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Review of Melani McAlister, The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals

Melani McAlister. The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. 408 pp. Hardcover. $29.95.

Because of the enormity and importance of the church’s task in the present, it can be tempting for some to undervalue the study of its past, especially when that discussion goes beyond the evaluation of specific methodologies and approaches to kingdom work. Yet, it is precisely because of the enormity and importance of its task that the church of the present can ill afford to be ill informed of its history. Though it offers little in the way of practical instruction (that is not its purpose), Melani McAlister’s excellent The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals provides readers a thoroughly researched, well-crafted, and sensitive but not sycophantic portrayal of the activities of American evangelicals on the world stage over the last half-century.

McAlister’s work builds on archival materials from a wide array of collections, supplemented by fieldwork, and its chief contribution is its broad perspective. Operating from a global vantage point, rather than merely local or national, allows McAlister to identify two major positions of American evangelicals vis-à-vis the rest of the world, This enables her to challenge past interpretations (usually situated at the national level) that have assumed a fixed evangelical predisposition towards American exceptionalism. First, McAlister contends that American evangelicals have often exuded an “enchanted internationalism” toward the wider world which has sought a powerful, revitalized version of the faith on foreign shores in order to inspire greater devotion at home. Second, McAlister notes the prevalence of “victim identification” rhetoric, or the desire to find global unity in a perceived shared experience of persecution, illustrating that some American evangelicals understood themselves to be living under the same kinds of legal and political constraints as persecuted evangelicals abroad. Whether seeking spiritual revitalization from their coreligionists or perceiving a shared burden with them, then, American evangelicals have understood themselves to be less exceptional than many scholars have previously argued. “The paradox at the heart of evangelical internationalism,” McAlister ultimately concludes, is that “God’s kingdom . . . is conceived as universal, borderless. And yet evangelicals, like everybody else, have lived in a world deeply divided by national borders, inhabited by refugees and migrants, riven by dramatically uneven distributions of wealth and power, and dominated by the United States as the most powerful state the world has ever known” (13).

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders consists of three thematic sections of five chapters apiece. The first section, “Networks,” illustrates how American evangelicals devoted themselves to creating organizations and institutions in pursuit of global community from the late 1950s onward. These conferences, television programs, publications, seminaries, Bible colleges, and the like have played, and continue to play, key roles in evangelical identity formation. At the same time, evangelical unity has been tested and sometimes fractured by political developments at home and abroad, such as the Civil Rights Movement or the process of decolonization in Africa. Even the famed 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization (the Lausanne Congress), McAlister observes, reflected the complex reality that while a younger, more socially conscious faction of evangelical leaders was coming to the forefront of the movement, “both groups—evangelism-first and social concern—would come to see Lausanne as their moment of triumph” (87).

“Body Politics,” the second section, covers the time period from 1967 to 2001 and tells how human bodies came to serve not only as sites of physical suffering but also as symbols of the suffering of the body of Christ worldwide. One manifestation of this trend came with the persecution of evangelicals under communist rule, publicized and dramatized by Romanian pastor Richard Wurmbrand, which spurred on the formation of a transnational evangelical identity rooted in suffering. Though the threat of communism served to unify evangelicals worldwide, the racial politics of South African apartheid did not. Defenders of the status quo and those who sought to challenge the system of racial segregation and exploitation both attempted to claim the mantle of bodily suffering at the hands of their foes. In subsequent decades, the popularization of the “10/40 window,” the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the rise of “political Islam” did much to reshape the aims of missions experts, and American evangelicals became increasingly fixated on enshrining protections for religious freedom in law at home and abroad as the twentieth century came to a close.

The third and final unit, “Emotions,” builds on the insights of philosopher Sara Ahmed and highlights the importance of emotion as a motivating force for American evangelical activity abroad. “For those of us who study international affairs,” McAlister admits in one of her relatively few theoretical asides, “this approach takes us far away from rational actor theory by suggesting that our rationalities and our emotional attachments are deeply intertwined.” (13) Topics in this section include the rise in popularity of short-term missions, often undertaken with the laudable goal of spiritual formation but frequently producing mixed or negative results in the locales visited. The aftermath of 9/11 and the increased presence of the American military in the Middle East have also served as divisive forces in American evangelicalism writ large, with many prominent figures demonstrating blatant Islamophobia and others seeking a productive working relationship between faiths. Even domestic political issues have had dramatic consequences for evangelical missions abroad, as wider US cultural changes have often outpaced similar shifts overseas. “When those disjunctures appeared,” McAlister observes, “it became clear that humanitarianism, debates about church doctrine, sexuality, and concerns over neocolonialism with the church were fundamentally intertwined.” (266–67)

The Kingdom of God Has No Borders is the product of a decade’s worth of work by a scholar with a remarkable ability to balance the forest of global perspective with the trees of individual lived experience. Of particular note in this regard is McAlister’s discussion of short-term missions in chapter eleven, which counterposes participants’ generally lofty intentions with the more ambiguous outcomes generated by such endeavors as a whole. Typographical errors do occasionally distract from the otherwise clearly written and logically organized presentation of the material. One unfortunate example in the epilogue has Donald Trump’s Department of Justice submitting a brief in the fall of 2016, rather than 2017, in the case of Materpiece [sic] Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. (288) Yet the fact that these errors—which are not representative of the work as a whole—are some of the most notable shortcomings of the book should provide readers a sense of just how remarkable McAlister’s work is. Both academically- and practically-minded readers will benefit from her challenging and thought-provoking analysis.

John Young

Assistant Professor, Turner School of Theology

Amridge University

Tuscaloosa, AL, USA

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Review of Martha E. Farrar Highfield, A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ, Southeastern Nigeria (1953–1967)

Martha E. Farrar Highfield. A Time to Heal: Missionary Nurses in Churches of Christ, Southeastern Nigeria (1953–1967). Los Angeles: Sulis Academic Press, 2020. Paperback. 332 pp. $19.95.

Martha E. Farrar Highfield has made an exemplary contribution to mission studies with this 332-page, carefully researched monograph on Churches of Christ medical missions during a crucial era in West Africa. Her recent book A Time to Heal will provide helpful background to those interested in African missions in general, and in medical missions in Nigeria in particular.

Farrar Highfield is well-positioned for this undertaking, as she holds an RN and a PhD in the field of nursing. She spent her academic career at California State University, Northridge, and recently retired with Emeritus status.

The author’s interest in African missions was sparked when her family moved to the region of Onicha Ngwa, southeastern Nigeria, in the summer of 1964. Her father, Henry Farrar, was an MD who aspired to get involved in medical mission work for some years before. Her mother, Grace Farrar, was a registered nurse. They heard the “Macedonian Call” during the early 1960s and, with several other American medical practitioners, made the ambitious decision to establish a hospital supported by Churches of Christ. Indeed that hospital became a reality on August 21, 1965, and was named the Nigerian Christian Hospital (NCH). The hospital continues to serve mainly the Ibo people, near Aba, a city of nearly three million inhabitants. The hospital now services around 20,000 patients annually. It employs 150 workers, including six full-time physicians.

At the heart of the book is a series of tensions and frustrations. The Farrar family was in Nigeria during a most turbulent time—the Nigerian Civil War, which lasted from 1966 to 1970. It is heartbreaking to read of the extremely difficult work and all of the red tape to get the hospital established, only to have it completely destroyed during the Nigerian Civil War. The hospital was gutted during the war and left riddled with bullet holes. Henry Farrar’s commitment to the hospital remained firm, however, and he worked tirelessly to resurrect the work he and his family had poured their lives into. He and his wife continued to mentor nurses and physicians through annual visits that lasted until 2009.

This book is a blow-by-blow history that will prove to be extremely valuable to those with interest in the topic due to the incredible amount of painstaking research that has been compiled. Initially, Farrar-Highfield had few resources to work with in order to compile this history, as there is a scarcity of documentation and archived sources. This is a common frustration for missions historians affiliated with Churches of Christ, as that fellowship has no centralized sending agency similar to most Christian denominations. Indeed the notion of autonomous congregations sending missionaries is the norm in the Churches of Christ. Thus, it is left to chance whether a particular mission has preserved its history in documented form. Some missions were fairly adept at recording their reports and activities, but that seems not to have been the norm. Farrar-Highfield conducted numerous interviews, listened to oral histories, and visited private collections to piece this story together. It is thus richly told with intimate perspectives on what was happening in Nigerian missions during those years.

Farrar-Highfield states that her purpose in writing this book was to “describe missionary nurses’ leadership in COC healthcare in Nigeria (v),” and she succeeds in this endeavor. There is a particular concern with women’s history throughout that is refreshing. That is not at all to say that the men of the story—doctors and evangelists mainly—are ignored. Rather, Farrar-Highfield maintains a healthy balance by moving back and forth between the key male players and their obvious reliance on the women who served the mission as equals.

The most obvious readership for this monograph will be those associated with Nigerian missions—particularly Church of Christ missions—during the 1950s through the 1970s. Academic historians who focus on medical missions will find much valuable information. Nigerians desiring to understand the cross-cultural, collaborative efforts that led to the Nigerian Christian Hospital will be heartened to read of the sacrifices that were made to get this project up and running. Westerners led the initiative, but Nigerians saw it through to become a reality.

Nigeria’s Christian population is massive today—around 100 million souls strong. This story is a careful, granular study of how that incredible growth happened in one corner of the nation. Focusing on spiritual growth alongside physical healing, many people came to Christ in Nigeria due to the efforts of the people discussed herein. All the while, the author tells a kind of family history that is obviously very meaningful for her and likely served as the fuel to complete the challenging task of seeing this work through to the finish.

Dyron B. Daughrity

Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

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A Phased-Hybrid Training Approach for Missionaries

This article describes new approaches to making Integral Ministry Training accessible to more missionaries. Building on modern missionary training approaches such as hub-based phased training and online e-learning, the article proposes a phased hybrid e-learning approach. The approach can be used to bring practical and affordable training to more missionaries worldwide. The article discusses and evaluates an implementation of the approach. Finally, it calls for collaboration between mission organizations for the further development, implementation, and deployment of such training.

Missionary training has been shown to lower missionary attrition rates. Mission organizations with higher requirements for missiological training exhibit lower rates of preventable attrition. Research also found that pre-field missiological training contributes significantly to a missionary’s ability to persevere and to be fruitful in ministry.1

Nevertheless, many long-term missionaries are still going to the field with little or no missiological training.2 Few churches and mission organizations have enough in-house resources to provide their own training. Even when such training is available, expenses such as course fees, travel, and accommodation place such training out of the reach of many missionaries, especially those from the majority world.

The need for centralized training venues forces trainers to squeeze as much into each course as they possibly can. Trainees sometimes feel it’s a bit like “drinking from a fire hose.”3 Thankfully, new approaches to practical and accessible training that combine technology and face-to-face training are starting to become available.

This article starts with an overview of current training approaches such as Integral Ministry Training, competency-based syllabi, and the move towards just-in-time (JIT) training through the use of training hubs. From there it progresses to discussing approaches such as e-learning and blended learning. It then shows how these approaches can be combined into a phased hybrid training approach, and discusses an early implementation of the approach. Finally, it points out the need for organizational collaboration to fully implement the approach so that high-quality missionary training can be developed.

Integral Ministry Training (IMT)

The concept of Integral Ministry Training (IMT) is widely accepted in the world of missionary training.4 IMT is defined as follows: “Integral training delivers a learning experience that intentionally addresses the needs of the whole person, including their character and spiritual formation, skill development and their understanding.”5 In educational circles these three areas of learning are called affective, psychomotor and cognitive learning respectively. IMT adds spiritual formation to these areas.6 Good IMT-style training uses formal and non-formal training techniques. Formal refers to training developed and presented in a classroom at an educational institution such as a school or university. Non-formal implies any designed systematic educational activity that occurs outside a formal institution, with content that is usually adapted to the needs of individuals to optimize learning.7 Included in this approach are correspondence courses, apprenticeships and mentor-led work. Educators understand “informal” education through unintentional everyday life experiences and influences through which people acquire skills, abilities and knowledge spontaneously and unplanned. Learners are often not conscious of the fact that they learnt anything. Informal learning can happen at work, or in discussions with others, or through trial and error.8 Jesus regularly used informal learning style by telling parables, teaching groups of people, asking questions and having personal conversations.9

IMT is also designed with specific outcomes in mind. Robert Brynjolfson and Jonathan Lewis note that George Walker of New Tribes Mission explained these outcomes well when he wrote: “If church planting is the ultimate purpose of NTM,10 then to evaluate and redesign training we must start at the end and work backward.” They continue: “We all understood what he meant. We must start with what church planters need to know, be and do to be able to establish effective churches. Once we determined what church planters should look like, we could work backward in designing training to meet that goal.”11

IMT embeds important concepts12 that can be tested against a Christian worldview.13 The goal of a missionary curriculum is not only to increase learners’ effectiveness in serving Christ but also to motivate and assist them to grow in him. The training includes the use of numerous methods in several contexts and caters to different learning styles to achieve understanding and to develop certain practical competencies and attitudes. Both trainers and learners accept responsibility for the achievement of these outcomes because both parties are fellow servants, committed to extending God’s kingdom. Based on their experience, competence and authority, trainers guide the training process, accepting the uniqueness of each person’s gifting, calling, and personality. Learners are dependent both on their peers with whom they interact during the training and on the input from their teachers. Trainers understand the need for not only imparting knowledge but also teaching obedience and diligence that lead to maturity, understanding, and ultimately competence.14 The primary goal of IMT is to develop all the competencies missionaries need.

Competency-Based Syllabus

The competencies missionaries need in order to be effective have been well studied.15 Because the most important goal of missionary training is to produce competent missionaries,16 training should aim at producing competent missionaries.17 To this effect, Integral Ministry Training (IMT) seeks to form missionaries with competencies in the areas of attitude, character, skills and cross-cultural communication, in addition to biblical exegesis and theology.18

In 2009, researchers did a study of missionary practices linked to ministry fruitfulness. They interviewed hundreds of practitioners working among Muslim peoples in a multi-year, multi-organizational research project. The study identified factors that these practitioners recognize as contributing significantly to the building of churches among Muslims.19 Many of these practices require training in certain competencies, such as language proficiency, communication of the Gospel in the heart language of the people, discipling in locally appropriate and reproducible ways and finally, the use of a variety of approaches to share the Gospel and to disciple new believers.20

Hub-Based Phased Training

The Optimal Time for Training

Malcolm Knowles’s ‘readiness to learn’ principle points out that adults prefer to learn something close to the time when they will need to use it.21 Immediate practical use of knowledge and insights leads to higher-order learning and is also more likely to cement the new knowledge or skill in the learner’s long-term memory.22 Learning timed in this way is referred to as “just-in-time” (JIT), a term originally borrowed from supply-chain planning in the manufacturing and distribution industry. JIT learning has always faced the problem that the optimal timing for the learner is not always feasible for the instructor.

Most courses take place at a central location. However, the world of missions differs from other situations in that JIT means missionaries must attend a course just before starting to raise funds in their sending country, again once they are in the country and start learning the trade language, again once they start church planting, and so on. Because it is usually infeasible to provide conventional training in all these places and at the ideal times, most missionaries have to do intensive missionary training courses before leaving for the field. Such intensive courses are inevitably not JIT, and because of the need to convey a lot of information in a set time, the training feels a bit like the proverbial fire hose infusion (see above). This approach often leads to cognitive overload.23

JIT Missionary Training in a Hub-Based Phased Approach

Stan Parks described how these challenges can be reduced by using an innovative four-phased approach to missionary training.24 In this approach, training hubs at different locations present different aspects of missionary training.25 Each location is near to where missionaries are at different phases of their careers. This adjacency is made possible through interdenominational cooperation, with different churches or organizations providing training at each of the four training hubs.

The first phase, internship, is completed in the missionary’s home country. This phase consists of both theory and practice. The second phase, residency, is done at a training hub at the missionary’s starting point on the field, culturally close to their ultimate target Unreached People Group (UPG). The third phase, launch, is where missionaries start applying their earlier experience among their target UPG.26 During the third phase, the coaches and trainers from phase three continue to assist and guide them. In the fourth phase, the now-trained missionary leads a new team or becomes involved in training other missionaries who are in the earlier phases.27

Rob Hay et al. suggested a similar phased approach as a way of reducing avoidable attrition among missionaries.28 Even though they suggested only two phases, namely pre-field and on-field, these fit in with the four phases Parks suggested.

This hub-based phased training model is challenging the assumption that missionary training has to happen in a single location at a specific time. Furthermore, it agrees with the principle that adults should ideally be trained just before they need a new skill or knowledge (JIT). This phased model is a great improvement over the traditional training model, but it can be made even more effective by combining it with hybrid e-learning and situated learning.29

Online E-Learning

In 2003, Garrison and Anderson described the growth of e-learning as “explosive, unprecedented and disruptive” and predicted that it would transform all forms of education in the twenty-first century.30 They have been proven right by recent developments,31 and the worldwide Covid19 pandemic has been a stimulus to its growth.

There are numerous and diverse definitions for the term e-learning, ranging from “any learning that uses ICT [information and communications technology]” to “a fully online course.”32 In this article, e-learning means learning delivered, facilitated, and supported through the Internet by using multimedia and social media technologies to enhance learning. It can be presented synchronously or asynchronously, can be instructor- or self-paced, and can be combined with coaching and facilitation in a hybrid approach.

Synchronous and Asynchronous E-Learning

E-learning can be either synchronous or asynchronous. “Synchronous” refers to two things happening at the same time (synchronized). “Asynchronous” refers to events that are not happening simultaneously.

In the context of e-learning, synchronous training refers to situations in which lecturers use live online tools such as video conferencing, Web conferencing, text-only chat software, telephone-like voice over IP (VOIP) talks, or Internet radio.33 Asynchronous training refers to the use of learning management systems, virtual libraries or repositories of documents, illustrations, audio or video files, email, online discussion forums, social networking, wikis and other forms of collaborative documents with no direct ‘live’ interaction with the instructor.34

Learning in asynchronous courses can be either instructor-paced or self-paced. Instructors control the pace of a course similarly to a normal class, by “opening up” sections at certain dates and requiring students to hand in assignments before a target date. Self-paced e-learning is when learners decide their own pace of progress through the course. Even though self-pacing faces the danger of procrastination, learning no longer needs to be compressed into a short time,35 thereby avoiding learner cognitive overload.36

Even though the majority of educational institutions mostly use synchronous instructor-paced courses,37 training effectiveness does not strongly depend upon whether the training is asynchronous or synchronous. Research by Stefan Hrastinski and also by Garry Falloon demonstrated that both of these approaches can produce effective e-learning.38 There is no need to choose between the synchronous and asynchronous approaches, because an effective and practical balance can be achieved by using both. Such a balance increases the likelihood of creating an optimum e-learning environment for learners.39

Online Video Mini-Lectures

Online video mini-lectures in lecture sequences are fast becoming the most prominent medium for instruction in e-learning.40 Video mini-lectures are focused messages that cover a specific topic. They are “mini” in that they are short, usually in the order of six to twelve minutes each. Mini-lectures “chunk” content into meaningful pieces, which helps to enhance learner memory.41 The pedagogical roots of this approach lie in cognitive memory theory and specifically in the cognitive theory of multimedia learning. It has also become one of the best practices for online instruction.42

Training institutions typically concentrate significant resources into the planning and production of such videos. The most effective videos show the instructor’s face, making eye contact with the viewer for at least part of the video.43 Such purpose-made videos create more of a one-to-one connection between the instructor and the individual learner than videos recording during a lecture video capture.44

Based on a large-scale study of video engagement (6.9 million video watching sessions), Guo et al. found that videoing the instructor in tight frame and making eye contact with the learner resulted in engagement levels that were higher than with in-class filmed lectures and even with professionally made studio-setting videos.45 The same study found that the instructor’s rate of speech affected learner engagement, specifically, that learners performed better with videos where the instructor speaks faster.46 The authors found median engagement time to be at most six minutes, with engagement time decreasing with longer videos.47 Certificate-earning students engaged more with videos than others, presumably because of greater motivation.

Learner experience of video mini-lectures can be enhanced using additional technology. Some modern educational online video players offer enhanced features in addition to the standard play/pause and forward/rewind controls. A timed transcript can appear to the right of the instructor. Learners can pause the video, scroll back and click on text, causing the video to rewind and start playing again at that point. Furthermore, such players can speed up or slow down the playback speed of the video without affecting the pitch of the speaker’s voice. In this way, learners can change the speaking rate to suit themselves.

The fact that learners can rewind videos reduces the need for the use of repetition in lectures. A study has found that well-planned videos reduce the required lecture time. For example, lectures that took 400 minutes in the classroom could be reduced to only 260 minutes in video format, a 35% reduction.48

Social Media Technologies to Enhance Learning

Online text-based discussion forums offer an opportunity for e-learners to increase their critical understanding and develop an appreciation for diverse opinions. Online discussion forums can be effective for collaborative learning even in the context of asynchronous e-learning. Before writing, learners have time to reflect upon what their opinion of a topic is. This reflection helps learners who are shy in class or come from a culture with a high power distance index.49 In normal classes, more vocal fellow learners sometimes obscure the contribution of such shy learners.50 Some software systems can require learners to write a new entry on a discussion forum before they can view what others have written. In addition, they are required to comment on at least two or three other entries. Knowing beforehand that others will read and comment on what they write, they tend to think carefully about what they write before submitting it.51

The effectiveness of e-learning

In studying missionary training through e-learning, Lorna Wiseman drew several conclusions.52 She found that although cross-cultural ministry training is most effective when done in community, it does not necessarily have to be face-to-face to be meaningful. Furthermore, she found that personal and spiritual formation can take place in an e-learning environment.53 Interestingly, she also found that at least some of the “head, heart and hands” of missions training can be achieved with e-learning.54 Effective e-learning requires engagement and total commitment from both the learner and instructor in a proactive, learner-centered e-learning environment.55

To be effective, the e-learning process needs to include at least one person who can offer guidance and support, as learners would expect in a classroom. This person may be a subject expert or mentor who interacts with the learner via Internet technology such as Skype or Zoom, or a facilitator or advisor within the learner’s local context.56 Wiseman also found that it requires vision to see the opportunities that technology-based learning can offer and how it can enhance opportunities for relationships between distant instructors and learners.57 Blended learning offers such an opportunity.

Blended Learning

Blended learning is a combination of online video and classroom-based training that has created a quiet revolution in educational institutions around the world.58 Blended learning was developed to overcome learner cognitive overload while integrating the teaching of theory and praxis. Recent cognitive and brain research indicates that for the learning process to be successful, factors such as practical exercises and emotions need to be integrated into the learning process.59 Research has also found a significant correlation between the use of blended learning and improved learner engagement, achievement, and satisfaction.60 Blended learning especially benefits adult learners such as missionaries.61

A fascinating example of blended learning exists at the Vermont Medical School (VMS). VMS is phasing out lectures in favor of what they call “active learning.” One of their subjects is pharmacokinetics, which studies how drugs get to the target organ. This science has a strong theoretical component using mathematical equations. Instead of only giving lectures that present these equations and examples of how they work, VMS requires students to learn the equations via asynchronous e-learning before coming to the classroom. In the classroom, students work in groups where they solve pharmacokinetics problems. The university has found that students learn better by obtaining the theoretical knowledge and then using it soon afterwards, rather than by only learning the theory.62

Extrapolating this kind of learning to missionaries on the field could include learning about cultural surveys using online e-learning and then doing a cultural survey as their assignment. Upon their return, the team could have a discussion of what they found, facilitated by their team leader. This approach could be called situated e-learning.

Some see blended learning as the logical next step in effective instruction. The use of blended learning is an opportunity to innovate by combining modern technological advances in e-learning with the interaction of traditional learning. Classroom instructors can act as coaches who ask the right questions to stimulate thinking, or as mentors who dispense wisdom to individual learners.63

Hybrid Instruction: E-Learning Combined with Non-Formal Learning

The concept of blended learning can be taken into a slightly different direction by combining e-learning with non-formal training (coaching or mentoring). Face-to-face non-formal training, whilst forming an integral part of the training program, need not be in a classroom. In a missionary training setting, coaching or mentoring might take place in a church group setting, a missionary team, or even by using synchronous video-based conferencing tools such as Zoom.

Combining e-learning with non-formal learning techniques such as coaching, mentoring, group facilitation, and situated learning can bring traditional classroom advantages like immediacy and peer learning into hybrid learning. Coaches and facilitators need not be subject experts to achieve their goals. The expertise can reside in a combination of the online video mini-lectures and expert mentors who can interact with the learners through video conferencing. A larger part of the face-to-face learning process can then be achieved by coaches and facilitators who are not necessarily well-versed in the subject the group is studying. This approach introduces a paradigm shift in learning, because it is now possible to rethink where, when, and how quickly training should happen.

Rethinking the Pace, Time and Place of Training

Asynchronous hybrid e-learning makes it possible for course designers to choose between making their courses instructor-paced, learner-paced, or self-paced. David Kolb states that “learning is a continuous process grounded in experience.”64 Therefore, self-paced hybrid e-learning makes such learning feasible today because learning no longer needs to be compressed into a short time,65 thus reducing learner cognitive load.66

Because e-learners are not tied to a specific time and place where they will receive training, classroom and instructor availability is no longer as significant.67 This independence from pace, timing, and place has made phased training easier to implement.

