The Boundaries of Missiology

I periodically supervise seminarians in theses or dissertations. Usually, their papers are in missions (although sometimes I oversee other types of papers). A couple of the papers I oversaw in missions pushed the limits of what is considered to be missiological at our seminary. One had to do with process of contextualization of preaching for surrounding villages in a certain country. Since the researcher is from a similar culture, it could be considered not to be missions. Another was researching contextualization of training for a sub-cultural group of a larger culture that is on the other side of a national boundary. A third was researching the value of and understanding of “missional church” principles to church growth in a specific region in Asia. pushing-the-wall2

This third paper was the most difficult to get approved. This is because it is not, strictly speaking, cross-cultural, and the ‘missional church movement’ is sometimes seen as a competitor to missions rather than an ally (and therefore, not missiological). In defending the paper, I noted that my dissertation was on the use of medical missions in a region of the Philippines. It could be argued that it also is not “missions” because of its characteristics of being short-term (for those that see missions as long-term), social (for those who see missions as evangelism and churchplanting), and sometimes same culture (for those who see missions as strictly cross-cultural). My colleague stated that missiology has changed over the years so maybe my paper would not today have been accepted as being a missions dissertation.

That got me thinking a lot about what the boundaries or definitions for missions and missiology should be. My most recent one on this topic is HERE.

However, I struggle in this area. I prefer a broad definition for missions. On the other hand, if one makes it too broad, then everything in ministry becomes missions. I am not sure that all ministry topics should be “gobbled-up” by Missions. But there are certain functions and topics that seem to lap over the more narrow definitions for Missions. A lot of missions strategies function both cross-culturally and same-culturally. Should these strategies be researched by two separate groups of people due to a fairly arbitrary dividing point? Not sure.

But I am pretty sure of a couple of things.

  1.  If Missiology has changed over time to accept certain things as fitting into its realm and excluding other things, those changes have come due to the academic freedom to evaluate and change. In other words, if the changes are good, then the flexibility for those changes to occur is also good. Therefore, having research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed.
  2. If the definitions for Missions and Missiology are “Perfect” today (if perfection can be identified), they will cease to be perfect as contexts change over the next few years. Therefore, again, research that pushes the boundaries of Missions should be welcomed, to anticipate and respond to these changes.

I don’t know, however, how much push is good and how much is bad. Good creativity comes in part from having good boundaries. But every now and then, the boundaries have to be tested, and moved.

 

End of the Year Thoughts

2013 has come to an end. I am just going to throw out some fairly random items to close out the year.

Maligayang pasko!
Maligayang pasko! (Photo credit: gwen)

I.  The following shows the top posts over 2013. I am not sure what to make of them. “St. Boniface and the Peregrini” seemed to be caught up in some search engines for those who had interest in the term “peregrini” disconnected from its Celtic missions roots. “Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”?” seems to be because it became a popular tie in to a huge number of spam messages. Why? Don’t know. “Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon” get’s triggered every holiday season since it is Tagalog for “Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year.” I am sad that “Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order)” has gotten so many hits. Unfortunately, there seems to be a morbid fascination in Evangelical (or at least Apostolic) Christianity for doomsday prophets. For outsiders, it is fun to point fingers at others and say “See… that’s what you get when you mess with God!” It lures people into trying to link bad news to divine judgment and the end of the world. I still believe that Jesus call to be faithful to the end rather than trying to time God’s coming is the best advice. I wrote a joyous post on God’s protection of islanders in the face of almost certain devastation… got very few hits. Sad.

St. Boniface and the Peregrini (Part 2) 320
Presentation. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership (book summary) 185
About Me 179
Cleansing the Church’s “Court of the Gentiles”? 177
Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part IV 177
Medical Mission Events in the Philippines, Part I 169
Fallacies and Questions Surrounding Redemptive Analogy 142
From Power Encounter to Love Encounter 123
Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon 116
Prophecies and Typhoons and Plagues (in no particular order), Part I 105
Quotes from George C. Hunter III on Evangelism and Church Growth 84
Church on a Mission (Two Quotes from David Bosch) 78

2.  It is likely that before year’s end, this blog will reach 20,000 hits. That may not be that impressive for some, but as someone who makes no real attempt to optimize SEO, and one who doesn’t make much of an attempt, normally, to be topical, it kind of feels good. However, it is still true that I write more for my own benefit. It helps me clarify my thoughts. I think better through the keyboard than through the weird meanderings of my mind and voice. If someone benefits from it other than myself, that is great. If not… well, I hope none are the worse for the experience.

