Our Ministries

Over 19 years plus our work in the Philippines has been complicated. I decided to make a chart of all of the organizations we have been involved in. History is valuable for self-reflection. I think it shows at least two things. First, we had no idea what we were doing for many years. Second, God did have a plan to guide and sustain… but part of that plan involved experimentation and learning. There were relatively few FAILURES…but there were many opportunities to learn through mistakes.

The link to the chart is below.


bobandceliamunson.wordpress.com/2022/10/02/ministry-chart/

Contextualization as Finding Meaning

One of the statements given in missions is that contextualization or incarnational ministry is about “walking in another person’s shoes.” Clearly, this is a metaphor, but a metaphor that I think has value to us.

But how does one know that one is walking in “another’s shoes” or whether one is imagining the other of walking in “one’s own shoes”?

I think a bit of an answer exists in Pastoral Counseling. A principle in PC can be described as a formula:

Facts + Feelings = Meaning

I will use an example that I use is the book that my wife and I wrote (The Art of Pastoral Care), but I will do it as two different conversations… between Tom and Susan.

Conversation #1.

Tom: “Hi Susan. What is new?”

Susan: “Hey Tom. Well, my next door neighbor just died last night.”

Tom: “Oh my, Susan. I am so sorry to hear that. What can I do to help you? Please let me know what I can do to help you.”

Susan: “Uhh… no. That is not necessary. What’s new with you?”

Conversation #2.

Tom: “Hi Susan. What is new?”

Susan: “Hey Tom. Well, my next door neighbor just died last night.”

Tom: “Oh my, Susan. I had not heard. How are you feeling right now.”

Before finishing Conversation #2… we have to consider some of the possible responses from Susan.

Conversation #2— Feelings Options

Susan (A): “I am so angry. He threw away his life leaving his wife and two children.”

Susan (B): “I don’t feel much of anything. I hardly knew him.”

Susan (C): “I am devastated. He was like a father to me.”

Susan (D): “I am thrilled. He was such an evil man. I am glad he is gone.”

Each of these feelings give the first statement (death of the neighbor) greater clarity. Up until that point it was only a fact. Once the feeling is known, the meaning of that event for Susan is known. And, typically, once the feeling is known, this opens up the conversation for more facts that give the meaning context.

Obviously for conversation #2, Tom would need to respond differently depending on the feeling response of Susan. Suppose, for example, that the statement was option D: “I am thrilled. He was such an evil man. I am glad he was gone.”

Now, Tom must look at how to respond to this.

One option would be to reject those feelings and say something like, “Susan! You shouldn’t feel that way. That’s not very Christian…”

Another option would be to accept those feelings and seek to understand more the context. He could seek to (gently) draw out more from Susan regarding the relationship between her and the neighbor.

Conversation #1 is not contextualization. Tom does not try to “walk in her shoes.” Rather, the response could be one of two things. First, it could be a failure to understand her context. Tom could be thinking, “Well, I am pretty sure I should say something soothing because that is what people do when a person dies.” However, worse, a second option could be trying to “get her to walk in his shoes.” Perhaps, he had a neighbor who died who he was very close to. In essence, he is saying to her, “Your neighbor died so you must feel the same way I did when my neighbor died.” Both of these are a failure to contextualize.

Conversation #2 is an attempt to contextualize. Tom seeks to gain meaning as to what is going on rather than simply go with facts. That is good, but one can still fail. As I showed in one of the options after finding out the meaning that Susan gave, Tom judged her and said that she (as a good Christian) shouldn’t feel that way. While this MAY (or MAY NOT) be true, Tom is not really in a position to judge. He doesn’t know enough about the neighbor and his interactions with Susan to speak. He needs to gain a greater understanding. If he fully knew the situation, he may well have said, “Wow Susan. I am so sorry to hear that. If I was in your shoes I would be happy he is dead as well.” Of course, we don’t know because we still don’t know the context.

So what does this have to do with missional contextualization? In missions we need to know more than facts (observations and data). We need to know meanings. If someone says something or does something, if we don’t understand the meanings behind these what happens? Well, we supply our own meanings. In other words we think something like “If I did that, what would I be thinking and feeling in that situation.” That is not being incarnational or attempting to contextualize. That is trying to get them to walk in our own shoes.

However, once we find the meaning, we still need to delve deeper. We cannot simply go… “Okay, I understand the situation fully now. Now I can judge.”

