Posted by: Titus Presler | November 5, 2009

Reconciliation paradigm of mission discussed by Terry Muck at Louisville

Reconciliation as the emerging paradigm for mission in the 21st century was discussed by Terry Muck in the George and Jean Edwards Lecture on Peacemaking that was offered in tandem with the Henry and Marion Presler Lecture on Christian World Mission at Louisville Seminary in Kentucky on Oct. 22.  Muck is dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism and Professor of Missions and World Religions at Asbury Theological Seminary.

Muck worked off of Thomas Kuhn’s well known concept of paradigm shifts to emphasize that Christian mission is in the midst of a paradigm shift, which “The New Mission” (the title of his talk) would presumably exemplify, and he discussed “wild facts” that make shifting to a new paradigm necessary.  “So-called ‘new missions’ come about because of new contexts, not because of a new gospel,” Muck said.  “It is the demands of a new context that drive us back to Scripture for a fresh look at what God is calling us to be and do in this place and this time.”  He noted that new missions arose in the course of the biblical drama, as after Adam’s sin, the great flood, or God’s action in incarnation, atonement and resurrection of Jesus.

One earlier paradigm for mission Muck highlighted was what he termed the Chosen People Paradigm, characterized sociologically as a bounded-set paradigm.  It has biblical warrant, but also the weakness of dividing the world into “us” and “them,” Muck said.  Further, he charged that it is not adequate to describe the diversity of the world and the Christian community today: “The church has become too diverse.  Theology has become too complex.  People are so delightfully different.”  He noted that the Chosen People Paradigm continues to be used by mission groups occupied with “unreached people groups,” the “10/40 window,” and “spiritual warfare.”

A later Jesus Only Paradigm addressed the problems of the Chosen People Paradigm by emphasizing the universality of the reach of God’s salvation in Jesus, according to Muck’s analysis.  Instead of ruling who was in and out of salvation, the sociologically centered-set paradigm of Jesus Only emphasized mission as witness to Christ in experience rather than proclamation of elaborate doctrinal positions.  In this paradigm, Muck said, “As long as one’s Christology is sound and sure, the rest is of more or less importance depending on how the theologians relate it to the central beliefs around the incarnation of Christ and the resulting soteriology.”  The paradigm has solid biblical foundation – as in Jesus’ words, “I am the way, the truth and the life” – but it does not address questions of revelation and salvation in other world religions, Muck said.

Among the “wild facts” Muck cited as indicating the need for a new paradigm for mission were the over-rehearsed failures of missionaries to communicate the gospel authentically or bring peace to their missional settings.  More interesting was his citation of “the statistical failures of 20th-century Christian missions,” such that in 1900 34% of the world’s people identified themselves as Christian, but by 2000 that had dropped to 33%, with mission among historically Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim peoples being least successful.

The new paradigm, the “new mission,” according to Muck, is the Reconciliation Paradigm for Christian mission.  As Muck acknowledged, this paradigm has been discussed by many, among whom Robert Schreiter of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago could be cited, and it was the theme of the most recent gathering, in Athens, of the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism of the World Council of Churches.

A lacuna in Muck’s presentation was that he did not actually define and elucidate the central features of the Reconciliation Paradigm.  Assuming the audience was already familiar with it, he rather cautioned against conceptualizing and implementing the Reconciliation Paradigm, not through central features of today’s world, but on the basis of features of the two older paradigms.  “The Reconciliation Paradigm must be based on a relational map of the world,” he said.  “It maps the relationships of the world, not the beliefs of the world; it does not show boundaries as much as it shows networks, relationships within and across boundaries.  It has no center . . .”

The world addressed by the Reconciliation Paradigm, according to Muck, is characterized by the “liquid modernity” of “radical transience”: the impermanence of people’s identities, religious allegiances and vocational commitments.  Moreover, virtually all religions are found in virtually all places, which affects the geography of Christian mission.  The environment of planet earth itself is integral to the relationality of the Reconciliation Paradigm.

The “new tools” for implementing the new paradigm, Muck said, include the internet, the language of science and the global marketplace, all of which enhance communication, relationship-building and the cross-fertilization of theologies.  In the current relational map of the world, operating procedures are derived from practices rather than beliefs, and inclusion rather than exclusion is the aim.  In arguing that all Christians are mission workers in the contemporary situation, Muck coined his most memorable phrase: “the missionhood of all believers,” on analogy with Martin Luther’s “priesthood of all believers.”


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