Glory and Humiliation in the Theology and Experience of the Missions

Anssi Simojoki
(Ressurser) Misjon

The Revd. Dr. Anssi Simojoki


Nairobi, KENYA





Wide and complex areas of theology and ecclesiastical practice may be presented in the manner of simplified overviews and, conversely, simplified overviews may be elaborated, when need be, in profundity and detail. The scale of a map depends on its usage, whether it be a general survey of the landscape or particular exploration of details is needed for special assignments. The question posed by the title of this presentation, 'Glory and Humiliation in the Theology and Experience of the Missions' can be answered both as a general outline and in detail. I have chosen an approach that will address a number of general theological and practical issues in contemporary missions. In assessing some general missiological models and their respective arguments I have sometimes paid detailed attention to questions and complexities which usually lie beyond the immediate surface.

Christianity, in general, contains two dimensions, which correspond to both glory and humiliation. I call them dimensions or ends of the same axis rather than exclusive opposites. The history of the church knows oppression and persecution in profusion. Such a status is biblically well motivated. According to statistical reports, the 20th century alone witnessed more Christian martyrs than the preceding 18 centuries put together. Now that the Communist dinosaurs have become extinct on the global political stage, the pain of being oppressed and persecuted because of the name of the Christ is being felt heavily in Islamic countries. Oppression is also known to Christians living amongst Hindu and Buddhist majorities. The development towards the political and cultural oppression of Christians has already taken its initial steps in the secular democratic West. Unlike Islam, Christianity teaches that the life under humiliation and persecution is normal. The church is, after all, the little flock. The biblical example of Jesus points in this direction. On the other hand, the church has never shied away from influential positions and heavy responsibilities when the time has so demanded. Bishop Ambrose of Milan bore both the cloak of a bishop and the provisional status of a viceroy excellently. Lutheran national churches of the past offer splendid examples of nation-wide catechization, missionary work and Christian ways of public life and morality. In this dimension the status of a little flock is easily replaced by the concept of kingdom. Recent historical turmoils may teach some lessons to those rare ones who want to learn something from history. The church as a little flock is not measured out only for a ghetto existence. This is the problem of various fragmented free churches whereas the concept of kingdom cannot be separated from or extended beyond the true signs of the church. If such a separation or transgression takes place, it will end up in the notorious junk yard of nationalistic and political theology characterising kingdoms of this world, not the eternal kingdom of Christ.


The Mission Conferences of the 20th Century

The era before the historic missionary conference of Edinburgh in 1910 was characterised by Western missionary triumphalism. The historical situation seemed to prove the superiority of the Western Christian culture in all possible ways. The colonial scramble for the world was brought to completion by the scramble for Africa. The expansion of the leading European powers had also brought the cross across the oceans and the continents. For example, the Russian Orthodox Church reached out to Alaska and even California. In conformity with the scramble for the world it seemed to be possible to conquer the entire mankind with the Gospel. We must, however, keep mission and colonialism apart, although mission permeated the new territories under the protection of colonial powers. Indeed, the cross arrived often with and under the flag. Yet, the mission sprang from a root different from the pursuit of a visible empire. For this reason, mission and colonialism time and again found themselves at loggerheads concerning the plight and treatment of the subjugated nations and tribes. In a similar fashion to the mission fields, staunch biblical, Protestant faith in the New World had been capable of propelling the United States of America towards Civil War because of the black slavery. Abolitionists in America as well as missionaries on new continents, though descendants of the same culture, claimed the uncompromised validity of 'ius divinum' in the Holy Writ against all opposing political and economical calculations in favour of un-biblical and inhuman structures.

