Bosch on Paul’s Missionary Partnership with Churches

David Bosch was a missiological beast. In his chapter on “Mission in Paul” from Transforming Mission, Bosch identified three aspects of Paul’s missionary strategy. First, he argued that Paul targeted the cities. Eckhard Schnabel in his study of Paul concurred, noting that Paul’s “burden” was “to reach as many Jews and Gentiles as possible with the message of salvation in Jesus Christ, wherever they lived” (Paul the Missionary, 282). Second, Bosch showed that Paul’s strategy meant utilizing dozens of coworkers drawn from the churches he planted or encountered. Finally, Bosch argued that Paul set himself up, as an apostle, as an example of following Christ, as a life indistinguishable from the gospel itself. Such as example required a close relationship with local churches in the mission. Thus, close, personal partnership with churches being established in highly populated city centers was a key aspect of Paul’s missionary strategy.

The following is a salient quote from Bosch on Paul’s partnership with local churches in mission (Note: I have removed parenthetical references within the quote):

In his fellow-workers Paul embraces the churches and these identify with his missionary efforts; this is the primary intention of the cooperative mission. Where members of the community are chosen for this work they put their charisma for a certain period at the disposal of the mission, and through their delegates the churches themselves become partners in the entire enterprise. The role of the co-workers only becomes transparent if seen in relation to the churches. This ministry demonstrates the coming of age of the churches. The foundational relationship between the co-workers and their local churches has to be taken into account at all times. Theologically this signifies that Paul regards his mission as a function of the church.

What are some implications of this Pauline strategy for the local church in mission?

Culture Change and World(view)s

Its is duly noted that a discussion of the relationship between language, culture and worldview is necessary in the overall discussion at hand. However, I shall wait for that discussion until a later time. Until then, the following is a continuation of my previous post.

Cultures, and their underlying worldviews, inevitably change. There are several factors that cause cultural change: cultures make advances through knowledge and discovery; also, cultures, through a process called “diffusion” adopt or reject new ideas and practices they find as they encounter other cultures; cultures may also have practices forced on them through “acculturation”, whereby a weaker culture must adapt to customs of living and thinking from a more dominant partner; cultures may rebel against dominant forces.[1] As cultures change, the underlying worldviews change, whether slowly or quickly, depending on the method of change. However, one aspect of a worldview is that is functions to protect the culture from radical shifts that might break the consciousness of a people.[2]

The gospel calls for change, therefore Christianity always has been concerned, more or less, with cultural change. There are many different reasons for this concern, whether due to the associated view of culture itself or to the relationship of Christianity to “other” cultures, or to the biblical concern for transformation and discipleship of the “world,” or because of the missionary nature of the Bible; Christianity is rarely content to leave culture alone. As Christianity has proselytized itself into various cultures, missionaries, as cultural guests, have not always come with the best interests of the host culture in mind. This was increasingly the case from the advent of the modern missionary movement until after the anti-colonial era of missions. Thus, missionaries attempted to enact cultural change less through the vehicles of cultural change like discovery and diffusion but more through the medium of “acculturation”. Benignly, this process has been labeled colonialism, but more acutely, this has been labeled imperialism. Not surprisingly, the colonial era in missions largely coincided with rise of the Enlightenment paradigm.[3]

Even with this history, missionaries concern themselves with cultural change. Ultimately, the gospel demands it. Christianity, by its very nature, is a universalizing religion. Theologians and, especially, missiologists dedicate themselves to understanding how cultures change and to the ways missionaries can and/or should inaugurate such changes. Every major missionary anthropology textbook includes a section on culture change that goes beyond describing how cultures change toward a particular prescriptive methodology. Of these anthropologies, Paul Hiebert advocates inaugurating the change at the worldview level rather than at the level of external cultural forms.[4]

