Thursday, November 29, 2018

Killing of John Allen Chau, Controversy re: Pope Benedict's View of Jewish-Christian Relations, Claim of Franklin Graham That Trump Defends the Faith: Idea of Religious Mission Now in News

With the killing of John Allen Chau on North Sentinel Island and controversy about EPope Benedict XVI's understanding of Jewish-Christian relations in the news right now, religious missionizing is unexpectedly in the spotlight of the mainstream media. In the current conversations about Christian mission, it would be short-sighted not to recognize that these conversations are taking place against the backdrop of great fear in some quarters that Christian cultures are being overtaken by Muslim ones, and that Christianity needs to compete with Islam in a way reminiscent of the "Holy Wars" period in the past.

Those fears and the assertive attitude some Christians now want to take against Islam (and secular culture in general) lie behind Reverend Franklin Graham's recent praise of Donald Trump as a man who "defends the faith".

What makes the hard reassertion of an evangelical imperative to missionize (and convert, and turn others into Christians) rather strange at this point in history is that it's emerging all over again in some sectors of Christian thought after many years in which new theologies of mission have been developed alongside new theologies in which the limitation of God and divine grace to Christians alone has been resoundingly criticized by many Christian thinkers.

If we think of God as offering loving divine presence to all people everywhere — as, for instance, the major 20th-century Catholic theologian Karl Rahner does — then the sharp need of Christians to bring God to "lost" people living in "darkness" has to be subjected to radical critique at this point in history. On what ground do Christians claim to have singular access to and knowledge of God?

On what ground do they assume that God is not already present to the "lost," to non-Christian cultures, to the other religions of the world? The last Catholic ecumenical council speaks of all the major religions of the world as valid pathways to God — not as "darkness" or "errror" to be placed beside the light and truth of Christianity.

Viewing God and divine grace in this way shifts how many people now view Christian mission and the Christian imperative to missionize. For one thing, seeing God and grace in this way opens the door for Christians to begin understanding that they do not own God in some unilateral way, but can learn about and receive God from non-Christian cultures and religions.

Major shifts that have taken place in the theology of mission in recent years stress the importance of concepts like presence in missionary activity — the importance of missionaries living among and being present to, open to, receptive towards, people of other cultures. In Christian missionary activity, it is more important that the Christian missionary live the Christian gospel among non-churched people than it is to use the gospel as a kind of weapon to hit those people over the head with. It is more important that Christian missionaries learn and receive from the cultures in which their missionary presence is rooted, than that they view themselves as the purveyors of a truth they and other Christians unilaterally own.

The understanding of mission that has grown in Christian theology in recent decades stresses, in line with the dictum attributed to St. Francis (though Francis may never have said these words in this precise formulation, "Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words." It is more important to proclaim the gospel by living it than by speaking it, much contemporary theology of mission insists — and living the gospel calls on Christians to refrain from imagining that they have some superior vantage point on truth, morality, and some unique ownership of God. 

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