Defining “Christian Missions” and “Missionary”

It is strange that I have been involved with full-time Christian missions for 17 years and have been teaching Christian missions for 13 years and yet I have never found definitions for “Christian Missions” and “Missionary” that I like. Some are too narrow. For example, some definitions for missionary limit to those who are commissioned or ordained by a sending church or agency. For me that is a too… vocational… understanding of the term. Others think of missionary in terms of calling. That would be okay I suppose if everyone shared the same understanding of what calling means. (Hint here… there is NO common understanding of what it means to be called by God.) In terms of Christian missions, some definitions focus on churchplanting, or pioneering, or being international, or being ‘cross-cultural.’ Those definitions I think were always too narrow, but in this time of globalization, I think they have easily reached the point of being— well — pointless. Other definitions are so broad that every Christian is a missionary and everything the church does everywhere is Christian mission. I must admit that there is a part of me that likes broad definitions. However, there are distinct features of Christian missions and serving as a missionary that deserve their own labels and training and study. Watering terms down too much make them essentially meaningless. They become like what has been happening with the term “worship,” where in emphasizing that everything we say and do is worship, effectively, nothing is distinctly hallowed in terms of worship.

So I thought I would try to throw out a couple of definitions today.

Christian Missions is the intentional work of the church to go outside of its normal boundaries to join God’s work where the CHURCH IS NOT, where the CHURCH HAS NOT, or where the CHURCH CANNOT.

Yes, this definition is pretty broad still, but I think it has key elements.

  1. It is intentional work. This is service… the expenditure of time, energy, and effort.
  2. The focus of missions is on the church. In other words missions is defined in terms of the church rather than culture or national boundaries. In terms of organization, missions may be built within a sodality structure or a modality structure, but in terms of organism, it is about the church— the assembly of the faithful.
  3. It involves going outside of its normal boundaries. That means it reaches beyond its own membership, its own community, its own normal sphere of influence. It is a sending out and going out.
  4. It is joining God’s work. As the saying goes, God is at work (everywhere) and invites us (the church) to join Him in that work.
  5. It may be in terms of where the church is not— where churches don’t exist. It would involve evangelism, churchplanting, discipleship, and leader development. This is pioneering
  6. It may be in terms of where the church has not— churches may exist but are not functioning well in some ways. It involve inspiring and training churches, church organizations, and individuals. This is empowering
  7. It may be in terms of where the church cannot. Some places churches may lack the ability, long-term, to do certain types of ministry work. This may include such things medical care, missionary member care, Bible translation, or radio ministry. This is a work of specialization.

Missionaries are people who intentionally embrace their role in Christian missions and identify themselves in terms of that role.

This definition also sounds pretty vague, and is essentially meaningless if not tied to the definition for Christian missions. Additionally, the term notes:

  1. It is people. This is obvious but when we say that Christian missions is about ‘the church,’ there is a risk of it becoming abstract. Christian missions may be related to the church, but it is carried out by people… individually and corporately, joining God’s presence and efforts in the field.
  2. It is intentional. It is intentional in the sense that avoids the “everything you and I do is missions”-sense. Individuals identify that what they are doing is Christian missions as is defined earlier. As such it has the characteristics listed earlier.
  3. The individuals self-identify themselves as missionaries. In other words, if you don’t identify as a missionary, in a very key and important way you are NOT a missionary. In a broad sense this has to do with calling. I am not totally sure that every people in missions has to have received some big unambiguous Isaiah 6 sort of calling. But there should be some sort of recognition that they have joined a brotherhood and sisterhood that is unique in focus and role within the church.

Are these definitions perfect. Of course not. In fact, I am not even sure if I fit into the definition of missionary that I have written. Maybe it is better to describe myself as a “Cross-cultural Minister.” Regardless, I do think that the definitions at least establish a more real world foundation for discussion of these topics.

But I welcome suggestions for improvements.

