New Book FINALLY Published

Back around 2014 or so I began writing a book on Theology of Missions. I took some of those for a class I was teaching n Mission Theology. After completion of the class, I got all excited about finishing the book. However, then I was asked to teach a class on Interreligious Dialogue. Being in the Philippines, it is hard to find book resources, so once again, my answer was to put together things into a book. But as I was doing that, I began to scavenge topics out of what I had done for my book on Theology of Missions.

In the end, I finished my book on Interreligious Dialogue, and pieces of my work on Theology of Missions. That might have been where things would end, but then COVID happened, and I thought that there was a chance to work on this book.

Anyway, eventually I finished and put an electronic copy on this site. But a couple of months ago, I decided to make a paperback version so I put it available online yesterday.

I feel good about it. It is not comprehensive. If you want something broader, consider “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott, Strauss, and Tennent is a better choice. But I hope my reflections have some value. Now that it is done, I wonder why I did not include a chapter on Spiritual versus Social versus Holistic missions. It is one of my favorite topics. I guess, it did not really fit into the 3-part structure I set up.

Disobedient Christians Hanging Out Together Quote

The church exists for mission. As Christopher Wright says, ‘Jesus did not give a mission to his church; he formed a church for his mission.’ Without the mission, a church is not a church; it’s just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out. The church is a movement before it is an institution. And the number one characteristic of a movement is… movement. If something is not moving, it can’t be called a movement. And people who are not moving are not part of the movement, even if they are members of the institution.

—J.D. Greear. Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches that Send. (Zondervan, 2015), 38.

I think this is a great quote. It is strange, then, that I am going to try to undermine it. One spot in the quote I think is an effort to be move clever than true. That is the statement, “Without the mission, a church is not a church; it’s just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out.”

The problem with it is that, in a sense, the opposite is true. Almost definition, The Local Church IS “a group of disobedient Christians hanging out.” I fully agree that it is good for the church to be in the process of becoming LESS disobedient over time. Before it was an institution, it was a movement. B ut before it was a movement, it was an organism— and organisms don’t always move, or at least move very fast.

I am saying this all not completely seriously, but not fully in jest either. I have seen churches (I have been part of at least one such church) over the years that was so focused on its mission, but it stopped looking at itself as an organism… the body of Christ, made up of many members, but an organized machine made of many parts— parts that can be tossed aside and replaced if they fail to do their job.

A church, no matter how driven to serve God, worship God, obey God, is not a church if it is not FIRST, a group of disobedient Christians hanging out together.

Maintaining Otherness. Why Do People Fail to Adapt to a New Culture?

I want to focus on one reason for failing to adapt to a new culture, but before I do, I suppose I should list some other reasons first.

#1. Unintentional Ethnocentrism. This is the belief that “Our Way is the Only Way.” This may be unintentional because the person comes from a monocultural setting, perhaps, where there is a homogeneity of beliefs and behaviors. I think this is probably a less common option today. The internet and increased travel makes experience with other cultures much more common. Additionally, when one moves to another culture, unless one is almost completely unreflective, eventually one will make decisions intentionally.

#2. Intentional Ethnocentrism. This is the belief that “Our Way is the Best Way.” In this, the person has thought about adapting but chooses not to because she or he thinks their home culture is better.

#3. Local Collaboration. I am making up this term, but I have seen this a lot. When a foreigner enters a local culture, the locals will often support maintaining the otherness of the foreigner. This is done especially in cultures where hospitality is strong. So locals will make a point of talking, or trying to talk, in the language of the foreigner, so that the person doesn’t feel uncomfortable and have to learn the local language. Other things may include making sure that the foreigner has spoon and fork,or is given a place to stay that conforms to the foreigner’s home setting, These are done to be helpful, but it slows down adaptation.

#4. Expatriate Bonding. Often when a foreigner enters a new culture. Often other foreigners will take the new people under their wing. This is meant to be nice, but it like the previous one. Thomas and Sue Brewster spoke of this sort of bonding for missionaries. Missionaries adapt faster if they don’t bond to missionaries in the field.

I am sure I am missing a lot of others, but I want to spend more time on one.

#5. Maintaining the Advantages of Otherness. With this one, the person is intentional in maintaining otherness, but not necessarily due to ethnocentrism. Rather, there are advantages seen in maintaining a form of foreignness. Some jobs are helped in this. If one owns an ethnic restaurant, is a practioner of ayurvedic medicine, or yoga, or martial arts, there may be economic advantages if one’s persona is is more foreign than local.

A rather unpleasant example is in the area of maintaining power imbalance. Lesslie Newbigin gisves a wonderful example of this in his book “The Finality of Christ” in a letter from a British Colonial governor in India dated 1798.

To preserve the ascendancy which our national character has acquired over the minds of the natives of India must ever be of importance to the maintenance of the political power we possess in the East; and we are well persuaded that this end is not to be served either by a disregard of the external observances of religion or by any assimilations to Eastern manners and opinions, but rather by retaining all the distinctions of our national principles, character, and usages.

Lesslie Newbigin “The Finality of Christ” (Richmond, VA: John Knox Press, 1969), 13. The quote originally from a letter in 1792, is quoted by F. Penney “The Church in Madras, Vol. 1” (London, 1904), 419.

Essentially, the writer appears to be saying that the British can keep the natives under their control if they see the British as different, mysterious, and superior. If the British start adapting to the Indian culture, the locals might start seeing the British as “Just like us.” This letter is not a unique attitude. It was very much the advice of the day. It still can happen today when we don’t pay attention.

