Missions History versus Church History

I am working on teaching a course on Missions History. I have taught it before, but this version is for MaxFlex online learning which means I need to put more work in up front.

As I was developing it, I began thinking about Missions History in how it is different from Church History. Obviously the two are related, but there are stark differences. Any course on Church History would spend a lot of time talking about the Council of Nicea (325 AD). Another major event would be the “Great Schism” of 1054AD. I barely am mentioning the Council of Nicea, and I don’t think I will mention the Great Schism at all except obliquely.

Why is that? On first reflection, the obvious answer is that Missions History is a subset of Church History. This subset involves how the Christian church reaches out beyond itself to interact with and impact the broader world.

But as I thought more I realized that Church History is also a subset of something bigger. The History of the Church is very broad because the character, beliefs, activities, organizations, and participants associated with the Church over about two millennia is vast.

Obviously history cannot cover everything that happens. History is not reality, nor is it even a recording of reality. It is a artificial human construct to draw attention to patterns and meanings in the past.

Still, Church History is commonly much more narrow than it should be for having a name that sounds so broad. Typically, Church History is built around “Three C’s”:

-Creeds

-Councils

-Conflicts

This list is not all encompassing. I suppose that one could argue others as well (like Movements). However, many aspects of the church are not emphasized in Church History (at least as I have seen it presented). These include History of Local Church Ministry (member care and community ministry), History of Theology (thus having its own course, “Historical Theology.”), History of Liturgy, and more.

Missions History is definitely a subset of the History of the Church, but it is not really a subset of Church History as it is generally presented. This is fine— I have nothing wrong with that. However, I guess I wish that Church History was either a bit broader in its foci, or just call it what it is— “Conflicts and Movements in the History of the Church.”

Top Post Views in 2022

It is November 18, 2022, so I reckon it is late enough in the year to note the posts most viewed this year. I made some minor changes to some of them to make them more useful. This year has been the best year for views on this website with over 20,000 views. That is hardly impressive but as one who just writes what I feel like writing about with little to no attention to SEO, or even common-sense ideas to draw people in, I am happy. <Not that it matters, but the numbers below show views based on unique selections, not views from scrolling through contents.>

#1. Sodalities and Modalities in Missions. (568 views this year) I happen to like this post but I am shocked that it was Number One. I have written on sodality and modality structures before without much interest from others. This was an early draft of a section of my book on Missions Theology (“Walking With” as Metaphor for Mission Theology). I think one of the values of this post is that it also gives a bit of a hint at why Protestants were so slow to get active in Christian missions (beyond the more obvious). I added a couple of diagrams to this post because the book has them.

#2. Critique on Evangelism, Part One. (306 views this year) This is an old post of mine but I still agree with it. I do believe Evangelism is important but there are deep problems in the underlying theology as well as the methodology of it. Much evangelism probably is not even evangelism—- but just getting Christians to change denomination or affiliation. I added links so that subsequent parts of the post series can more easily be found.

#3. Non-violent Response and Self-Purification. (305 views this year) This is a quote, with comments, of a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. I believe MLK is a good example for Christians in how to behave transformationally in a diseased culture. It seems like Christians (in the US at least) seem to think that riling themselves up is how to get change. Maybe it is… but it is not the right change.

#4. Cultural Perspective and the Prodigal Son. (288 views this year) I did not write anything particularly original here, but noted findings of others as to how much one’s own cultural worldview colors how we interpret the Bible. It is a massive blindspot, and blindspots can only be managed if they are acknowledged.

#5. Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part One. (283 views this year). Many years ago, my wife and I were part of a team that organized dozens of medical mission events in the Philippines. My dissertation was based on doing medical mission events in the Philippines. This post and the follow-on posts are from the dissertation. I modified this post so that it links to the other posts more efficiently. The dissertation was also modified into a short book that is available by CLICKING HERE.