Even so, positing a biblical worldview as the authority for worldview transformation may be dangerous. Worldviews, by their very nature, are particularizing and internally-oriented; the gospel is universalizing and externally-oriented. [5] Thus, with a worldview, there is the danger of universalizing a particular, when the gospel particularizes a universal.[6] There is a difference. Taking a particular worldview then universalizing it tends to erase all distinctives, and thus serves as a totalizing metanarrative. To say that there is a singular biblical worldview is misleading. It implies that all Christians, arising from multiple cultural contexts, will no longer be different. Everyone will think, speak, feel, choose, eat, sleep, relate, etc., exactly the same way. Alternatively, taking a universal world and particularizing it tends to maintain distinctives which serve the universal and that serve other particulars.[7] David Bosch calls the latter “Mission as the church-with-others.”[8] Bosch’s discussion complements the nature of the universalizing “biblical world.” (more on the “biblical world” to follow in later posts). Ultimately, “the church-with-others” at the same time identifies itself in worship of its creator and redeemer and it acts as an agent of transformation of and service to the world.[9] Therefore, Christians from multiple cultural contexts will maintain many of their distinctives while all sharing the same root metaphor that reshapes and reforms their worldview. Thus, the “biblical world” hosts many different worldviews.

The church best performs this service as active participants in the “biblical world” rather than as individuals or communities merely armed with a biblical worldview. The real danger of operating out of a paradigm exalting a single supra-cultural biblical worldview is that one’s horizon may never attain sufficient universality; thus, ones line of vision is not sufficiently broad. Hans Georg Gadamer argues that gaining understanding of a historical horizon “always involves the attainment of a higher universality that overcomes, not only our own particularity, but also that of the other.”[10] In this fusing of horizons, one finds a broader line of sight thus enabling greater understanding.[11] In other words, placing oneself within the horizon of the biblical world draws the reader beyond their own horizon to prevent them from universalizing their own worldview. The danger of interpreting solely from one’s own horizon (worldview) is conflating a biblical worldview with one’s own. In such cases, the authority for change remains, more or less, something other than scripture. The center of change remains ethnocentric. On the other hand, the “biblical world” as “the prior Word and Act of God”[12] stands as the theologico-historical horizon with which all other horizons must be fused. To return to the myth analogy, as an anti-structure, the “biblical world” perfects and improves a worldview, by providing the only real alternative.[13] In this sense, a worldview is transformed by fusion with the “biblical world.”

While the distinction between a biblical worldview and the “biblical world” appears to be nothing more than an argument over semantics it certainly is more. Paul Hiebert discusses a biblical worldview through the same cognitive, affective and moral categories he uses for a worldview in general. As such, he inevitably is selective in the themes he identifies for a biblical worldview. Since every worldview has its own set of themes/counterthemes, Hiebert can only select those themes with the broadest application, for even as Hiebert recognizes that “In one sense, it is arrogant to claim that there is a biblical worldview. Many point out that in Scripture there are many worldviews.”[14] The Bible, arguably, was written over a two-thousand year period by as many as, or more than, forty authors. There may be hundreds of different cultural contexts mentioned and/or addressed in the Bible.[15] Therefore, Hiebert arbitrates which themes are more important than others, in which categories they belong, and how they may be understood by people from different worldview backgrounds. Perusing the themes he identifies will reveal that he chooses only those themes that have been abused more than others by modernity and then offers alternatives.[16] Why are other themes ignored?[17] Certainly it would take a series of books to trace all the themes of a biblical worldview like this, but his choices demonstrate the blind spots that necessarily arise in such a discussion.

To be fair to Hiebert, he argues that diachronic themes are essential elements of a biblical worldview, serving as “root myths” and “root metaphors.”[18] He describes these themes as “charters of life and moral wisdom” and “archetypes of human existence.”[19] In other words, they form a metanarratives (read: world) through which people interpret reality, the foundation for worldviews. “[A] worldview is based on foundational assumptions about the nature of reality,”[20] assumptions located in the root metaphors and root myths. Therefore, Hiebert errs in identifying the diachronic themes as elements of a worldview, since, by his own admission, they stand over a worldview. Rather these diachronic elements function as worldmakers. In that sense, the “biblical world” functions as a meta-world (a meta-metanarrative?) in that it is not confined to one culture or worldview. It is a cosmic story in which all the nations, every worldview, find their true foundation.[21]

Most worldviews, however, are built on counter-worlds that rebel against the “biblical world.” Thus, transforming a worldview will not be successful unless the mythic foundation of that worldview is transformed. The “biblical world” does just that in its movement from universal to particular and back to universal. It draws the reader/actor into action as it “provides direction for the disciple’s (and the church’s) faithful speech and action, direction for embodying the way, the truth, and the life in new situations.”[22] It is performed locally, transforming worldviews from within so that they can participate in God’s dramatic speech-act for the whole world.

