Blogging: Three Things

Firstly, thank you to all of those who made encouraging comments about this blog. I very much appreciate them. Blogging is an odd medium and encouraging feedback is really helpful.

Secondly, I’ve added a facility to this blog that allows people to link comments on Kouyanet to their Facebook account. I’ve got no idea how (or if) this will work. The idea is that it will draw more traffic here, but I don’t want to be a pain. I wonder if a few people would be brave enough to try it out. What I really want is some way to make the comments that people make about blog posts on Facebook also appear here, but I can’t find a way to do that.

Thirdly, I’ve been thinking for a while of doing a regular-ish podcast on Bible and Mission issues. The idea would be to have some interviews and stories and some more theological pieces along the lines of much of the material that appears here. The question is, what should I call it? I am tempted by the name The Mission of Pod, but I fear it is a tad too disrespectful. Missio Pei is just too geeky which leaves me with the rather dull MissioPod. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions?

A Bit of A Blogging Crisis of Confidence

Nothing to do with the post, but I see this when I cycle to work.A couple of days ago, while I was cycling to work, I found myself musing on the translation of the world ‘God’ (as you do). By the time I arrived at the office (I’m a slow cyclist) I had composed a brilliant blog post in my head that would explore this fascinating subject in great detail.

Later that afternoon, I wrote and published this post. It wasn’t the complex and detailed exploration of the issue that I had originally thought about; but I reckoned that it made one simple point and made it clearly. Then I got some feedback on Facebook:

  • Wasn’t Theos first used in the Septuagint predating the New Testament writers or is it not used there?
  • Yes and also the adoption of κύριος

To which I replied:

  • Yes,  theos does occur in the Septuagint, but the aim of the post was to illustrate a complex issue in a straightforward way. Adding all of the possible details would have detracted from the main point.

Which elicited this:

  • But doesn’t your first commentor really have a point? The apostles found Theos already in their Greek Bible with its own Jewish connotations and when they began preaching to Gentiles they faced a people with the same word but different context which needed to be reinterpreted as Paul did in Acts 17. This happens with the word Allah in Indonesia in two ways. Christians often pronounce it differently – much less guttural – and also often define it immediately with words like “Allah the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”. 
    The LXX usage is also interesting in that the translators knew that there were other foreign language words for YHWH Elohim that they were not allowed to use like Baal.

At which point someone else weighed in with:

  • “Elohim” isn’t that the plural of ‘El. And wasn’t he Ba’al’s dad as well as being the generic name for any god? I Corinthians 8:5-6 clarifies a lot for me.

I have a clever bunch of friends on Facebook.

The problem is, that this whole thing has left me rather confused and a tad discouraged. I had originally envisaged a longer post that would have covered most of the issues that the commenters raised, but I settled for something simpler – and some people didn’t seem to appreciate that.

There are a couple of reasons why opted for the simpler post; firstly I just don’t have the time to write and research everything I would like to do. This blog is fun – a hobby – and though it relates to my work, I have to squeeze it into such spare time as I can find. Secondly, I believe that I do have a gift of communicating complex issues in a way that non-specialists can follow and as my blog is aimed (primarily) at non-specialists, I don’t concentrate on crossing every i and dotting every t.

So dear reader, I find myself asking for a bit of advice. Would you prefer me to write more complete posts; thought through, cross-referenced and spelled correctly even if this meant I only blogged infrequently? Or are you happy with my current approach, with it’s foibles, inconsistencies and posts which raise questions without exploring every possible avenue they could lead to?

Please don’t suggest I keep two blogs!

Blog of the Year 2013

For the last six years, around this time, I have announced my favourite blog of the year. This prestigious award is rigorously judged according to strict criteria.

  1. They must post regularly
  2. They must be consistently interesting
  3. I must like them more than other blogs for whatever subjective reasons I choose.

There are a number of blogs which I have mentioned in previous years that deserve a mention again this year.

Last year’s winner The Beaker Folk of Husbourne Crawley continues to be barking mad and inspirational by turns. But they won a couple of years ago and they’d only get big headed if they were allowed to win twice in a row.

