Thursday, June 22, 2017

Were They Right? Engel and Dyrness’s Changing the Mind of Missions

In their provocative, turn of the century book, Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2000) James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness suggest that the modern missions movement is on a wrong footing. They assert that “the missions momentum from North America and much of the remaining Western world is functioning within theological paradigms and resulting ministry practices dating back prior to the dawn of the twentieth century” (24).

Time for a Paradigm Shift?

They contend that Christ’s “call has been interpreted for many decades, especially in North America and parts of Western Europe, as communicating a set of biblical propositions to a maximum number of people and declaring them as ‘reached’ once this takes place” (21, emphasis in original).

They describe a crisis in the American missions movement that has resulted in a huge shortfall in funds for traditional mission projects and personnel (which is clearly also affecting many British-based missions). At the same time, there is a growing interest in mission of a different sort – especially one in which donors can have more of an immediate experience by, for instance, a short trip for themselves.

Centre-Periphery Model of Mission

Engel and Dyrness contend that the present N. American missions movement is dominated by a ‘Centre-periphery model’ that is outmoded (41). They agree with Jonathan Bonk who points out that in the last two centuries missionaries have often been allied with colonialism even if they were “reluctant imperialists.”[1]

The authors point out that in the book of Acts the first mission was not from a centre of power and influence but rather from a place where something happened and that in so being it is a parody of the modern missions project (40-43). But, “Ever since the end of World War II, and definitively since the fall of the Berlin wall, prevailing concepts of what represents the center and what represents the periphery have radically changed in political, cultural and economic terms (47)”.

They explain, “While the modern development of missions was associated with centers of power and influence, today those places where economic power resides are not important centers of Christianity, and the most vital Christian communities are found in areas of limited political and economic power”, a point since also made by Philip Jenkins in The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (2002) and Mark Noll in The New Shape of World Christianity (2009).

Because of this shift in the balance of the global church Engel and Dyrness propose that a “better model for conceiving of missions, consistent with the emerging postmodern consciousness, is multiplying centers of influence making up a network of mutual exchange and support (48)”. I don’t think any thoughtful mission leaders would explicitly have any problem with that in principle. The authors paint a scenario, however, in which N. American missions are deliberately blocking such a development. Are they setting up a straw man to knock him down? Take this for example:
What is the true motivation for missions? Appearances to the contrary, it is not about selling some spectacular product, eternal life or forgiveness of sins, however wonderful these realities are. Missions flows from the heart of a people who have been transformed by the Holy Spirit and who leave all to follow Christ. (37)
The desire to control is inherent in every fallen human being and is not confined to N. American mission agencies. There could be many different reasons why Western mission leaders may desire to hang on to the control of resources: perhaps they are merely seeking to honour the wishes of the donors; perhaps there are legal reasons. But I wonder if the situation is as bad as they paint. There may be a lot more networking with mutual exchange and support going on than they realize.

According to Engel and Dyrness, Western Christians over the last two centuries have been influenced by the spirit of the age in three ways (57):

1.     by their two crucial omissions from the Great Commission;
2.     by their reducing of world missions to a managerial enterprise;
3.     by their displacing the local church from its rightful place at the centre of world outreach.

“Contemporary missions retain,” they suggest, “a kind of structural hangover that continues to impede a genuine openness to the work of God (46)”.

Engel and Dyrness’s criticism of modern missions is damning. Too damning, in my estimation. I think they have exaggerated the problems. They have clearly identified weaknesses in modern missions, just as Samuel Escobar has done in A Time for Mission (2003).[2] But Escobar is more nuanced than Engel and Dyrness. The latter dismiss so much of evangelical ministry as corrupted by modernity. Is this a consequence of embracing postmodernism? If modern mission is too closely wedded to modernity then how will it improve things to create a model that is “consistent with the emerging postmodern consciousness”? The danger of syncretism with the spirit of the age is as great here as in the model they are so keen to throw out.

Engel and Dyrness’s ‘Kingdom Paradigm’

The authors work out their theology of mission around what they call a ‘Kingdom Paradigm’, suggesting some “strategies that better reflect our contemporary postmodern situation” (89):

1.     sensitive to the initiative of God;
2.     motivated by a vision of the reign of Christ refracted through the multiple cultures of the world;
3.     characterized by mutual sharing from multiple centres of influence;
4.     committed to partnership and collaboration.

They call for a “spirit of mutual submission and interdependency” for there to be real collaboration between partners. Those with funds must not drive the programme (96). I agree. This is an important point in the light of so many donor-driven mission programmes.

