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Finding common ground in the missions debate

This entry is part 5 of 16 in the series

"Missions and Music"

You can read more posts from the series by using the Table of Contents in the right sidebar.

Here’s the reality: those of us blogging here fully realize that our positions are not popular. Not popular, I suppose, greatly underestimates the matter: for many Christians today, our positions are not even fathomable—it is impossible for them to believe that anyone could hold a position as outlandish, and even as offensive, as ours. And lest offensive seem too strong a word, browse the comment archives around here sometime, and see how many times terms like racist and racism are used.

Because of this, I greatly appreciated Ryan’s first post in this series on missions. Frankly, if saying that an organ is better suited for worship than a guitar opens us to accusations of racism, any discussion of music on the mission field will be a minefield.

For that reason, I want to ask, with Ryan, for your participation in a thought experiment: can you conceive of a society, a culture, whose language and culture, whose means of communication, make the telling of the gospel exceedingly difficult? Can we imagine a culture whose standard religious practices, their ideas of what it is like to worship, are so far from that required by Scripture that, when we introduce the gospel, we will also, of necessity, have to introduce new forms of worship? Is any of this possible, from a Christian worldview, without it also being imperialist, racist, or misanthropic?

Perhaps we could sidestep the question of race by changing the thought experiment. Suppose that you were a missionary to a health-wealth-prosperity gospel community. You were seeking to bring the true gospel, the message of Jesus Christ, to these people. What about their culture could you retain? What would need to be replaced? Are there cultural expressions that, while not in themselves wrong, are so clouded with misunderstanding that, for this group of people, they would be better discarded entirely?

READ
Musical Form in Christian Hymnody

Here’s the angle I’ll be taking in my contribution to this series on music and missions: as I mentioned in my last post, non-propositional features of our culture contribute significantly to the kinds of propositions that we will find believable. This means that, when we look at the task of missions, our goal cannot merely be the communication of gospel propositions in a receptor language; we also have to ask hard questions about how we present our message.

To frame the discussion differently, I think even non-Van Tillians recognize some validity in the idea of a presupposition; none of us evaluate evidence neutrally; what might even count as evidence for or against something is judged (at least partially) by what we bring to our exploration of the evidence. My contention is that presuppositions are not merely “of the head”; there are presuppositions of the heart as well.

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Michael Riley

About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.

One Response to Finding common ground in the missions debate

  1. Michael, I fully embrace all the unpopular presuppositions you affirm in this post. Except that I'm still trying to figure out how Ryan was using the Jonathan Edwards quote. As I see it, there's a difference between arguments about what instrumentation best communicates certain kinds of truth and arguments about whether we need to teach people English because their languages are not yet sufficiently developed to communicate the subtleties of theology and morality. I believe that difference needs to be accounted for and/or explained.

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