Theology “Tests” in Localization

TestQuestionsBasis
RevelationHarmonious and Coherent with Scripture? Or Disonant, or “cherry-picked” from Scripture?Unity and Canonicity of the Bible
GodIs the God described within the theology, the God who is revealed? Is God worthy of worship, and relational in prayer?God as Object of Theology
CreationIs our relation to creation in line with it being God’s good creation? Is our relation to AlL people as to ones created in God’s image, and loved by God?God as Creator
Local ChurchIs it from the community, or from the outside, or single person? Is it accepted by and intelligible to the people?Priesthood of Believers
Universal ChurchIs it open to critique from the outside? Is it open to critique and dialogue with those outside?Catholicity and Unity of he Church
Spiritual FruitDoes the actions, attitudes, and motiviations of those who follow the theology allign with ethical Christian standards? Is the fruit of the spirit evidenced?Link between Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy
ResonanceDoes it “resonate” with the culture it exists in? Does it put into words, stories, images, and ideas questions being asked in the culture?God as Redeemer of Culture
TensionDoes it challenge the culture, seeking transformation? Or does it simply support or justify what is accepted in the culture?Fallenness of Man and Culture

Taken from my book “Ministry in Diversity” Table 10. These tests come from works by Bevans, Schreiter, Tracy, and others.

Evaluating Contextual Theologies. Part 3

Third and final part of the chapter that I have written on this topic for my (work-in-progress) book on Missions Theology.

Contextual Theology as “Good Scandal”

“Good Scandal” is not another test or sub-test, but a different way of looking at the third test— the test of culture. A good contextual theology should connect to the culture… but it should also challenge it, having a prophetic role in it.5

David Tracy notes that religion is supposed to be rebellious, in conflict with the culture it is in. The reason is that religion (personifying it for a moment) is supposed to see the culture around it with clear eyes. It is then supposed to say to that culture that there is an Ultimate Reality that is above and beyond what one experiences within the culture. A religion claims access, on some level, to that Ultimate Reality, and points out its clear superiority to the flawed and failed reality around. When a religion stops seeking to challenge that culture and instead simply encourages and maintains that culture (indeed becoming an “opiate of the masses” and a maintainer of the existing power structure) it has failed in a profound way.

6

Darrell Whiteman has noted that contextualization seeks to offend for the right reasons, and not for the wrong reasons.7

This ties to the concept in the New Testament of “Offense” or the Greek term “Skandalon.  Paul uses the term both positively and negatively. One should not create an unnecessary offense. However, the Gospel will always, in every culture, be offensive on some important level.

Recall Paul in Athens. Paul used Athenian legends to express the concept of God (much like John used “Logos”) rather than drawing from Jewish writings and imagery. However, after expressing the nature of God in a way that fits in many ways with the sub-culture of the Areopagus, Paul then begins talking of Jesus in terms of bodily resurrection… a scandalous concept to Greek philosophers steeped in Platonist thought.

Jesus fit into the culture of Judea so well that Judas had to single Him out with a kiss so that the local authorities could arrest Him. He also told stories and provided ethical guidance very much in line with Jewish culture and thought. Yet, in key ways, such as describing God as Father, and Himself as the “Son of Man” were scandalous… to say nothing of a Messiah who was more a Suffering Servant than a Conquering Hero, and describing the Kingdom of God having a universal quality that may well include the enemies of the Jewish people.

Harvie Conn quotes Harvey Smit “Dr. Harvey Smit outlines two features of this approach to the idea of offense that have relevance for our questions. He calls them ‘two lines which are in tension”: (1) All unnecessary offense must be avoided as something that endangers another’s faith; (2) there is an essential offense that must never be avoided, for it is only by overcoming this skandalon that a person comes to faith.”8

Offending for the right reasons is good. Ultimately, the chief offense is Christ. When I was in Taiwan, I was visiting a church in which a visiting minister was speaking. He teaches in Taiwan and in Indonesia. He notes that when his comparative religions class gets to Christian doctrine… especially about the death, resurrection, and atonement of Christ… the most common response from Muslim and Buddhist students comes down to something like “This is the craziest thing I have ever heard.” Now, if one wanted to, these challenging concepts could be contextualized to make them more palatable to Muslim and Buddhist thought. Islam does have a role for sacrifice, and Buddhism may see a sort of redemption passing through a path of suffering. However, the offense on some level should always be there. When Christ ceases to offend on some profound level… we are following the wrong Christ. …For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.   -I Corinthians 1:21-23 ….but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone,  just as it is written,
         “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE,
         AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” -Romans 9:31-33

Does this mean that we set up a little check list and if one of these areas doesn’t appear to pass, then we know the theology is false? The Christian life is never that simple. However, the further a theology drifts away from passing these tests, the more concern we should have.

