Staying Behind: Theology of “Anti-Missions” (Chapter 9)

I recently completed the “Beta” version (or semi-rough first draft) of my book, “Walking With” as a Metaphor for Missions Theology. If you are interested in it, please CLICK HERE to see how you can download it (for free). The following is Chapter 9 on the Theology of Anti-Missions. This heavily drew from a post I wrote a few years ago. The book cleans it up, expands it a bit, and establishes the footnotes.

Chapter 9

Staying Behind”

Theology of Anti-Missions

In the previous chapter, we saw some churches struggling to embrace missions. In some cases there were impediments that held them back. In some cases, there were theological barriers that were set up to undermine the basis or practice of missions. Missions, at least in a general sense, has been around from the earliest days of the church. It, along with worship, discipling, and fellowship were part of the practice of the church long before there was formal theologizing. There is nothing wrong with this in itself. Theology often develops from reflection on practice. Missions has rarely had much theological consideration, either as a foundation of practice, or as reflection.

Christopher Wright quotes Spindler:

If ‘mission’ is understood as the sum total of all actual missionary activities in the modern period or as everything undertaken under the banner of ‘missions,’ then an honest biblical scholar can only conclude that such a concept of mission does not occur in the Bible.”1

Wright strongly supports missions. But he notes that a lot of what we do in the name of Christian missions is done without a log of reflection, either biblically or theologically. Because of this, it is hardly surprising that Missions has sputtered a lot in history. Missions as an activity not directly overseen by local churches faded in the 2nd century and was almost unknown in the 3rd.

There are a number of reasons for this, but theology does have a role. It should be added up front that it is not always clear whether people’s theology drive them away from missions, or whether they have a disinclination toward missions, and then use theology to support that view. In the end, it doesn’t really matter, because it is hard to separate theology from application of theology.

Consider, for example, the theology of John Calvin.

“Gustav Warneck (1834–1910), the father of missiology as a theological discipline, was one of the first Protestant scholars to point out that Calvin and the Reformers had no missionary concern. A.M. Hunter even went so far as to state in his book on Calvin’s teaching: ‘Certainly he [Calvin] displayed no trace of missionary enthusiasm’. Others held an entirely different view and noted ‘an intensified zeal for evangelism’ in Calvin.”2

It is difficult to see how such divergent views can exist. Fans and detractors can often interpret the same data far differently. But some work of Calvin points to a more mediated view. Consider the following quote of Calvin:

Since we do not know who belongs to the number of the predestined and who does not, it befits us so to feel as to wish that all be saved. So it will come about that, whoever we come across, we shall study to make him a sharer of peace even severe rebuke will be administered like medicine, lest they should perish or cause others to perish. But it will be for God to make it effective in those whom he foreknew and predestined.“3

Certainly here, evangelism and the missionary activity is supported directly. On the other hand, it is hard to see an “essential missionary theology” or an “intensified zeal for evangelism.” The passage seems to say that one’s motivation to share the gospel should come from the fitting desire to believe (the seeming fiction?) that God wants everyone to be saved. It then goes on to say that if one shares the Gospel with one who is predestined as elect, God can use that to make their election effective. It is still a bit unclear, however, whether such missionary action would give eternal results that are different from inaction. In the end, the Theology of the Reformers may, or may not, be anti-missiological, but they are certainly less than enthusiastic; and this shows itself in the activity of the early Protestant churches. It could however, be said that theology does not have a strong role in missions. The Crusades were driven in part by a missionary fervor, yet got derailed, in part, by religious and racial hatreds. Such hatred was guided more by sociological and historical components, I might argue, than by theology, even if theology may have been used to justify such attitudes. In the early Protestant movement, survival, the lack of mission-sending structures, and the historical reliance on State churches, among others, certainly worked against missional activity. More on this in the previous chapter, but that is not all of it. Theology had a role. Consider the case of missions among Baptists in the 18th and 19th centuries.

William Carey, referred to by some as the Father of Protestant Missions, wrote his great booklet, “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.”4 in the late 18th century. Carey came from a religious group, the Particular Baptists. As “dissenters” of the state church, they could, potentially, have a greater desire to share the gospel beyond national boundaries (those boundaries often seen as defining the area of concern for the State Church). However, this potential was crushed by a form of Reformed theology that saw the work of salvation as God’s alone. If, then, salvation was only a work of God, then it seemed quite logical that evangelism, both locally and cross-culturally, was irrelevant or even impertinent.

Carey chose not to directly challenge the theology of his church. Rather, he chose to challenge its implications. Preachers of his denomination commonly deduced from their theology that the Great Commission, in its Matthew 28 form, was simply Jesus addressing his eleven present disciples. As such it lacks relevance today. Carey made three arguments against this thinking:

  • If “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” is not for us today, then neither is “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” What is our justification for baptizing, as Baptists, if Jesus only commanded the original disciples to baptize, and not us?
  • If the commissioning in Matthew was only for the original 11, presumably then every preacher who has shared the Gospel to unreached peoples over close to two millennia, including those who shared their faith to ancestors of the majority of readers of Carey’s booklet, did so without God’s authority/blessing.
  • If the commissioning was only to the disciples who were present with Him, why did Jesus end the commissioning with “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world.” Such a statement would be appropriate if Jesus was talking to people throughout future history. If Jesus was only talking to the Eleven, He might be more likely to say something like, “Lo, I am with you always, as long as you live.”

I have never thought the second point very strong, but presumably it struck a chord with the readers. With this, Protestant missions gradually grew from a trickle into a stream and then into a mighty river.

But there was still a problem. The theology of many of the Particular Baptists said, “God has determined salvation from the past, and His work is completely unaffected by our activity today, so there is no need or value in evangelizing.” Carey added an important, but dissonant, statement. “Jesus has commanded us to evangelize, so you should do so– regardless of whether you believe it is effective.” One might even hear a bit of resonance with the quote from Calvin above that could be read as “share the gospel as if doing so has efficacy.”

People can often live their entire lives with opposing beliefs… but this conflict can spring to the forefront when such a conflict is articulated effectively. It could be argued that the Baptists in London were already struggling between the belief that salvation is the work of God alone, and the Biblical record of God working through people to carry out His mission. The words of William Carey in his Enquiry, led to a great change of direction. But eloquence pointed in the opposite direction can result in a very different result.

In 1826, a Baptist in America, Daniel Parker, published “Views on the Two Seeds.” The two seeds he was referring to were those mentioned in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you,” the serpent, “and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Parker expressed the belief, in pages 4 and 5 of his work, that the seed of the woman was “Christ and the elect,” while the seed of the serpent is “the Non-elect.”

“Eve’s sin allowed Satan ‘to beget the wicked, sinful principle and nature in her,’ thus allowing both the seed of Satan and the seed of Christ to enter the human bloodstream. Satan’s seed is represented in the covenant of works, Christ’s in the covenant of grace. The elect seed can be redeemed, but the nonelect cannot.”5

The theology of this work resonated with Baptists, especially in the Western (what we would now call Mid-Western) regions of the United States and their view of determinism regarding salvation. McBeth, lists three line items from the “Apple Creek Association” from that period showing Anti-Missions sentiments:

“19 We as an association do not hesitate to declare an unfellowship with foreign and domestic missionary and bible societies, Sunday Schools and tract societies, and all other missionary institutions.

