Book Updates

I have been working on a few updates. Here is some updates (if you are interested).

  1. My wife and I have finished updates on our book, “Dynamics in Pastoral Care.” Actually, part of that was in changing the title (slightly) as well as the cover. Therefore, it looks like a totally new book… but only a few pages, and minor editing changed. You can preview it HERE.

2. I have updated my “Beta” version of “Walking With as a Metaphor for Missions Theology.” It is not completely edited. But it is getting better. You can download the updated version by CLICKING THERE.

3. I am finally updated my book on Cultural Anthropology (from a Missions perspective). I have been using the book for several years. Each year I get a little more dissatisfied with it… but I still find it useful. However, one chapter I feel I must fix. I did a chapter on Ethnicity and Race. I was rather dismissive of the topic because both ethnicity and race are social constructs not based on “reality,” and yet people around the world have used these constructs as if they are real and important. I suppose the fact that I am married to someone of a very different ethnicity, and have children who would be called “bi-racial” adds to my unhappiness with this topic, and tending to be dismissive. However, even if race is a made-up construct, racism is very much a reality in cultures. So I need to take the topic more seriously. Still working on this.

Staying Behind: Theology of “Anti-Missions” (Chapter 9)

I recently completed the “Beta” version (or semi-rough first draft) of my book, “Walking With” as a Metaphor for Missions Theology. If you are interested in it, please CLICK HERE to see how you can download it (for free). The following is Chapter 9 on the Theology of Anti-Missions. This heavily drew from a post I wrote a few years ago. The book cleans it up, expands it a bit, and establishes the footnotes.

Chapter 9

Staying Behind”

Theology of Anti-Missions

In the previous chapter, we saw some churches struggling to embrace missions. In some cases there were impediments that held them back. In some cases, there were theological barriers that were set up to undermine the basis or practice of missions. Missions, at least in a general sense, has been around from the earliest days of the church. It, along with worship, discipling, and fellowship were part of the practice of the church long before there was formal theologizing. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. Theology often develops from reflection on practice. Missions has rarely had much theological consideration, either as a foundation of practice, or as reflection.

Christopher Wright quotes Spindler:

If ‘mission’ is understood as the sum total of all actual missionary activities in the modern period or as everything undertaken under the banner of ‘missions,’ then an honest biblical scholar can only conclude that such a concept of mission does not occur in the Bible.”1

Wright strongly supports missions. But he notes that a lot of what we do in the name of Christian missions is done without a log of reflection, either biblically or theologically. Because of this, it is hardly surprising that Missions has sputtered a lot in history. Missions as an activity not directly overseen by local churches faded in the 2nd century and was almost unknown in the 3rd.

There are a number of reasons for this, but theology does have a role. It should be added up front that it is not always clear whether people’s theology drive them away from missions, or whether they have a disinclination toward missions, and then use theology to support that view. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because it is hard to separate theology from application of theology.

Consider, for example, the theology of John Calvin.

“Gustav Warneck (1834–1910), the father of missiology as a theological discipline, was one of the first Protestant scholars to point out that Calvin and the Reformers had no missionary concern. A.M. Hunter even went so far as to state in his book on Calvin’s teaching: ‘Certainly he [Calvin] displayed no trace of missionary enthusiasm’. Others held an entirely different view and noted ‘an intensified zeal for evangelism’ in Calvin.”2

It is difficult to see how such divergent views can exist. Fans and detractors can often interpret the same data far differently. But some work of Calvin points to a more mediated view. Consider the following quote of Calvin:

Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace even severe rebuke will be administered like medicine, lest they should perish or cause others to perish. But it will be for God to make it effective in those whom he foreknew and predestined.“3

Certainly here, evangelism and the missionary activity is supported directly. On the other hand, it is hard to see an “essential missionary theology” or an “intensified zeal for evangelism.” The passage seems to say that one’s motivation to share the gospel should come from the fitting desire to believe (the seeming fiction?) that God wants everyone to be saved. It then goes on to say that if one shares the Gospel with one who is predestined as elect, God can use that to make their election effective. It is still a bit unclear, however, whether such missionary action would give eternal results that are different from inaction. In the end, the Theology of the Reformers may, or may not, be anti-missiological, but they are certainly less than enthusiastic; and this shows itself in the activity of the early Protestant churches. It could however, be said that theology does not have a strong role in missions. The Crusades were driven in part by a missionary fervor, yet got derailed, in part, by religious and racial hatreds. Such hatred was guided more by sociological and historical components, I might argue, than by theology, even if theology may have been used to justify such attitudes. In the early Protestant movement, survival, the lack of mission-sending structures, and the historical reliance on State churches, among others, certainly worked against missional activity. More on this in the previous chapter, but that is not all of it. Theology had a role. Consider the case of missions among Baptists in the 18th and 19th centuries.

William Carey, referred to by some as the Father of Protestant Missions, wrote his great booklet, “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.”4 in the late 18th century. Carey came from a religious group, the Particular Baptists. As “dissenters” of the state church, they could, potentially, have a greater desire to share the gospel beyond national boundaries (those boundaries often seen as defining the area of concern for the State Church). However, this potential was crushed by a form of Reformed theology that saw the work of salvation as God’s alone. If, then, salvation was only a work of God, then it seemed quite logical that evangelism, both locally and cross-culturally, was irrelevant or even impertinent.

