Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Reply to Konrad Kaiser

Magazine article International Bulletin of Mission Research

Reply to Konrad Kaiser

Article excerpt

I am grateful for the courteous and generous response of Konrad Raiser to my quite harsh criticism of his book. Clearly there is much common ground. I accept his thesis that there has been a "paradigm shift," and I accept in general his accounts of the former and later paradigms. But paradigm shifts are not, like climatic changes, events that we simply have to record. They are the ways into which, by mutual persuasion, we seek to guide our contemporaries. They call not only for description but for evaluation. Here we differ.

I do not regard the "classical" paradigm as nonnegotiable. I sought to challenge it in my pamphlet entitled Trinitarian Doctrine for To-day's Mission, thereby earning the disapproval of my great colleague Wim Visser't Hooft. But I do regard as nonnegotiable the affirmation that in Jesus the Word was made flesh; there can be no relativizing of this, the central and decisive event of universal history.

Like Raiser, I was brought into the ecumenical movement through the concerns of Faith and Order. It was with sorrow that I had to give up my position as vice-chairman of Faith and Order when I became a WCC staff member. My concern has not been to promote an "evangelical" theology, if that word is used (as it often is) to exclude other Christians. I am concerned for the integrity of the WCC's witness to the faith that we confess together in the Nicene Creed. Surely to speak much of the atoning work of Jesus on the cross is not to be sectarian or un-Catholic! My own theological struggle during the final stages of the gestation of the Church of South India required a very serious acknowledgment of the truth in the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession.

I agree that the "classic" paradigm lacked adequate recognition of the work of the Holy Spirit. As a missionary in India, I had been strongly influenced by the missiology of Roland Allen, for whom the recognition of the work of the Spirit in mission was the very center. When I became part of the WCC staff, I proposed the study on the missionary structure of the congregation precisely with the hope that Roland Allen's ideas might penetrate the older churches. But the "paradigm shift" of the 1960s ensured that the study was hijacked in the interests of the dominant ideology of the secular. Thirty years later secularity is out and spirituality" is in. But there are many spirits abroad, and when they are invoked, we are handed over to other powers. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, is known by the confession that Jesus alone is Lord.

Raiser finds that there are three new realities that I have not adequately recognized-religious plurality, the concept of the Missio Dei, and the ecological crisis. I offer a word on each.

Religious plurality is as old as known human history; what is new is that churches in the old "Christendom" have woken up to it. One may well admit that the euphoria of Western colonial expansion, which was so often mixed in with missionary motives, enabled the Western churches to engage in world mission without seriously facing for themselves the question of the uniqueness and finality of Christ. The collapse of Western self-confidence and the corrosive effects of the "acids of modernity" (Lippmann) now produce a mood in which the recognition of religious plurality puts a question mark against the absolute lordship of Jesus Christ. …

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