by William Dyrness
Since David Hesselgrave has publicly taken issue with the book written by Jim Engel and myself, I have been invited to write a response.
Since David Hesselgrave has publicly taken issue with the book written by Jim Engel and myself, I have been invited to write a response. Let me say first of all that we are gratified that our book has been read so carefully and has initiated such important conversations. This was a major purpose for writing it. Moreover it is a special honor to be able to respond to such a distinguished colleague as Dr. Hesselgrave whose work I have admired over the years.
Although I will speak for myself in this response, I can begin by noting that we have both been taken aback by the central criticism that many have made of our book. As others, Dr. Hesselgrave insists that we are proposing what he calls a "new paradigm" in missions, wherein evangelism and social efforts are taken to be equal partners, a direction that he believes endangers biblical priorities. To the contrary, while it is true that we and Dr. Hesselgrave differ on some of these points, we have no interest in proposing a "new paradigm" in missions. Indeed the issue which largely concerns Dr. Hesselgrave and others is not a new one, it has been debated for a generation and we did not suppose that we were making an original contribution to that conversation. (My own modest contribution to the discussion Let the Earth Rejoice: A Biblical Theology of Holistic Mission was published twenty years ago.) Rather, what we wanted to point out is that there exists a new situation in which missions is being carried out that inevitably requires some radical rethinking on our part. This includes the fact that initiative in mission no longer rests with Western churches, indeed in many ways the West has become a mission field itself. Moreover, it recognizes that technical developments in transportation and communications have made new forms of partnerships and cooperation possible. Finally the situation of the younger churches, now in the majority, being largely poor and facing enormous problems involving ethnic violence, AIDS and the challenge of development and nation building has put issues on the mission agenda-recently outlined by Philip Jenkins (2002)-that we no longer have the luxury to ignore.
In light of these issues it seems to me beside the point to debate whether social efforts and evangelism are equal or somewhat unequal partners. We all agree the gospel is that pearl of great price for which we must sell all. But wouldn’t we also agree that missions, as missions, must somehow come to terms with this new situation and adjust its methods to engage constructively with these realities? More importantly our book argues that these are not issues that we Western Christians have any special calling to take on by ourselves; they are issues that all of us as members of the worldwide body of Christ have to face in our generation. So our call is to understand missions now in terms of a mutual exchange of gifts between multiple centers of influence. In this new situation we still need all the evangelism that we can get. But whatever one’s exact view on when and where it fits, we need evangelism that is sensitive to this new situation of global Christianity. Moreover, we need development expertise that is truly Christ centered, that can work alongside the dynamic and growing younger churches, who believe more strongly than we do that God is active in their everyday lives. In this respect I have a deep concern that missions and Christian relief and development organizations are not integrating their work nearly as well as they should. These challenges are big enough that we all need to roll up our sleeves and work together on them.
I am perhaps most concerned that our book has been read as a wholesale criticism of missions. This is not so. As we point out it is precisely the success of missions that has brought us to the point at which we find ourselves. But many of our mission structures-and to a certain extent the strategies-were shaped in a different sociopolitical and ecclesiastical situation. These need rethinking and reformation, which is the challenge the church faces in every generation.
There may in fact be a new paradigm of missions in the making. We did not for a minute think we were articulating it, but we did believe that we were calling attention to the prayer, thinking and work that is going to be necessary to bring it about. May God grant us grace to be faithful stewards of the gospel for our generation.
Dyrness, William. 1983. Let the Earth Rejoice: A Biblical Theology of Holistic Mission. Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Theological Seminary.
Engel, James and William Dyrness. 2001. Changing the Mind of Mission: Where Have We Gone Wrong? Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Jenkins, Philip. 2002. The Next Christendom: The Coming Global Christianity. New York: Oxford University Press.
William Dyrness is a professor of theology and culture at Fuller Theological Seminary. He has been a missionary in the Philippines and taught in seminaries in Manila, Kenya, St. Petersburg and Seoul. He is also the author of The Earth is God’s: A Theology of American Culture (1997) and Visual Faith: Art, Theology and Worship in Dialogue.
Copyright © 2002 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.