Carey chose not to directly challenge the theology of his church. Rather, he chose to challenge its implications. Preachers of his denomination commonly deduced from their theology that the Great Commission, in its Matthew 28 form, was simply Jesus addressing his eleven present disciples. As such it lacks relevance today. Carey made three arguments against this thinking:

  • If “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” is not for us today, then neither is “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” What is our justification for baptizing, as Baptists, if Jesus only commanded the original disciples to baptize, and not us?
  • If the commissioning in Matthew was only for the original 11, presumably then every preacher who has shared the Gospel to unreached peoples over close to two millennia, including those who shared their faith to ancestors of the majority of readers of Carey’s booklet, did so without God’s authority/blessing.
  • If the commissioning was only to the disciples who were present with Him, why did Jesus end the commissioning with “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.” Such a statement would be appropriate if Jesus was talking to people throughout future history. If Jesus was only talking to the Eleven, He might be more likely to say something like, “Lo, I am with you always, as long as you live.”

I have never thought the second point very strong, but presumably it struck a chord with the readers. With this, Protestant missions gradually grew from a trickle into a stream and then into a mighty river.

But there was still a problem. The theology of many of the Particular Baptists said, “God has determined salvation from the past, and His work is completely unaffected by our activity today, so there is no need or value in evangelizing.” Carey added an important, but dissonant, statement. “Jesus has commanded us to evangelize, so you should do so– regardless of whether you believe it is effective.” One might even hear a bit of resonance with the quote from Calvin above that could be read as “share the gospel as if doing so has efficacy.”

People can often live their entire lives with opposing beliefs… but this conflict can spring to the forefront when such a conflict is articulated effectively. It could be argued that the Baptists in London were already struggling between the belief that salvation is the work of God alone, and the Biblical record of God working through people to carry out His mission. The words of William Carey in his Enquiry, led to a great change of direction. But eloquence pointed in the opposite direction can result in a very different result.

In 1826, a Baptist in America, Daniel Parker, published “Views on the Two Seeds.” The two seeds he was referring to were those mentioned in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you,” the serpent, “and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Parker expressed the belief, in pages 4 and 5 of his work, that the seed of the woman was “Christ and the elect,” while the seed of the serpent is “the Non-elect.”

“Eve’s sin allowed Satan ‘to beget the wicked, sinful principle and nature in her,’ thus allowing both the seed of Satan and the seed of Christ to enter the human bloodstream. Satan’s seed is represented in the covenant of works, Christ’s in the covenant of grace. The elect seed can be redeemed, but the nonelect cannot.”5

The theology of this work resonated with Baptists, especially in the Western (what we would now call Mid-Western) regions of the United States and their view of determinism regarding salvation. McBeth, lists three line items from the “Apple Creek Association” from that period showing Anti-Missions sentiments:

“19 We as an association do not hesitate to declare an unfellowship with foreign and domestic missionary and bible societies, Sunday Schools and tract societies, and all other missionary institutions.

21. No missionary preacher is to have the privilege of preaching at our association.

We advise the churches to protest against masonic and missionary institutions, and not to contribute to any such beggarly institutions.”6

Of course, the anti-Missions movement was driven by other factors than theological. There were regional disagreements or rivalries. Most Baptists in the Eastern United States were “Regular” or supporting Missions, while those in the West tended to be anti-Mission. Cost had a factor, and poor churches in the frontier regions were more likely to see mission organizations as parasitic to the church. The 2nd century work, the Didache, had similar concerns and gave local churches strict guidance to identify true versus false apostles. A chief criteria was on how much time and support they sought from local churches rather than getting about their business of mission work.7 Additionally, the Western Baptist churches were suspicious of theological education, and seminaries were often lumped together with mission organizations in their opposition.

However, another major theological view that greatly strengthened the Anti-missions movement was ‘Biblicism.’ This is the belief or theological stance that only institutions that are expressly noted in the Bible are legitimate. This was very strong in the early 1800s. In 1827, the Kehuckee Association published “A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men.”8 Those who agreed with such declarations, often called themselves “Old School Baptists” referring, presumably, to the pre-Carey Particular Baptist tradition, or even further back, perhaps, based on the “Trail of Blood” belief that Baptist churches go back to Jesus and John the Baptist. The Campbellite Baptists, led by Alexander Campbell saw themselves as Reformers of the Baptist tradition. Until they broke free from the Baptist fold to form the Campbellite or Church of Christ, movement, they opposed Missions as well. Both of these have an underlying premise of Biblicism. For the Kehuckee Association, the Modern Missionary Movement is an “Institution of Men” rather than of God. For Campbell, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” led to ‘where the Bible is not explicitly affirming, we oppose.” The Anti-Missions Baptists and the Campbellites saw themselves as seeking a “primitive” New Testament church and more recently, a “pre-Carey” Baptist church.

In the 20th century, other theological concerns have crept in. Perhaps most well known as the Liberal-Fundamentalist controversies in the 1920s. In broader Protestant circles, this can be seen in the controversy generated by “Rethinking Missions: A Layman’s Enquiry after One Hundred Years,” published in 1932 largely through the work of W. E. Hocking.9

The report distinguishes between temporary and permanent elements in the function of a missionary. The task of the missionary today, it was maintained, is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions, to co-operate with the most active and vigorous elements in the other traditions in social reform and in the purification of religious expression. The aim should not be conversion – the drawing of members of one religious faith over into another – or an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly. Co-operation is to replace aggression. The ultimate aim, in so far as any can be descried, is the emergence of the various religions out of their isolation into a fellowship in which each will find its appropriate place.”10

This report and the larger belief system it espouses, was a huge problem theologically. However, into 1960s, missions associated with the IMC and World Council of Churches still maintained goals that were generally consistent with the goals of missions for centuries– cross-cultural sharing the gospel of Christ and development of viable local churches.11

But this began to change. There was a growth in seeing Mission in terms of “Christian Presence” which called for behavior that appeared to be every bit as vague as the term sounds. With “The Church for Others” published for the WCC in 1967, things had radically changed. Missions did not really involve a call to repentance. Proselytism is seen as “the opposite” of missions. Conversion is not seen so much as individual and personal, but is seen as more corporate in form. That is not to say there were no good points in the work… but rather that mission theology had radically changed… and much of those changes undermined the historical purposes of doing mission work.

