Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

In Conversation with an Orthodox Jew

On my way back from Israel to Johannesburg, this past Wednesday, I had an extremely interesting time. I had a window seat (fortunately, because that is the only place where I have a slight possibility of sleeping on an aircraft). The aisle seat was already taken when I arrived and after sitting down we greeted each other. I assumed that the passenger was Jewish (we were flying with El AL from Tel Aviv to Johannesburg, so this was a fairly easy deduction to make). Nevertheless, I asked him whether he was living in Israel and visiting South Africa or living in South Africa and returning from a visit to Israel. He then told me that he had been to Israel for his father’s funeral. His father had died the previous Sunday and the funeral was held on the following Tuesday. What then happened was a conversation out of the book, so to speak. Hebrew had been one of my two main subjects at university and I have had an interest in the Jewish religion and customs for many years.
I started asking questions about their customs during funerals which then developed into a time of him sharing a lot from his experience of his religion, how he felt about the synagogue services, how he felt about keeping to the Shabbat, how he felt about always eating kosher food, even sharing with me one of his most intimate moments when he had circumcised his own son. His wife was five months pregnant before they realised it (they did not think that she would be able to become pregnant again) and the baby was born two months prematurely, which meant that they were only aware of two months that she was pregnant (what a bonus!) I never realised that circumcision was done only when the baby boy weighs three kilograms. I always thought that a baby had to be circumcised at 8 days.
He shared a lot about fighting with God about his father’s death (almost like Job) and struggling to come to terms with it. At one point I asked him whether the Jewish religion had an expectation of life after death, which he then rephrased to: We believe in life after life! After dinner (at 3 in the morning) he wanted to sleep and for myself it was also a memorable occasion as I slept from 3 up to about 7.30 (a record for me, admittedly with the help of a sleeping tablet – the only time I ever use it.)
After breakfast he started questioning me: How do we as Christians feel about death? When a Christian dies, will that person be with God immediately? What about suffering? Learning that my father died about seven years ago he wanted to know from me how I had handled it and if it will ever become easier to think of his father. And then an amazing question: Who killed Jesus? When I answered him that Jesus had been killed by the Jews, he looked at me in total disbelief. He had never realised this! I don’t know what he thought, but he knows nothing about the New Testament. I shared with him in short the story of Jesus and how he was crucified. And I asked him to get a New Testament and to read the four gospels and Acts in order to understand how Jesus fits in with the Jewish people of His time.
We had become friends during the nine hour flight to South Africa and he made me promise that, if I ever visit Cape Town in the future, that I will call him so that he can take me to the synagogue with him on a Saturday morning, which is the main Shabbat service. I have attended the Friday evening service in a synagogue on two occasions, but never the Saturday service.
Why was this so special to me? Mainly because I have said over and over again that evangelism can mostly only be done effectively within a relationship. There are exceptions to the rule. But the greatest compliment I received was just before I disembarked, when he gave me his business card and told me that he would be making contact with me to ask more questions about Christianity, because, as he said, most Christians don’t want to answer questions and he appreciated that I was willing to explain things to him which he didn’t understand.
What will come from this, I don’t know. It’s not that I have this strong belief that he is going to convert to Christianity. But at the very least I trust that he will feel that Christians have love for people, regardless of their faith or background and that we don’t see the rest of the world as us against them, a host of people who have to be converted as quickly as possible. Obviously I pray that he will come to true saving faith in the real Messhiach, but this will have to happen as God provides opportunities for greater interaction to take place.


Friday, November 30, 2007 Posted by | Building relations, Dialogue, Evangelism, Mission | | 5 Comments

