Missions Theology— Problems of Reaction

Consider Quote from Corbett and Fikkert’s book When Helping Hurts:

As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreting the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the “Great Reversal” in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems.

It is important to note that the Great Reversal preceded the rise of the welfare state in America. Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty did not occur until the 1960s, and even FDR’s relatively modest New Deal policies were not launched until the 1930s. In short, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation was fundamentally due to shifts in theology and not— as many asserted— to government programs that drove the church away from ministry to the poor.    <Corbett and Fikkert, page 45>

In the 1960s another shift reaction occurred but this time in Missions. During this time, theological liberalism was having a growing impact on Western Protestant missions due to the growth of belief in pluralism among Protestants, and a unique interpretation of Missio Dei. The former reduced the feeling that non-Christians needed an allegiance shift to Christ. The latter saw Missio Dei, the understanding that God is working on mission everywhere at all times on earth, as making the role of Missio Ecclessiae doubtful. In fact, from a mission perspective, if God is working in other cultures, for a missionary to come in an challenge the beliefs and practices of a people, could it not be a working against God? As such Missions is seen as a ministry of Presence rather than Proclamation.

In reaction to this, there seemed to be a narrowing of mission work among Evangelicals to proclamation and church-planting. Exacerbating this was a focus on what I would call Apocalypticism. That is, Christ is returning any moment, so what should we work on right this minute to be ready for this return? While this focus may seem reasonable, the result was that anything that might be considered a “long-term investment” in terms of ministry (such as poverty alleviation, cultural transformation, community development) were seen as too slow and not a priority. Further, Kingdom of God over the decades tended to be associated more and more with Heaven so problems on earth (ecological and social injustice) were seen as lacking value.  We still find these problems. I was reading a recent mission CPM book that discouraged social ministry or even friendship evangelism as “slowing things down.”

I could go on. But let’s stop here a moment and think what’s been going on:

  • Evangelical Missions has often been reactionary. Rather than centered on God’s word, it tended all too often to react against theological liberals, or pluralists, or liberationists, Catholics or others. (Often these other groups were seen as “the enemy.”) As such, Evanglicals often were guilty of what they charge others (of not treating the Bible as authoritative and basis for faith and practice).
  • Relatedly, short-term marketing choices were often given formal “blessing” regardless of whether they were based on solid principles.

There has been success in Evangelical Missions over the last 6 to 7 decades, but there has been a cost. It has lost relevance in many sectors not because of opposition but intentionally pulling out of those sectors. Failures in social justice and poverty alleviation, and focusing on Heaven only, have resulted in reinforcing the charges of Marxists that religion is about serving as an opiate for the masses. Failures to transform (or even try to transform) societies and cultures has led many to see as a failure of Christ and Christianity, rather than simply a failure of Missions theology. Focusing on UPGs (and an abusive use of Matthew 24:11) led to poorly considered and invasive tactics.

This post is long enough. But we can clearly do better.

Historical Christian Mission Movements

I rather liked the chart in Patrick Johnstone’s book “The Church is Bigger than you Think: The Unfinished Work of World Evangelization.” The chart shows the major mission movements from the beginning of the church age until the 21st century.

Historical Christian Mission Movements
Historical Christian Mission Movements

Curiously, I couldn’t find ANYTHING on the Internet that was remotely useful in this area. Ralph Winter’s 3 eras of the Modern Protestant Mission Movement is there… but it is limited to one major movement. The others are extremely limited… often only focusing on Protestant Missions or missions of the Western Church. To understand what God is doing (God works in both time and space so “is” doesn’t mean only in the 21st century) we need to see the broader movements. You will note some things.

  • First, Mission Movements were almost exclusively limited to the Eastern Church in the first Millenium. The second Millenium is mostly the Western church. The third Millenium APPEARS to be global (East and West).
  • Also note that these only include major mission movements… it doesn’t include all missions. For example, the Eastern church is quite active in Missions even today… but doesn’t necessarily fit the (very loose) definition of missionary movement. Protestants were involved in missions (at least on the small scale) from the beginning… but did not reach a level one might describe as a movement until the time of Baron von Zinzendorf.
  • One might describe missions today (Historically Christian missions) as existing in three movements. The Roman Catholic missions movement that began with the colonial powers Spain and Portugal continues strong. The Protestant missions movement, often described as initiating with William Carey in 1792, is still going fairly strong. Both of these could be described as the work of the “Western Church”.  In addition to this is the 2/3 world churches. These are churches and missionaries from countries that only a few years ago would be described as “missionary receiving.” Some of these churches and missionaries would be described as coming from Western traditions… but not all, as many have a strongly indigenous flavor.

