If It’s Broke, Fix It!!

You know the quote… “It it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Although the equivalent is the contraposive (“If you must fix it, it’s broke”), the inverse is important as well. “IF IT’S BROKE, FIX IT!”

I believe that there is an aspect of Christianity that is definitely broke, but it is not its essence. The essence is solid… even divine.  I am reminded of the quote by G. K. Chesterton:

“Christianity has not been tried and

found wanting; it has been found

difficult and not tried.”

G. K. Chesterton, Christian Apologist

Chesterton points out the key point. There is a marked difference between Christianity in its ESSENCE and Christianity in its APPLICATION.

Part of the problem is that Christianity is difficult. Christianity seeks, as its goal, Christ-likeness. Anyone who studied Jesus as He is portrayed in Scripture would see that this is a monumentally difficult thing. Many would argue that short of the work of the Holy Spirit, the quest is hopeless.

The answer over the centuries to work around this has been commonly to produce a Quasi-Christianity. This is done in at least one of three ways (there are, of course, more):

A.  Lower Christ.  This can be done through taking one aspect of Jesus and defining the standard by this lessened Christ.

-Jesus is (only) a teacher

-Jesus is (only) a good person

-Jesus is (only) the sacrificial lamb/ source of forgiveness

-Jesus is (only) a prophet

-Jesus is (only) a transcendent being

-Jesus is (only) a mystic

B.  Replace Christ with an Abstraction. This is similar to the first. Here, Jesus ceases to be a person, but becomes a symbol of a abstract trait.

-We are Christlike if we are loving (regardless of truth, morality, and justice)

-We are Christlike when we adhere to propositional truth (regardless of the rest)

-We are Christlike when we seek moral purity (regardless of the rest)

-We are Christlike when we seek justice (regardless of the rest)

C.  We replace Christ as our standard with something or someone else. These could be:

-Christians seek to achieve virtues of surrounding society

-Christians seek to achieve virtues/standards of church/denomination

-Christians seek to model of saints or spiritual heroes

I think most of us would agree that none of these other standards work very well. We must seek Christ as our standard… as He is, not as we make Him. Much of the world sees Christianity as broke (at least in its application). It’s not surprising that people can’t see the essence if the application is so flawed. Therefore, if it is broke… FIX IT!!

(Protestant) Missions by the Century

16th Century

Adoniram Judson, detail from an engraving by A...
Adoniram Judson, detail from an engraving by Alfred Jones after a painting by Chester Harding, 1846 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Almost none
  • Leading Sending Nation:  None
  • Primary Concepts?    State Protestant Denominations. Theological development. Political/Religious survival

17th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Limited
  • Leading Sending Nation:   Netherlands
  • Primary Concepts?   Local missions. Migration. Bivocational missions

18th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?  Yes.
  • Leading Sending Nation?  German states
  • Primary Concept?  “Tentmaking missions”

19th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?   Yes.
  • Leading Sending Nation?  Great Britain
  • Primary Concept?   Mission societies. Coastal and colonial missions

20th Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions? Yes
  • Leading Sending Nation?  United States
  • Primary Concepts?  Faith-based Missions. Missions conferences. UPGs

21st Century

  • Cross-cultural Missions?  Yes
  • Leading Sending Nation?    To Be Determined. NSCs (“New Sending Countries”)
  • Primary Concepts?    To Be Determined. See below.

The 21st century is new. It is not certain what will happen. It would be unwise to assume that the 21st century will simply be an extension of the 20th… any more than that one should assume that previous centuries simply extended from the previous.  We need to be part of the old (our faith, our Christian and Missiological history), but also part of that which is new and innovative. I am hoping for certain trends to typify the 21st century missions. These include (but are no way limited to):

  • -Continuation of the trend towards missionaries coming from all nations (not just “the West”)
  • -Growth of Wholistic missions
  • Focus on GUCs (Great Urban Centers)
  • -Expansion of the Missional Church movement and vision

But who knows. We with God (or God with us) create the future of missions. 

The “Toolbox” and “Bigger Hammer” Theories

Suppose you wanted to build a house. You were given all of the raw materials, but (for some reason) you were only able to use one tool. Which tool would you choose? You could choose a saw. It is good to have things cut properly to size. Perhaps you could use the handle like a hammer and the blade as a screwdriver. Of course you could use a hammer. A hammer is great with nails and you can use the claw feature for screws. And with enough work and determination you can break apart 2×4 lumber to size (approximately).

Limiting oneself to using one tool could be called “THE BIGGER HAMMER THEORY,” based on a friend of mine that liked the quote, “Any problem can be solved with a bigger hammer.”

