Contemporary Issues in Missions— Part Two

Continuation of Part One. I am speaking of issues to deal with in a class I will be teaching in a couple of weeks.

So what are very relevant issues that are contemporary and worth focusing on? This is only an eight-week course, and the final two weeks are for students to share a contemporary issue they choose to research and share. That means that I choose six topics.

#1. The Challenges to “4-F Missionaries.” This is a term that I use for “Foreign, Full-time, Fully funded, Forever” missionaries. The challenges on each of these descriptors have been around for awhile. The challenges make us rethink who is a missionary and who is not. They challenge our traditional view of ‘missionary calling.’ But with the pandemic, the challenges have grown. Because of some recent changes, I am only spending half of my time in the Philippines instead of full-time. Despite that I am teaching in the Philippines full-time, through online teaching. Now suppose I spent all of my time outside of the Philippines, could I be thought of as a full-time missionary to the Philippines if I am ministering online to those in the Philippines?

These concerns have been around from the beginning even if we did not always focus on them. Many people consider Paul to be the greatest missionary of all time (I feel like we are would need a God’s-eye view to make such a judgment). Paul was not fully-funded. Paul was not foreign… most of those he ministered to were Hellenized people of a fairly similar culture to himself. He arguable was not even full-time. He ministered full-time, but he spent considerable time in Antioch between mission trips, and spent several years in Ephesus as well. And frankly, he was a good churchplanter, but the thing that makes him ‘great’ in terms of missions was the influence he exerted on the history of the church through his writings. In other words, his greatest influence in terms of missions on church history was in ministry work that was away from where he was actually resided. It may be an old issue… but it is more relevant than ever.

#2. Honor and Shame Missions. This has been a big issue for some years now. However, it seems to be going mainstream and sneaking into theological development. I have also been wondering whether we need to look at other paradigms of missions and theology as well. For example, Robert Strauss has spoken of Justice cultures, Honor cultures, Reciprocity cultures, and Harmony cultures. Is there a place for all four to provide paradigms for theological and missiological development? Anyway, in the Philippines, there still is a tendency to define “good theology” is what comes from America. Rethinking theology and missions in a new setting needs to be driven home.

#3. Localization of Theology. Bosch and Hiebert and others have spoken of Self-theologizing of the local church. This is still thought of as controversial by many (most?) but it is starting to go mainstream. But that has led to several concerns: What is GOOD local theology? How does one DO local theology? How does one identify FLAWED or heterodox theology?

#4. Missionary Member Care. Okay, I have to explain this one. Missionary Member Care is NOT NEW. But in New Sending Countries such as the Philippines it is still pretty new. I remember a few years ago leading a training in missionary member care where my host warned the audience here in the Philippines that what I would be sharing was “controversial.” I did not consider this as remotely controversial. However, I have heard some missionaries and church leaders speaking of mission work as suffering. There is suffering in missions, but some seemed to think that missions real if there is suffering, and missionaries who struggle are “Weak” and perhaps “not truly called to serve God.” In the US, MMC is old news, but it is still being developed here in Asia.

#5. Shift to Great Urban Centers. For a long time it was cutting edge to talk about UPG (unreached people groups) or UUPGs (unreached and unengaged people groups). There are still those who think of it as cutting edge. However, missions is changing fast, and urban ministry is becoming central in missions. This urban ministry shows itself in dealing with multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-racial settings and people where UPG just doesn’t make a lot of sense. And with the huge growth of certain cities (Great Urban Centers, GUCs). If one likes Ralph Winter’s Three Wave model for Protestant Missions, it could be argued that the GUCs define a fourth wave.

#6. Orality Movement. Bible Storying from New Tribes, and other systems, have been with us for some time, acknowledging that there are groups that cannot read. However, in more recent times, the movement has grown and transformed. Orality is also about how we learn, dealing with cultures and sub-cultures that CAN read but DON’T or WON’T, or who learn better through oral processes. It has also moved into things such as Bible translation and theological education. In other words, Orality is not simply a tool, but but from hermeneutics, to pedagogy, to visual and performance arts, it is becoming a major field with the potential for great impact in all parts of the world.

Obviously these are only a few… and perhaps not the best. Hopefully, my students will then choose even better issues for their own presentations.