Conclusions

For those reading this who come from the Protestant tradition, it is worth noting that much of the Protestant Reformation came from an attempt to apply Contextual Theology. While some arguments were more about Biblical interpretation, much of it had to do with contextualization or localization of theology. These include:

  • What languages can the Bible be translated into?
  • What languages can be used in preaching and liturgy?
  • Who (and where) must hold ecclesiastical power?
  • What role should icons have in worship?

I think most Protestants would think that the contextual theology that developed in the Protestant Reformation was healthy. For Roman Catholics, Vatican II may provide an equivalent circumstance, regional expressions of that denomination were granted the privilege to localize in a number of ways.

Chapter Thirteen Endnotes

1 For example, you can read this in the first line Stephen Bevans’ article, “Contextual Theology.” https://na.eventscloud.com/file_uploads/ff735620 c88c86884c33857af8c51fde_GS2.pdf.

2 Merold Westphal, “Overcoming Onto-Theology: Toward a Postmodern Christian Faith,Perspectives” in Continental Philosophy No. 21 (New York: Fordham University Press, 2002), 189. Listen to his interview on that podcast. https://homebrewchristianity.com/2015/07/30/merold-westphal-on endofreligion/.

3 Stephen B. Bevans, Essays in Contextual Theology (Boston, MA: Brill, 2018), ch 3.

4 Gordon Kaufmann, God the Problem (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 82-.

5 Robert H. Munson, Theo-storying: Reflection on God, Narrative and Culture (Baguio City, Philippines, MM-Musings, 2016), Ch. 9.

6 David Tracy, Plurality and Ambiguity.: Hermeneutics, Religion and Hope (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1987).

7 Darrell Whiteman, “Contextualization: The Theory, the Gap, the Challenge” International Bulletin of Mission Research, January 1997, 2-7, 3-4.

8 Harvie M. Conn, Eternal World and Changing Worlds, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 1992), 237.

Evaluating Contextual Theologies. Part 2

This is part of a chapter of a book I am writing on Contextual Theology. Still a work in progress. I will finish one day.

Fair of Foul

All Theology is Contextual. So when I speak of the “foul lines” of contextual theology, I mean the “foul lines” of ALL theology. The use of the term “foul lines” as it pertains to contextual theology, comes from a baseball analogy from Stephen Bevans, who in turn draws it from Justo Gonzales. Of course other sports analogies could be used. In bounds versus out of bounds in basketball of soccer could be used, for example. I will be returning to Bevans later. It implies that there is a wide range of theologies that may be acceptable, or fair, or orthodox. But there are also some that are not. All theology is either well-contextualized or poorly contextualized. However, that also means that both orthodox theology and heterodox theology can be well-contextualized or poorly contextualized.

Ultimately, this means that there are two challenges.

  1.  The test of contextualization.
  2. The test of orthodoxy

The two tests are muddy and inter-related. They are muddy in that it is hard to determine definitively the lines (the “foul lines”) between orthodoxy and heterodoxy. and between well-or-poorly contextualized. Additionally, contextualization has an effect on orthodoxy. In fact, being too well contextualized leads to heterodoxy. This is because good theology ALWAYS challenges, in some way, the culture it is in.

Ignoring the question of contextualization in this post, how does one test orthodoxy? In the past, the answer was often answered in terms of alignment of the theology to creeds. Even for non-creedal groups, (such as I am part of) statements or articles of faith tend to be seen as orthodox (good doctrine) and divergence from such statements evidence heterodoxy (or bad doctrine).

