So the good news is, 97% is still an A and the color gray continues to work on my former-entire-life-black-and-white-wait-why is this not 100 percent?-mentality. All I gotta say is, there must be a reason the colors of a rainbow are ROY-G-BIV.
If you want to check out two good reads about some different viewpoints on how to “do” evangelism, I recommend these two – just not as much as the next two I’m about to post. Oh and P.S. “glocal” is a word even though your brains and spell check will tell you differently…
The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast the following two books: Christian Mission in the Modern World (“Christian Mission”) by John Stott, updated and expanded by Christopher J.H. Wright, and Global Church: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches (“Global Church”) by Graham Hill.
Insofar as the ongoing and apparently age-old deliberation between “evangelical” and “ecumenical” churches are concerned with uncovering the best approach to mission, likewise are both books. At the highest-level and briefest first-blush description, Christian Mission is evangelically skewed while Global Church is ecumenically skewed…and that might be the understatement of the year. Stott was writing in the context of the 1960s and 1970s and states in the preface that he was “immediately plunged into the thick of contemporary debate about the meaning of mission” when he found himself amidst one of four experiences which served as catalysts for his writing. Out of the gate, Stott acknowledges unapologetically that he is a Christian of “evangelical” conviction, but seeks only to be fair in his assessment of other viewpoints while, at the same time, critical of himself in the process. The book’s undertone was successful in doing so, yet his emphasis on biblical revelation at the forefront of all mission temperature-taking could not be concealed. He states that a broader consensus on the meaning and obligation of “mission” is unlikely ever to be reached unless “an agreed biblical hermeneutic is found.” While many points in his book are valid and presented both clearly and fairly, as fairly goes in this debate, the resounding oxymoron in his chief concern of bringing ecumenical and evangelical thinking to the same “independent and objective test: that of biblical revelation” could not be missed.
Nor could one miss any of the blatant non-objective viewpoints which Graham Hill brings to the table in Global Church. The dedication to “the African, Asian, Caribbean, Eastern European….” was a pretty clear indication of how the book was going to be presented, and it did not disappoint! Just as one may read works by Gloria Steinem and think, “Wow, she hates men,” likewise when reading Global Church it is exceptionally easy to think, “Wow, Graham Hill hates the Western church and all its elitist mentality with a fierce passion.” However, as you dig deeper into what Gloria Steinem’s underlying declaration of equality was truly about, you find a much larger message behind the defensive façade of rejection, disunity, and opposing sides. And so too is it the exact case with Graham Hill’s Global Church.
Even though both books come across to the reader with a different spin on mission and how one ought to spread the gospel, the authors agree on both interesting and substantial points. Firstly, they wholeheartedly are in tandem with regard to the integral mission itself. In in simplest form, it is agreed that there must be a proper understanding and communication of the Christian faith, i.e. The Gospel. While there is definite variance in form when it comes to the communication portion of that statement, they are both unwavering in what is to be understood as paramount to the overall mission: that there is a responsibility among human beings to be salt to the world in a transformational way. Contextualizing that effort will look different in its manifestation, but the incarnation of God’s love for the world manifested in Christ cannot be denied. “Contextual mission is incarnational.” (Hill, 2016, p. 52).
Hill points out that “the words and deeds of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit show us the ultimate form of contextual mission.” (p. 52). That words and deeds need to constantly and continually match in order to be true to our mission was easily agreed upon in both books. GlobalChurch states the integral mission “has to do with the basic issue of the integrity of the church’s life, the consistency between what the church is and what it proclaims, (FN); Christian Mission clearly points to Jesus coming to serve “in deeds as well as in word, and it would be impossible in the ministry of Jesus to separate his works from his words” (Stott, 2015, p.24). The sense which was intimated throughout both reads is that mission, no matter the difference(s) in approach, cannot be hypocritical. Where Stott sees social action as a partner of evangelism, Hill sees the two as each demanding integrity. The integrity of the church’s life (i.e. mission) must maintain consistency between what the church is and what it proclaims. Word must match deed. Do what you say. Say what you mean. Do not waiver when you are in a Western culture nor when you are in Majority World culture – but make no mistake, go to both. Do not be a hypocrite and expect others to either listen or believe you’re without agenda when you are acting in just cause to meet the world’s social needs.
