Posts Tagged ‘mission’

Christian Witness in a Pluralistic World: Renewing Christian Faith

Monday, June 10th, 2013 by Amos Yong

witnessThere is no doubt that Christian faith is exclusively in Jesus Christ. Jesus himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, NRSV), and the apostles also declared, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jews might anticipate a messianic deliverer who will reunite the people of God with Yahweh, but they do not hold, as Christians do, that Jesus is that Messiah. Muslims respect Jesus as a prophet but both subordinate his message to that of Muhammad’s and do not understand his claim, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30), in a similar manner as Christians. In other words, Christians make unique and exclusive claims about Jesus as savior and revealer of the Father.

But Christians are not the only ones with unique and exclusive claims. In fact, all religious traditions, by virtue of the fact that they are what they are and not something else, have such claims. Some might even follow up on such claims with concomitant actions in ways that put Christians to shame. The apostle James agrees that, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17).

Apologetically, then, I think actions speak louder than words. While on occasions thoughtful members of other faiths convert to Christ because of the rhetorical persuasiveness, intellectual coherence, and aesthetic attractiveness of the Christian message, these are exceptions that still, in time, ought to be followed by conversions of the heart. At this level, people come to Christ not because he is reducible to a set of ideas but because as the living “reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being” (Heb. 1:3a), Jesus and his followers touch hearts, heal bodies, and transform lives and communities. Christian mission in a pluralistic world is most effective when clear proclamation of the message of the gospel – of Jesus as savior, healer, sanctifier, and coming king – is preceded and supported by works of love, mercy, peace, and justice.

Trinitarian mission in this holistic sense cannot be merely exclusivistic. Sometimes communal transformation invites Christians to work alongside people of other or no faith in order to effect change. There is no need to compromise on what we believe and confess in these cases, but there may be many good reasons to collaborate with others in order to bring about common good. Sometimes, we may even need to choose not to engage in certain actions, otherwise appropriate and even normative, if that might distract from or stumble the “weak” – as St. Paul, for instance, suggested not eating meat offered to idols in some contexts which might be fine in other contexts – and thereby undermine the witness to Christ needed for the moment. There are many levels at which Christians can and should address the plight of the unfortunate (orphans, widows, the impoverished, and people with disabilities, among others), and some levels of engagement summon, if not require, interfaith cooperation. Christians bear witness to the living Christ on these occasions by serving those in need; in fact, it may well also be that all so engaged minister to Christ himself. Effective missional witness in a pluralistic world, hence, involves addressing human heads (the cognitive dimension) and human hearts and hands (the embodied and social domains).

Yet I also think that given the goodness, truth, and beauty that is refracted through other cultural and religious traditions, Christians should be motivated to dialogue with those in other faiths not only missionally but also for our ongoing self-understanding. By dialogue, however, I don’t mean only those formal occasions involving representative intellectuals but those circumstances when we can be hosts and guests of those in other faiths in order to get to know them, share our lives with them, and learn from them. The point of dialogue is that there is a mutuality of interaction, relationship, and transformation, just as when Peter met Cornelius (Acts 10). I mention being hosts and guests since sometimes, Christians are reluctant to embrace the latter role. It is simpler, and safer, to be hosts of those in other faiths since hosts establish the ground rules for the meeting. However, Jesus Christ himself is the paradigmatic guest himself in his incarnation even as the Holy Spirit desires to be the guest in every human heart. Christian missionaries have also been exemplary guests, as they are sent ones who enter into the spaces and times of others. Guests bring with them gifts – the gospel – but are also open to the hospitality of others, as Paul himself received such from the Maltese barbarians (Acts 28:1-10).

And what do others have to offer besides physical nourishment? Do Christians really have anything to learn from others that they do not already know? The Day of Pentecost narrative suggests that God’s salvation history involves the redemption of many languages in order that the world might say, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11). Languages we know are culturally embedded, as are religious traditions. Hence, the capacity of languages to declare the glory of God suggests that the highest aspirations of cultural and religious traditions may also be redeemed for divine purposes. This is not to say that each and every word of every language is sanctified in some absolute sense, nor is it to naively sanction all cultural and religious realities. It is to say that there is no reason why authentic dialogical and conversational interaction with people of other faith should not be catalytic for Christian self-transformation. Might not our interaction with religious others teach us humility, open us up to graces all humans hold in common, prompt question our own traditions (which are sometimes also encrusted in many ways by cultural accretions such that their original purposes have become obscured), and help us recognize that despite all we think we know, often in the face of reality we must be mute and wait for divine revelation to know how to “live, and move, and have our being”?

Christians should expect nothing less in faith. Not only do we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12), but we worship and serve a living Christ who cannot be reduced to any set of propositions. In fact, only in the eschatological future will he be fully manifest: “when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). This is not to say that the future revelation of Christ will contradict what is known about him now from scripture and especially the dogmatic tradition, rightly understood. It is to say that there might be unexpected convergences that the eschaton will bring to light.

Evangelicals like to say that theirs is not a religion but a relationship. They are also primed, when they go on mission trips, to testify about their own lives being changed by the experience. I see no reason why interacting with people of other faiths ought not also to transform their lives by deepening their understanding of and relationship with the living Christ. Especially when led by the Spirit of Christ, Christian witness in a pluralistic world will surely bring about conversions to Christ; but it might also bring about Christian transformation, indeed revitalization and renewal.


