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.

Church and Missions Relationship

How one sees the relationship between the church and missions has ramifications on how one sees missions. Consider three perspectives as shown above.

First let’s consider OPTION A. With this perspective, the church consists of local churches only. Missions occurs only to the extent that local churches directly carry out missions. There are two groups who embrace this perspective as far as I can see.

  • Churches that embrace a “Primitivist” perspective can see things this way. In this view, The local church is the only institution that is God-ordained to carry out His mission on this earth. Such groups are normally very limited in mission work. For some such groups this is exacerbated by a hyper-Calvinist theology that sees God’s predestination as negating the need for mission outreach by the church. But even for those who don’t embrace this, the rejection of specialized structures outside of the local church does hurt their competency for outreach.
  • Churches that embrace the Missional Church movement can move TOWARDS this perspective at least. The local church is missional at its core and so focus is placed on the church organizing and doing missions more than partnering with outside mission organizations. This can be quite commendable. My wife and I were sent out by a local church not a mission organization. However, the lack of specialized structures to deal with the unique challenges of cross-cultural work can be a challenge. In the case of my wife and I, we established ministries not directly tied to a local church, and also work with and through a seminary (which is a sodality structure, much like mission organizations).

Let’s jump ahead to OPTION C. In this case, mission organizations are outside of the church in some way. There is a strong separation. Those who embrace OPTION A sometimes start here. They see the universal church as from God and missions (mission organizations) as not part of the church. Thus they reject mission organizations (and other sodality structures) entirely. However, others can do a similar thing. One might argue that the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Churches, and Anglican Church works this way with two separated groups— Diocesan or Secular priests and Religious Priests. The first group is tied to a bishop and normally linked to a parish/church. The second group is tied to a religious order— many of which serve as the missionary arm of the denomination.

In the latter case, it could be argued that there is a strong connection between religious orders and parishes in the Catholic Church (for example). In fact, in 1978 there was a push state that religious orders existed within the local church— autonomous but not independent. Be that as it may, history has at times (including in Protestant circles) where a denomination has a missionary arm that is funded and overseen by the denominational leadership, but whose link to and influence on the local church is very indirect. As the link becomes more tenuous, the missional vitality of the local church wanes.

In between is OPTION B. To understand this, I like to draw on different views of God. One view of God is Unitarian (Unitarian Christian groups, along with Muslim and Jewish groups). In this view. God exists as unity and there is no discernible structure within God’s unity. This is rather like Option A. Another view is Tritheism. This is where God is not a unity but exists as multiple beings (gods rather than God). These gods may have some form of relationship between them, but far from existing in terms of unity. The Hindu “Trinity” or the “Trinity” of Mormonism. This is rather like Option C. In between is historic Trinitarianism (or Binitarianism as well, I suppose). With this view, God is seen as Unity (not gods) but there is discernible structure within that unity. This is somewhat like Option B. The universal church exists as the assembly of the faithful, but there are discernible structures within that unity. Some are people-structured (local churches and bible studies, for example), while some are task-structured (mission organizations, training organizations, helps ministries, etc.).

To me, Option B has the best POTENTIAL. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have problems. But seeing the work of God done by the church as existing not only in terms of work down by modalities, but sodalities, best fits the calling of God in the Gospels and Acts, as far as I can see.

Still, these three Options are still VERY GENERAL. Each has a wide range of minor variations that need to be considered.

Ultimately, we need to find a way to honor and empower the specialization needed often to carry out specialized work, without pushing such specialization completely outside of the church.

Is Kabunian Jesus? Part 2

I really think you will need to read Part 1 to make any sense of this post. You can CLICK HERE.

I suppose I might summarize the first post in saying that one should reject naivety in presuming that a simple YES or NO suffices. Kabunian (a central mythological figure in Cordilleran traditional religion) is NOT Jesus (the central historical figure of the Christian faith). However, there are enough similarities to wonder whether one can use Kabunian as a bridge to the Christian faith, especially since it is quite possible that Kabunian changed through interaction with Christianity such that the deity has taken on a some characteristics we would associate with Christ. I have written before on the Longhouse Religion of the Iroquois as a faith that bridges the polytheistic older faith of the people with the Christian faith. For some people the Longhouse Religion has kept people from converting to Christianity. For others, I believe it has served as a bridge to Christ.

I have talked to a number of Christians over the years who are Cordilleran. Generally the view is that one cannot use Kabunian in any way in the Christian faith. Kabunian is seen as too interwoven into the traditional religion so that it is seen as mixing bad with good, or syncretistic. One cannot separate the name from its associated worldview and beliefs. Myths have power. Sometimes such power is beneficial. Paul used the myth of Epimenides and the Unknown God and its powerful place in Athenian thought to express key aspects of the Christian faith. I doubt however that Paul kept using that myth during the discipleship phase of those who converted to following Christ. I could be wrong of course. On the other side, the powerful role of Olympian gods in Hellenistic regions could also undermine Christian ministry. In Lystra, Barnabas and Paul did miracles— presumably not only as acts of compassion, but also as signs of the veracity of their message. However, the firm belief of the locals in the Greek myths led them to interpret these acts as evidence that Barnabas and Paul were Greek gods walking among them. Myths have power to enlighten as well as to confuse.

Perhaps there is a better question that can be asked:

CAN KABUNIAN POINT TO CHRIST?

In this view, we start asking the question of whether God is at work in other faiths and cultures, utilizing the hopes and fears to slowly draw them to Himself. If one takes this view, Kabunian is NOT NECESSARILY a snare of Satan. He could be a human construct that informs us of what people in the culture value most. Or it could be a divine work that can serve as a redemptive analogy, a preparation for the gospel.