The performance of the “biblical world” results in conversion. Therefore, the best method for reaching this end-goal of theology is through participation in the “biblical world” which includes, among other things, worldview transformation. Thus, Hiebert can define worldview transformation as “changes in the fundamental ways in which we configure our view of reality;”[23] this means the refining of the root myths and root metaphors for a worldview. In many ways, Hiebert’s treatment of worldview transformation presupposes a different definition of a biblical worldview than that which he provides. Hence, the necessity of clarifying the terminology.

Therefore, a Christian community does not have to jettison its worldview and replace it with a general biblical worldview. Rather, some cultural distinctives are maintained and others transformed by the “paradigm shift” in root metaphors.[24] On the whole, many of the elements of the worldview that are essential to the culture because of its environment, language, or other neutral structures, are brought into service of the community for the sake of the gospel and for the world.

[1] Carol R. Ember and Melvin Ember, Cultural Anthropology, 6th edition (Englewood Cliffs, NJ.: Prentice Hall, 1990), 319–25. Cf. Stephen Grunlan & Marvin K. Mayers, Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective, 2d edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 80–4; Kraft, Anthropology, 366–74; Luzbetak, Church and Cultures, 306–8.

[2] Kraft, Christianity in Culture, 57.

[3] See Bosch, “Mission in the Wake of the Enlightenment”, in Transforming Mission, 262–345.

[4] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 308–16.

[5] Hans Georg Gadamer makes an interesting case for the necessity of “temporal distance” for being able to overcome one’s own prejudices and presuppositions when interpreting a text. If one does not have this distance then, “obviously we approach such creations with the prejudices we are not in control of, presuppositions that have too great an influence over us for us to know about them.” Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York: The Seabury Press, 1975), 265. The implication for understanding the difference between an internally-oriented worldview and an externally-oriented world does not relate to understanding the differences between external forms and internal meanings. Rather this means that a worldview is too close to its own horizon to properly understand all of its own presuppositions whereas a world maintains the distance between its horizon and others. In this sense, a world is closer to a meta-cultural grid than a biblical worldview. Cf. Hiebert, Reflections on Missiological Issues, 69.

[6] To make this statement is not to negate the movement from particular to universal and universal to particular in the Bible. Rather, this view complements the movement from particular to universal in the text. The text ends up by highlighting the universal which forms a starting point for the world. As Lesslie Newbigin states concerning the doctrine of election, “The one (or the few) is chosen for the sake of the many; the particular is chosen for the sake of the universal.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 68. He states further regarding the acts of God in uniting all things in Christ, “The whole action has its origin in the eternal being of the triune God before the creation; it has its goal in the final unity of the whole creation in Christ; and meanwhile the secret of this cosmic plan, the foretaste of its completion, has been entrusted to these little communities of marginal people scattered through the towns and cities of Asia Minor.” Ibid., 71–2. In other words, particular communities are signs of the universal nature of the biblical world. Bosch concurs, “The church-in-mission is, primarily, the local church everywhere in the world.”Bosch, Transforming Mission, 378.  Compare Richard Bauckham who identifies the universal trajectory of particular promises/events in the Bible. Richard Bauckham, Bible and Mission: Christian Witness in a Postmodern World (Bletchley: Paternoster; and Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 27–54.

[7] Christopher Wright summarizes it this way: “This is the grand narrative that constitutes truth for all. And within this story, as narrated or anticipated by the Bible, there is at work the God whose mission is evident from creation to new creation. This is the story of God’s mission. It is a coherent story with a universal claim. But it is also a story that affirms humanity in all its particular cultural variety. This is the universal story that gives a place in the sun to all the little stories.” Wright, Mission of God, 47.

[8] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 368–89.

[9] Ibid., 385–6.

[10] Gadamer, Truth and Method, 272.

[11] Ibid., 273.

[12] Vanhoozer, Drama, 44.

[13] Luzbetak, Church and Cultures, 269–70.

[14] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 265.