Phased Hybrid E-Learning

In phased hybrid e-learning, the e-learning component can reduce the workload of training hubs. In some cases, it becomes possible to create online training hubs. These hubs, in turn, enable a finer-grained set of phases to suit the JIT requirements of a missionary’s training lifecycle. In the following list of phases, the numbers in brackets indicate each sub-phase’s position in the four hub-based phases mentioned earlier. The proposed phases are: (1) church, preparation, and short-term visit; (2) trade language and culture acquisition; (3) heart language and culture acquisition, initial evangelism, initial disciple-making, and church-planting and establishment; and (4) relocation, and return or teaching.68

This division of phases enables a paradigm shift in training: instead of dividing courses into levels like Anthropological Insights 101, 201, and so on, phased hybrid e-learning makes it possible to divide them into JIT sections. A language-learning course can be used to illustrate this principle. In the preparation phase, the future missionary gets an overview of the language learning process and is taught some basic language learning techniques. This knowledge helps her plan for language learning and set aside the necessary time and money. It also helps her to explain to supporters the necessity of setting aside a year or two for this process. Then, during the on-field language and culture acquisition phase, she will e-learn specific skills such as choosing a good language nurturer, how to prepare for your first language learning session, and so on. After each of these lessons, the team leader will encourage her to immediately apply the skills learned.

In the context of phased hybrid e-learning, competencies can be developed through the principles learned during online training and through personal interactions between team members in a missionary team context, while under the guidance of competent team leaders. These activities could be augmented by synchronous training and consultation with remote or visiting mentors and instructors.

Implementing and Evaluating the Concepts

An early implementation of this approach can be seen on Didasko Academy’s Website.69 The initial short courses are “The Bible and Missions,” “Missions 101,” “Roles in Missions,” “Fundraising for Missionaries,” as well as a workshop called “Prayer for Ministry.” Although all these initial courses target the preparation phase, they have been used successfully with on-field missionary teams on at least three occasions. Early on-field courses are currently under development.

In the first sixteen months after the launch of the courses, learners have earned two-hundred and three certificates. These learners were from twenty-one countries, but the most were from South Africa, the Philippines, Nigeria, and the USA. While most of the early batch of learners did the courses fully online, about a quarter did them in some kind of hybrid setting: a blended learning workshop at a mission organization’s summit, selected videos at another organization’s on-field gathering, in mission school classes, and a number of online sections of the courses done asynchronously, followed by discussion groups on Zoom or WhatsApp after each section. All of these cases have resulted in very positive feedback.

Video analytics showed that the average video watch time was high, indicating good learner engagement. The highest average learner engagement was for videos between six and ten minutes long. This finding is useful for determining the duration of future mini-lecture videos.

The findings showed that free online e-learning compatible with mobile devices makes courses widely accessible financially and geographically, especially by missionaries from the majority world.

Further findings indicate that video mini-lectures with little cultural bias can be achieved when the lecturer appears in smart-casual clothes whilst standing before a neutral background.70 Learners from all cultures reported that they like the concrete-relational approach to teaching. Such teachings start with an illustrated and concrete story followed by an exposition of the concepts in the story, instead of starting by explaining concepts and then using stories as illustrations. Stories exchange precision for explanatory power,71 an approach Jesus frequently used.

Learners reported that they found the availability of reflection questions, group discussion questions and online discussion forums, in addition to optional reading material after each video, to be beneficial. This finding proved that the chunking of learning into small learning units works well for different cultures, as long as the video mini-lectures are kept between six and ten minutes in length. This approach also proved effective when it was done in classroom and online hybrid situations.72

Examples of How the Approach Can Be Used in Practice

A missionary team in Indonesia learnt about missionary strategy formation together by working through a series of videos on a Didasko course. After each video they followed the discussion questions included in the course, applying it to their own situation. Subsequently, the team reported that they were re-invigorated and started improving their old strategy.

A church in the Philippines wanted to mobilize their people to reach out to a nearby UPG. A course facilitator from another country coordinated meetings via Zoom. Together, the group of thirty decided how often they would meet in this way. The facilitator then assigned a series of videos after each meeting people were to work through. During the next meeting, he led them through the course group discussion questions. A number of the class went on to complete subsequent courses, and said they were planning to start their outreach to the UPG.

The facilitators in each of these cases were experienced people, but probably not subject experts. The expertise lay in the courses themselves. For certain kinds of material it might be necessary to bring in a subject expert to answer specialized questions.

Organizational Collaboration

Indications from these early studies are that mission organizations and churches will be able to productively use the training approach presented in this article. A similar decentralized, modular format might also be applied to biblical and theological formation.73 This approach could supplement a traditional seminary approach.

Developing high-quality, video-based, hybrid e-learning courses is time-consuming and requires more resources than most mission organizations have. A proposed solution is to develop courses through loose collaboration by subject experts from multiple agencies, using the Christian Commons approach.74 Each organization will then be able to customize not only the courses themselves but also the way they facilitate the training. Didasko Academy is one institution using this approach and is actively seeking organizations, churches, and individual missionaries who would like to contribute course material.

Ideally, a major convening of representatives from mission agencies could set standards and determine who should be responsible for developing which parts of the curriculum. A network such as Missio Nexus could provide such a platform.

Conclusion

The article has shown that proven methods such as competency-based syllabi and training methods like IMT and hub-based JIT training can be combined in an e-learning and blended learning approach to build a phased hybrid training approach. By using new technology in combination with facilitation, resource-limited churches and mission organizations will be able to better serve missionary candidates spread over a wide geographical area.

Even an early implementation of the hybrid approach was shown to make a difference among field workers and those preparing to go. Once hybrid courses covering all aspects are available, situated Integral Ministry Training using a phased hybrid e-learning model will be affordable and widely accessible over the internet. It will empower organizations to train their workers in-place and closer to the ideal time.

Finally, the article points out the need for inter-organizational collaboration to fully implement the approach so that high-quality hybrid missionary training can be developed.

After making disciples among East-African Muslims for ten years, Henry Vermont and his wife Betsy moved to South-East Asia in 2011 as trainers. They started Didasko Academy, an on-line, video-based missionary training school (www.dasko.org) offering free training. Henry’s PhD dissertation at the South African Theological Seminary focused on the development of accessible and effective training of missionaries from the majority world. He can be contacted at henry.vermont@dasko.org.

Johannes Malherbe is the Head of Quality Assurance and Innovation at the South African Theological Seminary (SATS). His academic expertise is in Old Testament Studies and his other research interests include childhood studies, leadership development, and missiology. He has been involved in formal theological training since 1996 and joined the staff of SATS in 2012. SATS operates fully online and offers courses from certificate to doctoral levels.

1 Robert Hay et al., Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2007), 18, 55, 155, 156.

2 Jonathan Lewis, “Center for Cross-Cultural Missionary Training (CCMT),” in Integral Ministry Training: Design and Evaluation, ed. Robert Brynjolfson and Jonathan Lewis (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2006), 158.

3 Mary Hurley, “At MIT, How the Hack They Did It,” The Boston Globe, August 24, 2003, http://archive.boston.com/news/education/higher/articles/2003/08/24/at_mit_how_the_hack_they_did_it.

4 Darrell L. Whiteman, “Integral Training Today for Cross-Cultural Mission,” Missiology 35, no. 1 (2008): 11; Lorna K. Wiseman, “E-Quipped to Serve? A Journey into Mission Training Delivered by E-Learning,” IMTN Bulletin 4 (2016): 2; Jessica Udall, “Preparing Ethiopians for Cross-Cultural Ministry: Maximizing Missionary Training for Great Commission Impact” (Masters thesis, Columbia International University, 2013), 17.

5 Rob Brynjolfson, “The Integral Ministry Training Journey,” Brynjolfson and Lewis, 5.

6 Ibid., 8.

7 Irina T. Manolescu, Nelu Florea, and Carmen C. Arustei, “Forms of Learning Within Higher Education: Blending Formal, Informal and Non-Formal,” Cross-Cultural Management Journal 20, no. 1 (2018): 7–15.

8 Ibid., 8.

9 For example in Matt 13:3; 6:5; 16:13; and 16:22.

10 NTM: New Tribes Mission, now known as Ethnos360.

11 Robert Strauss, “New Tribes Mission (NTM) Missionary Training Center (MTC), USA,” in Integral Ministry Training, 180.

12 See the ten concepts listed in Jonathan Lewis, “Philosophy of Integral Ministry Training,” in Integral Ministry Training, 22. Some of the concepts include: helping believers grow in the likeness of Christ, encouraging each trainee to perceive and develop God’s unique design for them, and teaching that knowledge is not a goal in itself but is to be combined with obedience and diligent practice.

13 Anthropologists call the deepest level of culture “worldview.” Worldview is a culturally-determined and structured set of assumptions. These deep-level assumptions include a person’s underlying values, commitments, and allegiances and determine how people of a culture perceive and respond to reality. Worldview is not separate from culture but is inherently part of culture, representing the deepest level of presuppositions upon which people base their lives. See Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 15; Charles H. Kraft, Anthropology for Christian Witness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. 1996), 11.

14 Lewis, “Philosophy of Integral Ministry Training,” 22.

15 John Kayser, “Criteria and Predictors of Missionary Cross-Cultural Competence in Selected North American Evangelical Missions” (PhD diss., University of Edinburgh, 1994); Kayser 2002; Robert W.. Ferris, Establishing Ministry Training, World Evangelical Fellowship Series 4 (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1995); Brynjolfson and Lewis; and Mark R. Hedinger, “Towards a Paradigm of Integrated Missionary Training” (DMiss diss., Western Seminary, 2006), among others.

16 Cf. David E. Kern, Patricia A. Thomas, Donna A. Howard, and Eric B. Bass, Curriculum Development for Medical Education—A Six-Step Approach, 2nd ed. (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 28; Brynjolfson and Lewis, 7.

17 Kayser, “Criteria and Predictors,” 65.

18 Brynjolfson, 30.

19 Don Allen et al., “Fruitful practices: A Descriptive List,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 26, no. 3 (2009): 111–122; J. Dudley Woodberry, ed., From Seed to Fruit: Global Trends, Fruitful Practices, and Emerging Issues Among Muslims (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2011).

20 Ibid., 118.

21 Tim Hatcher, “Towards Culturally Appropriate Adult Education Methodologies for Bible Translators: Comparing Central Asian and Western Educational Practices,” Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics 3 (2008): 1–60, http://www.gial.edu/documents/gialens/Vol2-3/Hatcher-Adult-Ed-Methodologies.pdf.

22 David R. Krathwohl, “A Revision of Bloom”s Taxonomy: An Overview,” Theory Into Practice 41, no. 4 (2002): 212–25.

23 Krathwohl, 237.

24 Stan Parks, “Training ‘Movement Catalysts’—Ethné Pursues A Revolution in Missionary Training,” Mission Frontiers (2016), 18, http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/training-movement-catalysts.

25 David Coles and Stan Parks, eds., 24:14—A Testimony to all Peoples (Spring, TX: The 24:14 Network, 2019), 228, https://2414now.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Compiled-2414-Book_For-Conversion_Paperback_v2.pdf.

26 Parks, 18.

27 Chris McBride, “24:14 Goal: Movement Engagements in Every Unreached People and Place by 2025,” Mission Frontiers (2018): 36–39, http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/2414-goal1.

28 Rob Hay, Valerie Lim, Detlef Blöcher, Jaap Ketelaar, Sarah Hay, Worth Keeping: Global Perspectives on Best Practice in Missionary Retention (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library 2007), 122.

29 Situated learning happens in real environments. It encourages autonomous thinking and independence to acquire knowledge actively in real-life situations. See Wu-Yuin Hwang, Hong-Ren Chen, Nian-Shing Chen, Li-Kai Lin, and Jin-Wen Chen, “Learning Behavior Analysis of a Ubiquitous Situated Reflective Learning system with Application to Life Science and Technology Teaching,” Journal of Educational Technology and Society 21 no. 2 (2018): 137–49.

30 D. Randy Garrison, E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (2nd ed., London, UK: RoutledgeFalmer 2011), 2.

31 Ziad D. Baghdadi, “Best practices in Online Education: Online Instructors, Courses and Administrators,” The Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education 12, no. 3 (2011): 109–17.

32 Petra Boezerooij, E-Learning Strategies of Higher Education Institutions (Czech Republic: UNITISK, 2006), 18, http://www.utwente.nl/cheps/documenten/thesisboezerooy.pdf.

33 See Hsiu-Mei Huang, “Toward Constructivism for Adult Learners in Online Learning Environments,” British Journal of Educational Technology 33, no. 1 (2002): 27–37; Julie Meloni, “Tools for Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom Discussion,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 11, 2010, https://www.chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/tools-for-synchronousasynchronous-classroom-discussion.

34 Huang, 30; Meloni.

35 Hurley.

36 Krathwohl, 237.

37 Tommaso Leo et al., “Online Synchronous Instruction: Challenges and Solutions,” in 2009 Ninth IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (Los Alamitos, CA: IEEE Computer Society, 2009), 489–91, https://www.computer.org/csdl/proceedings-article/icalt/2009/3711a489/12OmNxWcHj8.

38 Stefan Hrastinski, “Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning,” Educause Quarterly 31, no. 4 (2008): 51–55; Garry Falloon, “Exploring the Virtual Classroom: What Students Need to Know (and Teachers Should Consider),” MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 7, no. 4 (2011): 448.

39 Falloon, 448.

40 Lori Breslow et al., “Studying Learning in the Worldwide Classroom Research into edX’s First MOOC,” Research & Practice in Assessment (2012): 14.

41 See Julie Dirksen, Design for How People Learn (Berkeley, CA: New Riders 2012), 91; Norma I. Scagnoli, Anne McKinney, and Jill Moore-Reynen, “Video Lectures in E-Learning,” in Handbook of Research on Innovative Technology Integration in Higher Education, ed. Fredrick Muyia Nafukho and Beverly J. Irby (Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2015), 115–16, 129.

42 Scagnoli, McKinney, and Moore-Reynen, 116.

43 Philip J. Guo, Juho Kim, and Rob Rubin, “How Video Production Affects Student Engagement,” in Proceedings of the First ACM Conference on Learning @ Scale Conference (New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2014), 42.

44 Scagnoli, McKinney, and Moore-Reynen, 129.

45 Guo, Kim, and Rubin, 46.

46 Ibid., 41.

47 Ibid., 44.

48 Stephen Cummins, Alistair R Beresford and Andrew Rice, “Investigating Engagement with In-Video Quiz Questions in a Programming Course,” IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies 9, no. 1 (2016): 60, https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=7122326.

49 Power Distance Index (PDI) is one of Geert Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions. A culture’s PDI measures the degree of acceptance of inequalities in society. A low PDI indicates an egalitarian society, where people generally try to equalise power. In high PDI cultures, people tend to accept a hierarchical order, and learners will expect the instructor to have higher status than they do, and instructors are expected to be treated accordingly. See Geert H. Hofstede, Culture’s Consequences: Comparing Values, Behaviors, Institutions, and Organizations Across Nations, 3rd ed. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications 2001).

50 Lorna K. Wiseman, “E-Quipped to Serve: Delivering Holistic Christian Mission Training through E-Learning” (PhD diss., Loughborough University, 2015), 143, https://repository.lboro.ac.uk/articles/thesis/E-quipped_to_serve_delivering_holistic_Christian_mission_training_through_e-learning/9496136; Lorna K. Wiseman, “E-Quipped to Serve?,” 1–8.

51 Robert A. Danielson, “Navigating the Online Missiology Classroom: Class Design and Resources for Teaching Missiology Online,” Missiology: An International Review 43, no. 2 (2015): 215.

52 Wiseman, “E-quipped to Serve?,” 4.

53 Ibid., 5.

54 Ibid., 6.

55 Ibid., 5.

56 Ibid., 6.

57 Ibid., 7.

58 Ibid., 93.

59 Ian A. Nell, “Blended Learning: Innovation in the Teaching of Practical Theology to Undergraduate Students,” HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 69, no. 1 (2013): 26–32.

60 Xiangyang Zhang and Jie Xu, “Integration of Micro Lectures into the Blended Learning Discourse in Tertiary Education,” Asian Association of Open Universities Journal 10, no. 2 (2015): 13–28.

61 Kathleen Cercone, “Characteristics of Adult Learners with Implications for Online Learning Design,” Association for the Advancement of Computing In Education Journal 16 (2008): 137–59.

62 Audie Cornish and Sam Gringlas, “Vermont Medical School Says Goodbye To Lectures,” National Public Radio, August 3, 2017, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/08/03/541411275/vermont-medical-school-says-goodbye-to-lectures.

63 Nell, 27.

64 David A. Kolb, Experiential Learning: Experience as The Source of Learning and Development (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1984), 27.

65 Hurley.

66 Krathwohl, 237.

67 Huang, 28.

68 Henry Vermont, “Designing and Evaluating a Curriculum for the Effective and Accessible Training of Frontier Missionaries from New Sending Countries” (PhD diss., South African Theological Seminary, 2020), https://www.academia.edu/44858793/DESIGNING_AND_EVALUATING_A_CURRICULUM_FOR_THE_EFFECTIVE_AND_ACCESSIBLE_TRAINING_OF_FRONTIER_MISSIONARIES_FROM_NEW_SENDING_COUNTRIES.

69 Didasko Academy, https://www.dasko.org.

70 Vermont, 310.

71 Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: Cultural Studies in the Gospels (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2008).

72 See Vermont, 262.

73 An example of a purely online bible school is the Christian Leadership Institute, https://www.christianleadersinstitute.org. An advanced accredited distance learning approach is used by the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), https://www.sats.edu.za.

74 Tim Jore, The Christian Commons: Ending the Spiritual Famine of the Global Church, 2nd ed. (n.p.: Tim Jore, 2015), https://www.unfoldingword.org/tcc. Information about church and/or missions agency collaboration can be found at https://www.dasko.org/collaborate.

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The Evil Eye: A Contextual Theology for the Arabian Peninsula

The Evil Eye belief and practice complex is widespread throughout the world, yet there are no contextual theologies effectively dealing with this complex in the Middle East. This article explores the beliefs and practices related to the Evil Eye, surveys biblical references to the Evil Eye often obscured by English translations, and finally, offers a contextual theology of the Evil Eye. The article focuses in particular on the Arabian Peninsula as a case study in contextualization.

The Evil Eye is a widespread complex of beliefs and practices found throughout the Mediterranean, the Middle East, India, North Africa, and parts of Latin America with colonial ties to Spain or Portugal.1 Originating thousands of years ago,2 the conviction that an envious person casts a curse through the eyes has endured steadily through vast historical and cultural shifts. Fear of the Evil Eye results in various folk practices to ward it off or cure the afflicted. For Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula, fear of cursing via the Evil Eye or malicious spells permeates thoughts, behaviors, and relationships.

The Islamic community confirms the narrative of the Evil Eye and also offers protective or curative treatments based on both the Qur’an and the Hadith.3 However, Middle Eastern Christians have not yet developed a contextual theology regarding the Evil Eye,4 despite the prevalence of the belief system. This void in resources also affects missionaries working with both Muslims and believers from a Muslim background (BMBs). Currently, few resources aid the missionary in understanding the Evil Eye belief.

However, a contextual theology of the Evil Eye is vital for the flourishing of new believers on the Arabian Peninsula. In the absence of a biblical framework, BMBs may rely on unbiblical protections or cures. Conversion to Christianity will not instantly disintegrate this profound belief; the Evil Eye belief complex weaves through the emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational components of Arab lives. Thus, if missionaries cannot help BMBs understand the Evil Eye from a biblical perspective, new believers may feel vulnerable to danger and fall back on Islamic practices for protection and treatment. This oversight in a contextual theology of the Evil Eye may increase the risk of BMBs returning to Islam altogether. Conversely, dealing effectively with the Evil Eye belief may enable BMBs to live victoriously in the freedom Christ offers.

This paper will survey the Evil Eye belief system and analyze its accompanying behaviors and practices on the Arabian Peninsula. It will then review biblical evidence relevant to the belief in the Evil Eye in both the Old and New Testaments. Finally, it offers a contextual theology of the Evil Eye, with specific applications for the developing church of the Arabian Peninsula and the missionaries who disciple BMBs.

The Evil Eye Belief and Practice Complex

The Threat of the Evil Eye

The Evil Eye is a force emitted like a light through the eye, causing harm to those it befalls. A person casts the Evil Eye—intentionally or accidentally—whenever they are envious of something that another possesses. The more beautiful or desirable the object or person is, the more likely they are to attract the dangers of the Evil Eye.5 Allan Berger observes that the most vulnerable to the Evil Eye are “infants, young children, pregnant and lactating women, fruit-bearing trees, and prized livestock.”6 The wealthy or those who have suddenly experienced great fortune are also particularly vulnerable to the curse. In general, the curse threatens fruitfulness and blessing. Many cultures believe that certain individuals have a hereditary disposition for casting the Evil Eye. Those born with this disposition are often considered the most dangerous possessors of the Evil Eye’s power.7 Those who have eye defects, blue or green eyes, barrenness, or disabilities are the most likely bearers of the Eye.8

Bruce Malina notes that concepts of envy and the Evil Eye especially arise in collectivistic cultures which view all goods in limited supply.9 These goods include honor, parental love, friendship, money, houses, cars, and children. Because these goods are always in limited supply, one person’s gain always entails another’s loss. Drawing attention through compliments or staring is interpreted as cursing through drawing the Evil Eye. Generosity is a high social value and collectivistic cultures practice it publicly, as it proves to society that a person is not casting the Evil Eye and is therefore not a threat.10 Those who are generous have a “good eye” and are not a societal threat.

For Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula, the prevalence of black magic used for cursing compounds the fear of the Evil Eye. The use of black magic centers in the city of Bahla, Oman. Arabs from all over the Middle East will either travel to Bahla to obtain curses or will avoid traveling to Oman for fear of being cursed. These curses are often written on a small piece of paper, hidden on a person’s property or in their possessions, or dissolved secretly into a liquid that the cursed one drinks. Danger from cursing either by the Evil Eye or by black magic lurks everywhere for Arabs on the Arabian Peninsula.

Symptoms of the Evil Eye

Many common physical symptoms alert these cultures to the curse of the Evil Eye. Berger notes that “headache, gastrointestinal symptoms, fevers, chills, lassitude, impotence, nocturnal emissions, convulsions, and . . . death” are all symptoms of the Evil Eye befalling a person.11 Aref Abu-Rabia adds to this list menstrual problems, difficulties in pregnancy or childbirth, reduced milk supply in a lactating mother, or a baby refusing to nurse. The plethora of potential indications of cursing serves to intensify the ubiquitous peril of the Eye. The Evil Eye is a profound cultural narrative for the experience of unexplained or sudden misfortune. Car wrecks or other accidents (mechanical failure of machinery or household appliances) and even death are all frequently attributed to the curse of the Evil Eye.

Apotropaic Magic and Treatment

With the danger of the Evil Eye lurking behind every misfortune and physical symptom, people frequently utilize apotropaic magic to prevent ailments from the Evil Eye. One example is the well-known Greek practice of spitting as a method of protection from the Evil Eye. Possession of the Evil Eye is often associated with defilement and impurity, so fumigation by burning bakhoor (incense) is a common Middle Eastern purification practice.12

On the Arabian Peninsula, amulets bearing a blue eye called nazar, blue beads, or the “Hand of Fatima” (a hand bearing a blue eye) are especially prevalent.13 The Arabic phrases mashallah (God has willed it) or bismillah (in the name of Allah) are verbal exclamations used to ward off the Evil Eye from an admired object or person. Cars, houses, buildings, or other valuable objects often bear the phrase mashallah as a means of warding off the Evil Eye drawn through envy. In addition to placing a mashallah sticker on the back of a car, Arabs will also play Qur’anic chants in the vehicle exclusively for a period of time after purchase for protection against the Eye. Parents protect babies by administering black kohl around the eyes like eyeliner, and tying black strings around babies’ wrists for protection. Male infants are sometimes dressed as girls to “confuse” the Evil Eye, as they are particularly vulnerable to drawing envy from others. Parents and grandparents will describe the new child in ugly terms to shield them from the Eye.

Treatments for the Evil Eye include fumigation with incense, incantations, purifying baths,14 drinking Qur’anic verses written on paper and dissolved in water, spitting on the afflicted person,15 or even transferring the Evil Eye to the healer.16 These modern practices have ancient roots, however. The text of Scripture demonstrates belief in the Evil Eye, as well as the sociological behaviors associated with that belief.

The Evil Eye in Scripture

Modern Western theologians have overlooked the Evil Eye due to cultural presuppositions and because English translations obfuscate the presence of the Evil Eye throughout Scripture.17 The following section briefly surveys Scripture relevant to the Evil Eye belief.

Old Testament Evidence

Genesis Patriarchal Narratives

Envy is a dominant theme in the patriarchal narratives, often resulting in violence, misfortune, or death. Envy permeates the story of Cain and Abel, which leads Cain to kill Abel (Gen 4:1–12). There may even be an etymological association with Cain’s name and the Hebrew root word for envy.18 The rabbinical literature attributes the Evil Eye to Cain.19

Jews have long interpreted the story of Sarai and Hagar in Genesis 16 through the lens of the Evil Eye.20 It is well-known among many cultures that one of the most dangerous possessors of the Evil Eye is a barren old woman, and pregnant women and their babies are among the most vulnerable.21 The NIV obscures the references to the eyes by translating the phrase in 16:4 as “she [Hagar] began to despise her mistress.” However, a better translation might be, “her mistress was despised in her eyes,” a passive phrase indicating that Hagar was not merely despising but also cursing Sarai with her eyes.22 That Sarai immediately connects this with her suffering (v. 5) suggests that Hagar’s eyes affected Sarai’s well-being. To keep Hagar in her lowly position, Sarai accuses Hagar of casting the Evil Eye on Sarai. Jewish interpreters often argued that this accusation attempts to cover up the fact that Sarai is the one casting the Evil Eye on Hagar in this passage.23 However, God, who sees Hagar, blesses her and her offspring rather than cursing them (vv. 9–12). The angel commands Hagar to go back to the source of cursing and mistreatment, but God promises to bless and protect her.

