Friday, December 21, 2007

Christianity Today's Top Story for 2007

Earlier this year, the Taliban kidnapped 23 Korean Christians while on a short-term mission trip. In the process, two were killed. At the time, I responded on this blog. In a year-end wrap-up article for the January 2008 edition, Christianity Today has listed this event has the top story of 2007. Another story in the list is an example of religious persecution of Christians. This has sparked a few thoughts this morning.

First, I am thankful to live in the United States where, despite any opposition, I am free to openly worship Jesus Christ and tell others about him. There is no fear of death, imprisonment, or persecution for bearing the name of Jesus. Thank you Lord for this country—God Bless the USA. Second, I am thankful for my Korean brothers and sisters who are committed to world missions. I count it a privilege to be able to study with a number of fine Korean men here at SBTS. These men are not only outstanding scholars, but are also deeply committed Christians with a passion for seeing the name of Jesus Christ exalted among the unreached peoples of the world. It has been one of the real blessings of my PhD studies to be able to learn with (and from) these men. Southern Baptists may not be the last best hope for the world, it may in fact be Korean Baptists and Presbyterians :-). Third, I am thankful for those who are willing to go to dark places with the light of the gospel. Despite many adversaries, Christians have seen doors open for the gospel message and have gone through them (1 Cor 16:9). I am thankful for mission teams that are being sent to difficult places. I am thankful for those who have given their lives to serve as missionaries whose names I cannot know for security reasons. I pray for the persecuted church and those brothers and sisters around the world who serve Christ despite persecution. I pray for more laborers for His harvest.

Finally, I ask. “Lord, what would you have me do?”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying: Who should I send? Who will go for Us?

I said: Here I am. Send me. Isaiah 6:8 (HCSB)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Toward continued cooperation in missions: Responding to decisions of Baptist decision makers

Even though this blog is about missions, I have until now decided not to post on controversial convention politics affecting missions such as the 2005 IMB baptism policy or the recent MBC executive committee’s decision to defund Acts 29 church plants. However, I have stated that this blog concerns, at least as one of its objectives, cooperation in missions. Therefore, I will offer these thoughts with the goal of furthering cooperation in missions.

1. As I stated in my previous post on critical contextualization, the danger of slipping into theological error and thus compromising the gospel is real and ever present. As we guard against this danger, sometimes bad decisions will be made, decision makers will over-react, or there will simply be disagreements on specific issues. This is nothing new and should not shock us. Let us be thankful that we serve in a denomination whose leaders are concerned about theological truth, even when they sometimes get it wrong.

2. In most cases, those pastors, laypersons, professors, presidents, trustees (and any other Baptists) that harp on theological matters, do so because of their love for the gospel and for the truth and not for self-aggrandizement or a personal agenda. Younger evangelicals must be careful to respect those with whom we disagree. This means we should not assume motives of others. I have met with several men with who I disagree and have found them to be humble godly men who are, like me, striving to be like Jesus Christ. Let us treat our brothers with respect. Personal character attacks of individual decision makers and influential leaders are neither lawful nor profitable.

3. NEVER blog when angry. No further comment necessary here.

4. Remember, we get it wrong too. In our efforts to be contextual, we can do things that are at least controversial and sometimes over the line. We must be open to others’ challenges and questions about OUR decisions, beliefs and practices. We must think critically about our own efforts to contextualize the gospel and consider outside critique of what we do. I, for one, have made some stupid mistakes that I was convinced were right at the time.

5. Not every perceived injustice is worth fighting about. We must use discernment and choose to battle only over those issues that really matter. The fact that I am personally affected by a policy does not make it a first tier issue. Each issue must be weighed and determined as to whether or not it is an issue worth fighting for.

6. Quit threatening to leave. Constant prophecies or threats that younger evangelicals will leave the Convention are unprofitable and border on being a bit juvenile. If you want to leave, leave. Do it quietly and without fanfare. If not, quit threatening to leave. Serve God where you are, join in cordial dialogue with those you disagree, give financially to missions, and go to the Convention and vote.

7. If sometimes bad decisions are made, remember that God is sovereign. God will work bad policies together for good. No errant decision will thwart his will. You may be personally affected by a bad decision or policy or know someone who is. Here is your chance to trust God. If God wants you to serve Him as a missionary or church planter, no policy is going to stop Him. This just gives God the opportunity to be creative and bring more glory to Himself. Trust Him, He knows what He’s doing :-)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Critical Contextualization: Balance for the "relevance" debate

Contextualization should not be the concern of only IMB missionaries and trustees. Wherever the gospel is preached, it must be done in a way that is both biblically sound and culturally understood. Whenever we take the gospel to the world around us, we face inherent dangers. On the one hand, the danger of watering down the gospel or falling down the slippery slope of heresy is real and should be taken seriously by those who wish to be culturally relevant. It is not enough to be contextual if the gospel message is compromised or is so unclear and imprecise that it no longer communicates saving faith. At the same time, the danger of being culturally irrelevant should not be taken lightly either. It is not enough to be faithful to the content of the message if we fail to communicate that content to the lost around us because we fail to remove unnecessary cultural barriers. A gospel which does not communicate is no gospel to the one who hears it.

Since both dangers are real and present, it is important that we face them with a communication of the gospel which is both critical and contextual. [1] Of course, this will require some diligence on our part. Critical contextualization is hard work. If one is to strike the proper balance biblical fidelity and cultural relevance it will demand the conscientious efforts of decision makers to do so. If we are lazy in this process we will err in favor of one extreme or the other. Some will uncritically adopt any method that suits their fancy. Others will reject any new idea (or any old one for that matter) or, more likely, reject valid biblical attempts at contextual methods because they share some similarities with bad ones. In other words, some will fail to be contextual, others will fail be critical in their contextualization. Critical contextualization is not for the fainthearted. In whatever context one serves, critical contextualization requires study of one’s cultural context, exegesis of Scripture that allows Bible to speak for itself, and a critical evaluation of cultural practices based on the Scripture before developing new contextualized methods, and evaluation and guarding against syncretism after.

Faithfulness to the Great Commission demands that Christians, churches and denominations faithfully proclaim the gospel in a way that both communicates to the world around us and remains faithful to biblical gospel. Let us commit to doing all we can to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to a lost world. That includes the hard work of critical contextualization.

