Allen Yeh - "Polycentric Missiology"
5:49PM Jul 9, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
It's our huge privilege today to be speaking with Dr. Allen Yeh. Dr. Allen Yeh is Associate Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missy ology at Biola University. And also author of the text that we'll be discussing today, Polycentric Missiology: 21st Century Mission from Everyone to Everywhere, Available from intervarsity Press doctor yet. Thank you so much for being with us today.
It's great to be with you. Thank you. Doctor, doctor. Yeah,
you set a personal and world record. That is to say you were the only person in the world to attend. conferences marked the 100 year anniversary of the famous 1910 world world Edinburgh missionary conference. So I've got the stats right, Tim attended Tokyo gathering in 2010 at Edinboro calm Since 2010, Cape Town town conference in 2010, which was also the lizanne movements third con conference brought together some 40 507 joven jellicle leaders from all around all around the world. You also also attended the conference in Boston in 2010. And and in Costa Rica, as well. After after now, you're nearly a decade, consider to be to the significance of these five congresses?
Sure, well, let me just say that there were actually a lot more than these five that happened as the center centenary of Edinburgh 1910. However, these five were singled out for a particular purpose, which I'll talk about later on in this interview, but suffice it to say that these five were linked because of the conference leaders and they had this vision to link them all together. They were certainly not homogeneous. All five of them contributed something differently and also Talk about why Costa Rica was in 2012 and 2010. But I would say that's the 2010 Tokyo conference, which was the first one that happened of the five was really the vision of Ralph winter, who founded the US session. He got nine but subsequent to that he, yeah, after his death, the US center for World Mission and changed their name to frontier ventures. And there's a reason for that, because because they focus on frontier mission, basically mission to the unreached people groups of the world. So that really was the passion of Ralph winter. And that came out in the Tokyo 2010 conference. Now, mission is not only about the unreached unreached people groups, but the EPG is an often neglected group. There's probably every 30 missionaries that gets sent out in the world, only one person unreached peoples are pretty, pretty shocking, really is not a favorable rare, need to have more people going there. So he really emphasized that and he really event emphasize the difference. dualism. So I don't think the Tokyo 2010 conference really talked that much about social justice or things like that. But it was really about evangelism to people groups, frontier missions. Now the Edinboro 2010 conference was quite different. That was, I would say the defining aspect of that one was humanist. So they had five categories of Christians that they invited Catholic, mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestants, orthodox and Pentecostal. They tried to make sure that there was a wealth of representation there, unlike Tokyo, 2010, which was mainly evangelicals. So and I would say that humanism was not only that, the thing that was emphasized but also the missio day, I think it was very important that they want to emphasize that this is God's mission and that we're all in this together. Yes. And I thought that was quite beautiful. That Cape Town 2010 conference, as you said was the third was on Congress following the 1974 first was on hunger in Switzerland. So that's where they got the name from the city of Luzon. And then the second was on Congress, which was in Manila, Philippines in 1989. So the 2010 one was really the third in a series so it can stand in the vein of lasagna, or it can stand in the vein of 2010 conferences. And this was the biggest one of all, as you had mentioned. 4500 people from all over the world, but similar to Tokyo 2010 it was really about if angelical representation, they had visitors and observers from different other traditions, but it was mainly holes and but really what they emphasize was holistic mission. I think they tried to bring in everything and it was really the biggest of the five. Finally, or not, finally, but in finally in 20, you had the Boston, the 2010 Boston conference, which was interesting because it emphasized students and students because if you Go all the way back to Edinburgh 1910, the emphasis of john Mont, and who was the founder and the director of Edinburgh in 1910. His board was the evangelization of the world in this generation and his call was the students. He said why students, students are in the of their life, physical health, in they have the most zeal have a lot of intelligence because they're college educated. And they're usually unattached. They usually don't have children yet, and so they're free and they can move around. So he really tried to emphasize the students, YMCA SVM, the student volunteer movement and such and out of that, you get things like the Urbana mission grants and and so 2010 Boston really emphasized and then finally you had poster which happened in but it was the only one that sighs leadership from the global south. I think this majority world leadership, even though the other four, you know, two of the four were held in the non Western world, but really the leadership for all position was from so I thought that Costa Rica was interesting because it was held in Spanish and was really close actually. Yes. So it was also focused on holistic Michelin, Michelin is as they say in Spanish, this marvelous thank you very much for that very helpful synopsis.