Contemporary Issues in Missions– Part One

I will be teaching a class called “Contemporary Issues in Missions” at Asia Graduate Theological Seminary (ABGTS). Although I teach a lot of missions, and have been involved in a few types of missions, that doesn’t mean that I am on the cutting edge of the missions movement. For a number of years I had relied (at least on the undergraduate level) upon two books that spoke of trends and issues of recent years in missions:

Stan Guthrie Missions in the Third Millenium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, Cumbria, UK: Paternoster Press, 2000.

James Engel and William Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? Downer’s Grove, IL:

InterVarsity Press, 2000.

The problem of each is that they were published 22 years ago (and researched and written before that). As such, some of the issues are not really issues anymore.

For example, one of the issues was “The Southern Shift of the Church.” Christianity has been growing strongly in Africa, Asia, South America and more. The “Old Sending Countries” of North America and Europe are sending out less missionaries, and the church in these places are seen as a bit stagnant (or worse). “New Sending Countries” have been taking up the slack and are gaining more influence worldwide. When I came to the Philippines in 2004, some of the wonder of this transition was still felt. American missionaries still had a strong presence but many were in the process of leaving. Many Philippine Christians were wondering what the future would hold. Although there were Filipinos who were going out to do missions— it was a great novelty.

But things have changed. I used to use Charles Kraft’s book on Cultural Anthropology for ABGTS. I felt pretty good about that until one year when my class (made up of students from Samoa, Myanmar, and the Philippines) started asking me why the book would say this and that. I found myself repeating myself. I would end up saying something like this… “Well, Kraft was writing this back decades ago for students in the United States who pretty much don’t understand Christianity in terms of other cultures.” The more I was explaining this, I began to realize that I should have let the textbook go (we use textbooks longer in the Philippines than in some countries). Even though Kraft was trying to break down biases that needed to be broken down, But these students don’t have these biases. And today, Filipinos that I talk to feel nothing strange about missionaries being Filipino, Asian, African or anything else. While there still is a lingering tendency to think that foreign religious leaders are a bit more experts than local leaders (a deeply flawed assumption— I stifle a scream every time someone I talk to express a theological opinion and then ‘prooftext’ their belief by quoting John MacArthur or some other self-styled expert). But even that is SLOWLY fading.

This doesn’t make the book by Guthrie useless, or the book by Engel and Dyrness. It is a snapshot of issues. It is like looking back at the missionary conferences of the IMC, WCC, and Lausanne movements. They identify the concerns and values of the time. I have the book “Understanding Christian Missions” by J. Herbert Kane from the late 70s. It deals with issues of the “Three Worlds” (first, second, and third world countries), the Cold War, and the independence movements that were removing the shackles of colonial powers. There is value in studying these… but the issues of the these different times disappear, are replaced, or morph.

Part 2 will look at the topics I am going to have in the class.

Ivory Tower With Muddy Footprints

I teach at two seminaries, and soon I will probably be teaching with another school soon. This puts me firmly in the world of the “Ivory Tower”— institutions that are seen within the broader church culture as out of touch with the ‘real world’ and church life. On the other hand, I teach in the more practical fields in academia— Christian Missions and Pastoral Care. Additionally, I have been involved in both missions ministry and pastoral care ministry. It is true, however, as I get older, more and more of my practical work is within the school setting— teaching, mentoring, and supervising.

There is value to the Ivory Tower— in its proper context.

But not all feel that way. In Evangelism, the story of the fishermen is often used to look down on the the ‘armchair experts.’ People write about fishing… go to ‘fishing conferences’… act as fishing consultants—- however, they don’t actually go fishing. With this story… the members of the ivory tower are seen as out of touch intellectualizers. Can this happen? Of course.

I started reading an article this week that was talking about the differences between the more conservative views of the common members of a certain denomination versus the ummm… less conservative views of the academicians of his denomination (it is far too much of a stretch to suggest that the term ‘liberal’ applied to anyone in his denomination). It seemed pretty clear that the writer was unhappy that the professors and theological writers in his denomination were “out of touch” with the broader church.

I think that is a bit of an error, however.

First… Multiple perspectives are needed for dialogue. And dialogue is how we learn. We don’t tend to learn in an “echo chamber.” The value is in dialogue. In other words, we don’t need a Magisterium of out of touch dogmatists telling the churches what is true and what is false. We also don’t need a ‘Primitive Church’ in which specialists are denied a role in the church body.