Ambivalent Reflections on Miracles in Missions

Previously, I had done a post on “Ambivalent Reflections on Spiritual Warfare.” Although I am ambivalent on Spiritual Warfare, I tend to view it negatively as it relates to missions (because of its generally negative tone, and the tendency to be built on a syncretized animism). However, I have a more positive view of the miraculous. Some would argue that spiritual warfare and miracles are nearly synonymous. But I tend to make a functional distinction.

Jesus Moses Elijah
Jesus Moses Elijah (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For me, Spiritual Warfare is offensive (in multiple senses of the term). It is about tearing down the enemy. Personally, I believe God uses LOVE and TRUTH as spiritual offense more than miracles (again, generally, in my view). However, miracles (as I am using the term) is a positive sign or proclamation. I will develop this idea later.

But first, consider three very basic views on miracles today. These are CAN’T, MUST, and MIGHT.

CAN’T.  God can’t do miracles in this view. Historically, this could be a Deist viewpoint. or in some circles, a Pantheistic view. However, within Evangelical Christian circles, this is more likely a Cessationist view. That is, God stopped doing miracles after the first century of the church. (Miracles as I am referring to them here are limited to “big” stuff, not simply God interacting in the world.)  I don’t care for this view. I am not impressed with the Biblical argument for this view. Additionally, there seems to be some level of continuity of the miraculous through church history.

MUST. God must do miracles… or more particularly, the miracles we want Him to do. Some argue this from the verse that God is the same, yesterday, today, and for ever (Hebrews 13:8). Some take strong statements in the Bible of God promising to answer our prayers as supporting this viewpoint as well. The Hebrews 13:8 passage is a very weak argument. First, the passage seems to be more about character than action. Second, it is pretty obvious from the Bible that God’s actions DO vary at different times and places. Much of the rest of the book of Hebrews talks about how God has changed in actions in different times. Regarding prayer, a solid analysis of prayer from the Bible shows that God maintains His role as God. He does not hand that over to others. When we ask in Jesus’ name, we are acting on His behalf, acting according to His will. God does not subjugate His will to ours. So I don’t believe that God MUST do (showy) miracles.

MIGHT. I believe a balanced view is that God MIGHT do (showy) miracles. “Might” implies “Might not.” As such, God retains control. But why would God do showy miracles at times and not at others?

I have talked to evangelists and churchplanters who work in places where the church is NOT. Their experience is that God does showy miracles as one enters an unreached community or people. Once the community is effectively entered, the miraculous goes away. This suggests that miracles are primarily meant as  SIGNS. That is, they demonstrate the entry of God’s kingdom into a new community.

This seems consistent with the Bible. While there are times when showy miracles were done in the Bible when the idea of community entry (as a sign) does not apply that well (Elijah and Elisha are strong examples), miracles tend to be clustered in places where they act as a sign of God doing something new in a new place (miracles of Moses and of Jesus are strong examples of this). Other times, miracles were few and far between. Israel was often reminded to look back to the miracles of Moses as support for their love by God as His people.

This also seems to be consistent with early church history. The early church fathers (such as Ireneaus) note that miracles had not disappeared, but there is a strong indication that miracles had long since lost their “normalcy.”

So suppose miracles are primarily a SIGN that God uses to enter a new territory, what does that imply for missions and ministry?

1. Recognize that God seeks to have His church reach all peoples.

2.  Entering a new territory, I am not sure that we should EXPECT miracles, but we should be ready for them as God gives a positive sign of entry into the community.

3.  Where the church is established, showy miracles probably should not be expected, and certainly should not be “conjured” up, either through fakery or through over-hyping.

4.  Missions and Ministry is God’s work, not ours, and empowered/steered by Him, not us.

Balance in Missions

I have been teaching Missions History this term… one of my favorite

English: People of the Silk Road, Dunhuang, 9t...
People of the Silk Road, Dunhuang, 9th century. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

subjects, although I am not sure whether I do a good job with it.   It is hard to make history “come alive.” But had a couple of interesting insights that came from the class… particularly from comments made by the students. There are only 6 in the class. Three are from the Philippines, one is from Myanmar, one is from South Korea, and one is from Papua New Guinea.

Insight #1.  Balance in Missions Ministry.

We spent the first 3 weeks covering the first millenium of Christian Missions history. That is not a huge amount of time.  But frankly, most Protestant Missions History books don’t spend that much time during the first millenium. If I remember right (not having the book in front of me at the moment), Stephen Neill‘s book only devotes something like 50 pages to the first 1500 years of Christian missions. So not sure I did that bad.

