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.

Missional and Missionary Churches

One of my students is writing about the Missional Church movement as part of her dissertation. I will not steal her thunder. I will just make a couple of comments on the topic here. She noted that the term “missional church” has often been seen as another term for “missionary church.”  Over time, however, the missional church and missionary church has bifurcated in meaning. It seems to me that some of that has to do with their understanding of their place in culture (or as my student would say, their connection with the idea of “Christendom.”)

Missionary churches have often seen themselves as “Sending Churches.” That is, they send cross-cultural missionaries or send money to cross-cultural missionaries. This is certainly a reasonable understanding of the term.

Missional churches commonly see themselves as “Sent Churches.” That is, they exist in the mission field. This seems pretty reasonable as well.

In a time of Christendom as a concept that “just makes sense,” the church can be seen as existing in an E-1 setting, and people in the community exist in a P-1 setting with respect to the local church. <I am drawing from Ralph Winter and Bruce Koch’s article in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, titled “Finishing the Task: The Unreached People’s Challenge.” Pretty good chance you have heard of the E-Scale, and maybe P-Scale in missions outreach.>

However, Christendom (Christian societal evolution) has fallen on hard times as a belief, and we find churches in many parts of the world as being Marginalized— in cultural conflict with the society they are in. This is the reality in many places, but is now being seen as more of a reality in the West as well. In some ways that is a good thing. Being American (although I haven’t lived there in over 15 years) churches there have commonly blended into a politico-patriotic Americanism that has a lot to do with the surrounding culture but little to do with Christlikeness. Of course the US is not alone in this. The goal is, of course, not to be different for the sake of being different. Some in an attempt to be different… are not a transformative influence— they are just strange and foreign. In fact many churches established by missionaries world-wide do not fit well with their culture because they fit the culture of the missionaries who founded them (Philippine churches are a really good case in point for this).

Churches need a connection to the culture to be relevant, but need a certain amount of disconnection to provide an alternative as an impetus to transformation.

Getting back to Missional Churches— identifying themselves as being somewhat marginalized within their setting, they then could be seen as existing in an E-2 culture (and people in the community would find the church as P-3 with respect to its context).

                        Missionary Church                                                  Missional Church

             Sees itself as E-1 in its context                                Sees itself as E-2 in its context

   Sends missionaries to E-2 and E-3 settings              Sends people into its community

      Good distant missions… poor theology                Good theology, poor distant missions

One may think that Missionary Churches and Missional Churches should be quite compatible with each other, but sadly they often are not. Missionary Churches often see Missional Churches as anti-missions. And, in fact, to some extent the charge can be true. Many missional churches focus on local missions so much that they don’t support foreign or E-3 missions except perhaps with Short-term missions— a shaky strategy at best. The lack of support for E-3 missions and reliance on Short-term missions are worthwhile complaints about (SOME) Missional Churches.

The thing though is that the Missional Churches are correct theologically. The church does exist in a marginalized setting in much of the world— and is supposed to be. The church does exist in an E-2 setting pretty much everywhere. As such, real cross-cultural missions DOES happen every time someone seeks to do ministry outside of one’s own church gathering place. The separation between local outreach for a church and missions outreach is a false dichotomy that may have made sense a few decades ago, but makes sense no longer.

It seems to me that we need a mix of missionary churches and missional churches (and certainly such things do absolutely exist). Churches need to recognize that they exist as sent out into the world (on mission) wherever they exist. Churches don’t just send… they are sent. They need to recognize that they exist counterculturally within their own community. On the other hand, the church exists as part of something far bigger than itself… it exists within a world of diversity and should embrace its role to impact the entire world, not just its own corner.

 

Correlation in Missions Theology

I wrote an article in my new website, “Adventures in Pastoral Theology.” The article is titled “Correlation of Theology and Pastoral Care in Community.”

Correlation of Theology and Pastoral Care in Community

Please read it, but the premise applies directly to Missions Theology as a reflective process. Missions Theology is iterative correlating missions experience with theological reflection.

Missions experience is linked to community. That is, it is grounded in real world ministerial experience.

Theological reflection is grounded in reflection on that experience, but draws in three other things:

  • One’s relationship with God
  • One’s readings in terms of Scripture, as well as theology and missiology within one’s own faith.
  • Community. One can reflect alone, but solid reflection needs others to challenge and encourage. We need a support system of reflection.

