Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.
For three decades now, the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention have united over their belief in the inspiration of Holy Scripture. Unlike those, such as Freud or Russell, who see the Scriptures as human constructions devoid of supernatural revelation, we believe that Scripture is given supernaturally by God. Indeed, it is the very breath of God (2 Tim 3:16). And differing from those, such as Barth or Brunner, who see the Scriptures as a merely human witness to divine revelation, we believe that Scripture is ipsissma verba Dei, the very words of God.
If the Christian Scriptures are indeed the very words of God, then we will want to mold our strategies and methods according to the words of God. And while this might seem to be a yawningly obvious observation, we must pay careful attention in light of the fact that we often do not allow the Scriptures to drive our methods of evangelism, discipleship, church growth, and church planting. Our tendency is to shout very loudly about inerrancy, while undermining that same conviction by our practices.
Instead, we must consciously, carefully, and consistently seek to understand the Grand Biblical Narrative and its implications for church practice, and in particular for our missiological method. This is hard work because (1) as our global, national, and cultural contexts change from era to era, our missiology must be re-worked and re-written afresh for every generation; and (2) proof-texting will not do. Many of the particular challenges that we face are not addressed explicitly by Scripture. Rather, we must call forth the deep-level principles in the Bible and allow them to speak with propriety and prescience to the issue at hand.
This is not to say that we may not learn from extra-biblical sources. In fact, it pleases God for us to use the full faculties of reason and observation as we minister. We ought to read widely in history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, psychology, marketing, and other disciplines. It is God who created us with the capacities for reason and imagination and who allows us the great privilege and responsibility of using those for his glory. Theologians have spoken of God’s “two books,” the Book of Scripture and the Book of Nature. In the Book of Scripture, God has provided us a special knowledge of, for example, the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by grace through faith alone, while in the Book of Nature he has provided us a general knowledge of man and the rest of the created order.
God is the author of both books, and they are not in conflict with one another. When properly interpreted, they agree. How, then, might a missiologist view such disciplines as history, philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and marketing? Of what use are such disciplines? How are they positioned in light of Christian Scripture?
Among the ways that they might be helpful, here are five:
First, they may be helpful in recognizing God’s existence and some of his attributes (Rom 1). We may make ontological, teleological, cosmological, and moral arguments for the existence of one God, based upon what we may learn in philosophy, anthropology, or sociology.
Second, they may be helpful for fleshing out, or applying, biblical theology. For example, the disciplines of cultural anthropology and sociology are helpful in fleshing out the doctrine of man and man’s relationship to God, himself, others, and the rest of the created order. The psychological and pedagogical disciplines are helpful in teaching us about learning styles and the process of changing a person’s view of the world and life.
Third, they may be helpful in illustrating biblical theology. We often are able to illustrate such concepts as God’s love and fatherhood, or man’s sin and its consequences, through the use of insights gleaned from anthropology and sociology.
Fourth, they may be helpful in subverting false theologies. We may use philosophy and the social sciences to defend the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel, in response to those who would attack us. Further, we may use them to, in Schaeffer’s words, “take the roof off” of opposing salvific systems, showing them to be false saviors, lacking in logical coherence, empirical adequacy, and existential viability.
Fifth, they may be helpful in understanding those to whom we proclaim the gospel. Reading widely in history and current affairs, for example, helps us to understand the civilizational, cultural, and social contexts of those to whom we minister.
This, then, is a very limited exploration of how the doctrine of revelation comes to bear upon the church’s practice. In riveting missiological practice to the doctrine of revelation, we must beware of at least two dangers. The first is to allow the insights gleaned from general revelation (in particular, anthropology, sociology, and business marketing) to take the driver’s seat in missiology. The second danger, however, is to give theology the driver’s seat and demand that no other discipline be allowed a seat. To do so, I believe, is to reject the great gift that God has given us in allowing us to study and interact with His good world.