The classic case of this that people use is the practice of ancestor veneration. We see a place in the house with pictures of ancestors, with incense and fruit and things. As an outsider, we might look at that and say, “If I had something like that in my house it would either be because I am worshiping” (like a household god) “or have an unhealthy obsession” (like stalkers who set up a “shrine” to whoever they obsess over). Either way one must talk to the person with this ancestor “shrine” to find out what it means. Is it a place of worship— drawing out feelings of religious adoration and awe? Is it a place of entreaty (seeking help from a family member, even though deceased)? Is it a place of honoring (like flowers placed at a gravesite? Is it a place of carrying out a family tradition, with little meaning beyond doing one’s cultural duty?

The truth is that even after one discovers what it means to a person, one is likely still not in a position to judge. As I have said in previous posts, when Jesus said, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” I think it is more than simply a warning about being judgmental. I believe it is also pointing out that we lack competence to judge. We don’t get to “peek over God’s shoulder” (as Merold Westphal would say).

Incarnational ministry involves an active continual quest for meaning that searches beyond facts to feelings to meanings, and then from meanings to more facts that must be tied to feelings to new meanings.

Is a Theology of Luck Probable? (Part 2)

<Yes an odd topic. I strongly recommend reading Part 1 to make sure that when we both are using the word “luck” we mean the same thing.>

Now, you may not care for this language (luck, lucky, unlucky)— I am not sure I do either— but this definition of luck does have one advantage. It is phenomenal. That is, it looks at something as a phenomenon, without necessarily addressing the cause. So, for example, if John asked Tammy, “Do you believe in UFOs?” a reasonable answer might be, “Well, I certainly believe in UFOs as a phenomenon. That is, I believe there are things we see in the sky that appear to be flying that we are not always able to identify. However, if you are asking if I believe in alien technology flying through the skies with little green (or gray or reptilian) creatures, then ‘No,’ I need a lot more data to be convinced.”

So if we are looking at luck as a phenomenon of either (or both) variance from the mean, or being on the desirable side of probability of an event, I think we can make some tentative theological statements with regards to luck.

#1. God DOES play with dice. Supposedly, Albert Einstein, expressing his doubt of quantum mechanics, had quipped that God does not play with dice. (I did not take the time to try to verify the quote. Einstein has been credited for a lot of things, both wise and foolish, that he never said.) But at the quantum level there does appear to be true randomness built into the universe. On the macroscopic level, a lot of phenomenon are, at least on a practical level, appear to be random or at least resulting in a Weibull distribution of outcomes rather than a clearly predictable result. Whether there is true randomness in the macroscopic level is not certain… but what is certain is that we have a limited understanding of cause and effect, the underlying mathematics to create realistic models, and have a poor understanding of initial conditions. We are not really sure whether our own thoughts and actions are deterministic or not. Harvard’s Law (the less humorous form of this law is that that organisms do whatever they want to do regardless of our attempt to control their responses) suggests the answer is NOT— our ability to predict the future is often much poorer than we think it is. Desirable things happen and undesirable things happen, and this doesn’t always happen as we think or wish. The doctrine of Common Grace comes into play here. God gives rain to both the just and the unjust. That is, there is not always a causal relationship between things we consider as blessings, and the behavior or character of those who receive these blessings. Ecclesiastes likes to explore this point. The same might be suggested the opposite way. Abel died “before his time” while Cain lived a long life even though Abel was the one who found favor with God. And both Abel and Cain had great toil to survive in this world regardless of their righteousness or lack thereof.

#2. God sometimes uses loaded dice. God doesn’t always act on common grace (or common fall). He rigs the system sometimes. He sometimes “stacks the deck.” We sometimes describe this as a miracle. An interesting story in the Gospels is the case of the healing of the man blind from birth. People were asking whether this man had sinned or whether his parents had sinned. They were looking for a clear causal relationship. They were revolting against the idea that this man had the bad fortune/luck to be born blind. Jesus was unwilling to support either suggestion. He gave a different answer— he was blind to glorify God. This answer is very much open to interpretation. Does it mean that God purposefully made sure that he was blind for 20 or 30 years just so Jesus could heal him? Possibly, but Jesus had balked at simple causations elsewhere. In answering the question of whether those crushed by the falling tower of Siloam, or those sacrificed by Pilate were being punished, Jesus expressed this in doubtful terms, but then says to watch out lest worse comes our way. A reasonable answer to this might be— good and bad things happen. We don’t always have control over this and often cannot predict this. But God is ready and able to step in “with loaded dice” and act with intent in what otherwise may seem a chaotic world without clear meaning or structure. The blind man may not have been born blind for any satisfying reason. However, his blindness is given meaning with God stepping in to change things— acting against the odds. Some things do not have inherent meaning… but God can give meaning. This seems to be the idea of Paul’s statement that God works everything for good for those called according to His purpose. It is not that God makes sure that everything that happens is good for those called. Rather, things happen, random meaningless things happen, but God can step in and give these things meaning.