Doctor yet when writing about the history of the ancient councils, you know, to quote they ultimately concluded that culture Trump's peripheral theology and core beliefs Trump cultural practice. How is it that you saw this distinction at play in these conferences? How did the conference participants and organizers differentiate between those things which were primary to Christian identity, and those things which were culturally adjustable?
Right, so there was a difference between the Evan jellicle conferences and something embro 20 10 or even Boston, 2022 in Boston, because with the evangelicals, I think there's already a lot of assumptions that are already there. So we could just sort of move forward without having to address those things. For example.
evangelicals are known for authority of the Bible and
primacy of event evangelism and social justice and things like this. So with the ecumenical conferences, it was a little bit different because they had to establish some firmer footing on those grounds before they could move forward. And I don't think that's a bad thing. I think there's an advantage and disadvantage to both right, assumed core beliefs is fine. And then you can really jump jump forward without having to lay the foundation. But there is something beautiful about being able to lay the foundation as well. So now, once you when you lay the foundation, sometimes there's a little bit of controversy. And so I remember at Edinboro 2010, you know, there were things that were said by some people from the front, which caused a little bit of a stir from those, you know, in the audience that didn't quite like what they were hearing. And yet at the end of the day, I feel like there was, It concluded with harmony, It concluded with something called the Edinburgh 2010 common call, which was a document that came out of that. And so there was an affirmation of the core beliefs that we can all affirm. And but I do think that when you look at these documents that come out, there is a difference between the ones that actually come from the evangelical movements versus the ecumenical ones. And so, the ecumenical ones unsurprisingly really emphasizes unity and, you know, a lot of the things that we can all agree on, despite our differences, and I think that was beautiful to hold hands and to say, you know, let's make sure there's not this kind of divide that historically has separated us. They have been Political ones were really, I felt like forward thinking they could really launch forward because with great speed and alacrity because of we just assumed that we're on the same page with regard to some some things. And now that being said, there were still even some controversies even within the evangelical camps. So, for example, there was the question of, can women preach from the pulpit, right? And, and so even things like that evangelicals still have to wrestle with when you have a keep down 4500 image articles from all around the world, they're still not going to all agree on everything, and those are some of the more peripheral issues. But I think that's okay to also wrestle through those things. So, you know, we as the body of Christ are diverse, and as First Corinthians 12 says, We can't say we don't need each other and, but we need to treat each other with honor and respect and even if some of us do Different things from others. And but that's as it should be. So I think a lot of times people will sweep differences under the rug or decide not to deal with them because it's just too hard and stay segregated. And what I really appreciated about these five conferences is that they didn't try to do that. They really tried to tackle the differences head on. And you know what, at the end of the day, I feel like there was more unity that came out of this than not, but it doesn't mean we didn't have to wrestle through them in the meanwhile.
Doctor Yeah, or or or by by these cons. We were they were recorded. And so are they available on the internet or at a local archive somewhere?
You know, I think individual sessions were recorded. For example, Cape Town did a really good job of recording stuff. So I think you can probably find most of the plenary talks from Cape Town on YouTube, for example. I don't know that Edinburgh or Boston, one. would be as readily available because they were a bit smaller. And then of course, there are some sessions which were more private because of security reasons, working in restricted access countries. And so I think there are pieces that are available but not the entirety. That's actually why I wrote my book. Because I felt like you know, this book gives a gives a window into all these five conferences and even if you were not able to attend I wanted to be able to make available the material that was there for everyone.
Yeah, we certainly do appreciate the service you've done in producing that book. Doctor yet in chapter two a polycentric. Missy ology chapter two is titled The Case for World Christianity. And there you discuss some of the key differences between majority world theology and Western theology. Is there a preferred way that you'd like to characterize some of these key differences? between Western theology and majority world theology.