Or maybe it is all three. Regardless, it is not a healthy endpoint. In the most positive expression, Jesus Christ FULFILLS Kabunian. Kabunian points in some sense to Christ. The qualities of Kabunian that meet the genuine spiritual need of the people point to Christ, who can ultimately meet those needs. And those aspects of Kabunian that fail to meet those needs point ultimately to Christ because of that lack.

As I said in my last post, I am in no way and expert of Cordilleran Traditional Religion. As such, when I talk to my students and friends who take a very negative stance regarding this faith and theology, I am simply not in a position to tell them they are wrong. In fact, I really am compelled to trust them in this. I have read a paper that takes the ethical system of the culture (‘Lawa at Inayan’) in a very positive light. But it appears to be an exception to the rule— at least among Evangelicals.

However, I would add a small caveat. This caveat is that when one meets a Cordilleran who embraces the traditional religion… or (often more commonly) expresses their faith with a syncretistic mix of that religion and Christianity… don’t react with repulsion. See how their genuine hopes and fears are expressed through their faith, and how their faith can serve as a bridge to the One who can, ultimately, satisfy these hopes and relieve these fears.

I do believe that Christ may not be expressible in terms of Kabunian, but that Christ ultimately can be expressed in ways that honor the best of Cordilleran culture (rather undermining and replacing). Jesus challenged much of Jewish culture while ultimately be a fully inculturated Jew.

What would Jesus look like as a fully inculturated Cordilleran? I saw a picture of Jesus, with His disciples, as a Cordilleran. The image, of course, is far from adequate to answer that question. Still, I think the image points towards a better expression of Christ than we often see where I live. At least it opens the door to questions that need to talked about in community. I will share that picture here again. (The picture is in a Cordilleran restaurant, Ay Wada Casa Lomi House, outside of Baguio City, Philippines. Sorry for the poor quality of my photography skills.)

Is Kabunian Jesus? Part 1

We had an interesting, even if short, discussion in class on whether it is okay to say/believe that Jesus is Kabunian. For those not from a very specific part of the world, this question is meaningless or at least confusing. However, similar questions have come up in many settings. For example, “Must one use the term ‘Jehovah’ or ‘Yahweh’ as the God of the Bible?” as some Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Messianic groups suggest? Is it okay to say that the God of the Bible is Allah, or that the God of the Bible can be called Allah?” Perhaps it is easier to discuss this with less emotional baggage (for many Christians at least) with the case study of Kabunian.

Kabunian is the traditional deity (or prime deity) of the peoples of the Cordillera mountains of northern Luzon Island (Philippines). While a majority of Cordillerans would identify themselves as Christian, Kabunian still has a strong role in this region. Some argue that early Cordilleran religion was built around spirits and ancestors, and the focus on Kabunian is a fairly late evolution of the faith that post-dates contact with Christianity. As such, Kabunian did not have a strong role in the religion until he was needed as an alternative to the God of Christianity. Truthfully, I am not an expert on Kabunian or of Cordilleran traditional religion. Because of this, I truly don’t know if this is actually true, or is a false reinterpretation of that faith.

<Aside here… sometimes there is a strong temptation to reinterpret a religion through a preferred lens of an outsider rather than through its adherents’ own self-understanding. For example, those who embrace the History of Religions school of thought, believe that traditional faiths are polytheistic (and animistic, and shamanistic) and so a traditional faith that has a strong central deity must have gotten that way through interaction with a ‘more mature faith.’ Additionally, within Evangelical Christian circles, there is the belief of some that God only reveals Himself through Christians. Other religions are traps of Satan, and therefore any other belief system that embraces something that is seen as ‘true’ must have gotten that truth through interaction with Christians. Note here, I am just bringing up two possible reasons for falsely believing that Kabunian as primary deity is a recent innovation. I have not studied the issue enough to know the truth. But one must always be cautious of people who are too quick to say that a group believed “A” centuries ago, when the tradition of that group is that they believed “B.”>

But this gives one POSSIBLE reason for saying that Kabunian can be said to be Jesus. PERHAPS KABUNIAN IS A LOCAL CONTEXTUALIZATION OF JESUS. After all, if Kabunian developed in response to Christianity, couldn’t it be seen as a local expression of Christ? I have issues with this idea. A contextualization is more than simply grabbing a term and linking it to another. The name Kabunian means, essentially, “The one to be prayed to” (in the Kankana-ey language). Kabunian as chief god and the one to be prayed to certainly aligns with Christ. However, the stories of Jesus and the stories of Kabunian don’t really line up. The teachings of Kabunian and Jesus don’t really line up (sometimes). That is also a major issue with linking the God of the Holy Bible and Allah from Al-Qur’an. Although there are historically common roots, and Arab and Aramaic Christians called the God of the Bible Allah before the time of the founding of Islam, many of the characteristics of each do not align. Because of this, lazy conflation can lead to confusion. Confusion can be a problem and lead to syncretism. However, to simply reject everything local and simply bring in an outside term can lead to its own form of syncretism— unhealthy mixing of the Christian faith with an outside, rather than local, culture. So let’s consider further.

