Since meeting Alan Roxburgh last year and attending Allelon’s missional order gathering last October, I’ve been gradually becoming more familiar with Allelon and their work. Recently, I’ve been looking at Allelon’s Mission in Western Culture Project based on some of the material they’ve published on their site. While I was out of town, Alan Roxburgh published an update and appeal concerning the project and their meetings this August in Zambia (coincidentally where Todd Heistand is right now).
The project is rooted in the work of foundational missional thinker and theologian, Lesslie Newbigin, who was probably the first theologian to note that the West had become a post-Christian culture and now required a different approach than what had previously been undertaken. In 1974 he returned to the UK from India and found that some of the diagnosis he had made in 1952 as a warning had now become entrenched fact. Newbigin became a “strategic theologian.” In a seminal missiological work he published in 1986, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture, he put forward the question, “What would be involved in a missionary encounter between the gospel and this whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call ‘modern Western culture?'”
Newbigin died in 1998, and although he continued work in this vein, his question remains largely unanswered — or if the question has been answered, the answer remains largely unpracticed. In any event, by the early 1990s, the question had been accepted as valid and requiring a response of some kind. As I understand it, Allelon’s MiWC Project attempts to deal with and answer this question more fully through consultation with local church leaders engaged in Western culture around the world. At its heart, it is the essence of the missional question: how does the church engage with Western culture today? In a real sense, Western culture is the host culture from which the church was launched during the colonial era into other cultures, but Western culture has now largely divorced itself from its Christian ethos. It is now our own culture which is in need of missionary efforts. For those seeking to reintroduce Christianity into Western culture, a whole new challenge is being faced — one that is historically rare at the least, but more likely unprecedented. When before has an entire culture embraced and then rejected Christianity — or any faith — and then readopted it? We should not underestimate the significance of this shift and the importance of asking some of these questions as we set out to live missionally in our own culture.
From Alan’s post, it is apparent that the African leaders want to bring a group of national leaders to attend these meetings, but some financing is required in order to make it happen — get details from Alan’s summary, and consider assisting if you can. Allelon refers to this appeal not as a donation request, but as a “partnership opportunity.” I must say I was a bit skeptical of this wording at first… isn’t it just a way of soft-selling a financial request? Perhaps… but I’ve been there before myself, and I’ve noted that Paul calls a contribution from the churches in Macedonia and Achaia to Jerusalem a “fellowship” (Greek koinonia) in Romans 15:26, so perhaps it’s not a bad word. Somehow there’s a participation and a fellowship involved in helping someone out financially.
In any event, this is some good thought fodder for the weekend in advance of the missional synchroblog on a subject I’ve written much about. I think this is an important question which we could rally around and hold some discussion, at least. What do you think about this observation that Western culture is the first to nearly-wholesale adopt and then reject a common faith? Is the situation of reintroducing the gospel into this culture a unique one? So what do we do about it, and how does this inform our missional practice?