Monthly Archives: September 2015

How justly are we acting, how much do we love mercy, and are walking humbly with our God?

This week has been something of a roller coaster experience for me. Some bad news at the beginning of the week rocked me to the core but also the joy of spending time with sisters and brothers committed to the communication, living out and establishment of the kingdom of God on this earth was overwhelming.

The conference itself was quite large with over 340 participants from over 63 counties participating in 6 intense days of study, lectures, workshops and discussion groups. Among the speakers, as I mentioned earlier in the week, there was still a disparity between men and women but the balance is getting better. There was a very good balance between Western and non-Western speakers. This morning when we stood up to say where we were all from the vast majority of participants were from the majority world. The content of the plenary sessions and workshops was very rich although probably too much speaking from the front. One of the themes absent from our deliberations was the global refugee crisis. This is strange as this is not a new phenomenon.

Some issues about the conference itself that I noted was that, firstly, it was not a consultation. For me a consultation is often limited to a group of specialists dealing with one specific subject which is discussed and a statement is made afterwards. In a real sense it wasn’t even a conference; it was, for me, a triennial assembly. It was place where likeminded people of a certain organisation could share what they have been doing and what they are planning. This is a very valid and valuable exercise.

Given the real nature of this gathering I think that the programme was too full. From 08.00-2100 each day with little time to network or even chat, this was too much. The amount of information was amazing and will be so useful but most people skipped sessions to spend time chatting. An assembly needs to give the participants time to relax and chat.

Having made these criticisms, want to say what an incredible privilege it was to be in Lima.

I want to turn now to reflections on the Micah Global Triennial Consultation (assembly) as an expression of the state of the understanding of integral mission. Firstly, it must be said that the vast majority of the representatives were from NGOs. Almost every session was directed towards, and used the language of, NGOs. In one session a pastor of a local churches shared at when many people heard he was from a local church, they asked him why he was there! The idea that integral mission is done by NGOs and not by local churches is stubborn. It is true that many local churches are not interested in integral mission but if that is so, why was there no plenary session or workshop on “how to encourage your local church into mission”?

Although it is true, as Melba Maggay pointed out, that the MGO is part of the church, they participate not as local churches. this together with the fact that many contemporary NGOs employ many non-Christians makes the importance of the local church even more acute.

In addition to this we were often given the impression that the local church is a dangerous place of oppression. “This is the way people are treated in the church” was a phrase I heard more than once. The answer given to this oppression is of course the NGO. If the local church is, as I understand it to be, the primary means that God uses to carry out the divine purposes in the world, then surely a call to repentance to the church is more appropriate than a circumventing of her mission.

Given this dysfunctional relationship between the local church and NGOs interested in Integral Mission, perhaps it is the role of Micah to be a bridge between the two. This could be in the form of encouraging the local church to see its role in integral mission (perhaps through a Micah Course) and helping the NGOs navigate the minefield of ecclesial politics.

Rene Padilla made some interesting comments in the final panel session. The most interesting was that he highlighted the importance of theological reflection in the whole process of thinking about integral mission. As he points out, theology is not for theologians but for the people who want to live out their lives in an integral way and take part in God’s mission as part of their Christian communities. How can Micah and its partners help these people think through how they can do this. That would be certainly better rather than taking over and doing the integral mission for them?

So what can we say are the biggest issues in integral mission after this event? For me the biggest is still the role of the NGO in relation to the local church. Perhaps it should not be but the reluctance, ignorance and impotence of the local church and the “if you won’t, we will” attitudes of many NGOs holds the integral mission of the world church back.

I hope you have benefitted from these blogs this week and are able to engage with them on any level you find appropriate.

Reading and obeying

I would like to share a highlight for me today. Although there were various highlight especially Dave Bookless’ presentation on Planetary Boundaries.

CB Samuel spoke on “Believing and Living”. From the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), he highlighted how people read and respond to the Bible. In response to the Lawyer’s question as to how does one inherit eternal life, Jesus asked the lawyer, “What is written in the law, how do you read it? (25). All the characters in this biblical account know what is written in the law, the important question is, how do they read it? Or maybe how they (and we) respond to it? Do we obey it or not? CB suggested 7 readings of the word of God based upon their responses to the injured man.