On the other hand one could make the argument that Kabunian CANNOT be equated with Jesus because the two names are different. Relatedly, some would say that Kabunian is pagan and so can have no part of Christian theology or terminology. On this I think we have to be a bit cautious. While YHWH appears to be a Hebrew-only term, Elohim appears to have been connected with the Phoenican god El. Does that mean that the two are being equated? Well, Yes and No. Let’s take it further, in the New Testament, the dominant term used is Theos. This term has roots in the Greek culture and religion. The term Theos seems to have a link to the term Zeus, the chief Olympian god of the Greeks. Supposedly, the English term ‘God’ has a similar connection to Odin or Wotan, through the proto-Germanic term “Godan.” Does this mean that we have to throw away all terms for God in Christianity with pagan roots. I would argue that the answer is decidedly NO. If one takes the individual cases above, in the case of Elohim, the term may be linked to El, but is transformed in both its written form, but in its meaning as well. Elohim is above all creation and “gods” much as is the Phoenician god El, but differs as God is NOT the father of Baal and Ashtoreth (among other differences). The choice of term draws people to think of the God of Israel as the god of the heavens but its transformation helps avoid too close of a link. The same could be said in the New Testament. The Bible used the Greek term Theos for god, but did not use Zeus. One could argue that there is too much baggage associated with the character Zeus, but there is value in the more abstract Theos. Likewise, in English, the term Odin has too much pagan baggage, but the more generic/abstract term “God” is open for utilization. In places in Asia, for example, missionaries have often sought to equate the God of the Bible with the local expression of the god of the heavens. Is there problems with this? Sometimes there can be. There can be problematic baggage to deal with in the term. For this reason, sometimes the local term is not used, or it is used but changed somewhat. There is, however, considerable value in helping people understand that the God of the Bible is their God as well. In the Philippines it is more common to use the term “Diyos” which is a Spanish term that ultimately traces back to the Greek Theos. At other times, the term Panginoon is used, which is seen more as a descripter of God rather than a name for God.

I think perhaps a better goal in language is that of “Fulfillment” rather than EQUATE OR EQUIVOCATE. We can talk about this in Part II. To go there direction, you can CLICK HERE.

Book Review: “Encountering Theology of Mission” (Ott, Strauss, Tennent)

The book, Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, with Timothy C. Tennent, is the best Missiology book I have read in quite some time. I just finished reading it about 2 hours ago, so I don’t think this will be a carefully crafted review… but I hope that is okay.

ENCOUNTERING THEOLOGY OF MISSIONS: BIBLICAL FOUNDATIONS, HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENTS, AND CONTEMPORARY ISSUES. Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, with Timothy C. Tennent (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010). Part of the Encountering Mission series.

When I first began reading the book I was a bit down on it in that it did not seem to have a theme or framework. But clearly, the goal of the book is not to give a single clear theological vision for mission (or missions), but to review the landscape and range of perspectives in the Theology of Mission. This certainly not only adds to its strength as a textbook, but also helps those involved in missions to come up with our own perspectives. As the sub-title suggests, it addresses Biblical Foundations for missions- but it is more than most such Biblical foundations which (at their worst) is little more than quoting a lot of Scripture verses. It deals with Historical Developments of missions and does do honor not only to Evangelical Protestant missions, but Catholic, Conciliar, and Orthodox missions as well. And it deals with many of the Contemporary issues that are bandied about today.

While the perspective of the writers is clearly Evangelical, the book does not try particularly hard to be a defense of Evangelical perspectives. It criticizes some perspectives within the Evangelical world with regards to missions, often shows respect (even if respective disagreement) with perspectives from others, and is cautious in generally avoiding strong dogmatic statements.

I will add two negative comments here.

First, there are some topics that I feel were glossed over a bit. The Honor/Shame Theology versus Guilt/Innocence (to say nothing about other models of connecting Christian theology to worldview categories) was not addressed more than off-hand. I understand that the book came out in 2010, but I do feel like these issues were around enough at that time to be seen as a real contemporary issue worth dealing with more. Additionally, the section of contextualization did not do much in the area of tests for good localized theology versus bad. In this particular case, the book did speak to this issue more than just off-hand. To me, however, it could have benefited from an in-depth review.

Second, I felt that it was a great book that was really let down by the final chapter. That chapter “The Necessity of Missions” did not really need to be there. It dealt with three “uncomfortable questions.” that are related to the justice and fairness of God. These are good questions, but are starting to move away from Theology of Mission into Soteriology and Theology Proper. It does feel like the authors simply weren’t that strong in those topics. The issue of Hell was especially weak in my mind. It did not deal with the wide range of perspectives regarding the nature of Hell…. limiting to three perspectives, and even then only covered one in-depth (the one they supported). It went into a fairly unconvincing Biblical justification for the ECT (eternal conscious torment) perspective. That seems pretty out of line with the rest of the book that tried to be multi-perspectival and sought to avoid verse-bombing. Personally, I am in the undecided category regarding much about the nature of Hell because the Bible is shockingly vague in this area. I can’t really complain that the authors have a perspective on it— that is fair and reasonable. I, however, feel like this chapter was added as a bit of an afterthought and was not well developed. I would say that I do find it curious that there seems to be a presumption in the last chapter generally that Christians should find it more motivational to do missions if non-believers experience eternal conscious torment then if they are consumed and perish. (Frankly, why would missionaries feel greater motivation to faithfully serve a God who appears to be less fair and merciful, humanly speaking, than one who appears to be more fair and merciful.) I am not trying to make a big point about Hell and about the Justice of God, but, again, I feel that the final chapter was added in a rushed manner based on editorial comments. I could be wrong.

I spent way too long on these two negative comments. If I ever get a chance to teach Theology of Mission again, I will definitely use it as a key textbook (unless something more updated comes along). I must commend the high quality of the book, and recommend it to all interested in this topic.

In Support of an Incarnational Model of Missions

I have been reading the book by Ott, Strauss, and Tennent, Encountering Theology of Mission.

Chapter 4 has a fairly large section that speaks about Incarnational Missions. This is missions that is understood via the metaphor (or model) of the Incarnation of Christ. It seems like the authors look at this understanding of missions positively. Nevertheless, they have a short section that points out those who see it negatively.

