Flavors of Localized Theology. Part 2

Instead of repeating myself, please read PART ONE. Now, let’s move to the first flavor.

Flavor #1. Localized Theology in Terms of Region

Using the example of the Philippines, a localized theology for this country might be thought of as Asian, or sharing features of theologies of other parts of Asia. Emerito P. Nacpil claims that there are “at least seven features that are characteristic of the region” (of Asia) that are useful for developing Asian theology. These are:

  • -Plurality/diversity
  • -Nations in transition (nation-building and modernization)
  • -People seeking authentic self-identity
  • -Colonial Experience
  • -Christianity as a minority religion
  • -Contains some of the largest living religions
  • -Peoples seeking new social orders

<Emerito P. Nacpil, “The Critical Asian Principle,” in Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Trends, D.J. Elwood, ed. (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1980), 56-57.>

When I first saw this list, I felt that the list does not lead to common experience. After all, the first and the sixth items on this list (plurality, and home of the largest living religions) seem to say that the commonality is due to a lack of commonality. That being said, it may be true that there is a commonality of experience that would tend to drive Asian theologies toward a range of characteristics that could be grouped together, in a similar way as “Western theologies” get lumped together. The Western commonality of strong link between civil power and religious (Christian) power, the focus on the courtroom metaphor for salvation, economic power, centuries of hegemony over many other parts of the world, and the aftermath of the Enlightenment all give Western theologies a rather similar “flavor,” despite what at first appears to be great diversity. For example, much of Western theologies struggle with the issue of whether God decides who to save and who not to, or whether individuals make that decision. The result is a spectrum of views. At first this suggests great diversity. However, most all questions regarding salvation in Western Theology relates to the individual in the hereafter. There is little attempt to take seriously salvation in terms of community as well as the “here” (meaning present).

Looking at the figure below, one might say that Western theologies are focused, in terms of salvation, on the individual and the hereafter. There are aspects that extend to the community and the here/present, but not much. One might also say that various Liberation theologies tend to focus salvation predominantly on community (commonly in terms of class, caste, ethnic, or gender group) and on the present. Much ink has been spilled in one side arguing against the other side. However, rather than doing this, it is worth suggesting that both are in some ways “sub-Biblical” by themselves. By emphasizing one aspect of salvation over others, an image of salvation is given that is lop-sided— less than God’s full revelation. As such, rather than fighting, a more constructive answer would be dialogue between so-called Western and Liberation theologies. <Stanley Grenz, 20th Century Theologies>

Theologies of Salvation

There is, however, another way of looking at it as well. Rather than saying that Western and Liberations theologies are sub-Biblical in terms of salvation (an admittedly harsh assessment), one could say that each is a contextualization of God’s revelation. It only becomes sub-Biblical when one proclaims one’s theological construct as addressing God’s full revelation on the matter. In this case, the contextualization can be good as long as it answers (with divine truth) the concerns of those it is developed for.

This is not to say that all contextualized theologies are true, or that they are always necessary. It seems doubtful that there is a need for “Left-handed Theology” to counter the “Right-handed” bias of Western (or Eastern for that matter) Theology. My son is left-handed, and my father was left-handed until the school system forced him to right-handedness. That being said, their view on this could be different than mine. Ultimately, it depends on the people of a culture to develop a theology, and these same people to decide whether it is needed and beneficial.

Saphir P. Athyal states “A Western systematization of theology may not fit in the Asian scene. Asian theology should take a systematization which is dictated by the emphasis of the culture and leading thoughts of Asia.” <Sapphire P. Athyal, ”Toward an Asian Christian Theology” in Asian Christian Theology: Emerging Themes, D. J. Elwood ed., 71> Although this seems reasonable, should Asian theologies be systematized at all, or is that desire for structure a Western characteristic? Perhaps a narrative form is more relevant— or perhaps visual. As always, I don’t feel competent to say.

In one very crucial way, the Philippine context does not fit the broader Asian context. The Philippines is predominantly Christian. Over 90% of Filipinos would describe themselves as Christian. Christianity has a position of power in many aspects of life in most of the Philippines. This makes things very different than much of the rest of Asia. In fact, it is common for Filipinos to say that they are the “only Christian nation in Asia.” Ignoring the question of the validity of the term ‘Christian nation,’ this is not actually true. Timor-Leste, Armenia, and Cyprus are definitely Christian majority nations, while South Korea, although not having a Christian majority, still finds Christianity having a strong role in the broader society. However, the Philippines is the largest country in Asia to be predominantly Christian. This has led to calls for the Philippines to be a key nation for reaching Asia for Christ, and in recent years the Philippines has joined the list of what is referred to as “New Sending Countries,” as it pertains to exporting missionaries to the world.

Another difference is that the Philippines has strong ties to the West. These ties go beyond being a former colony. Huntington in his “Clash of Civilizations” sees the Philippines as part of the Western Sphere. <Samuel P. Huntington The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order> One does not have to accept Huntington’s overall thesis to recognize that the Philippines has a rather unique relationship with The West. This is partly due to the American colonization of the Philippines (Note: Americans balk at the use of the term colonization.) This influence is sustained by the use of English as the main language of business and governance, and the high number of overseas foreign workers and immigrants to Western countries.

These differences should certainly make Philippine theology quite different from other Asian theologies. However, the relative youth of the Philippines as an independent nation, its connection with other Asian regions over millennia, and its colonial history will likely make the ‘flavor’ of an authentic localized theology distinctly Asian.

Flavors of Localized Theology. Part 1

The following is s from a chapter I am writing on Localizing Theology. I decided to talk about “Flavors” of Localized Theology versus “Theories” or “Models” of Localized Theology (I will use “LW” forward). The reason is that if one speaks of Models of something, there is the temptation of people to assume that one Model is correct and the others are wrong. This is actually a bit silly. A model, pretty much by definition IS NOT REALITY. Models attempt to provide insight about reality, but will clearly fail on some level.

We see this, for example, with Atonement Theory. There are several theories of the Atonement of Christ. If one studies this, almost invariably, a student (or instructor) will address “Which one is Biblical?” Generally speaking, most, if not all, are Biblical. They generally have a sound theological basis. And ALL OF THEM fail to be complete explanations. The same could be said of Models of Theological Contextualization. Some like to ask which is the “most Biblical” or which one is Evangelical. However, all 6 of (Bevan’s) models can be found to be useful tools for an Evangelical theologian, pastor, or missionary. And probably none of them should be given over to completely..

Flavor suggests that it is part of an overall recipe. Consider Filipino cuisine. It seems to me that there are 6 major flavors. Five of them are the flavors associated with taste, and one is the flavor associated with smell. Filipino cuisine leans in hard on SALTY and UMAMI (salty and savory). However, one could argue that SOUR, SWEET, and BITTER are just as important. I suggest that there is one other flavor that is critical to Filipino cuisine, and that is FISHY. Filipino cuisine is not big on herbs and spices… although SPICY is appreciated by some— and PUNGENT and FRUITY have their moments as well. All of these come together blending flavors to make a dish good.

In like manner, there are many different flavors that come together for Localized Theology. It is not about which is correct, They all are important and should be present in one way or another in contextualization/localization of theology.

