I have been reading the book “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. He came up with this awkward acronym (he freely admits this awkwardness). It stands for:

What You See Is All There Is

Kahneman speaks of two Systems of Thinking— System 1 and System 2. System 1 is intuitive and unconscious (Fast). System 2 is thought-laden and conscious (Slow). Both processes are lazy (or efficient if you prefer). Both like to operate heuristically, utilizing mental short-cuts or thumb rules— especially System 1.

One of those mental short-cuts is WYSIATI. Often this is a bad short-cut. An example of this is in magic tricks. I remember watching a show on TV where a magician with assistants put up a screen in the middle of a big field. The narrator talks for a bit and then when the screen was removed there was a tank (as in very large military vehicle). It did seem quite amazing until they showed things from a different angle. From a camera angle from higher up where the screen was not blocking the view, we see that as soon the screen is in place, at the very far end of the long field an object begins to move. It is the tank. It slowly lumbers across the field until it is quite close to the screen. Then the screen is removed and there it is. Once one sees how it is done, one is struck by, “Why in the world did I find this amazing?” The answer is that, unless we make a conscious effort otherwise, we make the mental short-cut, WYSIATI. Before the screen is in place we see a vacant field. When the screen is in place, the camera doesn’t change its position, and the sound is muted except for the voice-over from the narrator. The mind just assumes things are as they were— what we saw is all there is.

As Christians we are sometimes quick to complain about scientists who seem to follow this perspective Many embrace a form of Empiricism or Naturalism that at its worst boils down to WYSIATI.

But we can fall into the same trap. Perhaps in Evangelical circles this can be especially true. It does seem like in Evangelical theology we don’t like to honor the idea of Mystery. Far too often rather than accepting there is much out there that we know nothing about, we try to make up answers based on our own ignorance. It is like a Jehovah’s Witness lady who was a friend of a friend many years ago. She claimed to understand fully everything in the Bible. It is a great way to preserve one’s beliefs and biases. I know everything— there is nothing more to learn. Sometimes the catchphrase used by some, “Sufficiency of Scripture” is a mental shortcut for assuming that there is nothing more out there.

This is rather strange. After all, we often look with great fondness, even with applause, those scientists and great thinkers in history who saw exploration of the created world as a way of studying God (if the universe is a creation of God, it is then a revelation of God).

This greatly contrasts with Charles Hodge, 19th century theologian, who (if his own words accurately describe himself) decided that early Reformed theologians got it all right, and so his job was to pass along that body of knowledge to the next generation without any corrections or improvements. In essence, he was to be an indoctrinater rather than an educator– or a theologian.

This is a mental short-cut of the same form. Whatever they found is all there is. No mystery, no exploration, no uncertainty.

I think we can do better. Kahneman notes that we can consciously avoid WYSIATI. The key point is that it is conscious— with intent. Centuries ago, may thought that the universe was small and simple. Lights shining through holes in the dark sky and a few roving lights above a flat or curved land. But eventually we were able to see further out, and further in, to discover that the world of God’s making is vastly greater and more magnificent than we could ever have imagined. But as incomprehensible is this universe we are in and the One who created it, it is no less incomprehensible than those Christians who seek to make the Universe small—- closing their minds off to the possibility that there is more than their eyes behold.

Are There Concerns With Linking the Sinner’s Prayer with Salvation?

Today, I was in a Bible Study. It was an evangelistic bible study. It was rather interesting. For one thing, the facilitator used Ecclesiastes. He focused on our need for purpose in life— about what truly gives life meaning. That was, I believe a far superior strategy to, for example, the ones that try to scare the person into a guided response.

After the presentation, the facilitator led those who wished to join in saying what has been called “The Sinner’s Prayer.” After the prayer, the facilitator said something to the effect that, “If you have said this prayer with me, I believe that God working in your life to draw you closer to Him.” I like that statement. I fully agree with that statement. Sadly, however, the Sinner’s Prayer often has a pretty sketchy theology supporting it. However, I fully support the way the facilitator used it.

Far too many use the Sinner’s Prayer in ways that I consider problematic. Here are a few of my concerns:

#1. It is often used to define who ARE NOT saved. If a person is deeply committed to God, and faith in Jesus Christ, but comes from a denomination or church that does not use the Sinner’s Prayer, the presumption is that certainly this person is not saved. I have seen statistics that between 5 and 10 of Filipinos are Christian. Of course, over 90% of Filipinos describe themselves as Christians. Why the discrepancy? The 5-10% essentially describes the percentage of Filipinos who are associated with Evangelical churches… or churches that embrace Historical Christianity and the use of the Sinner’s Prayer. Apparently 100% of those involved with Evangelical churches are Christian and 0% of those involved with other churches are Christian. I doubt this is a good assumption. I believe eternity will have a lot more, and a lot less, people than we are tempted to assume.