The bigger hammer theory works up to a point. One can build a house only using a hammer (perhaps) but the amount of time and effort would be huge and the results unsatisfying.

An answer to this could be called “THE TOOLBOX THEORY.” It simply suggests that certain tools work better for different tasks and situations. Using “the right tool for the right job” will normally be easier and give better results.

These two theories apply to other things beyond building a house. Consider psychotherapy. One person may follow a psychodynamic model (such as Freudian or Adlerian). Another may follow a Behaviorist, Rogerian, Gestalt, or others model. Each model has its own methods, and goals. Following one of these methods strictly is the “bigger hammer” approach. However, in recent years there has been a greater appreciation of eclecticism. That is, the therapist uses different methods from different models. Some even go further and are eclectic in underlying model as well.

Evangelism is another area to consider. Some people memorize the Roman’s Road, or the Wordless book, or the Bridge Illustration or the Gospel Hand. Some do evangelism magic or chalk art. Others focus on mass media or friendship evangelism. Are these useful? In my mind, it is like asking whether a screwdriver is useful or a cordless drill. The answer is that these methods can be useful with the right training in the right circumstances. An effective evangelist adjusts the method to the audience and situation.

What are some of the problems with “THE BIGGER HAMMER” approach to evangelism?

  1. More work. Consider those methods that focus on freedom from the punishment of hell. A recent study suggested that 97% of Americans (for example) do not have a fear of hell. Some don’t because they believe they are saved from hell already. Some don’t fear hell because they don’t believe in it. Some are open to its existence but don’t find it emotionally relevant. Since these methods commonly focus on a cognitive and emotional event typically linked to what is often called the “Sinner’s Prayer,” these methods must involve extra time trying to remove the security of their salvation. Or extra work must be spent on convincing them hell exists. Or effort is expended to make them care about hell.
  2. Adverse/low quality results. Since the goal is conversion, not insecurity or fear in hell, the result may be off target and may even produce an adverse result. One may leave a person who is already a believer in a state of unreal insecurity. Or the person may still reject God but now also believes that God is sadistic.

A Suggested Evangelist’s Toolbox

  1. Classic evangelistic methods. These can still be useful, particularly for unbelievers who were raised with a Christian worldview. It may also be useful for immature believers who are shaky in their faith.
  2. Methods designed for people of other worldviews. The Camel method is one of many used reaching out to Muslims. It is good for those Muslims who are neither too scholarly nor too secular. Other methods may work better for Muslims not in this category. Brian McLaren has a recommended model for reaching out to American post-modern methods. Other methods exist for other groups. Paul shared the Gospel to Athenian philosophers using a method tailored to them.
  3. Proclamation. Peter preached in Acts 2 and thousands responded. In group settings, proclamation based on Christ and Scripture can be valuable.
  4. Testimony. Every Christian should be able to coherently (and accurately) describe what God has done, and is doing, in his or her life. The story does not have to be exciting. The truth is definitely exciting enough.
  5. Apologetics. There are times when one must argue/defend/persuade. Some others like to argue and it is good to be able to express one’s faith in a way that can stand up to the scrutiny of others. It is difficult to convince the one you are arguing with that you are right (how do you convince a salesman that the car he is selling is no good?). However, it may be a help for others that are around. However, Peter’s call in I Peter 3:15 regarding gentleness in explaining our faith is important.
  6. Dialogue. Discussing beliefs can be very useful, even if it does not have the clear goal of conversion. Dialogue can lead to greater understanding and can break down barriers. These all are important in evangelism.
  7. Lifestyle. Lifestyle/actions are often more important than the words we say.
  8. Closeness to God. We are told in the Bible that the Holy Spirit can tell us where to be and what to say… but we have to be listening. And since much of what God tells us is from the Holy Bible, it is important that we know it well. Spiritual maturity is not a requirement in evangelism (young Christians are often very effective) but older Christians that do not evidence maturity will be ineffective.
  9. Friendship. Unfriendly evangelists often do more harm than good. Conversion often follows friendship.  But friendship that is fake (be a friend to get a conversion… rejecting them if they reject God) lacks integrity and lack of integrity is also destructive.
  10. Love. Love that flows from God and through us to others has impact that goes beyond all of the others combined. Love also means acceptance of who they are (as God’s special creation) and treating them with respect. While some of the other items in this list can be used or put aside as needed, love is different. Love is like work gloves or safety glasses. It should always be worn.

Missions and the Resurrection of Christ Part I

Is the resurrection of Christ important in Christian missions? Is it relevant? Is it a worthy point to study, teach, and support? I believe so. I believe it is foundational to our hope and our message.