[1]The concept and process of critical contextualization was introduced by Paul Hiebert, “Critical Contextualization.” Missiology 12 (July 1987): 287-96.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An insider take on the new IMB guidelines

I thought you might be interested in these remarks about the new contextualization guidelines by the other blogging IMB trustee, Dr. Hershael York. Two things in the post cause me to commend the article to you. First, Dr. York explains the C1-C5 spectrum, which I did not on my blog post on the topic. Also, he offers the following insight on the thinking of the trustees and the meaning of the new guidelines. He notes,

These principles represent a thoughtful, prayerful, and well-reasoned response to difficult missiological issues. Our missionaries are free and even encouraged to contextualize the gospel, but not to the point where it is unrecognizable. We are not free to misrepresent ourselves and claim to be members of a religion or sect other than Christian. Our missionaries can use the normal words of a receptor language, including their word for "God," so long as they theologically pack that word with the person of God revealed in Scripture. In the same way that I would explain to a Mormon that the God they believe in is different than the God of the Bible, so our missionaries should work toward that goal, even as Paul did on the Areopagus with "theos" in Acts 17.

You can read the full blog post here:
Confessions of a Pastor: The Most Important Business at the Recent IMB Meeting

-- Todd

Postscript: I would like to add, I have come to admire Dr. York not only as a scholar, but as a man of high Christian caliber. While I do not always agree with his positions on particular issues, he is a man of integrity and a real model for young Christian leaders. Thank you Dr. York for your leadership and example.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

'Tis the Season for Missions Giving

In many churches I have been in, I have felt that our goal for the Christmas missions offering (Lottie Moon for all you Southern Baptists) was quite low given the number and financial make-up of the congregations. Yet, at the same time, Christmas is a time where people are being bombarded with requests for money from a variety of good causes. Here is my question. What are some ways we can increase giving to missions while not putting a lot of pressure on people to give -- especially at a time when finances are often tight already. Here are a few ideas I have come up with:

Ideas to increase Lottie Moon giving:

1. Have a pledge drive for missions – have members pledge to set aside money each week/month for the next year (this idea actually came from my "home" church, TRBC -- they call it "Love Offering for Jesus").

2. Put missions on your Christmas list (before you budget for gift buying) – commit to give God your best by giving to missions as much or more than the top person on your Christmas list.

3. Have a restaurant fast for missions – give up eating out for the month of December and give what you would have spent to missions. (This would work for a variety of things, not just restaurants).

I'm working on building a much bigger list and that's where you come in. I’m looking for ideas, thoughts or opinions from all my readers. What do you think of these ideas? Do you have a creative idea of your own? Here is your chance to leave a comment on my blog.


-- Todd

p.s. Here's an incentive: Someday when I write my best-selling book, I'll quote you and you'll be famous! :-)

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Thank God for Footnotes:

Three signs that our IMB trustees understand the balance between missiology and theology.

In the recent meeting of IMB trustees, a new statement was adopted outlining guidelines for contextualization. You can read the full report here. While I have been among those who are concerned about the “narrowing of doctrinal parameters” by some of our agencies’ policies, I am pleased with these new guidelines. In fact, these guidelines are, in my opinion, right on the money.

I submit as evidence of a good policy, the three footnotes, each of which give contemporary practical applications to the new policies.

Footnote “a” reads:

“In John Travis’ spectrum of contextualization, C-4 would be the extent of indigenization acceptable for IMB personnel (“The C1 to C6 Spectrum.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34. [4]:407-408).”

Without explaining for the uninitiated exactly what that means, C4 is pretty far along the contextual scale. C5, I believe, is goes too far and blurs the line between Christianity and Islam. This is exactly where I and most of my missiologist colleagues draw the line as well. I am pleased that the trustees are willing to go as far as C4. (Please email me if you would like access to the EMQ article cited above).

Footnote “b” reads:

“For example, the theological construct represented by the term 'Allah' in the Quranic system is deficient and unacceptable. However, the primary issue is not the term. The same name is used by devout Christians and it represents a sound, scriptural view of God. In fact, historically, the Christian use of 'Allah' predates the rise of Islam. The missionary task is to teach who 'Allah' truly is in accord with biblical revelation.”

This footnote reveals that the Trustees understand and are willing to acknowledge the difference between form and meaning. Rather that enforcing a blanket policy banning use of the term, the new contextualization policies empower the missionary to make critical contextualization decisions particular to that context. In other words, when the “forms” are morally neutral, they may be retained and given new meaning. The use of “Allah” is one of the hot-button issues in recent debate and I am pleasantly surprised at the trustee’s stance.

Footnote “c” reads:

“Integrity requires, for example, that we not imply that a false prophet or a body of religious writings other than the Bible are inspired. There is a level of contextualization that crosses the line of integrity. Our board has dismissed personnel who have refused counsel and deliberately positioned themselves beyond that line.”

This policy seeks to recognize the balance between doing whatever it takes to reach the lost and maintaining biblical fidelity and integrity in our witness. To read between the lines here, the policy is referring most immediately to the use of the Koran in witness to Muslims. This footnote appears to affirm the use of the somewhat controversial “CAMEL” method (which begins with the Koran, but in no way affirms it) while rightly criticizing methods which try to “prove” Christianity from the Koran. The footnote is worded in such a way that it applies to all religious texts and persons not just the Koran and Muhammad. This shows that the IMB trustees are willing to try new methods of reaching unreached peoples while at the same time maintaining personal integrity, and upholding the exclusivity of the gospel and the unique authority of the Bible.

**** All this is to say, that there is good news in the new guidelines and the evidence is in the footnotes. IMB trustees are faithfully doing their job and have shown through this report that they are thinking both theologically AND missiologically about missions. Bravo!

Now if they would only reverse the eternal security baptism policy . . . :-)

Monday, November 19, 2007

What's in a name (part 2)

Any time we name a church you are attempting to communicate something about the identity of your church. Most of the time, the name is meant to communicate something to those outside the church body itself. Naming of churches has gone through several stages. Some names are strictly utliltarian. Older church names commonly included only the denomination and the number church they are in a given area. Thus, it is not uncommon to find churches named First Church of the Nazarene, Second United Methodist, Sixth Baptist, and Tenth Presbyterian. I even found a Twenty-eighth Church of Christ. My seminary roommate pastored a church which having had a rather contentious split named itself Friendship Baptist Church #2 (the church has since changed its name).

