“Enoughness” Part One

I was listening to the podcast “The Missions Podcast” (by ABWE). They had a guest, E.D. Burns, who wrote a book called “The Transcultural Gospel: Jesus Is Enough for Sinners in Cultures of Shame, Fear, Bondage, and Weakness.” I have not read the book, it just came out, but here are a few quick thoughts before I delve into a tangent.

  1. I liked his emphasis on “scandal” of the gospel. Burns seems to suggest that some proponents of contextualization (he focuses not on primary proponents so much as over-exuberant adopters) are so focused on making the gospel palatable that key challenges are ignored. This is certainly true in the Philippines where some presentations say, in essence, “Oh, you already believe the gospel fully— but you aren’t saved until you say this little prayer that I have here.” If there was no change of heart or mind, they were either already saved, or they are not saved in saying the prayer.
  2. I sort of like his reframing “Guilt-Innocence” in terms of “Guilt-Righteousness.” His argument was that Innocence means that one is NOT a lawbreaker, while Righteousness means that one is declared a lawkeeper (through imputation). I like the reframing, as I said, but I don’t care for the reason. I like Ladd’s perspective of Righteousness in terms of “Right Relationship With God.” As such, Righteousness is the opposite of a lot of the cultural motivators. Guilt is countered by righteousness (meeting the standards of God). Honor is countered by righteousness ((re)establishment of role as a chosen and welcome member of God’s family). Disharmony is countered by righteousness (removal of conflict with God). But then, if righteousness works for so many of the categories, maybe it is not useful to link righteousness to only one category. So maybe I don’t like this point.
  3. I liked his approach of sharing the gospel in a new culture by seeking to learn what the felt needs are within that culture. The gospel meets many needs— both real and felt. By discovering the felt needs, you honor the person, honor the culture, and honor the gospel (by embracing its breadth of transformation and needs-meeting). It helps ensure the gospel scratches where it itches.
  4. I don’t really get Burns’s bringing everything back to Adam and then pushing forward to the “Second Adam.” This may simply be a personal thing, but the illustration never had much of an impact on me. I certainly know that Paul uses it and there is certainly nothing wrong with it. However, if after years and years of Bible reading, Sunday school and Bible classes, I have found this metaphor unenlightening, why would I assume that I am alone in this? I am glad I did not have gospel presented to me in that way.
  5. I was a bit concerned that there still was a bit of a tendency to see guilt as a superior or primary need. I felt that the conversants danced around it a bit. However, Burns appeared to argue that the metaphors used by Paul (especially in terms of law and guilt) drew deeply Jewish OT stories and images. This was used to suggest a bit of primacy of this metaphor and perhaps a transcultural nature to this metaphor. I couldn’t really see the point. First, most of the metaphors have an OT connection… not just one metaphor. I find adoption to be a strong metaphor in the NT. It isn:t made stronger or weaker if it was used in OT Jewish culture. Second, since much of the early church was connected to Jewish culture and writings, the use of these images in the NT, may not support a transcultural gospel, but a gospel presentation contextualized to Hellenistic Jews.

Since I have not read the book, I can’t say whether my comments (positive and negative) stand up. The book may clarify things. It certainly looks worthy of a read> But one term I liked was THE ENOUGHNESS OF THE GOSPEL.

While ENOUGHNESS is a made-up word, I think it holds a bit of usefulness in missions anthropology and contextualization of the gospel. Based on the podcast, I am pretty sure I am using the expression differently, but that is okay. I think Burns is saying that there is ENOUGH similarities between different cultures and people that the gospel message doesn’t need to be contextualized all that much. Probably some truth there, but I would like to play with the term… IN PART TWO.

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.

Choosing Between the Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer

I was listening to a podcast of N.T. Wright. He was talking about Evangelism. In it he spoke somewhat negatively about “The Sinner’s Prayer.” He suggested that when a person decides to follow Christ, that saying the Lord’s Prayer may be a better choice than the Sinner’s Prayer.