Antony Billington’s blog continues to be the place to look for news about new journals and books. In a siminar vein, Rob Bradshaw’s site BiblicalStudies.org.uk, while not a blog as such, is a wonderful resource for online journals and serious theology.

Getting back to blogs, there are lots of missionary blogs out there which give good insights into the day to day life of missionaries. You can find a more or less up-to-date list of Wycliffe blogs here. However, to win blog of the year, a writer needs to reflect deeply on issues related to missionary life and work; good stories are not enough. There are a couple of stand-out examples of this sort of thing:

  • Simon Cozens, a missionary in Japan, writes a thoughtful blog which often flirts with controversy.
  • Mark Woodward, works in Tanzania and often has very wise reflections on his experiences.

However, neither of these bloggers writes often enough to be awarded the prestigious Kouyanet blog of the year award; good though they are.

And herein lies a problem. It could be that I’ve just been too busy to be involved much online, but my perception is that there isn’t much interesting happening in the Christian blogging world. There are a few celebrity bloggers who get lots of hits and attention, but when push comes to shove, they don’t actually seem to say very much (I won’t name names). There are lots of good blogs out there which are of interest if you know the people involved or share their interests, but which don’t scratch where I itch. (If you really want to see a ranked listing of British religious blogs, you can find one here. I try to avoid the ‘my blog has more hits than your blog’ thing as much as possible.)

So, for the second time since 2007, I will not be awarding a ‘blog of the year’ award this year. Could the missiological blogsphere please take note and do better next year. Thank you.

Sadly, this is an almost verbatim copy of my 2012 blog of the year post. I may just be getting old and jaundiced, but it seems to me that the Christian blogging world is nowhere near as healthy as it was back in 2007 when I first kicked off. Hey ho. Plus ça change and all that. 

Blogging: What’s the Point?

Recently, a couple of bloggers whose work I enjoy have been having a little bit of a blogging crisis. Phil Ritchie wrote:

As the discussion on Twitter developed some of us switched to discussing the merits of blogging as Christians. I mentioned that I was ambivalent about continuing to blog and had ‘sort of lost heart’. In part this is because of what I have mentioned earlier in this post. I recognise in myself the danger of firing off self righteous and intemperate posts which do neither myself and those I am writing about much good. I shudder to think about some of what I have written and then deleted before hitting the publish button.

As it happens I have only published one post on my blog since Christmas and to be honest I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.

While Doug Chaplin chipped in with a very personal post covering similar territory.

Meanwhile, a popular Christian blog has just shut up shop prompting a commentator to write:

A good decision. As I said to you recently, I think the halcyon days of blogging are long over and now many are just a vehicle for crackpots and the politically disenfranchised who can’t get their odious (and often dangerous) political and social views broadcast by any other medium. What’s more, I’ve noted that few of my friends have ever heard of blogs! I think only a tiny proportion of the internet using public actually read them – and if you notice, on many blogs, over time the people commenting actually change with fairly rapid regularity – and many of those are just as weird as authors of the blogs.

I sometimes think the nasty adage ‘Those who can do, those who can’t teach…’ can be applied to much in the blogging sphere: ‘Those who can, lead their lives in all its richness and with all its challenges – happey to live and let live; those who don’t and can’t, write blogs…’. I don’t think that would have been true a few years ago, but I think it is becoming true now…

Whoa – that’s me put in my place!

With this in mind, I must admit that I’ve been wondering about the future of Kouyanet. This blog is around eight years old, which in the scheme of things is pretty good going and we still manage to post most days.

However, Kouyanet has a fairly distinct niche and it is getting harder to find new and interesting things to say. While I try to avoid getting fixated on statistics (especially that my blog is more popular than yours – blog ranking stuff), I have noticed that we are generally getting fewer readers than we did a year or so ago. Is that significant?

