Faith Seeking Understanding

St. Anselm (1033-1109 AD) had a well-known motto— “fides quaerens intellectum.” This is Latin and translates as “Faith Seeking Understanding.” This can be seen as a good explanation of Theology. I believe that Theology must draw from a place of Faith. One can study Christian Theology without having Christian faith. However, that should be thought of as Religious Studies. To DO Christian Theology, one must have the Christian Faith and thus doing Christian Theology involves one seeking to relate reason and understanding to that Faith.

That works for Biblical Theology and for Systematic Theology. I suppose that works fairly well to Historical Theology and Philosophical/Natural Theology as well. However, in Practical Theology, the description needs to church. This includes Homiletics, Theology of Worship, Missiology, and more.

For these, I would say, it is the Practice of Faith Seeking Understanding. It deals with the Whats of Practice as well as the Whys.

I don’t know Latin, but I tried a translator program for “The Practice of Faith Seeking Understanding” and it said,

Praxis Fidei Quaerens Intellectus

If someone knows Latn, I would welcome corrections or improvements on this. In general, Mission Theology would be The Practice of Faith (relating to Missions) Seeking understanding.

Internationalization and Localization of Theology. Part 1

I am not a video game person. I am pretty much limited to “Match 3” games. I was addicted to Bards Tale back in the 1980s. However, I have been talking to my daughter who is very interested in video games. She is interested in playing them, but also has a considerable interest in their development— especially in terms of the process of voice acting and directing, and the localization of video games. The latter of these, localization of video games, has do with the process of taking a game that was developed in and for Culture A, and make it localized and immersive in Culture B.

As I was looking into that process, I was interested in a number of aspects of it that arguably may relate to the localization (as part of contextualization) of theology. The most interesting part of it, to me at least, is the step called Internationalization. I can see how it could be seen as part of the process known as the “Three Culture Model.” However, I feel like there is enough differences, that it is worth exploring further.

In general, Internationalization is the step that allows easy Localization. Without this step, the development of a localized version of a video game can be laborious. Also, it may open the door for losing key aspects of gameplay that would ultimately ruin what made the game great.

In the next few posts I will explore this process. The image below shows the process very simplistically. In reality, there is nothing really linear about the process.

Anti-Missions Theology Article

I took my latest book on Mission Theology (Go to the Welcome for this website to access the “Beta” Version of the book) and I turned one of the chapters into an article to share on Academia.edu.

If you are interested in reading this topic of Anti-missions theology in Protestant Church History, but don’t want to look at the whole book, you can go to…

https://www.academia.edu/45640342/Theological_Objections_to_Christian_Missions_in_Protestant_Church_History?source=swp_share

Mission Theology Book in “Beta”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contextual Theology Diagrams

I have SLOWLY been working on my book on Missions Theology. I am putting here a couple of diagrams that are associated with the sections related to Contextual Theology.

  1. The first one is the one related to Models of Contextualization. I am using Stephen Bevans six models.

I try to relate the six models of Stephen Bevans to the focus on the Word of God, Human Context, and Individual Reflection. Of course, all six models take seriously, to some extent, all three areas, but there is a tendency to lean towards one of the poles.

Translation and the Countercultural model emphasize the Word of God over the others. As such, they tend to be appreciated more by Evangelical groups. The Anthropological model gives greatest weight to Human Context.

The Transcendental and Praxis Models I have put as closest to Individual Reflection. Both are intentionally iterative. The Transcendental Model is related to David Tracy’s model for theological reflection. The Praxis Model is the iteration between action and reflection, which is also the general pattern for Practical Theology.

This leaves the Synthetic Model. I would love to place it at the Human Context end of things to make the diagram symmetric. However, the Synthetic Model takes human tradition, praxis, and the Word of God and intentionally synthesizes it. Since those three each point to a different pole, that means that the Synthetic Model fits best in the middle.

2. The second on is Tests for Sound Contextual Theology. This also draws, more loosely, on some work by Stephen Bevans.

These tests help determine whether a contextual theology should be seen as a healthy localization of the Christian faith or not (or as Bevans would say, “in bounds” or “out of bounds”).

The tests are from Divinity, Community, and Function. For previous descriptions of these categories, one can go to a previous post of mine:

https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/

I thought about adding more tests. These include:

  • Test of Cultural Relevance (Does it draw from local symbols?)
  • Test of Cultural Resonance (Does the theology speak to the unspoken concerns and passions of a culture?)
  • Test of Aliveness (Does it identify its need to change as culture changes, or does it see itself as “having arrived at ultimate truth”?)

