Book Review: “Encountering the History of Missions”

The book, “Encountering the History of Mission: From the Early Church to Today” by John Mark Terry and Robert L. Gallagher, is part of the Encountering Missions series of books. It was published in 2017 by Baker Academic.

I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in Christian missions— especially Evangelical Christian missions. I don’t have major problems with it— most of points are either positive or of a more neutral nature. Therefore I will list my points together.

  1. The book is very readable in terms of content, style, and format. I found that I wanted to continue reading to finish a chapter, and then move to the next chapter to see “what happens next.” That in itself is strongly in its favor.
  2. It balances well between events, organizations, movements, and individuals. Missions history is primarily the work of God. Secondarily, it is the work of various religious, sociological, political movements. Third is the people involved. Missionaries did not MAKE missions happen, but responded positively to the work of God and their place in history. That is my view at least. Terry and Gallagher’s book balances things well.
  3. The book embraces what I might describe as a “Generous Orthodoxy” (drawing the term from Brian McLaren). The book is quite respectful of missions from a variety of Christian groups including Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Celtic, “Nestorian,” Russian Orthodox, and many faith traditions among Protestant groups. Some negative portrayals are reserved for the Roman Catholic church (especially in ways it worked against Christian missions and Protestant missions), but the work of RC missionaries is portrayed more positively. The only “historically” Christian group involved in missions that seems to never be described positively (as far as I noticed) was the World Council of Churches, and it missions (“conciliar missions”). More on that later.
  4. The target audience for the book is Protestant Evangelical. A little over half the book is focused on Protestant missions. As the book nears the present, the focus moved more to Evangelical missions. That being said, non-Protestant, non-Evangelical missions is given its place of prominence, especially in past centuries.
  5. I struggled to get a grasp of what the authors’ definition of missions was. Perhaps a reread of the book would clarify this. However, in a couple of places, I found the issue of definition problematic. In Chapters 7 and 11, Christian missions seemed to include what I might call, “Getting people to leave their church to start attending my church.” Chapter 7 attempted to support the notion that the early reformers (most notably Martin Luther and John Calvin) were indeed missional— despite anything that I would consider good support of this. Their argument that Luther and Calvin were missional was based on the fact that and their followers worked hard to get people to leave their own churches and join their churches. Chapter 11 is supposed to be about Methodist Missions, with focus on the Wesleys. However, the great majority of the chapter spoke of their ministry to people who are already Christians. Perhaps the desire to include the Methodist movement, with its link to the Moravians, and to the later ‘Holiness Movement’ made the inclusion feel necessarily. Missions has often included denominational efforts to get people to change churches. I am an Evangelical missionary in the Philippines. Ministry work to get Catholics to become Evangelical is commonly seen as a valid form of Christian missions. However, in other parts of the book, it seems like missions about reaching those who don’t identify as Christian. Thus, I am a bit confused.
  6. Generally, the book did a pretty good job of separating between missions history and church history. To me at least, Church history tends to focus on Creeds, Councils, Controversies, and Conflicts. Generally, the book avoided these. Perhaps it would have been of benefit to integrate more of these in since missions history is in many ways an outworking of church history. For me, however, I feel like keeping the focus on missions was probably the correct choice.
  7. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter on Specialized Missions, a lot was ignored. There was little to nothing on Social Justice, Community Development, Missionary Member Care, Theological education, Interreligious Dialogue, and more. Not everything can be covered in one chapter of course. Still, I feel like some more important specializations in Christian missions should have been included.
  8. I feel like the absence of (positive) representation of conciliar missions was a bit of a failure in the book. I have worked with missionaries who could be described as part of conciliar missions, and often found them to be very faithful to God and capable in their work. While some of the concerns regarding conciliar missions in the book are all too valid, very often the authors had been willing to take the positive view of other missions movement rather than focusing on its worst. The book took a very generous view of the theology of Ulfilas, completely avoided the negative aspects of the work of St. Boniface, and the list goes on. Arguably, the Evangelical missions has benefited from conciliar missions as well. It was the Anglican component of the Evangelicals (such as Neill, Stott, and Newbigin) with one foot squarely in conciliar missions, that kept Evangelical missions from simply be subsumed by the theology (or lack of theology) of the Church Growth Movement. Additionally, conciliar missions has often been better in certain forms of missions than Evangelicals (social justice and interreligious dialogue being among them). I certainly see no reason to give conciliar missions an equal place in the book. I just suggest the overall generosity of the book could have been supplied here as well.
  9. Despite the tendency towards “generosity” to various people and movements, the book did not idealize. The authors were willing to provide kind critique, and occasionally harsh critique. The summary of the good and bad of Christian missions in the last chapter (drawn from Herbert Kane) was not only valuable, but was generally supported in the text of the book.
  10. The authors did not spend much time on theology of missions. I can understand why this was seen as generally outside the scope of the book. However, I was glad that the book did list down strategies and practices of many missionaries and mission movements. I found this quite helpful to understand them better, and to learn more about what I should and should not focus on as a missionary.

