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A Missional Church Is . . . : Artistic Expressions of a Fuzzy Concept

The Chattahoochee Valley Church in Columbus, Georgia commissioned the “Missional Church” series after Mark Woodward presented a series of lessons. I had done a few smaller projects for earlier themes the ministry staff had presented to me.

Each of the posters is purposefully simplistic and relies on symbols to portray the statements in a way that expands upon each of the ideas. It’s great to have the opportunity to use artwork to inspire, encourage, and develop the church in a way that will hopefully get them thinking more missionally. I hope that these images will serve to communicate to everyone from longtime Christians to newly reborns. It’s my hope that these images are able to constantly preach, every time someone views them. For example, if they remember the image of the church building with its walls felled and pointing outward, then imagine how they are to bring Christ to the world outside those four walls, I would deem the purpose of the images a success.

I hope the message received is that the whole church body, not just its leaders, is tasked with sharing the gospel to its neighbors, coworkers, and friends. I’m struck by how quickly the early church was able to spread the gospel, even through persecution, because all had taken on the duty of spreading the good news. They were excited about it. I’m not sure what steps need to be taken to stop the pervasive cultural misconception that mission work is “not my job” among the church members. We’ve assumed the roles of spectators and performers rather than a unified cause for Christ.

Aaron Sparks is a former youth minister who moved to the UK in 2010 to attempt vocational mission work and is now starting a career in social care work for young people. He has a beautiful wife, a five-year-old Star Wars fanboy, and a three-month-old Princess Leia in training. He is most likely found in a coffee shop reading a good book.

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Review of Jean Johnson, We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency

Jean Johnson. We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency. Sisters, OR: Deep River Books, 2012. 335pp. $15.99.

Missionaries strive to leave healthy, indigenous churches that are relevant to their host cultures and lead by local leaders. These dreams fall short, however, as they settle for planting unhealthy churches that are too dependent upon the missionary’s skills, resources, and Western ways of “doing church.” Missionaries unintentionally leave behind unsustainable models of church growth, leadership, and development that the local church cannot hope to emulate. What is needed is guidance and coaching to ruminate on the challenges associated with indigenous church planting.

In her first book, Jean Johnson provides a catalyst for rethinking missionary methods. Johnson previously spent sixteen years as a missionary in Cambodia, and she currently works as a leadership coach and consultant for both missionaries and indigenous church leaders with World Missions Associates. As she reflected on the history of Christianity in Cambodia, as well as her own challenges and failures on the mission field, Johnson came to a realization: although the mission churches she had helped plant were “healthy” and had good attendance, they were not able to multiply and grow effectively. These churches were, in essence, too Western in their worship, preaching, evangelism, and leadership development. They depended upon Western funds to sustain their outreach and church programs. With this realization, Johnson began to adjust her efforts in order to plant effective indigenous churches run by Cambodian leaders. Johnson challenges the reader to a “premeditated” missiology that focuses on “multiplication, indigeneity, and sustainability among the respective people groups” with whom they work (13). Using stories, parables, and case studies from her own time on the field, as well as those of other missionaries, Johnson seeks to share her new missiological understanding with her readers.

Johnson’s mantra throughout the book is, “Day 1 affects Day 100” (64). Missionaries often focus much of their time, effort, and energy on how to enter the culture. Even more important, however, is for the missionaries to focus on how to phase themselves out of the work. Sustainability must be worked into the DNA of the church from the first day, in the way that we reach out to the community and conduct evangelism. Indigenous evangelism focuses on relevant cultural forms: stories and songs, parables and poetry, etc. When the gospel is shared in culturally relevant ways, Christianity is no longer seen as a “foreign religion” and the new converts can easily share what they have learned.

Shockingly, Johnson calls missionaries not to plant churches. When missionaries begin planting churches, they unknowingly import Western forms of church: singing translated Western songs instead of using indigenous melodies; preaching expository sermons instead of telling stories; training through seminary classes rather than coaching and modeling. Instead of planting churches, Johnson calls the reader to plant the gospel:

Allowing the gospel (God’s presence and transformational work) to take root within a community in such a way that the community expresses and spreads its faith in an organic manner. . . . This organic expression may look very different from the cross-cultural communicator’s church experience. (241)

In order to build a sustainable evangelistic movement, missionaries must be intentional in every action they undertake. From the very beginning, missionaries should do evangelism with reproduction in mind. If the local leader cannot reproduce the missionary’s efforts and materials, and in turn teach others to do the same, then these methods must be rethought.

According to Johnson, every aspect of the missionary’s method and lifestyle must be rethought in light of the receptor culture.

Johnson’s book is broken into three parts and an introduction. In the introduction, Johnson calls missionaries not to think of themselves as heroes, which comes with an air of superiority and colonialism. Instead, she challenges missionaries to enter the culture humbly as learners and servants, walking alongside the contacts or Christians as a guide. Part 1 reveals the need for indigenous, self-reliant church movements that create disciples. Johnson uses the history of Christianity in Cambodia to highlight the need for multiplication, sustainability, and self-reliance. Part 2 helps the reader reflect on how to plant healthy, indigenous churches in which local leaders take the lead in all aspects of worship, evangelism, teaching, and expansion. Part 3 is more practical, helping the missionary conceive how these ideas can be put into practice. My only complaint with the material is in its organization. Parts 2 and 3 should have been integrated into one another in order to provide a cohesive flow. Also, at times the ideas of multiplication and sustainability overlap, and these areas could have been addressed together. Overall, however, the book was incredibly insightful and convicting.

Two sections were very thought-provoking. First, Johnson focuses on the differences between oral and literate societies in chapters ten and seventeen. Western communicators learn through bullet points, outlines, diagrams, and abstract concepts. Seventy percent of the world’s population consists of primary or secondary oral learners, however, which necessitates a different approach to communication, teaching, and evangelism. Johnson calls this type of communication orality. “Orality is a method of communicating truth by dressing it up in parables, poetry, riddles, stories, drama, dance, and song” (158). Johnson calls us to focus on the values and worldview characteristics of oral cultures by emphasizing community, working with heads-of-households, and using examples from everyday life in order to best communicate the gospel. She also reflects on ethnomusicology (“heart music”) as the best manner to convey biblical truths. Johnson’s insights into oral cultures are important areas of growth for most missionaries.

Second, Johnson calls the missionary to take the lesser role in ministry and instead work as a “shadow pastor.” Mission works often start with the missionaries as the leaders and then go through a process of nationalizing, in which local leaders are raised up and trained to take over these roles. Instead, Johnson calls us to practice indigenizing, coaching local leaders from the beginning and allowing them to succeed (and sometimes fail) in leadership as they learn to grow and thrive (247–48). The missionary keeps the focus off of himself/herself and instead mentors these new leaders behind the scenes, which allows local leadership to thrive faster than in traditional models.

Johnson’s book challenges the readers to rethink their missiological practices in light of what is best for the culture of their receivers. It would serve as a great textbook for an upper-level missions class or for missionaries who are strategically planning their work on the field.

Daniel McGraw

Community Life Minister

Houston, Texas, USA

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Review of W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus

W. Ross Blackburn. The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 238pp. $17.00.

Ross Blackburn’s study contributes to the recent rise of attention given to the theme of mission in the interpretation of Scripture. His purpose in this monograph, an iteration of his doctoral thesis written under Christopher Seitz at St. Andrews, is to argue that mission is the governing theme of the book of Exodus. At first glance this aim may strike the reader as peculiar, if not backward: how is mission the driving theme of Israel’s story of liberation and constitution? Anticipating such a question in the introduction, Blackburn defines his use of the word mission as God’s desire to right what is wrong, principally through God’s commitment to be known among his people and, through them, among the nations. Blackburn proposes that, when read as a coherent narrative within a canonical framework, Yhwh’s missionary impulse explains his motivation in each major development in the story and resolves some thorny hermeneutical issues therein.

After an introduction (ch. 1), Blackburn divides his treatment into six chapters. In chapter 2 he builds the case that the primary theme in Exod 1–15:21 is the revelation of Yhwh’s name/identity as redeemer. Through the burning bush, the plague cycle, and deliverance of the people from slavery, Israel and Egypt (to a lesser extent) come to know Yhwh’s redemptive character, Yhwh’s supremacy, and that Yhwh’s identity and mission is tied up with Yhwh’s goodness toward Israel.

Both chapter 3 (15:22–18:27) and chapter 4 (19–24) explore how the provision of torah/teaching carries forward God’s missional intention to make his name known. Blackburn argues that the sequence of wilderness trials serves the purpose of training (better than the commonly translated “testing”) Israel in the knowledge of her new sovereign. The giving of water, food, and security seeks to instill trust in Israel as preparation for Sinai. Chapter 4 casts Israel in a priestly role for the sake of reflecting the character of God before the watching nations. The law’s essence is a revelation of the character of God; thus, Israel’s holy imitation of Yhwh (by keeping the covenantal demands) aims toward the larger goal of mediating knowledge of God among the families of the earth. Israel’s witness pulsates out from her distinctive conduct.

Blackburn next turns to the dense tabernacle legislation in chapter 5 (25–31). The instruction detailing the materials to be used in the tabernacle’s construction and its accoutrements communicates the sanctity and kingship of Yhwh, dwelling in Israel’s midst. Moreover, within Israel, the tabernacle was a palpable, microcosmic symbol of Yhwh’s orderly, macrocosmic reign over the universe. The presence of Yhwh among his people in the tabernacle is an end in itself, but the purpose of the tabernacle was not limited to this end. Rather, the tabernacle pointed in nuce to God’s missionary desire to reign in similar fashion among all the nations.

Chapter 6 wrestles with how Moses’ petitions persuade God to forgive Israel’s transgression committed in the golden calf debacle (32–34). Blackburn persuasively argues that Moses succeeds in his remonstrations by appealing to Yhwh’s honor among the nations. In short, Moses defends God’s reputation before God. Thus, Yhwh restores Israel because Yhwh’s name among the nations is at stake. Yhwh’s judgment and mercy emerge from the same motivation—to be known among the nations. Yhwh’s forgiveness restores the plans for building the tabernacle (35–40), which Blackburn treats briefly in chapter 7. The construction of the tabernacle signals that forgiven Israel can now fulfill her commission to be a priestly kingdom and holy nation. God dwells in her midst—this is both the object and method of Israel’s missionary vocation.

The main body of the work is well written, well researched, and for the most part well reasoned. Blackburn’s commitment to reading the text in its canonical presentation as a coherent narrative pays rich exegetical dividends, especially in tracing underappreciated connections to the larger Exodus story in the wilderness narratives and Moses’s appeals to God in Exod 32–34. So too, Blackburn’s insistence that the minutiae of the tabernacle legislation carry theological, even missiological weight brings a welcomed corrective to traditions that devalue priestly texts. Because his work is in an evangelical series on biblical theology, Blackburn rounds out each chapter (and sometimes begins them) with reflections on texts outside of Exodus, mostly connecting his emphases to New Testament motifs. While this move helps further elucidate themes under discussion in some chapters (e.g., his parsing of the relationship of gospel and law in ch. 4), in others it feels more like an appendage that provides too terse a treatment. Blackburn concludes his work with four brief observations concerning how mission in Exodus informs the mission of the church. Because this is precisely the kind of theological payoff needed by churches (and so often lacking in rigorous works of biblical theology), the book could have been enhanced significantly if this chapter were longer than a thin five pages.

Blackburn’s book is a solid attempt to show how a missiological hermeneutic opens up the interpretation of a central Old Testament book. Yet, the book suffers on two accounts. First, Blackburn is in danger of instrumentalizing Israel’s election. His appreciation of God’s larger purposes undersells the promises to the patriarchs as a reason for the Exodus and creates some unnecessary tension with the subsequent history of God with Israel. For example, how does Israel’s future interaction with the nations (e.g., Canaanites) make sense of the missionary bent of Exodus, if this is indeed the governing theme of her root narrative? The conquest, which itself draws on themes from Exodus, fits this trajectory with difficulty. Israel as a “missionary people” may fit some of Isaiah’s prophecy—a prophet who draws liberally on Exodus themes—but is this the most apt theological backdrop for, say, the oracles against the nations? Moreover, what does it mean for the nations to know Yhwh? Is the acknowledgement expected of the nations on par with Israel’s acknowledgement? As a work of biblical theology, I would have liked these questions addressed with more rigor. Second, and related, Blackburn’s definition of mission will strike many as too narrow for biblical theology. He rightly stresses that in Exodus Yhwh’s presence is what makes Israel holy—attending to Yhwh’s presence is to make Israel distinctive, thus mediating knowledge of God. But does this fulfill the book’s subtitle: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus ? The missional theology of Exodus is chiefly centripetal, and I am not certain it is the heart of the book, that is, the central theme giving life to all else. Nevertheless, I recommend the book for students and scholars alike, and I look forward to future works from Blackburn.

Nathan Bills

Assistant Professor of Old Testament

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Review of A. Scott Moreau, Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models

A. Scott Moreau. Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012. 432pp. $22.03.

Certain subjects linger in a state of cumulative chaos, waiting for the right scholar to create a sense of order. The discussion of contextualization among evangelical Christians is such a subject, and Scott Moreau has proven equal to the task of systematizing its diverse parts into a balanced presentation. The undertaking requires both a comprehensive understanding of a multifaceted debate and the methodological rigor necessary to avoid reductionism. In Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models, Moreau combines these qualities in an orderly, economical rendition of the issues.

A. Scott Moreau has taught missions at Wheaton College for more than two decades. In addition to authoring or editing a variety of missiological works, he has been the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly since 2001. A prominent evangelical missiologist, Moreau aims to “map” evangelical models of contextualization. Some prominent treatments of contextualization have lumped evangelical contextualization into a single category among a more theologically liberal array of options. Thus, the impetus behind his endeavor is the need for a truly representative analysis of evangelical perspectives. Moreau hopes his cartography will help readers explore the diverse regions of the evangelical “continent” of contextualization in order to make informed judgments about particular proposals.

The book bears a popular academic style that does not shy from technical content but consciously avoids scholarly wordiness. The real key to the book’s success, though, is its systematic and restrained exposition. The body comprises two sections of nearly equal length. The first section illuminates Moreau’s methodological concerns, and the second section is the substance of the proposal itself. Though Moreau’s descriptive endeavor is potentially fraught with subjectivity, in the first section he so thoroughly explicates the assumptions and criteria at work in his map that there is hardly any cause for uncertainty. Moreover, he manages to introduce working assumptions, such as the meaning of “evangelical” or the place of holism in contextualization, convincingly, without bogging down in topics that could be books unto themselves.

The proposal trades on Moreau’s credibility rather directly. He classified 249 examples of evangelical contextualization from published sources, according to seventy-nine criteria. In this process, he “discovered” six initiator roles (195). Moreau utilizes these six roles as his models of contextualization, cross-referencing them with other criteria to define exemplars of each model and their respective tendencies. The selection of these models, as well as the definition of the various criteria, is completely Moreau’s prerogative despite the clinical feel of his data analysis. By section two, though, the reader is convinced that Moreau is anything but arbitrary in his procedure, and his credentials certainly merit the benefit of the doubt. The skeptical reader may wonder, nonetheless, whether the source material could be organized into different categories, as Moreau cannot defend his choices in a work this size.

Moreau’s map seems to represent the major regions of evangelical contextualization. His models are Facilitator, Guide, Herald, Pathfinder, Prophet, and Restorer. One problem with these categories is that some examples fit equally into multiple models. Anticipating such objections, Moreau clarifies that his intention is not to communicate “that the individual never takes on other roles or that the method is constrained by that role” (175). Taken as typical rather than definitive, and in relation to the many other variables in Moreau’s dataset, the models are a powerful tool for “locating” contextualization efforts on the evangelical map.

One question lingers, primarily regarding the Restorer model. Although “the restorer comes to heal or deliver from bondage of any type,” most of Moreau’s examples have to do with spiritual warfare. Curiously, the evidence suggests that “evangelicals consider demons qua demons somehow immune to contextual or worldview considerations” (299). “A criticism of initiators as restorers,” states Moreau, “is that practitioners rarely discuss their methods as explicitly contextual” (307). The question, then, is why Moreau considers this a model of contextualization, when its presuppositions are acontextual on average and nearly anti-contextual at worst. It seems that the Restorer is a model of mission work rather than a model of contextualization. And this observation highlights a concern for the other models to a lesser extent. Approaches to mission that deal with issues in their contexts (such as spiritual bondage) are not thereby necessarily contextualized, as per Moreau’s own definition of contextualization (36). One danger of being as impressively thorough as Moreau has done is to be overly inclusive to the detriment of a limited notion of contextualization.

Because Moreau intends to systematize existing proposals rather than rehash them, the specific processes of contextualization in his models are never in view. He stays at a bird’s eye view of each exemplar, leaving the reader wishing for a more concrete understanding of each one, which would help clarify why each one is in fact an example of contextualization rather than just missions methodology. The book would be far more lengthy with that provision, though, and the bibliography is available.

A couple of other peculiarities are noteworthy. One, Moreau’s definition of evangelical appears to exclude Majority World evangelicals. There are a few exceptions, and he is aware of the issue (320–21), but it is clear that American evangelicalism is in view. This is due primarily to the use of published exemplars, of which there are far fewer from the Majority World. The point here is not that Moreau would chose to exclude Majority World exemplars given an alternative (although his definition of evangelicalism does have roots in American culture wars), but the fact that he cannot represent them severely limits the representativeness of his map. As with Europeans’ “discovery” of the Americas, once readers venture off the map, they may find the second half of the world—or more, in this case. Two, large portions of the book read as an extended exchange with Charles Kraft. Kraft is an influential and controversial missiologist whom Moreau could not wisely marginalize in these discussions, but at times it seems as though evangelical contextualization comes down to Kraft’s proposals and their dissenters.

One of the key successes of the book is that it makes evident the occasion of the contextualization discussion. The urgency of talking about particularly evangelical contextualization, and to a large extent the urgency of the dialogue with Charles Kraft, is a symptom of the ongoing shift within conservative Christianity toward critical realism. The mapping of contextualization models among evangelicals is fundamentally about establishing an epistemological continuum on which to locate contextualization efforts. Though evangelicals will need to move beyond Moreau’s descriptive contribution into critical and prescriptive proposals, they can now do so with the profound yet accessible insight he has provided regarding what is truly at stake.

Greg McKinzie


Arequipa, Peru

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Review of J. D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission

J. D. Payne. Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 206pp. $10.91.

J. D. Payne serves as the pastor of church multiplication for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to his current position in Birmingham, Payne was a domestic missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and an Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directed the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting.

Payne’s book, Strangers Next Door, has a twofold purpose: (1) to educate Western evangelical churches on the large-scale global migrations that are taking place as the peoples of the world move to the West as long-term and short-term workers, students, refugees, and asylum-seekers (18); and (2) to challenge Western evangelical churches to reach, equip, partner with, and send the least reached people living in their neighborhoods to return to their peoples as missionaries (19). Payne’s book is neither a theology of mission nor a practical guide to missional living, though it includes elements of both. Rather, it is an impassioned plea and a vision, calling for evangelicals in the West to notice and act on a unique missional opportunity of the twenty-first century: the presence of migrants from least reached, unreached, and hard-to-reach people groups in Western countries, living right next door to us.

After defining his terms and outlining his theological assumptions in chapter one, Payne uses half of the book to make his case first that migration is occurring in the modern era on an unprecedented scale (chs. 2, 6, 7, and 8) and second that many of these migrants are moving from unreached or least reached areas of the world to Western countries (ch. 3), by which he means the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many of the countries commonly referred to as Western Europe. On both accounts, Payne demonstrates his claims very persuasively with extensive statistical data. However, with regard to his second claim, Payne reveals a significant theological bias that obscures much of his data, namely, he considers people groups comprised of less than 2 percent evangelicals as unreached. He borrows his definition of evangelicals from the Joshua Project (55), but based on which countries he labels as unreached, Payne clearly excludes most, if not all, members of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism, among others. For example, he lists France, Portugal, and Spain as among the most unreached countries in the world (60), three countries known for substantial Catholic populations. Although this bias does not diminish the importance of Payne’s overall thesis and argument, it does limit the usefulness of the book in determining which countries and peoples are unreached for one who operates with a more inclusive understanding of Christianity.

The rest of the book focuses on what Payne calls “diaspora missiology,” which brings migration research to bear on missiology. In chapters four and five, he demonstrates from Scripture that God has constantly worked through migrations to accomplish his purposes in the world. In chapter nine, he shares inspiring stories of people who have acted on this vision to reach the unreached through migrants. Finally, chapters ten through twelve offer guidelines and a strategy for accomplishing the task of reaching, equipping, partnering with, and sending migrants back to their home countries as missionaries to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Payne suggests helpful missiological insights in these chapters, but due to the nature of his book as a vision-casting plea, these suggestions remain surface level and brief. For example, his section on contextualization is three paragraphs long. Anyone wanting to learn about how to contextualize the gospel in migrant communities in their neighbors will need to look elsewhere for advice.

Payne’s overarching vision, that churches in the West should focus their efforts on reaching migrants in their neighborhoods from unreached or least reached countries, with an eye towards partnering with and sending those migrants back to their home countries as missionaries, is worthy of attention and consideration for all, including non-evangelical churches in Western countries. I recommend this book to any church leaders and lay people willing to re-envision their task of sharing the gospel with the nations. As Payne argues, for those of us living in the West, the nations have come to our doorstep and we are now confronted with an exciting missional opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them without ever having to set foot on a plane.

Garrett Matthew East

Missionary in Training

ACU Halbert Institute for Missions

Abilene, Texas, USA

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Review of Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich, Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence

Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich. Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 168pp. $15.60.

