Saturday, June 17, 2006

Moltmann's Thoughts About Missions

Jurgen Moltmann is perhaps my favorite contemporary theologian. I appreciate that he has something to say about important issues being faced by the church and even the world. I believe, he has something to say not only to the church but also to the world. And he does it through his theological discourse. This is the reason that the world appreciates Moltmann, he is a theologian, not for the church alone but for the whole world. In this post I related his ideas with my experience in the mission field.

One of the members of our small, struggling church here in the border of Thailand and Myanmar was put to jail by his employer. He was oblivious that his employer was taking him to jail that morning. The main reason was, he is planning to have a long leave of absence to train as Bible teacher for a month. His employer did not like it, seized his working permit and put him into prison. It was good that the police felt sorry for our friend that he was released and was deported to Myanmar.

Stories like these are very common here. We often hear stories of injustice and human right violations from all Burmese migrant workers we come to know and love. We believe that God brought us here because he knows that we can do something about the state of affairs. Our mission is not only to share the gospel but do something to fight the injustice being committed to the people who are victims of political mess in their country.

Moltmann have something to say about this by emphasizing that church mission is mission dei. The concept here is that mission is neither a program of the church or any mission organization but rather mission is an attribute of God. Mission comes first from the heart of God and we are caught up in it rather than initiating it. Mission is primarily the work of God and we participate with God in what he is doing. Missio dei is this:

The Father sends the Son,
The Father and the Son send the Spirit,
The Father and the Son and the Spirit send the church into the world.

Moltmann, however, reverses the order; he emphasizes the significance of the role of the Holy Spirit in doing mission. He believes that the Holy Spirit is the source of life and the giver of life. Thus he says that, “God’s mission is nothing less than the sending of the Holy Spirit from the Father through the Son into this world, so that this world should not perish but live.”

Only through the knowledge that Christian mission follows this sending principle that mission can be done correctly. This will prevent Western missionaries to dominate other people by their religion. I emphasize Western because we, missionaries from the Third Word, could not and would not in any way dominate our target people, we just don’t have the weight to do it.

Even though missiologists have been introducing radical changes in doing church mission in the last two decades, Moltmann asserts that up to now there have been no considerable changes with regards to mission as done by the West. He says,

“Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread of the Christian imperium, Christian civilization, or the religious values of the Western world. Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread and propagation of the church that guarantees eternal salvation. Up to no mission as we know it has been the communication of the personal decision of faith and personal experiences of conversion.”

I could not agree more, I have been attending missions conferences and still those statistics are being emphasized in reports. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you are doing great things for God, but if you are not winning people and hadn’t start a church, almost everybody would conclude that you have failed and criticism about your ministry are on the way.

Although these stuff are important, for Moltmann, the success of missions depends on the accomplishment of the Holy Spirit as the giver of life—new life, whole life, full life, undivided life and eternal life. He points out that in the traditional missionary endeavors the role and activities of the Holy Spirit are too narrow. Mission is the mission of life and it is the work of the Holy Spirit because he is the source and giver of life.

It seems that many missionaries are on the field for the reputation of their mission board. They want the mission board to look better. They are indifferent to the situation of the people, they are bent to accomplish what they want to do with disregards to the people they supposed to be ministering. Some missionaries are not sacrificing enough. They still live in a mansion and isolate themselves with the people. They are not determined to adopt the host culture and they are keen on living just like they do it at home. Yes, they are doing some missions work but they have not been the agent of the Holy Spirit in sharing life to others. As long as they accomplishing something… they feel good about it.

Moltmann would say that it is not right to spread Christian values or civilization to these people who have been suffering enough, who have been around death. Here people are suffering from human rights violation, injustice, exploitation and discrimination.

Jesus deals with those issues first before he would tell people about God. For Jesus, it is the most effective way of telling them about his Father, by extending his love towards them. Jesus is life. Where Jesus is, there is life. Where Jesus is, sick people are healed, sad people are comforted, marginalized people are accepted, and the demons of death are driven out. The Holy Spirit does the same. Christian mission should be about giving life… it’s about declaring war against all forms of death, anything that threatens and prevent people from enjoying life.

Missionaries should always remember that missions originate from the heart of God. We have to get out of the structure of religion to the kingdom of God, out of the church to the world, from being self-centered to giving hope to the whole world.

Monday, June 12, 2006

On Christian Missions and Missiologists

For the last three years of my life, I have been learning a lot about missions. I have attended a lot trainings and seminars that increased my knowledge about missions. I am convinced that there is indeed a great progress in missiological studies and it can be observed by many books and publication that surface which deals with the issues in missions trends today. It is interesting how anthropology and sociology jumped into the wagon to contribute to the ever expanding study about missions. Cross-cultural studies, ethnocentrism, contextualized theology, worldview, etc are common words in theological discourses today.

It has been observed also that there is a burgeoning missionary activity today. Even the third word countries are sending more and more full-time missionaries to foreign countries. This is in addition to a large number of short-term missionaries being sent month after month by different missions organizations and local churches. This means that there are missionaries out there in the field who probably lack the trainings necessary to become a missionary, or even worse… do they know what missions is all about?

