Bored with a ‘me gospel’?: what integral mission is and is not

The opening chapter of Relentless Love: Living out Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict is by Graham Joseph Hill, the book’s editor. It gives an overview of the theology and the challenges of integral mission within world Christianity and is our ‘way in’ to the subject. This post will mostly summarise Hill’s chapter and conclude with some observations and questions.

Shifts within World Christianity

Two shifts are happening within Christianity globally

1) By 2025, two-thirds of Christians will live in Asia, Africa, Oceania, the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Latin America. The centre of gravity of world Christianity continues to move South, away from Europe and North America. And it is proportionately less and less White.

2) The second shift, Hill contends, is towards an integral understanding of mission where social justice and gospel proclamation are united within a holistic framework.

It is in the Majority world where missional growth is happening – and, Hill argues, it is also in these contexts where there is a passion to bring healing, justice, freedom and transformation to individuals and communities. Frequently that includes the poor and most vulnerable.

Hill does not quite put it this way, but the implication is that rather than a flow of knowledge, expertise, resources from ‘the West to the Rest’, it is the rich West that has much to learn from the majority world.

It was René Padilla who first coined the term ‘misión integral’ and it carries a sense of reaction against Western theological atomisation that artificially split apart the gospel and its social implications. You can get a sense of his rejection of common Western priorities in this quote from Padilla:

‘Integral mission … understands that its goal is not to become large numerically, nor to be rich materially, nor powerful politically. Its purpose is to incarnate the values of the Kingdom of God and to witness to the love and the justice revealed in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Spirit, for the transformation of human life in all its dimensions ..’

What Does Integral Mission Look Like in Practice?

It begins not with what the church is doing, but what the church is.

The church has integrity when it brings together ‘being’ and ‘doing’; the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘physical’; the ‘individual’ and the ‘social’; the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’; ‘justice and ‘mercy’; ‘witness’ and ‘unity’; ‘preaching truth’ and ‘practicing truth’ and so on.

Hill quotes from the Micah Declaration on Integral Mission that local churches as ‘caring and inclusive communities are at the heart of what it means to do integral mission’

Hill argues integral mission reflects the character and action of God:

“Our God is a missionary God who cares deeply about the well-being of whole persons, whole communities, the whole world. Integral mission arises out of this missional nature of the triune God. Since God is missional – his church is also missional, and must care about the same things.’ p.9

Mission that is integral is always transformational. It moves towards God’s vision of restoration being actualised in all relationships – social, political and economic. It is therefore, Hill argues, attractive to people who are marginalised, poor, suffering and oppressed.

Such mission needs resilience and long-term commitment to people and communities. It will involve confronting evil and injustice as it seeks to cultivate hope, justice and dignity for all. It is a vision of mission that involves partnership, humility in sharing in Jesus’ reaching out to the despised, the marginalised, the powerless and the sick.

It leads to engagement ‘outside the gate’ of comfortable and secure Christianity.

What Integral Mission is Not

As noted earlier, such a vision has a polemical or reactive edge against abstract or detached (Western) theologies of the gospel

“When the church ignores issues of justice, peace-making, poverty, and reconciliation, it denies the call of God and refuses to reflect the image of Christ. We can never allow our gospel to become so compromised and disfigured that it becomes ‘a conscience-soothing Jesus, with an unscandalous cross, an other-worldly kingdom, a private, inwardly limited spirit, a pocket God, a spiritualized Bible, and an escapist church [whose] goal is a happy, comfortable, and successful life, obtainable through the forgiveness of an abstract sinfulness by faith in an unhistorical Christ.’” (Hill p.9. Quoting Costas, Christ Outside the Gate: Mission Beyond Christendom (1982, p. 80).

And again

“The gospel should never be reduced to a privatized individualistic gospel that is only about God dealing with personal sin and pain. God redeems us from the power of sin and death … But the full gospel of Jesus is much more expansive and cosmic than mere personal and individual forgiveness of sin.” p. 10

Hill quotes Simon Leigh-Jones

‘“I’m bored of a gospel that’s only about me, my soul, and I. I’m bored of a gospel seemingly offering no good news about a dying planet. I’m bored of a gospel almost silent on issues like racism, gender inequality, and global injustice.” The gospel Leigh-Jones describes is common in the West, but it is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ (p.11).