But as soon as one acknowledges that all theology, along with all creeds and articles of faith are culturally embedded, things get more complicated. Divergence from a creed may not really mean that it is heterodox, but it could be orthodox in a different context. It is hard to be sure. So how does one test a contextualized theology for orthodoxy?

Stephen Bevans has done considerable work in this area. A lot of that work is summarized in his essay, “Fair or Foul?: Contextual Theology and Criteria for Orthodoxy.”3 The model shown in Figure 18 takes from Bevans and a couple of others.

TEST 1. A contextual theology must pass the “Test of God” In other words, it must be sound with regards to who God is, what He has revealed, and what He does. That leads to three sub-tests. They are:

  • The Word of God
  • The Character of God
  • The Works of God

The Word of God. Here, the “Word of God” is referring to The Holy Bible, not to Jesus Christ. For many, this seems the most obvious test. Is the contextual theology coherent to, or harmonious with what God has revealed in Holy Scripture. For many, this just seems obvious. Theology should come from Biblical Theology, and Biblical Theology should come from the Bible.

Figure 18. Tests of Contextual Theologies

The problem is that most all Christian-based theologies do come from Scripture to some extent. Sure, there are some theologies that definitely seem to be more eisegetic than exegetic, but even many theologies that are seen to have stood the tests (such as Calvinist and Arminian theologies) appear to spend as much time trying explain away problems they have with Scripture as they do trying to explain how they were deeloped from Scripture. However, many dubious theologies come from very selectively drawing from Scripture. Because of this the test is whether a theology is coherent with or harmonious with Scripture, rather than whether one can “proof-text” it.

The basis for this test is the understanding that the Bible has unity and canonicity. Unity means that the whole Bible is reliable and relevant for the church. Canonicity means that it has authority to guide and judge.

The next sub-test is the Character of God. While most of what we know about God comes from special revelation, it still can serve as a separate test. God is revealed in the Bible, seen in Jesus, and glorified in His creation. Through these means we find God to be transcendent, immanent, personal, holy, mighty, judging, loving, and worthy of worship. Some of these characteristics appear to exist in tension, and sometimes it is tempting for a theology to describe a god who doesn’t have some of these tensions. The removal of these tensions should lead to questions about the veracity of that theology. It may be easier to imagine a transcendent and impersonal god, or a judging and unloving god, or perhaps a personal and immanent god who is worthy of something less than worship. Theology that makes it easier to know God by creating a caricature of God, must be suspect.

This is a valid test since theology, ultimately, has God as the main object of study. While Christian theology covers such a wide swath of knowledge that it is easy to forget, it has God at its core. Jesus said that we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. While good people may disagree exactly what is meant by this, I believe there is agreement that worship of God is important for a Christian, and that worship must be tied on some level at least to worshiping God as God is. It may be true (as Gordon Kauffman correctly noted) that we worship the God we “create” in our minds, rather than the God who is.4 We may not be able to avoid this. We are limited beings and cannot fully know God. But when our theology steers us in the wrong direction, we must question that theology.

Another sub-test is in the Works of God. God is Creator. As such everything we see came from God and everything we cannot see, but still is, also came from God. The creation around us points to the Power and Creativity of God. I also think it points to God’s love of variety and magnanimity. Additionally God designed the Universe and declared it to be good. We live in a transitional state of disharmony between the initial and final ideal states of perfect harmony between God, Man, and Creation.

As such, Creation is a good thing. The material world is NOT evil or insignificant. The Creation did not have an evil demigod who created a world. God loves mankind but is far from disinterested in the works of His hands. A theology that undermines the Created world or its Creator is suspect. A theology that encourages humans to disrespect, dishonor, or abuse creation has embraced something that must be doubted.

Further, God created Man, male and female, in God’s image. While people have different theories (both credible and incredible) as to what this specifically means, it certainly points to humans as a unique creation with a unique role. It also makes clear that this special status is something that both men and women share. The Bible as shows all humans of all tribes and tongues share these qualities. As such, a theology that places humans too low or too high, or set up a hierarchy of value or based on sex or race are likely heterodox.