Reflections on Israel

I’ve just returned from a quick visit to Israel. This was the first time that I’ve had the opportunity to be there and when I returned, I said to my wife that to a certain extent I had prepared myself for a number of disappointments and possibly those were even worse than I anticipated. But it was also a privilege to have been there. We saw much more than is shown to normal tours, as this was actually a promotion for potential tour leaders (and I was invited to go because someone who would have gone withdrew at the last moment and the place was already booked and they were just looking for someone to fill the space.)
Having spoken to other people who had been to Israel before, most of them emphasise the amazing spiritual experience they had. As for myself, I had very little of this. The climax of a trip to Israel, walking the Via Dolorosa, the road which Jesus followed according to tradition to be crucified, left me more frustrated than excited. Obviously I realise that many of the so-called stations en route to the cross can never be proven to be the historical places where the things happened of which we read in the Bible. Furthermore, there are so many churches built along this route where people kneel and kiss stones and other things which are claimed to be historical, that it really becomes impossible (at least for me) to experience what really happened to Jesus.
But it was great to stand on truly historical places. One of the extras we had was a tour deep down under the city of Jerusalem where excavations are taking place to expose the original temple walls which existed in the times of Jesus (definitely not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia) and this was an amazing experience. The highlight for myself was the visit to Masada where the Jews held out against a Roman siege for three years and then eventually killed each other rather than allowing them to fall into the hands of the Romans. Another great experience was being on Mount Carmel where Elijah won the match against the Ba’al prophets. The greatest irritation there was that an air force landing strip had been built at the foot of the mountain and every minute or so an F-16 (or something similar) zipped across the sky making it nearly impossible to become quiet in the presence of the Lord.
On Monday we were specially blessed when we stayed over on the banks of the Sea of Galilee at Tiberias and it was full moon. As the moon came up over the mountains surrounding the Sea of Galilee, I could really imagine Jesus sitting there with his disciples, watching the moon rise. And at least no church was built on the water!
It was good to be there. It was a privilege which I had never granted myself and probably would not have done, had it not been for this special offer that came my way. I would hardly be able to preach in the future without seeing in my mind the lay of the country. But I would never claim that this had been the climax of my spiritual road with God.
I did however have a great experience – not while in Israel, but on my way back. But I’ll write about that tomorrow.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 Posted by | Theology | | 4 Comments

Dry bones showing signs of life

On Sunday I went to preach at one of the branches of our church, approximately 120 km (75 miles) from where we live. This is a place known as Matsanjeni. In SiSwati, the language used in Swaziland, the name Matsanjeni literally means the place of the dry bones, such as when animals die and their bones are thrown in a heap. This specific church has some history behind it, because we used to worship in a round clay hut (commonly known as a Rondavel) which was at most 5 metres (about 16 feet) in diameter. On one Sunday morning we squashed 115 people into that church! First the adults had to enter and then the children had to find space between their feet and lastly I entered and came no further than the door. A makeshift pulpit in the form of a small table was put down on the doorstep from where I had to preach (and even served communion that day!)
Then in the year 2000, after heavy rains and floods (which also did great damage in the bordering Mocambique) the church was destroyed. After that we had to worship under a tree, but that place is hot – very hot! Fortunately, a church in South Africa partnered with us and helped us to build a new church. On the day when the church was officially opened, I preached from Ezekiel 37:1-5: The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me to and fro among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign LORD, you alone know. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. If you want to have a look at some photos of this area and the church, click here.
Partially we have seen these words come true. Because our church buildings are mostly in rural areas, we seldom have more than 50 or 60 people attending church on a Sunday. At Matsanjeni however, we regularly have 100 or sometimes more people attending.
But I’m getting sidetracked. On Sunday I went to visit this branch. Upon entering the building, I immediately noticed that something was different – it was as if there was more light in church. And then I realised: The church had been plastered on the inside. I indicated to the man responsible for the people at this church that I wanted to speak to him outside. There he told me that someone had given them 20 bags of cement. The church members then started collecting money and soon had enough that they could employ a builder to do the work for them. What was really wonderful for me was that they did not see it necessary to ask my permission to do this (which was the normal way of doing such things). They did not go around begging for money. They took initiative, collected money and started getting the work done. What a pleasant surprise for me. Their next step will be to smoothen the floor (which is still rough concrete) and then they will plaster the outside of the church.
Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but I believe that I’m witnessing some dry bones coming to life through the way in which people start taking responsibility. And that’s great news!
I will only be able to blog again on 28 November. I recently received a surprise invitation to visit Israel. I will be leaving South Africa on Wednesday morning and return the following Wednesday. I’ve never had an urge to visit Israel, being well aware that things are extremely commercialised and also realising that many things are dished up to unsuspecting tourists which is just not the truth. But I believe that God has now brought this opportunity in my life and I will make the most of it. So most probably, on my return, I will write something about my impressions of this visit.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007 Posted by | Church, Dependency, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Partnership, Swaziland | 1 Comment

Mission and Eschatology (5)

Is there a way to explain Revelations 20 in such a way that it fits in with the rest of the Bible while, at the same time giving us acceptable ways of looking at missions which will fit in with what the Bible teaches on the subject? I believe there is. Most theologians does not accept the idea that Christ will return twice. Neither do I. But how should we then understand the thousand years of peace? In line with the rest of Revelations I would say that the thousand years should not be understood as a literal time span of 1000 years but that it should rather be understood in a symbolic way, indicating the power of God. Christ has already conquered Satan (Colossians 2:13-15) and although Satan is not dead yet, he does not have a free hand to do whatever he wants to. When Christ comes again, Satan will however be defeated completely (Revelations 20:10).
In comparison with the thousand years in which Christ reigns, Satan only reigns for three and a half years. If this is also understood symbolically as an indication of the power (or rather the lack of power) of Satan, then it means that Satan is really nothing compared to God (three and a half against one thousand!)
How would this viewpoint influence one’s understanding of missions? Firstly it helps one look at world history in an optimistic way, while at the same time retaining realism. Christ is in control (optimism) but Satan still has some restricted power (realism). Satan has already been defeated (optimism) but he will be totally defeated when Christ comes again (realism).
Secondly, when Satan came into the world he corrupted everything (man, nature, relationships, etc). When Jesus came, He came to save the world (John 3:16) and not only the souls of some people. Therefore, in missions, our aim should be to proclaim the authority of God over the world. And how is this done? By getting involved with the world! People are called by God to bear the fruit of their salvation. Therefore we can expect that the world should also bear the fruit of salvation. This means, according to this viewpoint, that I, as Christian, need to get involved in everything which was corrupted by sin: helping to repair relationships between human beings, between human beings and God as well as between human beings and nature. When I, as Christian, get involved with sickness, this becomes part of my mission. If I, as Christian, get involved in fighting against global warming, then it becomes part of my mission. If I as Christian help to solve the problem of hunger in the world, then this becomes part of my mission. If I proclaim the salvation in Christ over sin and help people come into a living relationship with Him, then that is also part of my mission.
And this is all done with the belief that one day Christ will indeed come again, at which time everything will be made perfect. But until that day comes, I, as Christian, should be busy proclaiming the power of God through my words and through what I am doing.
And this is missions!

Monday, November 19, 2007 Posted by | Eschatology, Hope, Millennianism, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Signs of Maturity in the Indigenous Church

I didn’t have the time to spend on blogging yesterday. But actually this is what I want to write about today. About three weeks ago I visited the coordinator of one of our Home-Based Care projects in the south-eastern part of Swaziland. She informed me that there was some problems within the group which was making it very difficult for her to do her work. However, she did not want to tell me what it was, only that it concerned money. This was a bit upsetting to hear, because I know how easily money can become an issue and I was really afraid that an issue about money could drive these volunteers apart. I therefore made an appointment to see them last week, which was cancelled because the location which they use for weekly meetings was unavailable and eventually I went to see them yesterday.
We spent some time discussing issues about their work amongst the HIV/AIDS patients but then I informed them that I had actually also come for another reason, which was to help facilitate a discussion about the problem which had cropped up amongst them. And then a strange thing happened – I was asked to leave the room as they needed to discuss some things in private. I was slightly worried wondering if the problem had anything to do with something I had done wrong and which had upset them. Unable to think of something, I left the room and spent the next 30 minutes or so speaking to my American friend, Tim, who was very curious about the Swazi custom of having to leave a discussion.
After some time the coordinator came out. Although the door of the room was closed and I couldn’t make out what was being said, it was clear that it was quite a heated discussion taking place inside. She sat down with us and told us what had happened. Someone had given her a donation of 500 emalangeni (the Swazi currency) which is about $70. One of the caregivers had developed a serious personal problem and she then decided to give this person 100 emalangeni ($14) to try and help her. However, she had made this decision on her own and failed to inform the rest of the group beforehand about her plan. And this then led to some tension as they felt that she did not have the authority to make this decision without consulting them first.
But the thing which amazed me was when she said to me that the group felt that there was no need for me to facilitate the meeting to solve the problem. They had chosen a committee before to lead them and they felt that the committee was totally capable of handling the situation correctly. This, to them, wasn’t such a serious problem, as to make it necessary for myself to help them to solve it. Someone said to me afterwards: You mean to say that you drove 270 kilometres (170 miles) only to hear that it wasn’t really necessary! To which I answered that this was truly exciting, because it proved to me that this group of people had reached a stage of maturity which I had not given them enough credit for.
As Westerners it is often difficult for us to recognise maturity amongst non-Western people (specifically amongst Christians, in our case). Yet, the aim which Paul had in Colossians 1:28 was to preach Christ in order to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus or as it is alternately translated in the RSV, that we may present every man mature in Christ. If spiritual maturity is one of our aims in the church, why are we afraid to admit that young Christians have come to maturity?
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen things like this happening in Swaziland. But it sure was gladdening to realise that this group had already proven that they are able to solve problems, even though they were a bit reluctant at first to address the situation. I went in afterwards and complimented them on their attitude, not because I wanted to flatter them but because I truly believe that their conduct had revealed a sense of maturity which I hadn’t quite been prepared for.

Saturday, November 17, 2007 Posted by | Church, Culture, Dependency, Home-based Caring, Indigenous church, Meetings, Mission, Swaziland | Leave a comment

Mission and Eschatology (4)

The term a-millennialism is a bit difficult to define. (And if you struggle to follow the argument, don’t worry. Just skip this post and go on to the next one!) Some people seem to think that a-millennialists actually reject Revelations 20, but this is not the case. Rather, they interpret Revelations 20 in a non-literal and a non-temporal way. The thousand years of Christ’s reign is regarded as a spiritual, non-earthly and non-political reign. A-millennialists do not expect a time of peace or righteousness to come on earth, but share a fairly pessimistic world view with the pre-millennialists. Together, the pre-millennialists and the a-millennialists form the larger part of modern Fundamentalism and together they stand against the post-millennialists who believe that the kingdom of God will come due to man’s involvement in social issues on earth.
The a-millennialists are usually not very worried about the deterioration of life on earth and they are also not very worried about the so-called signs of the times and they are also not much interested in missions.
While the above may be a description of a-millennialism in a nutshell, this is definitely an oversimplification of the issue. David Bosch, as an example, described himself as an a-millennialist, but nobody would ever be able to say that he did not care about things on earth and that he was not interested in missions! His understanding of a-millennialism meant that, someone who expected peace to come on the new earth, should work towards peace on the present earth. Those who expected that there will be no tears on the new earth, had to work towards making the present earth a better place to live on so that people did not have to cry as much.
While the pre-millennialists tend to focus entirely on the salvation of the soul and the post-millennialists focus on the saving of the present world, a-millennialists typically don’t focus on either one of the two, focussing rather on the new world which is to come one day, looking forward to the day when Christ will come again to put an end to things as they are at present.
When evaluating the three typical viewpoints, specifically regarding their view on missions, it should be clear that not one of the three really give an acceptable answer to our involvement in missions. And therefore I would like to propose another way of reading Revelations 20 which I believe should enable us to focus fully on missions as I believe God intended us to do it. But that will be in a next post.

Thursday, November 15, 2007 Posted by | Alternative Society, David Bosch, Eschatology, Evangelism, Millennianism, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Mission and Eschatology (3)

Where pre-millennialism holds the view that Christ will come before the thousand years of peace, post-millennialism has the opposite view that Christ will come after the thousand years of peace. In a nutshell they believe that kingdom of God is now being extended in the world through the preaching of the gospel and the saving work of the Holy Spirit, that the world eventually is to be Christianised, and that the return of Christ will occur at the close of a long period of righteousness and peace, commonly called the millennium. Christ’s victory will therefore not be sudden and unexpected (the way the pre-millennialists see it), but will come gradually, almost evolutionary and a time of peace and righteousness on earth will precede the second coming of Christ.
The implication of this viewpoint for the church and missions is fairly obvious. Because they believe that a time of peace and righteousness will precede the coming of Christ, they consider the task of the church to be mainly to work towards this peace and righteousness on earth. Those who feel strongly towards missions, consider missions mostly as work done to improve the world we live in so that the world can ultimately be saved. They are therefore strongly focussed on social upliftment programs, eradication of poverty and similar work. Contrary to the pre-millennialists, the post-millennialists usually have a very optimistic world view.
However, this optimistic world view, which may well be considered as one of the greatest assets of post-millennialism, is probably also its greatest weakness. It does not seem to take the forces of evil seriously enough and at times things happen which seem to eradicate all possibility of optimism. The First World War was one of those times when the post-millennialists seemed to be at a point where their natural optimism couldn’t carry them through. The same happened during and after the Second World War, with the result that they seemed to become disillusioned and had nothing to say through which people could be comforted. According to their understanding, the world should have been evolving into a better place and suddenly they were light-years back from where they previously were.
On the one hand then we have the pre-millennialists with a message of the imminent coming of the Lord and the emphasis on urgent repentance in order to be saved and on the other hand we have the post-millennialists with a message of peace and righteousness which we have to work for in order to make the world a better place before Jesus can come again.
Both these extreme viewpoints create problems if we compare this with the missionary vision of Jesus and the apostles in the Bible. It may therefore become clearer why it is said that one’s eschatological understanding influences to a great extent one’s understanding of missions.
I’m not quite sure how much Bob Roberts knows about the topic, but he clearly distinguishes between the two extremes when he writes on page 38 of his Glocalization: Although I’m not a postmillennialist theologically, I love the fact that Edwards, Whitfield, and many of the earlier preachers believed they had a responsibility to prepare the church, the bride, for Christ’s return. That meant they had an active role in establishing the kingdom here in society. It may have been a flawed theology (or maybe not), but it sure didn’t hurt us here in America.
Today the prevailing theological wind toward society is “us against them.” The assumption is that things are going to get worse and worse and worse until Jesus returns-so what’s the point? Why do anything to help society at all if it’s all going to pot anyhow? What a pessimistic view! That’s totally opposite of what Jesus told his followers
On a next occasion I would like to look at a-millennialism as another eschatological model and see how that would influence one’s view on missions.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007 Posted by | Bob Roberts, Church, Eschatology, Hope, Millennianism, Mission, Social issues, Theology | Leave a comment