We probably need to step backwards and say something that SHOULD be obvious, but sadly isn’t—-


We are saved by faith. That faith may be expressed in a shorthand way with the Sinner’s Prayer, but if a person had saving faith in Christ but did not say the Sinner’s Prayer, that person would still be saved. And a person who said the Sinner’s Prayer but did not have faith would not be saved. In other words, the Sinner’s Prayer has no power to make effective salvation.

Some go further and argue that the Sinner’s Prayer is un-Biblical. I think that is taking it too far. The Bible does tell us to choose who to follow and the path to take. The Bible does tell us to “call on the Lord” and to “confess Jesus as Lord.” All of these are consistent with the Sinner’s Prayer, even if the prayer is not specifically mentioned in the Bible.

The problem is when the Sinner’s Prayer is treated like an incantation. An incantation is a word or phrase that is believed to have power of itself to create change either on its own, or by compelling a spiritual being to act. In other words, it is magic. I get that. I have thought that way. When I was 7 years old, I said the Sinner’s Prayer in my room at home with no one else around. For the next few months I wondered whether I was saved or not. “What if I said it wrong?” At least twice more I said the Sinner’s Prayer as best I could remember, hoping that I “got it right.” Eventually I figured out that my salvation was in my faith and determination to follow Jesus, NOT in saying some words the right way.

But I have met people who have struggled with the meaning of the Sinner’s Prayer. One person I knew was told that she must not be saved because she doesn’t remember whether she said the Sinner’s Prayer— despite the fact that she had many times expressed her faith in Christ and actively sought to serve Him faithfully. I have known other people who assure a person over and over again that they are saved and secure because that repeated some words in the past, not considering whether the person meant the words he said or whether he has faith now. Rather than saying that the Sinner’s Prayer is un-Biblical, I would rather say that it is theologically dubious.

The Sinner’s Prayer has different forms but it generally has some common elements.

  • Admitting to being a sinner
  • Seeking forgiveness from God through Jesus Christ
  • Asking to be saved by Christ

Some would add other things like saying that they were saved through the ‘blood of Christ’ embracing the metaphor of penal substitutionary atonement. Some statements expressly say that Jesus is Lord of the person’s life. Others seem to embrace a lower standard, more akin to intellectual assent.

Instead of looking at the merits or lack of merits of the Sinner’s Prayer directly as something to do when one becomes saved, let’s instead compare it to saying the Lord’s Prayer.

#1. Both the Sinner’s Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer share the common elements. Both describe admitting to being a sinner. Both express the wish to be forgiven by God. both express desire to be saved by God (delivered from Evil).

#2. The Lord’s Prayer also expresses the broader Sinner’s Prayer that vocalizes the desire for God to be Lord in the pray-er’s life (“Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”)

#3. The Lord’s Prayer is more than an entreaty. It is also an act of worship— expressing that God’s name is to hallowed. And the longer version has more worship language (“For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever).

#4. The Lord’s Prayer is less self-focused than the Sinner’s Prayer. While it does entreat of God for self— it also entreats for others and for all creation.

And these are all good things. Since the Lord’s Prayer covers the elements of the Sinner’s Prayer… and more, it does seem a bit unclear why the Sinner’s Prayer was artificially created for a person to say at salvation. It seems pretty unnecessary. Nothing wrong with it I guess. It is true that the Lord’s Prayer does get overused in church, I can imagine it being looked down on by Evangelists fearing it to be “vain repetition.” However, I see little reason to think it is likely to be more meaningless than the Sinner’s Prayer at times.

I do have three more reasons that I definitely think push the Lord’s Prayer across the finish line as the better choice.

#5. The Lord’s Prayer is given by Jesus to His disciples. Even though we may call it “The Lord’s Prayer,” it is probably better understood as “The Disciple’s Prayer.” So when one decides to submit to Christ as Savior and Lord, one is choosing to be a disciple of Christ. What is more natural than to express that decision by saying “The Disciple’s Prayer”?