  • It Verifies God’s power. If God could raise Jesus, he could raise us. If He could not raise Jesus, how do we know that He can raise us?
  • It Verifies Christ’s words. Christ’s words were thought of as blasphemous by religious leaders of the time. If Jesus was a false prophet, then his being tortured and killed in an ignominious manner would not only seem appropriate to some… but even divinely appointed. If Jesus was resurrected from the dead, it would appear to be the stamp of approval from God. Only God could raise Jesus from the dead, and presumably God would not resurrect a blasphemer and false prophet. If you think about it, there aren’t a whole lot of ways God can unambiguously demonstrate his approval of a prophet. However, if God raised Jesus from the dead, it seems pretty clear that God has decided to make Him the standard by which truth is set against.
  • It verifies the Bible. If Jesus is the reliable prophet of God, His recognition of the Hebrew Scriptures as divinely inspired is important. His words are important, and the words of those He personally taught are also important. This gives the Holy Bible a status by which other words are judged against.

Do we know Jesus rose from the dead? Mohammed said he didn’t (although his words are open to interpretation in this manner). Some Jewish leaders at the time said he didn’t. Some theologians in Christian seminaries today say he didn’t. Many rationalists say he couldn’t. Why do some of us believe God raised Jesus from the dead? After all, we weren’t there.

  • The Bible teaches it. This is a good reason. For 2000 years, people have found the Holy Bible to be a (or the) reliable source of knowledge and inspiration. The Bible makes it extremely clear that Jesus died, was buried, and rose again on the 3rd day, and then ascended to heaven. The Bible describes real events and real places. I had a chance to go to Jerusalem. I stood on the Mount of Olives and looked down at Jerusalem. I got to go through what is traditionally thought of as the Garden of Gethsemene. It even has olive trees growing in it hundreds of years old, the oldest thought to go back, perhaps, to the time of Christ. I had a chance to go within the walls of the old city of Jerusalem and walk down the Via Delarosa the path Jesus was believed to take to the Cross. I had the chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This place was determined by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century to be the empty tomb that had housed Jesus body.
  • The death of Jesus and his time after the resurrection were public events. Hundreds of people saw Jesus die. These include many of the disciples of Jesus, his enemies, Roman soldiers (experts on death), and political leaders. He was savagely tortured in private and in public. He walked through the city for all to see slowly bleeding to death. The soldiers nailed Him to a cross on top of a hill as a public example. They drove a spear into his heart at the same public event while still daylight. The man who drove this spear into his heart was an expert in the art of death. Years later, the enemies of Christ never tried to pretend that Jesus hadn’t died… it was too public. They also did not pretend that Jesus’ body was still in the grave. This too was public knowledge. Rather, they suggested the followers of Jesus must have stolen the body. Likewise, Jesus was seen publically after his death. Paul says that over 500 people had seen Jesus risen from the dead in one event alone. He said that if you wanted to be sure, you could ask some of them since many of the witnesses were still alive. He was seen by many that knew him well. They did not simply see him. They talked to him, touched him. Ate with him. They saw him rise to heaven.
  • The disciples were absolutely convinced of the resurrection of Jesus, and this radically changed their lives. Some say that the disciples could have faked the stories. But why? The disciples of Jesus, ran away into the night when Jesus was arrested. But after the death and burial of Jesus, one should expect that they would kick themselves for being tricked by a false prophet. They waited around, at least 120 of them, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit. When He came upon them. They ran into the streets boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. They stood before religious enemies, kings, emperors, boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Christ. They did not directly profit from the resurrection. Those who claim to rise from the dead today, get speaking engagements, get to travel the world, get to write books. The apostles of Jesus got attacked, forced into hiding, and jailed. As far as we know, all of the apostles except for John were killed for their faith. Even John spent years in prison. Yet they suffered all things for their Savior. They were absolutely convinced of the resurrection of Jesus and this radically changed their lives. For these men to be absolutely convinced, it would take absolutely convincing evidence. They did not pretend, they did not trick… they went to their deaths joyfully proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus.
  • The resurrection was the focus of the early church. Some say that resurrection was added later by the church. Yet the resurrection was the central theme of the early church. In recent centuries, both Catholic and Protestant churches tended to focus on the death (or passion) of Jesus, but the early church focused on the resurrection.


Missions and Government

We have certainly seen the challenges of having too close of a friendship between Church and Civil Government. In the US, it shows itself in strange ways:

-Tax-exempt status for religious organizations (including churches) is related to not taking sides in elections. It seems strange that churches think it is acceptable to disconnect themselves from such a major part of life. On the other hand, churches in the Philippines are allowed promote candidates and often perpetuate the naive belief that electing people of a somewhat similar theology means electing a good leader (I think we have more than ample evidence to the contrary).