3.  I feel like it is time to move to the next step of sorts. I have been asked to write an introductory book of missions. I suppose that it is time to do it. The Philippines doesn’t have that much on Missions that is locally produced. We tend to recopy what others have done elsewhere. I believe that a Missiology built on local church foundation rather than an international or ethnological foundation, would be more functional (and perhaps even more “accurate”) for Filipinos. Philippines is growing as a mission sending nation but is limited somewhat by external models of mission on one side, and post-colonial/missions attitude in churches on the other side. I am not at all sure that I can fix that. If I can help add to the early stages of dialogue, it would be an effort well invested.

4. I pray that Christians worldwide would embrace Interdependency rather than dependency or independence. That they would see wielding love as more Christlike than wielding power. That they would not fear doubt but grow in faith through doubt. That they would see right doctrine, right ethics, and the fruit of the spirit (Mind, Body, Spirit) as different facets of the same jewel that is a godly life.

Maligayang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Theme “Walking With”: a Missions Theology. Part 1

This is not fully thought out. I am thinking this through as I write. I feel that “Walking With” is a phrase that may serve as a unifying theme for a Missions Theology.

The expression “Walking With” has a number of implications:

1.  Relationship. “Walking With” implies some form of mutual relationship. A stalker may share a common path with the stalkee, same as two strangers may coincidentally and temporarily share a common path. Neither would be said to be walking with. Walking with implies some form of relationship. It may be a leader walking with a follower. It may be two companions.

2.  Agreement. As Amos 3:3 notes… two cannot walk together unless they agree. The relationship is by mutual agreement.

3.  Movement/Process: Walking implies not so much a state of being, as much as a process. Life and faith and mission are not so much a place or destination… but a path that they share and develop with.

4.  Direction:  Walking has direction… a path that one goes on. It could be a trail newly blazed, it may be a well-worn path… but it goes somewhere.

5.  Commonality of Place and Time. Walking with means that two or more share a place and time on the path. As such, the path has more than direction, but a NOW, as well as a PAST, and a FUTURE.

“Walking With” as a theological concept may be applied in several ways:

  • God walking with Man as His creation
  • Christ walking with us as His disciples
  • Us walking within the community as part of the church family
  • Us walking within the cultural context as joining in God’s mission to the world

While I am focusing on the last point… the others need to be developed as well or else Missions Theology would simply be a ghettoized system unconnected with a broader understanding of God, the Universe, and Everything. I hope to look at these four areas (at least) in the next posts.

Learning Missions and Growing

Classroom 010
Image via Wikipedia

“Passive acceptance of the teacher’s wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favor of the teacher unless s/he is a very exceptional teacher. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes one to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.”  – Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)

While I certainly disagree with Bertrand Russell on many things, this is a good quote. In missions this is very true. It is amazing at how much disagreement and questionable teaching there exists in missions education. As one starts being trained in missions, one starts out simply soaking in the wisdom of others. However, as one progresses (especially as tempered by experience) one’s attitude should change to being more critical. I have come to greatly respect some missiologists, while have high doubt of some others… including some of the top missiologists within the Evangelical tradition. Does that mean that I am right and they are wrong? Of course not. In fact, I may find myself reversing myself later.

The point is not to always be right… but always seeking what is right… or at least the best among ambivalent options.

I guess, if I write down the missiologists (or ministry leaders/church leaders/theologians that speak to missiology) that speak to me in my understanding of mission– a snapshot of the moment– I would include:

          -John R. W. Stott

          -Roland Allen  (I used to feel otherwise… I changed my mind)

          -St. Barnabbas (the Barnabbas from the Bible)

          –David Bosch

          -Paul Hiebert

          -Glenn Schwartz

          -Reggie MacNeil

          -Bryant Myers

         -Stan Rowland

As time goes on, I am sure the list will grow, and will shrink. I won’t list those that I don’t feel have value… or those in which I feel have a more mixed record. That list very well may change as well. I feel like (living in the 2/3 world) and seeing the explosion of 2/3 world missions, that I should include missiologists who are not from the Western world. I really don’t have anyone yet (I guess I could add Samuel Escobar and Lamin Sanneh to my favorites list… maybe I should… they certainly have important things to say).  My tendency to focus on Western missiologists may be because of my missions training (which was done here in the Philippines but mostly using materials that came from the West). Some of it may come from the general lack of introspection and evaluation that I feel I see in 2/3 world missions (often repeating the mistakes made by Western missionaries 50 years ago). Maybe I am just biased (being a “Westerner”).