In the next few posts, I will talk about a few of these. I will focus on the Filipino context generally.

#1. Flavor of Region. Filipino culture is in many ways unique from the rest of Asia, in many ways it should have the flavor of the surrounding Asian theologies.

#2. Flavor of Cultural Aspirations. What are the cultural hopes (and conversely, cultural fears).

#3. Flavor of Cultural Patterns. How does cultural patterns (honor, justice, power, reciprocity, harmony) provide a potential framework for theology?

#4. Flavor of Cultural Values. Each culture idealizes or mythologizes certain qualities. How does the theology support or combat these?

#5. Flavor of Cultural Artifacts. What surface level cultural behaviors or materials can be utilizes to make theology more local (either making it more relevant or more resonant)?

More to come in follow-on posts.

Multi-Dimensional Evangelism

I received an email asking if I had developed any more my idea of the Evangelism Cube— a fairly simple idea I had written up back in 2010. My answer was essentially, “NO.” However, I had actually written a bit more about this topic in my book, “Ministry in Diversity,” which I put together for my Cultural Anthropology students. However, since I no longer have it available for purchase on the Internet (I feel I have to fix too many things in it), it is not all that available right now.

Because of that, I am cutting and pasting the section of the book on the topic of the Evangelism Cube here.

Multi-Dimensional Evangelism

Zero-Dimensional Evangelism

The term “evangelism” (“euangelizo”) has gone through many stages in understanding its meaning. The Greek root of this term seems to limits it to “proclamation” or the sharing of good news. Within the Christian context, it would cover sharing the good news of Christ to people. We could call this “zero-dimensional evangelism” since it is simply a point in time and space. It is simply a call to allegiance to Christ, which is then either accepted or rejected. Many limit their use of the term “evangelism” to this sense.

One-Dimensional Evangelism

In its usage in the Bible and in the early church, the term is applied more broadly, and commonly includes discipleship, not limiting itself to the conversion experience in the hearer.7 Evangelism has been extended from a point (zero-dimension) back to a line (one-dimension) by James Engel who created what is now known as the Engel’s Scale.8 (See Figure 28.) Evangelism is cognitive work that moves the listener from a state of rejection towards belief and discipleship. Therefore, helping someone go from complete ignorance of God to understanding who God is in relationship to herself is part of evangelism. Anything that cognitively assists the hearer to move up the scale then can be identified as evangelism.

Figure 28. Engel’s Scale

Figure 29. Gray’s Matrix

Two-Dimensional Evangelism

Two-Dimensional Evangelism is found in the Gray Matrix (See Figure 29) developed by Frank Gray. He noted that evangelism should not be thought of as simply a cognitive process. There is also an affective (emotions/values) component. This means that helping someone move from being hostile to God and the gospel to having a favorable opinion is also part of evangelism. Moving anyone from the lower left towards the upper right in the 2-D matrix is evangelism.9

Three-Dimensional Evangelism

But this begs the question of a third dimension. In education, one can speak of training students cognitively (knowledge and understanding), affectively (feelings, values, and identity), and behaviorally (skills, competencies, and habits). Engel’s Scale is cognitive (1-dimensional). Gray’s Matrix is cognitive and affective (2-dimensional). But could evangelism be thought of as 3-Dimensional… or an Evangelism Cube? Could one add a behavioral component. One could argue that salvation does not have a behavioral component since salvation is a matter of faith not works. Yet the same argument might be made regarding the other two dimensions. If it is about faith, it is not about correct thinking or correct feelings. But since part of our role as Christians is to be conformed behaviorally to Christ and to guide others in the same direction, then behavior certainly is a component in effective evangelism.

Why does this matter… or does it matter? How we picture things guides how we do things. Some see evangelism as a dot. Get people to say the sinner’s prayer and that is good enough. I have seen all sorts of methods used to try to get a person to say (or parrot) the sinner’s prayer. Some are little more than trickery, or simply stating what they have long had in faith, but expressed in a slightly different way. When the person has done this, the “witness” feels that he has done the work of an evangelist. But has he? Consider the experience of a missionary friend of mine. Back before he had yet gained competency in Arabic, some Muslim neighbors tried to trick him into saying the Shahada (Islamic statement of faith) three times. Why? Because they believed that the act of saying it three times would make him a Muslim. (This is not an orthodox Islamic belief.) While we may find that humorous, as these Muslim neighbors did, those who believe that saying the sinner’s prayer makes one a Christian (regardless of intent, heart, or faith) are guilty of the same confusion. Clearly, Evangelism has greater depth than getting people to say words. There is an associated change of heart, mind, and behavior as well.

Those that see evangelism as a line work with people through the cognitive challenges of faith and continue after a conversion experience towards becoming a faithful servant of God. Those that see evangelism as two-dimensional are concerned with values and emotions. They are concerned with “decorating the gospel” (Titus 2:10) to not only make it intellectually palatable but desirable to the heart. They share not only what is true, but do it in a way that is respectful and helpful (I Peter 3:15).

Three-dimensional evangelism is concerned not only with the cognitive side and the affective side, but the behavioral side as well— helping them conform themselves to Christ. Since many behaviors can be destructive and a hindrance, behavioral guidance may begin even before conversion and continue long past. See Figure 30.

Figure 30. The Evangelism Cube

In sharing the gospel in a different, and potentially hostile culture, it is likely that all three dimensions are needed. They need to encounter the truth of the Gospel (some might call this “truth encounter.”) They also need to see that the Gospel is a good or desirable thing. Commonly, but not strictly, this is demonstrated through “love encounter” — divine love demonstrated by the Christians in such a way that unbeliever’s gain a positive view of Christianity and the Christian message. A friend of mine was a Muslim man who lived in a predominantly Muslim country, but worked for a foreigner who was Christian. One day, his boss invited him to a Bible study. My friend gladly accepted, and later became a Christian. However, he told me that he did not join the Bible study because of any interest in Christianity or the Bible. He joined because he had greatly respected his boss, and so was quite open to whatever he valued.

In many (all?) cultures, people respond in faith only after experiencing faith in action. In many shame-based cultures, people become involved in a church, and participating in church life, long before they decide to become a Christian. It also seems to be true that all over the world, people are more prone to “try before you buy.” They want to see both the Christian life lived out in front of them, as well as participate in the Christian life before actually deciding to become a Christian. In such cases, the discipling cycle seems backwards— they participate in the church or study group, learn to obey Christ, and then accept Him and be baptized into the church body.

Care must be made to ensure that God’s Message is not undermined by the other dimensions. Actions speak louder than words, as the saying goes. All of this is not to say that God cannot work simply through sharing the gospel. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather, the point is that evangelism should be seen as having many dimensions…. it has a cognitive component, an affective component, and a behavioral component. When sharing the gospel in a different culture, extra care must be made to ensure that God’s Message is not undermined by the other dimension.


7David B. Barrett. Evangelism! A Historical Survey of the Concept (New Hope, 1987). This book goes into the Greek word where we get the English term Evangelize and shows that, while its etymology suggests a narrow range of meanings, it is quite broad in its usage. Evangelism may be required to include the proclamation of Christ’s good news, it can also include a lot more things as well.

8James F. Engel, Contemporary Christian Communications: Its Theory and Practice (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1979).