Sure, absolutely. In fact, my latest book, which just came out last year was his entire entitled majority world theologies. I want to actually point out the plural there, because majority world is diverse. Africa, Asia, Latin America are not homogeneous. Nor is the West, I would say Western theologies as well. However, there is something that links them, where we can talk about them all together. And it is, in this sense, I feel like majority world theologies come from certain worldviews that can be similar, for example, collectivism. That is something that is different from the west where the West tends to be quite individualistic. Another thing might be time orientation versus people orientation, so the West would be more time on And majority world would be more people oriented. Yeah, another might be pre modernism versus post modernism, a lot of the majority world would be pre modern. I don't mean they don't accept modernism, but you know, they do have a middle level, whereas the West has a flaw of the excluded middle and the middle level would be spirits, demons, and angels and ancestors and these things play really play a big part in how majority world people understand things, whereas those this excluded middle and so, and another thing might be direct versus indirect discourse. So, majority world tends to have more indirect discourse and more stories, less propositional truths and more relational type ways of communication. West's would be much more propositional and very lecture oriented and you know, so and even orthopedic praxis versus orthodoxy or the practice would be more characteristic of majority world, whereas ortho doxy would be more characteristic of the Western world. So sometimes we refer to these things collectively as high context versus low context cultures. And so the high context, the all these things I mentioned, would be would be majority worlds because they really not only talk about take into consideration the directness of what you're saying, but also all the non verbals, all the history, all the culture, all the background, all the assumptions, that's high context, whereas low context is the only thing that matters what you say directly to me. And so I would say those are two huge differences. But I feel like also majority world because theology comes from people's contexts. It's it's filtered through our cultures and our contexts. And so if the majority world Has context that let's see struggle more with things like poverty, or persecution or spirits, then
or even more of the Holy Spirit's right, the majority world might be stronger on their new mythology, whereas the Western world might be stronger under Christology. And so we need each other to be able to unpack some of these different things. Because ultimately, theology is how you talk about God filtered through your culture and your background and your history. And every single culture around the world talks about God differently. And you know, even something as simple as God is Father, you ask someone, what does that mean? That you're not going to get the same answer from each person. You know, somebody may say, Well, Father means provider or loving somebody mean say father means abusive or abandoned, you know, absence. So there are different ways of living. At even the concept of Father, which in and of itself seems like isn't that quite universal? Actually, it's not. It's very culture dependent. And even, you know, I pointed out the fact that the four gospels are actually culture dependent. So why do we have four gospels rather than one? gospel, right? Because you have Matthew, who is looking at Jesus from a Jewish lens, and mark is Roman, and Luke is Greek. And john is something else entirely. He was the disciple of Jesus loved so he was really close to Jesus and could tell us other things. But, you know, imagine if Matthew went to Luke and said, I'm sorry, you can't talk about Jesus Greek perspective, because I'm Jewish, and mine is the only one that counts. And, you know, you can't have your cultural perspective. And mine is the only pure perspective. Well, actually, that's not true. There's no such thing as a pure perspective. Everybody has culture in history. So we need different perspectives on Jesus it would be misguided to have To think that we can have one all conflated super gospel, right? I know some people have tried that in the past. But that doesn't work. We have four gospels for a reason. And we need different people around the world to give their different perspectives on God. And it's not relativism. You put them all together. They're like different slices of the pie. You put them all together, they're all true. But then you put them all together and you get to see the full picture of who God really is. So that's why we need majority wealth theologies.
And Dr. Yen is you have been putting together this constructive theology of global theologies over the past couple years are their authors or Missy ologists that you particularly look to as insightful as you put been putting this work together.
