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Archive for December 18th, 2014

I hope you catch the irony with the title of today’s post.Perspective on the Worldwide Christian Movement

For a few months now I have been blogging about my concern with some of the disturbing trends with recent Christian missionary methodology.  One such concern I have is the fact that some seem to be against good reasoning.

An example of this can be seen in the case of C. Peter Wagner.  He is a former professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Missions (it has since been renamed the School of Intercultural Studies).  In a previous post I looked at some of the problem found in Wagner’s essay “On the Cutting Edge of Mission Strategy.

One of the things that Wagner said that I didn’t get to unpack in my previous post is Wagner’s view that Jesus prefer a demonstration of miraculous power rather than a”carefully reasoned argument” which he sees as a sign of Western “secularizing influence.”  I quote Wagner in his own words:

One of the more disturbing things we are beginning to discover is that, in more cases than we would care to think, our missionary messsage in the Third World has been having a secularizing influence.  I first realized this when I read an article by my colleague, Paul G. Hiebert, called ‘The Flaw of the Excluded Middle’ in 1982.  He begins the article by citing the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus: ‘Are you the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20).  Hiebert emphasized that Jesus’ reply was not a carefully reasoned argument, but rather a demonstration of power in healing the sick and casting out of evil spirits” (Wagner, 581).

As one can see, Wagner came to his position through the writing of another professor at Fuller Seminary’s School of World Mission: Paul Hiebert.  The relevant quote that Wagner read is quoted below:

The disciples of Jesus asked Jesus, ‘Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ (Luke 7:20 RSV).  Jesus answered, not with logical proofs, but by a demonstration of power in curing the sick and casting out evil spirits.   This much is clear.  Yet when I once read the passage from my perspective as a missionary in India and sought to apply it to missions in my day, I felt a sense of uneasiness.  As a Westerner, I was used to presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments, but by evidences of his power in the lives of people who were sick, possessed and destitute” (Hiebert, 407).

Note how both Wagner and Hibert appealed to Luke 7:20.  Here is Luke 7:20-23 in context:

20 When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the[o]Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’” 21 At that [p]very time He cured many people of diseases and afflictions and evil spirits; and He gave sight to many who were blind. 22 And He answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, thepoor have the gospel preached to them. 23 Blessed is he [q]who does not take offense at Me.”

There are problems with what these two Professors of Fuller Seminary has to say against “reason:”

  1. Wagner’s and Hiebert’s position is self-refuting in that they are both against carefully reasoned argument, and yet they end up trying to present what they think is a carefully reasoned argument for their position when they invoke Luke 7:20.  On the one hand they don’t think carefully reasoned arguments are legitimate but they inevitably presuppose the endeavor is legitimate when they try to set forth their reason against carefully reasoned argument.
  2. Wagner believes “carefully reasoned argument” is an example of Western missionary’s secularizing influence upon the Third World.  But this does not logically follow.  Wagner commit the logical fallacy of slippery slope when he thinks that carefully reasoned argument is going to lead one to become secularized.  This is not the case and portray a misunderstanding of what reasoning is on the part of Wagner; if one’s premises is not secularized but Biblically informed and “sanctified” then one will not become secularized in their conclusion.  Again, Wagner’s concern does not logically follow.
  3. It is important to exegete Luke 7:20-23 accurately.  Nowhere in the passage does Jesus condemn “presenting Christ on the basis of rational arguments” (to use Hiebert’s own words).
  4. In light of point 3, it must be pointed out that both Hiebert and Wagner commit the logical fallacy of a false dilemma when they present the option as either we accept Christ’s miracle as having evidential value or we accept rational arguments as having evidential value.  Why must a Christian accept either/or instead of both/and?
  5. We can agree with Hiebert and Wagner that Jesus’ purpose of performing miracles was to confirm the truth about the claims of Jesus Christ for as Hebrews 2:3-4 attests on the nature of signs, wonders and miracles: “how will we escape if we neglect so great asalvation?[d]After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various [e]miracles and by [f]gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.” (Hebrews 2:3-4)  But notice Jesus expected the right extrapolation of what the miracles mean and this proper interpretation of what does the evidence mean is act of engaging in reasoning.
  6. Point 5 enjoy further support from the immediate context in Luke 7 if one examine verse 22.  What Jesus told the disciples of John the Baptist is very significant since this is an echo of Isaiah 61:1 as presented in Luke 4:18.  Jesus description of what He is doing also should make His hearers think of Isaiah 26:19, 35:5-6.  This heavy use of Isaiah’s terms and phrases indicate that Jesus wants John to think Biblically in interpreting the evidence of Jesus’ miracles.  He is making an argument!  He is not merely arguing from miracles alone but bringing in Scripture to show that His miracles fulfill Messianic Prophecies.
  7. The most ironic thing about Wagner’s complaint that missionaries who use carefully reasoned arguments are “secularizing Third World Nations” is that it is those who are like him who are secularizing Third World Nations and not the ones who believed in the Sanctified Use of reason and argumentation, etc.  Note how Wagner thinks the performance of miracles are sanctified for the Christian but reasoning is not.  This is the same paradigm that secularists adopt when they separate the domain of God and the miraculous from the domain of “reason.”  Contrary to his claim, it is the Christian who do employ sanctified reasoning that is consistent in rejecting the dualism of secular/sacred.

Bibliography

Hiebert, Paul. 2009. “THe Flaw of the Excluded Middle.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 407-414.

Wagner, Charles Peter. 2009. “On the Cutting Edge of Missions Strategy.”Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., 574-582.

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