9For more information, go to http://www.thegraymatrix.org.

Missionary Quote from Ruth Tucker

Referring to the focus of studying missionaries in mission history–

An added bonus was the lively cast of characters. I have often wondered as I have studied missions history if there is any other field of endeavor that has been peopled by such a “crazy” lot. Many of them were, it seems to me, more eccentric and risky and individualistic and driven than other segments of the population. Often self-sacrificing to the extreme, many were also pedantic and critical and mean-spirited— unable to live in harmony with colleagues or with those to whom they sought to ministry.

–Ruth Tucker, FROM JERUSALEM TO IRIAN JAYA: A BIOGRAPHICAL HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN MISSIONS, 2nd edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), pg 11 (Preface to the Second Edition).

This quote gives me both comfort and caution. The assessment of the quirckiness of missionaries is a bit of a comfort. The stereotype that missionaries go overseas because they ‘cannot hack it at home,’ is generally false, but does point to the fact that missionaries often are idiosyncratic and countercultural in their own homelands. As a missionary who is rather academic, introverted, and (yes) grumpy, it is comforting to know that I am part of a long tradition— a tradition that has successfully spread the gospel throughout the world. It is comforting since mission agencies today often look for extraverts who are more focused with obedient ‘doing.’ It is good in my mind that mission agencies are less focused on the rather dubious thing called the “missionary call.” That goodness may be offset by replacing that standard with personality testing. <Note: My wife and I have a counseling center, and we have done personality tests for missionaries. I have no problem with these testings, but I believe they are of more value for the candidate’s self-discovery, NOT for determining viability.>

As noted, however, there is caution. Missionaries have gone overseas and wreaked havoc. Sometimes in the mission team this is a problem because it reduces morale and increases attrition. Additionally, it can sabotage kingdom growth. There is a deeply flawed view that in ministry, “If even one person responds to the gospel, this makes it all worthwhile.” Ignoring opportunity losses, the fact is that an incompetent missionary or a divisive missionary, can undermine ministry… salting the mission field (a bad thing if you are not familiar with the expression) for years.

Missionaries are on odd bunch. That is a good thing… but they certainly need prayers to ensure that God can use that oddness effectively for His Kingdom.

Missionary Interview #2. Barry Phillips

This is my second interview— or more precisely, Q&A. This one is with Barry Phillips who has served in the Philippines for many years. The Phillips have been friends of ours for many years, so it is great to be able to do this Q&A.

Barry Phillips

Can you tell us about yourself and your family?  

Let me tell you about the new Barry Phillips; the old Barry is gone.  I surrendered my life to Christ while taking a sabbatical in the Philippines on June 29th, 2000.  And when I say surrendered, I mean it.  I gave Christ control over my profession, finances, possessions, friends, family, and time.  Rather than return to my lucrative IT job in Seattle, my wife and I opted to remain in a jungle region of the Philippines and make disciples.  We began by holding Bible studies with teenagers and quickly earned their confidence and respect.  Our weekly Bible studies quickly became four weekly Bible studies as siblings and parents joined in.  And in the spring of 2021 we planted a church in my neighborhood.  I agreed to pastor the church until we could find a suitable Filipino pastor.  I wasn’t qualified for the job for many reasons: I was still a new believer, I wasn’t theologically trained, I didn’t even speak the language.  But God blessed the ministry because we were obedient.  And he continues to bless it.  We’ve planted thirteen churches in the central Aurora Province, and God led us to open up a Bible school designed to train local leaders and prepare Filipinos to go as missionaries to other nations.  It’s all the Lord’s work, and I’m still in shock that he used me to be take part in it.

My wife, Lilia, and I have been married for forty years.  She’s a gem, and she’s relentless with the gospel.  We have two sons, Jesse, who is now 33 and Dylan, who is 28.  Jesse was ten, and Dylan was five when we moved to the Philippines.  I was privileged to be their home school teacher (grade 5-12 for Jesse and K-12 for Dylan.)  And, despite being ill-prepared as a teacher, both of the boys have now completed their master’s degrees: Jesse has an MBA from Liberty University and Dylan has his Master’s in Information Systems from the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio City Philippines.  My father feared that they were being deprived of a “proper” education while under my care, but both have done quite well.  Jesse is a music producer in Nashville, focused on worship music.  He’s so busy he has to turn down projects.  And Dylan, at age 28, is a mid-level software developer for a Nashville-based company that treats him like he’s a rock star.  Both of my sons are married, selecting fabulous women of faith, and Jesse’s wife, Kendall just gave birth to our first grandson, Judah Dean Phillips.

My mother passed away in March of 2020, just as COVID raised its ugly head.  We traveled from the Philippines to Georgia to attend her funeral and were unable to return to the Philippines for over 18 months due to COVID restrictions.  During that time, we bought a townhouse near our two sons in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and began serving within a local church here.  We are leading a team of missionaries to Aurora this summer, and are unsure whether we will be more effective at strengthening the Philippine ministry from here in Tennessee, or whether we will return full time to serve again in Aurora.  We will follow where the Lord leads.  

  • Please share with me how you became a convert to Christianity.  

My complete testimony was recorded and can be viewed at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIIPIboo3XI  I was an unlikely convert because of my advanced age and my hatred of the church.  Watch this short video and you’ll understand that God sometimes chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.

  • What is your present ministries and where you serve? 

I am currently the Director of Aurora College of Intercultural Studies, which is located in Maria Aurora, a town located in the Aurora Province of the Philippines NE of Manila. Our mission is to train Asians to reach Asia for Christ.  We offer one degree, which is a BA in Intercultural Studies. During COVID we were forced to shut down our on-campus training (which has now been resumed).  But the Lord did an amazing thing as we shifted our classes to an online format.  Filipinos from the Middle East began enrolling in our training.  A large congregation of Filipinos in Qatar joined us online.  Soon we had students from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Riyadh, and even Muslim regions of the Philippines joining us online for training.  We have quadrupled the number of students during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We’ve become partners with Horizon Education Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan and we’re now developing fully interactive, asynchronous training courses (in English) to better serve our students.

  • What are some of the blessings and struggles associated with hosting Short-term mission teams from the United States?  

I wrote a book about short-term missions entitled, “I Planted the Seed, and Woody Squashed it.” The reason that I wrote the book was because I felt we can do a much better job of preparing those who travel on short-term mission trips.  Too often the only qualification is that they are able to raise money to come along.  That’s a poor selection criterion to determine who will represent the Lord of Lords in a region in need of Him.  Some teams have been amazing, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with their effort, teamwork, and the result of their effort.  And other teams caused damage.  Let me rephrase that, some individuals on other teams caused damage.  They argued with their team members, rebelled against their team leader, refused to participate at times, complained about the food, the heat, the accommodations, … I’ve created an online Moodle course based on my experience and on the book.  I’d like to invite you, free of charge, to take and critique the course for me.  Contact me at my e-mail address below and I’ll send you a link.  

  • Where is God leading you to in your work in the next few years?  