#3. We cannot always know the difference. When something happens we don’t know if it happens as part of the random and complex mechanisms beyond our ability to predict or control, or whether it is an act of Divine action. We don’t even necessarily know if our own actions bring results or whether it is a matter of luck (or Divine action). If I plant a church and you plant a church. If my church dies and yours flourishes, does that mean that you are better at churchplanting than I. It is definitely possible… but upon honest reflection, the best answer we could give is we just don’t know. As Merold Westphal would say, we are unable to look over God’s shoulder. We all are exploring a vast territory using a map with large pieces missing or illegible.

#4. This should increase our faith. Yes. This sounds backwards. The first and third points seem to drive us fear, doubt, and distrust. But do they? There is always a part of us that thinks that we can captain our own ship. We want a predictable world, with a predictable God, who we can predictably control/manipulate. Effectively, our faith is in own selves. However, if that is completely false. If we live in a thoroughly unknowable world with an unpredictable (although benevolent) God who we ask of but cannot control, we are left with few options. We can wander aimlessly in despair— not a great option. We can ignore this reality and pretend that we are in control. This option reminds me of a (very nice) lady from a church we attended, who would regularly tell us what God was going to do in a situation. When her predictions were (almost invariably) wrong, she seemed to never notice but confidently tell us what God was going to do in the next situation coming up. I suppose that option is better than the first. Some might even commend her for her faith. However, I would argue that her faith was in a god she created and felt that she either completely knew, or completely controlled. Sadly, this god rarely seemed to line up with the God who is. The third option would be to embrace our own inability to predict the future or control outcomes. We are walking into the future with blinders on. However, unlike a horse where the blinders limit vision to the sides, our blinders block vision straight ahead. We see what is around us, but not what is to come. We embrace faith— not a faith that that suggests that we can control the future, but faith that God ultimately will bring us where He wants to take us.

#5. We should be slow to judge. Jesus said that we should not judge unless we want to be judged ourselves. This verse, I believe, doesn’t simply say that it is unkind to be judgmental, but moreso taht we are truly incompetent to judge. Elsewhere Jesus notes that we see the external, unlike God who can see the heart. Related to this, while the terms “good luck” and “bad luck” have problems, they at least are prone to be less judgmental than terms like “blessed” and “cursed.” Job’s friends saw Job, sitting with him for 7 days. They decided he was cursed… and this, not surprisingly, led them to accuse Job of “getting what he deserved” since it must be that God did this for a reason that would make sense to people. Again, they thought that God was predictable, and that God was controllable. Suppose, on the other hand, Job’s friends decided that Job was unlucky— after all looking at luck as a phenomenon, not addressing issues of causation, he certainly WAS unlucky. Would this have been better. Actually, it probably would have been. We tend to be less judgmental of people we think are unlucky than of people we think are cursed. I think that using the terms “lucky” and “unlucky” can at times be quite problematic (the righteous person in Psalm 1 was more than just lucky, much as the unrighteous person was more than just unlucky). Still, at least the terms unlucky and lucky may at least give us a moment to pause— withhold judgments before trying to fit something into our own narrow perspective.

#6. Our eschatology should be based on the benevolence of God rather than our own ability to predict the future. The points up to now suggest that we are not particularly good at predicting the future… and further, it could be argued that God is good with that. We are called to faithful as we grope our way into the future. The parable of the faithful (and unfaithful) servant suggests this. The faithful servant does not know when the Master returns and this leads to an ethical response— doing the right thing every day. The unfaithful servant presumably thought he could guess or time the return of the Master. As such, he could live his life as he wanted and then fix things later. Perhaps that is part of the reason that Future prophecy is written in a way that is pretty hard to interpret. We are not meant to use it to come up with specific times and events.