TEST 2. A good contextual theology should pass the “Test of the Church.” Theology is a human construct. It, hopefully, reveals God. How can the unity (or universality) of the church speak to localized groups as to their theologies? But if there is a spiritual union of all believers, that union does have relevance in terms of theology. A local theology should be open to both criticism FROM constructive dialogue with the broader church, and embrace the role of dialogue and challenge TO the broader church.

A dubious theology may have its adherents say, “We won’t accept criticism from you outsiders because you cannot understand our situation.” While there may be some level of truth to this, the unity of the church (one faith, one baptism, one spirit, one Lord) means that there is enough commonality for real challenge, in both directions, and dialogue.

This is where Church Tradition has its part as well. Some denominations are seen as giving too much authority to church tradition. They essentially make the decisions of the church in history canon. This can be quite problematic. But the other extreme can be problematic as well. Many groups overreact and ignore church history and church tradition. A middle ground seems wise. A new theology perhaps can diverge greatly from the past and still be good, but it should be open to criticism. The historical church is part of the universal church as much as any church on earth today— we are part of that same church. If a contextual theology diverges too far from the historical church, one must address the question of why that is.

A second sub-test is the Local Church. A contextual theology is, on some level, meant to be local so to fail the local church would be a deep problem. A good contextual theology should be understandable by the locals it is for. If it is too abstract or unrelated to the people, then how could it be thought of as being contextualized to the people? Ideally, it should develop from the people rather than from one single person, regardless of whether and insider or an outsider. And of course, a good contextual theology should be accepted, or at least be found acceptable, by a large number of locals within that context. Putting it bluntly, if a theology is unintelligible to, unacceptable by, or not drawn from the community, in what way can that theology be deemed to be contextual or local? In one way or another all of this stems from the Biblical concept of the Priesthood of the Believer. God’s revelation is to all, through all, and for all who are part of His church.

A third sub-test is the Fruit or Works of the Church. A church should exhibit the fruits of Good Deeds. It should express the fruit of the spirit. If a local theology does not lead to such positive fruit, or worse, justifies works or attitudes that are contrary to such spiritual fruit, there must be serious questions posed.

TEST #3: A good contextual theology should pass “The Test of Culture.” Theology is a bridge that connects the revelation of an unchanging God with mankind that is changing continually in terms of culture. Theology cannot ignore culture. Two sub-tests that are relevant here are:

  • Resonance with Culture
  • Tension with Culture

The Sub-test of Resonance with Culture suggests that a good contextual theology puts into words, symbols, and images what truly speak to the often unspoken concerns, hopes, and fears of people in the culture. This quality of Resonance (and the related idea of Relevance) is covered in Chapter 2. Good contextual theology “scratches where it itches.” A theology that is absolutely true (if such a thing is possible) but expresses God’s revelation in a manner that keeps the people in the dark, must be seen as a bad theology.

The final Sub-test is Tension with Culture. I would like to spend a bit more time with this one. It is not because this sub-test is more important, but because it can be misunderstood. Contextualization of Theology is sometimes seen making theology too comfortable with a context, or too uncomfortable.

Evaluating Contextual Theologies. Part 1

This is a chapter of a book I am writing on Contextual Theology. Still a work in progress. I will finish one day.

Chapter 13

Evaluation of Contextualized Theologies

Stephen Bevans states that all theology is contextual.1 However, as one of my dialogue partners noted, it could be taken to mean that there is nothing that is distinctly Christian in Christian theology. In other words, in an effort to be “contextual” can theology lose something distinctly Christian.

The short answer is YES— that indeed can happen, becoming syncretistic. However, a failure to contextualize theology also can fall into syncretism… an unhealthy (and unexamined) mixing of Christian teachings with the culture in which it already exists.