Regardless, I hope to not take my own views too seriously. I am one of my teachers for the future me. I should not fall so in love with my own views that I am not open to learn and grow.

No one should take me that seriously either……

Is Christian Missions Un-Biblical?

The Jordan River http://www.pbase.com/beivushtang
Jordan River.  Image via Wikipedia

This sounds like a fairly combative or confrontational question. However, it has been asked on numerous occasions.

Historically, there was the Anti-missions movement in the 1900s, particularly among Baptists. This movement felt that no social entity outside of the local church is ordained by God to carry out His work. I see no evidence (Biblically or otherwise) that God limits Himself to work only through one social entity. Among the more mainline groups, the Laymen’s Commission of Appraisal (1932) questioned the exclusivity of Biblical revelation, suggesting that mission work as it was envisioned back then was misguided. Rather, Christian missions should be focused on social change. The Bible does call for social justice (and I seriously question “Christian missions” that is oblivious to this concern) but the Bible also calls for spiritual transformation.

Additionally, some have taken a “hyper-calvinistic” or “consistent-calvinistic” viewpoint that suggests that human missionary effort is useless, resulting in no change as far as human response to God. I cannot see how someone could use an uncertain soteriological interpretation of Scripture (let’s be honest, there are as many verses exhorting people to choose God as there are verses that imply that God chooses for us) to justify rejecting unambiguous commands of God.

Recently, I was reading a blog of an individual who was challenging anyone to show him that missionaries (as professional ministers) was Biblical. I did not challenge him. I hate verbal fights and am not good at them. Additionally, I rather agreed with him that the call to mission work is for everyone… not for a chosen subset of the church. On the other hand, the term “apostle” (apostolos) appears to have been used by the first century church in a way that is pretty much the same as we use the term missionary today. If one accepts this idea, then the Bible has a lot to say about missionaries. Further, not having a role mentioned or authorized in the Bible, does not necessarily make it unbiblical. The term “Pharoah” is in the Bible, and that role appears to be both acknowledged and respected in Genesis and Exodus (and elsewhere). Does that make “Pharoah a more biblical role than “seminary president”?

But that is not what I am talking about. Rather, I am saying that Evangelical Christian missions (regardless of whether it is good or bad) is not built on a solid Biblical foundation. At least I am concerned that the foundation is weak. Here are a couple of evidences that the foundation is weak.

  1. The Biblical Basis for Christian Missions is Limited. Typically, at least from my experience, if one reads the Biblical basis for Christian Missions, one gets the Great Commission (usually the Matthew or Acts version). If one gets a more thorough basis, they may add Old Testament passages such as Genesis 12, Psalm 68, and the book of Jonah. It doesn’t take too long before one realizes that the study is mislabeled. It is not the “Biblical Basis for Christian Missions” but the “Biblical Justification for Christian Missions.” In this I mean that the Bible is not used foundationally in missions. Rather, Christian missions is being done, and then is proof-texted to attempt to justify its role. However, this is too narrow. Proof-texting a narrow set of passages taken out of the broader context could be used (and in fact has been used) to justify genocide, slavery, and suicide (to name a few). A limited, proof-texted Biblical basis for missions isn’t Biblical, and isn’t a sound basis.
  2. The Biblical Basis for Christian Missions is Uncritical. This is related to the first point. When one simply grabs verses that support one’s actions and beliefs, one is ignoring passages that may challenge one’s actions. This filtering process is “eisegetic.” Eisegesis is a term used in Bible interpretation where the beliefs of the reader are imposed on (or read into) the text, rather than the reader seeking to draw meaning from the text. For example, the Book of Jonah shows God’s love for the Assyrians and His desire for them to repent and come to Him. However, how does one integrate this with the rest of the Old Testament where the Assyrians were not reached out to with God’s truth. Without the book of Jonah, one might presume that God wanted the Assyrians simply to remain in spiritual ignorance and then be wiped out by the Babylonians.

Sadly, Evangelical missiology has historically made little attempt at Biblical Criticism. In recent years that has been starting to change (for example, Christopher Wright’s book, “The Mission of God”). This historical failure is strange since in general Evangelical thought, the whole Bible is missional. God is a missional God and has revealed Himself missionally through His entire revelation. Generally, the most solid work on a critical examination of Scripture has been done in Catholic missions. Chapter 11 of Samuel Escobar’s book “A Time for Missions: The Challenge for Global Christianity” reviews some of the work that has been done in this area.