21. No missionary preacher is to have the privilege of preaching at our association.

We advise the churches to protest against masonic and missionary institutions, and not to contribute to any such beggarly institutions.”6

Of course, the anti-Missions movement was driven by other factors than theological. There were regional disagreements or rivalries. Most Baptists in the Eastern United States were “Regular” or supporting Missions, while those in the West tended to be anti-Mission. Cost had a factor, and poor churches in the frontier regions were more likely to see mission organizations as parasitic to the church. The 2nd century work, the Didache, had similar concerns and gave local churches strict guidance to identify true versus false apostles. A chief criteria was on how much time and support they sought from local churches rather than getting about their business of mission work.7 Additionally, the Western Baptist churches were suspicious of theological education, and seminaries were often lumped together with mission organizations in their opposition.

However, another major theological view that greatly strengthened the Anti-missions movement was ‘Biblicism.’ This is the belief or theological stance that only institutions that are expressly noted in the Bible are legitimate. This was very strong in the early 1800s. In 1827, the Kehuckee Association published “A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men.”8 Those who agreed with such declarations, often called themselves “Old School Baptists” referring, presumably, to the pre-Carey Particular Baptist tradition, or even further back, perhaps, based on the “Trail of Blood” belief that Baptist churches go back to Jesus and John the Baptist. The Campbellite Baptists, led by Alexander Campbell saw themselves as Reformers of the Baptist tradition. Until they broke free from the Baptist fold to form the Campbellite or Church of Christ, movement, they opposed Missions as well. Both of these have an underlying premise of Biblicism. For the Kehuckee Association, the Modern Missionary Movement is an “Institution of Men” rather than of God. For Campbell, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” led to ‘where the Bible is not explicitly affirming, we oppose.” The Anti-Missions Baptists and the Campbellites saw themselves as seeking a “primitive” New Testament church and more recently, a “pre-Carey” Baptist church.

In the 20th century, other theological concerns have crept in. Perhaps most well known as the Liberal-Fundamentalist controversies in the 1920s. In broader Protestant circles, this can be seen in the controversy generated by “Rethinking Missions: A Layman’s Enquiry after One Hundred Years,” published in 1932 largely through the work of W. E. Hocking.9

The report distinguishes between temporary and permanent elements in the function of a missionary. The task of the missionary today, it was maintained, is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions, to co-operate with the most active and vigorous elements in the other traditions in social reform and in the purification of religious expression. The aim should not be conversion – the drawing of members of one religious faith over into another – or an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly. Co-operation is to replace aggression. The ultimate aim, in so far as any can be descried, is the emergence of the various religions out of their isolation into a fellowship in which each will find its appropriate place.”10

This report and the larger belief system it espouses, was a huge problem theologically. However, into 1960s, missions associated with the IMC and World Council of Churches still maintained goals that were generally consistent with the goals of missions for centuries– cross-cultural sharing the gospel of Christ and development of viable local churches.11

But this began to change. There was a growth in seeing Mission in terms of “Christian Presence” which called for behavior that appeared to be every bit as vague as the term sounds. With “The Church for Others” published for the WCC in 1967, things had radically changed. Missions did not really involve a call to repentance. Proselytism is seen as “the opposite” of missions. Conversion is not seen so much as individual and personal, but is seen as more corporate in form. That is not to say there were no good points in the work… but rather that mission theology had radically changed… and much of those changes undermined the historical purposes of doing mission work.

“Presence” became a word that was used as a substitute for “witness,” “mission,” and “evangelism.” Charles de Foucauld described a missionary as ‘a person who is in the place with a presence willed and determined as a witness to the love of God in Christ.’”12   This definition is not so much wrong or bad, but so vague that it could entail doing almost anything or nothing. Panikkar during this same period, saw missionaries not so much as bringing Christ to other cultures, but helping other cultures “discover Christ” in their culture through the missionaries’ services to the people.

Why would there be such a radical change during this time? I really don’t know. However, the IMC, International Missionary Council, formally joined the World Council of Churches in 1961. Perhaps the IMC, a thoroughly missions-oriented organization, provided a strong influence on the WCC gatherings in 1961 and 1963… but that influence declined later in the decade, and was driven more by churches that had a different perspective and agenda. It does seem, however, that the WCC has backed away from these extremes and has a view that is closer to the Evangelical view than in the 1960. It should be noted that Evangelicals also had issues in the 1960s in terms of missions where, seemingly, in reacting to broad liberal views of missions, Evangelicals began identifying missions only in terms of proselytizing and church-planting. This view also was modified in the 1970s and beyond.

Today, there are a number of theological positions that undermine the basic premises of Missions. One of these is Universalism– the idea that God’s benevolences or grace is so great that it ultimately overpowers His justice. Therefore, everyone will, eventually at least, be saved. This view does not directly attack missions, but does make the enterprise seem unnecessary. If everyone is saved anyway, why share the Gospel, unless it is to do nice things for people perhaps.

Somewhat related to this is Theological Pluralism that takes a relativistic view of religions. Some may say that there are many paths to God and salvation. Others may say that there is only one path (through Jesus– the way, the truth, and the life) but many may be saved by Jesus who do not personally know Jesus. So if a Hindu can be saved by God by being a Good Hindu, or a Muslim be saved by God in being a Good Muslim, missions, at least in terms of sharing the Gospel message, may be seen as unnecessary. At worst it can be disruptive… leading people to stray from a moral adherence to their non-Christian faith.

Summary

Theology matters in terms of missions. Bad theology can lead to bad missions. A theology that undermines the Biblical purposes of missions, or greatly narrows its role, may greatly hinder the missions efforts. Further, doing missions activities even though it may be disconnected to their theology, is likely, eventually, to cause problems.

Chapter Nine Endnotes

1 Christopher J.W. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006),36. The quote comes from Mark Spindler’s article, “The Biblical Grounding and Orientation of Mission.” in the book Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction.

2 (Calvin and mission Jacobus P. Labuschagne HTS Theological Studies vol.65 n.1   Jan. 2009)

3 (Van Neste, 2009:2)Ray Van Neste, 2009, John Calvin on evangelism and mission, 1–6,

viewed n.d., from http://www.founders.org/journal/fj33/

article2.html.

4 William Carey, An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens

5 (H. Leon McBeth. “The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness,” 374.). Daniel Parker writings can be found in Elder Daniel Parker’s Writings, available at http://asweetsavor.info/pdf/Parker-2Seeds.pdf

6 McBeth, 372.

7 Didache on False Apostles

8 A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men. 1827. The document is available at http://docplayer.net/78867650-The-kehukee-declaration.html. For much of the rest of the chapter, refer back to McBeth’s book.

9 Re-thinking missions ; a laymen’s inquiry after one hundred years, by the Commission of appraisal, William Ernest Hocking, chairman. 1932.

10 (Stephen Neill “A History of Christian Missions, (Penguin Publishing, 2nd edition), page 419).

11 Much of this section comes from Rodger C. Bassham Missions Theology.

12 (“Missions Theology” by Rodger C. Bassham, p. 73)

Missions and Theology Chapter

Years ago, I started a book on Missions Theology— 2016, I think. But in 2017, I stopped. Then I worked on a couple of other books on missions, gutting some parts of this book. But then I started to work again on it during this pandemic. I am mostly done. Here is a rough draft of Chapter 11.

