Friday, March 17, 2017

Ten Perspectives on Missiology

Here are ten perspectives that describe the approach to missiology to which I aspire. I wrote this two years ago for a different audience but it was never used. Having just rediscovered it I thought I would post in on the blog in the hope that it might be helpful for others. It was prompted by reading John Frame's approach to theology. I borrowed the first three perspectives from him, as well as I understand him. I hope it doesn't make mission look complicated. Missiology is simply careful thinking about mission. The following is just an attempt to unpack that.

1. Biblical: the normative perspective

It is in the Bible that we read of God’s heart for the world. The text of Scripture must be read and understood for our missiology to be shaped by God himself. “All Scripture is God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2Tim 3:16-17). We examine the views and opinions of the Lord’s servants even though some do not hold to the infallibility of the Bible. Whether they do or not, their assertions must be checked against the Word “to see if what [is] said is true” (Acts 17:11). So, the biblical perspective keeps us centred.

2. Contextual: the situational perspective

We need to reflect on the context the Lord has put us in. We should seek to be involved in ministry as we reflect on it. That ministry will continually throw up questions to answer, issues to address. This is an important element in missiology; it is not to be merely theoretical. As the biblical perspective keeps us centred, the contextual perspective keeps us grounded in the stuff of real life.

3. Personal: the existential perspective
In considering missions, we are inevitably confronted with the challenge to consider our place, as individuals, in God’s purposes. Not only so but we are also challenged to consider our place as missiologists. We are forced, if we are honest, to reflect on ourselves as interpreters of God’s revelation in Scripture and in creation. Each of us has a unique perspective, which brings with it great potential for creative thinking and acting, because we are made in God’s image to reflect his creativity. But we also have great potential for both misunderstanding, because we are finite creatures with limited powers, and for twisting the truth, because of the continuing effects of sin on our thinking. So, we must consider the personal dimension as we learn and reflect, not just to bring our perspective to the discussion, but also in response to our discoveries as we learn. We do not approach missions from a distance but from within, with our personal histories, gifts, and scars from the battle.

4. Historical: the anterior perspective
We are not the first to do missiology. God’s people have reflected on God’s mission and their place in it for thousands of years. We need to learn from them, seeking not to repeat their mistakes but rather to stand on the shoulders of giants and carry the baton in our day as well as we possibly can (Hebrews 13:7).

5. Communal: the global perspective

The best learning goes on in community. It demands the development of good quality, honest relationships, in which we are partners, not competing with one another but seeking to use our gifts and ministry experience to build up others. Each of us is unique so we can all learn from each other. Missiology, then, is not an individualized discipline but an ecclesial one. Furthermore, the context can become as wide as the globe so we must consciously seek to learn from others who are different from us. Paul prayed for the Ephesians that “you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all God’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19). So, that journey of coming to know God’s love is to be travelled in companionship with all God’s people. We have the tremendous joy of being able to do that in the twenty-first century with brothers and sisters all over the world. There are great obstacles that make that difficult, especially in language. But great gains to be made if we work at it.

6. Theological: the structural perspective
No-one comes to God’s revelation with a blank slate. Each of us has a grid, a framework, through which we see the Word and the world. We filter and select data and arrange it in our minds to make sense of it. In this way, then, we are all theologians even before we open the Scriptures. The question is, however, whether our theological framework is adequate for the task? In what ways does our theology need changing? As we reflect on the Scriptures and God’s wider revelation in the world about us we will be seeking to allow them to challenge preconceived ideas. Our framework will need to be revised as we go along, as we ‘think God’s thoughts after him’.

7. Eschatological: the future perspective
Paul tells the Corinthians that the events of Israel’s wilderness experience happened as examples and were written down for the benefit of the church. We are those, Paul says, “on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1Cor 10:11). We are still living in that age today. As we draw near to the Lord and seek to understand our place in his purposes we can do so with this profound appreciation that we are doing something truly eschatological, that is that we are involved in God’s grand plan for his people, a plan that culminates in the completion of our salvation.

8. Critical: the analytical perspective
As we read the opinions of God’s people we need to do so with a realistic appreciation of human fallibility. So, we approach such writings with a view to weighing what is said. “Test all things,” said Paul (1Thess 5:21). We need to be fair in our presentation of the views of others, seeking to state their position as well as if they had presented it themselves. And then we need to argue our case cogently and clearly with a view to persuade our readers of our position. In this way, we can be like iron sharpening iron. We must not stoop to caricature or arguments ad hominem (that is against the person rather than their view) but handle ourselves with integrity.

9. Covenantal: the operational perspective
Missiology is not to be studied purely as an academic exercise. We cannot truly say we have understood the message of Scripture until we put it into action. We cannot say we truly appreciate God’s mission and our part in it until we are acting on that understanding. In this way, we acknowledge that God has brought us into covenant with him. He demands covenant faithfulness: action on our knowledge, obedience to his call on our lives. “Watch your life and doctrine closely,” Paul commands Timothy. “Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1Tim 4:16). So, we should press the application of God’s word on our lives as we learn of his purposes.

10.  Doxological: the ultimate perspective
The ultimate goal of missiology must be worship. John Piper puts it like this: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because God is ultimate, not man”. Likewise missiology. We reflect on God’s purposes with the grand vision of the Apostle John in front of us, in which he saw “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before God and before the Lamb [crying] out in a loud voice: ‘Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb’” (Rev 7:9-12).