Posts Tagged Missions

News from the other side of the globe

I’ve been teaching this week at Central Africa Baptist College in Kitwe, Zambia. The course is entitled “Philosophy and Methodology of Expositional Preaching” and it includes all of the regular students from the college, a significant number of men who are taking the block class in a certificate program, and also a large group that is simply auditing (i.e., treating it something like a conference). Most of the men are from Zambia, but there are also men from Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All totaled, I believe there are over 150 men taking the course in some form.

I came into the class with a fair amount of concern about how well what I teach on this subject would fit this particular context. I teach homiletics to seminary students in America, so they all have undergraduate degrees and most of them are Americans (although I’ve had men from Spain, Mexico, India, and Canada in my classes as well). The particular approach I teach is not the standard fare, so it is sometimes harder for men who have already been preaching to think differently, and this week about half of the students are senior pastors. The way I teach it is very interactive because I’m trying to teach a skill, not just theory, so having 150+ men in class was something I was very concerned about.

We’ve only got one full day left and I am very thankful that I can say that the class has been going amazingly well. The men seem very excited about what they are learning and my heart has been made full by the privilege of teaching them. I told them in class that I attribute the success so far of the class to the many people who are praying for us and to their hunger to learn God’s Word. These men really are serious about God’s Word and about learning how to communicate it accurately. I told Phil Hunt, the college president, that this has been as good a group of students as I’ve ever taught in one of these block settings. I am very encouraged about what God is doing here in Zambia.

Another highlight of this trip was sitting down for dinner with two faculty members who are graduates of Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and, more importantly, members of our church who are serving as short-termers here. Jeremy (and Jenny) Pittsley and Kevin (and Sarah) Sherman have jumped right into the work and it was incredibly encouraging to see these families diving into the work of training men for Gospel ministry. Jeremy already has a semester under his belt and is having a great ministry. Kevin got here just a few days before me, but already is eagerly embracing the task.

Frankly, I am sick of flying and really don’t enjoy traveling overseas, but when I hit the ground, see what God is doing, and have the privilege of equipping men who love God and hunger for His Word, it is hard to explain what a blessing that is. I’ve taught for 8 hours under a tent six time zones away from my home and family, but at the end of the day I’m still so pumped up I’m having a hard time getting to sleep. Our God is doing awesome things all over the globe for His glory! Seeing them firsthand is an amazing gift of His grace.

Well, it’s late over here and I’ve got 8 more hours to go tomorrow, so I’m going to go to bed praising God. If you’d pray for class tomorrow and Friday, I’d really appreciate that.

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Dangerous Assumptions

This CT article on a new document regarding evangelism produced jointly by the World Evangelical Fellowship, World Council of Churches, and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue is both fascinating and frustrating. It is fascinating in the way it speaks so easily of evangelicals beginning to view themselves as fitting into the “classic” Christianity represented by the mainline and Catholicism. Maybe I am just exposing myself as living deeply inside the separatist ghetto, but the tone of the article is so nonchalant that it fascinates me. It almost seems to be a given that this is a good thing with a few kinks that need to be worked out.

My list of frustrations with the article is longer than fit a blog post, but at the top of the list is the incredible danger of faulty assumptions. The largest and most dangerous assumption is that all three of these groups represent genuine Christianity simply because they bear that religious designation, i.e., they are Christian in contrast to Muslim. The assumption shines brightly in the words of a former president of the National Association of Evangelicals which are quoted in the article, “we’re seeing each other for who we are rather than who we’re against.” Granting that assumption inevitably leads to others which undermine the very fabric of biblical Christianity. It is at least a little encouraging to see that some evangelicals interviewed for the article see some of these weaknesses.

