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.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Truth About Divorce in the Church

For years we have been told that half of marriages among Christians and non-Christians alike end in divorce, but according to recent research, the reality is that Christians who attend church regularly get divorced at a much lower rate. 

Professor Bradley Wright, a sociologist at the University of Connecticut, found that among people who identify themselves as Christians but rarely attend church, 60 percent have been divorced. Of those who attend church regularly, only 38 percent have been divorced. 

Professor Scott Stanley from the University of Denver, who is working on the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative, said couples with a vibrant religious faith have more and higher levels of the qualities that marriages need to avoid divorce. "Whether young or old, male or female, low-income or not, those who said that they were more religious reported higher average levels of commitment to their partners, higher levels of marital satisfaction, less thinking and talking about divorce and lower levels of negative interaction," said Stanley. 

W. Bradford Wilcox, a leading sociologist at the University of Virginia and director of the National Marriage Project, finds from his own analysis that "active conservative Protestants" who regularly attend church are 35 percent less likely to divorce compared to those who have no affiliation. Nominally attending Protestants are 20 percent more likely to divorce, compared to secular Americans. 

According to Glenn T. Stanton, Director of Global Family Formation Studies at Focus on the Family, "The divorce rates of Christian believers are not identical to the general population — not even close. Being a committed, faithful believer makes a measurable difference in marriage. Saying you believe something or merely belonging to a church, unsurprisingly, does little for marriage. But the more you are involved in the actual practice of your faith in real ways...the greater difference this makes in strengthening both the quality and longevity of our marriages."
For further details about the research, click on Divorce Rate in the Church.

(from FotF's Pastor's Weekly Briefing)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

100 Largest cities in the USA ranked by drunkeness

#1 -Worst (meaning the most drunk) - Fresno, CA
#2 - Reno, NV
#3 - Billings, MT
#4 - Riverside, CA
#5 - Austin, TX
#100 - Best - Boston, MA.

Fargo is 26th.

Sioux Falls is 69th.

Minneapolis is 80th.

St. Paul is 87th.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Loser Super Bowl Gear Donated

The National Football League is continuing it's more than 15-year partnership with World Vision to donate the multimillion dollar merchandise from the Super Bowl's losing team's pre-printed championship clothing to Zambia, Armenia, Nicaragua and Romania. According to the NFL Director of Community Affairs, for a lot of the recipients, this would be their first time having brand new clothing. Other philanthropic organizations that donate the losing team's apparel are Reebok, Sports Authority, Dick's and Modell's. []

Friday, February 04, 2011

Football and Faith

(for the record, we're having church on Super Bowl Sunday!)

Every year, in the midst of the hype surrounding the Super Bowl, churches and Christian organizations attempt to remind us that, while sports can be a great diversion, there are other things in life that have lifelong and even eternal impact.
While there are a number of Christian players or coaches on both teams that will be competing on Sunday, there are some who stand out because of either their character and testimony or the causes they choose to support. For example:
  • Green Bay Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been nicknamed "Leader of the Pack" by the media, told Baptist Press on Tuesday at Super Bowl XLV Media Day that he only wants to be a leader of God's pack as it relates to influencing others for Christ. "We all have a platform, we all have a message in our lives. I just try to follow Jesus' example, leading by example," said Rodgers.
  • Packers' kicker Mason Crosby understands that big games are often decided by a last-second touchdown or field goal. "I think He [Christ] helps me knowing that kicking is what I do, not who I am. It's not everything that I am. I can escape [the pressure] knowing that my relationship with Christ is what carries me," said Crosby.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers team chaplain, Kevin Jordon, who was formerly an assistant to coach Tony Dungy and is associated with Athletes in Action, says he greatly appreciates the support and access given to him by head coach Mike Tomlin. According to Baptist Press, Jordon says he plans to continue his regular schedule of players' and coaches' meetings, Bible study and team chapel while in Dallas.
  • Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, the youngest coach ever to coach in and win the Super Bowl, spoke of being "blessed" and "humbled" by his success. When asked about his Christian faith he said, "It provides a confidence, not only for me but for everyone who is a believer. Football is what we do; it's not who we are. It is our job, it is our business. We all are very passionate about it, but [faith] keeps it in perspective."
  • Many churches, such as First Baptist Church in Dallas, plan to cancel their regular Sunday night services to host Super Bowl parties which will include a Christian-oriented halftime video. "We are not capitulating, but capitalizing on the Super Bowl," said Pastor Robert Jeffress. [Baptist Press, Christian Post]

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Mission Shift pt. 2 - Stetzer and Hesselgrave

This is my second interaction with David J. Hesselgrave and Ed Stetzer's book Missionshift.  You can see my first response here, and can read and join in on the larger conversation at Ed Stetzer's blog.