There were two contrary cultural trends in Europe during 'la belle epoque' prior to World War I. The pessimistic tunes became loudly audible only after the disastrous war, formulated by Oswald Spengler in his book 'der Untergang des Abendlandes'. Yet, the Darwinistic quest for the survival of the fittest and the respective racist mindset betrayed haunting fears concerning the survival of the white European race. The victory of Japan over Imperial Russia in 1905 disclosed new emerging powers from the East. The 'yellow danger' of Asian nations had become an option, at least in pessimistic social-Darwinistic minds. The panic reaction caused by biological and cultural pessimism in Europe partly explain the horrifying fact of how extensive the violence became between the two great wars on the continent that only shortly before had been believed to bear the likeness of the Kingdom of God. In Bolshevism and Nazism, barbarity exercised by the fittest became a virtue quite in line with Friedrich Nietzsche and in the tradition of the European idealistic genius cult since Schleiermacher, whereas Christian compassion was considered as despicable weakness.

The positive cultural notion was built on the world-view of Liberal Cultural Protestantism. God's kingdom was seen primarily as a cultural realm of value judgements. Where Protestant Christian values prevailed, God's kingdom was thought to have become a reality. The blind spot of this optimism was its inability to realize that all Western values were cultural and not necessarily genuine biblical Christian values set forth in the confessions and doctrinal formulas of the churches. On the contrary, the Liberal West was bold and quick to demolish the doctrinal structures of classical Christianity. Protestant missions born out of Pietistic and Evangelical spirituality were coloured by biblical eschatological expectations. In principle they were antagonistic to Liberal theology. They depended, however, on idealistic philosophical and theological concepts. By and large these missions shared the cultural optimism of the age. In the wake of 'Centennial Conference' in London in 1888, 'the Evangelization of the World in this Generation' became the theological slogan and programme of Edinburgh in 1910 together with the dictum, "All should go and go to all". Since then, the junk box of missions has been constantly filled with ingenious and half-forgotten missionary slogans. Encountering the multitude of these slogans, one may wonder whether the wheel has been reinvented time and again in missiology.


The Missiology of Slogans

Indeed, missiology has proved to be a fecund garden of fashionable programmes and slogans. A slogan may be a fitting compression of a problem and its solution. Missionary slogans and shibboleths may also start their own self-multiplying existence, disconnected from their origins. The weakness of a missiology of slogans is akin to the criticism directed in the 18th century against orthodoxy. The emerging biblical criticism accused traditional orthodox theology of a methodically inappropriate use of the Holy Writ called 'dicta probantia': a dogmatic locus was believed to be arbitrarily motivated with a sentence from the Scriptures taken completely out of its context. Such criticism is not justified in the classic dogmatics, whereas fashionable missiological slogans and programmes are often exposed to the criticism of 'dicta probantia' out of their true context. As a fitting example we can only mention Is. 6:8: ?Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?? The calling of the prophet did not inaugurate a triumphal harvest in Jerusalem but, instead, the commencement of divine hardening whose object was the destruction of the kingdom of Judah. Luke repeatedly mentions 'church growth' in the initial history of the Christian Church, but it is certainly not a missiological methodical principle in the New Testament justifying what Donald McGavran came to teach as ?church growth?. Instead, the growth of the body of Christ is a Trinitarian, Christological and pneumatological mystery through the Apostolic doctrine and administration of the sacraments. It is embarrassing to find the 'dicta probantia' character in so many a missiological programme. The embarrassing fact is that their connection to the Word of God is in danger of being far from genuine. I do not criticise the changing of programmes as such, since it is self-evident that varying conditions in mission work are challenges that demand fitting responses. This was reflected in the mission conferences of the International Missionary Council that followed Edinburgh: the post-war crisis in Jerusalem 1928, the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God in Tambaram 1938, the consequences of crumbling colonialism and new nationalism in Whitby 1947, the quest for the biblical and theological basis of Mission in Willingen 1952, the implications of global political and religious changes in Ghana 1957-1958, Christ and Cosmos in New Delhi 1961. (Since the assembly of New Delhi International Missionary Council was integrated into the World Council of Churches.) What I do criticise, however, is a light-weight, even frivolous manner of using theology as a sort inaccurate and even misleading language game in missions.