Deuteronomy 15:9; 28:54, 56

The concept of the Evil Eye is present throughout Deuteronomy, though English translations fail to reflect this. In Deut 15:7–11, God commands the Israelites to give generously to the poor, even when the year for canceling debts is upon them, and they might not receive back what they have loaned. A closer translation of a phrase in v. 9 is, “lest your eye be evil (ayin ra’a) against the poor.” The Evil Eye is often associated with stinginess; the concept of “limited good” creates inner greed, as those who have what is desirable possess it at the expense of those who lack. Thus, generosity is here encouraged as a countermeasure against an Evil Eye that reveals a greedy heart.

Similarly, a phrase in the NIV translation of Deut 28:54 reads, “even the most gentle and sensitive man will have no compassion on his own brother” (emphasis added). However, a better translation of the Hebrew text states that this man’s “eye shall be evil (ayn yar’a) toward his brother.” The writer uses the same phrase in reference to a woman in v. 56. The author warns the Israelites here of God’s curses coming upon the Israelites for disobedience to the law. The suffering brought on by the curses will be so tremendous that even the most compassionate men and women cannibalize their loved ones. In the reality of extremely limited resources, the Evil Eye acts as a representative of greed and stinginess harbored in the heart, ultimately causing death.

1 Samuel 18:7–10

In this passage, the Israelites praise David and compare him with Saul in their song: “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.” In a society of limited good, the rising of David’s honor requires the demise of Saul’s honor, and Saul’s response is anger and malicious envy. The NIV translates verse 9: “From that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.” However, the KJV renders it, “Saul eyed David from that day forward” (emphasis added). The KJV better maintains this relationship to envy, the eye, and harm to others expressed in the Hebrew text. Interestingly, though Saul is casting the Evil Eye here, God sends an evil spirit that torments Saul and causes suffering to him rather than David, who escapes harm (v. 10–11). Saul’s “eyeing” of David is not successful because “the Lord was with David but had departed from Saul” (v. 12).

Proverbs 22:9; 23:6–8; 28:22

The book of Proverbs associates the eye with either greed or generosity in the heart. The KJV translation maintains the reference to the effective eye, translating 22:9 as, “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.” This proverb correlates the ideals of generosity with the eye, as well as with God’s blessing. God blesses those with a good and generous eye.

Conversely, Prov 23:6–8 says, “Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats. For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he. Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.” This proverb shows the connection between the Evil Eye and a greedy, duplicitous heart. The Sage warns the reader against relational liaisons with one who has the Evil Eye, who will cause harm to those in his proximity.

Proverbs 28:22 warns, “He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye, and considereth not that poverty shall come upon him.” Here, the curse of the Evil Eye is turned inward upon its possessor, ultimately causing him poverty rather than the wealth he desired. This proverb is an ominous admonishment against the dangers of the Evil Eye for its possessor.

New Testament Evidence

Matthew 6; cf. Luke 11:33–34

Jesus addresses key sin issues behind the Evil Eye in Matt 6:19–24. The chapter deals with public displays of piety—generosity to the poor (6:1–4), prayer (6:5–15), and fasting (6:16–18). These instructions are followed by teachings on worldly possessions and worry about those possessions (6:19–34). The goal of public piety is that others view the subject as generous, pious, and righteous. However, these public displays did not always extend down into the heart, particularly for the Pharisees. Jesus observes the hypocrisy of it and urges his followers to give to the poor in secret, pray in closets, and groom themselves properly while fasting. These commands are not intended to make faith a private matter, out of the public eye entirely, but to encourage Christians to do pious works for the Lord rather than for status and reputation gains. He calls them to be truly generous people who care about the poor, rather than acting generously to be perceived as generous, elevating their social profile.

Jesus then describes the eye as the “lamp of the body” (6:22). In cultures that believe in the Evil Eye, the eye is not a passive recipient of light as modern science might teach. Instead, it is an active force that emits light as a lamp would, affecting the external world with its light.24 Jesus connects the state of the heart to the eyes in this passage, thus arguing that if a person’s eyes are “healthy” (Greek: haplous; literally, “simple, single, or whole”), the whole body will be full of light. However, if the eyes are “unhealthy” (Gk poneros, literally “evil”), the person’s body will be full of darkness. Thus, those who store up treasure in heaven are presumably those with true devotion to God and true generosity towards others, not merely feigned or public displays.25

Finally, Jesus’s disciples are not to worry about worldly possessions but to trust God to provide for their daily needs. The focus in a believer’s life is not to be on worldly concerns or even the self but centered wholly on God.26 The believer need not fear another casting a curse on his possessions because God keeps the believer’s treasures. Contentment and peace characterize Jesus’s followers rather than envy and worry over possessions.

Matthew 20:1–16

Jesus also refers to the Evil Eye in his parable of the workers in the vineyard. In this parable, the landowner hires workers for his vineyard at various times throughout the day. At the end of the day, the landowner pays all workers—regardless of hours worked—a denarius. When the full-day laborers complain, the landowner remarks, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?” (20:15). The envy and Evil Eye of the workers is contrasted here with the generosity and good eye of the landowner. The passage’s meaning is that God’s grace extends equally to both Jew and Gentile because he is generous. It is wrong for the Jews, those who came first, to develop an Evil Eye over God’s vast mercy. This passage obliterates the concept of “limited good” for salvation. The gain of the Gentiles does not demand loss for the Jews. God’s generosity is capacious for all.

Mark 7:1–8:26

In Mark 7, Jesus redefines defilement for his Jewish audience: defilement arises from within rather than externally. The Pharisees have asked him why his disciples do not wash for purification before eating, per their oral traditions. Jesus reprimands the Pharisees’ focus on outer purity while retaining inner defilement. He says, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and defile the man” (7:21–23, emphasis added). Ritual washings that the Pharisees hold so dear do not cleanse these defilements.27 While most cultures fear the Evil Eye as an external force, Jesus here emphasizes its inner presence in a person that causes defilement.

Galatians

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul incorporates Evil Eye practices and beliefs as part of his argument. Paul writes in 3:1, “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched (ebaskenon) you?” (NIV). The Greek root of ebaskenon is baskaino, and while this verb often gets translated as “bewitched” into English, baskaino is the Greek term for cursing someone with the Evil Eye.28 Paul here accuses the Galatian Judaizers of casting the Evil Eye on the Galatian Church. Paul’s accusation is likely a counter-accusation to the Judaizers, who may have accused Paul of casting the Evil Eye on the Galatian Church.29

John Elliott observes evidence of the Evil Eye belief complex throughout the epistle to the Galatians, often overlooked by Western biblical commentaries. First, Paul recounts that the Galatians did not spit (exeptousate) due to his illness when they met him (4:13–14). Most English versions translate this verb as “reject” or “scorn,” which obscures the cultural reference to the apotropaic practice of spitting to ward off the Evil Eye.30 Paul further remarks that the Galatians would have plucked their own eyes out and given them to Paul if it had been possible (4:15), indicating that his illness may have affected his eyes.31 So while Paul’s adversaries accused him of bearing the Evil Eye—likely because of his unhealthy eyes—Paul is countering that accusation by appealing to the Galatians’ initial instinct of welcoming Paul and not treating him as a threat of the Evil Eye curse. Elliott also notes that Paul frequently refers to the Galatians as children (3:23–29; 4:1–7, 19)—one of the most vulnerable groups to the dangers of the Evil Eye.32 In addition, envy is a major theme related to Paul’s accusers (4:17–18; 5:20, 21, 26), as is cursing (1:8–9; 3:1, 10, 13).33

Contextual Theology and Missiological Applications

Having surveyed the biblical texts relevant to the Evil Eye belief complex, I consider the Evil Eye from within the framework of systematic theology, particularly from within the categories of theology proper, hamartiology, Christology, and ecclesiology. Such systematization may aid the Western missionary or theologian grappling with the concept of the Evil Eye. This section also explores contextualized missiological applications for the Arabian Peninsula, to aid the missionary discipling a BMB.

Theology Proper: God’s Good Eye

God’s eye is a frequent motif in Scripture. God’s eye is linked with judgment as people do “evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Deut 4: 25, 12:25, 28, 17:2, 24:4; Judg 3:7). He bestows favor and blessing for those who do right in God’s eyes (Gen 6:8, Deut 21:9, 1 Kgs 15:11, 2 Chron 16:9, Ps 53:2). God’s eye is a force for care over the Promised Land (Deut 11:12). God’s presence protects Hagar, Joseph, and David from the Evil Eye of those who envy them. His “seeing” of the victims and his protective eye are frequent themes in the writings of David (Ps 10:14, 14:2, 33:18, 34:15, 35:22) and the story of Hagar (Gen 16:13–14). Jesus emphasizes God’s generosity in the New Testament towards both Jew and Gentile in salvation.

The Old Testament describes God as a “jealous God” (Exod 20:5; Deut 4:24, 5:9, 6:15, 32:16; Josh 24:19; 1 Kgs 14:22; Ps 78:58, 79:5; Ezek 16:38, 23:25, 36:6; Joel 2:18; Nah 1:2; Zeph 1:18, 3:8; Zech 1:14, 8:2). Here we distinguish between envy and jealousy, which are often used as synonyms in colloquial English. Jealousy is the emotion felt for the imminent loss of something one already possesses. For instance, a husband might feel jealousy over his wife if he fears losing her to another man. On the other hand, envy is the emotion felt when someone else possesses something that one desires.34 Malicious resentment and ill will accompany envy. It is in this sense that the Bible issues the commandment against coveting (Exod 20:17). God’s people are not to envy what their neighbors have. God is therefore not envious but is jealous for the worship of his people.

The Islamic Allah is, in contrast to the biblical God, capricious and withholding. Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula live in constant fear of death, as they acknowledge that even Muhammad was not guaranteed Paradise for his good works. Muslims invoke the name of Allah as a source of protection from the Evil Eye, yet Arabs remain in constant fear and danger from the Eye. Discipleship of a believer from such a background must be grounded in the alignment of the concept of Allah to the true biblical God, who is generous, immanent, and compassionate.

Hamartiology: Envy as a Deadly Sin

Envy is an important concept to consider within the theological notions of sin. In Scripture, envy is described as an inner vice that “rots the bones” (Prov 14:30) and is potentially more dangerous than anger and wrath (Prov 27:4). Envy frequently appears in lists of sins (Mark 7:22; Rom 1:29; Gal 5:21; 1 Tim 6:4; 1 Pet 2:1) and characterizes those outside of Christ’s redeeming and transforming work. The Genesis patriarchal narratives display the disastrous results of envy and its ability to destroy relationships, particularly among family members. Jesus addresses this inner darkness of envy and greed (Matt 6:19-24; Luke 11:33-34), and James links envy with selfish ambition, evil, and chaos (Jas 3:14). Casting the Evil Eye on others and cultivating a stingy heart may result in a curse on the self (1 Sam 18:7–10; Prov 28:22).

Envy is a powerful vice in the Arabian Peninsula, cultivated by millennia of nomadic life searching for limited resources in a hostile desert. Envy may also be accompanied by hoarding and an overdeveloped desire for wealth and honor. While Western missionaries may derogate the eye’s ability to cause destruction, overlooking the dangers of envy would be detrimental to those they disciple.35 As honor and status are the most coveted prize in the Arab world, Jesus’s example of generosity and humility is of utmost importance. His ultimate honor comes through bearing the shame of the world. Christians ought to imitate his humility, generosity, and valuing others above self (Phil 2:1–18). Their lives are to be for God’s glory and honor alone, in the power of the Holy Spirit. This provides the freedom for believers to give generously, to bless rather than curse, and to live with contentment at their very core.

Christology: Christ who Bore the Curse

Arabs in the Arabian Peninsula live in great fear of curses, from both the Evil Eye and black magic. God’s plan to bring the world blessing (Gen 12:1–3) culminates in the person of Christ, who bore the curse of humanity on the cross (Gal 3:13; Col 2:13–15). He has broken the power of the curse over believers and will one day do away with all curses (Rev 22:3). Those who do not submit to Christ or who preach a gospel other than Christ are ultimately those who will be cursed (Matt 25:41; John 7:49; 1 Cor 16:22; Gal 1:8–9, 3:10; Heb 6:8). Jesus is the source of blessing for the downtrodden and outcast (Matt 5:3–11), for children (Mark 10:16), and his followers (Luke 24:50; John 20:29; Rom 4:8; 10:12; Eph 1:3).

While there is evidence that Ancient Israelites used amulets and incantations against the Evil Eye and other dangers,36 the Bible does not promote the use of magical elements to ward off the Evil Eye. God forbids his people to use magic, spells, and incantations (Deut 18:11–12; Exod 22:18; Ezek 13:18, 20; Rev 9:21, 18:23). Arab believers, as they increase their trust in Christ, should ultimately reject the usage of magical elements such as amulets and spells as forms of protection against evil. Additionally, they could replace such practices with biblical disciplines, such as prayer. In Matthew 6, Jesus taught his disciples to pray for God to deliver them from evil. This prayer, however, should be carefully taught as a model for prayer and not as a magical incantation to replace mashallah. Crosses should not replace nazar as amulets for protection, as some churches may find tempting.

Additionally, Paul teaches the Ephesians about putting on the armor of God, using the Word of God, and praying in the Spirit to stand against evil (Eph. 6:10–20). Protection from evil for the Christian comes from God by grace, not through amulets and incantations. Symbols such as the cross may be powerful reminders of protection in Christ. BMBs, however, need to carefully decide whether to use them, particularly if there is a risk of using the symbol as an amulet instead of a reminder.

In addition, new believers will need to be grounded in a theology of suffering and evil. While they may have trusted amulets or uttered phrases to prevent suffering, those in Christ are not immune to the realities of suffering in their lives. Christ is not an amulet, and prayer is not a magic spell—such understandings will lead to syncretistic practices. Believers follow a crucified and risen Savior, and they carry their crosses with him. They trust in his purposes, and his sovereignty must grow over time through suffering, as well as a sense of participation in the sufferings of Christ (Phil 3:10). The Evil Eye can no longer be the primary narrative of suffering and misfortune. Instead, God’s providence and purposeful sovereignty over the painful realities of life can help a Christian grow in trust and away from fear.

Ecclesiology: The Church as a People of Blessing

The Church should embody freedom from the Evil Eye and the ability to bless in Christ’s name. In contrast to the greed and closed-handedness of those who might bear the Evil Eye, Christians should be generous to those in need. Believers must cultivate true inner generosity and contentment through the Holy Spirit, in contrast with the temptation to outwardly do that which may gain a person a reputation for generosity. The growth of virtue through the work of the Spirit results in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal 5:22). This growth in virtue allows the believer to be truly generous towards others, hold their possessions loosely, and store up treasures in heaven with sincere devotion and obedience to God, regardless of the opinions of others.

Believers are characterized as people of blessing in the world, acting as priests before God (Rom 15:16; 1 Pet 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6; 5:10; 20:6), and are in service to the High Priest, Jesus (Heb 2:17, 3:1, 4:14–15). These priestly lives are to be characterized by a living sacrifice of our bodies to God (Rom 12:1), the sacrifice of service to God (Phil 2:17; 4:18; 1 Pet 2:5), and a sacrifice of praise to God (Heb 13:15). In addition to sacrifice, believers ought to live a life of blessing the world, particularly blessing those who curse them (Luke 6:28; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12).

Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula frequently invoke the phrase mashallah to divert the dangers of the Evil Eye. If a believer were to withhold the mashallah, the community might assume that the believer bears the Evil Eye and is actively cursing those around him. The social implications could be severe. However, a BMB should carefully evaluate whether using the phrase mashallah is appropriate. Many Arab Christians in the Levant and Egypt view the mashallah as a distinctively Muslim practice and reject its usage. An alternative that both demonstrates blessing and refrains from Islamic incantations may be appropriate, such as a pronouncement of a brief blessing in the name of Jesus over a child or a new home. Such a blessing demonstrates a heart of generosity and a “good eye,” setting the community at ease.

Conclusion

This study examined the Evil Eye belief and accompanying practices, particularly on the Arabian Peninsula. It has explored the passages of Scripture relevant to the Evil Eye that are often obscured by English translations, helping the Western missionary engage with Evil Eye beliefs in a biblically directed manner. Finally, it offered both theological and specific applications for believers of a Muslim background from the Arabian Peninsula. Internal sin that may cause a person to cast the Evil Eye must be addressed as a discipleship issue, as Jesus did. The Holy Spirit empowers believers to grow in contentment, generosity, and acceptance of one’s lot in life. Believers may break free from the culture of cursing in order to bless others in Jesus’s name. Missionaries must nurture this process rather than dismiss the Evil Eye as superstition. Such a contextualization engages the worldview that believes in unseen powers by giving them an alternate ontological narrative: Jesus is stronger than the chaotic evil powers and has defeated them.

Aubry G. Smith (MA, Columbia International University) trained first-term missionaries on the Arabian Peninsula for several years with a church planting organization. She now provides support services for refugees in the UK.

1 Allan Berger, “The Evil Eye: A Cautious Look,” Journal of Religion and Health 52, no. 3 (2013): 786.

2 Berger asserts that the Evil Eye is referenced in Akkadian and Assyrian writings as early as the seventh century BC. Ibid., 786.

3 Surah 68:51–52 is called the “Evil Eye verse” and is often recited in Arabic as a means of warding off the Evil Eye. Other Qur’anic verses are utilized for healing. Formal Islamic theology may disregard magical folk practices related to the Evil Eye, but most Muslims of the Arabian Peninsula rely on them.

4 If such a theology does exist, it is not easily found, using either English or Arabic search terms.

5 Berger, “The Evil Eye: A Cautious Look,” 25.

6 Allan Berger, “The Evil Eye: An Ancient Superstition,” Journal of Religion and Health 51, no. 4 (2012): 1100.

7 Aref Abu-Rabia, “The Evil Eye and Cultural Beliefs among the Bedouin Tribes of the Negev, Middle East,” Folklore 116, no. 3 (2005): 243–44.

8 Ibid., 246.

9 Bruce Malina, The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology, 3rd ed. (Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 113, 120.

10 John Hall Elliott, “The Evil Eye and the Sermon on the Mount: Contours of a Pervasive Belief in Social Scientific Perspective,” Biblical Interpretation 2, no. 1 (1994): 58.

11 Berger, “The Evil Eye: An Ancient Superstition,” 1099.

12 Abu-Rabia, 250.

13 Fatima, one of the daughters of Muhammed, is considered by many Muslims as a source of protection and advocacy. Marvin R. Smith, “Folk Islam in East Africa,” Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology 18, no. 2 (1999): 97. This article, available freely online, is an excellent primer in folk Islamic practices.

14 Ibid., 250.

15 Ibid. See also Berger, 1101.

16 Abu-Rabia, 244.

17 The King James Version, however, often does retain explicit references to the Evil Eye, and Scripture quoted here is KJV unless otherwise noted.

18 Angela Y. Kim, “Cain and Abel in the Light of Envy: A Study in the History of the Interpretation of Envy in Genesis 4.1–16,” Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 12, no. 1 (April 2001): 71.

19 Brigitte Kern-Ulmer, “The Power of the Evil Eye and the Good Eye in Midrashic Literature,” Judaism 40, no. 3 (1991): 346.

20 John Hall Elliott, Beware the Evil Eye: The Evil Eye in the Bible and the Ancient World, vol. 1, Introduction, Mesopotamia, and Egypt (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2015), 89. Elliott’s four-volume work on the Evil Eye in antiquity is the most comprehensive work available and is recommended for further reading.

21 Ibid., 5–6.

22 Ibid.

23 Rivka Ulmer, The Evil Eye in the Bible and Rabbinic Literature (Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing, 1994), 112–13.

24 Elliott, “The Evil Eye,” 54, 66.

25 Carl B. Bridges and Ronald E. Wheeler, “The Evil Eye in the Sermon on the Mount,” Stone-Campbell Journal 4, no. 1 (2001): 71.

26 Grant R. Osborne and Clinton E. Arnold, Matthew, Zondervan Exegetical Commentary Series (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2010), ch. 23.

27 William L. Lane, The Gospel of Mark, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 115.

28 John Elliott, “Paul, Galatians, and the Evil Eye,” Currents in Theology and Mission 17, no. 4 (1990): 267. Ronald Y. K. Fung, The Epistle to the Galatians, New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 83, notes the Evil Eye belief only in a footnote, but dismisses the power of the belief in First Century Mediterranean culture. Douglas J. Moo, Galatians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 181, does acknowledge the belief in the Evil Eye here, and offers witchcraft associated with the Evil Eye as a possible intended meaning of 3:1 but goes no further with the concept.

29 Elliott, “Paul, Galatians, and the Evil Eye,” 268–69.

30 Ibid., 268. See also Walter Bauer, Frederick W. Danker, William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 171. Moo, 284, affirms this interpretation and notes the connection with the Evil Eye in 3:1.

31 Fung, 109, observes that Paul may have had an eye injury. Elsewhere, Paul notes that he uses large letters in his handwriting (Gal 6:11).

32 Elliott, “Paul, Galatians, and the Evil Eye,” 286.

33 Elliott, “Social-Scientific Criticism,” 7.

34 Elliott, Beware the Evil Eye, 41. In his analysis of envy and jealousy in ancient Greece, Ed Sanders also notes this difference between envy and jealousy, additionally noting that envy carries with it a more intense degree of anger and hatred than jealousy. Ed Sanders, Envy and Jealousy in Classical Athens: A Socio-Psychological Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 28.

35 One survey conducted among American Protestants had them rank the “seven deadly sins” in order of most destructive to least. All groups involved in the study consistently ranked envy as the least deadly. Donald Capps and Melissa Haupt, “The Deadly Sins: How They Are Viewed and Experienced Today,” Pastoral Psychology 60, no. 6 (2011): 791–807.

36 Jeremy D. Smoak, “May Yhwh Bless You and Keep You from Evil: The Rhetorical Argument of Ketef Hinnom Amulet I and the Form of the Prayers for Deliverance in the Psalms,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 12, no. 2 (September 2012): 202–36. See also Hans Henry Spoer, “Notes on Jewish Amulets,” Journal of Biblical Literature 23, no. 2 (1904): 97–105.

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Preaching for Formation as Participants in the Mission of God

This article is written from the perspective of a Restoration Movement Church of Christ preacher. The central argument developed in this essay is that Churches of Christ need to abandon deductive and expository homiletic practices and instead adopt narrative preaching practices in order more effectively to cultivate disciples who live into the unfolding story of God’s mission. The author’s argument begins by exploring the historical influences and epistemic assumptions of dominant homiletic approaches within his ecclesial tradition through the lens of Alasdair MacIntyre’s social practice paradigm. After a brief apology for a trinitarian and eschatologically-oriented missional ecclesiology, the author outlines key features of a narrative preaching that allows the church to embrace its missional responsibility within the biblical story. Finally, the narrative approaches of Eugene Lowry and John Wright are recommended.

The Sunday sermon is an important means of instruction and faith formation in the local church. This is why pastoral theological education has often included courses in homiletics. Yet, North American churches face significant challenges germane to the practice of preaching. These challenges relate to cultural shifts taking place in our contexts and the struggles of many churches with the question of mission. My own encounter with these challenges has taken place among Churches of Christ. I remain attentive to the history of the Churches of Christ within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement throughout this paper. As a minister who preaches regularly, I wonder how the sermon at Sunday worship gatherings might address these challenges. I am particularly interested in the formation of disciples who, as a local church, participate in the mission of God.

The thesis of this essay is that ministers among the Churches of Christ must adopt a narrative homiletic in order to call the local church to live into the mission of God as followers of Jesus Christ. This essay begins by surveying the history of preaching among Churches of Christ and then identifies assumptions commonly made about preaching as a practice. Next, this essay discusses the practice of preaching in relation to the mission of God in order to propose a homiletical approach for the faith formation of the church. I contend that Churches of Christ need to abandon deductive and expository homiletic practices and instead adopt narrative preaching practices in order to cultivate disciples who live into the unfolding story of God’s mission. My argument is based on the conviction that when preaching calls the church into the narrative of scripture, a new imagination can form regarding how the church faithfully participates in the mission of God. I will also describe my own practice by sharing two different ways of developing a narrative sermon as proposed by Eugene Lowry and John W. Wright.

Preaching among Churches of Christ

Located within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, Churches of Christ are historically a “back to the Bible” people. While the legacies of both Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell are evident, Campbell’s influence had a far greater impact on the Churches of Christ. Shaped by Scottish Common Sense Realism, Campbell believed that an ancient order or pattern of apostolic Christianity was deducible from the New Testament. The hermeneutic of restoring the ancient pattern of the church in the New Testament steered the direction for restoring New Testament Christianity. Slogans such as “no creed but the Bible” and “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” served as key hermeneutical principles that helped maintain the course of restoration and served to reinforce the conclusions formed within the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

These principles shaped the way in which the Bible was read, focusing on the New Testament as a flat text of legal writ, eventually resulting in a distinct set of doctrines that came to characterize the Churches of Christ. Among these doctrines was the affirmation of believer’s baptism as immersion in water for the forgiveness of sins, the observance of the Lord’s Supper every first day of the week, and a cappella singing in Christian worship. Such distinctives were communicated widely through preaching and journals, as well as through the well-publicized book Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ by Leroy Brownlow.1 More importantly, these distinctive doctrines became a de facto creed that, although unwritten, was guarded by the editors of various journals acting effectively as bishops.2 Among local congregations, then, the standard homiletic approach was deductive, and its purpose was didactic. Sermons addressed all the topics that were deemed essential to Christian unity and the restoration of New Testament Christianity. The sermon was an appeal to reason that offered logical arguments intended to uphold the unwritten creed.