Anyway, after covering the first millenium, I asked the class to come up with all (or as many as possible) of the missions methods, missions strategies, and missions principles that were utilized in the first 1000 years of Christian missions. They came up with a pretty nice list. Here is a list that we came up with. They are all jumbled up topically, chronologically, and structurally… but that is okay.

  • Accommodation/Contextualization
  • Care/Social Ministry
  • Church-planting
  • Translation work (Scripture, liturgy, hymns)
  • Cross-cultural ministry
  • “Poverty” missions
  • Monastic missions
  • Tentmaking
  • Power Encounter
  • Mission teams (sodality structures)
  • Cross and Sword
  • Women in missions
  • Government-sponsored missions
  • Education
  • Apologetics
  • Martyrdom
  • Targeting community leaders
  • School building work
  • Visitation
  • Mission centers (metropolitans, monasteries, etc.)
  • Business in missions
  • Giving gifts
  • Miracle missions
  • Faith-based missions

Then I asked to critique some of these… after all some are better than or worse than others. The “cross and sword” (or use of violence to expand the church) was recognized as a poor missions method (questionable in effectiveness, but highly problematic Biblically). Government-sponsored missions was also a concern because of the differing goals of government and church. Gift-giving was also seen as often not such a great idea because of a poor track record of bribing for spiritual change.

But one of my students brought up a really good point. He said,I think one bad method is too much reliance on any one single method of missions.” Wow! I think that is a great point. Missions needs balance and broadness. A very narrow and unbalanced form of missions is probably not such a great idea. There should be balance in ministry.

Insight #2.  Balance in Critique.

I was talking about missions in the time of Charlemagne (where missions through violence became popularized), and the Crusades (where missions through violence reached its pinnacle in Christian circles at least). Another student brought up an interest concern. She said, “When I hear all of these stories, it is difficult. I always think of Christians as good people.” Her concern was that there were an awful lot of bad people not only in the church, but even doing missions.

I said something like this. Probably not so well…

“One thing we really need when we study missions history is to find balance. Some people think the early church was only full of good people. That wasn’t true… check out the Bible for yourself. On the other hand, some people look at the ‘Dark Ages’ and think that the church was essentially dead… nothing good. That is also not true. At all points in history, there were bad people who describe themselves as Christians, and there were very good people who were Christians. Sometimes the common people seemed to be better than the leaders… the leaders perhaps become victims to the temptations of wealth and power. When we study Missions history we will see the good, the bad, and the really ugly… commonly existing and serving at the same time. We can learn from all of these. We can learn from their successes and their mistakes.

As we study them we need to remember that they are part of our family. We often think of Christians who are alive today as being brothers and sisters— family members— because of Christ. But those who have served before us… Celtic missionaries planting churches in Germany. Nestorian missionaries travelling through Central Asia on the Silk Road reaching the farthest points of Asia with the Gospel of Christ. Nuns serving with St. Boniface reaching Saxons and Frisians. They are our brothers and sisters in the same way as people today. The Church is not just about ‘the now’ but the past and future.

We need to study with balance… ready to applaud successes, but also acknowledge and learn from failures.”



Missions History and Hydroponic Christians

I will be teaching Missions History at seminary (PBTS) and Cultural Anthropology at ABGTS this upcoming term. I like both subjects… but I have a special love for Missions History. I taught the class once before and it was one of my two least successful teaching efforts (the other being “Perspectives on the World Christian Movement”). I look forward to correcting my mistakes this time.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Raised Baptist (and still one) I was disconnected from History. We never really studied where Baptists come from. (Found out later that some people felt like Baptists were founded by John the Baptist… or have always been around in some distinctive and secret form… the Trail of Blood). To a large extent to the best of my memory,  Christian history stopped around the time of St. John on Patmos… or maybe the martyrdom of Polycarp, and resumed with John Bunyan, William Carey, Roger Williams, and Charles Spurgeon (with a passing nod to Martin Luther, John Calvin, and— perhaps— Augustine of Hippo and Francis of Assisi).

My Christian upbringing was largely ahistorical. Hymns were the one bit of a link with Christians in generations before us… going back centuries to Isaac Watts… and a few with Latin roots.  (It is arguably a bit sad in a way that even this tenuous link to the past is being severed with the rejection of traditional or even blended worship music). Other than that, we practiced “open worship” and a minimum of symbols. We do baptism and Lord’s Supper (Eucharist) because the NT church did, but ignored other rites (because the early church did not).

Of course, Baptists are not alone. There are a lot of “restorationalists” out there– some going back to Azusa, others going back to Campbell— some referring to an important event, others to an important person. History before those people or events is deemphasized, either by ignoring, or by revising the history to fit into a certain perspective.

Is there something lost in this? I think so. Admittedly, I am not a liturgical person… I don’t need a whole lot of symbols… I don’t need to sing songs in Latin, Greek, or Coptic. But I still believe there is something lost when we are disconnected from our history, and even though I am emphasizing Missions History, it is hard (and rather pointless) to make a strong separation between “Christian” and “Missions” History.

So why is it beneficial for Evangelicals to know church history?

1. We learn a lot from those who have come before us… even those we don’t totally trust or agree with. This is a pretty classic argument. “Those who refuse to learn from the past are destined to repeat it.”

Or one could take the point further:

A wise man learns from his own mistakes (and successes)

A wiser man learns from the mistakes (and successes) of others

The wisest man learns… but is not quick to draw conclusions.

In missions we discover that paying people to be Christians doesn’t work very well (and in the Philippines we seem to have to learn it over and over and over again). We see the opportunities of tentmaking and its problems. We see power encounter used and abused, we see the effectiveness at times and the moral bankruptcy of gunboat evangelism. We learn the benefits and the costs of linking faith and government… ecclesiastical and political power. We see movements and methods rise and fall (and sometimes crash). History gives us great opportunities to learn with the tantalizing hope of not repeating those same mistakes.

2. We learn that we are not so unique. The Christian world was full of saints and sinners, the caring, the careless, the cults, the cranks, and the corrupters. The truth from Ecclesiastes holds (at least in a general sense) “There is nothing new under the sun.” The problems of today were, in many ways, the problems of the past; indeed, the problems of the human condition. The problems of greed and power, hope and faith, love and lust, have been with us and will continue to challenge us for the foreseeable future. The views of social ascendancy (such as in post-millenialism) or of the downward spiral (in pre-trib/pre-mil) are challenged by the meandering path of history. History defies the simple lessons and the consistent structure.

3.  We learn that we are part of a family. Evangelicals often seem to have an unwritten (yet powerfully felt) belief that one is “Saved by faith alone… and by not being Catholic.” In some other parts of the world, “Catholic” may be switched with “Orthodox” or something else. I have met people who are categorized in the Evangelical family who believe that one cannot be Baptist (at least not doctrinally Baptist) and be saved. But in the history of Christianity and Missions we discover that we have relatives that fought over issues of Gnosticism and Arianism… not as some sort of Ecclesiastical crushing of free thought… but in a quest to relate contextualized faith and practice with revelation. We see them struggle with the concept of canon (the standard) for truth. Our spiritual ancestors struggled to share their faith in hostile places often giving their lives. Some dealt with people of other faiths with the sword, others with the Bible, others by separation/ghettoization, and others with divine love. Sometimes they were wildly successful. Sometimes they were crushed. Sometimes they struggled and persevered. Sometimes they did evil and called it good. Sometimes did good that was called evil.

As a human, I have American, English and Swedish roots. As a Baptist, I have Dissenter, Anglican, Calvinist, Lutheran, Celtic, and Catholic roots. They are my spiritual heritage. They are my family. Like all families, some relatives disappoint, some relatives inspire, but I believe we would be wise to see our spiritual journey in historical perspective.

4.  We understand truth in and through history. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t hold history/tradition on an even playing field with Biblical revelation (just like like I don’t hold modern day attempts at “new revelations” on the same level as the Bible). Yet, much of the errors we have to day spring from grabbing a stray phrase from the Bible, a peculiar innovation from a specific point in time, an extreme interpretation of a nuanced passage of Scripture, and running with it. When we disconnect the Bible from history (the Bible itself frustrates such an attempt, being a work of history… not only involving historical narrative, but historical in its very production) we can apply almost any interpretation we want. It is through the early church fathers we gain perspective of the faith as it was handed down to them from the Twelve. (Yes, I personally do believe some things they got wrong or uncritically contextualized… but that is human… and their humanity is comforting in many ways.) Additionally, truth as gained from practice and reflection may still be truth. So it is wise to discover the truths that were gleaned (often with blood) over the centuries. A lot of the innovations of the last few decades (Prosperity Gospel anyone?) have developed from a careless Scriptural hermeneutic tied to an ahistorical perspective.

