Thoughts on Localization of Theology

I have been working on a couple of articles. One of them I decided to remove a large section. I will include it here. Most of it comes from parts of my books on on Interreligious Dialoge and Theology of Mission (using some of the work of David Hesselgrave, Stephen Bevans, and Paul Hiebert).

Theology that is not well-grounded in God’s revelation is untrue and irrelevant. Theology that is well-grounded in God’s revelation but not contextualized to the people will be misunderstood. Misunderstood is essentially the same as untrue, and thus also irrelevant. Bevans has also gone further and argued that a couple of tests of a good (orthodox) and healthy local theology are (a) it develops from the people in their local context, and (b) it is open to both challenge other theologies from other contexts in the universal church and accept critique from the same.

Paul Hiebert described three types of contextualization— non-contextualization, uncritical contextualization, and critical contextualization. Critical contextualization is considered the ideal type of contextualization, with the other two types essentially being to forms of inappropriate contextualizing. For Hiebert, critical contextualization occurs when there is an integration of a careful reading and understanding of the Bible with a sympathetic This is where Bible doctrines are “translated” into a new cultural setting through a careful study of Scripture and a sympathetic understanding of the recipient culture. While this appears to establish two stakeholders in the activity— the Bible and the recipient culture— there are, in fact, three cultures interacting. These are the recipient culture, the missionary culture, and the Biblical culture(s). A proper interaction of interpreting Scripture in light of these three cultures should, hopefully, lead to a good contextualized theology.

The other forms of contextualization occur when the process is unbalanced. Uncritical Contextualization places too much emphasis on the recipient culture. Too much of the recipient culture is essentially “blessed” that key elements of God’s message are downplayed or eliminated. In such a setting, the resultant faith may take on more of a mythic rather than parabolic role in that culture. That is, the resultant faith justifies the culture more than it challenges it. This is syncretism— an unhealthy mix of God’s message and culture.

The other form of unbalanced contextualization, according to Hiebert is non-contextualization. This is where the local culture is given too little value. Perhaps the thought is that since the culture is not considered Christian, all elements in which it differs from the missionary culture, thought to be a Christian culture, is bad. Hiebert notes that this often leads to the Christian faith maintaining a “foreigness” to it, and a faith that is often shallow. Below a thin layer of Christian behavior and answers to questions, is the unchallenged values and worldview of the local culture. Both Charles Kraft and Jackson Wu would note that this also is a form of syncretism. It is the unhealthy mixing of God’s revelation and the missionary’s culture. Often people express concern about contextualization saying that it leads, inevitably, to syncretism. In fact, the opposite is probably more true. If the local culture is ignored and the missionary culture version of the Christian faith is indoctrinated into the people, syncretism on some level has already occurred.

Earlier I noted the Three Culture Model speaks of interaction between recipient culture, missionary culture, and Biblical culture. One could argue that there is a fourth type of contextualization where there is an overemphasis on, or theological blessing of, the culture(s) in the Bible. This is true, and actually quite common, but functionally, it is essentially the same as non-contextualization. If one goes to a new culture and tells them, “Christians are supposed to wear white shirts and ties if they are male, and dresses if they are female” (because that is what we wear back home), there is no functional difference from telling them, “Christians are supposed to wear tunics and cloaks” (because that is what both men and women wore in the Bible).

Identifying the importance of balance in contextualization in no way makes clear how this is done. But each form of contextualization suggests a different strategy. These different strategies are described by David Hesselgrave. He applied these terms to a somewhat different problem, but they work here. Non-contextualization follows the Didactic Method. Didactic here implies one-way communication. The missionary enters a culture and takes on the role of teacher, and the people in the recipient culture embrace the role of student or learner. Good discipleship happens when people change a lot and missionary changes little. Uncritical Contextualization follows the Dialogic Method. I don’t actually care for Hesselgrave’s term here. He is using the term rather negatively, while I will be using the term Dialogue in a more neutral way later in this paper. However, I do understand the reason for his choice here. In the Dialogic method, little importance is placed on change. Dialogue is often seen as focused on two-way communication with the desired outcome to be mutual understanding rather than change of heart or behavior. Great importance is on interaction— Presence and Participation over Proclamation. <In the 1960s a divide formed in Protestant missions where conservatives focused on Proclamation of the Gospel with the goal of leading to radical conversion to Christ. On the other side, many liberals focused on missional Presence where Proselytization was seen as the “antithesis” of missions. The extreme of the conservative view would line up with non-contextualization, where the job of the missionary is to talk, and the job of the people is simply to listen and change. The extreme of the liberal view would line up with uncritical contextualization. The result of presence is generally to bless the best in the culture rather than inviting a call to change of allegiance.