TWO Observations

  1. The first is an observation on ‘What Integral Mission is Not’.

I’m still thinking about Ruth Graham’s NYT article on the Hillsong USA and the story of celebrity pastor Carl Lentz. I haven’t been able to get something she said in passing out of mind.

Hillsong’s “great innovation was to offer urban Christians a religious environment that did not clash with the rest of their lives.”

Think about that for a moment. It’s a devastating little sentence. It locates Hillsong squarely in the type of Christianity described above in ‘What Integral Mission is Not’. The contrast between a ‘cool’, wealthy, celebrity enamoured Western megachurch and the ethos and priorities of integral mission could not be sharper.

I am not sure they can even fit together within something called Christianity.

[And I have absolutely no axe to grind with Hillsong or Carl Lentz. I hadn’t heard of him until reading the article and I know very little about Hillsong. I mention the story because it is in the news and it speaks of a much larger problem.]

2. The second observation relates to ‘What Does Integral Mission Look Like in Practice’.

Theologically, the emphasis within Integral Mission on the integrity of the church, and on what the church ‘is’, finds deep parallels in the NTs emphasis on love as the ethos and goal of the Christian life. Love as an end in itself and not as the means to something else.

Thomas Jay Oord has written much on love (not without controversy but that’s another day’s discussion). He defines love like this

‘Acting intentionally, in sympathetic response to others … to promote overall well-being.’

Love, so understood, describes well how the Micah Declaration, René Padilla and Graham Hill talk about integral mission as a concern for the whole person and whole communities.

I’m not a missiologist and don’t claim any expertise when it comes to the extensive literature of integral mission, so I may be missing something here. But I find it intriguing that love is not front and centre when it comes to framing a theology of mission. Kingdom of God, justice, gospel are prominent themes but love seems marginal at best.

Is this, perhaps, another example of the curious marginalisation of love within much Christian theology and praxis? (For more on this see The Message of Love)

In other words, I’d like to see love itself more integrated within theologies of integral mission.

Relentless Love: Living Out Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict

This book arrived in the post the other day

Relentless Love: Living Out Integral Mission to Combat Poverty, Injustice and Conflict, ed by Graham Joseph Hill (Langham Global Library / Micah Global, 2020).

The book comes out of the 7th world assembly of Micah Global held in the Philippines.

The development of Micah Global reflects a movement within world evangelicalism towards ‘integral mission’ or a more holistic understanding of the Gospel. One that takes seriously the mission of God’s people to be engaged at the coal face of work against poverty, injustice and conflict.

Where proclaiming the gospel goes alongside demonstrating the gospel.

Much of this book is a combination of research, reports and theological reflection on the praxis of integral mission globally.

Such work is difficult, slow, often dangerous and confronts the powers that profit from poverty, injustice and conflict. Hence the theme of resilience.

No-one said following Jesus was easy.

One of the (many) endorsers of the book is my old friend Darrell Jackson, who is Associate Professor and Director of Research in Whitley College, Melbourne. Here’s what he says:

In these chapters you will find the biblical, theological, and spiritual reimagining that defines personal and collective resilience in the face of these contemporary realities. With heavy hearts, yet renewed energy and continued resolve, this book encourages us to say ‘No!’ to injustice and ‘Yes!’ to God’s shalom!

The table of contents are below. The voices mostly reflect a majority world perspective which matches Christianity’s move ‘southwards’. White European and North American evangelicals often still give the impression that the gravity of global evangelicalism revolves around them and their concerns. While they are are an important voice, they no longer are representative of the global church. The voices in these pages are.

That said there are some European voices and chapters – and two related to Ireland. One by yours truly and one by Father Peter McVerry. It’s an honour to have a chapter in a book like this, alongside many remarkable and brave people passionate about God’s world and God’s justice.

Since this blog is called ‘FaithinIreland’ I’ll look at both the Irish chapters in a couple of subsequent posts. The danger of this is of course that it skews the focus on a rich European nation. So there will be another post giving a sense of the global flavour of the book as well.

