EVANGELIZATION AND HUMAN FREEDOM
(Excerpted and adapted from ‘Re-Engaging Mission with Theology in the West Today’, by Simon Barrow, from Christian Mission in Western Society, CTBI 2001. Relevant endnotes are to be found in the book.)


Jurgen Moltmann is among those contemporary theologians who are willing to embrace the positive features of modernity and post-modernity while subjecting them (and the church in the light of the kingdom, or commonwealth, of God) to severe scrutiny. He has recently argued that mission involves a move beyond the mutual rationalisms of dogmatic modernism and religious fundamentalism. Proceeding on the basis of an ethic of life and a conversation among the religions, it requires a re-reading and a re-orientation of Christian history. Mission, says Moltmann, has proceeded in three stages. The first culminated in the creation of an Imperium, the second involved the spread of the churches. Now the third involves participation in the evangelisation of humanity — not its absorption into ‘church’, but through dialogue and action aimed at disclosing the basis of its salvation. ‘Christ came to bring life, not Christianity’, says Moltmann.

One of the core questions that the church has to confront in its missionary encounter with Western culture is the issue of freedom. In his foreword to Jurgen Moltmann’s ‘Theology and Joy’, David E. Jenkins suggests that this question is the one, which most strongly links the question of God and the question of humanity. Echoing Bonhoeffer’s unease about Barth’s tendency towards a ‘positivism of revelation’, Jenkins reminds us that the traditional Christian picture of the total dependence of human beings on God has been severely undermined by the psychological view of dependency as a pathological state. On the other hand, the modern (Western) world is throwing up plenty of evidence about the pathologies of independence — a refusal to accept responsibility for the other, for our creaturliness and so on.

Talk of inter-dependence is important, but often masks the actual incomparability of the world with the transcendence of God. The question we face then, says Jenkins, is, ‘Is there a liberating form of dependence?’ His contention is that a positive answer to this is at the heart of the offer of a gospel which is about the giftedness of life in the presence of God, the need for repentance and forgiveness, and the opportunity of a new start.

All this implies, as a central concern of Christian mission, the continuing possibility of human community through reconciled difference,
pace some pessimistic forms of postmodernism. For believers that possibility exists not in the overwhelming efficacy of (say) communicative theory, but through life understood in the presence of God — and in the maintenance of an eschatological horizon (Hoedemaker), albeit one founded on a very different cosmology than that which has prevailed in Christian history to date.

(c) Simon Barrow
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