Many cults develop by taking a few verses in the Bible (or another revelation “adding” to the Bible), defining these as the truth from which to filter other verses and create a mythology of their own origin that goes back to the NT church (and squelched by evil majority). Sadly, Evangelical groups (Baptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic among others) have done this along with various Restorational groups and heterodox groups (JW, Mormon, etc.). Even the old “apostolic” faiths like to link to the earliest church. But the earliest church was unlike all other groups… and for a good reason. They lived in a different time. Our job is NOT to restore the first century church, but build the 21st century church.

Evangelicals often are Hydroponic Christians. We have roots and these roots do bring us the nutrients of God’s word. But roots are for more than nutrients, they are also for stability. As firm soil provides a foundation from which the roots can give stability to the plant, knowing our history can provide us with the stability that we lack.

Missionary Member Care and William Carey

I will be teaching a two-week module on “Missionary Member Care” starting next week. So I decided to provide an excerpt from “William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman” by F. Deaville Walker pg. 125-129.

William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marat...
William Carey DD, Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali in Calcutta (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is a fairly old book, published in 1925. This passage describes some of the many challenges, externally and internally, that William Carey was going through. Issues include problem with financial support, colleagues, physical health, family, culture shock, doubts and depression. Problems with local government here was only briefly alluded to. It is hard to decide what opinion to have after reading this. Does one emphasize the resolute faith and determination of William Carey? Does one emphasize the faithfulness of God who brought him through the fire and to ultimate success? Does one emphasize the failure of the system (mission support system) to make the path straight for him (and family and partners)?

To a man of less resolute mold and of less faith in God than Carey, the whole position must have seemed almost hopeless. Separated thus from the colleague he sincerely loved, he was left to his own devices. Trials began to thicken around him. It was evident that he would not be allowed to live in Calcutta as a missionary– even if he could afford it, which he could not. Yet he could not find another place to go to, and money was dwindling rapidly: “For two months I have seen nothing but a continual moving to and fro,” he wrote in his journal. The climate, the unaccustomed food, and the conditions of life in the tropics were evidently affecting his wife’s health. The long strain of the voyage, followed by their unsettled life in Bengal, had told upon her nerves, and both she and her sister were, not unnaturally, inclined to complain. It is not surprising that curry and rice did not agree with them, and they found Indian chapatis a poor substitute for bread; they complained that they had “to live without many of the necessaries of life.” There can be no doubt that their privations were real, for, left to himself, Carey naturally sought to reduce his family expenditure to the narrowest limits and live within his income. Doubtless the old experiences of Moulton were repeated, which would be all the harder for Dorothy and Katherine after the– to them– comparative luxury of the ship’s table. Dorothy and the two older boys were ill for a month with dysentery. Felix, indeed, so seriously that his life was in danger. Probably, too, they all suffered from homesickness and yearned for their simple cottage in the dear homeland. Enfeebled in body and spirits, they were not inclined to give William the sympathy he sorely needed. “My wife, and sister too, who do not see the importance of the mission as I do, are continually exclaiming against me,” he wrote in his journal; and again, “If my family were but hearty in the work, I should find a great burden removed.”

Nor had Carey real friendship of spirit with his colleague. To Sutcliff he wote:

“Mr. ‘T.’ is a very good man, but only fit to live at sea, where his daily business is before him, and daily provision made for him. I own I fear his present undertaking will be hurtful rather than useful to him; the fickleness of his mind makes him very unfit for such an undertaking. I love him, and we live in greatest harmony; but I confess that Ram Ram Boshu is more a man after my heart.”

Poor Carey had enough trouble in his own little family, in addition to the burden of the work he longed to do; and the financial entanglements in which Thomas was constantly involved must have been almost the last straw. Early in January (1794), within two months of their landing in Bengal, it was discovered that one of the doctor’s creditors in England had sent his bond out to India, and they were not sure that other creditors had not done the same. Carey knew that his colleague was hourly in danger of arrest. “In his state of perplexity, we know not what to do,” he wrote.

Twelve days later, Carey got an offer of a piece of land at a place called Deharta, some three days’ journey from Calcutta. It was to be rent-free for three years. So he went at once to consult Thomas and get from him the money necessary for the journey. Tho his dismay Thomas told him that the money was entirely exhausted– the whole year’s allowance gone in less than ten weeks! Indeed it was even worse that that, they had actually overspent, and Thomas had incurred a new debt to a moneylender.

This may have been a staggering blow, and on reaching his temporary home Carey wrote in his journal:

“Jan. 15, 16 (1794). I am much dejected…. I am in a strange land, alone, no Christian friends, a large family, and nothing to supply their wants. I blame Mr. T. For leading me into such expense at first, and I blame myself for being led … I am dejected, not for my own sake, but for my family’s and his, for whom I tremble.”

