Monthly Archives: November 2015

Gringo Go Home!

Gringo, Go Home! The term ‘Gringo’ probably originates in the Mexican/American wars of the nineteenth century. The North American armies, who invaded Mexican territory, wore green uniforms. With their remedial English, the Mexicans would shout out, ‘Green, Go!’ They were calling for the Anglo-Saxon invaders to leave Latin American territory: ‘gringo’. This is a call that has been repeated many times historically.

In Edinburgh (1910) most missionary organisations working in Latin America were excluded from the World Missionary Conference because it was considered that, as a Roman Catholic continent, Latin America, was already evangelised. A large number felt that this was not correct and so formed a group who met in Panama (1916). For them, Latin America still needed missionaries; Protestant missionaries. The Roman Catholic Church was angry and the call ‘Gringo, Go Home!’ was heard again.

In the mid-nineteen seventies, this issue was discussed within the WCC. John Gatu, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, said that their continuing sense of dependence on and domination by foreign church groups inhibits many churches in Asia, Africa and Latin America from development in response to God’s mission.

Our present problems can only be solved if all missionaries can be withdrawn in order to allow a period of not less than five years for each side to rethink and formulate what is going to be their future relationship. . . . The churches of the Third World must be allowed to find their own identity, and the continuation of the present missionary movement is a hindrance to this selfhood of the church.

An Eastern Orthodox priest from India added:

Today it is economic imperialism or neo-colonialism that is the pattern of missions. Relief agencies and mission boards control the younger churches through purse strings. Foreign finances, ideas and personnel still dominate the younger churches and stifle their spontaneous growth. . . . So now I say, The mission of the church is the greatest enemy of the gospel.

My hero, José Míguez Bonino from Argentina also added:

We in the younger churches have to learn the discipline of freedom to accept and to refuse, to place resources at the service of mission rather than to have mission patterned by resources. . . . We cannot for the love of our brethren or for the love of God let anybody or anything stand in the way of our taking on our own shoulders our responsibility. If, in order to do that, we must say to you, our friends, “Stay home,” we will do so because before God we have this grave responsibility of our integrity.

Today, the Protestant church is growing rapidly in Latin America. Some countries are talking of 5% evangelical Christians and others of up to 30%. In Argentina, the average is 7%, but among the poor, up to 22% of the population consider themselves to be ‘evangélicos!’ It is sometimes also felt that Latin America is an evangelised continent and therefore it is time for the Gringo missionaries to go home. The same could be said for Africa and parts of Asia.

The Evangelical church of Europe and North America—the USA and Canada—are suffering from church shrink, not church growth. The Majority World church is not only growing in numbers but also in maturity. The lively nature of World Christianity is a challenge to our, often, formal and dull expressions of the faith, to be found in the rich world. Should not the Gringo go home and sort his or her own house out first.

These are very emotive issues. This has to do, not only with strategy but also with our own self-identity and our call. But they are also important issues for us as Evangelical Christian missionaries in the first decade of the twenty-first century. So, what are the issues here?

  • Is there still a role for northern missionaries in contexts of church growth in the global south? If so what is it?
  • How does the increasing maturity of the church in the southern hemisphere affect the relationship?
  • What strategies are now inappropriate to this context?
  • What strategies/attitudes/understandings are now appropriate to the new context?
  • Is there a point when intercultural missionaries are no longer needed?

I hope this gives food for thought.

Why is evangelism so bad?

There is a joke going around Facebook right now that runs like this.

A Muslim, a Jew, a Christian and an Atheist walk into a coffee shop. They talk, laugh, drink coffee and become good friends. That’s what happens when you’re not an asshole.

Excuse the proctological reference but I think that the point of the joke is that nobody discusses their belief system and tries to persuade the others to believe. This reminds me of the saying that it is considered “bad form” in Britain to discuss sex, politics or religion. This is generally because the British hate conflict and to avoid embarrassment avoid the subject. This makes the whole subject of evangelism to be bad form.

I would like to make some comments about this assumption. First, this joke assumes that you cannot discuss conflicting belief systems and remain friends. This is plainly false. I am friends with my neighbour, we do talk about our beliefs and we disagree. We do not fight about it, although we both believe that these are life and death issues. We are friends.

Secondly, the joke assumes that we can discuss things that have nothing to do with our belief systems and our beliefs do not affect the way we think about a subject. The way I think about what has been named as the “migrant crisis” is deeply affected by the way I believe God would have a us treat those fleeing oppression. See my blog post on this. We do not simply hold beliefs we embody those beliefs.