Perhaps they, when we look at the study of world Christianity, the the the that we think of might be someone like Philip Jenkins, but I wouldn't even go to someone like Andrew Walker. So, Philip Jenkins really popularized the study of wolf Christianity with his book The next Christendom. Yes, really, it was Andrew Wallace who sort of started the whole movement with his book, The missionary Christian history. Now granted, you know, both of them are and, you know, we really majority world theologians themselves. So Andrew was his chief disciple was Levin Sinai, who unfortunately just passed away recently, but he taught at Yale Divinity School and but he was from the Gambia in West Africa. I would say the book that is most important that he wrote, would be
translated translating the message. So
some, Harvey Cox from Harvard Divinity School actually said, that's the most important book that Orbis has published since Gustavo Gutierrez his theology of liberation so that's a pretty thing. And Levin Sunday has written tons and it shouldn't be him. I would look at someone else also passed away. We But the Theologian Kwame diaco, so he would be a good one from that part of the world as well. In Latin Americans go I would look at some of the people from the Latin American theological fellowship. The founders included people like Orlando coasters, somewhat Escobar and Randy pedia. And although Costas passed away in 1987, but Escobar and pedia are still producing really great theologies, and Rene Purdy, his daughter, Ruth Protea, divorce is also still producing things on her side from I would say, you know, you have to actually divide this into South Asia and East Asia because there are theologians and demons out these because it's such a huge, but yes, people like a G Fernando or vino Rama Chandra, from India or Sri Lanka would be some great people. To read, and getting Samuel as well. Also, there's a lot of Korean and Chinese theologians and even from Taiwan and Hong Kong and Singapore, but for example, and also from Southeast Asia, for example, quite young from from Malaysia would be a good one to read. And and, you know, the Koreans actually seem to have their own sort of, I don't know what's the right word, world, theology and church, because they even though they're small country, they're they're really huge. So they, they almost seem to be independent from the rest of Asia in that regard. So, but they certainly have produced a lot of scholarship in that world. So it's there. There are a lot of people to read in this world. And I feel like you just need to be aware of some of these These resources and but also there's a lot of indigenous scholars who have not been highlighted in the rest of the world. And, you know, they're very local theologians. And I think that the West hasn't been clued in into them yet. And part of it is because of the necessity of publishing houses. Sure. You know, in order to be heard worldwide, you need to have a publisher. And so a lot of these people don't have access to publishers that can really help them worldwide. So I think it behooves us in this day and age of partnership missions to be able to see how we can not only give evangelism or rather that might be something that is done by the locals, but also give publishing houses or resources or ability for them to theologies for themselves. Yes, yeah. So that's what I would say about a majority world theologians.
Doctor yet the legacy See of Ralph winter stands behind these four congresses. Not only did Ralph winter single out these congresses, but he also happened to die the year before they were able to come to fruition. Did you by any chance ever have the opportunity to meet with Ralph winter in person?
I did. However, unfortunately, I don't have that much to say about it because I met him very briefly at my first ever lows on conference and it wasn't one of the big congresses it was actually at the 2004 was on forum in Pattaya Thailand. And he just happened to be on the bus with me from the airport to the conference center. And so he was sitting in front of me and we just had a brief chat, but that's really about it. I've really just admired him from afar. That was my only personal interaction with him. But I've read a lot of his stuff and I've seen him talk and then now There, since he's passed away, there's been a lectureship in his honor and so held at the US center for admission every year. And so I had the privilege of speaking at that one year. And, but really, his influence extends far and wide and can still be felt in so many different ways. I wish I had more personal interaction with him, but his ideas have really influenced me, but the as far as his brainchild about these, yeah, he is the one who linked these all together, including the fifth one but Costa Rica one. I actually have a photo which, you know, some people think is it arbitrary that you know, these five are put together and I'd say No, actually I have a photo where the organizers of the five are sitting together in a room in 2008 talking about this, and I wasn't there but I received the photo. And what what you have is you have Ralph winter from Tokyo 2010. But then you also have the head of be Edinburgh 2010 conference, who was Darrell Bollea at the time, and from South Africa. And then you have the head of Cape Town, which was Doug Birdsall at the time. And then you had the 20s in Boston, which were Todd Johnson, Dana Roberts. And also Rodney Peterson. And then finally you had Ruth budhia, divorced who was the one in charge of cloud a five, which was the Congress or Latino America, kind of on the other hand, was a CEO on the fifth one, so similar to Cape Town, which was the third was on Congress. This was the fifth Clottey conference. And so all five of or five conference got actually had a vision to link the and this photograph is just proof of that. Now, it turned out that Ruth produced To push back quite a bit from 2010 to 2012. Originally, it was supposed to be in 2010, which is why it was included in the book. But there was just too much on the calendar in 2010. And she just felt like two more years conference and also to give a little bit of breathing room for Latin Americans to show up at because if they went to the in 10 conferences, they probably may not have been able to make it to cloud a because of the cost of flights and time that takes and so spreading it out a little bit more was helpful. Interestingly, this sort of parallel in some ways the 