1. Sovereignty and Free Will: It is important to have a good grip on God’s sovereignty and how it relates to missions. Some historically on the Calvinistic side have stated that it’s not necessary for missionaries to go to the heathen, because if God’s people are already chosen, then there’s no point in a missionary going to share the gospel. People already will be saved whether or not the missionary goes and proclaims the gospel. Others have put all responsibility on man to respond to the message, without putting any authority on God for mans’ salvation. Both of these are incorrect mindsets to have. It is important to see God as the sovereign ruler, even over mans’ salvations. This must be balanced with the idea that God has chosen His sheep, but that those sheep still need to hear the gospel for salvation and that God has also predestined the means for that person hearing the gospel. So we are still called to go and proclaim the gospel to the heathen.
2. Restrictivism and Inclusivism: This question is related to the need to go share the gospel to the lost. What about the man living on a deserted island who never hears the gospel in his whole life? Could he really be considered responsible for faith in Christ if he’s never even had the opportunity to hear the gospel? That just doesn’t seem fair! But Paul says, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Elsewhere Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn. 14:6). These verses seem to indicate that even for the man on the deserted island, salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Not only that but Paul writes that all alike are under God’s condemnation, and that “men are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). This includes even the man on the deserted island who has never heard of Jesus in his life. He also is under God’s condemnation, and can only be saved through hearing and believing in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Common Ground and Enemy Territory: This topic is related to if we should try to relate Christianity to the religion of the locals, or try as much as we can to separate Christianity from the local religion. This is a tough question. Often it can be helpful to begin dialoguing with the locals about their own religious practices and customs. Then once they think you respect them and that you actually care for them, it can often open up doors for you to share your beliefs with them. I’ve found that it’s often helpful to just listen and ask questions for a bit about their religion. Then often there will be a door that opens for me to share the gospel with them, and they’re much more receptive than if I’d immediately shared the gospel with them without ever hearing about what they believed. So I think it’s important not to separate Christianity so much from the local religion that you’re not even willing to talk about the local religion with the locals. Obviously eventually it will be necessary to emphasize how Christ is the only way to salvation, and that any other gods are totally false.
4. Holism and Prioritism: This question is related to what the focus of the missionary should be. Should human needs, evangelism, church planting, or social justice be prioritized? Many churches send out short-term and long-term missionaries to just go and build a house, or do some kind of manual labor, without emphasizing at all the need to share the gospel with the locals. If we feed them and build them a new home, but never do anything for the salvation of their souls, how much have we really loved them? It is necessary that whatever we are doing, the work of the gospel is first priority. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about the whole person, but it does mean that we can’t neglect evangelism. Also, I think for many modern missionaries, church planting is so highly prioritized. But it seems to me that church planting is not the end all either. The call is to go and make disciples. Jesus or Paul never tell us to go and plant churches. So it’s important to emphasize making disciples, and once disciples are being made, then churches will naturally form. This should be the order of priority.
5. Incarnationalism and Representationalism: The question here is whether we should follow the missionary model of Jesus or that of Paul. This is tough. How different are these two different models? Jesus’ model is more incarnational and fully more holistically enters the local culture, training disciples in everyday life. Paul’s model is to put more focus on evangelism and church planting. Honestly, I don’t totally agree with this distinction. I believe that Paul was first concerned about the spiritual growth of the person, and secondly concerned with church planting. Paul’s ministry was also holistic in the sense that he was a part of the local culture and was always intentional to work in the market building tents to be able to provide for himself. So I really don’t think there should be that clear of a distinction between ‘Paul’s model’ for missionaries and ‘Jesus’ model’ for missionaries.
6. Power Encounter and Truth Encounter: This topic is related to if the missionary should focus on trying to prove God’s power through supernatural works. Or the missionary should focus on showing God’s power simply through the proclamation of His Word. I don’t have a charismatic background, and I’ve had no experience with significant physical healings, speaking in tongues, or other big signs. I still can’t say that these things don’t exist. I don’t believe in the cessation of these miraculous acts in our day. I believe that they still exist, though my experience with them is limited. I think either way the missionary should focus on the proclamation of the truth of Jesus Christ. I feel like if the healings are focused on primarily, then the locals are likely to believe in Christ only as a miracle worker and nothing more, but they may still not believe Him to be the way for salvation. So whether the missionary emphasizes supernatural works or not, it’s still necessary to boldly proclaim the truth of the gospel.