Although this led to a legalistic and sectarian posture during the twentieth century, towards the latter half of the century changes began to take place among the Churches of Christ. With a more grace-oriented evangelical outlook emerging, many congregations began shedding the status-quo of sectarianism and legalism. Amid these changes, sermons began changing too, moving from a deductive to an inductive approach due in large part to the influence of Fred B. Craddock.3 With this change came an emphasis on expository preaching, though the new preaching remained didactic. Chris Altrock labels such preaching as “bibliocentric,” describing it as preaching “like a lab technician skillfully slicing open the text on the table and explaining each muscle, organ, and tissue.”4

Observing the trend in recent years, there has been a growing interest in narrative preaching among Churches of Christ. With the development of post-liberal theology influenced by Hans Frei and George A. Lindbeck, the direction of biblical interpretation switched. Instead of interpreting the biblical text so that readers may identify with certain stories and apply them to their lives, readers are invited to live within the text and “make the story of the Bible their story.”5 This hermeneutical shift opened new possibilities in the field of homiletics. In both seminary homiletics classes and preaching conferences, I was introduced to books by Charles Campbell, Richard L. Eslinger, Eugene L. Lowry, Thomas G. Long, and Paul Scott Wilson, among others. The interest in narrative preaching was significant enough that for ten years Dave Bland and David Fleer hosted an annual lecture on preaching and published a book for each lecture, which explored the possibilities for narrative preaching from various genres and writings of Scripture.6 One reason for its attraction among many Churches of Christ is that narrative preaching draws the church back to the Bible. Could narrative preaching be more effective in the faith-formation necessary for cultivating disciples who live as participants in the mission of God? Such a question is all the more relevant in a time where it seems that the formation of disciples among churches in North America remains a challenge.

The Modernist Assumptions of Preaching as a Practice Among Churches of Christ

Although preaching is a divine moment in which God is at work, good preaching requires a set of skills and techniques. This makes preaching a practice just as much any other skill such as counseling or teaching. Alasdair MacIntyre defines a practice as “any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended.”7 In other words, a practice involves the use of skills and techniques for the purpose of achieving any number of outcomes. Both the skills and techniques as well as the outcomes make up the internal and external goods that define the practice. Internal goods are the specific properties that uniquely define the practice itself, while external goods are any number of different possible outcomesthe.8

Building on MacIntyre’s definition of practice, Bryan Stone offers an analysis of evangelism as a practice involving various skills and techniques with internal and external goods.9 Likewise, preaching is a practice with both internal and external goods. The external goods of preaching are typically the anticipated results of the sermon. The internal goods are enigmatic but remain essential in order to engage preaching as a practice. Stone offers an example of a jogger running simply for the goal of losing weight as an activity that lacks an internal good, such as the fulfillment of having jogged. The jogger begins with the external goods, which determines how he or she will jog. The point is that the internal goods of a practice are essential to the essence of practice, so that whatever the practice, it begins with the internal goods rather than the external ends, which then determines the means of undertaking the practice.10

Understanding the nature of practice opens space for examining more carefully the assumptions that underlie deductive and expository preaching. With the prevalence of the unwritten creed mentioned above, preaching in the Churches of Christ was often deductive in form and, to reinforce the creed, didactic in purpose. This homiletic approach was embedded within a cultural paradigm shaped by modernism and Christendom, which were taken for granted as the ethos of Churches of Christ came of age alongside the ethos of the United States. Within this cultural paradigm, reason served as the supreme source of truth so that proper methods would result in knowing what is taught in the Bible.11 Critique of these assumptions is not a denial of the high view of Scripture as inspired by God that Churches of Christ, like other denominations, have historically held. Rather, this critique is an acknowledgment that the sermon was primarily an appeal to human reason. Ergo, in a culture that values individualism, the meaning of Scripture is determined by the “autonomous minds” of those individuals hearing the sermon.12 The reasoning of the individual, a common sense not necessarily formed by the logic of Christ crucified—the wisdom of the gospel —determines the meaning.

While appealing to autonomous minds, preaching speaks with a common language shared between the listeners and Christianity. This assumption of a shared language emanates from the philosophy of Immanuel Kant who locates the human mind at the center of human knowledge and, thus, active in the epistemological process, creating a world of knowledge. This Kantian mind has a rational ability that presumes, according to Stanley Grenz, “that in all essential matters every person everywhere is the same.”13 Believing that everyone is the same in things that matter, the Sunday sermon assumes a shared religious language. For example, as the Churches of Christ have defended a cappella singing in Christian worship, the rationale has typically proceeded from a biblical argument. Beginning with the premise that silence in Scripture is prohibitive, a sermon on worship that includes a defense of a cappella singing appeals to the relevant passages of Scripture while insisting that Christians must “speak where the Bible speaks and remain silent where the Bible is silent.” The assumption here is that both the preacher and listeners hear the same thing when speaking of the Bible.14

The assumption of a universal language goes beyond talk about the Bible, as during the course of the sermon, preaching speaks with a shared Christian language that is familiar to the congregation. With such Christian-speak, there is an assumption that conceptual words such as “sin” and “salvation” or the confession “Jesus is Lord” have a universally understood meaning. This Christian language has a specific meaning when talking about God, and it often does so with the assumption that the listeners know God as the Trinity. Consequently, preaching among the local church may give little attention to uncovering the nature of sin, the cosmic effects of sin, and how such doctrine is understood within the mission of God’s redemptive work in Christ. Instead, with an assumed universal language, evangelistic preaching is aimed towards the goal of eliciting a response of repentance and baptism so that individual sinners will have a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ but one that may still remain disembodied from the story told within the Bible.

Such preaching assumes a position of authority, in which the preacher serves as an expository specialist clarifying the meaning of a particular biblical text. Standing on such an authoritative platform, the preacher is positioned as an objective interpreter of Scripture who is able, without bias, through exegetical work and help from the Spirit, to teach correctly what the Bible says and apply it theologically and pastorally, as necessary. Although there are many passages of Scripture where ambiguity remains, for the Churches of Christ the biblical texts that are germane to the restoration of the New Testament Christianity are often regarded as unequivocal. With the Kantian mind at work, preaching from this assumed authority presumes that an objectively correct interpretation of the text is certain if the preacher has done the hard work of exegesis.

However, twentieth-century French philosopher Jacques Derrida, writing as a postmodern deconstructionist, rejected the notion of objective interpretation saying, “There is nothing outside the text.”15 Derrida insisted that interpreters do not stand above a text and read apart from their own experience. Because the interpreter’s position is within the text and therefore interpreting through a particular set of lenses, as opposed to standing objectively above the text, every reading of the text appears as one more step in an ongoing series of steps that require interpretation.16 In this sense, epistemology is an interpretative process in which nothing is knowable with reasonable certainty since what is known is just another possibility in the process. For some, such a claim against objective interpretation, insisting instead that interpreters do not stand above a text and read apart from their own experience, sounds like relativism. However, this misunderstands the intention of Derrida, who is not suggesting that there is nothing left except relativism. Derrida’s point is that “interpretation is an inescapable part of being human and experiencing the world.”17 In other words, the point is not that all knowledge is relative but that all knowledge claims involve interpretation shaped by the lenses through which we ascertain knowledge.

Because all claims of knowledge involve interpretation, preachers should not ground their authority in claims of objectivity. Though preaching remains an effective way of teaching and shaping the imaginations of the church towards the life imagined within Scripture, preaching cannot begin with “the Bible says.” Preaching must undertake a locative shift from the assumed position of authority to a position within the practice of the church, a practice that is coherent with the message that preaching proclaims. Then, with coherence between the message and messenger, the preacher is able to earn the right to be heard. However, this positional shift makes more sense when the church understands its role within the mission of God.

The Missional Hermeneutic of Participating in the Mission of the Triune God

Towards the end of the twentieth century came a renewed interest in the mission of God among North American theologians. While traditionally the mission field was thought of as a foreign place overseas, North America emerged as a mission field, requiring churches to take up the challenge of mission at home.18 Though North American churches have functioned with an assumed pastoral role in their local context, more churches are discovering the need to reimagine what it means to live as a community on mission with God in a context of dechurched and unchurched communities. The challenge in living as a missional church is understanding how the church participates in the mission of God.

The language of participation is critical in apprehending the relationship between the mission of God and church. At the outset, mission is an attribute of God regarded “as a movement from God to the world [and] the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission.”19 Therefore, rather than reducing mission to an activity of the church, the mission of God is the participatory activity of the church. Ecclesiology proceeds from missiology, and so the missio Dei is best understood as God having a church for his mission rather than the church having its own mission. The church must speak of itself as participating in the mission of God rather than undertaking its own mission. Because mission is the activity of God in which the church participates, the church only truly exists as the church “insofar as it is in mission, insofar as it participates in the act of Christ, which is mission.”20 This conception of the church is important, because it is a recognition that participation in the mission of God is as essential to the church’s identity as confession of faith in Christ is. Without confession and participation, a religious community may exist but not the church.

Recognizing that the church serves as a participant in the mission of God, how then does this participation relate to Trinitarian doctrine, in which the Father sends the Son and Spirit as the fulfillment of God’s mission? The church has understood mission from both christological and pneumatological models. Engaging in mission christologically, the church regards itself as a community founded by Jesus that, therefore, must live “according to the intention of its founder, who has preceded it, established it, and determined its form.”21 At minimum then, the intention of the church is to live in accordance with what Jesus has accomplished through his ministry on earth. This entails living as a community set apart from the world by the Spirit, always looking to Jesus to continue “the kingdom mission” which Jesus has already accomplished the end or future of history.22 The task of mission is proclaiming what Christ has done, which the church does through word and deed. This differs from the pneumatological approach where the church regards itself as a continuance of the incarnation of the Logos either through the indwelling of the Spirit of Jesus within the church or the indwelling of the Spirit among the church as a continuation of the Logos incarnated.23 From this pneumatological approach, the church understands itself as the living expression of what Christ is presently doing in history, not just a living expression of what Christ has already accomplished. What is lacking is any consideration for the future of history that God has already revealed.

This christological model of mission has served as the default approach of the Churches of Christ. Seeking the restoration of New Testament Christianity, the Churches of Christ understand Jesus as the founder of the church and the one who determines its form. Yet as the de facto creed solidified within the Churches of Christ, the emphasis of restoring Christianity shifted toward an emphasis on restoring the church. The result among many Churches of Christ was that the rubrics of classical theology were now understood through the lens of ecclesiology.24 Consequently, the christological paradigm was eclipsed by a ecclisio-centric theology in which form trumped function. A key example is what the Churches of Christ regard as their “Exodus” movement following World War II, in which new congregations were established throughout the industrial north of America.25 In the years prior to the war, the majority of the Churches of Christ existed throughout the southern Bible-belt states, but after returning from the war, many of the veterans and their families moved north to work in steel mills, auto plants, and other Union trades. Bound by sectarianism and church dogma, the only option for these migrant families was to establish a new Church of Christ, since joining a church from a different denomination—even a congregation of the Disciples of Christ or Independent Christian Churches, who are also heirs of the Restoration Movement—was regarded as abandoning the Christian faith. So, the migrants’ new congregations were established according to the presumed pattern of the New Testament church, which resulted in churches that in their praxis looked remarkably like each other and their sister churches in the South. Cultural differences between the southern states and northern states were not considered by these new transplanted congregations.

Now these churches find themselves living among local cultures that have undergone significant philosophical and social changes since the era when the churches were first established. Rather than lamenting the challenges faced in such a missional context, the local church must reconsider how it participates in the mission of God and what practices this participation involves. For many Churches of Christ, this means moving beyond a dogmatic ecclesiology towards a missiology that is deeply rooted in Christ, yet not merely Christ in the past but also Christ who is Lord in the present and future. This involves first understanding the congregation as a local body of Christ, formed by the Spirit to live as an extension of Jesus Christ, who is the head, continuing the work he has already begun. While the role of the Spirit remains essential for such participation, the work of the Spirit also remains subordinated to Christ26 so that the course of the church’s participation in the mission of God is set by Christ. In light of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Christ to the throne as Lord, the church must also look with an eschatological lens that shapes the course of participation. Since the future of history is already revealed as victory, local churches are free to follow Jesus and live as witnesses of his reign, which is known through the memory of the past and the anticipated hope of the future. Participation in the mission of God involves a proleptic proclamation of what is anticipated based on what has happened, with the church neither representing itself as the goal nor forsaking the gospel for an alternative story.27

A Narrative Homiletic

Knowing the North American context as well as the role that churches must play as participants in the mission of God, the preacher must employ a homiletical method that enables the congregation to engage in missional praxis. Returning to the earlier discussion, a practice is understood as a coherent activity composed of both internal and external goods. As participants on mission with God, the church engages in a variety of activities and must do so beginning with the internal goods rather than with an end in mind. So, in the case of evangelism, the internal good of the praxis is faithfulness to the reign of God in Christ as the end28 rather than looking toward the goals of conversions, baptisms, new church members, and new churches. This is one way that churches live as a proleptic proclamation of Christ through the memory of the past and the hope of the future. Even though conversions, baptisms, and the rest are welcomed and desired, such responses are never the results manufactured by a church through any means—no matter how noble—other than the faithful witness to God’s kingdom.

For Churches of Christ, the responsibility of faithfulness to God’s reign in Christ requires a new lens for reading Scripture. As already seen, what shapes the Churches of Christ is a de facto creed that understands the purpose of the church as the restoration (and now maintenance) of the New Testament Church. This is a hermeneutical issue29 and any talk of a new missional praxis requires a hermeneutic that invites the readers of the Bible into the unfolding drama of the creative-redemptive work of God. In this way, the church would still read Scripture as the word of God having authority and bearing witness to God’s work within redemptive history, but space is also opened for reading Scripture as the script by which the church improvises in a consistent yet innovative manner so that it remains coherent with the biblical story.30 The potential is freedom from an ecclesiology that impedes an identity proceeding from the mission of God in which the church participates. Instead, the church, reading from a missional hermeneutic, receives an ecclesiology formed by the mission of God so that the church may live as a proclamation of what God’s reign in Christ looks like within the local context.

In this regard, preaching in the Christian assembly is understood as a practice undertaken within a community of disciples seeking to live a demonstration of God’s creative-redemptive work. This is why it is necessary to embrace a narrative homiletic structure. As a practice, the sermon is related to the faith formation of disciples. Embracing a narrative homiletic involves internal goods that are coherent with discipleship. Just as discipleship involves following Jesus as participants in the mission of God, narrative preaching reimagines what it means for disciples to live within the biblical narrative so that the church lives on mission with God. Therefore, neither the preacher nor the church is co-opting the text for what David Fleer calls “our therapeutic culture” or even for pragmatism and utilitarianism. Instead, the development of a narrative sermon begins by allowing a particular text of scripture to provide the “parameters and hints for preaching.”31

Following Jesus always begins with repentance, a letting go of the way people think and act so that they may receive the kingdom of God and thereby participate in the mission of God. Narrative preaching relays the call of repentance because the sermon embraces the directional switch of biblical interpretation that developed with post-liberal theology. Instead of demonstrating the relevance of the biblical text for the lives of the hearers as expository preaching often aims to do,32 the sermon invites and/or challenges hearers to live within the life the text imagines. If that life is not relevant or even in keeping with conventional wisdom, repentance is the response of the hearing church. Such response is an interpretation in which the church comes to see itself in the context of the kingdom of God and therefore from the perspective of God, so that the church may begin to catch “glimpses of what human life is and means in the context of God’s eternal reign that has come among us in Jesus Christ.”33

Although narrative preaching still requires exegesis and theological understanding, it is also craftsmanship that thoughtfully and wisely opens redemptive space. The sermon is an art form, a construction of words shaped by the biblical text that calls the church into the redemptive future made present by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in the church community.34 Since this future is revealed and made possible in Christ, preaching the biblical narrative as God’s word to the church is always christologically centered and eschatologically oriented. A helpful metaphor for understanding the homiletical burden is found in Ephesians 2:10, where the church is described as poiēma, “God’s work of art” (NJB). In imagining God’s creative-redemptive work as a painting in progress, those who observe it—the local and even catholic church—should begin to see a portrait of God’s redemptive work. Though the portrait has yet to be completed, the embodied witness of the church is revealing the gospel of Christ and his kingdom so that the church’s neighbors can begin to imagine what the finished artwork will look like.

The need for a narrative homiletic that calls the church into the biblical narrative makes even more sense knowing that every person is already living a story. For preaching, the question is whether the story the listeners are living is the story told within the biblical narrative or some other story. Too often, the latter seems the case, and, too often, preaching enables this by translating the text to make sense within other stories. This is the result of preaching that orients itself towards an external good according to which what matters is some measurable result rather than faithfulness to the biblical narrative. For example, I once heard a Christmas message preached from the Bible offering the church tips for managing the stress of the Christmas season that comes from buying gifts, attending Christmas parties, and so on. Instead of inviting the church to surrender whatever keeps them from truly worshiping this newborn child who is the Christ, the sermon adapted the Scriptures to the consumer values of American life that makes the Christmas season more stressful. Conversely, when preaching is faithful to the biblical narrative, the proclamation calls the church to enter into and adapt to the life imagined within Scripture rather than adapting Scripture to other stories that Christians are prone to live.

A narrative homiletic may offer an encouraging word that exhorts the church toward the redemptive goal of the gospel, or it may offer a prophetic word that calls the church to repentance with the intent of embracing the redemptive goal of the gospel. The latter is more challenging, while the former is more inviting, and so the preacher must discern if the word proclaimed is to be invitational or confrontational. Preaching, then, may invite or challenge the church into the biblical narrative through a particular text so that the church may more faithfully embody the gospel as followers of Jesus participating in the mission of God.

In my own preaching, there are two narrative approaches I find helpful. The first is from Eugene Lowry. I use Lowry’s method in order to create an invitational narrative that moves from naming the problem or discrepancy toward an “unknown resolution” or a “known conclusion.”35 This involves an inductive sequence of five movements that leads the church to hear what God is doing. Hearing becomes an invitation that opens the imagination for how the church may join in this work of God. Such preaching is not for the purpose of evoking guilt; rather, it is intended to encourage, by way of an invitational word, the embodiment of the gospel. 36

The second narrative homiletic strategy is from John Wright. I have found Wright’s method more helpful when the sermon needs to challenge the church. The homiletic movement in this approach is done with a “tragic hermeneutical moment” in which there is “the opportunity for a genuine shift in the horizon of the congregation—a shift of allegiances from those of the society at large to those of the church in submission to Christ. The tragic moment unseals the congregation so that they might find their lives in the biblical narrative, rather than absorbing the biblical narrative into theirs. The consistent in-breaking of the Word in proclamation can re-form a congregation into an alternative community, Christianly distinct from the world around them, a particular people whose witness lies in the Scriptural horizon of their communal life.”37 Arriving at this turning point requires the development of a narrative sermon sequence that begins with the non-biblical stories the church may be living within but is able to identify the limitations of those stories. Doing so opens the church to enter into the biblical story. The key here is what Wright calls a “homiletic of turning,” which in the sermon script involves a paragraph that begins by stating the limitations of the non-biblical story and then points the way forward by announcing the different way that is found within the biblical text taken as a window to the biblical story.38

However, in order to understand and articulate the non-biblical story(s) in a way that goes deeper than the superficial level, the preacher must locate him or herself pastorally within the church community. Preaching, as a practice oriented towards internal goods, must take place within the community from a position of humble service. This is consistent with the logic of the gospel. Only as a servant among the community is the preacher able to listen as a pastor and know the community of believers, their struggles, and the stories that shape their lives. Beyond this, as a servant among the community, the preacher is offering a living demonstration, imperfect as it is, of the very life imagined in the biblical story. This creates a context that provides meaning to the words that the preacher will proclaim and the language spoken so that the preacher is preaching to the church rather than beyond the church. In doing so, the preacher is able to speak with a “Christian language that presents the church as a visible manifestation of the redemptive presence of God.”39

Listening to the church and its needs is only part of the process. Knowing God and, particularly, knowing what God is saying in the Bible remains imperative. If the sermon is to announce the way forward, the way of life imagined within the biblical narrative, then having a reasonable idea of what the text says is important. An exegetical and theological understanding of the text allows the preacher to clarify what the text is attempting to do and then work that into the development of the sermon. In my own practice, I still believe a sermon is better when there is a clear focus and function statement.40 While a narrative homiletic structure has an intrinsic function, writing out a focus and function allows the preacher to clarify such qualitative differences as correcting, rebuking, and encouragement (cf. 2 Tim 4:2).

Finally, just as the church no longer has a position of authority within society, neither does the preacher. This lack of authority may appear difficult. However, since preaching is a practice of the church as it participates in the mission of God, the credibility of preaching is located in the coherency between the message proclaimed and the message lived by the church—preacher included. Consequently, the church bears the responsibility for living as a demonstration of God’s reign as imagined within the biblical narrative. Granting the church does not give this life away to an external goal, the local church will at times attract others (and at times will not) as God’s invitation to become a disciple of Jesus and live this very life. Preaching also articulates this invitation. Yet, without automatic authority, the credibility of the message is established by the coherency between that message and the life of the church and the preacher. Thus, by preaching out of this narrative homiletic, the church is able to embrace its missional responsibility and live as faithful yet improvisational actors within the biblical story,41 establishing credibility so that the church and its message may be given a hearing by society.

Conclusion

A dictum attributed to Socrates says, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” and the apostle Paul said, “Living is Christ, dying is gain” (Phil 1:21). For Christians, the life worth living is that revealed as the gospel by Christ and lived as disciples of Christ. The church encounters this gospel disclosed in the Bible as a participatory story among a world where other stories attempt to absorb and appropriate the gospel. The practice of preaching seeks to proclaim the gospel of Christ as a counter-narrative to other stories that are embedded within the lives of the hearers. The development of a sermon, then, must do more than just proclaim the gospel of Jesus and articulate what a particular passage of Scripture means. With courage and creativity, theological and cultural insight, and pastoral wisdom, the sermon must be an event which opens space for the hearers to first examine their lives in light of the gospel by means of the biblical text. The same sermon must also cultivate a new imagination so that its hearers might coherently embody the gospel within the narrative arc of Scripture.

For this reason, ministers among the Churches of Christ must adopt a narrative homiletic in order to call the local church to live into the mission of God as followers of Jesus Christ. The narrative homiletic structure takes preaching beyond topical and didactic purposes, adopting an approach that is consistent with the missional hermeneutic in which the church lives within the biblical story as participants in the mission of God. Although I have mentioned two narrative approaches for sermon development, preaching should employ whatever narrative homiletic form with which the preacher is comfortable. Preaching is always proclamation through the medium of the one preaching. For the sermon to invite and challenge the church to live the gospel story, the preacher must be among the hearers as part of the community. Simply put, sermon preparation involves spending time with people as much as it involves spending time in Scripture. In this way the sermon has the capability of forming the gathered church as disciples who live as participants in the mission of God.

K. Rex Butts serves as the lead minister/pastor with the Newark Church of Christ in Newark, DE. He holds a Doctor of Ministry in Contextual Theology from Northern Seminary in Lisle, IL, and a Master of Divinity from Harding School of Theology in Memphis, TN. He is married to Laura, and together they have three children.

1 Leroy Brownlow, Why I Am a Member of the Church of Christ (Fort Worth, TX: The Brownlow Corporation, 1973), 176. Brownlow illustrates the connection between the hermeneutical principles and doctrine when he writes, “‘Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent.’ A strict adherence to this basic principle is the reason for the omission of instrumental music in the worship of the churches of Christ.” His book was used as curriculum for Bible classes in local congregations and often given to people after their baptism. My copy is the sixty-first printing in 2013, which speaks to the longevity and popularity of the book. The three distinctives regarding baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and singing were reaffirmed as part of an article signed by multiple leaders within the Churches of Christ that encouraged a continuation of the “clear teachings of Scripture and practices of the early church, commonly acknowledged and respected by all Christian traditions.” See “A Christian Affirmation 2005,” The Christian Chronicle, May 2005.

2 Richard T. Hughes, Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 10. Hughes observes that by the middle of the eighteenth century, the doctrinal emphasis of the movement had already crystalized into an informal creed (58).

3 See Fred B. Craddock, As One Without Authority, rev. ed. (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2001).

4 Chris Altrock, Preaching to Pluralists: How to Proclaim Christ in a Postmodern Age (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2004), 63. Altrock adds, “Listeners walk away with a richer and fuller understanding of the text’s meaning.”

5 George A. Lindbeck, The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Postliberal Age (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1984), 118.

6 Dave Bland and David Fleer, eds., Preaching Character: Reclaiming Wisdom’s Paradigmatic Imagination for Transformation (Abilene: ACU Press, 2010); idem, Reclaiming the Imagination: The Exodus as Paradigmatic Narrative for Preaching (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2009); idem, Preaching John’s Gospel: The Word It Imagines (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2008); idem, Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2007); idem, Preaching Mark’s Unsettling Messiah (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 2006); idem, Performing the Psalms: With Essays and Sermons by Walter Brueggemann, J. Clinton McCann Jr., Paul Scott Wilson, and Others (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2005); idem, Preaching the Eighth Century Prophets (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2004); idem, Preaching Hebrews (Abilene: ACU Press, 2003); idem, Preaching Romans (Abilene: ACU Press, 2002); idem, Preaching Autobiography: Connecting the Word of the Preacher and the World of the Text (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2001); idem, Preaching From Luke/Acts (Abilene, TX: ACU Press, 2000).

7 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007), 187.

8 Ibid., 188–89. MacIntyre uses chess as his example in explaining that “there are the goods internal to the practice of chess which cannot be had in any way but by playing chess or some other game of that specific kind. We call them internal for two reasons: first, as I have already suggested, because we can only specify them in terms of chess or some other game of that specific kind and by means of examples from such games . . . and secondly because they can only be identified and recognized by the experience of participating in the practice in question.”

