Archive for the ‘Missiology’Category

Jesus Will Not Be Syncretized


The smell of marijuana–sickly sweet and unforgettable–clung to the porch where I was standing. I was listening to a man talk.  “I love Jesus and I love to get high.”

The man talking to me was busy with his fingers, rolling the marijuana into cigarettes. A tall Icehouse beer was on the floor next to his chair. The man’s three female companions who were sitting on the porch cackled, questioned, and ridiculed him as they listened to him defend his salvation. I just listened while an intense debate proceeded.

While visiting neighbors in my Jerusalem, my friend Andrew and I happened to come across this group of people enjoying a front-porch Sunday afternoon–drinking, talking, and rolling grass. I didn’t come to bust up a drag weed party. I came to tell them about Jesus. And like other pushers, hookers, child molesters, and criminals that I’ve met, they were born again believers. Or so they claimed.

I am not the judge of hearts. I do not know who is saved and who is not.

What I do know is simple:  Jesus will not be syncretized. Jesus is King. Jesus is sovereign. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the Life. Jesus is the way to the Father. Jesus is Lord.

The problem of syncretism isn’t unique to African animists or Asian Buddhists who want Jesus + False gods. The problem of syncretism is a worldwide highway to condemnation. I am grieved over the blindness and hardened hearts of sinful people. What they need to hear is the Good News of Jesus–the One who will deliver them. This Jesus–this Loving Savior, this compassionate Friend, this God-Man–will not be syncretized..


04 2010

Caution and the Kingdom

Real Christianity is risky business.

  • “Barnabus and Paul: men that have hazarded their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 15:25-26).
  • “Priscilla and Aquila: who for my life laid down their own necks” (Romans 16:3-4).

We respect Paul and Barnabus for their courageous ministry. We also admire Priscilla and Aquila, a husband/wife missionary team, for their Kingdom work.

These people were risk-takers. In fact, they “hazarded their lives” and “laid down their own necks” for the sake of His name!

That’s convicting. As I look at my own life, I have found that our cautious culture has crippled my Christianity. Rather than bold forays for Kingdom causes, I tend to retreat into Christian huddles and debate standards, labels, or exegetical minutia. Risk-taking is an alien concept, a bit extreme actually. It’s the kind of extreme reserved for the missionary biography kind of people. Not me.

Where is Gospelelliotthumb risk-taking today? Where are the Hudson Taylors, starting missionary organizations with no promised financial support? Where are the John Patons, disregarding ‘wise’ counsel and obeying God’s call to cannibalistic islands? Where are the David Livingstones, trekking lion country to reach the unreached with the Good News? Where are the Adoniram Judsons, openly starting a Bible study in a hostile pagan environment? Where are the C.T. Studds, who preferred to run rescue shops on hell’s doorstep than living within earshot of church bells? Where are the Jim Elliots, leading his family and others into danger-infested jungles because there were people living there who hadn’t heard Jesus’ name?


We have given in to a timid Christian culture where the “safe,” “wise,” and “cautious” trumps biblical-risk taking. Obviously, risk for risk’s sake is foolish and presumptuous. But risk for the Kingdom’s sake is biblical and right. There may have been a day when more ‘caution’ was necessary to balance foolhardy ventures by thoughtless believers. But today, that is not our problem.

‘Caution’ and ‘wisdom’ may just be our pious-sounding evasion of a risk-filled Christian life. Our philosophy of risk is misaligned with the world’s ideal of safety, security, and materialism. Based on the biblical model, I would suggest that the correction we need is to return to Christlike risk-taking—a God-inspired, faith-filled, grace-empowered passion for God’s Kingdom. Sacrificing my money, my job, my health, or even my life is a small price to pay for God’s glory.



08 2009

Conversations with South Africans

Saturday: very early in the morning South African time (around 1am)

Location: a bench in the Johannesburg airport

I’ve been trying to sleep, but the stiff competition from jet lag and the blaring music on the PA system have forced me awake.

I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa for about seven hours ago. It’s winter here. My sandaled feet know it. Thankfully, the airport is a bit warmer than it is outside. I’m spending the night in the airport, and will leave for Madagascar on Saturday at 2:30pm in the afternoon.

