Worldview and Discipleship: The Excluded Middle

No Shortcut to Success
No Shortcut to Success

Since the second day of T4G 2022, I’ve been reading no shortcut to success, and I have been loving it. But chapter 8 took things to a whole other level as it addressed worldview and discipleship. There is just so much in it to commend to you, my reader.

Getting There

More than once I’ve heard it said that if you can only read a part of this book, read chapters 1-3. And those first few chapters, where Matt Rhodes lays out the issues he is seeing on the field, are great. They are clear, helpful, challenging. But more than anything, I reached the end with a feeling of, “A ton of this applies not only to missionaries, but to pastors and elders here at home.”

Mark Dever, in the forward, suggests, “Particularly important are chapters 2, 3, 6, and 9.” (p.14) And for sure, chapter 6 is important, articulating the need for clarity in proclaiming the gospel and, especially, taking the time to learn the language. Being a language nerd in the extreme, I needed little encouragement to the importance of this task for the missionary. And had I found a quote to share, it could easily have been ignored; “Of course he would say that!”

But, despite Dever not highlighting it, I want to draw attention to chapter 8, with the following quote:

According to missiologist Paul Hiebert, missionaries often succumb to the “flaw of the excluded middle.” In other words, they address people’s “lower” needs – things like disease that are seen, felt, and experienced – and their “highest” needs – things like answers to life’s most important questions. In doing so, however, they ignore a vast “middle” of people’s worldviews. For example, what about things like “mana, astrological forces, charms, amulets and magical rites, evil eye, evil tongue”? On these topics, people are generally left undiscipled. It isn’t difficult to imagine a similar situation in which one’s “highest” beliefs about God and the afterlife were more or less correct, but one’s fundamental “middle beliefs” about money, power, sexuality, other ethnicities, alcohol, and the worth of women were confused, at best, and downright depraved at worst. Perhaps we don’t even have to look too far in some of our own churches to find such cases.

p.180

I just had to stop reading there for a moment. This is the struggle churches and pastors face every day. We have a culture (here in the US) that has been, to a great degree, saturated with the rough outline of the gospel, but knows little of its implications. The world is enamored of the “lower” message and how the church can get on board with their humanistic agenda. Any time the church deviates even the slightest from this focus, it risks losing the world’s attention, or more, its commendation. And so many churches are content to earn the applause of the world by “meeting people where they live.”

The Excluded Middle

And all the while, there is this “middle.” What does our culture value? What are some cultural assumptions and expectations, the axioms that drive how we think, talk, and act? The following values quickly come to mind:

  • Performance
  • Results
  • Fame
  • Youth
  • The American dream
  • Freedom and autonomy
  • Privacy
  • Self-esteem
  • The Individual

Each of these left to itself can wreak havoc on gospel proclamation and cause real needs to go unmet. Worldview colors the way we relate to one another, the way we make decisions as a body, the way we hold one another accountable, and the way we worship. It affects who we invite into our lives and who we reject, who we listen to and who we won’t.

On the mission field, no less than here, the goal ought to be churches being built up, whose members are growing in holiness. They are being discipled into mature believers. And the danger is we may skip this for sound bites and numbers (Performance? Results?). Because discipling worldview takes time and is messy. Or maybe we believe that worldview will work itself out. Or that we can avoid having a run-in with the world and its systems if we just stick to “the gospel.” But the gospel includes worldview! As much as we neglect the hard and long work of worldview discipleship, we neglect to actually teach them “to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 18:20)

As a pastor, it definitely gives me pause.

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

Concise Theology ★★★★★ (5/5)

Concise Theology is well worth the read. In short bursts of two to three pages each (usually), J.I. Packer proceeds to lay out historic Christian beliefs for his readers. While I would have loved to see just a bit more at times, overall, I thought the pacing and breakdown was excellent.

Packer is pastoral, caring for the body of Christ, and passionate, reveling in the glories of Christ, the work of the Spirit and the majesty of the Father. Even when I either disagreed or would have stated something slightly differently, I found him to demonstrate humility and patience, no easy task when your intent is to be concise.

The Law

For example, in addressing the old testament law, I would argue against the tri-partite breakdown of a “moral, judicial and ritual law”, fleshed out more fully as “moral…political…and ceremonial.” (pp.90-92). Certainly, the Mosaic law contained all of these, but that it had a self-aware division along these lines, such that the ceremonial/ritual law could be of “limited application” in contrast to the moral law, is not immediately apparent. Instead, the whole law, even the decalogue, seems to intermix these various statutes and regulations in a way that is difficult to unwind.

Baptism

Dealing with baptism, I found his handling to be amazingly understanding. He acknowledges historical and present disagreements, while maintaining the deep connection among those with a reformed soteriology (specifically speaking of Presbyterian and Baptistic formulations). From a baptistic perspective, I wished that he was applying the regulative principle, rather than just stating it, as I believe he would likely find the admitted lack of scriptural warrant for paedo-baptism (p.214) as a powerful argument in favor of believer’s baptism. But I was thoroughly appreciative of his patient and measured approach. His last statement gives just a bit of the flavor of that: “The ongoing debate is not about nurture but about God’s way of defining the church.” (p.216) I heartily agree!

And as a way of wrapping that thought up, and finishing my response to this book, I offer the following quote:

The task of the church is to make the invisible kingdom visible through faithful Christian living and witness-bearing. The gospel of Christ is still the gospel of the kingdom (Matt. 4:23; 24:14; Acts 20:25; 28:23, 31), the good news of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit through entering a disciple’s relationship to the living Lord (Rom. 14:17). The church must make its message credible by manifesting the reality of kingdom life.

Concise Theology, p.194

If the task of the church is to “make the invisible kingdom visible”, and I whole-heartedly agree it is, then let’s baptize accordingly!

Again, a well-written, helpfully concise overview of historic Christian beliefs. Get it, read it, and dig deep into God’s word.

-redbeard

Missing The Mount

We are missing our church body this morning. The family is on the road, on our way to enjoy both Christmas and the New Year with my parents, and one of my sibling’s families. I spent some time in Dicken’s A Christmas Carol, as my daughter took a turn driving.

!

Thought I’d take a moment in the Christmas story, as I pray for safety in our travels:

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Luke 2:8‭-‬11 ESV

A joyous Christmas to all, whether you are traveling to distant places or resting close to home!

Leaving Rome

So, the time to leave Rome and head to Umbria had arrived. Or rather, had nearly arrived. Taking the last hour, Kim and I stopped at a small cafe and each had a cappuccino. Kim got a biscotto to go with hers, and some zucchero as well. I took mine straight.

We left, and headed towards the church whose front courtyard hosted most of the outdoor seating for the restaurant Popi Popi, where we ate dinner on our anniversary, first night in Rome. But before getting there, I suggested to instead head to nearby (an extra block or so) Basilica di S. Maria in Trastevere. This church had come highly regarded by the owner of the guest house we were staying at, Kiara (Chiara?).

And glad we did take the extra time, as the inside was lovely.

But, finally time to leave Rome. We headed to the train station, where I found what I was looking for in Rome, a rather thick copy of Il Signore degli Anelli. Obviously, this makes me very happy. This Italian translation of The Lord of the Rings comes complete with color illustrations and exploded renditions of the Middle Earth scripts.

The book store in Roma Termini is three floors, and I had but a few minutes to find it. I did not even get to browse the language section of the store. Maybe another opportunity will present itself in Venice.

And with that, we bid farewell to Rome, and found ourselves soon at La Casella. Now we pause and rest a bit.