A very good article on many of the main issues that missionaries are facing today. While targeting, especially, Millennials, the issues are generally true across ages, and often cultyres as well.
Not long ago I weighed in on an on-line question– “Can God make anything Imperfect?”
I made the suggestion that “GOD MAKES EVERYTHING IMPERFECT.”
In Metaphysics (Book Delta) Part 16, Aristotle gives a three possible definitions of teleios, a word we often translate into English as “perfect” —
- complete (needing nothing additional)
- functional (achieving the purpose for which it was created)
Thomas Aquinas gave two definitions for perfection– perfect in substance, and perfect in achieving its purpose.
The first definitions of both Aristotle and Aquinas come closest to the English concept of “perfection.” The suggestion in both cases is that there is flawlessness. Additionally, there is no change or growth. After all, if things change and grow, that would suggest that the things either were not perfect, or are now no longer perfect.
Everything God has created is in motion, and is undergoing change. Additionally, all living things that God has created is not only undergoing change, but is meant to grow. So everything God has created is, with this understanding, imperfect.
This may seem a bit esoteric. But there are two very practical principles that flow from this.
- Don’t be bothered that you are not perfect. God did not make you to be perfect because He created you to continually learn, change, and grow.
- God’s goal for you is not for you to become perfect, but rather go through the continuing process of perfecting.
Okay, so I was watching this guy on TV. He was some sort of talking head type guy on Fox News. (Disclaimer… I have no idea who this guy is. I really don’t watch Fox News. I mean, I live in Asia— so why would I?)
He was telling a story about some town in West Virginia that a few decades ago was ethnically composed almost all of Caucasian Appalachian stock. He noted that now that town was predominantly Hispanic… and how the (aboriginal?) locals struggled with the new situation. He expressed it in terms of people struggling with —- CHANGE. People cannot handle fast CHANGE.
Listening to the guy, the immediate temptation would be to say that he was trying to redefine “xenophobic bigots” as “slow adapters to change” and “racism” as “traditionalism.”
Frankly, I tend to think that this was EXACTLY what he was trying to do. However, I would like to ignore that fairly obvious point, and move on to a better question—
“Why do some people struggle with demographic change?”
My case should be quite similar to people in that town in West Virginia. I was raised in a very insular community. The community when I was young was almost 100% Caucasian, and a majority came from family lines that had gone back at least three or four generations. My community was in the Allegheny foothills, a part of the broader Appalachian system. My best friend when I was young was Native American (Ojibwa), but his was one of only two families in my area that was not “White.” When my father (of Swedish American stock) married my mom (also of Swedish American stock) some in the community were not happy since he had found his wife in Jamestown, ten miles away, rather than “locally.”
That was in 1964. By the time I brought my wife, born and raised 9000 miles away, the community had changed and welcomed her. My wife and I did not marry there, but in Virginia. We had no problem in Virginia in 1993, but if we had tried back in 1964, we would not have been allowed because we were of “mixing races.”
Times change. Sometimes change is good and sometimes change seems not so good. I am glad that changes came to the community I was raised in. But my new community is different indeed. I live in a city of over 300,000 people in Southeast Asia. While there are other white Americans here, most are tourists, and I know only a couple of them personally. All of my neighbors are Asian, of one form or another, and almost none of them speak English as a first language (although many speak it quite well).
So why have I been able to adapt to change, and others not. There are perhaps many reasons. For one, I was raised up with Biblical Anthropology. Although in some ways my parents were products of their place and time, they still taught me that all people are God’s creation. No ethnicity is morally superior, or closer to God. I was taught that God judges the heart, and He is much better at that than I would ever be by judging the outside appearance.
But really… I don’t think that is the big problem. I am sure some have been misinformed about God and His relationship to mankind. But I suspect that many have a very clear understanding that we stand as equals before God, and yet still struggle with demographic change and culture shock.
I suspect a lot of it has to do with power. An ethnic group or a religious group that has sort of the alpha position in a society will tend to react (individuals in concert) to any change that may threaten the power position. In some parts of the world, even putting up a religious structure that is of a minority group (a church, mosque, pagoda, temple, whatever) is seen as a challenge to that power. I lived near a community in which there was an unwritten rule that real estate agents were not to show houses in that place to people of other races. If they did, that agent would lose future business. Was that because the community was so extremely racist? Well… maybe. But seen in terms of power, having a family of a different ethnicity or religion in the community is a foothold… and thus an open door to challenging the power of the established order in the future.