Celebrities involved in AIDS programs

Last week Charlize Theron was in South Africa (or maybe she’s still around – I don’t know.) If the name doesn’t ring a bell then I can just mention that she won the Oscar for the best actress about three years ago for her role in the disturbing movie, “Monster”, based on the life of Aileen Wuornos, a Daytona Beach prostitute who became a serial killer. OK, and Charlize Theron was the first South African who won an Oscar. But all this was just by way of introduction.
When I read about her visit to South Africa in the newspaper, I immediately gave attention. It was reported that she had gone to visit a school close to a small town called Mtubatuba in South Africa, and this caught my attention as I had ministered in Mtubatuba for two years before I moved to Swaziland. You can read a report on this visit here and if you want to see a beautiful photo of her in traditional Zulu clothing, have a look here.
We’re so used to people getting involved in the larger centres such as Johannesburg in South Africa or Mbabane in Swaziland, and it was good to read that she had made a decision to involve herself with a school in a really small town in South Africa and in an area where both poverty and HIV/AIDS are rampant. Apparently she, together with Oprah Winfrey, have targeted four schools in this rural part of South Africa where children will have access to counselling and testing for HIV.
I’m excited about this. I appreciate what these people are doing and applaud them for it. But I have one concern: How much money is going into this project and would it have been possible to obtain the same results with a much smaller amount that may have resulted in not only four but forty or eighty schools getting the same type of service? In no way do I want to downplay what these two women are doing. And I have absolutely no proof for what I’m saying, but my gut feeling tells me that huge amounts of money are being invested in these four schools while the majority of the people in surrounding areas will have no benefit from this investment. The point I’m trying to make is that it is often possible to have a much less elaborate project where the same results can be obtained, but without the glamour.
Perhaps that is why churches are so special within this task of involvement in times of crisis. The church knows (or should know) that we are not doing anything because we want to receive glory. This is all about God. I believe that there is no organisation better positioned than the church to really make a difference in the AIDS pandemic. In my heart I feel that it would have been wonderful if people like Charlize Theron, Oprah Winfrey and others could partner with churches already involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS and strengthen their resources.
But then again: I can just imagine the jealousy and the fighting that would start if they decide to partner with certain churches and leave out others! So all that I’m saying is that I don’t really have the answer, but I wish I had and I believe that there is an answer out there somewhere.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007 Posted by | Church, HIV & AIDS, Home-based Caring, Mission, Poverty, Social issues, Support teams, Swaziland | , | Leave a comment

Mission and Eschatology (2)