Contents

Foreword: Melba Padilla Maggay

Preface: Micah Global 7th Triennial Consultation. Integral Mission and Resilient Communities Address in Poverty, Injustice, and Conflict: Sheryl Haw

  1. Misión Integral: The Challenge of World Christianity: Graham Joseph Hill

Part 1: Resilience, the Church, and Integral Mission

2. Resilience and Integral Mission: David Boan

3. Righteousness, Suffering and Participation in Philippians 3:7–11: Integral Mission and Paul’s Gospel: Andrew Steere

4. Dangerous Resilience? The Institutional Church and Its Systemic Resistance to Change: Thandi Gamedze

5. Poorology:Getting the Seminary into the Slum. Viv Grigg

6. How Do Missionaries Become Resilient?Preliminary Findings from the Resilient Missionary Study: Geoff Whiteman, Emily Edwards, Anna Savelle, and Kristina Whiteman

7. The Gospel and the Future of Cities. A Call to Action. Participants of the Gospel and Future of Cities Summit

Part 2: Resilience, Peace, and Justice

8. Biblical Teachings on Social Justice: Manavala Reuben

9. Addressing Gender and Leadership Gaps in Development-Oriented Organizations: Amy Reynolds and Nikki Toyama-Szeto

10. Deeper Understanding for More Resilience in the Work for Peace and Justice: Vilma “Nina” Balmaceda

11. God’s Preference for the Poor: The Bible and Social Justice in Ireland. Patrick Mitchel

12. Worship and Justice: Spirituality that Embodies and Mobilizes for Justice. Sandra Maria Van Opstal

13. Proclamation and Demonstration: CB Samuel

14. What Is Required?: Florence Muindi

15. Beyond Compassion to Solidarity: Peter McVerry

Part 3: Resilience, Spirituality, and Compassion

16. My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?” The Necessity of Lament for Spiritual Resilience in Contexts of Poverty and Injustice. Clinton Bergsma

17. Building Resilient Communities: The Importance of Integrating Mental Health and Well-Being in Effective Development Thinking and Practice. Becca Allchin, Stephanie Cantrill, and Helen Fernandes

18. Indigenous Voices: The Spiritual Strength of the Peoples of Abya Yala. Jocabed Reina Solano Miselis

19. The Gospel and Resilience in the Pursuit of the Common Good. D. Zac Niringiye

20. Against All Odds – and Ends. Ruth Padilla DeBorst

21. Resilience and Disaster and the Church’s Response. Johannes Reimer

Part 4: Resilience, Mobilization, and Partnerships

22. Building Resilience with Local Churches and Communities. Jané Mackenzie, Chris McDonald, Stanley Enock, and Mari Williams

23. Church and Community Mobilization in Cooperation to Build Resilient Communities in South East Asia. Fennelien Stal, Debora Suparni, Arshinta Soemarsono, and Norman Franklin C. Agustin

24. Lessons from the Frontline of Global Movement-Building. Reflections from Three Years of Tearfund’s Restorative Economy Approach. Naomi Foxwood, Richard Gower, Helen Heather, and Sue Willsher

25. North and South: Boureima Diallo

Part 5: Summaries from the Six Consultation Tracks

26. “Church and Community Resilience” Consultation Track: The Church at the Heart of the Resilient Community. David Boan

27. “Church and Corruption” Consultation Track: Martin Allaby

28. “Formation for Integral Mission (Discipleship)” Consultation Track: Tori Greaves and Ruth Padilla DeBorst, INFEMIT

29. “Urban Shalom” Consultation Track: Joel Kelling and Fiona Kelling

30. “Reconciliation as the Mission of the Church” Consultation Track: Johannes Reimer

31. “Integral Mission and Community Health” Consultation Track: James Pender, Jim Oehrig, and Sara Kandiah

32. Final Remarks: Integral Mission and Community Resilience. Sheryl Haw

Bibliography

About Micah Global

List of Contributors

Book Notice: World Christian Encyclopedia 3rd Edition

The Third Edition of thWCE 2020 3rd ede World Christian Encyclopedia has just been published. Edited by Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo, published by Edinburgh University Press (2020) and produced by The Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) based at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

I was a co-contributor on the article on Ireland. Going from the accuracy and detail of that article this enclyopedia is a remarkable achievement, giving up to date analysis and summary of Christianity in individual nations globally.