#2. It is often used to define who ARE saved. There is a tendency to declare that when people say, pray, or think the Sinner’s Prayer, they are now saved. Sometimes I wonder if Christians find the simplicity of the Shahada as appealing. In Islam, if some confesses the Shahada, the core statement of faith of Islam, AND MEANS IT, that person is now recognized as a Muslim. Christianity is more muddy. We are supposed to believe certain things certainly, but salvation is firmly linked to following Jesus, and yet grounded in grace rather than works. That muddiness makes it difficult to determine who really is a “Real Christian.” The book of I John addresses this very issue, but the focus is on how a person can self-examine to determine if he or she is a child of God, but it does not give firm guidance for others. The end of the matter is that God judges the heart and we do not. And that would be great except for two things. First, we want to have good statistics. Doing evangelistic medical missions, we wanted to have good numbers to share with others to show how successful we are. Murkiness is not as inspirational as clear numbers. The same goes for revivals. We want numbers that seem unambiguous. Measuring how many people walked forward at an altar call is easy to measure compared to how many are being molded in to the image of Christ over a period of time. Second, we want to treat Real Christians very different from those who are not-so-Real. More on that later.

#3. It lessens the Christian faith. Christians are no longer those who are following Christ, living according to the Great Commandment, and led by God’s Spirit to live holy lives, and bless those around them. Instead, it is people who can recite an event where they said something at some point in time. Those who are followers of Christ and walking in the Spirit demonstrate this in exhibiting the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, gentleness, goodness…. ). That should be a pretty good (but not absolute) test… but with so many Christians not demonstrating this, Christianity can slip into what the revivalists (originally) wanted to stop. The revivalists saw lukewarmness in the church and in so-called Christian communities, and so wanted to get people fired up for God. The altar call was a way to quantify it. But in placing so much emphasis on the altar call and saying the Sinner’s Prayer, people could fall back to lukewarmness and carnality with the comforting assurance that they are Real Christians.

#4. We want to treat Real Christians different from not-so-Real. In evangelical circles we like to clearly separate between evangelism (leading people to Christ) and discipleship (guiding those already saved to grow in their faith). However, this division breaks down if we don’t really know who is saved and who is not. Paul Hiebert addressed this issue by suggesting that we should look at Christianity in terms of a centered set with an uncertain boundary. We don’t necessarily know who is redeemed by God, but we know that our task is to guide people closer to Christ. Therefore, evangelism should not really be seen as a separate activity. We disciple all bringing them closer to Christ without knowing exactly where they are in this process. I recall being hired by Founder’s Inn, a resort that was owned by Pat Robertson and CBN. As a secular business they were not supposed to ask about our faith, but they did anyway. However, they did not ask about how I sought to live out a holy life, obeying the Great Commandment, expressing love to all people, and encouraging fellow Christians to great Christlikeness. They asked me to describe my “conversion experience”— that is, when I said the Sinner’s Prayer. Not a very useful question for a job interview.

#5. The focus on the Sinner’s Prayer sometimes leads to even more shortcuts. Some try to scare people to follow Jesus. I never saw much value in that one… but it was the method we used in doing medical missions. I have used it before. One method I was taught, the Dunamis Method, seems to be nothing more than guilt-tripping Christians (who already believe in Jesus, the Trinity, salvation through faith, and the grace of God) to say the Sinner’s Prayer. Since the method does nothing to change people’s minds or hearts, I see it as nothing more than a trick to get Christians to be identified as Christian by Evangelicals.

There are other issues. That being said, I am not anti-Evangelical. In fact, doctrinely, I fit pretty comfortably in the Evangelical camp (despite the growing toxic culture forming in much of American Evangelicalism). I think there is need for slight adjustments.

One can still be convinced that God at some point in time, transitions a person’s status to that of being adopted into the family of God. One can firmly believe this without necessarily knowing at what exact point in time that occurs. In other words, embrace Paul Hiebert’s set theory of centered set Christianity with uncertain boundaries.

If we can embrace the call to follow Christ faithfully and encourage every Christian to be a blessing to all people in message and in action, discipling all who seek it, I believe the Sinner’s Prayer has a role in identifying through confession the intentions of a person… and recognition that God is indeed doing a work in his or her life.

