Monday, February 05, 2007

What Kind of Gospel?

I received a pretty typical request at work today from a brother in Africa -- we frequently receive relatively generic requests for (and here I quote):
christian materials on: missions, revival, evangelism, witnessing, prophecy,
eschatology, giving, Holy Spirit, christian education, church/biblical history,
biblical study tools/materials, healing, leadership, youth materials, marriage
or christian family, tapes, CDs, DVDs, audio visuals, cassettes, worship
Cds,magazines, men's materials, children's materials, sunday school materials,
church planting, church growth, research and study materials

... the list goes on and on for another 6 or 8 lines, but you get the picture.

Usually the emails also include earnest requests for our prayers (our brothers and sisters overseas often are much better at recognizing the necessity of going before the throne of grace). Again, I quote:
PRAYER REQUEST: Please remember me always in your prayers. Pray for me for a most friutful, productive,and successful ministry. I want to sponsor the gospel
and send books to people as you do. Ask God to lead me to express road to riches
and wealth to the glory of God.

WHOA ... what was that? "The express road to riches and wealth to the glory of God"??? Later, he mentions it again: "Pray for me for more anointing for healing, miracles signs and wonders, giving, holiness, righteosness, godliness, Holy Ghost, revival, soulwinning, ministry, riches, wealth, prosperity, success, favour, blessings, breakthroughs, open doors and excellence."

What kind of gospel has been preached to this man (which he, in turn, is preaching to others)? To our shame, it is a "gospel" that perhaps originated with missionaries who arrived on Africa's fair shores with shipping containers intended to "open doors." Or perhaps it originated with any number of American TV-preachers (no longer confined to women with purple hair and men with well-arranged toupees sitting on pink velour couches) who make promises on God's behalf ... promises that God often has no intention of fulfilling because, though made in His name, they were not for His name's sake.

To my shame, I'm not always offering the true Gospel to people either. I've heard it said that "what you believe saves you is what you will offer to others." It's convicting: my default is to offer people knowledge, or to want to do something for them, rather than to offer them the Living Savior. These are no more salvific than the express road to riches and wealth.

I'm usually a little bit more nuanced than asking people to pray that God will put me on the express road to riches and wealth (to the glory of God!), but I also realize that I still have subtle ways of making God my vending machine. I struggle to not put my trust in riches and wealth, or people, positions, education, etc., and to remember that God's is a Kingdom that is not of this world (hence, no need for accumulating riches and wealth, whether quickly or slowly).

I don't have a profound way to draw this together and end the post, so here it is: THE END. (maybe if you read this in a few hours, profundity will have struck.) And a postscript: I've recently been revisiting an excellent article by David Powlison on prayer: "Praying Beyond Health Concerns."


tslate said...

I have never been to Africa, except through the eyes of a missionary to Africa -- via her blog. Your statement about missionaries and their containers stands in sharp contrast to her statements in recent months, and even this week, about the overwhelming need that is in Africa and the balance that the missionaries must find in giving the gospel and giving to meet needs for life and health. While I'm sure some may give carelessly, I believe many more must be cautious. Check out the Pierce family at

Molly said...

Tara and Scott --

Thanks for this reminder for balance in how I talk about mission work. I personally know a number of missionaries who are serving the Lord in great ways in Uganda -- and they are always doing it through Word AND Deed.

The challenge, though, is that historically, Christians who came from the West tended to not understand what the tangible gifts meant to the Africans themselves ... I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the fact that money and other tangible goods have a much different meaning (in the context of the individual's life and community) than it does in the United States. And the relationship between spiritual and physical things (if you will allow me to draw such a distinction, however artificial it may be) is different for the African mind than the Western mind.

In other words, I suspect that mercy ministry in the West looks different than mercy ministry in the global South.

There's also a challenge that many Africans have figured out how to use well-meaning Christians ... for every legitimate need presented to a Christian by an African, I'm afraid that there's at least one person who simply sees opportunity.

Did you know that until recently, Christians would actually pay Africans to come spend a day at a seminar or a crusade? It was called a "sitting fee" ... and it became an easy way for Africans to make a living, just going the rounds to different Christian events.

I realize that I'm rambling here; I'm also not the most qualified person to speak in this regard. I've recently been reading one person who is, so I'd encourage you to check out this article, which was in the back of my mind when I wrote this post:

tslate said...

Hi Molly,

It's just Tara, not two of us!
(these Blogger fill-in-the- blanks!)

I read a good bit of the article you referenced - but was really interested in the WMA group. I am intrigued by where you are in life and what you do that makes this part of your reading list! For me (and Scott who is absent here), my interest in missions and how it is being done is quite personal. We are seeking to be involved in cross-cultural ministry.

I read about missiology, but then, we are also prayer partners with missionaries in different parts of the world -- and this is a great teacher. Lately, the issue of money and how to use it has come up quite a bit. Money does have a way of altering perceptions and relationships, among other things. Fortunately, it seems that missions, both in leadership and on the ground level, are pretty sensitive about how to give, although there is a big learning curve. As a friend on the field emailed me this week, "We think 3 packages of diapers may have been too much to give at once," speaking of a young national couple in ministry. Hard to imagine even diaper giving should be curtailed, but it seems so. What can a missionary do but prayerfully seek the Lord and listen to the voices of experience? Sometimes, knowing what makes someone stumble, spiritually speaking, is very hard to anticipate in one's own culture -- but in an unfamiliar culture. . .God have mercy on our blunders!! Looks like another of life's opportunities to appreciate the gospel and the endless amount of grace bought for us.

I wanted to validate what you were saying, because western financial involvement is a definite and valid issue. But at the same time, I wanted to present that there are many cautious and discerning missionaries from central America, to Africa, to the eastern and western shores of Europe, who give very prayerful consideration to this issue. It is an academic issue, and it is a daily issue for so many of us who "have" and want to help. I am definitely not a missiology expert. But my heart's desire is to see the nations worship God -- and on a practical level -- to discover how to do it. Thank you for the link and the insight.

And I have to say, the request for prayer to be on the express road to riches/wealth, well. . . I thought the phrasing was creative in a pleasing way! I'd like to be on the express road to a couple of places myself! I wonder if the term "express road" is used in some particular translation of scripture.

I hope you didn't feel like you receieved a sharp correction -- I'm sorry if it came across that way. Typed words don't always carry warmth, do they? A shame! = )

Deep peace to you,