REVIEW OF THE NEW GLOBAL MISSION BY SAMUEL ESCOBAR
BY SAMSON COVATCH MARCH 23, 2018
“Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’ —because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection” (Acts 17:18 ESV). In the book of Acts, Paul is shown to have kept the message of the gospel homogenous while adjusting his delivery to match the culture to which he was speaking. This example has been reversed in the recent century by allowing Western Missionary Ministries to use suffocating measures of power and influence through means of finance and technology among third world cultures. In doing so, the model of missions has been forced through a Western Eurocentric outcome for the measurement of success.
Latin American theologian and missiologist Samuel Escobar has called on the global missions community to re-evaluate the way mission is to be approached and understood in his book The New Global Mission. Escobar notices the similarities between the book of Acts and the “grass-roots Christianity” that developed in the Southern Hemisphere. Like the early church, this movement is “marked by a culture of poverty, an oral liturgy, narrative preaching, uninhibited emotionalism, maximum participation in prayer and worship, dreams and visions, faith healing, and an intense search for community and belonging.” Evangelicals need to understand that the continuation of the signs and wonders that the Holy Spirit manifests are still active today. Failure to do so leads to a rejection of the cultures they are trying to reach and a retarding of discipleship among the indigenous Christians. Evidence of this has been seen in China, Africa, and Latin America when spontaneous “expansion became possible only when indigenous christians [sic] were released from the stifling control of Western missionary agencies.”
When looking at the reports of missions over the last century, we notice some startling omissions from the record. In missions, women are often overlooked, underappreciated, and underrepresented. Also, the opinions of those on the receiving end of missions are not taken into account. The dehumanization of people is part of the de-motivating factor for those who have been marginalized in missions. The result of this is the overall percentage of Christianity has only grown equal to the rate of the world population since 1900—34%.
I don’t think this has gone unnoticed by the Western churches. The response though has been, not to critically look at our methods, but to make missionary success about numbers. By insisting that a new cultural model is injected into a society that cannot sustain it is not to understand that missions are holistic. This failure causes western missions to bypass the indigenous people rather than understanding missions in a new way. “The gross inequalities,” between the Western and Southern churches, “make partnership impossible.”
European and North American countries are so assumptive in their Christian roots that they have drifted away from the gospel truth to become a post-Christian culture in need of missionaries. A capitalist culture of comfort and individualism has ended the basic biblical concept of family and relationships within these postmodern cultures. British theologian and missionary, James Edward Lesslie Newbigin writes, “There is, there can be no private salvation, no salvation which does not involve us with one another. In order to receive God’s saving revelation we have to open the door to the neighbor whom he sends as his appointed messenger.” I find myself agreeing with this statement.
Individualism is a full rejection of a communal approach caused by a lackadaisical attitude toward the injustices of our world today. I may be tempted to think, what can I do? I don’t run governments or wield any political or economic power. This type of thinking is precisely the problem. We are so focused on ourselves as individuals that we can’t see the change that will occur if we think of others first. Escobar claims that, “If Jesus’ incarnation pattern is taken seriously by missionaries today within the social and structural realities of our time and space, mission will not be done from a platform of power and privilege, nor will the gospel be watered down to make it palatable to the rich and powerful.” Furthermore, he recognizes the logical outcome of such ideas. “We are in debt to some forms of liberation theology for reminding us that the Gospel narratives about the Passion and death of Jesus have the sociopolitical dimensions of Jesus’ prophetic ministry.”
Escobar claims the Pentecostal movement is on the vital forefront of mission today because of, “looking more at the theology of Luke and therefore at the theology of the Holy Spirit.” When the words of promise become a reality by the work of the Spirit and the ministry of Jesus is possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. According to Escobar God will use people filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus teaches about the work of the Holy Spirit evidenced by the growth of the church in numbers and depth. Coupled with the Word of God in their native languages Third World Christians are “reading the Bible with new eyes” and developing doctrines relevant to their worldview. “Finally, the new freedom in the Spirit, which enables these churches to question theological patterns developed in other cultures, also stimulates an effort to take seriously the missionary challenge posed by their own culture.”
Escobar interprets the book of Acts in a prescriptive rather than descriptive way for a holistic approach to missions. He agrees with the statement made in 1969 at the Latin American Congress on Evangelism, “To discuss whether we should evangelize or promote social action is worthless. They go together. They are inseparable. One without the other is evidence of a deficient Christian life.”
Accordingly, he states that evangelism and social concern have a threefold relationship. Social activity is a consequence of evangelism, a bridge to evangelism, and an accompaniment as a partner. “In fact, social activity is one of the principal aims of evangelism.” There is a physical and metaphysical aspect to human beings that must be attended to equally. Escobar seems to advocate that the body and spirit are at the forefront of missions with little regard to the cognitive aspect of humanity outside of simply accepting Christ as Lord and Savior. He puts forth a conceptual argument that is devoid of the historical, theological, and didactic work of the Holy Spirit throughout the prior two millennia.
There are many things to learn from how Western American Christians are viewed and the assumptions the global community has that may hinder us in doing global mission work. Samuel Escobar recognizes this in himself as well in regards to Christians from the “older European liturgical churches.” This is an area where we all struggle and would be wise to heed the advice Escobar articulates toward the end of this book. “Those of us who confess the evangelical faith need to revise provincial attitudes if we are to gain a better understanding of the global church and a more concerted participation in global mission in the future.”
Escobar, Samuel, The New Global Mission: The Gospel From Everywhere To Everyone, InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 2003.
Newbigin, Lesslie, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, SPCK, London, 1989.