Saturday, 9 July 2011

Speaking the truth about missionary mythology: read, learn, inwardly digest

Here are two posts to read, read and read again. (I found them via the narcissistic activity of self-Googling. Someone added a link to my blog, as someone sympathetic to the ideas expressed in this post. 15 months ago!).

Were I more of an emotionally expressive fellow, I could have wept in reading these. I don't know whether I feel more pain at witnessing so much of the perpetuation of what this blogger calls "the mythology of North American fundamentalism and Western Evangelicalism", or of the relief of finding a person who's willing to speak the truth so bluntly. Many of the writer's examples are American and I'm not American - he's also in the Orthodox Church which I have very significant theological differences with - but give or take those things, there's a lot to learn here. Opening paragraph:
"In the mythology of North American fundamentalism and Western Evangelicalism, we missionaries are the heroes. We've given up our comfortable lives and left family and friends and offered ourselves to bring the light of the gospel to benighted peoples across the globe. We of the missionary slide show/now powerpoint presentation, we of the missionary letters telling stories of our triumphs and sorrows, we of the frenetic furlough spent going from church to church giving our spiel and hoping that congregations and individuals will sign up and be on our financial support team. We have our special anecdotes that always produce the appropriate laugh or outburst of disgust. We always seem to be teetering on the brink of some ministry-threatening catastrophe, skillfully presented to elicit yet more prayer support. People regularly marvel at how we could have taken our children from here (land of milk and honey) and raised them there (the dangerous howling wilderness) and are astonished when they discover that our teenagers can carry on a meaningful conversation with adults." - read the full thing at:
And here's a Kenyan Christian's view of an (unnamed!) missionary couple, having reviewed their blog posts written from within the above mythological ilk:
I am praying i never have to work with them because i would be hard pressed to be patient let alone gracious. I know the reason they say they are coming and I believe them but I have a question. Why are they coming? - full post at:
A quick poke around gives some more beneficial stuff:
In one place the first blogger writes: "I would love to have some thoughtful discussion on all this. But I fear that this is one of those untouchable topics in Evangelical circles because, truth be told, too many of us seem to have too much to lose." I've had experiences in that ball-park; sitting down with a Westerner who's an enthusiastic supporter of "mission" with a deep interest in "the mission field", moving towards a discussion of how it really is in this part of the world, and watching the defences go up: they didn't want to know how it is; they like the mythology better. And who wouldn't?


Ned Kelly said...

I think your concerns are well founded, but not just in the missionary sense. I am working on a difficult project to understand Torah from the perspective of a 1st century Jew, and then to understand the Gospels from that perspective, entirely ignoring Acts and the Epistles. I am discovering significant issues that are seemingly ignored in modern commentaries, which are obviously based on some denominational-based doctrine. I have the impression that many scholars get so involved in their intellectual debate that they have entirely ignored the nature of God. They present God more as a politician than the God He has revealed Himself to be. As I analyse Western doctrinal views of the Jews, their traditions, and their inability to keep Torah, I find them to be antithetical to the Jews’ view of themselves as revealed in the Talmud. When I read modern Jewish texts of why Jews do not accept Jesus as the Messiah, I find that Jews have the same misconceptions of Jesus as Christians do of ancient Judaism. Who else do we blame other than scholars and theologians? I am coming to a new understanding of redemption, based on the OT statement that God’s laws are not only holy, but not too difficult to know and keep (Deut 30:11). There was never the suggestion in Judaism that keeping the law perfectly was the path to righteousness. Keeping the law was their duty to God, just as it is today. Righteousness was always considered the gift of God to those who were faithful in their hearts. When Jesus and Paul were criticising Jews, and particularly Pharisees, for their legalistic law keeping, they were not speaking of all Jews and Pharisees, nor were they saying anything new. They were repeating the criticism that was already prevalent amongst the Jewish sects. Attempting to attain righteousness by law keeping was described as self-righteousness, which was what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 5:20. It was termed ‘self-righteousness’ because some thought they could attain righteousness through self, contrary to what is taught in Torah.
Supercessionism, giving the NT authority over OT, has misled many into ignoring the OT, and how it was understood by 1st century Jews, including Jesus and Paul. Supercessionism makes God out to be a politician, putting spin on His words in the OT, so that the ancients were deceived into thinking the promises were for them, and then Jesus comes along and corrects the meaning. Some scholars seemingly ignore that it was the same Word speaking from Creation, and while promises can be extended to include more recipients, they are never rescinded or misrepresented.

We need to put God back into scholarship, testing every interpretation against the character and nature of God, and recognising that it was Jesus speaking as the Word throughout human history even before His coming, accept that there cannot be any discontinuity in the plans of an omniscient and immutable God. The missionary problem you refer to is simply a symptom of a wider malaise.

gingoro said...

David I think that almost all missionaries from the western countries have this kind of motivation to a greater or lessor degree. Certainly I saw it to a large extent in my father, yet I know that he was well regarded by many nationals. But in spite of that God can and does use the work of many missionaries to further the kingdom although I think that in some individuals the motivation is so strong that it makes them close to unusable.
Dave W