7. Amateurization and Professionalization: Hesselgrave wonders if more money should be spent supporting the work of the long-term ‘professional’ missionaries, rather than everything put into sending ‘amateur’ short-term workers. I do believe that people use outlandish amounts of money for short-term missions trips, when maybe often the mission trips are more for the benefit of the people going rather than on the long-term work going on in that place. So it’s nice whenever more emphasis is put on taking care of the long-term workers, rather than just trying to recruit short-term workers to go. I also don’t really agree that the ‘professional’ missionary approach is the best way to go, particularly in closed countries. Rather people should be ready to move to a place and have a legitimate job there to support their family, and they should do missions work through this. Missionaries who have no legitimate job are incredibly suspicious to the locals. It’s very challenging to build their trust if they don’t even know where you work or what you do all day or how you can afford to live in such a fancy apartment and support a wife and four kids. So the effective model for missions in closed countries is not the ‘professional missionary’ approach, but rather having legitimate jobs in the community, and doing missions through that.
8. Form and Meaning: I’m not sure exactly how this topic is related to missions. The premise here is when translating the Scriptures, is it more important to translate them in a way that the initial meaning is maintained, or is it more important that the translation is word-for-word, even if the resulting translation is a little hard to understand? I think the most important thing is reflecting a clear and accurate meaning of the original language. If the words are on the page but local people can’t understand it, then there’s no point in the translation. The point of translation is that people can understand clearly what they’re reading, and that what they’re reading is accurate to the original text. This could come into play if a missionary were to translate the Bible into a language that doesn’t have a Bible in its language yet. I’ve never done this, but I’d imagine that the translator would have to make a conscious decision about leaning more towards the meaning of the text or towards the form of the text.
9. Countdowns and Prophetic Alerts: It is highly debated whether Matthew 24:14 [“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come”] is literally saying that once the gospel reaches all nations, then Jesus will return. There’s lots of speculation involved in this hypothesis. Firstly, what does ‘reach all nations’ mean? Does that mean that there’s at least one Christian among every tribe, or is it that there’s at least one healthy church planted among every tribe? Or that the population among that people group is at least 2% evangelized? All of this is speculation at best. Jesus isn’t clear on the specifics of His statement. Also, what exactly is a ‘nation’? In the past several decades the missions movement has been that ‘nation’ is actually referring to a specific people group, not necessarily to a nation. This idea is also very speculative, because it’s not clear how to define a ‘people group’. Some people say that there are about 6,000 distinct ‘people groups’ in the world, whereas others will put the number closer to 12,000 or more. And how about those people groups in the history of the world that many centuries ago have totally disappeared and never had any Christians? How would those people groups ever have anyone believe? This is why people clinging to this Matthew 24:14 idea of Jesus coming when all the nations reached with the gospel is a little unclear. There’s lots of question marks in this theory.
10. The Kingdom of God and the Church of Christ: This is quite a tough question. Some say that the kingdom of God is already occurring among us. Others say the kingdom of God will not be fully established until Christ’s return. Some believe that the world will gradually be getting better and will grow in understanding of Christ. These people say that this kingdom of God in its fullest sense has already come and is here with us now on earth. Others say that the kingdom of God won’t come fully until Christ’s second return when He judges the earth and establishes a new heaven and a new earth. In some sense we know that Jesus said in Lk. 17:20,21 “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say ‘Here it is’ or ‘There it is’. For the kingdom of God is within you.” Here Jesus is referring to the kingdom being within us. That seems to be the reception of the gospel and hence the Holy Spirit inside of us. This I totally agree with, but I also believe that the world is not getting more and more godly but rather more and more wicked. The fullest ‘kingdom of God’ is not here with us yet, but will only begin when Christ returns.