However, upon further reflection, it does occur to me that while these may be good benchmarks for good theology, they are not really tests of orthodoxy.

Biblical Theology Presentations

I taught a short-course on Biblical Theology back a few years ago. Actually, it was two short-courses— one for Old Testament and one for New Testament. Biblical Theology is not my strength, but I was excited to teach it at Maranatha Bible College because it is a passion of mine. I used, primarily “An Old Testament Theology” by Bruce K. Waltke (2007). I also used Walter C. Kaiser Jr. “Toward an Old Testament Theology” (1978), and Christopher J. H. Wright “The Mission of God” (2006).

I suppose my interest in Biblical Theology is partly because of the poor Biblical Theology that underpins most Missiology. It is a frustration of mine.

Anyway, I decided to put two of my presentations on Slideshare that relate to the OT Biblical Theology. They are the first and last presentation of that course— actually the two presentations that are the least related directly to Biblical Theology. On is foundational to an understanding of Biblical Theology, and the other is more historical and transitional towards NT Biblical Theology.

The Cheshire Church

The following is a quote from the book by James F. Engle and William A. Dyrness, “Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong?” (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Who can fault legendary evangelist Dwight L. Footnotes: The Cheshire CatMoody, who captured the mood of evangelicals at the end of the nineteenth century in his declaration, “I look upon the world as a wrecked vessel. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me, ‘Moody, save all you can.'” In other words, all hopes of transforming society with the gospel were dashed, in his eyes, until Christ’s return in glory, leaving only one option, the lifeboat— a single-minded focus on evangelism as the mission of the church.

While few would echo the words of Moody and his contemporaries today, we still hear a distinct but largely unrecognized carryover. Ever since the late 1800s, dominant evangelical voices have called for accelerated church planting to evangelize the maximum number of unreached in the shortest possible period of time. The return of Christ became the dominant motivation for missions— only this return would bring about the transformation that the gospel required. The only human effort required was an announcement of the message. ….

There never has been a dispute that evangelism is indispensable as the first step in making disciples in all nations, but now voices were heard calling for the first time for completion of world evangelization in this generation. It would almost seem as if the future world and the ultimate victory of Christ had become dependent on human initiative. Little wonder that evangelicals were quick to embrace the wonders of a technological age and to mobilize Christian resources in an unprecedented way. In the process, it became tempting to disregard the essence  of the Great Commission …. where it is abundantly obvious that human efforts are futile, or at least inadequate,without the convicting, regenerating and sanctifying role of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, among those who referred to themselves as evangelicals, there was almost total silence in response to God’s call for social justice to alleviate the burdens of ignorance, poverty and hunger, racism, the loss of cultural identity, and other forms of oppression (Amos 5:21-24, Luke 3:10-14; 4:18-21). Oss Guinness prophetically observed that the outcome of this silence is a church that has lost its impact by becoming “privately engaging, socially irrelevant.”

Guinness uses the analogy of the Cheshire Cat in the famous story Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. In this fable, the cat gradually loses its identity until all that remains is its famous lingering grin. So it is with the church, which by and large now has only the ‘lingering grin, ‘ a surface indicator of a privatized faith without moral and social impact. In so doing, the church has dug its own grave, while the smile lingers on.

(Pages 64-65.  Os Guinness quote is from “The Gravedigger File”)

The IMB Mission Statement and Holism

holism

I facilitated a lecture on Social Ministry. The students’ readings were:

  • Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishing, 2009).
  • Jerry Ballard, “Missions and Holistic Ministry” in World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Missions Congres, ’90 (Asia Missions Congress, 1990), pages 340-348.
  • J. Jeffrey Palmer, Kingdom Development: A Passion for Souls and a Compassion for People (Chiang Mai, Thailand, ARLDF Publishing, 2004).

