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Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States:
What to Do With the World Come to Us?

by David F. D'Amico

VI: ENVISIONING THE FUTURE: Missiological Issues

Although there ought to be significant connections between theological reflection and missiological concerns, sometimes the two do not relate. Missiologists of the First World have generally concentrated their analysis and developed strategies from the First World perspective directed to the Third World mission. There has been little if any missiological reflection upon the significant impact of ethnic church life in the United States. Missiologists like Lesslie Newbigin and David Bosch have alerted the missiological world to "changing paradigms" that will affect the church in the twenty first century.34 Their major concerns must be included in a missiological agenda addressed to the needs, vision and future mission of ethnic congregations ministering primarily in the United States.

Cross-cultural evangelization is taking place at a rapid rate around the world. An examination of major urban centers will show congregations addressing the spiritual needs of "foreign born" persons in their midst. No major mission strategies are developed in the initial contacts. Generally the gospel message is shared crossing the language barrier as well as possible. Then "language" congregations are organized and leaders trained to minister among them. After one generation of trial and error some leaders recognize the need for a holistic mission strategy, and some modicum of direction is given for more effective outreach. Many times the suffering and socioeconomic needs of refugee populations instruct the evangelization efforts. Other times mission boards, conscious of the opportunities deploy personnel to evangelize these peoples groups. Third World churches have been quite aggressive in planning missionary deployment to other countries. Many times they act unilaterally and bypass the established mission agencies representing powerful denominations in the United States. Some of them practice what Orlando Costas called "mission from below," developed by oppressed peoples with an active social consciousness agenda.35 Over against "mission from above," these efforts demonstrate strategies that utilize vessels more compatible with their cultural patrimony or heritage, and they may be more effective in the process of evangelization.

The new paradigm of mission for the twenty first century has placed on center stage the reality that "the West" is a mission field. The October 1991 issue of the journal Missiology devoted its contents to the topic: "The Gospel and Our Culture." Writers incisively pointed to issues that are crucial for envisioning properly cross-cultural evangelization for the twenty first century.

New paradigms of mission must consider the pluralist realities of the last decade of the twentieth century. If modernity affects culture and religion, the elements of cross-cultural evangelization that permeate the work of the church will also affect the message and methods. For instance, how will foreign modes of religious thought (Chinese Confucianism, Korean Buddhism, Hispanic syncretism) affect the theological foundations of church life in the United States? How much will Westernized Christianity allow the flow of cultural richness impact its beliefs, and perhaps more importantly its church forms in worship and organization?

George Hunsberger related that at the Lausanne II Congress in Manila in 1989 national gatherings met to search for evangelistic strategies. Most national groups strategized to evangelize their countries, except for groups from the United States meetings who were interested in mobilizing U.S. churches for the evangelization of other countries of the world. This mentality prevails among evangelical and conciliar church persons. Hunsberger declared:

To the USA participants, the USA did not yet appear to be a field for mission, only a launching pad for missionizing "elsewheres" of the world . . . The situation is not much better within ecumenical mainline Protestant denominations. For all the talk about "reciprocal mission" or "mission in reverse," it is hardly feasible that any North American Protestant church would do anything but laugh if it were suggested that an African or Asian be called to be the founding pastor/evangelist for a project to plant a new church in an area inhabited by white middle-class folks.36

Other analysts suggest that the mission surge among some mainline denominations to reach ethnic persons in the United States has been caused by the state of maintenance experienced in many congregations. The motivation for mission is not outreach but survival among many of these congregations, who are beginning to consider opening themselves to minister among foreign born nationals. The only hope of institutional survival for many of these congregations, especially in urban centers where their buildings stand unoccupied most Sundays, is to attempt to minister to Asian, Hispanic, or other ethnic groups.

It is clear therefore that significant efforts must be made on behalf of a developing mission field: the ethnic congregations attempting to fulfill the Great Commission both in the United States and in other countries of the West that have been traditionally "sending" countries. I can only suggest here certain avenues where responsible missiology must be channeled. One method of consideration is field research and observation. Cultural enclaves in major urban areas of the U.S. are a deep reservoir of enthusiastic and aggressive cross-cultural evangelization. Efforts to align evangelizers/practitioners from these enclaves with well informed missiologists will prove satisfying and inspiring. Anthropological and demographic studies can garner basic data from which researchers can suggest future strategies that must come from local settings. In addition, doctoral students in theological institutions, where mission and evangelism are high priority items, must be guided to explore studies in the ethnic church. Also, academic enclaves dealing with contemporary significant issues must include cross-cultural evangelization studies and strategies in their agenda. This must be true of the American Society of Missiology, the American Academy of Religion, and other comparable forums. The results of these efforts must be properly channeled by publishing concerns with a future-oriented stance toward church life. In combination with the academic efforts thus suggested, denominational leaders whose commitment to evangelism and mission is high, and who need to be updated in modern missiology, must seek practitioners and invite them to join their mission strategist peers in discussions that can prove very helpful.

I. Evangelization Across Cultures in the United States

II. Understanding the Context

III. Selected Data of Cross-Cultural Evangelization

IV. Analysis of Selected Cultural/Ecclesiological Enclaves

V. Envisioning the Future: Theological Issues

VI. Envisioning the Future: Missiological Issues

VII. Envisioning the Future: Ecclesiological Issues


34. Lesslie Newbigin, Foolishness to the Greeks: The Gospel and Western Culture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1986), and The Gospel in a Pluralist Society (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989), and David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991).

35 Orlando Costas, Liberating News: A Theology of Contextual Evangelization (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1989).

36. George R. Hunsberger, "The Newbigin Gauntlet: Developing a Domestic Missiology for North America," Missiology, 19 (1991), 391.

(c)Review and Expositor, 90 (Winter, 1993): 83-99; Used with permission.

Please send comments, questions, responses to the author at: 103063.3542@Compuserve.com

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