I’m unsure.  I thought that I’d be able to find work in the ministry in the Nashville area, but it appears that 66-year-old missionaries are not in high demand.  I’d like to resurrect a child sponsorship program we started years ago.  We were able to lift the burden of poverty from over a thousand families by supporting their kids in school.  We used this as a platform to make Christ known and it was a highly successful initiative.  But we were living in the Philippines at the time and could find nobody in the US willing to do the work at this end (depositing checks, sending thank you letters, filing annual renewal with government, filing our taxes, etc.)  So we had to give it up.  If this program were to be resurrected, we can run the effort from the states and visit the Philippines a couple times each year to train and encourage our workers there.  I would not rely on volunteers again – the workers would receive proper compensation.  I’ve learned that you can’t fire or even scold volunteers when they let you down; they are helping out of the goodness of their hearts and encouraging them may not be enough to retain them.  As the ministry grows and prospers, more volunteers are needed, not adding more responsibilities to those who are already serving.  

  • How do you balance your life as a husband and father with your ministry work?  

My wife is my ministry partner.  We serve together, discussing every aspect of what is happening, who we should be investing our time with, when certain activities and events should occur, where we will spend our time, and how we’ll approach things. Lilia is an evangelist and moves too fast for me to keep up with.  Our only conflict was when she wanted to take on more than I felt we could handle.  I spent every day with my sons in school, so I had plenty of time with them.  They might even say that it was too much time.  There has never been a problem balancing the work with family.  I was blessed to be a self-supporting missionary and I did not answer to others for my daily schedule.  I did not keep regular office hours, and my schedule was quite fluid.  

  • Do you believe that serving in the mission field was good for your children or bad? Why?  

It was neither good nor bad, just different. But if you ask either of my sons today about the experience they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade it for a “typical” upbringing.  They were forced to endure weeks without power after strong typhoons.  They did not have hot running water in the house, and got used to taking cold showers.  For four years we had to travel to Cabanatuan, about four hours away, just to use the internet.  They were oblivious to US pop culture. They didn’t spend much time with their American grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins.  And they were confined to a small community where they were forced to adopt a new language, new customs, and new friends.  Neither of my sons had trouble transitioning from the jungle back to the US.  Jesse was given a music scholarship at Liberty University (answered prayer) and they extended his scholarship for his master’s degree if he agreed to play bass on their Campus Band.  Dylan was able to find work within a couple of months of being back in the states due to his proficiency as a software developer.  His wife, Abby, joined him in the US after a couple of years (they met in college in the Philippines.)  My sons are clearly two-culture kids as their mother is Filipina.  They appreciate Filipino food, culture and they have family members in both countries.  Neither of them, however, is likely to take up residence again in the Philippines. Life in the US is more comfortable, safer, and offers them better opportunities to support their young families.  

  • What activities/hobbies help refresh you after the stresses of ministry?  

I make guitars and give them away.  Each instrument requires about 100 hours of effort, and I use the solitude during the process to pray for the intended recipient.  It’s creative work that allows my mind to wander and it refreshes my soul.  

  • Tell me about some of the books that you have written.  

Through the Lord’s leading, I’ve authored four books:
(a)  Accidental Missionary – (now out of print) It was a topical book of prayers with scriptural support for each of the topics.  I used it frequently for Bible studies.

(b) I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) – This was written to strengthen short-term mission efforts.  Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:

I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) takes you on a brisk mountain bus ride into a Philippine jungle filled with dangerous reptiles, rabid dogs, drunks with machetes, armed insurgents, military checkpoints and people who are hungry to know Jesus. It includes accounts of missionaries who, while on mission, became involved in illicit romances, fell seriously ill, suffered from emotional meltdown, ran out of money, and who flagrantly violated their team covenant. I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) contains candid, essential advice for short-term missionaries. It illuminates rarely considered factors when planning a mission trip. And it challenges the notion that everyone who is able to raise enough money is suitable to participate in missions. It prepares you how to respond to beggars, angry drunks, or people infected with deadly, communicable diseases like tuberculosis or leprosy. Open this book and look at the table of contents and you’ll be hooked. With chapter titles like “Revolutionary Taxes” or “Am I Still Colored?” you know that this is no ordinary missionary training book! Short term missionaries have the potential to transform ministries around the world. Unfortunately, not all mission efforts are positive. I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) provides practical guidance to maximize effectiveness of short-term missionaries. It prescribes humility, cooperation, and alignment with host missionary efforts. It also includes a generous dose of common sense to prevent injury, sickness, robbery and a myriad of issues that affect international travelers.

(c) The 24h Province – The 24th Province is the only fictional book I’ve written.  It’s a redemption story, but filled with action and drama.  Here’s the Amazon synopsis:  

Medical missionaries hunker down in the path of Typhoon Kiko, the fiercest storm ever recorded. They fight for their lives as their shelter is ripped apart by howling winds. They struggle through darkness, rising flood waters and flying debris to their new haven. But just when they believe that they’ve found refuge and safety they discover that two members of their team are missing. Their horror is just beginning. The People’s Republic of China uses the chaos created by Typhoon Kiko to invade the Philippines. America weighs the cost of intervention and opts out of the fight, leaving the island nation without electricity, communications, allies or hope. The missionaries find themselves in the path of a brutal group of Chinese marines who are led by a heartless Captain. They attempt an escape but are captured and brutalized. But God shines through when the unforgivable is forgiven. The 24th Province is a tale of survival, treachery, brutality, miracles and forgiveness in the face of the unforgivable. Ultimately the 24th Province is a story of redemption. Would the United States go to war against the People’s Republic of China to defend the Philippines? Interesting issues are presented from both sides of this argument. The 24th Province provides illumination without judgment on the political issues. But what makes the 24th Province powerful is the response of the characters when they are tested beyond human limits.

(d) Church Doctor – Prescriptions for a Healthy Church. I love the church, and I’m troubled by its poor health.  This was written to suggest ways that we can strengthen our local fellowship.   Here’s the Amazon synopsis:  

Church Doctor (Prescriptions for a Healthy Church) provides frank advice to our ailing church. Be forewarned – Jesus is not returning to claim your congregation; He’s coming to gather the faithful. Not faithful attenders, but obedient followers. And, as a whole, the contemporary institutional church is utterly unprepared for His return. Our inward focus, lack of discipleship, and abysmally low expectations have created a church that is filled with spectators who practice dead faith. We’ve lost our love for the lost. And we’ve lost our identity. The world around us views us as hypocritical and judgmental, and sadly, they are not wrong. Church Doctor (Prescriptions for a Healthy Church) contains candid, essential advice to the church. The prescribed remedies for the church will challenge you, perhaps even painfully. Are you ready?

  • What would you do differently in your ministry if you had the opportunity to start over?  

With what I know now, there are two things I would do quite differently if we began the ministry today.  

Number One:  I would focus less on raising funds for church land, church buildings, church furnishings, and church equipment.  Our first church was planted on a couple of acres of land, and the building is impressive.  We added a fellowship hall and equipped the church with musical instruments, high quality microphones and a soundboard. And we fully supported a local pastor for almost nineteen years.  Such a church cannot easily replicate itself.  It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely in that region due to the amount of resources required.  If I could do it all over again, I’d plant many smaller, home-based, fellowships instead of larger churches.  I would use available funds to meet more physical needs (such as clothing, food, clean water, or schooling for the kids.)  We would demonstrate the love of Christ instead of talk about it.  The growth of the gospel was hindered as we waited for funds to buy land, build buildings, and support a trained pastor.  Training small group leaders would require more effort and oversight, but I believe that a discipleship-based growth strategy would have extended God’s Kingdom far beyond our thirteen churches over the past 21 years.