Note: I have not added footnotes yet. I don’t want to appear to be violating proper attribution. With that in mind, I would point people to Stephen Bevan’s book “Models of Contextualization,” Paul Hiebert’s article, “Critical Contextualization,” and David Tracy’s book, “Plurality and Ambiguity.” Pretty much everything else is from one of my books or from this website.

————————————————————————-

Methods of Contextualizing Theology

Paul Hiebert, in his article “Critical Contextualization” <FN> speaks of three forms of contextualization— Non-Contextualization, Uncritical Contextualization, and Critical Contextualization. Critical Contextualization can be viewed as the healthy balance between the other two. Non-Contextualization essentially brings in the missionary’s own theology and beliefs without separating them— implicitly treating them equally as true. This leads to a foreignness to Christianity, and often simply pushes traditional beliefs under the thin veneer of Christian dogma. Uncritical Contextualization assimilates too well with the local beliefs, losing its prophetic characters. This leads to a form of syncretism. I would argue that Non-contextualization also leads to a form of syncretism, but being the uncritical mixing of God’s message with the missionary’s culture rather than the respondents’ culture.

Figure 11. Critical Contextualization

Figure 11 shows these three categories in terms of a pendulum that can swing to one extreme or another. Perhaps a failure in this figure is that it could be interpreted to suggest that the most likely place to end up is in the middle. However, it is probably that the most likely place to end up is at one of the extremes. In both of these extremes, the message may be seen as irrelevant. For Non-contextualization, it is irrelevant because it answers the concerns and ideas of the missionary’s culture, not that of the respondent culture. For Uncritical Contextualization, it may be culturally relevant in the sense that it connects to the beliefs and symbols of the culture, but is irrelevant since it fails to challenge or instruct.

In between is Critical Contextualization which seeks to combine

  • Taking the concerns of the respondent culture seriously
  • Looking at the respondent culture sympathetically
  • Studying the Bible carefully and thoughtfully

This sort of process can be quite helpful in general, but still leaves a lot of uncertainty when it comes to developing a localized theology. One question is, in fact, who does the localization? Is it the missionary? Is it the new believer’s in the respondent culture? In the next chapter, the tests for good contextual theology suggests that the ideal is that new congregations of the respondent culture should develop their own theology, but with critique from the outside. Such an ideal, however, does not always occur. Quite often the most rigorous defenders and transmitter’s of the missionary’s theology are new believers in the respondent culture. And often those who go against the grain and promote their own form of theology in the culture often are not drawing from the culture, but a conflicting external theology. Here in the Philippines, I know many pastor-theologians who have embraced a sort of “Youtube Theology.” By this I mean that they say, in effect, “I saw this thing on the internet, and it changed my life.” Is it good? Maybe. Is it bad? Probably. Is it local? Almost certainly not.

So how do theologies localize? Stephen Bevans has helped greatly in understanding contextualization of theology by describing 6 major categories of philosophies of contexualization.

Translation

Countercultural

Synthetic (Intertraditional)

Transcendental

Praxis

Anthropological

This book won’t try to describe in detail these categories. Partly, this is because one that I STRONGLY recommend you read Bevan’s book yourself, if you haven’t already.. <FN HERE> One may also find value in reading Moreau’s book that expands on Bevan’s ideas, but from a more Evangelical Christian perspective (Since Bevan’s is Roman Catholic). For me, the greatest value of Moreau’s book is not his model of contextualization, which seems a bit cluttered to me. Rather, the value is his recognition that the six models identified by Bevans should be seen as all having some value within Evangelical Christianity. In other words, instead of asking “Which one is correct” it is better to ask what strengths and weaknesses do each bring to the table for Evangelical Christians.

That’s important, as one of the models, Countercultural Model is sometimes described as “Biblical” or “Prophetic” Contextualization. These labels seek to suggest that it is “more Biblical” or more in line with God than other methods. I like to avoid that. The same thing happens in Pastoral Counseling where a number of different writers describe their own flavor of pastoral or spiritual counseling as “Biblical Counseling.” If a form of counseling or contextualization does not stand up on its own merits, it certainly isn’t improved by calling it Biblical. A better idea is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different methods and see what can be gained from these methods.

One can picture a triangle with God’s Revelation being at one corner, Human Culture at a second corner, and Self at the third corner, we may see each of these categories as inhabiting a range (locus) on the triangle. This is because none of these categories are static or tightly defined. Each identifies a range of perspectives. However, on Figure 12, instead of trying to identify a range, a number is placed in an area that I feel comes close to where that range would be centered.

Translation Model is seen as the one that seeks to stay closest to God’s revelation. One seeks to translate God’s message as faithfully as possible to a new culture. This seems to make the most sense to Evangelical Christians. It just sounds like what one is supposed to do. It may be seen as the one that is most faithful to God’s revelation. But this may not be true. The book of Acts addressed multiple opportunities for theological contextualization. These include (1) expressing the nature of God and Jesus to philosophers in Athens, (2) the nature of Greeks joining the church, and (3) the question of eating food sacrificed to idols. In none of these cases, does it appear to me that a translation form of contextualization apply. Translation can be done well or poorly, but if done poorly, it is more likely to lead toward slipping to Non-contextualization in Figure 11.

The Anthropological Model approach takes more seriously the culture in which the theology must be utilized. Frankly, this also makes sense. As noted in Chapter 1, Still, looking at the three examples from the book of Acts, it doesn’t seem like this method was used either. Paul did not ignore the controversial topic of resurrection with the philosophers, the Jerusalem council did not overlook the problem of sexual sin so common in Greek culture, and Paul did not overlook the inappropriateness of Christians worshiping idols. Still, theology is a bridge between God’s revelation and Man’s culture, how can one contextualize to a culture unless one focuses on that particular culture? Done poorly, there is a tendency to fall into Uncritical Contextualization as shown in Figure 11.

In some ways, Translation and Anthropological categories can be seen as opposite, but ideally the differences are slight. Suppose one is seeking to contextualize the Gospel to Omani culture, then Translation seeks to make the message of God understandable to produce Christians who are Omanis. The Anthropological Model seeks essentially the same thing, but with greater emphasis on the culture, it could perhaps be thought of as creating Omanis who are Christian. In theory the two goals (Omani Christians and Christian Omanis) are the same but the switching of nouns and adjectives can be seen to suggest a difference in primary identification. For Translation, the people are, perhaps, Christian first and Omani second. For Anthropological, the people are, again perhaps, Omani first and Christian second. Done will, however, the differences should not be major.

So, if the Translation Model comes closest to focus on God’s Revelation, and the Anthropological Model comes closest on the recipient culture, then the Transcendental Model comes closest to the “Individual Reflection” corner.

Figure 12. Contextualization Models for Theology

Transcendental Model is more of a form of personal theological reflection. Chapter 3 speaks of theology as a reflective activity. However, individual or group theological reflection can be given greater or lesser focus from one tradition to another. Some seminaries, for example, encourage theological reflection, while others focus more on theological indoctrination. For Transcendental contextualization, one looks at Scripture or theology or religious practice in terms of how one reacts, emotionally, to it. One reflects on the reaction, whether positive or negative. This sort of reflection is similar to many other forms of individual theological reflection. It is iterative and process driven. The process is supposed to give opportunity to address theological issues through the lens of context. This for theological contextualization is essentially that broader application of David Tracy’s Transcendental Theological Reflection. <FN>

The Individual Reflection corner, seems to be more individualistic. That can be a bad thing. It can also be seen as potentially disconnected from God’s revelation AND respondent culture. Again, however, it depends on how it is put into practice. An advantage of this reflective process is that one does take time to address one’s own prejudices. Ignoring prejudices does not make them go away. It just makes them not dealt with. Further, it seems like it is quite beneficial both for a missionary in a new culture, and a young believer in a new reached culture.

