Better late than never.
During 8-11 June 2009, I spent few days at STM for this study process. Apart from plenary sessions with relevant respondents, we were also in small group discussions. At the end of the whole study process, I was asked to compile, organize and share a more cohesive summary of the scattered insights and conversations we had.
We had an interesting mix of participants and speakers. It was a pretty intense 4 days 3 nights. Perhaps by sharing the report I presented for our group, you would get the idea of some of the issues we wrestled with. So here goes for part one.
Mission as Reconciliation in Pluralistic Contexts
Edinburgh 2010 Study Process at STM, Malaysia
The purpose of this report is to share a summary of the concerns and insights raised by the group members, as well as questions which needs to be explored deeper.
We will approach it from three main categories from theological, ecclesiological and missiological perspectives.
1. Unpack the meaning of “Reconciliation” and its implications.
a. “Reconciliation” is central metaphor in the Bible as well as to the Gospel. The reality of Reconciliation includes one’s relationship with God, the self and with fellow human beings as well as the whole of creation.
b. Key passages below provides a starting point:
i. Colossians 1: 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
ii. 2 Corinthians 5: 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.
c. The theme of Reconciliation provides not only the agenda for mission but also impacts the motivation for mission. We can then move away from fear and perhaps guilt, to the overflowing love because of God’s reconciling initiative in Christ, thus as new creations it is this love that compels us to engage in the ministry of reconciliation.
2. Revisit the focus on Christ and the Cross in a pluralistic context.(1)
a. The uniqueness and universality of the person, message and work of Christ is crucial in this discussion. This is done through a narrative approach in reading and presenting the message from the Scriptures through the story of creation, the story of Israel, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the formation of the church and the Eschaton.
b. The revelation of God in Christ on the Cross enables us to fully engage into the violent realities especially in situations of conflict which requires us to have a new imagination beyond the impasse of the cycle of hatred and violence. It was emphasized a Christian theology of Reconciliation can only grow out of the cross.
c. It is important to note that the tension of knowing him as not only the Reconciler but also as the Divider is part and parcel of providing grounding in ongoing ministry of reconciliation and peace making.
3. Wrestle with interpretation of the Biblical texts that are clearly “violent”.
a. The challenge of selected readings of our scriptures is ever present. This is evident in the understanding of Old Testament texts which clearly depict violence in the context of God’s judgment.
b. This is also true when one sees the description of “Cosmic Wars” such as in the book of Revelation in the New Testament. How one interpret these texts impacts our overall understanding and practice of Reconciliation.
c. A Christ-centred reading of these “difficult texts” or placing them under the broader narrative of the kingdom of God in the light of eschatological hope and fulfilment provides a hermeneutical way forward while taking seriously the exegetical challenges the texts poses.
i. In the Bible We note that in Revelation the sword mentioned is the sword that comes out of the mouth of Jesus, and this is the word of truth and not anay means of violence. From the Christian point of view Old Testament stories of violence and warfare can be interpreted with regard to the story of the configuration: Jesus appears with the OT figures Moses and Elijah. Moses launched the jihad against the enemies, but the voice from heaven clearly expresses that Jesus has the final word. Therefore for Christians the teaching of Jesus is normative and supersedes the violent stories of the Old Testament.
4. Re-examine our theological language and articulations.
a. How do we deal with the tensions between absolutist and relativistic polarizations? Epistemological humility is welcome, but a number of concerns were raised
i. In the use of confessional language alone, how does we not weaken one’s public convictions and privatize our beliefs. (2)
ii. In our quest to be open and inclusive have we blurred the lines so much so that we lose a clear Christian identity.
iii. As we engage in our deliberations and decisions on complex issues arising out of our context such as interfaith marriages (one suggests that in reality this is more of intercultural marriages) whether the importance of theological grounding and implications in life is highlighted for the individuals who are directly affected by these struggles and what are the pastoral implications which need to be addressed.(3)
b. On one hand, the fact of living with religious differences is a given and a reality we cannot ignore (Theses 1-5) On the other hand, we seek to practice Gospel integrity key issues ranging from world mission to welcoming the signs of God’s grace at work in the lives of all people? (Theses 6-10).(4)
(1) David Shenk, 1st Paper presented, “Mission as Reconciliation in Pluralistic context: Theological Foundations”
(2) Paulus Widjaya, Paper presented, “Mission as Reconciliation amidst Religious extremism”
(3) Hermen Shastri, Respondant to Pauls Widjaya
(4) Vinoth Ramachandra, 2nd paper presented, “Mission as Reconciliation: Religious Pluralism and Social Conflict.”