“Presence” became a word that was used as a substitute for “witness,” “mission,” and “evangelism.” Charles de Foucauld described a missionary as ‘a person who is in the place with a presence willed and determined as a witness to the love of God in Christ.’”12   This definition is not so much wrong or bad, but so vague that it could entail doing almost anything or nothing. Panikkar during this same period, saw missionaries not so much as bringing Christ to other cultures, but helping other cultures “discover Christ” in their culture through the missionaries’ services to the people.

Why would there be such a radical change during this time? I really don’t know. However, the IMC, International Missionary Council, formally joined the World Council of Churches in 1961. Perhaps the IMC, a thoroughly missions-oriented organization, provided a strong influence on the WCC gatherings in 1961 and 1963… but that influence declined later in the decade, and was driven more by churches that had a different perspective and agenda. It does seem, however, that the WCC has backed away from these extremes and has a view that is closer to the Evangelical view than in the 1960. It should be noted that Evangelicals also had issues in the 1960s in terms of missions where, seemingly, in reacting to broad liberal views of missions, Evangelicals began identifying missions only in terms of proselytizing and church-planting. This view also was modified in the 1970s and beyond.

Today, there are a number of theological positions that undermine the basic premises of Missions. One of these is Universalism– the idea that God’s benevolences or grace is so great that it ultimately overpowers His justice. Therefore, everyone will, eventually at least, be saved. This view does not directly attack missions, but does make the enterprise seem unnecessary. If everyone is saved anyway, why share the Gospel, unless it is to do nice things for people perhaps.

Somewhat related to this is Theological Pluralism that takes a relativistic view of religions. Some may say that there are many paths to God and salvation. Others may say that there is only one path (through Jesus– the way, the truth, and the life) but many may be saved by Jesus who do not personally know Jesus. So if a Hindu can be saved by God by being a Good Hindu, or a Muslim be saved by God in being a Good Muslim, missions, at least in terms of sharing the Gospel message, may be seen as unnecessary. At worst it can be disruptive… leading people to stray from a moral adherence to their non-Christian faith.

Summary

Theology matters in terms of missions. Bad theology can lead to bad missions. A theology that undermines the Biblical purposes of missions, or greatly narrows its role, may greatly hinder the missions efforts. Further, doing missions activities even though it may be disconnected to their theology, is likely, eventually, to cause problems.

Chapter Nine Endnotes

1 Christopher J.W. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006),36. The quote comes from Mark Spindler’s article, “The Biblical Grounding and Orientation of Mission.” in the book Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction.

2 (Calvin and mission Jacobus P. Labuschagne HTS Theological Studies vol.65 n.1   Jan. 2009)

3 (Van Neste, 2009:2)Ray Van Neste, 2009, John Calvin on evangelism and mission, 1–6,

viewed n.d., from http://www.founders.org/journal/fj33/

article2.html.

4 William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

5 (H. Leon McBeth. “The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness,” 374.). Daniel Parker writings can be found in Elder Daniel Parker’s Writings, available at http://asweetsavor.info/pdf/Parker-2Seeds.pdf

6 McBeth, 372.

7 Didache on False Apostles

8 A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men. 1827. The document is available at http://docplayer.net/78867650-The-kehukee-declaration.html. For much of the rest of the chapter, refer back to McBeth’s book.

9 Re-thinking missions ; a laymen’s inquiry after one hundred years, by the Commission of appraisal, William Ernest Hocking, chairman. 1932.

10 (Stephen Neill “A History of Christian Missions, (Penguin Publishing, 2nd edition), page 419).

11 Much of this section comes from Rodger C. Bassham Missions Theology.

12 (“Missions Theology” by Rodger C. Bassham, p. 73)

Cultural Anthropology– A Christian Perspective?

A book I like, and have used before in my classes on Cultural Anthropology is “Cultural Anthropology– A Christian Perspective” by Stephen A. Grunlan and Marvin K. Mayers (1988). You can find it by CLICKING HERE.

I decided to do something yesterday that I pretty much never do— read the reader comments (in this case on the Amazon page for this book).