The following is clipped from a recent newsletter of the CSGC on the shift of Christianity to the global south, the pressing social and political challenges millions of Christians face there, and the importance of women taking up leadership positions for the health and vitality of God’s global church.

One important finding of the latest WCE is the continued shift of Christianity to the Global South. In 1900, 18 percent of all Christians lived in the Global South. In 2020, 67 percent of Christians live in the global South. The single greatest change has been the remarkable and rapid growth of Christianity in Africa. From only 1.7 percent in 1900, by 2050, 39 percent of all Christians worldwide will live in Africa. For Protestants, this figure is even higher. Today, 44 percent of all Protestants are Africans and by 2050 it will likely be 55 percent.

The third edition of the WCE is different from the first two editions in its efforts to highlight pressing social issues of today’s world, ranging from conflict and violence, persecution, Christians in politics, and theological education, to medical ministries, gender inequality, etc. All of these have significant impacts on mission in places with low rankings on socio-economic-development measures.

While awareness is increasing of the growth of Christianity in, for example, sub-Saharan Africa, many overlook the critical realities that Christians face there. They are simply more vulnerable and less healthy than Christians in the West.

Another finding of the WCE is the contribution of women. Women play a tremendous role in churches around the world, ranging from ordained pastoral leadership to healthcare and education. Churches should think clearly about the unique contributions and gifts of women and encourage them to rise up into leadership positions.

In line with the changing face of global Christianity, the CSGC newsletter uses the image below, “Peace, Be Still” by Chinese-born artist James He Qi. Blending Chinese folk customs and Western art it portrays Jesus

James He Qi Christ
Credit James He Qi

 

 

A plea for disbelief

For a couple of reasons I’ve been thinking about the myriad number of assumptions inherent within the western ‘way of life’. By assumption I mean an expectation of normalcy – something that has nothing remarkable or unusual about it, it is just assumed to be part of ordinary everyday life.

And yet how transient and ephemeral such expectations are. You and I exist as a blip in time. We inhabit a 21st century western culture that is itself a (admittedly significant) blip within the flow of human history.  Our location within the West carries a truckload of assumptions that do not apply in most of the rest of the contemporary world.

So I started to jot down assumptions of daily western life. It’s a simple exercise that raises questions about how deeply and pervasively your Christian faith and theology proper (view of God himself) is shaped by those assumptions. I suspect far more that we can begin to imagine for theology itself emerges out of the intersection of culture and revelation.

Without going all the way with radical postmodern deconstructions of human nature, it appears self-evident that human identity is remarkably malleable. Probably it is this adaptability and flexibility which has been the key to humanity’s bewildering globalised cultural diversity.

Of course any missiologist or missionary to the developing world (or vice versa) knows this in a more personal and real way than I do for I haven’t lived outside the West. And you dear reader, will have your own experiences and perspectives which you are welcome to add.

Some daily assumptions set against imagined contrary realities of life on the margins of the developing world.

not only the prayerful hope of daily bread, but the easy and endless availability of daily feast

– plentiful and clean water at the turn of a tap [contra hours of labour, toil and danger for a polluted and contested resource]

– of travel pretty well anywhere in the world and at anytime I want (and can pay for) [contra the undocumented paying a ransom to risk all in an open boat across the Mediterranean]

Coffins of victims from a shipwreck off Sicily are seen in a hangar of the Lampedusa airport (Reuters)

– legal rights: of citizenship; to justice; a fair trial; to be presumed innocent; [contra imprisonment for calling for greater state transparency]

– of instant access to information about pretty well anything courtesy of pervasive, omnipresent technology [contra life without google, information or basic technology; a daily battle for survival]

– of equal opportunities for men and women [contra where women are exploited, silenced, abused and disempowered]

– of education for all at primary, secondary and (for most) at tertiary levels [contra where education is a pipe dream for the wealthy]