I suspect that Kouyanet will keep on going, partly because I enjoy writing (though it can be a chore trying to think up a subject for a blog post), but also because I still don’t see many blogs occupying the same niche that we do. In the end, I really believe that the work we are involved in is one of the most important things happening in the Christian world today. It doesn’t get the same press as major Christian conferences or the latest initiative from some celebrity or other, but it matters and we have to keep talking about it!

 

Bloggers in Africa

A group of Christian bloggers have just set off on a visit to Uganda from where they will be reporting on their adventures. I’m sure they will have a wonderful and informative time and no doubt they will generate a lot of publicity for the organisation who are fronting the trip.

However, can I respectfully suggest that if you really want to understand what is happening in Africa, you might do better to follow blogs written by Africans or by others who have a long term commitment to living and working on the continent.

Here are a few suggestions of blogs from across Africa. The list is not exhaustive and shows a bias towards people I know or countries I’ve lived and worked in and to Bible and Mission stuff. However, I’d like to have other blogs to follow, so if you have some suggestions, please include them in the comments.

Bridges from Bamako: written by an anthropologist, this outstanding blog gives a superb insight into life in Mali’s biggest city, with the odd foray out into the country as a whole.

Djobouti Jones: a fascinating blog about life as an expat in the horn of Africa.

Drogba’s Country: Journalist John James is not actually based in Ivory Coast at the moment, but his blog is still a great place to get insights from that country.

Every Tongue: Mark Woodward works in language development in Tanzania. His blog gives a great insight into living and working across cultures, while trying to explore the Bible’s message.

Fasokan: I’ve been following Boukary Konate on Twitter for ages, but I’ve only just (thanks to a comment, below) discovered his excellent (award winning) blog. It is in French and Bambara.

Global Voices: this is an excellent place for news from across the world. Locally based writers give insightful comments on what is happening in their particular situation. You can sign up for a news feed from just about any country on the planet.

Heart Language Observations: a language and Bible orientated blog written from Ghana. Lots of good insights.

Mausts on Toast: the Maust family have recently arrived in Cameroon and are blogging their experiences.

Onesimus Redivivus: this is a blog by a former Presbyterian  now Orthodox Christian who teaches theology in Nairobi.

Phil in the Blank: Phil Paoletta describes himself as a slow traveller. That just about sums it up, he’s been in Francophone Africa for years now and his blog gives fascinating insights into the area – along with lessons on how to draw camels.

That’s Our Life: Tim and Ali Robinson blog from Nigeria. Much of what they write covers the struggle of bringing up a young family in a situation which is far from stable.

The Task: this is an organisational blog (and none the worse for that) which covers Bible translation and literacy in Uganda and Tanzania.

Until Our Independence: this young Ivorian blogger covers politics and technology from his home country and across the continent.

White African: Eric Hersmann is the guy to read if you are interested in technological innovation in Africa.

The following blogs contain some good stuff, but either they are not updated regularly, or their authors have relocated to the West.

There are undoubtedly lots and lots of good blogs that I’ve not mentioned here. This is either because I’ve lost their links or I never knew about them in the first place. As I mentioned above, please put links to other blogs in the comments. I’d be especially keen to see other (more accurate?) lists of African/Africa-based bloggers.

Edit: these are blogs that have been suggested to me on Twitter. I’ve not had time to follow them all up, so I can’t comment on the content. But exploring new stuff is what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Someone, somewhere must have produced an up to date, geographically organised list of African bloggers!

Blog of The Year

For the last five years, around this time, I have announced my favourite blog of the year. This prestigious award is rigorously judged according to strict criteria.

  1. They must post regularly
  2. They must be consistently interesting
  3. I must like them more than other blogs for whatever subjective reasons I choose.

There are a number of blogs which I have mentioned in previous years that deserve a mention again this year.

Last year’s winner The Beaker Folk of Husbourne Crawley continues to be barking mad and inspirational by turns. But they won last year and they’d only get big headed if they were allowed to win twice in a row.

Antony Billington’s blog continues to be the place to look for news about new journals and books. In a siminar vein, Rob Bradshaw’s site BiblicalStudies.org.uk, while not a blog as such, is a wonderful resource for online journals and serious theology.

