Son of God Speaks (Missions and The Trinity: Part 2)
(Below is a summary of the second day’s presentation of an unpublished lecture given at Asia Pacific Nazarene Theological Seminary, during its Missions Week, September 17-19, 2019. The theme for the week is “Missions and The Trinity: A Proposal for a Missiological Practice” — By: Dr. David W. Clemente)
Tonight’s talk is about the theme of missions and the Trinity. We will explore missiological concepts related to God’s activity in the world. Yesterday, we gave more time discussing God’s work in the Father. God the Father calls people to himself and sends them to experience salvation in God. For today’s lecture, we will focus more on the work of God through the Son and the work of God by the Spirit. We are grateful that the Triune God is at work in creation and in our lives.
The Iguassu Affirmation states: “We commit ourselves to a renewed emphasis on God-centered missiology. This invites a new study of the operation of the Trinity in the redemption of the human race and the whole of creation, as well as to understand the particular roles of Father, Son, and Spirit in mission to this fallen world” (William D. Taylor, ed. 2000:19). This is the Trinitarian Affirmation of Mission that Ajith Fernando shares at the Iguassu Dialogue, held in Brazil in October 1999.
We will articulate this work of the Trinity in the world as the view of Trinitarian Missiology. In the Gospel of John, the biblical narrative presents the relationship and activity of the Trinity. The Father and Son are one from the beginning of creation and in Jesus’ ministry in the village streets of Palestine. (Compare John 1:1 and 10:30.) The Spirit works with Jesus through miracles, healing, and transformation. (See John 16:14-15.) They work as one in harmony bringing love, joy, and peace to all the people of the earth.
If we can illustrate the work of the Trinity in missions, we can use Stephen Bevans’ illustration of the Music Analogy. He says that the Son is the melody that presents the musical score, and the Spirit is the series of bass notes that moves the harmony and chord progression in sync. And, if I may add, the Father is the rhythm that sets the beat and character of the song. Everything starts with the Father’s beating heart for the world. When the symphony is playing, the melody, bass, and beat moves as one.
Let us talk about the “melody” of the Trinity. Jesus was an exemplar of obedience to God. He was full of hope and joy. He obeyed the Father with so much enthusiasm and passion. Jesus, with the joy set before him, endured the cross and is now seated by the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 12:2). We can call this the “joy of Jesus” ministry. Jesus said “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). Jesus longs for his joy to be made complete in our lives (John 17:13). He sings of God’s love and jumps with joy when a person listens to his speech. Remember the Parables of the Lost Coin, the Lost Sheep, and Prodigal Son? (See Luke 15:1-32.) He is the melody of the Trinity that speaks of God’s salvation for the world and brings healing for all creation.
When we refer to the work of God in the world through the Son, we center our discussion on the life, ministry, and teaching of Jesus Christ. He is the God who speaks. In our discussion of the topic of God’s mission through the Son we need to study the incarnation of Jesus explained in the New Testament. The following is a cursory investigation of the incarnation and its implications for missions. This is a summary made by Craig Ott. (Craig Ott and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010:97-104.) I am sharing this with you so that we can have a good foundation for our study on Trinitarian Missiology.
In Encountering Theology of Missions: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues, Craig Ott explains that the incarnation of Christ is the character of mission. He discusses the implications of of the incarnation for mission by presenting six models of the incarnation. The following is a summary of these models. (See Craig Ott and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010:97-104.)
Craig states there are six models of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. One is that the incarnation is a model for mediating the life of Christ. Incarnating the gospel in this sense means becoming Christ to the people one serves. Two is that the incarnation is a model for holistic ministry. Craig cites Darrell Guder, saying that “the incarnation serves an integrative function in theology of mission, bringing together the being, doing, and saying of witness” (2010:98). Three is that the incarnation is a model of cultural identification. Four is that the incarnation of Jesus is a model for contextualization or inculturation. Five is that incarnation is a model for understanding and evaluating mission. Six is that incarnational mission is a model for humble and selfless service. For a more detailed discussion of these six models, one can consult Craig’s work. (See Craig Ott and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010:97-104.)