To that end, both authors understand that there is a necessary combination of actingand speaking the gospel. It was resoundingly evident that Hill believes Western churches fail miserably in thinking about let alone addressing in action the social injustices in our world today. And while both author’s agree that God’s primary relationship is to the world, Stott believes that the priority of evangelism (as seen in the Lausanne Covenant which both books also address) should be in the knowing, i.e. speaking, of the gospel because in his view, “Is there anything so destructive of human dignity as alienation from God through ignorance or rejection of the gospel?” (Stott, 2015, p. 58). He welcomingly goes on to say, “the fact that God disclosed himself in terms of particular culture does not give us another justification for rejecting his revelation, but rather the right principle by which to interpret it, and also the solemn responsibility to reinterpret it in terms meaningful to our own culture. (Stott, 2015, p. 63).
Again, there is consensus among authors that all cultures must be addressed, with less concern for the “results” of evangelism and the utmost concern for the truth of the good news, delivered by culturally relevant means. It is a global world, and while sometimes that is scary in its perceived “preoccupation with social change that leaves little or no room for evangelistic concern,” we certainly cannot fail to have “comparable concern or compassion for people’s spiritual hunger.” (Stott, 2015, p. 19). Polarization is not a workable solution. Both authors quote Rene Padilla with regard to the ethical aspect of mission in a global world. Padilla states that “without ethics there is no real repentance.” And clearly since biblical ethics includes more than just our own personal piety, as in also our social engagement, he goes on to make this significant and provoking assertion: “Thus social responsibility becomes an aspect not of Christian mission only, but also of Christian conversion.” On this, both authors stand arm in arm. It’s just that Hill’s arm span seems to be a little longer and his grasp a little tighter…
GlobalChurch asks, in sort of an all-encompassing question for which both books ultimately seek the answer: “how do we deliberately cultivate glocal conversations in our biblical interpretation?” (Hill, 2016, p. 39). The inverse can be asked as well (as one might rightly deduce would be found in Christian Mission), “how do we deliberately cultivate biblical interpretation in a glocal world?” Intentionality. Or, as Hill refers to it – attention. “Glocal theology does NOT need to accept all the assumptions or assertions of postcolonial or Majority World thought, but it DOES need to engage with them and take them seriously. We need to practice the art of attention, being especially attentive to those who are different to us” (Hill, 2016, p. 39).
Our views can, and often do, become so narrow in focus that we fail to realize God created the whole world, not just the rural county in which we live. He created literally everything, and, as both authors also concur, our responsibility as missionaries (because we all are) is to be the salt and light of the world, acting and speaking in solidarity. Individual cities sitting on a hill reaching each and every city, people group, environment – all of creation – below it.
At one point, Hill discusses the observations he had while in the Majority World. Specifically, he was astounded that folks in those areas are intimate with their bibles. They are intimate with each other. They are intimate in corporate, community, and neighborhood prayer. They are intimate about living. That in and of itself is different for many people living in the Western world. Perhaps if we depended on God and His Word as much as others in our world demonstrate on a daily basis, we would actually knowhow to respond – in both word and action. And perhaps that is exactly the point Hill was trying to unabashedly make. I think the guy would actually help us get up from that bus which he so skillfully threw us under.
But then again, maybe some of us deserve to hang out there a while. Or at least long enough to be transformed by the understanding that mission is not black and white. Instead of looking through our own shallow lenses, we would be best served by ditching our own taxonomies in favor of simple obedience to the totality of the Bible’s commission on the lives of God’s people. For ultimately, those partners in evangelism are for life.
Stott, John and Christopher J.H. Wright. Christian Mission in the Modern World. Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2015.
Hill, Graham. Global Church: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2016.