by Gary Corwin
It has come into clearer focus for me lately that many of the breakthrough phenomena of our time (evangelically and missiologically speaking) can be traced directly to the ascendancy of post-modern thinking.
It has come into clearer focus for me lately that many of the breakthrough phenomena of our time (evangelically and missiologically speaking) can be traced directly to the ascendancy of post-modern thinking. I’m not referring here to post-modernism’s healthy and biblical emphasis on community, transparency and relationships, but to the multiplied examples of a gravitational pull away from issues of truth and moral and spiritual clarity.
Three major areas of change come to mind, the common thread in each seeming to be an effort to minimize the pain associated with Jesus’ standard for discipleship, namely, “If any man will come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Matt. 16:24). The resulting practices have little resemblance to anything commanded in the Bible, and the implications for effective mission from the West are not particularly encouraging. Thankfully, there are saner, more biblical and more focused approaches to mission increasingly coming forth with God’s new harvest force from the South and the East.
Let’s look at these areas and consider some questions that beg for answers:
1. The de-theologizing of faith in favor of content-light evangelism, and its accompanying de-emphasis on the worship and glory of God in favor of more limited and personal goals. This is a foundational principle of “seeker driven” or “seeker sensitive” movements. The problem, though, is not in being sensitive, but in “sensitively” masking the true nature of the gospel in order to make it more appealing to those who need it.
Receiving Christ as savior generally has salutary effects that accompany it, among which is the fruit of the Spirit. The essence of the gospel, however, is not about salutary effects. It is that we all are sinners by birth and by choice. As a result, we are separated from a holy God, and only the free gift of life through faith in the finished work of Christ to pay the penalty of our sin on the cross (1 Cor. 15:3) can solve the problem. It is the devaluing and avoidance of these most essential truths that diminishes the worship and exaltation of the God who so graciously, and at such great cost, provides it. On what ground can one begin to justify such a thing?
2. The de-Christianizing of church in favor of insider movements within other religions. Full-orbed contextualization of the gospel message and its faith community into the language and culture of any people (within biblically permissible boundaries, of course) is simply good missiology. Contextualization that attempts to graft the gospel into unbiblical religious understanding and practice is not. Religion is always humanity’s attempt to reach God, while the gospel is a gospel of grace—God reaching down to us. There is truth (God in Christ) and there is falsehood (superior prophets) and the two do not mix.
God’s revelation of himself through Scripture and through his Son cannot share place with the Qur’an or the Vedas.
Those who argue for insider movements tend to contrast them with the least contextualized approaches of the past (cultural transplant churches from the “Christian” West), leaving the impression that theirs is the only viable alternative. Instead, they should draw the comparison to contextualization efforts that have a comparable record of effectiveness under similar circumstances, but resist more consistently the temptation to religious syncretism. What thought has been given to the biblical health and sustainability of believing groups in the future? Doesn’t the insider movement approach simply confirm the accusations of deception and deceit that Muslims have leveled at Christians through the centuries?
3. The dubious descent from mission as process (with a primary focus on achieving strategic kingdom purposes) to mission as project (with a primary focus on achieving satisfying personal involvement). Some will say this is exactly what is wrong with short-term missions. While there is certainly a correlation, this is a bit simplistic. When planned and implemented in thoughtful ways, short-term missions can be a tremendous support to achieving strategic kingdom purposes. On the other hand, they can be little more than a vehicle for providing a satisfying personal experience. While this may be a satisfactory side effect, is this a worthy primary goal?
The other unfortunate symptom is the appeal to “just send money” and that “national workers can do the job so much better anyway.” This neglects the size of the task (three billion people with minimal access to the gospel), the location of most “national workers” (geographically and often relationally distant from the least reached) and the fact that the commission our Lord gave to make disciples of all peoples was for all of his followers.
While there is much that is healthy and biblical that a post-modern perspective can bring to the mission enterprise, its relationship to truth and clarity isn’t part of that. Imbibe at your own risk. Imbibe at the risk of lost millions who need clear and forthright access to the gospel of grace.
Gary Corwin is associate editor of EMQ and missiologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM-USA.
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