When I started working on my thesis somewhere in the 80s, I was really surprised to find the number of different eschatological models that people followed. Unless if you had done a doctorate in missiology or dogmatics, there is hardly any way in which you would find this interesting, so I’m going to skip all of this and come to the stuff that more people would be interested in and where we also find the greatest differences amongst Christians today, and this is how they understand the so-called millennium or thousand years of peace of which we read in Revelations 20:1-6. Here we could distinguish mainly between three models, namely pre-millennialism, post-millennialism and a-millennialism. Although it is a bit more complex than this, the place where you find yourself within these models will, to a great extent, determine how you see your missionary task. Or at least, that’s what I concluded after writing my thesis.
I’ll have to spread this over a few days, so for today I’ll concentrate on the main points of pre-millennialism. This group can roughly be defined as people who believe in an actual time of one thousand years of peace during which Christ, together with the church, will reign over the world and the nations. He will come before the start of the thousand years, hence pre-millennialism. Pre-millennialists also believe that the second coming is close at hand but that the second coming will be preceded by certain signs such as the evangelisation of all nations, the repentance of Israel, the great tribulation and the coming of the antichrist. Amongst the pre-millennialists there is a difference of opinion whether the world will be evangelised before the thousand years of before the great tribulation. Many evangelicals believe that the second coming of Christ cannot take place before the gospel had not been proclaimed to every single nation – one of those being Oswald Smith, to whom I referred earlier.
Two things stand out when speaking of pre-millennialism:

  • Our life in this age is restricted
  • The task which we have (to evangelise the world) is urgent

Especially the second point is important. One would therefore find that most pre-millennialists see evangelism as something of great urgency, emphasising the saving of people’s souls so that they will be ready when Jesus comes again. Although they are not opposed to social reform, they feel that the present age belongs to Satan and that no true reform can take place before Jesus had come to bind Satan.
Obviously I am fully aware that I am oversimplifying the topic, but in general a great number of traditional evangelicals fall into this category. And the danger in this is clear: If we only focus on the salvation of the soul, what is going to happen to the body? Or as someone once said: Some people are so focussed on heaven that they are of no earthly good!
On a next occasion I would like to describe in a nutshell what post-millennialism is about. But I think that I first want to write about something else tomorrow.

Monday, November 12, 2007 Posted by | Eschatology, Evangelicals, Evangelism, Millennianism, Mission, Social issues, Theology | 2 Comments

Mission and Eschatology (1)

Seeing that I did a PhD on Mission and Eschatology (available on the internet but unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how interested you are in reading a thesis – only available in Afrikaans except for a summary included which was written in English), I thought that it would be good to share something of my ideas about these two topics. I’m not intending to write only about this one topic in the next few weeks, because I still want to write about other matters as well, but in between I am going to write about this.
For those who may not be familiar with the term eschatology, this concerns the teachings about the end times, but, as I continue with these posts, it will become clear that not all of us understand the same thing when we speak about eschatology. Many people, probably most “evangelical” people, consider eschatology to be the things of the future, those things which we read about in the books of Daniel and Revelations. Furthermore, most people run away from this topic because it is so difficult to speak about the things of the future. I have found very few people, other than pastors and theologians, who have the ability to speak in an understandable way about the message of Revelations, not because they are not capable of doing so, but because they consider the eschatology as something of a taboo subject. And to be quite honest, those Christians who do dare to speak about the topic, usually interpret it only, as stated above, as the things which have to do with the future – in other words they regard both Daniel and Revelation as prophesies, waiting to be fulfilled.
David Bosch was the one who really made me understand to what an extent one’s eschatological understanding influences one’s thoughts on a variety of topics, including one’s understanding of missions. In an article which he wrote in 1982 he said:

I wonder whether the real difference between “ecumenicals” and “evangelicals” (and, may I add, between different brands of “evangelicals”), does not lie in the area of eschatology… Until we clarify our convictions on eschatology, we will continue to talk at cross purposes.

When I read this paragraph and did further research on the topic, I realised that this may be the very reason why we don’t make much progress when speaking about missions in churches: our understanding of eschatology have still not been sorted out. For the past few years that I had gone to Samara in Russia, I have been teaching students at the Bible Institute there about Biblical eschatology, and it has been amazing to see, once we agree upon our understanding of eschatology, how easy it becomes to speak of missions and how alike our understanding of missions become.
In a next post on this topic, I will try to explain a number of eschatological models commonly found amongst Christians. If you are interested in the topic, you may want to evaluate yourself beforehand by answering the question how you personally understand the end times: near, far, real, symbolic, catastrophic, gradual, spiritual, social? Or perhaps something entirely different to this.

Friday, November 9, 2007 Posted by | David Bosch, Eschatology, Mission, Russia, Theology | 2 Comments