14 May 2006

The Continuing Conversion of the Church (4)

Chapter Four of CCotC is entitled "Translation in Mission". The following quote from its opening paragraph sets the context: "This history reveals over and over again that the missio Dei, as God works it out, is fraught with risk. This risk, I suggest, is the necessary companion of the love that God translates into reality in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This love is the content and motive of Christian mission." Guder then goes on to make the following points:
  • The fundamental nature of sin is the desire of human beings to be in control - of their lives, of their destinies, of God. The "people of God" are not a bit more immune to that sinful need for control than are any other humans. This, however, is no barrier to God's gracious action for and through them. God takes a "risk communicating his love to creatures who may reject it. That loving risk is what makes the history of salvation and the living hope of faith possible."
  • "By the gift of God's Spirit, this witness [of the gospel] may be translated into every human setting, since Jesus may be met and known in every human setting." "Because the joyful news is about God's mission, God's loving intentions for all creation, it is fundamentally missionary in nature, universal in scope, and, necessarily, translatable into the particular." "From the outset of the Christian pilgrimage, the translatability of the gospel has been a challenge and a risk for the church." "The church's continuing conversion today is always, in some way, related to the comprehensiveness of its missionary calling. We are still discovering the meaning of 'all the world' today."
  • This translation is not just a matter of language, but of culture and history. The translation process is "profoundly interactive" with the culture and both challenging and confrontational for the culture. "That transformative witness will hallow some elements of the culture, adapt others, and reject others." Neither the missionaries' culture nor the receiving culture may be regarded as normative. "When other criteria and interests replace [the] priority of God's mission, then gospel reductionism is at work.
  • "Missionary translation always includes the continuing conversion of the translator-evangelists." "The translatability is a challenge, even a shock for rebellious humans. As beings who are so concerned about control, we find the cultural openness of the gospel offensive. A translatable gospel is fundamentally not controllable. It unsettles us to discover that faithfulness to Christ can, in cultures different from ours, look different from the patterns we have evolved."
I'll end with a quote that ends the chapter itself:
The transforming power of the gospel must address, first and foremost, the traditional ways we have communicated the gospel. From there, it will move into our larger contexts and illumine where Christian witness may say "yes" and must say "no". As in every other culture in the world, Christian witness engages Western culture in diverse ways: accepting, adapting, changing, and rejecting. This means, among other things, that the culturally bilingual church must expect to change and be changed, must expect its own continuing conversion, as it encounters Christ the Lord in the cultures into which it now is sent as its witnesses.

One of our primary challenges as we undertake this transforming work is our reductionism of the gospel, which has been referred to above. What does Guder mean by "gospel reductionism?" Glad you asked...it's the topic of the next chapter. Which hopefully will be showing up here much more promptly than this one did! :-)

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