Verkuyl (1978a:168-75; cf Durr 1951:2-10) identified the following “impure motives” … the motive of ecclesiastical colonialism (the urge to export one’s own confession and church order to other territories).
What missions and missionaries had often exported, was their idea of the gospel that they had mistakenly associated with the gospel itself. The result of Presbyterian mission work among Syrian students had been “on the whole … to make them foreign in their manners, foreign in their habits, foreign in their sympathies”. The explicit policy of the mission should therefore not be to control the course of the gospel but to trust the gospel and “let go”. The West has no edge on the type of Christianity that should be spread throughout the world (cf Hutchison 1987:80-82).
- Bosch, Transforming Mission
It’s probably too soon to be asking this but I wonder how history will view John Stott.
He was, after all, someone who devoted the latter part of his life to spreading, by various means, his own particular brand of Christian teaching (conservative evangelicalism) particularly amongst young churches in areas of the world where vibrant charismaticism - with which he bitterly disagreed - was flourishing. His other main ministry was enabling emerging leaders in those parts of the world to receive a proper Christian education - at selected Bible colleges in the West, naturally - again to ensure the kind of orthodoxy that he himself preferred.
This would look terribly paternalistic and colonial were it not for the fact that the churches in question, particularly in Africa, readily acknowledged that they needed deeper Christian teaching. On the other hand, there is more than one way to fulfill such a need: instead of integrating the leader into the Western elite, could such training be done in situ, in ministry, and in culturally and contextually appropriate ways? Do we have to ensure one particular brand of orthodoxy is championed, or can we encourage and guide the development of critical reflection upon contextual theological expressions that we do not necessarily agree with ourselves?
Right now the Western church is (rightly) going through a period of soul-searching about its imperialist past, and so there is a danger for the pendulum to swing too far the other way, and even obviously warm-hearted gestures like those of John Stott end up drawing suspicion - and this from the West, rather than those countries involved. He so dearly wanted to help the church grow, and did so in the best way he could see. When the next Bosch comes along, I doubt that the benefit of hindsight will prove a kindly judge.