Everyone benefits from challenges. We get inundated by perspectives from all different sources. Some of these perspectives become popular. Popular doesn’t necessarily mean true. It is popular in some denominations to connect salvation to the Sinner’s Prayer. Others may link it to Baptism, or to Confirmation, or to church membership. All of these perspectives have problems regardless of how ingrained they may be in the church. We gain from have our untested beliefs…. well… tested.

Dialogue is valuable between the local churches and the seminary. A few years ago the issue came up as to whether the term “bishop” could be used by Baptist churches in the Philippines. Of course, my initial response was a resounding “NO!!!” The Baptist tradition sees itself as tying its Ecclesiology to the first century church. The term that became “bishop” was not a special office above other church leaders in the early church. But of course, one can’t stop there. One must remember that we cannot ignore 2000 years of the church. The church exists in 4 dimensions. The input of the Universal Church should not be ignored. As such, the term ‘bishop’ has developed as a separate role in hierarchal churches and we cannot act as if that hasn’t happened. (Two millennia of church history is the reason that I don’t call missionaries “apostles.” The term ‘apostle’ has changed so much over two millennia so that we simply cannot use the term as it was used in the first century AD without confusion.) Additionally, we have to take seriously the context. In the Philippines the term ‘bishop’ is shaped by the Roman Catholic church. And some government rules are structured around that understanding. It actually causes some problems in interacting with the government as a denomination if we don’t have someone with the title of bishop, even if doing so is in some ways a ‘useful fiction.’ On the other hand, there has become a cottage industry of having organizations that basically grant the title of ‘bishop’ to those seeking status above their denominational peers is a separate concern. Further, some (all?) in our denomination who seek that title are probably doing so for prestige—very much an worthy goal. (Of course I can’t say that my motives for seeking a doctorate were fully above reproach.) Anyway, we gain by many voices— academic, ministerial, clerical, laity— that may be needed to consider what is best with godly wisdom.

Second, ALL Christians are theologians on some level. Recently listened to a presentation by Philippine theologian, Dr. Honorina Lacquian. She quoted Stanley Grenz as far as five classes of theologians. They are:






(Grenz “Who Needs Theology”)

Lacquian stated, and I think that in this she was agreeing with Grenz, the goal is to move people away from the ends. We want less “Folk Theologians”— those who pick up different thoughts and ideas piecemeal from all sorts of sources with limited reflection and rigor. Additionally, we need less of the “Academic Theologians.” These are the types that don’t leave the Ivory Tower much… but reflect on theology disconnected from most of the church.

I think there is a place for the Ivory Towers of Religious Academia. However, the Ivory Towers should be full of muddy footprints. The inhabitants of the structures of academia should enter practical ministry and the public domain and interact with the church and its people at all levels. Additionally, Lay Theologians and Ministerial Theologians should be welcomed into these same structures to learn, challenge, and dialogue.

Muddy shoes in the ivory tower is not a sign of impurity or of the mundane or banal. Rather, they demonstrate a vibrancy that comes from interaction with the bigger world.

Years ago I visited a friend’s house. He was a banker and his house, though not palatial, certainly was impressive. The inside of the house was all white walls and white marble. It impressed, but was also rather cold. Then we went into the living room. There was a green throw rug in the center of this ivory-colored room. Bright colored toys were strewn about. In the center of the rug sat his 2-year old son playing with the mom. My friend apologized for the mess. He needn’t have done this. It was the most beautiful room in the house.

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.

Training in Missions

On occasion I have thought about what topics should be covered in Missions Training. I looked at some stuff I put together in 2010. Looking it over, I liked a lot of it. The main lacking I think was not recognizing the importance of theology in missions. So I would like to divide missions training into three levels and three areas.

Missions Areas:

Missiological. This is a vague term, but relates courses that fit into a lot of the “practical topics” that fit into missions.

Theological. While many of the missiological topics could be described as being part of practical theology, this section involves very intentional theological rigor as it relates to Missions.

Sociological. This is that part of Missions that focuses on the social sciences… especially anthropology.


Level One. Should be taken by all seminary or Bible school students. Or, for those seeking to g. o formally into missions, these may include courses that would be considered introductory… and perhaps taken in the first year or semester or module (depending on the structure of the training)

Level Two. Should be taken by all missions students— especially in the middle, meaty, part of the training.

Level Three. Electives or finishing courses for missions students.

