Posted by Jon on January 18, 2007
One of the newer buzzphrases these days among believers in Jesus is the term “missional apologetics.” Place that term over against the old apologetics model used by evangelicals, Catholics, and other believers. It used to be that apologetics was about differentiating. That is, “you believe ‘X,’ but Christians believe ‘A.’ Here’s the historical, biblical, logical proof as to why I’m right about this and you and your friends are wrong.”
Well, sure, that’s a fairly gross over-simplification of what apologetics used to be (and still, alas, too often seems to be!). But it does seem to many of us that apologetics has majored on attack and divide rather than on dialogue and mutual learning from one another. Oooo… I can imagine eyebrows being raised at the idea of Jesus followers “learning” from, say, Buddhists!
Missional apologetics, however, does suggest precisely that. The term “missional,” of course, suggests what today’s missionary organizations have increasingly studied and done as they interact with other world cultures. Instead of the old-school approach where western cultural assumptions are “sold” to the culture being missionized, the missionary reaching out goes to learn about and interact with the heart of the culture she is attempting to reach with Jesus’ Good News.
This doesn’t bother too many people when applied to tribal groups. But it bothers a lot of people if applied to, say, Neo-Pagans or even Satanists. The old-school assumption is, though not often stated, that “I know what’s true and you do not know, therefore I will asssert authority over you and your culture.”
Does that sound familiar? The term used by many cultures being so assaulted by the West is “Imperialism.” America comes in and dictates what is “reality” in the culture being overtaken. Missionaries may not have understood their subversive role in the Imperialistic Enterprise (though some did in fact understand it). But those being colonized understood.
The need for a Christianity that is self-aware of its ability to be an unwitting carrier of cultural viruses is obvious. So is the need for Jesus believers who understand that any human conversation is a two-way street. If I talk with a Unificationist (“Moonie”) about Jesus, I should be willing to hear and try to understand his grid of meaning — that is, his way of seeing the world and interpreting it.
God is Truth, but we are not. And thinking missionally, at the very least, means we confess our own faults and blindnesses and exercise great humility as we attempt conversations with others about their beliefs. Christians who write, speak, and teach on other cultures of belief far too often present viciously reductionistic versions of the faiths and peoples they claim to be “experts” about.
For more reading on this, I suggest a few great websites, including Sacred Tribes Journal (which I am a contributor and the current webmaster of), Morehead’s Musings (John Morehead being a leader in Missional Apologetics applied to New Religious Movements and Sacred Tribes participant), John Smulo’s Missional Apologetics (Smulo being another conspirator on the Sacred Tribes site), and writer of the lengthiest Sacred Tribes articles, Phil Johnson, with his emergent / pomo Circle of Pneuma. The eager student of such things will find many more links on these sites, as well as extensive ruminations, interviews (with Neo-pagans among others!), and other food for thought.