Number Two:  I would err more frequently on the side of grace.  I’ll give you one example.  Two of our missionary students, a male and a female, became entangled in a relationship that resulted in a single sexual encounter while they were on an extended summer internship in a remote province.  They were both tearfully repentant and confessed what had happened.  They asked for mercy, but none was shown.  The covenant they both signed to become students strictly forbade any sexual relationships, and they were both suspended indefinitely.  Now some, if not most of you, who read this would agree with the suspension or even expulsion.  How can we expect to train effective missionaries if they commit sin and break the rules?  That answer is now easy for me: by showing grace.  Too often we begin to think institutionally, following rules instead of extending grace, as Christ did.  As a Christian education institution, we announced to the world that grace doesn’t apply when you break our rules.  It was more than a school rule; they committed a repugnant sin in the eyes of God.  But both of my students confessed, were repentant, and begged for mercy that never came.  Instead, they were sent home to their families and home churches in shame. Is there any better place to teach grace than in a school designed to teach Christian leaders?  In the future, I will often err on the side of grace.  

  • How can people pray for you or support you?  

Please pray that the Lord will provide us with clear direction in the coming months.  Now that the Philippines has relaxed COVID requirements, we are able to return to our home in Aurora.  But we may be even more effective by remaining here in Tennessee to raise funds or organize mission trips to assist the ministry.  We’re unsure what step to take next.  

Regarding support: My wife and I do not require any personal support; I’m retired from the USAF and we can live on my retirement and social security incomes.  But if you are interested in helping out the ministry we can certainly use your help.  If you’d like to support a faculty member, a missionary student, or a Moodle developer, any amount at all would be a blessing.  You can learn more about Aurora College of Intercultural Studies at our website: https://www.auroracis.com/  The link to give is on the website.  

You can reach me at: globalwarmth@gmail.com – I’d love to hear from you.   

Missionary Interview #1. Adesegun Olayiwola

I am starting a series of interviews of different missionaries that I have connections with. This one is a Q&A. Adesegun Hammad Olayiwola was one of my students. He is active in Nigeria, and has written many books on issues of African Missions, Evangelism, and Muslim ministry. (Most of these are available on Amazon.) For more about him, you can read his answers.

Adesegun Olayiwola

Can you tell us about your family background?

I was born into a practicing Muslim family in a mostly Qur’an scholars city called Epe, in Lagos State, Nigeria. I started informal Qur’anic school at age of 7; I was practicing Islam as well as worshiping idols as I grew up. Islam was the religion of my parents. My Mum died just before I clocked 5 years and my family was the head of a polygamous family. I was the first child and my Mum was also the first wife.

Please share with me how you became a convert to Christianity.

Sometime in 1985, I was 16years old then in Form 3 in secondary school; I remembered I picked up a tract written by a former Muslim who accepted Christ. Back then, that type of tract cannot be handed over to people but only placed on the ground at night because of fear of attacks from the Muslims. The tract was about a passage in the Qur’an, where Muhammed told his followers that, he has no knowledge of what will happen to him nor his followers after death. In a word he cannot promise them heaven because he is like a blind man showing a way to the blind.

The passage reads, “Say O Muhammed I am not a new thing among the Messengers (of Allah i.e I am not the first Messenger) nor do I know what will be done with me or with you. I only follow that which is revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner”. [Surah Al- Ahqaf, Qur’an Chapter 46 vs. 9] and it was also re-echoed in Hadith of Muhammed in Saheeh Bukhari Volume 5, Book 58, Number 266. When I read the passage again and again in the Qur’an myself, I believed the Holy Spirit started the work then because I had so many questions about Muhammed and his messages, because the tract also analyzed Jesus’s claim and assurances in John Chapter 14 from verse 1 which I also read. That was the time I thought God had started my salvation process, although, I did not accept Jesus until May 1990. My heart was divided then, and at times started thinking about two prophets here, one was sure of the hereafter and one was not. The decision to follow Christ must also be weighed carefully because of the family I belong to, making me me think that the Christians are only trying to twist a Qur’anic passage to gain converts. However, the thought refused to go away from my heart and head for 5 years.

Because of a situation in my life in 1990, I was pushed to ask a Christian friend to pray for me, because I was desperately looking for a solution. Telling my Christian friend to pray for me was a shock and seemed unbelievable to him, and so he at first refused to take me seriously. This was because of my initial responses and arguments on the issue of incarnation of Jesus Christ, in which all Muslims believe that God has no son. But then, whether Jesus is a son of God or God Himself has not important to me— all I wanted was a way out. However, when my friend noticed that I was interested in the prayer, he said he will not pray for me except I come to his Church. Church? It has no big meaning to me, and I promised to attend the following Sunday which was 13th of May 1990, I went the following day as promised, because I was really desperate for a solution to my then problems.

My first Sunday services experience was another story, because I went for prayers for financial breakthrough, but the pastor led by the Holy Spirit preached on a topic call ‘THE DESTRUCTION OF THE WORLD’— the text was taken from Revelation chapter 8 from verses 1 to the end. The message of that day was clear and direct enough for me to understand that everything in the world will come to an end one day. My heart was touched by the Holy Spirit because the message was so frightening, I could not even think about prayers for financial breakthrough again. Instead my concern was about how I will be saved from the destruction of the world and how I will be raptured and escape those tribulations that the pastor claimed will happen soon. To me that Sunday, it was as if the world will be destroyed that day, and when I considered my life of recklessness and idol worship, I felt I will be doomed with the world. The pastor didn’t not do an altar call that Sunday, however, we were allowed to pray for ourselves and my only prayer that day, was ‘Jesus save me,’ because that was the only solution given to us to be free from torment after rapture and even in heaven.

What have been some of the struggles you have faced as a Christian minister in your setting?

There are struggles I passed through and I am still passing through as a Christian

  1. The struggle of family and relatives was one of those struggles that I went through. I have to relocate to another city to be able to practice my Christian faith.
  2. Also the church, I faced the challenges of people known or non-Christian background problems. People to refrain from you or let me just say that, since I don’t have any family or relatives in the church, most people found it difficult to relate with me.
  3. Even when I started the planting of a church alone, many members of the church found it difficult to believe that God called me to do the ministry. May be I should call it the challenges of my identity as a Muslim background believer.

What are some of the blessings you have experienced serving God as a minister?

  • One which is outstanding was the way God used people I don’t know to train me in the sense of scholarship to study theological education.
  • Joy in my heart is another blessing I am still receiving from God up till this date.
  • God is still using some people outside Africa to support me spiritually.
  • I also received financial blessings, somehow.  

What are things you wish that Christians knew about Muslims?