Getting back to blogs, there are lots of missionary blogs out there which give good insights into the day to day life of missionaries. You can find a more or less up-to-date list of Wycliffe blogs here. However, to win blog of the year, a writer needs to reflect deeply on issues related to missionary life and work; good stories are not enough. There are a couple of stand-out examples of this sort of thing:

  • Simon Cozens, a missionary in Japan, writes a thoughtful blog which often flirts with controversy.
  • Mark Woodward, works in Tanzania and often has very wise reflections on his experiences.

However, neither of these bloggers writes often enough to be awarded the prestigious Kouyanet blog of the year award; good though they are.

And herein lies a problem. It could be that I’ve just been too busy to be involved much online, but my perception is that there isn’t much interesting happening in the Christian blogging world. There are a few celebrity bloggers who get lots of hits and attention, but when push comes to shove, they don’t actually seem to say very much (I won’t name names). There are lots of good blogs out there which are of interest if you know the people involved or share their interests, but which don’t scratch where I itch.

So, for the first time since 2007, I will not be awarding a ‘blog of the year’ award this year. Could the missiological blogsphere please take note and do better next year. Thank you.

Blog Posts of the Year 2012

It’s that time of the year when jaded TV producers, newspaper editors and bloggers pad are able to produce a ‘review of the year’ in lieu of actually creating any new content. It’s a temptation that I’m unable to resist!

According to my WordPress statistics the top five posts on Kouyanet over the past year are:

Eddie Sue Icon Hug 250

I’m not sure what this tells us, other than if you want lots of people to visit your blog you should either write about something that will be perennially popular (top ten lists or families), hits the newspapers (the Patois Bible) or involves some sort of controversy.

If I concentrated on this sort of thing, I could probably get lots more hits on this blog, but that isn’t what we are really about. Whether it got the most hits or not, the best post on Kouyanet this year (or my favourite at least) was this one (which came in at number 13). I like the photo that goes with it, too, even if we don’t look at our elegant best.

There is Always One

One of the problems with being a blogger is that no matter how hard you work to write a post, there is always the possibility that someone will come along and write a funnier, more erudite, or just simply better on the same subject. If like me you blog on the Bible and mission, it is likely that the person who writes a better post will be Mark Woodward or, in this case,  Simon Cozens.

I’ve been following, with a little bemusement, Eddie’s recent series of posts reflecting on Onesimus’ post about dependence and toxicity in mission. Bemusement for two reasons: first, because the mission community has had exactly this discussion, up to and including the calls for moratorium, many times before; (“Whither Mission?”, in Bosch chapter 13, lists a number of them.) it may be that we need these old discussions again because the problems have not been solved, but that leads my to my second reason for bemusement: because—and maybe I am particularly blessed here—I simply don’t recognise Onesimus’ concerns in my own experience of mission.

You should read the whole of Simon’s post, which does an excellent job of examining some of the issues surrounding some current approaches to Christian mission. In particular he takes a hard look at the notion of missionary as teacher…

You can teach English, you can teach Korean, you can teach cookery, culture, you can teach lots of things, none of which are even faintly related to what you’re here for which is presumably to teach the Bible, but hey, if that’s the only way you can think of to actually get to know new people then, well, whatever floats your boat.

He approaches the subject from the point of view of post-colonialism and post-modernism…

Postmodernism began, at least for Foucault, with an investigation into the nature of power; any message that someone gives is also a statement about who has power over whom. And while we love to talk about leadership in churches and in mission, we really don’t like to talk about power. Jesus’ whole life and death was a demonstration that the power of God is made perfect in weakness. The Devil tempted him to accomplish his mission through asserting power, and he resisted. And yet how often in mission do we succumb to the same temptation. So we teach, because it puts us in a position of control, where we can determine the curriculum and decide when we whip out the Bibles, because that way we can ask the questions and decide the correct answers and the students have no choice in the matter. Oh, we might do it very gently at the time, because power often doesn’t look like power. But if I’m the teacher and you’re the student, you bet that in many ways I’m the one with the power.

