The Old Man - Ron Davies

I am finishing this week with the theologian who has had the most profound affect on my life: my dad. I hope this doesn't sound tacky but he really has; certainly he has had the longest influence on my life and theology.

Ron Davies has an amazingly wide set of interests. He was very influenced by Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones and attended the Friday night Romans sermons for the time he was a LBC (now LST). New Testament studies and Greek, Biblical Theology, Historical Theology (later on writing his PhD dissertation on the Missiology of Jonathan Edwards), Eastern European Church and Mission as well as the history and theology of Revivals. He is a leading authority on the little known science of Isaac Hollis studies! Yes, a wide set of interests. I have picked up on some of these things, if not all!

My father taught me a great deal about the Christian faith, he baptised me (apparently I sniffed throughout the baptismal classes!) and was an example of faithful service. He was also a tutor when I was at All Nations. He taught me on the gospel of Luke; the doctrine of God; Paul's letter to the Ephesians; Christological passages in New Testament Theology and Eschatology.

So these are five of my theologians from a Latin American Liberation theologian to my dad!



The Celtic Ghanaian - Kwame Bediako

In 1996, Wilma and I had been only one year in Buenos Aires. IAMS (International Association of Mission Studies not a cat food!) was having a conference in the city. René Padilla organised an "asado" (Argentine BBQ) at the Kairos Centre for various of the participants. We were also invited. Asados are sit down events where you eat meat (not a beef burger in sight!). I sat down beside a short, white haired African man. He was very friendly and he introduced himself as Kwame Badiako.

I had read his Theology and Identity and Jesus in Africa and had found them very stimulating. So I was a little overwhelmed. He asked me what I did in Argentina and I told him. Then he asked me what module I was teaching at the moment. When I replied "History of Mission", he inquired as to the part of history I had reached. I told him that we had just finished the Celtic mission movement. His eyes lit up and he said "Oh I love the Celts! They were so dedicated!" He then proceeded to talk rapidly about the Celtic missionaries he most liked. I got my notebook out (paper and pencil back then!) and began to take notes. He was so excited and with his wonderful West African accent in English, you didn't know where you were: Argentina, Ghana or Iona!

Afterwards I thought, what a weird existence I had. Here was a Ghanaian theologian, sitting having an Argentine Asado, teaching a British theologian about Irish missionary monks! This did make me reflect about the whole issue of cultural and Christian identity, not only from Kwame's books but the whole cultural mix I was experiencing. Kwame was concerned to have a truly Ghanaian expression of the gospel but this did not stop him from assuming Celtic history into his own Christian identity.

Sadly Kwame died quite suddenly in June 2008; a sad loss to African and World Christianity.


The Triangle Man - Christopher J. H. Wright

Those of you who know something of Chris Wright's work may know about his triangles of relationships. God at the top, humanity on the bottom left and creation on the bottom right. Then inside that another triangle that touches the top (God) and then bottom left is Israel and bottom right is the land. In this sense Israel is a model for the world in its relationships.

When I was a student at ANCC, Chris had developed this in his Living as the People of God. One time at the end of term, some of the students sang "He's a real triangle man, living in his triangle land", to the tune of "Nowhere man" by the Beatles. For all the banter, this idea has been really helpful. I have used these triangle for years as a way for students to get a handle on the Old Testament.

Chris is my third theologian to "show" this week. Chris Wright introduced me to the Old Testament; gave me a love for that vital part of the Scriptures; supervised my MA dissertation and has been a source of constant prompting to think deeper about the missional nature of the Bible.

Chris is an Old Testament Scholar, a ethicist, an apologist for the uniqueness of Jesus and a friend. His Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative deserves to be a missiological text book for years to come. I hope that there will be little or no excuse for ignoring the concept of "mission" as a hermeneutical key for biblical studies.

Chris also taught me about expositional preaching, especially the importance of summarizing the passage first before getting into the details of that passage. He has such a clear manner of opening up Scripture that has been an example to me. I certainly cannot live up to his high standards but he showed me the way.