Thirdly, the joke assumes religion is a private matter; something akin to a hobby. I am pretty sure that those five friends do not believe their beliefs are private. For the Muslim, religion is very public. The Jewish Law affects every part of life, the Christian declare Jesus to be Lord of all, etc.

Lastly, the joke also assumes sharing your beliefs is being an “asshole”. If this is true, then I would like to tell the creator of the joke, “you’re an asshole”. This is because they are imposing their belief system on the rest of us. It tells us what is acceptable to discuss and what is not.

Conclusion, sharing your faith is acceptable and a loving thing to do. The way you do that sharing is the more important thing.

Minimalist Evangelism

I have been discussing the cultural nature of the 4 Spiritual Laws and I have criticized them for being a North American understanding of the Gospel. So can there ever be a non-cultural Gospel? In other posts I have asserted that there is no such thing as an uncontextualised theology but is there a uncontextualised understanding of the Gospel.

Strictly speaking, being that we are reading the Gospel as human beings, and have all the same difficulties that reading any text brings–the author not being present to clarify being just one–the answer would have to be “no”. We cannot be sure that we are reading the text correctly and without a doubt we do bring our culture to the text.

However, I do think that it possible to say that what God did in Jesus Christ is the Gospel.

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. I Corinthians 15 gives us the heads up:

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

This is the communicated Gospel: God acted to save us in Jesus Christ. This not ideology, philosophy or even, in some sense, theology. This is the historical actions of God, in Christ for the sake of humanity.

Evangelism and the American Dream

Following my post on Friday I have been asked what is so culture bound about the 4 Spiritual Laws. The first and last phrases give away this North American emphasis. The main aim in Evangelism seems to be to realise the “wonderful plan that God has for your life”.

Now, let me make very clear, I am not criticising America, American Christianity or the American Dream, but what I am saying is the “one-size-fits-all” evangelism of the 4 Spiritual Laws is a “Contextualised/Syncretistic” message. It may have been a perfect contextualisation for 1950s US campuses–I have no way of evaluating that–but for China, Africa, Europe, Latin America or Asia in the 21st Century, it is not appropriate.

Jesus did say, that he has come that “they [the sheep] may have life and life in all its fullness” (John 10:10). Jesus is contrasting the thief with the shepherd and all through that passage he is talking in the plural not the singular. The good shepherd is facilitating the life of the flock of sheep. There is not one time through that passage where Jesus speaks about the individual sheep; it is always the flock.

The removal of the barrier of sin does not mean the person will have a wonderful life but rather that they will be freed to serve Jesus Christ. This, for many, will mean suffering and death rather than life, as many of our sisters and brothers in the Middle East have discovered.

Evangelism and Cultures

God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life; Humanity is tainted by sin and is therefore separated from God. As a result, we cannot know God’s wonderful plan for our lives; Jesus Christ is God’s only provision for our sin. Through Jesus Christ, we can have our sins forgiven and restore a right relationship with God and we must place our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior in order to receive the gift of salvation and know God’s wonderful plan for our lives.

This is of course from the Four Spiritual Laws, which was a popular evangelistic tool developed in an evangelistic tract by Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ in the early 1950s. This tract has been translated into numerous languages and used in a variety of contexts. The question for mission thinkers is, is this the pure Gospel or a mid-Twentieth Century, North American understanding of the Gospel?

The contextualisation of the Gospel is a missionary task. Does this one size fits all approach truly get to the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? The document that I have been reading and blogging about over the past few days would disagree.

Jesus calls us out of the narrow concerns of our own kingdom, our own liberation, and our own independence (Acts 1:6) by unveiling to us a larger vision and empowering us by the Holy Spirit to go “to the ends of the earth” as witnesses in each context of time and space to God’s justice, freedom, and peace. Our calling is to point all to Jesus, rather than to ourselves or our institutions, looking out for the interests of others rather than our own (see Phil. 2:3-4). We cannot capture the complexities of the scriptures through one dominant cultural perspective. A plurality of cultures is a gift of the Spirit to deepen our understanding of our faith and one another. As such, intercultural communities of faith, where diverse cultural communities worship together, is one way in which cultures can engage one another authentically and where culture can enrich gospel. At the same time, the gospel critiques notions of cultural superiority. Therefore, “the gospel, to be fruitful, needs to be both true to itself and incarnated or rooted in the culture of a people … We need constantly to seek the insight of the Holy Spirit in helping us to better discern where the gospel challenges, endorses or transforms a particular culture” for the sake of life.
 Up until the Phil 2:3-4 bit I am pretty certain Bill Bright would agree. Disagreement would arise when we start talking about the “plurality of cultures;” “cultures engage one another…can enrich the gospel” and that the gospel is “incarnated and rooted in the culture of a people.”
Many Evangelicals get nervous when we start to express the fact that we may not have a perfect understanding of the Gospel. I think it is important to continue to engage with believers from other cultures and Christian traditions to refine how we view Gospel and Culture.

