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Since this issue builds on twenty years of publication of Mission Frontiers, I am wondering if you have noticed that my editorials across these many years could easily appear to be one long continued story of "What's wrong with the USA!"
I freely admit that I have tried hard to give many, many examples of how-as I see it-our nation has bought into silly or tragic ideas and customs.
Why do I do this? Am I not, as a missionary scholar, supposed to tell you what's wrong with the rest of the world and why, therefore, we need to send missionaries to rescue people in other countries?
Why, why, why, then, is it so important to me to be constantly pointing out weaknesses in my own country? Am I anti-American? Don't I love my country?
- I do love my country and that's one good reason I yearn for improvements, major ones.
- I believe everyone needs to see himself as others see him, and that goes for countries as well. It is truly helpful to get an outsider's point of view. (Below I will explain to what extent I am an "outsider.")
- We cannot send missionaries to other countries and help others out of their weaknesses if we are unable or unwilling to discover any weaknesses in our inherited way of life.
- The name of God is trashed when our "Christian country" fails to give God glory, and when even church goers are unaware of the manifold flaws in our way of life.
- There is little hope for the proper support of global mission if the people back home are submerged in the cares, riches, and pleasures of this world, living as if we are not immersed in an all-out war with "the enemy of our souls," who corrupts and distorts our lives far more than we are aware of.
Who Am I to Do This?
Okay, you say, but why are YOU the one to be making all these nasty remarks about the USA.? Why not love it or leave it?
For one thing, it is, rather, "love it and purify it-do not leave it unexamined!"
But, why am I a qualified "outsider" to try to do such a thing?
Well, I actually do come from outer space, as it were-to the extent that in my lifetime I have lived outside of the U.S.A., and have been in constant contact with real, live missionaries from the time I went to the highlands of Guatemala to live in 1956. That's 43 years ago.
Even before that I began graduate studies in Anthropology in 1948, and even before that, as a teenager I encountered a missionary's book on anthropology (Gordon Hederly Smith, a CMA missionary in Vietnam) and the superb, lengthy chapter on Anthropology in one of the early books of the American Scientific Association. This chapter was done by a Wheaton professor, Marie Fetzer Rayburn, and a brilliant CMA missionary kid named Bill Smalley. Okay, that was over 50 years ago.
Thus, for most of my life I have been pondering the discrepancies between what Americans think of themselves and how others see them.
It also has helped to have become a committed believer, associated in high school with a Navigator high school ministry. I was involved weekly for two years in a small group led by Lorne Sanny, who later headed the Navigators for many years following the tragic and premature death of Dawson Trotman- who lived only a few blocks from my house. That period ended when I entered the Navy myself, which was, once again, a radical departure (culturally) from traditional society.
But, probably the most substantial qualification I might have as an "outsider" is the fact that for ten exciting years I lived within a Native American tribal society in Guatemala, and for the next ten years I mixed day after day with missionaries from all over the world in classes I taught at the Fuller School of World Mission. And, while my major work has not for an additional twenty years been at Fuller, the people at Fuller have been nice enough recently to define me as a "Distinguished Missiologist in Residence."
Thus, I want to be sure-in our twenty-first year-that everyone who follows us knows what we are up to and why. We are determinedly out to promote the mission of the living God in all the earth.
- This requires us to clarify the nature and purposes of God for us and our people. We must be shining lights, salt of the earth, sensitive to His will in detail, in season and out of season.
- We must be constantly and activly busy clarifying "the faith once delivered to the saints." Our ideas of what the Bible means have been twisted all out of shape in many respects by the rough and tumble of history. We read into the Bible what we want to believe rather than reading out of the Bible what God is really after. We must be trenchant foes of "the cultural misinterpretation of the Bible" whether at home or abroad.
- We must re-examine constantly just what God intends by our praying that His kingdom come. Precisely how and why do missionaries do their work? This is a huge, exciting, urgent subject.
- To do these things, yes, we need repeatedly to test our ideas and assumptions, even such basic ideas as a school system. Do we do well to push it off on the rest of the world?
Do we realize that the world does not need to do just as we have done in creating a 17-year school tunnel which for that period holds youth out of the real responsibilities of earning a living, raising a family and becoming accustomed to continuing to learn all their lives?
Is everything okay when we have the world's highest divorce rate even within the ranks of Evangelicals? I heard yesterday about a large district of a certain respected denomination where TWO-THIRDS of the pastors have been divorced. DO WE HAVE A RIGHT TO SEND MISSIONARIES TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH IF OUR OWN PASTORS CANNOT RULE THEIR OWN HOUSES WELL? What is going on? Can pastors from overseas come to help us see what it is that is destroying our families?
Is this because in our exteme individualism we encourage pastors' wives not to work along with their husbands but to pursue some unrelated career? Is this true of the people in the pew, too-the parents become separated by separate jobs? Dare we question that?
5. The very foundations of our global mission effort are shaken when Satan's destructive "counter- mission" is not well understood by millions of Evangelicals whose lives have been neutralized by "the cares, riches, and pleasures" of this world (Luke 8:14). Note that, objectively, neither cares, nor riches, nor pleasures are in themselves evil. Jesus does not say they are. He says that they CAN and they DO prevent fruit from blossoming in our lives.
Pastors and Christian leaders are on the front lines in this all-out war. They are being struck down by the thousands. How? By divorce, discouragement, by unruly and worldly congregations who will fire them if they disturb them too much. By disease-diseases we are not seriously fighting (our theology was written before we knew about germs, viruses, etc.). But most of all NOT by divorce and disease, but by "innocent" DISTRACTION. This is where the cares, riches and pleasures of this world gain their menacing power to distract. Why is it that we are unaware as a nation of the inroads of commercial gambling? How is it we allow the tobacco industry to raise prices so they can pay off the civil authorities to allow them to pursue their plundering of our youth with their deadly drugs? On and on.
But this means we are going to find people all over the world similarly enmeshed in profound delusion of parallel sorts. That's what the great Deceiver is up to.
Events, events events!
Pieces, pieces, pieces!
At this time of the year we are all deluged by "significant events" of the past year, or of the past entire century or millennium.
But "events" don't mean anything by themselves-even if collected up in an expensive picture book.
This 21st year of publication of Mission Frontiers, for example, will mean nothing if all we do is recall sound bites from the past.
Pity the poor kids in school who year after year are constantly deluged with mere "events" they are supposed to cram into their heads.
People, dates, place names, scientific "facts." All these things are essentially meaningless by themselves.They are the mere pieces of a jig saw puzzle which may never have been put together. Few people have ever tried. In fact, very few people in this world either have enough of the pieces to put the larger picture together, or they have lots of pieces but it has never dawned on them that there is a larger picture.
Okay. Pray for my wife and me. We are going to try to sketch that larger picture so that suddenly a lot of otherwise meaningless facts will begin to make sense. Why us? Well, for one thing a major publisher asked us to do it. For another, we have been trying to do it for many years. We have been involved in the development of a study program for 33,000 people which tells at least a 4000 year story.
Don't you think we need a fairly small book which presents the whole story, from creation to the present as a single unfolding drama, something which could be read in a few hours? Depending on my wife's health, we are hoping to do just that. So pray for us! [Meanwhile, start on Johnstone's book-see box on p. 2].