But how do we evaluate theology… especially theology as examined through the lens of culture. Cultural anthropology questions our ability to judge another culture, and many anthropologists would take it even further and fully relativize all cultural beliefs. Post-modernist thought also doubts our ability to judge, and to know absolute truth. This is not to say that post-modernism necessarily rejects absolute truth. While some may believe that, many more accept the existence of ultimate truth, but doubt its know-ability. As Merold Westphal describes post-modernism, particularly deconstruction, as stemming from the belief that one cannot “peek over God’s shoulder.”2 If one accepts this, where truth is not identifiable with any certainty and religions cannot be be judged, does this mean that we can say nothing about attempts to contextualize the Christian faith. Are all attempts equally valid (or equally invalid)?

We see this controversy recently in terms of honor-shame theology versus guilt-innocence theology. Some from the guilt-innocence side of things (read penal substitutionary atonement if one prefers) feel that the other side is creating its own theology to fit honor-shame cultures, rather than grounding it on Scripture. Is that correct? It is certainly a risk. However, as one looks at Scripture, we find that the risk is real on both sides of the issue.

The Bible uses many metaphors to explain the relationship of God to mankind, and His activity to restore us to Him. Some metaphors resonate with guilt-innocence folks, while others resonate with with honor-shame cultures. Penal substitutionary atonement as a theological construct draws from the metaphor of justification and the courtroom. To a lesser extent it draws from metaphor behind propitiation— the image of God as having wrath that must be appeased through sacrifice. However, there are metaphors that resonate more with honor-shame cultures. One of these is adoption, while another is the church as “the Bride of Christ.” One could even argue that redemption is closer to patronage in honor-shame cultures. Ultimately, these metaphors are equally valid and Biblical. All of them are supra-cultural in the sense that they are canonical. However, they are also cultural in the sense that they may connect in especially important ways to certain cultures (and less so with other cultures).

So when those from the penal substituionary atonement crowd (guilt-innocence) express concern about the honor shame folk changing theology to meet a cultural need, they are correct. However, their concern cuts both ways. They have themselves chosen certain metaphors and verses to suppport their theology while ignoring many others. There is nothing inherently wrong with this— unless, of course, one acts like it is the single universal theological understanding directly from God to us. (I remember listening to more than one sermon where the speaker struggles to turn the Parable of the Prodigal Son into Guilt-Innocence story of salvation. Instead of trying to explain how the atonment is in that parable, it is better to simply accept that salvation is modeled a different way in the story.)

Theology, at its essence, bridges the gap between God’s revelation and Man’s condition. God’s revelation is unchanging, while Man’s condition is both varied and changing. As such, theology should be constantly changing, connected to the changing state of mankind, and connected to the unchanging revelation of God.

I tend to like “strange attractors” from Chaos Theory. In some non-linear systems the condition at any point of time is changing and non-repetitive, but still appears to be controlled by some points that provide limits to the motion, called “strange attractors.” Theology seems to fit this as well since theology is constantly changing and non-repetitive, but I would suggest that it has (at least) two strange attractors.

  • The revealing of God. Theology must reveal God, since it is based on God who seeks to reveal Himself to mankind.
  • The relevance to Man. Theology is meant to benefit mankind.

Theology that fails to reveal God, and/or fails to be relevant to mankind, is flawed.

So what does this have to do with the church. The church is where theology is lived out. It is lived out most obviously in terms of practical theology, but ultimately it is bound to all aspects of its theology. As much as some church bodies express the belief that “theology is not important,” it truly is. Ignoring it doesn’t make it cease to exist or cease to be relevant… it just is moved into the church’s “blind spot”— affecting the church without the church aware of it.

So let’s move this forward. Suppose a local church has a local theology. To what extent is it bound to be responsible to churches of other cultures? I would say— Quite a Bit. First of all, our theologies are linked by common revelation from God. To replace that is to drift from being Christian. However, additionally, the local church may be tied to its local culture, but it is also tied to the universal church— that mystical bond of all churches often called “the body of Christ.” This catholicity should never replace its locality, nor should its locality replace its catholicity.