This is my take on CB’s talk.

Firstly, there is the blessing reading. The Priest knew all the passages in the Law that told him that he was special, he was important and so important that he shouldn’t touch the dead. This man looked dead. This was a blessing. The law gave him the opportunity not to get involved. The law blessed him. his reading was all about him.

CB mentioned that their are many Christians like the priest. There may be awful suffering in the world and people starving but God is in the business of making us feel good about ourselves. The bible tells me “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Apart from the dodgy exegesis, taking over a promise to Israel for an individual Christian it focuses on me not the world.

Secondly. There is the job description reading. The Levite was a carer, his role was to serve in the temple and care for those there. If the man had been beaten up in the temple, he would have cared for him. But because this was outside the temple it wasn’t the Levite’s problem. He was absolved from helping.

CB related this to many NGOs and their workers. The NGO and its workers want to serve the poor, they want to involve themselves in the communities where the NGO is sent. However, It is only the poor in my project that is most important. This is a job description reading of the law. Compassion Is a job not a vocation. This is a challenge for NGOs and their workers.

Thirdly, he mentions a Ritualistic reading. The robbers were probably Jewish although there are those who say they were labourers building the temple but this is unlikely as the temple had been completed a long time before Christ. They knew the law but ignored it. Their reading of the law said, you can do your religion and live how you like. This is a ritualistic reading of the law.

Once again CB reflects on this reading, asking whether church members do this type of reading by living in contravention of the will of God but feel that God will still bless them because they do their religion; go to church, raise their arms in worship, etc. This is the ritualistic reading of the law.

Fourthly, there is the professional reading. The Innkeeper was man who received this injured man and cared for him but at the end of the story, he is reimbursed. He was compassionate, he did a good job, he was willing to accept this man into his inn even those he was not qualified but he was willing. But this was his profession, he charged for his services.

Both within the church and within the NGO there is this reading present quite often. There is a danger that we become professional Christians, our compassion is our job. Compassion should be part of our being not part of our job.

Fifthly, there is the Intellectual reading. Although the Lawyer was not part of the parable, his reading is quite obvious, it is for intellectual stimulation. He was interested in hearing the teachers’ perspective on the law. Jesus makes this clear when he asks, “what is written in the law”? If it is clear in the law, why is he asking Jesus. He loved studying and discussing the law, the reading of the law but was reluctant to put it in to practice.

This intellectual reading of the law is common among Bible college students and theologians. They are also in the Church. They are the people who love studying and discussing the word. This is not bad, however, it is negative when this reading does not lead to caring then this is intellectual and truncated.

Penultimately, there is the Obedience reading. The law is there to be obeyed. This is the reading of the Samaritan. The Samaritan, as did the Jewish people, knew the law. The Pentateuch was accepted by the Samaritans and so the Samaritan knew the injunction to care for the poor and vulnerable and he obeyed.

The final reading of the law is what we could call the incarnational reading of the law. Jesus not so much obeyed the law, but, in his own being and action, he fulfilled the law. In Luke 4:18 Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon him. This is the incarnational reading of scripture he lived out the meaning of Scripture in his own being and life.

So how do I, how do we, read scripture? Is it a blessing, job description, ritualistic, professional, intellectual, obedience or incarnational reading of Scripture?

The Holy Spirit: the anchor of NGOs

I would like to give you a synopsis of one of today’s talks. Melba Maggay led a wonderful reflection on the Holy Spirit as the one who “centres”. The Holy Spirit keeps the Christian identity centred and keeps us from “mission drift”. She especially applied this to Christian NGOs.

According to Melba Christian NGOs are always in danger of losing their Christian identity. This is because much what is done Christian NGOs is also done by non-Christian NGOs. The question as to what defines the work as a Christian NGO is good one and one that is sometimes hard to answer. Some organisations’ websites do not give away at all the the organisation is Christian. So is this integral mission, establishing Shalom. Or is it good people doing good work? It is the Holy Spirit that centre that identity in Christ. Being constantly aware of the Spirit’ presence in discernment is essential to the maintenance of this identity.