The Father of Integral Mission - C. René Padilla

I am guessing that this theologian will not be too much of a surprise to those who know me.  C. René Padilla was born in 1932 in Quito, Ecuador. He was a IFES student worker for Ecuador and Columbia. He studied at Wheaton Seminary and University of Manchester and has lived for the past 48 years in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

René is a friend as well as a teacher for me. We met in 1995 at the International Seminar at the Kairos Centre in Buenos Aires. This was a month-long orientation that he ran every year for foreign missionaries to Latin America. At that seminar we met some very interesting people such as Peruvian theologian, Samuel Escobar and sociologist Fortunado Mallimaci.

René was a member of the church where we attended and we were on the preaching commission together. I learned a great deal about biblical exegesis and exposition from him. Also I saw a deep humility in René. René is a strong card-carrying evangelical, but when evangelicals depart from biblical standards he will highlight this. When being opposed by somebody, I have heard him say more than once, "show me from the Bible where I am wrong".

As with Míguez Bonino, René holds to an inaugural eschatology, following more George Eldon Ladd's line rather than Oscar Cullman, as in Míguez Bonino's case. The final chapter of his  Mission Between the Times is a good explanation of his position.

René is more of a biblical than a systematic theologian. This is demonstrated throughout his writings. He has done more than most (not John Stott perhaps) to make the Lausanne Movement more biblically founded. He was influential in many Lausanne papers and is most famous for the phrase "integral mission".

For René integral mission is NOT Christian development work or even social action. Integral mission is the mission of the local church, supported by agencies when necessary. This is his greatest influence on the world church. When we go to Argentina in a few month's time I hope to see him again.



Show them a Theologian

This week is "Show them a theologian" week. The idea is to "to celebrate great or interesting theologians and create positive - perhaps even humorous - awareness of this branch of life and scholarship that may often appear a little obscure." As I used to say to my allnations students, one of my aims in life is to get them to love theology.

So, all this week I will pick a different theologian who has influenced me in my theology and explain a bit about their theology. Nobody should be surprised at the first theologian I pick.

His name is José Míguez Bonino. He was born in 1924 in Rosario, Argentina and died in 2012 in Tandil, Argentina. He is often referred to as "Bonino" in English speaking circles but Bonino was his mother's name. He really should be referred to as "Míguez" or "Míguez Bonino".

The key to understanding his theology is not the themes of his theology but rather the methodology. "Faith Seeking Effectiveness" is the best way to grasp his theology. Effectiveness is effectiveness in mission. He starts by studying the context of mission and the church's part in that context. Then he takes the themes that the context throws up to him and then projects forward for a better missionary practice in the future.

The theological themes that are most important to him are the church. The church is the "relaunching of God's creation project" where it shows the world what God originally wanted for humanity. The second theme is the kingdom of God. He has an inaugurated eschatology, where the church reflects God's future in the present. The final important theme is the Trinity. He understands the triune God ‘is a permanent conversation, a communion of love, an identity of purpose and unity of action: Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. for him therefore, he states "

What we are shown here is the nature of ultimate reality: The life of God is communion; identity is not affirmed by closing in on oneself but by opening up to the other; unity is not singularity but rather full communication. It is in that image we are created, it is in participation in that constant divine “conversation” that we find the meaning of our existence, life abundant; it is on this model we should structure our human relations. Neither the all-embracing authority of one over another, nor an undifferentiated mass uniformity, nor the self-sufficiency of the “self-made man,” but the perichoresis of love is our beginning and destiny—‘as persons, as church, as society"



Preacher man

Today we come to the final reflection in our series on Jesus as a model for our mission. In Jesus' ministry he did not only do miracles but he also preached and taught. He often preached in the synagogues and his message seems to be "Repent because the kingdom of God is near". This of course was the same message that John the Baptist preached. He was announcing what God was doing in through his own life. He was, in terms of what the church Father Oregon said he was the Auto-Kingdom: the "autobasilaia". The kingdom of God is was near because the king is near.