The Praxis Model is also more towards the individual reflection corner. Like the transcendental model, it is iterative and reflective. The cycle is action and reflection. This is especially popularized in Liberation Theologies. In these theologies, the emphasis is on action prior to reflection (ignoring whether this is even possible). Many Liberation Theologies utilize a Marxist framework in terms of the reflection. That, however, is not universal. For an Evangelical, one can use God’s Word as the primary canon, rather than a historical materialism.

The Countercultural Model seems to have more than one flavor. Some see it as the most “conservative” being the closest to being prone to Non-contextualization (referring again to Figure 11). To me when one is going so far in that direction, one is actually moving more towards the Translation Model. Counterculture IS NOT the same as Anti-cultural,

To me, this model focuses more on the idea of “good scandal,” which will be covered in greater detail in the next chapter. Jesus was A contextual theology should feel natural and normal to the culture it serves, and yet should prophetically challenge that same culture in key ways. This seems the best understanding of countercultural. In most cases, what are considered countercultures are sub-cultures of a broader culture that fits into that culture in MOST ways, but diverges in a small number of key ways.

The Synthetic Model can be thought as referring to Intertraditionality. It honors different perspectives and allows them to interact dialogically to come up with a synthesis of perspectives. Truthfully, it is quite possible that it doesn’t really fit into the triangle chart at all. But if it did, it seems like putting it in the center would be accurate, at least to the extent that one takes different sources without focusing on any one over the other. A clear strength of this is that it does promote dialogue between different perspectives and different peoples.

Missions Theology

You may have noticed that this book is about Missions Theology, but in this chapter we are talking about the methodology of theology development, outside of Missions Theology. So where does Missions Theology fit in?

Missions Theology is a Practical Theology which means that it is always going to be iterative, relating experience actions and experience to God’s word and one’s own faith tradition. As such it aligns somewhat with the Praxis Model. However, the reflection is likely to be different than that of Liberation Theologies, for example. Very commonly, it seems to me, the reflection stage in the process for many in missions is almost strictly pragmatic. They use what I sometimes jokingly describe as “Engineering Ethics.” (I used to be a Mechanical Engineer, so it makes sense to me.) There is a real topic known as Engineering Ethics, but when I am using the term here, what I mean is, “That which works is good and that which doesn’t work is bad.”

But pure pragmatics doesn’t make good Missions Theology. If Missions is, first of all, the activity of God to which we are invited to join, then our theology and actions must be aligned to both the will and activity of God. There is a fairly popular form of churchplanting that actively discourages ministering to the physicaly, psychoemotional, economic, and social needs of people. (I might even argue that it discourages ministering to the spiritual needs as well.) The reason is that it slows down evangelism and church multiplication. In my mind, this is an excellent example of justifying a theology because “it works” even if it is in conflict to God’s work and will. Part of the reflection must be based on God’s revelation.

But Missions Theology must also explicitly deal with culture. I don’t believe one can honestly have a sound Missions Theology that does not address culture seriously. With that in mind, one must also reflect on the activity through the framework of culture. Perhaps a way to look at it is in terms of the Action-Reflection cycle in chapter 3, but with three points rather than two.

Figure 13. Missions Theology Process

Summary

Early on in this book, it was stated that all theology is contextual and contexts are dynamic. As such, theology can and should change. While change is necessary, not all change is good. Wise people do disagree as to the process by which theology should change. That being said, in general, one can say that good theology must be true to God’s Word, take seriously the context, and involve a process of intentional iterative reflection.

Contextual Theology Diagrams

I have SLOWLY been working on my book on Missions Theology. I am putting here a couple of diagrams that are associated with the sections related to Contextual Theology.

  1. The first one is the one related to Models of Contextualization. I am using Stephen Bevans six models.

I try to relate the six models of Stephen Bevans to the focus on the Word of God, Human Context, and Individual Reflection. Of course, all six models take seriously, to some extent, all three areas, but there is a tendency to lean towards one of the poles.

Translation and the Countercultural model emphasize the Word of God over the others. As such, they tend to be appreciated more by Evangelical groups. The Anthropological model gives greatest weight to Human Context.

The Transcendental and Praxis Models I have put as closest to Individual Reflection. Both are intentionally iterative. The Transcendental Model is related to David Tracy’s model for theological reflection. The Praxis Model is the iteration between action and reflection, which is also the general pattern for Practical Theology.

This leaves the Synthetic Model. I would love to place it at the Human Context end of things to make the diagram symmetric. However, the Synthetic Model takes human tradition, praxis, and the Word of God and intentionally synthesizes it. Since those three each point to a different pole, that means that the Synthetic Model fits best in the middle.

2. The second on is Tests for Sound Contextual Theology. This also draws, more loosely, on some work by Stephen Bevans.

These tests help determine whether a contextual theology should be seen as a healthy localization of the Christian faith or not (or as Bevans would say, “in bounds” or “out of bounds”).

The tests are from Divinity, Community, and Function. For previous descriptions of these categories, one can go to a previous post of mine:

https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/https://munsonmissions.org/2016/01/23/doing-local-theology/

I thought about adding more tests. These include:

  • Test of Cultural Relevance (Does it draw from local symbols?)
  • Test of Cultural Resonance (Does the theology speak to the unspoken concerns and passions of a culture?)
  • Test of Aliveness (Does it identify its need to change as culture changes, or does it see itself as “having arrived at ultimate truth”?)

However, upon further reflection, it does occur to me that while these may be good benchmarks for good theology, they are not really tests of orthodoxy.

Missions Theology Chapter 2

Years ago I started to write a book on Missions Theology. I was teaching a course on it, and as usual, I had mixed feelings about the books I had available to use. Therefore, I started writing.

But then I stopped. For one thing, I haven’t had to teach the course again, so I lost part of my motivation. Second, two courses came along that I had much greater motivation to work on books:

The first book I included a LOT of chapters that were going to being in my book on Missions Theology. The second book had less, but did have a fair bit on theological reflection and the case study method, which I consider important for Missions Theology.

So I am not sure if I will finish this book, repeating from my other books, or finish this book only with the topics that I haven’t covered elsewhere, or don’t finish the book.

So here is the first/rough draft of Chapter 2————

Relevant and Faithful Theology

A relevant question that could come up here is which is more difficult? Is it harder to to make theology relevant/resonant with a community, or faithful to God’s Word. At first glance, it may seem that it really depends on the person. For example, an untrained person who is fully enculturated (born into) culture “B” would be quite well-suited to providing a cutlurally relevant theology that sadly is not true to God’s Word. That may be true.

On the other hand, a seminary student enculturated and trained in culture “A” could be reasonably thought competent to provide a theology that is true to God’s word, but is not relevant/resonant in culture “B.” This also makes sense.

Before we delve into this further, this may be a good place to think about the differences between the terms relevant and resonant in the context of culture. According to Mike Aruaz:

Cultural relevance is achieved when the audience recognizes what you’ve created as something that reflects their culture.”

Cultural Resonance is achieved when your audience uses what you’ve created to talk to each other about something meaningful that they’ve been observing in their culture.”

