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Needed: A Remythologised Missiology for the 21st Century
One More Reason We Need Crosscultural Theological Conversations
Welcome to my newsletter, “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where I dream about mission in a postcolonial world. Every week, I share one thought that has spoken to me in the week, a resource 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
Last week, I started a conversation about the need for cross-cultural theological conversations. I was reminded of a story that I enjoyed talking to John Mbiti about. Back in 1974, he wrote in a paper entitled, “Theological Impotence and the Universality of the Church,” in which he told a fictitious yet heartbreaking story of a young African PhD graduate in theology who returns home after many years of study abroad.
While pursuing his educational endeavours overseas, he learned German, Greek, French, Latin, Hebrew, in addition to English, church history, systematics, homiletics, exegesis and pastoralia, as parts of the requirements for his degree. He was anxious to reach home as soon as possible, and he was glad to pay excess baggage, which, after all, consisted of the Bible in the various languages he had learned, plus Bultmann, Barth, Bonhoeffer, Brunner, Buber, Cone, Küng, Moltmann, Niebuhr, Tillich, and many more. At home, relatives, neighbours, old friends, dancers, musicians, drums, dogs, cats, all gathered to welcome him back. He is the hope of their small but fast-growing church. People bear with him patiently as he struggles to speak his own language, as occasionally he seeks the help of an interpreter from English.
Suddenly there is a shriek. Someone has fallen to the ground. It is his older sister, now a married woman with six children and still going strong. He rushes to her. People make room for him, and watch him. “Let’s take her to the hospital,” he calls urgently. They are stunned. He becomes quiet. They all look at him bending over her. Why doesn’t somebody respond to his advice? Finally, a schoolboy says, “Sir, the nearest hospital is fifty miles away, and there are few buses that go there.” Someone else says, “She is possessed. Hospitals will not cure her!” The chief says to him, “You have been studying theology overseas for ten years. Now help your sister. She is troubled by the spirit of her great aunt.” He looks around. Slowly he goes to get Bultmann, looks at the index, finds what he wants, and reads again about spirit possession in the New Testament. Of course, he gets his answer: Bultmann has demythologized it. He insists that his sister is not possessed. The people shout, “Help your sister; she is possessed!” He shouts back, “But Bultmann has demythologized demon possession!”
There is a lot I could say about this, but I am out of space. So I will say two things. First, to a considerable extent, this is still the state of affairs in a lot of our theological education, especially for us in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. (The bishop I quoted last week was not too wrong). Second, I dread to imagine the impact of a demythologised missiology in the world and I wonder if it is possible to remythologise it for the religious world of the 21st century.
2. Resources I am Enjoying
Still on practical considerations for planting or evolving a monocultural into a multicultural church, on this church planting podcast, host Greg Nettle welcomes Chip Freed of Garfield Memorial Church, Ohio. Reflecting on his own journey, Freed shares insights that have helped him lead a two-hundred-person homogenous church in 2004 to transform into a one-thousand-two-hundred multicultural congregation today. Importantly, Freed notes that intentionality is critical in helping a church become multicultural. Moreover, the church, both its leaders and lay members, must “be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” This must be the posture and culture of the church that even new additions must easily see and be integrated into.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
Biblically speaking, God is a God of life and to believe in God is to participate in the life-giving activity of God. Mission is the endeavour of the Christian community in celebrating and enhancing God’s gift of life. — Samuel Ngun Ling
The Bible gives account of the fact that a certain kinship exists between the divine Spirit and the human spirit and that the mission of the Spirit is grounded on this kinship. By indwelling, influencing, inspiring, and vivifying humans and the whole of creation, the divine Spirit engages in mission. — Christina Manohar
The Trinity exemplifies perfectly how diversity and unity can come together. The Trinity strongly directs us to see that the one gospel can be expressed in different forms in different cultures without losing the essence of the gospel (contextualisation or enculturation), and that churches from different cultures can genuinely commune with one another by participating in the Trinitarian life through worship and concerted service. — Damon W. K. So
I pray that you will be faithful to the mission God has for you this week.