Interpreting Biblical prophecy to work out exact dates, times, and events is a cottage industry for many Christian groups. In the past, Bible prophecy appears to make sense in hindsight more than in foresight. Some see this as a failing of, or a reading into, Scripture. I can see that particular viewpoint. However, if we are supposed to rely on God day to day, week to week, year to year, then we are not really supposed to know the future. And if that is the case, prophecies should be more ethical than predictive. For example, the Book of Revelation is a beautiful book that makes it clear throughout, that all followers of Christ need to be faithful to the end. God ultimately loads the dice to ensure that those who seek after God will experience God’s eternal favor, while those who don’t will suffer eternal loss. At the same time while these are the ultimate fates, in the short-term bad things will happen to all people, the just as well as the unjust. Revelation seems to have order and purpose and that which seems unfair and perhaps even random. We are left with trusting God. But some prefer to instead look at Revelation (and some other Scriptures) as a roadmap for the future. I feel like that is actually the opposite of the purpose of futurist Scripture.

Anyway, these are a few preliminary views on Theology built on a certain perspective related to luck.

Is a Theology of Luck Probable? (Part 1)

Years ago, I was driving through Ohio on my way to college when I heard a radio program by a guy who was rather well-known at that time, named ‘Reverand Ike.’ This was back in the 1980s and his beliefs were… idiosyncratic. I am not sure if he should be described as a Christian preacher— I was not an expert on his beliefs then or now. On that drive, his sermon was essentially an advertisement to the radio listener for a book he wrote called, “The Secret of Good Luck.” He had some people give testimonials on the wonderful blessing the book was to them. One man said something (to the best of my memory) like this:

“A few years ago I was struggling. I worked two jobs but still could barely feed my family and pay the rent on the tiny apartment we had. But then I got Reverend Ike’s book, ‘The Secret of Good Luck.’ Now I am a millionaire with two houses and I DON”T DO NOTHING.”

I never got the book, though I see that there are some videos one can purchase online today based on the book. I found it interesting since as Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian, I was always told that either (1) there is no such thing as luck, or (2) luck is ‘unchristian.’ So having a guy who at least liked to quote the Bible using luck in a positive way surprised me. I was more used to a different spin. A few years after that, someone, I am pretty sure it was Pat Robertson, emphasized that luck was unchristian, and at least implied that it was demonic. He said that the word “luck” is tied to the Norse god Loki. I suppose the convoluted argument goes— Loki is the Norse equivalent of Satan (although he really isn’t), and the word luck comes from the name Loki (I can’t seem to find anyone who agrees with this etymology), so therefore luck is Satanic or demonic. Since both premises appear to be false, the end result is false. Beyond that there is an implied step that says, “if you can link a word with something else, that linguistic connection is meaningful in other ways.” There are Christian groups that do embrace a bit of magical thinking in this area. For them, words don’t just have symbolic or cultural power, but a form of power to manipulate of themselves. I think that is pretty doubtful. I suppose some may be fearful of Wednesdays because they are tied etymologically to the pagan god Odin (Woden) in English, or the pagan god Mercury in Spanish and Tagalog. Words definitely have cultural power, but I don’t believe that they have power in an of themselves.

Rather than jumping all over how bad it is, I think it is more useful to decide WHAT luck is. For a lot of people, luck is rather like “The Force,” a power field that permeates the universe (or perhaps like the Tao or Chi). Like the Force, it operates in duality. There is Good Luck, and there is Bad Luck. The goal is to “Attract Good Luck” and “Repel Bad Luck.” With the Force, the “Good Force” flows through a person who is dispassionate (sounds a bit sociopathinc, actually), while the “Bad Force” flows through and empowers those who yield to (or seemingly even to acknowledge) passions. Good luck versus bad luck involves at least three different strategies. One might be thought of loosely in terms of magic. If one has certain objects or symbols—- talismans attract good luck, amulets repel bad— one can control the flow of luck. The same can be in terms of following certain ritual behaviors. Another one is pretty much the same thing but put in more distinctly religious language. In this case, luck is seen more in terms of ‘blessings; and ‘curses,’ and seen as coming through spiritual intermediaries such as spirits, angels, demons, god(s), ancestors, etc. A third, could be seen as more karmic— ‘what goes around, comes around.’ This can also be seen in more religious terms or more neutrally in terms of “this is just the way the universe operates.” If we accept that luck is something that flows within the universe (NOTE: I am NOT saying that I do accept this), we need to look at it as worthy of theological reflection. All three of the strategies listed for trying to control the flow of luck, and especially the last two, very much relate to religion or theology.

