tucker (2nd edition). It utilizes a biographical approach primarily, with themes and chronology taking on a secondary role. I have mentioned my concerns about biographical histories— especially the risk of supporting the “Great Man Theory” of History. And then, even if that is avoided, there is the risk of “hagiographic” biographies— idolizing and idealizing missionaries. Ruth Tucker avoids both temptations quite admirably. That is one of the main reasons I want to use her book.

But it also got me thinking. I really love Missions History, but I rarely blog about missionary lives. I also don’t give a lot of reporting or commenting on missionary news. It got me thinking about why that is.

I guess that there are several reasons:

#1. I don’t want to violate confidentiality or private matters. The most interesting things about missionaries are not typically the things that show up in newsletters. They are rarely the “Praise God!!” moments. They are usually the “Oh my God…” moments. These however are private and are not really to be shared.

#2. I don’t really want to disrespect other missionaries. I don’t really want to judge their behaviors and strategies generally, just as I don’t really want them to judge me or what I do. I rarely know the whole story so not only should I not be one prone to judge (as Jesus has stated), I am commonly not competent to judge. Consider the case of John Allen Chau who was killed going to North Sentinel Island. In my mind, it was an ill-conceived plan poorly carried out. On the other hand, I respect his passion. And (who knows?) perhaps God was calling him to go to North Sentinel Island and he was faithfully doing so just as God wanted. Success is not necessarily the proof of faithfulness. I may or may not be competent to pass some cautious judgments about certain aspects of his mission, but I am most definitely not competent to judge him. (And, frankly, I would refuse to take seriously any attempts by John Chau to judge my very much non-pioneering mission work if he was still alive to do so.)

#4. Biographical writings on missionaries is not always helpful. No missionary deserves to be a superstar or celebrity (including/especially myself). Their message is to point people to God, not themselves. Paul may have said to use his own life as an example, but I am certain that did not imply to look to himself rather than Jesus. Missionary stories can be inspirational, but the ones that get shared often are atypical, or misleading. Most missionary stories probably would not be that inspirational to the average person. Focusing on success stories can give people the wrong idea. At the other extreme— organizations or publications on the struggles of missionary don’t always do a service. Ones that focus on those who have been killed in missions or church planting work, can cause people to lose focus on what the story is supposed to be about. The martyrdom of Christ was a love story to all mankind, and yet for centuries far to many Christians used that story to figure out “Who’s to blame.”

Anyway, I hope you do take time to read up on missionaries and what they have done in obedience to the Great Commandment (and to a lesser extent, the Great Commission). And I hope to share some more biographies in the future… but I think I will always (and wisely) be cautious.

Missional and Pastoral Theologies

When I was first reading the book “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott and Strauss, they had given a way of looking at Missional Theology in how it is different from Theology of Mission. At the time I rejected it. But over time, I have seen value in it. Look at the figure below:

Theology can be seen, as a whole as the region within the Red Circle. Theology could be divided into four broad Categories: Biblical Historical, Systematic, and Practical. (Philosophical or Natural could provide a fifth category). Those aspects of theology that have bearing on Mission, could be considered to be Missional Theology. It could be considered what is inside the black circle. As such, it has components in all four categories of Theology. One could also consider that portion of Missional Theology that is part of Practical Theology. One could call that “Theology of Mission.” Ott and Strauss described it different, seeing Theology of Mission as the overlap between Missional Theology and Missiology. Still, since Practical Theology is that aspect of theology with direct relevance to specific ministries, it comes to almost the same thing (and maybe is exactly the same thing.

Part of the reason that I find this a good way of looking at theology as it pertains to Missions is that it works well in another practical ministry— Pastoral Care.

Following the pattern set in missions, Pastoral Theology would be that part of theology (of all categories) that is relevant to Pastoral Care. With that in mind, Practical Theology that relates to Pastoral Care would then be called Theology of Pastoral Care.