Darrell Whiteman adopts an approach that rejects the extremes of “going native” and advocates an incarnational witness which follows the model of Jesus. He states: “In the same way in which God entered Jewish culture in the person of Jesus, we must be willing to enter the culture of the people among whom we serve, to speak their language, to adjust our lifestyle to theirs, to understand their worldview and religious values, and to laugh and weep with them. . . . The same process of Incarnation, of God becoming a human being, occurs every time the gospel crosses a new cultural, linguistic, or religious frontier.” (See, Misssiology. 2003:408; and Craig Ott and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010:100-101.)
Incarnational mission is the core of our ministry activities and defines the character of mission. Our understanding, our method, and our commitment in mission are present because we hear the melody of God through Jesus. Ministry is shaped by the attitude of Christ and the “joy of Jesus.” We follow the Pauline principle of becoming “all things to all men, that I may by all means win some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). We are witnesses of God’s salvation because we listen to God the Son who is speaking to all humanity. We incorporate incarnational mission in our lives and our ministry because God’s speech became a person in our midst and we want to obey him. Christ’s incarnation defines what we do in missions and what we become when we participate in God’s work in the world.
At this point, let us have a fun activity to summarize our deliberation about the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Let me ask you a question. If Jesus were born a Filipino in 1968, what would our life in 2019 look like? Do you think we will still be eating lechon and dining with sinigang baboy? Do you think the original languages of Scriptures will be written in Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilocano? Do you think our Christian communities will be inviting Manila street kids to their worship gatherings? What about inviting corrupt trapo (traditional politicians) leaders? Do you think the Filipino followers of Jesus would invite LGBTQ persons to their religious meetings? What do you think?
When God speaks he includes everyone. Christ’s incarnation models for us the encompassing scope of God’s mission in the world. Everyone is invited to the banquet of God. (See Luke 14:12-24.) God’s speech is not a system or religion that people (or the church) can control or manipulate. God’s speech is a person. God became flesh and dwelt among us. He was full of grace and truth. (See John 1:1-14.) When we see God’s work in the world as the work of a person, then we see the need to encounter this person. Missions work becomes tangible and personal. It is no longer a set of teaching or a plan to accomplish, but a time to listen to a person, the Son of God speaking to all of us.
There was a time when I visited local churches for several months here in the Philippines. I was doing my research writing then. My goal was contextual in nature. I wanted to see God’s work in the life of Filipino Christian believers who were meeting together regularly as a small group fellowship. I had ten questions with me. I took down notes while the group members prayed, shared from their life experiences, studied the Bible, and worshipped together. After my analysis of the research data, I noticed the theme of strength and encouragement emerging from the people’s stories. They saw God’s dasig (strength) giving them victory over their struggles and hope from within their suffering. (Dasig is a Cebuano term that means encouragement or strength.) These Filipinos saw God as a person. They encountered him as their Savior and Victor. They listened to God himself and they received strength and encouragement.
If I had visited these Filipino groups with a Western mindset, equipped with my discipleship training manual, and teaching them a systematic theology of God’s strength, then I most probably would not have captured the people’s encounter with God. I would not have been able to listen with the people as they listened to God himself. Nothing wrong with manuals and systematic teaching, but these approaches could not help us in listening to God’s speech. When God speaks, he becomes a person, a real and tangible God the Son in our midst. He dwells among us (John 1:14). We need to practice Trinitarian Missiology by training our eyes and ears to encounter our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus describes the Spirit of God as the Spirit of truth who will guide every disciple of Jesus into all truth. The Spirit will glorify Jesus, for “he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-15). He will bear witness about Jesus (John 15:26). He is our helper, our teacher, and he will remind us of all that Jesus said (John 14:26). He will move among us.
The Spirit will move for God and bring God’s peace in the lives of the people andshalomto this earth. During my missionary service in Asia starting in 2005, I witnessed the movement of God among the Chinese people of Taiwan. I met locals who considered themselves Daoist or associated themselves with a Chinese religious group . However, these same persons believed in the Almighty God the Creator of everything, prayed to Jesus for solutions to their everyday problems, affirmed the fruit of the Spirit in their lives through love for their families and a life of joy and goodness to their friends. We call this group of Chinese as Mu Dao Yo (慕道友), or “people who appreciate God’s ways.” The questions I ask everyone are the following: Are these local Mu Dao Yo Christians or not? Have they received the love and grace of God? Are they listening to the Son of God? Do they have the joy of Jesus in their lives?