With that in mind, the curriculum would break down something like this (I guess):


-Level One

-Introduction to Missiology

-Level Two

-Missions History

-Strategy and Planning of Missions

-Contemporary Issues in Missions

-Level Three (examples)

-Missionary Member Care

-Short-term Missions

-Urban Missions

-Community Development


Level One

-Biblical Theology of Missions (NOT “Biblical Basis for Missions”)

Level Two

-Missions Theology

Level Three

-Localizing Theology


Level One

-Introduction to World Religions

Level Two

-Cultural Anthropology

-Cross-cultural Communication

-Interfaith Dialogue

-Ethnographic Research

Level Three (Possible examples)


-Specific culture/religion-targeted missions

Of course this list presupposes other trainings that are more general but valuable to missions students. I am assuming that Evangelism, Discipleship, and Churchplanting are not seen as specifically in the Missions Department— even though in the areas above they would loosely fit under the Missiological section. Likewise, it is presumed that students would get Biblical Theology, Historical Theology, and Systematic Theology (along with Biblical Studies) from other departments. And in terms of the sociological side of things, it is assumed that students are trained in other departments homiletics, Christian education, music and worship.

Better Questions and Al Yagoda

The Dunning-Kruger Effect has become popularized in recent days. Unfortunately it sometimes gets reimagined as “Stupid people often think they are smarter than they really are.” Of course, that is not the issue. It is that people tend not to be self-aware of their own incompetence in a subject. People who are very ignorant in a topic often feel that they are quite knowledgeable in the topic. This is hardly surprising, since it is a truism that…

“We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know”

This reminds me of a satirical post in the “Babylon Bee.” The title was, “Scholars Now Believe Job’s Friends Were First-Year Seminary Students.” Since the story was certainly used in the training of young men in rabbinical schools for millennia, I can’t help but wonder if it is more truth than satire (“Not the Onion”-worthy).

“It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.”

— Thomas Sowell

Perhaps a bit more surprising is that people who are genuinely experts in a topic often feel that they are more ignorant than they really are. The more one studies a subject the more one understands how vast it is. Although experts tend to be more realistic than novices, one may become so focused on the vast vistas of the unknown that one may lose sight of the level of competency that one has achieved. When I was in first year college for mechanical engineering, a question had come up in mathematics that was new to me. I decided to ask my dad. He told me that he had no idea what the answer was. I was shocked. My father had a bachelors degree in mathematics (magna cum laude), had been “human computer” (back when those were the only computers that existed) in missile design and then a test engineer at a high-performance bearing company. As I went on in my education, I gained a better understanding of how vast mathematics. It is so vast that no one embraces all of it with any level of competence. Expertise narrows. When young, my dad was an expert in college-level mathematics… as well as mental math. When older, his expertise became Weibull distributions and failure analysis (small but important parts of the vast, infinite, plane that is mathematics).

“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

–Charles Darwin


  • Incompetent people in an area tend to think that they much more competent than they actually are.
  • Highly competent people in an area tend to think they are somewhat less competent than they actually are.
  • Highly competent people in an area tend to think that they are more competent than they really are in areas that they lack expertise.

It could be suggested that the first point on the list is unnecessary. Pretty much all of us are experts in something, and every single person on earth who is an expert in something is going to be incompetent in a vast range of things. So you get people like astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking about philosophy with great confidence but without competence. I shouldn’t pick on him alone. I find people talking about climate change with great confidence (actually on both sides of the issue) but with know training in the matter. I have seen Nobel prize winners talk with great confidence on topics that they have little expertise in.

In fact, we all do it. We are all rather incompetent in most ways…. but we really don’t want to go around and sound ignorant. We all want to appear competent and that we know exactly what needs to be done. I teach Interreligious Dialogue and I have my students write up case studies of themselves in interreligious dialogue. So many are uncomfortable because they are afraid of being asked something that they don’t know the answer to. They are afraid of that “Gotcha!!” moment where they feel stupid. (Strangely, in most cases, the person they were talking to probably would have respected them more if they simply said, “Wow, that is a great question. I need to research that. Or maybe we can figure it out together.”) We want to be the Gotcha!! guy like Ben Shapiro focused more on belittling the other than on seeking truth.

We all want to be Al Yagoda.

Who is Al Yagoda? One of my bosses back when I was a mechanical design engineer told me to avoid Al Yagoda. When we have a question, don’t listen to people that answer with, “Al Yagoda do is….. ” or “All you need is…”

Answers are rarely that easy. We rarely know the answer. I tell my seminary students to embrace the sentence, “I don’t know.” It is a good sentence because it is commonly true. It is also often true when you think it is not true (As the Dunning-Kruger Effect suggests).