This is hardly strange. Embracing power and having fear of losing that power is quite natural. However, as Rose Sayer (played by Katherine Hepburn in the classic movie “African Queen”) stated. “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put into this world to rise above.”
Christians should not thirst after such power— Ecclesiastical power, Political power, Economic power… the power to determine norms and taboos. God’s power is with you when you are part of the majority, and when you are a minority of one.
I believe Christians (not just missionaries) would be much more effective in sharing God’s love with others if they focused more on God and others than on their own grasping at earthly power.
Despite the “really geeky” title, this is a nice article on the relationship between Missions and Evangelism. It is written by an Anglican Missionary who is to be serving in Africa. Click on the Link below to read it.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible to meditate on is Mark 9:24.
Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”
The context is a father of a boy who is described as demon-possessed. The disciples of Jesus have been unable to provide help. Jesus questions the father, who then asks Jesus to heal his son “if He is able.” Jesus notes that “Everything is possible for the one who believes.”
The father’s response to this, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” may sound wishy-washy. In fact, I have seen commentaries that look down on this response as weak compared to the wholehearted confidence of some others in the Bible. The response was viewed as poor… but just good enough for Jesus to respond.
The commentaries could be correct, but I guess I just really don’t see it that way.
There is an honesty to his response. He is struggling with doubt, and that is really okay. Some see the essence of faith being an absence of doubt. However, when one gets to Hebrews 11, we find the paragons of faith as those who acted with firm resolve. That resolve doesn’t necessarily suggest ZERO doubt. In fact, Moses and Gideon showed signs of considerable doubt. Yet in the end, they resolved to obey God. James also describes faith in a similar manner. Faith is evidenced by its expression of will not cognitive certainty.
The father came to Jesus. If he could fully express his thoughts, it could be something like this:
“I believe you, Jesus, have the ability to save my son. But I also know that I could be wrong. I do have doubts… but I refuse to act on those doubts. I will act on what I believe and what I hope. I come to you, Jesus, to save my son.”
Jesus seemed satisfied with the response, and healed the son. It is as if He was saying, “That’s really all I ask.” Much of the Bible shows faith in this way… trust me in your doubts, and you will be rescued–
“Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.”
This seems to be a paradox in faith that we need to get comfortable with. Many of the best examples of faith, have a paradoxical twist built into them.
- An example of faith that caused Jesus to marvel was the centurion in Matthew 8.
7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”
8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
This is an amazing example of faith, understanding something about Jesus’ ability to heal that even His disciples may not have realized. However, there is nothing in the passage that suggests that the centurion knew what Jesus would do. He had great faith in Jesus’ ability to heal if Jesus chose to do so, but expressed no such confidence that Jesus would choose to act. Is that a problem? I don’t believe so. Certainly Jesus did not think so.
- Another example is in Daniel 3 in the story of the fiery furnace.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3: 16-18)
Again, their faith was demonstrated in their decision to obey God, even though they did not know what God would actually do.
- The quintessential example of faith in the Bible is Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at the command of God. The Bible says that Abraham’s faith was counted unto him for righteousness. Paul expands on Abraham’s example to note that no person is declared righteous via the Law, but only through the grace of God that comes from man’s faith in God. The writer of Hebrews expands on this point, but adds an interesting note to it. In chapter 11,
17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.
It is interesting that Abraham’s faith in God had a flaw in it. His faith seems to be that God would make him kill his own son, and then God would raise Isaac from the dead. So if Abraham’s faith was in cognitive certainty, then it was certainty in something that wasn’t actually true.
In the above three numbered examples, faith a flaw, or paradoxical twist. For the centurion, there appeared to be uncertainty whether Jesus would respond to his request. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, there was uncertainty as to whether God would act to save them or not. In the case of Abraham, his belief as to what God would have him do and what God would do after was mistaken.
