Posted by Stephen Venable

My curious 5 year old had left his toy globe in the dining room.  It caught my eye  as I sat  slumped beside the table watching my 10 month-old use his two teeth to conquer a tray of blueberries.  I straightened up and spun it to where the Middle East was in view. My eyes fell first upon the enormous swath of Saudi Arabia. Slowly I read the names of the few cities that exist within the desolate landscape of its borders until I found  the eastern coast of the Red Sea where Mecca sits. Just to the west lies Sudan, Somolia, Eritrea, and Egypt. Scanning away to the north one finds Syria, Iran, and Iraq. I don’t know a lot about the global Church and missiology, but I know you could find all these names at the top of a list of the nations most violently hostile to the gospel.  Nestled at the center of it all is Israel – its mere existence remarkable by historical standards alone. Where Eden was, where Jerusalem is, and where the return of Jesus will be  now holds the distinction of being the region on the earth most adversarial to the preaching of Christ. Should we not marvel at this?   

I did marvel. And as I did a question surfaced: “What kind of person is going to penetrate those borders?” How is a wide and effective door going to be opened there, even among many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:9)? Who will even have the courage to go there? Who will have the grit to stay there? And who will have the grace to prevail there?  At least as it stands right now, I am pained that it doesn’t seem like the answer is found anywhere in America. If a new missions movement is indeed going emerge from the West, I believe a sweeping theological reformation must come first. While of course there are always wonderful exceptions, in general I do not see how the shallow theological soil so common in our day can produce the burning sacrificial love for Jesus requisite for a successful confrontation with the core of the Islamic world. Towering oaks do not emerge from flower pots, and oaks of righteousness (Is. 61:3) are not going to come forth from the fields of faith that presently characterize the landscape of Western Christianity.

Coming to terms with this does not equate to holding a negative view of the Church.  The point is not to  quibble about  what grade the American Church should get on its report card, and to frame the question in this light totally obscures the problem and will never lead to a solution. What must remain in our sights is the roughly one billion people in that part of the world who are failing to give Jesus the worship that He alone is due, the real lake of fire that awaits such treasonous blasphemy of their Creator, and His precious blood shed so they could be forgiven and freed to laud Him . The only reason “we” (i.e. the Church in America) have to talk about “us” is because we are evidencing neither the desire nor the capacity to be used of God  to effectively address that crisis of idolatry. Why does this observation lead back to theology?

If you drop a seed of genuine faith into the soil of Western belief and practice, does it grow into an immovable trunk of the revelation of the glory of Jesus, a mighty hope in the resurrection of the body in coming kingdom, and a readiness to suffer for the sake of His name? This alone could be transplanted and flourish in Yemen or Eritrea, but this isn’t just a  “missional” question. It is a theological question. These qualities are the foundational beliefs of normal, apostolic (i.e. New Testament) Christianity.  The apostles did what they did because they believed what they did. The fact that one can so rarely answer “yes” to the question above means that a reformation of theology is needed. Not one that goes back to Augustine, but one that goes back to the Bible. We are in danger of reaching a place where it is acceptable for someone to consider themselves a “radical” follower of Jesus even though they know very little about His life or what the epistles say about His identity and work. In other words, depth and discipleship have been quantified by things other than knowledge of  the Lord Jesus and loving conformity to Him. And if the bulk of these peripheral passions that often define Christian commitment for many Americans would have zero relevance in the Middle East, our problem is not that we aren’t ‘missional’ enough but that we aren’t biblical enough.

Deep changes on the level of the praxis of the Church are also needed. The latter, however, is always just an outworking of its beliefs and thus to talk on this level is important but also limited. An impassioned call to domestic and foreign mission may engender fervor, but that zeal will wither in the heat of persecution unless there is a deep root system of informed, adoring convictions about the glory of a real Person and the hope of His return. I truly don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the vast majority of Christians in the West have never heard even one sermon devoted in its entirety to magnifying the excellencies of the divinity of Jesus.  This unspeakably precious, colossal  truth is the defining feature of the Christian faith and the defining controversy with the Muslim world. Yet in stark terms, how can someone go from a context where that truth sits collecting dust on an informational flyer in the lobby to the moment when their neck is poised to take the blow from the machete rather than deny  the divine, matchless supremacy of the Jewish man they love? That isn’t going to miraculously happen on the plane over the Atlantic, even if we are able to preach someone into buying the ticket.

2 Responses to Theology and Missions

  1. Pingback: “What kind of person is going to penetrate those borders?” : Sarah Racine

  2. Pingback: a resource library for the fame of His Name | The Greatest Challenge for the Missions Movement is Knowing and Loving Jesus

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