Others reject the model altogether as theologically and exegetically inappropriate (e.g., Kostenberger, Schnabel, Hesselgrave). They argue that the point of comparison between Jesus’s sending and the sending of the church in John 17:18 and 20:21 is not the incarnation or identification, but rather the relationship between the sent and the sender. The incarnation of Jesus is entirely unique and cannot in any way be replicated or imitated by Christians. The focus of Jesus’s ministry in John’s Gospel is not “service to humankind” (as some incarnational mission models advocate) but rather the work of redemption and forgiveness. Andreas J. Kostenberger concludes, ‘Not the way in which Jesus came into the world (i.e., the incarnation), but the nature of Jesus’ relationship with his sender (i.e., one of obedience and utter dependence), is presented in the Fourth Gospel as the model for the disciple’s mission.’

Erhard Berneburg argues that the incarnational model of missions is a ‘functionalization’ of the biblical doctrine of the incarnation. the incarnation becomes a methodological model for evangelism and ethics and can thereby lose its unique redemptive meaning. David Hesselgrave and Christopher Little argue that while we can clearly learn from Jesus’s example, Paul’s ministry is the more appropriate model for missionary practice today.

Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, Timothy Tennent Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 103. <Note: inline references were not included here that is in the original text.>

The four arguments listed here are (1) The incarnation is so elevated above us and so unique that we cannot in anyway be replicated or imitated by us. (2) John’s recording of the Great Commission does not point us towards an incarnational model for missions— but rather towards obedience and dependence of Christ. (3) Using the incarnation as a model for missions causes people to lose recognizing its primary purpose in terms of redemption. (4) Paul is a better model for missions than Jesus.

Number One. The first of these points is the one that bothers me the most. Kostenberg seems against using the incarnation as a model for anything that has anything to do with us. I am, sadly, limited to the text here since I don’t have Kostenberg’s writing in front of me. Commonly, a writer’s words are summarized in a manner that is far from the total picture of their perspective. But, drawing from what I have, I believe the incarnation is a very useful metaphor or model for missions. The fact that the incarnation is in some ways completely removed from our own experience actually helps. A metaphor after all is a self-contradictory, providing meaning by relating an abstract concept with a tangible concept. While the incarnation of Christ may indeed be a mystery, it is still a tangible mystery. It allows us ‘to see his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.’ Missions is completely abstract. To understand an abstract concept we utilize analogies/metaphors.

Using the tangible, historical mystery of the incarnation to help us understand the intangible abstract mystery of our calling to serve seems perfectly reasonable— and it certainly does not, in any way, demean the Incarnation. As Ott, Strauss, and Tennent noted, Paul used the Incarnation of Christ in Philippians 2 to explain how we are to live as Christians. I would also argue that Paul’s description of the church as “the body of Christ” is using the incarnation as metaphor for the mystery of the spiritual unity that comes through Christ. I don’t believe that Paul was trivializing the incarnation when using it to help us understand the Church, or how we are supposed to behave. (Jesus suggested the metaphor of “Daddy” for understanding the first person of the Trinity. Is that belittling? Some would say so… but not Jesus.)

A possible point of agreement is that a metaphor can be pushed too far. Because of this, a metaphor helps us understand something, but it really cannot be used as part of an argument. To take a ridiculous case, the metaphor of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and we as the Sheep, cannot be used as the basis for an argument that Christians must wear woolen clothes. Metaphors are powerful, but they are most decidedly limited.

Number Two. The second point MAY have some merit. It is possible that John’s version of the Great Commission is a call to obedience and dependence on Christ rather than a call to utilize Jesus as a model for missions. The argument in support of this is that John’s focus of Jesus’s ministry was really about His role as redeemer. Therefore, Jesus must not be calling on His disciples to emulate Himself ministerially. I don’t know. I know that Harmonization of the Gospels is looked down upon right now, but assuming that the messages (“Great Commissions”) in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20 all come from the same event, and if one assumes that Jesus literally said the words in John 20:21, then those words have to be understood not only in terms of the Gospel of John, but the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as well. The disciples were not living the gospel of John. As such, they would not be interpreting it through the lens of that gospel. Further, if Jesus’s real purpose for telling His disciples that He is sending them as He was sent refers to their call to obeying Him, then obedience means adhering to His words and to His deeds. I cannot see how John’s version of the Great Commission can be seen in anything other than calling on Jesus’s disciples to have Himself as their example. We are back to the sending of Christ being a guide for our ministry.

Now, on this particular point, you may be about to say, “Wait! We were talking about the incarnational model of missions and now we are talking about interpretation of John 20:21 that has nothing directly to do with the incarnation.” I have to agree. From the context, all I can do is suggest a certain logic here. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, many Evangelical missiologists (MacGavran, Winter, Wagner, et al.) were arguing for missions to be all about evangelization, churchplanting, and discipleship. John Stott (and a few others) spoke strenuously in support of a more holistic understanding of missions. Ultimately in Lausanne (1974) and in other places, a view that was more in line with Stott was expressed, even though it was clear that many Evangelical missiologists would prefer a more one-sided, spiritualistic, view of missions. Stott used John 20:21 as a major part of his argument that missions should be holistic. I would argue, actually, that Stott did not even have to do this. The Great Commandment, and its (in part) interpretation in the Good Samaritan compels a holistic understanding of following Christ— and so does Christ’s call to obey and the New Testament’s overall call for Christ to be our example (including in John 20:21). So why make a big deal about interpreting John 20:21 that supports holistic ministry indirectly rather than directly? One theory might be that many missionaries see the Great Commission as both their justification for missions, and their guide for missions. If none of the Great Commandments seem to point to a holistic view of ministry, then such missionaries may embrace a spiritualistic (-only) view of missions. However, it doesn’t really matter how one interprets that verse… the thrust of the Gospels presents ministry and Christlike living in terms of both proclamation and compassionate works. The problem is the poor training of missionaries, who see their “reason for missions” as the Great Commission (a guidance that is simply a more specific guidance of the overall thrust of Christ’s teaching)

Number Three. The third point just seems foolish. Would the use of the Incarnation as a model for missions lead one’s away from a high understanding of the Incarnation in terms of Trinitarian theology? I suppose I can imagine that happening. But I suppose that can happen whenever we use metaphors. Describing the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit or the Body of Christ certainly could be seen as demeaning the Trinity. Comparing Jesus to Adam perhaps undermines a high Christology. To say that a metaphor can be abused hardly justifies removing metaphors. This point just doesn’t seem to have any weight to it. (Maybe I am missing something.)