  1. The most thorough reviewer gave the book a 3 out of 5. It seems that the thing the reviewer was concerned about was that the authors may not be strong enough on “Biblical Absolutism.” The book deals considerably on the issue of Biblical Absolutism versus Cultural Relativism. I felt authors did an admirable job in this task. Perhaps there was a concern on the reviewers part not about Biblical Absolutism but rather Bibical Cultural Absolutism. A lot of Christian conservatives struggle with this. For example, if women are supposed to express a submissive attitude and demonstrate this, in part, by wearing a head covering in 1st century Hellenized churches, does that mean that all churches in all cultures at all points in history must do likewise? Anyway, the reviewer noted how difficult it is to have a good balance between these concepts, and that good people can disagree somewhat. Overall, I thought it a pretty good review.
  2. There are several that are of the sort, “I really liked the book, and you should buy it.” Nothing wrong with these, but they are not hugely informative.
  3. An interesting one is a 1 out of 5 score post that starts out “This book is a horrible, almost criminal, misuse of anthropology.” It ends with “This book disgusts me, like all missionization.” Of course, the last statement explains the first statement (except for the expression “almost criminal” which I suppose is used for rhetorical effect). In the middle, the writer condemns the authors (conflated into the singular), “If the author understood anything about the discipline, he would know that it is about relativism and respect for differences” I don’t really have a problem with review. It expresses his understanding of (presumably cultural) anthropology. I am a bit curious about the purpose of the review, however. If the reviewer really does embrace relativism and respect for differences, why does the review appear to be rather disrespectful of a difference of perspective, and quite non-relativistic. I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that it is of the sort, “I am tolerant of everyone except the intolerant.” The curious thing, however, is that the book is trying to right the wrongs of the past where missional zeal often mixed the sharing of the gospel with cultural imperialism. The books seeks to find ways to find a balance between sharing one’s faith with respecting culture. I think the idea that the book is utilizing the tools of anthropology to support “cultural genocide” is a bit extreme. The truth is that cultures are constantly interacting with other cultures and cultures are constantly changing. Cultural anthropology respects all cultures, but does not (should not at least) support an artificial static idea of culture. Rather than seeing interaction as bad, it should see how such interaction can be good. I am reminded of talking to Brazilian Christians who expressed unhappiness with the government for making it illegal to share the gospel with the isolated native groups that dot the Amazon basin. In the minds of the Brazilian Christians, these isolated groups are not generally isolated anyway. They do interact with illegal loggers, drug groups, land speculators and more. These groups will (and do) interact with outsiders— the question is whether they will be interacting with those that help or those that hurt.
  4. The last one I will note is another 1 out of 5 score. The person complains about the title of the book, nothing that there are 3 perspectives for cultural anthropology— “(1) cross-cultural, or looking at other cultures than our own, (2) holistic, or looking at all parts of culture in relation to each other, and (3) relativistic, or looking at each culture as its own standard of values and meaning. Notice there is no “Christian perspective.”” For some reason, I actually took the statement positively. Somehow I thought the writer was saying, “There is no one single ‘Christian perspective;’ but there are in fact many different Christian perspectives.” And that would be true. The perspective of the book is “Conservative, evangelical, mission-forward, Christian” perspective. There is no doubt, it is not the only perspective that could be called Christian. Of course, I should not have jumped into this benefit of the doubt, because there was really no doubt. The reviewer was saying that there are only 3 valid perspectives, and none of them is “Christian.” That, as you probably figured out for yourself, is non-sense. First of all, a study of culture through the lens of a different culture (perspective #1, cross-cultural) is common… perhaps the most common. And a lens of culture can be Christian just as much as it can be Buddhist, or Serbian, or Zulu, or anything else. However, this book is not about studying cultures through the cross-cultural lens of Christianity, technically speaking. Christian perspective is not so much about cultures abut about cultural anthropology. In line with that, the term has more to do with theories of cultural anthropology (of which there are MANY) as well as theories of applied anthropology. The reviewer suggested two titles as more appropriate— “Destroying Other Cultures with Your Culture” or “Destroying Anthropology by Misusing It.” Again, since the book was written to try to counteract unhealthy forms of cultural imperialism while still being true to the mandate to share God’s message to the world, I feel that the first title is off-base. As far as the second title, I feel nothing much one way or another about it. A tool can be used in many ways. I am not sure that using it in a way that one doesn’t like should automatically be considered “misuse.” I mean, the reviewer calls himself (presumably not herself), Franz Boas. Since Franz Boas, a great mind in cultural anthropology, has been dead since 1942, it could be argued that he is misusing that name. Or maybe not. Misuse is awfully subjective.

I would say, read it for yourself. It is now getting to be a bit ‘long in the tooth’ but I feel it has aged better than many from the same period.

Mission Theology Book in “Beta”

I have finished the first draft of my book “Walking With” as Metaphor for Missions Theology.

If you are interested in reading it as it is, you can click on the Download Button above.

Now you might be thinking, “Why, oh why, would you want to put it up unfinished?”

  1. It is basically finished. I have said everything I want to say. There is just clean up of grammar, finishing the sloppy endnotes, perhaps adding index and reference pages, and the final read-through. Informationally it is complete.
  2. This has been a SLOW book for me. I taught a course in Missions Theology back in 2016 and thought putting together a book on this topic would be helpful for my students (good textbooks are hard to find in the Philippines). So I started working on the book. But then, I was moved to teaching Interreligious Dialogue (IRD). So I put together a book for that class, and I cannibalized large chunks of my Missions Theology book for that purpose. I decided I would never complete the Missions Theology book. However, COVID time got me thinking. I have the time and I feel like I have something to say.
  3. My schedule gets rather cluttered in the next few weeks— perhaps next few months. I don’t want to sit on the project for a few months. I would rather put out what I have and then revise and complete when I have time.
  4. If people download it and read it, and then have constructive comments, that would be helpful.

I have decided not to sell this book (most likely) but I hope it puts some ideas out there in thoughtspace that will be of value to missions.

Again, click on the title of the book at the top to download a pdf version of this book.

Missions and Theology Chapter

Years ago, I started a book on Missions Theology— 2016, I think. But in 2017, I stopped. Then I worked on a couple of other books on missions, gutting some parts of this book. But then I started to work again on it during this pandemic. I am mostly done. Here is a rough draft of Chapter 11.

Note: I have not added footnotes yet. I don’t want to appear to be violating proper attribution. With that in mind, I would point people to Stephen Bevan’s book “Models of Contextualization,” Paul Hiebert’s article, “Critical Contextualization,” and David Tracy’s book, “Plurality and Ambiguity.” Pretty much everything else is from one of my books or from this website.

————————————————————————-

Methods of Contextualizing Theology

Paul Hiebert, in his article “Critical Contextualization” <FN> speaks of three forms of contextualization— Non-Contextualization, Uncritical Contextualization, and Critical Contextualization. Critical Contextualization can be viewed as the healthy balance between the other two. Non-Contextualization essentially brings in the missionary’s own theology and beliefs without separating them— implicitly treating them equally as true. This leads to a foreignness to Christianity, and often simply pushes traditional beliefs under the thin veneer of Christian dogma. Uncritical Contextualization assimilates too well with the local beliefs, losing its prophetic characters. This leads to a form of syncretism. I would argue that Non-contextualization also leads to a form of syncretism, but being the uncritical mixing of God’s message with the missionary’s culture rather than the respondents’ culture.