Would it kill us, just once in a while, to do mission from a position of weakness? You know, like Jesus did? To walk into a room and notbe the one in charge? Would that be OK? Could we give it a try?

In the next day or so, I’ll post another example of someone improving one of my posts.

Jesus’ Wife

A few days ago, a Harvard Professor announced that he had found a papyrus which indicated that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married. Now, I’m not expert enough in the field to make any serious comment on the validity or otherwise of these claims, but this episode illustrates a few important truths from the Christian blogsphere.

Whenever some new claim of this sort is made:

James McGrath will respond relatively quickly to the issue and will provide links to lots of sources of discussion.

Mark Goodacre will be a little slower to comment, but will also make some well balanced comments.

Archdruid Eileen will almost certainly have something funny to say about the situation and may also have some wise comments, too (the funny and wise may well be combined in one post).

If Simon Cozens decides to blog on the issue (and that is a rare event) he will say something that really makes you think.

I’ll leave the last word to the good Archdruid.

So here’s my thesis – radical it might be. But I’m going to stick my neck out here.

Based on four Gospels (five, if you include Thomas) and the rest of the New Testament and other early writings, and on the general agreement of those parts of the Church that had no vested interest in trying to synthesise the Apostolic tradition with Greek philosophy – I propose:

  • That Jesus was probably not married (though it wouldn’t matter all that much if he did, as it wasn’t a sin),
  • That he never went to India, nor Glastonbury.
  • That he had twelve close apostles – none of whom, as far as we can tell, were female or gay lovers of his. He had lots of other disciples – men and women.
  • That one of his apostles betrayed him to an alliance of the Romans and the Jewish leaders.
  • That he died, and was buried.
  • That on the third day, he rose from the dead.
  • That all the graves in the Palestinian territories and Israel marked “Jesus” are other people
  • That he didn’t leave any living descendants (although it wouldn’t matter much if he had – as he had totally normal human DNA).
  • That the church went and preached much of what I’d said above.
  • That the Gnostics made stuff up to try and fit Jesus into other philosophies. Because they were so odd, and because the tradition said otherwise, they didn’t last.

Testing Testing…

I have just changed the way that email announcements of blog posts are sent out. This is purely to test that the new system is working as it should.

If you normally receive an email about posts to Kouya.net and don’t get this one, please let me know. :-)

Normal service will be resumed…

Missiological Blogs

I’ve been asked to draw up a list of blogs which I feel are essential reading for anyone who is interested in missiology; rather than do so in an email, I decided to post my thoughts here for public consumption. The problem with a job like this is that (as I have said elsewhere) missiology is a term which gets used in so many different ways it is more or less meaningless.  So, I decided I would need some sort of criteria to define what I mean by missiology (at least in this context).

  1. These blogs are not missionary story blogs. They may sometimes tell stories, but that is not their central theme. There are plenty of good story blogs out there which will tell you about preaching in out of the way places, eating termites and such like, but that is not what I am after here.
  2. These blogs are reflective. They are written by mission practitioners who think through what it is they do and why they do it. Most of them ask some uncomfortable questions and none of them know think they know all of the answers.
  3. They are not necessarily academic blogs. Yes, some of them quote Newbiggin and Bosch, but that isn’t essential to being a good missiology blogger.
  4. All of them write in human. I don’t have the time to plough through complex blog posts which are written in jargon. Each of these writers deals with complex issues, but they do so in an accessible and interesting way.
  5. Just because I have said that these are good blogs does not mean I agree with everything they say – or even most of what they say for that matter! The point is to make you think.
  6. Not everything in these blogs is about mission or missiology; these are real people and they also write about the mundane from time to time.

Jamie the VWM. This blog might surprise you, I suspect it wouldn’t be the top of most people’s missiology list. However, Jamie’s reflections on short-term missions and her achingly beautiful meditations on her desire to see people come to know Christ are worth anyone’s reading time. Most bloggers would give their right arms to have the number of people commenting on her blog that Jamie has and this adds to the richness of her work. Some people might find the language a bit strong at times.