#6. The Lord’s Prayer has throughout Church history been seen as a prayer of community. Even in my own faith tradition, that tends to be highly skeptical of set prayers, the Lord’s Prayer is still respected as a recitation to be done by the faith community. (I have, however, met a few who are legalistically opposed to any prayer or recitation that is not extemporaneous. A bit strange.) When a person follows Christ, she is not just “getting saved.” She is becoming a part of the community. What is more natural than for the evangelizer to say the Lord’s Prayer with the new believer as an act of Christian Community. When the evangelizer tells that new converst to “repeat after me” the Sinner’s Prayer, the evangerlizer is not really praying because he is presumably already saved. But with the Lord’s Prayer, both can pray it with relevance. They both can say it with meaning, much like a young alcoholic and the seasoned sponsor can both state the Serenity Prayer with equal conviction in AA.

#7. The Lord’s Prayer, if done this way, as a symbol of salvation would add meaning in the liturgical use of the prayer. Now it is not only a reminder of being a disciple of Christ and part of the community of Christ. It is also a commemoration of the salvation experienced by each member of the body.

Thoughts on the Camel Method

I had asked my students in my Asian Faiths class to read the Camel Method. It is a method for sharing the Christian Gospel to Muslims utilizing a few select passages from the Qur’an. I asked my students to talk about their thoughts on this method. I then responded with the (somewhat amended) posting:

I noticed that pretty much all of the comments regarding the Camel Method were rather positive. Nothing wrong with that. I definitely think there are times that the Camel Method can be valuable (although I have never tried it). However, there are some people who don’t like the Camel Method. Their views are worth considering.

1.  Some reject the use of other religion’s holy writings to teach the gospel, utilizing “the devil’s words.” I really don’t want to get into the argument of theories regarding Scriptures of other religions. However, to me, the Qur’an is good to the extent it expresses truth, and bad to the extent it expresses falsehood. If we use parts of the the Qur’an that clearly express truth, we are not doing wrong, I believe.

2.  Some reject the use of the Qur’an not because it is “wrong” to do so, but because we need to help people trust the Bible more, not the Qur’an. They are suggesting that when we use the Qur’an, we are giving the impression that it is authoritative. I understand that argument… but in the end, we need to start with where they are at. 

For example, suppose a Mormon is trying to convert you to Mormonism. He (or she) is not going to start quoting you verses from “The Book of Mormon” or “The Pearl of Great Price” or “Doctrines and Covenants.” He knows that you don’t recognize any of those works as authoritative. He will instead quote you verses from the Holy Bible, despite the fact that Mormons believe that the Holy Bible is tainted by mistranslations and editing. He knows that you will immediately reject anything shared to you from The Book of Mormon. You really need to start with what the person values or thinks is authoritative.

In fact, let me give you a more specific example. A business guest of my father visited and when he had gone we found that he had left a copy of the Book of Mormon behind. I did decide to read it, which I am sure is what he wanted. I was actually expecting it to be more interesting than what it was, but interest is a subjective thing of course. But in that book the guest had left a bookmark and that bookmark had Book of Mormon verses that were supposed to demonstrate its authenticity. I remember one was a verse reference to show that the Book of Mormon had “predicted” the coming of Christopher Columbus to the New World. I can imagine that such a reference would be quite comforting to a Mormon who believes that work to be an ancient document originally written onto gold. But for a non-Mormon who is quite convinced that it was written in the 1800s by Joseph Smith, any reference that could be thought of as referring to Columbus would be absolutely unconvincing.

3.  Some will caution the use of the Camel Method because some Muslims will be offended at Christians using the Qur’an. This is actually a somewhat valid concern.  For example, I have heard Muslims use the passage in the Gospel according to St. John where Jesus says He is sending a Comforter, as a prophecy of the coming of Muhammad. My natural tendency is to get a bit offended at a Muslim ripping a verse out of the Holy Bible, rejecting the broader context of the passage, and abusing its meaning to support his/her own theology. I think the Camel Method can be useful, but be careful in its use. Some may react negatively to the message.

