Reflecting on being...on being what?

On Wednesday afternoon, I attended a lecture at Cambridge University Faculty of Divinity under the auspices of The Cambridge Centre for Christianity Worldwide. The lecture was trying to show how two influential Latin American theologians (C. René Padilla and José Míguez Bonino) broke free from the traditional Evangelical/Ecumenical definitions. The speaker showed how both of these men, although associated with one of these two camps, crossed over, both personally and organisationally, into the other.

this got me thinking about my own theological journey. I am, I emphasise, I am an Evangelical, I have been influenced by John Stott and other evangelicals. However, I find myself appreciating Ecumenical and Roman Catholic theologians such as Jose Miguez and Han Kung, reading Vatican Documents has been a surprising joy! Am I NOT an evangelical! What am I?

In 1980, a great hero of mine, José Míguez Bonino wrote

My wife—who is usually right—tells me that what I have consistently tried to do is simply to reread and explain the Bible: "Questions, issues and challenges have changed," she says, "but at bottom you remain what you have always been: a preacher bound to his text." I hope she is right this time!

Later in 1997, he wrote again, saying,

I have been variously tagged a conservative, a revolutionary, a Barthian, a liberal, a catholic, a “moderate,” and a liberationist. Probably there is truth in all of these. It is not for me to decide. However, when I do attempt to define myself in my inmost being, what “comes from within” is that I am an Evangélico

Is he, and am i, at  base a preacher? It is not for me to decide...


Churches, para-church organisations and mission

This blog post was prompted by a conversation I had with a couple of former students working in student and youth work. This seems to me to be a recurring issue. Each generation needs to encounter  the conversation again.

In the so-called "Great Century of Missions" (the 19th for any in doubt) countless "mission societies" were begun in order to carry forward the work of "foreign missions". So the Baptist Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society, etc. were founded. These were denominational mission organisations which planted their particular species of church. The big question was when did the missionary society pull out and let the denomination run itself. Roland Allen dealt with such a problem.

Later "Faith Missions" emerged with people from different denominations coming together in order to avoid the transplantation of denominations from the "home field" to the "mission field". So the Evangelical Union of South America (EUSA) was formed and planted churches all over South America. New denominations were formed such as the Evangelical Union of Argentina. The same problem existed with this model.

This is further exacerbated when we get into the realms of the specialist organisations; be they student missions, development organisations or children's work missions. The tendency has been for the specialists to do the work of mission rather than work with the local church. So the specialist student mission organisation goes into the universities and works with local groups of students, encouraging them, pastoring them and training them. When the student groups do well, the local churches suffer.

The question is, what does the church do? What is the local church's role? If the development organisation does the well-digging, water sourcing, etc. what is the role of the local church? The answer has been, do the "spiritual bit"! So the dichotomy between evangelism and social action is formed and widened.

The arguments were quite intense in Latin America with mission organisations being frustrated with local church leadership and the leadership mistrusting the mission organisations, suspecting them of robbing their young people.

Is their any answer? I think the answer does lie in recognising that the mission of the church is the mission of both the local and universal church. The local church is primary in this task and the universal church should be serving the local church in order to facilitate its mission.

Many development organisations claim that they do "integral mission". I would argue that they do not. Unless they evangelise, make disciples and planted churches, then they are not doing integral mission. In the same way, if local churches are not caring for the poor, confronting injustice and maintaining creation, they are not doing integral mission.

I leave it to you to rain down the brimstone.


Some of my favourite quotes on mission

‘The church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning’ E Brunner The Word and the World NY 1931:108

‘The pilgrim Church is missionary by her very nature’ Ad Gentes 2 Vatican II 1965 cf. Lumen Gentium (1964)1-5 esp 5

‘Mission belongs to the nature of the church’ T F Torrance ‘The Mission of the Church’ Scottish Journal of Theology 19.2 (1966):141

‘The Church cannot be understood rightly except in a perspective which is at once missionary and eschatological’ J R W Stott One People Downers Grove 1971:17

‘Mission does not come from the church; it is from mission and in the light of mission that the church is to be understood’ J Moltmann The Church in the Power of the Spirit NY 1977:10

