9 Marks on Missions

For those of you follow American discussions of missions , 9 Marks (put out by Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church) has an edition about missions- PDF version of the July/August eJournal. I have not, nor will I have time to read these articles in the near future. So, like many or the other things I post, please don’t take these links as a full endorsement of what is written in the articles. I’m posting them because I happened across them and think some of you might be interested in knowing about them and engaging them for yourselves.

For example, from an initial skim, the first article (Pragmatism, Pragmatism Everywhere!) appears to me to be written by someone who is thinking about missions—not someone who is out in the field. (Don’t read too much into that statement the wrong way.). While I understand his concerns, I feel like he sets up several false dichotomies (either/or’s) including, for example, a dichotomy between “what works” and what is “biblical” (note a previous post about putting “biblical” in front of our arguments.) The more I learn about the cultural contexts that Acts and the letters of Paul were written in, the more I see them presenting a lot of “what works” in ways that fly in the face of the standard “biblical” interpretations of their own time (the Galatians controversies are but one example).  Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the realities of engaging the Gospel in the real world forced them to rethink a lot of their scriptural and cultural paradigms. The second article: Putting Contextualization in its Place gets at some of this, but I would probably go further in the ways Paul challenges reigning “biblical interpretation”.

That’s not to say that I believe the Gospel message needs to be watered down, and I’m certainly not into the “easy numbers,” homogeneous unit principles, or glossing over clear differences. God does surprising things when we tell the Gospel story in bold and direct ways. It’s not so much that I would disagree specifically what Johnson writes as much as I’m concerned about the tone, trajectory, emphasis, and what he doesn’t say. Missionaries on the ground are often led by the Holy Spirit in ways that challenges them to see what’s written in God’s Word in new and surprising ways—ways that often make their mono-cultural churches back home nervous about their actions.

[End of disclaimer; draw your own conclusions.]

Pragmatism, Pragmatism Everywhere!
Putting Contextualization in its Place
Lying, Hostile Nations and the Great Commission

Missions Partnerships from the Home Church’s Perspective

Missions Partnerships from a Field Worker’s Perspective

Sending Missionaries in Community

Cultivating a Culture of Missions in a Small Church

Developing Missions Networks Without a Denomination

**How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia (Conrad Mbewe)* [I was just thinking, so we have heard from all the white guys; do they know what the “recipients” of their missions think?] – see below for a couple of quotes.

How to Get Businesspeople into Missions
Guidelines for Deciding Whom a Church Supports

A Church Questionnaire for Supported Missionaries

Mbewa’s points How American Christians Can Help Christians in Zambia:

  1. Learn the local culture.
  2. Partner with the local church: “. . . I am not suggesting that there is no need for Western missionaries. We could do with many more hands! Rather, I am saying that if you plan with indigenous church leaders here the emphasis will certainly shift. . . ”
  3. Be accountable to and participate in the local churches
  4. Ensure equity in Christ’s body.
  5. Combat America’s chief and worst spiritual export—the prosperity gospel (TBN).

“Why is it that false teaching is often halfway around the globe before truth finishes tying its shoes?” I hope the readers of this article will, therefore, not just sit there but do something about it!”

RE cultural sensitivity:

. . . Sadly, we have far too many well-meaning Americans who climb off the plane for the first time wanting to correct everything they see. They don’t realize that the sensational view of Africa presented to the American people via CNN is often very superficial. A person needs to be on Zambian soil for some time, observing and asking questions about the presuppositions that make up African culture, before one can effectively minister here.

Space forbids me to apply this lesson to the huge area of modesty, decency, and propriety, especially when American young people are sent to Zambia on short-term mission trips. We often blush on your behalf!

However, let me say a little more about another area. Like most Africans, Zambians rarely want to give offence to anyone. Hence, when an American comes and appeals to his hearers to repeat a sinner’s prayer, many Zambians comply merely out of a desire not to offend him. The deceived evangelist goes back to America with glowing reports of the number of converts he has left behind on African soil. But the truth is that no sooner was he on the plane crossing the Atlantic than his “converts” went back to their life of sin. They were not converted at all!