I cannot complete everything here but I wish Christians were more aware of:

  1. The doctrines of Islam are important to know, to help the discipler to know exactly the fears of new Muslim background Christian converts
  2. The likely persecution that might be faced by Muslim converts
  3. How to contextualized/find connections between some of the doctrines of Islam and the gospel messages
  4. Understand that Muslims don’t have a good Biblical studies foundation so Christian should go easy on them.
  5. Be aware of some of the Do’s and Don’ts in Muslim/Christian communications and relationship.
  6. Recognize that Muslims are also human beings created in the image of God and can be saved
  7. Recognize that Muslims are also part of the blessing of Abraham
  8. Christians should know that all Muslims are not terrorists.

What are things you wish that Christians knew about (or do for) Muslim Background Believers?

  • Be aware of some of the likely challenges that may be faced by the MBBs including the challenges of Isolation, Challenges of adapting to Christian Culture, Fear of Persecution, Challenges of Identity, Fear of Dangers of Becoming Apostate in Islam, and even the  Challenges of Death.
  • Show MBBs special love
  • Trust them and allow God to use them
  • Give them the same opportunities as Christian background believers
  • Give them time
  • Because most of them would be ostracized, we need to know that they also have needs to be met, they need education, take care of their family and e.t.c.
  • Be available for them always
  • If possible allow trained MBBs to disciple new MBBs converts

Please tell us about your ministry work.

I believed God called me to do missions in Africa. I actually started mission work with Church planting since January 1994. I believed then that God wanted me to take the gospel to a village where I was going to do charms before I got converted, when I got born again God told me to take gospel to the village after some unwillingness to go I finally gave up and I went to start the work in January 1994. The church started in 1994, and 6 years later in May 2000 I moved to another village called Ido in the local government of Oyo state. In Dec. 2008, I was transferred to another church with no members, the church God started was with only me before I traveled to Philippines in 2013. I also went to Shamata in Nyandarua county of Kenya in 2019 as a missionary to open a Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary – Seminary Education by Extension which I was the Coordinator and the only lecturer.

Where is God leading you in your work?

I believed God is calling me back to East African countries but currently I have an invitation to do missions with Emmanuel International Organization in Uganda. There I would have a series of lecturing opportunities— seminars and Muslims ministries have been scheduled for my visit in Uganda.

How do you balance your life as a husband and father with your ministry work?

Well, I think that is a little bit suffering because I don’t have specific source of income as a missionary, I depend on God for his provisions. At times many things were left undone including my children’s education because of my meager or little income. However God has been faithful in all.

How others could be involved in African missions?

People could visit us, come for medical missions, send books for our library, volunteer to come and teach and e.t.c

How can people pray for you or support you?

  1. People could pray for provisions for the mission work in Uganda
  2. People could pray for my ministry, ONLY WAY EVANGELICAL MINISTRY
  3. People could pray for me because I still wish to start a Theological Seminary where people could learn about Muslims Ministries
  4. People could support me financially for the Uganda work
  5. People could pray for more sponsors who will support me regularly
  6. People could pray for me for Partners
  7. People could pray for my family
  8. People could pray for my protection and provisions
  9. My current contact are:

Email: segunflawless@gmail.com 

Whatsapp: +2348060981639

Telephone: +2348037814559

Facebook: Vision For African Missions

Easter. It’s Okay… Really.

I wrote a post a few years ago called, “Christmas. It’s Okay… Really.” You can read it by CLICKING HERE.

I am writing this during Holy Week (Maundy Thursday to be exact). Easter is just three days away. The points of my previous post also applies to this holiday. The former post had several points:

  • It is Okay to Christianize a “Pagan” Holiday (Issue of Contextualization). I deal with this in more detail with regards to Christmas. In actuality, Christmas does not actually appear to have sprung up from a pagan holiday, but has been affected by pagan festivities over the centuries. Good contextualization comes from making a connection of the divine with the cultural. In some ways Easter is even less ‘pagan’ than Christmas. Unlike Christmas where the birthday of Jesus is highly speculative, we know fairly precisely when Jesus was crucified and when He rose (especially if utilizing a lunar calendar). Additionally, Easter is connected to the Jewish holiday of Passover. On the other hand, some practices, such as Easter eggs and Easter bunnies have connection to pre-Christian practices (apparently). And regardless of pagan roots, the eggs and bunnies are tied to the cycle of life as both relate to productivity and fertility— issues of special importance in Springtime, especially in Norther temperate climates. A few days ago, I was sent an article that connected Easter to all sorts of pagan practices. Some sure sounded quite… fanciful. some were based on more solid data. However, I am not focusing on the details here because I don’t have problems with “redeeming a holiday.” No day of the year is off-limits to Christian celebration.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate a “Civil” Holiday (Issue of Separation). Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Pentecost Sunday, Epiphany, Ash Wednesday and such are Christian religious holidays. The same can be said of Christmas, Easter, and Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras). The difference of these last three is that each of these share their day with a civil holiday of the same name, at least in some parts of the world. Christmas has a civil Christmas that is rather disconnected from its religious anchor. The same can be said of Easter and Mardi Gras. Some are very bothered by this, but there is something quite wonderful in that Christians and non-Christian can join together and celebrate the same day together. Of course, both Mardi Gras and Christmas have civil elements of excess that is quite problematic. It is rather nice that, generally speaking, civil Easter does not have this as much. Yes, candy companies have tried to make Easter a springtime equivalent to Halloween to market various products, but the excess has never been as ridiculous as with the other two. As such, I think it is quite nice that Christian and non-Christian alike can join together on Easter.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate Easter when we do (Issue of Historicity). I know the Eastern and Western churches have separated on when to celebrate Easter. Some wanted to separate Easter from Passover (a rather stupid idea I think). That being said, the key point is that it is meant to be a memorial to the event of Christ’s resurrection. Eusebius of Caesarea spoke in the early part of the 4th century on this matter of Easter. He notes that at that time, there were two “ancient traditions.” (Those today that see Easter as rejected by the early church are certainly guilty of over-simplifying the issue.) In the time of Eusebius, one group saw celebration of Jesus’s resurrection once a week on the Lord’s Day as sufficient. The other believed it good to have a once a year festival (presumably in addition to the Lord’s Day, not a replacement for it. You can read on this HERE. One group does not appear to be better than the other.
  • It is Okay to Celebrate (Issue of Asceticism). I don’t have anything to add from the one on Christmas. However, we should learn to get comfortable with addressing the issue of celebration. I have written on that somewhat: A Theology of Celebration. It is in two parts— PART ONE, and PART TWO.
  • It is Okay not to Listen to me (Issue of Conformity). I recently left an online discussion where one of the participants took great offense that many of the others did not agree with him. He appeared to believe that the rest of us were disagreeing with the Bible. In truth, what we were disagreeing with was his interpretation of the Bible and with the theological construct that he developed, in part, from the Bible. I won’t do that. You can take what I say to heart or not.

I will add one more:

  • It is Okay to Change the Name (Issue of Labeling). Some are concerned by the name Easter because of its non-Christian roots. They prefer the term “Resurrection Sunday.” That is perfectly fine. It certainly reminds us, as Christians, “the reason for the season.” However, I would recommend NOT trying to push this on everyone. As noted before, Easter has the benefit of being a celebration (in many countries) that bridges faiths. As a Christian with Christians, I celebrate Resurrection Sunday, but as a Christian with a more diverse crowd, I can joyously celebrate Easter— that strange holiday that brings together the religious and the mundane.