Stone and Wolfteich challenge the missional reader with the reminder that “while the Bible begins in a garden, it ends in a city” (90). Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence records the discoveries of 96 urban pastors who are given the opportunity, through the Boston University School of Theology and the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to examine their missional approaches to ministry. The project seeks to answer two questions: “What constitutes pastoral excellence in the urban context? What sustains it?” (ix). Excellent urban pastoral leadership requires a unique approach to ministry, one that involves serving the city as well as serving oneself. “If your . . . soul and spirit is not growing and at peace with God, the sheer intensity of urban problems will overwhelm and crush you” (63).

While defining four needs of urban pastors—partnership, spiritual renewal, Sabbath, and study—the authors specify each need as an individualized spiritual discipline. Spiritual friendships are to be interpreted as one enjoys Christ as a friend: a life-giving addition to pastoral ministry. Spiritual renewal is found in embracing spiritual disciplines that continually refocus one’s energies on the purpose and presence of God. Sabbath, a challenge for an overworked and understaffed urban pastor, is a reminder that the work of God can find completion while the man or woman of God carves out mandatory rest. Study allows the pastor to contemplatively hear a sermon for the people as well as a sermon for oneself while lounging in the Word.

Through their partnership with urban pastors, the authors discover that excellent urban pastors know and love their cities. This means that they also know and love the people:

To know and love the people of the city and to practice a solidarity with them creates a space for confession, pardon, and forgiveness. To know and love the people of the city is to treat no one like a heathen, a demon, or an outcast, and this honoring of ‘the other’ we encounter allows us first to hear them; second to serve them; and third, to be open to allowing them to creatively transform our ministries. (xiii)

A warning repeats throughout the book, from authors as well as pastors, that if urban pastors overlook the practice of Sabbath, they will not effectively serve the city. Urban ministry presents many needs and few resources. With the focus on required renewal, the participating pastors also receive a four- to eight- week compensated sabbatical. “We cannot talk of sustaining pastoral excellence without talking about the pastor’s ongoing spiritual renewal, for receptivity to God’s Spirit precedes any work of ministry” (63). Sabbath not only includes rest, but play, setting higher boundaries, and a fresh commitment to one’s family. Counsel from one pastor’s spiritual director reminds her that, “Just because you have the time to do something doesn’t mean you should do it” (55). Rest is a requirement for renewal.

The honest voices of the 96 urban pastors should be heard by all pastors, not just those in the urban setting. Sabbath in the City should inform the students in seminary who begin with a vision of excellence and are often extinguished by exhaustion and frustration. The stories of the participants will powerfully inform future decisions for current readers.

Missional ministry requires one to go and serve incarnationally, fulfilling the missio Dei. Being a sent people requires preparation, partnership, and pauses throughout the journey. Urban pastors are by their very nature missional, since many have moved into the city to serve with decreased funds and increased functions. The practical guidance detailed in Sabbath in the City will enhance the journey of any seminary student, pastor, or layperson who seeks to serve. Stone and Wolfteich have gone into the city, found the hearts of servants, and are striving to replicate their beat through their excellent voices of wisdom.

Kate Sullivan Watkins

Doctor of Ministry Student

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Vulnerable Mission vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology

The goals of mainstream mission and missiology have gone widely unmet. The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) proposes better methods for reaching those goals. The AVM has advocated the methods of local languages and local resources. This article expands the vulnerable mission methodology to include local thinking style. In particular, Western missionaries need to use oral thinking styles rather than the analytical thinking style that creates dependency in oral societies. Missionaries must decide whether to supplement local methods with foreign “strength” or to accept the vulnerability of using only local methods.

As a missiologist who has observed a lot of missions and churches in a lot of countries for a lot of years, I want to try to position “vulnerable mission” against the broader backdrop of trends in missiology and mission practice today.2 My hope is to help the rest of the mission world connect more easily with what we are talking about in this conversation, so that fruitfulness and glory to God may connect more commonly in mission practice just as they connect in John 15:8.

Underlying the paper is my personal conviction that we in the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission have a theme that ought to resonate with a lot more mission scholars and practitioners than our current circle. What could or should we be saying that we are not saying clearly enough to find more people who are already doing or desiring something akin to VM, no matter what label they put on it?3 In this paper I will try to answer my own question, and I invite you to answer it even better.

I will compare and contrast the theory and practice of mission in three areas: the goal of mission, the methods of mission, and the big question that Western missions face today. Along the way I will relate VM to the three trends or camps of mission with which we overlap most—partnership, self-sufficiency (overcoming dependence), and orality (storying). This brief exercise will require some sweeping generalizations that readers may wish to challenge.4

The Goal of Mission

If we look at the Edinburgh 1910 missions conference and its coordinated planning to turn this into a Christian planet by planting churches everywhere, the methods appear to have worked even beyond the planners’ dreams a century ago. Churches have been planted across huge stretches of previously unevangelized territory.5

But if we look at Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods book from 1912, we have to ask, “What kind of churches?” The goal in Allen’s terms was self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating churches.6 For our purposes, and to save us getting bogged down in the long debate about the adequacy of that famous Three-Self Formula, let me use three more recent and roughly parallel terms: contextualized, sustainable, and missional. These are very prominent in missiological writing in the last 40, 20, and 10 years respectively, and it seems almost everybody writing about mission now takes them for granted as three marks to look for in a healthy church.

But what is the state of the church globally? The harvest does not match the three-part goal very well. For the vast majority of the world, believers and unbelievers alike, Christianity appears to be more culturally foreign, money-driven, and confusing than contextualized, sustainable, and missional.

Allen’s goal Current buzz words about goal Frequent results
Self-governing Contextualized Foreign
Self-supporting Sustainable Money-driven
Self-propagating Missional Confusing

I am not saying that twentieth-century mission was a waste or a failure or that the global church is a basket case, needing rescue by us as if we are the enlightened part of the world. But I am saying that we have not yet arrived at well-contextualized, sustainable, missional churches (even in the West), because if we had, the missiologists would have quit talking about these things. They would be losing their jobs for being behind the times, writing another book about contextualization. They keep their teaching positions because they are focusing the next generation on the things churches do not yet have but that missiologists think churches should try to get.

In case you need any reminders that the church has not yet arrived at sound mission practice, here are three very painful ones I have recently encountered, all indicating that the bull-in-the-china-shop approach to missions is alive and kicking:

  • Steven Ybarrola concludes a 2008 article by sadly noting, “It was twenty-six years ago that I was first exposed to this application [of anthropology to mission work, that is, of contextualization] at the U.S. Center for World Mission. However, in my experience . . . I still find this perspective to be largely lacking.”7
  • Two weeks ago I was requested to answer a few survey questions for a researcher, one of which was, “The multi-language translating software can be used to translate foreign languages. The use of SMS, multimedia, internet, and satellite services can enable followers of Jesus Christ to communicate the gospel with non-believers, whose language is different, more efficiently and effectively than a missionary physically going to a nation in which the native language is different.” I’ll admit that I checked “strongly disagree,” but only because there was no option that said, “violently disagree.”8
  • Three weeks ago a missions pastor friend of mine returned from a trip where he heard a veteran missionary say, “Satan has taken full advantage of the short-term missions movement in [his Asian country]. We would be so far ahead of where we are if no teams had ever come.”9

To sum up, VM does not propose different goals than mainstream mission and missiology.10 We are arguing that the mainstream methods of reaching those goals are not achieving them very well. The contextualized, sustainable, missional church is not here yet.

Better Methods of Reaching the Agreed Goal, Including Oral Thinking Style

As someone has said, “Stupid is not doing stupid things. It is doing the same things and expecting a different result.” Let’s apply that to mission.

The biggest shift in mission from Western countries in the last twenty years is a massive increase in short-term trips and short-term workers (a year or less). In a sense, this is a new “method,” but in a deeper sense, it is the same old method of the colonial era, putting monocultural, ethnocentric people into cross-cultural settings.

In a way it is worse, because now that quick trips are possible and affordable, the trippers have no time to grow out of their ethnocentrism and no clue about why they should. They stick to the methods that ethnocentric people can use, even though these fly in the face of the goals of mainstream missiology. They rely on English or a personal translator, they operate as “haves” among “have nots,” and they cannot begin to imagine doing mission with an oral approach to life rather than an analytical approach.

Missiologists and most advocates of partnership in mission know this kind of mission activity will not reach the goals of mission, so they make some major improvements to the ethnocentric model, such as advocating that Westerners do things with people instead of for people. They promote these better methods even among short-termers whenever possible.11

Goal Partnership methods Short-term mission methods
Contextualized English or local language English only
Sustainable Prime the pump, or top up local resources Provide from outside
Missional Simplify the message Operate analytically without realizing it at all

VM takes the whole thing one step further, though none of us are claiming that VM methods are the silver bullet that will solve everything with one shot.

Goal VM methods Partnership methods
Contextualized Local language English or local
Sustainable Local resources Prime the pump, or top up local resources
Missional Local thinking style Simplify the message

VM has been very explicit about the first two methods (local language and resources) and has not yet said much about the third, that is, local thinking style. We have assumed that oral thinking style is naturally built into local languages and resources, but I believe it might be helpful to raise it to the status of a third defining mark of VM.

What is a “local thinking style”? In the broadest strokes, there are basically two styles—oral thinking and analytical thinking. Various labels have been used for these two styles.12 I am indebted to John Walsh for the following explanation which greatly helped me on this point: “When people routinely assume that the opposite of orality is literacy, they are making only a superficial contrast. The real contrast is not oral vs. literate. It is oral vs. analytical.”13 In other words, an oral style is a story or narrative or holistic style of thinking as opposed to a conceptual style that breaks everything down into pieces and then connects the pieces. Oral thinkers apprehend whole ideas; analytical thinkers comprehend them one piece at a time.

Again in very broad strokes, the preferred local thinking style is analytical in the West and oral in the Global South, though oral thinking is growing quickly among younger Westerners and analytical thinking is widespread among people with a lot of Western education, regardless of their home culture. The aspect of this relevant to our discussion is that the vast majority of mission today is undertaken by analytical thinkers working in contexts where oral thinking is the preferred local style.

Let’s return then to the earlier comment about doing mission with “an oral approach to life.” This hit me like a bombshell while I was giving some guest lectures in a Central Asian seminary a few years ago. I was talking about Bosch’s overview of paradigms of mission throughout church history14 and the question was asked, “What is a paradigm?” My on-the-spot attempts to answer did not shed any light for the questioner. In later reflection I realized that a paradigm is a tool that an analytical thinker uses to compare two or more systems. Non-analytical (oral) thinkers do not use that tool because they never undertake that task. They simply do not look at their worlds that way.

Further, I realized that every lecture by a foreigner and every book in that seminary library (except the biographies) was structured for analytical thinkers and was basically lost on the oral ones. I understood why a Scottish faculty member at the school had said, “We try to get them to answer the questions on an exam but often all they do is give testimonies.” The entire seminary system was set up to turn oral thinkers into analytical thinkers rather than to capitalize on their natural strengths as oral thinkers.

Whether that illustration was helpful or not, here is the abstract description of the problem. Outside money is often used for mission methods such as building a seminary or paying a salary for a church planting pastor, which are seen as the best or only means to the desired goal, such as a strong church or a successful outreach plan. There may be several Xs in a chain; for example, Bible schools (X1) are seen as the means to theological orthodoxy (X2) and spiritual maturity of pastors (X3), good study habits using good study tools (X4), and quality sermons (X5)—in order to reach the goal of mature believers and a mature church.

But the vision of the “mature” church may have been flawed in the beginning because it assumed that genuine disciples are analytical thinkers and their leaders must use analytical methods to help them grow. Look at the financial implications of this ethnocentric assumption.

Biases That Go with Assuming a Mature Church Must Be an Analytical Church

  1. Professionalization—the leaders are the best analysts; laity tag along.
  2. That kind of leader needs special schooling for analyzing the Bible.
  3. A congregation must be big enough to support a professional pastor.
  4. That size of congregation will need a building.
  5. The building, the schooling, and the pastor all require major funding.

Alternative Model If a Mature Church Can Be an Oral-Thinking Church

  1. The laity can be involved in developing the theology of the group.
  2. Special schooling not required for leaders; they can be apprenticed.
  3. Congregations can thrive and sub-divide though too small to support a pastor.
  4. Buildings are optional.
  5. Little or no funding required.

It boggles the mind to think how much Western mission effort and funding have gone into things the alternative model does not need at all. It also makes one wonder how many of today’s Western missionaries are missing golden opportunities for fruitful witness that they could seize if they could adapt to an oral thinking style. Here are a few examples, which have a few advocates but in my experience are usually regarded as quirky interests of a tiny minority.

  • Ethnomusicology. Music shapes the faith and life of emerging churches more than anything else. How can it be a sidelight of mission? A network of Christian ethnomusicologists is encouraging wider use of the kind of Christian music development that happened spontaneously in the VM churches.15 Let this become a mainstream pursuit. Cultural outsiders cannot do the composing and choreography but they may legitimize it for the local composers, give a little guidance for it, and act as cheerleaders while the new music emerges.
  • Proverbs. Proverbs are distilled oral thinking, masterful carriers of profound truth. How can these be incidental to preaching and witness? Why not routinely build them into mission work. For example, here is an ethnographic project for a one- or two-month short-term experience for a college student: “Write a paper of five pages or less that answers this question: What are ten local proverbs that every missionary who comes to this place should learn on arrival, and what would they know about the local people if they really grasped these proverbs?”16
  • Festivals. How can festivals be so neglected? They are communal events celebrating the great acts of God in the biblical story, intriguingly and graciously open to outside observers, involving music and drama, processions, symbols, colors, and many layers of meaning.17 Westerners are festival-deaf and festival-blind, but the rest of the world is fluent in festival. I would love to see us change the dominant paradigm for mission from a war to a festival, so that we automatically think of ourselves more as carriers of joy than agents of force. Might the festival be so effective that it would have an even greater impact on both evangelism and discipleship than sermons do?

A shift to an oral thinking style would also go a long way toward helping us understand and utilize the shift that N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Scot McKnight are calling for—the recovery of the biblical “gospel of the kingdom” as opposed to an exclusive focus on the “gospel of salvation.” I cannot summarize that here. I only want to note that the “gospel of salvation” (our standard way of preaching and teaching the gospel in the West) is an analytical gospel, that is, it breaks the gospel into concepts and pieces, while the gospel of the kingdom is a narrative and is much more intelligible to oral thinkers.18

Emphasis on local thinking style would reinforce the other two marks, relate VM to the familiar Three-Self Formula, and point us toward another emerging mission network (the International Orality Network) as a naturally ally of VM.19 It would also align VM squarely with the healthy trend in missiology to attend to thinking style as an aspect of worldview. This is greatly needed because the message has not got through to many mission practitioners and even mission agency leaders yet.They do not comprehend the orality issue and do not assume it as a core aspect of mission strategy in nearly the same way they assume contextualization and sustainability.

Perhaps most importantly of all, emphasis on local thinking style would make our vulnerability more obvious to us than the other two marks. As Mary Lederleitner said in her paper, “It is always hard for people with a lot of money and education to learn from those with less.”20 But our money will not help us become oral thinkers, and our education, since it is so analytical, will actually hurt us.

The instant we try to shift from analytical to oral thinking, we know we are off our turf and out of our depth. Local oral thinkers are the experts, and we are in kindergarten, so we have to let them lead and learn from them as they do. When we ask them how to write a song, quote a proverb, hold a festival, or explain the gospel in an oral way, we know we don’t know!

This is a huge challenge, almost incomprehensibly different than our analytical ways. I ran into it as I worked with oral thinkers in Lesotho a generation ago, and I tried to explain it to my American supporters this way: “Teaching the Bible in Lesotho means teaching parts of the Bible we don’t often read (like Hebrews) to teach truths we don’t understand (like purification) to meet needs we don’t feel (like body-soul cleansing) by using methods we don’t like (like memorization).”

Once I taught a two-day course on worldview at a YWAM training base in England and included some of this material on thinking styles. At the end a Swedish student commented, “Now I see not only why I felt lost for most of the six months I served in Tanzania. I can see for the first time just how lost I really was!”

If missionaries among oral peoples tried from the beginning to shift to oral thinking, they would find out much sooner “just how lost they really are.” Then they would slow down, invest much less money and energy in poor (i.e., analytically based) mission strategies and programs, and do much less damage before they started doing some good.

The Huge Methodological Choice for Western Missions Today

If VM methods—local language, local resources, local thinking style—are so much better than others, where are they working? It is a fair question. If Jim Harries has come up with such a valuable theory, why has his own VM approach to theological training not yet caught fire in Western Kenya, spread across Kenya and even to other countries? Where’s the beef in the VM theory?

The answer is hiding in plain sight, and it is a lot bigger than Jim or any of the rest of us. Arguably the three most fruitful mission movements in the entire twentieth century were three that operated almost entirely on VM principles. (I realize these do not fit with Jim’s definition of VM as an issue of Westerners working in the Majority World, but bear with me.) The three movements are African indigenous churches, Chinese house churches, and (to a lesser extent) the charismatic movement in Latin America. Mainstream mission thinkers and leaders are fully aware of all three and generally admire them, yet they seem not to have grasped the implications of their fruitfulness. Consider this:

The AICs [African Instituted Churches] have shown how much mission can be done for free. It takes no money to retell the story of the calling of the founder or to tell people about one’s own walk with God. It takes no money to pray for someone to be healed. It takes no money to sing and dance or to write a new song that praises God. It takes no money to receive dreams or prophetic revelations from God. It takes no money for each member of a congregation to stand up and speak in a service. It takes no money to be freed from alcoholism, wife-beating, jealousy and witchcraft. It takes no money to become an honest, hard-working employee.21

The massive success of VM is not just a twentieth-century phenomenon. In our new century in India, Mongolia, the Philippines, and across the Muslim World, things are beginning to happen that look very similar to Africa 100 years ago and China 50 years ago. And the movements are typically working on VM principles because they have no other options.

If it is true that in the twentiety century God spread his kingdom most widely by VM methods, and if it is true that he seems poised to do the same thing in the remaining “neglected corners” of the earth in the twenty-first century, then we in Western missions need to ask ourselves one huge question, perhaps the biggest question facing Western churches, the Western mission establishment, and the next generation of Western missionaries: Complement or copy? To what extent does God want us to use our strengths (methods and resources) to complement the groups and churches who are using VM by necessity, and to what extent does he want us to copy their VM methods ourselves by choice, leaving our “strengths” on the sideline?

Complementing seems to be the obvious choice if we are thinking of the global church as a body where different members have different functions. For example, groups like Gospel for Asia promote mission by combining the money of the West with the manpower of the East. There are many more nuanced variations on this model, which is the premise for all forms of partnership. But in light of Paul Yonggap Jeong’s paper in the present issue, we have to recognize that every attempt to complement is an attempt to do mission from a position of strength. We want our strength to complement their effort in some area where they are weak.

VM is pointing out that the body is not working like it should when one member acts like Saul trying to help another “weaker” member, David, by offering some armor. That is interference not body life. It comes from the kind of well-intentioned thinking that says, “We are stronger than you, you need what we can provide, we are willing to help you, so accept it as God’s provision for you through us.”

Sometimes this thinking is true; God is providing by this route, but perhaps not nearly as often as we think. I believe a great deal of what is interfering with the carrying out of the Great Commission today—the foreignness, the money-centeredness, the fuzziness of the message—is largely the result of many Davids accepting Saul’s armor and trying to fight while they wear it.

We in the wealthy countries have to become much more self-critical. Are our strengths really strengths? Is David’s weakness really weakness? It all depends on what the Lord of the mission wants to do and how he wants to do it. If we assume that our money and technology, which look like strengths from a human perspective, are what God is most likely to use to get his mission done and to bring glory to himself, won’t we forget to check with Jesus, the general director of the mission, whether he actually wants to use our money and technology in each particular case?

Are we not overlooking 1 Corinthians 1 as the default setting for mission—God using the weak to confound the strong? Are we not relegating that “weak” and vulnerable method of mission to those who are too poor to be able to afford to do mission the way we do it?22 Are we not assuming that people do mission from a position of strength if they can and from a position of weakness if they must?

Three Requests for Readers

While we consider the mega-issues of oral thinking style and “complement or copy,” there are three very down-to-earth activities I would love to see readers engage in. I am doing them already and benefiting, but I am only one person. We need to multiply this.

  1. Getting more perspectives on VM from Majority World people whose contact with the West has not persuaded them to approach mission like Westerners (we’ve been confining the dialogue mostly to Westerners). For me this happens mainly through ongoing communication with a house church pastor in Central Asia.
  2. Discovering where and how VM overlaps with other movements and trends in the mission world, particularly “partnership” and “orality” (we’ve been describing ourselves mostly in isolation or in contrast to others). For me this means staying in touch with the COSIM and ION networks.23
  3. Finding and sharing more success stories about VM in practice (we’ve been refining the VM theory, and I’m still mostly doing that in this paper). For me this means promoting Thomas Oduro’s book Mission in an African Way.


There is broad consensus among the overseas churches I am familiar with, missionaries, and mission scholars that the Western missionary movement has not produced the desired amount of the desired fruit, and that the shift to emphasis on short-term mission is not helping much if at all. There is widespread work on method improvement, especially among advocates of partnership.

VM takes things a step further, advocating much greater reliance on local language and resources than we currently see. I am proposing that we also advocate a much greater reliance on oral thinking as opposed to analytical thinking.

There is a very difficult choice for the next generation of Western Christians. Should they complement the “weak” VM of the Majority World church with their strength, or should they forego their strength and copy the VM that the Majority World uses by necessity?

If God is in this, then we need to widen the VM circle and connect with others among whom he is also stirring. It is his mission, and it ought to be done in his way(s), which we can find in consultation with others he guides.

