Mission as Transformation

July 1, 2014 by  
Filed under Featured, News

missionMission as Transformation is a collection of essays by leading mission experts, which challenges the Christian community to view more seriously its participation in the processes of social transformation. The book defines the term “transformation” as holistic or integral mission. The term also denotes change in one’s condition in order to receive fully the life God has intended. The Kingdom of God is viewed as a fundamental structure and system in the above process.

The book overviews important publications and thought developments over the past 30 years in reference to the subject of mission as transformation. It begins with a number of key issues starting with theological foundations (Part 1) and missiological dynamics related to social transformation (Part 2). The last are viewed in their relation to transformation and evangelism in the context of modernity, which come as a surprise in regard to the date of publication (1999). Part 3 deals extensively with praxis and their effect as factors within the transformational dynamics and processes. Several among the discussions are noticeable as follows:

(1) Suffering and the Cross
The climax of Christ’s mission was the cross. His suffering was due to a preexisting conflict which was resolved though His sacrifice, a transformational statement that included justice and restoration. The Church is also called to engage in the struggle for justice and social equilibrium, which is not only its earthly mission, but part of its eschatological hope as well. The sign of social change is then, not so much, the coming city, but the cross outside the gates. The involvement of the individual believer and the church as a corporate body in suffering on behalf of the oppressed is not viewed by God as failure. On the contrary, it is a transformation that changes both the world and the church after the image of Christ.

(2) The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is God’s redemption for humankind. It is His redemptive participation in human history through which all people are challenged to repent and live life of participating in the Kingdom business, while the Kingdom remains an already-not-yet reality. This reality gives a new status to every believer, who is transformed after the image of Christ, in order to participate in His Kingdom. In this sense, the Kingdom is not a personal Kingdom or personal transformation alone, but it is community which God creates for all with the purpose of being inclusive toward all.

The discussion on the Kingdom of God implies partnership with non-Christians which in holiness circles may be viewed as inappropriate. Kingdom values are to replace worldly values to indicate the influence of the Kingdom. Certain guidelines of cooperation then must be drawn in order that any partnership of such kind does not radically change the identity of the church negatively, but rather serves as a positive transformational factor for all participating Christians and non-Christians.

(3) Identity
The Christian identity is such a guideline itself. The impartation of Christ-like identity is a supernatural process which empowers the believer to participate in the greater purpose of God for the universe. Identity is provided by the Gospel and is the fundamental principle for Christian involvement in any processes of social transformation.

(4) Politics
The discussion is brought to the participation of Christians in politics as a part of Christian involvement in social transformation. Among Pentecostals this subject has been a taboo topic since the very beginning of the movement. The text, however, argues that as the suffering of Christ was not passive, He set a model for a radical political action. The Kingdom of God was the central idea of Christ preaching through which He proclaimed the reign of God as a King. This was done in the context of the Roman empire combined with Jewish aristocracy expressed in a political and religious system of class oppression which Christ challenged through His teaching, life, death and resurrection thus proving their temporality and creating an anti-culture against the oppression of the poor and the week. Christian politics in this sense are prophetic, proclamation of the Kingdom and eschatology.

(5) Eschatology
Christian eschatology is perhaps the most important theological factor, which determines the attitude of the community of believers toward the subject of social transformation. Eschatology deals with the future and the end of the era, but also with the end of history and the fulfillment of its goal. Historically, protestant eschatology is amillennial, at least in the era from Augustine through the Reformers. Post-reformation eschatology receives a more postmillennial aspect which affirms Christian positivism for the future. Postmillenarianism presupposed and resulted in a more extensive participation of believers in the political scene.

However, through the 19th and 20th centuries, premillenarianism became the major eschatological view among Protestants. As a result, a major reversal in theology of politics, from Calvinistic theology of politics which sees them as advancing the Kingdom of God, to a more pietistic theology of politics was observed. Saving souls became a priority before saving societies, thus promoting a pessimistic eschatological view. Such was taken by most missionaries of the 19th and 20th century whose ministries originated in the mission efforts of premillennial congregations and denominations.

Apparently, pessimistic eschatology has hurt the major premillennial wing of protestant churches, among which are Pentecostals. They must seriously reconsider their abstinence from issues of political tension, social injustice, since the lack of participation in the last has formatted their role in the dynamics of social formation and reformation. On the other hand, their critics may review the claim of premillennial eschatology as pessimistic. This is due to the fact that while premillennial theology may refuse a view of a better world here and now, it most certainly expects such one with the future return of Christ. Therefore, while such theology may be pessimistic in its earthly sense, it is most certainly optimistic in its Heavenly, eschatological sense. In other words, for premillennial believers the optimism of the end-times lies in the parousia. The tension of the already-not-yet Kingdom proves such a view and explains the Kingdom tensions of the now and the future which premillennial eschatology often presents. Such a view is both Biblical and practical. It further well balances both Christian passivism (often confirmed through piety) and activism, which should result in social concern and action. In the beginning of the 21st century, the last has become a central topic of premillennial eschatology which has resulted in its more extensive, practical implementation.