Every Tongue. Mark Woodward’s blog is essential reading for anyone who is interested in mission and the Bible, particularly in an African context. He just gets better and better.

Simon’s Blog. Simon Cozens is a missionary to Japan who does a great job of reflecting on his experience and commenting on wider mission issues. He is an iconoclast and not afraid of airing controversial opinions. In my view his blog should be much more widely known and commented upon.

Bible and Mission Blog. This blog, produced at Redcliffe College, tends to concentrate on quotes from the literature and reflections emerging from interactions with mission students. It is a wonderful source of links and further information.

God Directed Deviations. Another iconoclastic blog, this time with lots of good comments. It doesn’t overlap with my interests as much as the others I have mentioned, so it doesn’t turn up in my Bible and Mission Links series, however, Miguel is well worth reading and you should point your RSS reader here.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will do for now. Please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments section.

Bible and Mission Links 16

I’ve not been blogging very much over the past few weeks, but that hasn’t stopped other people writing lots of good stuff. Here is a bit of a catch up!

Bible Translation

As I mentioned yesterday, the World Evangelical Alliance will be taking a long hard look at some of Wycliffe and SIL’s approach to Bible translation in Islamic contexts. While this happens, I won’t be blogging on that subject, but there are a few good links that I need to pick up on from the past few weeks before I let the subject drop altogether.

For anyone who is unaware of the recent controversy, The Bible Society of Canada have made an excellent statement which gives some good background on the issue. To my mind, this is the best one page summary of what is going on that is available. You might also enjoy a short post by Andre Nelson from Houghton College. Simon Cozens, has written with characteristic panache on the linguistic background to the controversy.

The other great example of this is colour terminology. There’s considerable evidence that people with different languages actually perceive colour differently. When you start learning Japanese you will be told that aoi means “blue” and midori means “green”. And then someone else who’s learning Japanese will tell you “Hey, did you know that the Japanese think that green traffic lights are blue, ha ha ha isn’t that stupid?” But of course they don’t. They don’t say that traffic lights are blue, because “blue” is English; they say that traffic lights are aoi. It’s only English speakers who say that traffic lights are blue. Aoi doesn’t really mean “blue”—because words don’t have meanings, they have uses. Aoi is used to refer to light with wavelengths of between roughly 400 and 500 nanometers, while midori is used for light between about 490 and 550nm. Traffic lights really are aoi, but it’s our broken system of translation-as-symbol-substitution that makes us think that Japanese think they’re blue.

However, Simon isn’t particularly enamoured with the idea that the WEA are reviewing the work of Bible Translators.

With all of the fuss about this issue, it is sometimes difficult to remember that there are hundreds of millions of people around the world, speaking thousands of different languages who have no access to the God’s Word in their own language. I’m not sure what it says about the way that Christians think and act that people have been very quick to seize on a controversy which surrounds a small minority of translation programmes, but seem completely disinterested in the fact that so many people are still without the Bible. Hey Ho!

However, getting back to the central issues of Bible Translation, Hart Wiens of CBS has done an amazing job of illustrating the issues raised in translating that iconic verse John 3:16. Even if you are not interested in Bible translation, this series of articles would make a great Bible study.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” (John 3.16 – NRSV)

This word “believes” is a “key term” because of the critical role it plays in communicating the message of the Bible. In the Gospel, belief is the channel through which salvation by grace comes to people (Ephesians 2.8). The Greek root is translated in English as ‘believe’ or ‘faith,’ depending on the version and context. This core word occurs 240 times in the New Testament.

The translator’s challenges are to first is understand the concept the Greek and second, to express it in the language receiving the new translation. It’s critical to go to the source text for key terms, ensuring faithfulness to the original.

The problem with our English verb “to believe” is that for those not very familiar with the Gospel, its meaning may be limited to a dictionary level understanding of accepting something as true. That is belief at the intellectual level. In the context of the Gospel, the original term carried a deeper meaning of acceptance, not just at the head level, but also in the heart. Whenever the original Greek term is used in conjunction with the preposition “in” or “into” as it is in this verse, it carries the meaning of faith or confidence in a person to the extent of acting on that faith.