And here is the heart of the matter for VM. If missionaries and mission agencies are so interested in bringing more glory to God,24 why would we not cut back on the mission methods that are failing to bring much glory to him? Why not replace them with a more vulnerable strategy, one that for its inspiration harks back to the cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost instead of the conquest of the Promised Land? Why not pay the prices of vulnerable mission and bring to God the glory that vulnerable mission in his name brings?

Dr. Stan Nussbaum is Staff Missiologist of GMI Research Services and Adjunct Professor at Wheaton College. He has also taught the Breakthrough course at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in Connecticut, at the World Link Graduate Center in Portland, and (including earlier versions) in England, Korea, Malaysia, India, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo (Dem. Rep.), and Nigeria.


Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Butler, Phill. Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships. Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005.

Christian Storytelling Network.

Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

Hiebert, Paul G. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

The International Council of Ethnodoxologists.

International Orality Network.

Johnstone, Patrick. The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011.

Krabill, James R., ed. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013.

The Lausanne Movement. “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission.” Documents.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin K. Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Nussbaum, Stan. American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.

________. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies.” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

________. Waking Up to the Messiah. Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011.

Oduro, Thomas, Hennie Pretorius, Stan Nussbaum, and Bryan Born. Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission. Marturia series. Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008.

Rickett, Daniel. Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders. Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002.

Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions. “The 7 Standards.”

Vulnerable Mission.

Winter, Ralph, and Steven Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Ybarrola, Steven J. “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions.” In Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, edited by Robert Priest, 101–119. Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 See Vulnerable mission (VM) as defined by the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission has two trademark emphases: the use of local languages and local resources in mission and development. Its primary focus is on mission strategy and mission practice, especially the gap between these and mission theory. The VM concept has been developed primarily by Alliance chairman Dr. Jim Harries, a British missionary in Western Kenya. It is of most relevance in similar contexts where (1) mission (or development) is being done in a poorer country than the country or countries where the foreigners are based and (2) missionaries are not already “vulnerable” in the sense of being open to legal and/or physical attack once their purpose is known. Wider implications will be discussed later in this article.

3 Do not read too much pessimism into the question. We are finding some very important connections represented by all of you, and Jim Harries’s new books certainly give people much new information to chew on and debate, but we are still asking ourselves what we could do better.

4 Some of these are dealt with in a later version of this paper, revised for presentation to graduate and post-graduate students at a seminary. See Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies,” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013): The current version was designed more for undergraduates and mission practitioners.

5 This is beautifully documented in Patrick Johnstone’s new work, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011).

6 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (London: R. Scott, 1912).

7 Steven J. Ybarrola, “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, ed. Robert Priest, Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008), 101–119.

8 My experience with translation software is that really ordinary conversations are difficult enough, let alone communicating the gospel into a culture I have no feel for. I recall one message where the software translated a Russian speaker’s greeting as, “Hello, expensive brother!” After pondering what kind of an insult my friend intended by this greeting, I eventually figured out that “expensive” was the software’s way of translating “dear.” But it didn’t give me much confidence in the rest of the message.

9 This is not to deny that short-term trips can be mutually beneficial if they follow strict “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Mission” guidelines referred to in fn. 11. The anecdote above only illustrates that as of this writing, the problems are still dire in spite of efforts to mitigate them.

10 We are with the missiologists at this point, battling against the popular temptation to define “better world” as “more like the wealthy part of the world.”

11 For “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions,” see For excellent summaries on partnership principles, see Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010); The Lausanne Movement, “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission,” Documents,; Phill Butler, Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005); and Daniel Rickett, Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002).

12 For example, Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–64, describe “holistic/dichotomistic thinking;” Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 142–49, sketches “categorical/holistic thinking”; and Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), ch. 2, deals with different kinds of logic. (My thanks to Missio Dei editor, Greg McKinzie, for these helpful references after the conference.) Jim Harries speaks of the issue most often as “monistic/dualistic thinking.”

13 John Walsh, an astute practitioner of orality (, explained this to me in a memorable personal conversation in October 2011.

14 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991).

15 The International Council of Ethnodoxologists,, states: “We facilitate online networking and provide resources for the development of culturally appropriate Christian worship, utilizing insights from ethnomusicology, missiology, worship studies and the arts.” See also James R. Krabill, ed., Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013).

16 An entire cultural profile can be sketched using proverbs as points for a “connect the dots” approach. This is what I have done on American culture in the book American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005).

17 I am currently making a personal attempt on this one, which you can see in my book Waking Up to the Messiah (Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011). The book sketches an annual cycle of festivals that together tell the whole story of Scripture. A two-page diagram of the cycle is downloadable at

18 They are not “two gospels” but two ways of presenting and explaining the gospel. McKnight clearly shows that the gospel of the kingdom is summarized in the same biblical passage that the gospel of salvation advocates claim as theirs, 1 Cor 15:1–3. See Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 40–43.

20 Mary Lederleitner, unpublished paper presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

21 Thomas Oduro, et al., Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission, Marturia series (Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008), 159–60.

22 We may note that 1 Cor 1 does not entirely exclude the strong from mission. Not many strong are called (1:26), but a few are. I don’t think that means that the church really needs to thank God for those few strong ones and build its whole approach to mission around them and their strengths. I think it means rather that God’s preferred way and most common way of getting his mission done is the surprising way, through apparently weak people and groups. He does weave a few “strong” people into the tapestry but they are not the ones holding everything together.

23 COSIM is the Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries ( In spite of its name, it is not about funding of indigenous ministries but partnering with them in a variety of ways. ION is the International Orality Network (

24 Thanks to the influence of writers like John Piper and programs like the Perspectives course, there is increased attention to the connection of mission and the glory of God. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009); see especially Hawthorne’s article on pp. 49–63 and Piper’s on pp. 64–69.

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What Is That In Your Hand?: Mobilizing Local Resources

In this manuscript, I share key experiences from my sixteen years of cross-cultural ministry in Cambodia in regard to mobilization of local resources. Additionally, I speak of Jesus’ incredible ingenuity for affirming and mobilizing local resources. Through personal experiences, biblical examples, and insights from others, I challenge cross-cultural Christian workers to avoid imposing outside resources, but rather facilitate local people to mobilize their local resources.

God had informed Moses that he was to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their mental and physical prison into a land groomed and cultivated by God. Moses asked God with a great amount of pleading in his voice, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” God responded to Moses, “Throw that old rickety stick aside and let me give you something worthwhile for the task!” Surely, God did not respond in such a manner. Rather, God asked, “What is that in your hand?” (Exod 4:2).2

God did not give Moses additional resources but rather affirmed and used what was already in Moses’ hand. All missionaries should adopt the same question, both as a working question on the field and as a driving principle for their mission paradigm. A question that asks the local people, “What is that in your hand that God can use?” In the book Walk Out Walk On, Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze share about communities that have learned to work with what they have to create what they need.3 If we were to turn this into a Moses-type question, we would ask: “What can you and God do with what you have to create what you need?”

In this article, I will share “aha moments” that I have experienced during my sixteen years of cross-cultural ministry in Cambodia in regard to mobilization of local resources. In addition, I will speak of Jesus’ incredible ingenuity for affirming and mobilizing local resources.

I was riding with a group of Cambodians in a truck to a village. In a ministry setting, most of these Cambodians were very timid and unsure of themselves as communicators of Jesus Christ. But, there in the truck they communicated with animation, passion, and confidence. What was the difference? They were interacting with stories, proverbs, riddles, and songs versus logical explanations and debates. In that very moment the truth dawned on me—I had imported and forced my teaching styles on the Cambodians. I cleverly taught the Cambodian believers how to study and present the Word of God through systematic theology, definitions, outlines, reasoning, apologetics, and interpreted narratives. While some of those who learned from me sorted out how to communicate like a Westerner, their Cambodian audience looked at them with blank stares.

I had made a huge mistake. I imported my resources and modes of teaching and communication. It was time for me to be the vulnerable one—not them.

I gathered up all my Western-oriented materials that I had written in the local language, tossed them in a cabinet, locked the door, and threw away the key. Then I started asking the Cambodians the Moses-type question: “What do you have in your hand?” The Cambodians revealed, “We have stories, drama, symbols, rituals, parables, riddles, ditties, poetry, music, songs, and dance.” Indeed, these were the resources of communication that the Cambodians could use for all aspects of ministry: planting the gospel, discipleship, training, teaching, counseling, and so forth. My duty as a missionary was to recognize, affirm, and learn how to use their local resources. I liken the missionary’s role to that of a cheerleader. We do not have to tell others how to play the game or play it for them, rather we cheer them on saying, “You can do it!”

I entered the Cambodian church and looked for a place to sit down. My favorite time of the week was when I could praise and worship God with Cambodians in the local language. While I was worshiping, I noticed a Cambodian man worshiping in a way different from all the others. I curiously leaned over to take a closer look. At that moment, I realized that the man was blind. Unlike the others, his posture represented pronounced reverence. He worshipped God the exact way a Cambodian would behave in the presence of a king or someone important: bowed lowly, no eye contact, and both hands tightly pushed together, pressed against the chest. The others worshipped standing straight up, seemingly making eye contact with God, and hands lifted upward with armpits showing. This experience would not be so bad, if I were not the one who planted the church.

I had made another a huge mistake. I imported my form of Western worship. Why? I knew better, but I wanted to plant a church before I could grasp the indigenous music of Cambodia. Since a real church needed formal worship—so I thought—I took a shortcut and introduced some Western songs translated into the Cambodian language and modeled modes of worship from my experience in North America.

Again, I should have asked the Cambodians, “What is in your hand?” They would have answered, “A roneat, a pia, a chapey, a tro, a skor. We use pinpeat, chreing chapey narrative singing, ayai repartee singing, shadow plays, melodies that tell stories, lullabies, mohori ensembles, plengkar, ramvong, and so forth.” I should have continued to ask, “What is the most culturally relevant form of worship for you?”

It was time for me to be the vulnerable one—learn, adapt, and facilitate the Cambodians to produce their own indigenous hymnody: “a body of hymns and spiritual songs which are composed by members of an ethnic group and thought of as being their own.”4

A local Cambodian pastor requested that I work alongside of him to train a church planting team. I remember the first training session well. I made the following request: “Please, each one of you share your story of how you came to know and walk with Christ.” Their stories were similar: “I received free eyeglasses. . . .” “The Christian organization gave us rice. . . .” “I was given a job with an NGO. . . .”

I knew we were in trouble in regard to planting healthy indigenous churches. In a matter of months, the church planters requested eyeglasses, rice, and connections to job opportunities to share among the people with whom they were planting churches. Additionally, they expected material goods and financial compensation for their effort in church planting. I had matured enough to know that the moment I gave subsidies to the church planters and material goods for them to use as handouts, I would have created unhealthy dependency on me. Subsequently, the local pastor and I encouraged the church planters to remain bi-vocational and find ways to share compassion with their local resources—visit a patient in the hospital, work side by side on a project, teach a child to read, and any other compassionate acts that start with what is in hand.

Imported teaching styles, worship forms, and welfare evangelism were all detrimental to the process of mobilizing local resources for the sake of healthy indigenous churches that make a difference in their Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8).

Almost on a daily basis, I receive emails from Africa, India, and Asia. The emails are always requests. “Please come and do crusades. Please conduct seminars for our leaders. Send materials, books, and DVDs. Will you partner with us?” Most emails state a little something that informs me that the invitation involves money. All the emails are from seemingly well-established leaders. What does this reveal to me? It reveals to me that something went wrong in the birthing and early development stages of those churches and organizations. The planter or those giving birth instilled a mindset that resources from the inside are inferior.

Capable leaders are driven to look constantly outside themselves to the West for their human and material resources. Instead of mobilizing people and resources around them, they make pleas to those completely removed from the context. These churches and ministries are sometimes kilometers apart from one another. Instead of reaching out and collaborating with one another, they bypass capable disciples of Christ in their own villages, districts, states, regions, countries, and continents to ask for help from the point farthest from them. In my perspective, it is time for the West to ask, “What can you and God do with what you have to create what you need?”

Yesterday, I received an email from India. The sender of the email has completed master of divinity and master of mheology degrees. This minister is now pursuing a PhD in missions. The purpose of the email was to make a request for books, DVDs, and magazines to do research on the house church movement. The composer of the email expressed that he wanted the resources for free because he could not afford to buy materials for his research.

One reason local Christians in places such as India feel the need to look to the West for resources is because Western missionaries and churches have conveyed the message that the educated and the affluent have some sort of edge in fulfilling the Great Commission. We have introduced structures and paradigms that are complicated, expensive, and definitely not mandated by Jesus for the purpose of making disciples in all nations. It is slightly ironic that the Indian gentleman came full circle. In other words, he has spent a significant amount of human and material resources to eventually research the house church movement, which has a secondary name: the simple church movement—a method that intentionally promotes simplicity, low maintenance, usage of local resources, and reproducibility. I have two books on this subject sitting on my desk entitled The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity and Simply Church.5

Keep in mind that simple does not mean inferior. On the contrary, simple has an element of purity, authenticity, depth, and of course reproducibility. “It is not that the content is simplistic or shallow—it is often very profound—but the pattern for doing it is simple and therefore easily reproduced.”6

Being seminary trained or well funded certainly were not key ingredients to fulfilling the Great Commission for the disciples or Paul. Ben Chikazaza, a church leader in Zimbabwe, answered his own question:

I wonder what the apostles Paul and Peter would say if they came down and saw the state of the church today? They would be shocked at the amount of money needed to convert one soul today! God help the African pastor to remain simple and obedient. The apostle Paul preached a simple gospel and could not demand what was rightfully his for fear that he would be disqualified. David refused to fight Goliath using King Saul’s armour and we cannot fight our battles using the world’s armour. Many of God’s servants are so heavily loaded with materialism that they cannot lift a hand against the enemy.7

Jesus was born right in the midst of local resources—a manger in the town of Bethlehem. As you follow Jesus’ journey through the Gospels, you see that the only resources he introduced from outside the community were himself, the disciples, and signs and wonders. When Jesus entered a community, he utilized resources that already existed in that context to fulfill his ministry. He preached in existing synagogues (Mark 1:39). He preached and had dinner with tax collectors and so-called sinners in homes (Mark 2:2, 15). Large crowds caused Jesus to teach parables from boats along lakeshores and the beatitudes from mountainsides (Mark 4:1; 5:1). When a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the community well, Jesus led her into a saving relationship through himself, the living water (John 4:7). Jesus rebuked demons out of a man and sent them captive into a herd of pigs, which committed suicide by frantically running off a steep bank into a lake (Luke 8:33). He taught the people many things in parables using everyday objects and experiences (Mark 4:2–3). A withering fig tree along the road became a prophetic object lesson (Matt 21:19). The disciples brought a donkey to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and had Jesus sit on it (Luke 19:35). Jesus took bread during a holiday meal, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Jesus poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ foul-smelling feet, then dried those feet with a towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:5). Jesus died hanging on a cross made of local wood and was laid in a local tomb, located in the garden near the place where Jesus was crucified (John 19:17, 41–42).

You never read about Jesus opening a duffle bag or a crate to unleash resources on the people. He never requested that Judas give funds to the people to enable them to build a church. He did not send out the disciples with ample supplies and donor funds to set up humanitarian projects. Even when Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, he accused those recipients who received a free meal of being interested in merely filling their bellies.

Jesus expected the same from his disciples. He trained his disciples on-the-job with local resources and sent them out without even sandals.

There’s a great harvest waiting for you in the fields, but there aren’t many good workers to harvest it. Pray that the Harvest Master will send good workers to the fields. It’s time for you 70 to go. I am sending you out armed with vulnerability, like lambs into a pack of wolves. Don’t bring a wallet. Don’t carry a backpack. I don’t want you to even wear sandals. Walk along barefoot, quietly, without stopping for small talk. When you enter a house seeking lodging, say, “Peace on this house!” If a child of peace—one who welcomes God’s message of peace—is there, your peace will rest on him. If not, don’t worry; nothing is wasted. Stay where you are welcomed. Become a part of the family, eating and drinking whatever they give you. You’re My workers, and you deserve to be cared for. Again, don’t go from house to house, but settle down in a town and eat whatever they serve you. Heal the sick and say to the townspeople, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:2–7; The Voice)

Jesus had church; he didn’t make church. Jesus had church at a water well, in homes, on the mountainside, and in a boat. He made disciples using fig trees, parables, demons in pigs, donkey rides, meals, and washing feet. Jesus was the first to instruct people to share and be generous among the needy; but He did this very thing through loving relationships and creativity, utilizing that which was locally available. Local resources served as the color for Jesus’ artwork of discipleship making. He saw what was near him and turned it into a parable. He used everyday articles to make a life-giving point. Homes and seashores served as his mobile pulpit.

On the contrary, we are so quick to introduce our resources from the outside. We race to set up buildings and impose foreign organizational structures. Missionaries and sponsors serve as conduits of money. While Jesus modeled church in an everyday context, we model church in ways that can only be sustainable through our funding. Both Gailyn Van Rheenen and Jonathan Bonk echo this reality:

“Western temptation is to conceptualize and organize the missionary task on an economic level that can only be sustained by Western support and oversight.” This has resulted in the development of mission strategies which are “money intensive,” signifying that one must have a lot of capital to do Christianity Western-style.8

Josphat Charagu, a pastor in Kenya, expressed to me that the missionaries organized their mission work according to a Western context with complete disregard for the African context and thought. David Phillips, founder of the Nomadic Peoples Network, has revealed that the Western, imported model of church caused nomads to count Christianity as a faith for the rich who can afford to erect and maintain buildings—not a faith for communities who intentionally move from one place to another. A camel herder’s statement says it all: “When you can put your Church on the back of my camel then I will think that Christianity is meant for us Somalis.”9

Pastor Charagu told me how one day he arrived at his church and saw a pile of rocks dumped right in the front of the entrance. He became upset and exclaimed, “I have had enough with our neighbor; he continues to make things difficult for us!” Pastor Charagu called the head of his men’s department to complain. The department leader responded, “Pastor, slow down! The neighbor did not unload those stones in front of the church. One of the cell groups brought those today as part of their contribution to build our permanent church.” Pastor Charagu was utterly encouraged to see the church members give sacrificially and without provocation.

This community of believers plans to build their church using a method called “divide and rule,” which is used by local politicians. Unfortunately, politicians abuse this method, but they plan to implement this approach in a righteous way. In this “divide and rule” manner, different people will be responsible for different facets of building the church, such as the drawing plans, stones, roofing, pillars, windows, and so forth.

The ingenuity, sacrificial commitment, and resolve of Pastor Charagu and his church are an example of the beauty of mobilizing local people and local resources. It is what happens among the people who use local resources through dependence on God and on one another that make the difference: prayer, sacrifice, faith, companionship, gift sharing, creativity, teamwork, capacity building, and perseverance. I guarantee that when you see an elaborate structure built with outside funds, you will NOT see the make-a-difference characteristics that you would observe among a community that has built its own church or creatively found ways to do church within existing structures (homes, community centers, urban garages, businesses, backyards, under trees, etc.) The beauty is in the process, not the finished product. Better the small that reveals a group’s effort toward responsible self-help than the big that reveals donations from outside. Our big and better methods in someone else’s country do not fool God according to Leonard Sweet:

The ancient Hebrews compared God’s workings to the monstrous cedars of Lebanon and wings of eagles. Jesus loves looking at mustard seeds, grains of wheat, leftover crumbs, and barnyard hens. He invites us to look around at our fields, our gardens, our orchards, our vineyards, our backyards. Jesus is not against large but invites us to start small and do little large. “Little is much if God is in it.”10

We need to cease making people of other nations believe that money and what money can accomplish are the key to making disciples. If we despise the small beginnings of other nations by shoving our supposedly efficient, bigger and better structures and methods down their throats, we are guilty of crushing the dignity and initiatives of men and women. We can learn from the interchange between the angel and the prophet Zechariah on behalf of Zerubbabel who was responsible for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem:

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” “No, my lord,” I replied.  So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. . . . Then the word of the LORD came to me:  “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zech 4:4–10a)

The interaction between the angel of God and Zechariah reveals to us the key ingredients to godly success, which are God’s Spirit and small beginnings. Let us Western missionaries not swallow up these key ingredients by imposing our resources onto others in cross-cultural contexts.

All of us are quick to say that the Bible is our principal and God-given manual for our mission practices. Dr. Christopher Little challenges the distortion of that claim:

Most if not all people involved in fulfilling the Great Commission today would affirm that the sole basis for Christian faith and practice is the Bible. Yet for whatever reason there has been a preoccupation with the former to the neglect of the latter. That is, the church has concentrated on “orthodoxy,” right or correct doctrine and thinking, to the exclusion of “orthopraxy,” right or correct practice and action. This predicament is most discernible in the area of finance since, according to Herbert Kane, “no other one thing has done so much harm to the Christian cause” (1976:91). As such, it is imperative that the Western church recovers biblical models regarding the proper use of money in mission.11

The apostle Paul was the most successful missionary of all time. We would be foolish to count his orthodoxy as passé. Paul purposely set aside regular support for himself, expected the churches he birthed to be self-supporting from the beginning, and encouraged poor churches to contribute to those who were facing famine, all for the greater purpose of planting healthy churches. Jesus and the disciples gave of themselves endlessly, yet that giving never included an unloading of material resources on a people. If we appreciate the success of Jesus, the disciples, and Paul, we may want to take their practices more seriously.

God asked Moses what was in his hand. Jesus asked the same question indirectly throughout his ministry on earth (John 21:6). Philip emphasized what the Ethiopian eunuch was holding in his hand—the Scriptures (Acts 8:30). Paul exhorted Timothy to fan into flame his resource—the gift of God that was given to him through the laying on of hands (2 Tim 1:6).

Instead of being providers of resources, let us affirm and facilitate local people’s identification and mobilization of their local resources to create what they need. May the question, “What is in your hand?” be forever on our lips as we participate in the Great Commission. In this way, God will receive the glory, not us.