Using cultural symbols may make a message relevant, but it may not strike a resonant chord with the deep interests and concerns of a people.

Now let’s consider Figure 7. It shows two Culture circles— Culture A and Culture B. Anything within those circles are culturally relevant and/or resonant. The figure is a bit false because certainly there are things that are relevant to both cultures at the same time, so certainly two cultures much overlap in some ways. For ease of visualization, however, they are shown as fully separate. Within each of thdse circles is a smaller circle of theologies that are relevant/resonant to the respective cultures. Therefore, there were be theologies that are seen as relevant to that culture, providing answers to their concerns— regardless of whether the theologies are true or not.

Overlapping God’s Revelation with it, creates smaller regions. God’s Word as canon, provides a standard or limiter of what is acceptable to God. If we accept that God’s Revelation has a message that is, ultimately, relevant to all cultures, there will be an overlap of God’s Revelation with every cultural circul, including Cultures “A” and “B.” And, likewise, if God’s Revelation is relevant to all cultures, then there should be the potential for culturally relevant theologies that are true to God’s Word for all cultures.

The overlapping circles creates several regions.

  • Region 1 is a contextual theology that is both comprehenisble to Culture “A” and is true to God’s message. (Region 4 corresponds to this but for Culture “B”.) This is in contrast to Region 5 which are culturally relevant theologies that are not true to God’s message for Culture “A” (with the corresponding Region 6 for Culture “B”).
  • Region 2 is how God’s message is relevant or resonant to Culture A, as Region 3 is for Culture “B.”
  • One could look at Regions 7, for Culture “A,” and 8, for Culture “B” as aspects of their respective cultures that are not affected by God’s revelation. For example, the food they eat, the solutions they come up to environmental needs, much of the music and customs they practice may be unaffected by God’s Word. God’s message does not call on eradicaton of all cultural variation between peoples. Thus, Christians within a culture can still be “at home” in their culture while being true to God’s Word.

Figure 7. Culture and Theology

Now, let’s return to the two scenarios at the beginning of this chapter. Consider John, a new believer raised up in predominantly non-Christian Region B. With limited understanding of God’s Word, it is more likely that his attempts to theologize God’s message to his own people will drift into Region 6 (culturally relevant theoligies that are not well-grounded on God’s Word). Additionally, John’s lack of experience with other cultures may hinder him as well in identifying what is culturally important and what is not. He may slide into ethnocentrism (Culture “B” must be right and good) or exoticism (we are messed up and must become like Culture “A’)

It in the second scenario, consider James, a Christian from Culture “A” who is seeking to serve as a missionary in Culture “B.” Without solid training long-term training in Culture “B” it is more likely that his theology is going to not be in Region 4, but in Region 1. He is likely to express God’s Message to Culture B in the theological construct relevant to Culture “A.”

James’s situation may even be worse than Thomas. He is not only inadequately trained in Culture “B,” he may also be inadequately trained in God’s revelation. Often in seminary, there is greater effort to teach the theology of the denominational sub-culture, than on teaching the God’s word. James may have a dual disadvantage.

But which limitation is greater for the seminary graduate? It is arguably the second one. Spending time in Culture “B” will gradually reveal the nuances of the culture… and subtleties that are beyond him can be filled in by host believers eventually. However, the expansion of one’s understanding of God’s Revelation to the point that it is clearly seen as it relates to a different culture is much harder. One might even suggest that without the Holy Spirit’s illumination, the task would be impossible.

Two Example from the Bible

A.  As the Israelites escaped from Egypt, they eventually arrived at Mt. Sinai. There, Moses went up to commune with God, while the Isrealites and the other non-Israelites who had escaped with them waited. When Moses failed to come down from the mountain after a long time, the people feared and asked Aaron to deal with the situation. In Exodus 32, Aaron makes an altar and a golden calf. Why would he do this?

In Egypt, the bull is sacred, and so he may have been drawing answers from the culture he was raised in (heterodox theology from culture A). On the other hand, knowing that they are heading to Canaan, where the bull is a symbol of Baal, “the local god,” this may have been a heterodox theology seeking relevance in culture B.

Before one get’s too critical, it must be noted that there are considerable similarities between orthodox Israelite Theology (as guided by the Mosaic Law) and Egyptian theology. According to Herodotus (The Horizon Book of Lost Worlds, by Leonard Cotrell, page 288ff), the Egyptians:

  • Practiced circumcision
  • Had a priesthood
  • Practice rites of cleanliness
  • Had rules regarding “clean” and “unclean” foods
  • Had animal sacrifice with requirements that the animals are unblemished.
  • Maintained rules of endogamy (prohibitions against marrying outside of one’s ethnicity)

In Egypt, the Bull was sacred to Apis, a god popularly worshiped in Memphis (Egypt) and often seen as a go-between of man and the higher gods. It is hardly surprising that Aaron might go in that direction. In Exodus 32:6, part of the worship was to “play,” suggesting the sexual activities associated with the Canaanite faith. This sympathetic magic was tied to fertility of families as well as the land. Apis, in Egypt, was also often seen as a god of fertility.

Aaron, with limited understanding of God’s will, made a pretty good attempt at guessing what God would want based on his understanding of Egyptian culture, and perhaps his limited understanding of Canaanite culture as well.

But he was still wrong. It took God’s Word, coming through Moses, to clarity what God expected of them. The result was something that would “make sense” to most of the people, while still deeply challenging them to change in some key ways.

Interestingly, God’s revelation to Moses actually was not simply to one culture, but to two. The revelation was to Israel, a nomadic people– but also to Israel of the future, a sedentary people.

B.  In the New Testament, we find the Apostles and church leaders struggling with the issue of how God’s revelation would apply to non-Jews. The Apostles and church leaders would be seen as well-versed in Scripture, as well as the words of Jesus. Yet, they truly struggled with this. The Jerusalem Council, in Acts 15, was where this was dealt with as a body. The action of the Holy Spirit helped to sway the body to the understanding that Greeks do not have to become Jews to become Christians. Even after the council, however, struggles remained, as seen in differences between Paul’s understanding and the council decision (there is no indication at least that Paul rejected the eating of blood for Gentiles). It is also seens in the Epistle to the Galatians (if one accepts that that letter was written after the Jerusalem Council), where people who were apparently well-versed in the Hebrew Bible differed considerably from Paul and the Apostles in its application to Greeks.

Summary

It is easy to use or create theologies that are not in line with Scripture when reaching out to a predominantly non-Christian culture. Young believers in the culture may lack the Biblical backing needed. Seminarians from another culture may lack cultural knowledge, AND may be better trained in the theology of their own culture or sub-culture than they are in God’s Word.

Discussion

1. John in this chapter has an “emic” (insider’s) perspective of the culture in which he is ministering. James in this chpater has an “etic” (outsider’s) perspective. Both can provide hindrances to effective ministry. How might James and John do to limit the problems with their own perspectives?

Correlation in Missions Theology

Correlation is described by Paul Tillich as:

 

Theology formulates the questions implied in human existence, and theology formulates the answers implied in divine self-manifestation under the guidance of the questions implied in human existence. This is a circle which drives man to a point where question and answer are not separated.

Paul Tillich, “Systematic Theology,” 1951, pg. 61

 

In other words, Theology seeks to answer the questions brought up from human existence, and asks the questions that must be explored in that same existence. This is an iterative process with no end-point.