Subsequent entries in the journal bear witness to the almost crushing burden Carey bore that dark week:

“Jan. 17 …..Very much dejected all day. Have no relish for anything of the world, yet am swallowed up in its cares. Towards evening had a pleasant view of the all-sufficiency of God, and the stability of His promises, which much relieved my mind; and as I walked home in the night, was enabled to roll my soul and all my cares in some measure on God. … What a mercy is to have a God!”

January 19 was Sunday; to our lonely harassed missionary it was indeed a “day of rest and gladness.” Triumphing over worry and uncertainty, he went out into the country to get among the village people. Aided by his faithful munshi, who acted as his interpreter, he visited the Manicktulla bazaar, and, while the usual business was carried on as on other days, preached to a large congregation consisting principally of Mohammedans.

That Sunday brought a measure of peace and comfort to his soul. On Monday he had once more to take up his heavy burden of finance. He writes:

“Jan. 20. This has been a day of seeking money.” He evidently felt that he had no alternative but to try to borrow five hundred rupees with which to carry on– a thing he hated, but in his extremity was driven to. The journal continues:

“Jan 22. Full of perplexity about temporal things. … My wife has, within this day or two, relapsed into her affliction and is much worse than she was before, but in the mount the Lord is seen. I wish I had but more of God in my soul.

Jan. 23. … My temporal troubles remain just where they were. I have a place, but cannot remove my family to it for want of money.”

Imagine poor Carey’s grief and dismay on visiting his colleague that day, to find him

“… living at the rate of I know not how much, I suppose two hundred and fifty to three hundred rupees per month, has twelve servants, and this day is talking of keeping his coach. I remonstrated with him in vain, and I am almost afraid that he intends to throw up the mission. …My heart bleeds for him, for my family, for the Society, whose steadfastness must be shaken by this report, and for the success of the mission, which must receive a sad bow from this.”

Every word seems to have been written in blood. What unutterable loneliness Carey must have passed through this day, with no earthly firend in whom he could confide! But ere he slept he wrote:

“Bless God, I feel peace within and rejoice in having undertaken the work, and shall, I feel, if I not only labour alone, but even if I lose my life in the undertaking. I anxiously desire the time when I shall so far know the language as to preach in earnest to these poor people.”

There can be little doubt that beside his heavy cares, Carey was suffering from the depression that so often attacks newcomers in India. His own health was probably undermined, and in his condition troubles would appear blacker than they really are.

But even in his darkest moments Carey never lost sight of his greater purpose. He had burned his boats behind him and never thought of turning back. He had come to this land to do missionary work, and nothing could shake his conviction that God had called him.

With the shadows lying heavy around he threw himself with renewed earnestness into his language studies. With his munshi he worked hard to correct the Book of Genesis that Thomas had translated into Bengali; and on the following Sunday we find him and his interpreter in the villages making known the gospel of the grace of God.

On January 28 he went again to Calcutta in a fruitless effort to find a way out of his difficulties. He wrote:

“Again disappointed about money. Was much dejected and grieved. …In the evening had much relief in reading over Mr. Fuller’s charge to us at Leicester. The affection there manifested almost overcame my spirits, for I have not been accustomed to sympathy of late”

Every door seemed closed, and to him, in his spirit of depression, everyone seemed against him. He called on one of the most honest and pious of the chaplains in Calcutta and was coldly received because the good man had “got across” Dr. Thomas. Instead of getting some friendly counsel or help, poor Carey was allowed to depart without even the common courtesy of a meal, though he had “walked five miles in the heat of the sun.”

What days of depression Carey must have experienced! If faith in God means anything at all, it is at a time like that.

Quote by Peter Beyerhaus

Quote by Peter Beyerhaus (b. 1929) summarizing Walter Freytag (1899-1959) view of Protestant Missions in 4 waves.

In Pietist mission the Kingdom of God was narrowed to a

Dr. Peter Beyerhaus

purely individualist-ethical outlook. They concentrated on the salvation of individuals… Second, came those who held that the goal was not so much individual converts but self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating churches. These missiologists did not teach the churches must be identical with the Kingdom of God, but acted as though they were… Third, philanthropic missions, mainly with Anglo-American background, conceived of the Kingdom in terms of bettered social conditions in the world. This view, which today is celebrating an unexpected comeback, Freytag called the idealistic and socio-ethical . contraction… Finally, the fourth wave, in sharp contrast to the former three, which held that the kingdom was already present in this world, believed that the Kingdom is yet to come. The apocalypitc evangelists, men like Frederik Franson and Grattan Guiness, believed the Kingdom to be an eschatological phenomenon and located it in the totally transcendent realm. The only object of mission, they said, is to speed up the second coming of the Lord and the consequent establishment of the apocalypitcal Kingdom.