Jean Johnson, a cross-cultural communicator, spent 23 years living and serving among Cambodians in the USA and in Cambodia specializing in worldview strategic church planting, orality, and reproducible training. Presently, Jean is a co-director of World Mission Associates and an international coach in parts of Asia, Africa, and North America. She coaches and teaches pastors, churches, missionaries, organizations, and teams on how to intentionally inspire indigenous people to mobilize their local capabilities, resources, and cultural creativity. Her publications include We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency (Sisters, Oregon: Deep River Books, 2012), reviewed in the present issue.


Bonk, Jonathan J. Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem. American Society of Missiology Series 15. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Chikazaza, Ben. “Self-Reliance and the Church.” The Network for Strategic Missions (October 1997):

Dale, Tony, and Felicity Dale. Simply Church. Austin, TX: Karis Publishing, 2002.

Fitts, Robert. The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity. Salem, OR: Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001.

Little, Christopher. “Partnerships in Pauline Perspective: The Economics of Partnership.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 61–68.

Phillips, David J. Peoples on the Move: Introducing the Nomads of the World. Grand Rapids: IVP, 2001.

Schrag, Brian, and Paul Neeley. All the World Will Worship: Helps for Developing Indigenous Hymns. 3rd ed. Duncanville, TX: EthnoDoxology Publications, 2005.

Sweet, Leonard. Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. “MR #2: Money and Mi$$ion$.”

Wheatley, Margaret, and Deborah Frieze. Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. BK Currents. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2011.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless noted otherwise.

3 Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now, BK Currents (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2011), 3.

4 Brian Schrag and Paul Neeley, All the World Will Worship: Helps for Developing Indigenous Hymns, 3rd ed. (Duncanville, TX: EthnoDoxology Publications, 2005), 3.

5 Robert Fitts, The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity (Salem, OR: Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001); Tony Dale and Felicity Dale, Simply Church (Austin, TX: Karis Publishing, 2002).

6 Dale and Dale, 70.

7 Ben Chikazaza, “Self-Reliance and the Church,” The Network for Strategic Missions (October 1997):

8 Christopher Little, “Partnerships in Pauline Perspective: The Economics of Partnership,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 64, quoting Gailyn Van Rheenen, “MR #2: Money and Mi$$ion$,”,, and Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem, American Society of Missiology Series 15 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 40, respectively.

9 David J. Phillips, Peoples on the Move: Introducing the Nomads of the World (Grand Rapids: IVP, 2001), xiii.

10 Leonard Sweet, Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 37.

11 Little, 65.

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The King’s English in a Tamil Tongue: Missions, Paternalism, and Hybridity in South India

This paper looks at problems that have occurred in Church of Christ missions by focusing on a case study in India called the Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission. The paper argues that paternalism in a cappella church missions has led to a “time capsule effect” wherein churches in India have become stultified. Indian Church of Christ members have developed a hybrid identity. They try to be faithful to the sending churches—in this case Canada’s valiant missionary J. C. Bailey—but they have to balance it with faithfulness to their own culture. Several issues are brought forth such as Bible translations (especially the use of the King James Version), contextualization and indigenization, and the unfortunate dependency that often arises in Church of Christ missions efforts.

To begin, I will share a quotation from the person described by Christianity Today as “the most important person you don’t know.”2 Andrew Walls is the dean of the relatively new discipline that I work in, known as world Christianity, or global Christianity. Walls is a Scottish, Oxbridge educated scholar who went to Sierra Leone in 1957 to serve as a church history professor in a colonial college. What he witnessed in Africa changed his understanding of Christianity and gave birth to a new academic discipline. While “happily pontificating” on early Christianity, Walls came to realize he “was actually living in a second-century church.”3 Africans were rapidly turning to Christ, and he was a front-row observer. He began to see that the Christianity his British compatriots had established was becoming translated and assimilated to the local context in creative, unpredictable ways. Africa was becoming the Christian heartland of the world, but it was complex, uncontrolled, vibrantly new, and unsettled.

Walls has made a career out of analyzing how Christianity gets translated and indigenized in new cultures. In his view, this is the genius of Christianity; its “translatability.” Walls’s ideas overhauled the field of church history to the point that most classic models are now obsolete. His work has impacted the discipline to the point that no longer can the history of Christians be told in an exclusively Western framework: Acts to Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Wesley to Barth. Now, church history should be told in all its manifold greatness and extreme diversity. At Pepperdine I advertise my World Christianity course as a study of Christianity that moves from South Korea to South America, from South Africa to South Carolina.

Andrew Walls has globalized the discipline of church history by making us think globally, even when dealing with our own personal, local faith traditions. In his watershed essay, “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History” he writes:

The church that is the subject of church history is implicitly defined as the church we ourselves know—our tradition as it has developed. In principle, there is no harm in this focus, provided we know what we are doing, and provided also we do more than this. It is natural and right to seek to understand one’s own tradition; it means to know who one’s ancestors are.

But there are lurking dangers, both historical and theological. One is that we think by the study of our own tradition we are doing church history. We are not—we are doing our church history. If this is the only lens through which we study Christian history, we have bypassed the story of the whole people of God in favor of clan history. Such an approach reduces the area in which we look for the works of God, whereas the promises of God are to all who trust them. The Lord of Hosts is not to be treated as a territorial Baal.4

Walls’s recommendation is a “Reconception of the Syllabus.” I am only one of many in a new generation who have taken Walls’s advice seriously, and most of the “history” that I write, I like to believe, respects the “whole history of the people of God.”

As a result, this article is a hybrid of local and global. It is “local” in the sense that it is indeed “clan history.” It is global in the sense that it is looking at how my form of Christianity managed to make its way to the other side of the planet. While not explicit, it has a practical dimension to it as well. It analyzes a small moment in time in the Churches of Christ missionary experience.

I am sensitive to the fact that these events took place within my clan, among my people. Telling stories such as these are important, but must be done carefully. I certainly hope that by looking at the mistakes and triumphs of our forebears, we learn to improve. It is my goal to be sensitive to whatever tradition I study, be it a different form of Christianity or a different religion altogether. We must treat other traditions with respect and dignity when telling their story. However, the same should apply when telling our own story. In this article, I try to handle my Restoration history with great care since it is the tradition that nourished me, and it is the tradition wherein I encounter the Risen Christ as Savior and Lord.


Due partly to paternalism in the church, the non-instrumental—or a cappella— Churches of Christ in India have become a time capsule wherein members show great loyalty to the form of Christianity brought to them decades earlier by deeply convicted missionaries. A hybrid identity develops, and it is fraught with ambivalence, resulting in social dislocation. Members become increasingly isolated on two fronts: (1) their own culture views them as insular and sectarian, while (2) their supporting congregations in the Western world see them as out of touch with newer developments in the faith, sometimes legalistically holding on to teachings long considered obsolete in the home church, or, the sending church. This article examines issues in cross-cultural missions, focusing on paternalism and the continued use of the King James Version of the Bible in a Church of Christ network in South India. I use the KJV as a touchstone for investigating complex issues that arise when Christianity is planted from one culture into another, very different one.

In 2003 I traveled to India for the first time to do my doctoral research. I needed to access archives and conduct interviews in several places, but it was crucial that I travel to the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. In preparation for my trip I did a Google search for “India Church of Christ” and the first hit was

I had a good feeling about the website, particularly since it had many hallmarks of the Church of Christ tradition, notably the ubiquitous use of the King James Version of the Bible. At the top of the homepage it read “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).” When combining this website’s “C of C” jargon, its strong emphasis on immersion for the forgiveness of sins, and the use of the KJV, it was a dead giveaway: I was dealing with old school, died-in-the-wool, bona fide Church of Christ folk.

I immediately sent an email to that church, which happened to be based in Chennai. I had never been to India, I had no idea who these people were, and I knew not one person in the entire nation of India. The next day I had a reply in my inbox. They claimed to be faithful Church of Christ members, they were happy to pick me up at the airport, they offered to feed and house me during my stay, and they promised to provide any kind of support that I might need for as long as I needed it. Such is the nature of membership in the Church of Christ; there is immediate trust and rapport, even amongst strangers.

The Church of Christ

The Church of Christ is a loosely organized fellowship of over three million members worldwide.5 They refuse to call themselves a denomination since they have no hierarchy, creed, or central organization. Rooted in the Scottish independence church movements of the eighteenth century, they matured under the leadership of Thomas (1763–1854) and Alexander Campbell (1788–1866) and Barton W. Stone (1772–1844) in the nineteenth century. All three of these men began their careers as Presbyterian ministers. The Campbells were immigrants from Scotland while Stone was born near Port Tobacco, Maryland. Their early careers coincided with a very fractious time in the Presbyterian Church on both sides of the Atlantic. Discouraged, all three of them broke away from their Presbyterian affiliations in order to pursue a more ecumenical approach that emphasized the reasonableness of the Bible in determining right Christian doctrine and practice. With great confidence, they proclaimed their system and approach as a true “Restoration,” meaning they believed the ancient practices of the early church as portrayed in the New Testament were finally being restored.

The movement was attractive, and it mushroomed. It was a major player in the ecclesial context of early America, especially in the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century. This “Stone-Campbell” tradition grew and fragmented several times. It is estimated today that there are approximately 14 million people in 180 countries who associate themselves with the larger Restoration Movement.6 To be clear, the specific wing of the tradition that I am associated with—and the tradition dealt with in this article—is the non-instrumental Church of Christ. Without unpacking the nuances and distinctions between the various streams of the Restoration movement, it will suffice to point out that the most distinctive feature of the “Church of Christ” is the lack of instruments in worship. Thus this specific movement is generally referred to as the a cappella wing of the Stone-Campbell tradition, or the “non-instrumental Churches of Christ.” As the Restoration tradition splintered in the late-nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the a cappella group made its mark as the most theologically conservative strand of the movement, and it still carries that reputation.7

The Church of Christ in India and the KJV

The United States has the largest national Church of Christ population with around 1.6 million members. India also has a significant Church of Christ presence with estimates ranging from 600,000 to over a million.8 The story of how the Church of Christ tradition developed in India reflects fascinating cross-cultural dynamics and brings up numerous issues in missions and the indigenization of faith. The persistent use of the KJV in India is one of those issues, and is timely considering the 400-year anniversary of the translation. It is also an area rather unexplored.

It is important to point out that the Church of Christ was never beholden to the King James Version. Indeed Alexander Campbell edited a translation of the New Testament called The Living Oracles in 1826.9 While “extremely popular” in Restoration circles, it was “severely criticized by other church bodies” during its day.10 Nevertheless, due largely to Campbell’s influence, his movement had a very strong “back to the Bible” emphasis. Restoration scholars were at the vanguard of Bible translation throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pressing for the most precise translations using the oldest and most respected manuscripts available.11 And the King James Version was insufficient on two fronts: (1) the Elizabethan dialect no longer reflected the spoken English of the day, and (2) the manuscripts used in 1611 had been surpassed by superior, more ancient ones.12

It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that until the mid-twentieth century, the KJV’s dominant status in the Church of Christ was never in question. The Scopes Trial in 1925 had the effect of drawing a line in the sand between liberals and conservatives in the United States, and certain individuals in the Church of Christ began “championing the sole use of the KJV.”13 With the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1946, more conservative elements in the Church of Christ reacted.14 Led by Foy E. Wallace (1896–1979), a polarizing preacher and influential editor of Church of Christ journals, the KJV enjoyed renewed privilege. During the last decade of Wallace’s life, he “continued to speak about errors he saw in ‘the new versions’ in almost every sermon.”15 That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the very years that the Church of Christ presence was beginning to grow in India.

In general, the Church of Christ missionaries to India planted a faith strikingly similar to the one they knew back home. There was little regard for the unique cultural context of South Asia. Cultural intricacies were scarcely taken into account as the gospel was disseminated along the eastern coast from Shillong in the tribal northeast to Madras in the south. And the gospel as understood by those pioneering preachers was plain and simple. As Jesus announced in Matthew 7:14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (kjv).

Indeed, North American a cappella Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century had an exclusivist soteriology that was transported overseas through mission work.16 This is clearly evinced in an annual Church of Christ missions report entitled The Harvest Field. In 1947, in the chapter on India, the author Bill Phillips deplored the status of religion in that country. He wrote, “The Hindu religion is one of the most iniquitous systems ever devised by man. Surely Satan must have had a direct hand in riveting the shackles of such bondage upon a helpless people.” For the year 1947, that perspective was not unique to Churches of Christ. What is surprising, however, is the blatant censure of other Christians conducting mission work there. Phillips continues:

And what shall we say of those who in their search for Christ have turned to the denominations? They have not the truth, for the denominations have not the truth, and only the truth can save them.17

Phillips laments that, to his knowledge, there is not a single Church of Christ missionary in all of India. He then provides very curious advice for the prospective Church of Christ missionary who might venture into the Indian mission field: “I am inclined to recommend ‘invading’ the territory of the Christian Church . . . but others might not consider this the best policy.”18

This was a very strange perspective because, theologically, the Christian Church is the closest relative to the Church of Christ. The major difference is that the Christian Church chose to use instruments in worship whereas the Church of Christ did not. Phillips reasoned that the most logical targets for evangelism were actually those closest to the Church of Christ because they could be won with the least resistance. Hindus could not be effectively evangelized unless one was to go through the rigors of learning local Indian dialects.19 “Mohammedans”—or, Muslims—were considered too tenacious in their beliefs and were therefore not a good place to start.20 Other Christians, however, were fair game, especially those who shared the Restoration heritage. I shall return to this point later.

Arise Shine Mission History

The case study for this article is a Church of Christ network based in Chennai, south India. They go by the name Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission, or, ASCOCM. They are a registered charity in India and do all kinds of relief and benevolent work ranging from orphan homes to disaster relief. They have around 60 village churches involved with “the mission” as they call it, and they employ preachers in most of these. Their work is concentrated in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and is overseen by a group of elders. The real authority, however, is the director of the charity, a young preacher named Jasuran Roy Knight.21 I know Roy Knight personally and have spent considerable time with him in India and in the US. He was born in 1979 to Indian Church of Christ parents. In 1995 he was baptized at the age of 16. After considering various occupations, he chose to become a preacher.

Roy’s personal faith testimony revolves around two important biblical passages: the Great Commission of Matthew 28, and Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” Disgusted by what he deems the “idol worship” of his birth country, he vowed to rise up and bring Christ to his countrymen. He claims to have experienced severe resistance in his ministry. People have spit at him, used witchcraft against him, thrown poisonous snakes at him, and even attacked him—in one case with a knife that left gruesome scars on his arms. He even claims that one of his coworkers was murdered in 2008 for preaching the gospel in a hostile village. Over the last decade, Roy has assembled a ragtag team of evangelists who preach the gospel against the odds. They are poorly paid and rely on Roy’s fundraising to make ends meet. These men take charge of one or two village churches and Roy makes his rounds to each of them, usually over the course of a month. One of the first preachers he recruited to the work was an untouchable Hindu man with leprosy who accepted the gospel in 1999 and began ministering almost immediately.22

While the Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission is only about a decade old, its antecedents go back to the 1920s when Roy’s great grandfather, a Hindu man, converted to Christianity after being persuaded by North American missionaries. These missionaries were not from the Church of Christ, however. While there were a few scattered Church of Christ elements in India by that time, this family was evangelized by J. C. Bailey, a Canadian missionary who, in their words, “trained many 1000s of preachers and workers and faithful Christians.”23 A humble training school was soon developed and Roy’s maternal grandfather, G. D. Yesudin, took a leading role in the indigenization of the faith, planting churches and conducting an impressive ministry in rural villages.

Yesudin died in 1977 and his daughter and son-in-law—Roy’s parents—began taking the reins of leadership in the church. Roy’s father, Dayalan, is a gentle and quiet man. He spent his working life employed by the Swiss elevator and escalator company KONE, earning a good salary. He started a house congregation in 1978 and remained committed to the Church of Christ even when they moved to new towns because of his employment. Roy’s parents were doggedly committed to raising their children in the Church of Christ, in spite of the cultural baggage it entailed. They conducted church services in their home and from time to time gathered with like-minded Church of Christ people from other towns. Occasionally, North American missionaries would come, although these visits became less frequent through the years. While Roy’s father Dayalan remained loyal to the Church of Christ tradition, his docile personality prevented him from being an effective evangelist. His role was to keep the Church of Christ beliefs and traditions alive, which he did.

Roy Knight is Dayalan’s oldest son. He has a personality completely different from his father. He is charismatic and outgoing. He has worked for over a decade to expand his family’s church and mission. A highly entrepreneurial minister, Roy organized their ministry into a government-registered charity. He has had great success raising funds in several countries including Singapore, Britain, Germany, Canada, and the US. The daily workload he carries is exhausting, consisting of regular travels to remote villages on dilapidated roads, preaching in several languages, arranging marriages for young couples, sorting out church conflicts, running an orphanage, and managing church finances.24 He claims to have baptized around two thousand people.

Arise Shine and the KJV

The vast majority of Arise Shine’s 60-odd churches function in the vernacular, which is usually Tamil or Telugu, the languages of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Most of the members are poor, uneducated village folk and do not speak English. However, a few of their city churches are English-speaking. In my interactions with Roy, I began noticing that when preaching in English or studying an English-language Bible, he and his cohorts use the KJV.25 I thought this was odd because the merits of using a more updated version of the Bible are obvious; the KJV’s English is difficult enough for Americans, hence its dwindling popularity.26 Furthermore, Indians who speak English normally do so as a second or third language after their vernacular and Hindi, and the antiquated KJV would seem even less comprehensible for them.27 However, when citing the KJV, I noticed Roy evincing a bizarre fluency.

After repeated conversations I came to realize that the language of the KJV was not the primary issue here; it was much more complex than that. Loyalty to the KJV is directly linked to loyalty to the tradition that had been taught to them in years past by highly committed missionaries. These American missionaries are heroic in the collective memory of this Church of Christ community. They propagated their faith with great confidence. Their version of Christian truth is still canonical in this network. And visiting Roy’s group of churches is like witnessing the opening of a time capsule, like stepping back in time to the Church of Christ of my grandparents. Their teachings and practices have not evolved or indigenized like I had expected. Within 24 hours of my first arrival to Chennai I found myself entangled in long discussions about why instruments in the worship setting could jeopardize a person’s soul, why non-Church of Christ Christians are theologically suspect, why drinking alcohol is a sin, and why women must take no leadership role whatsoever in public worship. Furthermore, I had heard the same arguments laid out in the same ways in the United States. I recognized these teachings as a part of the conservative strands of the Church of Christ heritage, but to witness them being propagated boldly in twenty-first century India hinted at two things: (1) this network probably received support from the most conservative Churches of Christ in North America; and (2) loyalty to the old ways of the missionaries took precedence over cultural relevance in this ministry.

When I arrived to India, I was given a hero’s welcome due to a strange twist of irony. While Indians are famously hospitable, and the Church of Christ connection certainly deepened the immediate level of trust between this community and me, there was something else going on. At the Chennai airport, an SUV full of Church of Christ preachers received me like a long-lost relative, with enthusiastic cheers. I found out later, after lengthy discussions, that they thought I was associated with the missionaries who had brought the gospel to them decades before. I, however, was clueless to all that.

Canadian Missionary J. C. Bailey

When I first traveled to India in 2003 I was actually working on my PhD at the University of Calgary, Canada. This was significant because upon arrival to India, I was surprised to find that this work was actually founded by a legendary Church of Christ missionary from Canada. His name was J. C. Bailey (1903–2001).28 In 1963, at the age of 59, Bailey moved to India as a missionary after many years working in ministry, education, and publishing.29 His towering stature in the Canadian Church of Christ scene is well known and is the subject of at least one master’s thesis.30 I never met J. C. Bailey but I did talk with his brother Cecil by phone once; he called me in 1999 to warmly welcome me to Calgary right before I moved there from Texas. Cecil explained that he would not greet me personally since he was soon to retire to Saskatchewan—at the age of 95. Like his brother J. C., Cecil was a missionary to India for many years.

When these Tamil Christians in Chennai found out I was coming from Canada, they figured I was associated with J. C. Bailey—a very logical assumption—and were very excited to receive me. I burst their bubble by telling them I did not know Bailey and knew almost nothing about his missionary work in India. In their minds, I had been sent to India to “check-up” on the status of the mission and rekindle the connection to the Canadian churches—a connection that had faded through the years. They were disappointed to learn that I merely wanted a place to stay while I did my research. And my dissertation had nothing to do with the Church of Christ movement. I was happy to meet their preachers, visit the orphanage, and even speak in some churches, but my focus was on research. I was clear: I intended to spend my time not out on the front lines of evangelism but in dusty archives at theologically questionable institutions. I was scarcely a shadow of my predecessor, the valorous J. C. Bailey.