Between these extremes would be a the Dialectic method. In this view there is dialogue (two-way communication) but the goal is a process where both sides challenge each other other with the goal of finding truth. Thus it is more focused on truth than what is described as Dialogic method. It is more focused on two-way conversation than the Didactic method. It also assumes the possibility that both sides may need to learn something. The Dialectic method also differs from debate or apologetics. The latter is interested in winning rather than finding truth.

Recognizing that syncretism is an anticipated risk for either extreme (excessive and inadequate contextualization of the faith), this suggests that the spectrum of contextualization may be viewed as a circle where critical (or balanced) contextualization is on one side (such as at “3 o’clock”) and movement away from that side, occurs either clockwise or counterclockwise towards its opposite (“9 o’clock”). Referring to Figure 1, Clockwise movement could be used to indicate movement towards more non-contextualization. This direction would involve giving more respect to the missionary culture in terms of contextualization, and less to the recipient culture. Counter-clockwise movement could be used to indicate movement towards uncritical contextualization. This direction wou involve giving more respect to the recipient culture in terms of contextualization, and less to the missionary culture. The two movements are shown as joining together at 9 o’clock because both lead to the opposite of critical contextualization— syncretism.

Figure 1

Looking at Communication

Instead of looking at the movement of the Gospel message into a culture in terms of contextualization, one can look at it as an act of communication. In most cases the presentation of the gospel to a new culture comes through a process of cross-cultural dialogue. There are different models of dialogue, but I prefer one that breaks things down into three general models. Different authors use different terms, but I will use “Apologetic,” “Clarification” and “Common Ground” models. The Apologetic model focuses on the differences. The missionary goal is to win the argument. The goal is to show the superiority of one’s beliefs, and the inferiority of the others. The ideal result of such an encounter is a full surrender to the perspective of the missionary. The other extreme in terms of dialogue is the “Common Ground” model. In this model, the missionary seeks to promote dialogue by emphasizing similarities and minimizing differences. In this situation, the missionary is not so focused on changing the others’ beliefs, but that “we all are pretty much the same.” Between these extremes is Clarification. Clarification seeks a certain amount of balance. Both the similarities and differences are valued.

Figure 2

Figure 2 shows a way of showing this. Figure 1 shows the movement converges on the left side since both directions end up with syncretism. Figure 2 can also be shown this way. As one moves from the right side (“3 o’clock”) towards the left-side one is moving towards less focus on truth. This is obvious from the standpoint emphasizing similarities in Common Ground Models. Common Ground Models can be described as relativistic. The goal is to make connection, breaking down barriers, ignoring issues such as what one believes. Emphasizing differences moving toward Apologetic models also lessens the importance of truth. In apologetics, the primary interest is on winning, not determining what is true. On reflection, this just makes sense since focusing on agreement versus disagreement with beliefs would mean less focus on the truth of beliefs.

Comparing The Two Figures

While there are clear similarities, it is worthwhile to address the marked differences. The biggest difference is that the two are dealing with two different spectra. The first is about the spectrum of strategies for contextualization. The second is about the spectrum of strategies for interreligious dialogue. And yet, the two are very much related. Both involve the interactions between people of different beliefs from two different cultures. The spectrum regarding contextualization is more implicitly missiological, but both involve conversations in a similar setting.

A more important difference is a comparison of what is going on at the left side (“9 o’clock”). In Figure 1, the left side shows a greater tendency to syncretism. In Figure 2, even though not explicitly marked, the left side expresses a lesser interest in truth. This in itself is not problem since each figure could emphasize a different thing. However, if the two figures are expresses a similar experience, presumably the two tendencies should be compatible. At first brush, they do not. Syncretism is not necessarily linked to a lesser emphasis on truth. That being said, syncretism is a result, not a motive. So if one looks at Figure1, the argument could be made that an unbalanced contextualization, either uncritical contextualization or non-contextualization, involves a lesser interest in truth. Critical Contextualization involves determining how Biblical truth can be established faithfully in a new context. Non-Contextualization and Uncritical Contextualization rejects critical faculties in determining truth. This does not mean that syncretism is a rejection of truth, but rather that setting something else as a priority over truth establishes a a setting where syncretism can develop.

