by EMQ editor
Few issues are more volatile today than the use of language. There are not many days in which “political correctness,” “free speech,” and “tolerance” issues don’t make the news in one way or the other in the States.
Few issues are more volatile today than the use of language. There are not many days in which "political correctness," "free speech," and "tolerance" issues don’t make the news in one way or the other in the States. But the stakes regarding language usage in other pans of the globe tend to be even higher, and they continue to escalate. Often at the center of controversy is the way missionaries and other Christians speak of their evangelistic task-in particular the use of military language and metaphors.
Regular readers of EMQ will remember Stan Guthrie’s fine "Global Report" inour October 1999 issue. It explored how Indian church and mission leaders were examining the possible role of word choices in the persecution of Christians. The article also mentioned that the AD2000 and Beyond Movement, the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies would be working with others to plan a consultation on "language used in mission discourse and promotion." That historic consultation has now taken place.
June 1-3, 2000, were the dates, and Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California was the venue. More than 30 missiologists, agency leaders, and theologians gathered, concluding that military-oriented language (words like "target," "conquer," "army," "crusade," "mobilize," "beachhead," "enemy," and "battle"), while biblical in many cases, and powerful as mobilizing tools, carry too much downside baggage and need to be replaced by other biblical, descriptive, and powerful terms. Following is their summary statement and a list of the participants.-The Editor
Consultation on Mission Language and Metaphors Held at Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, June 1-3, 2000
Summary Statement We, the participants in the consultation, have gathered to think and pray together about the words, metaphors and images evangelicals use to communicate about the missionary mandate and endeavor to the world at large. We desire to honor God and glorify Him as we engage in communicating His love to the peoples of the earth. Where reflection on our words has revealed less than Christlike attitudes or circumstances where we have unintentionally hurt others, we are eager to repent, apologize, and do better.
As a relatively small group of mission agency and church leaders, theologians and communicators, we comprise neither a comprehensive nor adequately representative cross-section of the evangelical spectrum. We do, however, comprise a group unified in our concern that unwise language choices not be a hindrance to persons truly hearing the Gospel of Christ. We hope and pray that our tentative beginning here will encourage others in our context and around the world to grapple with some of the issues we have considered.
We regret that certain words and images long employed to call the church to mission have increasingly caused offense to the very people with whom we are seeking to share the Good News. Some of these words and images are biblical; some are motivational tools from the secular arena that we use to inspire involvement and action. Many are military in nature: "target," "conquer," "army," "crusade," "mobilize," "beachhead," "advance," "enemy," "battle."
We may know what such terms mean to us, but what do they mean to others? Are we unintentionally making those we most want to befriend feel we regard them as enemies, while helping opponents of Christian mission to make their case against us? Can we find more reconciling, redemptive words and images in Scripture and elsewhere that will aid us in expressing love, respect and effective witness for Christ, rather than creating an atmosphere of adversarial confrontation?
First, we agree about several basic principles:
1. We are not ashamed of the Gospel, which is salvation to those who believe. We seek to preach it, teach it, and demonstrate it through acts of love and mercy among all peoples in obedience to our Lord’s command until He returns.
2. We realize that the Gospel itself is an offense and a stumbling block to those who reject it. We also understand that the mission of Christ will be opposed in many places and by all means, (including) persecution.
3. We affirm that the Kingdom of God has triumphed over all the kingdoms and powers of this world at the cross. Nevertheless there is indeed a battle under way between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. In this spiritual battle we are privileged to partner with God in revealing Himself and setting the captives free.
While acknowledging these truths, we recognize the need to deal with several critical realities:
1. Metaphors and the mindsets and attitudes behind them are potent in shaping thought and compelling action. Positive metaphors are essential tools of missions and evangelism. When twisted or taken too far, however, they distort God’s purposes. "Warfare" metaphors and terminology, while biblical in the cosmic/spiritual sense, have been misused in Christian mission communications. They have become increasingly counterproductive to mission work, sometimes endangering the lives of local believers, and are being used by opponents of the church to indict and impede its work. We therefore advocate an immediate end to the inappropriate use of such words.
Yes, we are called to the discipline and single-mindedness of soldiers at war (2 Tim. 2:3-4). However, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood’ but against the unseen rulers of spiritual darkness (Eph. 6:12). Jesus Christ fulfills God’s age-old message of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and blessing for the peoples according to God’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:2,3).
Jesus Himself is the great master of redemptive metaphors (see His parables), and Scripture offers rich treasure of words and images we can use to call God’s people to mission. He proclaimed good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, and sight for the blind (Lk. 4:18).
We encourage Christian mission agencies and local churches to re-examine Scripture and restate their global task in terms consistent with the teaching and mission of Christ. Alternate words and images include blessing, healing, inviting, sowing and reaping, fishing, restoring family relationships, becoming reconcilers, peacemakers and ambassadors.
2. As a motivation for mission involvement, people are responding to the call to glorify God among the nations and wherever He is not yet being worshipped. They also respond to the call to follow Christ into servanthood and sacrifice, the call to lift up the downtrodden, the call to a life of great purpose and meaning in community with others of like mind. These are themes around which we need to develop metaphors to summon God’s people to God’s mission.
3. The new dynamics of globalization and instant global electronic information technologies are rapidly changing the context of our communication. The technology that opens the world to us also opens us-AND the words we say to the "home folks" and what we say to the world. The world, we must assume, will read or hear whatever we say to our own. Are we willing not to use language behind the back of unbelievers concerning their culture and location that we would not use face to face in sharing the message and love of Christ?
We encourage our evangelical friends, colleagues, churches and partner agencies around the world to think and pray with us about these things. We invite the reflection and wisdom of our brothers and sisters into what we hope will become an ongoing dialogue about these important issues, to the end that our light might shine brighter in the world, and that our ministry of reconciliation for the sake of God’s great name might flourish.
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