Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Missions Apart From Conversions

Last week I wondered what impact a cultural-linguistic perspective on religion would make on the church's understanding of its task of evangelism. If that opening sentence hasn't succeeded in deterring you from reading any further, then have a look of what Lindbeck himself has to say on the matter of the church's "missionary task". Without wanting to overstate the case, Lindbeck's proposal has completely changed how I view missions/evangelism. Not because I agree (or disagree) with him, but simply because I am now forced to wrestle with what it is he says. can be argued in a variety of ways that Christian churches are called upon to imitate their Lord by selfless service to neighbours quite apart from the question whether this promotes conversions. They also have scriptural authorization in passages such as Amos 9:7-8 for holding that nations other than Israel -- and, by extension, religions other than the biblical ones -- are peoples elected (and failing) to carry out their distinctive tasks within God's world. If so, not everything that pertains to the coming of the kingdom has been entrusted to that people of explicit witness which knows what and where Jerusalem is and (as believers hope) marches toward it, if only in fits and starts. It follows from these considerations that Christians may have a responsibility to help other movements and other religions make their own contributions, which may be quite distinct from the Christian one, to the preparation of the Consummation. The missionary task of Christians may at times be to encourage Marxists to become better Marxists, Jews and Muslims to become better Jews and Muslims, and Buddhists to become better Buddhists (although admittedly their notion of what a "better" Marxist," etc., is will be influenced by Christian norms). Obviously this cannot be done without the most intensive and arduous conversation and cooperation.

As a matter of interest, what is the relationship between "missions" and "evangelism"? Are they two different words for the same reality? Is missions broader than evangelism, or is evangelism much broader than is commonly understood?

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