Engel and Dyrness have some good things to say about the church but it is framed in the same way as the rest of their argument, contrasting what they see as the biblical way with the worst of superficial evangelicalism. They assert, rightly, that, “…the church is no longer conceived by the vast majority as the cultural space where certain critical things happen….” because of the collapse of Christendom (111). In place of the Christendom model they propose a ‘spiritual pilgrimage’ model of church (98-107), a point recently echoed by Michael W. Stroope in Transcending Mission (reviewed here).

According to Engel and Dyrness the modern ‘institutional’ model of church encourages, by its structure the following traits (113):

1.     individuality;
2.     programme orientation;
3.     a preoccupation with numbers;
4.     passivity;
5.     resistance to change.

This model is contrasted with one which sees the church as an organism than an organization, based on six theological realities (117):

1.     its nature as a living temple for God;
2.     its ministry through gifts of the Spirit;
3.     its nature as a society of mutual love and service;
4.     its servant leadership;
5.     its community;
6.     its outward focus.

Again, here, the authors are attacking the worst of evangelicalism. For sure there are many churches that reflect their ‘modern model’. But there are also many that do not. Engel and Dyrness set up a tale of two models, one ‘modern’ and the other ‘theological’. Organization is modern, something to be repented of. What do they make of Acts 6, Ephesians 4:11-13, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1? Their binary opposition proves to be simplistic.

Engel and Dyrness’s Model of Mission

According to Engel and Dyrness, local churches must be at the centre of mission. Here they cite Bruce Camp’s typology of church-mission involvement.[3] Churches fall into three categories with respect to their commitment to world mission:

1.     Supporting – passive;
2.     Sending – active, initiating;
3.     Proactive – synergistic, initiating, partnering.

The church, they assert, should be proactive, and take its rightful role at the centre of mission. Sounds good in theory. But their argument is not practicable for much of the world for the  following reasons:

1.     Host churches may not exist, as in many Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist communities;
2.     Where they do exist, host churches may not be capable of mature partnering;
3.     Large groups of short-termers parachuting into a community that does not have an indigenous church may have an adverse impact through its lack facility in the local language and its lack of cultural sensitivity;
4.     It is very difficult to avoid dependency within this paradigm.

Engel and Dyrness seem to contradict their own hatred of ‘modern’ mission activity by insisting on accountability from mission agencies that most likely “will be a description in numerical terms of what was done…” (126). They then compare mission agencies to businesses which have had to go through a painful process of change to compete in the postmodern world. Like businesses, mission agencies “require an organizational transformation that encompasses five essential steps”:

1.     Restoration
2.     Convergence
3.     Regeneration
4.     Adaptation
5.     Reengineering

The authors say they advocate a high degree of field autonomy but they insist this should be only within the parameters of a definitive mission statement and with accountability based on clearly defined outcomes and objectives (158). Their view of mission agencies, therefore, is very strongly oriented towards the home base – the very view they censure. Their solution to the problem is to bring about organizational change from the centre. But surely cross-cultural ministry teams should be largely free from a high-handed home ‘board’ that wants to ‘reengineer’ their identity and ministry. Such talk of ‘reengineering’ seems to me to be as much modernistic as the mentality they have condemned.

More solid, however, is their insistence that agencies establish a relationship of mutual respect and esteem with established indigenous churches. Furthermore, agencies, must initiate a sensitive dialogue with their supporting churches on how they should use their resources. Should their personnel and material resources be available to serve already-established churches while there are people and communities still unreached by the gospel? It takes great tact and sensitivity to discern the best way forward in such a situation. Thankfully, the Lord has not left us alone to make such decisions as he has promised us the resources we need at the proper time (James 1:5).

So, Were They Right?

Yes: much of what Engel and Dyrness said was surely right. No doubt in some circles the book has had a beneficial effect. If only others had read it and taken its criticisms on board!

And no: this book ultimately fails to satisfy for four reasons:

1.     They overstate their case, pitting their remedies against the worst forms of Western evangelicalism;
2.     Their approach is too receptor-oriented towards the postmodern context and not enough to the Bible;
3.     It is inconsistent, as some of their solutions suffer from the same modernistic assumptions that they criticize;
4.     Their approach assumes that biblical and contextually-sensitive churches are globally ubiquitous, which they are not.

I am thankful that Engel and Dyrness wrote this book. Truly the mind needs to be changed in some important respects. But the book would have been better had it been more rigorous and consistent in biblical theology, hermeneutics, and global realities. David Smith’s Mission After Christendom (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2003) and the aforementioned Transcending Mission by Michael W. Stroope (London: Apollos, 2017) are more reliable guides.