Clericalism and Languages Worthy of Praising God

It ihas been common to assume that worship or praise of God must come through sacred languages. This may for some be Arabic or Sanskrit, or a myriad of other languages deemed sacred.

One might think that Christianity would be immune to this. In Revelation 7:9

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

That people of every language are there in

Image result for cyril and methodius slavic alphabet
St. Cyril and St. Methodius. Apostles to the Slavs

heaven praising God might make one question a single sacred language. Still one could argue that in heaven these people from every language are now only praising with one language… a sacred language.

 

However, the Bible was written in more than one language (three languages to be exact: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek), with subtle variations of language associated with the fact that the Bible was written over a long period of time. That should give people pause as well. But again, it may not convince everyone.

For me, the strongest point is that the defining act of God for evidencing the start of the church age was the gift at Pentecost given to the 120 to praise God and proclaim Jesus in different languages. I am aware that some groups see these “languages: not as languages at all but merely as ecstatic utterances. But even then, if ecstatics can be used to praise God then presumably various languages could as well.

For some people, this is a strawman issue… an issue for Muslims perhaps, and some other religions. But I live in a country that until about 120 years ago, it was not possible to worship God as a Christian, or read God’s word in any of the over 100 languages spoken here. 300 years of Christinity here, with worship and Scripture that was only spoken by a selected few. This sounds ridiculous… and yet it is true.

Why is this? Why would Christianity, which is at its very foundation multilingual have developed religious cultures that disconnect the language of worship from the language of the common people? I have to guess that it is clericalism.

I am using the Merriam-Webster definition for clericalism:

a policy of maintaining or increasing the power of a religious hierarchy

Keeping the language of religion in the hands of the clergy (either because of language or because of jargon) keeps ecclesiastical power in the hands of the few. This is not unusual. The medical and legal subcultures are well-known for esoteric language. And they are not alone.

Of course, it may not start out that way. Religious language/jargon changes more slowly than surrounding language, so it may start out as the language of the people, but as the language around changes, the language of religion becomes the language of the few and the trained. One sees this in most of the ancient denominations of Christianity. However, at some point in time, there comes a time where the clergy make a choice— will their faith be expressed in the language of the people or the language of clergy. Most commonly, historically speaking, it is the language of the clergy.

But every now and then… there is a shocking transition. These can include Jerome translating the Bible into (vulgar) Latin… and Martin Luther translating the Bible into German and developing songs of worship in the same language.

One of those times was when Cyril (Constantine) translated Scripture for the Slavic People. A great quote on this is available in a blogpost “Language Worthy of Praising God.”

The Secret is…

Image result for shhh!!!

The Secret is… there is no secret.   Many Christians throughout history have doubted this, however.

  • Starting in the first two centuries of the church, the Gnostic sects taught that they had special, secret, knowledge that people needed to have access to God. Irenaeus argued against the Gnostics that God’s revelation is found in Holy Scripture, the words of the initial apostles, and the words of those who were trained by the apostles. In other words, God is not into secrets… at least not secrets we need for abundant living. God’s revelation was given Holy Scripture and it was meant to be available to all… not to the few. Then if Christ did indeed have secrets, who would He have shared it with— His disciples who were to share them to all people, or to some individuals who kept secrets for a select few?  That tactic has popped up on occasion in recent centuries as well. Perhaps this was most famously done with “United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing” (Shakers) with Ann Lee being considered the female counterpart to Christ, or of Mormonism’s teaching of a 2nd (and secret) revelation of Christ.
  • Over centuries groups claimed to have a certain special secret. Sometimes it was a new revelation, second blessing, modern innovation, or restoration of some ancient practice (like embracing superficial Jewish practices, or primitive church alleged practices). Of course, traditionalists sometimes react by saying that their traditions are “the secret.’

I have been to a few trainings in my time. The more aggressive ones tend to be built around some sort of “core secret.” In one, the “secret” is FASTING. You want to twist God’s arm to do what you want Him to do rather than what He wants to do? You just need to fast. <Considering how ambivalent the Bible is regarding fasting, it would certainly be a pretty big secret if this was true.> I also recall going to a training which was a pretty mundane form of discipleship training. The one innovation that was supposed to turn it from mundane to awesome was the secret of “generational bondage.” In that, If you are a Christian but have an ancestor who committed some sort of sin, then God either gives you a curse or allows a curse to be placed upon you (not sure which, really). He doesn’t tell you this, and doesn’t really forgive it unless you say a prayer worded in a specific way. This seems based on nothing more than a passage in the Torah that is open to a wide variety of interpretations, and completely ignores a chapter in Ezekiel that appears to completely undermine the logic.