In India as well as in Canada, J. C. Bailey is as much myth as man. In his obituary from 2001, one realizes the venerable status reserved only for the most elite “soldiers of the cross”:

Bailey’s influence on people was powerful. . . . He preached his first sermon when he was 17. . . . Bailey was always pushing into new frontiers in an unrelenting quest to seek and save the lost. Whether preaching in a schoolhouse in south Saskatchewan or in the scorching heat of an Indian marketplace, he was ever moving and ever pressing the battle for truth in the kingdom of God. . . . Nothing else seemed to be important except preaching the word and persuading men and women to obey the Lord. . . . As Gandhi stirred the heart of India’s people politically, so brother Bailey stirred their hearts in spiritual things. . . . His love for God encouraged people to change their lives. . . . If there ever was a man whose physical appearance, manner, and movement was that of a great Army General, it was J. C. Bailey. But this tall, straight man with long strides and brisk walk . . . was truly a STALWART SOLDIER OF JESUS CHRIST. Most of us who knew him thought he accomplished more in his fight for the right than any man we had ever known. . . . Like Stonewall Jackson, he had a tremendous ability to inspire his fellow soldiers to fight faithfully and stand valiantly!31

On April 25, 1963, J. C. Bailey and his crew arrived to northeast India to evangelize the people of what is now Meghalaya and Assam. However, within a few short months of arrival, in September, he moved south to Madras. Eventually he set up his mission base at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, where he found “South India was a riper field than North India.”32 His co-missionaries in the north of India were devastated. David Hallett, one of the members of the team, recounted that moment in his memoirs:

Then in September of 1963, such a short time after arrival in Shillong, J. C. decided that he and his family would go to Southern India. Of course he offered such to us, but we all knew he was the one going. Ray and I had been promised support of two hundred dollars per month, each, by J. C. We came on one-way tickets. Then the bomb dropped: J. C. would go south and take all the money with him. His promises to the Perrys, Ray and me failed. We were without money support. Talk about being left “high and dry!” We were half way around the world and now what? J. C. had the money. . . . All other monies also went with him. J. C. took little interest in the Northeast and the three small congregations and us. He was what I call a trail blazer, always being lured on by a greener pasture in the venture for souls. During this time, if I had a return ticket I would have left.33

Although various Church of Christ missionaries preceded him, Bailey is described as “lighting a spark for the evangelization of India.”34 What was meant by this, however, was that Bailey lit the spark for a distinctly Church of Christ evangelization in India. When Bailey arrived in 1963, he actually found three a cappella congregations totaling approximately 80 members.35

Bailey worked as a missionary to India for twenty-five years, from 1963 to 1988. During the first nine years he took residence in India. In 1972 he moved back to Canada.36 Between 1972 and 1988 he made twenty more evangelistic trips. It is estimated that over 100,000 faithful Church of Christ members resulted from his ministry there.37 However, statistics in India are rarely taken at face value. For example, Bailey’s first convert in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Joshua Gootam, claims, “There are now estimated to be more than 2 million members of the church [meaning Church of Christ] in this state alone.”38 Nevertheless, the point should not be missed: prior to J. C. Bailey’s arrival in 1963, there were scant traces of the a cappella Church of Christ in India. By the end of his ministry in that nation, there were hundreds of thousands of members—and many of them could trace their origins to Bailey’s work.


Bailey’s great successes and conviction have not been forgotten. This was the great heyday of the non-instrumental Church of Christ in India, and Bailey’s impressive work fostered extreme loyalty to him. Faithfulness and loyalty to this strong leader has resulted in what I am calling a “time capsule effect.” The continued use of the KJV is one aspect of a much larger issue that has historically been identified as “paternalism” in the church. Paternalism is a concept that has been denounced by missionaries and church historians for decades, but Christian leaders even still continue to battle it.

Ideally, missionaries plant churches that evolve and indigenize, and one day become independent. However, the opposite often happens: churches become stunted in their development, becoming ever more dependent on the supporting churches in the West. This loyalty to the parent church is reinforced in various ways: (1) through the memory of the heroic missionaries and preservation of their theology, (2) through continued financial support, and (3) through an unspoken division of authority wherein the missionary remains a father figure, even long after his death.

The phenomenon of missionary paternalism has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years. Boston University historian Dana Robert writes of the many and serious problems it can cause.39 It prevents the sending and receiving churches from developing authentic friendships. It thwarts collegiality by perpetuating unbalanced relationships between foreigners and indigenous. The sending church holds the power. It is able to superimpose everything from the leadership of the church to the formulation of its doctrines, no matter how out of synch they may be with the local culture. Robert defines paternalism as a “father-like relationship between the missionary and the people.” This dependency is very difficult to overcome. She argues that “unreflective paternalism” can prove dangerous since it has often “lacked the equality assumed by modern ideals of friendship.”40

Another historian, University of Edinburgh’s Brian Stanley, writes that while, theoretically, Indian and Western Christians should work shoulder to shoulder as equals, there are often fault lines—racial and otherwise—that prevent “real, intimate, brotherly and sisterly fellowship.” This imbalance of power is “the most fundamental of all missionary failures,” which is why it touches a “raw nerve in the western Christian conscience.”41

Paternalism in the church is not at all unique to Restoration churches. It has long been an Achilles heel for Christian missionaries of other denominations as well, notably the Church of England, which firmly established itself on the Indian subcontinent during the age of empire. Anglican Michael Hollis, Bishop of Madras from 1942 to 1954, bemoaned this situation in his 1962 book entitled Paternalism and the Church.42 Hollis argued that a strong paternalism developed in the nineteenth century as the template for doing mission work in South India. Decrying the “general subordination of Indian Christians to the missionary,” he advocated strongly for indigenization, claiming, “It is not the business of the foreigner to tell Indians what God wants them to do.”43 In Hollis’s view, paternalism in the Indian context proved disastrous. Christianity’s natural development in the subcontinent was stunted because of this dependence on the West. He writes:

Broadly speaking, the mission pattern has been too much concerned to ensure that Indian Christians accepted the right formulations of belief, as developed in the West, and followed the right patterns of behavior, again largely in the Western expressions, of what was believed to be the law of God.44

Hollis urged Christians in both East and West to wake up to the vast cultural differences between them, and to allow a “more truly Indian and more truly Christian Church” to develop.45 There is blame on both sides for this continued “white man’s burden” mentality. Indian reliance on Western funds, for example, is unhealthy. It stifles indigenization and prevents the mission church from reaching out in local ways. There is a sense everything has to be approved by a governing body in the West. The Indian Church becomes a misshapen attempt to replicate the pristine gospel as first transplanted by admirable but imperfect missionaries. As the churches in the West evolve theologically and culturally, the missionary church stultifies, becoming less and less relevant to the culture in which it was planted.

The time capsule effect I witnessed in the Indian Church of Christ is not unusual in the larger history of Christian missions. The New Testament itself shows Paul holding sway over the churches he established and the ministers he shaped. On one level, paternalism in the church manifests just how deeply missionaries are loved by the people they convert. Quite understandably, that admiration can last for generations.

However, when I arrived to India and realized they were dealing with the hot-button issues of my grandparents’ generation, I became curious why they had not evolved along a similar trajectory as in the United States. In North America, Churches of Christ currently discuss matters such as whether to have women preachers, what to do about the instrumental music question, and how many millions of dollars can justifiably be spent on a church building. These issues are not even on the radar in India. They talk about why instruments are flatly wrong, why salvation belongs exclusively to the a cappella Church of Christ, and, crucially for this article, why the king’s English is best for the Tamil tongue.

In preparing this piece, I communicated with Roy Knight, the leader of the Arise Shine Church of Christ network, and inquired specifically about his use of the KJV. His reply came almost immediately, “Brother J. C. Bailey used the King James Version.”46 However, unbeknownst to Roy, J. C. Bailey actually preferred the American Standard Version (ASV), but he used the KJV interchangeably with it.47 This was not uncommon in North America. Many Church of Christ people actually preferred the literalness of the 1901 ASV because of their “back to the Bible” convictions. In the first half of the twentieth century there was no major controversy over whether the Church of Christ should use the KJV or the ASV. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that this issue escalated. It was the fiery sermons of Foy E. Wallace that made this issue explosive in North America. These debates played out in the Indian Church of Christ context as well, just more subtly.

I contacted Ray McMillan—one of the missionaries who joined Bailey in 1963—to understand how the KJV came to be normative in many of the English-speaking Churches of Christ in India.48 Ray outlined a complex story that illustrates the fact that while the KJV and ASV were both accepted, it was the RSV, published around 1950, that was considered by some to be pernicious. Both J. C. Bailey and Ray McMillan arrived to India with the 1901 American Standard Version. However, the third missionary in their group, a former sailor and recent convert named David Hallett, was a KJV-only man.49

Ray McMillan was only 21 years old when he began working with J. C. Bailey in 1963. In his ministry, he soon began to realize that the 1901 ASV—like the KJV—was difficult for English-speaking Indians to understand. So shortly before leaving on his first furlough to America, Ray put the controversial—but far more readable—RSV (Revised Standard Version) into the church pews, unaware of the sensitivity of the matter. His colleague, David Hallett, found out about this and took action. When Ray returned to India, he discovered that the RSVs were gone and KJV Bibles had been installed in the pews. He did not cause a fuss about it since he was quite a bit younger than Hallett.50

The residual effect is that some English-speaking Church of Christ groups in India still insist on using the KJV. What translation is used generally has to do with the missionary held in the highest regard. For example, in northeast India, the churches under the influence of Ray McMillan are actually using the New International Version now, probably due to his theological influence. After all, he has been involved in their work continuously since 1963. They trust the translation he uses. Other Church of Christ networks, like Arise Shine, have tried to remain loyal to J. C. Bailey and the earlier, more conservative missionaries. The English-speaking churches associated with David Hallett’s ministry—both in India and America—still use the KJV.51


A final issue that comes to the fore has to do with hybridity, or, the blended identity that many Indian Christians deal with today.52 Tamil fealty to the king’s English is part of a much broader phenomenon of living in India with a faith that is perceived as being Western. There is a considerable body of scholarship dealing with religious and cultural hybridity in the context of Indian Christianity.53 Historian Robert Frykenberg’s work is perhaps the most important. With an unparalleled breadth of understanding, including his own missionary upbringing in India, he speaks of the suffering that many Indians have endured because of this “dual identity.”54 This hybridity plays out in various ways. For instance, in the nineteenth century there was a “Hindu Christian” movement that became a precursor to Indian independence movements.55 Describing themselves as “ ‘Hindu’ in culture, Christian in faith,” they upheld Hindu traditions that were objectionable to Europeans.56 For example, some Hindu Christians directly opposed missionary efforts to dispose of caste-ism in the church. He writes, “Among converts to Christianity . . . what was notable was the tenacity with which they preserved traditional culture and avoided, or even spurned, ways of the West.” Another example was the famous Indian Christian convert Sadhu Sundar Singh who declared “Indians need the Water of Life, but not the European cup.”57

In spite of indigenization movements, there were—and are—problems stemming from the hybrid identity of being an Indian and a Christian, especially when caste is involved.58 A change in religion does not translate to a change in caste. Buddhism, Janism, Sikhism, and Christianity have all—at one point or another—served as vehicles of hope for low-caste people trying to escape the albatross of social stigmatization. And in more cases than not, those attempts have failed. In most cases, caste is more fundamental to Indian identity than is religion. It is much easier for one to change his or her religion than it is to change caste.

In the Indian Churches of Christ, there is definitely a sense of having a foot in two worlds, of living a hybrid existence. Their religion came from North America. However, the majority of them know little of North America outside of media influences, stories, and the occasional missionary visit. For most of the Church of Christ members however, particularly in the village, North America is that Christian land from whence their heroes in the faith came.

Living as a Church of Christ Christian in a sea of non-Church of Christ people requires a certain duality that allows the Christian to function as a member of Indian society without compromising the Christian ideals that have become sacred to the community. There are many tensions in living this way, however. Church of Christ identity in modern India is a rather insular affiliation, perhaps best exemplified in an old, self-deprecating Church of Christ joke: A man dies and goes to heaven. The apostle Peter welcomes him and gives him a tour of heaven. As they walk they notice Christians of all stripes—Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics. But then the man asks Peter, “Who are those people in that room by themselves?” Peter responds, “Shhhh . . . those are members of the Church of Christ; they think they’re the only ones here.”59 Here again we encounter another one of those issues that was central a few generations ago in the Church of Christ, but today is considered rather backward and outdated. Today, very few American Church of Christ members under the age of 40 argue theirs is the only group with a heavenly passport. But in India, this teaching is still common, even assumed. I know from personal experience because I questioned it once . . . and should not have.


To return to Andrew Walls, and his experiences in Sierra Leone, he described the amazing situation he was observing as “a symbiosis, very carefully fused.” He recognized the indigenous forms of faith as being Christian, of course, but with a profoundly African bent. He discusses how when he first arrived to Africa, he was depressed by what he saw.60 Christianity there was uncontrolled, unrestrained, and in many ways foreign to his conservatively tamed Methodist background. However, after ruminating on the implications of a truly African revival taking place, Walls experienced a “very definite movement from depression to hope.”61 During Walls’s ministry in Sierra Leone, the days of European control over African politics were grinding to a halt—Sierra Leone itself gained independence from Britain in 1961. The Christian faith that the missionaries had brought, however, would remain. It was almost as if Britain handed the baton of faith to Africa. Britain is largely secular now while Africa is home to 500 million Christians and growing. Christianity is now the largest religion on the continent of Africa—a statistic unimaginable a century ago.

The Church of Christ in India, however, has not turned into the fused symbiosis that Walls witnessed in Africa. Rather, the time capsule would be a more fitting analogy. And major challenges loom because of this theological and cultural stagnation. Members remain deeply loyal to the form of Christianity brought to them decades earlier by stalwart missionaries. This hybrid identity is fraught with ambivalence, resulting in a form of social dislocation. Members become increasingly isolated—they appear insular and sectarian in their own culture, yet remain somehow different and distant from the Churches of Christ in the West. To borrow a concept from prominent sociologist Peter Berger, these Christians become “homeless minds”—unable to call either culture home, yet marginally affiliated with both.

It appears to me that the Indian Churches of Christ with which I am associated have made a decision. They have chosen the faith of the zealous evangelists who first came to them half a century ago. And it appears that faithfulness to the traditions of those missionaries has become necessary for ecclesial survival. Challenging the faith of the missionaries could prove disruptive on a number of levels. For instance, it could destabilize conviction in a setting where religious commitments must be sheltered from the religious cacophony in the surrounding culture. The case of the KJV illustrates why loyalty to the old paths must be maintained. If confidence in the Bible can be eroded, then the solid faith that was built on a “back to the Bible” worldview could become crippled. Moreover, if one aspect of the missionaries can be critiqued, then where does the scrutinizing end? Thus, it has become taboo to question the founding fathers.

So far, the Arise Shine Church of Christ members have made the collective decision to resist the larger culture and live a rather insular existence. Forsaking all others they hold on tightly to their image of J. C. Bailey. Conversion has always come with benefits as well as challenges. The risks of being persecuted, marginalized, or cast out must be weighed against spiritual liberation, social mobility, or other opportunities that might otherwise not exist. The benefits can be palpable, but there is a gamble. Indians are faced with a balancing act between how to be Church of Christ without abandoning their Indian identity. The stakes are high, the situation complex.

I conclude with a story relayed to me by Ray McMillan, one of the two missionaries who went to India with Bailey’s family. Ray told me that on his first Sunday in India, J. C. Bailey took him to a community near Shillong, Meghalaya, to preach publicly using a microphone and a portable amplifier. Bailey preached about the evils of instruments in the church. He scorned the concept of missionary societies, arguing they were unbiblical. He took issue with church names, arguing that “Church of Christ” was the only acceptable name for a church. He unpacked the subtleties of why the Church of Christ is distinct from the independent Christian Church.62 Ray thought the sermon to be awkward and irrelevant to these people who had no knowledge of these esoteric debates that went on in the North American context.

The two missionaries split shortly after that, due mainly to Bailey’s move to south India. Nevertheless, Bailey remained convinced that Ray was far too liberal to work as a missionary in the foreign field. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote that Ray McMillan had proven himself to be “unfaithful” to the gospel.63 Fifty years later, however, Ray continues his missionary work in India. When Ray told me that story, he tried to chuckle and gloss it over. I sensed, however, that those words still hurt him deep down.

Dyron Daughrity is Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. He is the author of numerous academic publications, including his most recent book Church History: Five Approaches to a Global Discipline (New York: Peter Lang, 2012). He can be reached at:


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Olbricht, Thomas H. “Churches of Christ.” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, Paul Blowers, Anthony Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, 212–20. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

________. “Who Are the Churches of Christ?”

Phillips, Bill L.“India as a Prospective Mission Field.” In The Harvest Field, edited by Howard Schug and Jesse Sewell, 286–98. Athens, AL: Bible School Bookstore, 1947.

Raj, Selva, and Corinne Dempsey, eds. Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines. SUNY Series in Hindu Studies. New York: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Robert, Dana L. “Cross-Cultural Friendship in the Creation of Twentieth-Century World Christianity.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, no. 2 (April 2011): 100–107,

Robinson, Rowena, and Joseph Marianus Kujur, eds. Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2010.

Ross, Bobby Jr. “Church in America Marked by Decline.” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 2 (February 2009):

________. “Little Church on the Prairie: God’s Work in Gravelbourg.” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 8 (August 2009): 19–21.

________. “Thou Shalt Read . . . NIV?” The Christian Chronicle 68, no. 4 (April 2011): 3, 15,

Royster, Carl H. Churches of Christ in the United States: Inclusive of Her Commonwealth and Territories. Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2009.

Stafford, Tim. “Historian Ahead of His Time.” Christianity Today (February 2007):

Stanley, Brian. The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Thuesen, Peter Johannes. In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible. Religion in America series. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Triggestad, Erik. “How Many Church Members in India? Counting isn’t easy.” The Christian Chronicle (February 2003):’t_easy.

Trotter, B. “J. C. Bailey.” In Pressing toward the Mark: An Autobiography. Vol. 2, Going to Preach the Gospel to Every Creature, Among All Nations, in All the World, 371–79. Memphis, TN: privately printed, 1998.

Waldron Missions. Bulletin Briefs.

Wallace, Foy E. A Review of the New Versions. Fort Worth: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973.

Walls, Andrew. “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24, no. 3 (July 2000): 105–8.

Weir, Marvin L. “Max Lucado’s Storytelling.” Marvin L. Weir Articles 2001, Articles,

World Convention. “Profile Table.” Resources.

Young, Richard Fox. “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Geneaology, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works.” In India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, edited by Richard Fox Young, 1–25. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

1 This article began as a paper presentation for Baylor University’s 2011 conference “The King James Bible and the World it Made, 1611–2011.” A second, expanded draft of the paper was presented at Pepperdine University’s National Endowment of the Humanities-funded conference “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible” in September 2012.

2 Tim Stafford, “Historian Ahead of His Time,” Christianity Today (February 2007): See also William Burrows, Mark Gornik, and Janice McLean, eds., Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011).

3 Stafford, 2.

4 Andrew Walls, “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24, no. 3 (July 2000): 107.

5 See Thomas H. Olbricht, “Churches of Christ,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 212.

6 For these statistics see Lyndsay Jacobs, “The Stone-Campbell Movement—A Global View,” Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry 17, no. 3 (Third Quarter 2009): 141,

7 It is generally held in the Restoration churches that the 1906 census is when the split into two movements occurred: the conservative Church of Christ and the more liberal Disciples of Christ. In 1968 the Disciples of Christ formally split into two movements: the conservative Independent Christian Churches and the more liberal Disciples of Christ. The 1968 split, however, was the result of a long process that began in the 1920s.

8 For Church of Christ statistics, see Bobby Ross, Jr., “Church in America Marked by Decline,” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 2 (February 2009): See also Olbricht, “Who Are the Churches of Christ?,” See the country profiles at World Convention, located at A good source for Church of Christ statistics in the United States is Carl H. Royster, Churches of Christ in the United States: Inclusive of Her Commonwealth and Territories (Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2009). For global statistics, see Mac Lynn, Churches of Christ around the World: Exclusive of the United States and Her Territories (Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2009).

9 See Jack P. Lewis, “Bible, Versions and Translations of the,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 87–88.

10 Lewis, “Bible,” 88.

11 Ibid., 88. Lewis mentions many biblical scholars from the Restoration tradition that were active in Bible translation. From the nineteenth century: H. T. Anderson, Benjamin Wilson, J. B. Rotherham, Cortes Jackson, and B. W. Johnson. From the twentieth century: D. Austen Sommer, E. E. Stringfellow, R. C. Foster, W. W. Otey, S. A. Weston, Stephen England, W. C. Morro, H. B. Robison, Lewis Foster, Batsell Barrett Baxter, Robert Hendren, J. J. M. Roberts, Chester Estes, Stanley Morris, Hugo McCord, George Estes, Harold Littrell, and W. E. Paul.

12 See Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991). See especially chapter three, “Doctrinal Problems in the King James Version,” and chapter four, “The American Standard Version.” For a discussion of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available to the KJV translators, see pp. 41ff.

13 Lewis, “Bible,” 88.

14 The RSV New Testament was published in 1946, the RSV Old Testament in 1952, and the RSV Apocrypha in 1956. It is important to note that the 1901 American Standard Version, produced in conjunction with the British “Revised Version” (also known as the English Revised Version [ERV], published 1881–1885), was heralded by many Restoration leaders. However, the ASV did not cause the level of controversy that the RSV did since its producers managed to weave it into the larger KJV tradition as an official, authorized revision of the KJV. There were detractors from the ERV and ASV but in the Restoration tradition there was actually a good number of preachers and Bible college professors who preferred them. In fact, the ASV and KJV were often used interchangeably in the Churches of Christ in the twentieth century. The 1946 RSV New Testament, however, caused major problems. Lewis, The English Bible, 109, writes, “The appearance of the RSV was for many people the first major challenge to the KJV/ASV domination of the English Bible field.” The reason for the KJV’s continued dominance was largely because the stilted English of the ASV was widely critiqued as being far less fluid than the eloquence of the KJV. Charles Haddon Spurgeon famously critiqued the English Revised Version as “strong in Greek, but weak in English.” Lewis, The English Bible, 76. This long debate was not at all unique to the Churches of Christ. See Peter Johannes Thuesen, In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible, Religion in America series (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

15 See Terry J. Gardner, “Wallace, Foy Esco,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 767–68. See also Foy E. Wallace, A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973).

16 Olbricht refers to the “radical exclusivism” in the movement: “Thought shapers in Churches of Christ did not, however, follow Stone, Campbell, and [Walter] Scott in seeking unity with other groups and in opening toward denominational cooperation or some semblance of inclusivism.” Olbricht, “Churches of Christ,” 214.