[1] Jonathan Bonk, “All Things to All Persons: Missionary as a Racist-Imperialist” Missiology 8 (1980): 285-306.
[2] Escobar argues along the same lines in Evangelical Missiology: Peering into the Future at the Turn of the Century” in Global Missiology for the 21st Century - The Iguassu Dialogue (W. D. Taylor, ed.; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 101-22.
[3] Bruce K. Camp, “Three Ministry Paradigms for Local Church Involvement in Missions” International Journal of Frontier Missions 11 (July/August 1994), quoted in Engel and Dyrness, Changing the Mind of Missions, 121.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition, by Michael W. Stroope - a Review

Transcending Mission: The Eclipse of a Modern Tradition, by Michael W. Stroope (London: Apollos, 2017, £24.99, 457 pages).

This is a book about language, specifically about how particular words can be used in such a way that an idea can have the appearance of being biblically and historically sound, while being neither. The key word under spotlight is ‘mission’ but its cognates, ‘missionary’, ‘missions’, even ‘missional’ are also thoroughly implicated.
   mission is rhetoric
In his Introduction, Stroope, who teaches at Truett Seminary, Baylor University (USA) and has been a missionary in Sri Lanka, England, Germany and Hong Kong, describes how the word mission is used chiefly as a noun and adjective and only occasionally as a verb, with a host of meanings. The oldest and most common use of ‘mission’ is as a political or diplomatic term (2). As we all know, mission has become ubiquitous in contemporary life, with companies, clubs, and military units employing the term to describe their purpose and activities. In the sense in which the term has been employed among Christians, however, it has generally had a narrower set of meanings connoting specialization, utility, and viewpoint: thus, “mission is rhetoric that describes specific Christian ideals and actions unique to its encounter with the world” (4).

However, much ink has been shed in recent years over what exactly mission means. Stroope engages with all the key writers on this theme: David Bosch, Andreas Köstenberger, Chris Wright, Lesslie Newbigin, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, and others. The key point that Stroope is making, however, is not that the word has such a range of meanings but that the word itself is the problem: “Words,” he writes, echoing other scholarship, “more than represent reality; words…form reality” (10). The way we use words, then, creates conceptual frameworks for the reality they are being used to describe. Differentiating ‘mission’ and ‘missions’ doesn’t help either because the distinction is blurred and indistinct (15).

Stroope’s thesis is that mission,
birthed and developed in the modern age, is itself inadequate language for the church in the current age. Rather than rehabilitating or redeeming mission, we have to move beyond its rhetoric, its practise, and its view of the world. The task is one of transcending mission. (26, original emphasis)
In part one, Justifying Mission, the author critiques the ways that Partisans and Apologists, as he calls them, have sought to defend the use of the term. This has usually been attempted by means of biblical and historical scholarship. Defenders of the term mission as an interpretive category of Scripture argue their case by way of three methods: creating a biblical foundation, e.g. J. H. Bavinck, Peters; reading the Bible through a missional hermeneutic, e.g. Wright, Bauckham; and the identification of missionary themes, e.g. Kaiser, Köstenberger and O’Brien. Alongside these methods a lexical trail, e.g. J. H. Bavinck, or semantic field, e.g. Köstenberger, may be constructed to demonstrate the appropriate use of the language of mission. But mission in all these approaches is not just seen as a means to an end (104): “means become an end” (104-105) and in so becoming mission becomes sacred language. But mission “fills the whole horizon”, eclipsing more “theologically rich and biblical concepts such as covenant, reconciliation, witness, and love”.
The problem with all these methods is that mission is a priori
In historical studies, likewise, early and medieval examples of ministry are labelled as mission, even though the term is never used in contemporary writing. The problem with all these methods is that mission is a priori: that is, mission is assumed as a category and examples are then sought in the data (biblical or historical). But mission is a category that has a particular meaning that is rooted in the modern era. So, it is anachronistic to read the Bible and Christian history though this lens.

In part two, Innovating Mission, Stroope examines the origin of mission terminology. Exile, sojourner, and pilgrim were common terms used to describe the expansion of Christianity during the Middle Ages. Pilgrim language was then co-opted by Christendom powers for political ends and territorial expansion, most starkly in the crusades and in the founding of colonies in the Levant.

In the modern period pilgrim terminology became mission terminology as Ignatius Loyola and his band of Jesuits made a vow to go anywhere the Pope would send them to do his bidding. Mission became what they are to do and the structure to carry that out. It is only with the passage of some time that Franciscans and Dominicans, then others in the Roman Catholic church, and finally Protestants adopt the word and, with it, the conceptual framework.

