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 . . . :-)