It is interesting to find out what most Christians think about missions. My elderly pastor in my home church would tell me that mission is church planting. For him mission does not necessarily mean that a church should send missionary to a foreign country. For him as long as you are doing church planting you are a missionary. This is the reason why this pastor is so unsympathetic with our decision to go cross-cultural missions.

Here is another good definition of theology and you often hear this from well-meaning and dedicated Christians. A mission is going places to tell others about Jesus but they would add these words… “But of course you don’t have to leave home to be missionaries, the people in you neighborhood is your mission field and they need to know Jesus also.

This guy had a good picture of what missions is all about when he says that “When I think of missions the first word that comes to my mind is GO! Matthew 28:19-20 (also known as the Great Commission) states “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you, and, lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.” I can just heard God shouting from heaven “Hey y’all Christians down there, get up out of those pews and GO and while you’re going TELL everyone about Me and my Son, cause it’s great news guys, in fact, it’s the greatest news on Earth!” This is indeed a good definition the church mission. Here the main point of doing mission is telling others about God and Jesus Christ.

I believe no one can give a good definition of missions other than the missiologists. I will quote directly from a school of missions website (sorry I Could not remember the URL and I can’t find it anymore). Missiology is the integrative study of the expansion of Christianity as it has been propagated by Christian missionaries—the study of missionary work—draws together scholarship in biblical, historical, doctrinal, and practical theological studies. Missiologists would define missions as the cross-cultural expansion of Church of Jesus Christ.

Missiologists reflect on the global march of the Church, they use tools from the social sciences to understand various dynamics. Insights are drawn from cultural anthropology, ethnology, sociology, geography, and political science. Missiology seeks to develop strategies for effective missionary work and church planting. In doing their work, missiologists interact with a wide range of professions, especially those of agriculture, education, medicine and public health.

For that reason, most of the materials, seminars and trainings we have been using and attending have been developed by missiologists. Almost all of the knowledge we are acquiring about missions are results of the efforts of the missiologists. Undoubtedly this is one of the reasons that missionary movements in this era have been increasing and that even the third world have been significantly involved in missions.

However, I find it interesting to know what great theologians have to say about Christian missions. I believe their thoughts and ideas regarding mission would make a very important contributions to contemporary missions. This will be the ideas I want to explore in my next posts.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Thoughts On The Trinity with MacGrath's Help

I thought that everyone who considered themselves evangelical are trinitarian. However, in the Philippines, a unitarian group called oneness considered themselves as evangelical also. In this blog, I will try to look at the doctrine of the Trinity and relate it in the Philippine context with materials taken from Allister McGrath's Christian Theology: An Introduction.

Some theologians say that you can cite only two verses from the Bible that could possibly support the Trinitarian structure. Nevertheless, the foundations of the doctrine of the Trinity are found in the pattern of divine activity in the New Testament. A Unitarian conception of God is inadequate to contain this dynamic activity expressed in the doctrine of the Trinity. As McGrath says, “the doctrine of the Trinity can be regarded as the outcome of a process of sustained and critical reflection on the pattern of divine activity revealed in the Scripture, and continued in Christian experience. This is not to say that Scripture contains a doctrine of the Trinity; rather, Scripture bears witness to a God who demands to be understood in a Trinitarian manner."

The Historical Development of the Doctrine

Tertullian invented the terms Trinitas (Trinity), persona and substantia. It was his influence that the term Trinity became normative in the western church. Persona literally means “mask” which seems to imply that “that the one God played three distinct yet related roles in the great drama of human redemption” (295). It means that God was understood as one God who acted in a multiplicity of manners within the “economy of salvation.” The term subtantia was introduced to express the idea of unity of God; substantia is what the three persons have in common.

The doctrine of the Trinity resulted from the issue about the relationship of God to Christ. Irenaeus distinguished the roles of the Father, Son and Spirit within the economy of salvation. In the east, the tendency was to emphasize the three persons and in order to protect the unity, stressed the fact that the Son and the Spirit were both derived from the Father. On the other hand, in the west, the tendency was to emphasize the unity in revelation and redemption and explain the relation of the three persons in terms of mutual fellowship. The term used is “mutual interpenetration” (perichoresis). Another idea is the “appropriation.” The argument is that God exists in different “modes of being” at the different points in the economy of salvation.

Trinitarian Heresies

The two most important forms of Trinitarian heresies are “modalism” and “tritheism.” Modalism states that the self-revelation of the one and only God took place in different ways at different times. Tritheism on the other hand, wants to convince that the Trinity consists of three equal, independent, and autonomous beings, each of them is divine. Unity is explained in the sense that each person has one common divine nature.

Six Models

McGrath surveys six approaches to the doctrine of the Trinity. First is the Cappadocians. This is basically a modalistic approach. Its distinctive feature is the priority assigned to the Father. Their approach is best understood by its emphasis on divine unity and that godhead exists in three different “modes of being”. They explained Trinity by appealing to the relationship between a universal and its particulars.