What’s Wrong With a Good Mystery (in Theology)?— Part 2

Continued from Part One

As noted before, Conservative Christians tend not to want to say “I don’t know” when it comes to Biblical or Theological questions. Some of that may be cultural. Having taught in a rather conservative seminary, I have certainly met my fair share of students who don’t like “wishy-washy” answers to questions. This is especially common with students who have received their training primarily from TV or Radio preachers (or from local pastors trained by those same individuals) who treat their own opinions as canon. There is something pretty shameful in this.

Perhaps no greater rejection of Mystery is found in Theology than Theodicy. This area seeks to explain or “justify” the existence of evil and suffering in a world created and maintained by an omnipotent and benevolent God. People REALLY don’t like to answer “I don’t know” to questions of Theodicy. I recall a class that I was leading where Psalm 44 was being reviewed. This is a wonderful lament with a lot of ambiguity. Bad things are happening without any simple answer as to why. One of my students, a pastor, did not like this at all… and went through a whole lot of mental gymnastics to show how that Psalm was consistent with his own view of suffering. (Fine… that is each person’s right.) Theodicy is not a strength of mine, but being an administrator of a counseling center certainly has led me to dwell on some of these issues more than some. After all, when someone asks, “Why is this happening to me?” after (or during) a crisis, it begs a theological answer. Although not always. Often it is rhetorical, saying, “I am in pain, please listen to me and be with me.” Still, when an answer is actually requested, what are some of the answers you have heard to this sort of question?

  • It is God’s will. (Do we know this? Doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer, and a number of statements of Jesus, suggest that many things happen that are NOT God’s will?)
  • It is for your good. (Again… do we know this? Certainly many things have indeed ‘come together for good,’ but does this mean that God intentionally did something harmful? And what about situations where redeeming the past is not really feasible?)
  • It is for your punishment. (This works for those who believe like Job’s friends that God only gives enjoyable things to those he favors, and only miserable things to those he does not. However, since Job’s friends were wrong, and much of history seems to bring doubt to this as well, it seems best to question this.

The Bible gives many different answers:

#1. Bad things happen to bad people (and good things happen to good people). Those who like this simple principle are attracted to places like Deuteronomy 24-25, and Proverbs.

#2. Bad things happen to good people. 1 Peter and much of the Gospels makes it clear that suffering is an expected result of faithfulness to Christ.

#3. Bad things and Good things happen to good (faithful) people. Read Hebrews 11.

#4. Bad things and Good things happen to both good and bad people. Read Ecclesiastes.

#5. We cannot know why Bad things or Good things happen to good people. Read Job or Psalm 44. Note that even though the book of Job gives a limited answer to us why bad things happened to Job, that information was not shared to him or others.

#6. We really shouldn’t speculate too much on why Bad things happen to people, especially as to whether they are bad or good. Read Christ’s guidance in Luke 13:1-4.

I am sure there are more answers given, and more nuanced variations of these, but just looking these over should make one reticent in giving universal answers to evil and suffering. Nevertheless, there are still attempts to come up with universal answers. One of my supervisees was leading a class where he was teaching different models for Theodicy. He listed four. They are Christian views and so do not include other answers like the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. I forget the titles, but the following are the descriptions:

Model One. Suffering exists because God chose to give us Free Will, and that freedom of choice has resulted in a lot of bad things happening. This does not really address Natural Disasters very well, in my opinion. I guess this is more of a Reformed theologian favorite.

Model Two. Suffering exists to give us opportunities to grow. This was promoted by John Hick.

Model Three. Suffering exists in a condition of mutuality with God. God suffers with us in our pain. This is promoted by Jurgen Moltmann, along with, I believe, some Liberation Theologians.

Model Four. I believe this is called the Anti-theodicy view, and rejects coming up with a justification for evil and suffering. Rather, one should focus more on what is practical— What should I do with regards to the the existence of suffering and evil?

I tend to gravitate to the fourth one. The others appear to me to be too narrow. However, I really don’t like the name. “Anti-theodicy” to me suggests a turning off of the mind to the searching and reflecting on this issue. That may not be the intent.

I prefer the term “Mystery.” I like the term because I believe it points to two truths.

First, the ancient meaning of mystery refers to what is hidden. The reason/justification for the existence of evil and suffering has not been fully revealed. It may not be that we lack the faith to accept the truth. It may not be that we have not studied hard enough. It may simply be that God has not fully revealed it… only giving us tiny bits and clues.

Second, in the more modern understanding of mystery, it is something that drives a quest for truth. Just because we may not have been informed fully on this topic does not mean we throw up our arms and say that it is hidden and so a waste of time to even think about. Logical Positivists would state that questions that could not be answered in terms of definitions or empirical tests were meaningless. This is a rather lazy way to avoid most of the most interesting questions out there. To simply say that the reason for evil and suffering is hidden to us by God and so it is a waste of time to consider the question is, I feel, rather like the Logical Positivists.

Instead of that, we can recognize that God may have kept this hidden from us. However, that truth should not invalidate the question. We can grow greatly in questions that cannot be completely answered; but we should be very cautious of anyone who has claimed to answer it fully.

I believe there are a lot of mysteries in the Bible. We don’t really know what Heaven is like— is it a natural paradise? Is it a bejeweled city of gold? It is a giant room with a throne in the center? Is it a place of leisurely perfection, unceasing adoration, or of meaningful service? Each of these can be argued true based on very limited clues we are given. What is Hell actually like? Outside of being a place you or I (or anyone for that matter) would want to be (or perhaps cease to be), we only have hints. What are the actual boundaries of God’s grace? Do we absolutely know who is beyond God’s grace?

Mysteries are not necessarily to be answered… but they are to be explored. When we are given an ambiguous answer, we are in effect, being told “This is the whole truth. Stop looking.”

Happy exploring.

What’s Wrong With a Good Mystery (in Theology)? —Part 1

I do enjoy a good mystery novel. I enjoy True Crime podcasts as well. Of these, I particularly like solved crimes. I think solved satisfies my yearning for justice, something that unsolved crimes lack. However, there probably is also a bit of a side to me that just wants to know what is— as Paul Harvey would say— “The REST of the Story.”

This happens in Christian Theology as well. I have heard so many give very dogmatic answers to very good questions that appear to lack a clear unambiguous answer. I have sat in many Bible Studies where the leader (usually it is the leader) struggles to crush a great question with a dogmatic answer. It seems like this is especially true in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity. Perhaps it is true of other branches of Christianity as well. After all, the Roman Catholic Church has the Magisterium, and many denominations have creeds and catechisms that exist, in part at least, to avoid giving the answer, “Well, I really don’t know.”

I think in Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity (a land I am more familiar with) the issue is probably tied to Sola Scriptura and “Sufficiency of Scripture.” While Sola Scriptura is historically different from “Sufficiency of Scripture,” in some denominations they have melded together. Quoting from that famous theologian, Wikipedia (in the article, ‘Sola Scriptura’), “Some evangelical and Baptist denominations state the doctrine of sola scriptura more strongly: Scripture is self-authenticating, clear (perspicuous) to the rational reader, its own interpreter (“Scripture interprets Scripture”), and sufficient of itself to be the final authority of Christian Doctrine.”