<Quote from Mission, Humanization, and the Kingdom, 1972, p. 55. Quoted by Eun Hong Kim, “Peter Beyerhaus’s Missiological and Theological Thought”, Asia Pacific Journal of Intercultural Studies, Jan 2006, p. 35-36>

So Beyerhaus looks at Protestant mission history in terms of the view of the Kingdom of God.

Wave 1. The Kingdom of God is individual lives

Wave 2.  The Kingdom of God is The Church

Wave 3.  The Kingdom of God is Society

Wave 4.  The Kingdom of God is the future transcendant kingdom.

The first 3 waves at least make sense because they are focused on human lives. The Kingdom of God is about a recreated individual, in an  purified Church, in a transformed society. The fourth wave, to me, is a bit questionable, not because there is not some truth about it, but that the focus is wrong. Beyerhaus did believe that the last wave had value in that the coming of the Kingdom of God should “speed up” our evangelistic fervor. Personally, I think it should motivate us to faithfulness, not trying to be “quick” but I suppose that is a matter of opinion. Some in the 4th Wave believe that we can get Christ to come back sooner through evangelism (The Lausanne Covenant seems to suggest this). This appears to be a regrettable interpretation of Matthew 24.

Regardless, all four waves have problems because of their limited scope. God’s Kingdom is not simply centered on God, not simply centered in people (or groups of people), and not centered in a specific period of time.

Historiography and Missions

How does one’s view of history affect… well… pretty much everything?

This is not self-evident. I come from the United States where there is a lack of emphasis on history. Of course in elementary and high school, “History” classes were replaced by “Social Studies.” I don’t mind “Social Studies”… sociology and cultural anthropology are both very important. But I still remember that a number of my fellow classmates in Social Studies class did not know which came first– the American Revolutionary War or the American Civil War (despite the fact that one could figure it out by logic alone). But even in the US, people are affected by their view of history. Americans tend to be Progressivists. This term is used many different ways, but in this case it means that history can be seen essentially as linear and getting better over time. As such, the future is seen as more important and more interesting than the past. A politician can often get elected by stating, in many different ways and forms, “America is great now, and getting better.”

But the American way of looking at the world is not the only way. People picture history different ways. Here are a few of them.

1.  Circular/cycle. Traditionally, many see history in terms of cycles. Cycle of life, cycle of seasons, cycle of dynasties. This view tends to show the world as not making long-term changes. History keeps returning to its starting point.Ancient peoples commonly saw history in terms of cycle. But of course, it is not just ancient peoples. Many still do today, such as the Hindu view of history. This view is unlikely to go away. After all, some aspects of time clearly have a cyclic form to it. Birth maturation, death.  revolution and rotation of the earth, seasons, phases of the moons, all have a circular aspect to them

2. Linear. Often the Judeo-Christian viewpoint has been seen as the source of the linear view of history. Things change and transition from a beginning, to a middle, and eventually to an end. Related to this would be a progressive viewpoint (the world is getting better) and a regressive viewpoint (the world is getting worse).

3.  A combination of the circular and the linear could result in a helical structure. The world (clearly) undergoes important cycles but there are long-term changes that are linear. One could add a progressive or regressive slant to the helix to show the feeling that there is still a trending towards the better or worse. A traditional Marxist view of History sees class struggle in cycles but with the inevitability of progress.

4.  Another view could be the paradigmatic view. That is that things trend in one direction until a game-changing event occurs and history goes in a new direction. In Christian circles, events like Pentecost, the Edict of Milan, and the 95 Theses might be seen as events that set in motion a new paradigm. Similar to this is the view of history as a series of eras.

5. Grand narrative. Some can see history as part of a grand narrative or unifying story. Within Christian circles, the eschatological history would fit into this. Paradise – Paradise lost – Building of conflict and tension leading to the climax of Christ’s resurrection- Working out of the resolution – Paradise Restored. However, other groups can have their own grand narratives. Muslims have one, as well as Marxists.

6.  Conflict. One can see history in terms of grand-scale conflict, be it Zoroastrian dualism, Huntington’s clash of civilizations, or Marx (again) in clash of social classes. In less violent terms, one can see it in terms of dialectic conflict (thesis, antithesis, synthesis). Or one can see things like Chaos theory’s Lorenz Attractor, where order and apparent chaos interact through cycles of behavior with respect to “strange attractors.”