This does not mean that one must end with “I don’t know.” I don’t know is a starting place, not an endpoint. In the classes I teach, someone asks a good question. I often will say, “I don’t know… but here are some thoughts I have on this.’ Or maybe, “I don’t know… but maybe someone else here knows.”

Sometimes, I don’t know is followed by a strategy to find out. I remember as an engineer, a friend of mine was making an electronic cabinet and wasn’t sure what thickness of sheet metal he should use. He asked me what I thought would work. I said, quite correctly, “I don’t know.’ However, I then followed with, “I think I know how we can find out.” I took him downstairs to the testing department where there were a number of electronic racks. I pointed to three of them and told him to sit on them and push on them. He did. I told him the thicknesses of sheet metal used for each. Based on that he had a good idea what to use. He discovered the truth, and did so in a way that was more visceral. Me telling him what I thought was the best thickness may or may not have been right… but it certainly would NOT be the best way to inform him.

Being an expert in a field is often not about having better answers, but having better questions. I think this is especially true in missions and in theology. I like to tell my students that they should not expect that I have the best answers. I can be wrong. I am wrong every day. I have met people who think that they are experts and so should be believed. I don’t think anyone living today is such an expert in a subject that they have earned the right to be unquestionably believed. But PERHAPS they should be taken seriously.

That is what I tell my students. They can disagree with me… and they may be right in doing so. Based on my training and experience, I don’t expect to be believed… but I DO expect to have my thoughts taken seriously. If all I do as a seminary professor is indoctrinate them to parrot my beliefs, I have done little, if any, good.

But if I can train up people to gain some sense of the vastness of theology and missions, have the self-awareness to recognize their own expertise AND ignorance, and help them to ask better questions, I have accomplished something wonderful.

That is something that I am pretty sure that I know.

Should Missionaries be Evangelists?

So I was talking to a friend of mine named Tom (his name is NOT Tom) who is a minister in an Asian Country where Christians are a tiny minority. He was talking about mission work in his country. He noted that missionaries had brought a lot of good things to his country… such as hospitals, church buildings, and community development projects— among other things.

However, he said that one way missionaries haven’t been that helpful have been in terms of Evangelism. He noted that foreign missionaries are not all that good at evangelizing people in his country… because they are foreign. He noted, that in some rural areas, they have had some success in gifting the poor with things they need and these poor respond, converting and joining the church. Later, however, when the missionaries are gone, the gifts stop or slowly break down, and the people drift back into their community’s majority faith.

Of course I have heard this before… even here in the Philippines where many Filipinos are comfortable with English, and the there is commonly enough Bible literacy so that the American-style gospel presentations are effective. (I will not address the question of whether these presentations lead people to Christ, or bring people who are already saved to a different denomination.) It is well understood here that Filipinos are better at evangelizing than foreigners. Foreigners are not that effective even with other religions. I mean, even the American Mormon boys (and girls) sent to the Philippines to proselytize their own message are more and more often matched up with Filipinos. It is entertaining to listen to American youth stumbling through the Mormon message in Tagalog or Visayan or Ilocano, but it is simply not that compelling. The biggest mosque here in our city has worked very hard to fund local boys so that they can train them to evangelize their Tawhid to others here. There are many foreign Muslims here… but few if any have any impact in the presentation of their faith.

But if Christian Missionaries are not good Evangelists, is this a new thing? No. Apparently, Occam (a Native American) was a much better evangelist to Native Americans than Wheelock (a European) in the 1700s. In the 1800s, Karen Evangelists were more effective in sharing the gospel than their American counterparts. Of course, one may go back to 1st century missionaries, such as Philip and Paul and Barnabas in hopes of finding something different. However, in these cases, these missionaries were reaching out to people who were not that different from themselves (E-1 or at most E-2). Paul and Barnabas were Hellenistic Jews from Asia Minor and Cyprus, who reached out to Hellenistic Jews and Hellenistic Gentiles in Asia Minor and Cyprus. Philip, presumably a Proselyte to Judaism before becoming a Christian, reached out to Samaritans (who shared the language used by the Jews, and almost all of the beliefs of the Jews), and a (presumably) proselyte to Judaism from Ethiopia. Their effectiveness, outside of divine empowerment, was linked to the commonality of language and culture.

So let’s look at it a different way. Consider three settings where a Missionary can Serve.

