Inward, Outward, Upward

The book “Encountering Theology of Missions” by Ott, Strauss, and Tennent, has been a very beneficial read for me. One section I especially like is where they look at missions in terms of “Kingdom Communities.” They could have said “Church,” but I suppose they wanted to avoid people who picture the idea of church too narrowly, rejecting small fellowships of believers, or perhaps sodality structures or even (maybe) cyber-communities.

They suggested that such communities should operate with three dimensions that could be marked as axes on a cube. The axes are:

  • DoxologyCube
  • Evangelism & Discipleship
  • Compassion & Social Transformation

In the table below, I listed some ways of looking at these dimensions. There is considerable simplification but still I think it an be useful.

  1.  Doxology. I showed it here as Worship. Ott (and his coauthors) described the guidance as The Great Calling. In terms of Direction, it is focused Upward… toward God. And I see it as a Heart activity. Of course, it is more than simply a heart activity, but some aspects of worship drift into the other dimensions.
  2. Evangelism & Discipleship. I show this simply as Discipleship. As the Engel Scale would indicate, one can see Evangelism as one aspect of the overall activity to develop disciples. It takes it’s guidance from The Great Commissions (especially the Matthew version of it). Direction-wise, it can be seen as focused Inward. As Kingdom Communities, they are bringing people in and develop those who are in these communities. It can be seen as a Head activity. Although discipleship (and evangelism) is truly holistic, it’s most characteristic quality is in terms of faith, belief, understanding, and repentance. These, right or wrong, are often seen to be more of thinking (as opposed to feeling or doing) activities.
  3. Compassion & Social Transformation. I show this simply as Compassion. It can be seen as primarily guided by the Great Commandment (although the Golden Rule wouldn’t be inappropriate either). It can be seen as especially Outward-directed, even though these same ministries may be directed inward to the community, or drawing inward of those outside the community. I put it here as a Hands type of ministry. Even though Compassion may be viewed as a feeling, it is only recognizable in terms of action.

Cube TAble

Looking at the cube, the Yellow face, the plane established by discipleship and compassion, is much like the quadrant I use when talking about holistic ministry (where the axes are spiritual ministry and social ministry). You can see it’s use in the Videos on Social MinistryVideos on Social MinistryVideos on Social Ministry.

So I could call the yellow plane as Holistic Ministry. The problem is that I am not sure what to call the other two planes– the Pink one (Discipleship and Worship), and the Orange one (Compassion and Worship).

Any ideas in that would be appreciated.


Mission Marks

I was looking at the Five Marks of Mission (of the Anglican Communion) as well as Five Purposes of Church, as described by Rick Warren in Purpose-Driven Church.

The Five Marks of Mission are:

  • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  • To teach, baptize and nurture new believers
  • To respond to human need by loving service
  • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

(Bonds of Affection-1984 ACC-6 p49, Mission in a Broken World-1990 ACC-8 p101)

To come up with summarizing terms for each of these is fairly easy:

  • Evangelization (although proclamation to include all of the other marks as well)
  • Discipleship
  • Social Ministry
  • Social Justice
  • Creation Stewardship

These all seem well-grounded Biblically. This is not to say that all our evenly weighted.

Now looking at the 5 purposes of the church, as described by Rick Warren in PDC (Purpose-Driven Church).

  1. Churches grow warmer through fellowship.
  2. Churches grow deeper through discipleship.
  3. Churches grow stronger through worship.
  4. Churches grow broader through ministry.
  5. Churches grow larger through evangelism.

There are two immediate and obvious differences. Warren’s list includes Fellowship and Worship. Of course the failure of the Five Marks to include them is that the Five Marks are associated with the Missio Ecclesiae– the Mission of the Church. Fellowship is inward directed, while Worship is “upward” directed. Missions is outward directed from God and by God.

So if one removed those two, Warren’s list (PDC) becomes Evangelism, Discipleship, and Ministry. These line up well with the Five Marks, especially when we note that “Ministry” is a broad term. We get.

Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on EVANGELISM

Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on DISCIPLESHIP

Both PDC and the 5 Marks agree on MINISTRY but the 5 Marks breaks them down into:

                                   -Social Ministry

                                    -Social Justice

                                   -Creation Stewardship

In Search of Missions’ Flexible Boundaries

So what constitutes “missions”? This is a continuing argument between me and myself. I am working on a book on Mission Theology. One of the many aspects of Mission Theology has to do with what are the boundary lines of what we call “missions.”