#6. Three Stages of Prophecy and Word. (261 views this year). Some years ago I did some teaching in Biblical Theology (NOT my specialty). I noted that from the time of the Northern and Southern kingdoms through to the Intertestamental Period there is a transition from reliance on the spoken word (through prophets) with limited reliance on written text to gradual reliance on the written text. Prophecy was not seen as completely disappearing We see a gradual lessening of the role of prophecy but not its eradication. However, what disappears is oral prophecy seen as authoritative or “canon.” We see the same thing in the 1st century… transition from oral canon to written canon. I think the post provides a middle ground perspective between those who see Bible-era prophecy as both contemporary and fully authoritative, and those who see it as gone and never to be seen again.

#7. Problems with Spiritual Gifts. (252 views this year). I used to teach Spiritual gift assessments. I started out with the commonly accepted view of many that spiritual gifts are a major missing component in understanding of the functioning of the church. Over time I began to question a lot of what I was teaching especially as much of the information appeared to be simply made up. I don’t want to completely disrespect the idea (it is a Biblical term even if some of the interpretations don’t appear to be Biblical) so I just think of these issues as problems.

#8. The Missionary Journeys of Peter, Part One. (225 views this year). While Paul is the only missionary/apostle of the primitive church of whom we get detailed travel information over a sizable period of time. There are others such as Peter for whom we do know some regarding travels.

The highest number of views of a post that I wrote this year was “Is Kabunian Jesus? Part One”

Quote on Story-telling by Dorothy L. Sayers (and Reflections)

It is easy enough for superior persons to scorn the story-teller’s art and patronise his unsophisticated audience. Story-telling (so they say, and I will not deny it) is a knack often possessed by very vulgar and illiterate writers; the eagerness to know ‘what happened next’ is (no doubt) a mark of the eternal child in us. … The good story-teller is born, not made, and this is perhaps the reason why his art is despised by the learned, for learning can neither bestow it nor account for it.

-Dorothy L. Sayers, in ‘The Eighth Bolgia’ as quoted in “Cred Without Chaos– Exploring Theology in the WRitings of Dorothy L. Sayers” by Laura K. Simmons (page 45).

I recall a class I took in college called “Modernist Literature.” I took the class back in the mid-1980s, so I don’t know how the term Modernist is used now, but back then the term seemed to mean a rejection of the normal rules of narrative— the art of story-telling. I recall reading an article written by an author in the Modernist movement who was doing a bit of soul-searching on paper. She seemed to be struggling with the fact that she has spent so long writing in a manner that rejects the rules of story-telling, she may have lost the ability to tell a regular story.

It is entirely possible, however, that she never had that ability. Telling stories that are engaging is difficult. This can be even more difficult when it comes religious writings where one is, hopefully, trying to be both creative/challenging and orthodox (or at least not clearly heterodox). I wonder at times whether preachers use the parables of Jesus not only because they are honoring the canonicity of Scripture, but also because of fear in creating stories to help people today understand the ineffable.

I have heard people speak with derision of writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs (stories from Pellucidar, Mars, and Africa— all heavily fictionalized). I recall reading his stories where the first 20 or 30 pages were a bit slow and confusing— disparate story threads meandering around. Then suddenly they come together and I, as the reader, am pulled in. I have to know what happens. This is an art. I am not completely sure that Sayers is correct it is born, not made, but maybe it is. I certainly am not a storyteller. I try… but I don’t really have that gift.

Our faith needs storytellers— in various media forms. I watched “The Most Reluctant Convert”— This was a biopic on the life, or at least conversion experience, of C.S. Lewis. I enjoyed the movie well enough. It reminded me a LITLE bit of “Many Beautiful Things” on the life of the missionary Lilias Trotter. Both avoided a strict narrative structure. I am not sure if that helped or hut. With the film on Trotter, her water colors helped. With Lewis, I kind of think that the producers of the movie wanted too much to be didactic. Perhaps the movie “Luther” (on the life of Martin Luther) or even “Shadowlands” would have been a better choice.