About books:

If American Christians are really going to help Christians in Zambia, one other area that needs some serious thinking is the price that your books cost when they arrive on this side of the Atlantic. They cost an arm and a leg!

The biblical principle is that “he who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little” (2 Cor. 8:15). That is certainly not what is happening. Books are priceless when it comes to the work of ministry, and Zambian pastors need books just as much as American pastors. Yet in addition to the discrepancy in salaries between pastors there and here, add in the cost of transportation and the books become too expensive for the average Zambian pastor.

I do not want to be unfair to book publishers and demand a pricing system that will put them out of business tomorrow. All I am saying is that there is need to implement the biblical principle of equity in Christ’s body if Christian books are not just to be a form of business but also a true spiritual ministry to the worldwide body of Christ.

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3 thoughts on “9 Marks on Missions

  1. Simon says:

    “The more I learn about the cultural contexts that Acts and the letters of Paul were written in, the more I see them presenting a lot of “what works” in ways that fly in the face of the standard “biblical” interpretations of their own time (the Galatians controversies are but one example)”

    I’m going to use this for the rest of my life.

  2. But does that men we now should flies in the face of our established Biblical interpretations? Or was Paul and the early church only doing what was contrary to what Jesus taught was obviously bad biblical interpretation on the part of the Religous Jewish Leaders?

  3. Ben says:

    Good questions Robert. Sometimes it does–depending on what you mean by “established Biblical interpretations.” For one example, the interpretations of the reformers flew in the face of established Biblical interpretations of their times. Some of our “established Biblical interpretations” today–even ‘good’ Biblical interpretations–are still the interpretations of men seeking to prop up their own denominational or cultural perspectives. (We all do this more than we think). In that case we have to look at what Jesus did (for example on the road to Emmaus.) Contrary to most established Biblical interpretations of his time, he had to show them that the scriptures the messiah actually had to suffer. Without the encounter with the risen Jesus, you can go back to Isaiah and you may come out with a different interpretation. These interpretations maybe contrary to the most obvious interpretation of the old texts, but theyreflect what the risen Lord is doing in the present.

    It’s not just just the ‘obviously bad biblical interpretation on the part of Religious Jewish Leaders’; some of these interpretations were held by faithful disciples. (To often we focus on the rhetoric against hypocritical leaders and lump all Jewish interpretation under this rubric.) Paul also debated Peter’s Biblical interpretation (Galatians). Most of that Biblical interpretation was actually “good.” If you were faithfully reading their Bible (at that time) you likely would have drawn the same conclusions. What changed their interpretations was Jesus. The resurrection gave them new lenses to look at the Bible in news ways. What the Spirit did with Cornelius caused faithful believers to reinterpret what they read in the Bible about Gentiles.

    This can be very disconcerting/troubling for many of us. It’s not unlike the believers who were uncomfortable with the Spirit falling on the Cornelius’ family (Acts 10). Read for example Isaiah 49 in contrast to what happens to Gentiles.

    The bottom line is that sometimes when the Holy Spirit operates, we have to rethink our established Biblical interpretations. The big problem is that others abuse or misinterpret the Spirit’s work. But their abuse shouldn’t negate the truth of the Spirit’s work. Otherwise, we’d ALL be following the Jewish purity traditions of that time–which, by the way, I believe Paul continued to follow apart from eating with Gentiles.

    Paul reshaped his message (and Luke reshapes the portrayal of Paul in Acts) depending on who he was talking to. His way of interpreting before different cultural audiences was different. He did what worked with them; not necessarily what fit the “established Biblical interpretation” in his own home context. All I’m trying to say is that when missionaries start interpreting the Bible in ways that speak to new cultural contexts, it sometimes flies in the face of the established Biblical interpretation that is accepted back at home. How these kinds of reinterpretations landed Paul in jail may be a fitting metaphor for how missionary interpretation sometimes gets them in trouble with the home church.

    My initial point was simply that I don’t think the writer of the first 9Marks article appreciates this biblical dynamic enough. His reading appears to be a bit cut and dry; either/or.

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment.

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