Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is episode 30 of Missions on Point. It's a series of keys to effectiveness as a missionary. This is our fifth in the series Theological Discernment. Here's what we mean about it in a missionary context. It's understanding theological structure and being able to interrelate the doctrines and application to life on the field, which in the local culture and perhaps language is very different than what we understand it at home in the States.

We're talking about the missionary having some training, some exposure, some ongoing learning going on in at least the major doctrines of Christian faith. What I mean by that is a list that's something like this. The doctrine of God, which is called theology proper is the study of the person of God, his divinity, his attributes. The doctrine of Christ or Christology. It's the study of Christ's life, work, His death on the cross, His resurrection, His present ongoing ministry in heaven. It's the whole aspect of everything about Christ and how He relates to God, the Father within the Godhead, His deity.

Next would be the Holy Spirit. This is Pneumatology. The study of the Holy Spirit with regard to His person and divinity, His work for the church and among the saints, even His work in the Old Testament and how that relates to our understanding of God's work in general and our life as Christians. Really core to understanding all of this is the study of the Bible that is Bibliology, part of theology that deals with how we honor and revere God's word as being inspired, God-breathed, how we understand it to have full integrity, how we understand it to be transmitted to us from the original authors, inerrancy of scripture, the sufficiency of scripture, all of these things are interwoven into the larger study of the theological subject of Bibliology.

We must also understand salvation. That is Soteriology. How does it work that a man dead in sin can be raised to new spiritual life and be a part of the family of God? All of these things are a part of Soteriology. God's plan from before the foundation of the world to how it all sums up in the end of Revelation and on into the eternal state. So salvation is very important and has a lot of dimensions to it. It is probably one of the most important aspects of theology that a missionary really needs to understand and have discernment as they talk to their local target population and try to explain these intangible truths to them.

The next subject would be man; that is Anthropology. Just what constitutes man? What makes man different from other parts of creation? What does it mean that a man has a soul? How man is affected by sin? How he is dead spiritually, and how he can have new life? What that all means and how man relates to then God and Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, salvation, all the things that come before? It's very important for the missionary to have theological discernment about the doctrine of man, because most other religions don't have a biblical view. They will have all kinds of accommodations and workarounds to try to get out of the truths of the doctrine of man.

Another aspect which should be covered but is not often covered is angels or Angelology. All about evil angels, elect angels. What is angel's role historically? What role have they had? What do we see in the Bible? How they may affect men and their experience and their spiritual life? These things are very important for the missionary to understand because you will run into it on the field.

Another aspect of theology that is often not taken to be among, say, the top five, is sin: Hamartiology. The doctrine of sin is very important. It obviously relates to the doctrine of man and the doctrine of salvation. But how these things are interwoven are significant and the missionary needs to have a good theological understanding and discernment about how this applies in real life and in practice on the field.

The last one is the last one. It's about the future or prophecy called Eschatology. While every Christian could easily hold to ethical eschatology, that is, the Bible teaches that the main impact of eschatology should be our moral purity and our holiness before God. It should should cause us and be a motivation for us to be ready for the judgment, to be ready for Christ's return.

The teaching of eschatology is that God surely will return. His promises have been fulfilled in the past. His promises for the future will be fulfilled as well. Even though there is lots and lots of discussion and disagreement in various roles of eschatology and how it all plays out, rather than trying to figure out some calendar date for some eschatological event that's coming, the idea is that we are generally supposed to be able to be growing in sanctification, in holiness and purity as we wait eagerly for the imminent return of Christ. Eschatology also gives us great blessed hope, the Bible says, for the future. What is the future state going to be like? For the Christian, it's going to be awesome. For the unrepentant sinner, it's going to be hell.

