Category : Theology: Evangelism & Mission

Christianity Today: Reflections of an African Theologian on Mission

Christianity Today has a really interesting interview with Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole. We found his reflections on the interaction between church and culture particularly interesting in this age of globalisation and important to consider as we reasserting Anglicans form new partnerships with the Global South.
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From Tower-Dwellers to Travelers
Ugandan-born theologian Emmanuel Katongole offers a new paradigm for missions.

Interview by Andy Crouch | posted 7/03/2007

Christian leaders from five war-torn countries of East Africa gathered in Kampala, Uganda, last November to strengthen the church’s witness in the midst of conflict. They were convened by Emmanuel Katongole, a Catholic priest whose biography embodies both ethnic tension and Christian hope. Katongole was born and raised in Uganda, the son of Rwandan parents. His father embraced Christian faith as an adult, and his joyful seriousness about Christianity shaped Katongole, who joined the priesthood and trained as a philosophical theologian in Belgium. Katongole now teaches at Duke Divinity School, where he is co-director, with Chris Rice, of the Center for Reconciliation. He spoke with Andy Crouch about this year’s big question for the Christian Vision Project: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God’s mission in the world?

You’ve lived on three continents and in four countries, and your parents were from yet another country, Rwanda. How does your story affect your understanding of God’s mission in the world?

Being an immigrant can be a blessing. God’s mission, as I read it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, is new creation. God is reconciling the world to himself. And there is a sense of journey that is connected with that. When, later on, Paul says that “we are ambassadors of God’s reconciliation, God is appealing through us,” he is inviting us into a journey toward a new kind of community. People looking at Christians should be confused. Who are these people? Are they black? Are they white? Are they Americans? Are they Ugandans? In Revelation, John sees people drawn from all languages and tribes and nations: an unprecedented congregation. Living on three continents has deepened my understanding of the church as such a congregation; at the same time, it has heightened my sense of Christian life as a journey and of what it means to live as a pilgrim, a resident alien.

That is reminiscent of the name Christians gave themselves in Acts, “people of the Way.”

That is, the way of Jesus. I also take that to mean people on the way, on pilgrimage. We have settled too easily. Instead of living out that story of journey toward a new creation, we tend to live out the stories of nationality. And then we forget what it means to journey. It’s not difficult to see why we settle, because our nations or tribes or races try to convince us that life can’t get any better than this. They ask us, “Where would you want to go? Why would you want to leave?” This is not just something that happens in a superpower like America. Even small nations like Rwanda, even small tribes, have an America-sized imagination of themselves!

The challenge that Christianity faces in our time is the challenge of tribalism. There’s a church in Rwanda where the baptismal font still stands. But it bears the scars of being hacked by machetes, and the church was littered with thousands of bones of people who were killed. You couldn’t find a more strange and ironic and tragic image than that: a common baptism surrounded by killing in the name of Hutu and Tutsi.

Many of us feel we are beyond that, but the dynamics of national identity remain””even of ecclesial identity. We can be settled in our Catholic power. We can be settled in our Baptist, Episcopalian, Pentecostal, or evangelical identity, and we feel a certain power from that. We think that our mission derives from that power.

The story of the tower of Babel begins with people settled in the land. The tower speaks of strength, power, and stability. It speaks of the ability to stand above the land and survey it. Pilgrims don’t build a tower! In our day, I think what God is doing is exactly what he did for that tower””dispersing people, spreading them out, scattering them. Scattering, the way I read it in Genesis, is a good thing. It is part of God’s purpose for God’s people. It is meant to be good news for both Israel and the nations.

[…]

Are specific places and local identities important in a life of pilgrimage?

Absolutely. Pilgrimage actually makes us more aware of localness, because it brings us into contact with specific places and people. People sometimes ask me how “the church in America” should relate to “the church in Rwanda.” But that level of abstraction grows out of a tower-building mentality. There are only specific Americans from specific places with specific gifts and stories; there are only specific Rwandans.

The language of culture actually prevents us from engaging other people. It leads us to see ourselves as permanently separate from them: We have our culture, and they have theirs. It keeps us from allowing others to radically challenge us””that’s just their culture, you see, and it does not have anything to do with our culture.