Following Jesus in his mission we announce what God has done in Jesus Christ. God has brought his kingdom upon the earth.  Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying "May your kingdom come may your will be done on earth as it is in heaven". Jesus is kingdom but his kingly rule is not universally accepted.  The gospel is that God has brought his kingdom to bear upon the earth in the person and life and work of Jesus Christ. And we can be part of that kingdom through faith in him.

The preaching of the gospel is essential mission of the church. I do not like the oft-quoted  phrase from Francis of Assisi, that we should "preach the gospel and if necessary use words". It is always necessary to use words. There is never a time when actions are sufficient without words. For result may be that people may think that we do these good works because we are good people. And more importantly, they need to know the meaning of the actions we are doing. It is similar to what I said yesterday about the miracles. As the wife of René Padilla said, "words without actions are mere words and actions without words are mute".

Finally in this series, Jesus taught his disciples. Teaching is another essential action in the mission of the church. This takes us back to Matthew's Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20). In this Great Commission we are told to "teach them to obey everything I have commanded you." Clearly teaching to obey is very important [that is demonstrating what it is to obey] but again the explanation is essential. This equips disciples for the work of mission.

Jesus taught in various ways. Firstly, he taught through parables. Parables were a very common way of teaching. People knew the genre of the parable. I am not suggesting that we also teach parables, however, the important lesson to draw from this is to use culturally appropriate forms to teach. This could be through film, drama, or even through song. Too often at preaching and teaching I've done in ways that do not allow the people who are listening to learn. We need to be creative.

Clearly Jesus had an agenda in his teaching. The sermons in Matthew and the groupings of parables in Luke demonstrate this. We can see this throughout the gospels. Luke especially in chapters 9 to 19 demonstrate how Jesus used circumstances as well. We can see this in the disciples question about the collapse of the tower in Luke13. Jesus uses the question in order to take the disciples. We can also see this in Matthew 24 when the disciples of Jesus were leaving the temple and saw how big the stones were in the temple and Jesus uses this circumstance in order to teach about the end times.

So let us learn from Jesus in his mission.


Just do it!

This is probably one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history. Nike's "Just do it!" was a worldwide phenomenon a few years ago. It was even parodied by the Simpsons.

Just donutCertain types of missiology seem to also sign up to a Nike approach; just do it, don't waste time on thinking. In my opinion this is very short sighted. So we are thinking about how we can do mission in a way that is effective but biblical.

Today I am reflecting on what Jesus can teach us about the way we do mission. Firstly, Jesus' approach was integral or wholistic. There were debates in the 1960s and 70s in Evangelical circles about whether evangelism or social involvement was primary in mission. I think we should be past that debate now. John Wimber added to that debate by adding to the debate about words and works, the issue of wonders or miracles.

In my opinion miracles come under the category of works. Jesus did miracles and the gospel writers record them, for two reasons. Firstly, they were good for the person for whom the miracle was done. I accept the man who had been blind from birth as a possible exception (John 9). The vast majority of Jesus' miracles were to benefit others; normally the poor, sick and vulnerable. Secondly, Jesus did a miracle and the gospel writer interprets them, saying something about the kingdom of God or salvation. John is explicit in this, actually calling them signs but the other writers do as well. In Mark 2:1-12, Jesus starts by telling the man let down through the roof that his sins are forgiven and then says, "that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" and then heals the man. So he starts with the words and then authenticates his words with a miracle. In Luke 11, Jesus casts out a demon and as a response to the people's murmuring, he says, "if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom has come to you (11:20). The action comes first then the explanation. Words and deeds or deeds and words together are wholistic mission.

Tomorrow we will conclude the week speaking about preaching and teaching.



Who are your friends?

How are you going to live as a cross-cultural Christian worker, or missionary if you like. Missionary lifestyle can refer to what sort of house or area you will live in; the people you work with; the amount of time you work or about any other lifestyle issue you care to mention.