The main source of the afore-mentioned 'dicta probantia' problem of missionary slogans is the Reformed way of understanding the Word of God. Time and again the reader of missionary documents comes across reformed ideas concerning the Holy Scriptures. A truly Reformed Christian as student of the Bible is constantly in pursuit of biblical laws and principles concerning Christians and their efforts in mission and evangelization. This is also the understanding of the Holy Writ in evangelical Anglicanism. The idea of kingdom, the shalom-principle, are true post-World War II products of such an approach to the Bible. Karl Barth as the great theological authority of the 1940s and 1950s pointed in the same direction. When the Word of God is primarily the source of principles and laws, the church is also primarily a place in which these principles and laws function. Indeed, Karl Barth emphasised the Christological nature of the church. With his Reformed hermeneutics, however, his concept of the church completely lacks in ontology. It is an abstract, functionalistic point in history, not an ontological entity. For this reason, Barth's understanding of the confession of faith, which at Barmen in 1934 overcame Hermann Sasse's Lutheran confessionalism, knows no historical continuity. The Lutheran teaching on confession claims the assertion of the same faith through history. The Book of Concord opens with the Ecumenical Symbols. For Barth, however, the confession of faith was always the offspring of the situation, in a way similar to his conception of Christian ethics. For this reason, there is no true continuity between acts of confession throughout the history of the church. Where the confession of the Early Church considered the church as a celestial reality on earth, in particular when celebrating the mystery of the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the sacred liturgy, for Barth and his multiple disciples, the church is an actualistic point in history, where the Word of God hitting the timely existence as a meteorite 'senkrecht von oben' is the Law-Gospel and the Gospel-Law pointing to Jesus Christ in the fashion of John the Baptist's finger in Grünewald's Isenheim altar piece. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was familiar with the problem and elaborated on it in his book 'Akt und Sein' of 1931.

So overwhelming has the Reformed influence on the missions been that it came, by and large, to dominate the concept of the church even within Lutheranism of the 1960s and 1970s. The Christian Church was seen purely in actualistic terms. Following Karl Barth, the function or action of mission was seen as a sign of the church. The 1961 New Delhi conference propelled the triad of 'martyria' ('witness'), 'diakonia' ('service') and 'koinonia' ('unity') to a pivotal position in ecclesiology. Such a functionalistic concept emerged from Reformed thinking spiced with kerygmatic theology. From the heights of ecumenical theology and missiology in particular, this concept trickled down to the grass-roots of various Lutheran churches as well. It was the question of the ordination of women that in Scandinavia, and especially in Finland, compelled Lutheran theology at least to acknowledge that the church is an ontological entity, not only a functionalistic focal point. It is ?Sein? in ?Akt? and ?Akt? in ?Sein?. The disputes concerning the word, the sacraments and the ministry in the 1980s and 1990s brought the seven marks of the church in Luther's 'Von den Konziliis und Kirchen' in 1539 to a wider theological prominence than ever before in latter-day theology. Practically, these theological gains were sidelined by church politics which were harnessed to propagate, not the pure Gospel, but a contemporary, immanent agenda of anti-values such as Feminism and androgyny in the society and the church. Being sidelined does not mean, however, that the pure Lutheran notions were lost. They are active, inspiring and progressive amongst Lutheran minorities in the traditional churches.

With this background, the inability of the Lutheran World Federation to voice a clear Lutheran confession on the doctrine of justification in Helsinki in 1963, was in retrospect not accidental but, rather, symptomatic. Quite soon, already in the 1970s, the LWF was entirely swallowed up by a fashionable leftist political theology. The Federation did not profile itself doctrinally at all from the WCC. Neither has there been any subsequent turn towards a more Lutheran teaching. The latest mission document of LWF is a muddle of fashionable Liberal narrative jargons: missions are a politically correct way of life in a truly moralistic fashion and human story-telling on personally important topics labeled the good news. This recent mission document from Geneva cannot tell anyone what the Gospel is and how it is communicated in the world. If one were to ask what the properly Lutheran features of this document are, he would remain with no substantial answer. The mission document of the LWF is completely devoid of Lutheran doctrine. No wonder, since the churches that set the trends in the LWF by providing and controlling its finances excel in a rising Liberal agenda and dramatically declining mission efforts. For example, after the merger of the official Swedish Church Mission SKM and the Pietistic 'Fosterlandsstiftelsen' a decade ago the number of joint missionaries has not doubled, not even remained the same, but plummeted to a half.