9 Bryan Stone, Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2007), 31.

10 Ibid, 34. So while the internal goods of a practice are not always self-evident, they are not unattainable. Stone writes, “The task of determining the nature of the goods internal to a practice requires that we take into account (a) the living community, or tradition, in which the question about the proper aim of a practice is embodied and extended through time, (b) the narrative that renders our actions intelligible . . . , and (c) the acquired qualities of character (virtues) that are required for pursuit of those goods.”

11 Stanley E. Grenz, A Primer on Postmodernism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996), 70. In other words, reason was the new epistemological foundation where, “because the universe was both orderly and knowable, the use of the proper methods could lead to true knowledge.”

12 See David E. Fitch, The Great Giveaway: Reclaiming the Mission of the Church from Big Business, Parachurch Organizations, Psychotherapy, Consumer Capitalism, and Other Modern Maladies (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 133, who is describing how the culture of evangelical preaching is speaking to the individualistic mind isolated in a pew from the communal discernment of the church.

13 Grenz, 79.

14 For the Churches of Christ, when it comes to the question of Christian worship, the authoritative Scripture is that which is positively stated in the New Testament, such as “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19, NRSV; cf. Col 3:16). However, for the listeners who belong to other denominations, the Psalms are authoritative and therefore have a lot to say regarding the worship of God. The issue of disagreement is not a disregard for Biblical authority but a difference in language and interpretation, among other differences, and how these differences work with the reasoning of the human mind.

15 Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1976), 158.

16 See Grenz, 79; see also Francis J. Beckwith and Gregory Koukl, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 82, who write with a very polemical tone.

17 James K. A. Smith, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism?: Taking Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault to Church (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006), 38.

18 Darrell L Guder, ed., Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 2, who writes, “Rather than occupying a central and influential place, North American Christian churches are increasingly marginalized, so much so that in our urban areas they represent a minority movement. It is by now a truism to speak of North America as a mission field. Our concern is the way that the Christian churches are responding to this challenge.”

19 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1991), 390; Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 62, who also observes, “The mission of God is the prior reality out of which flows any mission that we get involved in. Or, as has been nicely put, it is not so much the case that God has a mission for his church in the world but that God has a church for his mission in the world. Mission was not made for the church; the church was made for mission—God’s mission.”

20 Vincent J. Donavan, Christianity Rediscovered: Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Edition (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2003), 77.

21 Jürgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, trans. Margaret Kohl (New York: Harper & Row, 1977; reprint, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 70.

22 Michael W. Goheen, “As The Father Has Sent Me, I Am Sending You,” International Review of Mission 91, no. 362 (July 2002): 359.

23 Moltmann, 73, who regards either option as a weakness.

24 See M. Eugene Boring, Disciples and the Bible: A History of Disciples Biblical Interpretation in North America (St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1997), 279, who explains the reason for the Churches of Christ running theology through ecclesiology: “Orthodox ecclesiology became the crucial topic in Churches of Christ theology, which could not tolerate a view that made the church only penultimate in God’s plan. To relativize the doctrine of the church was to bring the raison d’être of the whole group into question.”

25 This movement, led by Dwain Evans, called for people to move into regions of the United States where there were few, if any, established congregations of the Churches of Christ, see Hughes, 334.

26 Moltmann, 73.

27 Ibid, 75.

28 Stone, 223, “Evangelism does not necessarily produce anything, nor is it a means to some other end; rather, faithfulness in witnessing to God’s peaceable reign is its end, even if that witness is rejected.”

29 Boring, 3. The author elsewhere recognizes the hermeneutical problems among restoration churches saying, “Disciples need a way to stop ‘looking up’ things in the Bible as though it were a religious dictionary or ‘resource book,’ a way that will help us recover our grasp on the Bible as a whole, a way of coming to terms with the biblical doctrine(s) of revelation (the word of God), God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Church, eschatology” (441).

30 N. T. Wright, Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 1, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 140. Wright suggests that we read Scripture as a five-act play, a narrative which we have a part within. Our role in the play requires both “innovation” and “consistency,” so that we are able to improvise while remaining on script (coherency) rather than repeating the past over and over. See also Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen, The Drama of Scripture: Finding Our Place in the Biblical Story (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004), 25–27, who rely on the work of Wright but present the narrative in six acts.

31 David Fleer, “Preaching as Conformity to Scripture’s Language: The Case of the Elder Brother and the Party,” Restoration Quarterly 43, no. 4 (2001): 255.

32 Ian Hussey, “Preaching For The Whole Life,” The Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society 20, no. 1 (2020): 66–67.

33 David R. Schmitt, “The Tapestry of Preaching,” Concordia Journal 37, no. 2 (2011): 119.

34 Stone, 226.

35 Eugene L. Lowry, The Homiletical Plot: The Sermon as Narrative Art Form (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 22–23. By unknown resolution, Lowry means a resolution to the discrepancy that is “unknown in advance.” Opposite of the unknown resolution is the known conclusion, in which the listeners know the end but are engaged in wondering how the end or known conclusion will come about.

36 Ibid., 86, “The preached Word makes possible the redemption into new life by its announcement of what God has done and is doing. Sermonically, this means the central issue is the proclamation of that good news.”

37 John W. Wright, Telling God’s Story: Narrative Preaching for Christian Formation (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 44.

38 Ibid., 87, 98–99.

39 Ibid, 136.

40 Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1989), 86. This citation is to the original edition but two subsequent editions have been published. See Thomas G. Long, The Witness of Preaching, 3rd ed. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2016).

41 The idea of faithful yet improvisational actors is used by N.T. Wright, Scripture and the Authority of God: How to Read the Bible Today (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 121–27; idem, The New Testament and the People of God (London: SPCK, 1992), 139–43. The idea is to imagine the church as actors within a play in which the particular scene the local church is to act out is missing. Because the particular scene is missing, the church improvises what the scene should be, but it must do so in a manner that is coherent with the story plotline and location of the scene. This coherent acting within the plotline and location is faithful improvisation.

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Mission as “Foreign Policy”: The Historical Relationship between United States Foreign Policy and North American Protestant Missiology

Interpreting Christian missions as foreign policy is a meritorious hermeneutical strategy. This article traces how North American missiology has mirrored US foreign policy through seven historical eras, then concludes with reflections and potential perspectives on the topic of mission as the Church’s “foreign policy.”

As the church conducts her mission in the world, the historical moment of each era inevitably shapes the missiology of each generation. The foreign policy of nation-states shape the ideas and practices of Chrsitian mission.

By using foreign policy as an interpretive framework of Christian mission, this essay explores how mission can be viewed as “Christian foreign policy.” After introductory remarks on the general relationship between foreign policy and Christian mission, a historical survey examines how North American Protestant missiology has mirrored US foreign policy.1

Foreign policy is a course of action or set of principles which a national government adopts to define its relations with other countries or groups. This developed strategy sets forth the purpose and agenda of the insider’s relationship with the outsiders, outlining when, where, and how to engage others. A nation’s foreign policy identifies its goals, the basis of such objectives, and the instruments for accomplishing them.2 No country’s foreign policy is ever static but always evolving to satisfy the domestic interests of a country in an ever-changing global context and new administrations. The acceptable manners of conducting international relations develop with time.

Likewise, missiology is the church’s set of principles that define its relations with outsiders, thus outlining when, where, and how Christians are to interact with non-Christians. In light of foreign policy studies, we can study Christian mission as the church’s foreign policy. Although missiology necessarily transforms from era to era to meet the needs of a dynamic world, every generation identifies strategic objectives and means for Christian mission. Whether elaborated or not, this foreign policy of the church guides missional practices.

Missiology and foreign policy share commonality because each field must answer the same fundamental questions: Who are ‘we’ (the insiders)?, Who are ‘they’ (the outsiders)?, How should ‘we’ relate to ‘them’?, and Why should ‘we’ relate to ‘them’ in that particular way? As earnestly as Protestant mission practitioners desire to follow the biblical precedent in thought and action, the reality remains that each generation operates within a particular socio-political context that undoubtedly influences the aims, means, narratives, problems, solutions, and models of mission. We might expect that foreign policy would influence Christian subjects, considering the tremendous resources that governments expend to propagate nationalistic narratives and construct national identities.

In this article, I do not portray the Christian missionary movement as the naive servant of nationalistic and imperialistic agendas. Yet, the nationalistic objectives of the US government did nevertheless shape how the church viewed her missiological task, even though the motivation of most American missionaries was foremost spiritual and theological.3 This essay does not portray American Christian missions as extensions of the government but explores how the foreign policy of the US government cast a shadow over the theology and practice of American mission.

Interpreting Christian mission from the vantage point of foreign policy certainly includes limits. Firstly, any one theory is incapable of integrating all of the historical data into a comprehensive model. Not every mission impulse is related to foreign policies, and conversely, not all foreign policies shape mission approaches. Foreign policy is prominent in the contours of missiological models due to their unique similarities, but we must consider other cultural factors.4 A synthesis of topics as broad as foreign policy or mission will suffer from selective analysis and artificial harmonization. We should understand the relation between foreign policy and mission as more fluid and tacit than wooden and direct. Nevertheless, the historic mirroring of US foreign policy and North American Protestant missiology reflects one influence upon missions.

By holding the foreign policies and mission strategies of seven distinct eras in the same line of vision, I examine their similarities. My proposed title for each section encapsulates both the government’s and the church’s policy towards “foreign nations.”

Pioneering Westward (1790–1880)

During her first century, America was reluctant to act on the international stage, due partly to her limited powers as a newly birthed nation but also because of the great opportunities in the neighboring lands westward of the original colonies. George Washington outlined the earliest US foreign policy in his farewell address of 1796, when warning against involvement in political intrigues with foreign nations. In 1823, the Monroe Doctrine warned Europeans power against interfering with nations of North and South America and implied the United States alone would complete the settlement of North America. During the mid-1800s, the rapid expansion of US territory through settlement of Native American lands guided the policy and captured the heart of young America. The concept of Manifest Destiny reflected the jingoistic belief that (white, European) America was commissioned by God to mediate divine blessings through settlement of the western frontier, just as Israel was to be exalted through the conquest of Canaan.5 The compass of God’s purposes for America pointed westward, not abroad.6

This preoccupation with domestic opportunities and general disinterest in foreign affairs also characterized nineteenth-century Christian mission. As the American political borders expanded westward, the church followed in mission. The Congregationalists of New England formed state-based mission societies in the first decade of the 1800s “to Christianize the heathen of North America and promote Christian knowledge in the new settlements within the United States.”7 Soon after, other denominational mission boards (Presbyterians in 1816, Methodists and Episcopalians in 1820, Baptists in 1932) and Bible societies were founded to meet the specific needs of the frontier mission to European settlers and indigenous peoples. Since African slaves and Native Americans were the “foreigners” for early Protestant Americans, the North American church focused primarily on these home missions,8 in contrast with European missions that invested heavily in Europe’s African and Asian colonies during the nineteenth century.

Expanding Abroad (1880–1919)

Propelled by domestic needs, America stepped abroad with confidence and optimism around 1900. Reconstruction, westward expansion, industrial growth, and rapid urbanization wrought an American thirst for overseas markets. This forced the domestic-focused country to adopt expansionist policies. Influenced by Alfred Mahan’s vision for the US to become a naval power, Republicans expanded the concept of Manifest Destiny to include interests overseas.9 The acquisition of the Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Guam in the Spanish-American War of 1898—America’s first significant foreign conflict—clearly established America’s ascending military power and imperialistic aims. Theodore Roosevelt (US President, 1901–1909) expanded America’s involvement in foreign affairs by meddling in Chinese markets, the Russo-Japanese War, and the Panamanian revolution. As superpowers often do, America began to view herself as “the primary agent of God’s meaningful activity in history” during the high imperial era.10

The government’s expansion into foreign arenas opened new doors for missional opportunities overseas. Western Christians viewed the imperialistic gains of Protestant Britain and America as God’s means of paving the way for an era of great missionary success.11 From 1880 to the climax of mission activity in the early 1920s, missionary personnel and financial giving increased seven-fold. By 1914, half of the 29,000 Protestant missionaries were from North America—a remarkable fact considering hardly any North Americans were involved in overseas missions just 100 years earlier. For both the US government and the American Church in this period, “China had become the major American field and Latin America had been added to the earlier spheres of interest.”12 Supporting apparatuses sprouted in the late 1800s to facilitate this burgeoning missionary movement. These include: Bible institutes and missionary training schools (e.g., Moody, Gordon, Nyack, Biola), journals (e.g., The Missionary Review, The Gospel in All Lands), conferences (e.g., Northfield Conferences, the Ecumenical Missionary Conference) and sending agencies (e.g., Africa Inland Mission, CMA, and “faith missions”). As the primary mobilizer of American missions, the Student Volunteer Movement (SVM) tapped into America’s youthful optimism and inflated confidence, reflected in their ambitious motto, “the evangelization of the world in this generation.”13 However, the harsh realities of World War I (1914–1918) soon checked the overseas march of the American church and government.

Retreating to Isolationism (1920–1939)

In the period between the two world wars (1918-1939), America retreated from foreign affairs.14 The rapid shift back to isolationism began when the Senate rebuffed Woodrow Wilson’s proposal for America’s membership in the League of Nations in 1920, thus absolving America of any foreign military commitment. America withdrew economically as well during the Great Depression; protectionism from foreign competition led to the highest tariffs in American history. As an implicit condemnation of America’s expansionistic foreign policy, the Neutrality Act of 1935 and other similar Congressional measures prevented future entanglement in foreign affairs by banning loans and sales of munitions to warring countries.15 Americans intentionally retreated from the international scene by actively resisting foreign relations.

For the North American church, the 1920s and ‘30s represent a marked slump in mission activity. The resignation of Samuel Mott in 1920 during the SVM’s marked decline indicated the “Great Century”16 of Christian mission had concluded. The levels of involvement in foreign lands reached in the early 1920s would not be surpassed until after World War II. Missions (like the foreign policy of expansionism) were not only abrogated but also heavily criticized. For example, William Hocking’s influential Laymen’s Report (1932) questioned previous missionary assumptions, motives, and methods. The American Church began to doubt its missionary activity. The fretful years of the Great Depression increased ecclesiastical isolationism by restricting revenues for foreign missions.

Spreading Around the World (1940–1959)

World War II (1939–1945) and its aftermath established America as the world leader in global politics. A pragmatic approach to international relations pulled America into global affairs on multiple fronts: Russia, Western Europe, and the Pacific. Even after World War II concluded, American troops and weapons remained spread around the world for a protracted period under Truman’s “containment”—a policy of rearmament and collective security designed to avoid another war. The financial backing of the Greek monarchy fighting communist insurgents in 1947 marked the first time America had chosen to intervene in affairs outside of the Americas during a time of peace17 and commenced the beginning of America’s global fight against communism. The onset of the Cold War years caused America’s foreign policy to become remarkably global in scope.18

After World War II the American Protestant church experienced revitalization in terms of mission. Christian soldiers who encountered the world for the first time during their tours of duty returned overseas as missionaries. For example, former Air Corps pilots founded the Mission Aviation Fellowship in 1945. This revival was most prominent among post-war evangelicals, whose mission agencies proliferated to serve the burgeoning missionary force. The number of foreign missions from America doubled from 1935 to 1952 and would double again by 1970.19 Mainline churches in America invested resources in forming the World Council of Churches to coordinate global mission activity. The church’s renewed interest in foreign matters was part of the larger revival of domestic post-War religiosity—itself a bulwark against “godless Communism.”20

Negotiating Polarized Agendas (1960–1989)

The 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s were decades of intense critique, confrontation, and turmoil in American society. Political leftists pushed for social reforms in response to hawkish Cold War policies. While the White House remained combative against threats of communism, university students protested against military conflicts and questioned the morality of a warring nation meddling in foreign affairs. The nation’s approach to international relations was polarized into “hawks” and “doves.”

Missiology during this period of social upheaval was likewise polarized into the contrasting approaches. The resurgence of conservative evangelicals continued, while mainline liberals invoked a moratorium on Western missionary activity.21 Missionaries from mainline denominations declined from being 34% of the North American Protestant Missionary personnel in 1960 to only 11% in 1980.22 On the other hand, evangelicals by 1973 “provided 66.5 percent of the funds and 85 percent of the personnel for American Protestant overseas missions.”23 In terms of mission education, Dana Robert notes how mission programs in mainline university-related seminaries virtually disintegrated in the 1970’s as politically-active student bodies rejected the church’s mission legacy as imperialistic and exclusivistic. Meanwhile, evangelical seminaries such as Fuller, Trinity, and Asbury flourished.24 The polarization of ecumenical and evangelical mission agendas (social justice vs. evangelistic witness) in the 1960s and ‘70s mirrored the schisms of America’s foreign policies.25 Conservatives remained intentional and even confrontational towards the “other,” and liberals questioned such engagement as imperialistic.

Meeting Global Needs (1990s)

The Clinton doctrine of “enlargement” of free-market democracies after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 defined America’s foreign policy along economic and humanitarian lines. Clinton (US President, 1992–2000) inaugurated a new period of economic globalization characterized by free trade agreements, open markets, and economic aid.26 Due to America’s dependence on global resources and markets in the new borderless economy, Wall Street rivaled the Pentagon as the heart of American’s foreign policy. America also increased its involvement in global issues such as the environment, human rights, arms reduction, poverty, and negotiations of peace processes. The American military became involved in humanitarian missions that did not involve American national interests, in places such as Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Ethiopia, and Kosovo. This altruistic foreign policy of the Clinton administration made America responsible for addressing humanity’s needs on a global scale.

Similarly, the church since the 1990s has given more attention to economic and humanitarian objectives, in contrast to propositional approaches. Acceptable forms of Christian mission now include business development, debt relief, legal justice, inter-religious dialogue, environmentalism, reconciliation, and AIDS treatment. The topics addressed in the 31 Lausanne Occasional Papers from the 2004 forum in Thailand illustrates how evangelical missions, which once rejected social forms of mission for most of the twentieth century, were incorporated into “holistic” approaches to address wide-ranging, global issues.27

Islam vs. Globalization (2000–present)

Twenty-first century America has navigated the tension of two pulls: the desire for a multi-polar and international impact, and the intractable vortex of the Islamic Middle East. Affairs in the Muslim world hampered global ambitions. The attacks of 9/11 instantly reshaped American’s foreign policy and even its self-identity. The Bush Doctrine targeted global terrorism and the “Axis of Evil” (Iran, Iraq, and North Korea), which aided aided terrorists. The administration maintained a strong commitment to “nation-building.”28 But while Bush sought to promote democracy around the world, the “Global War on Terror” diverted most resources to the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama emerged as a popular resistor to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He sought to untangle America from the Middle East and “pivot towards Asia” to advance American’s political, economic, and climate interests in the growing Asia-Pacific.29 However, Obama could not escape the two wars he inherited,30 and then faced the Arab Spring in North Africa and the Syrian Civil War. Problems in the Middle East frustrated his internationalist program.31

American Christianity in the twenty-first century likewise navigated the twin realities of globalization and Islam. Regarding the former, Phillip Jenkins’ The Next Christendom (2002) noted the historic geographic shift of global Christianity towards the South and East.32 The new global mission had become “from everywhere to everywhere.”33 With this shift, mission conferences now gathered the international church. For example, Lausanne’s Cape Town 2010 hosted 4,500 people from 200 nations, garnering the title “Most Diverse Gathering Ever.”34 The church and her mission has become multipolar and polycentric.35 This has involved a de-centering of American mission efforts and partnering with Majority World leaders as equals.

America’s political and military engagements in the Middle East have attracted the church’s attention to the world of Islam. The encounter has been more conceptual than personal, as American Christians seek to comprehend Muslims. For example, the late Nabeel Qureshi produced several best-selling books about Islam,36 and the 2020 conference of the Evangelical Theological Society focused on “Christianity and Islam,” yet the amount of missional engagement (in terms of American Protestant workers residing in Muslim-majority countries) has remained stagnant.

This article refrains from analyzing the post-Obama era, as I may be too close historically to discern the impact of Trump’s isolationist doctrine of “America First.” However, the recent rise of global nationalism and aggressive populism37 reflects the intersection of national idealities and contemporary identities. Historical distance may reveal how such cultural currents are shaping contemporary missiology. I suspect Christian missiology will become further divided, as we see fault lines already emerging within evangelical approaches to justice and mission.

Conclusions and Implications

The modern missionary movement has commonly been portrayed in either (1) hagiographic terms of gospel bearers overcoming hardship to save souls or (2) critical terms as the religious arm of imperial powers bent on subduing foreign lands. In response to a Eurocentric interpretation of missions history, newer histories of mission examine how national populations in the global south adopted and adapted the message.38 Yet, minimal historical scholarship has understood the Western missionary movement as the object being acted upon and influenced by other factors, such as foreign policy. Western missions are not merely the creators of history (whether that history is interpreted positively or negatively) but also exist as the creations of history. By examining the relationship between governmental foreign policy and American Protestant mission trends, I offer a fresh historical hermeneutic approach. Juxtaposing American missiology and US foreign policies provides us insights to how American missiology of each era parallels the prevailing foreign policy.39

So what is the precise relationship between foreign policy and missions? The link is best viewed as one of correlation likely derived from a common source—a shared worldview or national mythology. Both the interpretative ideologies of mission and foreign policy stem from a common national mythology shaped by notions of identity, otherness, purpose, and even notions of salvation. For Christian mission practitioners, foreign policy functions as a sort of mirror, in which the readily identifiable assumptions and values of state actors expose parallel tendencies in our missiological theory and practice. The above historical survey suggests the architects of American foreign policy and missiology drink from the same wells. Despite our pious intentions, we missioners today ought not locate ourselves as exceptions, as though we escaped the magnetic pull of national narratives. Christians from all nations, to a certain degree, are beholden to socio-political influences. The relationship may even be one of indirect causation, as when outsized elements of foreign policy (e.g., America’s response to 9/11) sway national ideologies, which, in turn, shape the means and ends of Protestant missions.

We missioners must grapple with the meaning and significance of this relationship. In doing so, I suggest at least two important questions we must ask. Has the North American church adopted political ideas uncritically and lacked appropriate biblical reflection? When has the church redeemed the political currents of its generation in pursuit of her biblical mission to the world? Reflecting upon history’s meaning remains essential for God’s people in pursuit of her mission in the world.

To illustrate some potential benefits of the framework of this article, I observe some personal notes. Living abroad affords greater opportunities to interact with people from the US State Department. I have pursued these as a means of learning dialogue. During informal conversations with Peace Corp members or public lectures, I have observed their assumptions and approaches. This in turn has offered new light upon the theories and practices of my own “foreign policy.” In addition to personal interactions, I have found the magazines Foreign Policy and Foreign Affairs to offer helpful analysis of global affairs and international policy. Mission practitioners, especially in sensitive contexts, often avoid associating with governmental ideas and actors. This is perhaps a response to historical moments when missions and government became too intertwined, such as nineteenth-century missionaries advancing European “civilization” or covert agents assuming religious identities. But despite such examples of historical co-opting, we ought not to distance ourselves from political institutions to maintain our illusions of distinction from their influences. In the end, missions and foreign policy both have the same aim—constructing and implementing an ideological narrative of the world.

Jayson Georges (PhD candidate, Durham University; MDiv, Talbot School of Theology) has lived in Asia for fourteen years. His publications include Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures (IVP Academic, 2016) and the website http://honorshame.com.

1 For historical investigations into the relationship between mission and foreign policy, see William Imboden, Religion and American Foreign Policy: 1945–1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Robert Jewett, Mission and Menace: Four Centuries of American Religious Zeal (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2008); Elliott Abrams, ed., The Influence of Faith: Religious Groups and U.S. Foreign Policy (Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001).

2 Frederic Perason and J. Martin Rochester, International Relations (New York: Random House, 1984), 107.

3 R. Pierce Beaver, “Missionary Motivation through Three Centuries,” in Reinterpretation in American Church History, ed. Jerald C. Bauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), 113-51.

4 Examples include philosophical discourses, technological advancements, social movements, artistic innovations, economic fluctuations, environmental changes, and political events.

5 Ezra Stiles, The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor: A Sermon (Hartford, CT: General Assembly, 1785).

6 For the religious nature of America’s westward expansion see Conrad Cherry, God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny (Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press, 1998), 113–62; Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press, 1995).

7 Article four of the constitution of the Missionary Society of Connecticut, cited in J. Herbert Kane, A Global View of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1971), 98.

8 Bradley J. Gundlach, “Early American Missions from the Revolution to the Civil War,” in The Great Commission: Evangelicals and the History of World Missions, eds. Martin Klauber and Scott Manetsch (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), 68.

9 Alfred Mahan, The Influence of Seapower upon History (Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company, 1890).

10 John Edwin Smylie, “National Ethos and the Church,” Theology Today 20, no. 3 (1963): 314.

11 Dana Robert, Occupy Until I Come: A. T. Pierson and the Evangelization of the World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 218.

12 Beaver, “Missionary Motivation,” 114–15.

13 John R. Mott, The Evangelization Of The World In This Generation (New York: Student Volunteer Movement For Foreign Missions, 1900).

14 To illustrate the radical pendulum shifting of American foreign policy, over 4.3 million American soldiers had been mobilized by 1918 for World War I. In 1939, “America had no entangling alliances and no American troops were stationed in any foreign country” (Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley, Rise to Globalism, 8th rev. ed., [New York: Penguin, 1997], ix). The personnel of American military forces surpassed 16 million people in 1945.

15 John Garraty and Mark Carnes, A Short History of the American Nation, 8th ed. (New York: Longman, 2001), 653.

16 Kenneth Scott Latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, vol. 4, The Great Century, A.D. 1800–A.D. 1914 (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1941).

17 Ambrose and Brinkley, 83.

18 During this period, America became involved in each major region of the world: Latin America (Cuba and Nicaragua), Africa (Congo and Nigeria), the Middle East (Egypt and Palestine), East Asia (Korea and Vietnam), and Europe (Germany and the Balkans).