I am planning to use this work as the textbook for my upcoming class on missions history. With very few (and limited) reservations, I strongly recommend it to others.

First Protestant Missionary Hymn

Awake, Thou Spirit, who didst fire
The watchmen of the Church’s youth,
Who faced the Foe’s envenomed ire,
Who witnessed day and night Thy truth,
Whose voices loud are ringing still
And bringing hosts to know Thy will.

And let Thy Word have speedy course,
Thro’ every land be glorified,
Till all the heathen know its force
And fill Thy churches far and wide.
Oh, spread the conquest of Thy Word
And let Thy kingdom come, dear Lord!

–Karl Heinrich von Bogatsky (1750). This English version is from The Story of Lutheran Missions by Elsie Singmaster (1917), Chapter One. Available on Project Gutenberg– adds two more verses, and notes that the English translation was by Catherine Winkworth. it shows the verses above as 1 and 4. Verses 2 and 3 are as follows:

Lord, let our earnest prayer be heard,
The prayer Thy Son hath bid us pray;
For, lo, Thy children’s hearts are stirred
In ev’ry land in this our day
To cry with fervent soul to Thee,
Oh, help us, Lord! So let it be!

3 Oh, haste to help ere we are lost!
Send preachers forth, in spirit strong,
Armed with Thy Word, a dauntless host,
Bold to attack the rule of wrong;
Let them the earth for Thee reclaim,
Thy heritage, to know Thy name.

For the orginal German, “Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen” here is what I found at least:

Wach auf, du Geist der ersten Zeugen,

die auf der Mau’r als treue Wächter stehn,

die Tag und Nächte nimmer schweigen

und die getrost dem Feind entgegengehn,

ja deren Schall die ganze Welt durchdringt

und aller Völker Scharen zu dir bringt.

O dass dein Feuer bald entbrennte,

o möcht es doch in alle Lande gehn!

Ach Herr, gib doch in deine Ernte

viel Knechte, die in treuer Arbeit stehn.

O Herr der Ernte, siehe doch darein:

die Ernt ist groß, die Zahl der Knechte klein.

Dein Sohn hat ja mit klaren Worten

uns diese Bitt in unsern Mund gelegt.

O siehe, wie an allen Orten

sich deiner Kinder Herz und Sinn bewegt,

dich herzinbrünstig hierum anzuflehn;

drum hör, o Herr, und sprich: »Es soll geschehn.«

So gib dein Wort mit großen Scharen,

die in der Kraft Evangelisten sein;

lass eilend Hilf uns widerfahren

und brich in Satans Reich mit Macht hinein.

O breite Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

Personally, I don’t know if this is the oldest Protestant Missionary Hymn, although this is what is suggested by Elsie Singmaster . The fact that the hymn came out of the Pietist missionary movement from the University of Halle in the mid-1700s certainly places it at a key place in the History of Missions.

, Herr, auf weitem Erdenkreis

dein Reich bald aus zu deines Namens Preis!

If I Try to Get You to Leave Your Church to Go to My Church, Is That Missions?

I was reading “Encountering the History of Missions” by John Mark Terry and Robert Gallagher. In the Reformers, particularly Martin Luther and John Calvin, they try to make the (what I consider to be) controversial argument that they were quite missional. Their argument, however, seems to boil down to, “See how much they tried to get people to leave other churches and join their own?”

In most cases, this church piracy involved trying to get people to leave the Roman Catholic church to join their own group. This is a big question for me since I serve in a missions role in the Philippines. Philippines is over 80% Roman Catholic, and over 90% Christian. Many Evangelical missionaries in the Philippines focus very intentionally on getting Catholics to “be born again.” However, since the Bible is pretty clear that only God knows the heart and we are only competent to examine our own selves not others, in practice it tends to devolve into getting people to switch churches.

