Sunday, October 28, 2012

Incarnation, Up Close and Personal

A Sermon Preached Today at 

Sts Anagyroi (Sts Cosmas and Damien) Cathedral Church, Nairobi, Kenya                    

Luke 8:41-56
            41And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, 42or he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
            But has He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  43Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, 44came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.
            45And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’
            When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, “Who touched Me?”’
            46But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.’
47Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.
            48And He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace.’
            49While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying to him, ‘Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher.’
            50But when Jesus heard it, He answered him saying, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.’  51When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  52Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, ‘Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.’ 53And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.
            54But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Little girl, arise.’  55Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  56And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

The crisis is real; and if you have had children, it’s terrifying.  It happens so fast.  The parents are frantic.  Their only child, their dearest daughter is stricken.  Despite everything they do, she gets weaker and weaker.  Her life is slipping away.  She was the light in her father’s eyes, her laughter made her mother’s heart sing.  They can’t believe this is happening.  They are losing their little girl.  Their hearts are breaking.

The father, and his name is Jairus, thinks of Jesus.  Jairus is one of the synagogue leaders, and he was there in the Capernaum synagogue when the Rabbi Jesus electrified the congregation with his teaching, when he cast out that demon from that man.  Jairus was there when Jesus spent that long evening healing everybody who came with needs.  Jairus saw the leper that Jesus touched, and now he wasn’t a leper any more.  Jairus knew the paralyzed man, whose friends knocked a hole in the roof and lowered him to Jesus.  He saw with his own eyes when Jesus both forgave and then healed right there in front of everybody.  And the man with the withered hand, Jesus healed him right in front of everybody right there in the middle of synagogue.  Whatever you might think about Jesus, people were saying nobody could do the things he was doing if God wasn’t with him.  And Jairus found himself agreeing.

But now, his world was turning upside down.  His daughter was dying. And Jesus?  Where was Jesus?  Someone said he had traveled to the other side of the lake with his disciples. So he was gone.  There would be no help.  He tried to be strong for his little girl, he tried to be strong for his wife.  But his fear, his grief, his helplessness… 

And then he hears that Jesus has come back, a boat with him on board has just come ashore.  Jairus hurries to meet him.  But lots of people have the same idea.  Lots of people are running to the lake.  So many people.  Jairus is desperate.  He pushes and breaks through.  Jesus looks at him, and Jairus just throws himself down on the ground at Jesus’ feet.  Please, Jesus, our little girl.  She’s sick.  She’s dying.  Please, Jesus, you’ve helped so many people. Please, Jesus, please, come help her.  And the Rabbi agrees to come.  Jairus can hardly take it in.  Maybe his daughter will get well.  He gets up and they start to go.  But the way is thronged with people, and they can only go so very slowly.

But Jairus isn’t the only desperate person there.  A woman, whose period has not stopped bleeding for 12 years, whose flow of blood has made her unclean, unable to go to prayers, unable to enter anyone’s house, unable to go anywhere, a prisoner of her illness and of the laws against uncleanness, she too has seen Jesus heal.  So she’s come, secretly, probably veiled so no one would recognize her as being that unclean woman, she’s heard that Jesus is back and she is in the crowd, wanting just to get close enough to touch Jesus, even his robe would do.  And so she pushes her way through, up behind him and, there, she stretches out and grabs the edge of his robe.  And suddenly, she feels that the bleeding has stopped, her womb is made whole.  She feels healthy, restored, clean.  She starts to turn away when she hears the Rabbi call out, ‘Who touched me?’  Even his disciples laugh, because Jesus has been jostled and pushed every which way.  But Jesus has stopped and is insistent, ‘Who touched me?’  And she realizes that Jesus is asking for her.  So she comes.  And she tells her story.  And then Jesus does something of great importance for her – he publically declares her healed.  The community had declared her unclean, and now Jesus lets it be known that her uncleanness has been taken away and she came be restored to the community.  Jesus heals her body, but he touches her soul as well.