‘The irresistible expansion of Christian faith in the Mediterranean world during the first 150 years is the scarlet thread running through any history of primitive Christianity’ M Hengel Between Jesus and Paul London 1983:48

‘Christianity was never more itself than in the launching of the world mission’ B F Meyer The Early Christians: Their World Mission and Self-Discovery Wilmington 1986:18

‘The impetus to mission sprang from the very heart of early Christian conviction... This missionary activity was not an addendum to a faith that was basically 'about' something else (e.g. a new existential awareness)... World mission is..the first and most obvious feature of early Christian praxis’ N T Wright The New Testament and the People of God London & Minneapolis 1992:360-361


Time is an illusion

"Time is an illusion, lunchtime doubly so". So said Ford Prefect, one of the characters in the five-book trilogy, Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy.  I noted yesterday that asking what time we are leaving is unlikely to receive a helpful answer in Argentina. Unhelpful is possibly a misleading term, "accurate" maybe a better word to use.

Latin Americans are not punctual is almost a truism--a statement so obvious is doesn't really need to be said. This hides, however, a value that, once known, makes sense of the Argentinian tendency towards "tardiness". Time with people is more valued than punctuality. This is especially true in regard to food. So, its not so much lunchtime that is doubly illusory but foot time.

This can be illustrated by the final Saturday's asado (or BBQ) with our friends the Shannons. "What time should we arrive?", we asked. "About 12 midday", replied Kike (pronounced Key Kay). So when leaving at 12.30pm for the 45 minute journey we knew we were within plenty of time! When we arrived the fire had been lit and the meat had just been put on. When I say meat, I'm not referring to a couple of burgers and a sausage but two large hunks of "tira de asado" (rib meat - about 15cm wide and high and about 50cm long!) and a large piece of "Vacio" (flank - about 15cm square and 5 cm think).

I don't know what time we ate. It doesn't actually matter but my point is time was not important: it is an illusion reality is spending time with friends, chatting, sharing, laughing, arguing, just being. This is a taste of heaven time doesn't matter we have an eternity to enjoy it.


¡Amo la Argentina!

It has been a full month since I last posted on the blog. I have taken this month off whilst we were in Argentina to rest and reflect. Rest was not achieved; those who follow me on Facebook will know how busy we were. Reflection was achieved in in bucket loads.

I had forgotten so much about life in Argentina. Firstly, how exhausting it is! Late nights are an exception for us in England, they are the norm in Argentina! Starting to light the BBQ at 8pm in order to eat at 10pm or after is common. But that is not what keeps you up late. The after meal chat or "sobremesa" is the real reason for late nights. These times are probably the most precious for Argentinians and for the gringos who love them. A second reason that life in Argentina is tiring is that I had forgotten was how tiring it was to exist in Spanish all the time. It is not that I felt stress speaking the language but that you end up tired from the experience. I found that I could speak all day, even lecture most of the day but when I laid down, the lights went out. I mean my lights went out. Anybody who hasn't learned and existed in a second language as an adult really cannot appreciate this phenomenon.

Another thing I had forgotten was that Argentinians prioritize people over time. Of course, I knew this but that actual living out of such a priority is something that cannot be theorized it can only be lived. This affects every part of life and especially expectations. "When will we leave?" is not a question that has an easy answer. You may get a time given to you such as "5.30" but don't expect to leave then! The accurate answer--notice I don't say "honest"-- would be "no idea". We will only leave when we are ready. When we are ready is also rather a slippery (in the sense of not being fixed) answer. This can cause frustration but when you accept it you can enjoy the flexibility it gives.

The the final thing I forgot was accepting and generous nature of Argentinians. When you live in a place for so long, you come to accept the way people give to you as normal. The time, effort, kindness, generous nature was overwhelming again. Most wont know their names but Kike and Tati (India and Buda), Hector, Sandra, Pri and Andu, Aurora and Carlos, Adrian and Alejandra, Mike and Esther, Steve and Elisa as well as Keila, Micah, Abel and Maira and Guachita!

¡Hasta la próxima!