However, there is a bigger question— Does luck exist? I have been classically told that luck does not exist. I have been told this in both in secular and reliigous circles. The problem is that the terms “luck” and “lucky” seem to be useful. So if one says it is an invalid concept, one must come up with a different word that applies. Suppose one is playing the game Monopoly, and one needs to get a six to pass Park Place, Luxury Tax, and Boardwalk. If one rolls a six, one will lose no money and instead collect $200. One would be said to be lucky. Some will try to avoid the term by saying that one is “fortunate.” However, fortunate is a word of Latin origin, unlike lucky which is of Germanic or Frisian origin, that essentially means the same thing. Some may believe that fortunate seems less random than lucky since it often connotes the idea that there is personification called Fortune that is smiling on one person and not on another. On the other hand, suppose one rolls a five lands on boardwalk, which your friend owns and has placed a hotel, certainly you could be said to be unlucky.

Luck can be a useful term to describe a human situation, while still rejecting it’s objective reality. Many an expert has shown that people really aren’t lucky or unlucky. Eventually, over time, everything slowly moves toward some common probability of occurrence. A fair coin will over time lead to about 50% heads and 50% tails, while a fair six-sided die will tend to get equal numbers of each side if tossed enough times. Sometimes things are weird. In 9th grade, for math class a friend mine and I flipped two coins at a time for 100 times. We ended up with exactly twice as many Tails/Tails than we got of Heads/Heads. That is a very inprobable result, so it could be described as quite lucky (or maybe unlucky). However, if we flipped coins enough times, it is likely that that ratio of 2 to 1 would lessen until pretty close to 1 to 1. This is called “regression to the mean.” So if a 3-point shooter in basketball has a ‘hot hand’ one night and hits 10 out of 12 3-point shots in a gaime, even though he normally hits about 50% of the time, over enough games it is likely that he will have some poor shooting days that gradually brings things back closer to 50%.

Some see this “Regression to the Mean” as the explanation behind luck— both good and bad. What seems like good luck is just the weird variance that occurs with a small sample of occurrences. That view is valuable to me. That doesn’t prove that luck doesn’t exist, of course. One could argue that Regression to the Mean simply suggests that over time, good luck and bad luck will even things out.

For me, however, I prefer to follow Daniel Kahnemann’s apparent view of luck. In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, he regularly notes that many things, such as successful predictions about stock market changes, upon analysis appear to be more about luck than skill. Suppose there are two groups: Group Random and Group Analysis. Group Random consists of 100 stockbrokers individually picking stocks completely randomly on one day, and selling them a specified time later. In Group Random we would expect that there is a certain average performance, but some will do better than average and some will do worse. For Group Analysis 100 different stockbrokers individually picked stocks based on their best analytical skills and then sold them at the same specified time later— the same timeframe as Group Random. We might expect them to do much better than random. However, this is not normally the case. The average skilled stockbroker is likely to do little to no better than the random one. However, in both scenarios there will be some individual stockbrokers who will do quite a bit better than the average stockbroker, and some who will do quite a bit worse than the average stockbroker. For Group Random, it is quite reasonable perhaps to say that some were lucky and others were unlucky. However, for Group Analysis, did the stockbrokers who did far better than the rest do so because of skill or luck? And the similar question could be asked of those that did far worse than the others— was this due to incompetence or bad luck? It is hard to tell. If this test was redone several times over a few years, if the same people were at the top and the same at the bottom, we may suspect skill. If the the names keep changing at the top and bottom, we may suspect it is more about luck than skill.

From this perspective, a phenomenal perspective, luck could be described in a couple of ways. One way, would be in terms of variance from the mean. That is like in Group Random, where one had the good fortune/luck to do the best (and another had the bad fortune/luck to do the worst) despite NO skill being involved. Although very similar, a slightly different way of looking at it is in terms of probability or likelihood. Suppose it is a 1 in 10 million chance that a lottery ticket is ‘a winner.’ If one has the winning ticket, one could be described as lucky. If one suffers a sad event, such as succumbing to an ailment that a majority of people recover from, one could certainly be described as unlucky.

Part II, I will look at some possible theological ramifications of this sort of understanding of luck.