But Jairus is almost beside himself as he watches this go on.  He knew time was running out when he started.  His hopes had been raised.  But now, the message comes that every parent fears: ‘Your daughter is dead.  Don’t trouble the Teacher anymore.’  He just stands there, utterly lost, utterly bereaved.  Jesus says some things about believing, but he can hardly hear it.  He half expects some consoling words from the teacher, ‘So sorry for your loss.’  But Jesus presses on to his house.  Once there He asks all the mourners who have gathered in the big room and outside by the door to leave.  They laugh at him when he says that she is just asleep and that he had come to wake her.  He takes the dead girl’s mother and father to the room where her body lay, along with Peter, James and John.  And very simply, he takes her by the hand and says, ‘Little girl, arise.’  And her eyes opened, and she sees her mother and her father and she sits up, and she sees Jesus.  ‘Give her something to eat,’ says Jesus.  And by the way, don’t tell anybody what’s just happened here.

This passage is about the incarnation and what that means for each one of us.  God has chosen not to remain far away from us, but to come to us, to involve himself with us, with our world, with our lives. He hasn’t just sat on his throne on high issuing commands and threats.  Instead, he became a person, he lived as we live.  Not only does he transfigure humanity, but he meets each one of us right where we are.  He meets Jairus and his wife at the point of their desperation.  He meets the bleeding woman in the middle of her alienation.  And he comes to meet you. He comes to meet me.  Not because we somehow clean ourselves up and make ourselves better.  But right here, right now, right where we are, precisely in our own woundedness, precisely in our own dying.  Brothers and sisters, the incarnation means that we are not alone.

Secondly, the incarnation also means he really cares.  Jesus really loves you.  Jesus himself has come looking for you.  Like the good shepherd.  He leaves the 99 behind and comes looking for the lost little sheep.  He comes looking for you.  He comes looking for me.

Thirdly, because of the incarnation we no longer need to be afraid.  Everything arrayed against us, Jesus has gone before us and confronted.  All of our fears are ultimately rooted in our fear of death and all that that means.  But when Jesus became human, Jesus went all the way and embraced even our death.  And by dying, he took death upon himself and broke its power.  And by rising again he became the new Adam, and he became the door for us to enter into his new resurrection life.  So we can face our trials, our struggles, our sicknesses, our losses, knowing that none of these will have the final word over our lives.  The good news this morning is that Jesus will have the final word over you.  As St. Paul says, ‘What then can we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword [separate us from Christ’s love]?...  No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord.’ (Romans 8:31-39)

When Jesus comes into our lives, to our circumstances, to our pain, to our brokenness, to our fear, he can make all things new.  Just ask the woman whom Jesus set free from her bleeding and from all of the stigma attached to it.  Just ask that little girl’s mom and dad.  Just ask the leper that Jesus touched.  Just ask the paralyzed man who stood up and took his mat and walked home.  Just ask the man who was no longer tormented by a legion of demons.  Just ask the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.  Just ask the thief dying on the cross next to Jesus.  When Jesus comes in, when we ask Jesus in, when we let Jesus in, things change.

Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372

artist - Dinah Roe Kendall

artist unknown

artist unknown

artist unknown

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Salvation is Societal

I wrote this back in February of 2010, so apologies from the outset to those who are allergic to reblogging.  But a lot has happened since then.  When I wrote this, I was still a Protestant Evangelical Charismatic ordained Presbyterian minister and SIM missionary teaching at a conservative Evangelical Kenyan theological college.  Now I am none of these.  Instead, driven by astonishment over what I was discovering about God and salvation and me, even after all these years, I made the very costly decision to leave all that behind and become an Orthodox Christian.  It has been hard, hard, hard and on multiple levels.  But knowing what I now know, I am where I must be.  Anyway what follows is a snapshot of one of the steps in the process of what turned out to be my conversion.