Other churches were named for their location—named after city, road, landmark. This results in church names such as Dowagiac Christian Center, Rensselaer Community Church, or Worthville Baptist Church. Occasionally locations can result in some interesting church names. For example, Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville is now actually on Third Street. There are at least three “Little Hope Baptist” churches in the U.S.; as well as First Baptist Church of Cash, Boring United Methodist Church, Intercourse United Methodist Church, and my personal favorite, Calvin Free Will Baptist Church. Personally, I have dreamed of moving to Michigan to plant the First Baptist Church of Hell :-).

Knowing that names communicate, some churches include a word that relates to the gospel message. Thus, you find names such as Grace, Faith, Calvary, etc. Newer churches choose trendy names which communicate both their “post-modern” flavor and something of their core values in the name: Sojourn, Mosaic, Discovery, Journey, etc. Of course you don’t have to be a trendy post-modern church to include a core value in your name. Churches in my home state include Friendship Baptist, Community Fellowship, and of course, Greater-Come-As-You-Are-Baptist-Church. I would submit that some churches try to communicate too much in their name. Consider the following (I’m not making these up): Fire Baptized Holiness Church of God of the Americas, Restoration Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, African Church of God (Yahweh) Messianic Assembly of The Kingdom of God, and my favorite, A.B.B.A.'s (Adopted into the Beloved and Blessed Abundantly) House Church of God of Prophecy. You ask what’s in a name? Sometimes a whole lot!

Anyway, the point of all this, if there is one, is to say, that there a lot of possibilities in choosing a name and denominational identity is only one of them.


-- Todd

Saturday, November 3, 2007

What's in a name?

There is a perennial debate among North American church planters as whether or not new churches should include a denominational labels (in my case “Baptist”) in their name. Larry Baker (Kentucky Baptist church planting strategist) has offered a two recent posts on the issue and the comments to his post are as informative and helpful as the post itself. Here are a few points I would like to offer for consideration on the issue of leaving “Baptist” out of the church name. (In my next post I will offer points to consider when choosing a name.)

1. It is wrong to be intentionally deceptive. If the purpose of leaving a denominational title out of your name is a kind of “bait and switch” technique, then there is an ethical problem here. I would submit, however, that the overwhelming majority of church planters have no intention to make people think that they are something they are not, nor hide their denominational affiliation.

2. You cannot communicate everything through a name. Names, generally speaking, are short labels. With the exception of those churches with obnoxiously long names, church names tend to be 2-4 words in length. There is a limit to what you can communicate in four words or less. Including “Baptist” in a church name communicates something, but you cannot communicate what “Baptist” means. Many people are unclear what the word “Baptist” really means so that in many cases having the word in the name does not communicate anything.

3. Omission is not necessarily deception. Again, unless your name is very long, you cannot include everything in a name. The question is, what do you include and what do you leave out to communicate a different way? Are you deceiving people if you do not include everything here? Is it deception for a Southern Baptist Church to leave “Southern” out of their name? Must every distinctive of your church be included in the church name: “First Southern Inerrantist Exclusivist 7-Day Creation Contemporary Music Small Groups instead of Sunday School 3.5 point Calvinist Preach out of the NIV Serve Communion Once a Month Southern Baptist Church”. All of these are something someone might want to know. Not all of these belong in a church name. Who decided that denominational affiliation was the most important thing about a church?

4. There are other ways to communicate denomination than the name. A few examples I’ve seen include literature tables, visitor information packets, denominational missions posters, membership class, church website, etc. The most common way, perhaps, is to answer the questions of those who ask. In my first church plant, rightly or wrongly, we did not include “Baptist” in our name. We did communicate our Baptist identity in other ways and most people who wanted to know simply asked. I’ve visited other Baptist churches where you had to do extensive detective work to discover whether they were Southern, American, General, Independent, or something else. Each church must find its own way to communicate what is important and distinctive about their congregation—including denominational affiliation.

5. There are much better measures of denominational loyalty than the name of the church. “Baptist” in the name doth not a loyal Southern Baptist make. I would humbly submit that loyalty to your denomination has much more to do with involvement than the name of your church. Much more important, in my opinion, are missions giving and associational involvement. Even more important is commitment to the Great Commission.

Generally speaking, I am not highly concerned whether or not a church includes denominational identity in their name. I offer these points to suggest that we do not judge a church or church planter by their name alone.

You comments are welcome.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Should Everyone be a Missionary?

The following are exerpts from my response to a discussion in my missions class on the definition of “missionary”:

Let me offer a few thoughts on the matter that, for purposes of discussion, will be labeled as “my opinion” :-)

1. While I do not call every Christian a missionary, the motivation for doing so is admirable. The point most are trying to make is that the Great Commission is for all believers and that evangelism is the job not just of the hired guns, but of every believer. Christians need to be motivated to share their faith to the world around them and the church should in fact be a sending agency (Rom 10:15) whether the place they are being sent is next door or across the globe. Many people do not like the distinction missiologists make [e.g., Olsen, What in the World is God Doing, 9-13] because they do not want to diminish the calling of every Christian to spread the gospel wherever they are.

2. At the same time, definitions are important. We use words to communicate and it is important that everyone understands what we mean by what we say. Precise words are often needed to distinguish between one category and another. One case is that of “missions” vs. “mission.” A generation ago, this distinction became extremely important as Christians debated just what was the primary task of Christians around the world. In a nutshell, the distinction needed to be made between the primary task of evangelism and church planting and every other good thing that Christians should do (feeding the hungry, medical care, social justice, etc.). As one theologian noted in the midst of that debate, “if everything is mission, then nothing is mission.” Words and their meanings matter.

Most of our discussion on this topic has been over the definition of “missionary” and whether every person should be one. While I do not think the use of the term is a major issue worth fighting over, I offer a few points for your consideration:

a. Since the word “missionary” is nowhere in the Bible, a precise definition is not a matter of biblical fidelity. Likewise, we are free to delimit our understanding of the word and its use. In doing so, we do not undermine the Great Commission, the responsibility of every Christian to be a witness wherever they are, or the tremendous need for the gospel here at home (cf. Acts 1:8).

b. In my opinion, I believe it is indeed helpful to narrow the use of the term missionary because, although there may be no difference in importance, there is a definite difference in expectation in what a missionary does. Among other things, missionaries typically must: leave their home and extended family, move to a distant location, learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, study the new culture in order to communicate the gospel effectively, change his or her diet, etc., etc. The call to be a missionary, then, is quite different from the call to witness to a neighbor or be a light in the workplace. Having a distinct and separate term helps us to define the specific task of leaving, crossing cultures, planting churches, and reaching the unreached peoples of the world with the gospel.

c. We have other terminology that is adequate to describe the task/role of every believer. Every believer is to be a witness (Acts 1:8). Every Christian should be active in evangelism (2 Tim 4:4). What is the purpose served in calling everyone a missionary? Using the term does not change our responsibility to spread the gospel wherever we are. It may be that by calling everyone a missionary we may inadvertently discourage missions. While highlighting the responsibility of every believer to share the message of Christ with those around them, we may blind ourselves to the great need in other parts of the world. By reserving the term for those who go to another place and/or cross cultures, we remind Christians of the billions of people in the world who have yet to hear the good news. We highlight the fact that while in America there may be one born again Christian for every ten people, in the 10/40 window there may be one for every hundred thousand. Having a distinct and separate term helps us to highlight the great need in other places and define more precisely the specific roles in fulfilling the Great Commission.