Excursion: Political Theology

Liberal and secular theologies have for long justified themselves as centres of responsible social religion in opposition to socially and politically illiterate conservative piety or politically hard-line Biblicist fundamentalism. The media, as usual, have easily swallowed this cliché. This socially responsible religion is usually nothing more than a pious collection of recycled politically correct leftist platitudes with some ecclesiastical flavour. The Roman Catholic branches of Liberation Theology enjoy special reverence in this area.

We must never forget the fact that the Lutheran Reformation in Germany was about to perish in the avalanche of fanatical political enthusiasm. It would also be too long a story in this connection to parade the entire collection of political theologies of the 20th century before us. We would salute Panslavism, the Living Curch in the Soviet Union in the 1920s, ?die Glaubensbewegung der deutschen Christen? in Hitler's Germany, Ultranationalistic and Fascist Christianity Catholic and Protestant in Europe, the official church of the Three selves in China, Zoltan Kaldy's theology of diakonia in Communist Hungary, Christian peace movements under the wings of the Soviet Union, etc. What was common to them was a sometimes dubious, sometimes criminal collaboration with tyrants. Contemporary democratic and Liberal versions of political theology share the basic problems and weaknesses of all political theology. Their counterpart has been and still is a biblical faith and piety, which became and will become political when challenged by a political misuse of the Christian faith. The canonical Orthodox church survived after all in the Soviet Union, the German Church Struggle has deeply influenced Christianity, Kaldy's theology serves today as a warning example of ideological lackeying of a repressive government, the Christian champions of 'Pax Sovietica' are today considered as a band of fools and crooks, house churches which are free from the control of the government are growing in China to such an extent that it surpasses imagination. The verdict of history has not yet been pronounced on the contemporary democratic and Liberal vegetation of political theology. Still, it can be theologically analyzed.

Political theology in all possible forms from revolutionary zeal to nationalistic Fascism, from attempts to build up a rigid theocracy to political conformity to a Libertarian culture, shoots up from the theological root which neither knows nor acknowledges the distinction between the Law and the Gospel. The reality is seen, in the fashion of Islam on one single level without distinction between the secular and sacred or spiritual realms. Paradoxically, political theology always overlooks the Decalogue in favour of human political programmes whereas genuine Christian faith follows the Law of God, not only personally 'in usu secundo' but also in society 'in usu primo'. The Ten Commandments are always the divine measure of a just society. The challenge to polity in society and government rises from the Law and not from the Gospel as taught by all who enthusiasts who confuse the Law and the Gospel, who not only confuse the Law and the Gospel but also the Gospel with mundane political programmes and movements. The Liberal idea of the 'Kingdom of God' as the kingdom of values and value judgements is back in contemporary theology in a decadent Libertarian ideology that permeates the West: the Kingdom of God is the realm of egalitarian democracy, Feminism and revered sexual perversions. There is also another way of theologically circumventing the Decalogue. This is presently the normative teaching in Finland. The Decalogue is neutralized with overextended teaching of natural law in Rom. 2 and the Golden Rule: Since all mankind has received the Law of God in creation, it follows that all mankind has the natural God-given moral code. Therefore, Christianity offers only the 'lex credendi' but no moral teaching by the authority of the Decalogue, since all men are in the possession of the demands of the divine law by virtue of the 'regula aurea'. The Decalogue cannot have any positive role in the Christian life. Situation solely is the source of moral knowledge. Thus, the values of the society and culture are being adroitly sanctified regardless of their true nature in the light of the Word of God. Human consensus replaces Biblical revelation. The Lundensian School of Theology and Gustaf Wingren have been key sponsors at the craddle of this teaching.



The IMC Conference in Ghana 1957-1958 following the Christological shift in Jerusalem in 1928 enriched the collection of missiological slogans by introducing the term from the Christological hymn in Phil. 2:5-11 to the missions. As servant, Christ could fulfill the mission of God, 'missio Dei'. Consequently, the church must adopt in the 'missio ecclesiae' the role of servant in a prophetic, redemptive and unitive mission.