[15] For instance, there are the differing cultures of the line of Seth and of Cain after the Garden of Eden, the other antediluvian cultures, the cultures of those living during the time of the flood, the culture after the flood up to the tower of Babel and the resulting cultures afterwards, the cultures of Ur of the Chaldeans, the culture of Canaan, etc, etc. Certainly the culture of Israel was different prior to the Egyptian slavery as that during, from that after, from that after the wilderness generation had died; and all those different from the people exiled to Assyria, Egypt and Babylon which are different that those who return to the land. What of the surrounding nations? There are dozens more in the Old Testament alone. How many does the New Testament address?

[16] For instance, under cognitive themes, he identifies the following: “Creator/Creation”; “Revelation/Human Knowledge”; “Kingdom of God/Kingdoms of This World”; “Organic/Mechanistic”; and “Group/Individual.” Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 268–290. For some of these, the connection to modernism/postmodernism is obvious. For others, his discussions are driving reactions to modernity. In the first theme/countertheme he identifies, “Creator/Creation,” Hiebert begins by refuting the modern dualistic view of reality. This leaves one to wonder what the Bible knows of either modernity or postmodernity. One is left to suppose that Christians must have been out of luck prior to the seventeenth century.

[17] Noteworthy, some of these themes appear in nascent form in Hiebert and Meneses, Incarnational Ministry, 373–5.

[18] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 65–9; cf. 300–5.

[19] Ibid., 67.

[20] Ibid., 84.

[21] This is one of the most important elements of Christopher Wright’s argument in The Mission of God.

[22] Vanhoozer, Drama, 105.

[23] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 319.

[24] Ibid., 320.

Bible, Theology and Worldview: A Conversation

Paul Hiebert has been on the leading edge of evangelical missiological thinking. His life work represents the faithful integration of cultural anthropology, philosophy, theology and missiology. Throughout his works, several important themes emerge: epistemological foundations for theology and missiology, the import of cultural anthropology for cross-cultural ministry, and the necessity of worldview transformation of both the witness and receptor of the gospel, just to name a few. Among other things, he introduced evangelical missiology to critical realism, critical contextualization, important discussions on form/meaning, set-theory, and incarnational ministry.  Moreover, he initiated the call for missionaries to work towards the fourth self in their discipline—self-theologizing.

David Bosch is another missiological heavyweight. Bosch served the Dutch Reformed Church and the people of South Africa, both black and white, during the tumultuous latter days of Apartheid. In that sociological morass he developed his system of missiological thinking that any many ways made him the missiologist par excellence of the past half century. Bosch’s work, including Transforming Mission, made him in many ways to contemporary missiology as Plato is to philosophy. All missiology since then has been a footnote to his work.

When it comes to theology and worldview, both Hiebert and Bosch agree that though younger churches theologized prior to the twentieth century, the paternalistic mission stations frowned upon such activities out of fear of syncretism.[1] Thus, even for those missions that developed the indigenous nature of the local church in its government, support, and propagation, the younger churches still felt the burden of “theological colonialism.”[2] Both Hiebert and Bosch recognized the influence of the enlightenment on western theology as a primary cause of these actions.[3] Just as they identified the problem, they both proposed new methods for overcoming it.[4]

Initially, Hiebert argued for the emergence of “an international hermeneutical community.”[5] He also believed that such a process would lead to “a supracultural theology”: “this metatheological process, carried out on the international level, may lead us to what Western theologians have long sought—a growing consensus on theological absolutes.”[6] Elsewhere, Hiebert also called for both a “global church…in which Christians living under the authority of Scripture become a missionary community, calling people to faith and challenging the evils around them,”[7] which, in another work, he had described in terms of “interdependence.”[8] Finally, Hiebert argues that “is is important that the church globally seek to articulate a biblical worldview.”[9] His proposal for achieving this lofty goal is through dialogue—“It is important that missionaries, theologians, and church leaders meet and dialogue with one another, both to learn to see their own worldviews and also to recognize alternative Christian responses and, in the process, to read the Scriptures in a new light as transforming all worldviews we bring with us.”[10]

Bosch, in his discussion of “mission as inculturation,” argues that the way forward is through the recognition that “a plurality of cultures presupposes a plurality of theologies and therefore, for Third-World churches, a farewell to a Eurocentric approach.”[11] In this approach, missionaries “no longer participate as the ones who have all the answers but are learners like everybody else.”[12] Inculturation focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit upon local, incarnational communities in a holistic manner. Like Hiebert, Bosch argues that inculturation must include the change of the entire worldview: “it is impossible to isolate elements and customs and ‘christianize’ these…only where the encounter is inclusive will this experience be a force animating and renewing the culture from within.”[13]