This desire for secrets in our faith perhaps says something very real about our spirituality, something a wee bit negative about ourselves, and something quite negative about our view of God.

Very Real About our Spirituality. We often feel like our lives are not embracing that “Abundant Life” that Jesus spoke of. We feel unsatisfied and so we look for secrets or “spiritual life hacks.” I would argue, however, that we spend more time avoiding the guidance of Christ than we do actually obeying Him. It is like the quote from Chesterton, ” The Christian Ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it’s been found difficult and left untried.” Our quest for secrets ultimately comes out of our own spiritual laziness.

A Wee Bit Negative About Ourselves. Let’s be honest, we like to know secrets… but a secret is not really a secret if it is freely available to everyone. We like to know secrets and know that others don’t know them. We want to go to seminars where the Secrets of __________ are revealed. We open Clickbait webpages with titles that utilize tactics that draw on this ugly part of ourselves.

Something Really Negative About Our View of God. Think about it for a moment. Consider the Generational Bondage example above. For it to be true, God would have to have a curse on us for something we did not do, and perhaps did not even know about. He would have to make sure that we have a miserable life without telling us why for something we did not do. He would also not remove that misery until we say a specific incantation that has no really support in God’s public revelation to us.

Is that a god we really want to worship? Taking it further, do we really want to worship a God whose revelation is only truly available to the cogniscenti… scholars? Do we want God’s revelation that can bridge languages and cultures, or do we want it to only be understood by scholars of 6th century BC Hebrew, 1st Century Koine Greek, 4th century AD Latin, 16th century English, or (perhaps) 7th century Arabic. Is that the God we really want? Do we want a God who tells one story publically to witnesses who feel compelled to share freely to all, but then tells certain critical “facts” to a few specially selected people who are good at keeping these facts from the majority?

In Clickbait articles, there is often the backstory that there is a secret that a select group has and is now being revealed to the consternation of those special ones. Some articles claim there is a great cancer cure that medical doctors don’t want us to know.  Or there is a secret way to wealth that millionares or billionares know, and that they desperately don’t want us to get because then we would join their elite group. I suppose it is okay that we have such hateful attitudes about doctors, or dentists, or stock traders, or the rich (or others). Sometimes it may even be true.

But why would we want to apply such thinking in our opinion of God… that God has special secrets that He doesn’t really want us to know… but would be hugely valuable for us to know. Sure, we don’t know exactly when Christ is returning (despite groups that claim to have such secret knowlege). But why would we think we would benefit from that knowledge? The faithful servant in Jesus’ parable was rewarded in being ready every day for his master’s return. The foolish servant apparently thought he could figure out the time of his master’s return and thus could be lazy and abusive. Presumably, if God doesn’t tell us something, we probably benefit from that ignorance. It seems to me that in Christ, we have God who shared freely with His disciples and told them to share freely with everyone, “even to the ends of hte world.”

The secret is that there is no secret. We should be thankful to God that there is no secret.

 

Missions Theology and the 60s

The 1960s was an important decade for a number of reasons. Though down the list for many, the transformation of Missions Theology during this time was huge.

Sometimes, it seems like a lot of changes happened back in the 1920s and 1930s. During this time there was disillusionment with “Christendom,” and Christian missions as a (Western) Civilizing influence. Also W. E. Hocking’s influence and his work in developing “American Report of the Commission of Appraisal of the Laymen’s Foreign Mission Enquiry” that promoted a pluralistic agenda  away from evangelism and conversion, had an influence. Despite this, the dominant views of missions stayed in many ways in line with missions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And this continued into the early 1960s.

For example, at the 1961 gathering ofjohn-stott-love-truth-themajestysmen the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, the purpose of the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism was “to further the proclamation to the whole world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the end that all men may believe in Him and be saved.” (“Christian Mission in the Modern World” by John Stott, p. 133). This view was in line with the mission perspective of previous decades. It is true that Evangelism was often seen in terms of a partnership of proclamation and social ministry, but that hardly is out of line with the practice of missions through the Great Century and before.