Most Chinese evangelical Christians in Taiwan consider Mu Dao Yo persons as not-yet Christians. They are simply viewed as seekers of the truth. Evangelicals are aware that God’s grace is flowing in the lives of their Mu Dao Yo friends. But still, they are not prepared to accept them as Christian believers or to mark them as legitimate members of a church family. They think these Mu Dao Yo’s need to go through rigorous discipleship lessons and receive the ceremony of water baptism in public confession of their faith before they are called Christians. Gospel is now within the confines of the church. Is this stance towards the Mu Dao Yo a reflection of Western Christianity? I think so. Paul G. Hiebert considers this stance as “reducing the gospel as a set of disembodied beliefs that can be individually appropriated” (International Bulletin of Mission Research. 1987:108). The Christian gospel applied to the Mu Dao Yo phenomenon is reinterpreted as a set of confessions and participation in a religious ceremony. God’s speech is no longer an encounter with the living person of Jesus.
On a footnote, the current situation of the Mu Dao Yo situation in Taiwan still needs a lot of study and reflection. A significant number of the local Mu Dao Yo’s have become members of a local church and are actively involved in the life of a Christian community. Some are still floating around. A few churches and Taiwanese denomination have a place for Mu Dao Yo persons. At the most, the Mu Dao Yo’s of Taiwan come in and out of local churches and stay in the fringes of Christianity in the region.
What would happen if my brothers and sisters in Taiwan apply Trinitarian Missiology in their local churches? I do not know. It would be a great learning experience to discover the work of the Trinity in and outside Taiwan local churches. One thing is sure though. Mu Dao Yo persons will have a place they can call their own. I am not sure if this place will be within Evangelical churches or become a new movement of the Spirit of God in the people’s work places and family sanctuaries. The practice of Trinitarian Missiology will most certainly birth new expressions of the Christian faith.
To conclude tonight’s sharing time, let us look at my suggested definition of missions again. “Mission means God, in the Father, by the Spirit, and through the Son, revealing himself to this world crossing cultures and other boundaries that resist the understanding and acceptance of the gospel, and leading the Church to the proclamation and celebration of the kingdom of God.” (David W. Clemente. 2013)
The Son of God is the person who crosses boundaries so that God is revealed to the world. When there is resistance to the understanding or acceptance of the gospel of Jesus Christ, then Christ’s incarnation becomes our model and way of revealing God’s salvation. Let us thank God for Jesus. In our prayers, let us send our prayers with a missiological doxology.
“Our Father, may you call these my friends to yourself. Lord Jesus, may you speak of God’s salvation in their lives. Spirit of God, may you move among them and in their communities. Triune God, may you reveal yourself to these my friends, so that they will be able to proclaim and celebrate your kingdom. May the love of the Father, the joy of the Son, and the peace of the Spirit be with everyone, now and forever more. Amen.”
Copyright 2019 by David W. Clemente. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Some Selected Bibliography :
Clemente, David W. 2002. “Filipino Group Life: A Contextual Study of Small Groups in Free Methodist Congregations.” DMiss diss., Asbury Theological Seminary.
Hiebert, Paul G. 1994. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. MI: Baker Books.
Hiebert, Paul G. 1987. “Critical Contextualization.” International Bulletin of Mission Research. 11 (July): 104-12.
Ott, Craig and Stephen J. Strauss. 2010. Encountering Theology of Missions: Biblical Foundations, Historical Developments, and Contemporary Issues. MI: Baker Academic.
Taylor, William D. ed. 2000. Global Missiology for the 21st Century: The Iguassu Dialogue. MI: Baker Academic.
Whiteman, Darrell L. 2003. “Anthropology and Mission: The Incarnational Connection.” Missiology: An International Review. 31 (October): 397–415.
Whiteman, Darrell L. and Gerald H. Anderson, eds. 2009. World Mission in the Wesleyan Spirit. TN: Providence House Publishers.