-Marriage. It has been the error of American churches to connect the Christian rite of marriage with the legal status also called marriage set up by civil government. In the redefinitions of marriage and divorce in US civil code, much of the tension that is occurring seems to flow from the idea that if the US government accepts a new definition for marriage, the church must (again naively) adapt itself to it. Now in the Philippines, this feeling is not as strong. Because of the unusual laws the Philippines has in some aspects, many churches make allowances that deviate from civil society.

-Some groups try to solve this by developing a concept of separation of church and state. In practice, this appears often to mean the “marriage” of secularism (an unorganized “faith” with many characteristics of a religion) with state. There is a question whether one can truly “divorce” civil government from religion. Maybe such attempts simply create a new state religion.

One could go on and on, but why?  This is about Missions and Government. The relationship has long been a challenge. At times, such as in the time of William Carey, government opposed missions because it might “make the natives restless”. At other other extreme (such as in Spanish colonization) there was often a “cross and sword” form of missions.

Today, many of the challenges still remain, although in few cases (outside of perhaps some officially Islamic countries) does government actively support missions of any faith. The challenges remain.

1.  In some nations, missions is illegal. In a few, even being a national Christian is illegal. Yet in these nations, Christian missions exist, Christian missionaries work undercover… illegally. Nationals are led to Christ and discipled… illegally. Historically, some countries would not allow the Holy Bible to be printed or brought into the country. Many countries still provide great hindrances to this. Christians would take on the role of smuggler. Are Christian missionaries justified to break civil law?

2.  In pretty much all countries where Christian missions is allowed, rules are set up to limit or guide missions work. This includes missionary visas, and rules regarding reporting and conduct of non-government organizations and churches. Violation of these rules can result in pulling of visas and licenses. Some missionaries believe that anything the promotes their short-term agenda is good even if it results in government repercussions. Others work very closely with the government even when it means hugely limiting their work.

What is the answer? I don’t know. I believe in testing the extremes.

Extreme #1. The government is rejected as a source of guideline and constraint for Christian missions. This appears to be be wrong. First, the Bible shows missions commonly occurring with some concern about government rules. God’s rules are given preeminence, but not to the negation of government authority. One can look at Jesus’ acceptance of civil authority (with some strong caveats) as well as that of Paul (including, of course, Romans 13). Second, whether one likes it or not, civil government is able to enforce some level of constraint whether one rejects these constraints or not.

Extreme #2.  The government has full authority. The church and Christian missionaries can only act on their God-given mission only to the extent that civil government graciously grants such permission. This appears to absolutize Romans 13 to the extent that a hierarchy of power is provided with no divine check or balance. However, one role of religious institutions and people in the Bible is prophetic reform. That is, to be the voice, hands, and feet of God in opposing evil and promoting good. The government’s right to crush this role must be opposed. This is even more true if the government is the source of that evil.

If the extremes are flawed, the truth should be somewhere between these points. Just as there is no solid systematic theological foundation for missions, there appears to be inadequate theological structure for the relation between the institutions of the church and civil government. (In truth, we are not alone. Speaking with some Muslims, it is clear that many or most of their understanding of this relationship is simplistic and inconsistent as well. Perhaps even more so.)

But we need to get a better grasp on this issue to effectively be light and salt in this world.

Christianity as a Subversive Entity

What role should Christianity have in the world today. Based on the title, obviously, I think the Christianity should, in part, have a strong subversive element.  Consider some options.

1.  Kingdom on Earth. Christendom. Europe and much of the Americas (obviously some other places as well) have had a history of Christianity being the dominant religion. There have been good things. A large percentage of what could be looked at technologically and sociologically as “progress” has come from these regions. However, where Christianity has become a dominant religion, people have chosen to take on the designation of Christian without actually seeking to take on the burden and calling of Christ. This problem was first witnessed back to the time of Emperor Constantine. The result is “Christians Behaving Badly.” Often we see it in moral failure, as well as abuse or disenfranchisement of minorities.

Not that Christianity is alone in this… the news in the last few weeks has been full of “Muslims Behaving Badly” in places where they have political superiority.  But Christians should never be comfortable with the knowledge that other groups are just as bad as us. If we have a higher truth and a higher example, being no worse than another group means we fail that much more.

2.  Kingdom in Heaven. Separation. Many groups deal with the world in an escapist form. Jim Jones and the People’s Temple, regardless of whether one should consider them a Christian group, are an example of this as they moved from San Francisco to Guyana and later killed themselves. Fundamentalist set up barriers to the mainstream faith around them.  Many churches in religiously hostile environments turn in on themselves. They set up walls literal and figurative to protect themselves from those on the outside. Sometimes this hostile environment is non-Christian religion, or ti can be the dominant Christian expression within the culture.  Harmavoidance certainly has its place, but that is not the center of our calling.

3.  Kingdom of God. The term Kingdom of God, to me at least, forces me back to Jesus, as He spoke much of the Kingdom of God (or Kingdom of Heaven… not Kingdom in Heaven). Among the descriptions of the Kingdom of God is of yeast or a small seed. The Kingdom of God is here now, but it coexists with a hostile kingdom. We as Christians are part of one Kingdom while living in another, and are like yeast or a small seed that seems insignificant but should gradually grow and transform the environment around.

Going back to Lamin Sanneh (Yeah, I’m quoting him a lot lately)… he describes three general Christian responses to culture.

A.  Quarantine.  Maintain purity and high ethical standards isolated from the world around.

B.  Accomodation. Compromise of faith standards… showing modest intermittent  religious behavior.

C.  Prophetic Reform. Act as a small vocal call to truth and change in a hostile environment.

Obviously, these two lists line up.

-Kingdom on earth… Christendom leads to Accommodation. Christianity becomes a pale influence because the regional culture is deemed “Christian.”

-Kingdom in heaven… This leads to Quarantine. If we don’t really belong here… we seek to separate ourselves from the culture around us.

-Kingdom of God…. This leads to Prophetic Reform. If the Kingdom of God is not a place but a rulership by God… we become subversive agents within the culture around us. This subversive calling is with us regardless of the culture we are in… regardless of whether the culture is viewed as “Christian”, “Secular”, “Muslim”, “Buddhist” or any other label.

Christians should never be too comfortable with the culture they are in… nor comfortable with rejecting or damning that culture. Christians are at their best when they are neither ruling nor cowering. Christians are at their best as Elijahs, Josephs, Mordecais, Peters, and Pauls. Or to be more to the point, Christians are at their best when they are little Christs.

Who is Called for Missions?

john_eyres_4_15_2013_why_is_cold_calling_so_hardWe hear the term “Calling” a lot in Evangelical churches.

> God’s call to the ministry
> God’s call to “full-time professional Christian service”
> God’s call to “bi-vocational wholistic mission service”

I think it has had a very negative effect on Christian ministry. Here are some problems:

A. It is a great excuse NOT to minister. “I would love to serve God in ministry… BUT… I haven’t been called.” It’s an excuse that cannot be analyzed or challenged.

B. It is highly subjective. The Bible talks about calling in very concrete terms at times (eg. Moses and the burning bush). But today, despite words like “God spoke to me and said…”, people generally say they are “called” if they feel a strong emotional pull to do something.

C. It is used to justify bad decisions. Someone is completely unsuited for a task but keeps trudging along because he believes to change profession is to reject God’s calling.

D. Calling tends to be confused with profession. Now we don’t just get called to serve. We are called to a “bivocational youth pastorate in a cross-cultural context”, or a “professional minister of music in New York”, or a “Barefooting, tent-making, ESL Missionary in Peru”.

E. Worst of all, it is used to divide and deny. Many seminaries will not train people who will not describe some mediocre set of experiences that they describe as their “calling”. Mission boards and pastoral search committees will reject people who can’t describe something akin to a “call”.

It is an unconscionable thing that a concept that is supposed to enhance one’s ministry has become a tool to keep people unused and ignorant.

Many people look to the calling of Paul as a guide for how we are to look at God’s calling. It was real… it could happen again, but it is no sense normative. Paul’s conversion and calling was so dramatic because he would have listened to God no other way. We should not seek to live in such opposition to God’s will that we could only respond by such drama. The vast majority of passages in the New Testament on “calling” refers to the call to salvation, open to all. The few verses that do indeed refer to a call to ministry, have had a lot of strange theological baggage tied to them. So…

-I don’t see calling as (necessarily being) miraculous.
-I don’t see calling as a unique aspect of the clergy.
-I don’t see calling as a test of service.

I see calling as a path, and a relationship. When Jesus spoke to Peter, Andrew, and others on the Sea of Galilee, he did not say, “I am calling you to a job as a professional apostle.” Rather, he said “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is like Jesus was saying,

“Be with me. If I go here, you go here. If I go there, you go there. Wherever you are will be home because that is where I am. Do what I am doing, where I am doing it, and it is enough.”