Some might see this as an irrelevant concern… or perhaps just an academic one, but it can hit home in important ways. I have had missionary friends who run an orphanage in a developing country be completely defunded because their supporting church determined that caring for orphans in a cross-cultural setting was not missions. I have seen a major mission orga12a848591ed70253f18d2ee6a1389562nization “gut” its education arm because it determined that valid missions was evangelism and churchplanting by foreigners in UPGs. I struggle to see falling back on the, in my mind, debunked slogan “evangelize not educate” is a positive step. (Curiously, in recent years that same mission organization has reversed direction again… but is it too late?)

Personally, I like a broad definition, but must acknowledge that calling EVERYTHING missions in Christian ministry can have negative impact. So I had recently done a couple of posts that suggest a more narrow definition. My last one on this subject even suggested that it might be best to separate between “missionary” and associated mission work, and “cross-cultural minister” and its related ministry work.

But NOW, I would to flip-flop again and make the counter-argument, suggesting a broader definition again. And I would like to do so in terms of a story:

Some time ago, I was serving as a dissertation supervisor for a student here in the Philippines. I am a professor of Christian missions, and the topic of this student was the use of some principles from the Missional Church movement for cross-cultural outreach in a specific locale. As the prospectus was being reviewed by some of the professors, two expressed considerable concern about the topic, suggesting that utilizing “missional church” principles is not “missions.” Truthfully, such feelings have some merit. In fact, some aspects of the missional church movement can be quite Anti-Missions (as strange as that may seem). Additionally, since the missional church movement is more often focused on E-1 and E-2 outreach (rather than the more undeniably “missions-ish” category of E-3 outreach) one could make the point that such a topic should not be seen as valid for a missions dissertation at all.

At the defense of the prospectus, these concerns were reiterated. I acknowledged them but noted reasons I felt it was appropriate for a missions dissertation, even if it may not be smack dab in the center of what we think of as missions research. I won’t go over my reasons here. But I noted that my dissertation was accepted at the same school years before, and was on doing medical mission events in the Philippines. Based on the criteria suggested for what constitutes missions at this present board, my dissertation would not be a missions dissertation either. The response that came back from one of the professors was that the understanding of missions has changed so maybe my dissertation would (should?) be refused today. Interesting response. That got me thinking a bit. That would be the implication of accepting a “newer” understanding of what constitutes missions.  I, however, struggle with the idea that medical mission ministry that is international and cross-cultural should be researched and taught within a missions department of a seminary while medical mission ministry that is local but in every other way the same as its international counterpart should be researched and taught in an entirely different department. But one does have to have boundaries around what would be considered missions— at least in academia.

In the end, the prospectus was accepted with only minor changes. Part of that was that the dissertation clearly did not fit into any of the other accepted categories at the seminary. As such, if it is a valid research, it has to be under Missions. We did not continue the discussion of what should constitute missions and what should not, but acknowledged that it should be reviewed at a future date.

But… if I was going to make my case for a wider definition of missions as a counterpoint to the “newer and narrower” definition(s) for missions, this is what I would offer:

The definition of missions has not only changed in recent years, it has been changing for decades, and even centuries. The 1932 “Hocking Report” was one of the early (modern) attempts to aggresively redefine missions, but there have been many changes and attempted changes through the IMC, WCC, the Lausanne movement, and more.

So think about it this way. If the newer definitions are better than the older definitions, they have come to be through flexibility (old cannot change to new unless there is flexibility to allow such change). So if the new is good, so is the flexibility that allowed the new to be developed. And,  if flexibility is good, then the boundaries of what constitutes missions should constantly be challenged. Without challenging boundaries, boundaries become rigid… inflexible… unchanging.

In the 1960s (as I noted in a previous article) there were attempts to redefine missions in terms of “Christian Presence” and (relativistic) dialogue, on the WCC side of missions. During this same period, on the Conservative Evangelical side, there were attempts to narrowly define missions in terms of proclamation-style evangelism and cross-cultural churchplanting. In my mind, it is good that none of these completely won out the day.

Missions, as understood in academic circles as well as in mission organizations and denominational groups,  is strongest with a flexible boundary– one that allows new ideas and old ideas to be challenged and evaluated.

Sometimes we need ministry and research where people ask “Is this missions?” The answer often should be “We will find out.”



“Theology and Missions” Book

I just started working on my newest book. Not sure what it will be ultimately titled. So far, it is just called “Theology and Missions.” Note… it is not “Theology OF Missions.”

Actually, I am still working on a book with my wife “The Dynamics of Pastoral Care” as a follow-on to “The Art of Pastoral Care.”theology-and-missions But that is going to take awhile. I really wanted to work on a book that looks at several interconnections between Theology and Missions (hence it’s name).

