Pegs and Holes

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By Josh Imagine a machine that is designed to carry large chunks of marble up out of mine shaft where it can be packaged and shipped off. Now imagine what people would say if the miners suddenly struck oil and the man in charge decided that they would use the exact same machine to elevate the oil to the surface. People would declare that the man is insane! They would say that his system was built for a different purpose and for a different environment. They would say that the oil they are dealing with is uniquely different than the marble that they have dealt with in the past. Therefore it is only logical that a new machine must be built; one that can conform to and handle this new material. In the same way, western missionaries are moving into countries and establishing church organizational structures that were built for an entirely different “substance”. It is ludicrous to expect a church system designed for a mega church in Seattle, filled with wealthy middle class Americans, to work for a nomadic tribe in Central Africa. The very “substance” that we are dealing with is different. All cultures are not the same, and the church or machine must therefore be modified or changed in order to handle different types of cultures. The machine is still doing the same thing, but simply by a different process and means. When you look at foreign missions from this perspective it seems obvious that the organization and way that the church functions must be very different from what is common in America; however, sadly, it is still very common for western missionaries to go into a country and try to conform that countries culture to his system of church organization. We might as well try to put a square peg in a round hole. With enough pressure the square will fit into the hole, but it will no longer be the square that God uniquely created to be a square. Westerners have fallen into the trap of thinking that God only makes round pegs and round holes. We think that God has made everyone like us, and that those that are not like us need to change. -JS

Contextualize This

Attempting to contextualize the Gospel is a very acute and sensitive endeavor. Push the envelope too far and you will be lost in the ocean of syncretism, or really just pervert the Gospel until it is no longer the good news of Jesus Christ, but the good news of whatever culture or society you are in. On the contrary, if you fail to contextualize at all, or just contextualize too little, evangelism really just becomes assimilation and or socialization unto the church culture – or Christian imperialism. Stanley Hauerwas seems to insinuate in his book Resident Alien that the first apologists in the early church were inadvertently (it should be noted that Constantinian Christendom was also a major contributing factor) laying the groundwork that would perpetuate into modern theologians fruitless attempts to accommodate or make the Gospel – perceived to be ancient and outdated due to its ancient near eastern Hebraic roots – seem relevant and intelligible to the post-modernity, post-enlightenment, and increasingly anti-Christianity intellectual realm of the current times. (There is obviously more to be said and more to explain, but for the sake of the brevity of the blog post, and retaining your interest, I must go on.) This, Hauerwas goes on to argue, “transforms it [the Gospel] into something it never claimed to be – ideas abstracted from Jesus, rather than Jesus with his people.”  read more

New Eyes

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Many of us have written about our “exercise” this past Tuesday, having gone into one of Spokane’s many neighborhoods, observing, listening, trying to sow peace, learning, and all the other things we did that day. A few of my classmates might have similar feelings, but one of the strange things for me was the newness of the experience, despite my ties to Spokane. My group visited the South Perry District, a part of Spokane’s south hill. I have grown up in Spokane, and this year has been my first “away from home.” The Perry District is somewhere that I spent an enormous amount of time in for about the last year and a half before I graduated. I had some close friends living in a rather run-down house just a few blocks away from Grant elementary school. The strangest thing for me was feeling as though there were things I ought to have known about a neighborhood I have been so close to. In that sense it did give me a kind of ache; maybe I was internalizing it too much. All the same, there was a slight feeling of irresponsibility on my part. However, much more than that, I received an overwhelming feeling of energy from it. We didn’t walk all of the neighborhood: there was simply too much ground to cover. But we were walking with intentionality. We intended to look, learn, and listen. The whole time all I could think was that I want to walk my whole city with intentionality, and see what I can discover. I was reminded that learning curves exist, and it’s okay that I was experiencing something different. I hadn’t been irresponsible, I just hadn’t been looking in the right way before. And I still won’t always look the “right way,” because it’s difficult to constantly walk with intentionality. But I have made discoveries, and part of the amazing thing about mission is the fact that we get to discover new and exciting things about cities, people, and ourselves, and that, my friends, is what makes it so invigorating. read more