BUT DOES IT MATTER? Maybe, maybe not. I do believe that sharing the good news of Christ is Biblical, as is churchplanting, and social ministry. But I believe a limited, uncritical, non-foundational use of the Bible in our missions can lead us astray. I have known of churches who have stopped supporting supporting orphanages because it does not meet the “Biblical” goal of saving souls. How in the world could anyone come up with such a— okay, I’m going to say it— devilish logic as that? The answer is a complete lack of Biblical foundation for missional outreach. Here are a few obvious challenges (I don’t feel qualified to go beyond the obvious).

A. The Old Testament has often been described as providing a “centripetal” model for missions while the New Testament provides a “centrifugal” model. The Old Testament does talk about the role of the people of Israel in being a blessing to all nations. However, this blessing focused on the temple (primarily the main temple in Jerusalem). Faithfulness to God focused on temple rites in Jerusalem. Since going to the temple was unrealistic for most peoples of the world, the system appears to be missionally hopeless. Of course some have argued that this inward directing (centripetal) system was doomed to failure, and this is why God changed things with a system that is not geographically bound. But why would God use a system that was flawed? Was it to done to demonstrate its flawed character? Or did it have a sound purpose, regardless of its effectivity. What does the OT model say about our Missional God?

B. How can God love of all peoples be seen in light of the Canaan invasion. When I was young, there were a number of hymns that focused on the Jordan River as a symbol of the separation between where we are and the promised (heavenly) land. But that is an Israelite perspective. From the local perspective, the Jordan river was their first line of defense from genocide. The Canaanites were not supposed to be “evangelized.” The one group that could be described as being converted were the Gibeonites who pretty much had to trick the Israelites into not killing them. How do we address this? While in New Testament theology, we might call ourselves the “New Israel” or “grafted branch,” by blood, most of us are Gentiles… like the Canaanites. And yet the Old Testament spoke very strongly about showing kindness to strangers and aliens. While this fact may balance the Canaanite invasion, it probably adds even more to the confusion.

C. In the New Testament, the apostles took a non-combative role with the culture they were in. Although there were behaviors in the broader society that were odious even by today’s standards. This included rampant slavery, ritualized prostitution, child molestation, gladiatory bloodsport, infanticide, and all forms of social injustice. This apparent lack of interest in these evils… was it based on a radical separation between the kingdom of man and the kingdom of God? Was it a pragmatic response to the church’s lack of political power at that time? Were they highly interested in broader societal justice, but we are ignorant of it because of limited texts that have been brought forward to us?

D. Does the Bible provide principles for missions, or methods, or both? Many churches like to focus on the “New Testament Church.” But there was more than one type of NT church. Same with missions. Do we do good missions if we mimic the mission behavior of Jesus, or Peter, or Paul, or Apollos, or John, or Philip, or Stephen? Should we see value in the OT models? How should the imminent (or eventual) return of Christ affect our mission methodology? (Or should it have no effect?)

E.  Our understanding of Christian mission comes from Jesus Christ. In the book of John, Jesus said that “As the Father has sent me, in like manner I am sending you.” Many interpret this to say our missions calling is built off of Jesus calling. That is fine. But Jesus claimed divinity, worship, and authority. He chose to die as a sacrifice. Clearly (in my mind) this is not part of our calling. But how can we look at Christ’s ministry and clearly know what parts of it should guide our mission work, and what should not.

I am not saying that missions as it is commonly practiced is “wrong”. Nor am I downplaying the importance of other studies in missions (particularly the human sciences). But our foundation must be solid rock, not sand. Any foundation that does not involve a broad, critical understanding of a missional God who gave us a whole missional revelation (the Bible) and missional Word (Jesus) is at risk of being washed out at any time.

Missions: A Self-Reflection

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Council of Nicea: Early Christian Academia. Image via Wikipedia

One of my favorite books is “The Gospel Blimp and Other Modern Parables”. It is by Joseph Bayly and has a lot of great stories that challenge our notion of our faith. A number of these stories are (HAPPILY!!!) available online at http://www.ccel.us/howsilently.toc.html#Eleven  One of these stories is Ceiling Zero. In this story some people are able to fly (without aircraft and without balloons). But as the story goes on, the focus shifts from the excitement of being able to fly and wanting to help others learn to fly, to studying Aerodynamic Theories, and questioning whether seeking to help people fly helps or hurts those who are bound to the ground.

The story is meant to be a parable about salvation and evangelism. But to me it also is looking at Missions.