The similarities of the figures outweigh the differences. Most importantly, the two establish three categories that line up fairly well. Clarification Models for Interreligious Dialogue (IRD) would involve a search of the truth through identifying similarities and differences with regards to two cultures (and potentially three cultures if including Bible culture). Such a search would ideally be dialectical rather than dialogic (in this case focusing those forms of dialogue that focus on common ground rather than on truth) or didactic (being primarily unidirectional). Critical Contextualizaiton should be harmonious with the Clarification Models of IRD. In a similar way, Apologetic Models for IRD line up with didactic methods relating to non-contextualization. Although Apologetic Models would utilize two-way communication, the similarity lies in the premise that the recipient culture has little to offer the sending (or missionary) culture. Common Ground Models for IRD line fairly well with dialogic methods related to uncritical contextualization. In these, the focus is on covering over differences and minimizing change in the recipient culture.

My Ambivalence Regarding “Faith Missions.” Part Two

This post really won’t make too much sense until you read PART ONE

Here are a few things regarding Faith Missions that I see as Good and Bad.

The Good.

1. Missionaries have long been charged with being in it for the money, so Faith Missions avoids that issue. We see it in many ways. In the Didache, warnings were given about apostles who visited churches for financial gain. The deputation process puts missionary candidates in an awkward position. Unfortunately, often the best fundraisers are not the best missionaries, and (arguably) the most valuable missions are not the ones that draw financial support. I remember a missionary’s website that looked like a fundraising machine… like what some televangelists have. Faith Missions is a good corrective for this.

2. Historically, all too often, the people who handle the checkbooks control the who, what, and where of missions. Faith Missions disempowers these people and institutions just a bit. My denomination’s primary mission arm, despite it’s many great qualities, has kept out good people due to questionable theology of the leadership, and has pulled people from the field due to equally questionable policy changes. Now that may be personal bias. But even if one agrees with the leaders, I still think it safe to say that we learn and grow more when there are innovators who exist outside of the system.

The Bad.

1. I noted before that Faith Missions opens up for innovation since it works around the primary power structures. On the other hand, often it does the opposite. That is because Faith Missions often can be linked to Primitivism (as it did for Groves). Primitivism suggests that what was done in the first century provides the boundaries for what is done today. Often, as Roland Allen has noted, some innovations and traditions that have developed over the centuries are not that good and need a return to the early church as a healthy corrective. But that should not be used to hinder adaptations to contemporary situations. We are not trying to recapture the 1st century church and 1st century missions. We are trying to discover and create the 21st century church and 21st century missions.

2. Although there are problems with mission institutions, there are value to them. I have seen people who really should not go into missions. If they followed the normal channels, they would have been stopped. Faith missions can be an unhealthy backdoor to allow unhealthy people to create problems without proper training and without proper oversight.

3. I really don’t like the terminology. I am not so sure that the “Faith Mission” model actually involves a greater amount of faith. Perhaps it can be, but I am not so sure that my wife and I had more faith than others. Working around the process can be laziness or fear (fear of the process or fear of being found an imposter) rather than faith.

4. Missionary Member Care is important, and Faith Missions does tend to involve jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. But Missions is a “Team Sport.” God created it that way from the beginning. Faith Missions is at its best when it finds ways to to build up a support system for missionaries.

All in all, as I am with most things, I am a Both/And person. “Faith Missions” may be poorly named, but it does have value as an alternative route to mission work. It is, however, not a superior way, just a different way— and a risky one.

My Ambivalence Regarding “Faith Missions.” Part One

I have always had mixed feelings regarding what has been called “Faith Missions.” In fact probably my general feeling about it is actually more negative than positive. It is, however, hard to explain this even to myself since my family and I are involved in Faith Missions.

But first, I should explain what “Faith Missions” is, and then to what extent I am involved in Faith Missions.


While Faith Missions, arguably goes back to the first century church, as a modern movement it can be seen as coming from the words and activities of Anthony Norris Groves (1795-1853). Born in England, he felt a call to missions in 1820s and trained to be a missionary with CMS and the Church of England. However, he became disenchanted with them and became associated with the Plymouth Brethren until some sectarian controversies developed. He went off and served as a missionary in Baghdad and later in India.