Still, far too often, Christian media has shied away from the art of storytelling. I watched a movie recently— “I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore.” It is a very rough movie with some subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) religious themes. I would not call it a Christian movie. Still, I feel like the movie, with its strong storying could easily be reimagined as a faith journey.

I have put an article I wrote on storytelling on this site (it already exists elsewhere, and it is in the 2022 edition of “Bukal Life Journal.”) The Link is Below.

Theological Reflection through Storying in the Orality and Clinical Pastoral Training Movements

On My Bookshelf at the Moment

I am in the US right now so I like to think of it as a good time to catch up on reading. That hasn’t been as true as I would like it to be. Nevertheless, I have been making some progress. Here are the one’s I am pushing through.

#1. Becoming a Missional Family; Fulfilling God’s Purpose in and through Your Family. <by P.C. Matthews. Urban India Ministries, 2014> This is not the type of book I would normally read, but I am glad that I am reading it. A student of mine is doing a paper on “Missional Families,” so in helping to research it, I came upon this book. It is a short book and I am 40% through it. It is a book written in Asia in Asian context. However, it seems to me to be broadly applicable. I will probably review it when I am done reading it.

#2. Four Views on the Church’s Mission. <edited by Jason S. Sexton and Stanley N. Gundry. Zondervan, 2017> What is the role of the church in God’s mission? While it seems like this is something that should have gotten worked out awhile ago, in many ways it seems to be a modern question. Voetius addressed this back in the 1600s but different views continue. The four views in the book are described as (a) Soteriological Mission, (b) Participatory Mission, (c) Contextual Mission, and (d) Ecumenical-Political Mission. Although I have only finished the introduction and part the first view. I am pretty sure that I am going to end up with a common view for me— all of them have a point. All of the short descriptions sound like they have merit. But that is fine. Truth tends to be in the nuanced overlaps, not in strictly walled categories.

#3. Encountering the History of Missions: From the Early Church to Today <by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher. Baker Academic, 2017> I will be starting to teach an online class in Missions History. In the past, I have used Ruth Tucker’s book, “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.” However, the 2nd edition is rather pricey for some of my students, so I am going with Encountering. This book does have the same problem I have for most mission history books— the great focus on post-Reformation missions, and little on missions of the Eastern churches. Still a quick perusal of the book looks very promising.

#4. Creed Without Chaos– Exploring Theology in the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers <by Laura K. Simmons. Baker Academic, 2005> Dorothy Sayers is one I have little knowledge of except for several very interesting quotes. However, I have loved reading theology by thoughtful lay-theologians. I think their non-academic perspective often brings good things into view. I think this is especially true of writers whose fame comes from non-theological and non-academic works.

Additionally, I am using this time to go through and fix my book, “Ministry in Diversity.” It is a book on Cultural Anthropology— or better said, on Missionary Anthropology. I find the book useful for my class in the Philippines, but feel like I need to upgrade it for general consumption. Hopefully, I will be done with it before I travel back to the Philippines.

By the way, the two most successful books online are:

The Art of Pastoral Care

Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative and Culture

Both of them are shockingly inexpensive— especially in Kindle Format.

Considered Quote on Missionaries

As I have noted before, I don’t have problems not being called a missionary. The term most definitely has baggage. In fact, although the best Biblical term for missionary is “apostle,” I strongly recommend avoiding that term as the 2nd century church reinterpreted the term as a closed role associated with the Twelve— still a commonly held view by many. And seeing how Peter Wagner and friends have abused the term, it is probably best to never use the term term “apostle” today since it will invariably confuse and misinform. That same thing can be true of the term missionary where it is seen as old-fashioned (under gentle consideration) and imperialistic and exploitative in hasher reviews. For me, I am pretty comfortable with saying that I am a “cross-cultural minister” or use more exact terminology like “seminary professor” or “counseling center administrator.”

