I am reading a book titled Crisis and Hope In Latin America… an Evangelical Perspective by Emilio Antonio Nunez C. and William David Taylor. For the record, I could have never earned an MDiv because I can’t read a whole lot in a short period of time. I have been working on this read for awhile now. I have really been challenged by some things I am reading, and I wanted to share them here.
Thoughts 1: Here in Latin America the Charismatic Movement has taken off. People are drawn to an emotional experience of God. The author has a long chapter on the history of the movement and its effects on different groups (this always includes Catholicism), but the very end of the chapter hit me like a ton of bricks. I can read through and be critical of groups and their “so-called” experiences with God. It is always easy for me to hold my pride up in what I think. But the author makes his message very personal to the reader on the last page of the chapter:
We have to admit that the charismatic movement is a real challenge to the Roman Catholic church, to the mainline Protestant denominations, to classic or historical Pentecostalism, and to us evangelicals in the so-called biblical movement. We have to answer this challenge on exegetical grounds, with an open Bible in our hands, but also on a practical level. Our biblical knowledge and orthodoxy are basic in dealing with this movement. But we have also to answer this challenge with our lives. For instance, do we really belive God? Do we really trust him in our daily lives? Or is he only a far away person, reduced to our theolgical thinking? We know he is personal, we know he has wonderful attributes, we know he is the creator, the God of providence, God the redeemer, and God the consummator. We know he is the only and living true God. But, do we know him in action in our daily walks? We have to demonstrate in one way or another that he is real to us, not only in books of theology, but also in our day-to-day experience. Some people go to the charismatic movement because they feel that they are spiritually empty; they have not seen God as reality in their lives in our congregations.
Many of our churches are agonizing. They have Bible study, Sunday school, women’s fellowship, youth meetings, vacation Bible schools, and you name it, but they are not really alive. There is not a real difference between the environment outside the church and the atmosphere inside the congregation. There is not a real worship. There is not a joyful praise to the Lord. The Scriptures may be explained in a technical way, when they are really explained, but the people do not feel the impact of the Word. Their hearts are not warmed by the Scriptures. It seems that we are missing something. We do not have just to blame charismatism if the people leave our agonizing churches to go somewhere else, perhaps back to the world. Are we not supposed to take seriously in our own lives and ministry the New Testament teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit?
So I will ask you what I thought to myself, “Did you grow up or are you now part of a church that is alive?” Now, don’t even consider the other members. “Are you alive in your daily walk with Christ?”
Thoughts 2: I have just started a chapter that I am really excited about finishing. My eyes were opened to these ideas in college and I am in debt to the ex-missionaries that taught me to rethink some things. Many of you have heard this or read this, but it is always good for me to be reminded of the concept. The chapter is titled “Doing Theology in Latin America: Contextualization.”
The section I just completed is about the meaning of contextualization. I have always loved the analogy that a missionary in Sri Lanka gives for when we speak of indigenization and contextualization…
the Gospel is like a seed, and you have to sow it. When you sow the seed of the Gospel in Palestine, a plant that can be called Palestinian Christianity grows. When you sow it in Rome, a plant of Roman Christianity grows. You sow the Gospel in Great Britain and you get British Christianity. The seed of the Gospel is later brought to America, and a plant grows of American Christianity. Now, when the missionaries came to our lands they brought not only the seed of the Gospel, but their own plant of Christianity, flowerpot included! So, what we have to do is to break the flowerpot, take out the seed of the Gospel, sow it in our own cultural soil, and let our own version of Christianity grow.
What a challenge to missionaries! I have struggled with this, and pray to God that he opens my eyes to the message of Gospel that transcends all cultural boundaries. It is so easy to think that something is supposed to be a certain way because it has always been done that ceratin way in my limited cultural expereince. I have visited multiple churches throughout Latin American and the United States and I can tell you if they are cultural to their setting. I am a huge fan of Les and Loopie Williams. My home church supported this couple in Papau New Guinea when I was a child and I remember them coming in and telling their stories at my family’s dinner table. I was blessed to hear Les speak at a Missions Interest Group when Greg and I lived in Memphis and Greg attended HUGSR. Les shared how he had learned lessons of contextualization in his work. His talk deeply impacted me. I covet the missionaries across the globe that have figured out contextualization in foreign cultures. I have a seed. I also have a great big flowerpot that has grown with me since I was born into the church of Christ in a small town in TN. I continue to pray that I can decipher between the planting of this seed and the breaking of the flowerpot that came with me.
Our team is studying John and memorizing a short piece from each chapter every week. I really like this short bit coming from the mouth of Jesus:
Then Jesus cried out, “Those who believe in me do not believe in me only, but in the One who sent me. When they look at me, they see the One who sent me. I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.”
Jesus lived a life that is a model for all of us. We also are sent by the One. I pray with all of my heart that the people that I encounter in my daily life see the the One who sent me when they look at me. Jesus’ life was all about the glory of the Father. May our lives do the same.