He wrote a booklet in 1825 called “Christian Devotedness.” It recommended place one’s dependence on God to supply one’s need in ministry. This suggests that one serves God without waiting for support. Additionally, one should not go around asking for support from others.

George Muller was inspired by this booklet to practice this in his work with orphans. Hudson Taylor also used the work as a guide for China Inland Missions, which became known as the largest and most successful of the Faith Mission organizations.

Groves could be described as a Primitivist in that he believed that the New Testament provides guidance for ministry in greater detail than most would embrace. In other words, if Paul or Peter did things a certain way, we should do it, and do it the same way. And if Paul or Peter did not do something, we shouldn’t do it either. As Groves stated, “My earnest desire is to re-model the whole plan of missionary operations so as to bring them to the simple standard of God’s word.” Roland Allen, a couple of generations later, would argue a somewhat similar point in terms of missions methodology.

Years later, Corrie ten Boom embraced a similar stance when she stopped asking for support.

<It should be noted that not asking for support is not the same as keep needs secret or refusing support. More on this later.>

My Story

As I noted before, I look at Faith Missions rather negatively even though it is something we (my family and I) have, generally, practiced.

Back in 2003, my wife and I decided to go on missions. Although we did tell our church about this, we did not ask for support and we did not wait for them, or anyone else, to support us. They did help us out financially, and after around 3 years in the field, they actually increased their support to the level that we were fully supported by them (for about 8 or 9 years). Some time later we took a big drop in support and have been greatly undersupported since then. Despite this, we have been able to survive, and in some ways thrive. We have on a few occasions put out very half-hearted attempts to raise support that have been (again generally) unsuccessful. For the most part we have placed our trust in God that He would take care of us— and He has.

Based on this, you would think that I am whole-heartedly in support of Faith Missions— arguably I am living example of its validity. And yes, there are good things in Faith Missions that are exciting and important in Missions. But there are negative things as well, and these must be faced head on.

I will explore these in Part Two.

Flavors of Localized Theology. Part 1

The following is s from a chapter I am writing on Localizing Theology. I decided to talk about “Flavors” of Localized Theology versus “Theories” or “Models” of Localized Theology (I will use “LW” forward). The reason is that if one speaks of Models of something, there is the temptation of people to assume that one Model is correct and the others are wrong. This is actually a bit silly. A model, pretty much by definition IS NOT REALITY. Models attempt to provide insight about reality, but will clearly fail on some level.

We see this, for example, with Atonement Theory. There are several theories of the Atonement of Christ. If one studies this, almost invariably, a student (or instructor) will address “Which one is Biblical?” Generally speaking, most, if not all, are Biblical. They generally have a sound theological basis. And ALL OF THEM fail to be complete explanations. The same could be said of Models of Theological Contextualization. Some like to ask which is the “most Biblical” or which one is Evangelical. However, all 6 of (Bevan’s) models can be found to be useful tools for an Evangelical theologian, pastor, or missionary. And probably none of them should be given over to completely..

Flavor suggests that it is part of an overall recipe. Consider Filipino cuisine. It seems to me that there are 6 major flavors. Five of them are the flavors associated with taste, and one is the flavor associated with smell. Filipino cuisine leans in hard on SALTY and UMAMI (salty and savory). However, one could argue that SOUR, SWEET, and BITTER are just as important. I suggest that there is one other flavor that is critical to Filipino cuisine, and that is FISHY. Filipino cuisine is not big on herbs and spices… although SPICY is appreciated by some— and PUNGENT and FRUITY have their moments as well. All of these come together blending flavors to make a dish good.

In like manner, there are many different flavors that come together for Localized Theology. It is not about which is correct, They all are important and should be present in one way or another in contextualization/localization of theology.

In the next few posts, I will talk about a few of these. I will focus on the Filipino context generally.

#1. Flavor of Region. Filipino culture is in many ways unique from the rest of Asia, in many ways it should have the flavor of the surrounding Asian theologies.

#2. Flavor of Cultural Aspirations. What are the cultural hopes (and conversely, cultural fears).

#3. Flavor of Cultural Patterns. How does cultural patterns (honor, justice, power, reciprocity, harmony) provide a potential framework for theology?

#4. Flavor of Cultural Values. Each culture idealizes or mythologizes certain qualities. How does the theology support or combat these?

#5. Flavor of Cultural Artifacts. What surface level cultural behaviors or materials can be utilizes to make theology more local (either making it more relevant or more resonant)?

More to come in follow-on posts.

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.

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.