Number Four. Is Paul (or Barnabas, since the model used by Paul appears to have originally come from Barnabas) a better model for missions than Jesus? In a sense, Yes. The context of Paul’s work is post-Pentecost, while the work of Jesus was pre-Pentecost. Jesus’s ministry was “first” to the lost sheep of Israel (although Jesus was as inconsistent in His focus on Jews as Paul was inconsistent in his focus on Gentiles) seems more narrow than His command to His disciples (in Acts 1:8 and elsewhere) to go to every nation. Still, the apostles do appear to have seen it important to be guided ministerially by Jesus. Barnabas and Paul worked in a missionary band that is healing and declaring the good news of Christ while embracing a dependence on God for sustenance. This is very much guided by Christ, not only in terms of ethics, but in terms of methodology. During the first three centuries, those who embraced an apostolic calling took vows of poverty and served very much in line with Christ. So is Paul a better model for us than Jesus when it comes to missions? Probably… but it is not that simple. Christ may be the the ultimate model of minister, but Paul’s context is closer to our own. As such, Paul’s ministry could be seen as a contextualization of the ministry of Christ that we would benefit from.

This got way too long. My short point is that the Incarnational Model of Missions I find to be useful (functional). The arguments against it really seem weak. That being said, since it is a model (broad-based metaphor) it is useful only as long as it is useful. At the point it loses its edge to help us understand missions, it ceases to have value and can be tossed aside. That is how metaphors are supposed to be used. They are not supposed to be reified, or held onto as a treasured relic. They are not supposed to be used to justify an activity or a belief, but rather to help in understanding and addressing something creatively. Maybe in the not too distant future the Incarnational Model will not be helpful.

But until then, let’s use it cautiously and creatively.

Convert versus Proselytize?

One of my students read an article “Conversion or Proselytization? Being Maasai, Becoming Christian” by Joshua Robert Barron. The article takes a very positive view of conversion and a negative view of proselytization. Since a lot of people (including myself) use the terms generally interchangeably, I was curious at what his point was. Conversion seems to be bringing people to the Jesus who is already among them. Proselytization is bringing people out of their culture into an outsider faith and culture.

My first question was why was he using these terms in these ways. A challenge I have for myself is reading into these descriptions. After all, bringing people to the Jesus/God who is already among them can be a reworking of the “Ministry of Presence”— where the focus is not on bringing people to Christ at all, but rather on identifying God’s work that already exists among them. At its most extreme, one is not seeking to lead people to declare Jesus as Lord, or repent before God, but rather “Be the best you can be within the moral principles and beliefs of your culture.”

But that does not appear to be what Barron is talking about. Clearly, Barron is speaking of leading people to Christ (particularly in this case the Maasai) without losing their own cultural identity. That is a noble task, but it still got me thinking about whether emphasizing the difference between “convert” and “proselyte” is useful.

Both proselyte and convert are old terms. The former is a Greek term in origin, and the latter is Latin in origin. The term “proselytos” is used in the Old Testament (Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible), and the New Testament. In the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, proselytos is used as the translation of the Hebrew term “ger.” Etymologically, “proselytos” comes from two parts that come together to mean “come towards.” However, ‘ger’ probably translates best as “resident alien.” That is ‘ger’ means, from the Israelite perspective, those people who are not Israelite and yet live among the Israelites.

Over time, ‘ger’ began to develop into three different meanings.

  1. ‘Ger’ in itself does not necessarily mean conversion. They could be loyal resident aliens… living among Jews, and obeying the rules of the land, but not identifying with the Jewish faith.
  2. ‘Ger zedek’ or ‘Ger emet’ is a true and full convert to the Jewish faith. A person in this category sets aside his or her faith and unique cultural identity, and embraces not only the Jewish faith, but also its community and culture.
  3. ‘Ger shaar’ is proselyte “of the gate” or “Son of Noah.” This person can be thought of as a “semi-proselyte.” This person has identified with the Jewish faith more than simply a loyal resident alien (‘ger’) but not as completely as a true and full proselyte (‘ger zedek’).

In the New Testament, the term Proselyte is used for a complete convert to Judaism where their non-Jewish character is left behind (‘Ger zedek’). Another group is the “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who embraced some aspects of Judaism (nature of God, worship, and general ethics) without fully identifying with cultural and ceremonial Judaism. God-fearers then align with ‘Ger shaar.’

In the church, the question of who was truly a Christian came up. Must all Christians share a common culture? The question of whether Gentiles must become Jews to become Christians, or in a more general sense, “Must all people who wish to become Christians lose their unique cultural identifiers?” As they come to Christ, do they come as ‘Ger zedek’ or ‘Ger shaar’?

Truthfully, none of the three categories of proselyte really work in Christianity. Becoming a Christian involves embracing a deeper commitment than simply being a ‘God-fearer.’ And it does involve some level of commitment and common identity as part of the Body of Christ. At the same time, the Body of Christ is to exist in Unity, NOT Uniformity.

Conversion has its roots in the Latin that essentially means “to reverse direction.” The term is broad. As such, it is hard to say that “Conversion” and “Proselytization” are clearly at odds. However, the term “proselyte” as it is used in the New Testament does suggest losing one’s own unique culture during conversion to the Jewish faith. Christians are not called upon to lose their own culture in becoming Christian. However, it is accurate to say that to follow Christ is absolutely a “reversing of direction” since no one follows Christ by accident or natural inclination.