That being said, I do believe in redemption of terms. We don’t necessarily have to throw out a day of the year, or a term, simply because someone uses it in a way that we don’t like. Or, perhaps better said, one shouldn’t simply reaction— one must look at many different facets of something first. I do agree, for example, with the move in Christian ministry away from using the term “Crusade.” Although there is some in-group appreciation of the term hearkening back to revivalism and the saw-dust trail, pretty much all other facets are negative. It utilizes the war metaphor (one that has SOME value, but probably should be used less), points back to a unhealthy chapter of church history (even though the term wasn’t used back then), and is seen very negatively by many outsiders. Some symbols need to change.

However, I still have hopes for the term “missionary” despite its negative associations. Maybe someday it can be used positvely in places where it is seen negatively. A quote that I think gives a nice balance on this is one that I found in “Encountering the History of Mission” by John Mark Terry, Robert L Gallagher (Baker Academic, 2017). The quote is from Kenneth Scott Latourette, a great historian of Missions. In 1929 he stated regarding missionaries, particularly in China,

The missionaries were the one group of foreigners whose major endeavor was to make the impact of the West upon the Middle Kingdom of benefit to the Chinese. Bigoted and narrow they frequently were, occasionally superstitions, and sometimes domineering and serenely convinced of the superiority of Western culture and of their own particular form of Christianity. When all that can be said in criticism of the missionaries has been said, however, and it is not a little, the fact remains that nearly always at considerable and very often a great sacrifice they came to China, and in unsanitary and uncongenial surroundings, usually with insufficient stipends, often at the cost of their own lives or the lives that were dearer to them than their own, labored indefatigably for an alien people who did not want them or their message. Whatever may be the final judgment on the major premises, the method, and the results of the missionary enterprise, the fact cannot be gainsaid that for sheer altruism and heroic faith here is one of the bright pages in the history of the race,.

Kenneth Scott Latourette quoted in “Encountering the History of Mission” page 360.

“Three Als” Quote (Mission-Al, Attraction-Al, Incarnation-Al)

“(Michael) Frost and (Alan) Hirsch who are great proponents of the missional church, make a clear distinction between incarnational and attractional churches. They see incarnational churches as the opposite of attractional churches. The attractional church, as they see it, does everything possible within the church to get more people flocking to the church, often ignoring their commitment to the community. This leads to a come-to-us stance rather than a go-to-them mentality. But I see missional families as both incarnational and attracti others to them. The missional familhy is incarnational because they do not detach themselves from the reality of their community, but are intrinsically connected to the needs of their own community and context. As Frost and Hirsch describe, ‘it seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don’t yet know him.’ Missional families are also attractional because they live out a Christ-like lifestyle, which is noticed by others and draws others to them. Truly missional families will both shine out the life of Christ, attracting others like a lighthouse, and will also be actively engaged in the community within their own context as the presence of God to the community.’

P.C. Matthew, “Becoming a Missional Family–Fulfilling God’s Purpose in and through Your Family.” (Bangaluru, India: Urban India Missions, 2014), Chapter 2

Note: The quote of Frost and Hirsch is from their book, “The Shape of Things to Come–Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church.”

Orality on Youtube

I have been watching some videos on the Orality movement, with focus on Oral Hermeneutics and Character Theology. It has been interesting. The hosts are Billy Coppedge and Ricki Gidoomal. The primary instructors are Tom Steffen and Bill Bjoraker. One of those videos, I was able to join as a (mostly) lurker. I have considerable interest in storying and narrative theology and contextual theology so I have found it interesting. If you are interested, I do recommend going to the video channel or the podcast channel. Below is the video that I was able to sit in on. Hopefully I will be able to join the next one.

Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7qDsOdAVRN4Z9ravw5ddeg

Podcast: God Speaks: Lausanne Orality Network