Given the similarities between Hiebert and Bosch and their solutions, there are a couple of  noteworthy differences. First, Bosch argues that “there is not eternal theology, no theologia perennis which may play the referee over “local theologies.”[14] While he does not equate any local theology with the global theology advocates, Hiebert is more optimistic in that he argues there can be a singular global theology.[15] Second, Bosch, while affirming Hiebert’s “universal hermeneutical community,” argues that the one, catholic church is not “an idealistic supra-cultural entity.”[16] Depending on what Bosch meant by idealistic, Hiebert apparently disagrees—“together we need to develop credible biblical alternatives to the specific worldviews in which we find ourselves. In the process we become a transcultural community made up of transcultural people—people who can live in different cultures but whose real identity is increasingly that of an outsider-insider in all of them.”[17] Overall, while Bosch is willing to live with “creative tension” between local theologies, Hiebert thinks the resolution of this tension is necessary for “Christians to provide a credible alternative to the existing paradigms of the world.”[18]

Which of them is correct?

Is there a singular biblical worldview? Many?

Is worldview the best term to use?

How does the answer to those questions affect theology?

Is there a theologia perennis?

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[1] Paul Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 35–51. David Bosch credits Hiebert for bringing “self-theologizing” to the forefront in missiological theorizing. Bosch references Hiebert’s original article, later published in the above book; David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series, No. 16 (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), 451–7.

[2] Hiebert, Reflections on Missiological Issues, 46.

[3] Cf, Ibid., 45–6; Bosch, Transforming Mission, 456.

[4] It is probably no accident that Hiebert entitled his final work as Transforming Worldviews as juxtaposed with Bosch’s Transforming Mission.

[5] Hiebert, Reflections on Missiological Issues, 48. Emphasis original. See Bosch, Transforming Mission, 457.

[6] Hiebert, Reflections on Missiological Issues, 102, 103.

[7] Hiebert, Missiological Implications of Epistemological Shifts: Affirming Truth in a Modern/Postmodern World, Christian Mission and Modern Culture Series (Harrisburg, Penn.: Trinity Press, 1999), 112–4.

[8] Paul G. Hiebert and Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Incarnational Ministry: Planting Churches in Band, Tribal, Peasant, and Urban Societies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 166. Cf. Hiebert, Reflections on Missiological Issues, 87–8.

[9] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008),  321.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 452.

[12] Ibid., 453.

[13] Ibid., 455.

[14] Ibid., 456.

[15] Hiebert, Implications of Epistemological Shifts, 112–4.

[16] Bosch, Transforming Mission, 457.

[17] Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews, 321–2.

[18] Ibid., 319.

Interdepence and Church Planting

I’ve been reading through some key missiological works as part of the mentorship portion of my PhD. I’m starting to trace some themes that have kept recurring. Especially since the 1960s and increasingly today, missiologists have at least given lip service to the concept of interdependence between churches. What is interesting, I find, is the connection between scholars arguing for both interdependence and church planting, particularly among evangelicals:

Peters, George. A Biblical Theology of Missions. Moody, 1984. Pp. 368.

No one can study the symbolic presentation of the church without being deeply impressed by the truth of interdependence. While the Bible upholds the autonomy of a local assembly, it knows nothing of independence in the absolute sense of the word. Biblical independence is always balanced by absolute dependence upon the Lord and interdependence among the churches (202).

First is a quote from George W. Peters, former missions professor at Dallas Theological Seminary. Peters doesn’t give a detailed theology of church planting, though church planting is implied throughout his book.

Hesselgrave, David J. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: North America and Beyond. 2d edition. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000. Pp. 348.

  1. Interchurch Fellowship (297–8):
    1. The churches founded by the apostles recognized that in Christ they had a common bond with one another
    2. The churches regularly sent Christian greetings to each other.
    3. They collaborated on a project to provide money for the poor saints in the Jerusalem church.
    4. They sent representatives to one another.
    5. They supported the apostles’ labor in other fields.
    6. The shared letters from the apostles.
    7. They encouraged one another by modeling the faith.
    8. They cooperated in the common cause of evangelism.

