Mission as Transformation
Mission as Transformation is a collection of essays by leading mission experts, which challenges the Christian community to view more seriously its participation in the processes of social transformation. The book defines the term “transformation” as holistic or integral mission. The term also denotes change in one’s condition in order to receive fully the life God has intended. The Kingdom of God is viewed as a fundamental structure and system in the above process.
The book overviews important publications and thought developments over the past 30 years in reference to the subject of mission as transformation. It begins with a number of key issues starting with theological foundations (Part 1) and missiological dynamics related to social transformation (Part 2). The last are viewed in their relation to transformation and evangelism in the context of modernity, which come as a surprise in regard to the date of publication (1999). Part 3 deals extensively with praxis and their effect as factors within the transformational dynamics and processes. Several among the discussions are noticeable as follows:
(1) Suffering and the Cross
The climax of Christ’s mission was the cross. His suffering was due to a preexisting conflict which was resolved though His sacrifice, a transformational statement that included justice and restoration. The Church is also called to engage in the struggle for justice and social equilibrium, which is not only its earthly mission, but part of its eschatological hope as well. The sign of social change is then, not so much, the coming city, but the cross outside the gates. The involvement of the individual believer and the church as a corporate body in suffering on behalf of the oppressed is not viewed by God as failure. On the contrary, it is a transformation that changes both the world and the church after the image of Christ.
(2) The Kingdom of God
The Kingdom of God is God’s redemption for humankind. It is His redemptive participation in human history through which all people are challenged to repent and live life of participating in the Kingdom business, while the Kingdom remains an already-not-yet reality. This reality gives a new status to every believer, who is transformed after the image of Christ, in order to participate in His Kingdom. In this sense, the Kingdom is not a personal Kingdom or personal transformation alone, but it is community which God creates for all with the purpose of being inclusive toward all.
The discussion on the Kingdom of God implies partnership with non-Christians which in holiness circles may be viewed as inappropriate. Kingdom values are to replace worldly values to indicate the influence of the Kingdom. Certain guidelines of cooperation then must be drawn in order that any partnership of such kind does not radically change the identity of the church negatively, but rather serves as a positive transformational factor for all participating Christians and non-Christians.
The Christian identity is such a guideline itself. The impartation of Christ-like identity is a supernatural process which empowers the believer to participate in the greater purpose of God for the universe. Identity is provided by the Gospel and is the fundamental principle for Christian involvement in any processes of social transformation.
The discussion is brought to the participation of Christians in politics as a part of Christian involvement in social transformation. Among Pentecostals this subject has been a taboo topic since the very beginning of the movement. The text, however, argues that as the suffering of Christ was not passive, He set a model for a radical political action. The Kingdom of God was the central idea of Christ preaching through which He proclaimed the reign of God as a King. This was done in the context of the Roman empire combined with Jewish aristocracy expressed in a political and religious system of class oppression which Christ challenged through His teaching, life, death and resurrection thus proving their temporality and creating an anti-culture against the oppression of the poor and the week. Christian politics in this sense are prophetic, proclamation of the Kingdom and eschatology.
Christian eschatology is perhaps the most important theological factor, which determines the attitude of the community of believers toward the subject of social transformation. Eschatology deals with the future and the end of the era, but also with the end of history and the fulfillment of its goal. Historically, protestant eschatology is amillennial, at least in the era from Augustine through the Reformers. Post-reformation eschatology receives a more postmillennial aspect which affirms Christian positivism for the future. Postmillenarianism presupposed and resulted in a more extensive participation of believers in the political scene.
However, through the 19th and 20th centuries, premillenarianism became the major eschatological view among Protestants. As a result, a major reversal in theology of politics, from Calvinistic theology of politics which sees them as advancing the Kingdom of God, to a more pietistic theology of politics was observed. Saving souls became a priority before saving societies, thus promoting a pessimistic eschatological view. Such was taken by most missionaries of the 19th and 20th century whose ministries originated in the mission efforts of premillennial congregations and denominations.
Apparently, pessimistic eschatology has hurt the major premillennial wing of protestant churches, among which are Pentecostals. They must seriously reconsider their abstinence from issues of political tension, social injustice, since the lack of participation in the last has formatted their role in the dynamics of social formation and reformation. On the other hand, their critics may review the claim of premillennial eschatology as pessimistic. This is due to the fact that while premillennial theology may refuse a view of a better world here and now, it most certainly expects such one with the future return of Christ. Therefore, while such theology may be pessimistic in its earthly sense, it is most certainly optimistic in its Heavenly, eschatological sense. In other words, for premillennial believers the optimism of the end-times lies in the parousia. The tension of the already-not-yet Kingdom proves such a view and explains the Kingdom tensions of the now and the future which premillennial eschatology often presents. Such a view is both Biblical and practical. It further well balances both Christian passivism (often confirmed through piety) and activism, which should result in social concern and action. In the beginning of the 21st century, the last has become a central topic of premillennial eschatology which has resulted in its more extensive, practical implementation.