A Shift in Methodology

The United States of America has been recognized as a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant missions-sending powerhouse,[1] but it is becoming less white and browner by the day. A more politically progressive, less religiously-affiliated, and darker pigmented America seems to be thriving. The complexion of America is browning socially and spiritually. The demography of the United States no longer projects a black and white picture resembling television screens of the 1950’s.  Richard Rodriguez affixes the phrase “the browning of America”[2] to the mentioned status quo. Rodriguez not only engages the topic of ethnic diversity, he rides the waves of cultural, political, and social transitions as well.

The mission of the Church is to preach the gospel, make disciples of every ethnicity, and engage the culture while serving as representatives of the Kingdom of God.[3] That mission remains intact despite the spiritual and social changes in America. If the church desires to live on mission and have maximum impact for God’s kingdom, it must shift its methodology, but not it’s message in order to determine best practices for kingdom representation

A rubric is needed for American Christians to know how to use Scripture as a filter to determine how to respond to what their unregenerate neighbors believe, the cultural nuances of life rhythms, personal experiences, and the history of how the church has engaged similar cultures resembling what America is becoming. A missiological method is one such rubric.

Defining a Missiological Method

Bruce Ashford and Scott Bridger suggest a proper missiological method is evidenced by the “ways in which we can ground our mission practice in sound, biblically faithful theology, in conversation with church history, the social sciences, and our cultural contexts.”[4] A missiological method places Scripture as its primary source. Faithful study of Scripture should lead the believer in their development of a Bible-centered theological method, that is then brought into dialogue with human faculties such as reason, culture, experience, and tradition.

Each of these provides access for missional engagement with the targeted culture. The believer must work to find a balance between developing a missiological method and then mobilizing to put it into practice with care and precision. Samuel Escobar emphasizes, “Mission requires orthodoxy, a concern for the integrity of the gospel, but it also requires orthopraxis, a concern for the way in which the believer practice is carried on.”[5] Following the cues of Ashford, Bridger, and Escobar, the first stage in building a missiological method is consulting with Scripture.

Scripture

scriptureThe believer should view Scripture as the authoritative voice not only regarding what they believe but also what’s driving their lifestyle (practice), especially as it relates to evangelistic cultural engagement. Kevin Vanhoozer said, “Orthodoxy is not merely a systematization of information contained in the biblical statements…doctrines were not written in the language of heaven, but in time-bound and culture-bound languages, governed by the dialogue we find in Scripture. Interpretation of Scripture is important, and so is the culture.”[6]

The metanarrative of Scripture is the overarching story the believer always goes back to, as it contains content directly related to God’s creating of the universe, the fall of humanity, the redemption of humanity through the finished work of Jesus and the full restoration. All truth is God’s truth and any statement made that aligns with the metanarrative of Scripture is confirmed truth. Each of the following elements of one’s missiological method is to be filtered through the lens of Scripture.

Reason

Scripture informs its readers the entire human being, including their reason, has been corrupted by sin when Adam fell in the garden (Gen 3:1-7).

A missiological method takes into consideration the thought process of the unbeliever in order to bring their content into dialogue with Scripture. The goal for the believer is to show the insufficiency of the unbelievers’ worldview by juxtaposing it with a biblical worldview.

The believer must keep in mind, Christian doctrine is a communal confession of true insights concerning God and humanity that are rendered from an intellectual self-expression of a living and thinking community.[7] What each Christian believes is not a result of their understanding alone; rather, it’s part of an ongoing conversation of believers throughout the corridors of Church history. Christian doctrine is then believed to be congruent with historical fact throughout human history, contrasting with such thinkers as Ernst Troeltsch, who separated the eternal ethical values of Scripture from reality because they could not be proven scientifically[8].

This line of thought falls in step with Enlightenment thinking that paved the way for relativism. Stephen Sykes summarized Troeltsch’s teachings by saying, to Troeltsch, what is doctrinally true in one specific historical context is not so in another.[9] The believer compares historic events with the metanarrative of Scripture to highlight how God’s truth transcends all of history and culture rather than changing with it. After this, they assess the voices of influence (e.g. celebrities, entertainers, “Big Homies”[10]) who are shaping the worldview of their unregenerate neighbors. 

Culture

When the culture encounters believers proclaiming God’s metanarrative, it should cause them to ask questions the believer is prepared to answer in meekness (1 Peter 3:15). The process used in answering the questions should be what David Clark calls the dialogical method, which not only allows Scripture to answer the concerns [of the culture] but also transform those concerns.[11]

The unbeliever has questions because God has placed eternity in the hearts of every human (Ecc 3:11); however, the purpose of the questions they’re asking has been misdirected by sin. The dialogical method leverages Scripture to address the initial questions from the categories the unbeliever already knows. Over time the Bible will trigger new questions to be asked allowing the believer to reinforce the metanarrative of Scripture leading to stronger gospel appeals. The goal is then to see the unbeliever become a regenerated believer, grow in their knowledge of the Scriptures, and then, in turn, engage the very culture they were raised in employing the missiological method shared with them by the believer.