The primary mission of the church and, therefore, of the churches is to proclaim the gospel or Christ and gather believers into local churches where they can be built up in the faith and made effective in service; thus new congregations are to be planted throughout the world (17).

The above quotes from Hesselgrave demonstrate the tie between interdependence and church planting. Churches recognize their common mission in Christ to reach the world. As they evangelize, they create new churches, new centers of mission and service.

McGavran, Donald A. Understanding Church Growth. 3d edition. Revised and Edited by C. Peter Wagner. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. Pp. 314.

Some earnest Christians reject multiplication of churches as today’s chief task because they pin their hopes on quality rather than quantity…Throughout much of the world they affirm that education of believers is more important than evangelism. In America they assert that church unity is more important than church extension…We must inspect closely this attractive plea for quality. As soon as we separate quality from the deepest passion of our Lord—to seek and save the lost—it ceases to be Christian quality (33).

The bombshell to which I refer was the address given by Ralph D. Winter to the plenary session of the International Congress on World Evangelization held in Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1974. The title of his paper was carefully chosen: “The Highest Priority: Cross-Cultural Evangelism.”…Through a careful analysis of the world population of 1974 he showed that of the world’s approximately 2.7 billion non-Christians, a full 87 percent (or 2.4 billion) would not be evangelized other than through cross-cultural missionaries. The agents for cross-cultural evangelism would not necessarily have to be from the traditional Western sending churches, of course. South Indians could send missionaries to tribes in North India. Kenyans could send missionaries across tribal boundaries within their own country. Brazilian churches could undertake the evangelization of Portugal. But having said this, the urgent missiological priority of someone moving from their culture to another, learning a new language, eating strange food, and loving those who formerly appeared unlovable was convincingly established by Ralph Winter in that prestigious international forum (47).

Another concept, helpful in understanding church growth, sees it occurring in four ways. (1) Internal growth: increase in subgroups within existing churches and the continually perfecting Christians, men and women who know the Bible and practice the Christian faith. E-0 evangelism, or bringing nominal Christians to active commitment to Christ, is included here. Some refer to internal growth as “quality growth.” (2) Expansion growth: each congregation expands as it converts non-Christians and takes more of them, as well as transfer members, into itself. (3) Extension growth: each congregation plants daughter churches among its own kind of people in its neighborhood or region. (4) Bridging growth: congregations and denominations find bridges to other segments of the population and, crossing the bridges of God, multiply companies of the committed on the other side (72).

These three lengthy passages from McGavran appear to contradict the point I’m making. However, without retyping his entire work, he is arguing that the primary role of churches is to grow, that is, to plant other churches. He is also arguing that this is not the role of white missionaries, but the role of the whole church. The whole church is unified in action. Furthermore, he defines growth holistically. Its not just numerical growth (though it ultimately leads that direction!). Its growth on every level culminating in the whole church reaching across cultural bridges with the gospel.

Compare to:

Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. ASM Series No. 16. Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991. Pp. 587.

For the sake of unity and of mission, we need new relationships, mutual responsibility, accountability, and interdependence (not independence!)–not just because the Western church is now operating in the context of the world in which the West’s dominance, numerically and otherwise, appears to have ended definitely, but rather because there can be no “higher” or “lower” in the Body of Christ (466).

Not quoted here, Bosch is quick to critique McGavran and the Church Growth Movement. On the same page cited above, he goes far to call for the cease of the proliferation of new churches (I think he means denominations). He also briefly discusses church planting. So with Bosch, we have one who argues rather convincingly for interdependence, but who also, though being very ecclesio-centric, doesn’t seem to favor the narrowing of mission to church planting.

What do you think?

Should there be a relationship between interdependence and church planting?

As Alan Knox asked on his blog, should the church be focused on gathering or going? In other words, interdependence implies relationship and partnership. Partnership implies mutuality, ultimately discipleship. Is the primary purpose of the church discipleship, or church planting?

Wholistic Mission

Dougald McLaurin, today, has made an excellent point in a post entitled, “What is Mission? A Call For a Holistic Mission for Life“.  He wonders why people are so willing to jump on a plane and cross the globe for ministry while they ignore the lost and hurting people right across the street. I wonder if such an attitue reveals a deficiency in our understanding of mission and missions.