17 See Bill L. Phillips, “India as a Prospective Mission Field,” in The Harvest Field, ed. Howard Schug and Jesse Sewell (Athens, AL: Bible School Bookstore, 1947), 289–90. The year 1947 is significant as it is the year India obtained its independence from Britain.

18 Ibid., 294.

19 Ibid., 291–92.

20 Ibid., 290.

21 Roy’s short autobiography and his historical account of the mission is available on the web at I have known Roy since 2003 and much of my information is based on personal interaction with him.

22 See Daniel passed away in May 2011. Roy Knight, e-mail message to author, September 1, 2011.

23 See The work of J. C. Bailey is discussed later in the article.

24 In February 2003, the Christian Chronicle ran a story based partially on some of my experiences with the Arise Shine mission. On this occasion, 19 people packed into an SUV to conduct several baptisms in the countryside. See Erik Triggestad, “How many church members in India? Counting isn’t easy,” The Christian Chronicle (February 2003):’t_easy.

25 Roy is proficient in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, and English.

26 See Bobby Ross, Jr., “Thou shalt read . . . NIV?” The Christian Chronicle 68, no. 4 (April 2011): 3, 15, The Christian Chronicle is the flagship newspaper for the Church of Christ. In celebration of the 400 year anniversary of the KJV they conducted a survey of 1,100 randomly selected Church of Christ members. The KJV, which was dominant throughout Church of Christ history until the mid-twentieth century, has now slipped to fifth place behind the NIV (42%), NASV (17%), NKJV (10%), and ESV (10%). Only 6% of Church of Christ members now claim the KJV as their preferred version. The article states, however, that “Most black congregations still prefer the KJV.”

27 It should be pointed out that in Tamil Nadu there is widespread resistance to Hindi. Tamils often claim their language is Dravidian and has little connection to Hindi. Thus, the enforcement of the Hindi language is widely seen as a superimposition. As a result, English is often the second language of choice in that particular state. See the work of Eugene Irschick, especially Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism 1916–1929 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

28 Bailey’s life is chronicled in his two autobiographies: Forty Years a Canadian Preacher, 1921–61 (Abilene, TX: Mathews Printing, 1961); and My Appointment with Destiny (Fort Worth, TX: Star, 1975). The second one deals with Bailey’s mission work in India. Another source for Bailey’s life is a chapter entitled “J. C. Bailey” by J. B. Trotter in volume two of Ira Rice’s autobiography Pressing toward the Mark: An Autobiography (Memphis, TN: privately printed, 1998), 371–79.

29 The biographical information of J. C. Bailey comes from two sources: his obituary in “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle (July 2001):; and The Gospel Herald 66, no. 8 (August 2001). The Gospel Herald is a Canadian Church of Christ publication. The entire August 2001 issue is devoted to J. C. Bailey.

30 The thesis is by Shelley Jacobs, who plans to publish the thesis eventually. Shelley Jacobs, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. See also Bobby Ross, Jr., “Little Church on the Prairie: God’s work in Gravelbourg,” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 8 (August 2009): 19–21,

31 “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle.

32 Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 27. See also David Hallett, The Serpentine Road (independently published by David William Hallett in Canada and by Jim E. Waldron in the United States, 2008), 14. For the “riper field” quotation see J. C. Bailey, “Evangelism in India: After 25 Years, What Then?,” The Old Paths Archive, For the precise chronology of Bailey’s ministry in India, I corresponded with Ray McMillan by phone and email. Ray McMillan is a Church of Christ missionary who currently lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, but he travels to India twice per year for extended mission trips. Ray was one of two missionaries who brought J. C. Bailey’s wife, three adopted children, and cargo to India in 1963, three months after Bailey had arrived. J. C. flew from Canada to India. However, Ray flew from Winnipeg to London and met fellow missionary David Hallett and J. C. Bailey’s family there (they had traveled by ship from Montreal to London). McMillan, Hallett, and J. C. ’s family then traveled by ship from London to Bombay via the Suez Canal. McMillan is still very connected to the churches established by Bailey and is one of the few people living who are acquainted with Bailey’s early years in India.

33 Hallett, 14–15.

34 Lynn, 106.

35 For this statistic, see Roy Davison, “Biographical Information: John Carlos Bailey,” The Old Paths Archive, See also Lynn, 107. Lynn discusses the pre-Bailey Church of Christ group in northeast India. A Presbyterian minister in Mawlai (near Shillong in the Indian state of Meghalaya) discovered a church bulletin from the Hillcrest Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, and wrote to the church. The Abilene church sent a missionary who was in Japan at the time, E. W. McMillan (no relation to Ray McMillan). Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011. The Independent Christian Church (instrumental) learned about these events and did follow up work and had some success. Bailey would later rail against the Christian Church and their use of instruments. The Church of Christ–Christian Church rivalry in India was discussed earlier in the article when Bill Phillips in The Harvest Field argued that the best approach to missions in India was to “invade” the Christian Churches and convert them to the Church of Christ.

36 Telephone interview with Ray McMillan, March 25, 2011.

37 “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle. The estimate comes from Bailey’s co-worker Charles F. Scott.

38 Joshua Gootam, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. Gootam claims to be Bailey’s first convert in Andhra Pradesh and several other sources either confirm or allude to that claim. J. C. Bailey’s son John has been a very helpful resource in my research. John Bailey, e-mail message to author, March 22, 2011: “Joshua Gootam was the first convert my dad made in South India. He has been a radio preacher for over 30 years and has more knowledge of my dad’s work in India than anyone living.”

39 Dana L. Robert, “Cross-Cultural Friendship in the Creation of Twentieth-Century World Christianity,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, no. 2 (April 2011): 100, See also Susan Billington Harper, In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). Azariah was consecrated as India’s first Anglican bishop. He began his bishopric in 1912 in the diocese of Dornakal. He considered himself part of “a new generation of Christians who do not wish to be treated like children.” He saw “interracial cooperation in the cause of Christ” as the only solution to the problem of systemic paternalism. Harper, 148.

40 Robert, 103, 106–7.

41 Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 130. These quotations occur within Stanley’s analysis of Bishop Azariah’s critiques of Western missions.

42 Michael Hollis, Paternalism and the Church: A Study of South Indian Church History (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).

43 Ibid., ix.

44 Ibid., 15, 36.

45 Ibid., 36.

46 Roy Knight, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

47 J. C. Bailey’s son John, as well as his co-missionary in 1963 Ray McMillan, confirmed that J. C. actually preferred the ASV to the KJV. John wrote, “My dad was a critic of the KJV-only faction. He thought the 16th century Elizabethan English led to misunderstandings of several things. He was a believer in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the KJV translation of “Ghost” was a hindrance to people understanding this. He was not a fan of Foy E. Wallace. Another key “mistranslation” was translating agape as “charity.” He especially thought 1 Cor 13 was flawed in the KJV. He also disliked the word Easter being used for resurrection. My Dad was part of the fan club that believed the ASV was the most literal translation.” John Bailey, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. However, in perusing Bailey’s Old Paths journal articles throughout the 1980s and 1990s it is clear that J. C. Bailey used the KJV and ASV interchangeably. In fact, in some of his Old Paths articles he used the KJV exclusively. See for example the 1990 article “The War is On,” where he uses the KJV only: The Indian Church of Christ members are still convinced that J. C. Bailey was a KJV-only man. But in fact, it was David Hallett who was the KJV-only man in the group. This illustrates the fact the real problem was not whether to use the KJV or ASV; the danger was using anything other than these two, particularly the controversial RSV.

48 Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

49 Hallett converted to the Church of Christ while in the Canadian Navy. See Hallett, 1–6. See also Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 20. David Hallett lived from 1935 to 2011. In 2012, Hallett’s personal letters and reports were donated to the Harding School of Theology library. See his obituary: “In Memory of David William Hallett: October 11, 1935–December 16, 2011,” Dignity Memorial,

50 Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

51 Ray McMillan communicated to me that a missionary named Jim Waldron is now in Shillong, Meghalaya, supervising the churches formerly associated with David Hallett. Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, April 1, 2011. On Jim Waldron’s website, the KJV and occasionally the NKJV are used. See Waldron’s “Bulletin Briefs” at

52 Hybridity has been defined as “The constant and organic fusion, intermixture, and translation of cultural practices.” John Hinnells, ed., The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2010), 586.

53 See Corinne Dempsey, Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Chad Bauman, Christian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868–1947, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008); Selva Raj and Corinne Dempsey, eds., Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines, SUNY Series in Hindu Studies (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002); Rowena Robinson and Joseph Marianus Kujur, eds., Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2010); and Eliza Kent, Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

54 Robert Eric Frykenberg, “Christian Missions and the Raj,” in Missions and Empire, ed. Norman Etherington, Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 128. Frykenberg’s own hybrid identity and hybrid style are discussed in Richard Fox Young, “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Geneaology, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works,” in India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, ed. Richard Fox Young, 1–25, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).

55 Frykenberg, 115, provides the notable example of Bishop V. S. Azariah as “a nationalist eager for the end of empire.”

56 Ibid., 122.

57 Ibid., 128. He cites Pandita Ramabi’s insistence that she was a “Hindu Christian.”

58 Ibid., 128, writes, “All Indian Christians knew that their religious identity could never supersede other identities that were grounded in history and culture.”

59 This joke is widely available on the web and perhaps oddly the Church of Christ community is well aware of it. Some of the websites perpetuating the joke actually defend the notion that the a capella movement does indeed have a monopoly on salvation. See, for example, one website’s attempt to vilify Max Lucado—a famous Church of Christ writer—for actually making light of the joke. See The article, entitled “Max Lucado’s Storytelling,” emphasizes in disgust that Lucado “believes that there really are Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics in those other rooms.” It should be pointed out that this joke has been applied to many religious groups with exclusivist understandings of salvation.

60 Stafford, 2.

61 Ibid.

62 For the Church of Christ–Christian Church tensions in India see Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 21, 25, 29, 31.

63 Ibid., 23.

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Vulnerable Mission: Questions from a Latin American Context

Vulnerable Mission, as the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission articulates it, comprises important missiological concepts. These concepts are not new to missiology, though they have often been under-practiced. Vulnerable Mission is thus a welcome call to more conscientious and thorough application of sound missiological principles. Yet, at least in the Latin American context, some questions remain as to the universality and absoluteness with which missionaries should apply Vulnerable Mission methods.

Clarifying the Contrast Between Vulnerable Mission and Mainstream Missiology

The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) is promoting a conversation that Christian missionaries can ill afford to ignore. I am grateful that Abilene Christian University, through the initiative of Dr. Chris Flanders, has brought the conversation into the realm of missiological reflection among Churches of Christ. I wish to respond to the proposals of Vulnerable Mission (VM) from my particular location.1 The reader might triangulate my location with a few key coordinates: I write as an Anglo-American, trained missiologically in an a cappella Church of Christ university, serving as a missionary in urban Peru. From this vantage point, the basic impulse of VM looks beneficial. The AVM homepage states:

“Vulnerable mission” may be seen as part of the movement toward contextualization of the Gospel of Jesus, which we regard as the theory of many and the practice of few. We would like to see more people take the risks of contextualization and vulnerability in order to reap the rewards that only come to those who value local resources and invest in local languages.2

The notion that there is a disconnect between mission theory and practice is plainly true. The bifurcation exists on a variety of levels: academy versus ministry, missiology versus missions, ideals versus realities, goals versus potentialities, and the list goes on. The fundamental issue is how to overcome the divide, and VM is attempting to provide a solution: “VM does not propose different goals than mainstream mission and missiology. We are arguing that the mainstream methods of reaching those goals are not achieving them very well.”3 To be clear, though, the problem is not that mainstream missiology (just “missiology” hereafter) has failed to provide methodological direction.4 While there are still cross-cultural workers who are not cognizant of missiology, I believe this conversation, directed at an audience that attends missiological conferences and reads missiological journals, must really be about the best practices that many missionaries know about but find difficult to implement.

“Contextualization and sustainability are widely preached; imperialism and dependence are widely practiced,” states Stan Nussbaum with salutary directness.5 The criterion by which we can evaluate VM, then, is its effectiveness in bringing about contextualization and sustainability where missiology has failed. VM’s intention, in other words, is to provide a practical handle for actually propagating the “three selves” that have been missiology’s Sisyphean task for over a century. In Nussbaum’s taxonomy, that practical handle consists of three methods: local language, local resources, and local thinking style.6

Nussbaum grants that there are “major improvements to the ethnocentric model” found in “partnership methods.”7 He lumps “most advocates of partnership,” represented especially by Mary Lederleitner at the ACU conference, with “missiologists.” Lederleitner’s book Cross-Cultural Partnerships is a popular-level example of the way missiology brings anthropological study to bear on cross-cultural interactions.8 Thus, it is not fair to missiology that Nussbaum represents the alternatives to VM as either (1) the “ethnocentric model” or (2) a partnership model that would use English as much as local languages and would opt for a simplified message instead of considering local modes of thought:9

Goal VM methods Partnership methods
Contextualized Local language English or local
Sustainable Local resources Prime the pump, or top up local resources
Missional Local thinking style Simplify the message

If the contribution of VM hinges on its ability to achieve what missiology has not, it is absolutely necessary first to grant missiology its full qualifications, in order to see what VM’s practical difference really is. And historically, missiology has taken local languages, resources, and thinking styles as the key to the self-realization, if I may use that term, of the indigenous church.

To tease out what is really at stake, we must think about the nature of the goals that missiology and VM admittedly share. Self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation cannot mean partial self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation. “Self” does not mean some outside resources or some foreign modes of thought and speech. Rather, whereas VM is apparently advocating the method of permitting no foreign resources, languages, or thinking styles from the beginning of a missionary endeavor, missiology has historically made allowance for getting to the self-realization of the indigenous church by degrees. And it is only fair to note that by degrees is, from a missiological standpoint (rather than a blindly imperialist one), a deliberated compromise rather than a justification for easy, self-serving methods.

Furthermore, the introduction of no foreign resources, languages, and thinking styles, to the degree possible in a cross-cultural relationship, is a logical corollary of the goal. If the end is self-support, for example, the most direct means is quite obviously not to introduce foreign support. To take a well-known representative with a Latin American outlook, in 1953 Melvin Hodges was able to quote a missionary in Colombia as saying:

No money for [national] preachers and [national] churches is not a handicap nor hindrance; it is a challenge to missionary ability and a policy that, if adopted generally and more rigidly, would save many a heartache and produce a stronger, more humble church in the foreign field.10

Advocacy of “no money” as the means to self-support is not novel; VM is not proposing new methodology but rather agreeing with extant missiological wisdom by which Hodges felt sixty years ago missionaries should “generally and more rigidly” abide. While the difference between Hodges and VM on this point seems to be that Hodges was willing to say, “The right use of money has its place in missions,” we still have to acknowledge that Hodges was advocating throughout his book—as a methodological outworking of Roland Allen’s proposals—the introduction of no foreign funding.11

Moreover, the infamous “moratorium on missions” last century was “not because of liberal theology or anti-Western bias, and it was not intended to signal the end of missions” but was an attempt to foster “an alternative to remaining dependent on foreign funding and personnel.”12 We might understand so drastic an approach as the recognition that there is no way to use only local language, resources, and thinking styles as long as foreign missionaries are present. The only way to avoid compromise on some level is to dissolve the cross-cultural relationship altogether.

Because missiology assumes the necessity—and the benefit—of the cross-cultural relationship, it is dedicated to mitigating cross-cultural challenges and increasing the missionary’s capacity for contextual discernment. One can imagine easily that, given this purpose, missiology would advocate the use of local languages. If mission history is rife with examples of missionaries using colonial languages or depending upon translators, we need not confuse that fact with missiology’s own perspective. The goal is the self-realization of the indigenous church, and one method for everyone concerned is the use of local languages. David Hesselgrave states in his influential volume Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally:

Almost without exception, missionaries will be well advised to learn the language of their respondent culture. . . .

If one wants to communicate Christ to a people, he must know them. The key to that knowledge always has been, and always will be, language.13

Or consider the position of linguist and missiological luminary Eugene Nida:

As regards a very high percentage of the social and religious culture language is an indispensable instrument for transmitting not only the outward forms but the inner content and subjective evaluation. Perhaps the best evidence of the essential function of language as a transmitting mechanism is seen in the almost total failure of meaningful cultural contact when effective communication is lacking. . . . If a culture cannot and does not transmit its own concepts except by language, how can missionaries expect to inculcate wholly foreign concepts without using the only language which the people really understand?14

What is even more noteworthy, though, is the quantity of Nida’s work that simply takes for granted the missionary’s use of local languages.15 Local language is missiology’s presumed method for even the initial communication of the gospel. How much more so for the self-realization of the indigenous church? On this point too it seems as though VM is not proposing a new method but rather suggesting that missionaries actually employ the method missiology knows to be so indispensable.

That brings us to the final VM method, local thinking style. It is especially important for this paper because it is Nussbaum’s addition to the VM agenda.16 He states, “A paradigm is a tool that an analytical thinker uses to compare two or more systems. Non-analytical (oral) thinkers do not use that tool because they never undertake that task. They simply do not look at their worlds that way.”17 He explains further, quoting John Walsh:

“When people routinely assume that the opposite of orality is literacy, they are making only a superficial contrast. The real contrast is not oral vs. literate. It is oral vs. analytical.” In other words, an oral style is a story or narrative or holistic style of thinking as opposed to a conceptual style that breaks everything down into pieces and then connects the pieces. Oral thinkers apprehend whole ideas; analytical thinkers comprehend them one piece at a time.18

Orality is therefore a way of looking at the world that is non-analytical and holistic. As Nussbaum mentions in a footnote, accounting for this sort of local thinking style is not methodologically novel. First, authors such as Duane Elmer and Sherwood Lingenfelter have dealt with “holistic thinking” in popular missiological publications—and they have done so by placing holistic thinking in relation to a much larger complex of cultural variables that more amply characterize “local thinking” in its sundry configurations.19 Second, as Nussbaum hinted, the bigger issue is the way local people “look at their world”—their worldview. It is an immense understatement to say that missiology has been concerned with worldview. One prominent representative is sufficient for our purposes here. Paul Hiebert’s Transforming Worldviews is a thoroughgoing overview of worldview theory, including sections on various kinds of logic and narrative epistemology and a whole chapter on “Worldviews of Small-Scale Oral Societies.” He also presents a chapter on “Methods for Analyzing Worldviews”—which moves well beyond the suggestion that we should use local thinking to methods for doing so, including the analysis of wisdom literature (including proverbs) and aesthetic culture (including music and festivals).20 These are not best characterized as “quirky interests of a tiny minority.”21 There is undoubtedly only a small portion of the missionary force that undertakes rigorous worldview analysis, but in the context of a discussion about what methods missiology offers for achieving its goals, that is hardly the issue. These are mainstream methods. They are well-developed, widely published, and accessible.

If these methods have been at missionaries’ disposal for so long, why then have they continued to use foreign languages, resources, and thinking styles? The answer, I believe, is that the complexities and difficulties of cross-cultural cooperation require mutual discernment and, often, ad hoc decisions. This reality is hardly an excuse for the many poor decisions that have led to dependency and paternalism. At the same time, doubling down on the counsel to use exclusively local methods is not a practical solution to the complexity of cross-cultural relationships that has prevented missionaries from doing so long since. Thus, in my own historical and cultural location I am left with a number of questions that challenge VM.

Problematizing Vulnerable Mission

What About Urbanization?

VM gives the impression that it has rural contexts in view. The idea of local language quickly becomes problematic in areas where urban migration is a factor. The urbanization of Latin America is a well-known phenomenon. I live in Arequipa, Peru, a city of about a million inhabitants. In Arequipa, there is a confluence of Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara—the three official languages of Peru. Spanish, of course, is the dominant language; that of the conquerors and colonizers. But it is, as a matter of historical reality, the first language of most urban inhabitants. It is the language of the school system, business, government, and the transcontinental social construct called “Latin America.” In Arequipa, Spanish is colonial and local.

The indigenous persons who migrate to Arequipa do so for a variety of reasons. In general throughout Latin America, “industrialization and the introduction of capitalist modes of production in rural areas from the 1930s onwards triggered a process of concentrated urbanization that seventy years later had led to a majority of the societies in the region crossing the urban threshold.”22 Although rural to urban migration had tapered off in many countries by the 1990s,23 in Peru no few fled the countryside in the wake of Maoist group Sendero Luminoso (the Shining Path) during the 1980s and 90s. Droughts during the same time period also precipitated urban migrations. Currently, urban migration tends to be a matter no longer of industrialization per se but of its cousin modernization, driven primarily by the same economic impulses that marked earlier patterns of urbanization. Yet, it is not truly representative to characterize urban migrants’ motives as purely economic. In a study by the Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group, researchers developed a culturally specific model of wellbeing that identified the most important and most frustrated life aspirations of Peruvians. Regarding analyses specific to migrants, James Copestake summarizes the study’s findings:

Overall, what emerges from both the quantitative and qualitative evidence is the complexity of the personal wellbeing trade-offs entailed in migration. For many, the main cost of searching for a more secure livelihood was not delaying starting a family but being forced to live in a more insecure and uncertain environment. Migration behaviour is also revealed to be more than a movement of individual workers driven by real wage differentials or even the outcome of diversified household livelihood strategies: it is also part of a life-cycle process of seeking independence from and often then negotiating interdependence with relatives, particularly parents. An understanding of the relational dimensions of migration should not be regarded as a useful supplement to a separate understanding of more important material dimensions. Rather, material, relational and indeed emotional effects of migration are profoundly interrelated.24

One area of the wellbeing paradigm, called improvement from a secure base (ISB), was of special importance: “In-depth interviews revealed there to be a strong positive ISB motivation for migration to urban areas, particularly Lima: this being associated with terms like ‘betterment’, ‘superación’, ‘improving life conditions’, ‘securing the future’ and ‘upward social mobility.’ ”25 In fact, three ISB goals were statistically the standouts for disparity between aspiration and achievement: “Perhaps the most distinctively ‘Peruvian’ aspect of [the results] is the low satisfaction with achievement of highly ranked status goals for education, salaried employment and professional status.”26

Copestake notes, “The ISB goal can be viewed as corresponding closely with the Western idea of development, and suggests a desire to be part of a modernization process, subject to not taking excessive risks.”27 Certainly, there are among Arequipa’s urban migrants those less voluntary participants in the city’s modernized social arrangement—refugees from natural disaster or insurgent violence. But we can safely postulate that the vast majority of first generation rural to urban migrants, whose primary language is Quechua or Aymara, desire to be in the city precisely in order to participate in the opportunities modernization affords, to which the dominant Spanish-language criollo culture plays host.28 They endeavor, often at great risk, to enroll their children in a Spanish-only school system, to participate in the local urban economy, and to attain status as defined by urban Peruvian culture.