The Westminster Confession of Faith says something similar,

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.”

I don’t really care for the Westminster Confession. The term “deduced from Scripture” appears to me to be a bit cavalier— encouraging people to find clear dogma where there is none. becomes bad when people read into it meanings that were not necessarily intended. Also the broadness of the first part of the sentence is concerning— ‘whole counsel,’ ‘all things necessary’ for glory, salvation, faith and life. The term ‘Life’ is pretty broad. Does the Bible give whole counsel in how to fill out a tax return. No doubt the Bible gives ethical principles and Christians regarding honesty, finances, and relationship to government— but is that the same as ‘whole counsel.’ I am sure the crafters of the confession has a more narrow understanding of the word ‘Life,’ but the term certainly lends itself to abuse. Words can inform, but also confuse. Much like the “T” in TULIP (Total Depravity of Man) does not really mean that everyone is always living in complete depravity (understanding ‘depravity’ in the normal laymen’s use of the term), Sola Scriptura does not really mean “Only Scripture,”— the approximate direct translation of the term. That is part of the reason I prefer “Prima Scriptura” (since I feel it is simply more intellectually honest— no one has EVER theologized or lived out their Christian life through Sola Scriptura).

Why am I talking about this when I am supposed to be talking about Mystery? Because, some people when they hear Sola Scriptura (Only Scripture or Scripture Alone) what they interpret it as is, “The Bible has the answer to every question that I have— I only have to dig deep enough.” This has led to many novel things such as using numerology to figure out secret messages in the Bible to determine the time of the return of Christ. Many have found such secret messages while somehow not seeing the clear statements that Jesus did not know the time, and that we are to be ‘always ready.’ Of course, looking for secret messages goes back to the impulse of the Gnostics of the first few centuries of Christianity: so it is most definitely not a new thing.

I recall a Bible School extension facilitator that refused to use textbooks or other reference books for any of the classes at the center based on the argument that the only book a pastor needs is the Bible. And yet there are many things that a pastor is expected to know and do that are not in the Bible— such as “How to write a sermon,” “How to develop a music ministry,” and “What should be included in a church covenant.” Even the basic question of “What does a Pastor do?” is only answered in a very general way in the Bible. In Pastoral Counseling, there was the Biblical Counseling movement that interpreted Sola Scriptura as “Everything one needs to know about counseling in behavior and in counseling content is in the Bible.” Often this has led to some pretty heavy cherry-picking of Bible verses to try to work around the fact that the Bible is silent on many things.

But we are still not talking about Mystery. Up to this point, I am only talking about the fact that many people think that all answers are in the Bible, when there is no such claim in the Bible. However, you can see how this disconnect can lead to an avoidance of Theological mystery. After all, if a theological question comes up where the answer appears to be “I don’t know,” some would say that simply means one must DIG DEEPER (in Scripture). Sadly, digging deeper often means coming up with theological constructs that are grounded on one’s own preferences and held together with a loose collection of proof-texts. So, to take a question that is important to some people, “Do Dogs Go to Heaven?”, the Bible is stunningly silent. Some don’t leave it at “I don’t know”— a perfectly valid answer— but start suggesting drawing on Genesis one with humans having the breath of life to suggest that dogs have no souls… and therefore cannot be in heaven. Others give a pretty strong affirmative answer to the question based on how wonderful and perfect Heaven is, based on numerous Bible passages, and how could such a place be perfect if one’s favorite pet wasn’t there as well for eternity? The intellectually honest answer is “I Don’t Know and my lack of a definitive answer is NOT because I have not dug deep enough, but because God has (quite intentionally I presume) chosen not to give a definitive answer, but rather to leave it for speculation and mystery.”

Of course, to say that there is not clear answer should not be a call to stop thinking. I believe God has left us a lot of mysteries for our benefit. The benefit is, largely, in our opportunity to explore and to contemplate. Not having a final answer actually adds to the joy, rather than detracting from it.

I will explore this further in PART TWO— with Theodicy as the primary are of consideration.

Wicked Missions

I first heard the terms “Wicked Learning Environment” versus “Kind Learning Environment” in an interesting little Youtube video a few days ago on a channel called “Curious Tangents.” Then only a yesterday it came up again when talking to a cousin of mine in the context of the work of Daniel Kahneman (in his book, Thinking Fast as Slow). I decided to look into it a bit more. As far as I can see, the terms were developed by Emre Soyer and Hogarth.

Conceptually, it is quite simple. A “Kind Learning Environment” (KLE) is one in which one’s experience (one could also say training in all of its flavors) can be considered reliable in preparing one for future activity in that environment. A “Wicked Learning Environment” (WLE) is one in which one’ experience must be recognized as unreliable in preparing one for future activity in that environment.

Generally, Kind environments (or domains) are ones where the rules don’t change or the object of study does not change. Chess rules don’t change (as most sports don’t change, or change very slowly), so training and experience in chess in the past will be informative in the future. Human anatomy doesn’t change so training in human anatomy will remain helpful for those fields of work that have to deal with that domain.

This is not to say that there is no need for continuing education in Kind domains. Things still change, but even then, the changes can be understood as specific “tweaks” to the foundation of learning rather than the need to throw things out.

Wicked domains are those where the rules keep changing (software design) or the object studied is constantly changing (like business). Ones past competence is not only necessarily a good indicator of future performance. And further, it is possible that the experiences and lessons one has gained from the past may be an impediment for success in the future.

With this in mind, Christian Missions is VERY WICKED. First, Christian Missions is heavily contextual in terms of ministry setting and time. Things change over time. What is needed in missions in 2020 is not what was needed in 1820 or 620. Settings vary geographically and culturally with varying needs. Based on this alone, if a person had 20 years of experience in Setting A as a missionary, there is no certainty that this experience will be helpful in Setting B.

Second, Christian Missions has different goals. While some (like McGavran or Winter) saw this in terms of evangelism and churchplanting, other goals are almost always realistic, whether it is community development, relief ministry, leadership development and more. And even if one believed that evangelism and churchplanting were the only goals, the specific, strategies to do this may vary greatly in terms of time and place.

Third, the factors that make experience unreliable as a predictor of success is even more true of formal education in missions. Much of missions education is limited to only certain goals, utilizing only certain systems of missions (like 4F — foreign, full-time, fully-financed, forever— missions), that is applicable in only certain places. Add to that, the missions training was probably developed by older missionaries that had developed their knowledge base from their experiences from decades before, and you have a real problem.

Does this mean that formal education and experience has no value? NO. However, one must more consciously enter every mission situation as a learner. At the point where one concludes that one has it all figured out, we are starting down the wrong road. As Daniel Kahneman notes in the book I referenced above, we tend to use our own experiences as reality— that is just the way it is. It it may be that that WAS just the way it was at that point, in that place, under those circumstances.

Personally, I think this is why it is better to learn Theology of Missions to provide a centering for missions. It is also good to study History of Missions, not to learn exactly what to do and who to copy, but rather to understand missions in its variety, its changing quality, and the harshness of lessons. It is also good to learn the principles of Cultural Anthropology, not to understand a culture, but to learn the process for tentatively understanding cultures. It is further important to learn how to do research (especially qualitative research) and how to interpret and utilize findings.