How Biblical Theology Alters Current Mission Practice

How Biblical Theology Alters Current Mission Practice September 25, 2019

This is the second part of my interview with Scott Callaham, Lecturer of Hebrew and Old Testament at Baptist Theological Seminary in Singapore. I previously spotlighted his work one writing worship songs in Chinese and his article about teaching Hebrew in Chinese. Click here for Part One.

In the interview, I ask Scott about a book he co-edited (along with Will Brooks) titled World Mission: Theology, Strategy, and Current Issues (Lexham, 2019). I briefly introduced it in a previous post.

JW: The final section discusses current issues. Why call them “current”?

SC: We believe that the chapters in this section indeed address “current” issues in world mission. These topics have always been current and always will be. Therefore, these chapters will not go out of date. Precisely because they don’t chase trends, they address areas that are perennially under-theologized.

Biblical theology must drive both strategy and mission practice.

JW: How should an unrelenting focus on biblical theology alter common missionary practices today?

SC: First, I’d just like to say that we are grateful that you contributed a fascinating chapter in this section on “Biblical Theology for Oral Cultures in World Mission.” I’ll let you discuss the implications of your work yourself, perhaps in another post.

For now, I’ll briefly highlight the remaining chapters. The first in the “current issues” section addresses the dynamic of language with respect to carrying out the Great Commission. As far as we know, there is no comparable work elsewhere. Missionaries must think theologically about the languages of the message (the Bible), the language of the messengers (their own native tongue), and the language of the community they hope to reach (that of the host people).

The language component of the Great Commission task requires that missionaries be communicators of God’s word. However, popular and widespread contemporary methods of missionary language learning are influenced by folk linguistics theories. They don’t evidence design toward the sacred missionary task. They might even inhibit the missionary’s ability to read the Bible by neglecting training in literacy skills.

JW: You talk about local languages, but what about using biblical languages?

SC: The next chapter advocates for grammatical-historical exegesis, which must be part of world mission practice. Some critics think grammatical-historical exegesis is an abstract, philosophical construct, laden with the superseded culture-bound presuppositions of the West. Far from it!

Grammatical-historical exegesis is the means by which contemporary missionaries can develop greatest confidence in knowing the God they worship and the gospel message they must preach. Furthermore, fostering a grammatical-historical exegetical approach through discipleship is vital for the health of new churches.

Grammatical-historical exegesis facilitates guiding the local church away from consulting the missionary as a perceived authority. Instead, we want church to depend upon Scripture alone as fully authoritative and sufficient.

JW: I haven’t mentioned church planting yet. How does Paul influence our planting churches?

SC: Our final chapter profiles Paul as a model for mission practice. This chapter is a necessary, crowning chapter to the central argument of the book.

We need to consider all of Paul’s life and the teaching of all of his epistles. Otherwise, individual episodes in Paul’s missionary work can appear to ratify nearly any mission practice. Accordingly, some have a grossly unbalanced emphasis upon Paul’s speed of church planting. They allege that Paul had a desire to leave newly planted churches as soon as possible. Worse, some people could pit Jesus and Paul against each other in a misguided attempt to explain away elements of Paul’s missionary work.

So, this chapter updates an important ongoing theological conversation about the first apostle to the gentiles for those who follow in his footsteps.

JW: This is an extraordinarily well-rounded book. What do you hope will result from the publication of World Mission?

SC: We pray that God would prompt the church to thoroughly rethink how it obeys Jesus’s Great Commission, in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of God alone. We dare to believe that such a prompting can result in a serious reengagement and redeployment of the global church in world mission under the authority of the word of God.

Photo Credit: Flickr/gfes

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