This makes sense to me. Considers the definition of Pastoral Theology used by Margaret Whipp in her book “Pastoral Theology”: “Pastoral Theology is How and Why Christians Care” (page 1). “How” is practical and so is mostly that part of Pastoral Theology that relates specifically to pastoral care as a ministry. We could call that Theology of Pastoral Care. The “Why” of Christians caring draws mostly from other aspects of theology (Biblical, Historical, and Systematic). The combination of the How and Why comes together as Pastoral Theology.

This seems to make sense to me and suspect that other practical ministries (worship, discipleship, preaching, and more) would benefit from this sort of perspective. … Or maybe not.

It is something to reflect upon at least.

Ivory Tower With Muddy Footprints

I teach at two seminaries, and soon I will probably be teaching with another school soon. This puts me firmly in the world of the “Ivory Tower”— institutions that are seen within the broader church culture as out of touch with the ‘real world’ and church life. On the other hand, I teach in the more practical fields in academia— Christian Missions and Pastoral Care. Additionally, I have been involved in both missions ministry and pastoral care ministry. It is true, however, as I get older, more and more of my practical work is within the school setting— teaching, mentoring, and supervising.

There is value to the Ivory Tower— in its proper context.

But not all feel that way. In Evangelism, the story of the fishermen is often used to look down on the the ‘armchair experts.’ People write about fishing… go to ‘fishing conferences’… act as fishing consultants—- however, they don’t actually go fishing. With this story… the members of the ivory tower are seen as out of touch intellectualizers. Can this happen? Of course.

I started reading an article this week that was talking about the differences between the more conservative views of the common members of a certain denomination versus the ummm… less conservative views of the academicians of his denomination (it is far too much of a stretch to suggest that the term ‘liberal’ applied to anyone in his denomination). It seemed pretty clear that the writer was unhappy that the professors and theological writers in his denomination were “out of touch” with the broader church.

I think that is a bit of an error, however.

First… Multiple perspectives are needed for dialogue. And dialogue is how we learn. We don’t tend to learn in an “echo chamber.” The value is in dialogue. In other words, we don’t need a Magisterium of out of touch dogmatists telling the churches what is true and what is false. We also don’t need a ‘Primitive Church’ in which specialists are denied a role in the church body.

Everyone benefits from challenges. We get inundated by perspectives from all different sources. Some of these perspectives become popular. Popular doesn’t necessarily mean true. It is popular in some denominations to connect salvation to the Sinner’s Prayer. Others may link it to Baptism, or to Confirmation, or to church membership. All of these perspectives have problems regardless of how ingrained they may be in the church. We gain from have our untested beliefs…. well… tested.

Dialogue is valuable between the local churches and the seminary. A few years ago the issue came up as to whether the term “bishop” could be used by Baptist churches in the Philippines. Of course, my initial response was a resounding “NO!!!” The Baptist tradition sees itself as tying its Ecclesiology to the first century church. The term that became “bishop” was not a special office above other church leaders in the early church. But of course, one can’t stop there. One must remember that we cannot ignore 2000 years of the church. The church exists in 4 dimensions. The input of the Universal Church should not be ignored. As such, the term ‘bishop’ has developed as a separate role in hierarchal churches and we cannot act as if that hasn’t happened. (Two millennia of church history is the reason that I don’t call missionaries “apostles.” The term ‘apostle’ has changed so much over two millennia so that we simply cannot use the term as it was used in the first century AD without confusion.) Additionally, we have to take seriously the context. In the Philippines the term ‘bishop’ is shaped by the Roman Catholic church. And some government rules are structured around that understanding. It actually causes some problems in interacting with the government as a denomination if we don’t have someone with the title of bishop, even if doing so is in some ways a ‘useful fiction.’ On the other hand, there has become a cottage industry of having organizations that basically grant the title of ‘bishop’ to those seeking status above their denominational peers is a separate concern. Further, some (all?) in our denomination who seek that title are probably doing so for prestige—very much an worthy goal. (Of course I can’t say that my motives for seeking a doctorate were fully above reproach.) Anyway, we gain by many voices— academic, ministerial, clerical, laity— that may be needed to consider what is best with godly wisdom.