What would it mean for Christians to have a certain naiveté about all these things called culture? How do we inhabit what we might call tactics instead of strategies? Strategy is the posture of an army, of a nation state, of a business that is able to conduct surveillance of its territory and all others. Tactics, on the other hand, are weapons of the weak, of those who have no place to call their own, who live in a territory that is surveilled and controlled by others.

Isn’t that a waste of our capacity to think strategically?

There are two dominant models of mission in our time. There is the model of mission as aid, which arises out of the great need we see in the world””famine, AIDS, poverty””and also out of a recognition of how much American Christians have. So American Christians go to Africa to help. This can be criticized as giving a person a fish for a day, but if that person is starving, then this model of mission actually does some good. A lot of people are being helped by this kind of mission. But the problem is that from this mission, Christians return to a tower. Their world remains their world, and Africa’s world remains Africa’s world.

Then there is the model of mission as partnership. It arises out of a sense of mutuality and solidarity between churches in the North and the South. So churches develop sister-parish relationships and so forth. The hope is to teach people how to fish, to equip them to do the fishing.

But as far as I can see, the pond in which they fish is still their pond. Christians in America have their own pond. We are still talking about your pond and our pond!

This model also overlooks the difference in power between America and the rest of the world. One gets an impression that because of the numerical strength of Africa’s church, Africans Christians can be equal partners with their Western counterparts. But we cannot pretend that the power of America does not exist. There is a new desire to learn from one another, but how deep does the learning go?

Read it all here.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, Africa, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

Foreign Missionaries Find Fertile Ground in Europe

The “Amens!” flew like popcorn in hot oil as 120 Christian worshipers clapped and danced and praised Jesus as if He’d just walked into the room. In a country where about 2 percent of the population attend church regularly and many churches draw barely enough worshipers to fill a single pew, the Sunday morning service at this old mission hall was one rocking celebration.

In the middle of all the keyboards, drums and hallelujahs, Stendor Johansen, a blond Danish sea captain built like a 180-pound ice cube, sang along and danced, as he said, like a Dane — without moving.

“The Danish church is boring,” said Johansen, 45, who left the state-run Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church three years ago and joined this high-octane interdenominational church run by a missionary pastor from Singapore. “I feel energized when I leave one of these services.”

The International Christian Community (ICC) is one of about 150 churches in Denmark that are run by foreigners, many from Africa, Asia and Latin America, part of a growing trend of preachers from developing nations coming to Western Europe to set up new churches or to try to reinvigorate old ones.

For centuries, when Europe was the global center of Christianity, millions of European missionaries traveled to other continents to spread their faith by establishing schools and churches. Now, with European church attendance at all-time lows and a dearth of preachers in the pulpits, thousands of “reverse missionaries” are flocking back, migrating from poor countries to rich ones to preach the Gospel where it has fallen out of fashion.

The phenomenon signals a fundamental shift in the power, style and geography of Christianity, the world’s largest religion. Most of its more than 2 billion adherents now live in the developing world. And as vast numbers of them migrate to Europe, as well as to the United States, they are filling pews and changing worship styles.

Churches in countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Korea and the Philippines have sent thousands of missionaries to Europe to set up churches in homes, office buildings and storefronts. Officials from the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Pentecostal church based in Nigeria, said they have 250 churches in Britain now and plan to create 100 more this year. Britain’s largest church, run by a Nigerian pastor in London, attracts up to 12,000 people over three services every Sunday.

Read it all.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Europe, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

Singapore theologian Simon Chan: The Mission of the Trinity

You have written a great deal about liturgical theology, but missional theology seems more popular these days.

I think that missional theology is a very positive development. But some missional theology has not gone far enough. It hasn’t asked, What is the mission of the Trinity? And the answer to that question is communion. Ultimately, all things are to be brought back into communion with the triune God. Communion is the ultimate end, not mission.

If we see communion as central to the life of the church, we are going to have an important place for mission. And this is reflected in the ancient fourfold structure of worship: gathering, proclaiming the Word, celebrating the Eucharist, and going out into the world. The last, of course, is mission. But mission takes its place within a larger structure. It is this sense of communion that the evangelical world especially needs. Communion is not just introspection or fellowship among ourselves. It involves, ultimately, seeing God and seeing the heart of God as well, which is his love for the world.