Evangelicalism — and the Renewal of Christianity

Tuesday, May 7th, 2013 by Amos Yong

evangelicalThe question of What is Evangelicalism? rages on. For me, David Bebbington’s by now classic “quadrilateral” definition – in which the defining features of Evangelicalism include its biblicism, crucicentrism, activism, and conversionism – remains an adequate starting point. However, so many other variables come into play, which lead to disputes, even among those who can agree on these four elements, about what else is requisite to an evangelical identity. I want to suggest what might be called a pentecostal or renewalist spin on these Bebbingtonian characteristics. (I use “pentecostal,” “charismatic,” and “renewalist” synonymously in what follows and in the rest of this blog series.) Such a twist, as will be clear, does not negate these central markers but is indicative of their evolving character. Read the rest of this entry »

Interruptions of the Spirit & the Future of Mission 2

Monday, April 15th, 2013 by Amos Yong

This past three days, I have been inspired at the Missio Alliance conference. My own role in the conference was fairly modest: a workshop on mission in a pluralistic world originally slated jointly with Dallas Willard, but given his ill health – pray for him! – with a Willard scholar, Gary Black Jr. from Azusa Pacific University, and a plenary session on mission with Jo Saxton.  Jo and I were invited to focus on the role of the Spirit, the gospel, and the future of mission.

The title of our plenary was inspired by Jo, who wanted to foreground how the mission of the gospel oftentimes irrupts in and through our lives, for those of us willing to embrace and live into such, through the unexpected and unanticipated work of the Holy Spirit. While Jo did the “pentecostal thing” of testifying to the Spirit’s intruding work in her life, I did the “theologian thing” by reflecting on the “interrupting Spirit” of Pentecost in Acts 2: a phenomenology of interruption (2:5-13), the unbounded scope of the Spirit’s interruption (2:17-18), the personal identity of the interrupting Spirit as the Spirit of Christ (2:22-24), the diachronic identity of the Spirit from David Israel to Jesus (2:25-31), the radical interruptions of crucifixion and resurrection (2:32-36), the eschatological interruptions across space and time (2:37-39), and the interruptions of our status quo (2:40-47). Those interested in the details of this will need to wait for my extended commentary on Acts 2 (with Vince Le) that will appear in the World Bible Commentary later this year edited by Michael McClymond.

What I found, however, was that my thoughts on the ways in which the Spirit disturbs our conventional ways of life was consistent with the major thrusts of the conference. David Fitch of Northern Seminary, one of the primary organizers of the conference, summarized it well in some ad hoc remarks by saying that Missio Alliance was about finding a missional way between those who take a my-way-or-highway approach on the right and those who adopt an accommodationist stance toward culture on the left. Hence this was not about attempting to find a via media for its own sake, but in order to preserve the missional task of the church in a post-Christendom world.

My own thoughts on the interrupting Spirit from Acts 2 resonate with this missional vision. The work of the Spirit in Acts unfolds the mission of God for our times, if nothing else. Yet it does so precisely by establishing a people of God, indeed a fellowship of the Spirit, that lives into the footsteps of Jesus, himself the paradigmatic exemplar (in the Gospel of Luke) of what it means to lead a Spirit-filled, Spirit-empowered, and Spirit-interrupted life. Jesus proclaimed and embodied the coming reign of God and those upon whom he pours out of his Spirit (Acts 2:33) are invited to participate in that proclamation and embodiment – which means simply living according to the apostolic instantiation of Jesus’ Jubilee message. Doing so will bring about the missional “results” of apostolic obedience: “day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47, NRSV). Focus on the work of the Spirit as inspiring a missional people will cut through the most difficult theological, political, and real-life issues of our time since it has to do with living out the redemptive witness of God in a hurting world. Yet doing so also requires that we be open to the interrupting work of the Spirit? We are ready for such disruption and commotion?

Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission

Thursday, June 21st, 2012 by Brandon Kertson

Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission : Towards a Renewal Theology of Mission and Interreligious Encounter. Asbury Theological Seminary Series in Christian Revitalization Pentecostal/Charismatic Section. Lexington, Ky.: Emeth Press, 2011.

In the last century, renewal Christianity has exploded around the globe, particularly in the global South. In many countries experiencing the greatest growth, however, Christianity is not the dominant religion. Despite its rapid numerical growth resulting from intense evangelism and mission, little theological reflection has been done as to how the burgeoning movements should live and minister in the midst of such a pluralist world. Global Renewal, Religious Pluralism, and the Great Commission, edited by Amos Yong and Clifton Clarke, contains a series of papers presented and refined at a symposium held at Regent University in February of 2010 to address just this, the nature of the Christian mission in a religiously plural world from a renewal perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Hope, the Gospel, and Mission

Saturday, November 13th, 2010 by Diane Chandler

The scene is Mongolia, a nation of three million people situated to the north of China.  It is late evening, and five of us are worshipping the Lord in both the English and Mongolian languages.  One of the young Mongolian men present has been attending our Bible study and has made friends with other Christian Mongolian young adults.  He is spiritually hungry.  He is searching.  He has no hope. 

He is ready to entrust his life to Jesus.  The simple gospel of freedom from his past and freedom unto an eternal future coalesces into the reality of God’s love for him, Jesus’ sacrifice on his behalf, and sins forgiven.  In that instance, he becomes transformed through this blessed hope.  He is learning that Christ in him is the hope of glory (Col. 1:27), not some fanciful expectation or dreamy goal but rather a sure reality of a living God whose story he has not only internalized but whose life he now lives.  

This young Mongolian man saw the Gospel lived out in the lives of his believing friends.  As Stanley Hauerwas notes in his book A Community of Character, “The only way we learn of Jesus is through his story as we find it in the Gospel and as we see it lived in the lives of others” (p. 44).  This young man saw the change in his believing friends, as they reflected the deeper reality of inner transformation demonstrated in a changed sense of ethics and the new community of character to which they belong.  These other Mongolian believers demonstrated Hauerwas’ famous statement that the church is, rather than has, an ethic, meaning that the Church is the demonstration of this transformation and we are charged with both living and sharing this story (p. 11).

Read the rest of this entry »