Pentecostalism and Post-Modern Social Transformation

May 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Featured, News

Not by Might nor by Power is a work that provides a significant contribution to the process of developing Pentecostal theology and more specifically its social concern. This book deals extensively with the Latin America Child Care. Its structure is organized around issues concerning South American Pentecostals. This review will first offer a chapter-by-chapter overview of the book, second discuss several of the significant issues of the book, and third will show the book in the current context of ministry.
The book begins by establishing the foundation of Pentecostal faith and experience. The author uses the historical background of Pentecostalism connecting it with the story of the Latin American Pentecostal movement thus establishing the global transformative role of the movement.

Chapter two claims that through global transformation, Pentecostalism becomes a social relevant movement. The author examines this role of the movement within the current Latin American political and social context. A very important point is made about the parallel appearance of the Pentecostalism in different parts of the world, thus making the movement autonomous in each country where it was present. This development was possible only because Pentecostalism in its original North American context emerged among the poor and oppressed denying the authority of the rich and powerful and moving toward social liberation.

Chapters three and four deals with the compatibility of Latin American culture and Pentecostalism and is based on the topics discussed above. This way, chapter three is a paradigm merge between the topics dealt within chapters one and two. The Pentecostal characteristics are predominating in the discussion. Chapter four continues with the Pentecostal relevance to social processes and dynamics in Latin America. In this way of thought, the economical environment of Latin America is the factor that enables Pentecostals to participate in the social transformation. Chapter five brings a case study dealing with the Latin America Child Care. The LACC presents a paradigm for further society involvement, which is presented as the central proving point of the research.

There is a challenge for a better presentation of theology and praxis in chapters six and seven. The book claims the ability of Pentecostals to offer social action alternatives and calls for various forms of social expression which are developed based on coherent doctrinal statements. These include politics, eschatology, triumphalism and other important issues. In relation to the premillennial views of Pentecostalism, Petersen calls external critics to carefully reconsider the claim that Pentecostalism is purely dispensational. The book explains that in its very nature Pentecostalism and its view of the work of the Holy Spirit denies any limitations to the last, and at the same time proclaims the rapture of the church and the imminent return of the Lord. Thus Pentecostalism presents a unique already-not-yet eschatology which has served as a developmental factor of its social concern.

Concerning the relationship between Pentecostal eschatology and political involvement, Petersen critiques the purposeful abstinence of political involvement and viewing of politics as a rather worldly practice. The book urges Pentecostals to view politics as a tool for social involvement and transformation even in regard of the soon return of the Lord. In fact, the research seems to propose that political involvement is part of the eschatological expectation of the church.

Toward Context of Ministry Applications
While Latin America is quite separated from our present context of ministry in Bulgaria, Not by Might nor by Power presents many similarities between both, especially in the problematic issues of Pentecostal theology and praxis. Similarly to the problems in Latin America, in the beginning of the 21st century the Protestant Church in Bulgaria is entering a new constitutional era in the history of the country. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the political and economic challenges in Eastern Europe have strongly affected the Evangelical Churches. More than ever before, they are in need of reformation in doctrines and praxes in order to adjust to a style of worship liberated from the dictatorship of the communist regime. In order to guarantee the religious freedom for our young, democratic society, the Protestant Movement in Bulgaria needs a more dynamic representation. Such can be provided only by people who will create a balance between the old atheistic structures and the new contemporary, nontraditional style of ministry.

Similar is the case among Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in North America which also share analogue dynamics with congregations of Latin American immigrants. Several facts are obvious from such comparison. It is apparent that Bulgarian immigrants come to North America in ways similar as other immigrant groups. Large cities which are gateways for immigrants are probable to become a settlement for Bulgarian immigrants due to the availability of jobs, affordable lodging and other immigrants from the same ethnic group.

The emerging Bulgarian immigrant communities share religious similarities and belongingness which are factors helping to form the communities. As a result of this formation process, the Bulgarian Evangelical Churches in North America emerge. It also seems natural to suggest that as this process continues, Bulgarian Evangelical Churches will be formed in other gateway cities and other large cities which meet the requirements to become a gateway city. Such has been the case with Latin American churches. If this is true, it should be proposed that the Bulgarian Churches in North America follow a strategy for church planting and growth which targets these types of cities.

Pentecostalism and Post-Modern Social Transformation
Almost one hundred years ago, Pentecostalism began as a rejection of the social structure which widely included sin, corruption and lack of holiness. These factors had spread not only in the society, but had established their strongholds in the church as well. Pentecostalism strongly opposed sin as a ruling factor in both the church and the community, seeing its roots in the approaching modernity. As an antagonist to modernism, for almost a century Pentecostalism stood strongly in its roots of holiness and godliness, claiming that they are the foundation of any true Biblical church and community. Indeed, the model of rebelling against sin and unrighteousness was a paradigm set for the church by Jesus Christ Himself.

In the beginning of the 21st century, much is said about the church becoming a postmodern system serving the needs of postmodern people in an almost super-market manner. Yet, again, it seems reasonable to suggest that the Pentecostal paradigm from the beginning of modernity will work once again in postmodernity. While again moral values are rejected by the present social system, Pentecostalism must take a stand for its ground of holiness and become again a rebel – this time an antagonist to postmodern marginality and nominal Christianity or even becoming a Postmodern Rebel.