You wont find this in any commentary or theology book but of all the insults hurled at Jesus during his earthly life, "friend of sinners" I reckon was his favourite. Matthew 9, Mark 2 and Luke 5 all show the scandal that Jesus caused by eating and drinking with "tax collectors and sinners". He was not at all worried about his own reputation but was more interested in being inclusive. There is no indication that any of these reprobates Jesus was associating with was interested in his message; he was interested in them.

In Luke 7, Jesus allows a woman who had led an immoral life to touch him. The host, Simon the Pharisee thinks, "how can this man be a prophet, letting a sinner touch him". Jesus accepted this woman in all her sin and confusion. On the other end of the economic scale, Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, and declared that he had come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Tax collectors were dishonest, collaborators with the Romans and generally all round bad guys. Jesus is not interested in what people thought of him but was interested to seek out the lost.

I remember being at a party celebrating the wedding of a friend who works with drug users in Latin America. They had invited a lot of folk from the shanty town and had asked them not to get drunk or do drugs that night as there would be kids there from the church. I was sitting between a local drug dealer and another user. I said to one of them that I felt like Jesus. She looked at me weirdly--well so would you if somebody said something like that.This kicked off a conversation about how Jesus spent more time with the outcasts than the supposed "righteous".

Jesus spent time with those who were unacceptable by the rest of society: the sinners. As a model for our missionary engagement, we can draw our own conclusions.

Secondly, Jesus models a healthy lifestyle in that he engages and withdraws from activity.  He understands that he needs time alone and with his friends. In Mark 1:21ff Jesus casts out a demon and heals Simon's mother-in-law but after the whole town turns up, Jesus gets up early and withdraws. Jesus knows that constant ministry is unsustainable. He had not even healed all of them (Mark 1:23).

Missionaries can be workaholics. In the first few months or years of ministry we can get into the habit of accepting every preaching or teaching engagement until one day we realise we can't go on. Regular "quiet days", regular days off, regular holidays are all important for sustainable long-term ministry and spiritual refreshment. The frequency of missionary burnout is testimony to support the belief that missionaries don't seem to put this into practice. Follow Jesus in this.

As with the above point, Evangelicals seem to find it difficult to accept Jesus' needs. This comes from a latent "docetism" (the heresy that said Jesus only seemed to be human); he was actually just God in a body. But Jesus needed sleep, food, water, rest, etc. Jesus also needed to pray. Jesus prayed at times when he needed to make a big decision or when he was in distress. Jesus wasn't a superhuman he was truly human (Matt 14.13; Luke 5.13).

If prayer--all types of prayer, not just intercession--is not part of your missionary life, then I would review your spirituality. Praise, adoration, confession and intercession demonstrate and then put into practice reliance upon God. Jesus did things in the strength that came from God.

So Jesus demonstrates in his solidarity, his engagement and withdrawal and his prayer a healthy missionary lifestyle.

Tomorrow we will look at how Jesus models ministry.


Missionary prep: Jesus style

I have been involved in preparing cross-cultural Christian workers since 1995. Previously to that I have spent three years preparing to become a cross-cultural Christian worker. So much of this process, both in me and in other, was not so much knowledge but attitude.

Jesus spent 30 years preparing himself for ministry before he burst on the scene in Galilee. Just prior to that scene-bursting moment, he is prepared in three distinct ways. Firstly, Jesus consciously identifies with humanity. Luke 3 has Jesus coming to John the Baptist to be baptised. Baptism in those days was not--as we Baptists mistake--a witness to our conversion but rather more a rite of passage, announcing that you have left one community and are joining another. It is about identifying with a community. Jesus says that he wants to "fulfil all righteousness" (Matt 3.15) by identifying himself with sinful humanity, which he did ultimately on the cross.

If we want to follow Jesus as a model for mission, then we need to identify with the people we will be working with. We cannot stand aloof from them we need to begin to feel things that they feel, to think like they do, care for the things they care about. This is the first stage of the attempt to contextualise ourselves to the people. We need to see things through their eyes.