Rublev's The Hospitality of Abraham, or, The Holy Trinity

Archimandrite Innocentios Byatakunga began his homily last Sunday at Nairobi’s Orthodox Cathedral of Sts Cosmas and Damian, following the gospel reading from Matthew 25 of the parable of the sheep and the goats, with this three-word sentence:  ‘Salvation is societal.’  This was unexpected.  As was his next sentence, which tied our salvation directly to the very essence of God as Trinity.  Just as God himself is a society of love, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, just as humanity reflects God’s society and capacity for love in that the created image of God in humanity is both male and female together, just as sin is ultimately the rejection of the choice to love, and ultimately the rejection of the Trinitarian society of love, so salvation is humanity’s reintroduction into the life of the Trinitarian society of love, humanity recreated in the resurrected Christ with the capacity and vocation to love restored. 

Ok, I’m of good Protestant/Presbyterian/Evangelical/Charismatic stock, a 1970s graduate of both the Four Spiritual Laws and Evangelism Explosion and 1980s-IVCF’s Ten Steps to God and the then nascent so-called Church Growth movement, but I aint never heard the gospel presented like what I heard last Sunday!  You see, as a card-carrying Evangelical, and, even worse, a theology faculty member at an Evangelical theological institution, I and my ilk have been taught and continue to teach and preach that salvation is about me being right with God, about me responding to the gospel, about me being ‘born again’, about me trusting Christ to save me from my sins and believing that his death purchased my salvation from condemnation and so therefore I am saved.  In other words, salvation is about me.  It doesn’t help matters that I come from one of the most me-centered, individualistic, self-absorbed cultures ever produced in human history.  Nor should it surprise anyone that many attempts to make Christianity ‘relevant’ to such a crowd focus primarily on Christianity’s supposed advantages in the hunt for self-fulfillment, prosperity and success.  Words and phrases like ‘suffering’, ‘discipline’, ‘dying to self’, ‘crucified with Christ’, ‘cost of commitment’ have all but disappeared from the sermons, web pages, magazines, books and TV programs of the most popular preachers, churches and ministries.  It suddenly strikes me that a case could be made that in most conservative and popular churches in my country of origin, the gospel long ago ceased to confront the cultural assumptions of the majority but has increasingly become identified with them, even married to them.  Not only does it not cost anybody to become a Christian anymore where I’m from, but by all accounts it will be to your material advantage and physical well-being to get right with God. (Yes, yes, I know that there are exceptions to the picture I’m painting here, but might not our own defensiveness here itself a symptom of our over-much concern for our own reputations?)  By these lights, God longs to ‘bless’ me, he yearns for my success, he’s just waiting to set me free from all those things that prevent me from being all I’m meant to be.  And then on top of all that, I get to waltz into heaven on account of my wonderful Savior.  It all sounds so good.  It’s a message that’s seemingly guaranteed to fill your church and force you to display just how successful your ministry is by having to build a new ministry center just to manage all the crowds.  The only problem is, according to Fr Innocentios, that this version of Christianity simply isn’t Christian.

In all fairness, there have been Evangelical voices making the same critique for years.  David Wells, my old theology professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary has been sounding alarm bells on precisely these issues for years, but to seemingly no avail.

When it comes to salvation, at the very least we Evangelicals suffer from a confusion of language.  To describe the experience of being reconciled with God through the death and resurrection of Christ, most Evangelicals (at least) have adopted a kind of short hand lingo to explain what has happened in their lives.  We give ‘testimonies’ about our ‘conversion’ and talk about when we were ‘saved’.  All fine and good.  Except that too many of us have forgotten that these are simply short-hand expressions describing the actual biblical process of salvation.  In fact, most so-called ‘conversion’ narratives are talking about a personal apprehension and application of the New Testament idea of ‘justification’.  Again, all well and good.  But what has tended to happen is that for many of us, what the New Testament describes as ‘justification’ has in fact for us become ‘salvation’, as if now that we have our legal issues sorted out between us and God thanks to the intervention of Jesus and his willingness to ‘die for our sins’, ours is simply to believe the good news and so be ‘saved’.

