When I was in undergrad, there was a missionary from overseas who came to visit us at the campus ministry I attended. During his presentation, he worked to make everyone feel guilty. He claimed that if you were a Christian, you HAD to go overseas. Back then, I did not know better, and I was overwhelmed and ashamed of myself for not having the “missionary desire” to convert other brown-skinned people like myself. On this inside, I was overcome by such guilt (okay, it only lasted like a few weeks, but still), that I even condemned close friends for not feeling the same way that I did.
Look back at my spiritual journey back then, I can chuckle to myself about some of the ideas I had. But one thing I will never regret is the reading I did my freshman year. I wanted to learn about CHRISTIAN Particularity, so that I could discern for myself how to believe in a Post-9-11 world. Unbelieveably, the first book I finished that wasn’t a textbook was C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity. I still did not have a grasp of what I had read, but there was something about the second half of that book that appeals to me, the talk about the Trinity, and so forth. Last Friday was the fiftieth anniversary of Clives Staples Lewis‘ passing. There is much to celebrate and remember Lewis’ contributions to the Church Universal. No, this isn’t a typo. This is Rod here writing, the same Rod who had a small criticism of The Screwtape Letter. I hold on to my commitment to Nonviolence and Peacemaking and Intersectionality and all that jazz, but I can still admire the C.S. Lewis of the Space Trilogy. You see, before there was such thing as “missional,” there have always been Christians who acted and saw themselves as missionaries to their cities, their countries, their unique and beautiful cultures.
For a few years now, I have been interested in the conversations that writers for the Emerging/Emergent/Missional church have been having. If there is anything good that has came out of these talks, it is that the use of the term “missional” has got Christians re-thinking what it means to go on missions. No longer are mission projects viewed as short term, expensive overseas trips to convert the heathens, and to pat ourselves on the back. Christians are starting (rightly so) for making the case for more relational approaches: long term missions, becoming immersed in a culture, and showing God’s love. C.S. Lewis’ writings for many emergent Christians or believers who consider themselves “missional” are seen as inspirational. Works like his “The Problem of Pain” and “The Great Divorce” are texts that I hear about a lot. From Lewis, here are a few lessons for missional churches:
1. Never underestimate the power of imagination: In first book of C.S. Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy, Out Of The Silent Planet, Lewis was able to use such vivid imagery that he could put James Cameron’s Avatar to shame (as if critics hadn’t already done so already). Rather than relying on the old models of conferences with the most popular speaker, churches with the biggest pulpits, and writers with the biggest platforms and searching for signs from above, maybe it’s time to look below. What I mean is this: God has enabled us the power to imagine and dream great things. We are able to do greater works that what Christ did (John 14:12). If we remain faithful to Christ, the Spirit will renew our minds, and empower us to resist the status quo.
2. Particularity Is Not A Bad Thing: One of the things I will never get about emergence Christianity are the number of people who make up neo-logisms-as-labels, like an Eastern Ortho-Ana-Baptist-Methodist or something or other. These neo-logisms are not accessible to the person in the pew (I’ll admit, sometimes my writing style could be seen as unappealing to a general audience too), but why are these neologisms so popular? I suspect it has to do with shame in being part one particular Christian tradition or another. The great thing about C.S. Lewis’ witness and writing is that, on one hand, from the Space Trilogy, IT IS BLATANTLY OBVIOUS THAT HE IS A CONSERVATIVE ANGLICAN CHRISTIAN. Yet, C.S. Lewis was conversant with several other worldviews and Christian traditions, such as Catholicism and maybe even Eastern Orthodoxy. In my undergrad days, it was very popular to call yourself “a non-denominational Christian” so that you didn’t have all the baggage that came with labels. However, look closely at the belief statements, practices, and curriculum taught at “non-denominational” churches. Really, there is not such thing as a local church that is outside the Grand Narrative of the Church Universal.
3. Faithfulness Must Be Placed Before Relevance: For its day, the Space Trilogy was in response to popular spirituality movements (relevance) as well as the progress that science fiction literature was making. Lewis was simultaneously able to be relevant in philosophy, ethics, British culture, and the literary arts all while placing the focus on Jesus. We must ask ourselves: what disciplines, what areas of society is God sending us to. While discipleship is the life-long process of God working with us, apostleship (the missional life), is God calling and sending us, much like the story of Samuel. Samuel is called and sent by YHWH first to Elijah and the priests, then to the nation of Israel, and later to King Saul and the future monarch David. In each sending, God’s mission for Samuel differs, but the pattern is the same. God calls Samuel, Samuel delivers a message concerning rejection/being rejected to each party. Likewise, one of the offices in Eastern Orthodoxy for Christ is Apostle, as God’s Chosen Sent One. If missional churches are to go any where in culture and in the church today, they need to reflect and look in the Gospels to see where God’s Apostle was sent, and what is the pattern for this sending and going. The Spirit is with us to help us in our mission, and it is the Spirit that testifies to Christ as the standard to make sure our missions do not become gentrified.
4. Last, Self-criticism is a greater sign of humility than saying “I’m sorry”: In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis identifies humility as a great virtue. What does humility look like in our “Post-Christian” context? Does humility look like doubt over and against certainty? For some, it may be so, but according my understanding of Scripture, doubt is never an issue as much as faithlessness is. The people of God are not exiled because of doubters in their midst, but because they acted upon their doubts, or, resisted their own beliefs. It’s crucial for persons who are on mission to keep going back through prayer, reflecting on the Apostle to us apostles. What may look like an angry face may in fact be the Word you need to hear/read. While some may get tired of hear/reading criticisms about the emerging church’s race problem, criticism is important in moving forward. Forward where? Forward looks like a reflection of the Commonwealth of God, that we in Revelation, where persons from every tribe, nation, and language worships the Triune Missional God. Constructive ways forward include becoming immersed in the life your city, find Christian ways of discussing issues of race, class, and gender, and becoming mentors in underprivileged, at-risk neighborhoods.
As long as there have been followers of Christ Jesus, there have been apostles: divinely called-and-sent ones to their culture and language to communicate God’s love and justice. C.S.Lewis is just one example, but he is not alone. And neither are you.
“Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”- John 20:21