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Surprises, sagacity, and service.

Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam have each exhibited a striking impulse to spread cross-culturally. These three religious traditions, with their 2,500-year, 2,000-year, and 1,400-year histories which began in Northeast India, Israel, and Arabia, respectively, have entered multiple and ever-changing cultural and sociopolitical contexts. The result has been a dizzying array of mutually interactive transformations. At the institutional level, these unfolding international histories have offered up startling surprises, especially when considered in light of their parochial and monocultural beginnings. Along the way and at the personal level, participants in the religions' spread, both as messengers and as recipients, have been caught up short as well: no cross-cultural emissary worth her or his salt can avoid wrestling with unanticipated life patterns encountered in a setting recently entered, and no new adherent can fully anticipate the intricacies of cultural unscrambling and personal transformation inherent in embracing an imported religious faith.

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Missionaries and their organizational supervisors have often sought to follow grand historical schemes involving a prophesied nirvana, millennium, or caliphate, usually in restored fashion. Within the modern Christian mission movement, visions of rulers and their subjects bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ and of the worldwide establishment of a familiar-looking church fueled many zealous missionary endeavors--at least until the twentieth century's brutal world wars and the subsequent breakup of European political empires. But just as earlier apocalyptic seeming destructions of Christian sociopolitical establishments were succeeded by fresh flowerings of wider Christian growth, so have we in our own times been witnessing the surprising blooms of an unprecedented worldwide garden of Christian communities that exhibit colors, shapes, and fragrances unanticipated by human sketchers of the mission landscape.

This worldwide sprouting of Christian growth has caught people off guard, due simply to our limited vision. I need to quickly add, however, that one of the glories of being human is our finitude. Try as we may to schematize the world's history-past, present, and future--the reality is that we can never fully anticipate, much less comprehend or dictate, the entire historical outworking of anything, including religious developments. More than being merely a frustrating hindrance to the fulfillment of our fondly imagined unlimited potential, our limited capacity to foresee what lies ahead, to say nothing of knowing all things, carries within it the freedom and responsibility to discern a constructive way forward--and then to decide and to act accordingly. Longing for omniscience and pervasive predictability detracts from our Creator's good gift of sagacity bestowed on those who have the courage to walk ahead wisely, albeit with uncertainty.

Throughout the enterprise of Christian mission, wisdom and discernment have been supremely important. Modern Christian missionaries could never have anticipated the full implications that living cross-culturally would carry for their children. Neither could ecclesiastical leaders of a century ago foresee the global demographic shifts in Christian adherents that have marked the past few generations. In particular, who could have predicted the explosive Christian growth in sub-Saharan Africa? With Christianity's robust, if newfound, worldwide presence, Christian missionaries necessarily have encountered followers of other religious traditions--traditions that have not simply melted away, as some had predicted would happen--who have exhibited exemplary faith and practice rooted in centuries-old traditions. Christian theologians have thus had to wrestle in new ways with Christianity's standing among the world's religions. Christian researchers have also had to focus on unfamiliar arenas of scholarship, since new questions have arisen out of fresh encounters with a plethora of human contexts and cultures. The articles you will find here deal with these topics and more.

I wish to take special note here of Jan Jongeneel and his article in this issue. Jongeneel, professor emeritus of missiology, Utrecht University, the Netherlands, has served as a contributing editor for the IBMR since 1998 but will be retiring from that role at the end of this year. Jan has been a regular source of invaluable input over his fifteen years of service. I want to thank him as well for the personal encouragement he has been to me as I have assumed editorial responsibilities. Jan's article in this issue on Hendrik Kraemer's Christian Message in a Non-Christian World--published in 1938, the year Jan was born--is a timely reconsideration of how Christian theologians were wrestling, during the surprising 1930s, with the way the Gospel speaks to the world's peoples. As many readers will know, Kraemer wrote this book at the request of the International Missionary Council for its 1938 World Missionary Conference, held at Tambaram, India. Hendrik Kraemer's service and, more recently, Jan Jongeneel's service exemplify the vital contribution that Christian scholarship provides to Christian mission in the world.

In the end, the glory of exercising sagacity in navigating surprises that come in Christian mission is further dignified by service. Participation in mission, while including planning and forecasting, essentially involves humbly serving God and others. We can now see, albeit still dimly, the surprising turns that Christian mission has taken over the past century. What especially is incumbent on each of us today is to discern our next steps and to exercise our God-given freedom to serve.

Cover image: Huibing He, Wash Each Other's Feet, 1987, Chinese brush and ink on rice paper, 18" x 27".
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Title Annotation:christian mission
Author:Jennings, J. Nelson
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Oct 1, 2013
Words:867
Previous Article:Book notes.
Next Article:Doctoral dissertations on mission: ten-year update, 2002-2011.
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