Perhaps our best theologians know better, but nearly everybody else I’ve talked to recently believes that justification is what gets them into heaven.  Never mind for now that the goal of salvation in the New Testament is not ‘going to heaven after I die’, but the New Testament simply does not teach that justification is salvation.  The distinction is crucial.  The New Testament (and most of early Christianity with the exception of a rather dire spell in the Western medieval Catholic church) understands that none of us are ever justified before God by our own efforts or ‘good works’.  Justification is entirely by the grace of God and accomplished entirely by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  But justification isn’t the end, it’s simply the beginning.  It’s the door one must go through to enter into what it means to be saved.  And what it means to be saved is to enter into the transformative relationship of love with the Holy Trinity, a relationship that realigns our hearts and requires our own response of love, both to God the Trinity and to our neighbor. 

In this sense, faith is not belief; rather, faith works by constantly demonstrating our trust in God’s promises of love by learning how to love in response, which means becoming increasingly like Christ as we live as members of God’s new family and God’s irrupting Kingdom, seen mainly in how we treat one another and those around us.  But even if our legal problems are resolved by Christ and our character problems are being resolved by the Holy Spirit, we still all have a death problem. 

Death is the negation of God’s gift of live and of God’s intentions when he created humanity.  And until death is undone, and not just death in the abstract, but my bodily death and yours, conquered so that you and I are released from its corruption and dissolution and raised to a new life by the power of the New Adam who himself came to engage not just sin but death itself and slay it by bursting its bonds through the power of his own resurrection—until we see our Savior with new living eyes in our own resurrection body, we cannot say that we have been saved yet.  This is the hope of the gospel, the hope towards which the New Testament points.  And a ‘salvation’ that does not involve a transformational relationship with the Holy Trinity, the fruit of this relationship of love in our lives and the actual rescue of our sin-corrupted bodies from death into the resurrection life of the new humanity and new creation of the New Adam, such a ‘salvation’ is a hell-inspired parody.

Me-centered Christianity is an oxymoron.  Too many ‘gospel’ presentations are clever sales pitches designed to appeal to self-interest, which, when one thinks about it, is not too far off the strategy used on Eve by the serpent in the garden.  Instead, we were created to love.  And only when I realize just how far I’ve personally missed the mark will I then realize that repentance is my only hope.  Christ then becomes in my eyes the door of escape from my self-induced hell into a new way of living, in relationship with God and in relationship with one another.  This is the way of salvation, the way of Christ.  No longer are we talking about abstract theology, but real relationships and real deeds of love.  ‘Then the righteous (!) will answer him, “But Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, and gave you food, or thirsty, and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing.  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”  And the King will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”’  (Matthew 25:37-40)

Salvation is societal because salvation is love; and that’s because God, as Trinity, is nothing if not love.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

When Missions Becomes Toxic; or, Um, They Don't Need Us Anymore

I originally published this on the previous incarnation of this blog, Onesimus Online.  But I continue to be challenged by the content, and given that I find myself in an ongoing missionary capacity, I think it's healthy to keep wrestling with these issues, especially since things since I first posted this go on unchanged.  It's intentionally provocative, and that is because I want to stir up discussion and encourage us all to think about the nature of Western missionary involvement at this stage in the history of the Church.

‘Missions’ has undergone a very interesting transformation in my lifetime.  I can speak only as a North American Evangelical (who has recently become Orthodox) who has been a part of the North American missions scene since I was a university student in the 1970s.  I have been on short term mission trips.  I have coordinated a short term missions program for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  I have served as ‘chair’ of a presbytery ‘mission’ committee (PCUSA, in case the subtle shift from ‘missions’ to ‘mission’ didn’t tip you off).  I have served as a missionary as a member of the largest independent mission organization in the world (SIM), first in Ethiopia and now in Kenya, where I have served variously as a faculty member of several theological colleges and also as the senior pastor of a very large ‘international’ church.  By mentioning all this, I am not trying to impress anyone; rather, I’m simply trying to establish that I am not some neophyte.

