Gospel & Culture blog
How do Chinese international students respond to the worldview curriculum at a Christian University?
By Kenneth Nehrbass
American missionary John Allen Chau was killed recently when he traveled alone to Sentinel Island to preach the gospel. India's law makes it illegal for foreigners to land there, partly to protect the islanders from foreign disease, and partly to protect travelers from violence. As a missiologist, people have been asking my thoughts on the killing. Is Chau a hero or not? Other missionaries have been highly praised for taking similar risks: The murder of John Williams and James Harris in Erromango in 1839 sent of a worldwide interest in missions in the South Pacific. The killing of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian in 1955 sparked similar passion for missions among the unreached. Is Chau's short life a similar example for Christians to take risks for the sake of the gospel?
Chau's tragedy has ramifications for missions in general: Does a sense of divine calling outweigh the risks? Is it okay for a missionary to defy a nation's laws, if his motives are to preach Christ? Should remote places like the Andaman Islands be left alone?
Is his death a tragedy? Yes. The death of anyone is grievous; the murder of anyone is unacceptable and tragic. Many news outlets eulogized Chau well, and I find it natural to empathize with his family and friends who are grieving.
Is risk justified? Yes. Jesus calls us to take great risks for the sake of his name. Peter got out of the boat and walked on water in conditions that could have caused him to drown. Proverbs 3:5 encourages us to "Trust in the Lord, and don't lean on your own understanding." Many of the apostles and church planters in the early centuries were persecuted to the point of death when they preached the gospel across cultures. The scripture clearly places a sense of calling above logic and safety. If God calls you to take a risk, you obey. Josh 1:9 tells us to be strong and courageous. Watch Chau's short challenge to take risks for global missions here.
Is it okay to break the law to do missionary work? Generally, no. Missiologists almost never condone breaking another nation's laws. It's one thing to protest an unjust law in your own country- but as guests in foreign countries, we are not part of the lawmaking process there, and cannot pick and choose which laws to follow. If the Andamans are Indian's territory, missionaries must respect India's laws there. Virtually all missionary organizations work through the official processes and laws of the host countries to gain legal permits to do
By Ken Nehrbass
This year's theme of the Evangelical Missiological Society was "missions and evangelism in a secular age." There were many discouraging trends about the "nones"- millennials who no longer see themselves as religious. Much of the discussion centered on how we can help make the church more palatable to secular folks. A palatable church would be a compassionate one (Eph 4:32), one that creates space for disagreement and questioning of the faith, one that is not judgmental (Matt 7:1). This doesn't mean watering down the message, or selling out to the world, it just means sending a message of love in a way that the world can understand.
Yet the more I thought about my own experience with missions and evangelism in a secular age, I began to think through the men and women I know who have moved from "nones" (non religious) to faith in Christ in the past ten years. As I recalled the faith journeys of these new members of the family of Christ, I realized that each of them converted because 1) they were in a crisis in their lives, and 2) a Christian explained that the Bible is trustworthy, that God demands repentance, and that following Jesus is the only way to peace and purpose.
In other words, it was the testimony of believers, and the power of God's word, that brought these people from secular to saved. Just like in the gospels and the book of Acts-- Jesus and the other preachers told people "repent and believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). Reaching a "none" is just like reaching people from the first century Palestine, and like reaching people from every other century: the Word of God, the testimony of believers, and the timing of the Holy Spirit in a person's life are the keys to evangelism.
with guest contributor Denis LaClare
The new GodTools app from CRU was designed to help people share the gospel in any setting from a phone or tablet. In addition to the iconic “Four Spiritual Laws”, there are 2 versions of “Knowing God Personally” and “Satisfied”, which explore the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
And the newest tool is called “Honor Restored" which is aimed at sharing the gospel among the more than one million international students who are in the USA. Many of these students come from honor/shame cultures. In simplistic terms, the first of three primary worldviews can be summarized as “Western”, which emphasizes an interpretation of the world through the lenses of guilt and innocence.
