Holding Organizations Accountable

Jackson Wu recently wrote an article— “Why I Left the SBC and IMB.” It is a very interesting read. It is well-thought out, and he focused on reasons that he had direct experience with rather than the “A friend of mine told me that…”

As a member of the SBC, I feel pushed two ways in the article.

In terms of sadness, Jackson Wu is one of my favorite theologians, and so I liked the fact that he was SB. There are not many SB theologians that I am particularly drawn to. On the other hand, his reasons for leaving I find perfectly valid, and I respect acting according to conviction.

My home sending church is SB, and one of the two churches I am a member of is SB. I teach at an SB seminary… well, sort of. Technically, I teach at a seminary tied to the Southern Baptist Churches in the Philippines, and the Southern Baptist Churches in the Philippines have relationship ties to the Southern Baptist Convention… but legally are independent. I am not IMB, but my wife and I did apply with the IMB, and if that organization had not run out of money back in 2003 (and if I was a bit less chubby), we might have been part of it… at least for awhile. I have known and worked with many IMB missionaries. In almost all cases, the IMB missionaries I knew were class acts. Most of them are no longer part of the IMB— because of refusal to sign a doctrinal statement, or because of relocation, or forced retirement. I certainly have had some concerns about the organization.

The idea of moving missionaries out of theological education really seemed inane at the time. For the IMB, I still think it was ill-advised. Positively, it did force locals to take up the slack in terms of scholarship and training. The majority of professors at the school I teach in are locals now. That is a good thing. So is the policy shift bad or good? Both. But overall, I think it was bad because it crippled one of the strengths of the IMB (training world Christian leaders) and replaced it with a task that IMB missionaries are permanently less competent at (foreign missionaries are not as good at evangelizing and churchplanting as local ministers). Why hobble your strength to empower something you will always be second best at?

In Wu’s article, the one thing he mentioned that I had not heard of, was the signing of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) of missionaries leaving a few years ago. Talking about NDAs would be a violation of the NDA, perhaps? What would I have done if I was told that my pension (which, for lack of a better word, I “earned”) was contingent on me keeping my mouth shut about things inside the organization? When I was in the Navy, I was (and still am) required to not disclose (sorry but there is no actual rule against split infinitives) things that are classified (very happy to say that I don’t have any more such classified materials in my head after 30 years). However, I don’t recall having anything like an NDA to sign… tied to GI benefits and such. I am hoping there is another side to this story with the IMB. However, as one involved in Missionary Member Care, I have seen secrecy and CYA used to protect an organization. In the end, however, it tends to perpetuate problems— especially abuse.

In the end, a missionary (and a theologian) serves the Kingdom of God. To the extent such faithful service can be honestly done, and even be enhanced, within a denomination or a mission organization, it is a good thing. To the extent that the SBC and the IMB are faithful to that calling, and don’t fall into the common traps of power, money, and status, they are a blessing.

How such organizations stay on the straight and narrow are voices, both inside and outside, who challenge and hold accountable. Sadly, such people are often seen as problems not blessings.

That is exactly why we need them.

You Can Read the Article by Clicking Here

Fun With Venn Diagrams and Context

I do like Venn Diagrams— as well as quadrants and pretty much any other diagram that presents data or sets in a way that gives clarity.

Jackson Wu had one I really liked in his article, “Why has the Church Lost “Face”? Examining Our Blindspot About Honor and Shame.” 

It is an interesting article… You can Click HERE.

Here is the Venn Diagram he used:

Jackson Wu Venn Diagram

The image blackened region 2 because that was the region he was focusing on. Instead of modifying it, I have it exactly as it was in the article. Below are the descriptions. I used some of Wu’s words, and some of my own.

Area 1 is where biblical truth overlaps with one’s theology but not the cultural context. Many of the canned evangelistic presentations fit into this area (like the Romans Road or Four Spiritual Laws). They may be Biblical Enough, and represent fairly well a (very simplified) soteriology. However, in many cultures, including fear or shame focused cultures, or cultures where hell lacks a genuine role as a motivator, the presentations really don’t hit the mark.

Area 2 is where biblical truth overlaps with the cultural context without being addressed in one’s theology. Wu mentions Hiebert’s “excluded middle.” One could add concerns about demons.

Area 3 is where one’s theology and the cultural context overlap with biblical truth, as in a high view of the family or social responsibility.

Area 4 is where elements in a theology overlap with a cultural context but not with biblical truth. Lots of these. Americanism or Prosperity Doctrine are pretty obvious. It could be argued that Gnosticism and Arianism were theologies built quite comfortably with the cultures they were in… but not with the Bible.

Area 5 is where elements in a theology overlap with neither biblical truth nor a cultural context. Wu notes Western individualism  taken to a collectivistic culture. When a missionary in Area 4 goes to an incompatible culture without contextualizing.

Area 6 is where cultural beliefs or values are inconsistent both with biblical truth and a particular theology. All cultures diverge from the Bible in some ways. So when there is no theology that connects with that aspect, one is in this area. For William Carey, he saw widow-burning and refusal to educate women as Bengla cultural behaviors that were both unbiblical and not theologically justifiable.

Advice for Undertrained Missionaries like John Chau | by Jackson Wu

Please click on the link below to Jackson Wu’s blog.    (If you don’t want to read my comments…. then click here now  Advice for undertrained missionaries like John Chau | Jackson Wu).  It has a great article on the recent situation regarding John Chau, and his ill-fated contact with the North Sentinalese. Actually, it is the second of two articles he wrote on the subject. The first one points out that fallacy that many have that since the plan didn’t work, it was a bad idea. It also points out that passion is very different than competence. Bad ideas work… sometimes. and likewise good ideas can fail.

I would also argue that people’s initial “kneejerk” responses to situations like this are often wrong. Some label Chau a great martyr. I am not sure of this. The church in the early centuries modified its standards for the title “martyr” to require more than simply dying for one’s faith. One also had to be an example to others. This was because some in the early church would intentionally go into harm’s way and do something that could be anticipated to lead to death. But the Church Fathers felt that being a good example to the church was also needed to be considered a martyr. Therefore, a martyr avoided high risk confrontation, but when captured would be faithful unto death. On the other side, some consider Chau a fool. These people appear to be expressing a bit of snarky schadenfreude. Arguably most all of us are fools in one way or another. The fact that his actions happened to lead to his early death hardly makes him a greater fool than the rest of us.

Anyway here is the article  via Advice for undertrained missionaries like John Chau | Jackson Wu

A Leading Cause of Atheism? Not Allowing Dialogue and Disagreements | Jackson Wu

Please click on the link at the bottom of this post for an article from Jackson Wu that then links to the related article in Relevant Magazine. It is an interesting case study of a Christian who gradually moved to atheism. The seeming cause was a lack of openness in his church to dialogue and range of thought.

You can decide for yourself. But as for me, I think it is on the mark. A lack of dialogue, and the lack of freedom to disagree leads to FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). I will leave uncertainty and doubt to Wu’s posting, but let me give an example of fear.

Fear.  Consider this story– Years ago I was leading a Bible study, and some of the members wanted to study the Book of Revelation. Sure. Why not. But one of the members was very nervous about it. I asked him why. He stated that there were so many different viewpoints out there that he was worried about the group breaking down into a big fight. He was also afraid that the group may push only one orthodox view. (More recently I was in a group discussing prophecy and when I expressed my doubt, not rejection, of the future narrative provided in the materials, I was offered yet more materials to “help me.”) Anyway, I told my friend that when we go through Revelation, we will focus on what we can say with confidence (it is a book of comfort, hope, and warnings after all) and then give freedom  for diverse opinions on the rest. It was good I did this. One family, who were American missions who serve in Africa expressed belief in the interpretation of a Kenyan Theologian regarding Revelation that is rather allegorical and places the United States as the Antichrist. I was wondering at the time whether I had made a mistake in establishing such a “freedom of thought” zone. Looking back, I was glad I did. And surprisingly, although I still do not think that Kenyan Theologian is correct, I do rather see the interpretation as probably being stronger than the “Left Behind” narrative.

Being in a church environment where a forced orthodoxy does not allow for honest questions and disagreements creates an atmosphere of fear. That certainly does not aid faith.

via A Leading Cause of Atheism? Not Allowing Dialogue and Disagreements | Jackson Wu

Essential Contextualization

Paul Hiebert in his article “Critical Contextualization” describes three types of contextualization:  Non-contextualization, Uncritical Contextualization, and Critical Contextualization.

20a. Critical Contextualization
Critical Contextualization Model (Hiebert)

One can, however, say more. As Jackson Wu states in his book One Gospel for all Nations, “Contextualization is inevitable.” That is, in effect, non-contextualization is still contextualization, just done very poorly.

“David Sills drives home the point clearly when he says, ‘If one does not contextualize, he is doing just that– changing the gospel. He becomes a modern-day Judaizer. He is in effect telling his hearers that they must become like him to be saved.’ I venture to say few missionaries would do this intentionally. However, the implicit message is heard clearly.” (pg. 10)

Dean Fleming highlights a second danger– syncretism. Syncretism emerges whenever the biblical message is made to harmonize so closely with a given culture (or subculture) that the biblical truth is compromised. Syncretistic theology and practices reflect the culture more so than the biblical text. His comments remain among the most important I’ve read on this topic.

‘But could it be that refusing to contextualize the gospel poses an even greater risk of syncretism? Consider the situation today– not unlike that of Colossians– when the gospel meets worldviews that are burdened with fear of unseen powers thought to control practical realities such as crops, health, and family relations. In many cases, the Christian message that has been imported to these contexts from the West has failed to address such issues. As a result, people can easily assume that Jesus is powerless to overcome the forces that influence their daily lives. Like the Colossian syncretists, converts may look for supplements– shamans, amulets, rituals, or occult practices– to protect them from hostile spirits. Ironically, a gospel that neglects such worldview issues may unwittingly end up promoting syncretism instead of preventing it. ‘ (pg 10-11)

So two things one could add to Paul Hiebert’s model:

  1.  Non-contextualization can lead to syncretism, just as over-contextualization. Paul Hiebert’s further teaching on “The Excluded Middle” (as essentially described above by Fleming in terms of the Colossian syncretists) could be in itself seen as Syncretism– a formal high-end (veneer) theology on top of local practices.
  2. The three categories of contextualization arguably are three categories of interpretation, communication, and application of the gospel. That is, non-contextualization is actually a bit of a misnomer. Non-contextualization is very much a form of contextualization. In saying this, it is more than simply saying that an absence of something is still something (like the absence of color, black, is still a color). Rather, when one is not contextualizing the gospel to the recipient culture, one is contextualizing it to another culture.

But I might add that non-contextualization can have results that are non-intutitive. In the Philippines, Christianity has been normally presented in one of two contexts:  Spanish or American. The implicit message is that one or more of these two constitutes where Christianity is properly situated. In so doing, the Philippines is a good place for Christianity as long as Christians there embrace a Spanish or American form. Some Korean missionaries in recent years have done a similar thing but from their own perspective. An interesting twist on that, however, is the growth of “Jewish Culture” Christianity here: Jewish diet, Jewish holidays, learning and idealizing Jewish words and concepts, in some of the church movements in the Philippines.

On a certain level, this reaction makes sense. If Christians here were taught (commonly unintentionally) that a foreign culture is more ideally Christian than Filipino culture, then it is hardly surprising if many Filipinos ask the logical question:

Which is the ideal culture for Christianity–

Ancient Jewish (or 1st century Greek)


American (or Spanish)?

The correct answer is actually that the best cultural soil for Christianity in the Philippines is Filipino. But if local Christians haven’t been helped to understand this, it is hardly surprising if they don’t recognize this.


Contextualization Presentation of the Gospel

<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/WernerMischke/contextualizing-the-gospel&#8221; title=”Contextualizing the gospel” target=”_blank”>Contextualizing the gospel</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/WernerMischke&#8221; target=”_blank”>Werner Mischke</a></strong> </div>

Great presentation on Contextualization of the Gospel.

Related Sites:

Jackson Wu Blog

Werner Mischke Blog