Philemon Yong asks some interesting questions about the nature and purpose of Bible Translation:

The work of Bible translators around the world is to be applauded. The Bible has been translated into many different languages and as a result, people in their tribes have the Bible in their mother tongue. It is a beautiful thing, for a grandmother, who cannot read, to have a book in her house and have someone read it to her in her own dialect. There is no doubt that this brings them closer to the word of God and creates an even greater interest in seeking to hear more of it. So, the work of Bible translation is to be applauded and encouraged at all costs.

There is a lingering question in my mind, though, when I look at the work of Bible translation and consider its impact on the target people group. Here is my questions: What is the goal of Bible translation? Is it (a) to have a Bible in a particular people group’s mother tongue so that they can read it and hear God’s word in their dialect or (b) is it to have the people in that people group actually understand what is said in the Bible (interpretation) and thereby not only hear God’s word read but understand what God, through the authors of the Bible, intended to communicate, or (c) is it both. The answer to this question will impact the direction taken in the process of Bible translation and will determine where resources are poured.

The decisions made by Bible translations can have long lasting impact:

How do you translate the Greek word ‘ekklesia’, which appears 115 times in the New Testament?  The traditionalists, wanting to assert the institution they belonged to at a time of political and theological upheaval argued for ‘church’, emphasising as they did its authority. The radicals, wanting the Reformation to go further than it already had, argued for ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly’, emphasising its relationality. Guess who won? In a pragmatic trade-off, ‘ekklesia’ is translated ‘church’ on 113 of those 115 occasions…

…What difference would it make if we were able to talk of the Christian congregations inEngland, rather than the Church in England, or counted disciples rather than church members? What difference would it make if rather than based in legislation, or ordered by canon, or governed by Annual Assembly, the church was simply, like God’s word, ‘written on the heart’?  (Read the whole article.)

Short Term Mission

Jamie, the far from very worst missionary, has a brilliant post which looks at some of the insanity which passes as short term Christian mission. It is well worth reading the whole posts and the comments that follow.

We had zipped on in to the city so my friend could shoot some footage for a documentary, when we ran across a group of young people playing music in front of a fountain and offering passers-by hugs in the name of Jesus.

Yes. Hugs… For Jesus.

As we moved through the crowded promenade, we could see these Gringos were were out in force, carrying signs (many in English) that said “Free hugs” and “Jesus loves You” and a couple of references to 1Corinthians, the love chapter.

Eventually, one of them found her way over to where we were sitting to offer a Jesus hug. Being a non-toucher, in general, I quickly declined. “No, thank you. I’m….I’m good.” And when my sweet, affection-loving friend finally relented to the poor girl’s persistent (insistent?) offer to give her a hug from Jesus, I knew immediately that I had made the right decision. That chick had my poor friend wrapped up like a cage-fighter when I saw how bad she was pitting-out. We’re talking pit-stains the size of Rhode Island…. For real. Want a hug? And possibly a communicable disease?*Shudder*

By the way, Jesus loves you!

Relations Across the Globe

The idea that people in Costa Rica are somehow in need of hugs and human contact seems more than a little strange. That might be the case in Northern Europe, but surely not in Latin America (not wishing to indulge in too much stereotyping). One of the problems is that missionaries don’t always take time to listen to the people they are supposed to be serving. Mark picks up this them in an excellent post called the importance of listening before doing.

We have come to Tanzania with certain skills, and with an organisation that has certain areas of expertise. While we are convinced of the value of certain things like mother-tongue education, and of churches having the Bible available in local languages, we cannot assume that we therefore know the best way to achieve these things in a particular situation, or even that these things are a priority for a community at this particular moment in time. We need to listen to communities, to their desires, to their ideas, contributing out perspectives and working out together whether our skills and expertise will be able to benefit them in any way. If so, then we need to work closely with them to determine what might be the best way forward. If not, we need to respect their desires and move on.

