Redcliffe has just hosted the annual European Consultation, organised jointly by ourselves, Global Connections and ECM.
This year the focus of the 24-hour event was on three trends in Europe, which were covered in three sessions yesterday: Islam, Migration, and Urbanisation. This morning then comprised of three responses: one from a church perspective, one from a mission agency perspective, and finally, a biblical reflection, which I was asked to do.
I won’t replicate the talk here just yet as it will be available soon on the Global Connections website as an audio file.
My brief was to reflect biblically on the conversations that had gone on throughout the event. I chose three parts of the Bible to do this. To whet your appetite, here is the basic structure. I’ll post again when all the talks are available.
2012 European Consultation
Biblical Reflections on Encountering the Other
Whether it has been in the context of talking about Islam, Migration or Urbanisation, a recurring theme over the course of this consultation has been an exploration of encountering those unlike ourselves. In the case of those of other faiths or none, how do we engage with them, love them, and reach them with the good news of Jesus? In the case of those who already share our faith, how do we join together with them in fruitful ways?
A migrant’s story (2 Kings 5)
Here is someone who has migrated but not of her will. We can only imagine the trauma of her situation. Yet still she seeks shalom for her captor; she still trusted in the power of Yahweh, as well as his ability and willingness to heal this pagan enemy.
I think the story here in 2 Kings 5 can move us to remember that God’s people are often the disempowered in every worldy sense, yet even here (especially here?) God can and does do some extraordinary things to further his purposes.
Applying Wisdom to a European context (Proverbs, Job, Ecclesiastes)
One rather neglected part of the Bible when it comes to mission thinking and practice is the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament: Proverbs, Job and Ecclesiastes.
In his book, The Mission of God Chris Wright addresses the WL in several ways which I would like to draw on here:
1. Wisdom as ‘international bridge’.
Israel’s WL is part of an international body of WL, the type of which was common across the ANE. Israel was aware of this and was often complimentary of the wisdom of other nations. So, lots of contact between Israel’s wisdom thinkers and those of other cultures.
Wright, p.443: ‘The Wisdom literature is undoubtedly the most overtly international of all materials in the Bible’
This is seen in 2 ways: deals with issues common elsewhere; 2. but Israel did not absorb the nations’ wisdom uncritically
Wright: ‘some missiologists and cross-cultural practitioners suggest that the Wisdom literature provides one of the best bridges for biblical faith to establish meaningful contact and engagement with widely different human cultures around the world.’
‘Israel had no monopoly on all things wise and good and true. Neither, of course, have Christians. Nothing is to be gained from denying, and much missional benefit accrues from affirming, those aspects of any human cultural tradition that are compatible with biblical truth and moral standards.’
‘Missional engagement then may well build a bridge with other cultures through the common international quality of biblical Wisdom, but the bridge in itself is not salvific. Eventually, something must cross the bridge. And that can only be the message of the biblical gospel, of the identity of YHWH and the fill biblical story of his redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.’
2. Wisdom often uses a ‘struggling voice’, which acknowledges uncertainty and promotes honesty.
‘not a safe intramural exercise for Israel. They are issues with which Israel struggles or the sake of the world.’ (Brueggemann, quoted in Wright)
From, ‘I embrace you’ to, ‘I need you’ (Rev. 7)
The heart language you speak will reflect and shape the way you see the world around you, in a way that only that language can do. So, there will be ways of understanding and praising God through Swahili that English just can’t do. And vice versa. There are aspects of God that a French or Hungarian speaker might more readily or fully understand that wouldn’t come so easily to an Albanian. And so it goes on.
‘Christianity seems unique in being the only world religion that is transmitted without the language or originating culture of its founder.’ Lamin Sanneh
That is to say, the Christian faith cannot be contained within one language or culture. It is too big, too wonderful and too gloriously complex to be fully contained and expressed through one language or one cultural expression.
This is not just an issue of how benevolent, accommodating or curious a host culture church should be in relation to the migrant individuals, communities or churches. The very nature of the Gospel, of the incarnation, and of passages like Rev. 7 teach us that we need each other to more fully understand and express our worship to God.