4.  Others will note that while the Camel Method can be effective with some Muslims, it will not be for others. For those who are very serious students of the Qur’an will recognize that the person using the Camel Method is very much selecting certain ayah (verses) from the book, while ignoring others. This is much like the case study from one of my students where a Muslim friend used one verse in John where Jesus avoided admitting to deity (or at least was quite vague), while avoiding numerous places where Jesus’ used quite strong statements about who He was. The other group that is likely not to respond are those who know little to nothing about the Qur’an. If challenged from the Qur’an, they are likely not respond… or at most go ask their imam about it. Most Muslims are like most Christians— somewhat nominal in the practice of their faith, being more strongly connected to their religion by culture than belief. For such people, dreams, signs and wonders, and acts of kindness may be more effective.

Overall, I would say that acts of kindness (expressions of Christian love) is the strongest foundation for witnessing to a Muslim. However, being loving without a message may just lead the person to thinking that you are a nice person. The Camel Method provides a way of supplementing the expression of the Great Commandment, not a trick to share the gospel without love and kindness.

Valuing One’s Faith

How does one value one’s Faith. In this case, I am using “faith” to mean the religious belief system one adheres to in some way. I saw something interesting in the book THE SKILLED HELPER, by Gerald Egan (I am quoting from the 1975 version).

“A value, according to Raths and Simon (1966) is something that a particular person prizes and cherishes, even in public when appropriate — something that someone chooses freely from alternatives, after considering the consequences of these alternatives, and that causes a person to act (or to refrain from acting) in a repeated, consistent way. As such, values differ from opinions, interests, feelings, beliefs, and attitudes especially in that these, unlike always find their way into action. Values, then, are related to lifestyle. Another way of putting it is that my values constitute the ways in which I commit myself to myself, to others, and to the world about me. My values are extremely important, for my commitments constitute a significant part of my identity — the person I see myself to be. ” (pages 219-220)

So, what are the qualities of a value?

  • It is prized and cherished (including in public when appropriate)
  • Freely chosen despite the availability of other alternatives
  • Leads to action (or refraining from actions) in a repeated, consistent way. It is tied to lifestyle
  • Leads to my internal and external commitments
  • Effects my self identity

One’s faith can be

  • The religious system that one has expressed adherence too due to socialization or lack of alternatives.
  • A set of beliefs that have no relevance to one’s actions or identity.

The question is where such a faith is a Biblical faith. Many people throw around “Easy Believism” the tendency to identify faith in Christ in terms of a mental assent and a prayer. This sort of faith comes out of two things:

  1. A desire to quantify results. An evangelizer cannot identify whether another truly has been regenerated in their interaction, and cannot see the future to see whether the individual makes a real change of direction, so faith is minimized to a tiny action and a cognitive assent. (I remember the “Hand illustration” for evangelism where the final ‘finger’ is the little finger representing the prayer of salvation. It is the little finger because “it is such a little thing.” Of course, committing oneself fully to another is NEVER tiny.
  2. Tendency of having this view born and developed in regions of cultural Christianity, where there is little pressure to adjust one’s lifestyle, and there are few alternative belief systems that appear to be valid for consideration.

However, I think we must consider whether that is what faith in the Bible actually is. Is that faith?

Faith is not just a belief, it is a value.

Offending for Good Reason

Darrel Whiteman says that one of three reasons for good contextualization is to “Offend for the Right Reason.” After all, Paul noted that the Gospel message is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. Yet at the same time, Paul did try to make the Gospel message palatable or adorned for these groups. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Deus or the Unknown God to Greek philosophers. Paul expressed the Gospel in terms of Jesus as the Messiah predicted in Scripture to Jews. So this suggests that there is Offending for good reasons and Offending for the bad reasons. And by inference, one can NOT Offend for good and bad reasons.

Offending for bad reasons can break down communication. It can make the message rejected. It can also cause the Christian faith to be viewed as foreign to the culture rather than a fulfillment of the culture.

Not offending for bad reasons can lead to confusion where the Gospel may be seen as nothing more than “the best of that culture.” Ultimately, it may result in some form of syncretism. That syncretism may be seen in “Situational Reformation” (syncretism due to confusion) or “Syncretistic Incorporation” (syncretism based on the intentional creative act of the receiver).