So as the missionary has this body of information and the discerning application of it in Christian life, it needs to be applied into the context where he or she is going. Those contexts are very, very different than what we generally encounter in the Western world. Just think of these different scenarios in Buddhism, in Hinduism, in Islam, in atheism, in animism, which is basically usually tribal agnosticism, ancestor worship, occultism, or even demonism. All of these things teach wrong doctrine. That is, they have a wrong theology. They start with wrong ideas and concepts of Christ and the Bible, and from there they pervert all kinds of doctrinal teachings and try to holy language seem like it's right even though it's not.

So the missionary needs to be understanding and discerning of the theological distinctions and differences, to some degree even the theological connection points where there may be similarities in these various systems. Certainly convincing someone to become a Christian is ultimately teaching them sound doctrine from the scriptures so that they can understand truth, then apply it back into their system, whether it is Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, atheism, and all the rest.

It's amazing how some of these things actually overlap and intertwine because a manmade system of any kind is weak and bound to fail. There are cultures of religions that are built around conformity to some legalistic pattern or framework which ultimately disintegrates when the key questions of life and salvation and the key identity of Jesus Christ and God in the Bible are brought to bear. So the missionary needs to be very much aware of those things.

On the field, the missionary needs to be discerning because there are cultural practices needing theological discernment. There are all kinds, whether it's actually tribal or in a city, there are taboos or lack of restraint with regard to foods and marriage or burial rights, different parts of life. There are connections to saints or demons or veneration of ancestors. How do you deal with this if you don't have a theological framework from which to answer those questions? A lot of cultures have accepted sexual immorality of various kinds or life transition practices that are repulsive to the Bible and to Christian sensibility, but there are theological underpinnings of that you probably need to understand in order to combat that among new believers who are trying to understand it themselves. There are different standards of eating or drinking, what you eat or what you drink or how much you eat or drink in different contexts, in different situations, on the field, and you have to figure out: is it okay to do this or is it sin?

There are also traditions involving invoking of spirits and a lot of cultures and religions do this as a matter of tradition, whether or not it is exactly a part of the formal religion itself. We see this even in Roman Catholicism as a practice. There is animistic divination or prophesying or spell or curse casting that's done with all kinds of little items of things that they do, to throw bones or dice or tea leaves or whatever to read these things and try to forecast what's going on in a person's life or what will go on in a person's life or future. There are cures or incantations or sacrifices for healing and fixing problems in your life.

There's times when people in different religions will go and just wait, hoping for a blessing as they sit at the tomb or the sepulcher or the church or the headquarters of the religion trying to gain something. Even cults in the US have funky kinds of practices for wearing special clothes or doing certain things at certain times in order to avoid a curse or to invoke a blessing, which is biblically ridiculous. But you need to have the theological discernment and underpinnings to be able to identify that and speak to that and teach truth in that context.

So this is very important and it's often missed. Most mission agencies today and for decades have had a minimal Bible and theology requirement. They say that basically if you have the equivalent of about two semesters worth of Bible, then you're good to go. Many times they don't require theology classes at all. The new missionary gets to the field and they get very confused, if not absolutely distraught, and even following along with practices that they don't have the theological discernment to figure out that are wrong, or how to apply the scripture and theology to it in a way that resolves the matter. So they may end up actually doing things for years and years and years before somebody comes along with enough theological discernment to help them see the right way out of it or how to explain things biblically.

I am an advocate for the missionary candidate to get some kind of supervised, at least, if not formal theological training, more than just the minimal Bible requirement. In fact, as I said, agencies require two semesters, but it can be done by correspondence. It can basically be done remotely with hardly any interaction and very little actual thought to it, just filling in the blanks of a workbook. That's not enough to really be effective as a missionary. That's why we're talking about theological discernment as a key to effectiveness as a missionary.

I hope you understand this. I hope you take it seriously. I hope that as you encourage missionary candidates, you encourage them to take the time to get some sound theological footing, some theological structure into their pre-field training so that when they arrive they are not confused, and these things just don't slip by them without discerning how to teach God's truth in a way that helps unravel these chords of bondage to falsehood.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions On Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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