– of endless choice: choice ‘to be who I am’; choice of partner; choice of job; choice of clothes and ‘my style’; choice of religion; choice where to live; choice of what to consume; choice of sexuality; choice of friends; [contra where I have few if any choices of any sort]

– that the police and army of the state will protect its citizens [contra where the organs of the state are the enemy to be feared]

– of a long and healthy life and of access to health care [contra deep familiarity with infant mortality, war, violence, death and disease]

– instant electricity at all times for heat, light, power, TV, internet, [contra grinding hours of work finding scarce fuel]

– of a modernist ‘life narrative’ of safe birth, education, employment and career, family, retirement [contra having few if any expectations of any sort]

 – the ability to plan ahead – tomorrow, next week, month, year, that holiday next summer [contra knowing that planning is for the rich]

– of ‘weekends’ off work [contra where leisure is unimagined]

– that death is hidden, rare and should only be for the old [where death is an everyday part of life]

– of the consumer right (and ability) to complain (and maybe be listened to) [contra having no voice, being silent and invisible]

– that a good education, hard work and ambition will get you where you want to go [contra where all of these things are beyond reach and child labour is the norm]

– that ‘our’ Western consumerist ‘way of life’ is secure, natural, progressive, sustainable, normal, and good [contra it being recent, atypical, increasingly unstable, and built on a mixture of empire, colonialism, economic exploitation of weaker nations, and unsustainable use of global resources].

– that ‘I’ can change things and make a difference for good [contra long acceptance that things have always been this way]

OK, these are big generalities; I’m simply trying to paint a picture of alternative experiences, alternative realities, alternative cultures that co-exist globally today. (And I’m sure this could be done within Irish culture without pitching it on a West vs the Rest scale).

The question I have is how different would your and my Christian faith be if we lived in that ‘contra’ world? Can we even begin to imagine an answer to that question? What have we to learn from Christian voices from that world?

What deeply held assumptions do we as Western Christians have that are much more cultural than Christian?

Over what do we get shocked, surprised or disillusioned when life (and therefore God) inconveniently fails to match our expectations of what ‘should be’?

Paul liked gently to remind the Corinthians that they actually didn’t know it all and really should have known better. Where should we really know better than to believe the cultural assumptions of our host culture?

Or, to put it another way, where should we be ‘disbelievers’ in the story of the West?

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Urban Theology 15: the gospel and Pentecostals in the Global South

We’ve reached the final chapter of David Smith’s Seeking a City with Foundations:  theology for an urban world. Part 1 engaged with urbanization; Part 2 with the biblical narratives, this section seeks to be an interpretative bridge between the two, working towards a theology for an urban world.

What then is a Christian response to our urban world?

Smith paints a crucicentric picture:

1) The death of Christ reminds us of the systemic evil confronted at the cross

– such evil has cosmic dimensions

– the cross is a victory over the powers of evil and is a reminder of the continuing power of evil and injustice

2) The cross is a reminder of the character of God and his relationship to the world

– the suffering love of God which reaches into the darkness to offer salvation, forgiveness and joy

– the cross reaches out across deep barriers in a divided unequal globalised world

– the cross reaches out beyond personal faith, to world transformation

3) The cross leads to the resurrection of the vindicated Son of God

– Urban mission brings hope, significance and meaning to a culture marked by a loss of hope and frequent boredom and meaninglessness

4) The cross and resurrection are followed by the Pentecostal gift of the Spirit which creates a new covenant community.

This leads to a new urban form of community, visible and public and attractive.

And Smith links Pentecost with the explosion of Pentecostalism globally. The new community of Acts 2 is found afresh in the favellas and barrios of Latin America and the Global South. It is the poor and dispossessed and marginalised who make up the majority of the world’s Christians. Who find community and hope in the 21st century version of the early church. The sheer scale of global Pentecostalism has the potential to effect massive social change.

Smith is not uncritical or naive – global Pentecostalism has its warts and they are big juicy ones (my language here!). But it has the potential to change the world in parallel ways to the first Pentecostal church. These are poor churches, but they contain seeds of hope.

How’s this for a challenging quote to us Christians of the rich West?