It is expected to cover several major topics:

  1.  Theology of Missions. I won’t focus too much on this. Some others have done a pretty good job in this area. (Of course, in some missions books, the topic has devolved into “cherry-picking” a few verses that seem missional.) But I am looking towards a more “Biblical Theology” (both OT and NT) look in this area, rather than Systematic or Practical.
  2. Reflective Missions Theology. This is Theological Reflection, as it pertains to the practice of missions. So this will look at the incorporation of theological reflection, mission practice, and case conferencing.
  3. Contextualization of Theology. Despite the fact that ALL theology (even Biblical Theology) is contextual, it still seems to be, as a discipline, the expertise of those in Missions. So this will primarily be looking at the work of Bevans and Moreau.
  4. Criteria for Evaluation of Contextual Theology. This is a surprisingly silent area for many. It is hard to see why, since it is so important. I will loosely follow some of Bevans work, with my own ideas. This section and Section 2 will probably be the most innovative of the 5 sections. The others will be more a look at what others have done… and, in fact, have done better.
  5. Inter-religious Dialogue. IRD has been covered a LOT by a LOT of people… but I want to look at it as it pertains to Missions interactions. As such, I will look less to a Relativistic Approach, or an Apologetic Approach, than to a Clarification Approach. Also I will try to look at it theologically as well as pragmatically.

I have MOST of the research done, and a number of sections completed. I guess it will just depend on how long it takes to make a bunch of loose topics all mend together.

Like “Ministry in Diversity” and “The Art of Pastoral Care,” the goal is to have a book that can be useful for Bible School or Seminary students… particularly in Southeast Asia.

The “Foul Lines” of Contextual Theology

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 Stephen Bevans, who in turn draws it from Justo Gonzales.  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 isorthodoxy 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 given some tests for this. He draws from Schreiter, de Mesa, and some others, along with his own reflection.  A quick summary of some of these tests is found in a presentation he gave a Boston University, seen in THIS VIDEO.

He notes the inadequacy of each individual test (he gives 11 tests) but suggests a principle of “converging probabilities.” In fact, it is the reasoning associated with historical or legal analysis, where the focus is not on  PROOF, but on how the preponderance of the evidence becomes COMPELLING, leading to CONSENSUS.

I would like to keep these 11 tests, but reorganize them, grouping them into five (5) general tests.

Test #1.  The Test of Revelation.  Christianity is founded on Divine Revelation, in the form of the words of the apostles, prophets, and the incarnation of Jesus Christ. As such a theology is challenged to be both coherent and harmonious with that revelation. Coherent, means that it does not contradict the word or essence of that revelation. But a caution here, since, one can always find “contradictions” if one goes in lacking grace or humility. Harmony means that it aligns with revelation in a way that may be novel, yet appears to go well with the revelation as a harmonic line in music works with the melody.

Test #2.  Test of God. Any contextual theology is tested by God’s uniqueness and transcendance. Therefore, any theology should be consistent in its prayer and worship. (For example, any theology that makes Jesus less worthy of prayer and worship than God, places itself out of line with orthodox faith). Additionally, any theology that encourages or justifies behavior of believers that is inconsistent with God’s character (love, justice, holiness, for example) is highly suspect.

Test #3.  Test of the Universal Church. The church is founded on Christ and the apostles and maintains a spiritual unity regardless of how often the church drifts from  diversity (a good thing) to divisiveness (not such a good thing).  A contextual theology should be open to critique from groups and theologies outside of its context. It should also have the value and robustness to challenge and inspire those both inside and outside of its context. To fail to do those things suggests that it lacks that unity with the universal body of Christ.  <Note:  The universal church does not simply exist in place, it also exists in time. So the challenge of church includes the church throughout history. For example, restorationist theologies that presume that historic church was totally apostate for centuries or millenia, must be suspect.>

Test #4. Test of the Local Community.  A contextualized theology is for a certain context or faith community. Therefore, it should, ideally, come from the community (rather than an outsider or from one specific person). It should be intelligible to people in the community in simple language, and should, over time, be valued and accepted by the community.

Test #5.  Creation.  A contextualized theology should honor creation, as the good design and handiwork of God. A theology that lessens or devalues God’s creation is suspect. This also includes mankind. A theology that treats humans, or any subset of humans, as less than God’s creation, Imago Dei, or less worthy of honor than other humans, is less than orthodox.

These tests will not eradicate all disagreements, but they, hopefully, will provide a starting point for a potential future consensus.