 

Pastoral Care serves as an activity in ministry of human existence that drives this sort of theological reflection or correlation. Howard Stone describes this process:

 

For authentic correlation to occur, the pastor must return over and over again to the primary texts that shape the faith. An ethics course back in seminary…. [for example] … may not sufficiently alert pastors to the dangers of an increasingly emotional involvement with and dependency on a counselee of the opposite sex. So, for correlation to occur, the pastor must repeatedly return to the sources of the faith, read widely in theology and ethics, and have a continuing dialogue with the competing value and belief systems present in our culture.

Besides a continual return to the sources, reflection on present experience also is required. The pastor must reflect not only on former learnings, but also on recent events, indeed upon the care that is currently being given. …. It is easy for one’s theological beliefs to become separated from the material world in which one works. A calm review of experience as it relates to the sources of faith, the people who are being cared for, and one’s day-to-day relationship with God is essential if there is to be any ongoing encounter between theology and pastoral care.

Howard W. Stone, “The Word of God and Pastoral Care,” Abingdon Press, pp. 35-36

 

Correlation again goes back to two poles— experience and reflection. However, with Stone, there are actually three aspects. Experience is seen in serving and interacting in a pastoral care setting. Reflection, however, involves two aspects. One is readings (including Scripture and wisdom from one’s faith tradition in terms of theology and ethics). The other is one’s personal relationship with God.

 

Ultimately, pastoral theology cannot be divorced from ministerial experience. Neither can it be divorced from one’s personal relationship with God, nor from the wisdom of one’s faith.

 

But Stone goes on to add another factor to the reflection.

 

Reflection is insufficient, however, if it is done in isolation outside a communal context.

Ibid., pg. 36


 

Stone goes on to consider the different forms such communal context takes place. It can involve formal supervision, or a peer group setting or more. The point is, however, that theological reflection is never to be done in a vaccuum. Experience is in the community, and reflection is in a community as well.

 

Experience is tied to community. Reflection is tied to community, personal relationship with God, and one’s reading and reflection on God’s word, and works of theology and ethics of one’s faith.

Encountering Theology of Mission

I recently finished reading Encountering Theology of Mission: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues, by Craig Ott, Stephen J. Strauss, and Timothy C. Tennent. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I enjoy Mission Theology, and have long been concerned that much of missions has a sort of Machiavellian quality to it (do what seems to work), partly due to a failure to recognize the foundational nature of theology to sound ministry practice.9780801026621

I read as an interested party rather than a reviewer. As such, I probably lack the critical eye needed to give a proper analysis of the work. What I can say is that I felt that the first two parts (‘Biblical Foundations of Mission’ and ‘Motives and Means for Mission’) were excellent giving a good overview of the subject matter. Although clearly from an Evangelical perspective, the picture given was broader, and appropriately tentative, commonly, with regards to conclusions.

Perhaps I need to read it again, but the third part (‘Mission in Local and Global Context’) left me rather unsatisfied. It seemed to me that the coverage of contextualization of theology was inadequate, with no serious mention, as I recall, of evaluating localized theologies. I think the weakest section was the final chapter, dealing with ‘The Necessity of Mission: Three Uncomfortable Questions.’ It seemed like the rather balanced and theological tone of the previous chapters disappeared, and was replaced by a more apologetic approach to some awkward questions in Evangelical circles. There is a tendency here to challenge the arguments for non-traditional viewpoints (to an Evangelical) with equally disputable arguments. To be fair, they were dealing with tough questions that will always be open to honest disagreement, and maybe I am being unfair since my views may not be entirely in line with the authors in this section.

For me the strongest section would probably be chapter 6 where I feel the authors did an excellent job of dealing with the difficult balance of “Spiritual” and “Social” aspects of Missions. Additionally, the historical and contemporary motivations and understanding of mission tasks I felt to again be fair and address intelligently the diversity that has been associated with the Christian mission.

All in all, those interested in theology or missions (or theology and missions) should find this book interesting and valuable. To me, it establishes a good foundation historically and biblically for viewing a number of issues regarding theology of mission. At its strongest, I found it greatly rewarding without getting bogged down in minutiae. Even in its less strong points, it still provides a good starting point for additional research. Of recent books that I have read on a theological or biblical foundation for missions, I would place it second only to C.J.H. Wright’s book, “The Mission of God.” And compared to Wright’s book, this book is shorter and more accessible. That does have its advantages.  Bosch’s book “Transforming Mission” is hard for me to compare to this book because of the years separating the reading. I guess I would have to say that one should really read all three books… and value each one for its own strengths.

 

In Search of Missions’ Flexible Boundaries

So what constitutes “missions”? This is a continuing argument between me and myself. I am working on a book on Mission Theology. One of the many aspects of Mission Theology has to do with what are the boundary lines of what we call “missions.”

Some might see this as an irrelevant concern… or perhaps just an academic one, but it can hit home in important ways. I have had missionary friends who run an orphanage in a developing country be completely defunded because their supporting church determined that caring for orphans in a cross-cultural setting was not missions. I have seen a major mission orga12a848591ed70253f18d2ee6a1389562nization “gut” its education arm because it determined that valid missions was evangelism and churchplanting by foreigners in UPGs. I struggle to see falling back on the, in my mind, debunked slogan “evangelize not educate” is a positive step. (Curiously, in recent years that same mission organization has reversed direction again… but is it too late?)

Personally, I like a broad definition, but must acknowledge that calling EVERYTHING missions in Christian ministry can have negative impact. So I had recently done a couple of posts that suggest a more narrow definition. My last one on this subject even suggested that it might be best to separate between “missionary” and associated mission work, and “cross-cultural minister” and its related ministry work.

But NOW, I would to flip-flop again and make the counter-argument, suggesting a broader definition again. And I would like to do so in terms of a story:

Some time ago, I was serving as a dissertation supervisor for a student here in the Philippines. I am a professor of Christian missions, and the topic of this student was the use of some principles from the Missional Church movement for cross-cultural outreach in a specific locale. As the prospectus was being reviewed by some of the professors, two expressed considerable concern about the topic, suggesting that utilizing “missional church” principles is not “missions.” Truthfully, such feelings have some merit. In fact, some aspects of the missional church movement can be quite Anti-Missions (as strange as that may seem). Additionally, since the missional church movement is more often focused on E-1 and E-2 outreach (rather than the more undeniably “missions-ish” category of E-3 outreach) one could make the point that such a topic should not be seen as valid for a missions dissertation at all.

At the defense of the prospectus, these concerns were reiterated. I acknowledged them but noted reasons I felt it was appropriate for a missions dissertation, even if it may not be smack dab in the center of what we think of as missions research. I won’t go over my reasons here. But I noted that my dissertation was accepted at the same school years before, and was on doing medical mission events in the Philippines. Based on the criteria suggested for what constitutes missions at this present board, my dissertation would not be a missions dissertation either. The response that came back from one of the professors was that the understanding of missions has changed so maybe my dissertation would (should?) be refused today. Interesting response. That got me thinking a bit. That would be the implication of accepting a “newer” understanding of what constitutes missions.  I, however, struggle with the idea that medical mission ministry that is international and cross-cultural should be researched and taught within a missions department of a seminary while medical mission ministry that is local but in every other way the same as its international counterpart should be researched and taught in an entirely different department. But one does have to have boundaries around what would be considered missions— at least in academia.

