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"Will This Jesus Protect Us?"
The Problem of a Passive God in Mission
Welcome to “Global Witness, Globally Reimagined,” where we dream about mission in a postcolonial world. Every Thursday, 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
The conversation I started last week about functional atheism and mission has led to some interesting connections this week. I have been aware of the theory around it for some years, and I knew that it has implications for theology and mission, but I did not think that it is a big issue for some Christians. This week, I remembered a denominational research project that I was involved in a few years ago in which we asked 3000 respondents to give us a sentence starting with God and an active verb. We expected something like, “God hears prayer.” Or “God heals.” To everyone’s surprise, 80% of the respondents failed to think of a way to describe God acting (in their lives). They could not make a sentence with the word “God” followed by an active verb and, yes, they were all Christians, but their God is passive and distant. But, as I argued last week, a god that is not active is useless. Such a god fits the description of the idols of the Old Testament, which are
“ … silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; Eyes they have, but they do not see; They have ears, but they do not hear; Noses they have, but they do not smell; They have hands, but they do not handle; Feet they have, but they do not walk; Nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; So is everyone who trusts in them.” (Ps 115: 4-8).
Of course, this is a problem of theology, especially one that is thin in its understanding of the Spirit (that paints an image of a god who is nothing like the active God we read about in the Bible). It is also a problem of missiology. One of the most generic questions African converts to Christianity ask is, “Will this Jesus be able to protect us from witches?” If all we can say is, “Jesus will give you eternal life in heaven,” we are misrepresenting the Gospel. Yes, Jesus gives them eternal life in heaven, but God also protects them (from evil) here on earth (Mat 6:13). Our God, the Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, is Jehovah-Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, who protects humanity. And, of course, God does much more. It will transform our theology/missiology if we see God’s work even in the small things of life. We will forever be grateful.
2. Resources I am Enjoying
On this episode of the Faith Across Borders podcast, host Dr Graham Joseph Hill contemplates together with Joshua Bogunjoko what it means to join with God in local and global mission. Among other issues, Joshua story highlights the efforts of non-Western agents in mission. Joshua assumed the role of the first International Director of Serving in Mission (an international, interdenominational Evangelical Christian mission organisation) in 2013. Prior to this, his missionary journey was with the Evangelical Missionary Society, which in 2018, was sending over two thousand and four hundred (2400) Nigerians on cross-cultural mission. Of course, as Joshua also mentions, there are many more thousands of Nigerian missionaries engaged both locally and across the borders today, as with other non-Western missionary movements. Indeed, God’s kingdom is multicultural, and today’s mission dynamics is attesting to that more convincingly.
3. Quotes I am Pondering
With reference to the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, mission is a response to a “sending” by the “sent ones.” Mission is sanctioned by, and missions are carried out in obedient response to biblical witness. — Kyama Mugambi
Missiology draws its life-blood from the experience of crossing cultures and from the church worldwide in its global and local expressions of missio Dei. — Kirsteen Kim
Christian disciples need to be vulnerable, to lay aside all forms and ideals about mission, and to genuinely retain the will to be challenged, to repent, and to grow continually. — Girma Bekele
I pray that you will be faithful to the mission God has for you this week.