Is that valid? As a ministry, I suppose it is. While I don’t really have a high opinion of those who try to harvest out of other people’s gardens, I don’t necessarily believe that all churches are equal and their membership roles sacrosanct. However, I feel like church fathers would not see see this as missions. If the Hellenistic house church groups in house church network in Antioch tried to draw away members from the Hebraic or Latin house church groups, I don’t think Paul or Barnabas would be seeing it as missions. In the case of Terry and Gallagher, they were at least consistent. In a later chapter on Jesuit missions, they saw Jesuit attempts to get Protestants to rejoin the Catholic church as a mission strategy. Again, however, I am not sure I would.

Arguments for seeking Roman Catholics to become Evangelicals as mission work seem to be either because of (1) “nominality” of RC believers, (2) dubious theological views of the Catholic church, or (3) rejecting them altogether as Christian.

The weakest of these is #3. I have seen websites describe Philippines as about 10% Christian. To come up with that number, one has to assume that (a) 0% of Catholics are Christian, and (b) 100% of everyone who calls themselves Christian who is not Catholic is indeed a Christian. I have, however, met many very devout Catholics who (as far as I can judge) devout in their behavior, and true in their faith. I have also met a large share of Evangelical Christians who are immoral and seemingly faithless. For me argument #3 is insulting at best to non-Evangelicals, and at worst, playing God.

In the middle is #2. is in the middle for me. Yes, there are a lot of problems (in my view) with Roman Catholic beliefs and practices. Some of the more egregious ones were fixed in Vatican II, but others still very much remain. One may make the argument then that these views are so bad that it is better for Christians to grow in their faith outside of the Catholic church. I think that argument can be made. My problem is that almost always, ministry work to Roman Catholics starts with trying to get them to say “The Sinner’s Prayer.” The first part reinforces the assumption that all Catholics are non-Christian, and supports the most dubious assumption that the Sinner’s Prayer is the same as salvation experience. Further, there seems to be the assumption that evanglizing fails if one is not able to get the person to leave the Catholic congregation for one’s own.

I have experienced a version of this second issue. I have had Evangelical Christians (or more commonly Pentecostals) attempt to share the gospel with me. Once, I tell them that I share a common faith with them, they immediately continue into the second part of their presentation which is why I need to leave my faith tradition and my church and join their faith tradition and their church. I find this rather insulting and built on a very shaky understanding of Christ’s church. I feel like we can do better in training our memberships to recognize and appreciated the Unity and Diversity of the Body of Christ.

The best argument is #1. There is a LOT of nominality in the Roman Catholic church. This tends to happen when culture and faith tend to mix. With the prominence of the RC in Philippines, it is not surprising that their are many many cultural Catholics who have little to know discernible faith. However, the same could be said in many other settings. I am a Southern Baptist missionary serving in Asia. However, in the Southern United States, there are many places where community culture is very Southern Baptist. Not surprisingly, there can be an awful lot of nominality in the memberships of SB churches. BUT… then I ask myself a question— If a Christian denomination began targeting nominal SB members for evangelism and as part of that process intentionally seek to pull them out of the SB churches and into their own, would I consider that to be Missions?

The answer is NO. So although I still struggle with coming up with a satisfying definition of “Christian Mission,” I think that a good definition would NOT include intentional targeting of respondents from other Christian denominations with the intention of drawing them into one’s own denomination. <That being said, I don’t want to judge people in this matter. I teach missions classes overseas, and oversee a counseling center. Neither of these things hit the bullseye on traditional Christian missions either.>

Are There Times When “Supporting Satan” is a Good Thing?

Okay, hear me out on this one— don’t jump to conclusions.

Here in Chesapeake, VA (temporarily here for a few months) there has been a bit of a stir as a group called the “After School Satan Club” (ASSC) has put in an application for after school activities utilizing public school properties. Obviously, many Christians (and non-Christians) are up in arms about this. Curiously, one Christian organization has been very supportive of their efforts.

This is “Child Evangelism Fellowship” (CEF). This is a group that my wife and I have worked with on the periphery for a number of years. It is Evangelical and tending more to the conservative side of Christian faith and values. At first it may seem like this is a very strange response for them.

However, as one reads more about it, it is clear why CEF is supportive.