Missions often seems to be more about strategy, writing books, speaking engagements, and missions conferences than it is about… well… doing missions. I find this tendency in missions to be rather seductive formany… including myself. I am an analytical type. I am also task-oriented, rather than people-oriented. Additionally, my skill set is more organizational. So I find myself:

-Administrating a Christian counseling center

-Developing syllabi for missions classes and “powerpoints” for seminars.

-Writing reports and developing plans

-Reading books on missions and theology and synthesizing them in my mind and on paper

But is this missions? I think it is to a certain extent… but there is a caveat. Utilizing ones talents and training to serve God is good; but there is the risk that one will simply drift into one’s comfort zone and refuse to leave. I used to go outside of my comfort zone a lot, back when I was running (with my wife) medical mission trips, and assisting in a churchplanting effort. But my forays into missions that directly interacts with people in need has been less in recent times.

An additional concern is that missions strategy and theory becomes disconnected from reality.  This seems to be common in missiology today. Missiology must be grounded in sound theology and social sciences… but must also be rooted in the real world (not just academia).

I see myself at risk in this area. That is why I am looking to go outside of my normal comfort zone. I have been working on administration and training at our counseling center. I am now moving into doing regular (instead of occasional) counseling. This is somewhat scary for me. I much prefer to type than talk (especially one-on-one). But this is important. It is not to remove myself from the more normative work I do. Rather, it is to keep myself from losing my connection with reality… people in need.

I keep changing my mind about how to define “missions”. I have heard good definitions and bad definitions. The one that I am leaning towards right now is as follows.

Missions is:             1.  Human response to God’s mission.    (This requires faithfulness on our part)

  2.  Human response to God’s love. (This requires worship on our part)

3.  Human response to human suffering. (This requires compassion on our part)

I think that when missions gets too grounded in academia, the third part (compassion) becomes abstract. Additionally, missions begins to become less an act of worship (and the term “worship” becomes taken over by singers, shouters, and dancers). Academic missions becomes mostly limited to “faithfulness”. But what is it that we are faithful to? Is it God? God’s Mission? Or our vocation?

I don’t have all this worked out in my head yet. That’s okay. It’s a lifetime pursuit with God.

I think we all need Self-Reflection. And I think we need honest appraisals from friends. Being successful in what one is doing does not mean that one doesn’t have important blindspots that must be addressed.

What is a Missionary? Part 4… the Conundrum

Now, I have to admit that I don’t like terms that deny people of their proper place. Back when I was a mechanical engineer, I had a friend who did mechanical engineering, but was quick to say that he wasn’t a “real engineer” since he did not have the college degree to support it. He moved into engineering through the technician route. In my mind… if you are doing engineering, you are an engineer. People who feel a degree is needed to get the title seem to me to lack the self-confidence in their own craft.

Here in the Philippines, a recent law was passed to “professionalize” the term “counselor”. That means, one cannot use the term “counselor” unless one has been registered. I understand this to some extent. Previously, anyone could call themselves a counselor and charge money for their “professional” services. For people with demonstrated training and skills, they can now stand out from “posers”. Yet, counseling is a skill and a gift, not a profession. I can understand having a term like “registered guidance counselor” as an exclusive term… but to make the term “counselor” exclusive seems to me to be a denial of reality.

Now consider the term “missionary”. We haven’t gotten to the point that one needs a Master of Arts in Missiology to be a missionary (thankfully). But there is the concern of allowing the term to be used too loosely. After all, missionaries need to be supported from a distance (usually) so they need to be trusted.

Yet some people who call themselves missionaries don’t really do missions (on any level). Some simply work overseas and tell people that they are missionaries in the hopes of getting a second paycheck. Some simply funnel money to locals who do the real outreach work, while doing nothing missional themselves.

Obviously there are problems with sloppy use of the term “missionary”. Every time I post something about missionaries, the Internet links and tags try to connect my posts to the Mormon religion. Since Mormonism has nothing to do with historic Christianity, it is frustrating that the term that describes my calling before God is viewed by Internet logic circuits as involving a completely different religion.

On the other hand, there are dangers of getting things too narrow. My wife and I train Christian school teachers, church leaders, and missionaries. We also help run a Christian counseling center. These might not be viewed as real missions since they are not about church planting or a traditional understanding of evangelism. Now, I work in a cross-cultural setting, but my wife is working in the culture of her youth. Does that mean that I am a missionary and my wife is not?

Okay… I admit it… this post is strange and confusing. When I get around to Part 5, I will try to put together something more coherent on what a missionary is (in my view at least).