He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" - Romans 8:32

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Thursday, May 06, 2010 

Missions: Is the Cross the Center of Your Ministry?

Priscilla Pope-Levison and her husband, John, have written Jesus in Global Contexts in which they present portraits of Jesus, or “contextual Christologies," from different cultural perspectives. From Latin America, Jesus is the one who brings political and economic liberation. From Asia, Jesus is presented as the cosmic Christ who is present in and who can be found in nature and in non-Christian religions. In Africa, Jesus is seen as the ancestor who liberates people from oppressive societal structures. The North American Jesus breaks down the forces of domination, with particular reference to male/female and black/white paradigms.

A common theme emerges. All the Christologies presented by the Levisons “emerge from contexts that are defined by suffering.” These sufferings are present in today’s world. But, as we have seen, Jesus has come to deliver his people from a much more dangerous predicament than mere political oppression or physical want.

The book Mission as ‘Transformation’: A Theology of the Whole Gospel—a collection of reflections from missionaries working with the poor around the world—purports to describe “the whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” A quick perusal of the table of contents, however, leaves one wondering, “Is the whole gospel really presented here?” Consider the following representative list of issues taken from the chapter headings: Social concern, Eschatology and ethics, Transformation, The poor, Human need, Modernity, Economics, Environment, Relief and development, Children at risk, Disability, Politics, Church and state, and Freedom and justice. Even in the lone chapter on evangelism, though a call to faith in Christ is issued, the reader is left wishing for a fuller explication of the gospel.

I would like to insert a personal comment at this point. I believe, along with the Levisons and Samuel and Sugden, that our God is deeply concerned about human suffering in all its forms and manifestations. Furthermore, I believe that our God is actively involved in his creation as the one who comes to the rescue of the poor and the needy. I believe that Jesus offers, not only eternal life, but also abundant life in the present. I believe that the missionary should announce these truths to all he encounters. But, I also believe that the heart of the gospel lies elsewhere. With Donald Carson, I will always ask, “Is the cross the center of your ministry?”

God, always has been, and always will be Father, Son and Spirit. To those who live their entire lives in the context of persecution, poverty and suffering, here is the assurance that Jesus continues to care. And, not only does he continue to care, but one day he will return victoriously to gather to himself for all eternity those who are his.

- Dr. George Martin (still more coming tomorrow!)

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