19 Robert Coote, “Twentieth-Century Shifts in the North American Protestant Missionary Community,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29, no. 1 (1998), 153.

20 Robert Mullin, “North America,” in A World History of Christianity, ed. Adrian Hastings (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 451–52.

21 A leading figure of liberal missiology was J. C. Hoekendijk, who was suspicious of “churchism”—the assumption that mission occurred through the church. For more, see, L. A. “The Legacy of J. C. Hoekendijk,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 19, no. 4 (1995): 166–70.

22 North American Protestant Foreign Mission Agencies, 5th ed. (New York: Missionary Research Library, 1962), 119; Coote, “Twentieth-Century Shifts,” 153.

23 Gerald Anderson, “American Protestants in Pursuit of Mission: 1886-1986,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 12, no. 3 (1988): 111.

24 Dana Robert, “Mission Study at the University-related Seminary,” Missiology 17, no. 2 (1989): 196–98.

25 Dietrich Werner, “Evangelism from a WCC Perspective,” International Review of Mission 96, nos. 382/383 (2007), 189–91.

26 For an analysis of the “Clinton Doctrine,” see James D. Boys, Clinton’s Grand Strategy: US Foreign Policy in a Post-Cold War World (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015); William Hyland, Clinton’s World: Remaking American Foreign Policy by William Hyland (Westport, CN: Praeger Publishers, 1999).

27 David Claydon, ed., A New Vision, A New Heart, A Renewed Call: Lausanne Occasional Papers from the 2004, vols. 1–3 of Lausanne Occasional Papers from the 2004 Forum For World Evangelization (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Press, 2004).

28 “Bush a Convert to Nation Building,” The Washington Times, April 7, 2008, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/apr/7/bush-a-convert-to-nation-building. This remained an unilateral effort as his neoconservative appointments eschewed international collaboration.

29 Mark E. Manyin, et al., “Pivot to the Pacific? The Obama Administration’s ‘Rebalancing’ Toward Asia,” Congressional Research Service, March 28, 2012, https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc86617/m1/1/high_res_d/R42448_2012Mar28.pdf.

30 Peter Baker, “Obama Finds He Can’t Put Iraq War Behind Him,” The New York Times, June 13, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/14/world/middleeast/obama-finds-he-cant-put-iraq-behind-him.html.

31 Ryan Lizza, “The Consequentialist: How the Arab Spring Remade Obama’s Foreign Policy” The New Yorker, May 2, 2011, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/05/02/the-consequentialist.

32 Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).

33 Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003).

34 John W. Kennedy, “The Most Diverse Gathering Ever,” Christianity Today, September 29, 2010, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/september/34.66.html.

35 Allen Yeh, Polycentric Missiology: 21st-Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016).

36 Nabeel Qureshi, Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus: A Devout Muslim Encounters Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018); idem, Answering Jihad: A Better Way Forward (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016); idem, No God but One: Allah or Jesus?: A Former Muslim Investigates the Evidence for Islam and Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).

37 Yotam Margalit, “Economic Insecurity and the Causes of Populism, Reconsidered,” Journal of Economic Perspectives 33, no. 4 (2019): 152–70.

38 E.g., Lamin Sanneh, Disciples of All Nations (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008); Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

39 Tobias Brandner, “Mission, Millennium, Politics,” Missiology 27, no. 3 (2009): 317–32. In the same edition of Missiology also appear two articles that are fine examples of analyzing paradigms of mission in their particular political milieu: John Hubers, “‘It is a Strange Thing’: The Millennial Blindness of Christopher Columbus,” 333–53; Alister Chapman “Evangelical International Relations in the Post-Colonial World,” 355–68.

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Racial Reconciliation and the Opportunity of the Lord’s Supper

Recent events have renewed concern over race relations in the United States and invigorated a long overdue conversation on the church’s role in racial reconciliation. This is especially pertinent given the church’s past failures and the divisions between historically white and African American congregations. This paper argues that the Lord’s Supper, as the focal point of Christian worship, identifies opportunities towards this goal of reconciliation in Christ. These include the opportunities to build community, to “re-member” the “dismembered” body of Christ, to unlearn racial prejudices through the thankful practice of seeing God’s face in one another, to confess sin and receive forgiveness, and to express the hopeful expectation of the eschaton. Specific practical suggestions are given as “conversation starters” for churches to begin their own exploration of racial reconciliation.

The death of George Floyd, a forty-six-year-old African American man, during an attempted arrest on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, MN, reignited flames of racial tension across the nation at a time when anxiety levels were already high due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, the incident was just one more example of injustice in a nation that has yet to reconcile fully the sins of its past. The accumulated effect of this event after numerous other racially charged incidents in recent years has renewed the national conversation on justice, racism, and inequality at every level of society, including the church. Of course, the church has not always lived up to its call to live out the mission of God and to be agents of reconciliation in a divided world. Today, however, it faces new and great opportunities to do so in light of these recent, troubling, and very public episodes.

The apostle Paul spoke of his work as a “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) reflective of Christ’s ministry towards humanity: “That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:19). That is the hopeful expectation of the gospel.

The church has not always contributed positively towards the work of racial reconciliation. In fact, one might point to many instances when the church has contributed to the problem. In this essay, I will explore a small portion of the history of Churches of Christ to provide some context. I then draw on the historic commitment to the practice of the Lord’s Supper in Christian worship and explore avenues it opens up towards the goal of reconciliation.

Churches of Christ and Sins of the Past

In 1960 Martin Luther King Jr. lamented, “It is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America.”1 Today, some sixty years later, not a lot has changed. The Multiracial Congregations Project led by Michael Emerson, a Rice University sociologist, defines a multiracial congregation as one where no one racial group is more than 80% of the congregation. Using that standard, Emerson has found that only 8% of all Christian congregations in the US are racially mixed to a significant degree.2 Churches of Christ are no exception. According to statistical data collected by 21st Century Christian, Churches of Christ which identify themselves as predominantly Black represent only 9.4% of the total fellowship. Even fewer congregations identify as “integrated” according to the demographic summary offered by the publishers, however, no specific data is offered.3

Church historian Doug Foster has noted that in the early days of chattel slavery in America, enslaved people were often kept from becoming Christians by their “slave owners,” who feared they would have to set their slaves free were they to become Christians. Eventually, churches began to insist that slave owners teach Christianity to their slaves, with the promise that their spiritual state would not affect their status as “property.” In the revivalism of the early nineteenth century, African Americans, both slave and free, were baptized in large numbers.4

The seeds of racial division were sown early in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Early Restoration leaders disagreed over the issue of slavery. Some, like Barton W. Stone, called for its abolition,5 while most argued for the status quo, especially in the South. Alexander Campbell attempted a middle ground in his sporadic comments on slavery in the Christian Baptist and the Millennial Harbinger. His hesitancy to take a side either as an abolitionist or proponent of slavery earned him criticism from both sides. It did, however, reveal his chief concern of unity.6 He wrote, “To preserve unity of spirit among Christians of the South and of the North is my grand object, and for that purpose I am endeavoring to show how the New Testament does not authorize an interference or legislation upon the relation of master and slave, nor does it in letter or spirit authorize Christians to make it a term of communion.”7 Though it is said that Campbell privately disagreed with slavery, his attempts to maintain unity within the movement did little to advance the cause of the enslaved individual.8 By 1851, a report of the America and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society recorded “Campbellites” as owning 101,000 slaves, many of whom learned the gospel and became members of white congregations.9 They were as in other religious fellowships forced to sit apart from their white brothers and sisters.

Within a few short years after the end of the Civil War, African American believers began forming their own, separate congregations. As these congregations developed, increasingly African American converts were encouraged to become members of those congregations rather than their white counterparts.10 David Lipscomb stood as a counter voice to the prevailing sentiments of his day. He labeled segregation and racial prejudice a sin and an outrage that should not be tolerated. He insisted that churches which condoned such a spirit had forfeited their claim to be the church of God.11 Lipscomb’s voice crying in the wilderness went largely unheeded, however. For the most part, Black preachers were kept from opportunities to preach in white pulpits and Christian schools barred Black students from enrollment. It was not long before two separate fellowships had emerged.12

African American congregations increasingly developed apart from white congregations. In the first half of the twentieth century, key leaders began to emerge. Marshall Keeble (1878–1968) soon became one of the most influential leaders within African American churches. He believed that key to the success of evangelism among African Americans was education and greater partnership with white brethren. Keeble courted relationships with influential leaders from among white Churches of Christ, while traveling the country preaching the gospel and baptizing thousands. Most famously, his relationship with A. M. Burton, founder of Life and Casualty Insurance of Nashville, TN, allowed him to fund much of his own evangelistic work as well as the work of other black evangelists. He founded the Nashville Christian Institute in 1940 in order to educate young Black preachers.

Despite the good produced by partnerships like Keeble’s with white brethren, the relationships were hardly symmetrical. Wes Crawford, in his insightful book Shattering the Illusion, demonstrates that the relationships between whites and African Americans were paternalistic and unequal. Such attitudes galvanized the African American church into further separation and independence from white congregations–the effects of which are quite obvious today.13

The racist attitude of white Churches of Christ in the twentieth century is further confirmed when one considers the history of its dominant institutions, its publications, and its schools. Writing in the Gospel Advocate in 1931, A. B. Lipscomb, a nephew of David Lipscomb, wrote this rather patronizing commendation to describe the work of Marshall Keeble and his students: “The work among the colored people here was sponsored and financed by the white disciples. We have never made a better investment for the Lord nor any which brought such quick and happy results. . . . This means that we now have better farm hands, better porters, better cooks, better housemaids than ever before.”14 Even more indicting was the attitude expressed by Foy E. Wallace Jr., in the March 1941 issue of the Bible Banner. He berated white preachers who attended “Negro meetings” and praised the Black preachers for their work. He concluded, “If any of the white brethren get worked up over what I have said and want to accuse me of being jealous of the negro preachers, I will just tell them now that I don’t even want to hold a meeting for any bunch of brethren who think that any negro is a better preacher than I am!”15 The Christian schools of the movement also did little to affect the status quo. In 1954 the Supreme Court passed the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision mandating schools across the nation desegregate. At that time not one of the schools associated with Churches of Christ allowed African Americans to enroll. Even after the decision, it would take almost a decade for the schools to comply. Several were criticized for eventually making the change solely for the purpose of receiving federal aid.16 An embittering turning point came in 1967 when Keeble’s Nashville Christian Institute closed its doors permanently. After Keeble passed away, the school’s majority-white board made the decision to close the school, sell its assets, and distribute the funds to the recently desegregated David Lipscomb College rather than to the only other remaining predominantly African American college associated with Churches of Christ, Southwestern Christian College in Texas. This became a source of bitterness and deepened the divide between what was, essentially, two independent fellowships.17

As the Civil Right Movement swept across America and challenged the status quo everywhere, Churches of Christ were largely apathetic. While there were a few outspoken voices, predominantly from African American preachers, by and large Churches of Christ remained on the sidelines. Keeble, himself, was often disapproving of young Black preachers who were too outspoken, even of Martin Luther King Jr.

I have offered this brief rehearsal of history in order to acknowledge the hurt and division that exists today because of the sin of racism. True reconciliation is only possible if the truth of the brokenness, however painful, is realized. Once acknowledged, the church must then turn to the reconciling work of Christ, celebrated in Christian worship and commemorated in the practice of the Lord’s Supper, which can heal even the most hostile of relationships.

Christian Worship and Reconciliation

Christian worship provides one of the best contexts for Christians to unlearn racist patterns of thought and action and to relearn new ways of thinking and acting in the world.18 While the worship service has, sadly, often been one of the most segregated spaces in our society, often confirming and even re-enforcing patterns and practices of racism, Emmanuel Katongole argues for Christians to view worship as “a site for imagining and embodying concrete alternatives to the dominant cultural patterns and values.” In other words, worship, properly understood, provides Christians with wonderful new possibilities for living out a different reality, a kingdom reality, and to call the world to a different vision of the future.19 Even more specifically, the Lord’s Supper, with its emphasis on confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation affords opportunities for the church to be honest about the sins of its past and to demonstrate a renewed “kingdom-focused” call for justice to the world.

In Churches of Christ, nothing has been more important to worship than the practice of the Lord’s Supper.20 Referred to variously as communion, Eucharist or Lord’s Supper, the sacrament of the Table stands as the centerpiece of Christian worship. In 1982, the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches penned and distributed an ecumenical document known as Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry (BEM). It has become a significant statement in discussions regarding the Eucharist between different faith communities. The key theological principles discussed in the document illustrate the implications for and inspiration toward reconciliation the Supper provides.21 In speaking of the Eucharist as the “Communion of the Faithful,” it states:

The eucharistic celebration demands reconciliation and sharing among all those regarded as brothers and sisters in the one family of God and is a constant challenge in the search for appropriate relationships in social, economic, and political life (Matt. 5:23f; 1 Cor. 10:16f; 1 Cor. 11:20-22; Gal. 3:28). All kinds of injustice, racism, separation, and lack of freedom are radically challenged when we share in the body and blood of Christ. . . . As participants in the eucharist, therefore, we prove inconsistent if we are not actively participating in this ongoing restoration of the world’s situation and the human condition.22

The Opportunities of the Lord’s Supper

Mark Powell emphasizes the important need to recount the gospel story consistently, regularly and creatively in Christian worship. The Lord’s Supper is a prime opportunity to do so.23 Since the gospel is so rich and multi-faceted, and since the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is so rich and multi-faceted, it behooves those who preside at the Table to think creatively about how to emphasize its various depths and dimensions. The following are offered as possible areas of exploration and emphasis in the hopes of utilizing the practice of the Supper to highlight the goal of racial reconciliation.

1. The Lord’s Supper is an opportunity to build community.

Jesuit Priest Brian Lennon writes out of his experience witnessing the conflict in his native country of Northern Ireland between Republicans and Unionists during the 1990s and sees hope for reconciliation in the Eucharist: “In the Eucharist, then, we are called to build a human community on earth, to make peace with our enemies, and to include sinners in our community (in part because we are sinners ourselves), and we cannot relate to the God revealed by Jesus Christ unless we do this.”24 Lennon unpacks two key theological principles that undergird his hope for political and religious reconciliation in Ireland: (1) The Eucharist is essentially a community event as the community of the church is brought by Christ into the presence of God; (2) The God into whose presence Christ brings the church is a community of Three Persons. The community is strengthened by looking at the nature of God as a Triune God, three Persons in one divine essence. This point is not merely academic. It impacts our understanding of the importance of human relationships and community.25

Because the Lord’s Supper is a community-building practice, it serves to strengthen koinonia, the relationships shared within the church.26 That the Supper is intended to be a community-building event is evident in Paul’s discussion in 1 Corinthians 10 and 11. Paul has “no praise” for what he has heard of the Corinthians’ practice of the Supper (1 Cor. 11:17). Rather, he writes to rebuke and correct their malpractice. It seems that as the church gathers for the Supper, likely within the context of the agape meal, there is clear division among them (1 Cor 11:18). It is this division that is contrary to the nature of the Supper. “It is not the Lord’s Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk” (1 Cor 11:20–21). The problem, as Paul identifies it, is the clear lack of community-building that is taking place, which runs contrary to the meaning of the Supper itself.27 Just the opposite is occurring, in fact. Ferguson points out that the Supper is a community act, not a private one. Thus, one should make “every effort” to come to the Table in harmony with brothers and sisters of the community.28

2. The Lord’s Supper is an opportunity to “re-member” the “dis-membered” body of Christ.

Shoop and McClintock Fulkerson point out that, at the Table, Christians come in real bodies and, as they do so, it becomes all too evident that all are not represented equally. “Yet when real bodies gather at the Table there is a thoroughgoing dissonance that signals rupture and betrayal as well as particularity and possibility. Estranged relationships are allowed to splinter—and instead of all nations and tongues at the Table, we look around and see people just like us.”29 The Table has a way of revealing the church’s “contorted, truncated, dis-membered Body.”30 Thus, their term “re-membering” is a way of describing the Table’s function of allowing participants to come back together, reconciling themselves with one another. Jesus emphasized the importance of reconciliation between broken relationships in the Sermon on the Mount. “So, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt 5:23–24). Jesus may have in mind the context of Temple worship; however, in the context of Christian worship, it is the Table, not the altar, which seems to be the most relevant point of application. This teaching reveals the importance of relational integrity within the fellowship of the church and the necessity for reconciliation in Christian worship.

In Galatians 2, Paul addresses another issue. Writing to the Galatians, he recounts his encounter with Peter some time earlier. “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party (Gal 2:11–12). The occasion was a meal together in Antioch and the fellowship, or lack thereof, that Peter was demonstrating to certain Gentile Christians. It is possible— perhaps likely—that the meal referenced here included the Lord’s Supper. Paul accuses Peter of hypocrisy in his refusal to eat with the Gentile brothers. Paul saw the moment as an opportunity to “re-member” the “dis-membered” body of Christ by calling out Peter for his hypocrisy. It is not typical to expose one’s (and certainly not another’s!) sin in traditional gatherings around the Lord’s Table today. And yet, Paul’s bold reprimand to no less than Peter underlines the importance of relationships within the congregational body around the table..

Shoop and McClintock Fulkerson also look at the Lord’s Supper through the lens of traumatic memory, which comes because of the ills and injustices suffered from past experiences. They view the Supper as an opportunity where traumatic memory can give way to transformative memory.31 It becomes a moment to remember the stories, the story of the gospel as well as the stories of past injustices and hurts, through the communal acts of sharing, proclaiming, ingesting, and receiving from God the power to form and transform.32

3. The Lord’s Supper helps participants unlearn racial prejudices through the thankful practice of seeing God’s face in one another.

“So, how do we unlearn our racial prejudices and open our imaginations to God?” asks Michael Battle. His answer: by church members looking at creation and, specifically, at the face of God in one another.33 “To see God’s face in each other,” he continues, “we must (re)discover eucharistic reconciliation, that miraculous reality in which the Christian community may find overall agreement. God will be found not only in our images, but also in the image of our neighbor.”34 Battle’s contention manifests the theological principle of imago Dei, that mankind is created in the image of God (Gen 1:26). The Table of the Lord is an opportunity for individuals to come around the common table and to celebrate the communion shared one with another. It is the place of conversation and fellowship. It is a place to share thoughts and ideas. It is a place to look into each other’s eyes and appreciate the good that is seen in one another.35

It is not a coincidence that it was at the moment of “breaking bread” together that the two on the way to Emmaus recognized Jesus for who he was (Luke 24:13–30). They had encountered this strange “visitor to Jerusalem” along the way, and at the invitation to sit down at table with them, the visitor “took the bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (v. 30). It was at that moment their eyes were opened and they recognized the face of Jesus. Eucharist literally means “thankfulness,” and Battle suggests that the Supper provides an opportunity to do just that, to “give thanks” for for the opportunity to see God’s face in one another.

While typically Churches of Christ have emphasized the commemorative aspect of the Supper, there are those who have also recognized this more communal dimension. Alexander Campbell, for example, saw more in the Supper.36 He wrote, “Each disciple, in handling the symbols to his fellow disciple says, in effect, ‘You are my brother. . . . You have owned my Lord as your Lord, my people as your people. . . . Let us, then, renew our strength, remember our King, and hold fast our boasted hope unshaken to the end.’”37

4. The Lord’s Supper is an opportunity for confession to be made and forgiveness to be received.38

“The explicit promise of forgiveness is the gift of the risen Christ. It is proclaimed in scripture and realized in ritual and symbol,” writes Lawrence Frankovich.39 He sees this renewed emphasis on reconciliation in proclamation, prayer, and the Eucharist as a welcome sign that Christians of all traditions are rediscovering the need to celebrate the gift of forgiveness.

What better place to recognize and celebrate the gift of forgiveness than around the Table? When Jesus sat with his disciples around the Table, he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt 26:28). As Christians gather to participate in the Lord’s Supper, it is certainly a moment of reflection upon this marvelous gift, but it is also a moment for confession as well. Frankovich rightly sees a need, not only for celebration of forgiveness in the Supper, but also an emphasis on confession as a means towards reconciliation. “Those of us whose tradition it is to celebrate a sacrament of forgiveness (in addition to eucharist and baptism) also gain from these reflections on the eucharist as reconciliation. When an offense so grievous has been committed that an explicit apology is needed, a sacramental confession is necessary. Good psychology requires an explicit apology or a confession from one who actually breaks a relationship.”40

The Catholic church, at least in the past, has placed a strong emphasis on the sacrament of reconciliation (or confession). Perhaps it is time that Churches of Christ place a stronger emphasis on confession and use the opportunity of the Supper as a moment to for sin to be confessed and forgiveness to be offered.

5. The Lord’s Supper expresses the hopeful expectation of the Eschaton

One dimension of the Supper that is often missing from the devotions around the Table, particularly in Churches of Christ, is its forward orientation.41 The future dimension, however, is clear from Jesus’ own instructions at the Table. “I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom” (Matt 26:29). The BEM reminds us, “The Eucharist opens up the vision of the divine rule which has been promised as the final renewal of creation and is a foretaste of it.”42 It is a glimpse into the future, a future envisioned in Revelation 7 where representatives from every nation (i.e., ethnic group), tribe, people, and language come together around the throne of the Lamb (v. 9). The word translated nation in most English translations is the word ethnous and refers not necessarily to political entities but to people groups (i.e., ethnic groups).

This eschatological vision of the future, which is prefigured in the Table, however, is meant to give greater meaning to the practice today. Orthodox scholar John Zizioulas writes, “Although the catholicity of the Church is ultimately an eschatological reality, its nature is revealed and realistically apprehended here and now in the eucharist.”43 As the church looks forward to the eschaton at the Table, it is an opportunity to imagine such a scene today, believers of all ethnicities coming together to share in the riches and blessings of oneness in Christ. It is a glorious hope indeed. Is it a hope that might offer some encouragement and empowerment to overcome the differences which divide and the hurts, past and present, which are so a part of our culture? Is it a hope that might offer some opportunity towards greater reconciliation? The church would be well served to exhaust every effort in trying.

Conclusion

Martha L. Moore-Keish begins her chapter on eschatology and Eucharist in A More Profound Alleluia by recounting the final scene from a movie, Places in the Heart.44 It is a moving scene which depicts the possibilities of the Lord’s Supper envisioned here. By the time of the final scene, the movie has told the story of a widowed mother in a small Texas town set during the Depression. Against the odds, with the help of a transient African American man and a blind boarder, she manages to plant and harvest her forty acres of cotton and keep her home. Along the way, characters in the movie engage in murder, adultery, theft, assault, and mean-spiritedness. The final scene shows a congregation gathered for Communion. As the bread and cup are passed, the camera pans for the audience to see one face after another: first, anonymous members of the community; then the widow’s sister, who passes the tray to her cheating husband; then members of the KKK, who share the elements with the Black man they had earlier beaten up; then the children; then to the widow herself, who finally passes it to her husband, the town sheriff who had been shot and killed at the beginning of the film. He finally passes the sacraments to the young Black man who shot him with the words, “The peace of Christ.”

This final scene has much to teach the Christian community about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper and, perhaps, even more about the possibilities of reconciliation. Those from diverse backgrounds and different ethnicities sit together. Those who were at one time enemies share a common meal. Those who look and speak differently from one another find commonality in their shared love for Christ. It is the eschatalogical vision glimpsed “on Earth as it is in heaven” (Matt 6:10).

Suggested Actions

As a minister who has spent the last twenty-five years preaching to predominantly white congregations in Churches of Christ, I feel as if I am the least qualified person to speak on these issues. As my awareness has risen, however, I am becoming more firm in my own commitment, at least, not to be a part of the problem. My sincere desire, rather, is to be a greater voice towards solutions. The following ideas are offered as a starting point for congregations to begin the conversation as to how they might more fully embody the mission of God in bringing believers of all ethnicities together around the Table of the Lord.

  • Arrange a joint worship service between two or more congregations of diverse racial makeup in the community and make the Lord’s Supper the focal point. Lay out a theology as to how the Table facilitates reconciliation.
  • During the Communion devotion, challenge members of the congregation to think of relationships in their life that need to be mended, and then challenge them to “go and be reconciled.”
  • Make the Lord’s Supper the central focus of a worship service and use the sermon to teach on one of the various theological opportunities discussed here.
  • Invite congregants to look at the person next to them as they partake of the sacraments and speak a word of blessing or an observation of something godly that is appreciated in the other.
  • Practice the Lord’s Supper at a time outside of the regularly scheduled corporate worship, perhaps in a devotional setting in someone’s home. Allow the different setting to establish a fresh atmosphere for the building up of the community.
  • Use the communion devotion as a time for corporate confession. Acknowledge the racist behaviors of the past, even of past generations, in the congregation and offer words of repentance prior to partaking of the Supper together.

“Lord, in sharing this sacrament may we receive your forgiveness and be brought together in unity and peace.”45

Jim Black has served as the preaching minister for the Washington Street Church of Christ in Fayetteville, TN, since 2001. He is also an adjunct faculty member and director of missions at Riverside Christian Academy. He holds a BA and MDiv from Lipscomb University and is currently pursuing a DMin in Transformational Leadership at Harding School of Theology. Originally from Chattanooga, TN, he and his wife, Celeste, have four boys, Andy, David, Michael and Daniel.

1 Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Most Segregated Hour” on Meet the Press, NBC, April 17, 1960, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1q881g1L_d8.

2 Michael O. Emerson and Karen Chai Kim, “Multiracial Congregations: An Analysis of Their Development and a Typology,” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42 no. 2 (2003), 217–27.

3 Carl Royster, “Profile of the Churches,” Churches of Christ in the United States (Nashville: 21st Century Christian, 2009), 16.

