I recently just finished a course at Moody Seminary called “Theology and Practice of Intercultural Ministry” which is a mouthful to describe a class on Missiology, or the study of Missions. I walked away with a lot from the class – but not the content itself. Rather, I found myself disagreeing with much of the content of the assigned reading (the world view of the anthropologist from Oxford, the presuppositions of the Christian with a doctorate in Missiology).
The text from the Oxford grad was quite illuminating in some respects (the text itself dealt with child prostitution in Thailand) by dispelling some of the common myths to the sex trade industry. However, even from the point of observational anthropology – you will undoubtedly catch propositions that reflect the author’s bias. In this, much of the heinous nature of what takes place is relativized in lieu of familial obligation, abject poverty, lack of education, etc.
In the end, this was no sin of the parents who willingly placed their children into prostitution, or of the children who all willingly went into the trade, nor even of the “suitor” who abused the children. In more plain speech, the necessity of the situation removed culpability – and though we would like to blame the “suitor” for having sex with innocent children, the conventional sense of innocence is precluded based on the cultural definition from the particular slum village in discussion. Thus, they did that which was right in their own eyes – and though the anthropologist was no fan of it, they could not pass judgment based on the complexities that arose from their destitute position.
The other book by the Missiologist spoke in great length of the merits to any missionary (or student of missions) to study sociological, psychological, and anthropological sources in conjunction with the scriptures. I believe one of the arguments in particular said this was needed just as much as an understanding of biblical and systematic theologies in order to speak gospel into a culture.
There were some excellent points in regard to utilizing language which would be understood, being a “cultural exegete” so as to understand the particularities of said culture, and the plea for a wealth of biblical knowledge. I wanted to like the book because points like these continually came up in the book – yet again; there was a heavy emphasis on the latter academic principles of sociology, psychology, and anthropology. It is not so much the understanding of these fields that bothered me – but the implementation of secular methodology that has no foundation or interest in the Lord and the scriptures.
Surely, the missiologist loved (and often properly quoted) scripture – yet many of his principles on reaching the unreached were founded upon secular methodology and he reflected nothing that I noted of studying such things with an extremely critical mind. The foundations of each of these fields are respectively built on Darwinian principles, and subsequently, are often antithetically opposed to what is revealed in scripture. This does not shock me in the least. In fact, I expect a mindset that is opposed to the scriptures from one who is not in Christ (just read Romans 1).
The class I was involved with was neatly split down the middle on these issues. Thus, meeting the physical needs of these families in Thailand were tantamount, if not paramount to their need for salvation. Alleviating poverty, educating them, providing jobs, food, and shelter, etc., would allow the church to be able to proclaim the gospel – and would subsequently make it valid.
Surely, James and Paul do not separate one’s faith and works – but do they make affluence and education man’s primary needs before a God whom they are alienated from? How much better is our “Christian Nation” for having an abundance of ease for most everything we have (including welfare, unemployment benefits, social programs, education, etc.)? I am not saying all of these things are bad – I am saying that they do not change the heart and will never possess that ability. The “betterment” of society in erecting these Babel-esk programs provides a means by which we often say, “Nothing is impossible for man!”
So what did I walk away with all of this? Sadly, that the broader church is in desperate need to be reacquainted with the scriptures – and a love for the things which the world declares to be foolish that the word calls the wisdom of God. Many have a sweeping, biblical illiteracy – and do not even seem remotely bothered by it. Many others read the bible year after year only to walk away with a complete misunderstanding of the text. Both of these camps either actively embrace or relativize heresies that the early church condemned, sweeping away doctrinal and theological differences under the rug of “love” because they don’t like division.
If we go to a biblically sound church – that is excellent! However, we often live in the bubble of our local church and relegate the unbelief of scripture to those who are outside of Christ. Far more damaging to the reputation of the Lord are those who claim to be in Christ, having nothing but disdain for what the scriptures teach. They are whitewashed tombs; having no love for Christ, they not only commit deeds deserving of death, but also approve of those who practice them.
The slide into this position is much faster than we all would like to believe – and it starts with a disposition to place the authority of God’s word under the authority of the teaching of men.