During these nearly four decades of my missions involvement, missions has been ‘sold’ to individuals and to churches in my home (US and UK) contexts as God’s call for us as Christians to supply what is lacking, Christianly-speaking,  in other parts of the world.  So off we go to ‘preach the gospel,’ to ‘plant churches’, to translate the Scriptures, to train leaders, to ‘build capacity’, to build and staff clinics, hospitals and schools, to care for orphans, and generally to reach the (fill in the blank) for Christ.  I’ve also observed first-hand the revolution in both communication and travel and something of the effects on how missions is done.  When I first came as a short-termer to Kenya thirty years ago this summer, there was no telephone in the community where I lived.  It took two weeks for a letter to my mother to reach home, and another two weeks for her reply to catch up with me.  Tonight, I will probably video skype via wireless internet from our back patio from our suburb of Nairobi with my daughters who are in their end-of-year exams at university in Virginia.  Thirty years ago, international travel was exotic and rare.  This past year, various family emergencies have meant that I have traveled back and forth between Kenya and the US three different times.  When we lived in Ethiopia, it was possible to have an early breakfast in Addis Ababa, Lunch in London and a late dinner in Washington, DC, all in the same day.

Used to be us Western missionaries came out for life.  Now ‘long term’ averages about eight years, with the majority of people coming for ‘short-term’ assignments from two years to two weeks.  Very few Westerners are going out to live in remote areas as all-purpose missionary generalists (it still happens, but as the exception rather than the rule), with most coming to urban areas and providing some sort of service or skill.  For example, my wife and I are niche missionaries, with our PhDs enabling me to meet a very specialized need at the top of the theological education food chain.

The other big change is that, while I was in my country of origin, we very much thought we were at the center of the world and at the center of what God is doing.  When I travel back to my ‘people’, I find this still the assumption, whether in local churches or theological colleges/seminaries.  But I’ve also observed that, increasingly, Americans are almost the only people left who think this way about Americans anymore.  The Christian world has moved along, and our multi-billion dollar ‘Christian’ media and music and publishing and conference and education industries, um, 'ministries' are all busy generating the sorts of things that they have always generated, but with less and less relevance to the rest of the world.

Now that I’ve been here (on the ‘field’) for a while, I am realizing that we Western missionaries are not the wonderful blessing from heaven to all these poor and lost people that we like to think of ourselves as.  While we have been certainly busy ‘preaching the gospel’ all these years, we’ve actually succeeded in reproducing some of our less savory attributes much more than anybody is admitting.  Most people who come here as missionaries only know what they know and do not know what they don’t know.  While this is endearing in children, it’s been disastrous on the mission field.  We have reproduced not just our seriously inculturated Western understanding of ‘the gospel’, but we have also reproduced our various and seriously inculturated understandings of the church as well.  The problem is, most of us missionaries have really not thought that much about what sort of ‘church’ we are planting, assuming this to be obvious.  As a result, we have succeeded merely in passing on our ignorances and prejudices, all dressed up as Bible truth.  We came here as Baptists (of multiple sorts), Presbyterians, Methodists, Bible Church Independents, Brethren, Pentecostals, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc, etc, and wonder of wonders is it not surprising that we have succeeded in importing all of our Western arguments and divisions and prejudices in spades.  We excuse our differences by calling them ‘distinctives’ and by saying that they are essentially adiaphora (matters of indifference)—especially your adiaphora—but then fight like the devil when someone actually presumes to treat our distinctives as adiaphora (‘no, really, believer baptism is necessary to be a real NT Christian!’).

I would like to suggest that there are very few places left in the world where a Western Christian presence is advisable, at least the way it has been practiced in the recent past.  I have several reasons motivating me to make this suggestion.