In part three, Revising Mission, Stroope argues that during the nineteenth century there developed the “rhetoric of a modern tradition” (289). The author engages with the debate over whether the Reformers had an interest in mission. Apologists for mission argue that they did, based on their evangelistic zeal and the odd foray outside of Christendom. It has been argued that the massive work of reforming the church, the political troubles that dogged their efforts, the lack of missionary structures (in contrast to the Roman Catholic orders), and the late involvement of Protestant powers in the colonial project delayed full-blown Protestant entry into mission. But Stroope points out that mission language is absent among Protestants during the early years of the Reformation: “Mission and missionary were not adopted until the early eighteenth century and did not become stablished, common rhetoric until the nineteenth century” (294, original emphasis). Though Calvin did indeed have a desire that the gospel might be preached to Turks, Jews and ‘heathen’ and had a part in commissioning two pastors to travel with the dozen Huguenots to establish a colony in Brazil in 1557 it is not clear whether they went to evangelize the South American Indians or to pastor of the Huguenots or both (295). These facts “do not represent a programmatic commitment to a mission or mission strategy” (296). The Reformers’ lack of mission rhetoric “has more to do with the absence of the conceptual framework of ’mission’ at their time than their understanding of the gospel as universal in scope” (ibid.). One reason for this was that the term was used by the Jesuits in their programme against the Reformers. So, in fact, the Reformers actively opposed ‘mission’.

The high point, as others have also noted, was the Edinburgh Mission Conference of 1910.  “The modern mission movement…represents a set of historical occurrences imbued with religious, social, national, and emotional connotations” (318). The phrase “functions as rhetorical device…of a tradition…. In this way, the modern mission movement structures reality…” (318-19). The tradition gave validity and significance to mission. Missionary language at Edinburgh was militaristic and reminiscent of the distant memory of the Medieval Crusades. There was a language of conquest and occupation and Christianization “akin to the Latinization of the Levant following the First Crusade and the subjugation of peoples in Spanish and Portuguese colonizing efforts” (336).

After Edinburgh, however, attitudes toward mission began to change rapidly. From the International Missionary Council meeting in 1928, and especially with the publication of the Layman’s Enquiry (Re-thinking Mission) (the full version of which was published in 1933) attempts were made to revise mission. Now, argues Stroope, we live in a “post-foreign mission situation” and that requires us to reconceive the church and world encounter, not redefine or reform mission” (352-53). That, the author attempts to do in the Epilogue.

Central in the Bible’s storyline, says the author, echoing other writers, is the kingdom of God. This brings Stroope to his central proposal:

Embracing the kingdom of God does not remove us from the world but transforms our encounters within the world. Orientation to and formation in the kingdom of God readies us for engagement with the world by transforming us into witnesses to the kingdom and pilgrims of the kingdom. As pilgrim witnesses we participate in the coming reign of God. (370, emphasis in the original)
            this is a brilliant book

I think this is a brilliant book. It is meticulously researched, cogently argued, and utterly convincing. It should become a standard textbook in mission courses, though those courses will probably now need be called something different! It must surely take its place as one of the seminal arguments in the rehabilitation of a truer form of gospel living as the church emerges out of modernity.

Without wanting to sound too critical, however, I think in places the author overstates his case. In writing of Paul, for instance, Stroope argues that the apostle supported himself as a leatherworker and “thus did not become a full-time religious professional of any kind” (95). This is surely going too far. He certainly worked with his hands to support himself. But it is also clear that he was not averse to asking those he had brought to Christ to help him out so that he might be freed from having to do so (2 Cor 11: 8-9; Phil 4:14-18). Some pilgrim witnesses in the NT were clearly reliant on contributions of the Lord’s people. Absolutizing tentmaking, which Stroope apparently is keen to do, does not do the whole text justice.

Furthermore, one is left wondering what part, if any, organizational structures might have in the pursuance of pilgrim witness. Clearly, if people who are beyond reach of pilgrim witnesses at present, because the latter do not naturally wander into their neighbourhood –as is probably the case for three billion of the world’s population – some urgent thought is called for. Urgent thought will surely result in intentionality, which then asks questions about stewardship and, yes, even strategy. I share with the author his apparent allergy to a reliance on management in gospel witness. But, ultimately, some level of organization is called for to enable disciples of Christ to carry out their pilgrimage in the company of people who are presently outside its scope.

It must surely take its place as one of the seminal arguments in the rehabilitation of a truer form of gospel living as the church emerges out of modernity

The following are minor errors that should have been eliminated by the proof reader: ‘illusions’ should be allusions (110); ‘affect’ should be effect (311 & 369); ‘work’ should be world (351); there is an extraneous ‘can’ (372) and ‘that’ (385). There also seems to be a problem with the arithmetic in the account of the Portuguese ambassador requesting Ignatius for ten men to be allocated for their interests in the East. From Ignatius’ reply it seems only six were requested (283). Finally, there are a few typos: insisit (158); pereginantes (171); is is (175); ecclesical (296).