Especially regarding the Spanish-only school system we may recognize dynamics at work that are important to VM.

Whereas, in the past, formal education was exclusively Spanish in medium of instruction and urban and Western in content, the last quarter of the 20th century brought a shift in both policy and practice toward greater inclusion of indigenous language and content, usually under the label of bilingual intercultural education.29

Peru, in other words, made a legal requirement the use of both the local language and Spanish in the classrooms of indigenous communities. As the quotation intimates, the use of local language is necessarily a change not only of medium but also of content. And while the simultaneous use of Spanish might mean that “interculturality” is “simply a new guise for the ‘same old’ enlightened assimilationism that yet maintains the hegemony of Spanish as the language of writing, of formal communication, and of power,” it is also possible that the recourse to local language affords “a genuinely new intercultural ideology that seeks to incorporate indigenous languages, cultures, and ways of knowing into a new national identity.”30 Here we have, for the indigenous peoples themselves, the opportunity to choose, at least to some degree, their local language and local thinking style. In the urban context, we must therefore reckon with the decision of migrants to uproot their families partly in order to place their children in Spanish-only, urban, Western schooling. Second generation migrants usually speak their parents’ language poorly if at all and typically do not use it outside the family context. But why should they, when their parents have sacrificed so much to assimilate to the urban environment?

The question for the missionary in urban Peru, then, is what local language and thinking style to use. The difference between Spanish and Quechua, as well as the difference between indigenous and urban worldviews, is every bit as significant as VM asserts. Yet, is it the missionary’s place to overrule the indigenous migrant’s intention to live in the linguistic world of her second language? If she speaks Spanish but still “thinks” Quechua, need the missionary insist upon a Quechua approach—or is this even a realistic view of language? Nida notes the complexity of what he classifies as “a heterogeneous society with included face-to-face constituency”:

When a single over-all social structure involves not only a dominant group but an included face-to-face constituency, it is essential to recognize not only their differences of structure, but also their interrelations. One of the most serious mistakes in missionary work has been to imagine that Indians in the Americas, for example, should be reached as a separate constituency and developed as an isolated community, when all the time they are in highly dependent relation to the urban center.31

Nida points out that it is more common to err in the other direction, when the missionary “lumps them together without regard to their different structures.”32 So, even in this urban nexus VM provides a corrective when it provokes the sub-cultural sensitivity to which the melting pot can numb the missionary. But I emphasize Nida’s point about “interrelations” here because VM seems to disregard the complexity of the urban environment with its local-only formula:

In a heterogeneous society with an included folk culture there is always the acute problem of dealing with people in a state of transition. How are they to be ministered to—in terms of their rural circumstances, or in their city setting? In a sense, it all depends on where they are and how they view themselves.33

The point here is to juxtapose the urban Latin American scenario with Jim Harries’s rural African context, from which much of the VM perspective apparently arises:

Presumably the content of African languages arises from the content of African lives. Does learning of another language “magically” result in a change in way of life? Or is the widespread use of English making people dependent on what they do not understand because it is not a part of who they are? If we had examples of non-European languages ‘succeeding’ [as the medium of enlightened advanced education] then perhaps we could say that the choice of a European language for an African student is a free or arbitrary choice. As it is, if it is a choice at all, then it is a choice that largely precludes taking the African person’s own context seriously. This default option for African students handicaps them for the rest of their lives.

For example, consider the contrast between monism and dualism. English is “at home” in dualistic communities. When used by dualistic people, it can be extremely productive, because the way it is used fits the contours of life of the people concerned. But if used by a monistic people, it loses its moorings. Its implicit categories are no longer the right ones. It serves a monistic people very poorly. This is the case unless they adapt English so as to use it in their way. Such “adaptation” of English defeats the original intention—that English be a means of easing communication with the wealthy and powerful international community and a means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.34

The parallel is strong. Spanish is the colonial language and the “means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.” But the practical issue is Harries’s theory of language, which the Peruvian urban migrant’s intentions challenge. The logic of Harries’s argument is that the context (“the content of African lives”) is what determines their language. This is unidirectional, though, because in his view their context actually determines their worldview (monism) first, and their language is merely the manifestation of their worldview. Language is a surface element, which means that learning a new language cannot result in a new worldview (dualism). The context is still determinative, therefore the new language will be employed (adapted) only in terms of the existing worldview.

To this view, the urban migrant essentially poses the question: What if I change contexts? Is it possible for the Quechua speaker to see the world differently enough that her use of Spanish does indeed cohere with the native Spanish speaker’s use? The missionary’s expectation that every person’s worldview can be transformed into that of Jesus and VM’s expectation that the missionary can effectively adopt local language and thinking styles both require an affirmative answer. The oral thinker can learn to think analytically—they “simply do not look at their worlds” analytically, but they can do so every bit as much as the missionary can learn to think orally in order to “use local thinking styles.”

It is clearly paternalistic to require non-Westerners to conform to a Western worldview, but it is equally paternalistic to deny non-Westerners the agency to use non-local languages, non-local thinking styles, and non-local resources should they so choose. It is paternalistic to opt against partnership because potential partners may find it “very difficult, if not impossible” to “understand that the resources provided by the Western mission body to support the spreading of the gospel are not the gospel.”35 The methodology of using only local language, thinking styles, and resources, rigidly applied in urban Latin America, stands to become one more way that Western missionaries say, “We know what’s best for you, whether you realize it or not.”

Another way of putting this is that my context reveals the peculiarity of VM’s stated aim, to seek “more perspectives on VM from Majority World people whose contact with the West has not persuaded them to approach mission like Westerners.”36 I must ask, instead, why not equally seek the perspectives of Majority World people whose intentional contact with the West defines their reality in terms of interculturality and hybridity? The mestizo voice should not be marginalized here as well.37 It calls out a challenge to the notion of local culture as static and closed. It asks missiology to consider new, dynamic configurations that are oral and analytical, narrative and propositional. It seeks dialogue, discernment, compromise, and provisional decisions appropriate to contexts that are in flux.

What About Theological Education?

With the mestizo voice in my ears, then, I want to discuss the question of what language and thinking style to use from within the concrete (though diverse) situation of theological education. There are three principal issues that shape the conversation: (1) the nature of theology, (2) the extant voice of Latin American theological scholarship, and (3) the inevitability of cross-cultural interactions in the globalized world.

The Nature of Theology

There is no doubt that the dominant current of theological reflection in Christian history is part and parcel of the various Western church traditions. The recent overhaul of church history mentioned by Dyron Daughrity in the present issue implies a recovery of previously subdued non-Western theologies as well. Backing away from this development for a wider perspective, Western theology has already been in a long process of self-criticism, intensified by postmodernism, in which the idiosyncrasies, foibles, and blatant deficiencies of Enlightenment streams of Christianity have been laid bare. To some degree, Christianity finds itself in a theological malaise induced by an uncertainty about what to do after the assertion that theology is culturally conditioned. The instruments of communication that might potentially span the gap are themselves subject to the deconstruction of Western imperialism: rational discourse that assumes a particular rationality; communication media embedded in globalization; the practical need for linguae francae that finds a path of least resistance in formerly colonial languages; the written word, which excludes a variety of oral and grassroots theologies—not to mention academic standards such as peer review that further delimit publication. Paralysis results in theological ghettoization.

Personally, I hail from a theological tradition that drank deeply from the Enlightenment well and developed a hermeneutic that programmatically denied the possibility of theological pluralism, cultural or otherwise. Thus, along with the rest of Western Christianity, sectors of the Churches of Christ have been in a period of profound introspection, after which we see clearly that our culturally conditioned ways of talking about God are not universal and definitive. For all that, I maintain a commitment to the primacy of Scripture that must, for the Churches of Christ, be the point of departure for a discussion about the nature of theology.

There is vast diversity among literate cultures; conflating literacy with Western thought will never do.38 Yet, the VM advocacy of only local thinking styles among oral cultures runs up against theological education that makes Scripture central. Nussbaum contends that the contrast between orality and literacy is superficial, but superficial or not, illiteracy is a component of orality. To concretize the issue, what should theological education look like for my illiterate or functionally illiterate Arequipeño brothers and sisters?

Scripture stands as a testimony to the people of God’s enduring, trans-cultural impulse to center theology upon the written word. We may make historical caveats about the illiteracy of the majority, the priority of narrative, and the variety of cultural patterns that mark the reception of the text, but these do not obviate the nature of Scripture as scripture. Moreover, the rabbinic and Hellenistic modes of theology canonized in the New Testament demand to be met on their own terms by readers of every culture. At this point, it hardly needs saying, the cultures of the Bible stand at tremendous distance from US, Latin American, and African cultures alike. How could missionaries who focus upon Scripture not introduce foreign thinking styles? The use of local language in missiology intends to mitigate the distance, but as Nida said, the purpose is still in virtually every context “to inculcate wholly foreign concepts.”

The Western tradition’s historical-critical tools may be indelibly marked by the culture(s) in which they developed, but it is something else to say they are irredeemably compromised. Christopher Wright says:

There is no point, it seems to me, in swinging the pendulum from Western hermeneutical hegemony and ignorance of majority world biblical scholarship to the fashionable adulation of anything and everything that comes from the rest of the world and the rejection of established methods of grammatico-historical exegesis as somehow intrinsically Western, colonial, or imperialistic.39

At their best, historical-critical tools allow us to meet biblical cultures on their own terms. If the choice is between attempting that cross-cultural encounter with the text or subjugating it to the autonomy of a local thinking style, theological education should choose the former in every context. As a scholar who has spent much of his career giving the Latin American context a voice to critique and improve Western hermeneutics, René Padilla’s words on this point are weighty:

It has been argued, however, that . . . the grammatico-historical approach is itself typically western and consequently not binding upon non-western cultures. What are we to say to this? . . .

No interpreters, regardless of their culture, are free to make the text say whatever they want it to say. Their task is to let the text speak for itself, and to that end they inevitably have to engage with the horizons of the text via literary context, grammar, history and so on. . . .

The effort to let Scripture speak without imposing on it a ready-made interpretation is a hermeneutical task binding upon all interpreters, whatever their culture. Unless objectivity is set as a goal, the whole interpretive process is condemned to failure from the start.

Objectivity, however, must not be confused with neutrality.40

Similarly, as a twenty-first century American, my encounters with Irenaeus, the Cappadocian Fathers, Anselm, Calvin, or Karl Barth are all cross-cultural. Theological education actually seeks to challenge the student’s local thinking style, not to place it in a reservation.

Latin American Theological Scholarship

Vibrant theological scholarship already exists in Latin America, though its scale is modest relative to the number of churches it serves. Latin American theological scholarship bears certain prominent traits that present difficulties for VM methods. First, theological leaders think of themselves in terms of Latin America and therefore undertake their task internationally in Spanish or Portuguese. Entities such as the Latin American Theological Fellowship and the Evangelical Association of Theological Education in Latin America represent this characteristic most prominently.41 Second, they are participants in the theological discourse of the global church. Prominent leaders such as Samuel Escobar and René Padilla have played vital roles in the Lausanne Movement, for example. They participate in this global scene, as well as publish, in English.

The weight of these simple observations increases in proportion to the degree that theological leaders of the dominant criollo culture do indeed represent their diverse national contexts. This is not to say that local languages should be ignored—the principles of sound missiology stand. But even in indigenous communities in Latin America, “in the pedagogical process and in the development of an integral formation both languages are necessary and complementary”:42

The educational process, within the framework of the religious conscience is decisive in a socialization which will allow the aboriginal people and other participants to elaborate critical and constructive relations with the society in which we are living. The contrary, within current conditions, would inevitably lead to one form or another of the extermination of minority groups. In this sense, the proposal which certain anthropological currents uphold, to “maintain the indigenous cultures in a state of purity” simply brings on the same tragic consequences that the destruction/absorption plans have produced. . . .

The aim of a school in the aboriginal context is a double one: on one hand, to rescue and affirm the values of their own culture, language, identity, religious cosmovision; and also to offer adequate training so as to enable participation on a level of equality in a multi-cultural society, which at the same time is a dominating and vicious one towards certain sectors.43

If it is necessary to introduce Spanish-language theological education into the indigenous community rather than maintain a purely local-language theology, how much more must Spanish-language theological education be the right approach in the urban context, where indigenous migrants have made dominant-culture socialization their goal? It is invariably best to bring students’ culturally and linguistically determined thinking styles into dialogue with Spanish-language theology, first because balance is necessary in order not to perpetuate marginalization, and ultimately because the “promotion of inter-religious and intercultural dialogue for an improved mutual integration into a pluralistic society” is one of the goals.44

Considering Latin American theological leadership, it is important to note that Nussbaum sees the charismatic movement in Latin America as an example of Jim Harries’s “VM approach to theological training.”45 It may be that we see here the contrast between largely analytical mainstream theological scholarship in Latin America and that of supposedly oral charismatic Christianity. Yet, charismatic Christianity in Latin America is notoriously marked precisely by a lack of theological education, not an alternative “oral” model of it.46 And while many “grassroots” groups have certainly developed without foreign funding, it is not the case that they demonstrate a particular care for local languages—in fact, in Arequipa there are a significant number of native Quechua speakers participating in Spanish charismatic church services. Here as well, urbanization is determinative, and charismatic churches flourished first and foremost in Latin American urban environments.47

If it is right to describe the widely diverse charismatic movement in terms of Nussbaum’s conception of orality, then there is no doubt that the movement’s chief characteristic in regard to thinking style is not local indigeneity but socio-economic marginalization, along with which goes a lower level of education. José Míguez Bonino summarizes various sociological descriptions of Pentecostalism’s emergence:

A series of diverse hypotheses arose, but with a common denominator: They saw Pentecostalism as a movement which found its space in Latin America’s transition from a traditional society to a modern one, or more specifically, in the transition from a largely agrarian society to a partially industrialized one, from a rural to an urban society.48

The socio-economic implications of this transition are well known. The connection is clear between the indigenization of Pentecostal churches and the nationalist stirrings that accompanied the rural to urban transitions of poor, oral, uneducated populations.49 It is, however, difficult to demonstrate that a principle of orality was the cause of indigenization. It is perhaps a simpler explanation that lack of education, and therefore continued orality, became endemic in transitional groups precisely because marginalization prevented them from completing the transition they intended, which in turn led to a break with the wealthy, educated, analytical culture that marginalized them. They did not indigenize because they were oral but remained oral because they indigenized through conflict at a time when their identity was shaped by limited access to education.

To put it this way highlights the fact that one notion of education is regnant in Latin American urban society. There is no romantic notion of local indigenous education at work here. Rather, there are systems of urban poverty that perpetuate a divide between those with greater educational opportunity and those without. In this context, an “oral” rather than analytically trained mind is indeed the default mode of cognition, but it is hard to imagine idealizing such orality as an equally beneficial thinking style in a society that functions economically, legally, and politically in a more analytical mode. Indigenous migrants know as much and for that very reason seek every opportunity to integrate.

Furthermore, it is similarly difficult to think that such orality in the church context should not be challenged by the analytical theological mode that is itself indigenously Latin American and understands its context in the socio-economic terms pertinent to the urban reality of uneducated oral communities. There are strong links here to Paulo Freire’s conscientization—part of a pedagogy for marginalized groups that focuses on “critical literacy,” dialogue, and engagement.50 Freire’s influence on Latin American liberation theology, which much of Latin American evangelical theology has appropriated to varying degrees, finds expression in mainstream Latin American theological scholarship in the tendency toward discourse and interculturality. This disposition is especially concerned to empower the voice of the marginalized, yet it certainly expects theological education to be dialogical rather than monologically “local.”

Cross-Cultural Interaction in the Globalized World

Theological education cannot afford to treat local cultures as closed systems; especially in urbanized contexts, attempting to treat them so is futile. The world is plugged in, and there is no going back. Harries says, “The responsibility is on the West to communicate and interact inter-culturally.”51 That is a justifiable challenge to the ethnocentric Western missionary force; a historically reasonable corrective. Especially because the missionary enters the local culture to instigate the cross-cultural relationship, the burden to assume an incarnational posture is hers. Yet, when it is a matter of the local Christians’ theological education, to insist upon banning non-local thinking styles handicaps the resident of the globalized urban setting. What is more, to place the responsibility of the cross-cultural relationship solely upon the West is, inversely, to advocate the ethnocentricity of local Christians.

Were Western missions to achieve a moratorium on ethnocentric short-term missions and cut all “dead aid,” local Christians would nonetheless need the capacity to self-theologize (a self unmentioned in Nussbaum’s proposal) in dialogue with the global community.52 This precludes the local-only thinking style—or perhaps, more accurately, redefines the local in relation to the global. Of Harries’s context, Mercy Amba Oduyoye said twenty years ago—just before the hyper-acceleration of globalization through the Internet:

We short-circuit the cultural context of Black Africa if we forget that the contemporary culture, except maybe in the remotest of villages (and how many do we have left?), is fast becoming an amalgam of Arabic, European, technological, and African cultures. The context is today as it has been shaped by yesterday, and continues to interact spatially within a world of changing cultures.53

Missiologically, there is little to gain by ascribing moral value to globalization. It is not intrinsically good or evil; it affords opportunity for both. More importantly, it reshapes local realities regardless of our judgments. The missionary who judges it negatively may choose, to the extent possible, not to be an instrument of globalization. But globalization will change her context in any event. Therefore, the missionary task of contextualization must account for that change:

For some missiological reasons, traditional indigenization has been enthusiastic about preserving our Indian culture, especially in Indian dialects. This indigenization has been to a large extent romantic, in the sense of looking to the past and glorifying the noble savage without seriously taking into consideration the present, much less the future. Contextualization is asking for the incarnation of the gospel, not in a traditional and static culture, but in the struggle and agony of the people in search for a new culture, namely, a better way of life for them and their children.54

Beyond the inevitability of globalization, the bare fact that Majority World churches are engaged in cross-cultural mission throughout the world is enough to bring local-only thinking under scrutiny. Just as VM (and missiology) calls Western missionaries to respect local thinking styles, missionaries from oral cultures must learn to meet more analytical cultures on their own terms.55 This critique becomes all the more urgent given that theological leadership of the global church must begin to arise from the Majority World. On this point, no one speaks more eloquently than Andrew Walls:

It is inevitable that the religio-cultural transformation of the 20th century will place Africans and Asians more and more in positions of leadership in world Christianity; the more so since the Great Reverse Migration will ensure that the United States and Europe become more consciously multi-religious as well as more secular entities, and as the once axiomatic identification of the West with Christianity becomes more and more problematic. But any leadership needs to be an informed leadership; it is incongruous to have Western intellectual and theological leadership of a non-Western Church. That Africa will bring gifts to the church is widely recognized, and many see those gifts as including zeal for Christ, unembarrassed witness to him, energy and delight in worship, and fervency in prayer, all of which will bless the wider church. But Africa and Asia must bring other gifts too. Intellectual and theological leadership of the Church must increasingly come from Africa, Asia and Latin America. As a result, theological adequacy, rubbing along, is not going to be enough. There must be excellence, world-quality capacity for leadership. Africa, Asia and Latin America will increasingly have to be the powerhouses of Christian thought.

If we translate this into academic terms, it means that Africa, Asia and Latin America must first become centers of creative thinking, world leaders in biblical and theological studies. And theological and biblical studies may be one of the few disciplines, possibly even the only one, in which this will be true for much of the area. Economic and other factors will always give Europe, North America and East Asia the edge in scientific and technological disciplines, and in many branches of the humanities and social sciences. But for the sake of the Christian Church worldwide, Africa, all Asia and Latin America, home to so many Christians, must pull their true theological weight.56

This is not to reduce theological studies to Western modes of academia. There is much that other cultural modes of study and reflection can bring to balance and correct Western scholarship:

It may again be time for Christians to save the academy. And it may be that salvation will come from the non-Western world; that in Africa and Asia and Latin America the scholarly ideal will be re-ignited, and scholarship seen as a vocation. To follow a calling means putting other things aside as distractions, laying aside every weight; and the scholarly vocation may be best fostered by breaking with some of the Western models; developing new structures that encourage the community of scholars, rather than their competition. And in theological scholarship—the area in which Africa and Asia and Latin America have to excel for the sake of the worldwide Church—this will mean scholarly communities that maintain a life of worship and are in active relation to Christian mission.57

By itself, the Western church’s need for an intelligible, dialogical corrective from Majority World theological leadership is a powerful reason not to establish local Majority World churches with a purely self-oriented vision of ecclesial existence. The resistance to dependency and paternalism that powerfully compels the conscientious Western missionary should not engender a reactionary methodology that ultimately blinds the local church to God’s global mission. Theological education of local Majority World churches for global theological leadership cannot be reduced to Western academia, but it must certainly encompass Western modes of theological reflection.

What Is Vulnerability?

I affirm the need for vulnerability in mission. The narrative of Jesus’ incarnation, life, and death provides the theological imperatives for mission.58 Nonetheless, those imperatives need nuance. It rings true that Western missions has often compromised its own missiological principles because of the temptation to work from a place of strength and convenience. At the same time, it is not clear that mission in weakness and vulnerability can be flatly equated with exclusive localness.

