Monday, February 21, 2011

Mission Shift pt. 3 - Stetzer and Hesselgrave

This is the third and final installment interacting with the book MissionShift:  Global Mission Issues in the Third Millennium.

In this third essay by Ralph Winter we look at the future of evangelicals in missions.  Winter's essay is focused on two historical forms of missions - First-Inheritance Evangelicalism (FIE) and Second-Inheritance Evangelicalism (SIE) - terms coined by Mr. Winter.  FIE was characterized by a broad social and spiritual range of concerns rooted in the Great Awakening (starting in the early 1720's) in the more educated and influential people in American society.  SIE was a blue-collar movement largely in non-colleged educated classes and it greatly reduced the focus on social concerns and instead focused on sin and salvation - specifically on the experiential component of saving faith.  The SIE was the result of the Second Great Awakening according to Winter.

In a nutshell, Winter argues for the need for us to move back to a FIE based methodology in our missions - returning to an emphasis of doing good works and drawing in the non-believer through those efforts.  The unfortunate problem with the way Winter goes about promoting this is that he essentially neuters the transformative power of the Gospel.  He puts all his eggs in the basket of works with no focus given to the preaching of God's Word and the power found within.  While I agree with his idea for the need to care for the least of these in love, it has to be that AND - that and the Gospel, not that alone.

This same conclusion is shared by David Hesselgrave whose response to Winter can be read at Ed Stetzer's website.  I'll save from commenting further on Hesselgrave's response since you can read that with the exception to point out that aptly points to the Apostle Paul as the key place for us to learn from and model our missions view.

As I read Winter I was struck by his failure to interact with the impact of post modernism and the emergent movement in modern Christianity and missions.  It was disappointing because it is within this that the idea/reaction of being missional has become one of the "hot" issues in modern Evangelicalism (see anything written by Ed Stetzer as exhibit A).  Mainline Christianity might still be behind on this issue, but many of the most influential churches and leaders in the Evangelical world have largely (and rightly) embraced being missional, which encompasses much of the ideas and ideals of the FIE that Winter advocates a move toward (or a return of sorts).  That is not to say we are where we need to be as Evangelicals, but that there is a healthy movement towards a better understanding and application of missions, both locally and globally.

Winter was tasked with looking forward to where missions should be and is heading, and I feel like he barely did that.  In his attempt to build his argument he spent far too much time focused on what was rather than on what could be.  Certainly we need to learn from the past, but we also need to step forward with the Word of God and in love to transform the world for the fame of Jesus Christ.

I think Hesselgrave was on to something in his mention of Rufus Anderson. There is a lot to like in the thinking of that old Congregationalist.  In my previous interaction with MissionShift I mentioned some of these very ideas (having at that point never heard of Rufus Anderson). 
Anderson believed that "missions are instituted for the spread of a scriptural self-propagating Christianity". Missions were for:
  • converting lost men,
  • organizing them into churches,
  • giving these churches a competent native ministry,
  • conducting them to the stage of independence and (in most cases) of self-propagation.

A lot to like there, and to me what seems to be a better and clearer vision for where Evangelicals need to be going with missions than with what Winter suggests.

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