3. Of course, the discussion can get even more precise. Even when we agree that the term “missionary” should be reserved for a particular type of ministry, what are the elements that define the term. There are still a few areas that my colleagues debate. For example, how far does one have to go; How much of a cultural barrier does one have to cross before they are in fact doing missions? I am a church planter. If I plant a church in my home town, am I a missionary? What about the next town? California? Western Europe? Southeast Asia? Each location offers an increased level of spatial and cultural distance one must cross. (I know one professor that argues that Paul was not actually a missionary, since he did not cross any cultural barrier in his ministry). When we want to be even more precise, missiologists have ways to classify the different types of evangelism. Ralph Winter, for example, developed a paradigm to delineate the various barriers one might cross in missions: E1 evangelism—to those of the same culture and language; E-2 evangelism—to those of similar culture and/or language; E-3 evangelism—to those of a significantly foreign language or culture (originally developed by Ralph Winter in Perspectives of the World Christian Movement, William Carrey Library, 1981, 1992). The issues can be as complex as we want them to be.

Summary: In my opinion, we must strike a balance between the academic need to be precise in our language and the pastoral need to challenge our churches with the commission of Christ. The important point is to be sure that we are actively participating in God’s global mission—both here at home and around the world. Words are merely tools to help us communicate specific concepts. Whatever terminology we use, let us be sure that we are obedient to Jesus’ command to “go into all the world” with the gospel of redemption.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Korean Missionaries Freed -- What Now?

Thank you for all who prayed for the release of 19 Korean missionaries held in Afghanistan. Thus far, eight have been freed with the remaining hostages to be freed over the next day or so. Let us return thanks to the Lord for answered prayer.

This release, however, came at a cost. I'm not talking about the credibility Korean government negotiations gave to the Taliban. That is an issue for a political blog. The issue to which I am referring is the promised ban on Christian missions to Afghanistan by the South Korean government. Whether or not this will have a real effect on Korean mission work to Afghanistan remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it shows how much we must depend on the Lord who "who opens and no one will close, and closes and no one opens." Rev 3:7 (HCSB)

South Korean missionaries have been a vital witness to their Muslim neighbors, gaining access and open doors for witness that Westerners cannot. Many of my Korean brothers in our doctoral program are preparing for ministry among Muslims. Still others look for ways to penetrate this seemingly closed area. We can be assured that God continues to work in this region.

As God continues His work, we must remember Paul's statement about his own ministry in 1 Cor 16:9: "For a great and effective door has opened to me, and there are many adversaries."

With the release of these missionary hostages, our prayers for the region cannot end. We must pray both for a "great and effective door" for the gospel to go out to Muslims and the unreached people groups in the 10/40 window. We must pray for and support those missionaries who have committed their lives to taking the gospel to them despite "many adversaries." We must pray that the harvest be ripened and for God to send more laborers into it.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday is for funny -- A Pause from Serious Reflection for a Little Humor

Forgive me for this, but after this recent "close encounter" on campus at Southern, I just have to ask . . . Do you believe in Alien Baptism?

Thursday, August 23, 2007

My Baby is 10 Today

Today, my first-born turns ten years old. This is her first day as “a double-digit.” Like most parents whose kids grow up, I wonder where the time went and realize how quickly life passes us by. It is at these times that certain passages of Scripture come to mind and seem to have special significance. Passages such as,

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Eph 5:15-16 NKJV


“teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalms 90:12 NKJV

Our days on earth are not infinite and we must be careful to use them wisely. This means as a parent, my days with my children are limited. I only have a little time to bring them up in the Lord, lead them to faith and growth in Christ, and teach them the skills to live a Christian life. This is something I have been thinking about (and teaching in Sunday School) over the past few months.

In Colossians, there is a parallel passage that has specific application for missions and evangelism:

“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” Col 4:5 (NKJV)

It is in the context of his own ministry that Paul challenges us to make the most of our time not only in our life and family, but in God’s kingdom work. As stewards of our lives, it is incumbent upon every believer to be workers in God’s harvest field, to “pray, give, and go” with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yes, my daughter is ten today and seemingly has her whole life ahead of her. Yet as someone who was once ten myself, I know that life is short. I must be conscious of the time I have left with my children. I must teach her the value time to make the most of every opportunity -- to use every moment to glorify God. Most of all, I must demonstrate a life that is “on mission” with God. I must be involved in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ at home and to the uttermost parts of the earth.

God has only given us one life to live and we must be stewards of it.

How will I use it?

How will she use it?

How will you use it?

Saturday, August 18, 2007

I Still Believe in Church Planting

I have come full circle on North American church planting. I became a passionate supporter of church planting during my M.Div. studies and upon graduation, moved to a rural town to plant a church (which we did). I returned to Southern for Ph.D. studies with a bent toward church planting. In the middle of my doctoral studies, I became a bit disenchanted by the trendiness of it all. Yet, upon further reflection, I continue to see the importance and need for new churches and will continue to be an advocate for church planting here at home. I agree that there is ministry to be done in existing churches. I also am a strong advocate partnership and support for international missions. Here, however, are a few reasons I believe that churches should be involved in planting new churches in North America:

1. The population of the United States continues to grow at a pace that is continually increasing the church/population ratio. There is a need for new churches because the number of persons in the US continues to grow. At the same time, reports indicate that attendance in mainline and Catholic churches is steadily declining, and a large number of these persons remain unchurched.

2. Population shifts and development are seeing new communities emerging where there are few if any existing churches. New churches are needed to fill the gap.

3. The number of immigrants continues to grow. There is a need for churches to reach these rapidly growing ethnic populations.

