I want in this post to wrap up my series on The Southgate Fellowship by going back to the core convictions of the group. Tomorrow, Lord willing, I will make a final plea.
Under ‘Who We Are,’ the TSF states that it “exists to advance biblical thinking and practice in world mission.” And their aim is “that God’s name will be glorified among the nations.”
Very good, and something I truly rejoice in. We all need to work, by the Spirit, on our understanding and application of the Word on our ministry practice.
It is their observation, however, that,
due to a convergence of forces in contemporary theology and the global church, many in the study and practice of world mission have strayed methodologically from the sure foundation of Scripture; they functionally deny the categorical uniqueness of the Christian faith, and impose non-biblical and even anti-biblical interpretive grids upon people, religions, culture, and the work of mission.
It is my conviction that the TSF have made precisely the mistake that they accuse others of making, in that they too have imposed a “non-biblical interpretive grid on people, religions, cultures and the work of mission”.
After all, as I have repeatedly asserted, they are looking at traditions through the Enlightenment grid of ‘comparative religions.’ I have argued this before in my critique of Dan’s book:
A major problem with Strange’s construction, then, is his failure to distinguish sufficiently between “religion” and “religions”. This is most plainly seen in his explanation of his approach (36-38). Acknowledging that the term “‘religion’ as a defined category is more ‘Western’ than biblical”, he nevertheless wants to use it inclusively “in terms of one’s ultimate heart commitments and presuppositions concerning reality” (37): so far so good. But Strange then explains that his “focus will be on what are often called ‘world religions’”. The argument is suddenly and with little explanation turned away from ultimate heart commitments to “rival social realities... that are competitors to Christianity”. And so we are introduced to the world of “‘other religions’”. J. H. Bavinck, as Strange himself recognises (70), warns us that, in dealing with the “adherents of other religions” “[e]ach generalization, every systematization, carries within itself the danger that one will do injustice to the living person.” But Strange is happy to argue that “Religions are hermetically sealed interpretations of reality (worldviews) and as such are incommensurable” (242). No place seems to be allowed for the phenomenon of syncretism or of someone following Christ within a non-Christian religious tradition. This, it seems to me, is a problem inherent in the method that Strange has adopted.
And this is a problem inherent in the method of the TSF.
I have argued that the TSF has elevated systematic theology to such a status that it becomes the rule to interpret every other theological and missiological endeavour. Only Scripture should have this status.
And so, the question arises as to what we should make of the great confessions and creeds of church history. In an important chapter in Globalizing Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, edited by Craig Ott and Harold A. Netland, Kevin Vanhoozer has this to say about the great confessions of the faith:
At their best…confessions are more than ephemeral performances, more even than a series of local theologies. Confessional theologies are rather ‘great performances’—responses to their own historical context that contain lessons for the rest of the church as well.” (“‘One Rule to Rule Them All?’ Theological Method in an Era of World Christianity,” p. 109)
This is precisely what I am arguing for. Let us give the ‘great performances’ the attention they deserve. Yes, let’s even translate them into the vernaculars of our brothers and sisters in Cameroon and Cambodia. But let us give our brothers and sisters the freedom to express the truths that they find in the Scriptures in their own ways and not burden them with having to sign up to a statement that has ‘From the West to the Rest’ written all over it.