Arnau Van Wyngaard, a missionary to AIDS victims in Swaziland, rejoined Dougald’s argument that many people who point to the needs for ministry at home often use this smoke screen as an excuse to do nothing. He makes a good point. I think this excuse is another symptom of the same deficiency in understanding mission.

For most, mission is what is done over there, missionaries are special agents, and they won’t get invovled in any ministry unless they are “called” to do so. There are confusing inconsistencies in this understanding, though. For instance, you have to be “called” to ministry, but Pastors spend their entire careers trying to convince people that they all have their own “ministry.” Missionaries have to be “called” to ministry, but we are constantly increasing the number of short term teams. As such, a few people (though the number is rising) get involved in Short Term Missions, a few more find their “ministry” but most are content to set in the pew and “be fed.” The good Christian is one who doesn’t get in any trouble, who attends faithfully and tithes (sometimes).  Even for the folks who do find their “ministry,” the ministry they find is usually internally focused, aimed at supporting the church programs, not at ministering to the needs of the community.

We need a fuller understanding of mission. Lesslie Newbigin has forever reminded us that there is no “home base” in missions. The whole earth is the realm for mission. Therefore, there is no distinction between mission and evangelism. Evangelism is a subset of mission. Bosch teaches us this as well. Furthermore, Stott reminds us that evangelism and social ministry are equal partners in mission. Then, the emerging church question has taught us that the attractional, Christendom model of church has failed. Thus, we cannot merely be “attracting” people to our “superior” moral and spiritual gathering. Rather, as Bosch reminds us, the church is the church for others, it is incarnational and missional by nature. I summarize it this way–the church is to be God-centered and other-focused. This does not deny the necessary function of the church for encouragement and fellowship of believers (Heb 10). But it emphasizes the “going” to the nations (Matt 28), “bringing” (Isa 66) them to “come” and be disciples of Jesus (Matt 11).  This is done for our neighbor who is near and who is far off (Eph 2). Thus, mission is both/and. It is taking the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Moreover, it is preaching the gospel as much as in serving (Rom 12). Thus, Mission is also done by all. It includes all the “giftings” of the church (1 Cor 12). I could go on and on. But the point is that mission is much, much more than overseas missions.

I am not suggesting that the sacrifice of missionaries is not real and important. But to say in one breath that mission cannot be done by proxy and missionaries are not special people on a special assignment, then with the other breath claim that we need to honor our missionary “heroes” is double-speak. We need an understanding of mission that does not allow this word play. I wonder what would change in our understanding of mission if we saw that mission is the role of the church as a whole, not just a select few? What do you think?

To Persuade or Coerce: That is the Question

In Christian Mission and the Modern World, John Stott, in defining evangelism, does not think that “persuasion” is a necessary component of a definition of evangelism. He follows J.I. Packer who critiques any definition of evangelism that includes persuasion as an element as confusing the act with the goal. Peter Wagner defines evangelism, though, as “Presence, Proclamation and Persuasion.” On Wagner’s definition, Stott comments, “Although I am not myself happy to include all three in a strict definition of evangelism itself, yet presence must certainly precede evangelism, as persuasion must follow it.” Stott loves his idea of presence and proclamation, but balks at persuasion.

He states, “Some speak of ‘persuasion’ as if the outcome could be secured by human effort, almost as if it were another word for ‘coercion.’ But no. Our responsibility is to be faithful; the results are in the hand of Almighty God.”

David Bosch, in Transforming Mission, says, “The focus in evangelism should, however, not be on the church, but on the irrupting reign of God.” In other words, by focusing on numbers and growth, as would including persuasion or conversion in the definition of evangelism, evangelism becomes man-centered rather than God-centered. At the same time, Bosch adds that “Numerical growth is , therefore, in a sense nothing more than a byproduct when the church is true to its deepest calling. Of greater importance is organic and incarnational growth.” As such, it seems that the church should expect to be persuasive if it is true to its mission.

So, here are the questions:

Does faithfulness to proclaim include persuasiveness?

What does scripture say about the attractiveness of the gospel message? What are the admonitions, the warnings, and the instructions?

If you are not seeing conversion growth in your church, is your church being true to its mission? If the faithful proclaimer and doer of the gospel is not seeing numerical growth, is she being faithful?