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A Practical Theology of Missions

Dispelling the Mystery: Discovering the Passion

Day One Publications
380 pages • ISBN 978-1846251986
$20.00 Can or US, shipping extra

Pract Theol Missions 2TABLE OF CONTENTS

Preface and Introduction

1. Missions & the nature of God
2. Missions & God, the Son
3. Missions in the Old Testament
4. Missionary preparation in the Intertestamental period
5. Missions in the New Testament
6. Key Missionary Questions

**Pioneering in Niger
PART TWO – THE MISSIONARY TASK7. A Historical Overview of Missionary Practice
8. The Central Missionary Task

**Pioneering in Senegal
10. Bandwagon or Balance?
11. Mini or Maxi Message?
12. Absentee Landlord or Reigning King?
13. Evangelistic Peersuasion or Divine Intervention?

**A Ladder up to Literacy and Pakistannd New Life
14. Searching for the Elusive Missionary
15. Spiritual Giftedness
16. Missionary Qualifications
17. The Missionary call

**The Mullens’ strange Calling
18. Missions: A Team Effort
19. Missions and the Sending Church

**Cabbages & Kids: The family factor in Burkina Faso
20. Understanding Culture
21. Missionary acculturation in the New Testament

 **Sudan’s Suffering Church

22. Choosing a Mission Field
23. Missions: Planned or Providential?
24. Birds of a Feather: Bane or Blessing?

 **Climbing the Discipleship Ladder in Pakistan
25. Missions: Worship before Work
26. Missionary Adaptability
27. Missionary Methodoology
28. Church Planting: The Central Task of Missions
29. Missionary Specialists
30. Misssions and the National Church



Missionary work doesn’t get much press, except in heaven, but its heroes and heroines continue to do the impossible from the garbage dumps of Manila to the boulevards of Berlin. Missionaries step over the fallen iron curtain to push evangelism into the steppes of Mongolia and in the suburbs of Moscow. Persecution cannot blunt the advance of the underground church in China. Over 1000 Nigerian missionaries fan out in West Africa carrying the gospel torch to communities steeped in Islam. Vicious repression fails to dim the joyful worship of Sudanese Christians while their Ethiopian neighbours struggle to handle mushrooming church growth. Indonesian Bible school students plant churches of Muslim converts as a course requirement. In South America and black Africa the church continues to expand. Missionary translators keep pushing the linguistic frontiers into new language groups. The missionary story pulses with drama and excitement.

This book is an attempt to return to God’s missionary manual to reformulate basic missionary principles. I’m upbeat about what God is doing. Stress cracks, however, have begun to appear. The veneer of missionary success in some places is too thin to sustain vibrant churches. Not enough thought has gone into the theological foundations of missionary work. Nominalism spreads like a blight in too many churches.

A thorough review of missionary theory is necessitated by the condition prevailing in the evangelical church at large. Church growth theory as formulated in California continues to dominate both domestic and missionary strategy. While it has some very positive features, success is too often defined by visible perceptions and countable statistics. The number of warm bodies in a church building, rather than the quality of their faith, is most often taken as the measure of “church growth”.

Almost 50 years ago A. W. Tozer diagnosed the problem. He said, “Much that passes for Christianity today is the brief bright effort of the severed branch to bring forth its fruit in its season. But the deep laws of life are against it. Preoccupation with appearances and a corresponding neglect of the out-of-sight root of the true spiritual life are prophetic signs which go unheeded. Immediate ‘results’ are all that matter, quick proofs of present success without a thought of next week or next year. Religious pragmatism is running wild among the orthodox. Truth is whatever works. If it gets results it is good.”[1]

Years later we find ourselves driven even more completely by the engine of pragmatism. “If it works (seems to work) it must be good”, has become the touchstone of many in Christian ministry. And if pragmatism is a problem in home churches, it is a plague in missionary circles.

Pragmatism in its place is valuable. I have tried to make this book pragmatic, by discussing not only theory but also practice. Among other things, we will look at the missionary call, how missionaries adjust to culture and how they should relate to each other and to their sending churches. But my main goal is to suggest ways to strengthen the theological roots of missionary effort. This goal is rooted in the belief that the most pragmatic thing we can do in the long run is to teach what God has revealed, trust his revealed methods, and try to apply them in dependence on the Holy Spirit.

