Tag Archives: Theology of Mission

Hospitality and Being a Good Theologian


I am in the middle of reading a chapter on the centrality of hospitality for the life of a theologian. The author, Max L. Stackhouse, begins by noting that Gregory of Nazianzus offers a list of questions would-be theologians should ask themselves, which follows:

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, nightlong vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better…? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions…?

This list is great for a number of reasons. One is that piety is central to doing theology. Next, Gregory’s definition of piety is very different from what is commonly in my mind. The issue that the author I am reading picks up on, is hospitality topping the list. Here are Stackhouse’s comments on the relation of hospitality and mission:

As St. Gregory of Nyssa has taught us, God is hospitable. God’s own trinitarian life is not self-enclosed but oen to the other, “making room” for others’ ecistence and dlieght in realtionship with God. it is as God’s guests grounded in the Fathers’ deep generosity, identified as brothers and sisters of the meal-sharing Son, and renewed by the fellowship-creating Spirit, that we may dare to be hospitable, to one another and also and especially to those who are very different from ourselves.

Just so, we will find ourselves involved in mission. Christian hospitality calls us out of our tight circles and familiar cares and directs us outwards – to open up space and to offer a familial welcome to strangers. This missions is grounded in the hospitality of God at the creation … Its hope is the consummation of all of God’s activity of sending and gathering, that feast to which many will come “from east and west, from north and south” (Luke 13:29). And in between, God sends would-be guests to search for hospitality among human beings: “He came to what was his own, and his won people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who blieved in his name, he gave powert to be come children of God” (John 1:11-12; cf. Matthew 10:11-14). Where those gusts do receive hospitality, blessings are exchanged; the rols of host and guest quickly blur (Luke 24:29-31).

(Max L. Stackhouse, Commending Hospitality and “Polishing the Theologian in Us”in News of Boundless Riches: Interrogaiting, Comparing and Reconstructing Mission in a Global Era Vol. 2, Eds. Lalsangikima Pachuau and Max L Stackhouse, (Dehli: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge 2007), 236 and 248.)

There are two implications that I think of right away. 1) To do missions is to practice hospitality in the name of your home church with those among whom you live. (Missions takes place by fellowship and takes place in order to increase fellowship). 2) Mothers and homemakers are ministering in one of the most essential ways possible. We often miss the centrality of hospitality because all the buzzwords of individualism (career, success, your path, your direction) cloud us. Welcoming into the home is a picture of welcoming home the prodigal son. What more significance could we want for a ministry?


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Missions, Are We Misguided? How Bad?

The following quote is the sort of thing that has been rattling through my head for the last year, and I really don’t know what to do with it. It is discouraging at times, as well as challenging. So any thoughts on it are welcome. Here goes:

Roland Allen (1868 – 1947) served as a missionary in China until 1903. Thereafter … he wrote a succession of books and articles arguing with great persistence that the methods of contemporary mission were not those of Paul. He contrasted what Paul achieved in ten years of work with what modern missions had failed to achieve in a century. Paul could say that in four great provinces he had completed his work. By contrast, missions in Asia were still only at the beginning and no end was in sight. What was the reason for the difference?

As Allen looked at Paul’s missionary methods he saw four decisive points of difference from modern methods.

(a) When, as the result of the preaching of the gospel, a Christian community has come into being, Paul entrusts the whole responsibility to the local leadership and moves on. He does not do what modern missionaries have done; he does not build a bungalow! The new converts are simply “committed to the lord in whom they believed” (Acts 14:23), and the missionary moves on. His work is done.

(b) Paul does not establish financial relations with the new church. There are no subsidies or grants-in-aid. By becoming Christians the new converts do not lose their independence.

(c) Nor do they lose their status as adults. They are not treated as children. At no point does Paul lay down laws in the manner of the ten commandments. When he is consulted he adivses, but his advice is largely based on the ethical teaching generally acknowledged in surrounding society. Even on the question of contact with idolatry he does not lay down authoritative rules, but appeals to their own best judgment (I Cor. 10:14-22). In spite of the decrees of Acts 15:29, paul refrains from legislating in any binding manner on the subject of food offerred to idols (I Cor. 8). Even when, as in his dealings with the Galatians, he has to charge them with what could amount to apostasy, his language shows that he sees them as adults who must be resoned with, not as subordiantes who can be commanded. The fact that he speaks of them as children with whom he is again travail is vivid testimony to his own spiritual anguish, but the argument that immediately follows is addressed to mature men and women capable of following a subtle and passionate argument (Gal. 3 and 4). All of this is very far from the style in which missionaries have often claimed to direct the development of “their” own converts.

(d) Finally – and perhaps most important – Paul does not impose on them a ministry chosen and trained by himself. He has colleagues and helpers – Timothy, Titus, Tychius, and the rest – but they are available to be sent from church to church on special missions. The local ministry of each church is formed from its own membership. In contrast to this, modern missions have insisted on the necessity for training a new kind of leadership in schools and seminaries directed by the foreign missionary on the basis of the missionary’s perception of ethical and intellectual priorities. Consequently, whereas the churches formed by the work of modern missions have been able to develop a fully native ministerial leadership only after decades and even centuries of training, Paul could address the church in Philippi “with the bishops and deacons” within a very few years of the first conversions.

The central thrust of all Roland Allen’s writing is expressed in the title of a posthumoulsy published work, The Ministry of the Spirit. Allen’s charge against modern missions was that they had been tempted by their alliance with colonial powers to act as though the mission of the church could be pursued in the style of a cultural and educational campaign, as though the object was to multiply replicas of the sending churches. In contrast to this Allen rightly saw that in the New Testament portrayal of mission the central reality is the active work of the living Holy Spirit himself. It is the Spirit who brings about conversion, the Spirit who equips those who are called with the gifts needed for all the varied forms of ministry, and the Spirit who guides the church into all truth. The Spirit is not the property of the sending church or missionary who is sent. It is not part of the missionary’s duty to mold the new church into the style of the old. The Spirit is sovereign and free, and the missionary must trustthe Spirit to do his own work. Where Christ is confessed, where the word of the gospel is preached and the sacraments of the gospel are administered, and where there is a ministry that links the new community to the wider fellowship of the catholic church, there, Allen believed, the Holy Spirit must be trusted to provide all that is needed, and the missionary has done his or her work and can move on.

(pg 129-130)

We have been having a great time with the Mortons (David and Rebecca) while they have been in town. I lent David my copy of Lesslie Newbigin’s The Open Secret: An introduction to the Theology of Mission. Of course, he devoured it in the space of two weeks (just as he did with N.T. Wright’s New Testament and the People of God over the space of two months.) I am still about halfway through the book, and am slowly making way. When I asked him how he liked it, he read me the quote above. So basically I am not sure what kind of positive argument Newbigin has built up around it.

So this sort of thing makes me ask about our ministry here at ABC, or even the possible venues for theological education in Africa; Are we misguided and how bad is it?

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