Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Mission and Postcolonialism

In the light of the Taliban's recent hostage situation with a group of Korean missionaries, a lot of people are asking what boundaries should be set for evangelism. Should Christians go into countries and spread the love and Lordship of Jesus? In the midst of the anguish of our sisters and brothers, some have said that we should take a diversity/pluralist view (if for nothing other than pragmatic safety reasons). If I hadn't seen it so many times before, I would have to laugh at how certain sectors of "the West" are trying to push their idea of palatable religion onto the flaming zeal of these faithful martyrs. (Umm...isn't that pushing your cultural agenda? Or is nebbish sensitivity training an indigenous part of all human cultures?)

Forutunately, I've thought about this, too. What are the appropriate limits of the gospel? Whence its perspicuity? What about the exportation of women's liberation through missions? Should we cease the "circumcision" of women among African tribes that are evangelized?

As brutal and savage as one might consider that, the same thought was in the mind of most orchestrators of these 17-20th c. missionary efforts. We have not changed - we simply switch foci. Whereas missionary efforts of 150 years ago may have tried to encourage trim hair and lots of clothing (while saying nothing about the heavy-handed patriarchal family structure), today's missionaries would be content to let "natives" run around in loin cloths so long as they had adequate diversity training.

In each case, we make the fundamental mistake that the gospel is tied to our culture. When we politicize the gospel, evangelism becomes a ploy of party politics (no different from the spread of capitalism or communism "to lift people out of their misery"). The safer method - one which lets the Gospel penetrate and change a culture from within - is to lead people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and then let the Holy Spirit come upon them to transform their culture in appropriate (if agonizingly slow) ways.

Those Cornelius moments happen and teach both missionaries and the missioned how wide God's community is.


regressivepresby said...

Well said...

if you have nothing to say except 'shrink your carbon footprint!', of course you think that those who actually believe and experience the Lordship of Christ are foolish.

Feed the hungry, and let the others be... God will deal with us all as he sees fit.

I think we let the wolves set our agenda too much, and take up far too much of our time.

Aric Clark said...

Wow Chris, you sound downright, well, right. That's not something I usually associate with you. ;P

If you haven't already you should read Christianity Rediscovered, by Vincent Donovan. It was my first exposure to what you are talking about here and remains the best thing I've read on the topic.

Chris said...

I'm not only right...I'm far right. : D

Doug Hagler said...

So, then, what is the Gospel?


Viola said...

I agree that our first calling is to preach the gospel, without transformation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ--there is no Christianity-- nothing but politics.

But having said that, this question by you: Should we cease the "circumcision" of women among African tribes that are evangelized?" I think falls under, not American culture, or feminist theology, but biblical imperatives. Wouldn't we teach others that cannibalism is not quite up to the biblical text and also new Christians really shouldn't go about with small human heads hanging from their belts! So in the same manner female circumcision I think biblically is a no, no!

Chris said...

It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe. (Romans 1:16)

"Now I make known to you brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures..." (1 Cor. 15:1-4)

The Gospel is the Good news of God's dramatic action in the person and work of Jesus Christ to save us from our wretched condition. It is also the Good news of that work continuing in the Church by the power of the Spirit.

What do you think?

Chris said...


You point to a weakness in my rhetorical style. I was trying to make the point that those who say we shouldn't tamper with someone's cultural expression are happy to do so when it crosses their own sense of conscience. They are also blithely oblivious to the fact that their self-critical (in a bad way) stance is a product of a particular subculture in America. (It's also true that cultural domination is the natural tendency of other subcultures at work in America and around the world.)

In other words, I was trying to call them on their hooey.

Viola said...

Okay, I understand. And I agree.

Doug Hagler said...

I'll avoid my usual postmodern nitpicking and just say I agree. I was just curious what you would say.