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Across Culture

Tim Keller believes there "is no more divisive issue in contemporary evangelicalism than that of how Christians should relate to our broader culture.” He discriminates between a (1) ‘pietistic’ stance (characterised by indifference), (2) ‘conservative activists” (bemoaning the loss of moral absolutes), (3) ‘evangelical relevants” (criticising the withdrawal of the church from the world), and 4) ‘counter-culturalists’ (against the church trying to reform the world to become like it). He likens these groups to tectonic plates, with the groups regularly attacking each other. Keller suggests that “from 30,000 feet” these approaches are actually complementary to each other. Recognising this he attempts to explain why there is such hostility between these groups. He then addresses the question “Where do we go from here?”

Derek Cheng gives three reflections on the legitimacy of 'ethnic churches": (1) culture is more about values than it is about activities; (2) all choices a church makes target some groups more than others; and (3) ethnic churches are legimitate but not for everyone.

Hiebert acknowledges contributions of Church Growth Theory: refocusing priorities, focus on the church, awareness of social contexts and solid research. He then identifies areas of weakness: theological foundations and scientific problems. He considers the relationship of science and theology involved in Church Growth thought, with comments on “God’s Action and Human Control”, “Scientific Pragmatism and Theological Absolutes”, “Science and Western Culture.” In closing he expresses concern “with the dogmatic stance we often find among Church Growth practitioners who appear to be unwilling to re-examine the foundations of CGT in the light of Scripture, and in the light of recent scientific developments.”

In this paper, while not denying that God may at times work through CPMs (Church Planting Movements), Jackson Wu rightly contests the claims of some that CPMs are found in the Bible. CPMs have been defined by David Garrison and the International Missions Board as “a rapid and multiplicative increase of indigenous churches planting churches within a given people group or population segment.” Wu examines some of the attempts, especially from the book of Acts, to ground CPMS in the Bible and demonstrates that these texts do not support what is claimed. He also shows that this is a serious mishandling of God’s Word which has troubling practical consequences: wrong expectations, uncritical use of weak (e.g. overly pragmatic) methodologies, engendering a sense of failure that hinders missionary labour, temptation to distort or misreport the number of new converts and churches, assessment of Christians and missionaries by non-biblical standards, selective reading of the Bible, justifying substandard biblical interpretation in the name of evangelism, narrowing the profile of an ideal missionary leader, discriminating against or discouraging those who are more theological rather than pragmatically oriented, and pressuring missionaries to eliminate activities that potentially slow the rapidity of short-term growth.

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This issue of Issues in Christian Education is full of helpful perspectives and advice on how a church can move from a maintenance mindset to a mission mindset, while recognising it is not a simple case of either-or, and clarifying that there are indeed legitimate maintenance needs.

Mack Stiles identifies as the greatest challenge to modern missions “a lack of understanding of the church’s nature and its role in missions.” He recounts the story of a very silly theological student who claimed to have baptized himself. He likens going to the nations without the support of a local church to baptising oneself. He also makes the point that when a church does send out members to engage in mission they “should send out those they’d be willing to hire as staff.” Further, it is vital that such persons submit to the leadership of the church, allowing the elders to ask searching questions and drawing on their collective wisdom.

Tim Keller here responds to critics who “say we should…simply work at ‘being and building up the church’ and avoid any effort to change or renew culture.” By way of explaining Redeemer Church’s approach to this issue he presents biblical texts under the headings of “loving your neighbour”, “working for God’s glory”, “salting and lighting your world” and “not power, but service.” As he looks back over the texts he has presented he is “struck by the simple fact that cultural change is always a by-product, not the main goal. The main goal is always loving service.”

James Chen considers biblical foundations for “cultural and ethnic ministries.” He considers (1) a covenant of grace; (2) ethnicity and culture; (3) cross culture. He concludes by stressing that “there is absolutely no way you can be culturally neutral” and that, therefore, “the notion that a cultural [ethnic] ministry causes disunity is not only disingenuous but it is also highly ignorant.” He observes: “what most people view as a multicultural church is really just a largely Anglo-Saxon church with people of different ethnicities who have the same Sydney cultural values.” He is not opposed to such churches but simply warns “against a shallow understanding of multiculturalism.”

In this article Alan Johnson speaks as a practitioner. His aim is to sketch “a vision of how both church planting movements and traditional church organizations or associations can move forward together and benefit each other.” Sections include: (1) What do movements look like? (2) How do they happen? (3) Why my Thai friends are not that excited about CPM; (4) Areas needing further work and clarification; (5) A vision for the future. Regarding the fourth section Johnson examines six areas: [1] moving from description to prescription; [2] the issue of durability; [3] the issue of unexplained structure; [4] issues related to counting and reporting; [5] the issue of speed – the notion of ‘wrinkling time’; [6] the issue of the prevalent church becoming the enemy.

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