4. Not all existing churches are willing and/or able to make the contextual and methodological changes necessary to reach our culture with the gospel. (Other churches are “unhealthy” and are unwilling to reform.) New churches often have a freedom and flexibility that established churches do not.

There are many more arguments in support of church planting. These are a few that I find compelling.

Author’s Note: This post was first written as a comment to a blog post entitled “Churches that Don’t Plant Churches” by a fellow PhD student at Southern.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Meaning of Missional -- How I Use the Term

On his new blog at LifeWay, Ed Stetzer has begun a much needed series on the “Meanings of Missional.” I look forward to his study on the history and usages of the word. In many ways, the current debate over the term “missional” is the new front on the old battle between “mission” and “missions.”[1] Of which of these words is “missional” the adjectival form? It appears that all depends on who is using the term.

For the sake of understanding this blog, however, here is how I presently use the term: The quality of being oriented toward or focused on God’s Kingdom mission. In my use, the term implies a strong priority on evangelism both to those around me and to the unreached peoples of the world. It involves intentionality in seeking ways to become increasingly involved as a “world Christian.” It constitutes a world and life view that focuses beyond oneself toward fully participating in God’s redemptive plan.

I will continue to think through this issue, as my explanation leaves much room for improvement. I will leave it to Dr. Stetzer to do the academic work here and to offer a precise, evangelical definition of the word (I am a little preoccupied with my dissertation:-). In the mean time, feel free to add your comments and suggestions to what I have offered here.

[1] For those not familiar with this distinction, here is the gist of it in its simplest form: Mission (singular) includes the entire program God has for His church. Missions (plural) refers to the specific task of taking the gospel to the world to bring persons to faith in Christ and establish churches. See, e.g., Olsen, What in the World is God Doing, p. 9-14.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Friday, August 10, 2007

Pray for Korean Mission Workers

To my limited readership, let us join in continued prayer for the safe return of Korean mission workers held captive by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"No matter what issues currently occupy Christians in the U.S., they should shift their focus to Afghanistan right now and join the churches in South Korea in vigilant prayer for the remaining hostages." -- Faith McDonnell, Institute on Religion and Democracy

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Advice for Next Year's Mission Trip

My kids started back to school today, and so for our family, the summer season has officially come to an end. With the end of the summer comes the end of the mission trip season as well. Now is the time to begin planning for next spring and summer’s mission trips (as well as getting a passport if you need one). Having both hosted mission teams as a church planter and planned trips for churches of which I have been a part, I have a few ideas (in the realm of “my personal opinion”) about avoiding some of the common pitfalls of sending and receiving mission teams. The following are a few tips for both the mission team planners and the host missionary:

Tips for Mission Team Planners. There are several pitfalls associated with mission teams. One of the big draws of mission trips is the benefit these trips have for the sending church. Because of these benefits, some churches send mission teams merely to provide an experience for their church or group and do not look at things from the host missionary’s perspective. While an uplifting experience is certainly one goal of m-trips, it should not be the most important one. Other churches come with a preconceived idea of what will work (usually a variation of what they are doing in their home church) with no knowledge of or regard to the cultural difference of the host culture, basic missiological principles, or the current goals of the missionary. Some groups arrive with their own agenda which has not been communicated and is often in conflict with the strategy goals of the missionary. Any of these scenarios can have serious consequences. At best these can lead to a reduced effectiveness of the mission team. At worst, the team can cause real problems or can even be detrimental to host missionaries and their work.

These pitfalls can be avoided, however, if the group approaches their planning with the proper attitude and perspective. Groups that wish to go overseas should do so with an attitude of humility and a servant's heart. They should be teachable and be willing to follow the lead of the missionary. They should seek and follow the advice of the missionary concerning cultural and contextual information needed in planning the trip. Additionally, churches need to make sure that the needs of the missionary shape the agenda of the trip. Team leaders should be in close communication with the missionary before the trip so that their visit is of mutual benefit to the m-trip group and the host missionary. In a mission-board model, part of this problem is addressed by having the missionary on the field request specific mission projects to be done by those teams. Churches who wish to take a group then are connected with missionaries requesting a team, etc. In an independent missionary model, or for “home” mission trips, churches should contact various missionaries to find out what their needs are and coordinate trips that are a help to them, allowing the missionary to take the lead. In all cases, team leaders should do their best to make sure the needs and goals of both the team and the missionary are a good fit. Finally, team leaders should do all they can to be as self-sufficient as possible during the trip. The less the missionary must be responsible for in terms of meals, lodging, transportation and other logistics, the better (obviously this will vary depending on the context).

Tips for Host Missionaries. Missionaries who do receive mission teams also have a responsibility if they agree to host a team. The missionary needs to realize that for an effective relationship, there must be a mutual benefit. Many mission teams have come home discouraged after investing their vacation time and financial resources on a domestic or overseas trip where the host missionary was disinterested, unorganized, or did not effectively use the team. Nothing is more discouraging for a mission team than to travel a great distance to sit around and do nothing for a missionary who is unprepared, or worse, really does not want them there (this does actually happen sometimes).

To be effective, the missionary can do several things. First, do your best to incorporate mission teams into your overall strategy rather than adding them on and trying to make them fit. This keeps the missionary from seeing mission teams as a distraction, but as an essential part of the plan. There are several things that mission teams can do well and that can be a real asset to the missionary. Second, recruit teams whose ministry goals meet the goals of the missionary. If a mission team is not a fit, it is better to acknowledge that before the trip is planned than after the team is on the field. Third, make sure the team has any essential information they need about the culture and how their trip fits in your overall strategy so they can orient themselves before they leave their home. Finally, see the hosting of the mission team as a ministry to that group. When done well, mission trips can result in significant spiritual growth of the participants, increased fellowship, and avid missions supporters.

These are just a few ideas. As always, there is certainly much more that can be said about the issue. I for one have an earnest desire to discover ways to mobilize churches toward effective partnerships with missionaries for the mutual benefit of both, for the advancement of God's kingdom.