This book is about roots, the out-of-sight sources of vibrant life that are needed to sustain real missionary success for generations to come. The book rests upon the assumption that presuppositions matter. Nothing can be more important than to ensure that our missionary presuppositions reflect the principles of Scripture. This will not be true if theology is ignored, because theology brings us face to face with the principles, parameters, and priorities that God has revealed.

Several modern writers have explored the shallowness of our evangelical roots. David Wells in his bookNo Place For Truth – Or Whatever Happened To Evangelical Theology describes the displacement of theology by a post-modern love affair with therapy, marketing and management technique. He documents how articles on doctrinal or biblical themes have declined to insignificance in two key evangelical magazines; Christianity Today and Leadership. He shows how the decline in emphasis on the glories of God that produced godly living and passionate social concern in the Puritans has been catastrophic in every area of life and society.[2]

He goes on in God in the Wasteland – The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams to show the extent to which modernity has influenced evangelicals. He uses extensive student survey material to demonstrate how thoroughly seminary students and their training have been affected by this same trend. Missionary training, I might add, has been even more affected. “Evangelicals . . . have become enamored of advanced management and marketing techniques, have blurred the distinctions between Christ and culture, and have largely abandoned their traditional emphasis on divine transcendence in favor of an emphasis on divine immanence. In doing so they have produced a faith in God that is of little consequence to those who believe.”[3]

Mark Noll also affirms the need for a new reformation in his pivotal book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. He details the deterioration of evangelical scholarship in North America. In his review of Noll’s book, Robert Wuthnow comments, “One wonders if the evangelical movement has pandered so much to American culture, tried so hard to be popular, and perpetuated such a do-it-yourself, feel-good faith that it has lost not only its mind but its soul as well.”[4]

Missionary work rests upon divine authority. But the culture that has so influenced evangelicals is post-modern in its denial of external authority. People subjectively decide what is true for them at a particular time. Hence what seems pragmatic is thought of as true. Before the Enlightenment most realized that truth was objective and authoritative because God made it so. The goal of education was to bring our twisted thinking into conformity with objective external reality as interpreted by revelation. The Enlightenment, however, “shifted this authority from the object to the subject. Now the subject becomes sovereign.”[5]Personal preference rules.

Our post-modern age exalts relativism and pluralism while it categorically denies the kind of propositional truth that we find in the Scriptures. The toxic effects of this lethal mixture have singed the North American church badly. The influence of post-modernism on the church in the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and New Zealand is no less serious. Indeed, if the rush of the evangelical church in Britain during the 90’s to embrace the experience of the “Toronto Blessing” is any indication the situation there is far worse.

Concerning missions today, David Hesselgrave writes about the importance of theology in missions and the danger of a pragmatism that he compares with Egyptian gold. “Christian mission must be undergirded with biblical authority but it must be guided by biblical theology. The most hopeful future for missions and missiology depends on the ‘re-missionizing of theology’ on the one hand, and the re-theologizing of missiology’ on the other.”

“To accomplish this, a largely new kind of dialogue and synergism will be required. Theologians will need to fight off the infection of an Aristotelianism imported from Egypt centuries ago; devote less time and effort to the erection of theological systems; and, together with missiologists, give more attention to the kind of biblical theology that will arrest the minds and change the hearts of people of various religions and cultures. Missiologists will have to struggle against a pragmatism that is overly devoted to ingenious ways of employing Egyptian gold and put too much stock on the often ephemeral results of alchemized strategies; and they will have to labor alongside theologians in an effort to understand correctly and handle rightly Holy Spirit-inspired Scripture.”[6]

The seedbed of missionary concern, our churches, seminaries, Bible Colleges, and Christian institutions have not escaped the subtle influence of post-modern thought. From Tozer to Noll red flags are being waved at the runaway engine of evangelical “success”. Sufficient reason to carefully compare modern missionary work with biblical truth. It is my hope that this book will contribute in some small way to the reformation we desperately need.

[1] A. W. Tozer, The Root Of The Righteous, Harrisburg, Pa.: Christian Publications, 1955, p. 8
[2] David F. Wells, No Place For Truth, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1993
[3] David F. Wells, God In The Wasteland, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1994, front dust-cover
[4] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Mind, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, back dust-cover
[5] Albert Mohler, A Reformed Perspective on a Secular Age, summary by David Brighton in Reformation Today, July/August 1996, p. 12
[6] David J. Hesselgrave, Third Millenium Missiology and the use of Egyptian Gold, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, p. 589