Secondly is the Augustinian model. All the persons in the Trinity are co-equal though Son and Holy Spirit appear subordinate to the Father. The distinctive feature of this approach is the Holy Spirit’s identification with love. The Holy Spirit is the love that bounds the Trinity together. He also developed a “psychological analogies.” Trinity can be traced by looking at the human mind—the triad of mind, knowledge and love.

Thirdly is the Karl Barth’s model. The activity of the Trinity is best seen in God’s revelation of himself. God has spoken in revelation and human being could only understand and respond to the revelation through the Holy Spirit. Thus, the Father is revealed in the Son and the Spirit interprets the revelation. The most difficult aspect of Barth’s Trinity is the idea “revealedness” (Offenbarsein). It is about recognition of revelation as revelation that constitutes this “revealedness” and it is the work of the Holy Spirit. This is necessary because of sinfulness human is incapable of understanding the revelation. The weakness of Barth’s approach is its tendency to be modalist.

Fourthly is Karl Rahner’s analysis of the relation between the “economic” and the “immanent” Trinity. Economic Trinity is a way in which human experience the diversity and unity of God’s self-revelation in history. Immanent Trinity is God’s diversity and unity as it is in God. In other words, the way God is revealed and experienced in history corresponds to the way in which God actually is. “The same God who appears as a Trinity is a Trinity. The way in which God is known in self-revelation corresponds to the way God is internally” (310).

Fifthly, from a Lutheran perspective, Robert Jenson provides a fresh understanding of the Trinity. He sees the need to remain faithful to God’s self-revelation. The argument is that “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is the proper name of God who is revealed through Jesus. It is also a corresponding identifying description. In biblical polytheistic culture, the term god does not provide enough information. Hence, the doctrine of the Trinity identifies and names the Christian God in accordance to biblical witness. It serves as a protection of the concept of the Christian God against the developing concepts of god from polytheistic contexts such as Hellenistic culture. Thus, a personal conception of God derived from metaphysical speculation is a new way of understanding the Trinity. “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” is a proper name that Christians are asked to use in addressing God in accordance with God’s revelation in history.

Finally, John Macquarrie’s approach comes from an existentialist perspective. God’s dynamism requires a Triune understanding, if not then human could have devised other ways of understanding God. He explores the dynamic conception of God within Christian tradition in the following manner. The Father is the primordial being. The Son is the expressive Being and the Holy Spirit as the unitive Being. Macquarrie’s idea is helpful because it links the doctrine of Trinity with the existential situation of humanity. Its weakness is the assigning of existential functions to the persons of Trinity.

The Filioque Controversy

McGrath explore the issues involved in the filioque controversy. Filioque means “from the Son” an additional phrase added by the western church centuries later to the Nicene Creed. The Greek theologians could not agree with the idea that the Holy Spirit proceeds form the Father and the Son. They hold that there is only one source of being within the Trinity. Some theologians believe that this disagreement contributes to the split of eastern and western churches.

For the early Greek patristic writers the Latin approach seemed to express that there are two sources of divinity in the Godhead, they argued that the distinction between Son and the Spirit were became unclear and it tended to depersonalize the Holy Spirit. However, the Latin intent was to ensure the distinction between the Son and the Spirit and show their mutual relationship. They argued that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son not from two origins but from one. MacGrath concludes that the controversy would continue for a long time.

Application to the Contemporary Situation

The doctrine of the Trinity defies explanations. Christians have realized that there is no analogy that could explain the “mystery” of the Trinity. Analogical attempts to explain it only resulted in heresies. Many Christians upon intense reflection of their strongly held understanding of the Trinity realized that it is not enough.

In the Philippines in general, Christians mostly in Roman Catholics are just resigned to the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is a mystery and an attempt to explain it is a useless undertakings. This doctrine will remain a mystery. This is a doctrine that is illogical but accepted because it is the tradition handed to them by the church. Perhaps, it is because of the tendency of the Filipino to be polytheistic. It is easy for Filipino “Folk Christians” to believe that there are many gods. It is discussed in the class how Mary was considered divine without any problem.

On the other hand, the Iglesia ni Cristo, one of the largest Filipino independent sects considered as cult refuse to believe in the Trinity because of its illogicality. Their stance is very similar to Arianism. Basically, if one wants to be Christian but could not accept the doctrine of the Trinity he or she can become a member of this sect or Jehovah’s Witness for that matter.

In Evangelical churches, the importance of the doctrine of the Trinity to the health and growth of the church has not really been explored. But some observations will be made here. First, evangelicals seem to focus much of their attention to the second person of the Trinity—Christ. The Father and the Holy Spirit are only mentioned occasionally. This “overemphasis” in Christ is responsible for the emergence of a cult called “oneness” meaning that Christ is both the Father and the Holy Spirit—heresy of modality. Second, with the renewed focus on the Holy Spirit, many churches tend to focus on the activities of the Holy Spirit. Evidently, explosive growth occurs when the church claims that the Holy Spirit is openly working in the church. But this reporter believes that a truly healthy evangelical church is a Trinitarian church.