On one hand, Jesus certainly did not leave humanity to its own resources. As Mary Lederleitner puts it, “Jesus is the ultimate high-powered and highly resourced partner in global mission. . . . I am glad Jesus didn’t say, ‘You know, there is such a big gap between what I can do and what you can do. Why don’t we just work separately?’ ”59 I get the sense that the VM response to this point is that it was the Holy Spirit rather than Jesus who brought these “outside resources” to bear, and that missionaries have relied on their own resources rather than the Holy Spirit. Yet, the analogical mode in which incarnational theology issues its imperatives for mission also permits us to compare Jesus’ power and authority with whatever resources the Creator has placed at our disposal. Taking for granted a biblical worldview, what resources would a missionary actually arrogate to herself, as her own strength?

On the other hand, there is nothing more vulnerable than the attempt to negotiate cross-cultural partnership in the most faithful and beneficial way in our postcolonial reality. The missionary who seeks to prevent dependency and facilitate sustainability is far more vulnerable to frustration and failure when she serves in a mode of genuine mutuality and intercultural dialogue rather than avoiding the complexity of the cross-cultural relationship and the reality of the globalized world. Absolute local-only methods may take missiology to its logical conclusion, but in abstraction from local realities, they may serve as oversimplified answers to questions whose difficulty makes us truly vulnerable.

An Appreciative Comparison

I conclude with a comparison between VM and the mission work I am a part of in Arequipa, Peru. There are two facets of the work in Arequipa: church ministry and development ministry. The missionaries conceive of both together in terms of kingdom sowing, but for practical and heuristic purposes they may be separated. I limit my comments to church ministry.60

Historically, Churches of Christ have tended toward a building-oriented strategy in Peruvian (and Latin American) urban church planting, whether renting or building facilities in order to establish a congregation or beginning in homes with a view to renting or building facilities. In either case, raising funds from US churches has been normal. Our intention to establish churches in poor urban communities caused us to doubt the appropriateness of such an approach. We concluded our study of the context:

Naturally, in the context of the poor, the rental or construction of a building is neither reproducible nor often sustainable. For churches intended to multiply themselves, it is not an acceptable model of church planting. Practically, churches that would choose to train leaders capable of growing congregations large enough to reproduce the building model will stifle the potential for church multiplication. This leads to a second point—that of leadership training. Building-centered strategies are virtually always locked into a pastor-laity dichotomy fostered by the institutional structure of the church. The assumed roles and tasks of church leadership professionalize ministry to the detriment of church-wide equipping. The assumed goal of growing large further removes the possibility of “ministry” from many would-be spiritual leaders and frustrates even natural leaders’ best efforts. Furthermore, the quality of the church communities that have had the most growth is contingent on the dynamics of small groups that have no need for a building. Lastly, the building of church buildings among Peru’s poor, as well as the leadership style it assumes, fails to contrast strongly enough with the religiosity that spiritually impoverishes nominal Catholic believers. Such an approach cannot adequately redefine and reconstitute “church” for new Christians. On each of these points, a building-centered strategy is at odds with the contextual factors uncovered by the best of Latin American missiologists and sociologists.61

Thus, we bring new Christians into a house church network. The use of local resources is not our only concern, but our critique of standard strategies does have some similarity with Nussbaum’s discussion of the financial implications of the “analytical church”:

Biases that go with assuming a mature church must be an analytical church

  1. Professionalization—the leaders are the best analysts; laity tag along.
  2. That kind of leader needs special schooling for analyzing the Bible.
  3. A congregation must be big enough to support a professional pastor.
  4. That size of congregation will need a building.
  5. The building, the schooling, and the pastor all require major funding.62

These assumptions are generally typical in my context as well. Yet, the issue is really professionalization—a particular model of theological education—not a particular thinking style.63 Because theological education in the urban Peruvian church must take into account the nature of theology as dialogue with the historical church, dialogue with extant Latin American theological leadership, and dialogue with the global church within the globalized world, we are searching for an alternative model of theological education that does not professionalize students and conforms to the economic reality of Arequipa. Nussbaum’s proposal is suggestive:

Alternative model if a mature church can be an oral-thinking church

  1. The laity can be involved in developing the theology of the group.
  2. Special schooling not required for leaders; they can be apprenticed.
  3. Congregations can thrive and sub-divide though too small to support a pastor.
  4. Buildings are optional.
  5. Little or no funding required.64

Practically, apprenticeship is the model of theological education for Nussbaum’s oral-thinking church. The rest are implications of refusing to professionalize ministry or otherwise grow congregations into large budget-maintenance mechanisms—implications that are also the goals of an alternative theological education model in Arequipa. The question, then, is whether apprenticeship will be sufficient to equip theological leaders to serve the urban Peruvian church. We affirm the essential commitment of VM: to foster an ecclesial existence among poor urban communities that is truly Peruvian (self-governing), economically sustainable (self-sustaining), and reproducible as the Peruvian church participates in God’s mission (self-propagating). Nonetheless, we must also promote the “fourth self”: self-theologizing.

Self-theologizing in the urban Peruvian context must not be a detriment to the economic sustainability of the church. In fact, because theology is done by the church, the nature of the church as contextual, sustainable, and missional should provide strictures for its self-theologizing, including the equipping of those gifted to be theological leaders. Therefore, it is unreasonable that theological education would entail costs incommensurate with the local economy or require foreign subsidy.

At the same time, theology is the point where historical, social, and global dialogue become indispensable. While the trappings of the Western academic edifice are both unsustainable and unnecessary for the education of poor Peruvian theologians, there may be some vital components that are more costly than the local church can afford. For example, one area where we have departed from a local-only resource methodology in Arequipa is the acquisition of Spanish theological texts. Books are more expensive in Peru than in the US, despite the relative weakness of the Peruvian economy. Therefore, US Christians have donated texts to the church in Arequipa. Is this the slippery slope of dependency, or is there a place for cautious, deliberate collaboration?

Discussing the “western captivity of theology,” Andrew Kirk, a theological educator in Latin America and other Majority World contexts, articulates the basic problem that theological education faces in contexts such as Arequipa’s:

Theological education is restricted in many instances to those who have reached a particular level of academic achievement, who can lay hands on sufficient financial resources for study and who share the cultural background of the educator. How is theological education to be made available to people who inhabit a “non-book” culture, i.e. for those who have not succeeded in meeting the expectations of the normal educational process? Present patterns of theological education will probably continue to reinforce the Western Church’s alienation in deprived, urban areas. How is it possible for existing Western theology, given its cultural assumptions, to equip a genuinely indigenous leadership in all strata of society?65

Both local resources and local thinking styles are at issue when we decide to make the theological library a component of education. It is not a decision to make lightly. Of course, the same can be said about the decision to translate, mass publish, and disseminate the Bible. Even if we hold firmly to VM convictions, when practical benefit outweighs idealism we must discern legitimate compromises. Undoubtedly, Christianity can thrive and expand without access to theological texts. But what is most beneficial for the urban Peruvian church: absolute economic independence or access to historical, social, and global dialogue? This is a situational dilemma that cannot be reduced to a choice between right and wrong but instead requires discernment of the contextually most beneficial option—which in turn makes us vulnerable to error. We must pose such questions prayerfully and humbly. And it is perhaps best to reiterate that our commitment to missiological principles already excludes Western academic institutionalism, ministerial professionalization, and economically unsustainable church forms.

I believe interculturality is the best mode for Latin American theological education—and probably for the global church of the twenty-first century. In Peru, at least, it is already an intelligible pedagogical framework. In this dialogical mode, which fosters theological interdependence, hybridity, and “a new level of partnership that is fully bi-directional,” it is a legitimate compromise for wealthy churches to put theological tools at the disposal of under-resourced churches.66 The use of those tools in a contextually appropriate educational framework will require creativity, experimentation, a permanently repentant heart, and attention to Latin American theologians who are already leading the way.67

VM seems to look at such a compromise with the expectation of impending dependency and paternalism because the history of Western missions justifies pessimism. Western missionaries have long felt empowered to compromise where it seemed expedient without regard for the imperative of vulnerability or the long-term cost of “strength.” Looking upon a global missionary movement prone to compromises that have undermined missiological principles, it seems reasonable to feel a more radical position is the only alternative for real change. My call for discernment and cautious compromise can appear to be just another path back to colonialist practices. I have great sympathy with the VM perspective and great appreciation for its intention to be consistent. In many cases, missiological principles need simply to be carried to their logical, hard conclusions. Yet, missiology also gifts us the fundamental insight of contextualization: there are no universal formulas. Urbanization and globalization are not excuses for missiological delinquency, but they are realities that complicate our notions of local, create new opportunities that are both risky and possibly constructive, and, ultimately, may require more than a local-only methodology.

Greg McKinzie ( is a missionary in Arequipa, Peru, where he partners in holistic evangelism with Team Arequipa ( and The Christian Urban Development Association ( He is a graduate (MDiv) of Harding Graduate School of Religion. He can be contacted at


Alliance for Vulnerable Mission.

Almada, Samuel. “Intercultural Dialogue Perspectives in Theological Education with Originary People.” Journal of Latin American Hermeneutics 1 (Summer 2004): 1–11.

Asociación Evangélica de Educación Theológica en América Latina.

Bonino, José Míguez. Faces of Latin American Protestantism: 1993 Carnahan Lectures. Translated by Eugene L. Stockwell. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997.

Centro de Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios. “Diplomatura en Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios.” 2010.

Copestake, James. “Development and Wellbeing in Peru: Comparing Global and Local Views.” WeD Working Paper 09/48. Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group. June 2009.

________, ed. Wellbeing and Development in Peru: Local and Universal Views Confronted. Studies of the Americas. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola de la Real Academia Espanola. 22nd ed. New York: French and European Publications, 2001.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

Enns, Marlene. “Theological Education in Light of Cultural Variations of Reasoning: Some Educational Issues.” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 76–87.

Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana.

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González, Ondina E., and Justo L. González. Christianity in Latin America: A History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Harries, Jim. “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in the Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 51–67.

Hesselgrave, David J. Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991.

Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985.

________. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

Hodges, Melvin L. The Indigenous Church: Including The Indigenous Church and the Missionary. Kindle ed. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2009.

Hornberger, Nancy H. “Bilingual Education Policy and Practice in the Andes: Ideological Paradox and Intercultural Possibility.” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 31, no. 2 (June 2000): 173–201.

Jeong, Paul Yonggap. “ ‘Mission in Weakness and Vulnerability’ in Selected Writings: From Lesslie Newbigin’s and David Bosch’s Missiological Books.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 10–20.

Kirk, J. Andrew. “Re-envisioning the Theological Curriculum as if the Missio Dei Mattered.” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 23–40.

Langford, Ben. “The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 3, no. 1 (February 2012): 14–25.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood, and Marvin K. Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

Nida, Eugene A. Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1982.

________. Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith. Rev. ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1990.

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________. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 68–80.

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Padilla, C. René. “The Interpreted Word: Reflections on Contextual Hermeneutics.” Themelios 7, no. 1 (September 1981): 18–23.

Reese, Robert. “Western Missions and Dependency.” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011): 59–72.

Roberts, Peter. “Extending Literate Horizons: Paulo Freire and the Multidimensional Word.” Educational Review 50, no. 2 (June 1998): 105–14.

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Wright, Christopher J. H. The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.

1 I restrict my comments to the conference material published in the present issue of Missio Dei, with primary reference to Stan Nussbaum’s article (and his related article “Vulnerable Mission Strategies” in the latest issue of Global Missiology) and secondary reference to other conference papers.

2 Vulnerable Mission, “Alliance for Vulnerable Mission,”

3 Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 70.

4 I do not attempt to delimit mainstream missiology here but assume with VM advocates that common theory and practice, as reflected in peer reviewed and edited publications and in Christian missions all over the world in the last century, have recognizable tendencies. It is important to note, however, that VM’s argument assumes there is a great divide between what we say (missiology) and what we do (practice), and then it attributes the failure back to missiology. The problem with this procedure is twofold. One, it relegates missiology to theory. In fact, missiology is among the practical theological disciplines and is in large part about methods. Two, it falsely attributes to missiology the failure of implementation as a failure of methodology. Yet, VM advocates would not want the same standard applied to themselves: the failure to put VM methods into practice would not necessarily signify a failure of VM methods. By “missiology,” therefore, I mean typical mission methodology, both before and after it is put into practice.

5 Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies,” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

6 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 71.

7 Ibid.

8 Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010).

9 Nussbaum’s taxonomy undoubtedly has heuristic value, and my point is not to criticize the exigencies of table formatting.

10 Melvin L. Hodges, The Indigenous Church: Including The Indigenous Church and the Missionary, Kindle ed. (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2009), locs. 1212–14.

11 Ibid., loc. 1124. See loc. 128 for the specific connection to Allen’s missiology.

12 Robert Reese, “Western Missions and Dependency,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 2, no. 2 (August 2011): 69.

13 David J. Hesselgrave, Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally: An Introduction to Missionary Communication, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 355.

14 Eugene A. Nida, Customs and Cultures: Anthropology for Christian Missions (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1982), 212–13.

15 E.g., Eugene A. Nida, Message and Mission: The Communication of the Christian Faith, rev. ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1990). Writing about the communication of the faith, Nida deals with many complex anthropological issues. Yet, he never says that the communicator should use the local language. For a linguist and translator helping missionaries overcome cultural disparities, the use of local languages is a sine qua non. It is so self-evident, there is no need to say it.

16 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 74, states that his proposal contributes to the “trend in missiology to attend to thinking style as an aspect of worldview. This is greatly needed because the message has not got through to many mission practitioners and even mission agency leaders yet. They do not comprehend the orality issue and assume it as a core aspect of mission strategy in nearly the same way they assume contextualization and sustainability.”

17 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 72.

18 Ibid.

19 Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 142–49; Sherwood Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–64.

20 Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), esp. chs. 2, 4, and 5.

21 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

22 Dennis Rodgers, Jo Beall, and Ravi Kanbur, Latin American Urban Development into the 21st Century: Towards a Renewed Perspective on the City, Studies in Development Economics and Policy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012), 3.

23 Ibid., 8.

24 James Copestake, “Development and Wellbeing in Peru: Comparing Global and Local Views,” WeD Working Paper 09/48, Wellbeing in Developing Countries Research Group (June 2009), 18–19,; See James Copestake, ed., Wellbeing and Development in Peru: Local and Universal Views Confronted, Studies of the Americas (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) for the complete study.

25 Copestake, “Development and Wellbeing in Peru,” 18.

26 Ibid., 20; emphasis added.

27 Ibid., 14.

28 I am using criollo in the general sense of “colonial descent.” The word has a variety of uses, and in Peru it refers to a coastal subculture that combines Spanish, indigenous, and African elements (similar to the English word creole). But originally, the term referred to children of Iberian descent born in Latin America. In general usage, it has now come to mean “local” or “homegrown.” Yet, in much of the literature on Latin American history and culture, it still denotes Iberian identity reshaped by the Latin American context. This etymology is itself a manifestation of the way the colonial becomes the local.

29 Nancy H. Hornberger, “Bilingual Education Policy and Practice in the Andes: Ideological Paradox and Intercultural Possibility,” Anthropology and Education Quarterly 31, no. 2 (June 2000): 176.

30 Ibid., 177.

31 Nida, Message and Mission, 188–89.

32 Ibid, 189.

33 Ibid.; emphasis added.

34 Jim Harries, “The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 57.

35 Ibid., 60–61.

36 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 77.

37 I am using the term mestizo in the sense of cultural hybridity. See Diccionario de la Lengua Espanola de la Real Academia Espanola, 22nd ed., s.v. “mestizo, za,” “Regarding culture, spiritual matters, etc.: Resulting from the mixture of different cultures.” (author’s translation).

38 See, e.g., the discussion of various logics in Marlene Enns, “Theological Education in Light of Cultural Variations of Reasoning: Some Educational Issues,” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 76–87. University students from both China and the US are both highly literate, but Chinese students reason holistically.

39 Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 42, fn. 14.

40 C. René Padilla, “The Interpreted Word: Reflections on Contextual Hermeneutics,” Themelios 7, no. 1 (September 1981): 21.

41 See Fraternidad Teológica Latinoamericana,; Asociación Evangélica de Educación Theológica en América Latina,

42 Samuel Almada, “Intercultural Dialogue Perspectives in Theological Education with Originary People,” Journal of Latin American Hermeneutics 1 (Summer 2004): 3.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid., 2.

45 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 75.

46 See Emilio Antonio Núñez C. and William David Taylor, Crisis and Hope in Latin America: An Evangelical Perspective, rev. ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1996), 316, 464 for representative general comments. See also José Míguez Bonino, Faces of Latin American Protestantism: 1993 Carnahan Lectures, trans. Eugene L. Stockwell (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 72–75. His discussion of Latin American Pentecostal theology deals with “the relation between the ‘lineal logic’ and ‘enlightened’ rationality which we usually take for granted, and the rationality of the symbolic.” He concludes that “the need remains for the Pentecostal movement to examine its ‘explicit’ theology in terms of the ‘implicit’ theology in its foundational experience” and examines how fundamentalism short-circuits the encounter with the biblical text.

47 Ondina E. González and Justo L. González, Christianity in Latin America: A History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 281, 295.

48 Bonino, 57–58.

49 González and González, ch. 10, passim, esp. 276.

50 For Freire, “critical literacy” was vitally important for conscientization, “the process of developing a critical awareness of one’s social reality through reflection and action” Freire Institute, “Conscientization,” For an overview of Freire’s theory of critical literacy, see also Peter Roberts, “Extending Literate Horizons: Paulo Freire and the Multidimensional Word,” Educational Review 50, no. 2 (June 1998): 105–114.

51 Harries, 64.

52 Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Insights for Missionaries (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985), ch. 8.

53 Mercy Amba Oduyoye, “Contextualization as a Dynamic in Theological Education,” Theological Education 30, Supplement 1 (Autumn 1993): 110.

54 Núñez and Taylor, 336–37.

55 Paul Yonggap Jeong, “ ‘Mission in Weakness and Vulnerability’ in Selected Writings: From Lesslie Newbigin’s and David Bosch’s Missiological Books,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 4, no. 1 (February 2013): 17. Jeong similarly applies the missiology of weakness and vulnerability to “the missionary forces from the Majority World, since [they] tend to think, generally speaking, that [they] . . . are now replacing Western missionary forces.”

56 Andrew F. Walls, “World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship,” Transformation 28, no. 4 (October 2011): 238.

57 Ibid., 239.

58 See Jeong; Ben Langford, “The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis,” Missio Dei: A Journal of Missional Theology and Praxis 3, no. 1 (February 2012): 14–25. The contrast between a theology of the cross (which is the consummation of the vulnerability of Jesus’ incarnation and life) and a theology of glory (or glorification, in Pauline terms) is an eschatological one that perhaps assumes a false dichotomy. Mission must locate itself between the already and the not yet in the proclamation of the kingdom, which implies the triumph of the king but permits no ecclesial triumphalism. The resurrection was a foretaste of the future and the inauguration of a new epoch, and the Spirit brings the power of the resurrection and glorification into the present life of the church (Eph 1:17–23). Thus, the church’s life is a sign of the future when it conforms to the way of Jesus, who lived the foolishness and weakness of the cross because he was completely in step with the Spirit (1 Cor 1:18–2:14). The foolishness and weakness of the cross is the power (du/namiß) and wisdom (sofi÷a) of God (1 Cor 1:24) that Paul prayed for the church (Eph 1:17, 19). The resurrection and glorification of Jesus, then, is the vindication of Jesus’ way rather than its supersession. Glorification cannot be understood apart from the cross (John 12:23–33).

59 Lederleitner, 124.

60 The development facet is an equally relevant case study but would require an entire paper of its own. See for an idea of what our developmental ministry looks like. Of particular relevance to the present discussion is our Living Libraries program, which promotes literacy by providing Peruvian public school teachers with staff development opportunities in the area of literacy education and by placing age-appropriate reading books in public schools that do not have funding for libraries. The local thinking style is surely marked by illiteracy or functional illiteracy (ability to read but inability to comprehend), but we agree with the Peruvian school system that this should not be the case. Evangelism and church growth is in fact subject to the limitations of adults who long to read the Bible for themselves (perhaps a “Protestant ideal” but undoubtedly an aspiration of many Peruvians I have met) but cannot follow the thought units of large portions of the Bible. Therefore, we see promoting the literacy of children in the present as a gift to the church in the future (and to Peruvian society as a whole). To that end, the use of foreign resources to supply books to school children is a compromise we are willing to make.

61 Greg McKinzie, unpublished strategy document for the Team Arequipa mission work.

62 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

63 Additionally, in Latin America, the impulse to rent or build a building is not solely based upon the size of a group necessary to support a professional pastor. Deeply embedded conceptions of church, holy space, and religious identity carry over unchallenged from popular Roman Catholicism into much of evangelical Christianity.

64 Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology,” 73.

65 J. Andrew Kirk, “Re-envisioning the Theological Curriculum as if the Missio Dei Mattered,” Common Ground Journal 3, no. 1 (Fall 2005): 33–34.

66 Timothy Tennent, “Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity,” keynote address at the 2012 Lausanne Consultation on Global Theological Education, held at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary,

67 See, e.g., the curriculum of the Centro de Estudios Teológicos Interdisciplinarios (CETI): CETI is a ministry of the Kairos Foundation:

Kairos was] formed as a community in 1976 by a group of Christian leaders residing in Argentina. Its main objective was the formation of disciples of Jesus Christ who would relate their faith to every aspect of life and particularly to their own professions. In 1987 the community was registered as a non-profit organisation called ‘Fundación Kairós’. For over thirty years Kairos has been inspired and led by René and Catharine Padilla.”