Tag Archives: Missionaries

Nothing New Under the Sun

Matthew Pinson

When it comes to the big questions, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun. I am often reminded of this when I attend debates between Christians and skeptics of various varieties. For example, several years ago I heard Craig Evans debate Bart Ehrman, the famous evangelical-turned-skeptic who teaches at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After hearing Ehrman’s arguments (and later reading them in some of his books and articles), I was really surprised that that was all he had.

Most of his criticisms of the Bible would do more to bring doubts to a child in a Sunday school room than a person who had taken a freshman course in biblical interpretation at a Christian college. I was struck particularly by how many of his concerns were reiterations of things that the church fathers themselves were dealing with 1,700+ years ago. Here I was braced for some new, groundbreaking scientific argument or an argument made possible because of computer technology or some new archaeological discovery. But what I heard was just more rehashing of much of what skeptics of Christianity have been saying for hundreds, yea thousands, of years.

This memory came back to my mind recently when I was reading Carl F. H. Henry’s wonderful little book from the 1940s, Giving a Reason for Our Hope (Boston: W. A. Wilde, 1949). It’s a wonderful little volume on apologetics that is still relevant for today. In answering the question, “The Modern naturalistic version is that God is simply an imagination of ours, so how can we answer that?” Henry replies:

“The arguments which the modern naturalists use against belief in God are not new; strictly speaking, nothing essential has been added to the argument as it existed many centuries ago, in ancient Greek times. The arguments were all in existence when Christianity came into the world. It is not because a man is modern, but because he is a naturalist, that he says God is a figment of the imagination” (16).

This is so true. In the major intellectual questions about Christianity, there is nothing new under the sun. Reading this also brought to my mind not just our contemporary intellectual context, but also our contemporary cultural context. Many evangelical Protestants have developed a “fear of man” and are too intimidated by the rapid cultural changes in our technological, secularizing society.

It seems that we think what we are facing is unique to our time, and thus we have to use methods in our church growth practices that have never before been tried in the history of Christianity. (And it’s not that the apostles and saints and martyrs throughout history couldn’t have tried them, that they didn’t have the resources to try them. It’s just that they chose not to.)

I don’t want to downplay the acute difficulties and unique qualities of modernity and postmodernity. But I think that we need more to see ourselves in a missionary situation to a pagan culture, like the church fathers and missionaries of the Christian tradition, rather than seeing ourselves as being comfortable in a Christian culture and still thinking we can spread the gospel like we used to in that culture. Yet, in the big questions, there is nothing new under the sun. We are not experiencing anything that the early church did not experience, or that various traditional missionaries to pagan cultures did not experience.

I think it’s helpful for us to look at the church fathers, especially prior to the mammoth changes in the fourth century when the church began accommodating pagan culture more and speaking a prophetic word to it less. When we look at the early church, we see it engaging a pagan culture that is similar in profound ways to our own, and we find that they had almost all the resources at their disposal that we currently have. Yet they based their ministry of the gospel on the all-sufficient word, not the methods and gimmicks the secular culture used to draw a crowd.

Every age and society has its unique qualities. Yet because humanity is made in God’s image and is fallen and finite, we find that there is nothing new under the sun. The Holy Scripture that God breathed out more than twenty centuries ago gives us—just as it gave the saints and martyrs who went before us—everything necessary for life and godliness, for building Christ’s church, for extending the kingdom, and for defending the rationality of the Christian gospel in a complex marketplace of ideas.

Missions and the Trinity

by Kevin Hester

Missiology is not my strong suit. It hasn’t been a part of my theological training except by extension. My appreciation for missions has largely come from the clear commands of Scripture and some of the basic principles of ecclesiology. I also think missionaries have such cool stories. I still remember the awe and admiration I had for the missionaries who visited my church during my childhood. They seemed to live such a vibrant Christianity in exotic contexts.

These stories aren’t just part of my childhood experience. As a historical theologian who works primarily in the late classical and early medieval period of the Church, I have run across important missional events that are dotted throughout this period. St. Patrick lived out his Christian mission in Ireland. St. Columba followed his call and worked to establish Christianity among the Picts in what is now Scotland. St. Gregory commissioned missionaries to England and Spain in the late 6th century to evangelize the new barbarians and to battle heresy. In the early 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi tied his new monastic endeavor to preaching and missions, going himself to attempt evangelistic efforts with the Sultan of Egypt.

