If you are of the view, as I am, that if you want to get insight as to where you are, it is better to know where you came from, a little history can be no bad thing. A very helpful series which will bring you up to speed on all this is the Lion Histories collection. These relatively short books are packed with information, produced in an interesting format, and are well written by authors who know how to ‘put the hay where the goats can get it’, to quote Garrison Keillor’s memorable phrase.
Timothy Yates’s offering in this series, The Expansion of Christianity is a must for any church planter, emerging church leader etc. Something caught my eye when I read that book: often those who are seeking to evangelise new cultures or new ethnic groups are viewed with distinct suspicion by the establishment. I have a number of colleagues who are in the emerging church networks who feel the same thing.
A good example of what I am talking about is a Jesuit missionary to India known as Robert de Nobili. Fr. Nobili said, ‘I too shall become an Indian to save the Indians.’ His strategy was to identify with and understand Hinduism. Through his ministry he commended the faith to Indians and saw a number of Brahmins becoming Christians. However, his methods caused anxiety amongst the hierarchy and, Yates tells us, ‘for a time he was forbidden to baptise’ – something of a deficit for a Catholic Missionary!
This raises an interesting question for me. Should we expect emerging churches to emerge in ‘institutional’ contexts? To put it another way, does the need for traditional institutional accountabilty undermine the potential of such tender fresh shoots and discourage their leadership? Please note, this is not an argument for no accountability, but a questioning of whether the way the establishment tends to exercise of accountability tends to control rather than empower? Let us know what you think. There’s more to come….