Figure 11. Critical Contextualization

Figure 11 shows these three categories in terms of a pendulum that can swing to one extreme or another. Perhaps a failure in this figure is that it could be interpreted to suggest that the most likely place to end up is in the middle. However, it is probably that the most likely place to end up is at one of the extremes. In both of these extremes, the message may be seen as irrelevant. For Non-contextualization, it is irrelevant because it answers the concerns and ideas of the missionary’s culture, not that of the respondent culture. For Uncritical Contextualization, it may be culturally relevant in the sense that it connects to the beliefs and symbols of the culture, but is irrelevant since it fails to challenge or instruct.

In between is Critical Contextualization which seeks to combine

  • Taking the concerns of the respondent culture seriously
  • Looking at the respondent culture sympathetically
  • Studying the Bible carefully and thoughtfully

This sort of process can be quite helpful in general, but still leaves a lot of uncertainty when it comes to developing a localized theology. One question is, in fact, who does the localization? Is it the missionary? Is it the new believer’s in the respondent culture? In the next chapter, the tests for good contextual theology suggests that the ideal is that new congregations of the respondent culture should develop their own theology, but with critique from the outside. Such an ideal, however, does not always occur. Quite often the most rigorous defenders and transmitter’s of the missionary’s theology are new believers in the respondent culture. And often those who go against the grain and promote their own form of theology in the culture often are not drawing from the culture, but a conflicting external theology. Here in the Philippines, I know many pastor-theologians who have embraced a sort of “Youtube Theology.” By this I mean that they say, in effect, “I saw this thing on the internet, and it changed my life.” Is it good? Maybe. Is it bad? Probably. Is it local? Almost certainly not.

So how do theologies localize? Stephen Bevans has helped greatly in understanding contextualization of theology by describing 6 major categories of philosophies of contexualization.

Translation

Countercultural

Synthetic (Intertraditional)

Transcendental

Praxis

Anthropological

This book won’t try to describe in detail these categories. Partly, this is because one that I STRONGLY recommend you read Bevan’s book yourself, if you haven’t already.. <FN HERE> One may also find value in reading Moreau’s book that expands on Bevan’s ideas, but from a more Evangelical Christian perspective (Since Bevan’s is Roman Catholic). For me, the greatest value of Moreau’s book is not his model of contextualization, which seems a bit cluttered to me. Rather, the value is his recognition that the six models identified by Bevans should be seen as all having some value within Evangelical Christianity. In other words, instead of asking “Which one is correct” it is better to ask what strengths and weaknesses do each bring to the table for Evangelical Christians.

That’s important, as one of the models, Countercultural Model is sometimes described as “Biblical” or “Prophetic” Contextualization. These labels seek to suggest that it is “more Biblical” or more in line with God than other methods. I like to avoid that. The same thing happens in Pastoral Counseling where a number of different writers describe their own flavor of pastoral or spiritual counseling as “Biblical Counseling.” If a form of counseling or contextualization does not stand up on its own merits, it certainly isn’t improved by calling it Biblical. A better idea is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different methods and see what can be gained from these methods.

One can picture a triangle with God’s Revelation being at one corner, Human Culture at a second corner, and Self at the third corner, we may see each of these categories as inhabiting a range (locus) on the triangle. This is because none of these categories are static or tightly defined. Each identifies a range of perspectives. However, on Figure 12, instead of trying to identify a range, a number is placed in an area that I feel comes close to where that range would be centered.

Translation Model is seen as the one that seeks to stay closest to God’s revelation. One seeks to translate God’s message as faithfully as possible to a new culture. This seems to make the most sense to Evangelical Christians. It just sounds like what one is supposed to do. It may be seen as the one that is most faithful to God’s revelation. But this may not be true. The book of Acts addressed multiple opportunities for theological contextualization. These include (1) expressing the nature of God and Jesus to philosophers in Athens, (2) the nature of Greeks joining the church, and (3) the question of eating food sacrificed to idols. In none of these cases, does it appear to me that a translation form of contextualization apply. Translation can be done well or poorly, but if done poorly, it is more likely to lead toward slipping to Non-contextualization in Figure 11.

The Anthropological Model approach takes more seriously the culture in which the theology must be utilized. Frankly, this also makes sense. As noted in Chapter 1, Still, looking at the three examples from the book of Acts, it doesn’t seem like this method was used either. Paul did not ignore the controversial topic of resurrection with the philosophers, the Jerusalem council did not overlook the problem of sexual sin so common in Greek culture, and Paul did not overlook the inappropriateness of Christians worshiping idols. Still, theology is a bridge between God’s revelation and Man’s culture, how can one contextualize to a culture unless one focuses on that particular culture? Done poorly, there is a tendency to fall into Uncritical Contextualization as shown in Figure 11.

In some ways, Translation and Anthropological categories can be seen as opposite, but ideally the differences are slight. Suppose one is seeking to contextualize the Gospel to Omani culture, then Translation seeks to make the message of God understandable to produce Christians who are Omanis. The Anthropological Model seeks essentially the same thing, but with greater emphasis on the culture, it could perhaps be thought of as creating Omanis who are Christian. In theory the two goals (Omani Christians and Christian Omanis) are the same but the switching of nouns and adjectives can be seen to suggest a difference in primary identification. For Translation, the people are, perhaps, Christian first and Omani second. For Anthropological, the people are, again perhaps, Omani first and Christian second. Done will, however, the differences should not be major.