Not offending for good reasons helps the gospel to localize… feel at home in the new culture. Much of a local culture is good (or at least not bad) so the gospel should not undermine what is worthy of embracing.

Offending for good reasons gives motivation to transformation. If the gospel is totally in line with the culture in every way, causing of no offense, one essentially has a “state religion”– justifying the status quo. But offending for the right reason points to necessary transformation.

Don’t Start Attending Our Church?

In ministry, we are guided, in part, by the Great Commission— to share our faith in season and out of season. And often, this drive to share our faith can often be conflated with a drive to grow our church. I have had this happen to me as well. I have had people share the Christian gospel with me, and I let them do it even though I am already a Christian. But as they shared the faith, it really quickly drifted into “their form of faith” and they seemed genuinely bothered that I was a fellow Christian but not switching to their own specific church, or sect, or theological perspective.

This seems pretty messed up to me, but what about the opposite. Is it okay to be a bit discouraging of people switching to one’s own church? I recall a story of a man who sought to convert to Judaism. Talking to a rabbi, he was shooshed away. It was only with the man’s third attempt to have the rabbi oversee his conversion that the rabbi relented and guided him through the process. As a Christian, this seems weird. While the US Marine Corp has long utilized the slogan “The Few, the Proud, the Marines” to suggest their elite status, Christian churches tend to follow a slogan more akin to, “Come on in, we will take anyone.” And in some ways, that is good. God loves and accepts anyone, so how could we do less?

However, while there is no excuse (that I know of) to discourage someone from following Christ, there can be reasons to discourage someone from switching to one’s own church. Some churches can be toxic and perhaps one doesn’t want to have a young believer thrown into such toxicity. Some churches are not a good fit for someone (this may not be a good reason to reject someone, but it may point to the need of informed decision-making on the part of the person). However, I will give a couple of examples from my setting in missions.

  1. Shortly after arriving in the Philippines, I became a member of a church that organized medical missions. My wife joined that group. Even though it was officially a local church ministry, in practice well over half of those who joined were from other churches. We certainly welcomed our medical team members to visit our church. However, we did not encourage them to change church. Medical missions is based on partnership. When we encourage volunteers to leave their own church and come to ours, it sabotages those partnerships making it difficult to work. If we do a medical mission near our church, if we want to partner with other churches, we really can’t prioritize our church over other churches when it comes to new believers. If we in a distant location we have to partner with another church, we really limit ourselves if we only work with churches that are part of our same association or theology. We need to show these other churches respect if we hope to continue to work with them.
  2. A few years later, we were part of a different ministry… one we started. It was a counseling center where we also taught Clinical Pastoral Education (we are still part of that organization). We were working with a local pastor. Our group was ecumenical, but that particular pastor kept putting pressure on the volunteers as well as the trainees to join his church. That did cause problems. It is hard to get trainees to come if their church or denomination know that we are working in some way to undermine them. In fact, after we had resolved that issue, I had ended up telling more than one person when they were talking about denominations and churches, “Please don’t leave your church (or denomination). We are hoping to continue to work with your church (or denomination), so we hope you will continue to still attend there and serve there.”

If one accepts the catholicity (mystical union) of the Body of Christ, and sees that as preeminent over a particular theological novelty, or a specific sect, I believe one can serve far more effectively in missions. Perhaps a third story would suggest this.

3. My wife led a friend to Christ. Although, we did not pressure her to join our church, she chose to, and, in fact, her family and our family worked together in church for several years. However, soon my wife’s friend had a concern. One daughter was very active in a church that was of a very faith tradition. My wife’s friend wondered what she could do to get her daughter to switch churches. My wife’s suggestion was to not discourage her in any way as to the church she is presently attending. She is not only attending but also involved in ministry there. It is not a cult… let her be. The daughter ended up staying in that church for another year or two. Eventually, she did switch churches. However, she did not join our church or denomination. She actually joined a different denomination and eventually became a missionary. It is my view, at least, that her decision to follow God in missions comes, in part, by not embracing a church wars. (I do remember one time saying something to her disparaging of one aspect of her new denominations’s theology. It did no long-term harm. However, it came from a bad place, not an edifying place.)