Ballard spoke of four Evangelical perspectives on Social Ministry as it relates to Christian Ministry. I will add a fifth one— one that was suggested to me by Dr. Dan Russell. These are:

  1. Convenience.  Christian ministry really is NOT about doing social ministry. Christian ministry is really about “spiritual ministries”— converting people to Christ, baptizing, church formation, training up religious leadership, Bible study, prayer ministry, etc.  However, if one can meet a physical, social, or other sorts of needs in people, it is not a bad idea… as long as it is “convenient.” In other words, as long as it doesn’t distract from “real” ministry. IT IS NICE TO BE NICE.
  2. Social Gospel. Christian ministry IS social ministry. The so-called “spiritual ministries” listed above are downplayed or at least seen not as central concerns.
  3. Ulterior Motive. Like Convenience, Ulterior Motive sees “Real” ministry as spiritual ministry. However, it diverges from Convenience in one major thing. Ulterior Motive does not say simply that “it is nice to be nice.” Rather it says “it is more effective to be nice.” In other words, social ministry can be leveraged to more effectively do spiritual ministry.
  4. Holism. Holism says that Christ’s call to ministry is holistic. Humans are holistic and so compartmentalizing and prioritizing types of ministry is a mistake. Christian ministry IS SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL. Our call to bless is transformational in all spheres of human existence.
  5. Spiritualistic. This is like Convenience in that it sees “real” Christian ministry as spiritual, not social. However, it sees social ministry as a distraction from spiritual ministry. Thus, in practice, it is COUNTERPRODUCTIVE TO BE NICE. Evangelical missions in the 1960s seem to have embraced that as has some small group multiplication strategies today.

Speaking of today, I would say that I generally support the Holism stance. I understand the logic of the Ulterior Motive stance, although I would probably add a bit of a John Stott spin to it suggesting that while social ministry can be leveraged to support spiritual ministry, spiritual ministry can likewise be leveraged to support social ministry. The two are synergistic. Still, I would say that doing good does not really need a spiritual justification.

This leads me to the mission statement of the International Mission Board (of Southern Baptist Churches). I am not IMB, but I am sent by a Southern Baptist Church, and I teach in a (Philippine) SBC seminary. As such, their mission statement is of at least academic interest to me.

IMB partners with churches to empower limitless missionary teams who are evangelizing, discipling, planting, and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.

It sounds pretty spiritualistic. It has many of the categories of “spiritual ministry,” including evangelizing, discipling, churchplanting, church multiplying, and leader training. My suspicion is that the statement was actually written by people of the Convenience stance or Spiritualistic stance (or more likely a combination).

However, as I am reading it, it occurs to me that one could have a more Holistic stance and still agree wholeheartedly in it. (Actually, the one term I don’t like is the word “limitless.” It seems to be chosen to sound visionary to potential donors, but is actually vague… immeasurable… meaningless.)

But let’s consider the other terms:

-Evangelism. This term sounds quite spiritualistic. It suggests taking on the role of a messenger of God to serve as proclaimers of the good news of Christ. This draws naturally from the Greek that emphasizes its link to a “good message.” However, David B. Barrett in his book “Evangelize: A Historical Survey of the Concept” notes that both in the Bible and the early church, the term was used and applied very broadly. Sometimes in the Bible the term is used simply for verbal proclamation. Other times it describes the total activity of Christians to make known God’s message of peace to all people. Since Southern Baptists place great emphasis on the Bible as authoritative (and perhaps less commendably their tendency to idealize the primitive church) presumably they are using the term as it is used in the Bible and early church, rather than how it is commonly used today (and rather than based on its etymology). If so, that would be commendable. Good Biblical theology draws from usage, and “evangelize” is used quite broadly in the Bible.

  -Discipling.  Again, there can be a question of what the term means. In its common usage, it is often limited to a form of indoctrination— learning to read the Bible, pray, memorize Scripture, and so forth. However, if it is understood in its Biblical-Historical sense, we draw back to Christ and his process of discipleship with the Twelve (and others). Baptists are Christocentric and so see Jesus as both our example for practice, and our goal. As such, we would look to Christ to understand how to disciple and see that being like Christ would be the goal for a disciple. Again, discipleship in this sense is much broader than the cognitive-dominated sense we use it today. It could quite reasonably be argued that Jesus discipled holistically (whole person, whole need, whole context). Additionally, a disciple arguably should have more than simply the same doctrines as Jesus, but have similar behavior, motivations, priorities, socialization, and spiritual focus as Jesus.

