Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Southgate Fellowship: Glaring Omission

The statement of TSF covers a range of different missiological issues throughout its 100 affirmations and denials. Denial 62b, for example, covers the menace of prosperity theology, and rightly, is situated in the section on eschatology and the tension of living in the already and not yet.
Many of the pet methods of contemporary missiology are dealt with. In one denial, 85c, 'golden keys' and 'persons of peace' are dismissed if viewed as ‘elusive, mysterious or secret interpretive formula,’ something I have dealt with before on this blog

One wonders, however, how close to the ground the fellowship are keeping their ears, or how well served they are by their advisors.

In some areas they seem to be out of touch. This is suggested in the following affirmation:
15a) We affirm that if God were to use extraordinary means today (e.g. miraculous events, dreams or visions), that these occurrences should be interpreted providentially either as pre-evangelistic praeparatio, uncommon tools in God’s hand for sovereignly drawing people to himself, or as divinely purposed tools for hardening unbelievers in their unbelief. (my emphasis)
Why are such phenomena considered uncommon when evidence reported in the literature suggests that they are, in some contexts, frequently encountered? Surely such an eminent cohort of scholars and reflective practitioners know this? I am left puzzled.

The glaring omission of TSF, however, is that there is no statement on spiritual warfare. For much of the world church, battle with the demonic realm is the primary lens through which everything else is viewed. 
In Christianity in the Twentieth Century: A World History, Prof Brian Stanley argues that neo-Pentecostal teaching has had such a profound effect on the spirituality of substantial parts of African Christianity that it has “reordered the entire architecture of Christian doctrine around the motif of spiritual warfare.” My experience tells me that it is also massively significant in parts of Asia.
Clearly by framing the statement in the manner they have, the TSF would not hold such a perspective. So why do they not provide a critique? 
TSF asserts that they worked with the “valuable guidance of nationals and missionaries from all over the world.” Which leads one to wonder who those people are. If they do not even bring up the questions that are exercising their national brothers and sisters, what is the value of their contribution? I fear all the advice does is give a cosmetic multi-cultural gloss to a fundamentally North Atlantic project.
In his important book on Asian theology, Mangoes or Bananas, Bishop Hwa Yung laments the lack of engagement in this area of ministry in the literature and attributes this to the influence of the Enlightenment and dualism on Asian theological writings. Hwa argues that, “Western theologies are the products of the histories, cultures and realities of the West. They cannot, therefore, adequately address the existential realities of the rest of the world because these differ so much from those of the West.”
Quite so. But this is his answer: if “Asian theology is to be truly contextual, it must … necessarily involve the practice of ‘power encounters’ in the healing and exorcism ministries.”
Not so, in my mind. In fact, I disagree profoundly with Hwa’s solution (though this is not the place for me to provide my workings). I suspect the framers of the TSF statement would agree with me. So, I think they have squandered a significant opportunity to say so.
The late missionary anthropologist, Paul Hiebert, noted that Westerners often have a blind spot in the area of spiritual warfare, with their tendency to distinguish ‘high religion,’ with its strongly conceptual and institutionalized character, and ‘folk religion,’ related to magic, astrology and the spirits (itself, I would argue, a deeply problematic construct). The consequence is that the missionary-planted church in the non-Western world is often poorly equipped to deal with folk beliefs and practices, a phenomenon Hiebert calls the ‘flaw of the excluded middle.’
TSF has demonstrated in short measure that that they do not intend to address that flaw, greatly weakening the value of their project.

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