I do believe that one problem this competition for church membership can also show itself in confusion as to what the gospel is. As I noted at the start, it seems like for some, sharing the gospel is, for them, getting someone to become an attending and tithing member of their church and the actual message of the gospel is an inadequate and unsatisfying part of the presentation for them.

The Great Commission: Changing the Starting Point

The Matthew 28 version of the Great Commission speaks of developing Disciples. There appear to be three basic steps: They are Evangelize, Baptize, and Teach/Train.

GC Three Cycle

The question is where does it start. Within the context of the various Great Commission versions, the start seems to be with Evangelize. That is because the key issue of the Acts 1 version is for the apostles (“sent out ones”) to serve as witnesses of Jesus and proclaimers of Jesus’s message to the world. And since the recipients are people who are not followers, it rather makes sense that Evangelism is the first step.

Of course, things did change. As Christianity, as a religion, became naturalized to families and communities, there was more of a move toward the initial step being baptism. Babies of Christian families would be baptized and brought formally into the church. the children would be trained within the church until they become confirmed in the Christian faith. So Baptism in this case would be the first step. As a Baptist myself, I don’t really prefer that particular starting point, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

But it could also be argued that Training can (or even should) be thought of as the starting point. This can be seen in a couple of ways.

Number 1.   There has been a growth of “try before you buy.” Many seekers will become involved in church before they decide to believe. They want to see Christianity lived out. That can be awkward, because they may not just sit in the back of the congregation. They may want to jam in the worship team. They may want to discuss uncomfortable topics in Bible study or Sunday School. They may want to get involved with social ministries. They may want to join a short-term mission trip.

This first one can be awkward. We don’t want to feel uncomfortable in church with uncomfortable questions. I remember a woman standing up during church service after a deacon had given an (overly strong, and perhaps manipulative) appeal to tithe, and she asks the question to the entire congretation, “Does God’s love need to be bought?” It was a good question, but the church response was to guide her out of the church. Not ideal. I have sat in an evangelistic bible study with a young man who was dressed in women’s clothes. The bible study leader does a fine job for quite awhile and then the dam burst as she started rattling off every verse she knew that spoke negatively of homosexuality.

In both of those cases, I feel that the guests were handled poorly by Christians. They showed up at the church for some reason. Maybe their reasons were sincere… maybe not. The result was that the church pushed them out. The woman never returned, and although the young man did not walk out of the Bible study, he did not continue with the weekly studies.

Number 2.  Engel and Dyrness in “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000) on pages 65 and 66 note that it is not really Biblical to start with transmitting a message without giving people a “taste” of Christian compassion and holy living. I kind of think that this statement is taken a bit far. However, I do believe it is generally true. Charles Kraft speaks of Power Encounter always preceding Truth Encounter. Again, I think that this pushes a particular tradition rather than expressing a Biblical principle. However, Jesus almost always gave a taste of the Kingdom first. This may be miraculous signs, and healing. It may be violating cultural taboos, and upending social structures.

Engel and Dyrness in the same book (see page 64) described Evangelism as it has become popular in the Market Evangelism of the late 1900s Evangelicalism. They noted the Great Commission became tied to two Omissions:

  • Evangelism became disconnected from Social Transformation. Many believed that social transformation would follow Evangelism. Engel and Dyrness noted that at least since the mid-1800s this has not happened. Social Transformation should work hand-in-hand with (or even precede) Spiritual Transformation. Focusing on cognitive change (without an understanding of how such a cognitive change is supposed to connect to a life lived for God) commonly leads to anemic Christianity.
  • When Evangelism drifts into Marketing a product to as many people as possible to get the most people to make some sort of identifying indication of response, discipleship as a total process tends to wilt.