The idea of ??????? has later been elaborated in the connection of cultures and contextualization. In the wake of Eugen Nida's translation theory, the conference of Willowbank in 1978 resorted to 'kenosis' to motivate cultural contextualization in mission work. Eugen Nida's idea of 'dynamic equivalence' in translation had gained since the 1960s almost the status of a dogma at least in African translation of the Bible. According to Nida, mission work should not be the transmission of theology like packages from one culture to another. In the place of theological transmission, missionaries should become devoid of their own culture, especially missionaries from the West. They should find the meaning of theology in terms of new cultures as from within them. The traditional Edinburgh triad, namely self-supporting, self-extending and self-propagating, should be completed with a fourth, namely with self-theologizing. In the true fashion of 'dynamic equivalence', missionaries translate theology into the receptive cultures and thus domesticate theology to culture and vice versa. This, in brief, is what is being called 'kenosis' in mission work. As such, it has been understood as the opposite of culturally triumphalistic approaches. Practically, it has motivated shallow doctrine or the absence of doctrine in mission work.

In spite of the impressive eloquence vested to 'kenosis' in the missions, there is ample space for criticism. First of all, I used the word 'idea' denoting Nida's extremely successful linguistic doctrine of 'dynamic equivalence'. I deliberately avoided the common term 'theory'. The fact is that Nida's critics strongly challenge the right to call 'dynamic equivalence' a theory. A characteristic of a scientific theory is controllability by testing. So far, 'dynamic equivalence' has not yielded itself yet to scientific testing. The true functioning of ?dynamic equivalence? cannot be measured in a scientifically reliable way.

Culturally, globalization has radically turned the tables. There are fewer and fewer isolated cultural pockets in the world. Most cultures have lost their innocence and have become pregnant of other cultures. A situation described by the advocates of cultural 'kenosis' simply does not exist any more in most places. People in growing numbers want to learn a global 'lingua franca' and enter into interaction with the world. Ideas, slogans, information travel at the speed of light and they permanently change peoples' mindsets. Emigration on a gigantic scale is an irrevocable reality even in closed societies such as Cuba and China, with the only exception of North Korea. My question is whether the picture of cultures behind the above-described notion of 'kenosis' is not only overly eloquent but also hopelessly romantic belonging rather to the world of Walt Disney Corp. and its popular movie 'Lion King', a fairy-tale world never to be found in Masai Mara and Serengeti.

Theologically, Nida's concept and the corresponding 'kenosis'-theologoumenon of Ghana and Willowbank also run against the pursuit of catholicity in the Christian Church and her mission. The Christian faith is primarily universal even in very particular conditions. Its main concern is not culture but 'depositum fidei' common to all Christians. Indeed, nationalistic movements and tyrants have often attempted to rule the church by isolating it from other churches and designing for it a narrow agenda, but in the long run with no success. There is also alarmingly little substantial proof for such self-theologizing as Nida has suggested. There have been champions of 'new' and 'indigenous' theologies such as John Mbithi in Kenya. After an initial folkloristic phase, however, theology must reach up to the catholic in order to be relevant or it will only attain the questionable status of a curiosity. Therefore scholars of theology from all continents and on all continents are working in growing numbers on catholic Christian theology.

Since the initial phase of Christendom, language, liturgy, music and church art have been agents of what is today called contextualization. Languages and artistic expressions of the Christian faith have naturally adopted the new religion and soon influenced Christians of other cultures as well, Greek and Latin terminology, Armenian and Oriental church art etc.

There is one success story that vigorously resists our customary clichés of how it is necessary for a religion to be contextualized if it were to conquer new peoples and cultures. Around the time of the Reformation in the 16h century Islam spread to Western Africa and to the Pacific Ocean in a tremendous surge. The translation of the Quran into the myriad of languages has never been a genuine Islamic preoccupation. Instead, the Arabic language and Arabic culture have domesticated nations and cultures of all possible description. In terms of missiological theories, this should never have happened. But it did happen and today it continues to happen on a scale surpassing our imagination.