(Disclaimer: This is advice for working with an existing missionary. New models are emerging for churches to make long term commitments to engage unreached people groups for which this advice may or may not apply. But that will have to wait for another post . : -)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

An Encounter with "Feel Good" Theology

While on vacation this week, My wife and I are visiting friends in another state. We were blessed to be able to worship with them and meet their pastor. Despite our denominational differences, the pastor and I hit it off as we were like-minded in our passion for the gospel. A couple of comments during the Bible study, however, (we were in Romans 3) caused a moment of concern. It had nothing to do with eternal security, the gift of tongues, or ecclesiology (though we likely differ on all of those). It wasn’t that he said something that bothered my Baptist sensibilities. In fact, I have heard the same thing said in Baptist churches. The belief he expressed has become widespread among evangelicals even though it has no real biblical support. It is an attractive belief -- real "feel good" theology. The pastor introduced the idea with the phrase “the Bible teaches that . . . .” At the end of the Bible study, when the floor was open for questions, a young woman (also a visitor) asked eagerly where she could find that in the Bible. She was not challenging the pastor as I would have been doing had I asked the question. Rather, she had never heard this idea before but really liked it and wanted the “proof text” to confirm it. The pastor could not come up with a verse on the spot (I whispered to my wife, “that’s because it’s not in there”) but he assured her that this was the Bible’s teaching.

This belief to which I am referring is the belief that all people in the world will have an equal chance to accept Christ. That is, because God is loving and fair, God will give everyone a chance to become a Christian. I understand the desire to have such a belief. For one, it helps resolve the tension in the question “What happens to those who have never heard.?” I helps us solve the dilemma of the fairness of God given the present situation in the world. There are several problems with this reasoning, however. Below are a few of those problems as I see it in the early morning before anyone else in the house is awake an functioning:

1. This is not the Bible’s teaching. There is no suggestion in the Bible that salvation is available to any without the preaching, hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. In fact the book of Romans expresses this in chapter 10:

13 For "whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved." 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!" 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed our report?" 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. Romans 10:13-17 (NKJV) cf. 1 Cor 1:21. There is no other biblical way. People must hear and believe the gospel to be saved.

Some try to explain away this lack of biblical support by saying that the Bible is silent about the fate of the unevangelized and claim that God is free to do whatever he wants. We don’t have to know HOW he will give everyone an equal chance, we don’t even have biblical precedence, we only have to know that God is loving and fair and fairness demands that everyone have a chance to believe. The problem here is two-fold. a. We are on dangerous ground when we say that go beyond what God has revealed in his word. We have enough statements about salvation and evangelism to rule out such a scenario. b. God already addresses the question of those who have not heard the gospel. God has already given revelation through creation, and even this light has been rejected. No one can say at the judgment “We never heard the message.” They are without excuse (Rom 1:18-20). Others approach the problem a different way by saying that is someone truly seeks God, God in his faithfulness will send a messenger. This scenario is also ruled out in Romans since “no one seeks God”(Rom 3:11).

2. In effect, this view undermines mission and evangelism. No longer burdened by the fate of those who do not hear the gospel, we lose our urgency for evangelism and missions. We may feel some guilt for lack of involvement in missions and evangelism, but the guilt is now only from not obeying a command of Scripture. Add that to the list of things I need to work on in my own personal spiritual development. Since God is fair, my lack of involvement puts no one’s ultimate destiny at stake. The urgency for missions and evangelism is lost.

3. Finally, such a view does not take our own depravity seriously. I say this because the idea of God’s fairness really reflects our own doubts about the seriousness of sin. The reality is that I deserve death and hell as does every person in the world. I am no better than the person who has never heard the gospel Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for my sins, I too would be condemned. When people die of a disease, it is not the lack of a cure that kills them, it is the disease itself. When God condemns sinners, whether or not they hear the gospel, they are condemned for their sin and nothing else. We have the cure, we must take it to them. Without the gospel, we too would be condemned.

I could take up much more space discussing this subject and really have not done it justice here. I bring it up because it is becoming such a popular view among otherwise bible-believing Christians. In any case, that’s all I can do while on vacation. My family is getting up and soon will be ready to get going on fun vacation stuff. There is much more to say on this subject. Feel free to add your comments.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

In defense of pragmatism

In a recent commissioning service for IMB missionaries, Jerry Rankin challenged his audience to follow the example of the apostle Paul. That is, they should adopt a “‘wigtake’ attitude – to do ‘whatever it's going to take’ to get the Gospel to all peoples.” Whether “wigtake” will become the next new buzzword in missions I don’t know (I’ve heard at least one professor at Southern Seminary use it in class), but it does suggest to me an interesting question: What is the role of pragmatism in missions and evangelism?

I for one believe the word “pragmatism” has unfairly gotten a bed rep. Perhaps it is because many define pragmatism by the old maxim “the end justifies the means.” Perhaps it is because we blame pragmatism for the many excesses and examples of outrageous outreach practices among some evangelicals. Perhaps it is because we have become leery of meaningless numbers[1] -- inflated statistics, large numbers of “decisions” or even baptisms that do not result in real church growth -- all seemingly as a result of pragmatism. Put that all together and you find that for many, pragmatism has become something of a dirty word.

I am sympathetic to those who try to avoid the pragmatic approach in favor of a strictly biblical one. Those of a theological mindset might say things like “just preach the Word” or “All I have to do is be obedient and leave the results up to God.” I should not focus on being pragmatic, rather, I should be focus on being “biblical.” While this attitude is pious and well intended, in my opinion it is overly simplistic. I say this because no matter how biblical we become, we still have practical choices to make for which we have no clear biblical direction. Take for instance the person who says “Just preach the word.” Great! I’m all for it. Now, which Scripture(s) are you going to preach? In what language? Which translation? Where will you preach? To whom? At what time of day? What will you wear while preaching? The choices go on and on.

Try another. “All I have to do is be obedient in evangelism.” Ok, now the practical questions: Whom will I evangelize? How will I approach them? When and where? How will I gain a hearing? Should I find a way to build a relationship? How? What approach will I take in conversation? How will I begin my gospel presentation? Will I use a Bible or tract? Should I call first or just cold call? Should I pop in a breath mint? Should my wife and I speak to this couple individually or together? Each circumstance has its own set of questions and choices to be made -- and most of them are biblically neutral.

At this point you have a decision to make. You can say that these questions (and others like them) are irrelevant as long as you are obedient to the biblical command. Or, you can say that at least some of these decisions may have a bearing on the effectiveness of the effort. If you choose the options you think will be more effective, like it or not, you are a pragmatist.

Now, I will grant that not every choice is appropriate – some ideas are unbiblical and should be avoided. I am not suggesting that we should ever do something unbiblical just because it works. At the same time, if given the choice between two equally biblical alternatives—one that might work and one that probably won’t—am I more spiritual if I choose the latter and appeal to Divine sovereignty? In such a case, I will choose what works. The glory still belongs to the Lord. As one of my professors often reminded us, pragmatic means practical. Is it more spiritual to be impractical?