A second worldview element for many international students is based on fear and power. Any culture with indigenous peoples (Africans, Native Americans, etc.) or cultures that try to appease the spiritual world out of fear, fall into this category. A third worldview encapsulates almost all of the Asian, Arab and Persian world and is motivated by honor and shame. The avoidance of shame and the acquisition of honor for themselves and their families are their highest virtues. The Honor Restored digital tool gives them an opportunity to understand the good news in terms that make sense to them. Released in January, 2018, the tool has 2400 “hits” and at least one international student has given their life to Jesus after walking through Honor Restored with a fellow student. Cru hopes to see thousands of students understand and embrace Jesus as a result of this tool.
Once people groups are identified, strategists begin to catalog these groups in terms of evangelistic response and need, for the purposes prayer (Johnstone, 2001). And mission organizations begin to direct mission resources to the fields (i.e., people groups) 1) that were seen as “ripe” (receptive); or 2) to those where no work has been done. If it were not for the concept of people groups, mission mobilizers would not have come to emphasize unreached people groups in the 1990s. Beginning with the world’s 7000 distinct languages (P. Lewis, Simons, & Fennig, 2013), the Joshua project took into account features such as religion, and ethnicity, (“Global Statistics,” n.d.) to arrive at a list of over 16,000 people groups.
Missiologists (Bush, 2013) have, understandably, connected the concept of ethnolinguistic people groups to the use of ethne in the New Testament. For example, they contend that Matthew 28:19 means “Make disciples of all people groups.” This argument is fraught with difficulties:
Think of the difficulties in interpreting ethne as ethnic groups: Is the child of an African-American father and Korean mother a member of a distinct ethne—yet another ethne that must be evangelized and will be included in the “all cultures in heaven” list? Would reaching a Korean-African American be considered as one new ethne or two or three ethne? What about people like Tiger Woods—“Cabalasians” who have numerous ethnicities in their background (as in fact, we all do)? Are they included as a distinct ethne? Are Caucasian Americans in the twenty-first century—with the innumerable combinations of Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Eastern European ancestry—to be understood as a single ethne? If we extend ethne to mean “however people identify themselves ethnically” or “all possible ethnic permutations” then we are left with so many possibilities that we may as well just say “all people.” In fact, that is exactly what many theologians conclude: We must interpret “every tribe and nation” as a metaphor for many people from all over the world. (Nehrbass, 2016, p. 71)
The model of people groups has now been amended to include seventeen major “affinity blocs”, including the Arab world, East Asians, Eurasians, Jews, Malay, North Americans, Pacific Islanders, etc. As affinity blocs are highly reductive and do not take into account these major differences in ethnicity, language or religion, the concept may appear to be a regression from “people groups.” However, affinity blocs are also a missiological application of the homogenous unit principle: Mission strategies within the Arab world will be tailored differently than they will among North Americans or East Asians.
The concept of people groups, combined with the 20th century push for “evangelization in this generation” led to the discourse of unreached people groups. Once these unreached people groups could be identified, mission mobilizers suggested adopting people groups, especially in a geographic region missiologists called the 10/40 window.
By Kenneth Nehrbass
Jesus used various motifs to describe what He meant by “disciple.” He told some simply, “Follow me” (Matt. 4:19). The authors of the gospels never spell out criteria for who among the crowd following Jesus was a disciple and who wasn’t. It’s safe to say that there was no specific criteria for membership; disciples were those who came to Jesus for teaching (the core of the word “disciple” is one who adheres to the teachings of another). Davis (2015, pp. 29-32) suggests that perhaps the reason that practical theologians cannot agree on a definition of disciple is that it is, after all, a fuzzy (rather than bounded) set. Discipleship is not a program, or a twelve-step process. It is a lifelong process of transformation, and it is personalized- so it is a bit fuzzier to define.
Another motif for discipleship is based on Jesus’ teaching of the kingdom of God. Those who are under the rule of God, in whom the Kingdom is growing (Luke 17:21), are disciples.
Two main activities have characterized missiological understandings of making disciples: proclamation and obedience. Below I’ll explore both briefly.
Discipleship as persuasion
Church growth missiologists understood discipleship as primarily about proclamation. Wagner (1973) said the process of discipling involved helping “unbelievers to make a commitment to Christ. Wagner deliberately distinguished this activity from a separate stage, perfection, which involves “teaching them all things” (Rainer, 1993). Yet this narrow definition of discipleship is no longer in wide use. Scholar-practitioners now recognize that discipleship is more than bringing people to conversion.
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor