Below are some words of wisdom from Harvie M. Conn (1933-99) from his book Evangelism: Doing Justice and Preaching Grace. Conn was one of my theology professors in seminary, who spent 12 years as a missionary in Korea to women in prostitution, seeing them as victims of sinful societal structures rather than simply “sinners.”
For too long evangelical white churches in the United States have had a “come” structure. . . . One cannot be a missionary church and continue insisting that the world must come to the church on the church’s terms. It must become a “go” structure. And it can only do that when its concerns are directed outside itself toward the poor, the abused, and the oppressed. The church must recapture its identity as the only organization in the world that exists for the sake of its non-members.I am drawn to this quote. It captures for me a bigger vision for how to spend our time on this earth–for others. I often lose that sense when I am doing repairs on my house, getting ready for classes, balancing our check book, or writing blog posts.
Conn was a bit of a radical back in the day, and many of us loved him for it. He was always pushing us vanilla white Presbyterian males to get over ourselves and our strangle hold on intellectual orthodoxy. Following Jesus meant venturing out of our ivory towers, getting dirty–and exposing our familiar theological categories to scrutiny.
Conn was a truly missional theologian: true theology means living it among those who are not at all like you, and in doing so, you will likely find your own intellectual theological structures challenged and changed for the better (echoes of Lesslie Newbigin, to be sure).
Not always the easiest thing for protectionist Calvinists to hear (and Conn got into a bit of trouble for being so outspoken).
[I blogged on Conn a few years ago at my old website, and you can access those posts here, though comments will only be engaged on this blog.]