In the end, the prospectus was accepted with only minor changes. Part of that was that the dissertation clearly did not fit into any of the other accepted categories at the seminary. As such, if it is a valid research, it has to be under Missions. We did not continue the discussion of what should constitute missions and what should not, but acknowledged that it should be reviewed at a future date.

But… if I was going to make my case for a wider definition of missions as a counterpoint to the “newer and narrower” definition(s) for missions, this is what I would offer:

The definition of missions has not only changed in recent years, it has been changing for decades, and even centuries. The 1932 “Hocking Report” was one of the early (modern) attempts to aggresively redefine missions, but there have been many changes and attempted changes through the IMC, WCC, the Lausanne movement, and more.

So think about it this way. If the newer definitions are better than the older definitions, they have come to be through flexibility (old cannot change to new unless there is flexibility to allow such change). So if the new is good, so is the flexibility that allowed the new to be developed. And,  if flexibility is good, then the boundaries of what constitutes missions should constantly be challenged. Without challenging boundaries, boundaries become rigid… inflexible… unchanging.

In the 1960s (as I noted in a previous article) there were attempts to redefine missions in terms of “Christian Presence” and (relativistic) dialogue, on the WCC side of missions. During this same period, on the Conservative Evangelical side, there were attempts to narrowly define missions in terms of proclamation-style evangelism and cross-cultural churchplanting. In my mind, it is good that none of these completely won out the day.

Missions, as understood in academic circles as well as in mission organizations and denominational groups,  is strongest with a flexible boundary– one that allows new ideas and old ideas to be challenged and evaluated.

Sometimes we need ministry and research where people ask “Is this missions?” The answer often should be “We will find out.”

 

 

Missions Theology and the 60s

The 1960s was an important decade for a number of reasons. Though down the list for many, the transformation of Missions Theology during this time was huge.

Sometimes, it seems like a lot of changes happened back in the 1920s and 1930s. During this time there was disillusionment with “Christendom,” and Christian missions as a (Western) Civilizing influence. Also W. E. Hocking’s influence and his work in developing “American Report of the Commission of Appraisal of the Laymen’s Foreign Mission Enquiry” that promoted a pluralistic agenda  away from evangelism and conversion, had an influence. Despite this, the dominant views of missions stayed in many ways in line with missions of the 19th and early 20th centuries. And this continued into the early 1960s.

For example, at the 1961 gathering ofjohn-stott-love-truth-themajestysmen the World Council of Churches in New Delhi, the purpose of the Commission of World Mission and Evangelism was “to further the proclamation to the whole world of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to the end that all men may believe in Him and be saved.” (“Christian Mission in the Modern World” by John Stott, p. 133). This view was in line with the mission perspective of previous decades. It is true that Evangelism was often seen in terms of a partnership of proclamation and social ministry, but that hardly is out of line with the practice of missions through the Great Century and before.

Dialogue was recognized in the early part of the 1960s as an important part of dealing with other religions. However, it was understood in a manner quite different than the relativistic form that was popularized years later:

“True dialogue with a man of another faith requires a concern both for the Gospel and for the other man. Without the first, dialogue becomes a pleasant conversation. Without the second it becomes irrelevant, unconvincing, or arrogant. Whatever the circumstances may be, our intention for every human dialogue should be to be involved in the dialogue of God with men, and to move our partner and oneself to listen to what God in Christ reveals to us, and to answer him.”

(Ronald K. Orchard, ed., “Witness in Six Continents: Records of the Meeting of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches Held in Mexico City, 8-19 December 1963”)

However, as the decade advanced, changes continued. There was a growth of seeing Mission in terms of “Christian Presence” which called for behavior that appeared to be every bit as vague as the term sounds. With “The Church for Others” published by the WCC in 1967, things had radically changed. Missions did not really involve a call to repentance. Proselytism is seen as “the opposite” of missions. Conversion is not seen so much as individual and personal, but more corporate in form. That is not to say there were no good points in the work… but rather that mission theology had radically changed… and much of those changes undermined the historical purposes of doing mission work.

“Presence” became a word that was used as a substitute for “witness,” “mission,” and “evangelism.” Charles de Foucauld described a missionary as a person who is in the place with a presence willed and determined as a witness to the love of God in Christ.’ (“Missions Theology” by Rodger C. Bassham, p. 73)  This definition is not so much wrong or bad, but so vague that it could entail doing almost anything or nothing. Panikkar during this same period, saw missionaries not so much as bringing Christ to other cultures, but helping other cultures “discover Christ” in their culture through the missionary’s service to the people.

Why would there be such a radical change during this time? I really don’t know. However, the IMC, International Missionary Council, formally joined the World Council of Churches in 1961. Perhaps the IMC, a thoroughly missions-oriented organization, provided a strong influence on the WCC gatherings in 1961 and 1963… but that influence waned later in the decade, being then driven more by churches that had a different perspective and agenda.

The 1960s also saw the growth of Conservative Evangelical Missions with competing gatherings of their own in the 1960s at Wheaton and Berlin. Sadly, some of the missions theology with the Evangelicals was little better than that of the WCC, especially in the early years of the decade. In Wheaton there was a tendency to broaden missions to including drawing people into Evangelical groups from non-Evangelical Christian groups. At the same time, there was an even stronger push to narrow missions. Missions was so narrowly defined by some as to reject education and social ministry. Some like members of MacGavran’s Church Growth movement, sought to view missions as only entailing churchplanting, and separating between discipling (a missionary role) and perfecting (something almost the same as discipling, but not viewed a missionary role). <Part of me appreciates the definition of missions as only churchplanting. It is simple… logical… elegant. However, it is also unscriptural, and establishes missions without a firm foundation.>

Thankfully, much of these views did not end up being approved in finalized statements. But the views in the 1960s have had a strong impact on Evangelical missions even until today.

There were some, like John Stott, who managed to be relevant/influential with both sides. I don’t really believe that unity for the sake of unity is a virtue. Spiritual unity can occur with organizational diversity (but spiritual unity probably does not exist when we focus on stealing people from other Christian churches, and define such activity as “the Lord’s Work.”)

I feel like some of the greater eccentricities of missions theology that grew in the 1960s may have been hammered out better with greater dialogue between both sides. The focus on missions as expressing God’s love through personal presence in the world is nice but wholly inadequate. But so was missions that embraced proclamation of the Word without Christian service. Maybe the two sides could have learned and grown from each other.

But I could be wrong.

Book Reflection: “The Mission of God” Part 2

This is a continuation of the reflections on “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright.  NOTE: This is NOT a review… just things that the book got me thinking about. I haven’t finished the book yet (I am slow sometimes, but I have to give it a STRONG recommendation already).

The book seeks to develop a Biblical Theology of Missions, as well as a missional hermeneutic for understanding the Bible. This got me thinking…

IS HAVING A SOLID MISSION THEOLOGY NEEDED?

With some reflection it seems to me that the obvious answer is YES and NO. It is NO in the sense that most Christians can carry out God’s mission on earth quite effectively without having a very strong theological foundation for what they do and why. But where does YES come in?