-Healthy Churches. The mission statement speaks of planting and multiplying healthy churches, but that begs the question of what constitutes being healthy. Perhaps the creators of the vision statement were thinking of being “3-self” (or perhaps 4-self). Since, however, self-propagating (one of the 3-selves) could be seen as redundant (seeing that the term multiplying is just prior), it seems unlikely. I might suggest that healthy means having healthy members in healthy relationships. This draws back to the work of Stan Rowland and Medical Ambassadors (now Lifewind). They define health in Christian ministry in terms of four healthy relationships. These are God (spiritual), Others (social), Self (psychoemotional), and Physical World (own body, ecological, and economic). I don’t know if the creators of the statement thought through the use of the term “healthy” that much. However, it seems reasonable that if any of the above four areas of healthy relationship are bad, one cannot really saying that one is planting and multiplying “healthy churches.”

-Training Leaders. I don’t really know what is meant by this. However, if it is correct to understand the other items previous in holistic terms, then certainly training leaders must certainly mean to train leaders to recognize both spiritual and social ministry as vital to the church, and both as parts of God’s total call to serve.

Again, I don’t know what the creators of the IMB mission statement meant but I certainly hope that a holistic broad (God-sized?) vision can be its interpretation in the future.

(Just get rid of the word “limitless”…)

Asian Christian Theology? (Part II)

Years ago I wrote an article on Asian Christian Theology, where I expressed some questions or concerns about how some consider this.  (You can read it by CLICKING HERE).

Recently I was in a meeting where exploration of supporting Asian Christian Theology books was explored. Some questions came up that commonly come up when this topic is being considered. For example, what defines Asian Christian Theology? If one is Asian does this make one’s theological writings Asian or not? Many Asians are trained (and sometimes indoctrinated) in Western schools or traditions. Will the results of these Asian writers be Asian theology, or simply Western Theology written by an Asian.

Additionally, do Asian Christian Theologies have characteristics that make them distinctly different AS A GROUP from Western or other Christian Theologies? Considering the variety of Asian cultures it seems doubtful that there is one unifying theme. Continental identity does not seem adequate.

Further, does Asian Christian Theology have unique methodologies (or at least foci) different from Western? Perhaps there is a greater focus on narrative over propositional truths. Maybe the dominant metaphors would be different. Perhaps systematization would be less valued. But if an Asian wrote a systematic theology with a strong focus on propositional truths, would that make it “un-Asian”?

For me, the key point is not on any of the above.  I would suggest something different.

cultural-bridge

The above figure suggests theology as a man-made construct that relates God’s unchanging revelation to Man’s changing culture(s). Since human cultures are diverse and changing, good theologies should be:

  • Contemporary
  • Culturally Practical
  • Making sense within the culture

<Consider reading the post where I talk about this more. It was meant to be part of a book that I never finished.  Click Here.>

With this in mind, what is an Asian Christian Theology? It is one that is

  • Relevant to people living in a present Asian culture
  • Has practical value to these same people in that culture
  • Utilizes metaphors, thought processes, and such that make sense to people in that culture.
  • AND… effectively links accurately and fully to God’s revelation.

I could add a fifth point. Ideally, it should speak to people of other cultures as well. That is because we are not only part of a local community of faith, we are part of a universal community of faith. As such, it should not serve as a wedge between local and non-local Christians. (Theology should both unify and diversify.)

Ultimately, the best test of whether a theology is Asian is “Does it give God’s answers to the questions that come from Asians within an Asian culture?”

Theo-storying Again

Okay. I finally finished working on my wife and my have struggled

theostorying
New Edition a few weeks awaybook,

with, off and on, for close to three years, Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training.  I have decided to start updating and fixing my previous books. I have decided to start with Theo-Storying: Reflections on God, Narrative, and Culture. Although it has actually aged fairly well as far as I can see, there are reasons that I am starting with it.

 

#1.  This is the only book I have written that was not written because I am teaching a course on that subject. I wrote it because of the love of the topic.

#2.  I had actually started to write a sequel to Theo-Storying. However, in the end, I decided to take some of the ideas from the sequel and bring it into an early revision of the book. Since then, however, there are more things I would like to add. Most importantly the role of Theological Reflection, and its connection to Midrash Aggadah.

#3.  I had also started to write a book on Missions Theology.

theology-and-missions
The early version of the cover of a book I never finished.

I actually made good progress on this one. But in the end I lost interest in the project. But I did not lose interest in some of the topics covered. Some of the ideas were moved into Dynamics in Pastoral Counseling and Training, but some really belong in Theo-Storying.

 

Hope to be done soon. I think I can get it done in the two week break between semesters here at PBTS and ABGTS. I will keep you updated.