Experience

Everyday experiences in life happen so they cannot be avoided; however, they must be brought into submission to Scripture (cf. 2 Pet 1:16-21). The human experiences can be misleading to the point of forsaking Scripture and taking up pragmatism. This was perhaps the misstep of Friedrich Schleiermacher that led to the founding and development of liberal Protestant theology. Schleiermacher placed too strong an emphasis on the experience and intuition of the reader of Scripture by allowing it to be placed on the same level as the original author of a passage, and the result is the meaning of the text, that both the author and reader can agree upon.[12] This practice will be avoided when Scripture is kept in its proper context and the intended meaning renders principles that can be applied in the life of the believer.

Tradition

Church history uncovers the reasons for practices that have both worked and not worked. Christian theology has always been birthed out of controversy, and believers in the modern era have the opportunity to research what beliefs have been embraced as orthodox and which ones were condemned as heretical. The believer must find comfort in the truth the faith they are in possession of is nothing new; rather, it has been handed down for over three millennia and is still bearing fruit throughout the entire world (cf. Col 1:6). Listening to the voices from Church fathers, councils, creeds, and faithful scholars of the past and present will provide the believer with keen insight into doctrinal and practical issues that surface and need to be handled with care.

Moving Forward

If the Evangelical church in the United States is going to attempt to reach the millions of lost souls in our communities, then a missiological method should be applied to know and understand how to engage their immediate mission field.

This will take the commitment of pastors of local churches to engage their local lost neighbors in their community to determine how they can apply the missiological method in their own context. In addition, it will take members in the congregation to commit to meaningfully engaging in ongoing conversations with lost neighbors, faithfully meeting needs, and boldly sharing the gospel. Lastly, it would more widely benefit North American churches to document and publish assessments and outcomes and to share insights from gospel engagement with various ethnic people groups, generations, and social issues.

 

[1] In, The End of White Christian America, Founding CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) Robert P. Jones argues a thesis claiming white American Christianity (divided into two sub-groups Mainline and Evangelical) is dying. He supports his argument based on the declining numbers of white American Christian adherents, political policies are no longer subjugated to what white American Christians classified as ethical values and the generational differences in worldview. According to Jones, each of these components have dethroned the white American Christian voice from being the dominant leader of the conversation and picture of what defines America.
[2] Richard Rodriguez, Brown: The Last Discovery of America, (New York: Penguin Books, 2003).
[3] The given mission of the church is a compilation of the following stated convictions; DeYoung and Gilbert’s emphasis on evangelism in What Is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), Keller’s focus on local churches training members to engage the culture in Center Church (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2012), and Hammett’s intentional inclusion of the nations being a non-negotiable in Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2005).
[4] Bruce Ashford and Scott Bridger, “Missiological Method” a chapter in, Missiology: An Introduction to the Foundations, History, and Strategies of World Missions, 2nd ed., John Mark Terry, (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2015), 31.
[5] Samuel Escobar, The New Global Mission: The Gospel from Everywhere to Everyone, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVaristy Press, 2013), 25.
[6] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, First Theology: God, Scripture, & Hermeneutics, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002), 243.
[7] Allister E. McGrath, The Genesis of Doctrine: A Study in the Foundations of Doctrinal Criticism, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990), 72—74.
[8] Ernst Troelstsch, The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches, vol 2, translated by Olive Wyon, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1992), 1002—1006.
[9] Stephen Sykes, The Identity of Christianity: Theologians and the Essence of Christianity from Schleiermacher to Barth, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1984), 148—173.
[10]“Big Homie” is a term often used to describe the person who initiated a person in a street gang or the leader of the gang. It can also include a veteran who has earned their stripes in the ways of ‘street life’ in urban America.
[11]David Clark and John S. Feinberg, To Know and Love God: Method for Theology, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2003), 113—122.
[12]Richard Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer, (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969), 87—88.

D.A. Horton
Author

D.A. Horton serves as Lead Pastor of Reach Fellowship a church plant in North Long Beach, CA. Prior to his current role he’s also served as Chief Evangelist for the Urban Youth Workers Institute (UYWI), an urban church planter/pastor in Kansas City, MO, a National Coordinator of Urban Student Ministries at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and the Executive Director at ReachLife Ministries, the non-profit ministry of Reach Records.

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