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Functional Atheism and Mission
One More Reason To Remythologise Missiology
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream here about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, some resources I trust will be helpful to you, and three exciting quotes about mission. I pray one of these will energise you in the coming week.
1. Thought I Can’t Shake Off
I grew up in a revival in Malawi—the kind of revival that turned many nominal Christians into fervent followers of Christ, ever ready to pray and evangelise. I learned after leaving the continent that the revival was a widespread phenomenon that touched almost all sub-Saharan Africa and has been going on for decades. In the context of a revival, mission and evangelism tend to be straightforward. I saw many people miraculously convert by themselves because of dreams and other spectacular phenomena. Many of them are still active following Christ today, 30 years later.
Central to all this revival is a theology (shaped by an African worldview) that requires that God acts for and on behalf of people. Even in African (traditional) religion, a god who does not heal or provide is useless and will have no followers. Why would one follow a God who cannot protect people from the evil forces? The God of Israel that we see in the Bible is Jehovah-Jireh (the God who provides), Jehovah-Rapha (the God who heals or restores) and Jehovah-Sabaoth (the God of Armies) because, of course, God must help humans in this life and not only after death. A God whose only promise to humans is eternal life in heaven does not make sense.
Yet, such is the God that many other Christians worship, especially in the post-Enlightenment West. Many people profess to follow Christ, yet, they live as if they are atheists. They are functional atheists. When they pray, they do not expect (or need) God to answer. Usually, they do not have needs to pray for. They are Christians, yet they are so self-sufficient that they do not need help from God. They live out their faith as if everything depends on them; their intelligence, credit cards, work ethic, technology, etc. Many do not have space to receive from God, even if God forces a gift on them. Needless to say, mission, when carried out by functional atheists, depends, to a great extent, on their abilities. There is little space for God to help. They cannot see their own spiritual needs and cannot respond to those of the people they are trying to reach. This is why we need to remythologise our missiology. Mission is, above all, a spiritual endeavour. Our missiology must have an active God.
2. Resources I am Enjoying
Podcast: Global Connections: Intercultural vs Multicultural (An Interview with Harvey Kwiyani)
For this week, I sat down with Wonu Adefala who is our lead at Global Connections (where I am CEO) on all issues intercultural. It is the first episode in the first series of our podcast. As this is Episode 1, we took time to discuss wide-ranging issues regarding mission (in a postcolonial world). We talked about the fact that all followers of Christ belong as equals at God’s table. What we do with that is a different story. But the highlight for me was when we wrestled with the question of our language regarding cultural diversity and the church. Is the church to be multicultural? Or is it to be intercultural? Listen to hear what we settled on. Bookmark or subscribe for more episodes.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
We cannot effectively carry out mission in a foreign language. [Indeed,] we have to sing the Gospel in our tunes, set to our music, played on our instruments. I speak metaphorically … This applies equally in Africa as it does in Europe and America where the Gospel must be sung aloud. — John Mbiti
Diakonia is the bloodstream of the ministry of the church in its mission and evangelism. — Isabel Phiri and Chammah Kaunda
Ever since Christianity came to our shores, it was seen by many of our people as a foreign religion coming to replace foreign culture. What gave this claim even more weight was the fact that many early missionaries equated becoming a Christian with becoming civilized (as they put it), and so early converts to Christianity were also expected to change their clothes, learn a new language, and adopt cultural expression and practices that were very foreign to their people. — Musawenkosi Ntinga
I pray that you will be faithful to the mission God has for you this week.