#1 is Where the Church IS NOT. (No viable church within the region, or culture)

#2 is Where the Church HAS NOT. (The local church may be weak or young and needs help to empower them to carry out its work.)

#3 is Where the Church CANNOT. (The local church may be strong, but still lacks unique capacities such as ability to support radio transmission, publishing, medical services, and so forth.)

So what should the role of Missionary as Evangelist be in these three situations?

For #1. Of course, The missionary is an apostle in the classic sense— sent into a place where the church is not. As such, his (or her) role is to proclaim God’s message of love, and draw those who seek to follow Christ to come together as church bodies. Yes, such a missionary pioneer should evangelize, but really should focus on training new believers to evangelize and then move to new roles of discipling and leader development so that the missionary (as soon as possible) is not needed there.

For #2. Maybe. The Missionary MIGHT be needed to evangelize occasionally— especially if the local church has not embraced its role as a proclaimer of the gospel in its area. But such a role should be very temporary and cautious. After all, even a young church can have young believers who can effectively evangelize. Thus, if it is not happening, having missionaries do the job can easily maintain an unhealthy dependence on missionaries. In fact, that unsatisfactory condition may exist because missionaries as pioneers focused too much on evangelizing and not on encouraging that role to be passed on to locals.

For #3. No. Every church can evangelize. The local church may not be able to establish a publishing house, or operate a counseling center, but they can share their faith with others. Missionaries doing the evangelism in these settings is unhealthy… except as simply a fellow participant with local Christians.

Tom when noting all the good things that missionaries brought to their country noted one thing that they really did not bring. They did not establish seminaries. Mission groups come over to evangelize, and they come in to teach locals how to share their faith like a foreigner. But they did not help establish schools for locals to be trained to contextualize/localize the Christian faith… and remove their scholarly dependence on foreigners.

A few years ago, I was investigating joining a major mission agency. At the time this agency was moving away from theological education and developmental ministries, and seeking missionaries who had a strong “evangelistic spirit” and focused on rapid church multiplication.

On the surface, this seems so right… but I think it is flawed. Most countries don’t need a bunch of foreign evangelizers coming in with big dreams of saturation strategies and CPMs. Are these things wrong? Probably not. However, Big Dream Missions (DAWN, AD2000, and other such missionary-driven movements) promise much but tend to deliver little. The biggest movements come from small groups of local Christians faithfully doing small things to transform their small places.

So should Missionaries be Evangelists? Sometimes, but few if any should have it as their primary passion. The vast majority should be passionately motivated to empower local Christians and local churches to reach their Spirit-empowered potential.

Men of NO Ideas

One of my favorite essays is “Men of One Idea.” It was written by Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819-1881). Some sources say it was written by Timothy Titcomb. However, that was his pseudonym. I have a copy of the essay in the Union Sixth Reader, a book published in 1862. Long have I sought an electronic copy of the essay. I really did not want to type it out. Thankfully, someone else did. If you want to read it, you can CLICK HERE.

Here is a short excerpt from that relatively short essay…

Man cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, whether spoken through nature or revelation. There is no one idea in all God’s universe so great and so nutritious that it can furnish food for an immortal soul. Variety of nutriment is absolutely essential, even to physical health. There are so many elements that enter into the structure of the human body, and such variety of stimuli requisite for the play of its vital forces, that it is necessary to lay under tribute a wide range of nature; and fruits and roots and grain, beasts of the field, fowls of the air, and fish of the sea, juices and spices and flavors, all bring their contributions to the perfection of the human animal, and the harmony of its functions. …

A mind that surrenders itself to a single idea becomes essentially insane. I know a man who has dwelt so long upon the subject of a vegetable diet that it has finally taken possession of him. It is now of such importance in his eyes that every other subject is thrown out of its legitimate relations to him. It is the constant theme of his thought–the study of his life. He questions the properties and quantities of every mouthful that passes his lips, and watches its effects upon him. He reads upon this subject everything he can lay his hands on. He talks upon it with every man he meets. He has ransacked the whole Bible for support to his theories; and the man really believes that the eternal salvation of the human race hinges upon a change of diet. It has become a standard by which to decide the validity of all other truth. If he did not believe that the Bible was on his side of the question, he would discard the Bible. Experiments or opinions that make against his faith are either contemptuously rejected or ingeniously explained away. Now this man’s mind is not only reduced to the size of his idea, and assimilated to its character, but it has lost its soundness. His reason is disordered. His judgment is perverted–depraved. He sees things in unjust and illegitimate relations. The subject that absorbs him has grown out of proper proportions, and all other subjects have shrunk away from it. I know another man–a man of fine powers–who is just as much absorbed by the subject of ventilation; and though both of these men are regarded by the community as of sound mind, I think they are demonstrably insane.