Missions has been a part of the Christian church from the beginning. The Church blossomed from the work of the apostles and early Christian believers to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every nation.” This story is clearly presented in the book of Acts. We see there the same types of exciting stories that were so attractive to my 13-year-old budding masculine sensibilities. But when you turn to church history you quickly see that the explosion of church growth came not from what we call “missions,” but from “normal” Christian people living out their faith in their communities. (This is the basic thesis of Michael Green in his Evangelism in the Early Church, a book I would highly recommend.)

The more I have lived and learned, I have come to understand that mission work isn’t always exotic. I have befriended enough missionaries now to understand that they struggle with life’s everyday concerns just like I do. They work jobs, cook meals, tend to sick children, and go about the business of life in ways not dissimilar from all of us. They certainly have challenges that most of us don’t face when it comes to language and cultural issues, but mostly they work to live out their Christianity in their day-to-day interactions with people.

Missions is organic and basic to the Christian life. The professionalization of missions, much like the professionalization of ministry, has left most of us viewing it as a specific calling for specific people in specific places of the world. This does happen, but it is the exception rather than the norm. Missions at its most basic level is what we call Christian living. The call to all of us is to live out the love of Christ in all our relationships.

This emphasis on relationship can be seen in the history of the word “mission”. As David Bosch points out in his Transforming Mission, the term “mission” wasn’t used to describe evangelism until the Jesuit evangelistic enterprises of the 16th and 17th centuries. Instead, the term mission “was used exclusively with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity, that is, of the sending of the Son by the Father and of the Holy Spirit by the Father and the Son” (1). Historically then (and theologically), mission is based in the ontological nature of God and God’s desire to establish (or reestablish) a relationship with his creation.

All my life I have heard mission conference speakers and missiologists work to develop elaborate philosophies and methodologies. Many of these were built on social or ethical concerns. Others took a theological tack focusing on the relationship of general revelation and soteriology. I have even heard injunctions to mission based in eschatology. I really felt for them. I have so longed to hear a missionary sermon that wasn’t based on Matthew 28 or Acts 1. What else, after all, is there to talk about? Jesus said to do it, so I guess we have to.

This is why I was so refreshed to recently read Timothy Tennent’s Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-First Century. In this work, Tennent grounds missions not in a command alone, but in the nature of God. Suddenly, it clicked for me. Mission is who God is and “all theology is fundamentally missional because biblical theology reveals God as a missionary God.” (60)

In the divine economy of the transcendent Trinity, the Father sends the Son. In the immanent Trinity’s activity in human history Jesus sends the Church. He sends us to do what he did. He sends us to live and to love. He sends us to show the Father to the world. That is mission. It isn’t tied to a specific call or a specific place. Missions is for all of us. God the Father invites us into His work by being what He is creating (or recreating) us to be. The internal relations of the member of the Trinity serve as the model for the relationships we are called to have with God and with one another.

When we fail to base our concept of mission in who God is we miss the basic outline of Scripture. We commit that all-to-human of errors and make missions about us and what we can or “have” to do. When we do this, “the role of the Church as the body of Christ, the redeemed community in the world, and the ongoing reflection of the Trinity in the world is largely lost. We see ourselves as commissioned to tell the story, but we don’t see ourselves as intrinsically part of the story. However, the Church must do more than tell the gospel; we must embody it.” (63)

The missio Dei as expressed in the Trinity is about relationships. God, as a personal being, reveals Himself to a people He created for Himself. He calls all of us to tell His story and by telling His story to tell our own. He calls us to live lives of holiness and love; lives more in tune with the coming eschatological future than the present. The Father invites us into His mission. The Son revealed the Father and gave Himself for us. The Spirit calls us into service and empowers us to fulfill it through the activity of the Holy Spirit. Much like the incarnation was meant to give us a clearer picture of the Father, the sending of the Church serves to clarify the meaning and the purpose of the incarnation.

None of this means that God does not call some people to proclaim the gospel in exotic places. What it does mean is that each of us is a part of God’s worldwide missionary enterprise. God’s method is based in Trinitarian relationships. God tells His story and He does it through our relationships. It looks like we all have a story to tell.