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.

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