In many services today, the dismissal into the world is quite perfunctory. But if you go to an Orthodox service, you’ll be amazed at the elaborate way in which the end of the service is conducted. It’s not just a word of dismissal””there are whole prayers and litanies that prepare us to go back out into the world.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * International News & Commentary, Asia, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

John G. Stackhouse: A Bigger””and Smaller””View of Mission

I am a professional theologian, so of course I think theology matters. Theology can help us live better or worse, depending on its quality. But theological accuracy is not the heart of the gospel. Encountering God’s Spirit and responding in faith to him in that encounter is what finally matters. And how God meets people, through whatever theology they might have, in whatever circumstances, is ultimately not visible to us.

Indeed, I believe that many people raised in non-Christian religions””such as bhakti (devotional) traditions in Hinduism in which they worship a single supreme God and trust him for their salvation (however badly understood this is from a Christian point of view), or Judaism or Islam, to pick examples closer to home””have a clearer and more authentic apprehension of God than many people raised in ostensibly Christian homes and churches in which a terrible distortion of God is taught and little access to the genuine gospel is available. To confine the scope of salvation to those who have heard certain facts about Jesus and who come to accept him on this basis, therefore, is not necessitated by the Bible, and in fact is not even the best way to understand the Bible.

Let me also affirm that the preaching of the Gospel is the normal way God uses to draw people to faith. So we must not sit back and say, “Oh, well. Since God might encounter people through other methods””dreams and visions, perhaps, or even a distorted monotheism of some non-Christian sort””then we don’t have to go.” No, we do have to go, because evangelism is obviously the New Testament’s fundamental mode by which people encounter God. This is the main means God has ordained for us to use, and we are disobedient if we do not use it. And the environment of all but the most pathological Christian church is normally far better to cultivate discipleship than any other religious community””of course it is.

All I am arguing for here is that we do not confine salvation to this normal mode, shutting off any other possibilities and therefore implying, if we don’t say so outright, that millions of people have been lost forever simply because they lived in Asia, or Europe, or Africa, or the Americas, or anywhere else before gospel preaching got there.

Furthermore, we must beware of a second problem that lies nearby. And that is the idea that missions is all about getting people saved, and particularly about rescuing their souls from hell so that they can go to heaven. Multiple theological errors, in fact, attend this view of salvation.

God is not interested in saving merely human souls. He wants human beings, body and soul. Furthermore, he does not settle for saving human beings, but the whole earth. He made it in the first place, pronounced it “very good,” and he wants it all back. So he is saving us, the lords he put over creation, as part of his global agenda to rescue, indeed, the globe.

What God rescues us to, furthermore, is the original agenda he set out for us in Genesis 1, namely, to “fill the earth and subdue it.” He planted a garden for us to tend (Gen. 2) and commanded our first parents to raise up generations of gardeners to fan out across the earth to till the rest of it. This is what it means to bear the image of God. We, too, are to improve the situation, to cultivate what we encounter, to make shalom in every sector of life. And such work is our ultimate destiny as well, as we are to “reign with him” over the new earth he promises (2 Tim. 2:12). Thus we are not going back to Eden, nor up to a (spiritual) heaven, but forward to the New Jerusalem, which comes down from heaven to earth as our proper home (Rev. 21).

The Christian gospel therefore is not a narrowly spiritual one, but literally embraces everything, everywhere, at every moment. Every action that brings shalom””that preserves or enhances the flourishing of things, people, and relationships””is the primary will of God for humanity. Christians ought therefore to recognize and affirm anything our neighbors do to make peace, whether those neighbors intend to honor God or not. Indeed, we can cooperate with them in those ventures, since we see in them the divine agenda of shalom.

And our mission to the world extends far beyond evangelism. Yes, evangelism is the special work of the church, for only we Christians have been entrusted with the great good news at the center of God’s redemptive plan, at the heart of which is the life and work of Jesus Christ. But our evangelism itself issues a call to “life abundant” that embraces everything good in the world, not just the spiritual. And as we work away at our generic human work alongside our neighbors, but in the light of the Bible’s affirmation of such work, we demonstrate what it means to live in that light, which is the light of heaven now and also of the world to come.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Theology, Theology: Evangelism & Mission, Theology: Salvation (Soteriology)