by Our Readers Write…
WHAT MAKES MISSION CHRISTIAN?
I was most engaged by the article, “What Makes Mission Christian?” (January 2006) by Christopher Little.
WHAT MAKES MISSION CHRISTIAN?
I was most engaged by the article, “What Makes Mission Christian?” (January 2006) by Christopher Little. His research was impressive and his passion for the subject was evident. I certainly appreciate the historical work Dr. Little did, as well as his experience in missiology and in missions ministry around the world. His concern to keep “the main thing the main thing” is a primary concern for all involved in reaching our world with the gospel. However, I must make two observations. First, I sensed a preset agenda. Although this is not necessarily bad, the research and conclusions try to give the impression that simple, clear and neutral exegesis of the biblical passages cited would lead us all to the same conclusion. I’m not convinced that citing Jesus’ feeding of the fivethousand represents the hundreds of thousands dying of starvation or the millions affected by AIDS. Second, aggressively criticizing others with whom you don’t agree does not help make one’s argument stronger. We should engage in healthy dialogue over points of disagreement in our evangelical world, but I wonder if such a unilateral attack polarizes what is already an overly polarized “evangelical” Church.
I agree with Dr. Little that there are shifts taking place in missiology and we will have to judge them and make decisions about them. But such shifts might be beneficial in the overall missiological task. We cannot assume we have always done things the “right way” and that nothing can be altered or improved. Is it possible that missiology in centuries past wrongfully ignored social ills? Is it not possible that while not embracing liberation theology, I can still learn something missiological from that theological view? Does not my faith make me a better philanthropist than I would be otherwise? Yes, missions must be doxological in theme. But why does that in some way mitigate against a holistic gospel or powerful kingdom influence?
Doing ”all to the glory of God” is inclusive. While I do not sense an obligation to establish the kingdom, the present expression in the Church of that future kingdom will exact change where the Church is found. I am convinced that I’m held to Jesus’ explanation of the two greatest commands: love God and love my neighbor as myself. How can such a love for God not be communicated to my neighbor when I interact lovingly with him? I also fail to see the neat line of separation between the gospels and the epistles. There is an existing danger to “over dispensationalize” both. The question isn’t “What Would Paul Do?” (WWPD). Paul incessantly and repeatedly strives to be more like Jesus Christ. I believe that Paul, if present today, would perhaps be wearing a “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelet, like the one my teenage son wears.
—Gary Goodge, director of Enlistment, Evangelical Baptist Missions
Christopher Little’s article (January 2006) was informative and expressed many reasons why people are intuitively opposed to holistic mission. However, I must say his framework is unhelpful for determining a right path. He advocates an awkward dichotomy between missions based on love and missions for the glory of God. He aims to counteract the excesses of humanitarian liberalism, yet indicates that a shift toward holistic mission is also a shift to this feared extreme.
To put the argument in these terms is to incorrectly portray love and/or glory. The glory of God is God manifesting his majesty. God is love (1 John 4:8,16); therefore, to glorify God means to love him and love others as he does. This is why Jesus gave primacy to these commandments (Matt. 22:37-39). To divide love from the glory of God is to create a false dichotomy. The glory of God and the love of God are inseparable attributes.
Holistic mission advocates (myself included) affirm that there should be a doxological focus to missions. However, we believe that we glorify God by completely loving all people. Loving the whole person is not distinct from glorifying God. Rather, it is an integral and indispensable part of it.
—Mark Russell, doctoral student at Asbury Theological Seminary
My thanks to Christopher Little (January 2006) for his clear, sharp presentation of both the centrality of gospel proclamation and the importance of having a doxological motivation in mission. Indeed, at specific times and in specific places, priorities will sometimes need to be set in mission.
However, I am troubled by his quick dismissal of the implications of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom for mission. Applying Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom to mission does not, as he suggests, necessarily mean that a person (1) makes it the central focus of mission theology, (2) denies the uniqueness of Jesus’ mission, (3) believes “that the kingdom of God can be established here and now,” (4) gives special preference to the financially poor or (5) will “lose sight of the urgency of the lostness of human beings.” It does mean that because followers of Jesus are citizens of the already-but-not-yet kingdom, they should always seek to demonstrate kingdom values, both by what they say about Jesus and what they do with their lives. While there may be times or places where priorities for mission must be established, should we ever not demonstrate who we are both by what we say and by what we do? Obviously a person’s eternal well-being is more significant than their temporal well-being. But, as a mission agency director who is responsible to set mission strategies and budgets, I would suggest that it is rare, if ever, that we need to stop and ask, “Which is more important, evangelism or meeting human need?” The natural reaction of kingdom citizens will be to do both.