4 Doug Foster, “Justice, Racism, and Churches of Christ: A Historical View,” in Unfinished Reconciliation, ed. Gary Holloway & John York, Kindle ed. (Abilene: ACU Press, 2013), Kindle loc. 1050.

5 D. Newell Williams, “Pursuit of Justice: The Antislavery Pilgrimage of Barton W. Stone,” Encounter 62 no. 1 (Winter 2001), 1–23.

6 Wes Crawford, Shattering the Illusion: How African American Churches of Christ Moved from Segregation to Independence (Abilene: ACU Press, 2013), 32.

7 Alexander Campbell, “Our Position to American Slavery,” Millennial Harbinger 2, no. 2 (February 1845): 195.

8 For more information on Campbell’s view, see D. Newell Williams, Douglas A. Foster, and Paul M. Blowers, eds., The Stone-Campbell Movement: A Global History (Nashville: Chalice Press, 2013), 35–36.

9 Foster, Kindle loc. 1535.

10 For a fuller discussion of this history, see Doug Foster, “Justice, Racism, and Churches of Christ: A Historical View,” in Unfinished Reconciliation, ed. Gary Holloway and John York (Abilene: ACU Press, 2013), Kindle loc. 1484–1715.

11 Ibid., Kindle loc. 1552.

12 For a much more detailed and insightful account of the development of the African American churches within churches of Christ, see Edward J. Robinson’s Hard Fighting Soldiers: A History of African American Churches of Christ (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2019).

13 Crawford, 177.

14 Foster, Kindle loc. 1563.

15 Quoted in ibid., Kindle loc. 1563.

16 Crawford, 43.

17 Ibid., ch. 4.

18 Emmanuel Katongole, “Greeting: Beyond Racial Reconciliation,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, ed. Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Oxford: Blackwell, 2006), 69.

19 Ibid., 73.

20 For more information on the important role the Lord’s Supper has played in Churches of Christ, see Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ: A Biblical Ecclesiology for Today (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996).

21 John Mark Hicks, Enter the Water, Come to the Table (Abilene: ACU Press, 2014), 146.

23 Mark E. Powell, “Proclaiming the Gospel at the Table,” Christian Studies: Scholarship for the Church 30 (2018): 97.

24 Brian Lennon, “The Eucharist, Reconciliation and Politics,” in Windows on Social Spirituality (Dublin: Columbia Press, 2003), 67.

25 Ibid., 68.

26 Richard Oster, 1 Corinthians, College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1995), 242.

27 For a fuller discussion on the meaning of Table Fellowship in the first century, see John Mark Hicks, Johnny Melton, and Bobby Valentine, A Gathered People: Revisioning the Assembly as Transforming Encounter (Abilene: Leafwood Publishers, 2007), 66–67.

28 Ferguson, 256.

29 Shoop & McClintock Fulkerson, 145.

30 Ibid., 151.

31 Ibid., 154.

32 For a fuller discussion of the myth of “traumatic memory” and explanation of “re-membering” the body see Mary McClintock Fulkerson and Marcia W. Mount Shoop, A Body Broken, a Body Betrayed: Race, Memory, and Eucharist in White-Dominant Churches (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2015), 1–3.

33 Michael Battle, “Eucharistic Reconciliation,” in Seeing God in Each Other, ed. Sheryl Kujawa-Holbrook (Harrisburg: Morehouse Publishing, 2006), 32.

34 Ibid., 32.

35 Ibid., 33.

36 See Mark E. Powell, John Mark Hicks, and Greg McKinzie, Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future (Abilene: ACU Press, 2020), 121.

37 Alexander Campbell, The Christian System reprint (1839; repr., Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1980), 274.

38 There has long been an emphasis in the Catholic church on the giving and receiving of forgiveness in association with the Eucharist. The recognition of that connection is beginning to spread to other religious bodies as well. See Brennan Hill, “Celebrating Eucharist and Reconciliation,” Religion Teacher’s Journal 31 (1997): 6.

39 Lawrence Frankovich, “The Eucharist, Our Prayer of Reconciliation,” Liturgy 1, no. 4 (1981): 37.

40 Ibid., 38.

41 Stanley Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 699.

42 BEM, 14.

43 John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004), 145.

44 Martha Moore-Keish, “Eucharist and Eschatology,” in A More Profound Alleluia, ed. Leanne Van Dyk (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 109.

45 Prayer after Communion, Third Sunday of Lent, Year C, quoted in Frankovich, 38.

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Formation, Continuity, and Multiplication of Churches within Australian Church Planting Movement (CPM) Paradigms

This article explores two case studies of church formation, continuity, and multiplication among Australian Church Planting Movement (CPM) practitioners. Factors that positively influence group formation include clarity of vision, prayerfulness, access to experienced mentors, role modeling, teamwork, and strategically appending church to family mealtimes. More research is needed to evaluate whether improved teaching of biblical models of church and providing periodic larger gatherings may effectively prevent the attrition of urban CPM churches.

As of June 2020, there are at least 1000 multiplying movements of small reproducing churches world-wide. Each of these movements has multiple generations of churches that have planted churches.1 Such movements are often referred to as Church Planting Movements (CPMs) or Disciple Making Movements (DMM). In one of the best-known examples, a CPM pioneered by Ying and Grace Kai, more than 1.7 million people were baptised and 150,000 churches started in the years between 2001 and 2011.2 As mission-minded Australians hear of these results, a growing number have begun to implement CPM/DMM practices within their mission work. Teams from Pioneers, Praxeis, Power to Change, Move, Oikos, and the Anglican, Presbyterian, Baptist, and Crosslink denominations have workers applying CPM/DMM principles in Australia. Discussion among Australian workers suggest that while there are positive signs of improvement in mission effectiveness, church formation and multiplication among these ministries is not as effective as hoped. This article explores two of the most effective instances of church formation and multiplication located among CPM and DMM practitioners in Australia.

These two case studies are drawn from a wider study undertaken to investigate church formation and multiplication among Australian CPM/DMM practitioners. Their greater effectiveness was demonstrated by having more conversions and more generations3 of churches (or groups) than other ministries that were reviewed. It is hoped that providing the experiences of these two effective practitioners will prove helpful to others who are seeking to implement similar strategies. Within the sample interviewed both of these superior cases happened to be CPM practitioners rather than DMM practitioners.4

The scope of this paper covers, first, a brief precis of CPM and DMM strategies. This is followed by a description of the research rationale, design, and methodology from which these two most effective cases are drawn. The two cases are presented, and, finally, conclusions are drawn and suggestions for further investigation made.

What is a CPM/DMM?

A CPM/DMM is a movement in which numbers of new disciples are coming to faith in Christ and forming churches in a consistent and sometimes rapid manner. David Watson, whose work has extensively influenced this ministry in Australia, offers a definition of CPM: “An indigenously led Gospel planting and obedience-based discipleship process that resulted in a minimum of 100 new locally initiated and led churches . . . within three years.”5

Churches in this DMM/CPM model usually meet in homes, cafés, and parks—spaces other than church buildings—propagate along relational lines, are led by lay believers, and may range in average membership size from 11.5 to 85 believers.6 The CPM/DMM model of church multiplication does not focus activity around a large weekly meeting or key leader but caters to those who are not yet in church and meets in their “place” and with their relational network.

Significantly, churches in these movements are encouraged to start new churches, who are in turn empowered to start new churches. Each new church is considered the next generation from the previous one. Thus, from an original small church multiple generations of churches may be spawned. These smaller groups may meet as a larger group periodically depending on need and issues such as safety.

The two methods, DMM and CPM, have much in common: both encourage wide gospel sowing, a deep commitment to prayer, and new believers empowered to share with friends and family immediately and form new churches. Both use inductive Bible reading strategies with a high value on obedience. The DMM model tends to avoid “gospel presentations” and, instead, practitioners focus on praying for people’s needs and sharing Bible stories. These activities are used to find a person who is open to the gospel, spiritually hungry, and willing to share what they are learning with their friendship group. A discovery group is usually then formed around this leader. The DMM worker may not attend the group, but coach the leader who is still exploring the gospel how to facilitate the discovery group with their friends and family. The friendship group then has an opportunity to discover the gospel as a community with the Bible as the authority. The DMM worker provides the new leader with a selection of biblical texts to study. CPM practitioners, however, tend to use gospel presentations and start groups among people who have already made a commitment to Christ. These new converts learn how to lead a meeting and are coached to start their own meeting with their friends at another time in the week. Having said this, within Australia workers are often eclectic and borrow tactics from one another so that CPM practitioners often borrow from the DMM stream and vice versa.

The identification of a group as “church” varies among CPM/DMM practitioners interviewed in this study. Some practitioners begin calling the first meeting with a person who is moving toward Christ “church” in order to make the concept of church less daunting. Others would call such meetings a “Discovery Group” or just a “group” and transition to identifying as “church” once a significant portion of members have been baptised. Most CPM/DMM practitioners consider Acts 2:36–47 to define and identify normal functions of a healthy church.

A simple definition of church from the DMM stream is: “A group of baptised believers in the Lord Jesus Christ who meet regularly to worship, nurture one another (feed and grow one another), and fellowship (practice the “one another” statements of the Bible), and depart these gatherings endeavouring to obey all the commands of Christ in order to transform individuals, families, and communities.”7

In summary both CPM and DMM models seek to win new disciples who are empowered to share their faith and disciple others to follow Jesus. All believers are encouraged to instigate the start of new groups and churches that are encouraged to multiply. As such both models align with the scope of this investigation.

Rationale for Research

The research project that uncovered the two case studies described in this paper was spawned from awareness of many ministries, from nine organisations, who are applying significant portions of the CPM/DMM paradigm. Positive results have been noted from the adoption of these principles such as the deployment of more CPM/DMM trainers and an increased number of baptisms. However, most practitioners also report limited success in group or church formation, continuity, and multiplication.

The research project was designed to investigate the state of CPM/DMM development in Australia with a focused interest on church formation, continuity, and multiplication. The specific question under investigation was: What are the factors (helps and hindrances) which influence the formation, continuity, and multiplication of churches among CPM and DMM practitioners in Australia?

Research Design

The research project employed a Grounded Theory methodology. Semi-structured interviews were used to collect data from Australian CPM/DMM practitioners. The interview data was analyzed to identify reported factors that enhanced successful group/church formation and multiplication. Further analysis included coding of the transcripts followed by a review of themes and links within the data sets. Frequency counting of similar factors was employed to highlight consistencies within narratives. Interviewees also provided information about the number and generations of groups that had developed through their work. The groups developed by each practitioner were mapped visually to clarify patterns of group multiplication, number of generations, and group size.

Data Collection

Those interviewed in this investigation come from the following organizations:

  • Sydney Anglican (2)
  • Church of Christ (1)
  • Power to Change (2)
  • Baptist (3)
  • Crosslink Christian Network (2)
  • Independent (1)
  • Salvation Army (1)
  • Praxeis (5)

All interviewees were legacy Christians (i.e., from traditional church backgrounds) who have received CPM/DMM training and were applying these models within their relation networks, local communities, or across a region of Australia. Some are leaders of existing traditional congregations and have sought to find a subset of people willing to attempt a CPM paradigm from within their congregation. Of the seventeen participants interviewed, twelve are working with or have worked with a model that approximates the CPM model and five with a DMM model. The qualitative data provided by interviewees is based on self-report. As such the interview probed participant’s insight and self-awareness regarding the success and failures of both their own work and that of their team.

Sampling Method

The sample method was a “stratified purposeful” sample to “illustrate a subgroup and to facilitate comparison.” Further, cases that manifest an “intensity” of data through greater effectiveness of CPM outcomes (more generational churches), function as “critical” cases to be mined for attributes that lead to successful outcomes. A “snowballing or chain” approach was used to expand the interviewee cohort by enquiring during each interview of other successful CPM workers who could contribute to the insights within this study. There was also an aspect of “convenience” to this sample given the unavailability for interview of some groups and individuals.8

The two case studies reported below were the most successful ministries found during the investigation.

CPM Case Study 1: Ed – Urban Australia

Ed has been working with a CPM paradigm for around nine years—the longest of any practitioner interviewed.

Ed has responsibilities for church networks in southeastern Australia that also extend offshore. During 2017, upwards of 50 home-based family churches formed from Ed’s training and his family’s “Person of Peace” (POP) searches. POP is a term drawn from Luke 10:1–12 to describe a person who accepts the messenger, message, and mission by sharing what they know immediately so that many have a chance to meet Jesus. It is Ed’s custom to annually release church networks or hubs so that they take responsibility for the downstream churches and groups. These hubs are expected to coordinate their own quarterly support training and leadership development events after the first year or so of supervision by Ed.

Target Group

Ed defines his target group as anyone who is responsive to the gospel. This ranges from immigrants (Sudanese, Nepalese, Chileans, and Persians were identified) to upper class and lower-class Anglo Australians across Victoria and Tasmania. Ed’s local township of approximately 6000 people is three hours drive from the state capital. It is predominantly populated by blue-collar workers and long-term, multigenerationally unemployed persons. Among this latter group there are significant instances of drug addiction.

Definition of Church

As with many CPM practitioners, the model of church found in Acts 2:36–47 functions as a definition of church for Ed and his team. However, Ed calls all his groups “church” from the first meeting and uses “church health”9 criteria to assist them grow toward church maturity.

Groups and Churches

Ed provided a network diagram detailing churches formed between January 2017 and October 2017 by Ed and his team within Australia. For reasons of confidentiality, Ed was unable to release information about church networks created in previous years.

The size of churches started in 2017 is small, with an average of 2.6 persons per church. The largest group is 12 people. The groups are small as they are new. Ed does not seek to combine disparate friendship networks in order to consolidate and create larger churches. He has found that this does not work. Instead he seeks to build the groups’ size from the convert’s oikos (extended family/friendship network). Larger churches form among recent immigrant Australians where more extensive households and friendship circles exist. For Anglo Australians, the church size is often smaller due to smaller household or friendship network.

Ed reports that the networks that develop from this work typically extend for three to five generations or more; frequently they then become absorbed into a local traditional church.

Ed considers church size a secondary and perhaps irrelevant factor to church longevity. He identifies the primary factor as Holy Spirit inspired koinonia (fellowship). Ed also encourages regular celebration of the Lord’s Supper over meals; this occurs daily or weekly in some families. The existing family structure and the high frequency of communion may be instrumental to group cohesion and capacity to multiply generationally.

Obstacles Overcome

Ed has overcome a number of significant obstacles in order to form churches. When asked how progress has been achieved through the network, Ed immediately points out that “you can’t do anything without the Holy Spirit.”

Ed has a deep investment in personal prayer with tens of daily alarms on his phone that trigger prayer for those whom he disciples and coaches. A prayer alarm on Ed’s phone would normally indicate that he has asked the person he is praying for: “What time of the day do you have your quiet time?” He has then committed to pray for them at that time. This question helps engender a culture of daily prayer within the network. Ed also prays fervently for people he is reaching out to.

Prayer is also a significant attribute within their networks. SMS and email are used to communicate live prayer requests around significant issues relating to gospel sharing and protection for emerging and new believers. Ed says that for those exploring faith “on the cusp of salvation”: “you are their protection—you have to pray for them.”

Ed does not consider himself a natural evangelist. However, having been mentored by and observed a number of “exceptional evangelists,” Ed steps out knowing he has a repertoire of skills that he can bring to this task. Ed also acknowledges deep work that God has wrought within him whereby he is always willing to share the gospel when called by God to speak: “who am I to not speak if God calls me to.”

Ed and his wife Sarah have had to persevere through considerable personal and family illness. Ed shared that engaging in CPM work over nine years has coincided with the worst period of ill health in his life. Further, inconveniences such as sudden car breakdowns while engaging in mission have alerted Ed to the opposition faced by a worker who seeks to “extend the kingdom of God.” Ed’s theological background is conservative evangelical, but the reality of the interference over the years has created an awareness of the need to prayerfully “armor up” against demonic opposition. They explain that through persevering God has changed their attitudes (e.g., more loving, humble), practices (simplifying and culturally honing methods, increasing prayerfulness), and the workers’ capacity to see the world (groups and families not just individuals). Character pruning and character development appear to be a function of perseverance.

After persevering from 2009 to 2012/13, Ed experienced a significant increase in effectiveness in bringing people to salvation and church multiplication. For example, before 2013 Ed’s team would be able to start 10–15 churches per annum, but during 2017 upward of 50 oikos-based churches were started. Ed nominated two contributing factors. The first factor is: “being genuinely loving and interested in people when doing POP searches—you need to be genuine.” Ed says that if a person is not interested in the gospel, his attitude to them does not change, nor does he end the conversation immediately but continues to interact with the person. Ed considers that a POP search is an opportunity to “love people.” Ed shared instances of noticing the needs and interests of people as he moves around the community. Ed may help people by helping pack away a stall at the market, buying a person a coffee or purchasing a chili plant for an aged immigrant. These relevant and genuine acts of kindness often open a door for Ed to share his relationship with Jesus.

The second factor is “sharing with people upfront the requirements of discipleship” and not adding these on at a later stage—even if it is added only within hours or days. Ed now explains to a prospective disciple that to say “yes” to Jesus means that a person turns from sin and follows Jesus as Lord. The discipleship actions of obedience, baptism, and sharing gospel are now “upfront” and integral components of Ed’s initial gospel presentation.

These two shifts resulted in an improvement in receptivity to the gospel and, consequently, church multiplication among ethnic groups, the unemployed, and drug effected people. Ed has not seen much response from Middle Australia or from teens. Recently Ed has added the Three Circle’s gospel explanation tool (created by Jimmy Scroggins) and another tool called Lordship Circles to his evangelism technique and experienced a significant increase in effectiveness.10

Ed considers that starting the gospel presentation with brokenness—“the world is broken and so are we,” a facet of the Three Circles presentation—resonates well with Australians. The gospel presentation therefore begins on common ground. The Lordship Circles clarify obedience and the yielding of all aspects of life to Jesus. The use of these two visual tools appears to bring clarity to the gospel and understanding of the commitment required to the new disciple.

Ed has also made these gospel tools, their church meeting process, and Bible story sets available via two paper bookmarks. These bookmarks have ensured that an effective meeting process and Bible content are readily available and transferable to anyone connected to this network. With minimal training, a new believer can easily use the bookmarks to share the gospel and start their own group.

When Ed is talking to an individual, he has in mind the connected oikos of this person. This network mindset orients Ed’s specific approach. The mandate of reaching each person’s oikos with the gospel is specifically taught, modeled, and also caught as culture.

If a person commits to Christ, Ed coaches them to immediately share something of their encounter with God with friends and family. Often a question like “Who needs to hear what Jesus has done for you?” is asked to help clarify who the new believer ought to share with first. Ed listens to their story in preparation for their sharing with friends and may give some guidance if their theology is not orthodox. However, Ed considers it more important that the new follower “shares something—opens their mouth” even if it is not perfectly sound. Ed will work on honing correct theology over the coming weeks with the new disciple.

Ed has found that Bible stories of lostness (e.g., Luke 15, 16:19–31) create the theological framework for new believers to understand that those without Christ are lost. However, Ed has also learned that unless the stories are grounded and applied directly to those that the new believer loves and cares about, the new believer is unlikely to take responsibility for sharing the gospel in their oikos. Ed helps the new believer to consider their relational world and to see the state of their relatives before God. He coaches them to share something of their encounter with God with others immediately. All disciples in this network are encouraged to take responsibility for their lost friends and family in this same way. When considering who needs to hear the story, Ed does not allow a general or nonspecific answer such as “everybody.” People in their network are expected to pray, think, and share a name or names and find a strategy to act on this intent to share. In this way the gospel is “paid forward” in friendship groups.

Ed has a number of Bible stories he reads with enquirers, referred to as “The Stories of Hope.” Ed selects the story based on what he believes the enquirer needs to hear, rather than just reading the next story in the list. He uses an inductive Bible reading process using three questions following the acronym SOS: What does the passage Say, how do I/we Obey, who can I Share this with? Ed varies the gospel presentations because he has found that people respond more positively to different presentations of the gospel in the same way that people have different love languages.11 As a rule of thumb, Ed has found that after three such discovery group meetings that involve SOS on a passage, a testimony, and a gospel presentation, a person who is earnestly wanting to know God is normally ready to commit to Jesus as Lord. If the person responds, then baptism and discipleship follows. If not, Ed suggests the enquirer read a Gospel on their own and call him for the next lesson once they have completed the task. This tests the level of interest of the enquirer and saves Ed from pursuing people who are not responsive to the gospel.

Once a person responds positively and wishes to get baptised, Ed asks them where they would like to get baptized and who they would like to attend. He will also make a plan to meet with them to begin discipleship often in the location that they first met.

Ed reports that one significant obstacle is a “gatekeeper,” a person who is hostile to the gospel or gospel worker within an oikos group. Gatekeepers can block the worker or the gospel from the enquirer and their network. Ed identified gatekeepers as both an obstacle he has overcome and also as a live barrier in some situations. Ed said that getting around gatekeepers requires “prayer, prayer and more prayer.” Ed reported a willingness to both pray hard and engage with the gatekeeper if prudent, in order to create openings for the gospel. Ed would, however, primarily read passages of Scripture with the new believer that yielded a biblical strategy on how to respond to family who may be hostile to the gospel (e.g., 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7). This process provides a supportive framework for the new believer but leaves them appropriately responsible for their situation.

When asked about getting people together in the same location for a church meeting, a key issue under review in this study, Ed said: “This is not a problem as we work with the oikos; there really isn’t any trouble in getting people together.”

Ed enquired about the usual times that the oikos group is already congregating and meets with them at this time. This often turns out to be at mealtimes. Church and the Lord’s Supper in Ed’s network, therefore, become a regular extension of or integral part of a family meal.

Ed discusses forming a group around Christ and church cohesion: “They have to have a real commitment to Christ. Not just lip service. They have to be taught to feed themselves.”

In order to help people feed themselves spiritually, Ed does not answer questions directly wherever possible. Ed sends groups to the Bible to find the answers that they are looking for so that they become dependent on Scripture and the Holy Spirit rather than on Ed for knowledge. He is unwavering in this approach, suggesting it sets the DNA of the churches in this network, encourages an encounter with God through the Bible, and promotes ownership of the mission task within the new church.

Ed begins to call a group “church” from the first meeting even when the members would be considered to be enquirers. This is in response to his discovery that changing the name of a group to “church” after it had been meeting for a while created a stumbling block to the group owning the identity of being church and its associated responsibilities.

However, simply calling a group a “church” does not make the group a healthy church. Ed also monitors the group activities as a sign of the health of the church, based largely on the Acts 2:36–47 model. Ed introduces the group to Bible passages that expand the nascent churches’ theological and practical understanding of how they ought to be functioning as a church. The passages can then be passed to downstream churches.

Ed teaches new believers to share the Lord’s Supper regularly—perhaps daily. This ensures regular encounter with grace and the cross contributing much to church identity and group cohesion. Often, the Lord’s Supper is celebrated with whatever is at hand during the meal (coffee and chips); this means this meal is easy to integrate into life.

Current Challenges to Growth

Ed identifies network stability and sustainability beyond three to six generations (where each church in turn starts a church that starts a church, and so on) among Australian converts as an obstacle to CPM growth. Ed identifies two means by which these groups either disappear or stop reproducing. The first is that the network is absorbed into a traditional church. Someone in the network begins to feel that the CPM model or experience is inadequate in some way and then moves a house church or perhaps even a group of house churches under the auspices of a traditional church. Ed observes that this almost always changes the focus of the network from going to the lost to an attractional paradigm where the large meeting dominates church life. Ed observes the missional activity is normally greatly diminished once this transition occurs.

The second is through the church or network of churches choosing to adopt a church paradigm similar to the attractional church model and subsequently acquire land and build a building. This has encumbered this section of the network with additional organizational responsibilities and resulted once again in the development of a traditional attractional paradigm with an attendant drop in gospel sharing and growth.

Summary

  • We observe the following positive salient features in this movement:
  • A prayerful disposition and strategies for motivating prayer within the network
  • Access to and the involvement of quality mentors
  • Perseverance
  • Simple transferrable tools (e.g., bookmarks)
  • Improvisation and adaption of various gospel sharing tools
  • Regular and competent gospel sharing and POP searches by Ed
  • Oikos-based gospel sharing and church formation
  • Church cohesion appears enhanced by Christ-centered fellowship, regular sharing of the Lord’s Supper, and shared partnership in mission.

CPM Case Study 2: Dean and Rachel—University Campus

Dean is a full-time worker in a university where he applies CPM principles to student ministry. Dean and Rachel (husband and wife) have been working in this capacity for approximately 20 years and began to implement the CPM process around 2011/2012. Dean works with a team of 11 full-time mission workers on campus. Each of these workers is involved in befriending students and sharing the gospel with them on campus and seeking to start and run a Discovery Bible Study (DBS) with enquirers.

The CPM paradigm adopted by this team utilizes materials from various organisations. Campus evangelism is implemented with Power to Change tools such as “Knowing God Personally” or the bilingual tract featuring Chinese and English text of “The Four Spiritual Laws.” Those wanting to know more are introduced to Bible story sets such as “7 Stories of Hope”—a set of New Testament passages that introduce Jesus and the cross using Ying Kai’s Three Thirds meeting process.12 This team has discipling materials for new believers and for the development of leaders. The curriculum is often delivered via a discovery-based Three Thirds process.

The university ministry also connects publicly with students through a large weekly meeting in addition to holding many weekly small group meetings. Student leaders also have regular team support meetings where Christ-like character, prayer, vision, and skills are imparted and practiced.

Target Group

Overseas students numbering 20,000 who attend the university campus are the main target group of this ministry team. These students are predominantly of Chinese origin.