First, our continuing presence as mission organizations actively facilitates a church-killing dependence among the Christians we are supposedly trying to help.  In the churches of sub-Saharan Africa that I am most familiar with, many if not most Christians have never learned to give in a way that enables them to support a local church that is actually sustainable.  We in the West never let them.  For the most part, we dictated what their churches would look like, what their leadership structures should look like, what their ministry programs should look like, what their staffing needs should look like, what their theological education programs should look like, and as long as we were around, we could make it happen.  But take Western money away and all these components collapse of their own unsustainable weight.  And so we rush back in with our ‘resources’ (read money and ‘free’ staff) and thereby keep the plates all spinning until the local churches can keep them spinning on their own (according to our standards of how fast they should be spinning, of course).  But notice in all of this, we from the West simply assumed what was needed and then imposed it on the nascent Christian movements of the non-West.  In the spheres of politics and economics, this is referred to as colonialism.  This sort of intervention has long been understood as disastrous for the economic and political development of sub-Saharan African countries.  It’s time to acknowledge that the ongoing uncritical spiritual colonization of Africa is having just as devastating effects on the long-term health and viability of the African Christian movements.  The problem is, too many African Christians have developed a taste for Western Christian money and programs and education and the local status that comes with being associated with such money, programs and education.  We have created institutions that are perceived by those involved with them as being ‘too big to fail’, as well as created an entire class of dependents who would be destitute were we no longer around to pay the salaries or provide the scholarships or fund the aid programs.

Secondly, this sort of dynamic works the other way, too.  There are too many Western mission organizations and NGOs who, except for spiritualized lingo, have become little more than giant corporations, with layers of management, following every leadership and management trend, focused on the bottom line and becoming ever more efficient in connecting donors with the product as well as expanding the market for the product (i.e. the field/area in which we missionaries or NGO people can ‘serve’).  We’ve become increasingly a missions and aid industry, with our own versions of success and upward mobility, jetting all over the globe to this and that conference, looking always to expand our ability to raise ever more money to fund our salaries and lifestyles and ‘ministries’.  We’ve made ourselves indispensible by convincing ourselves and our donors (and our clients) that we really are not only necessary, but the best, most efficient, most biblical and most convenient way to get whatever done.  We’ve done a superb job of creating a market for what we have to offer.  Some ‘missions’ in the countries where I have lived have been there for 80, 90, 100 years and more.

Thirdly, it is long past time for local Christians to take responsibility for their own churches and training and programs.  This is happening in some places, like India for example, where for years missionaries were forbidden by the government from operating as ‘missionaries.’  Local Christians were forced to take responsibility for themselves.  And while not perfect, there is a maturity among many Indian Christians that is refreshing.  And if taking responsibility for one’s own Christian life and one’s own local church or ‘ministry’ means some churches and schools and programs fail, then it likely means that they were not viable to begin with, at least on the grandiose scales they were conceived when an open tap of resources from the West was assumed.  And if it means that Christianity evaporates from some areas, then that should tell us that whatever ‘Christian’ things were going on there before were not making real contact with the lives of real people.  There comes a point when local Christians must take responsibility for their own fellowship and mission.  If something cannot happen without Western funding and staffing, then should it be happening at all?

The bottom line is that, if we Westerners don’t get out of the way, the churches of Africa and Asia and Latin America will remain the spiritual infants and self-absorbed teenagers that many of them really are.  I was a teenager once, and I remember seething with resentment when a parent forced me away from entertaining myself with TV and music and from stuffing my face with all manner of junk food and made me work as a responsible family member.  With all our faults, we in the West have been instrumental in relaunching Christianity as a global religion.  But our current posture is no longer healthy.  That movement now needs desperately to stand on its own two feet and be made to use limbs and muscles that have been coddled so long that they seem to have atrophied.  We’ve been addicted to each other for way too long.  And as long as we are around, we (the West and its ‘resources’) will be your (non-Western Christians') preferred drug of choice, rather than learning what every other legitimate disciple and church of our Lord has had to learn, that his call means that each one of us pick up our cross and follow him to our deaths.  Our imported business models of ministry success have persuaded too many non-Western Christians that the cross can finally be avoided and that victory is ours for the grasping.  But this sort of hyper-over-realized eschatology is little more than the ‘American Dream’ writ large, which actually is one of the devil’s more effective delusions.

I would love to have some thoughtful discussion on all this.  But I fear that this is one of those untouchable topics in Evangelical and mission circles because, truth be told, too many of us seem to have too much to lose.