Ecumenical insights on Evangelism

I never thought I would write that the Ecumenical Movement can give insights on Evangelism! We Evangelicals are the experts on Evangelism; in fact we are defined by it. But this document, Together Towards Life, I am finding a gold mine of insights that challenge and inform me.

In my teaching I am constantly trying to show that Church and Mission go together. This means also that theology and mission go together. The Church in it thinking (theology), if it does not have mission as its starting point and aim, is an academic exercise.The church without mission does not make sense.

Below is a couple of points from that document

The church in history has not always existed but, both theologically and empirically, came into being for the sake of mission. It is not possible to separate church and mission in terms of their origin or purpose. To fulfill God’s missionary purpose is the church’s aim. The relationship between church and mission is very intimate because the same Spirit of Christ who empowers the church in mission is also the life of the church. At the same time as he sent the church into the world, Jesus Christ breathed the Holy Spirit into the church (John 20:19-23). Therefore, the church exists by mission, just as fire exists by burning. If it does not engage in mission, it ceases to be church.

Starting with God’s mission leads to an ecclesiological approach “from below.” In this perspective it is not the church that has a mission but rather the mission that has a church. Mission is not a project of expanding churches but of the church embodying God’s salvation in this world. Out of this follows a dynamic understanding of the apostolicity of the church: apostolicity is not only safeguarding the faith of the church through the ages but also participating in the apostolate. Thus the churches mainly and foremost need to be missionary churches. (para 57-58)

How do our churches match up?

Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes

Yesterday I made the assertion that to be Evangelical, we should be actively Ecumenical. The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a body who attempts to foster such Ecumenical unity. Unfortunately, many Evangelicals and Evangelical organisations have shunned the WCC, regarding it as liberal and heretical. However, many changes have happened over past 10 years and it is instructive to read some of their documents. One such document was published by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelisation in 2013.

I spent yesterday reading this. I strongly advise anyone interested in mission and evangelism to read Together Towards Life. It is the first document on this subject from the CWME.

Here is paragraph 2

Mission begins in the heart of the Triune God and the love which
binds together the Holy Trinity overflows to all humanity and creation.
The missionary God who sent the Son to the world calls all
God’s people (John 20:21), and empowers them to be a community
of hope. The church is commissioned to celebrate life, and to resist
and transform all life-destroying forces, in the power of the Holy
Spirit. How important it is to “receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22)
to become living witnesses to the coming reign of God!


Can an Evangelical be Ecumenical?

This post is prompted by an interesting post from my friend and fellow mission thinker, Eddie Arthur. When I teach mission theology, I often say that this is a land of three streams: Roman Catholic, Ecumenical and Evangelical. Apart from the glaringly obvious fault that the Eastern Orthodox, with their rich theology, is missed (I put them in with the Ecumenical Movement), the division between Evangelical and Ecumenical is being increasingly blurred–and so it should be.

Firstly, this is not so much because Evangelical Churches and leaders have always been involved in the Ecumenical movement (John Stott, Kirsteen Kim and Rob Hay to mention just three) but because I think it is difficult, or should be difficult to be Evangelical without being Ecumenical. The word “Evangelical” has its roots in the Greek word “euangelion” which means “good news” or “gospel”. The word “Ecumenical” has its roots in the “oikoumene” which means “inhabited”. The Greeks and Romans used it to describe the Greco-Roman civilization. The Early Church used it to speak of their unity in the gospel. In the light of John 13:35 and the evangelistic nature of unity then may be we should be ecumenical.

Secondly, I think, as Eddie expresses that we are rather good at ecumenism; we call it interdenominationalism. I go to many conferences and other gatherings organised by Evangelical groups and it never occurs to me to ask the denomination of the delegates. Recently at the Micah Conference, I talked to a man who I want an article written about. I forgot to ask of which he is a pastor. It didn’t seem relevant.

So to answer my question, yes as Evangelicals we can be Ecumenical; in fact we should be.