First of all, the ASSC is a movement that only seeks to put in after school programs where there are pre-existing religious programs. According to the ASSC website, “The After School Satan Club does not believe in introducing religion into public schools and will only open a club if other religious groups are operating on campus.”

And then as one looks just a wee bit deeper one finds that the ASSC does not believe in Satan, does not worship Satan, and does not have temples despite the logo (see below):

Years ago I had a friend (or at least a friendly acquaintance) who described himself as a Satanist. However, he was an atheist and did not believe in the existence of Satan either. There are religious Satanists apparently, but it seems as if my friend was a Hedonist who wanted to appear “edgy.”

In the case of ASSC, I do think the “edgy” aspect is important. As a local volunteer for ASSC said, “We are non-theistic. I understand the apprehension behind the satanic name, but he is just an imaginary figure that we look to because he is the eternal rebel that fought for justice and humanity.”

Putting their statements together, it is pretty clear that ASSC is essentially a group that opposes religious groups having access to public schools and so has chosen a symbol that they don’t believe — and not using it for its symbolic power to them, but for (reactive) power it has to their opponents.

Many of you may remember the “SATANIC PANIC” of the late 1970s and early 1980s when there were fanciful stories of satanic cults doing horrible things right under our noses. Think of the movie Hot Fuzz (or consider the wildly unlikely QAnon stories that have been circulating this decade).

Christians reacted quite predictably with… panic, anger, and opposition. Understandable. However, being predictable has its problems. Christians in the US like to fall back on a certain unspoken “dominionism.” We want Bible Clubs in the public schools but feel like these should be permitted while keeping out other religious groups. For years, I have had friends who were desperately trying to return (formal, public) prayer in government schools. I really was not one of them. For close to a year I lived in a city that was over 2/3 Mormon. I was quite aware that any formal public prayer brought into the schools would be a prayer very much of a different nature to what I would consider a prayer. And maybe that is okay. I don’t think, however, that was what my friends were envisioning. One cannot pick and choose how “equal before the law” is applied.

In Baguio City, I recall American missionaries and local pastors downright gleeful in opposing the building of a mosque in our city. Of course, that opposition really is out of touch with the religious freedom that the Philippines seeks. It is also out of touch with the consternation felt by the same Christians when churches are not being allowed in some other parts of the world. The opposition to a mosque being built in Baguio was essentially in support of what was illegal so (not surprisingly) the delay on the construction of the Grand Mosque and subsequent additions of little mosques in the city was slight. Frankly, if you as a Christian want to support the free exercise of your own faith, one of the best ways to accomplish this is support the free exercise of other faiths as well.

CEF with its “Good News Club” is aware of this. They know that Equal Access means, well… equal access. To respond predictably (opposing the so-called “satanic” group) means to give schools the justification to say that the only way to provide equal access to all religious groups is to deny access to all religious groups. In this, the ACCS would win since they have already said that they don’t want to enter schools that have no religious groups since they themselves don’t want religion in the schools.

There are times when it is good NOT to be predictable. When one is not so predictable, it is harder to be manipulated. If you freak out when people do things with the intention of getting you to freak out, they have won on some level.

And sometimes, the win is even bigger. Years ago there was the push for gay marriage in the US… not simply as a term, but to make it indiscernible from heterosexual marriage before the law. Many Christian groups opposed this. However, predictably, Christian groups were not willing to give up the legal privileges associated with marriage (even though in the Bible, marriage is more of an activity before God and family, not the government). Also not surprising, because of this disconnect, those groups that were in favor of gay marriage were able to get it approved through the courts under equal protection under the law. IF gay marriage is really something to be strongly opposed (and I have no interest in that topic at all one way or the other) then the way to do that was not to (a) live under a system of equal protection and rights before the law, with (b) a desire to keep things unequal.

Christians need to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. I have heard many commentators struggle with this one. I am not sure I understand it myself. However, I THINK Jesus meant exactly what it sounds like He says. We need to be holy before God but not foolish in regards of how we deal with the world around us.

CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) did a story on this case. They, commendably, did not devolve into hysterics. This is a low bar to achieve but it is something. I do think CEF did better.

Recommended article on this:

Hanukkah Is Okay Too

I have written before on a challenging topic— “Christmas. It’s Okay… Really!”