Well… They Couldn’t Agree on Missions Either…

The last 60 years of Christian missions has certainly had a lot of disagreements (and yes, I know one can find conflicts much further back). Consider:

  • One finds in the late 60s conciliar missiologists claiming that proselytism is antithetical to missions, at the same time that Ralph Winter was saying that missions is evangelism only to “unreached people groups,”
  • Evangelical missiologists were arguing in the late 60s and early 70s whether missions is only “spiritual work” or holistic ministry, while others promoted an almost totally social ministry.
  • Some today believe that one should not send money for missions, while others suggest that one should ONLY send money.
  • Some believe we should promote self-theology of new churches while others believe that this will lead to syncretism and heresy.
  • Some think that literacy is key to spreading the gospel message, while others believe that hearts are often reached more effective without written text.

The list could go on. Some of these conflicts there is a clear right versus wrong (for example, Stott right and Wagner wrong, in my opinion), but in many cases it is not so clear.

That is why it is comforting to find the early church had similar disagreement about so much. This is quite true of Christian missions as well. Consider the conflicts that Paul had in terms of Missions.

#1. Paul and Barnabas. As we know, the two stopped working together due to John Mark. Well… it wasn’t really John Mark. It was all about Paul and Barnabas. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark on a second missionary voyage (a second chance) while Paul didn’t. We don’t really know why Paul said No. Knowing that Barnabas had the nickname “Son of Encouragement” (his real name was Joseph) one might wonder if he really wanted to help out one who was struggling. Paul, however, seemed willing to take on a mentoring role himself, so perhaps he saw the issue of John Mark as something to do with nepotism (since Barnabas was the uncle of John Mark). We don’t really know why John Mark left the first voyage. We might assume a lot of things but we just don’t know. If we knew why, we may be more likely to side with Paul in this, or Barnabas.

We also don’t really know if one should see this as a missiological conflict or simply a conflict of personalities. Barnabas mentored Paul and trained him in missions. Perhaps now Paul wanted to flex his wings and fly on his own, and John Mark was the excuse. Maybe going separate ways was the best thing to happen. John Mark appears to have had an illustrious career, thanks the work of Barnabas. And Paul did not do so bad either. Their may not be a clear missiological conflict here, but that can be true in missions today as well. Personalities often are the underlying cause of conflicts.

#2. Paul and Peter. We know the story. Paul was in Antioch, and Peter was visiting. Antioch was a multicultural church— Jews and Gentiles. They were all fellowshiping together. But a delegation of Christians from Jerusalem, a decidedly monocultural church— few if any Gentiles— visited. When this happened, Peter went with the Jerusalem group. Barnabas, who had deep roots in the Jerusalem church went with them as well. Paul, who was trying to promote unity, saw this as hypocrisy (according to his Epistle to the Galatians).

However, we never really get to hear the perspective of Peter or Barnabas. They might argue that they are practicing good missions. Paul himself said that he is a Jew to the Jews, but behaved differently for other groups. Peter and Barnabas may say that they are contextualizing their ministry to who they are working with— supporting the weaker brother. From a missiological standpoint today at least, both sides have their point.

And maybe that is the point. Sometimes there is more than one right answer. Some may argue that since we only get Paul’s side of the story and that side is canonical, that means that God agrees with Paul. Makes sense, right? Not so fast. If both sides are right but in different ways, then we need to look at how each are right. Within the context of the Epistle to the Galatians— dealing with “Judaizers” Paul was absolutely correct. However, in the second century, there was a counter move to remove Jewish influence and practices from Christianity— creating a sort of Greek or Roman monoculture in the Christian faith. If the Bible was written during this time, we may see a very different (and still inspired) version of the story told. Many of the stories in the Bible are shared without giving a clear cut moral lesson. It would be a grave mistake to think that just because a servant of God did something (such as curse a bunch of young men for calling him bald) that it is God-sanctioned and approved.

#3. Paul versus Luke. After Paul’s Third missionary voyage, he states that he wants to go to Jerusalem. He even says that the Spirit of God told him to go. However, Church leaders where Paul was serving not only said don’t go, but even told him that that the Spirit said that he should not go. As we read this, it seems to me as if the narrator inserts himself into the story a bit. Luke was a disciple of Paul, but it seems like Luke is siding with the church leaders here. Paul had in the past attempted to do ministry work in Jerusalem but to no avail. Luke does not directly say that Paul is wrong, but simply states the overwhelming opposition to his going, and then records 5 years of Paul being generally unproductive going from one jail to the next.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that Luke is right, any more than that Paul was right. We don’t know what the “path not taken” would have given. Certainly, by pretty much any standard, Paul’s ministry in Judea was not great, he did eventually interpret it as his road to Rome. And perhaps he was right. Or maybe he was wrong. Missions can also have conflict between missionary vision and the vision of supporters and locals. These happen.