Jesus is further prepared for his mission in that he is assured of his identity. Again in Luke 3 Jesus hears the voice from heaven assuring him that he is God's son and God is pleased with him. Luke goes further to show the importance of Jesus' identity in the genealogy. Whereas Matthew starts with Abraham (Matt 1:2-16) and moves forward to Jesus, Luke begins with Jesus and goes right back to God (Luke 3:21-38). Jesus was facilitated in his mission by a firm knowledge of his identity. He was going to need it!

Immediately after Jesus' baptism and Luke tells us of the genealogy, Jesus is led into the desert to be tested. The first thing the uses to test Jesus is questioning his identity. "If you are the Son of God..." Jesus was able to repel these attacks because he knew his own identity.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the whole issue of our identity in cross-cultural work. I don't need to say much more here, only to add, knowing our identity is following Jesus into mission. See also Luke 4.1; Mark 1.12-13 & Matt 4.1.

Finally Jesus was prepared for his mission by the Holy Spirit descending upon him (Luke 3.22; Matt 3.16; Mark 1.11). The importance of the Spirit in mission should go without saying but so often missiologies miss the role of the Spirit. Jesus needed constant communion with the Father through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Luke is the gospel writer who most emphasises the role of the Spirit both in the gospel and in Acts.

Incidentally each of the commissions in the gospels and Acts, the Holy Spirit is mentioned. In Matthew, Jesus promises his presence (implicitly in the Spirit) (Matt 28:20); Mark says that miraculous signs will accompany the preaching of the Gospel (Mark 16:17-18). In Luke Jesus tells the disciples that he is going to send the Spirit (Luke 24:48). In Acts, Jesus tells the disciples that they will be witnesses after the Spirit comes (Acts 1:8).  In John, Jesus breathes on the disciples and tells them to receive the Holy Spirit (John 20:22).

We need as cross-cultural missionaries to keep being filled with the Holy Spirit. If Jesus himself needed the Spirit's ministry so do we.

Tomorrow we will see how Jesus models lifestyle to us.


Jesus, the very best missionary

There is an excellent blog of a North American missionary wife and mother called Jamie, the very worst missionary: inappropriate comments, embarrassing antics and generally lame observations of an American missionary. It is one of the most followed missionary blogs. Jamie is honest and attempts--rather successfully as it turns out--to blow away some of the myths of missionary life. It is well worth a read.

Conversely I want us to reflect upon the very best missionary: Jesus Christ. I want to continue thinking this week about how we can know whether we are doing a good job in mission or not. This is, of course, an unanswerable question and we will only truly know when we meet Christ in person, however, that is no excuse for not thinking through the issue now! So, this week I want to think about Jesus as the very best missionary; to look at him as an example or a model.

In the evangelical world we have avoided the idea that Jesus is an example, or to see his teaching as vital. Jesus is our saviour not our model or example. This was the reaction, however, in the last few years we have recovered from that reactionary disease and begun to see the importance the gospel writers put upon Jesus as our example.

I would give three major reasons we can do this. Firstly, the Apostle Paul views Jesus as the New Humanity. Jesus Christ is the founder of a new race to dwell in the New Creation. In Ephesians 2:15, Paul declares that Christ is making Jew and Gentiles one. "His [Christ's] purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace". Colossians 1:18 says that he is "firstborn from among the dead". We are created in Him to be part of a New Humanity. He is our forerunner.

Secondly, Paul uses Christ as an example of humility. Philippians 2:5 says, "In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus". Jesus, in his attitudes and therefore his lifestyle is an example to us. This is followed by that wonderful hymn of worship to Christ, who shows his greatness in his humility. He is the example of the very best missionary.

Finally, Christ can be an example to us because John tells us so! In John 20:21, Jesus commissions his disciples, "as the Father has sent me, so I am sending you." In the same way the Father sent Jesus into the world, Jesus is sending us. His mission is the measure of ours. If we want to know how we are doing, look to him.

Over the next few days we will consider various ways in which we can follow Jesus in mission.