So, if the Translation Model comes closest to focus on God’s Revelation, and the Anthropological Model comes closest on the recipient culture, then the Transcendental Model comes closest to the “Individual Reflection” corner.

Figure 12. Contextualization Models for Theology

Transcendental Model is more of a form of personal theological reflection. Chapter 3 speaks of theology as a reflective activity. However, individual or group theological reflection can be given greater or lesser focus from one tradition to another. Some seminaries, for example, encourage theological reflection, while others focus more on theological indoctrination. For Transcendental contextualization, one looks at Scripture or theology or religious practice in terms of how one reacts, emotionally, to it. One reflects on the reaction, whether positive or negative. This sort of reflection is similar to many other forms of individual theological reflection. It is iterative and process driven. The process is supposed to give opportunity to address theological issues through the lens of context. This for theological contextualization is essentially that broader application of David Tracy’s Transcendental Theological Reflection. <FN>

The Individual Reflection corner, seems to be more individualistic. That can be a bad thing. It can also be seen as potentially disconnected from God’s revelation AND respondent culture. Again, however, it depends on how it is put into practice. An advantage of this reflective process is that one does take time to address one’s own prejudices. Ignoring prejudices does not make them go away. It just makes them not dealt with. Further, it seems like it is quite beneficial both for a missionary in a new culture, and a young believer in a new reached culture.

The Praxis Model is also more towards the individual reflection corner. Like the transcendental model, it is iterative and reflective. The cycle is action and reflection. This is especially popularized in Liberation Theologies. In these theologies, the emphasis is on action prior to reflection (ignoring whether this is even possible). Many Liberation Theologies utilize a Marxist framework in terms of the reflection. That, however, is not universal. For an Evangelical, one can use God’s Word as the primary canon, rather than a historical materialism.

The Countercultural Model seems to have more than one flavor. Some see it as the most “conservative” being the closest to being prone to Non-contextualization (referring again to Figure 11). To me when one is going so far in that direction, one is actually moving more towards the Translation Model. Counterculture IS NOT the same as Anti-cultural,

To me, this model focuses more on the idea of “good scandal,” which will be covered in greater detail in the next chapter. Jesus was A contextual theology should feel natural and normal to the culture it serves, and yet should prophetically challenge that same culture in key ways. This seems the best understanding of countercultural. In most cases, what are considered countercultures are sub-cultures of a broader culture that fits into that culture in MOST ways, but diverges in a small number of key ways.

The Synthetic Model can be thought as referring to Intertraditionality. It honors different perspectives and allows them to interact dialogically to come up with a synthesis of perspectives. Truthfully, it is quite possible that it doesn’t really fit into the triangle chart at all. But if it did, it seems like putting it in the center would be accurate, at least to the extent that one takes different sources without focusing on any one over the other. A clear strength of this is that it does promote dialogue between different perspectives and different peoples.

Missions Theology

You may have noticed that this book is about Missions Theology, but in this chapter we are talking about the methodology of theology development, outside of Missions Theology. So where does Missions Theology fit in?

Missions Theology is a Practical Theology which means that it is always going to be iterative, relating experience actions and experience to God’s word and one’s own faith tradition. As such it aligns somewhat with the Praxis Model. However, the reflection is likely to be different than that of Liberation Theologies, for example. Very commonly, it seems to me, the reflection stage in the process for many in missions is almost strictly pragmatic. They use what I sometimes jokingly describe as “Engineering Ethics.” (I used to be a Mechanical Engineer, so it makes sense to me.) There is a real topic known as Engineering Ethics, but when I am using the term here, what I mean is, “That which works is good and that which doesn’t work is bad.”

But pure pragmatics doesn’t make good Missions Theology. If Missions is, first of all, the activity of God to which we are invited to join, then our theology and actions must be aligned to both the will and activity of God. There is a fairly popular form of churchplanting that actively discourages ministering to the physicaly, psychoemotional, economic, and social needs of people. (I might even argue that it discourages ministering to the spiritual needs as well.) The reason is that it slows down evangelism and church multiplication. In my mind, this is an excellent example of justifying a theology because “it works” even if it is in conflict to God’s work and will. Part of the reflection must be based on God’s revelation.

But Missions Theology must also explicitly deal with culture. I don’t believe one can honestly have a sound Missions Theology that does not address culture seriously. With that in mind, one must also reflect on the activity through the framework of culture. Perhaps a way to look at it is in terms of the Action-Reflection cycle in chapter 3, but with three points rather than two.

Figure 13. Missions Theology Process

Summary

Early on in this book, it was stated that all theology is contextual and contexts are dynamic. As such, theology can and should change. While change is necessary, not all change is good. Wise people do disagree as to the process by which theology should change. That being said, in general, one can say that good theology must be true to God’s Word, take seriously the context, and involve a process of intentional iterative reflection.

Missions Theology Book Update

I have decided to work more on my book on Missions Theology. I had started to work on it four years ago, but then stopped when working on my book on Interreligious Dialogue (See My Books above). But I decided to work again. A few updates:

—The working title has changed. Now, “‘Walking With’ as a Metaphor for Missions Theology“

—As the title suggests, I try to center most of the book at least loosely on this metaphor. Key topics in this area are:

Chapter 3. ‘Walking With’— As Metaphor of Missions. This looks at this term and variations of it as it is used in the Bible, and consider how it may relate to Christian missions.

Chapter 4. “Sent Ahead”— The Great Commissions. This looks at missions in terms of God sending out His people, focusing on several versions of the Great Commission in the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

Chapter 5. “Sent Ahead”— Missionaries in the Bible. This continues the idea of the previous chapter, but more specifically in terms of missionaries (apostles) in the Bible as Sent Out ones.