Looked at this way, I would have to agree with Barron that we are called upon by Christ to develop converts NOT proselytes. And if one accepts this language, then we should not identify ourselves as proselytizers.

References:

Jochanan H. A. Wijnhoven, “Convert and Conversion” in Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought. Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, Arthur A. Cohen/Paul Mendes-Flohr ,eds. (New York: Scribner, 1987) 101-3. Online Available HERE.

Joshua Robert Barron, “Conversion or Proselytization? Being Maasai, Becoming Christian,” Global Missiology, Vol. 18 No. 2 (2021), April. Online Available Here.

As the Father Hath Sent Me…

My favorite “Great Commission” is the one recorded in John “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). But it is not the most popular one. Some people prefer the one in Acts 1:8. That sending forth nature of the Gospel Call is inspirational. I recently read one writer who noted his preference for the Luke 24 version. I can’t remember why but maybe because it was more clearly focused on redemption. Most prefer the Matthew 28 passage. I suppose it is that it is suggestive of a process— Discipling in terms going, baptizing, and teaching.

But there is a more questionable side to the preference, or priority, of the Matthew 28 passage. That is the tendency to see that passage as providing a limitation of what is “Real Missions.” Should such a limitation be considered appropriate? I don’t really think so. For the following reasons…

#1. A missionary is first of all a Christian. As such, a missionary is responsible to live out the ethics of Christ. So, for example, the ‘extreme spiritualistic’ perspective of missions really cannot be justified. That perspective says that one should not be involved in caring ministries, or social justice ministries, because they are a distraction from the “real” work of missionaries. Since holistic care and justice are front and center in terms of the ethics of Christ, a missionary should be involved with them as Christians EVEN IF HE OR SHE FEELS THAT THAT IS NOT PART OF THEIR CALLING AS A MISSIONARY.

#2. The Great Commission is simply an application of the Great Commandment. Some have suggested that we are missionaries because of the Great Commission. Arguably, we would not need the Great Commission to know that we need to serve in a missions capacity. The Bible as a description of God as a Missionary God who calls us to join in His work, tied to our call to love our neighbors as ourselves, as part of our love of (and obedience to) God, is enough. But I don’t think a narrow interpretation of the Great Commission really stands up in this same way. God’s mission is so much bigger, and so is the Great Commandment.

#3. A missionary is driven by the example of Christ. In part, this ties to the John’s version of the Great Commission. Christ’s sending of us is linked to the Father’s sending of Christ. Therefore, we learn something about our role in being sent by understanding Jesus’ role in being sent. Beyond that, a disciple of Christ is obedient to Christ, in terms of calling, in terms of proclamation, in terms of service. To know what a missionary should do, one should look to see what Jesus did as a missionary. Jesus was, after all, a missionary. This is consistent with the Hebrews passage describing Jesus as an apostle (Hebrews 3:1), and (once again) John’s version of the Great Commission where it is stated that he is one sent out by God.

Looking at it a different way, we know who we are to be by what Jesus commanded us, and by what Jesus actually did.

<I am drawing much here from “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott, Strauss and Tennent.

A number of reasons that Jesus was sent does not apply directly to missionaries.

Paul focused on Jesus’ coming as primarily about redemption. It is hardly surprising then that many Evangelicals today seem to think that Jesus only came to save us from our sins (“Born to Die”) Evangelicals (and they are not alone) often focus on the Epistles rather than on the Gospels. Seems backwards, but that is the way it is. Missionaries are not “the way to redemption” and they are not a “ransom for sinners. Perhaps we cannot say that we were sent to the “Lost Sheep of Israel.” However, others are more applicable.

Jesus was (1) Sent to preach the Kingdom (Luke 4:43 et al). This is a purpose for missionaries as well. That links also to Luke 10 where Jesus disciples were to travel announcing the kingdom of God.

Jesus was (2) Sent to create division. (Luke 12:49, 51 et al). Missionaries are not tasked to destroy families or cultures. Nevertheless, the message does call for transformation, and forces a decision to accept or reject.

Jesus was (2) Sent to create division. (Luke 12:49, 51 et al). Missionaries are not tasked to destroy families or cultures. Nevertheless, the message does call for transformation, and forces a decision to accept or reject.

(3) Jesus was sent to give social justice and holistic care (Luke 4). In Nazareth, Jesus quoted Isaiah and then declares that this passage is being fulfilled at this time. This is generally viewed as a declaration of Jesus’ understanding of His own mission. Some people like to take this declaration very figuratively (often by people who if anything tend towards knee-jerk literalism in other parts of the Bible). But Jesus actively preached against the abuse of the poor, especially by the Jewish elite, and healed the sick. Additionally, He trained his disciples to do the same. Frankly, for those who like to look at Jesus’ reading in Luke 4 as figurative needs to look on the broader thrust of the Gospel of Luke as Jesus as caregiver and compassionately siding with the marginalized. In that light, Jesus’ declaration was placed there and is thematically significant for the book as a whole.

(4) Jesus was sent to “do the work of the Father.” (John 6;38 et al)

(5) Jesus was sent to “teach the truth.” (John 18:37)

(6) Jesus was sent to give fullness of life. (John 10:10) Again, some may try to narrow that down to salvation, but the broader context of that verse is Jesus using the metaphor of Shepherd. While one of the potential meanings of the metaphor is self-sacrifice, the dominant themes that relate to the Shepherd are more in terms of care and faithfulness.

I have noted that Barnabas and Paul are the best exemplars for missionaries. However, Jesus is the ultimate exemplar for being a Christian. And since missionaries are Christians first, ministers second, Jesus is in many ways a better guide for what a missionary is to be than Barnabas and Paul.

Who Are The Appropriate Targets of Christian Missions/Evangelism?