It is a post I feel pretty good about. Some would say that it is not a very… controversial topiC. However, every year some Christians will put out arguments as to why Christmas is NOT okay. Curiously, the central problem they bring up is not the (actual evil of) consumerism or the mental health issues often associated with the holiday. Rather, their complaint is that it has “pagan roots.” Of course it does not have pagan roots. It is a birthday anniversary celebration for Jesus… something that seems to be implied as “un-bad” based on the birth narratives in the Gospels. Many, however, suggest that it is bad because it is tied to Saturnalia— a Roman pagan festival. It seems like making arguments about missional accommodation is a bit… niche at best. However, recently have come out a number of videos (like from Youtube’s “Religion for Breakfast”) that point out that the relationship between the day chosen for Christmas and the day for Saturnalia is not only not concurrent, but the fact that it shares a similar season is probably coincidental.

Personally, I would argue that it could share the same exact day and do so intentionally and that this would not be bad. In fact, I have argued that one of the truly great things about Christmas is that it is one day with two holidays. It is Religious Christmas for Christians. It is Secular Christmas for non-Christians. Because of this, Christians and non-Christians can share a day of celebration and the blurring of lines between the two CAN actually be a good thing— a time to talk about the historical base for Christianity with others and the hope that it provides.

Photo by cottonbro studio on

Some also complain that Christmas has too many pagan symbols associated with it— Christmas trees being a good example. In the Philippines, parols are popular. They are paper lanterns (the least ornate are anyway) shaped to remind one of the Star of Bethlehem. I suppose it has roots in “Chinese lanterns” and so (perhaps) have some weak connection to non-Christian practices. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Symbols and days are redeemable. If they weren’t, then this would be a problem. Pretty much everything we do or have has non-Christian associations.

OKAY>>> Finally we can get to Hanukkah

Is Hanukkah okay for Christians to celebrate? A lot of Christians seem to think of Hanukkah as being ‘bad’ because it is seen (somehow) as competition for Christmas. Certainly this year it is somewhat true. Hanukkah is a lunar holiday and so moves around a bit on the solar calendar, but this year it starts on December 18 (this year being 2022) and ending December 26.

Actually, I should note that I have some friends who go the opposite way from some Christians. They see Jewish holidays from the Bible as divinely sanctioned and all other celebrations as not. It can come from vairous arguments:

  1. If Christians are grafted into Israel, maybe we should act like Israelites. (Pretty weak argument.)
  2. Pretty much everything in the Old Testament is forever. If Yom Kippur is “Biblical” it is for all followers of God to do forever. (This is a slightly stronger argument at least.)
  3. Celebration is not necessarily a good thing so we are limited to forms of celebration that are overtly sanctioned by God.
  4. Negatively, the Campbellite argument that whatever the Bible does not explicitly command or allow should not be done by Christians.

So there are some Christians that may say that Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is okay while Christmas (never mentioned in the Bible) is not. For most Christians, however, the view is the other way around. Christmas is good, but Hanukkah is bad.

But Hanukkah is okay… really!! I would like to give a few reasons. All of them I believe are valid… but I don’t generally think one needs to justify celebrations, so I may not personally need any of them.

A. Hanukkah is part of our (Christian) heritage as well. Hanukkah comes to us through the Jews, being a celebration from the Maccabean period of their history. It is not in the Old Testament, but only because it comes from what is called the Intertestamental period. However, the basis for Hanukkah is from I Maccabbees chapter 4— a work that is part of the Roman Catholic Bible. Protestants reject the canonicity of I Maccabees. Still, Protestants should (hopefully) recognize the value of the Apocrypha even if they don’t see it as divinely inspired (in the same fashion as the Holy Bible at least). Regardless, although most Christians are not Jews, and we are not seen as part of the Jewish faith, the Jewish faith is part of our religious heritage.

B. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. John 10:22-23 notes that Jesus was in Jerusalem at Solomon’s portico on the temple grounds. This is the Feast of Dedication mentioned there. Presumably Jesus was there as part of the celebration of Hanukkah. For those who believe that Christians need a Biblical justification for celebration, this seems like it should be adequate.

C. For those Christians (as well as other groups like JWs) who identify most everything they don’t like as being “pagan,” if there is a holiday that is not considered Christian that cannot be charged with “paganism” it is Hanukkah. It is commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is pretty much the opposite of paganism.