What made the faith of the above three marvelous was not their lack of doubt or confusion as to the future, but their commitment to God in the present.
The man in Mark 9 came to Jesus to have his son healed. And despite the fact that Jesus’ disciples utterly failed to heal the child, the father stayed. When Jesus questioned the man as to his belief, the man was honest enough to express the (quite reasonable, under the circumstances) doubts he had, and yet he still believed and would still call on Jesus to save his son. The man did not know for sure, but he was willing to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
It may seem a bit paradoxical, but that is exactly the faith we need— uncertain of the future, but certain of our intent to come to Jesus for mercy.
Been some time since I shared this article. Thought I would do so again…
Back when I was an engineer, most all of the employees in our company were trained in TQM (Total Quality Management). If you haven’t heard of it, feel free to websearch it now. I’ll wait.
Okay. Anyway… an aspect of it has to do with analysis of problems. In it, one focuses on Process rather than People. That is, when a problem occurs, rather than trying to figure out “Whodunnit” and then fire the person, one looks for ways to improve the process. Even in cases where it was clearly one person’s fault, it generally makes more sense to look at what processes led to the problem.
For example, suppose Bryan was making widgets, and installs the whatsit in backwards causing it to glorph dangerously leading millions of dollars of damage. In a People-oriented analysis, the goal would be to figure out who to blame (Bryan) and then punish him… probably fire him.
In the process-oriented analysis, the focus would be on what processes led to a failure leading to a defective product coming out the door. Do changes need to be made to the inspection process? What about training? What about oversight/supervision? What about design? As a former engineer, this last one is most important to me. The fact that the whatsit could be installed backwards in the widget suggests the need of a redesign so that installing it wrong is impossible. If it cannot be made impossible, design could be changed so that manufacturing it the correct way would be clearly identifiable as such. And if that is impossible, perhaps design a test that would identify the problem easily before it gets out of the door.
But what about in a church situation. If there is a problem in the church, should one focus on people or processes? Churches commonly focus on people— identify the sin, identify the sinner. That seems like it is the way it is supposed to be. The Bible clearly focuses on sin, correct?
Curiously, in the first church (Jerusalem) the first two recorded problems were handled in different ways— the first is focused on the person, and second on the process.
Person (to Blame) Focus is found in Acts 5. This is the story of Ananias and Sapphira story. In it, a problem was identified… and the focus was immediately on who to blame for the sin and who is thus worthy of punishment.
Process Focus is found in Acts 6. In the story, Hellenistic Jews were concerned that their widows were not being cared for as well as were the widows of Hebraic Jews. This is actually a much more serious of a problem than in Acts 5. In chapter 5, there was personal issue of lying… but in 6 is the charge of systemic bigotry. However, in the case of Acts 6, there seems to be no attempt to find out who to blame. No attempts to divert blame either. Rather, they immediately go to changing the process. They chose 7 men (6 Hellenistic Jews and 1 Gentile Proselyte) to provide oversight of the care of the widows to ensure they are treated as well as their Hebraic counterparts.
Since both problem analysis methods are used (problem-focused and process-focused) in the Bible, does it mean that both are equally valid?
I would argue that the Process focus is the preferred one in the Bible. There are three reasons I believe this. First, the Ananias and Sapphira event is a most unique case in the NT church. Only rarely is there a “Who’s to Blame” attitude found. Most often in the Epistles the focus seems to be on Prevention of problems, or finding Redemption after problems. You may agree or disagree with me on this, but study and decide for yoyrself. Second, relatedly, sin is not a major emphasis in the NT church either. The emphasis is more on the transformation we have now in and through Christ, and how that is to be demonstrated in our actions and words. In other words, greater emphasis is on the processes of edification and supporting each other, towards godly virtue, than on pointing out sins.
Third, Luke appears to editorialize the events a bit. After the punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:15 says,
“Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.“
On the other hand, after the resolution of the problem in Acts 6, Luke writes in verse 7,
“So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Luke as editor appears to see the process focus more positively than the person focus.
In TQM, one of the goals is to “drive out fear” — fear of judgment/blame/punishment. The presumption is that “the problem is the process rather than the person.” It seems to me that the Bible shows a preference towards this as well… especially in the New Testament church.