1910s situation because infamously at 1910, Edinboro, they left out Latin America. They said, Are we going to it was mainly Westerners, but they said, Are we going to evangelize Africa? And they said yes. Are we going to Asia? They said yes. And they said Are we going to evangelize Latin America. And Edinboro 1910 is famously known as the birthplace of the modern Ecumenical Movement. But again, you know, here's these, you know, core beliefs versus peripheral beliefs. And there was a huge controversy at 1910. anglo-catholic said, Don't you dare evangelize Latin America, because it's our size. And so if you do that, we're going to walk out of here and we're going to break the acumen ecumenical unity here of acumen, the image article said, okay, we won't touch Latin America, there's no Latin American. Nor was Latin America even put on the map. Now, the Latinos, interestingly, were so upset about this, they organized their own conference, Panama 1916. And so what happened was, you know, they they had this six year later, a conference after Edinburgh 1910 and wasn't exactly the same situation in 2010. It was interesting that they had Costa Rica 2012 conference and after facts Because if you look at the four conferences in 2010, you have Tokyo which is Asia, Edinburgh, which is Europe, you have Cape Town, which is Africa and you have Boston, which is North America and what's left off the map Latin America. You think, Wow, is this history repeating?
COSTA RICA 2012. And that turned out to be a great conference, but I, we had to include in the book otherwise, we've Latin America out again. And plus it was intended to be in 2010. And and she Ruth pedia was part of the the group that planned these conferences. But what happened was the world Evangelical Alliance, the WPA, they have permissions conferences, and they decided to have one in Panama in 2016. What's really interesting is that they braiding the hundredth anniversary of 1916. And so yeah, and they're at that conference. Interestingly, there The theme of their conference was polycentric mission, of course, is akin to the title of my book, Missy ology. So that was really just a coincidence. And so happy to see that policy mission was of the WETA. They celebrated the hundredth anniversary of, of Panama in 1916. So, history is really interesting. And sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. And this is one of those situations. Doctor, yeah,
thank you so much for those reflections. What were some of the unique features of these congresses that perhaps surprised you?
Yeah, you know, I think theme he stood on tight all of them together was reconciliation. So, for example, at Tokyo, you had the Koreans and the Japanese up on stage apologizing to each other and reconciling that was powerful. at Tokyo, sorry, at
The Africa one the Cape Town. You also even had the Brazilians, apologizing Africans for slavery, you know, their United States is not the only country which has had black slavery and Brazil had that too. So there was this huge reconciliation that one was not actually on the stage, or behind the scenes, but it was a powerful thing. And of course, the ecumenical conferences in Boston and but especially Edinburgh were had these different definitions, different streams of Christianity together and saying, Hey, you know what, we're unified here. So I thought that was really special. Also, the documents that came out, Francis was unique. So each one produced good theology. And when you look at these differences, they were able to print things for example, out of cloth a came across Pre document, which I thought was really beautiful because Latin Americans really care about creation care having the Amazon there and you know, recently it's been an issue with the Amazon Fire and you know that it's called the lungs of the earth. And this is really a legacy for the whole world.
And a lot of these
documents that came out had
jiying directions that they were taking it but I feel like we really need to put all of them together to be able to see a bigger picture. This is why I really think that we need all five conferences. I know there there was a little competition between some maybe not the organizers, but some of the people you know which one is the true successor to Edinburgh? 1910 which one is best represents that and actually answer is all of them. In 1910 mission was from the west to the rest. Whereas in 2010 mission is from everyone to everywhere. That's the subtitle of my book. And it made sense that in 1910, you had only one conference, because Edinburgh being in the ended the heartland of Christianity back then. But today, the heartland of Christianity is actually in the majority world, specifically Sub Saharan Africa, so East Asia when you think of China and Korea, but when you have all of these different locations, it actually reflects with the early church map of the early church, the ancient patriarch, Cates, the five centers of Christianity in the ancient world were actually
Seok, you're in Alexandria. If you look at which way difference there I actually Rome is Europe. Constantinople is Eurasia and actually straddles Europe and Asia, which is now Istanbul today. We have two in Asia, which are Jerusalem and Antioch. And then you have one in Africa, which is Alexandria. And so Christianity was polycentric. In the early church, it was even you think about where the Christianity took root. You know, you have the Ethiopian eunuch bringing it to Africa, you have the apostle Thomas, bring it to India, you have Paul all over Asia Minor, as well as going to Greece, and so in Europe, and so the gospel went in three different directions. It's no surprise, God chose the promised land to be Israel. It's at the crossroads of three continents after Europe in Asia and the gospel went three different directions. And along this time, the gospel got associated with Europe. Thankfully, today, the gospel is really everywhere. I think this is one of the best apologetic Christianity that the It's the only world true world religion because we have no majority in terms of ethnic population. We have no geographic center, we don't have a mecca or Varanasi or, you know, a salt lake city or anything like that, which is our headquarter. Really, Christianity is everywhere. There's no majority, and it's owned by everyone. So I feel like this is a really great thing that, you know, highlights the unique time in history that we live. And I think it is hopeful time in history.
