I am considering writing a book— or maybe only an article, we will see— on a model of missions that embraces Weak, Small, and Poor as positive, even defining, characteristics. In line with that, I was looking a bit at Mission from a Position of Weakness by Paul Jeong (American University Studies Series 7— Theology and Religion Vol. 269, New York, Peter Lang, 2007). It looks at Missions from a position of weakness rather than power as consistent with the model given us by Jesus, continued by the early Apostles, and modeled by many missionaries and mission movements since then. I hope soon to read Power in Weakness: Paul’s Transformed Vision for Ministry by Timothy G. Gombis. The title of this second one sounds interesting even if I am not convinced the vision is in any way original to Paul. But one can not know a book by either its cover or its title.
Back to Jeong’s book for now, Ed Schroeder wrote a review of the book for the journal “Missiology.” In it he gave a critique of the book where he suggested that it lacked an underlying theological foundation (not unusual in Missions writings). Jeong suggested that there are different ways to do missions, but Weakness is best because it is consistent with the example of Christ. While this Biblical argument may be good, it is incomplete. Jesus did not use satellite communication for spreading His message, but that is not enough to throw out all electronic technology in mission work. Schroeder suggests that Weakness Missions is not only the most Biblical form of Missions, it is the most theologically sound. He suggests that Weakness Missions aligns with Theology of the Cross, while Power Missions aligns with Glory Theology. Glory Theology is oriented towards power and success— seeing the Christian life as progressive towards accumulation of authority and blessing. The Theology of the Cross (consider the writings of Martin Luther) sees ourselves as weak and suffering but in a state of Grace due to what Christ has done on the cross. I will have to look into it a bit more. I am not an expert on any of this, but am aware that Glory Theology is a bit of a “straw man” to contrast Theology of the Cross. It is, however, a straw man that many take as their Christian worldview.
At this time, it seems to me that there are three pretty good arguments for Weakness Missions over Power (money, social control and political coercion, for example) Missions:
- Biblical (Jesus gave us the example that we are suppose to follow, as well as the example of the apostles that followed the example of Christ.)
- Theological (God’s Word leads us to an understanding of our living in a state of weakness and suffering that compels us to live and minister in complete dependence on God, rather than on utilizing strategies and forms of influence to coerce others to align with our goals and faith.)
- Historical/Practical (History has shown that many of the most successful mission movements have followed a model of weakness, not power, and those that successfully utilize power missions often create problems that undermine their short-term success.)
An area that I struggle with is the area of divine power. If we are to rely on God, to what extent is Weakness Missions consistent with things like Power Encounter. There are many who support some form of “Vulnerable Missions” who still also promote miracles/signs as part of the ministry. Biblically, this appears to be sound. Jesus did use miracles— sometimes as an act of compassion, and sometimes as a sign of His authority to give a message. The early Apostles did the same. A look in the Gospels and the Book of Acts shows that (1) there is some ambivalence as to the results of such work, and (2) it seems as if miracles were used more at the start of ministry work and less as time went on.
But my question is whether these should be considered to work against the idea of Weakness Missions. My short-term answer (that may change) is SOMETIMES. I feel that in Missions, promoters of Power Encounter such as Charles Kraft and C. Peter Wagner clearly embraced Power Missions. (It is interesting that Jeong’s book was originally a dissertation at Fuller, a seminary that has had such a major role in promoting Power Missions (in my opinion at least).) I come from a faith tradition that is pretty skeptical of miracles in the present era. While I do believe that a somewhat open-minded skepticism is probably for the best, that doesn’t really answer the question here. If Weakness means demonstrating dependence on the power of God rather than on the power of man, when does the use of God’s power drift from dependence to exploitation and abuse. From New Apostolic Reformation, to preachers in Africa calling down curses on their competition, there is a place where what should be seen as good becomes toxic.
Still mulling this. Hopefully I will have a good tentative answer by the time I am ready to publish something.