by Jim Reapsome
For all of its wonderful wisdom about the world and about ourselves, the Bible is woefully short on methods.
For all of its wonderful wisdom about the world and about ourselves, the Bible is woefully short on methods. Strong on principles? You bet, but weak on strategies. That fact doesn’t set well with a culture that demands to know what makes things work. We are a research-driven culture, believing that research gives us answers not only about cures for disease, but also about marketing products and presidents.
The Christian world and the world of missions and missionaries have bought into this agenda like hogs at a corn trough. We would dearly like to know what makes things work in evangelism and world missions. We constantly study models that work. When we find one, we try to duplicate it and export it. Thousands of missionaries now possess advanced degress in missiology, and the research continues. We like to print articles about what works.
But we struggle to find answers, plans and methods taht work better than those of our predecessors 100 years ago. We have theories about why certain peoeple respond to the gospel more than others do. We develop theories about why some missionaries and agencies are more productive than others. But we cannot predict which plan or which missionary is going to work better than the next one.
This does nto mean our missiology is useless, or that we should not try to be more effective in establishing churches where there are none. What it does mean is that our pragmatism and zeal to build better missionary mousetraps tend to override the Bible’s singular absence of methods and its strong emphasis on intimacy with God.
A seminar leader recently called for "an outbreak of holiness" as the answer to reaching the world for Christ, and we all gave assent. But where do such outbreaks originate? Not with research into methods that work. They begin with a meeting with God Almighty. The Bible nails us with strategic encounters that changed people forever.
As an antidote to our addiction to methods and strategies, I wold slightly modify the all for an outbreak of holiness, and plead for an explosion of intimacy with God. I am convinced that intimacy with God not only is his chief desire for us (far more important than our work) but that it also changes us and spills out and touches other people.
Yes, there is one method in the Bible: It’s people running into God and choosing to do what he todl them. Begin with Moses and go on to Joshua, Gideon, Isaiah, and so on. They craved inimacy with him.
How did testy, tempestuous Peter get turned around? One look at Jesus and he knew he was unholy. One Joppa rooftop meeting and he kenw he had to take Christ to the Gentiles. How did Saul, persecutor par excellence, get straightened out? Knocked to the ground by Jesus with a blinding flash of light, he became his bondslave and his missionary. Talk about spiritual formation.
Jesus turned his contemporary culture of spiritual formation upside down when he told the crowds they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood. That one statement divided the people as effectively as the running of the bulls in Pamplona. Most of them left, because he took intimacy far beyond the bounds of decency. Jesus looked around at the handful left and asked if they were going to leave him also. "No," said Peter, "we can’t, because only you have the words of eternal life." Jesus drives us to deeper levels of intimacy with God than we have ever tasted. That was his mission. He kept on telling the people that’s what God had sent him to do. Thne, at the end, he told the faithful few that’s what he was sending them to do. That was his missiology, his plan, his method, his strategy.
Somehow, according to Jesus, the world will hear about him and obey him because he lives intimately in us and we in him. Look at all of the simple analogies he used: Not just eating his flesh and drinking his blood, but also drinking his water of life, taking nourishment from the vine ("I in you, and you in me"), enjoying security in the shepherd’s love for his sheep.
I often think that the premier missiological rationale for what we do is so simple that we miss it: "I’m here because I love Jesus Christ, and because he sent me here. Can we talk?" After all, as Jesus left the Upper Room and headed for Gethsemane, that’s what he reduced his mission to: obedience to the Father so the world might know. How can we possibly improve on that?
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