Here, then, is my two cents: Let us be diligent in evaluating everything we do by the words of Scripture. Let us also do whatever it’s going to take to bring the gospel to the world. Let us be biblical and pragmatic. Let us be biblical pragmatists.

[1] Admit it, you thought that wigtake meant “whatever it’s going to take to have impressive statistics to report on the Annual Church Profile.” :- )

Friday, July 20, 2007

Is the focus on Unreached People Groups mandated by Scripture?

This week, Wade Burleson has provided his readers with another summary of the IMB trustee meetings. One part was of particular interest to me. Burleson reports concerning Jerry Rankin’s report to the board: “[A particular trustee asked Dr. Jerry Rankin after his address to the trustees], ‘Dr. Rankin, I only ask because I'm curious and have heard this said before. Is your focus on the unreached people groups driven by an eschatalogical motive?’ Dr. Rankin answered by quoting Matthew 24:16 [sic], 'The gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to the whole world, and then the end shall come' and said that eschatology does not compel the IMB's mission (or his), but obedience does. Dr. Rankin said the timing of the coming of the Son is up to the Father and nothing we do will define when He comes. It is up to God. We are simply to obey His commission."

This trustee’s question is pertinent because if a particular policy of the mission board is in place because of theological reasons, and those theological views prove erroneous (or at least questionable), then the board is on shaky ground. Indeed, one of the perennial problems of missions and evangelism methodologies is that the supporters of those policies often attempt to justify their chosen model as mandated by Scripture – often using less that sound hermeneutical principles.

The Unreached People Group (UPG) strategy has been a topic of continued discussion among my missions buddies. Of particular concern has been the theological justification made for such a strategy. There are those who do in fact find theological support if not a mandate for a UPG strategy. For some, an interpretation of Matt 24:14 which suggests that the Lord will not (or can not) return until the Great Commission is fulfilled; i.e., the last people group is reached. This is based also on an understanding of the Greek phrase panta ta ethne in the Great Commission as referring to ethnolinguistic groups. (I personally hold neither of these views, though a number of my colleagues do).

There are good reasons to question this view:

Assuming that Matt 24:14 is speaking of the second coming of Christ (which is not universally accepted, as some scholars believe this is a reference to the destruction of the temple in 70AD -- see Matt 24:2), note the following:

1. Even if the spread of the gospel is a prerequisite to the return of Christ, but this does not mean that we can in any way hasten the return of Christ. God may be waiting for those who have already heard the gospel to respond, for yet unborn future believers, or waiting until his own appointed time and good pleasure. (cf. 2 Pet 3.9)
2. What does it mean that the gospel will be preached in all the world.. to all nations? – every region? Every geo-political entity? Every people group? Every individual? – How will we know when we have completed the task?
3. Jesus told us that it is not for us to be concerned about the timing of the second coming but to be his witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:6-8).

All this is to say, that in my opinion, (echoing the answer given by Dr. Rankin) it is much more important to obey the command of Christ and be about the business of taking the gospel to all than it is to focus on the timing of the second coming and how we might hurry it along.

As far as panta ta ethne in the Great Commission, despite my respect for men like Donald McGavran and John Piper, I think it is in error to translate this as "people group." I am more inclined to agree with those exegetes who see the phrase as a general reference to the whole world -- i.e. all of humanity. A better case for people group strategy might be made from passages like Rev. 5:9. In any case, it is difficult to make a real case that the UPG strategy is Scripturally mandated.

While I believe the UPG strategy is a good one, I don't believe it is necessarily mandated by Scripture. What IS commanded is that we take the gospel to the world. The real reason to adopt the UPG strategy is on pragmatic grounds. That is, we should focus on UPGs because this strategy is the best way to be obedient to the Great Commission in this period of Christian Missions. This focus is the best way today to bring the gospel to as many people as possible in a way that they can hear, understand, and respond. In this era of missions, a focus on UPGs makes sense. Of course, things may be different in the future. In the wake of globalization and the seemingly constant (if gradual) change in the number and makeup of ethnolinguistic people groups, there may be a need in the future for a change in strategy. For now, I personally believe a focus on UPGs is the best way to be obedient to the Great Commission.

Finally, regardless of how one views the particulars of the UPG strategy or the reasons behind it, it is important for missionaries, practitioners, and their supporters to continually be in dialog about how we can be obedient to God's command to reach the nations.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

How Can I Be a Witness to Lost Christians?

In a post-Christian America, evangelism is becoming increasingly more difficult. It is not that the gospel has changed – it hasn’t – but it is increasingly more difficult to clearly articulate the gospel to a culture who, to a large extent, is nominally Christian. For anyone who lives in the South or Midwest, most people have heard a simple presentation of the gospel and many have responded to a gospel invitation of one kind or another. It seems that one large category of lost people I know identify themselves as “born again” Christians. That is, they know and believe the facts about Jesus, have prayed the sinner’s prayer, and may have even been baptized (by immersion as a “believer”). Their gospel formula is believe these facts, pray this prayer, do this religious acts and your are a Christian. The problem is, their lives have not changed at all. There is no sign of true repentance. There are none of the evidences of regeneration. They have, as Billy Graham used to say, got enough of a dose of Christianity to inoculate them from the real thing. They call themselves Christians. Many even have fond emotional sentiment toward Jesus and may even pray. Yet, their fruit indicates they are most likely lost.

In my secular employment, I have several of these “Christian” friends. Of course they rarely attend church, cuss like sailors, sleep around, “party” (sometimes with illegal substances) all while claiming a “personal relationship with God.” It seems to me there is something wrong with an evangelism where these kinds of Christians are the result. Many have written on the woes of modern evangelism presentations so I will not belabor the point here. My concern is Where do we go from here? If I share a simple gospel message with these friends, they are willing to affirm everything I offer. So here is my dilemma—how to share the gospel of Christ with those who need Him but already think they know Him.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Thinking Cooperatively About Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 3: A Cooperative Conversation

A third purpose of this blog focuses on how Bible believing Christians generally, and Baptists particularly, might work together to fulfill the Great Commission.

Evangelicals for the last few generations have generally been drawn toward a responsible ecumenism. Christians have held a sentiment that all who believe the gospel are brothers and sisters in Christ and should do all they can to build this unity despite differences on peripheral doctrines.[1] While some have held to a kind of liberal ecumenism marked by religious relativism and a “broad tent” mentality, others have sought for a more evangelical type of unity that allows for fellowship among true believers and, when appropriate, working together in Great Commission work.