Perhaps a better idea is to start in a better place:

  1.  Welcome people into the church, bible studies, ministry activities and more as seekers and skeptics to experience the Christian faith lived out, and where they can ask uncomfortable questions and get honest (unpracticed thoughtful) answers. In this way they can experience an aspect of the Kingdom that is tied to the message. Of course, this requires Christians to live out their faith socially, as well as doctrinally. This can result in 4th century Christianity where churches moved from small groups of the faithful to being large groups of the immature. But I don’t think this is a necessary result. A church can be a holy gathering of the faithful while maintaining it as a safe space for inquiry and doubt.
  2. Welcome these people to place their faith in Christ to become what they have been experiencing.
  3. Welcome believers into the mystical church— the body of Christ— through baptism.
  4. The people would were trained as believers become trainers of new seekers and skeptics, living out their faith with humility, and demonstrating holy brokenness and social concern to all. (And the cycle continues.)

I don’t think it is controversial to say that we teach unbelievers. It may sound controversial to say that we disciple unbelievers, but if discipleship is the entire process, of course one must disciple unbelievers. What probably IS controversial is to suggest that Proclamation/Evangelization is most commonly the wrong place to start.

And Evangelism that is built around marketing schemes does tend to lack the Biblical base and Spiritual foundation of regeneration.

I think we need to wrestle with this.





It Takes a Network

Back in May 2005, we had an opportunity to do a ministry project with the market kids of Baguio City, Philippines, The market kids (also known as “batang palengke” or “plastic boys”) are children who work in the public open market in the center of Baguio City. They sell plastic bags for the shoppers, offer to carry goods for the shoppers, and sometimes beg. Some are street children, lacking a permanent resident. However, most do have families and homes. About 25% do not go to school, and about 25% are children of Muslim merchants who have moved to Baguio from Southern Philippines.

Our involvement started small. It began in Cultural Anthropology class at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. Celia and I were part of a team set up to analyze of cultural group and do a project with them. Our other team members included a pastor from Nagaland, India, and a pastor from Cambodia. We decided to work with the market kids. We discovered that two students we knew, one from the Philippines and one from Papua, New Guinea, worked with them and a ministry set up by Korean missionaries. After spending some time in the public market, and working with the children at the Saturday ministry headed by the Korean missionaries, we decided that we would partner with them to do a medical mission for the children.

Ultimately, the project was fairly successful. Eventually, it faded away and different partners moved away. But many of the children were helped and grew up healthy and godly.  In fact, a number of them are serving in Christian ministry. Below are some of the groups that were part of this somewhat informal partnership. Some were partnered long-term, and some partnered on an event-basis. It does take a healthy network to do ministry. Below is a list of a number of the groups and their role(s) in the ministry partnership, with focus especially on the medical mission that was held.

Korean Missionaries                              Lead Weekly Children’s Program

American Missionaries                           Lead Medical Mission Event

Mission Center/Church                            Provide Location for mission

Filipino Missionary                                  Follow-up Muslim children who come

Several Other Filipino churches             Follow-up children/adults who come.

American Church                                    Fund Medical Mission

Korean Church                                        Fund Children’s program

Filipino Medical Professionals                Provide Medical Care

Numerous Filipino volunteers                 Evangelism, Crowd Control for medical mission

Seminary Students                                 Established initial plans and contacts

Dental School                                         Provide Dental Trainees

Missionary Training School                    Do Circumcisions

“Missions in Samaria” Book

One positive side of enhanced quarantine is the opportunity to make progress on something that one had definitely had on the ‘back burner.’ I decided to try to finish my book “Missions in Samaria” a few months early. When I say it is done, I mean that the first draft is done. It is only about 70 pages, but I am happy where it is— at least for now. My next book will be a collaboration with my wife on a pastoral counseling case workbook. It should be valuable, especially in the Asian context.

If you want to read the first draft of my book, “Missions in Samaria,” click on the link below.

Missions in Samaria rev 0

Of course, if you are bored, you can also look at other books that I wrote or my wife and I wrote, they are listed in:   My Books