<I should jump in here and note that in I Corinthians 10, there is a warning to Christians not to participate in Greek or Roman temple festivities since the sacrifices to these idols is sacrificing to demons. It is not clear to me how literal one is suppose to take this. Should one understand it to say that each idol literally has a demon associated with it and any temple ritual associated with that idol is essentially done to and for that demon? Many would say that this is EXACTLY what it is saying. The problem with this is that in many other parts of the Bible a very different perspective is found. In numerous places, the emphasis is on the idea that worshiping an idol is stupid because they are simply wood or stone and cannot see, hear, are respond. It is hard to reconcile those statements with the idea that idols have a demon directly associated with it who can indeed see, hear, and respond. In my mind, I believe it is more consistent with Scripture to say that demons are not directly associated with idols. Rather, the practice of idolatry is demonic… a violation of the Decalogue, and a choosing to worship the creation over the Creator. But even if one takes a more Peter Wagner sort of interpretation, it still has nothing to say to Hanukkah which has no idols, and is linked to a formal rejection of idols.>

D. Hanukkah can (and should) be a celebration to bring Christians and Jews together. I must admit, I have never been to a Hanukkah celebration. There simply are not many Jews in Baguio City, Philippines. However, I have known two or three in Baguio. One of them, Paul, invited me to the next Hanukkah celebration of his group. Their group (they actually call themselves “The Bagel Boys”) meets for major Jewish holidays bringing up a rabbi from the nearest synagogue (3 hours away). Sadly, he died that year so I never got the the exact time and place. That was too bad. I teach a course on Dialogue with Asian Religions. I hoped to bring at least a couple of students with me. I think it would have been a great blessing for everyone.

E. I think a strong argument could be made that when it comes to celebrations of other religions in one’s community, the question is not necessarily as simple as PARTICIPATE versus NOT PARTICIPATE. Perhaps the better question is HOW CAN I JOIN IN A WAY THAT IS GOD HONORING, CULTURALLY PARTICIPATING, AND BEING A BLESSING IN MY COMMUNITY EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR?

My Ambivalence Regarding “Faith Missions.” Part Two

This post really won’t make too much sense until you read PART ONE

Here are a few things regarding Faith Missions that I see as Good and Bad.

The Good.

1. Missionaries have long been charged with being in it for the money, so Faith Missions avoids that issue. We see it in many ways. In the Didache, warnings were given about apostles who visited churches for financial gain. The deputation process puts missionary candidates in an awkward position. Unfortunately, often the best fundraisers are not the best missionaries, and (arguably) the most valuable missions are not the ones that draw financial support. I remember a missionary’s website that looked like a fundraising machine… like what some televangelists have. Faith Missions is a good corrective for this.

2. Historically, all too often, the people who handle the checkbooks control the who, what, and where of missions. Faith Missions disempowers these people and institutions just a bit. My denomination’s primary mission arm, despite it’s many great qualities, has kept out good people due to questionable theology of the leadership, and has pulled people from the field due to equally questionable policy changes. Now that may be personal bias. But even if one agrees with the leaders, I still think it safe to say that we learn and grow more when there are innovators who exist outside of the system.

The Bad.

1. I noted before that Faith Missions opens up for innovation since it works around the primary power structures. On the other hand, often it does the opposite. That is because Faith Missions often can be linked to Primitivism (as it did for Groves). Primitivism suggests that what was done in the first century provides the boundaries for what is done today. Often, as Roland Allen has noted, some innovations and traditions that have developed over the centuries are not that good and need a return to the early church as a healthy corrective. But that should not be used to hinder adaptations to contemporary situations. We are not trying to recapture the 1st century church and 1st century missions. We are trying to discover and create the 21st century church and 21st century missions.

2. Although there are problems with mission institutions, there are value to them. I have seen people who really should not go into missions. If they followed the normal channels, they would have been stopped. Faith missions can be an unhealthy backdoor to allow unhealthy people to create problems without proper training and without proper oversight.

3. I really don’t like the terminology. I am not so sure that the “Faith Mission” model actually involves a greater amount of faith. Perhaps it can be, but I am not so sure that my wife and I had more faith than others. Working around the process can be laziness or fear (fear of the process or fear of being found an imposter) rather than faith.

4. Missionary Member Care is important, and Faith Missions does tend to involve jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. But Missions is a “Team Sport.” God created it that way from the beginning. Faith Missions is at its best when it finds ways to to build up a support system for missionaries.

All in all, as I am with most things, I am a Both/And person. “Faith Missions” may be poorly named, but it does have value as an alternative route to mission work. It is, however, not a superior way, just a different way— and a risky one.