In recent years, Southern Baptists have renewed their sense of the importance for cooperation. Seven years ago, messengers (myself included) adopted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message forming the capstone for the conservative resurgence. Since that time, there has been a renewed effort toward working cooperatively in Great Commission work. The executive committee, led by Morris Chapman, has called for increased cooperation among churches challenging messengers in its annual reports, introducing the theme “Empowering Kingdom Growth,” and a leading in a renewed commitment to the Cooperative Program. The International Mission Board has led in developing ways churches can partner in the global effort. At the same time, the board has renewed guidelines that both allow cooperation with other groups and set parameters for how it could be done appropriately. Many other things could be mentioned that demonstrate this trend toward cooperation, but suffice it to say that Southern Baptists continue to think both about how we might promote partnership in missions and evangelism and how we might do so appropriately.

The purpose of this blog begins at the next level. Once determining the appropriate boundaries for responsible partnership, how can we best cooperate as missional Christians and churches? What are the ways in which we can do so? Southern Baptists are perhaps most familiar with financial cooperation through the Cooperative Program. But beyond joint funding of mission efforts, Christians ought to think through ways we can partner together for kingdom purposes (through prayer, mutual encouragement, sharing of ideas, and appropriate joint efforts). It will be the purpose of this blog to explore ways in which Baptists and other evangelicals can work together toward His Kingdom purposes.

[1] For a great assessment about doctrinal differences and their relative importance, see Dr. Albert Mohler’s recent blog entry, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thinking Effectively About Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 2: A Practical Conversation

If my last blog entry leaned toward the academic, this one “gets down to the nitty-gritty.” That is, once I discover what I must do biblically, there remains the question: How can I do it practically? The big problem is that evangelism is the one thing that every Baptist knows they ought to do but is also the thing that few do well. Some respond by clinging to methods that are outdated and ineffective, some go off the deep end and do whatever works in an uncritical pragmatism (see previous post), while a large number simply give up in their frustration.

This blog will seek, under the biblical guideline laid out in the last post, to have a practical conversation about being missional Christians and churches. Specifically, it will seek to discover and share how we can fulfill the Great Commission in real life – at this time, in this place, to this culture. I hope through this discussion to present genuine problems faced by those who wish to be missional, and work together to find workable solutions. Again, this is not a place where I will engage in ministry-bashing of others’ honest (though often misguided and inappropriate) attempts to reach people with the gospel. Nor will I join the gossipy “culture of criticism” (title of a future post?) in which I rail against other churches perceived inactivity (whether or not I know anything about their ministry situation). Rather it will be a place to address real problems and find actual solutions that are both practical/effective and biblical. It will be a place to lift up one another as we seek ways to best serve Christ. If no one ever reads this blog, this will at least allow me to lay out in writing the continuing questions for which I seek answers. If I am blessed to become part of an online community, then I hope this second purpose of this blog to be the most beneficial one – one that finds a mutual edification and encouragement in this great mission task.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thinking Biblically about Missional Christianity

The Purpose of My Blog, Part 1: A Theological Conversation

As I seek to be a missional Christian in obedience to Christ, I want to be sure I am thinking and acting biblically. If the Bible is indeed God’s word, I must make every effort to conform my thought and practice to Scripture. Whether speaking of church planting models, ecclesiology, contextualization, evangelism, or theology, I must be faithful to the revelation of God revealed in the Old and New Testaments. If the error of the past generation was a lack of commitment to the inerrancy of Scripture, the error of the present one is a lack of commitment to sound biblical exegesis. In the preface to his recent two volume work, Early Christian Mission, Erkhard Schnabel acknowledges this problem. He states,

Missiologists, missionaries and representatives of missionary societies seek to promote interest in crosscultural dialogue and witness and to encourage and develop the involvement of Christians, young and old, in active outreach to non-Christians. As laudable as these endeavors are, their proponents have not always sought to provide exegetical explanations or to engage in theological discussion when presenting models for missionary work and paradigms for effective evangelism.[1]

The Scripture is the basis of our Christian faith. When acting missionally, then, my practice must be biblically sound. Where the Bible commands I must be obedient. Where it gives examples I must learn from them. Where my methodology appeals to biblical precedent, it must do so on the basis of sound exegesis rather than a hermeneutic of convenience. In no case may the methods I use violate the Scriptures.

Current questions in for missional Christianity will need to be resolved with biblically appropriate answers. Application of biblical principles to missional practice must be done through a sound hermeneutic. We must discover the original meaning of the text, bridge between the biblical context and the present one, and make application in line with the intent of Scripture. I must not go to the Scripture to validate my preconceived ideas or preferences whatever they may be. I must allow my ministry and method to be shaped by Scripture itself. Köstenberger contends,

The descriptive nature of New Testament theology entails that we set aside for the time being our concern for the contemporary application of the biblical message. At the proper time, this will, of course, be very important, and, truth be told, this is also what fuels our interest in the present subject in the first place. But unless we are willing to let the New Testament speak to us on its own terms, we only deceive ourselves. We will merely find in the pages of the Bible what we have already determined to find there on other grounds. If we thus domesticate Scripture, we deprive ourselves of an opportunity to be instructed by, and even transformed by, Scripture, and we rob Scripture of its authority and preeminence.[2]

I must then take this approach to Scripture when dealing with the “hot button” issues of our day. Not only must I be “critical” in my contextualization,[3] but also in my church planting models, ecclesiology, soteriology, evangelism, worship, discipleship, and every other thing I do.

One of the purposes of this blog will be to seek biblical solutions to the problems faced by those who wish to be missional Christians. My purpose is not to criticize others or examine how everyone else is doing it wrong. Rather, I am striving in my own life and ministry to do things in ways that are consistent with the teaching of Scripture. I hope through conversations with others committed to the same ends to be able to think biblically about fulfilling our mission.

[1] Eckhard J. Schnabel, Early Christian Mission, 2 vols. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press; Leicester, England: Apollos, 2004), xxiii.

[2] Andreas J. Köstenberger, "The Place of Mission in New Testament Theology: An Attempt to Determine the Significance of Mission Within the Scope of the New Testament's Message as a Whole," Missiology 27 (1999): 349.

[3] See Paul G. Hiebert, "Critical Contextualization," Missiology 12 (1984): 287-96.