The testimonies of humble Christians  … bear compelling witness to the power of the gospel in creating hope in desperate situations, but they may also cut through the coldness and complacence of churches which have existed so long in contexts of material satiation that they have forgotten the liberative life-bestowing power of the gospel. 231.

The Global South arrives in force in Dublin

A couple of months ago, my wife and I were invited to attend the 4th annual ‘Holy Ghost Service’, organised by the Redeemed Christian Church of God (Ireland). Gotta say we had a blast – an unforgettable experience.

And safe to say that I’ve never been at an event remotely like it. And I’ve sort of been processing that night in my head ever since, and this post is a bit of that processing out loud ….

This meeting must easily be one of the largest religious gatherings in the country. Somewhere between 15-20,000 people in one location (a giant marquee in City West Hotel). It started at 8pm and went on (I’m told, we’d gone home) til about 3am.

First some context. The RCCG is a Nigerian Pentecostal denomination, and apart from the Roman Catholic Church, now one of the largest Christian denominations in the Republic of Ireland – maybe bigger that the ‘established’ Presbyterians and the Methodists.  Their stated aim is to have one RCCG church within 5 minutes drive of every person in Ireland …. can’t say they lack vision and ambition.

The RCCG is huge in Nigeria and the Dublin event had ‘daddy’ G.O. and’ mummy’ G.O. (Mr & Mrs E A Adeboye, G.O. = General Overseer) there as guest speakers which was obviously a very very very big deal indeed for everyone there…. (reminded me of our audience with the Pope but that’s another story 😉

I’ve been re-reading a favourite book (which if you haven’t read it you should, it’s fascinating), Philip Jenkins’ The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South. What he does so well is compare and contrast different ways Southern and Northern hemisphere Christians read the Bible, and especially how the ancient world of the Bible ‘speaks’ so directly into the contemporary world of much of the Global South.

And reading Jenkins provides a framework for interpreting what was going on that night in Citywest.

This was ‘global South’ Christianity in Dublin. More specifically, this was African Christianity in Dublin. And more specifically still, this was full-on Nigerian Pentecostal Christianity in Dublin.

There were numbers of Irish people there and the RCCG is making serious efforts at bridge-building both with other Christians and public bodies. On the (distant) stage were leaders of various organisations including the major of South Dublin Country Council.

My reactions were a mixture between being inspired and uplifted during amazing praise & singing, being hugely impressed at the sheer organisational effort behind such a massive one-off event, enjoying the wonderfully prepared children’s orchestra and singers,  – along with various levels of theological and cultural ‘discomfort’.

I’m not going to go into the theological ones here on what was just a once-off experience (and we did not stay til the early hours when the main preaching happened). I’d rather turn things around – and ask what questions does such an event – and the nature of African Pentecostalism – pose to Irish Christians?

Here are some ….. and maybe you can add your own.

Expectancy that God makes a difference in life

There was a tremendous sense of expectancy that God would show up. In the huge choir and led worship (what singing); in the profuse and active prayer with everyone standing praying together out loud, calling out to God in a cacophony of sound; in how prayer was led from the front with a deep sense of approaching a holy and magnificent God. And tied up in these attitudes is the deep down belief that God is real, he will make a difference in your life. God will be seen by what he does. In the expectation of conversion, repentance, healing – God is alive and active and visibly so.

Good and Evil

At one point there was a long, and frankly to my western mind, rather bizarre sketch of guys dressed up as demons laughing at their success in keeping a succession of people under bondage – to illness, to fear and so on. Until Jesus turned up on stage, vanquished them and liberated the victims to a life of joy and victory.

Jenkins puts it this way:

‘For post-Enlightenment Christians in the West, the demonic elements in the New Testament mean so little that they are scarcely even an embarrassment any more …’ Jenkins, p98

Global South Christianity, and especially African Pentecostal theology, takes evil seriously. In a culture surrounded by occult, paganism and acts of great evil, as well as natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and famines – the reality of deep spiritual warfare in woven into the fabric of faith.

Authority

Linked to this was an incredibly strong sense of authority. I mean this in a couple of ways. First the ultimate authority of God – there was huge respect for his word and a tangible expectation of God speaking powerfully through it. God was present and to be listened to.