Religious leaders often support a certain otherness as well— dressing different, acting different, and such. After all, the pope throughout history has avoided being seen eating in publich NOT because he doesn’t need to eat. Rather, there is the goal to think of the pope as “not really like us” and sharing a meal undermines this.

Jesus actually was quite annoyed at the religious leaders in first century Judea, and this comes largely for their desire to maintain a false front before other people with the hope of that otherness will be interpreted as holiness.

Missionaries can fall into this as well. Ultimately, the example of Jesus was quite different. He was God with us in such a literal way that He was faollowed event though behaving in many ways as “One of Us.”

Book Review: Thriving in the City, by Aaron Smith

I recently finished reading “Thriving in the City: A Guide for Sustaining Incarnational Ministry Among the Poor,” by T. Aaron Smith.

Aaron and his wife Ema serve as missionaries to the urban poor in Manila, Philippines. Even though they serve in the Philippines as do my wife and I, we have actually not met in the Philippines, only in the US. They work with Servant Partners, which is a mission organization with focus on incarnational ministry to the urban poor.

I truly enjoyed the book. Part of it is because of its topic. Ministry to the urban poor is a vital ministry in pretty much every age, but even more so in this time. According to the World Bank, approximately 56% of people today live in cities, and by 2050 the percentage is estimated to increase to around 70%. This alone should lead missiologists to reevaluate strategies. For at least 5 decades, the focus in Evangelical (at least) missions has been on Unreached People Groups (UPGs) with the assumption that ethnic and language groups are the final frontier or “wave” of missions. This does not seem to be true, however, with some saying that we are in a new “Global Wave” of missions (to all from all). In my view (for what it is worth) the great wave of missions surging up right now is the Great Urban Centers (GUCs).

So how do we reach out to these Great Urban Centers around the world? The countless hours tracking different languages and people groups don’t have much meaning in this environment where class, sub-cultures, and unofficial castes have greater impact.

Aaron Smith puts forward his perspective of Incarnational Missions, following the guidance of Viv Grigg and others for reaching the urban poor. The book is heavily autobiographical and biographical as it explores the opportunities and challenges of living and ministering in slums and informal settlement communities.

I found the book both inspirational and refreshing. It is inspirational as one hears stories of changed lives and communities through individuals, families, and teams living with and ministering with the poor and the destitute in major cities. Although most of his work has been in the Balic-balic and Botocan communities in Metro Manila, he includes experiences of others both in Manila and in other major cities around the world. This broadens the usefulness of the book, as well addresses unique situations that are outside of the experience of the author.

The book is also refreshing. Some mission presentations focus on the “Praise God” aspects of missions while underplaying the “Oh my God” moments. Smith gives balance. In fact, some parts of the book almost feel more like, “Let me see if I can talk you out of incarnational urban missions.” I also found it refreshing that he looks at the ministry he does as one of many strategies. I have read far too many books on various strategies (frontier missions, never send money missions, only send money missions, CPM, and so forth) that appear to express the view that their form of missions is the only form. I appreciated the balance in this book.

For people who are interested in missions, but don’t know much about it, I think they will appreciate the early chapters more. These chapters are more biographical, and really can open up one’s eyes to what is involved in serving God sacrificially.

For people who are looking more seriously into missions, especially incarnational missions (if you want incarnational missions explained in more detail, read the book, especially Appendix A, or go to, the latter chapters may be more for them, especially as there are reflection questions to go over as far as whether they are ready for this type of ministry. It is also in the latter chapters where different flavors of this type of ministry are looked over, to help a prospective missionary to see where, if anywhere, he or she may fit into this broad category of service.

For me, since I teach missions, I tend to like chapters that add clarity to a topic that wasn’t there before (at least in my mind). I appreciated especially chapters 10, 11, and 13. Chapter 10 spoke of “Anchor Institutions”— those institutions that come alongside to support and guide the missionary. I like the terminology and the types of such institutions more than the way I normally hear them described. Chapter 11 was on choosing ministry approaches. Again, one size does NOT fit all and I found the options given here clear and helpful. Chapter 13 was on “engagement” and “disengagement.” As one involved in missionary member care, I appreciated the time here trying to help missionaries find balance in a ministry that can easily overwhelm.

I have very few complaints, and even the term complaint might be too strong here. I will note two minor things.

#1. In chapter 8 are two lists. One list gives positive characteristcs for self-evaluation to see if you as a future missionary should consider being an Incarnational Leader. The positive list is good overall. Some of them are a bit generic, more guidance for ministering full-time than specifically for International Leadership, but that is okay. However, the negative list I don’t think really relates to Incarnational Leader at all. It is a list of qualities that are bad for any full-time ministry not just Incarnational Leadership. Perhaps it would be good to have good and bad qualities for full-time ministry, and good and bad qualities for incarnational ministry in urban settings.

#2. My other “complaint” I give in half-jest. In giving his descriptions of some of the challenges associated with incarnational ministry to the poor (or cross-cultural missions in general I would add), he mentions a lot of things including challenges due to one’s own children. I would argue that the section of the challenges associated with children should be in all bold print. Raising our three children in Baguio was a challenge, when they were young, but I would say as they got older it became a lot more difficult. It became so difficult that we sometimes wondered whether we had sacrificed our children for ministry. All three of our children are grown up and doing much better now, but I still think we made some big mistakes. Smith’s children are still rather young. Time will tell what his perspective will be in the future.

Anyway, I would strongly recommend reading this book if you are interested in supporting Christian missions in any way, and even more so if you are considering serving in missions to the urban poor and destitute of the world.