Don't forget if I can close with a question that we've been asking all of the interviewees on this program, and that is this, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity and what is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed and john 17?
Yes, absolutely. The high priestly prayer is one of my favorite passages in the Bible. Jesus prayed that we may be one, just as. So we Christians would be one, just as the Son and the Father are one. I mean, the Unity that's found in the Trinity is the kind of unity that Jesus wants for his believers. And he says, that will be a mystery to the world, he says, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. And so I feel like humanism sometimes gets a bad rap because, you know, people say, Oh, well, we're just going to hold hands. Yeah, and forget about, you know, a central point printing or we're just going to sweep everything under the rug and don't care about princes and you know, we have enough of differences. I think we need more unity. Unity is what will make us different from the world in this day and age, which is so divisive, I think, especially politically and in many other ways. We need to show Jesus that brick walls. So what you talked about earlier about core doctrines versus non essential doctrines, I think We need to emphasize those not that we can't have non essential doctrines, but those belong in denominations. That's the point of denial so that you can hang out with people who have the same non essentials as you. But in these big conferences, this is where we unite on the essentials. This is where we unite on the historic faith. Now, I want to say that the historic face should not just be Western, right? The historic faith can also be invent, it can be on. So as we hear from what our core thing maybe Africans will come up with or Asians with or Perkins will come up with. Because, you know, the West can come up with something in creed, bring it to the rest of the world and say, Hey, you guys have to accept this, even though these were not your theological battles. And I think that's fine. That's good. Then the majority world, their Creed's to the west and say, Hey, you know what, you guys need to accept these. I think we need to read each other's theologies, and be Accepting of them, and knowing that we're learning from each other. One of the things like I said, the majority world can learn from the western psychology. But the West can learn from the majority world in terms of their new ontology. And so, you know, sometimes feels like Westerners don't have any sense of the Holy Spirit whatsoever, right. And so, and there's exciting scholarship coming out, for example, in Africa, they came out about 10 years ago with the Africa Bible Commentary. And then, which is a whole commentary on the entire Bible written purely by African scholars from an African perspective. It's widely available in the West through Zondervan. So this is something that we can get ahold of. And then, about five years ago, the South Asia Bible Commentary came out and so and the South Asians actually said we had a moment of holy jealousy and we saw that the, the Africans did this. So they did, they did it as well. And then just this year, the Latin American Bible Commentary came out In Spanish, they call it the commentary to Biblical print of arania. But in English, it's going to be called the Latin American Bible Commentary. And so that one just came out in a soon to come out will be the Middle Eastern Bible Commentary, and they have a Slavic Bible Commentary as well. So there's a lot of cool Slavic ones represent Eastern Europe. So a lot of cool things coming out. And I think we need to learn from each other and humble ourselves and and this is not simplistic, or naive. I think it's sophisticated, I think to bring reconciliation and to bring unity requires a great deal of maturity and sophistication. So that is my hope for the future and that we can show the world that Jesus does break dividing walls.
We've been delighted today to be speaking with Alan F. Professor of Intercultural Studies and Missy ology at Biola University and also Author of the text we've been discussing polycentric Missy Missy ology. 21st century mission from everyone to everywhere. available. intervarsity Press. Thank you so much, Dr. year for being with us.
Thank you for having me.