Truth, separationism and mission

Thank you to Sally and Phil for some wise and helpful comments on my post below. Phil included this great three sentence critique of separationism and its consequences…

The separationist impulse of some pietist Christians denudes the world of salt (as Jesus put it). It is also the case that separationism produces a ghetto of peculiar people with enormous potential for egregious behaviour. So one might say that separationism is often anti-relational and prone to too much navel-gazing about sanctification that it short-circuits any effective participation in the Missio Dei.

Which brought up for me once again one of the areas where I struggle which is with those for whom doctrinal purity overwhelms any effective enagement in mission, not so much because they don’t try, but because they don’t connect. Anything which, to them would be compromise, leaves you perceived as one who denies The Truth. But I love The Truth – The Truth is Jesus.

It’s been said that people today are less concerned with ‘Is it true’ and more concerned with ‘Does it work’. My feeling is that most people are actually asking (implicitly) the much more existential question, ‘Is it real?’ as in ‘Could it be real for me?’ If the gospels are true (!) Christ offers us all three – application (it works), truth and reality, or, to put it in a more familiar form, the way, the truth and the life.

Ultimately, we want people to encounter Christ in all three areas; the satisfaction of living God’s way and finding it is the best, a philosophical and intellectual assurance of the truth, and a personal, transforming experience of the reality of God. Whilst, previously, our approach has been dominated by the appeal to truth (apologetics and the like) is it not reasonable, missiologically, to appeal to the reality of a life lived with Christ and to the experience of the Holy Spirit? It’s what I need more of. And I suspect it’s what many people are looking for.

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1 Response to Truth, separationism and mission

  1. philjohnson says:

    You pose the question by way of contrast with prior cognitive approaches to commending the faith in these words:
    “is it not reasonable, missiologically, to appeal to the reality of a life lived with Christ and to the experience of the Holy Spirit?”
    The practical and experiential features of a disciple’s life are surely important and need to come into focus lest mere abstract thoughts be perceived as the “essence” of faith. However those elements do form a style of apologetic that has precedents.
    Edward John Carnell (taught at Fuller between 1949-67) modelled multiple apologetic approaches in his many books. He did argue that Christianity satisfied the mind’s intellectual quest for truth that was systematic and consistent (An Introduction to Christian Apologetics). He argued for the faith on the basis of axiology (values) in A Philosophy of the Christian Religion. He argued for the experiential “proof” of faith as personally authenticating in Christian Commitment: An Apologetic. And he explored the “angst” felt by those tender-hearted people (like himself) who felt inner distress and existential despair in his book The Burden of Soren Kierkegaard. Carnell spoke into the world of his day and was not limited to just one approach (ie philosophical or rational proofs for faith).
    Now, I do not mean that Carnell’s work is identical to your plea, but I do feel that what you are asking for does have precedents in the history of apologetics. In some ways Carnell illustrates my point, but there are many other examples one can point to.
    I realise in your post you are weaving elements together: satisfaction, intellectual assurance and transforming experience. An apologia and a personal testimony for these 3 strands can all fuse together in a holistic form of witness and holistic approach to missions. So not only is it “do-able”, but our forebears have in many ways offered us examples of how it can be done.

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