Jenkins makes the telling point that in much of the Global South, the Bible is a ‘new’ book , a sacred text from God that has power and authority.

‘But for Christians in contemporary Africa and Asia, it is this newly discovered Bible that fascinates, and that burns from within. Reading this book opens the door to real inner power’. Jenkins, p.25

Second, and closely linked, was a huge sense of the authority of God’s ‘Spirit anointed’ leaders – both men and women. There was tremendous respect and honour given to the ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ G.O. of the RCCG worldwide, Pastor E A Adeboye and his wife. Leaving aside the fact that she was leading thousands in prayer, never have I been at a church meeting where a woman has led with such authority.

Global Realities

And this night was a reminder of another thing Jenkins says – and which Western Christians need reminding of. So often in the Christian blogging and publishing world, esp in the USA, there is still a deeply inbuilt assumption that the USA and the West is the ‘default form’ of evangelical Christianity. Again and again whole internal conversations go on with no hint that there is a much bigger world out there.

When will we westerners ‘get’ that the West is no longer the ‘norm’ – ‘the’ Christian perspective against which all others are measured?.

Whereas in the past you might read about curious forms of marginal Christian experience such as ‘African theologies’ or ‘Asian theologies’ – soon the boot will be on the other foot and we will know when the shift has happened when we start reading about the curious characteristics of  ‘North American theologies’ or ‘Western European theologies’.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

Pakistan again

From time to time I receive email news releases from the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). One a couple of days ago was on a second assassination in 2011 of a moderate voice in Pakistan, this time of Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and Pakistan’s Minister for Minority Affairs.

Shahbaz Bhatti

Here is a clip of the WEA statement.

Minister Bhatti was an outspoken critic of Pakistan’s blasphemy law and had been calling for its abolition. Pamphlets left by the assassins labeled him an “infidel Christian” and cited his opposition to the blasphemy law as the reason for his assassination.

The killing of Minister Bhatti underscores the peril religious minorities in Pakistan are facing as a result of the blasphemy law and the culture of animosity this law continues to foster within the country.

Dr. Tunnicliffe met Minister Bhatti just recently to discuss the situation in Pakistan and plan a high level visit to Islamabad by WEA leaders.

Ten days ago Shahbaz Bhatti was re-inducted into the cabinet of the government of Pakistan. According to Minister Bhatti his induction “had sent a wave of joy and encouragement among the religious minorities across the country, especially the Christian community”.

Yesterday, a day before his assassination, Minister Bhatti wrote in a communication with Dr. Tunnicliffe, Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance:

“I personally believe that it is Jesus Christ who has once again bestowed unto me this responsibility and position with a special purpose and mission to serve the suffering humanity and I am determined to carry on defending the principles of religious freedom, human equality, social justice and the rights of minorities.

If you have a moment today, do pray for the family of Mr Bhatti, for the Christian communities in Pakistan, for individuals like Asia Bibi and for courage for those working for justice and tolerance in that nation.

Religion versus Asia Bibi

Here is an important point on a life or death issue  – that of religious freedom. The guy making it is Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher is Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom of the World Evangelical Alliance.

The statement is particularly responding to a move by Pakistan to make ‘Defamation of Religion’ a human rights violation within the UN Human Rights Council and UN General Assembly. Such a move would turn the very notion of religious freedom for individuals on its head.

Asia Bibi's husband and 2 of 5 children

It was for supposed ‘blasphemy’ against the Prophet that a Roman Catholic Christan, Asia Bibi, was sentenced to death last November.

Punjab Governor Salmaan Taseer, who spoke up on her behalf, was assassinated earlier this month.  Any perceived insult against Islam or the Prophet Muhammad becomes a capital offence.