I think that it’s very easy for us to judge other people, and to sub-consciously regard them as inferior to ourselves. And I think this is particularly easy when we have good intentions of helping others. My challenge for today is to see myself and others as we really are, and to humbly listen to those who are very different to myself.

The Bible and Mission blog has a fantastic story from Nigeria about the way in which getting listening and doing in the right order can be very powerful.

A hard hitting article from the Atlantic magazine looks at the issue of Western intervention around the world from a secular perspective. It makes uncomfortable reading.

How, for example, could a well-meaning American “help” a place like Uganda today? It begins, I believe, with some humility with regards to the people in those places. It begins with some respect for the agency of the people of Uganda in their own lives. A great deal of work had been done, and continues to be done, by Ugandans to improve their own country, and ignorant comments (I’ve seen many) about how “we have to save them because they can’t save themselves” can’t change that fact.

One of the problems of not listening is that we can easily end up thinking that other people have nothing to contribute or teach us; this point of view is contested in an interesting post at Global Theology. Bill Easum takes this a step further with some strong challenges for the Western Church to learn from the rest of the world.

Here’s something to think about.  One doesn’t have to good look closely at Western Christianity to tell it is in dire jeopardy. With over 85% of our churches simultaneously declining and aging within 25 years the number Christians in the West will drop by 50%. However, that’s not the real picture. Go many parts of the world and Christianity is exploding with new converts- Korea, China, Fiji, south Africa, India, Nigeria, Indonesia,  Philippines, Latin America.  Just consider Latin America. In 1900, there were only 50,000 Protestants in Latin America. In the 1980s, they had grown to 50,000,000, and by the year 2000, they reached 137,000,000.  The same thing is happening of other parts of the world.  God is fulfilling the Great Commission throughout the world – just not here. Ever wonder why?

While on the subject of understanding people’s background. Archdruid Eileen has published an excellent Guide to English Christianity which has been written especially to help people from the USA.

It’s important to remember that the key difference between the church in the US and in England is its relationship to power. In the US, there is no relationship between the church and state, and the church is therefore politically quite powerful. The Church of England actually has a number of seats in the House of Lords (our equivalent of the Senate), while the Governor of the Church of England is the Queen. In any other country, this would give the Church quite unfair advantages in the way of political power. But in England, with our fear of boasting and natural love of the underdog, it’s quite the opposite. The Church of England has no effective power at all, and its natural diffidence means that even “church schools” will have almost no tendency to cause their scholars to grow up as Anglicans. It’s much the same way that we don’t really have “mega-churches”. Why have a church where you can boast about the size of the congregation, rather than one where you can complain it’s so cold that the water in the font has frozen?

Varia

Tim has some interesting musings on the impact of the Coup in Mali on the advance of the Gospel in that country.

I am writing from Mali which has had increasing levels of insecurity since late last year, culminating in a coup d’état on March 21, 2012. I am not going to comment here on what has happened or continues to happen. If you are curious look at the BBC Africa page  or Google News and do a search for Mali.

Since late 2009, we have gone through progressive stages of relocating people from the locations best suited for their work and ministry to safer areas. Now we are more or less all in the capital, being told to“shelter in place” by our various embassies. (Has anyone ever successfully “sheltered on the move”?!?) That odd bit of “embassy speak” means we are supposed to stay at home, not go out and respect the curfew – initially a 24-hour curfew and now just 6 pm to 6 a.m.

This week our organization had planned a retreat and a triennial business conference to elect new officers and to look at strategies to best carry out our little corner of God’s work here. And now our conference is cancelled, months of planning laid to waste, as people are scattered across the city (and country), “sheltering in place”.And the question rises, starting as a whimper deep in our guts rising up to something unspoken stuck in our throats: God, how are we supposed to do the work you have called us to do? Circumstances certainly seem to be increasingly limiting, and at the same time opportunities are vast. Why? How?

And finally, John Birch has a nice little cartoon which challenges our attitude to the Bible.