Found a nice article today that I had not read before. It was written around 1994. It is on the Missio Nexus website, titled “World Evangelization by AD2000: Will We Make It?” (https://missionexus.org/world-evangelization-by-a-d-2000-will-we-make-it/). The article was written by “Anonymous.” I don’t know who wrote it, actually, but the address for queries suggests that he or she is linked to the International Mission Board of the SBC. Anyway, the article pointed out some things that were problematic in the early 90s with the AD2000 movement. One of these was the artificial due dates. Things have to happen because the time is short— maybe only 24 months. Maybe only 3 or 4 years. There was no real basis for this seemingly. The timeframe appeared to be chosen simply because it sounded inspirational and motivational. I don’t consider that to be particularly excusable and does speak poorly of those who were doing this.

A second concern was that the goals were not measurable. There was no consistent standard or reliable measure for verifying metrics. What makes a group unreached? Standards varied. How does one determine that it is now reached? It is hard to hit a goal (or even be certain of missing a goal) if one can’t agree on what the standards are, and if there is no good way to measure whether these standards have been met.

The third concern was what to do regarding Roman Catholics, Eastern Church groups, and Mainline Christian groups. Many of the mission groups considered such Christians as unreached. The article referenced above pointed out many of the problems associated with this. I would also add that one has to deal with the theological questions associated with excluding at least two-thirds of all Christians from being… Christian. If a person worships the same God and calls upon the same Savior in faith… what beliefs or values would they have that would cancel such faith?

This is not a trivial question. I serve as a missionary in a country that is 90% Christian… around 5% Evangelical Christian. Does this mean 90% of the people in the country I serve are redeemed people bound for paradise? Very doubtful. Does this mean that only 5% are redeemed and the rest are lost? Very doubtful as well.

There are costs to struggling with this issue. As “Anonymous” wrote back in 1994, if much of the resources of a mission agency are being utilized to lead Catholics and Orthodox “to Christ,” it is possible one is not doing any such thing but merely “sheep-stealing.” But if the person was in need of salvation, the question is whether to pressure them to leave their church and join an Evangelical church or remain within their present church. Resources that could be spent on bringing people to Christ who have never heard the good news would be limited because of the internecine conflict.

My view as a missionary in a predominantly Catholic country is not that popular. Usually the argument is that Catholics believe that they need to work for their salvation as well as receive grace through sacraments, so they can’t be saved. Others point out the excesses of iconography and pagan beliefs associated with folk Catholicism are indicators that they are not redeemed. I do believe that these are indeed concerns. However, I think there are better ways to address these than all-out war.

Believe it or not, my focus here is not on trying to convince Protestants and Catholics to get along. It would be nice if they did, but this post is not going to change anything. Rather, my hope is that people will see the cost of this warfare. The biggest one is that it demeans the gospel message. However, when I teach Interreligious Dialogue with other Religions, I find several things keep recurring with seminarians.

#1. The seminarians have little experience talking with people of other non-Christian faiths. In fact, when I tell my students to have a rich conversation with a non-Christian, I commonly have to say over and over and over that Catholics don’t count (as qualifying as a non-Christian for the assignment). Finally, I end up saying something like, “I need you to have a conversation with a person from a faith that has NO roots in Historic Christianity.” Alternatively, I may broaden things to “I need you to have a conversation with a person that is from a non-Nicene faith group.” If I don’t I will invariable get people who will give me a dialogue with a Catholic friend. This just perpetuates the communication barrier with non-Christians.

#2. The seminarians, when they seek to share their faith with another, will almost always drift into a presentation that is designed to get nominal Christians or non-Evangelical Christians to say the Sinner’s Prayer. Regardless of whether you think this is good or bad, the point I am making is that they will then do this even with those from completely non-Christian backgrounds. Therefore, their presentation presupposes a Christian or Jewish conception of God, and a Christian understanding of who Jesus is and the authority of the Bible. Little time or effort is made to know what other groups think, or what their hopes and fears are. They prefer the “low-hanging fruit” of reaching someone who already agrees with everything the seminarian already believes, getting them to express their faith in a slightly different way.

Does this mean I believe that Evangelicals should never reach out to non-Evangelical Christian groups. No. But I would suggest the following:

A. Don’t approach members of these groups antagonistically, or focusing on drawing them away from their church. We were working with a Catholic nun, when a member of her religious order came up to visit to make sure that we were not trying to pull her out of the her order and her church. At the time I thought that was ridiculous. I was convinced of her personal faith in Christ so why would I seek to undermine that trying to cast doubt on her community. Later, however, I discovered that the pastor at our church was actively trying to get her leave her community and join his church.

B. Speak openly and honestly (and gently) about the similarities and difference of our faith traditions. Take BOTH the similarities and the differences seriously.

C. Have some humility. There is a lot of things messed up in every branch of the Christian “tree.” Each group needs a bit of healthy soul-searching before pointing out the mote in the eye of another. Relatedly, don’t be sure you know exactly who is redeemed and who is not. God knows… because God knows the heart and God knows whose is His own. We don’t. Therefore, we should not act like we do.

D. Since we don’t know who is saved (both Christians who are quite similar to us and those quite different) rather than focusing on salvation… focus on bringing people closer to Christ. (Hiebert would describe this as related to a ‘center set’ approach.) In other words, for those who are self-described Christians, focus on discipleship and let the Holy Spirit convict based on His true understanding, rather than our convicting based on our own prejudices and presumptions.

You might be asking, if I am in a country that is 90% Christian (by self-identification) and I believe that Evangelicals really should not focus on evangelizing self-identified Christians (at least not as a primary activity), why am I here? Shouldn’t I be somewhere else? Possibly. However, my ministry is training Christians in Asia for reaching out to non-Christians in Asia. Doing so in Asia actually makes a lot of sense, I believe. Perhaps I could do it in a Christian-minority country, but at this point in time, those who live in such countries have been able to come to where I live for training. Additionally, the country I live in is one that is transitioning into a missionary sending country. As such, I think it is a good place to be.