Conflicts did not end in the first century. They continue throughout church history. In some cases one side is clearly wrong and the other clearly right. More commonly the issues are more nuanced. In some cases both sides can be right. God is a god of diversity.

Looking at Spiritual Abuse

Today, I gave a short lecture on Spiritual Abuse (one of my favorite topics). I was asked about other materials I have. Anyway, thought I would share the presentations I put together years ago. I am sure I need to update these… but they will do for now.

<I used to have these presentations on http://www.slideshare.net. However, Scribd bought Slideshare and changed policies there like they did with their original website. The changes on Slideshare are annoying… but worse is probably coming. They broke their promises on Scribd.com so hoping http://www.slideserve.com will not get swallowed up. Time will tell.>

#1. Characteristics and Methods:

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11233222

#2. “Bad Shepherds”

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11235566

#3. Religious Addiction

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11233250

#4. Structures of Spiritual Abuse

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11235582

#5. Where do Abusive Churches Come From?

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11235587

#6. Treatment for Spiritual Abuse

https://www.slideserve.com/embed/11235595

Does the Great Commission of John Imply We Must Do Social Ministry?

Many missionaries will say that the reason they do missions is because of the Great Commission. Personally, I would prefer to say that we do it because of the Great Commandment. To me, the Great Commission simply gives one specific example of how we carry out the Great Commandment.The Golden Rule would be another example. Much of the Sermon on the Mount is a clarification of the Great Commandment. Still, that hardly minimizes the importance of the Great Commission.

And yet, some have used the Great Commission to limit ministry. Taking Matthew 28 19-21, they suggest that Christian ministry is pretty much limited to proclamation, baptism (and presumably starting church congregations) and teaching. John Stott challenged this view by drawing attention to St. John’s shorter Great Commission in John 20:21… “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Stott noted the God the Father Sent Jesus to not only proclaim the Gospel message but to do Social ministry as well. In fact, just a few verses later, v. 30-31, John emphasizes the miraculous works of Jesus and makes it clear that this work was integral to His overall ministry of proclamation.

Many Evangelical missiologists of the late 1960s and early 1970s disagreed with Stott encouraging a more “spiritualistic” understanding of Christian missions and ministry. Personally, I think their reasoning was not based on good Biblical scholarship, but on reaction to conciliar mission trends, and the toxic nature of apocalypticism (leading to quick and sloppy ministry based on the baseless assumption that we need to try to ‘time’ Christ’s return and adjust our ministry based on our own sends of His return).

However, if the missiologists we’re practicing bad Biblical scholarship (it certainly was not the first time… nor the last) the question of Stott’s interpretation of John 20:21 is certainly open to challenge. The statement itself does not necessitate the understanding that it guides method. In fact, the passage sounds like a bit of Missio Dei theology ( The Father Sent Me. I now send you… and I am sending to you the Holy Spirit.)

I do have to agree that the passage does not necessarily imply method of ministry. However, one needs to read the statement within the story.

John told the story of the ministry of Jesus with great emphasis on the Passion week. Chapter 19 ends with Jesus dying and being buried. Chapter 20 starts with the Resurrection. John’s first recording of Jesus showing Himself to the Twelve (even though only 10 were there) has Him showing the evidence of His crucifixion, followed by the call to follow the example of Jesus. It is probably best to say that the passage is not primarily a theological statement of missions. It is also probably not primarily a statement of the methodology of missions. It probably is a statement of the extent of the calling of missions. It is a call of faithfulness to Christ to the death. This may be further supported in the next chapter where Jesus singled out Peter with letting him know that he must be faithful to his martyrdom.

But then one must still step back a bit. If John’s commission is one about faithfulness to death, clearly it aggressively calls the respondent back to the example of Christ. I don’t believe one can be true to the story as shared by John and still say that there is nothing there in terms of method. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus called the Twelve to follow Him— follow His teachings and follow His practices. Now after His death, Jesus calls them to continue their following. Any interpretation that suggests that ministry greatly diverges from the ministry pattern established by Jesus must be viewed as highly suspect.

All of that being said, in encouraging missionaries to be holistic in ministry— carrying out so-called spiritual ministry and social ministry together— I probably would not choose John 20:21.

The Great Commandment is a much better foundation for holistic ministry. I would argue that the parable of the faithful servant (Matt. 24:42ff) is also important since the context is suggestive of how the disciples should behave. They should the good holistic stewards. Mire importantly, they should not be trying to “finish the task” with trying to time Christ’s return. Rather, they should be “Faithful to the task” until death… if Christ tarries.

