Consultation on Mission Language and Metaphors

Dear AD2-Announce Reader:

Please see the below Consultation Statement coming forth from the recent "Consultation on Mission Language and Metaphors" held at Fuller Seminary, 1 - 3 June 2000.

Let me encourage you to closely review this statement! As indicated therein, this is not a new issue - but the nature of our new technology, instantly releasing formal and informal communications around the world to an ever widening / deepening audience, calls for new reflection and an updated assessment of the language / metaphors used in mission communication releases. Thank you for your review, reflection and prayers!

That all may hear - soon!
Luis Bush
International Director
AD2000 & Beyond Movement

JUNE 1-3, 2000


We, the participants in the consultation, have gathered to think and pray together about the words, metaphors and images evangelicals use to communicate about the missionary mandate and endeavorAs a relatively small group of mission agency and church leaders, theologians and communicators, we comprise neither a comprehensive nor adequately representative cross-section of the evangelical spectrum. We do, however, comprise a group unified in our concern that unwise language choices not be a hindrance to persons truly hearing the Gospel of Christ. We hope and pray that our tentative beginning here will encourage others in our context and around the world to grapple with some of the issues we have considered.

We regret that certain words and images long employed to call the church to mission have increasingly caused offense to the very people with whom we are seeking to share the Good News. Some of these words and images are biblical; some are motivational tools from the secular arena that we use to inspire involvement and action. Many are military in nature: "target," "conquer," "army," "crusade," "mobilize," "beachhead," "advance," "enemy," "battle."

We may know what such terms mean to us, but what do they mean to others? Are we unintentionally making those we most want to befriend feel we regard them as enemies, while helping opponents of Christian mission to make their case against us? Can we find more reconciling, redemptive words and images in Scripture and elsewhere that will aid us in expressing love, respect and effective witness for Christ, rather than creating an atmosphere of adversarial confrontation?

First, we agree about several basic principles:

  1. We are not ashamed of the Gospel, which is salvation to those who believe. We seek to preach it, teach it, and demonstrate it through acts of love and mercy among all peoples in obedience to our Lord1s command until He returns.
  2. We realize that the Gospel itself is an offense and a stumbling block to those who reject it. We also understand that the mission of Christ will be opposed in many places and by all meansWe affirm that the Kingdom of God has triumphed over all the kingdoms and powers of this world at the cross. Nevertheless there is indeed a battle under way between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan. In this spiritual battle we are privileged to partner with God in revealing Himself and setting the captives free.

While acknowledging these truths, we recognize the need to deal with several critical realities:

  1. Metaphors and the mindsets and attitudes behind them are potent in shaping thought and compelling action. Positive metaphors are essential tools of missions and evangelism. When twisted or taken too far, however, they distort God1s purposes. "Warfare" metaphors and terminology, while biblical in the cosmic/spiritual sense, have been misused in Christian mission communications. They have become increasingly counterproductive to mission work, sometimes endangering the lives of local believers, and are being used by opponents of the church to indict and impede its work. We therefore advocate an immediate end to the inappropriate use of such words.

    Yes, we are called to the discipline and single-mindedness of soldiers at war (2 Tim. 2:3-4). However, "our struggle is not against flesh and blood" but against the unseen rulers of spiritual darkness (Eph. 6:12). Jesus Christ fulfills God1s age-old message of love, forgiveness, reconciliation and blessing for the peoples according to God1s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:2,3). Jesus Himself is the great master of redemptive metaphors (see His parables), and Scripture offers rich treasure of words and images we can use to call God1s people to mission. He proclaimed good news to the poor, release for the prisoners, and sight for the blind (Lk. 4:18). We encourage Christian mission agencies and local churches to re-examine Scripture and restate their global task in terms consistent with the teaching and mission of Christ. Alternate words and images include blessing, healing, inviting, sowing and reaping, fishing, restoring family relationships, becoming reconcilers, peacemakers and ambassadors.

  2. As a motivation for mission involvement, people are responding to the call to glorify God among the nations and wherever He is not yet being worshiped. They also respond to the call to follow Christ into servanthood and sacrifice, the call to lift up the downtrodden, the call to a life of great purpose and meaning in community with others of like mind. These are themes around which we need to develop metaphors to summon God1s people to God1s mission.
  3. The new dynamics of globalization and instant global electronic information technologies are rapidly changing the context of our communication. The technology that opens the world to us also opens us -- and our words -- to the world. We can no longer maintain a dichotomy between what we say to the "home folks" and what say to the world. The world, we must assume, will read or hear whatever we say to our own. Are we willing not to use language behind the back of unbelievers concerning their culture and location that we would not use face to face in sharing the message and love of Christ?

    We encourage our evangelical friends, colleagues, churches and partner agencies around the world to think and pray with us about these things. We invite the reflection and wisdom of our brothers and sisters into what we hope will become an ongoing dialogue about these important issues, to the end that our light might shine brighter in the world, and that our ministry of reconciliation for the sake of God's great name might flourish.


Consultation Contributors:

Mission and Church Leaders:

Mission Theologians and Missiologists:

New Testament Scholars:

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