Definition of Church

Dean’s group accepts the description of church in Acts 2 adopted by CPM practitioners as their model of church. Prior to exposure to CPM paradigms, their organization had not formed a church among students and had left baptism and sharing the Lord’s Supper to the local churches that they anticipated the students would attend. This model changed during 2017, and the team now feels free to form churches on campus and include baptism and the Lord’s Supper within their practice.

Groups and Churches

There has been a consistent increase in professions of faith (although not baptisms) over recent years. Before 2014, Dean reports that ten to twenty professions of faith per annum was normal for their ministry. When the CPM paradigm and training began influencing the ministry, professions of faith rose to thirty, sixty, and then ninety-seven in the years 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively. Many of those sharing and leading others to Jesus were students or new believers rather than staff members. This ministry recorded a growth from 18 groups in May 2017 to 50 groups by October 2017, comprising seven G0 (Generation Zero) or training groups, forty G1, two G2, and one G3 group.13 The large number of first-generation groups is consistent with the transience of the university population as well as the fact that between January and October 2017, sixty-four new professions of faith were recorded among the students.

Ministry Features and Obstacles Overcome

Dean reports that training processes have adjusted significantly over the past four years. He considers a number of factors have contributed to the more dramatic growth in disciple making.

Dean emphasized that the leadership team needed to “get the DNA right so that people understand the inductive Bible study process” in contrast to a preaching ministry model that appears to detract from student initiative. He continually reiterates a CPM vision that each student is a disciple multiplier and is empowered to start their own group if at all possible. Ensuring understanding of the CPM model of the ministry was found to be important during the transition phase of this ministry. This was facilitated by the ministry team regularly meeting for prayer, vision casting, coaching, and encouraging.

The training of new believers to immediately engage with friends, share the gospel, and begin DBSs has been effective. New believers were noted to be sharing faith within a few weeks on campus—much faster than the previous model.

Student peers who share the gospel and lead groups early in their faith journey are powerful role models. Such students set a precedent for others to observe and follow. Given the constant recasting of vision around sharing and student-led groups, and the availability of readily visible role models on the campus (only one of the fifty groups meet off campus), it is not difficult to envisage how the ministry’s DNA has changed to foster group formation and multiplication.

Further, the formation of groups among students is also part of most campus courses where small group tutorial attendance is required. Students are therefore accustomed to meeting in small groups and discussing ideas. The DBS model aligns with this existing campus meeting pattern.

This ministry is supported by a weekly large public gathering open to the campus. This meeting was being attended by up to 185 students in late 2017. The meeting format includes worship, vision, testimonies, and teaching. It provides a connection point to the wider student body where enquirers can come and encounter friends and the message of the gospel.

Dean and Rachel convey a very warm pastoral interest in students. Rachel speaks Thai fluently, which supports efforts to connect with international students. Dean unfailingly points to God as the source of the growth in ministry effectiveness.

Current Challenges to Growth

Historically, this ministry did not baptize those who made professions of faith. Dean’s organization has recently restructured and begun to empower students to conduct baptisms, share the Lord’s Supper, and form churches.

Dean and team have previously noticed a deterioration of discipleship behaviours (sharing the gospel and leading groups) once students leave the university. Dean suspects that by empowering students to make disciples and form and lead church while at university, these behaviours will have a greater likelihood of continuing as their lives extend beyond university. It may also prove necessary to have ongoing contact via online or remote support and coaching systems to help transition the graduates into discipleship and church planting beyond the campus.

Dean also notes that movement principles and tactics are not part of the mindset of the students who join their team; many come from traditional churches and think about growth in terms of addition rather than multiplication. Accordingly, ongoing training in CPM principles is a priority.

Summary

  • We observe the following features in this movement:
  • A large meeting provides a gathering point for all students
  • Clear growth pathways exist for learning, developing community, and leadership
  • Clear vision is articulated and communicated regularly
  • Regular prayer meetings are scheduled
  • Immediate deployment of new disciples to share faith is practiced
  • Empowerment of students to lead
  • Team—there is a growing workforce of volunteers and staff
  • Committed pastoral care and shepherding by key leaders.

Conclusions

These two CPM case studies inspire hope for mission in the Western world.

Ed’s case study demonstrates that generational disciple making is possible in suburban Australia. Ed’s success in multiplying groups and churches along relational lines through oikos evangelism is instructive. Ed’s experience demonstrates that prayerful, Spirit-responsive perseverance is a key to fruitfulness.

Dean and Rachel are working among a demographic that is noted around the world to be responsive to the gospel: university students, and, more particularly, Chinese university students. The application of CPM tactics and principles in this target group resulted in a significant increase in faith professions and the number of student-led small groups. The fact that relatively new believers are leading groups is a helpful development and demonstrates capacity to multiply leaders and thereby expand this ministry further into the wider student body.

The two case studies highlight key factors that positively influenced group formation: a clarity of vision, prayerfulness, access to experienced mentors, role modelling and teamwork, simple gospel sharing tools, and clear developmental pathways. Ed reported that referring to groups as “church” from inception, teaching obedience to Scripture, and engendering a heartfelt concern for lostness coupled with empowering new believers to immediately share faith with friends and family were also instrumental to church formation and generational multiplication. Extending existing mealtimes to include church activities was a simple way of avoiding the need to find another time to gather people for church.

CPM practitioners can be confident that gospel sharing and house church formation through oikos networks is a viable strategy within Australia. The inner cohesion of these smaller groups appears to be enhanced by Christ-centered fellowship, partnership in outreach, and regular sharing of the Lord’s Supper. The presence of these factors is reported to promote capacity for generational multiplication.

However, in Ed’s case, their networks are frequently losing members to traditional church models. While these people remain in the body, Ed has observed that the transition to the traditional model is almost always coupled with diminished disciple-making activity. It is noted that transfers occur from every church and, as such, some activity of this nature is to be expected. In Ed’s case, these transfers may be helpful in keeping the focus on the missional task among those who remain. Even so, given that 85% of Australians are not involved in church life14 and the implied missional task, the loss of any active worker is of concern. Further enquiry and action research is warranted in four areas. Firstly, it would be instructive to investigate thoroughly the circumstances and motivation for transition to the traditional church paradigm. This enquiry could also seek to verify the missional involvement of those who adopt a traditional model. Secondly, it may be helpful to develop and apply better teaching around the nature and form of church supportive of the CPM paradigm. Thirdly, there is a need for exploring ways to support the church and network leaders through improved ongoing coaching and mentoring systems. Finally, it may be timely to investigate the role of more frequent larger gatherings of a number of CPM churches to provide a sense of belonging within a larger social context. Larger social gatherings are valued by most people and their infrequent occurrence within this network perhaps prompts members to explore other church forms. Providing such gatherings may help maintain vision and group identity and mitigate attrition to similarly sized gatherings in other organizations that do not share the CPM ethos.

David Milne is employed by Crosslink Australia training and coaching believers cross-denominationally in CPM paradigms and tactics. David is working with ministries focused on university campuses, urban communities, and new arrivals to Australia.

Darren Cronshaw is Head of Research and Professor of Missional Leadership with Australian College of Ministries (Sydney College of Divinity), Pastor of AuburnLife Baptist Church, and a Chaplain with the Australian Army (Reserve).

1 “Global Movement Statistics,” https://2414now.net/resources. See Slide 5. This site aggregates data from multiple mission agencies providing a global overview of movement progress.

2 Steve Smith with Ying Kai, T4T: A Discipleship Re-revolution (Bangalore India: Brilliant Printers, 2011), 15.

3 Generational growth is a key indicator of a CPM/DMM. Generational growth is present when churches plant churches that plant churches in ongoing sequence. In other words, each church plants a daughter church in generational sequence.

4 The fact that the two best cases in this sample are from the CPM stream does not necessarily mean that CPM as a methodology is superior to DMM. This result is potentially skewed by factors such as the ministry context group and team experience.

5 David Watson and Paul Watson, Contagious Disciple-Making (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2014), 4.

6 David Garrison, “Church Planting Movements FAQs,” Mission Frontiers (Mar–Apr 2011): 9, https://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/10-church-planting-movement-faqs.

7 Watson and Watson, Contagious Disciple-Making, 160.

8 Matthew B. Miles and A. M. Huberman, An Expanded Sourcebook: Qualitative Data Analysis (Thousand Oaks, California: Sage 1994), 28.

9 This process involves Ed assessing the church for relational and functional effectiveness. The assessment criteria includes fifteen church functions or attributes such as: worship, care, abiding, baptism, Lord’s Supper, giving, witness, vision, and planning. After noting an area needing improvement, relevant passages of Scripture are provided to the church for study. The group is encouraged to understand and apply the insights to their own church. If this church has planted any daughter churches, the assessment and lessons are passed on through the network.

10 For an example of the Three Circles gospel presentation see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lcj5G_4dwrI. For Lordship Circles, see https://youtu.be/D3pmoK7OfKA.

11 Gary Chapman, Five Love Languages (Chicago: Moody Press, 2015).

12 See Smith, 125 ff. The Three Thirds process is a church meeting format made up of three sections. The first section includes worship, care, accountability and vision casting. The middle section is an inductive Bible reading and application process that encourages participants to understand what the Bible says, make a plan to obey, and consider who we ought to share this message with (SOS). The last third of the meeting is devoted to practicing a skill and setting goals for the week ahead.

13 G0 refers to Generation Zero. This is the original gathering where usually only legacy Christians gather and are trained to make and multiply disciples and churches. Generation 1 (G1) is a group/church started by G0 and includes not-yet-believers. Generation 2 (G2), is a group started by G1 and similarly Generation 3 (G3) is a group started by G2. In all instances except G0, each group is formed around seekers or new believers.

14 Mark McCrindle, Faith and Belief in Australia (Baulkham Hills, NSW: McCrindle Publications, 2017), 8, https://mccrindle.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Faith-and-Belief-in-Australia-Report_McCrindle_2017.pdf. Only 15% of Australians attend church at least monthly.

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Review of Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future

Mark E. Powell, John Mark Hicks, and Greg McKinzie. Discipleship in Community: A Theological Vision for the Future. Abilene: ACU Press, 2020. 192 pp. Paperback. $16.99.

“There are not two histories, one profane and one sacred, ‘juxtaposed’ or ‘closely linked.’ Rather there is only one human destiny. Irreversibly assumed by Christ, the Lord of History” – Gustavo Gutiérrez

Life is characterized by tensions that exist between contending ideas, philosophies, and politics. When these tensions are brought together in a dynamic engagement, they create new, exciting, and beautiful things. Engagement with these tensions enriches theology when they are superimposed on each other to bring depth; life begins to emanate hues of color that challenge a dualistic, black and white theology. In order to achieve depth, there ought to be interdependence and sensibility in communities of engagement. Participants in the life of the church must prepare for such enriching experiences. All these diverse hues challenge spiritual journeys, and they are indispensable for moving forward into the future.

Discipleship in Community is a collaboration of three professors who have eloquently engaged the subject of the future of Churches of Christ to prepare for improved discipleship. All three are experienced theologians who teach at Churches of Christ Universities: John Mark Hicks and Greg McKinzie at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, and Mark Powell at Harding School of Theology in Memphis, Tennessee. These men love their heritage in the Churches of Christ. For this reason, the book proposes a theological framework that grapples with commitments arising from the Stone-Campbell Movement in order to invite readers to participate in a “life of simple, authentic discipleship” (11). Their proposals are ideal for engaging tensions as the church moves to the future.

The authors place discipleship at the core of the Stone-Campbell Movement instead of restoration. The authors take turns unpacking six theological convictions, proposing them as constructive commitments for Churches of Christ. Each author drafted two chapters with the input of the other two authors. Mark Powell wrote two additional chapters at the beginning and the end. Together, their purpose is two-fold: “to describe who Churches of Christ have been and propose a constructive vision for the future” (9). To begin, Mark Powell prompts the reader to set aside “the fundamental theological emphases of the Church of Christ” (16) and to exchange them for a “larger theological framework” (19). Indeed, this framework supports an obligation of promoting a spirit of mutuality and sensibility in church communities.

Additionally, these three authors use commitments that are not typical in the Church of Christ’s heritage, thus creating tensions with depth in the church’s tradition. For example, the use of sacraments is foreign to most Churches of Christ because of its connection to other traditions. This book addresses these types of tensions carefully to avoid causing harm to the church.

Tensions in theology characterize my life. I am a Mexican and a naturalized American who lives in Texas as a missionary of the church engaging my community. My upbringing was that of a typical Mexican-Catholic family who lived their profession faithfully. At a young age, my parents converted to Churches of Christ. From that point forward, I became a participant in the soteriological and eschatological work of the erroneous self-designation, “the one true Church.” Since then, I have increased my awareness of the type of ministry that encompasses a broader kind of work of the church, which is accurately described by Gutiérrez’s notion of “Lord of History.”1 I have lived in the middle of ideological tensions between secular history and my Hispanic heritage, unaware of the rich theologies that Latin origin contains. I have come to realize that the church ought to consider Robert Chao Romero’s Brown Church Movement.2 His call advocates a both/and versus an either/or philosophy of ministry embodied in the misión integral (integral or holistic mission) approach, rooted in Hispanic and Latino theologies like that of René Padilla and others.3 The Brown Church and misión integral provide a method for navigating tensions in belief that entail various hues of perspective, which are essential for the church to move into the future. Discipleship in Community proposes a viable framework for Churches of Christ, providing a conversation about theological tensions and emanating theological hues that enrich missiological meaning.

In this review, I wish to focus on chapter seven, “Participating in God’s Purposes: Mission,” which contains compelling arguments with substantial implications for missional theology. In chapter seven, the authors propose a renewal of Churches of Christ’s theology for authentic discipleship by moving from a restorationist to a missional reading of the New Testament for praxis. The authors pay attention to the high view of missions in the Stone-Campbell Movement. The chapter explains that the historical reading of the New Testament was bound to the colonization approach to mission of its time. But now, a missional reading must occur with others in community. In this chapter, the authors develop gospel and salvation concepts and the implications for Churches of Christ necessary to move into the future with a missional theology. They argue that the church ought to make this transition by placing mission over restoration. Indeed, it is a “powerful tension” (145) to place mission before restoration, but for Hispanics and Latinos among the Churches of Christ, this is liberating. Missionaries need to move from a rigid ecclesiology to a full contextual reflection considering their communities. In my experience, American ecclesiology is rigid in sending missionaries, who deal with intercultural stress in order to maintain this rigidity.

The chapter is logical in its approach to encouraging change. First, it places the soteriological view of Churches of Christ in contrast to the gospel’s biblical definition. By defining the doctrine this way, the authors highlight two core elements: God’s purposes and the church as participants in these purposes. These form the notion of the missional church the authors propose. Second, the authors argue that the definition of missional moves the church to its true vocation in the present world, the “fullness of the kingdom” (140). An excellent realization indeed! Third, the book correctly challenges the more traditional understanding that being senders is primarily about sponsoring cross-cultural mission work. The book argues a view that deserves attention, namely, the “return to Scripture in order to recapture the missional theology” (141). The Restoration Movement focused initially on evangelization according to a desire to restore the New Testament Church, and they missed the mission of God.

In this seventh chapter, the authors use the metaphor of a journey to explain how to implement the proposed change. At the end of the chapter, the suggested engagement includes six consequential practices: contextualization for a particular location, self-emptying of our traditions and preference, questioning not as an interrogation but as a tool to collect stories, translating as a way of continual recontextualization, participation for new experiences, and mutuality that challenges the presumption of who possesses the truth. In these practices, the implication is that God does not discriminate in regard to context. Ergo, the church should not discriminate either. We see these practices in Jesus’s ministry of the preference for the poor. The authors say, “Mission is not limited to but inseparable from the margins” (157). In this regard, adding more about these practices of not being limited to the poor would strengthen the discussion by adding necessary hues for a real community. I would recommend this book to others because of this proposed change.

The chapter closes by referring readers back to the journey metaphor they suggest to help the church move into the future: “the Father’s direction, in the Son’s way, by the Spirit’s guidance” (157). So, raising the bar in mission as a precursor for missional praxis is a tension that this book addresses appropriately for our tradition. As a Churches of Christ missionary, these concepts are like water for a thirsty pilgrim on this journey.

The book’s organization is well-designed and structured to fit the themes of intentional commitments for moving into the future. At the center of these commitments, there is a call for the church to value more highly and engage with “good theology,” setting the church “on mission” (23). The authors demonstrate an appropriate appreciation of the heritage and legacy of Churches of Christ’s tensions. Discipleship in Community seeks to lessen the traditional tensions within our churches and allows for more hues that further conversation integral to the mission of the church, considering the Lord of history with a sense of interdependence and sensibility in our community.

The Restoration Movement sought a method of interpretation that focused narrowly on the New Testament church’s markers. However, this book’s assertion of a more comprehensive framework is what Churches of Christ need for better engagement. I sense Hispanic churches will profit from this framework; the book ought to enrich conversations about the theological tensions found in Hispanic churches. For decades, elders and preachers have followed the narrow interpretation of the New Testament’s restoration that these authors note and has been a defining characteristic of Hispanic Churches of Christ. Following this narrow interpretation creates unnecessary tensions for Hispanic churches who unknowingly pay a high cost in developing this same interpretation. The spirit of collaboration (en conjunto) is negatively affected and devalued. One example of this high cost is that the rich history of God’s presence in Latin America has been obscured by the omission of nearly two thousand years of church history, typical of Restorationism, creating a gap between the first century and the twenty-first. The authors’ proposed commitments are useful for a new conversation that must occur in the community in order to be better disciple-makers. These conversations must happen because Churches of Christ must develop a healthy theology.

The book closes with three colorful responses gathered from experts in various fields addressing the topic of discipleship. Considering the book’s intention, a Hispanic reply would have brought another hue to the community proposed for the future. The work of the Holy Spirit to provide gifts as “he wills” (1 Cor 12:11) is essential to encourage community, and Hispanics are so gifted. Hispanic giftedness is vital for moving to the future of the church. Hispanic members of Churches of Christ know that there are considerable exigencies in current communities, such as ethnic tensions, that are relevant to a constructive vision for the future. Once again, some tensions deserve a both/and approach for integral mission under the lordship of Christ—instead of one-sided, either/or colonizing methodologies. Hispanic giftedness is a hue in absentia if restoration alone is at the core of discipleship.

Missionaries from the Restoration Movement have missed or ignored the gift of integral brown theology found in Hispanic churches. Different hues have existed with a potential that Churches of Christ theology has prevented from emerging. It is necessary to lessen tensions of mission and restoration under the lordship of the historical Christ and make discipleship genuinely sensible “betwixt and between”4 communities. Discipleship in Community is a valuable tool for Churches of Christ because it presents a framework that wills a simple life of discipleship grounded in theological commitments. These commitments are biblical and authentic. As life requires dynamic engagement, this book provides a framework that enriches missional theology in-depth with the hues necessary to move into the future. For me, the Brown Church perspectives on liberation and integration are essential for discipleship, and this book invites us to such a community of discipleship.

J. Omar Palafox

Ashrei (https://ashrei.online)

Lubbock, TX, USA

1 Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation, trans. Caridad Inda and John Eagleson (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2018), 86.

2 Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity (United States: InterVarsity Press, 2020).

3 See René Padilla, Misión integral: Ensayos sobre el reino de Dios y la iglesia (Buenos Aires, Argentina: Ediciones Kairós, 2019).

4 Robert Chao Romero, Brown Church: Five Centuries of Latina/o Social Justice, Theology, and Identity (United States: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 14, 21, 215.

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Review of Robert A. Hunt, Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians

Robert A. Hunt. Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2019. 179 pp. $19.20.

The American anthropologist Clifford Geertz once noted that deep understanding of another’s point of view is less about description and more like “grasping a proverb, catching an allusion, seeing a joke…[or] reading a poem.”1

In a similar vein, Robert Hunt introduces Muslim Faith and Values: A Guide for Christians by noting that while descriptions of the religion of Islam are fairly straightforward, he has a more “ambitious intent” (ix). He wants to help fellow Christians develop deep appreciation for Islam and what makes their Muslim neighbors tick. To the extent that a book can, Hunt delivers on that promise and the result is remarkable. In 180 pages, he draws on years of careful study and personal experience to offer a concise and accessible introduction.

This is not a typical “Islam 101” introduction with tight categories and linear descriptions, and it certainly does not take a polemical or apologetic approach. Rather, Hunt invites readers to circumambulate the religion, like Muslims circling the Ka’bah, while he provides commentary on its various angles and corners. Sometimes he stops and ponders, other times he points out features and moves on, only to circle back to them later when relevant to other topics. He focuses on the ideals that undergird the details and offers valuable glimpses into the beauty, complexity, and sometimes troubled paradoxes of Islam.

Muslim Faith and Values is an updated edition of a 2004 publication of the United Methodist’s General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) and is formatted for study groups. Between the short introduction and concluding epilogue, six chapters address the following: Religion and Faith, The Oneness of God, Muhammad, The Quran, The Quranic Generation, and The Shari’a and Civilization. In addition to Hunt’s lucid presentations, each chapter is richly supplemented with thematic summaries, suggestions for further exploration, discussion questions, relevant passages from primary materials, brief selections from classical and contemporary scholars, excerpts of interviews, poems, and more. The book concludes with a glossary, maps, appendices, and a brief bibliography. There are also accompanying YouTube videos in which Hunt adds commentary and clarification. He also encourages readers to visit local mosques and invite Muslims into their gatherings to further expand or even challenge the book’s content. All considered, Muslim Faith and Values offers a wealth of resources for Christians to dive deeply into their explorations of Islam, as well as consider how such explorations challenge and enhance their own faith. In other words, the content and tone invite the opening of the reader’s imagination rather than a closing-in on basic details or essentialist understandings.

I found the first chapter, “Religion and Faith,” especially compelling. Rather than jumping into introductory material, the chapter provides snapshots of modern Islamic diversity as represented by influential leaders and scholars such as Mawlana Mawdudi, Sayyid Qutb, Ayatollah Khomeini, Fazlur Rahman, Said Nursi, Seyyed Nasr, and Ingrid Mattson. While the profiles would benefit from updated and more specific chronological references, they provide an important starting point for the book contrasting other approaches that caricature Islam as monolithic. Accentuating Islam’s complexity, the chapter concludes with a mystical love poem to God by none other than the Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran and leader of the 1979 revolution which established Iran’s cleric-based theocracy (18–19). Significantly, this picture of diversity is immediately followed by the second chapter’s focus on the central notion of God’s oneness (tawhid) and its implications for Muslim experiences of religious and cosmic unity and coherence. I found the synergy and juxtaposition between these first two chapters enlightening.

The last chapter, “The Shari’a and Civilization,” is also effective although, interestingly, it is nearly twice as long as all other chapters. While the book in general is more impressionistic than precise, this chapter presents a fair amount of detail on the meaning, historical development, interpretive schools, and religious and sociopolitical implications of Muslim law. The material is relevant and well-presented, but the chapter’s comparative length and detail concludes with an uncharacteristically essentialist summary statement: “For Muslims obedience to God’s law is the essence of religion” (142). By contrast, the earlier chapter on the Quran is much shorter and provides only minimal details on the sacred text’s actual content, structure, style, and development. Hunt rightly highlights how Muslims experience the Quran more as a sign and event than as a mere book, and he effectively draws out the relevant aesthetic, esoteric, and cosmic dimensions. Nevertheless, readers learn less detail about Islam’s central text then they do about Sufi-oriented perspectives on its mystical power.

Sufi orientations also shape much of the chapter on Muhammad. The chapter presents the basics of the Prophet’s life and establishes his centrality to the core message of the religion. From there, the chapter emphasizes mystic traditions that depict Muhammad in almost messianic terms as the one through whom followers can achieve a mystical union with God or even the extinction of the self. While such traditions are important, readers are left on their own to wonder how they relate to other theological emphases such as Muhammad’s ordinariness, longstanding Muslim resistance to being identified as Muhammadeans, and key Quranic teachings: “‘I am only a human being like you. . . . So go straight to God.’ . . . Woe unto the idolaters” (Q 41:6).

Finally, it is worth noting that many of the contemporary sources referenced in the book are dated, especially those from the 1980s and 1990s. Hunt is clearly aware of more recent sources, but few are explicitly engaged. The target audience of small groups may not require such engagement, although it potentially limits the book’s value in academic settings. But even more generally, the book’s content would be enhanced by recent and evolving developments in Quranic hermeneutics, reassessments of the classical “consensus,” post-Caliphate political theologies, the study and legacy of West African pacifist traditions, engagement with the longevity and mulitplicity of American Islam, and others.

Nevertheless, Muslim Faith and Values is one of the best available resources for those wanting more than simplistic introductions or contentious polemics. Hunt delivers on his “ambitious intent” to provide Christians an opportunity to grasp something of the appeal and complexity of Islam. In doing so, he also opens opportunities for greater understanding of Christian faith, service, and neighbor-love.

In an unfortunate conclusion to this otherwise positive review, it must be noted that the book is littered with editorial problems. From the opening pages, there are typos, repeated words, misspellings, and misreferenced appendices. There are also a number of inconsistencies and outright errors with regard to the spelling of personal names and transliterated terms: Medina is rendered “Median” (p. 127); the hermeneutical term ijtihad is frequently misspelled; inconsistencies occur, sometimes even on a single page, between ‘Uthman/Othman, Khatijah/Khadija, Shari’a/Shari’ah, Shiite/Shī’ite, Tarik Ramadan/Tariq Ramadan, Fetullah Gulen/Fetulah Gulen, and others. These editorial oversights are distracting at best, confusing and misleading at worst.

John Barton

Director, Center for Faith and Learning

Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

1 Clifford Geertz, “From a Native’s Point of View: On the Nature of Anthropological Understanding,” in Interpretive Social Science: A Reader, edited by Paul Rabinow and William M. Sullivan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), 241.