To me, the wrongness of this project is magnified by its uselessness. “What’s valuable about the document is that Christians are letting the world know that they are intending to be respectful, loving, and transparent in their approach to missions and that they do not intend to be seen as violent or coercive,” claims Craig Ott from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Seriously? Publishing this document will do that? Is “the world” really reading documents put out by groups like this? Why do evangelicals keep chasing after the elusive dream of getting the world to think differently about them? Why do they keep chasing that elusive dream with ecclesiastical tokens like documents and statements?

The view from the separatist ghetto looks like this: professing evangelicals keep getting hoodwinked into publishing documents that never accomplish their purpose, but do in fact erode the boundaries of the faith. The world will not even notice this document, but the World Evangelical Fellowship and the World Council of Churches will feel better for playing nicely with each other, and Rome is happy that they are doing on their way back home.

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Human Sympathy vs. Missionary Compassion

Are some people more lost than other people? Should the current deprivation of some people create more motivation for missions than the relative prosperity of other people?

I was thinking about these questions as I reflected on the (too-oft) tendency for missionary appeals to concentrate our attention on the temporal deprivations of people in faraway places. I am sure you’ve seen them. Pictures of slums, starving children, moral debauchery. Statistics about poverty, sickness, unemployment, crime.

Please don’t misunderstand me. All of these things ought to provoke compassion in us. They ought to bother us because sin and its effects ought to bother us. But do any of them really provide direct motivation for the spread of the gospel? Are healthy, prosperous, intact families living in nice homes less motivating?

I know this may seem like an odd question, but I think it is an important one. The tendency to motivate Americans for missions by appealing to the deprivation of other people is really a base attempt to turn our materialism into an ally of the gospel. Instead of seeing people as headed toward an eternity apart from Christ, they are presented as objects of our pity because of their desperate circumstances. If you doubt that this is what’s happening, imagine the presentation full of rich kids dressed in designer clothes or young adults chatting in a Starbucks.

Why does one conjure up the idea of being lost and the other doesn’t? Have we subtly confused the promise of the gospel with the American dream? Is it possible we have become more concerned about the temporal welfare of people than their eternal destiny?

Don’t read this as arguing against compassion. I am arguing against the misuse of human sympathy and the danger of misdirected compassion. As I said, I am thinking about it and wanted to encourage you to do the same.

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Charles Hodge on What Matters Most

In 1821 William Ward visited Princeton Seminary in order to challenge the students and faculty regarding missions. Ward was an English Baptist missionary and colleague of William Carey and Joshua Marshman at Serampore. Charles Hodge was among those who heard him. Hodge was not impressed with his speaking abilities, but Ward’s zeal for the cause of missions did make a strong impression. The day following the Ward’s message, Hodge wrote the following to his brother:
I never felt the importance and grandeur of missionary labors as I did last evening. I could not help looking around on the congregation and asking myself, “What are these people living for?” Granting that each should attain his most elevated object, what would it all amount to? Then looking at these men in India, giving the Bible to so many millions, which I know can never be in vain, I see them opening a perennial fountain, which, when they are dead for ages, will still afford eternal life to millions (Princeton Seminary, Volume One: Faith and Learning, p. 140).
While Hodge was speaking specifically of missions, I think his assessment bears some relation to all gospel ministry. Only eternity will reveal the extended impact of ministries which may never garner much attention in this world. A single life touched by a faithful pastor ends up touching other lives that, in turn, touch others still farther removed. The harvest is still being reaped from sowing that was done many years ago.
As an example, I have no idea who was responsible way back in the 1930s for getting the gospel to a young man named Bill Rice. I do know, though, that God molded that young man into a pastor who carried the gospel to thousands and an educator who started a seminary which has trained men who are taking the gospel across this country and to the nations of the earth. Dr. William R. Rice poured forty years of his life in this church and its ministries, and that investment is still bearing dividends for eternity.
What are you living for? If you attain your most elevated goal, what would it all amount to? As we begin this seminary year, let me challenge you to sharpen your focus on what your life is all about. You can’t be and do everything. Figure out what matters most and pour your life into that!

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