Transforming Mission | Paradigm changes in missiology

17 11 2009

The point is simply that the Christian church in general and the Christian mission in particular are confronted with issues they have never even dreamt of and which are crying out for responses that are both relevant to the times and in harmony with the essence of the Christian faith. The contemporary church-in-mission is challenged by at least the following factors (cf also Kung 1987:214-216, 240f):
1. the West, for more than a millennium the home of Christianity and in a very real sense created by it, has lost its dominant position in the world. Peoples in all parts of the world strive for liberation from what is experienced as the stranglehold of the West.
2.Unjust structures of oppression and exploitation are today challenged as never before in human history. The struggles against racism and sexism are only two of several manifestations of this challenge.
3. There is a profound feeling of ambiguity about Western technology and development, indeed, about the very idea of progress itself. Progress, the god of the Enlightenment, proved to be a false god after all.
4. More than ever before we know today that we live on a shrinking globe with only finite resources. We know that people and their environment are mutually interdependent. Capra (1987:519) calls the emerging worldview ganz-heitlich-okologisch, “comprehensively ecological”.
5. We are today not only able to kill God’s earth but also – again, for the first time in history – capable of wiping out humankind. If the plight of the environment calls for an ecologically appropriate response, the threat of a nuclear holocaust challenges us to reply by working for peace with justice.
6. If the Bangkok meeting of the Commission for World Mission and Evangelism (1973) was correct in stating that “culture shapes the human voice that answers the voice of Christ”, then it should be clear that theologies designed and developed in Europe can claim no superiority over theologies emerging in other parts of the world. This too, is a new situation, since the supremacy of the theology of the West was taken for granted for more than a thousand years.
7. Again, for many centuries the superiority of the Christian religion over all other faiths was simply taken for granted (by Christians,that is). It was, as a matter of course, regarded as the only true and only saving religion. Today, most people agree that freedom of religion is a basic human right. This factor, together with many others, forces Christians to reevaluate their attitude toward and their understanding of other faiths.
Other factors might be added to the seven listed above. The point I am making is simply that, quite literally, we live in a world fundamentally different from that of the nineteenth century, let alone earlier times. The new situation challenges us, across the board, to an appropriate response. No longer dare we, as we have done, respond only piecemeal and ad hoc to single issues as they confront us. The contemporary world challenges us to practice a “transformational hermeneutics” (Marin 1987:378), a theological response which transforms us first before we involve ourselves in mission to the world.
We could, conceivably, have moved directly from the primitive Christian paradigm sketched in the first part of this book to the challenge of the contemporary scene. For several reasons this would, however,not be an advisable procedure. The magnitude of today’s challenge can really only be appreciated if viewed against the backdrop of almost twenty centuries of church history. In addition, we need the perspectives of the past in order to appreciate the scope of the present challenge and to be able really to understand the world today and the Christian response to its predicament. Like the Israelites of old – who needed to remind themselves, in every period of crisis, of their deliverance from Egypt, their wanderings in the desert, and their ancient covenant with God – we too need to be reminded of our roots, not only in order that we might have consolation but even more that we might find direction (cf Niebuhr 1959:1). We reflect on the past not just for the past’s own sake; rather, we look upon it as a compass – and who would use a compass only to ascertain from where he or she has come?

Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, David J. Bosch, 1991, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, pp. 188-189.

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