The Holy Spirit also prevents “mission drift”; i.e. The drift away from the mission of establishing Shalom. In the task of raising funds for projects and administering funds for those projects the mission drift can occur. Some NGOs do know how many people are helped out of poverty. They may know how much how much they have raised, how many projects they have, how many people they employ etc. but their mission has drifted to another place.

The Spirit is discerned through the Word. She gave and example of an organisation working with street girls. They had 5 mins of bible study a day and soon they are getting live together and church grew up and started to work etc. illustrating the importance of the Spirit in integral mission.

Finally the Holy Spirit stops institutions becoming and end in themselves like in Jeremiah 7:4 where the Israelites chant “the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD, the Temple of the LORD”. The temple itself doesn’t save but the Lord of the Temple does. Institutions of agencies can become ends within themselves but discernment of the Holy Spirit can avoid this.

This talk was incredibly incisive and challenging.

Justice: Truth and Love

The second day of the Micah Global Triennial Consultation had as its theme Justice: Truth and Love. Without the declaration of the truth and demonstration of love there can be no justice. And without justice there cannot be peace and wellbeing; i.e. Shalom.

Dario Lopez, a Peruvian Pentecostal pastor, Made the very strong point that it is not possible to do justice and therefore establish shalom if we do not have integrity in our own lives both private and public.

Rene August, a Pastor from South Africa, spoke not so much about equality as justice as the force that brings people dignity. She proposed that the fight for justice is a long and difficult struggle, so we need to work together and inspire young people to be part of the fight.

In an excellent and extremely personal paper Joseph Nyumutera spoke of reconciliation in the context of Rwanda and the 1994 genocide. As a Hutu, he spoke of his struggle with hate. He spoke of the essential role of church in its work at a much deeper level of conversion, forgiveness, healing and love which leads to reconciliation. Shalom cannot be established without reconciliation.

Using the narrative if Jesus’ arrest, Ruth Padilla de Borst gave us the difficult challenge of exposing the violence towards those who are suffering. We follow the suffering God who is counter-cultural. The Sovereign Slain Lamb is a contradiction to all human culture. The Christian Individual and the church are called to follow Jesus in establishing Shalom by exposing violence and healing lIves.

Highlights
Dario highlighted the importance of coherence in the private and private lives – this avoids schizophrenia. Rene called young people to front to say what their role is in the fight against injustice. Also her phrase “you are worth more than you produce.” Joseph explained that It is essential to find our own healing in order to be an agents of reconciliation. And also his idea that reconciliation is a prerequisite to shalom” was powerful. Ruth’s linking of Peter’s denial of Jesus and how Jesus had healed the High Priest’s Servant’s ear challenged us not to deny our relationship with those who are suffering the results of violence. She also gave 5 great practical Of what we do in the face of violence? Mourn, question and pray; put your sword away (Peter); make our bond public (I don’t know him); resist all justification and expression of violence and live as an alternative and prophetic community.

It was quite a challenging day!

How in Integral are we?

One of the important tests of a conference, especially one which claims to want to establish justice and seek hope and peace is that the people who are asked to present are representative of the movement. The participants, unless invited, you can’t control. So I did a Study of the profile of the main speakers. On the negative side there were only 33% women and 67% men. Having said that, this is a higher percentage than would be found in many conferences. What was really notable was that only 46% were Western–that is from Europe, North America and Australasia–and 54% were non-Westerners. For an international mission conference this is outstanding and a massive step forward.

After various morning seminars the conference started in ernest with a time of corporate singing followed by an intense cultural experience. This was intense for the force of the message and the volume of the presentation. And it was cultural because it went on for 45 minutes longer than the programme. I do not say this as a criticism but because neither the participants nor the organisers were phased by this.

So in afternoon, there were two major sessions, one by a woman and the other by a man, but both from the Majority world.

In her paper on “Governance and integral mission”, Melba Magay sought to broaden our thinking biblically on Integral mission; going beyond the old dualism of evangelism and social action. Therefore she spoke of three Cs: The cultural mandate, The great commandment, The great commission. All of these give humanity and the church especially, a duty to be involved in Integral Mission. This was notable because she related this to the context of the Refugee crisis in the world.