Here’s a clip of what Prof Schirrmacher said:

(T)he New Testament report (Acts chapter 19) about the tumult in Ephesus shows that persecution and the violation of religious freedom are often heavily intertwined with other factors. The persecution in Ephesus was plotted by silversmiths whose profits from the Diana temple declined because of Christian preaching. Similarly … the writer of Acts describes very positively how the representatives of the state, in light of Roman law, could peacefully end the persecution. The state must protect Christians from persecution, not because they are Christians, but because it is the task of the state to maintain peace and justice for all, including Christians. Precisely because Christian churches have long recognized the monopoly of the state in the use of force, they neither want nor can defend themselves against violent criminals; they must rely on the protection of the state. In situations where this protection by the state is not provided, or if violence against Christians even comes from a state, others states need to raise their voices.

The Pope and the EU Parliament have requested that she be freed. Individuals can act as well – here is one site which outlines a number of way through which you can act on her behalf – and, by doing do, on behalf of religious freedom in Pakistan.

Joel Edwards on Cape Town

Here’s a really good article by Joel Edwards, head of the Micah Challenge on Lausanne III in Cape Town. He does a great job of capturing how God builds his church through the foolishness of persecuted, marginalised and apparently unimportant – and that means less and less the rich west and more and more the exploding church, in all its messiness, in the Global South.

He’s coming to Dublin to speak at a joint IBI, Tearfund and IMap Conference ‘Urban Nation: reimagining the Church’ in late January 2011. Details here.

World Christianity 11: reading the Bible North and South

Continuing discussion of Philip Jenkins’ fascinating book, The New Faces of Christianity: believing the Bible in the Global South.

The final chapter, chapter 8, is ‘North and South’

Throughout this book we’ve seen how the Bible seems to speak freshly and powerfully to many Global South churches since it addresses directly many strands of real life that are not part of Northern experience:

– discerning between true and false prophets

– food and famine and harvest

– water and thirst

– spiritual wealth and poverty

– spiritual warfare

– suffering and persecution, including by a dictatorial unjust state.

– the marginalisation and disempowerment of women

And this context means books of the Bible take on a whole new hue. James is a prime example. If your life is likely short and perilous, a vapour, how will that shape how you live? Where how widows are treated is a matter of life and death. Where the rich are warned against and prayers for healing accompanied by annointing are prescribed. Indeed there is no issue that more starkly divides North and South than that of healing.

This all raises some interesting questions:

1. Stereotyping grossly, can it be said that the decaying, secular, disbelieving churches of the North are dying, and the believing, authentic, expanding churches of the global South are being blessed by God with growth. Is it a case that the Lord resists the proud and exalts the humble?

Jenkins provocatively puts a slightly different question this way

Is the traditional, biblically orientated Christianity, evangelical or otherwise, destined to disappear with economic growth and maturation? Briefly, is there an equation between Christianity and development?

In other words, has the West ‘outgrown’ Christianity? Is this evidence in support of the secularisation thesis that says that poorer countries are more religious and vice versa?

He answers this question with a NO. The secularisation thesis is less and less accepted today and does not hold up – Christianity is strong in the USA and in many better off parts of the global south.

Yet, it may well be IMHO, that indeed God is blessing the ‘foolish’ things of this world (the powerless, the poor, the uneducated) to humble the wise (the rich, the powerful, the ‘wise’).

2. What challenges does this book pose to Western Christians?

Jenkins suggests listening to Global South Christians will help us Northerners re-hear the Old Testament. He refs 9/11 and the confusion as to how could God allow such evil? Yet such a question is a Western one, disconnected from the wisdom literature of the OT and the hope of apocalyptic literature like Daniel.

3. Is there one authentic ‘form’ of Christianity?

Jenkins also concludes that historically Christianity has always taken many diverse forms. It is not as if Northern Chrisitanity is less authentic or real. The real challenge for the future is for Christians from North and South to listen to each other seriously and learn and grow in the process.

He hopes here that Northern liberals and Southern conservatives can better understand each other and so avoid schism (as with Anglican ordination of gay bishops in the USA). Here is one of the few places in the book that I think he is simply naive. They understand each other all too well. The former is departing from historic and biblical faith and no amount of understanding will alter that reality.

He concludes the book saying  that we should beware the next sensational claims to have uncovered the ‘truth’ about the Bible [Dan Brown in mind here?] because

Reading the Bible through fresh eyes constantly reminds us of the depths that still remain to be discovered there … In reality, the answers in plain sight are quite amazing enough.