Timothy Titcomb’s essay: Men Of One Idea

Since we are talking about the Bible, I am reminded of a few verses that (I would argue) relate strongly to the point of Holland…

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.

Proverbs 15:22

Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.

Proverbs 11:14

For by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.

Proverbs 24:6

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 12:15

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,

Proverbs 1:5

After three days they found him (Jesus) in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Luke 2:46

By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.

Proverbs 13:10

Reading these verses, one sees a couple of clues to gaining wisdom. First is Dialogue. Luke 2:46 and Proverbs 27:17 suggests this directly. The Luke passage is especially important since Jesus (we are tempted to think of Him as one who needs no wisdom from others) is described as holding dialogue and asking questions with experts. A few verses later, in verse 52, Jesus is described as growing in wisdom. The other verses I shared describe interaction with others, and presumably this implies dialogue of 2 or more people. Second is Counsel. Wise people listen to others. They don’t simply trust in their own self-sufficient awesomeness, but take seriously others’ perspectives, knowledge, and understanding.

But if the counsel of many leads to wisdom, what is the character of this wisdom?

#1. Broadly defined. What I mean is that it should be BOTH eductive and deductive. Deductive is classic advice-giving. The counselor tells the other something that this person does not know. This is the classic one. Eductive is the preferred method of modern psychological and pastoral counseling. Eductive counseling is a form of drawing out. It presumes that the person already knows what is right and true, but needs help in drawing this out or identifying the internal inconsistencies in that person. We see Eductive counseling masterfully integrated into broader counseling in Nathan’s counseling of King David regarding his affair with Bathsheba (and with killing Uriah). I think broadly defined also suggests both “sofia” and “phronesis.” These Greek terms suggest wisdom based on theoretical understanding of the way things are (sofia wisdom) and the practical understanding of the way things should be and how to accomplish this (phronesis wisdom).

#2. Multi-perspectival. Wisdom comes from listening to different perspectives. Because of this having a group of “Yes Men” does not count. This is not counseling. It is parroting back what the one says and thinks. They tickle the ear and confirm the prejudices of the one who needs wisdom rather than affirmation. There is no doubt that this is a failure… because there is only one perspective— the “Perspective of the Self.” But that brings up another thought. What if there is only one perspective— the “Perspective of the Other?” That is, what if one surrounds oneself with only one perspective. I would argue that this is no better. We learn by being surrounded in a sea of ideas. While we may fear drowning in such a sea, we are likely to be parched with the trickle from a spring that feeds only one stream of thought. Walter Wrigley Jr. has the great quote, “When two men in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.” Perhaps this bit of wisdom applies in life as well.

It seems to me that we are suffering from this today. Perhaps as a defense against being inundated with too many ideas, we shield ourselves off from all but one viewpoint. I see this a lot. I teach in a seminary and am often shocked at how little seminarians (who are supposed to be “experts” in religion and theology) know about other religions, or even the church of a different denomination or tradition just down the road. I occasionally get notes from friends sharing interesting information. They tell me where they got this information. That is a good thing because citations are important. However, in some cases, it is clear from the context that I should believe it because it came from news source “A,” and not from news source “B.” In fact, I have had people gainsay things I have said simply because I referenced a source that they have identified as “fake.” Often, however, fake just means that it expresses a different perspective. Truthfully, I get that. There are some sources of information I am tempted to reject off-hand. I have to remind myself that even a person who is 99% wrong, must then be 1% right, and it is possible that in that 1% is something I need to hear.

If you think about it… surrounding oneself with those who share one perspective is likely to create an echo chamber that leads to more extreme and unquestioned opinions. It is in this environment that groups with cultic tendencies (authoritarian and separatist structures with extremist views) and fascination with conspiracy theories thrive. Sometimes people describe this as the “new tribalism,” and perhaps the term has some merit. Years ago, people spoke of the Internet, along with migration, and ease of travel and communication leading to a sort of globalistic mega-culture. But we love to identify with smaller groups. There are good and bad sides to this. But one bad side is the temptation to sanctify our own group (and our opinions), while demonizing other groups and opinions.