In the main sessions there was translation into Russian, French, Portuguese and English as well as Spanish. Rene Padilla, because there was complaints from the Latin Americans that there was no translation in a couple of morning seminars he decided to give the paper in Spanish whilst it was written in English This caused some panic in the translation booths! I think this gave the Non-Spanish speakers, especially the English only speakers a new experience.

In his paper, Civil society, the common good and integral mission related many theological and biblical themes to the will of God for all human beings to have the opportunity for basic human dignity. In an international consumerist society this often denied to most. This is a call to the church to be involved in seeing the will of God done on the earth as it is in heaven.

Given the speakers’ reputation and ministry, both presentations were a great challenge and call to all the participants. Good first day!

Ruminations in an Airport Departure Lounge

So I arrived in Bogota at 03.00. The first thing I noticed was what nice airport was and how many airline pass through Bogota. The second thing I noticed, well actually the second, third and fourth third thing I noticed was the difference in height between the service personnel–those cleaning or pushing wheelchairs– and the passengers and even the people serving in the shops were. In fact all the steward and stewardesses were far taller…and whiter!

Across the world visual indicators of wealth or poverty and common and I suspect a person with money is unlikely to wear a shell suit. Whereas Barbours are really seen council estates.

I have made these rather superficial remark to highlight, what I believe to be an important issue when thinking about what shalom means in different contexts. The causes and indicators of poverty are complex and very slippery; I.e. In one context poor can mean one thing and in another context another.

I once asked a young pastor from Northern Argentina if he felt poor. He was rather taken aback and suspect more than a little offended! He most certainly didn’t feel poor and produced a Bible bag. As I didn’t have one and only the very poor can’t afford Bible bags!

I think at global level our analysis of the context and what indicates and produces poverty must be accurate and more than superficial observation.

Reflections before a Consultation

A few weeks ago Eddie Arthur commented on a Global Mission conference. He ended his own comments with the question A few weeks ago Eddie Arthur commented on a Global Mission conference. He ended his own comments with the question ‘so what?’ It was a good time had by all, but what was achieved?

I guess my own reflections before this conference in Lima, Peru is what will emerge from this consultation? We are looking at the concept of Shalom in  regard to justice, peace and joy. There will be some very important thinkers there who will bring their experience and perspective, but what will come out of it all?

I hope that there will be something that will impact for the Kingdom of God and the lives of the poor and have something to say to the powerbrokers who can alleviate the suffering those suffering the affects of war, conflict and injustice?

what this space.

 

 

Justice not pity

You would have to have a heart of stone and a head full of hate not to have been moved by the plight of Syrian refugees in the news recently. Media and politicians are talking about taking pity on these people. The Bible does talk a lot about compassion, love and pity but it speaks more of practical action for justice. Deuteronomy 23 is quite specific about our actions.

15 If a slave has taken refuge with you, do not hand them over to their master. 16 Let them live among you wherever they like and in whatever town they choose. Do not oppress them.

This law is of course massively counter-cultural even for today. It was even more so in ancient times. The Law Code of Hammurabi (1792BC-1750BC) says,

16. If any one receive into his house a runaway male or female slave of the court, or of a freedman, and does not bring it out at the public proclamation of the major domus, the master of the house shall be put to death.

It runs completely in the opposite direction.

I am of course aware that we do not live in ancient Israel and we are no longer under the law of Moses but grace. However, if we are not simply going to dismiss it as no longer relevant then we need some way to translate the value of the law to contemporary society. To interpret Old Testament law correctly we need a key.Ladder of abstraction

This key is to be found in a concept called the ladder of abstraction. We can’t simply impose a 1-2-1 approach. The principle is important to draw out.

The principle seems to be here is that if somebody is fleeing oppression then the faithful Israelite is to give them refuge, protect them from the oppressor, give them freedom to live wherever they choose and to treat them with justice. This is not about pity or compassion but about justice. This is God giving his protection to the oppressed.

Now how that should be worked out by British Christians in the current context in which we find ourselves is up for discussion, however that we should be in the business of guaranteeing justice for those fleeing oppression is not.