Second, ALL Christians are theologians on some level. Recently listened to a presentation by Philippine theologian, Dr. Honorina Lacquian. She quoted Stanley Grenz as far as five classes of theologians. They are:

—Folk

—Lay

—Ministerial

—Professional

—Academic

(Grenz “Who Needs Theology”)

Lacquian stated, and I think that in this she was agreeing with Grenz, the goal is to move people away from the ends. We want less “Folk Theologians”— those who pick up different thoughts and ideas piecemeal from all sorts of sources with limited reflection and rigor. Additionally, we need less of the “Academic Theologians.” These are the types that don’t leave the Ivory Tower much… but reflect on theology disconnected from most of the church.

I think there is a place for the Ivory Towers of Religious Academia. However, the Ivory Towers should be full of muddy footprints. The inhabitants of the structures of academia should enter practical ministry and the public domain and interact with the church and its people at all levels. Additionally, Lay Theologians and Ministerial Theologians should be welcomed into these same structures to learn, challenge, and dialogue.

Muddy shoes in the ivory tower is not a sign of impurity or of the mundane or banal. Rather, they demonstrate a vibrancy that comes from interaction with the bigger world.

Years ago I visited a friend’s house. He was a banker and his house, though not palatial, certainly was impressive. The inside of the house was all white walls and white marble. It impressed, but was also rather cold. Then we went into the living room. There was a green throw rug in the center of this ivory-colored room. Bright colored toys were strewn about. In the center of the rug sat his 2-year old son playing with the mom. My friend apologized for the mess. He needn’t have done this. It was the most beautiful room in the house.

How Do You Know if a Story Does NOT Make Sense?

Many years ago, a missionary family visited our Bible study. This was several years before my wife and I went into missions. They showed us a children’s book they produced. It was based on a story of an Amazonian tribe with which they work. Just now I tried to look it up. I thought the tribe’s name started with a Y. The only tribe that I could find that might fit is “Yanomami.” But it doesn’t sound right. However, that was around 25 years ago. The story was populated with turtles and snakes and other animals from where they lived. These were the characters and they acted and talked and interacted in this story. The missionaries (I don’t remember their names either) said that they chose this story because “it was the least nonsensical” of the stories the tribe had like this. Truthfully, even that story did seem a bit random.

Were the stories of that tribe truly nonsensical? I really have no idea. The tribe lives in the Amazon basin and although I have been in Southern Brazil, I have never been anywhere near this tribe.

But I wonder if the stories were nonsensical to the members of the tribe. It is possible. The tribe is throughout most of its history an oral-based group— transmitting their stories parent to child by talk and perhaps by drama and song. Sometimes, stories become broken. I had mentioned a Scandanavian poem in a past post that was passed down orally from parent to child for many generation, even for those that moved to North America and lost the language of the poem. The version that was passed down to me was partly corrupted. But some other versions were worse. In our version, a dog goes “Woof Woof Woof.” However, a different corrupted form of the poem I found online had the animal that made that “Woof Woof Woof” sound was a crocodile. Why? Basically, it was a multi-generation game of telephone that had the added problem of people passing it on without understanding the language they were trying to speak.

Another possibility is that the story is not corrupted but that it lost its context. Many English language nursery rhymes today or joke poems from the 18th and 19th centuries fit into this. “Little Boy Blue” seems nonsensical but it makes a lot of sense if one knows what each character represented and what the context the poem was written for. “Ring Around the Rosie” is another example of this.

It is also true that there can be other things that make a story seem foolish. One is that oral stories are often told as serials. Because of this, they often have repetitive elements. Imagine someone telling the stories of an episodic series like the TV show “The Simpsons.” A lot of the stories seem foolish, but they become even more foolish as elements repeat for no reason or characters change qualities and motivations for no apparent reason. We may accept that in an episodic comedy show… but don’t know how to respond to it in an epic legend. Some early Christian writings, like the Infancy Gospels appear to hardly better than a word salad with a bunch of weird stories with weird morals lumped together. Perhaps kept as separate vignettes they may be instructive, or at least entertaining— but put together it is a uninspiring drudgery to go through.