1. History has shown that Christian missions has moved forward in fits and starts (and stops). It pops up here with great fervor and dies away over there. Among missional people there is often a belief that missions people are more godly or spiritual or “on fire” than those who are not. I have not seen this as true. Perhaps missional fervor is NOT a good judge of spirituality. Perhaps the fact that missions is often disconnected from normal Christian life, and ecclesiastical life means that missions is commonly borne along through a few who are motivated in that specific area of the Christian walk. Perhaps, having a missional theology that is linked better with the overall understanding of the theology of God, Man, World, and Church, would reduce the fickleness of the overall movement of Christian missions. (Just a theory.)

2. When there is a disconnect between theology and its application, problems often spring up. Let me give an example. William Carey was a pastor of the Particular Baptists, a strongly Calvinistic group in England. This group had little interest in missions. God preordained people to Heaven or Hell after all… so what is the point of reaching out? William Carey wrote a booklet challenging this logic. He used the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to argue that Jesus gave the command to evangelize to all Christians not just the original Twelve. He made a strong case for this.

However, note this. He did not really challenge the Calvinistic doctrines… just argued that one should not use those doctrines to deny something the Jesus commanded us to do. Calvinism (particularly consistent Calvinists) always had a gaping hole when it came to missions going back to… well… John Calvin. Carey made it clear that regardless of what one believes doctrinely, one should evangelize because Jesus commanded us to. There is a seeming disconnect here. It is hardly surprising that just decades later among the Baptists (and the Campbellite offshoot) developed the “Antimissional Movement.” It was a reaction away from missions, in part because of the Calvinistic theology of its members.

This is not a diatribe against Calvinism (I am neither Calvinist nor Anti-Calvinist). But when one’s theology is not consistent with the ministerial application, it is hardly a shock that problems recur. One could argue that Re-Thinking Missions: A Laymen’s Inquiry After One Hundred Years, also known as the Hocking Report (1932) got much of its strength from the fact that missions was built on a poor theological foundation… and as such was easy to topple or redirect.

3.  Missions is often drawn from a “gerrymandering” of Bible verses. Often it seems as the practitioners of missions have already determined what they want to do and why, and simply pick those verses that seem to support what they are already doing. I know churches who have dumped all social missions because missions to them is proclamation, conversion, discipleship, and church-planting. I have known of churches who have cut off funding to orphanages because orphanages are not evangelistic… and so are not missional. They have verses to support their view… but they have to throw out an awful lot of the Bible to support such an idea. I have known missions agencies that have (incredibly) stopped working in very productive areas because people in those areas were no longer labeled “unreached people groups.” The Biblical justification for this is shallow, and the logic of stopping work because it is productive is… odd to say the least. Wouldn’t it be better to understand what God’s mission is (based on God’s revelation and character) and then come alongside… rather than doing what we want to do  and then select verses (“prooftexts”) to back it up?

4.  There is some really sloppy missions methodology out there… some of which comes from a very poor theological foundation. The focus on Unreached People Groups has been justified by utilizing Matthew 24:14. Some have taught that once we have reached all “people groups” Christ will immediately (or at least almost immediately) return. First, the passage never says that, nor, in my mind, even implies it. Second, the application of that interpretation results in a behavior that comes close to… well… evil. Think about it. People focus on trying to get the gospel into every “people group” (however one chooses to define such an entity) pulling resources away from successful outreaches among “reached” peoples in hopes that God would come back sooner. In practice that means one is seeking to reduce outreach to many people and shorten the time that the Gospel is available for response. One is actually trying to send more people to hell by giving them less time and opportunity to respond. Weird! If one truly believed the quite fanciful interpretation of the Matthew passage and believed (equally fancifully) that one could define exact “people groups” (ethne)… the proper response would seem to be to reach as many people as possible among all people groups as possible— except one. Only after evangelistic saturation of all peoples (is that realistic?) would one saturate the last people group with the gospel. <Thankfully, God did not give us control of when He comes, nor gave us the calling to “time” His return.> By the way, I am not against reaching all people in all cultures… nor do I believe that doing so nor failing to do so will change God’s timing one iota.

Some evangelical missions leaders back in the 1950s and 60s had embraced an apocalyptic view of Christianity (Christ is coming any day… at least any day really really soon.) As such, they tossed aside God’s work in caring for people’s needs in favor of quick conversion. But they were wrong… 50, 60 years later and Christ is not here yet. What if investment in demonstrating God’s love had been effectively linked to proclaiming God’s love over the last several decades (rather than disconnected). Personally, I think carrying out God’s full mission faithfully without trying to “read the signs” would have been more effective, and is still more effective today.

The Missionary Call seems to be another area of sloppiness. There seems to be little Biblical support for it at all. Christ calls all to follow Him. The church may call people to be pastors or missionaries (apostles)… but does God? I don’t think so. If He did, then the missionary call is primarily an “anti-missionary call” since the vast majority of Christians are, presumably,  not so called. The missionary call seems to be more of an excuse not to be missional than it is to motivate people to missions. Defining missions in terms of only being cross-cultural, or only to the “called”, or only for “professionals” seems to be without theological basis as well. It is hardly surprising that there are good Christians that argue that missions and missionaries are unbiblical. I have even seen blogsites that challenge Christians to show that missions and missionaries are Biblical. You know, IF one uses the common definitions utilized today, I think they have a point. However, if one is willing to challenge the definitions I believe we see the Bible as a missional book and a book of God on mission and us on God’s mission.

5.  The poor theology has led to questions about even what is the goals of missions. What is missions supposed to do?

  • Get conversions and baptisms?
  • Get churches planted?
  • Disciple?
  • “Civilize” the people?
  • Help social needs?
  • Socially liberate?
  • Promote specific denomination or theological goals?

A sound theology of missions should help determine what are our priorities and what are extraneous.

Yes, I think it is high time that God’s people take seriously Missions Theology… or a missional understanding of God.

Book Reflection: “The Mission of God” Part 1

Based on the recommendation of a former pastor of mine, I have started reading “The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative” by Christopher J.H. Wright. It is still early (I haven’t reached page 100 yet) but I have found much value in what I have read so far. The book seeks to look at Missions from the grand narrative (the eschatological history through the Old and New Testament) of the Bible. It isn’t a Missions Theology perhaps, but it seems to me to be a refreshing first step… a Biblical theology of missions.

If that (a Biblical theology of missions) was its only accomplishment (drawing missions inductively from the entire Biblical text) it would be a worthy accomplishment. Wright, however, seeks to go further and suggest a missional hermeneutic for Biblical interpretation. At first thought, this seems flawed. It suggests a Procrustean process of jamming the Bible into a mold, and changing the interpretation to fit that mold while removing or ignoring things that ultimately don’t fit. (I am sure many/most of us can come up with examples of this). But the Bible, as God’s message of love and hope to man is arguably a direct product of God’s mission, and a clear proclamation of that same mission. As such, missional interpretation seems quite appropriate.

I have heard many people involved in Christian missions say that they do missions because of the “Great Commission.” But there are a few more GREATS needed.

1.  We may do missions “because” of the “Great Commission.” But

2.  The Great Commission is simply application of the “Great Commandment.” But

3.  The Great Commandment is simply a summarization of the “Great Communication” (God’s Special Revelation). But

4.  The Great Communication is simply the literary form of the “Great Creation” (Referring to God’s revelations in physical creation, in narrative creation, in self-disclosure). But

5.  The Great Creation is the artifacts and observed behavior of God our “Great Christ.” (In this case, Christ is used, utilizing the ‘C’, to described God as the one who reigns.)

Anyone who stops at the Great Commission, has stopped way too early.