Chapter 6. “Following Behind”— The Missio Dei. This chapter looks at missions from the opposite perspective. while Chapters 4 and 5 see missions as God sending out His people before Him, this chapter sees missions in terms of God going out on missions, and preparing for His people to follow Him in missions.

Chapter 7. “Staying Behind”— The Theology of “Anti-Missions.” This chapter is a bit self-explanatory. Christianity has vascillated between promoting missions, denigrating missions, and being indifferent to missions. This chapter is on the theologies of those who have opposed Christian missions.

—The biggest topic I am covering outside of this metaphor is evaluating contextualized/local theologies. How might one identify a good contextualization as opposed to a bad one.

Free Books

As noted a few days ago, this site has just passed the 10 year point. In recognition of this, I have decided to offer free PDFs of three of my books here. <Note: I am writing this in November 2020. I haven’t decided on how long to maintain these links. So if the downloads below don’t work by the time you read this, please don’t take offense. However, I plan to keep these available for a few months at least.> They are:

My book on doing Medical Missions. This is a more readable, and shortened version of my doctoral dissertation.

My book on Interreligious Dialogue. This is the book that I use for my seminary course on this topic.

My book, Missions in Samaria. This is the book that I turned sermon series, into an article, and then into a short book.

Cultural Landmines and “The Pineapple Story”

Otto Koning served in Irian Jaya back when it was part of the Dutch East Indies. He wrote the story, “The Pineapple Story.” It was a story we covered in our Intro to Missions class years ago. The story is all over the Web, so I will let you read it yourself. One could argue that the story addresses the issue of anger in missionaries. In many parts of the world, anger is seen as a sin. I was brought up in a church where anger (except for so-called “righteous anger”) was thought sinful. I don’t think anger is sinful in itself… but when one cannot control one’s temper, sin can result… and certainly undermining God’s work because one cannot control one’s temper is a sin. The story can also be seen as the problems of ownership. A lot of our problems as missionaries reduce if we can stop bringing our own sense of ownership with us. If all things are seen as God’s not our own… we are better prepared to deal with different understandings of material goods.

That latter part was where I had a bit of a problem with the story at first. The story emphasized that the local people were thieves. Koning had planted pineapples and the people kept stealing them. I had some concerns about this. After all, he planted tropical plants on tribal lands. Isn’t it possible that as such, the fruits were considered community property. In fact, it seems that the tribe’s attitude is “You plant it, you eat it.” Since the missionary owned the land BUT did not plant the pineapples, they were not seen as his to control. Sometimes different models of ownership can cause problems in the mission field. After all, Biblically speaking, stealing is a sin, and stealing is illegal taking of what is someone else’s. However, what is someone else’s is generally culturally defined. That is why stealing is not only deontological, it is also contextual. (There was an interesting episode on Gold Rush where Parker and friends are about to go after “gold thieves” only to discover that under Australian Law, what the people were doing was not theft, neither was it illegal. But if Parker and friends had harmed these “thieves,” Parker and friends would have been in trouble.)

However, as I looked into the story more, it was clear that the taking of stuff wasn’t just about community land. Koning talks considerably about the rampant thievery that went on pretty generally. I don’t know whether this was done by everyone against everyone else, or if the missionary family were especially targeted. I do have a friend who lived in foreign country who’s house was commonly broken into. It seemed to my friend that the people there were “just a bunch of thieves.” However, I am familiar with the people he worked with, and they do not generally have a culture of breaking into people’s houses. Thinking of “The Pineapple Story” there seemed to be a correlation. My friend had an anger problem and he lived in an area were emotional self-control was very much esteemed. So perhaps he was targeted because he was considered a bad person in that place.

Alternatively, some cultures have very different ethical rules regarding who are treated “Us” versus “Them.” Perhaps because my friend was a “Them” (and he was) it was considered okay to treat him poorly. Hardly surprising. I am from the US, and the US has a history of mistreating people based on their ethnic or racial background. Today, that is looked down on… but legal status still is held onto as a place for being an ethical “respecter of persons.” Some people in my home country think mistreating illegal aliens as a righteous thing. Weird, but hardly surprising. Jesus said that one must love one’s neighbors— both friends and enemies— because, people loved their friends but hated their enemies— Roman, Greeks, Pagans… whatever.

There are a lot of landmines in missions. I will add one more. If you click on the link above (okay, I will add it also HERE) there is talk that Koning gave on the pineapple story. It is very entertaining, but also rather “cringy.” You see, the talk was given some time ago… looks like late 80s or perhaps early 90s. He says some things that are a bit hard. He speaks “jungle folk,” talks about how bad the people there smell, and mentions how much they sterilized a can opener after it had been worn as a necklace by one of the local women. Terms like “thieves” and “rascals” were used. Of course, he was trying to be entertaining (and he was). It is also true that language that may be considered “normal” in one generation can be pretty offensive in another. Further, back then, I suppose there was an understanding that one could say whatever one wanted to when preaching in the US because the people in New Guinea would never hear it. I am sure that was true then… but not now. I have friends from tribal groups in New Guinea who can surf the Web as good as anyone else. It is awkward to talk about people when they are listening in.

There is no condemnation here. In fact, I like the fact that much of Koning’s talk is humor directed at himself. Humor is touchy when one crosses cultural lines. However, when one’s humor is self-depreciating, it is more likely, at least, to be accepted.

Is Jesus Allah?