Another issue is that we don’t always know what symbols mean over time. It has been noted that the book of Revelation (The Apocalypse) probably made a lot more sense to the 7 churches it was written to than it does to us today. There is the temptation of many to think the opposite. We can now imagine the ‘mark of the beast’ as being an RFID or an infrared tatoo. Or we may see 666 as clearly being a code, like a credit card number or National ID. Or maybe the locusts are actually attack helicopters. Probably, however, 2000 years has made us worse at understanding the book than better. The same can be with the stories from the tribal group. Perhaps if we have a good understanding of the role of a turtle or a snake in their stories, the stories would make a lot more sense.

Finally, sometimes things don’t seem to make sense because the lessons don’t connect with us now. I like listening to the podcast “Myths and Legends” and a lot of the lessons in a lot of old stories are pretty bad. Not all of them of course, but we sometimes the issue is not that we fail to understand them, but that we do understand them, but don’t like what they are saying. Conversely, in some cases our reading of these stories centuries later may totally miss the point. So, picking another Biblical example, perhaps when we read about Elisha calling down two bears to maul a few dozen young men, we SHOULD NOT see it as a reminder not to pick on bald prophets, but rather see it as the danger of rash anger when we are God’s representative.

Regardless, if a missionary hears a story from a people and it makes no sense… that should not end an investigation… it should be the beginning.

One famous Creation story in the Philippines speaks of the first Man and Woman (named Malakas, meaning strong, and Maganda, meaning beautiful). They came out of a bamboo plant that was split open by a great bird. The actual story is much longer… but stopping here for a moment. If we focus on the bamboo and why humans would come out of this sort of plant (or any plant at all) may miss the point. Perhaps it simply uses the items around them to let us know that Man and Woman are separate but always meant to be a unity. They are both independent and dependent. Both created by the gods and having qualities that are worthy of admiration.

The short answer to the question in the title is that in most cases we probably are not competent to identify whether a story is nonsensical or not. And if one is able to truly identify a nonsensical story, that doesn’t mean that one could not give it a valued meaning, just as one could misunderstand a story and make it nonsensical.

Decline or Refine of the Church

This is just some ramblings of my own. As such, set your expectations rather low. Thank you.

Consider the figure above. Let’s consider it to describe the growth of Christianity in the what could be described as Roman lands in the first few centuries AD. Don’t assume the image is at all accurate. Now imagine that the BLUE line describes the percentage of the population who SELF-IDENTIFY THEMSELVES AS CHRISTIANS. Now imagine that the RED line describes the percentage of the population that are TRUE FOLLOWERS OF CHRIST. While I am fully aware that we are not God and so we cannot know who is a true follower of Christ, I think most people in most any religious culture (including non-Christian cultures) can understand the idea that there is a difference between those who affiliate themselves with a religion and those who take their faith seriously.

In the first centuries, there was presumably little difference between the red and blue lines since there was little motivation to align oneself with a politically and economically dis-empowered religion that was, at least sporadically, persecuted. As such, one may assume that perceived growth of the church was quite important from the standpoint of Kingdom expansion.

However, as the fourth century progressed, Christianity gained favor with Roman emperors, such that things switched. It was now advantageous socially and politically to align oneself with Christianity. Money and status flowed into churches, church structures, and hierarchical structures. Some of that increase in percentage of Christians could, presumably, be true followers of Christ. It would, however, seem reasonable to assume that a fair bit of that growth was from those people who changed affiliation due to this shift in power. Certainly the monastic movement and the change of standards regarding who could be baptized at that time suggests that there were many in the church then who were concerned with this change.