My Ambivalence Regarding “Faith Missions.” Part One

I have always had mixed feelings regarding what has been called “Faith Missions.” In fact probably my general feeling about it is actually more negative than positive. It is, however, hard to explain this even to myself since my family and I are involved in Faith Missions.

But first, I should explain what “Faith Missions” is, and then to what extent I am involved in Faith Missions.


While Faith Missions, arguably goes back to the first century church, as a modern movement it can be seen as coming from the words and activities of Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853). Born in England, he felt a call to missions in 1820s and trained to be a missionary with CMS and the Church of England. However, he became disenchanted with them and became associated with the Plymouth Brethren until some sectarian controversies developed. He went off and served as a missionary in Baghdad and later in India.

He wrote a booklet in 1825 called “Christian Devotedness.” It recommended place one’s dependence on God to supply one’s need in ministry. This suggests that one serves God without waiting for support. Additionally, one should not go around asking for support from others.

George Muller was inspired by this booklet to practice this in his work with orphans. Hudson Taylor also used the work as a guide for China Inland Missions, which became known as the largest and most successful of the Faith Mission organizations.

Groves could be described as a Primitivist in that he believed that the New Testament provides guidance for ministry in greater detail than most would embrace. In other words, if Paul or Peter did things a certain way, we should do it, and do it the same way. And if Paul or Peter did not do something, we shouldn’t do it either. As Groves stated, “My earnest desire is to re-model the whole plan of missionary operations so as to bring them to the simple standard of God’s word.” Roland Allen, a couple of generations later, would argue a somewhat similar point in terms of missions methodology.

Years later, Corrie ten Boom embraced a similar stance when she stopped asking for support.

<It should be noted that not asking for support is not the same as keep needs secret or refusing support. More on this later.>

My Story

As I noted before, I look at Faith Missions rather negatively even though it is something we (my family and I) have, generally, practiced.

Back in 2003, my wife and I decided to go on missions. Although we did tell our church about this, we did not ask for support and we did not wait for them, or anyone else, to support us. They did help us out financially, and after around 3 years in the field, they actually increased their support to the level that we were fully supported by them (for about 8 or 9 years). Some time later we took a big drop in support and have been greatly undersupported since then. Despite this, we have been able to survive, and in some ways thrive. We have on a few occasions put out very half-hearted attempts to raise support that have been (again generally) unsuccessful. For the most part we have placed our trust in God that He would take care of us— and He has.

Based on this, you would think that I am whole-heartedly in support of Faith Missions— arguably I am living example of its validity. And yes, there are good things in Faith Missions that are exciting and important in Missions. But there are negative things as well, and these must be faced head on.

I will explore these in Part Two.

A Better Soteriology?

Here is a quote from Dorothy Sayers,

No language, however strong, violent, or emphatic will expunge from the mind of the average anti-Christian the picture he has formed of Christian Soteriology, viz: that Jehovah (the old man with the beard) made the world and made it so badly that it all went wrong and he wanted to burn it up in a rage; whereas the Son (who was younger and nicer, and not implicated in his Father’s irresponsible experiment) said: “Oh, don’t do that! If you must torment somebody, take it out on me.” So Jehovah vented his sadistic spite on a victim who had nothing to do with it all, and thereafter grudgingly allowed people to go to heaven if they provided themselves with a ticket of admission signed by the Son… This grotesque mythology is not in the least exaggerated: it is what they think we mean.

Dorothy L. Sayers to Rev. Dom Ralph Russell, October 28, 1941 in Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, vol. 2, 316. Quoted by Laura K. Simmons in ‘Creed without Chaos: Exploring Theology in the WRitings of Dorothy L. Sayers (Grad Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, , 2005), 68.

I think it is a great quote… except that I think that the so called “anti-Christians” commonly are not misunderstanding what Christians say. I have heard enough speak of the death of Christ turning away God’s wrath (propitiation viewed without any sense of metaphor). Often tied to this seems to be an assumption that there is an awful lot of difference between God the Father and the Son. After all, if God cannot look on sin without becoming enraged, while Jesus seemed to have no problem with this, it seems to suggest that the Father is very different and the one needing appeasing.

It seems to me that we need not only a better presentation of Soteriology (presentation of our theology of salvation), we need to go back to some first principles. For example, so many Christians claim their favorite verse is John 3:16. It is rather remarkable how much that verse really SHOULD challenge the above narrative.