Doing Missions Both Wrong and Right

We live in a world of nuance, but as humans we like to categorize things. Nothing wrong with that. Things are complicated and so we simplify things to understand them.

One way we simplify things is to assume that much in the world can be placed into one of two bins— “The Right Way” or “The Wrong Way”— or sometimes truncated to “Right” or “Wrong.” While we know this is way too simple, such a binary can become a default setting for us. It is not always bad. The Bible uses binaries to teach— Wide versus Narrow Ways, Light versus Darkness, Adam versus Christ. We know there is more nuance than that, but there is value in the simplicity of the model.

But we live in the real world and not in an idealized simulation of the real world. The real world is messy… by design. Back when I was a mechanical engineer, I would have to have designs evaluated, and evaluate the designs of others. The evaluation was never “Good” versus “Bad.” Each design would have its good points and its bad points. And there were points that were both good and bad— and alternative designs could be better, worse, or equivalent in different aspects.

Christian missions is grounded in the real world and as such, similar messiness should occur. One of the great Biblical examples of this is found in the book of Galatians.

11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

15 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles 16 know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

17 “But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! 18 If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

This passage can be viewed as an argument regarding Theology of Missions. Paul says Peter, Barnabas and some of the Jews in a multi-cultural setting associated with Jews rather than Gentiles.

This story has been controversial for many years. St. Jerome had an interesting theory regarding this episode. He considered it to be a form of Theo-Drama. In other words, Paul and Peter were play-acting— to teach the others a valuable lesson. While I don’t find this view convincing, I do find it interesting. I think it may have been motivated in a desire to “sanctify” them. As “Saints” of the Primitive Church, it is uncomfortable to think that either one could be wrong. Such a view is common today as well.

  • I have heard arguments why Elisha was not wrong in placing a curse on a bunch of youths… and then Gehazi some time later.
  • I have heard arguments why Peter was not wrong in cursing Ananias and Saphira.
  • I have heard arguments on why Paul was not wrong in his conflict with Barnabas, and later in his conflict with church leaders about going to Jerusalem.

There is often a temptation to believe that our leaders are always right. But sometimes they are not. I think Luke knew this. I would argue that Luke expresses considerable ambiguity regarding Peter with Ananias and Saphira, and Paul’s trip to Jerusalem. Despite this, we want our leaders not to have failings. I think Jerome wanted to find a way to make Paul and Peter both be right. Personally, I doubt Jerome is correct, but it is clever.

St. Augustine was very bothered by Jerome’s interpretation. In Augustine’s view, that would mean that Paul and (or?) Peter are liars. I don’t see that. Telling a story utilizing drama seems to be no more of a lie than telling a story of something that had not actually happened (like the parables and illustrations of Jesus). Theo-drama was used in the Old Testament on a number of occasions, Ezekiel being an example. I am not studied up on Augustine’s arguments but perhaps he was embracing the Western tradition of Tertullian that saw theater (in both performing and viewing) as being sinful. In such a case, Paul and Peter would both be wrong because they were doing something wrong (taking on the role of actors). For Augustine, I guess Paul had to be right and Peter had to be wrong, because it assumed that what Paul wrote was… true.

I think Jerome’s interpretation is more creative than Augustine, which is hardly surprising seeing that creativity was never really a strength of Augustine. Still, creativity is hardly a test for (or against) truth.

But there are other options… What if Paul and Peter were both right… AND both wrong?
Such a perspective may not fit easily into a two category system.


Paul seems to be right. The Gospel of Christ tears down the artificial boundaries that separate Jews from Gentiles. As religious leaders, it is a great lesson to others to show that these boundaries are gone.
Paul seems also to be wrong. Making a scene with Peter undermined any attempt to demonstrate Christian community. Being right, but handled poorly, is still wrong.

Peter seems to be right. When dealing with people who are uncomfortable with Christian liberty, sometimes one must help them by being supportive, rather than risking their stumbling. Paul taught this very same thing.
Peter seems also to be wrong. In the attempt to be supportive of his Jewish brethren, a controversy arose that divided the room. Multicultural settings are often challenging. If missionaries from country A are serving in country B, who would they join with when people from country A visit. Do they show their rootedness in their mission field setting, or do they show themselves as good hosts to the guests from their sending country? Either decision could be problematic unless it is done in the context of good communication. Being right, but handled poorly, is still wrong.

The idea that both Paul and Peter were both wrong and both right makes sense to me. That does not undermine the passage in Galatians. Paul is correct that Peter was wrong. The reliability of the epistle is correct, and its canonicity is unchallenged. However, if Peter decided to have this incident described in his first epistle, he could also have pointed out Paul’s errors. Both would be accurate… but having both perspectives would be even more accurate than having only one perspective.

Martin Luther seemed to struggle with the fact that Paul expresses faith in a way that is different than James. Thankfully, we have writings from both. I believe that a far superior understanding comes from embraces these writings as accurate but viewed through different perspectives. We have certainly seen unhealthy understandings of faith that fail to be interperspectival within Scripture.

In Missions we should expect the same things to occur. It is fine that people argue:

—Should mission work flow from and through the local church, or from specialized sodality structures?
—Should mission work focus more on evangelism and churchplanting, or more on compassion ministry?
—Should we seek to focus on BIG “God-sized” vision and projects, or on small “God-sized” vision and projects?
—Should most mission work be done by foreigners or locals?
—Should churches send people, or send money?

These questions are useful… but they become destructive when they are viewed as Either/Or or Right/Wrong. The “Creative Tension” should lead to creative and nuanced (and tentative) answers. Forcing answers into completely right or completely wrong, is likely destructive.