Good “Missional Grumpiness”?

As one who has been a missionary for closing in on 20 years, I can get grumpy on things for various reasons. For example, I feel the temptation to say, “THE JOSHUA PROJECT IS A WASTE OF TIME!!”

That may not be totally true. Focusing on people groups is not necessarily the most valuable thing today… and maybe it never was. But perhaps it inspires some churches and Christians to think more multi-culturally and and pray beyond themselves. (Or maybe it is simply a waste of time. Not sure.)

I can get grumpy in missions for a couple of reasons.

#1. I can get grumpy because I am set in my ways. I was trained in a certain way, and I practiced missions in a certain way, and I have a certain theology that I don’t want to question. So encouragement to change makes me grumpy.

#2. I can get grumpy because certain things in missions is taught as dogma (like UPGs and UUPGs) that seem to either not be true or at least isn’t helpful in may situations (or may have been useful before, but the time is passing.).

“Grumpiness” is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a SYMPTOM. But what happens when one has a symptom? A symptom is not a problem. A symptom points to a problem… or one of several problems. For example, a cough is not a problem. It is a symptom that points to one of several problems. It lets us know that there is something wrong and needs to be dealt with. Missional grumpiness is a symptom… but it can have more causes. I must take that symptom and reflect. Is there something in missions that needs to change? Is there something in me that needs to change? Either way, it points towards the need of positive change. So, I think that all grumpiness is… good— unless it is not addressed. Then it is bad.

I guess that is why I enjoyed a podcast recently, because it dealt (positively) with a lot of issues— challenging some missions dogma that truly needs to be challenged. The title of the podcast episode is ‘Glurbanization,’ Church Planting, and Why Our Definition of ‘People Group’ Is Outdated: Dr. Michael Crane. It addressed several ‘sacred cows’ in missions that I was already really conflicted about— and even brought up an issue or two that I hadn’t really thought through very much (like whether house churches are good, or bad, or ‘it depends’).

Missional and Pastoral Theologies

When I was first reading the book “Encountering Theology of Mission” by Ott and Strauss, they had given a way of looking at Missional Theology in how it is different from Theology of Mission. At the time I rejected it. But over time, I have seen value in it. Look at the figure below:

Theology can be seen, as a whole as the region within the Red Circle. Theology could be divided into four broad Categories: Biblical Historical, Systematic, and Practical. (Philosophical or Natural could provide a fifth category). Those aspects of theology that have bearing on Mission, could be considered to be Missional Theology. It could be considered what is inside the black circle. As such, it has components in all four categories of Theology. One could also consider that portion of Missional Theology that is part of Practical Theology. One could call that “Theology of Mission.” Ott and Strauss described it different, seeing Theology of Mission as the overlap between Missional Theology and Missiology. Still, since Practical Theology is that aspect of theology with direct relevance to specific ministries, it comes to almost the same thing (and maybe is exactly the same thing.

Part of the reason that I find this a good way of looking at theology as it pertains to Missions is that it works well in another practical ministry— Pastoral Care.

Following the pattern set in missions, Pastoral Theology would be that part of theology (of all categories) that is relevant to Pastoral Care. With that in mind, Practical Theology that relates to Pastoral Care would then be called Theology of Pastoral Care.

This makes sense to me. Considers the definition of Pastoral Theology used by Margaret Whipp in her book “Pastoral Theology”: “Pastoral Theology is How and Why Christians Care” (page 1). “How” is practical and so is mostly that part of Pastoral Theology that relates specifically to pastoral care as a ministry. We could call that Theology of Pastoral Care. The “Why” of Christians caring draws mostly from other aspects of theology (Biblical, Historical, and Systematic). The combination of the How and Why comes together as Pastoral Theology.

This seems to make sense to me and suspect that other practical ministries (worship, discipleship, preaching, and more) would benefit from this sort of perspective. … Or maybe not.

It is something to reflect upon at least.

Book Finished…. For Now

The book I could never finish (since 2015) is finally finished… or at least is finished until I work on it again. At least for the first time I kind of think of it as finished.

“Walking With” as Metaphor for Theology of Mission

Rev -. 2022

I have put it up on http://www.academia.edu. You can access it below.

https://www.academia.edu/81960324/Walking_With_as_Metaphor_for_Theology_of_Mission?source=swp_share

Or in Slideshare