However, for what it’s worth, I think I would rather see a new believer recite the Lord’s (or Disciple’s) Prayer rather than the Sinner’s Prayer. It expresses faith better than the Sinner’s Prayer, and is typically tied to community— an act of the church with the individual, rather than simply the act of the individual alone. But that is just my opinion. That view may change over time.

Contemporary Issues in Missions— Part Two

Continuation of Part One. I am speaking of issues to deal with in a class I will be teaching in a couple of weeks.

So what are very relevant issues that are contemporary and worth focusing on? This is only an eight-week course, and the final two weeks are for students to share a contemporary issue they choose to research and share. That means that I choose six topics.

#1. The Challenges to “4-F Missionaries.” This is a term that I use for “Foreign, Full-time, Fully funded, Forever” missionaries. The challenges on each of these descriptors have been around for awhile. The challenges make us rethink who is a missionary and who is not. They challenge our traditional view of ‘missionary calling.’ But with the pandemic, the challenges have grown. Because of some recent changes, I am only spending half of my time in the Philippines instead of full-time. Despite that I am teaching in the Philippines full-time, through online teaching. Now suppose I spent all of my time outside of the Philippines, could I be thought of as a full-time missionary to the Philippines if I am ministering online to those in the Philippines?

These concerns have been around from the beginning even if we did not always focus on them. Many people consider Paul to be the greatest missionary of all time (I feel like we are would need a God’s-eye view to make such a judgment). Paul was not fully-funded. Paul was not foreign… most of those he ministered to were Hellenized people of a fairly similar culture to himself. He arguable was not even full-time. He ministered full-time, but he spent considerable time in Antioch between mission trips, and spent several years in Ephesus as well. And frankly, he was a good churchplanter, but the thing that makes him ‘great’ in terms of missions was the influence he exerted on the history of the church through his writings. In other words, his greatest influence in terms of missions on church history was in ministry work that was away from where he was actually resided. It may be an old issue… but it is more relevant than ever.

#2. Honor and Shame Missions. This has been a big issue for some years now. However, it seems to be going mainstream and sneaking into theological development. I have also been wondering whether we need to look at other paradigms of missions and theology as well. For example, Robert Strauss has spoken of Justice cultures, Honor cultures, Reciprocity cultures, and Harmony cultures. Is there a place for all four to provide paradigms for theological and missiological development? Anyway, in the Philippines, there still is a tendency to define “good theology” is what comes from America. Rethinking theology and missions in a new setting needs to be driven home.

#3. Localization of Theology. Bosch and Hiebert and others have spoken of Self-theologizing of the local church. This is still thought of as controversial by many (most?) but it is starting to go mainstream. But that has led to several concerns: What is GOOD local theology? How does one DO local theology? How does one identify FLAWED or heterodox theology?

#4. Missionary Member Care. Okay, I have to explain this one. Missionary Member Care is NOT NEW. But in New Sending Countries such as the Philippines it is still pretty new. I remember a few years ago leading a training in missionary member care where my host warned the audience here in the Philippines that what I would be sharing was “controversial.” I did not consider this as remotely controversial. However, I have heard some missionaries and church leaders speaking of mission work as suffering. There is suffering in missions, but some seemed to think that missions real if there is suffering, and missionaries who struggle are “Weak” and perhaps “not truly called to serve God.” In the US, MMC is old news, but it is still being developed here in Asia.

#5. Shift to Great Urban Centers. For a long time it was cutting edge to talk about UPG (unreached people groups) or UUPGs (unreached and unengaged people groups). There are still those who think of it as cutting edge. However, missions is changing fast, and urban ministry is becoming central in missions. This urban ministry shows itself in dealing with multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-racial settings and people where UPG just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And with the huge growth of certain cities (Great Urban Centers, GUCs). If one likes Ralph Winter’s Three Wave model for Protestant Missions, it could be argued that the GUCs define a fourth wave.

#6. Orality Movement. Bible Storying from New Tribes, and other systems, have been with us for some time, acknowledging that there are groups that cannot read. However, in more recent times, the movement has grown and transformed. Orality is also about how we learn, dealing with cultures and sub-cultures that CAN read but DON’T or WON’T, or who learn better through oral processes. It has also moved into things such as Bible translation and theological education. In other words, Orality is not simply a tool, but but from hermeneutics, to pedagogy, to visual and performance arts, it is becoming a major field with the potential for great impact in all parts of the world.

Obviously these are only a few… and perhaps not the best. Hopefully, my students will then choose even better issues for their own presentations.