The Word of God in Glory and Humiliation

As I stated above, missiology has, by and large, been under the sway of Reformed theology. The Reformed concept of the Word of God has produced missiological slogans in profusion as Biblical laws and principles have been sought in the Bible. Lutheran missions have more or less obediently followed suit. The Lutheran World Federation has not distinguished itself in creating genuine Lutheran missiology. It was quite widely ? as well as erroneously ? believed for a long time that Dr. Martin Luther had nothing or very little to contribute to missiology.

Those times of ignorance should definitely be over. At least after the massive volume of the late Ingemar Öberg, a strong contributor to the work of NELA, it should be be crystal clear that Luther was in teaching and practice and as 'Doctor Ecclesiae' a man of Christian missions. Luther was not after principles and slogans. The church has received in the Bible the Word of God. The Bible is not a collection principles and codes. Instead, it is the self-revelation of the Living God. The Word of God creates the reality it speaks about.

The work of mission simply means that the Word of God must reach out to all the nations of the world. In the Synoptic Gospels, in the so called Synoptic Apocalypse Mt. 24, Mk. 13, Lk. 21, this is the primary driving force of history: the Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached to all the nations. Only then the end will come. This is more and more the reality surrounding us. This driving force of the end times is wrapped in the cloak of suffering and persecutions. What is seen and experienced in the missions is primarily humiliation, suffering and death before the potentants of this world. However, concealed within this outwardly shameful clothing is the glory of God, the irresistible triumph of the eternal Gospel that will finally slay even the death.

With this statement not all has been said what should be said in this connection. It would be alarming if theologians and Christians who disagree concerning all other key issues of the Christian faith still would stand united concerning the true content of the Gospel. It only suffices to refer to the recent mission document of the Lutheran World Federation. The quest for the true content and meaning of the Gospel strongly questions the reasoning behind the cultural ?kenosis? ? missiology. The Gospel is God?s saving mystery in Jesus Christ: ?What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepare for those who love him? as St. Paul quotes Isaiah in 1 Cor. 2:9. God?s mystery is a revealed mystery. The revelation thus means that it is not incomprehensible. It can be preached with human words and be received with full human understanding, not in a state of trance such as the oracles of Delphi or the shamans of Siberia. It is not like Muhammed?s preachings in the Quran according to one ?pensée? of the French mathematician Blaise Pascal: ?Some people say that his incomprehensible words are mysteries. Why hold Muhammad?s incomprehensible words for mysteries as his comprehensible words are ridiculous?? Indeed, the Gospel may be scandalous for this world but it has still clear content by virtue of God?s word. This content opens up in the Word of God. As the vehicle is the word, language, it means that the Gospel can be verbally expressed and translated into all languages. This is the ?depositum fidei? in its genuine Biblical meaning. Since the ?depositum fidei? is expressible in all languages has its universal, divine and catholic content. This content is extremely rich and at the same time clear because it is Christological. The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians does not suggest any sort of ?kenosis? concerning the knowledge of this mystery or deposit ? on the contrary. Christians are expected to grow in this knowledge because such growth is the constant work of the Holy Spirit.

What does this mean for mission work? Too often various missions, Lutheran missions included, tread a minimalistic path in teaching and practice. Evangelization and mission are treated in similar fashion as children?s pre-school or Sunday-School classes: do not be bothered by the ?depositum fidei? beyond the skin-deep level when the Rich White Uncle or Aunt is speaking to the happily childish people in Africa and Asia! Who can claim that this is what the nations yearn? My limited experience as a translator, publisher and teacher of Lutheran literature in Africais the absolute contrary. Those who are hungry are hungry for the real thing.

The ?depositum fidei? challenges the entire world as St. Paul sets it forth in 2 Cor. 10:4-6. By its nature the eternal Gospel denies righteousness and salvation from all human institutions and efforts. Therefore it always faces hostility to varying degrees. Only the strong and powerful can provoke real hostility. This is a reflection of the hidden glory of the true biblical mission work, carried out in humility and suffering and resolution as well.