Missions Fest: Learning to listen to non-Western voices

Soong-Chan Rah is helping North American Christians to grapple with the "cultural captivity of the West."

Soong-Chan Rah is helping North American Christians to grapple with the “cultural captivity of the West.”

There are always 101 good reasons to come down to Missions Fest – try it out this weekend (Friday to Sunday) if you never have, or haven’t for a while. But one element I’m particularly looking forward to this year is the focus on hearing other voices.

The missionary movement has much to be proud of, but it has been primarily a Western phenomenon, with missionaries going from Europe and North America to the rest of the world. That has been changing for decades now, of course, but it will no doubt still be some time before those of us in the West really understand and appreciate the significance of those changes.

This year at Missions Fest, Soong-Chan Rah will be addressing topics such as ‘A Biblical Multi-Ethnic Future’ and Lawrence Tong will describe the missions situation from his perspective as international director of Operation Mobilisation, based in Singapore. (Ede Clarke will also be speaking about her work with the voiceless and forgotten in Asia; see some of her story here.)

Soong-Chan Rah: Cultural captivity of the West

Born in Korea, Soong-Chan Rah came to the United States with his family when he was six years old. In The Next Evangelicalism (one of his books, but also the title of one of his talks at Missions Fest) he describes a tough start in the new land: various traumas related to being poor and different, but also how his father left his mother with four children to care for alone.

“In the midst of all these difficulties,” he says, “it was the church that gave our family stability and direction. It was an evangelical faith that transformed me from bitterness and defeat to an unwavering hope. . . . I am a product of American evangelicalism.”

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Rah is nonetheless “confronted with the reality of feeling marginalized in the context of my own faith tradition. . . . I grow weary of seeing Western, white expressions of the Christian faith being lifted up while failing to see nonwhite expressions of faith represented in meaningful ways in American evangelicalism.”

During an interview at Regent College a couple of years ago, Rah synthesized some of his key points on the growth of Christianity, the cultural captivity of the Western Church and the importance of examining a theology of culture. Following is a portion, which hints at what we can expect during Missions Fest:

We are dealing with some drastic changes, demographic changes, in global Christianity, as well as in North American Christianity, and we’re seeing much more diversity, much more a range of cultures that are coming into the church in North America.

How do we as a Western church really deal with these very drastic demographic changes? Where is the theology that actually helps us to understand culture, not through our particular cultural lens – our cultural chauvinistic lens – but actually through the lens of scripture.

For several hundred years, what we saw was the dominance of Western Christianity, and the shaping of Christianity centred around Western culture, Western ideals, Western philosophies – and that makes sense because we had a Christianity demographically dominated by the West, Europe and North America.

But we know that for the last century or so, what we have seen is a dramatic shift towards Christianity finding expression, finding exponential growth, in the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America. So one of the key questions we want to ask is, should Christianity continue to be couched in highly Westernized terms, or do we begin to understand how the gospel is now translating into these different cultural contexts. . . .

So when I use the term ‘cultural captivity of the West,’ what I’m arguing for is that in Christianity right now, the 20th and 21st century, what we saw were the values of Western culture more significantly influencing Christianity and the gospel than the gospel message itself or the scriptures themselves. . . .

God is honouring the ways that we come to him with our own experiences, with our own cultural framework, and instead of checking that at the door, we actually bring that, and we offer that as worship.

The scripture really testifies to what God has in store for us, which is a multi-ethnic future, and there’s great possibility now, in the 21st century, especially in North America, to reflect a multi-ethnic reality presently that looks ahead to the future of Revelation chapter seven.

To watch the video, go here.

Lawrence Tong: The third table

Lawrence Tong says Western and Global South Christians must pursue the Great Commission together.

Lawrence Tong says Western and Global South Christians must pursue the Great Commission together.

Lawrence Tong became  international director of Operation Mobilisation in 2013. Seeing himself as “a debtor to an OM heritage that has shaped my life and ministry,” he says God’s intent “has always been a global church,” which requires believers from all over the world to work together:

Long-held traditional views on mission (‘from the West to the rest’) need recalibrating by both Western churches and those in the Global South who merit a greater stake in a shared future. The sheer number of believers in the South means that any strategy that does not involve them from the outset is flawed. Happily, the church in the Global South is expanding rapidly and beginning to embrace its shared responsibility to reach the world. They are ready to pray, give and go!

Globalization means that we should seek out new frontiers of mission, where millions live unnoticed by God’s people. These ‘least reached’ are essential to the kingdom of God. As a reflection of where the growth and energy of the church is today, people from these regions deserve and expect greater participation alongside Westerners, who will no longer have the dominant voice.

My plea is that the Global South, with its young and resourceful churches, will not say to the Western church, “Go to your own table and work by yourself.” Nor will the West, with its historical knowledge and experience, say to the Global South church, “Find your own table and work by yourself.”

Rather, all of us – West, South, East – should leave our respective tables to create a new, third roundtable where we work as equal partners, making joint decisions about our future. Since all of us have been called by the same Master to this greatest of tasks, it is everyone’s business.

With Soong-Chan Rah and Lawrence Tong leading the way, I expect to find many opportunities at Missions Fest to think and talk about what this ‘third table’ might actually look like.

Justin Tse: Hong Kong protests / activist evangelicals

Justin Tse

Justin Tse

Journalist Ian Young wrote an article based on Justin Tse’s January 22 lecture at Regent College: ‘What Can I Do For This City?’: The Hong Kong Protests and Evangelical Theology. (This has nothing to do with Missions Fest, but it is consistent with the messages of Soong-Chan Rah and Lawrence Tong, and is a good example of a situation in which Asian-influenced Christianity is affecting culture, both in Hong Kong and here in Vancouver.)

Following is a brief excerpt from the article:

Much has already been made of the evangelical Christian connections that permeate the 2014 [Hong Kong] protests. From Joshua Wong Chi-fung to Benny Tai Yiu-ting, evangelical Christians have been at the forefront.

Yet Tse doesn’t argue that the Umbrella Movement is an evangelical movement, or even that evangelicals (in Hong Kong or Vancouver, for that matter) necessarily support the movement. Instead, he argues that it was evangelicals who helped created the Hong Kong public sphere in which the Umbrella Movement exists, framing their political activities in terms of their Christian beliefs.

For the full article go here.

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