Consider a bit of practical theology in terms of sacrament/ordinance. What should the elements of the Eucharist be? Tradition has it to be unleavened bread, and wine. Some groups have change things by using leavened bread or using grape juice (“new wine” if you prefer). Here in the Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines, I have often thought that many of the groups here would do well to use kamote (yams) and coffee instead. The logic of this is that bread and wine were the staples of the Jews in Palestine, while kamote and coffee are the equivalent in the Cordilleras. As such, it is a parallel localization— the latter better pointing to Christ as one who sustains us. The bread and wine point not only to Christ as sacrifice, but to the Passover and God’s sustaining of His people. Kamote and Coffee may express this better for people around where I live.

But there is another take. The Eucharist is among the oldest traditions of the church. It has been practiced for nearly 2000 years and in all parts of the world. This 4-Dimensional aspect of the church is not irrelevant. When a local church holds Eucharist (Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion), we are also connecting ourselves to the practice of local churches across time and space. Perhaps bread and wine is more appropriate because it reminds us of our mystical union with the Body of Christ. It also might link us better to the Old Testament saints who used bread and wine to thank God for His sustaining protection.

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

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

Chapter 9

Staying Behind”

Theology of Anti-Missions

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

Christopher Wright quotes Spindler:

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

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

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

Consider, for example, the theology of John Calvin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Chapter Nine Endnotes

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

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

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

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

article2.html.

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

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

6 McBeth, 372.

7 Didache on False Apostles

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

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

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

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

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

God, Man, or Satan

This image above is considering where other religions come from. (from Sir Norman Anderson). Some people believe they come from God. If that is true then other religions are a Preparation for the Gospel. Other people believe they come from Satan. If that is true, then other religions are a trap, snare, and distraction. Others believe that other religions are Man’s attempt to understand the great mysteries of life, and are seeking meaning and hope in a confusing world.

Each have implications on other things. If other religions are from God, then that suggests continuity of God’s work (God is working everywhere, not simply through the church). If other religions are from Satan, then it may be more correct to think that God’s work is discontinuous… God ONLY ministers to the world through the church. If other religions are from Man, it is not so certain as to which (as I marked) but it is probable that God’s ministry is discontinuous. I am using continuity and discontinuity the way Andrew Walls does.

If other religions are from God, then our goal is for the gospel to fulfill/complete other religions. If other religions are from Satan, then other religions need to be destroyed and replaced. If other religions are man-made… it is not so clear what should be done, but the key point is that things have to change… transformation is needed.

If other religions are from God, then the contextualization form that is best (from Paul Hiebert’s model) is probably uncritical contextualization— quick to embrace what is good, focusing on common ground and ignoring problematic details. If other religions are from Satan, then non-contextualization makes more sense. Cultural imperialism, throwing out the bad and replacing it with what the missionary believes is good from outside, hopefully will work. If other religions are from Man, then Critical Contextualization makes the most sense. We have to understand others and their beliefs openly and sympathetically, but recognizing the need for God’s message to challenge and change in some areas.

If other religions come from God, then dialogue makes the most sense. We need to talk together and learn from each other. If other religions come from Satan, then didactic speech (teaching/preaching) makes the most sense. If other religions come from Man, perhaps dialectic makes the most sense— recognizing the competing values and beliefs to challenge and be challenged by the other. (Using terms as David Hesselgrave does here… I think.)

But, what if ALL THREE IS TRUE? God is at work everywhere drawing all to Himself, even before the church has arrived (like with Cornelius and Peter in Acts). Satan is the accuser and deceiver roaming over the whole earth, and is perfectly happy to work both inside and outside of religion to do this. And Man is always seeking to know what is true and what is good and what is right, and will develop religion as a vehicle to answer to answer these questions. If all three are true, then our response cannot be as simple as the diagram would have for any individual.

I put purple squares around those responses that I think make sense if other religions come from all three sources. Do you agree?

Missions and Theology Chapter

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

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

————————————————————————-

Methods of Contextualizing Theology

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

Figure 11. Critical Contextualization

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

In between is Critical Contextualization which seeks to combine

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

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

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

Translation

Countercultural

Synthetic (Intertraditional)

Transcendental

Praxis

Anthropological

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 12. Contextualization Models for Theology

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

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

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

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

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

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

Missions Theology

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

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

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

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

Figure 13. Missions Theology Process

Summary

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

Missions Theology Book Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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