Lorenz Attractor

7.  Man versus Machine. Some hold to the “Great men” theory of history. Individuals come along and change the world. At the other extreme, history can be seen as the result of sociological processes outside of the control of individual people. An extreme of this would be the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov.

There are more, but this seems like a fine place to stop. The question is, does one’s historical perspective affect one’s mission work?  I believe so. Missions in the early 20th century was influenced by a post-milleniallist doctrine that was linked strongly to a progressivist linear, even triumphalistic, view of history. The world is getting better and better, and we are civilizing and Christianizing the world to let others enjoy the benefits of this progress. As we know, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, and “The Bomb” (among other things) dampened this view. Civilizing the populace no longer seemed like such an important part of mission work.

I was raised in a church that tended to see history in a regressivist linear manner (with a Christian grand narrative overlaying it). The world is falling apart and getting worse and worse. This will continue until things get so bad that Christ must come and restore Paradise. If the ship is doomed to sink, there is no point in trying to plug holes and fix the engine. The only thing worth doing is getting people into the lifeboats. Social ministry, sadly, is often hurt by a regressive linear view.

Some branches of Christianity focus on great personages… whether they be popes, saints, apostles, healers, or televangelists. Assuming that “great men” are the ones that get things done and create change, how might that affect how these groups do missions?

These are just a few examples, but which is the best viewpoint? I have been told that the linear view of history is “the Christian view.” But is it? The Bible is full of emphasis on cycles. Perhaps focus on eschatological history is the most Christian, but there is the risk of making the time we live in as unimportant… just filler until Christ returns. I have read Christian church history and Christian missions history viewed paradigmatically… but is that more accurate, or over-simplified? Perhaps many views of history are important, and may be consistent with Christian thought.

Finally, what do missionaries do when they meet people from other cultures with a different view of history. American missionaries are often progressivists… optimists. Many cultures are not so. Does having a different view of history from respondents adversely affect one’s mission work? Must missionaries convert the local culture to their historical perspective? Does a missionary need to change his/her historical viewpoint (or at least act like it) to be effective?

Good questions, I think… but few answers, from me at least.


Quotes and Notes on Early Christian Missions

Emperor Julian the Apostate
Emperor Julian the Apostate. Image via Wikipedia

Some notes from Stephen Neill‘s book, “A History of Christian Missions,” regarding early missions:

A.  Neill speaks of three things that occurred in the first century that radically affected the expansion of the church.

1.  The first was the realization the Jesus was not going to return quickly. After a fairly frenzied attempt to evangelize in the early part of Acts, by the 13thchapter of acts, it was recognized that “a steady programme of expansion thoughout the world” was appropriate.

2. Second, there was clear evidence from both God and circumstances, that salvation was not for Jews alone. Rather, it was available to all peoples.

3.  Third, the destruction of Jerusalem (70AD) made Christianity a religion without a center. Despite the high regard given places such as Rome, Jerusalem, Constantinople, or Canterbury, Christianity is not burdened with a Mecca. Christianity has no single home nor a home culture. (20-21)

I think these lessons need to be remembered today. Effective Christian missions comes from recognizing that we don’t know when Christ will return so we need to plan both short-term and long-term strategies for mission. Christian missions is not Jewish missions, or Western missions. Contextualizing the message to all cultures and all people is needed. Christian missions and the Christian church has no center except Christ.

B.  Quote:

 “… owing to Luke’s predilection for Paul, we know a great deal more about Paul than we know about anyone else. He tends to dominate the scene, and we are inclined to think of him as the typical missionary. In point of fact the picture is far more complex than that. We have to think of a great many full-time missionaries moving rapidly in many directions, and also of that mass of unprofessional missionaries, already alluded to, through whose witness churches were coming into being all over the place, unorganized, independent, yet acutely aware of their status as the new Israel and of their fellowship with all other believers in the world.” (26)

C.  One reason for this growth was the perceived morality of the Christians. Many non-Christians desired that (ethical living was a goal of Stoics, and Romans extolled living a life of virtue), but few seemed to achieve it like the Christians did (understanding, of course, that Christians were human and often failed as well). Also, Christians were known for their charitable work. This was an area that impressed many non-Christians. Emperor Julian (the Apostate), certainly no friend of Christianity, wrote:

Atheism (I.E. Christian faith) has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galilaeans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well, while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.” (37-38)

A very loosely related article (but one I like) is on The Importance of Historical Theology