Theologically acceptable translation

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As a student of linguistics*, a lover of the Bible, a missiologist interested in contextualization, and a frequent transgressor of the Eleventh Commandment, (“Thou shalt not hold strong views on controversial issues”) it’s no real surprise that I have a thing or two to say about the Son of God translation fracas. It seems very reminiscent of the equally silly debate about whether or not Bible translators should use the word Allah for God in Arabic translations of the Bible. Read more about Theologically acceptable translation

Is the church a "power spot"?

On Saturdays we try to have a family day off together, so often on Friday nights I spend a lot of time looking through tourist information and what’s-on web sites trying to think of something interesting to do. If you look at the official Kyoto city tourist information web site, you will find that the number one most accessed page was (until the new aquarium opened) Kyo Power Spots. So what’s a “power spot”? From the same page: Read more about Is the church a "power spot"?

Ten reasons for missionaries not to evangelise

  1. You make yourself unavailable to the pastoral needs of your church members.
  2. You lose the opportunity for fellowship with other missionaries and church leaders.
  3. You can’t evangelise yet; you need to put more time into building the relationship.
  4. Sermons don’t write themselves, Bible studies don’t prepare themselves.
  5. It’s more important to train other people to do the work instead of doing it yourself.
  6. There’s an important meeting about proposed changes to the denominational organisational structure that you should be at instead.

God's ethical landmines

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So yesterday a friend posted on Facebook a quote from Miroslav Volf about the book of Job, which said: “We either love God ‘for nothing,’ or we don’t love God at all.”

The Bible has many of examples of God appearing capricious, uncaring or downright murderous. Job is one of them; the genocide in Joshua another. I’ve noticed four usual reactions to this: Read more about God's ethical landmines

Counter-contextualization: Keeping our saltiness

The other day I wrote a long blog post in Japanese. I haven’t posted it yet; I have a feeling it might offend people. That isn’t why I haven’t posted it, though—I want to make sure I offend the right people to just the right degree: not too much, of course, but not too little either. Here I want to work through the philosophical underpinnings of that post—why I wrote it and what I’m thinking about it, and why I think it’s worth offending people over. Read more about Counter-contextualization: Keeping our saltiness

We ghettoize ourselves

I walked past a cult church today. Well, OK, “cult” is a subjective labelling. I walked past a sect today. I was out with Caitlin wandering through an area of town that was new to me, and came across a sign on a building proclaiming “Jesus Christ!” Once again, I wondered what I was doing here as a church planter - Japan already has a local church and there are a reasonable number in my area - until I realised that the church was one that I had been warned against by a local pastor here.

How do you tell when a church becomes a sect? The obvious answer is in its teachings, and yeah, this one in particular is pretty off the wall, but in general it’s not so easy to say; there’s a huge diversity within Christian teaching and the boundaries are fuzzy. It’s easy enough to use proof texts from the Bible to pull down other Christians and call them nasty names, but I can’t help thinking that isn’t what the Bible is for.

But there is an easier way to tell. A sect is sectarian; it’s a church that has decided that it already has as much of the truth as it needs, and that it need not learn from any other Christians. We’ve got the Bible, we’ve got the Holy Spirit - we don’t need anything else. It’s a misunderstanding of that same Bible which always talks about greeting one another, teaching one another, learning from one another, having mutual concern for one another, encouraging one another and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, but there you go. That’s what a sect does: it rejects the gift of one another that God has given us. So because it thinks it doesn’t need to learn from other Christians, it closes itself off, to the point at which it simply doesn’t have the opportunity to learn from any other Christians, and so will never know when it’s becoming idiosyncratic or heretical. In that sense, ecumenism is a mark of the Church. Churches that don’t work with other churches are sects.

I suppose the logical conclusion of this is that an awful lot of Evangelical denominations are sects. Hmm. Read more about We ghettoize ourselves

What is a "missionary"?

Our mission agency is currently trying to convince us all that we need to write job descriptions for ourselves. I’m not sure what I think of this idea. I don’t feel particularly warm to it, but I don’t know if that’s just because I’m a typical gen-Xer* who prefers having freedom to being nailed down and put into a box, or because I’m against bureaucracy in general, or because I’m against managerial missiology in all its forms and I’m throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Maybe a bit of all of the above. On the other hand, I am in favour of missionaries being self-evaluative, and thinking about whether what they’re actually doing relates to what they think they should be doing.

But there’s another reason to be in favour of job descriptions for missionaries: it helps to remind us that there’s no such thing as a typical missionary. Yeah, it’s something that we say: “I’m a missionary.” But it’s like saying “I’m an office worker.” It doesn’t communicate at all what you do. There are missionaries who are Bible translators, and some who are pastors, and some who are preachers, and some who are musicians, and some who are IT consultants, and some who are development workers, and some who do disaster relief, and get this, there are some who are not pastors or preachers or church workers in any sense, and yet they still get lumped in with this general category of “missionary”, which makes people think that they are church workers.

There are some senses in which “missionary” is a useful word, but on the whole I am starting to wonder if we’re better off without it. Read more about What is a "missionary"?