Theology away with the fairies or countercultural

The last two models of contextual theology that Bevans mentions are the transcendental and countercultural models.

The transcendental model focuses on one’s own experience as a person of faith. This models assumes that the human mind operates in identical ways in all cultures, it insists on the struggle for authenticity of a particular subject, conditioned by history, geography, and culture. It proposes the task of constructing a contextualized theology through a conscious consideration of the affective and cognitive operations in the subject. The importance is no longer on the theology produced, but on the person who has theologized and them becoming authentically them!

This model argues, obviously, that the best contextualizers are those who are members of the context themselves. The transcendental theologian is both highly aware of their own position as theologizing subject and that which one has been converted to and with (traditional Christian theology, liturgy, specific Christian thinkers). ‘The self’s wrestling with the new thoughts produces an authentically contextualized theology.’

This method seems to me to be rather vague and to some degree, pointless. It is in my opinion “theology away with the fairies”.

The countercultural model gives the warning that context needs to be treated with a good deal of suspicion. This model assumes the redemption, rather than the creation, approach to culture and claims that if the gospel is to truly take root within a people’s context, it needs to challenge and purify that context. This model also realizes that some contexts are simply antithetical to the gospel and need to be challenged by the gospel’s liberating and healing power. This is not to say that this model is anti-cultural but rather that culture always contains pagan elements. This model emerged and is most appropriate in cultures where Christianity has taken root and then lost its influence on that culture; i.e. Western Europe and North America.

Witness this quote from Lesslie Newbigin.

‘ Like others I had been accustomed, especially in the 1960’s, to speak of England as a secular society. I have now come to realise that I was the easy victim of an illusion from which my reading of the Gospels should have saved me. No room remains empty for long. If God is driven out, the gods come trooping in. England is a pagan society and the development of a truly missionary encounter with this very tough form of paganism is the greatest intellectual and practical task facing the Church.’ (Lesslie Newbigin, Unfinished Agenda: An Updated Autobiography 2nd ed., 1993, p.236.)

Action in history or Nailing your colours firmly to the fence

This week we are looking at Stephen Bevan’s different models of contextual theology. Yesterday we looked at two models that start from different ends of the theological process. The translation model begins with the theologian’s understanding of the gospel and church tradition. The anthropological model begins with the cultural values of the location of theology. Today we will look at two other models.

The praxis model is, in one sense, where contextual theology gained its foundations—especially in epistemology (philosophy of knowledge) and hermeneutics (philosophy of interpretation). For theologians employing this model, God’s presence is manifested not only in the gospel or in the fabric of culture but in the fabric of history. God’s action in history especially in the history of oppressed peoples struggling for liberation is the starting point for this model.

Thus, theology must be done in the context of commitment to action, as a continual dialogue between the heritage of faith and experience in this struggle. It focuses on the identity of Christians as they confront the social realities of their context and presupposes that the highest level of knowing is in action.  It asserts that a theology that does not take praxis into consideration is an irrelevant, theoretical reflection. The Praxis model can be summarized quite succinctly as a process of “action-reflection on action- and re-action” (based on a new understanding of traditional authority and a trial-and-error approach toward social action). Bevans identifies Liberation theology as only one example of the Praxis approach.

The synthetic model preserves the importance of the gospel message and traditional doctrinal formulations while acknowledging the vital role of culture. It emphasises the importance of reflective action for change and the need to honour the resources of other cultures and theologies and strives to keep these elements in “dialectical tension”.

The word “synthetic” is not used in the sense artificial as in “synthetic leather” but rather in the sense of something constructed out of various sources as in a “synthetic fibre”. So in this sense, a synthetic model of contextual theology is a theology constructed out of all elements of the theological process.

In one way, the Synthetic Model is the moderation of all previous models. Bevans identifies this model as a “dialectic” or “dialogical” model, meaning that the intention is to converse with the target culture and allow for a give and take between the gospel message and local cultural forms. A good example of this model would be the work of Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama, especially in his Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai.

To a certain extent I question whether this is a model at all as it seems to “nail its colours firmly to the fence!”