Dialogue was recognized in the early part of the 1960s as an important part of dealing with other religions. However, it was understood in a manner quite different than the relativistic form that was popularized years later:

“True dialogue with a man of another faith requires a concern both for the Gospel and for the other man. Without the first, dialogue becomes a pleasant conversation. Without the second it becomes irrelevant, unconvincing, or arrogant. Whatever the circumstances may be, our intention for every human dialogue should be to be involved in the dialogue of God with men, and to move our partner and oneself to listen to what God in Christ reveals to us, and to answer him.”

(Ronald K. Orchard, ed., “Witness in Six Continents: Records of the Meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches Held in Mexico City, 8-19 December 1963”)

However, as the decade advanced, changes continued. There was a growth of 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 by 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 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.’ (“Missions Theology” by Rodger C. Bassham, p. 73)  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 missionary’s service 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 waned later in the decade, being then driven more by churches that had a different perspective and agenda.

The 1960s also saw the growth of Conservative Evangelical Missions with competing gatherings of their own in the 1960s at Wheaton and Berlin. Sadly, some of the missions theology with the Evangelicals was little better than that of the WCC, especially in the early years of the decade. In Wheaton there was a tendency to broaden missions to including drawing people into Evangelical groups from non-Evangelical Christian groups. At the same time, there was an even stronger push to narrow missions. Missions was so narrowly defined by some as to reject education and social ministry. Some like members of MacGavran’s Church Growth movement, sought to view missions as only entailing churchplanting, and separating between discipling (a missionary role) and perfecting (something almost the same as discipling, but not viewed a missionary role). <Part of me appreciates the definition of missions as only churchplanting. It is simple… logical… elegant. However, it is also unscriptural, and establishes missions without a firm foundation.>

Thankfully, much of these views did not end up being approved in finalized statements. But the views in the 1960s have had a strong impact on Evangelical missions even until today.

There were some, like John Stott, who managed to be relevant/influential with both sides. I don’t really believe that unity for the sake of unity is a virtue. Spiritual unity can occur with organizational diversity (but spiritual unity probably does not exist when we focus on stealing people from other Christian churches, and define such activity as “the Lord’s Work.”)

I feel like some of the greater eccentricities of missions theology that grew in the 1960s may have been hammered out better with greater dialogue between both sides. The focus on missions as expressing God’s love through personal presence in the world is nice but wholly inadequate. But so was missions that embraced proclamation of the Word without Christian service. Maybe the two sides could have learned and grown from each other.

But I could be wrong.

Thinking of Fire and Obsolescence

Back in the 1800s were two small companies that made buggy whips… Smith Brothers and Jones Brothers. The vision statement of Smith Brothers was “We seek to make the best buggy whips in the world.” Jones Brothers had a vision statement “We provide navigational control solutions for the world.” The first vision statement makes a lot of sense, while the second one is rather strange… correct?

However, back in the 1890s the395656 horseless carriage (automobile) was perfected and that began the demise of the horse-drawn buggy. What happened? The Smith Brothers company kept growing, for awhile, gaining market share in the buggy whip market. The Jones Brothers market share of the buggy whip market kept shrinking. BUT… this was because Jones Brothers began developing steering and control devices for automobiles. So over time Smith’s Brothers became the dominant company in a dying market, while Jones’ Brothers moved into strong niches in automobile, boat, and eventually airline navigation and controls.         

          -Story by Clarke Graham (former VP of Engineering at Sperry Marine)

This is one of only two things I remember from my Orientation Training at Sperry Marine (now part of Northrop-Grumman). The other thing was a note I got from a fellow new hire. The note said,

What are the following?   “Hades”    “Gehenna”       “Tartarus”?

I am not sure why he decided to ask me that. I soon found that he was part of a heterodox group that has roots in Christianity. My response was:

“Abode of the dead”     “Place of Torment”       “Infernal Place”

But why are these the only two things I remember?

The first probably had two reasons for being memorable. First, stories are naturally more memorable than propositional statements. Second, the story had a more general applicability. While most of the orientation had to do with how to fit into the work environment of Sperry, this story was about more generally useful in life. It is about vision.

The second was that I was asked caught me for two reasons as well. First, it was an unusual question directed at me, as opposed to telling me something that I may or may not be interested in. Second, it happened to be a Biblical topic and so was one that I was interested in.

That was over 20 years ago. I suppose that tells me that if I am trying to catch someone’s interest,

  1.  Tell stories rather than share facts.
  2. Choose universal themes, rather than targeted topics.
  3. Ask questions that interest the other, rather than tell things that interest me.
  4. Say things that get the other to think a lot and hopefully talk a lot.