I’ve been able to spend some time talking with several South Africans. First I was able to talk with a friendly immigration officer. When he heard that I was going to Madagascar for missionary work, he asked, “To spread the Word of God?”

“Yes,” I told him. “Do you know about the Word of God?”

Smiling, he answered that he did, and told me he believed in God. “In fact, every African believe in god. I believe that god created the world. But I believe in the ancestors, too.”

“Have you heard about Jesus?” I asked him.

“Yes, but the ancestors are so strong,” he told me. I urged him to find a Bible and read it.

“We learned about the Bible in school,” he told me. “But if I were to change my belief, my parents would be so angry.”

Standing in a line a while later, I asked another South African man all about his country, and got an insider’s scoop—from culture, to politics, sports, geography, racism, economy, crime, etc. He was very friendly, and I learned more about South Africa in those 45 minutes than I had in the whole of my life.

A bored policeman on his numbing night watch came by my bench a while ago to chat with me. At first he came by while I was talking on Skype with Keren. (He thought that Skype was pretty cool.) Later, when I was off he sat down for a bit of conversation. I shared a granola bar with him, and we began to talk…

“I believe in the ancestors very much,” he explained as our talk circled to spiritual things. And then he told me a story—a story of his father, his father’s death, the dreams he had, interpreting those dreams, the breaking of the tombstone, the cessation of the dreams, and how it all affected his life.

“Everything I do. Everything. It is all for my father. I want my father to be pleased. Everything that I do, I think, how can I please my father?” was how he explained his life philosophy.

“How do you know if your father is not pleased?” I asked him.

He looked away pensively and told me, “I don’t really know. But I can feel it. And sometimes I have dreams.”

I queried him on his beliefs, to learn all I could. For nearly an hour, he told me about his ancestor belief system, and how it affected his life.

When I began to tell this man of the rock-solid Word of God, he deliberately changed the subject of the conversation. He would not hear of the Gospel.

What I’ve found among the few people I’ve spoken with is that they are familiar with the story of Jesus, but their lives are controlled by the deep and age-old traditions of their ancestor’s spirits. Even though they are living in South Africa’s biggest, most modern city, the power of traditional religion pervades..


07 2009

John Calvin: Missions Killer?

John Calvin

July 10, 2009 marked the 500th birthday of John Calvin. There is a sad notion, begun somewhere a long time ago, that views John Calvin as sort of a Missions Killer. Somehow, the doctrines of grace, often labeled as “Calvinism,” are suspiciously viewed as pious and intellectual-sounding excuses for those who refuse to share the gospel. This anti-missions thinking plagued William Carey’s religious world of the 1790s. One old pastor, hearing of Carey’s crazy ideas on foreign evangelism said, “Young man, sit down. When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”

Don’t blame John Calvin.

What follows is not a scholarly defense of John Cavin’s missiology, but a little (belated) birthday present to John on the occasion of his 500th. We can thank God for his profound impact upon church history, among which includes a significant contribution to world evangelism.

1. In a very unmissions minded age, John Calvin was himself a missionary. He left his native France and ministered in Switzerland.

2. John Calvin pastored a missionary-sending machine. His church sent hundreds of missionaries to Catholic-blinded France, into England, Germany, Scotland, and even  far-flung Brazil.

3. John Calvin taught missions, because the Bible teaches missions.

God certainly desires nothing more than for those who are perishing and rushing toward death to return to the way of safety. This is why the gospel is today proclaimed throughout the world, for God wished to testify to all the ages that he is greatly inclined to pity. (From his commentaries)

We must labour as much as possible to draw those to salvation who seem to be afar off. And above all things, let us pray to God for them, waiting patiently till it please Him to show His good will toward them, as He hath shown it to us. (From a sermon)

The gospel does not fall like rain from the clouds, but is brought by the hands of men wherever it is sent from above. (From his commentary on Romans)

The principle thing we have to look to is to teach the ignorant and to show them the way of salvation. (From a sermon in Ephesians)

“Our duty is, to be employed in sowing and watering, and while we do this we must look for the increase from God.” (From his commentaries)

So please, do not blame Calvin (or even biblical Calvinism, properly defined) for being a missions killer. Most importantly, listen to what the Bible has to say, not just John Calvin:

Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:19-20)



07 2009