The essay for this review was written by Paul G. Hiebert.  Hiebert's thesis is to offer some discussion of the state of "contextualization" as a critical aspect of missions, and of the changing perceptions of contextualization among missionaries and missions scholars.  Hiebert's goal is to focus on the present of what has been traditionally termed "missions."

Hiebert shares his thought that there are four primary views of contextualization in missions.  View one is what I would call the spartan approach where the missionaries may translate the Bible into the local language, but then do little (or nothing) else to contextualize.  This makes the new "indigenous" church look like churches where the missionaries came from, just with a different language spoken.  The church looks nothing like the local culture.

View two is what I would term as the all things approach where the missionaries swing to the opposite extreme of view one, choosing to embrace and accommodate virtually everything from the new culture they are trying to reach.  The big problem with view two is syncretism of course.  The church looses its identity and looks just like the local culture.

The third view has the missionaries trying to remain Biblical faithful while remaining sensitive to the surrounding culture.  This avoids many of the pitfalls of the first two approaches to contextualization.  This view is rooted in the historic views of the faith and applying it to the current culture.

The fourth view guides the missionary to attempt to answer the questions of what did the Biblical text mean to the original audience, and then what does that mean for us today?  I personally didn't seen enough difference between views 3 & 4 to need separate categories for them, but Hiebert felt there was room to differentiate.

One of the first thoughts I had while reading through this (along with other reactions in the book to the essay as well as an essay response by David Hesselgrave) is the idea that contextualization is inherently reactionary - or at least as it has been categorized by Hiebert.  Being reactionary puts the missionary/church at times at a disadvantage to addressing the culture.  While this isn't unique to the missions field, it is/can be an additional barrier in what can already be a challenging place for ministry.  This is why I am a strong proponent of indigenous led churches as early and often as possible.  To his credit, Hiebert does a fair job of pointing out the need for missionaries to deal with sociocultural differences.  To be able to minister as effectively as possible, foreign missionaries must really do their homework to learn the culture, and then continue to grow in that knowledge and understanding.  And it has to be both knowledge and understanding for the missionary to be able to fully leverage the culture in the presentation of the Gospel.

Within the body of view four, Hiebert brings up a number of good points that are worth noting.
1 -  Our theologies are our partial human attempts to understand Scripture in our particular contexts, but the Gospel transcends them all. (Page 95)

-The Gospel is greater than culture, but it works within culture. 

2 - Missionaries would be well served to avoid blindly criticizing customary beliefs and practices because regardless of whether the criticism is true, it causes people to be unwilling to share freely with them for fear of further condemnation and judgment.  Not only do you have to earn the right to say things of this sort, but it is often detrimental to your efforts even if you have "earned" the right.  Certainly there does come a time of accountability for views, but if the Gospel is as great as we claim it to be (it's far greater indeed!) it should on its own stand as something greater as we live it out and share it with others.

3 - The study of Scripture is the responsibility of the church as a hermeneutical community.  (Page 97)
-Indeed a good reminder to interpret and grow our views and understandings of Scripture in the context of a larger community.  It keeps us from jumping off the cliff theologically.  And in a missions setting it allows the missionary to draw in the cultural aspects they may miss or misunderstand.  This ties in well with the idea
on page 100 that:

4 - [The missionary] and their people must together make and enforce decisions arrived at corporately.  Only then will old believes and practices not be pushed underground, subverting the Gospel. (Page 101)

-Local buy-in is a must if the Gospel is to be transformational to any culture.  Without it we're just as likely to be inoculating people against Christianity.

A contextualized hermeneutic is a must if we are to reach the the whole world for Christ, and not just the people who are like us.  This is true domestically as well as abroad.  It requires a bit more work on the part of the missionary (we're all missionaries in some context) but the effectiveness in this approach is far greater.

Thankfully Christ will build His church and the Holy Spirit has been sent to be our helper, so even when we miss, even when we are not at our best, the Gospel can still be advanced.