Adesegun Hammed Olayiwola recently published a book, “Is Jesus Allah?” with the sub-title “Arab Christians Called God Allah Long Before Muhammed.” I find it to be a valuable book that addresses the issue from a historical path. The book looks at the term “Allah” as a term that well-predates Muhammed. It has been used by Christians, and others, to describe chief deity. However, more of the book looks at Islam as springing out of a centuries old tradition of Christians struggling with the question of “Who is Jesus?” I think the book is definitely worth a read… especially compared to the many books put out by people who don’t really know the subject well, but are good name-calling.

The author asked me to write the Foreward to the book. Here is is:

FOREWARD

David Tracy in his book Plurality and Ambiguity: Hermeneutics, Religion, Hope (page 84) notes that a religion (an admittedly loaded term) is seen as having a vision of Ultimate Reality that has been passed on to its adherents in “religious classics” or sacred scriptures. These scriptures lead to two conflicts. One conflict occurs when the sacred writ demands its followers to break free from the status quo— the “as it always has been.” The other conflict is when adherents attempt to interpret these writings. This type of conflict springs from the fact that we must wrestle out meaning that often is clouded by centuries, language, and our own biases.

Christianity shares a common heritage with Islam in identifying God’s breaking into our world through Abraham and Moses, among others, to reveal a sliver of Ultimate Reality. The two faiths also see God revealing Himself to mankind through Jesus or Isa. With so much in common, it seems strange that enmity has defined much of the historical interaction between Christianity and Islam.

This book, by Adesegun Hammed Olayiwola, addresses the two conflicts expressed by Tracy. First, how do we overcome centuries of conflict in history, language change, and biases to draw out meaning from Scripture particularly as it pertains to that most important question— Who is God? Second, in understanding Scripture, what must we do to pull away from the status quo, following God’s self-revelation not our own traditions?

This book asks the questions of Who is God? Who is Allah? Who is Jesus? Who is Isa? These questions have often been obscured by politics (secular and religious) and factions, and by the challenges of understanding what is revealed in Scripture. If, however, we are able to answer these questions based on God’s revelation, we are left with the next challenge: How should that truth affect our lives and our relationships?

In emphasizing these two conflicts, the author is avoiding the more common path of devolving the conflict into historical wrongs and injustices. As important as they may seem from our perspectives, they must fall away to near meaninglessness compared to the nature of and revelation of our Creator.

Robert H. Munson

Missionaries as Colonizers

The following is an extended quote from the new book by Adesegun Hammed Olayiwola, “PERSPECTIVES OF THE AFRICAN CHURCH ON AFRICAN MISSIONS: The Past, Present & Future Challenges to Missions In Africa.”  Missionaries during the colonial era struggled with their role of utilizing the advantages of having colonial powers in charge in their mission field without becoming pawns of the colonizers. Some missionaries, however, did not struggle with this as they embraced both roles. There is a lot of disagreement in this area. However, Olayiwola expresses a common African perspective– and perspective is important.

According to Lamin Sanneh, “At its most self-conscious stage, mission coincided with western colonialism, and with that juncture students of the subject have gone on to make all kinds of judgments about the intrinsic bond between the two forces.”i He claimed further that, “In the nineteenth century this idea persisted under the slogan of “Christianity and 6percent,” by which it was understood that mundane interests prospered under a religious guise. Thus mission came to acquire the unsavory odor of collusion with the colonial power.”ii Michael Crowder believed that, “the functional relationship and unity, which existed between missionaries, traders and administrators in colonial Africa, was not accidental. Early missionaries in West Africa had a dual purpose to promote legitimate trade between African and Europeans and to convert Africans to their own religion.”iii

Since missionaries, the traders and even the colonial governors and administrators knew they were British, Spanish, and Portuguese residents in various part of Africa with a common interest to protect. Okon claimed that, “they cooperated and united as vital element in the attainment of their set goals. Missionaries in critical times of need, depended on traders for funds, and relied completely on administrators for physical security and protection.”iv Mbiti even claimed that, “A Gikuyu proverb says that, there is no Roman priest and a European- both are the same!”v Although, there is a no scholarly consensus on the role of the missionaries in the colonization of Africa, Okon insisted that, “the argument seems to favor the view that some missionaries cooperated essentially with colonial authorities in the exploitation and cultural subjugation of Africa.”vi

Walter Rodney in his How Europe Underdeveloped Africa contended that missionaries were agents of imperialism. He claimed that, “The Christian missionaries were as much part of the colonizing forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers… missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense, whether or not they saw themselves in that light.”vii Okon claimed that, “Rodney accused missionaries of preaching humility and submission in the face of gross injustice, inhumanity and dehumanization. While British traders were exploiting their African customers, the missionaries preached peace, forgiveness and good neighborliness, which actually prevented genuine rebellion, self-preservation and determination. Missionaries worked towards the preservation of the status quo and upholding of the master-servant relationship between Africans and Europeans.”viii

Rodney lamented that, “The church’s role was primarily to preserve the social relations of colonialism… the Christian church stressed humility, docility and acceptance. Ever since the days of slavery in the West Indies, the church had been brought in on condition that it should not excite the African slaves with doctrine of equality before God.”ix Okon claimed that, “If it is correct that missionary sermons suppressed genuine rebellion that could have ushered in freedom for the oppressed, and then the linkage of the missionaries with all the visible evils of colonialism may be justifiable.”x

i Lamin Sanneh, Translating The Message: The Missionary Impact On Culture. (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1989), 88. In Okon, 198.

ii Sanneh, (1989), 88. In Okon, 198.

iii Michael Crowder, The Story Of Nigeria. (London: Faber and Faber, 1962), 111. In Okon, 198-199.

iv Okon, 199.

v Mbiti, 231. In Okon, 199.

vi Okon, 199.

vii Rodney, 277. In Okon, 199.

viii Okon, 199.

ix Rodney, 278. In Okon, 199.

x Okon, 200.