Now, one could move forward to a time of Stagnation. That is, the percentage of self-identified Christians tops off and may even begin to decline. One could see this as the church is failing. However, another POSSIBLE interpretation is that the social status of Christianity in the society has lessened, and so some drift away. In this figure, the percentage of true followers of Christ is still increasing.

If one was so inclined one might surmise that the area under the red line (colored pinkish) is the power of God acting in that society. If that is the case, than what would the blue-ish area be? It would be the social power that the church has above and beyond the work of God.

Now you could complain about this sketch and its interpretation… and I think that many complaints would be quite fair.

BUT… there is a principle here that is worth considering. When the church is in decline in percentage of those in affiliation… or when the church is losing social influence in a society… IS THAT A BAD THING?

Maybe it is bad… or maybe not. What may look like a declining of a church can be refining. On the other hand what could be seen as a refining could be a true decline. I am from the US where many Evangelicals are bemoaning losing political influence in the country (and those that hope that ‘stacking the deck’ in the Supreme Court might in some way reverse what seems inevitable. But is the loss of political influence a bad thing? Power can be addicting… and the wrong type of power in the church can reap very bad fruit. Removing the enticement of power and status can lead to a refining of the faithful or a separating of the faithful from the unfaithful (but interacting with the faithful).

Reading the Church History of Eusebius of Antioch, he was simply thrilled that Emperor Constantine had given favored status and social power to Christians. While that wasn’t necessarily bad in some ways… the Church did begin to fall in love with that sort of societal power. In fact, when people complain about religion today, often it is the fascination with and quest for political or societal power by religious groups and leaders that is at or near the top of the list.

I am not attempting to promote a theology of decline. I just would hope that the Church can embrace a role as faithful servants of God and blessers of our (non-Christian) neighbors, rather than hoarders of political and social status and power.

IT IS HARD TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DECLINING AND REFINING.

AND WHEN IS GROWTH NOT ACTUALLY A GOOD THING.

Early Christian Missions History

I am being asked to teach a course in Missions History. I haven’t done that in a few years.

I will be using the 2004 Edition of “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” by Ruth Tucker. I like the book because it is a light but informative read. Because it is primarily biographical, people can often connect to it better (people tend to be more interested in people and stories, than events and facts). Tucker is willing to show missionaries, warts and all. Those who write biographies about missionaries that are almost hagiographic really do a disservice to the reader… AND the missionary. I also appreciate that she spends time on missions in a wide variety of its flavors— old and new, men and women, Catholic and Protestant, First World and Majority World, etc. The only major complaint I have with the book is not even a complaint about the book itself, but the risk associated with the strategy. When missions history of the church is built on biographies of missionaries, there is the risk that people will think it is all about a few limited missionaries. Carlyle’s “Great Man” Theory of World History has, sadly, soaked into Christian Church and Missions history. That being said, I don’t believe the book ever suggests an embracing of this perspective.

I do wish that Missions History books would focus more on First Millennium Missions. There are few good books on this, as far as I can see. Stephen Neill’s book on Christian Missions (a good book over all) only spends 50 pages on the first 15 centuries (around 3 pages per century). Here are a couple I would recommend.

  1. Mission and Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries, by Adolf Harnack. This is a relatively old book (1908), but the scholarship is excellent. It is available for free at CCEL (https://www.ccel.org/ccel/harnack/mission.html). Sadly, the CCEL editor for the book’s page writes seemingly with the goal of steering people away from the book. The editor notes Harnack’s preference of the Synoptic Gospels over the Gospel of John. This has little relevance to the book. However, Harnack’s concern of Greek philosophical influence on early Christian writings is a quite valid concern and should be considered. Anyway, I strongly recommend reading the book, and it is FREE. Also, Harnack’s book devotes more than 100 pages per century.
  2. The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. by Philip Jenkins. This book is exactly 100 years more recent— 2008. It looks at church and missions history outside of the drift to the Northeast from Jerusalem. This is actually a huge part of Christian history. And for comparison, it devotes approximately 30 pages per century. It is very much still in print, so recommend you search for it— such as in Amazon.