—Steve Strauss, SIM USA
Response by Christopher Little
I must respectfully differ with my colleague Steve Strauss. Not only does his response contradict his own article (cf., EMQ 41(1):61), it reveals the predicament of the modern evangelical mission movement my article addressed. That a national director of a well-known mission organization rarely finds a need to stop and ask, “What is more important, evangelism or meeting human need,” is disturbing.
I can’t think of any more important issue facing the mission of the Church to the world in the twenty-first century. Should not Christian mission concentrate on that which the non-Christian world will not do? And if so, does this not lead to priorities in mission? I am left to repeat John Piper’s insightful statement: “If the pursuit of God’s glory is not ordered above the pursuit of man’s good in the affections of the heart and the priorities of the Church, man will not be well served and God will not be duly honored.”
—Christopher R. Little
CONNECTING THE POSTMODERN DOTS
Gary Corwin’s January 2006 Second Look article needs at least a third look. Hopefully advocates of insider movements will examine themselves in relation to the suggestion that they are driven by a false “success” motivation, and are “creating the illusion” that insider movements are “all that is required.” But these generalizations are too broad and shallow to be helpful to those involved in these movements.
The heart of the argument, that “insider movement” is a stage that should not confuse the “strategy of obedience” of the missionary, is dubious in both its aspects. First, Herb Hoefer’s study of the “Churchless Christianity” of Tamil Nadu, India, does not provide a single shred of evidence for the “stage” theory, and earlier similar developments in Indian mission history also point to a lasting desire for discipleship outside the parameters of historical Christianity. Second, it is precisely as a “strategy of obedience” that many feel called to engage with and encourage insider movements.
The suggested alternative is just simple, faithful, obedient, loving proclamation. Obviously more than that is needed, especially in the area of cultural understanding and adaptation. In the end, the subject is just too big for a two-page opinion piece.
—H. L. Richard, Rethinking Forum
Response by Gary Corwin
I am grateful to H. L. Richard for his response. It is particularly helpful in underscoring that significant differences exist in contextualization practice and term usage. He is quite right that an “insider movement” among Brahmin or upper caste Hindus, for example, may look very different and raise different issues than those that would be raised by a C5 “insider movement” among Muslims, where widespread conformity to specific creedal testimony and practice is expected. I was in error for not acknowledging that upfront and making clearer that it is contextualization that goes beyond the cultural—and crosses the line into actual religious syncretism—that is in view.
Having said that, I think Mr. Richard errs in the opposite direction by assuming that because he does not find the “stage toward conversion” pattern in Tamil Nadu, it doesn’t exist anywhere else. I also wonder if his allusion “to a lasting desire for discipleship outside the parameters of historical Christianity” wouldn’t be more correct if it referred to “Western Christianity.” Indigenous Indian Christianity that is truly Christian would be every bit as historic as that coming from the West.
Finally, I must point out that my “suggested alternative” is not “just simple, faithful, obedient, loving
proclamation” without “cultural understanding and adaptation.” I assume he must have missed my statement that “a key [kernel of truth] is the need not to confuse the cultural patterns and paradigms of the messenger for God’s universal truth.”
THE LONG-TERM IMPACT OF SHORT-TERM MISSIONS
There is validity in researching the impact of short-term missions (STM) as reported by Randy Friesen in “The Long-Term Impact of Short-Term Missons” (October 2005). However, more often than not, the focus is on how STM impact those who go instead of how these trips impact the local recipients. Studies are needed to follow up on the impact of STM in local communities. For instance, how are very poor people affected by the incredible wealth of those who have come to help? Consider that many STM participants spend more on one airfare than an average local person will earn in one, two or even five years! Consider that many STM participants casually leave behind clothes, cameras and shoes as gifts to local people who never dreamed of owning such things. STM can actually highlight the local recipients’ awareness of how little they have materially.
There are also questions regarding dependency. How can STM participants encourage reliance upon God instead of upon rich westerners? Do STM participants believe that poor people cannot do things for themselves and that without Western money things will not happen? How can this attitude affect the local national? There needs to be serious thought concerning the limitations of money. Churches, mission leaders and STM participants need to consider how God can work through people even though they live in mud huts and do not have much modern technology. We need discussions on what STM participants can bring that will be applicable to those who have little and that can encourage them to believe that God can use even those who lack materially.
As a missionary for twenty-five years, it’s been sad to see the negative impact of well-meaning Western Christians. We would benefit from considering projects in light of their long-term impact on the local recipients. STM participants may have good intentions, but serious thought needs to be given before their trips. It is disappointing to see so many articles focusing on STM participants rather than on the local people they’ve come to help. Not only does it appear self-serving and egotistical (making STM seem to exist for the STM participant’s good), but great harm can be done to the very ones the missionaries desire to help.
—Laura J. Propst, serving with African Inland Mission International, Uthiru, Kenya