And if one places oneself into this setting where one willingly becomes a reflector and transmitter of the insulted views of another(s), it may not be enough to say that this person has become “A Man of One Idea.” Such a phrase suggests some amount of personal creativity… a bit of innovation. Creativity comes from interacting with diversity, rather than indoctrination from uniformity. As such, this person perhaps may be best described as “A Man of NO Ideas.”

I believe that God has gifted all of us with the potential for wisdom that, in part, springs from our uniqueness. This uniqueness comes from our:

  • Talents
  • Calling
  • Circumstances
  • Experiences
  • Relationships

To give a trivial example. I am “White” (Swedish-American) raised up in a region that was almost 100% White (a small percentage of Native Americans made up the remainder of the population at that time). I was raised up in a culture where an awful lot of people shared a common identity and perspective. Nothing wrong with that… geography and socio-economic factors would drive a lot of people to a common perspective. However, the US Navy got me out of the area and allowed me to see many other parts of the United States and the World. This travel in some ways helped me to treasure the uniqueness of my upbringing, but it also helped me to see its limitations. Marrying a woman who was raised up in a different country of a different ethnicity, and raising children who are considered biracial, helped me see things from a yet broader perspective. Then living for 17 years in a country where I am not part of a 99% ethnic majority, but rather a 1% ethnic minority, has further helped me see things from a decidedly different perspective.

I believe that these different circumstances have helped me grow as a person. I also believe that my perspective may also be valuable to someone who has had a decidedly different background. This doesn’t mean that I got it all together. This doesn’t mean that people of narrower experiences are of no value to me.

Multi-perspective dialogue helps. Some express fear of individuals “losing their faith” whatever faith position one is speaking of. For me, however, a faith that goes unchallenged is likely to both brittle and rotten. Rotten means it goes from something good to something bad (Holland’s essay speaks to this). This is where extreme viewpoints tend to take a person to a very bad place. Brittleness means that one has not developed the faculties to think through ones beliefs. When challenged, the person is either forced to react with hostility, or retreat ignobly. “Losing one’s faith” in this situation may be either (a) losing a faith that was unworthy of basing one’s whole life upon— or (b) never having really embraced that faith in a constructive, reflective, and creative way.

A “Man of No Ideas” will devolve toward a from of insanity (falling pray to the mind-control of a few), or instability of poorly reflected upon opinions that yield to the will of others.

Selective Exposure, Confirmation Bias, and Information Overload (Part 2)

So what can one do to avoid falling prey to groupthink, confirmation bias, selective exposure, and being overwhelmed by information overload? Well I had several awesome ideas for this post…. but then I took a few days off, and I can’t remember some of them. But let me see where this goes.

  1. Doubt. Paul Westphal noted that we cannot look over God’s shoulder. God knows the truth, and is Truth, but others are not privy to truth without error. In practice, that means we must be humble and forgiving of ourselves, embracing our own limitations. And the same must apply to others. No human is correct all of the time… and no human is incorrect all of the time (though I swear, some really try).
  2. Respect. Doubt should minimize our trust of individuals as authorities, but if we recognize that every person is right about some things and wrong about some things, it is also likely that a person who is wrong 97% of the time is still right (in that 3%) in something that I am wrong about. That means that pretty much every person on earth I can learn from, if I am open to valuing every person. I believe every person is worthy of respect inherently because each is lovingly designed by a fully capable and creative God. But if each person is someone I can gain by learning something from, I have another reason to respect each person. After all, we tend not to learn from people we don’t respect.
  3. Dialogue. People love to preach, to teach, to talk, and to argue. They don’t like to listen much, and even less to dialogue. Yet it is in dialogue that we tend to learn. That is why people and groups that want to indoctrinate their followers do it first by isolating followers from alternative viewpoints. They also tend to breed disrespect for the people who hold other views. And this indoctrination scheme would be really a great idea if the group was right about everything. But no such group exists. We learn from each other. (I have talked enough about dialogue elsewhere, you can look at DIALOGUE IN DIVERSITY for more).
  4. Reflection. Learning is iterative… but it often takes a certain intentionality. Much religious education (and even civil education) is focused on rote learning… memorizing dogma. There is value in that, but the value is wasted if one is not also is also not trained to think reflective.

I feel like I forgot one of the big thoughts for this post, but I cannot remember. Perhaps someone else has a suggestion to share. I am happy to reflect on it.