Welcome to the September issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, which is also available in Portuguese and Spanish. We look forward to your feedback on it.
In this issue, we feature two articles on the relevance of much current theological education, asking which direction it will take in order to meet the needs of emerging churches, and what lessons can be learned from teacher training in reforming preparation for ministry and mission. We also analyze risk as a necessary element of reaching the unreached; and we continue our assessment of the crackdown in China asking whether ‘sinicization’, the new ideological shackle on religion, will work.
‘At the outset I want to stress that I believe in scholarship, but with a purpose’, writes Ashish Chrispal (Senior Advisor for OC). My thinking has been shaped by exposure to the challenges posed by the first-generation new believers who are now forming the ‘emerging churches’ in the majority world. They come with totally different sets of worldviews and lack deep discipleship. While formal theological education makes a critical contribution to the long-term health of the church, non-formal approaches address the large and growing numbers of those needing basic pastoral training, but for whom formal training is neither accessible nor appropriate. We need adaptable materials with a solid biblical base which are easily transferable according to the needs of people. However, theological education as it exists today in our theological colleges and seminaries is the product of the 18th century Enlightenment and thus a ‘Christendom’ mentality and a majoritarian Christian worldview.
The real danger we face in evangelical theological education today is that it is being overtaken by academia, without the vision for mission and ministry. We need to recognize some key realities, if evangelical theological education is to be effective and not become a fossil. We need a two-pronged approach, which comprises both formal and non-formal theological education, with the main focus on the majority world’s contextually nuanced styles of learning. ‘It is important not to be elitist and traditionalist, failing to recognize the need for transformation that will lead the church of our Lord Jesus Christ to be rooted and grounded in his Word’, he concludes.
‘I have become increasingly aware of concerns about the nature and suitability of preparing future church leaders through “traditional” theological training’, writes Brian Woolnough (Research Tutor at Oxford Centre for Mission Studies). Many church leaders from around the world are asking similar questions, especially where they have been using a basically Western model. My own professional background has been in education, where we had similar concerns and radically reformed our training. Because of these parallels and my experience, I dare to make suggestions for the training of future church leaders, in ministry and mission. We need to stress preparation for the practicalities of helping the needs of real people. Training should be given both in the theological seminary and in the field. Practitioners should have a central, even a leading, role. The knowledge required would necessitate some Bible-based theology but not as much, I suspect, as is included in many courses. It is necessary, in ministry and mission above all, to ensure that prospective ministers have the appropriate attitudes, to God, to themselves, and to others. The model of the reflective practitioner is appropriate, and the learning process should be continuing. I am conscious that many, much more experienced and expert than me, are already experimenting with developing the best way to train leaders for the church. ‘I am conscious too that the job of ministry in real churches in contemporary society is exceedingly difficult—I used to think that the job of a school teacher was the most difficult, until I considered the job of leaders in the church’, he concludes.
‘There is a reason the unreached and unengaged still do not have access to the Good News’, writes Sue Arnold (a pseudonym). They are typically in areas where the church is persecuted, or they are geographically isolated. Reaching them will not be easy. Yet, many Christians are risk averse and are not willing to go to them. Other Christians are perhaps foolhardy. It became clear last November when All Nations missionary John Chau was killed while trying to reach the North Sentinelese people that there was widespread disagreement among Christians about his mission. There are many places in the New Testament where the disciples and churches embraced risk. There also seemed to be some disagreement about appropriate risk in several incidents in the early church. If the church simply adopts the attitude that no risk is acceptable, this denies the example of Christ and the apostles. However, just running headlong into danger is not honouring to God either. I outline a process that seeks to fulfil wisdom and avoid foolishness. These are not easy decisions or discussions. However, they are necessary and honouring to God and to the peoples of the world who have not yet had a chance to hear about Jesus. Decisions to embrace risk involve loving others more than we love ourselves. They are not decisions to be made lightly or flippantly, but increasingly agencies and local churches will be choosing to send their loved ones into danger for the sake of the gospel. ‘Let us do it with wisdom and boldness for the glory of Jesus Christ’, she concludes.
‘In a major speech in 2016, President Xi Jinping called for the “sinicization of religion”’, writes Tom Harvey (Academic Dean of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies). He noted that, given the rise of religion among the Chinese people, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) must ‘guide the adaptation of religions to socialist society’. ‘Sinicization’ is part of a pervasive ideological re-education and remoulding campaign that recalls the campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s. Among religious groups, ‘sinicization’ has entailed the imprisonment of many Uighur, Kazakh, and Hui Muslims as well as intractable Christian leaders. It also lies behind recent raids on unregistered churches, the arrest and imprisonment of their pastors, and the destruction of churches and crosses. Behind Xi’s drive to ‘sinicize’ religion, lies the larger ‘contradiction’ for the CCP in the burgeoning of civil society. For the CCP, the rise of religion, especially Christianity and Islam, represents an existential threat to its political health. However, ‘sinicization’ carries huge risks for Xi. China today is very different from the 1950s. Its international links are not only vast, but they are necessary for China’s continued economic strength and growth. Also, the actual effect of ‘sinicization’ could well be to nurture the very religious autonomy that it was designed to crush. Certainly, the campaign will change the way of life of Chinese Christian churches, but it is unlikely to cut off their continued growth and influence. ‘Given their . . . ability to adapt quickly, it is doubtful that . . . attempts at assimilation will do more than compel loyalty of the lips, but not the heart, of the Chinese people’, he concludes.
We hope that you find this issue stimulating and useful. Our aim is to deliver strategic and credible analysis, information and insight so that as a leader you will be better equipped for the task of world evangelization. It’s our desire that the analysis of current and future trends and developments will help you and your team make better decisions about the stewardship of all that God has entrusted to your care.
Please send any questions and comments about this issue to [email protected]. The next issue of The Lausanne Global Analysis will be released in November.