Contemporary Issues in Missions– Part One

I will be teaching a class called “Contemporary Issues in Missions” at Asia Graduate Theological Seminary (ABGTS). Although I teach a lot of missions, and have been involved in a few types of missions, that doesn’t mean that I am on the cutting edge of the missions movement. For a number of years I had relied (at least on the undergraduate level) upon two books that spoke of trends and issues of recent years in missions:

Stan Guthrie Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

James Engel and William Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? Downer’s Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 2000.

The problem of each is that they were published 22 years ago (and researched and written before that). As such, some of the issues are not really issues anymore.

For example, one of the issues was “The Southern Shift of the Church.” Christianity has been growing strongly in Africa, Asia, South America and more. The “Old Sending Countries” of North America and Europe are sending out less missionaries, and the church in these places are seen as a bit stagnant (or worse). “New Sending Countries” have been taking up the slack and are gaining more influence worldwide. When I came to the Philippines in 2004, some of the wonder of this transition was still felt. American missionaries still had a strong presence but many were in the process of leaving. Many Philippine Christians were wondering what the future would hold. Although there were Filipinos who were going out to do missions— it was a great novelty.

But things have changed. I used to use Charles Kraft’s book on Cultural Anthropology for ABGTS. I felt pretty good about that until one year when my class (made up of students from Samoa, Myanmar, and the Philippines) started asking me why the book would say this and that. I found myself repeating myself. I would end up saying something like this… “Well, Kraft was writing this back decades ago for students in the United States who pretty much don’t understand Christianity in terms of other cultures.” The more I was explaining this, I began to realize that I should have let the textbook go (we use textbooks longer in the Philippines than in some countries). Even though Kraft was trying to break down biases that needed to be broken down, But these students don’t have these biases. And today, Filipinos that I talk to feel nothing strange about missionaries being Filipino, Asian, African or anything else. While there still is a lingering tendency to think that foreign religious leaders are a bit more experts than local leaders (a deeply flawed assumption— I stifle a scream every time someone I talk to express a theological opinion and then ‘prooftext’ their belief by quoting John MacArthur or some other self-styled expert). But even that is SLOWLY fading.

This doesn’t make the book by Guthrie useless, or the book by Engel and Dyrness. It is a snapshot of issues. It is like looking back at the missionary conferences of the IMC, WCC, and Lausanne movements. They identify the concerns and values of the time. I have the book “Understanding Christian Missions” by J. Herbert Kane from the late 70s. It deals with issues of the “Three Worlds” (first, second, and third world countries), the Cold War, and the independence movements that were removing the shackles of colonial powers. There is value in studying these… but the issues of the these different times disappear, are replaced, or morph.

Part 2 will look at the topics I am going to have in the class.

Good “Missional Grumpiness”?

As one who has been a missionary for closing in on 20 years, I can get grumpy on things for various reasons. For example, I feel the temptation to say, “THE JOSHUA PROJECT IS A WASTE OF TIME!!”

That may not be totally true. Focusing on people groups is not necessarily the most valuable thing today… and maybe it never was. But perhaps it inspires some churches and Christians to think more multi-culturally and and pray beyond themselves. (Or maybe it is simply a waste of time. Not sure.)

I can get grumpy in missions for a couple of reasons.

#1. I can get grumpy because I am set in my ways. I was trained in a certain way, and I practiced missions in a certain way, and I have a certain theology that I don’t want to question. So encouragement to change makes me grumpy.

#2. I can get grumpy because certain things in missions is taught as dogma (like UPGs and UUPGs) that seem to either not be true or at least isn’t helpful in may situations (or may have been useful before, but the time is passing.).

“Grumpiness” is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a SYMPTOM. But what happens when one has a symptom? A symptom is not a problem. A symptom points to a problem… or one of several problems. For example, a cough is not a problem. It is a symptom that points to one of several problems. It lets us know that there is something wrong and needs to be dealt with. Missional grumpiness is a symptom… but it can have more causes. I must take that symptom and reflect. Is there something in missions that needs to change? Is there something in me that needs to change? Either way, it points towards the need of positive change. So, I think that all grumpiness is… good— unless it is not addressed. Then it is bad.

I guess that is why I enjoyed a podcast recently, because it dealt (positively) with a lot of issues— challenging some missions dogma that truly needs to be challenged. The title of the podcast episode is ‘Glurbanization,’ Church Planting, and Why Our Definition of ‘People Group’ Is Outdated: Dr. Michael Crane. It addressed several ‘sacred cows’ in missions that I was already really conflicted about— and even brought up an issue or two that I hadn’t really thought through very much (like whether house churches are good, or bad, or ‘it depends’).