When I was growing up, the Church was very simple—there was the Evangelicals, who had the truth of the Gospel, and then there was everyone else: Anglicans (who were all nominal), Catholics, and liberals. There was another very simple equation: Evangelicals spread the Gospel and try to win converts, liberals didn’t really talk about Jesus but just did social and political stuff. You can still see remnants of these equations, in the way we talk about churches today. Read more about Learning to love the liberals
I was planning to write a post defending Rick Warren (which, let’s face it, is news enough) from the suspicion and criticism aimed at his plans to establish a Saddleback Church franchise in London. I was going to say something like this:
I’ve been on both sides of this debate: initially as a Christian when a new denomination was looking to plant “one of their churches” in a very well-churched area; and then on the other side right now, as I’ve been questioned for planting churches in an area which area does have churches in it. I don’t believe as some (including the agency we work with) that church planting is necessary the best way to share the Gospel, nor do I believe it is the commission we’ve been given. (which I think said something about disciples and nothing about churches, which makes it a lot harder to carry out. If I can plant a church, then any fool can.) But there is still a merit in planting churches, even in an area with lots of churches already. First, people are different and we should contextualize the Gospel to as many tastes and subcultures as there are—no single local church can hope or expect to serve everyone. So there is always room for a church which is bringing something new to the area. Second, what’s the threshold for describing an area as well-churched or under-churched? You may actually find that an area which appears well-churched actually has difficulty serving all the people in that area, if you just try running the numbers.
Obviously the first point doesn’t apply to Saddleback, since it is practically the apotheosis of franchise Evangelicalism—it both defines and reflects the culture which many, many other churches are trying to achieve. Which leaves point two: try running the numbers and see. So I tried running the numbers. Read more about Base ecclesial colonialism, part 3
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
I get really incensed when people call Japan a “difficult” or a “slow” country. It really isn’t the Japanese people’s fault that they aren’t buying what we’re selling. It may be that we’re not selling it all that well. Gilbert Arland’s quote seems relevant:
When an archer misses the mark, he turns and looks for the fault within himself. Failure to hit the bull’s eye is never the fault of the target. To improve your aim, improve yourself.
But at the same time I will admit the equally prevalent saying that Japan is a “missionary’s graveyard”. Things just don’t happen very quickly here, or at least as quickly as we would like. It wears us down. Perhaps that just speaks about our impatience. I don’t know. What is interesting to me, though, is how different missionaries deal with this. Read more about Working the Graveyard Shift
When I went to Bible college, we were taught about a variety of theological viewpoints, with the implication that you would pick the one you liked the look of, since, you know, we’re all Protestants and so there’s nobody to tell you which one you should choose. (Although we will happily treat you like a heretic if you choose the wrong one.) And in terms of learning to work in multi-denominational teams and whatnot, that was all very useful to help us understand each other and, hopefully, not treat each other too much like heretics.
But we were also taught about contextualization and about presenting the Gospel in ways that make the most sense to the recipient, and so now when I come back to this idea of choosing which theological camp you belong to, I can’t help thinking, “Do I only get to choose one?” Read more about Can we be theological chameleons?
A funny thing happened last week. One of the communities that we’re part of here, a deaf signing group, went on an outing. The plan was to visit a deaf school, walk from there down the hill through a temple to view the autumn leaves, and catch the bus home from the bottom of the hill. Because of having Caitlin with us, we came by car, which messed everyone up. (Rule one of Japan: Don’t be different.) So the group leader, being a good Japanese leader and so knowing that the most important thing is to keep the group together, did something very clever. Read more about A sign that divides
A while back I wrote a rant in response to Paul Eshleman’s truly extraordinary paper for the Lausanne one-way “conversation”, which I softened up for academic publication and then promptly did nothing with. Now the time seems right to dust it off, convert it back into rant format and post it here. Read more about Rethinking people groups
So that title sounds like an essay - and maybe it will become one - but I’m just thinking through some thoughts at the moment. The other day I was at a meeting where someone was talking about how their friend didn’t have a sense of sin, thought they were a good person, didn’t do much wrong, and so on. That’s a typical Japanese approach to sin. Read more about A contextual reading of the concept of sin in Japanese culture