Theological Education: The Role Of The West In Missions

south mapThe explosion of evangelical Christianity in the Global South in the past century is well documented. In 1900, about 71 percent of Christians in the world lived in Europe. By 2000, that number shrank to 28 percent. Today, 43 percent of the world’s Christians live in Latin America and Africa. In 1900, Africa had 10 million Christians, which was about 10 percent of the population. By 2000, the number of Christians in Africa was 360 million, about half the population of the continent. Mark Noll said, “In a word, the Christian church has experienced a larger geographical redistribution in the last fifty years than in any comparable period in its history, with the exception of the very earliest years of church history.”

What is talked about less, in the phenomenon of the Global South, is the eruption of bad theology in Latin America, Africa and Asia. The theology that is taught from many of the pulpits in the Global South is so poor in can scarcely be recognized as coming from the Scriptures. The rapid spread of abysmal theology in the Global South is a detriment to the advancement of the gospel and the very people it is reported to be educating. Bad theology is poisoning many churches and it is spreading like a wildfire.

Role Of The West
A contributing factor to the increase in bad theology in the Global South is that many US churches today would rather support nationals than send missionaries. This is a short-sighted financial decision which increases the probability of spreading bad theology. John Piper says, “Many people have embraced the uninformed notion that it is always more efficient and culturally effective to support ministries in the Global South to do the work of missions rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars each year to send Western workers.” Supporting those who spread bad theology as opposed to sending those with good theology is exacerbating the problem.

Western churches should increase their support of global theological education. Churches should support the translation and distribution of theology books, sending of theologically trained missionaries to teach and disciple nationals, Bible translation, and the development of grace based, in-country theological seminaries.

libraryThis concept is nothing new. For a thousand years the Christian church has been participating in the formation of formal schools of theological instruction around the world. What is new is the disparity of theological resources. Around the world churches hold services each day without enough Bibles for their congregants. In the West we have a multitude of theological conferences, articles, internet downloads and theology books. There should be no guilt over our bevy of theological resources, but, we should do everything we can to ensure our brothers and sisters in rapidly expanding churches have all they need to preach, teach and spread quality Bible-based theology. To disciple a new believer, to evangelize the lost, to mentor a brother, to teach biblical truth – these are callings and honors for us all.

As the wealthiest church in the history of the world, the Western Evangelical church should consider increasing support to ministries which provide grace based, bible believing theological training in the Global South. To combat the plague of bad theology in the Global South they need language appropriate seminaries, articles, books, e-books, conferences and more. R.C. Sproul said, “Anyone who would be a disciple of Christ must be a learner of the teaching of Christ.” The teaching of false doctrine should not be abided, but instead viewed as an affront to the majesty of our Lord.

Returning From The Brink
north southIndeed, the Evangelical church in the Global South is growing rapidly. But, what good is a rapidly growing church with horrible theology? When thinking of the bad theology of the Global South, don’t think of hymnals vs. modern music or ties vs. button down shirts. Christian churches in the Global South are spreading an array of bad theology which includes animism, works based theology, witchcraft and more. Millions of people are “coming to the Lord” in a grotesque amalgamation of theological perversion that would make Satin blush. Never before in history have we had so many bibles in the world and yet so many biblically illiterate Christians.

God’s Great Commission (Mat 29:18-20) instructs believers in Christ to “go.” This is something, at which, the Western Evangelical church is doing an admirable job. However, at the heart of the great commission is the making of disciples. This is done, in part, by teaching the nations about Christ, his commands and his Scriptures. The Great Commission is fulfilled, not when we go, but when we go, make disciples, baptize and “teach them to observe all I have commanded you.” When professed Christians around the world spread a false doctrine, Christ is not glorified.

The church is a place to educate, instruct, and prepare its members to impact the world and share God’s love, mercy, and message. Much of the rapid spread of the “gospel” in the Global South in no Gospel at all. Our brothers and sisters around the world are in desperate need of theological education and our Western churches are in a prime position aide them.

4 thoughts on “Theological Education: The Role Of The West In Missions”

  1. Great post, Mike. Thanks. I teach at a seminary in Bangkok, after having been involved with grassroots church planting and evangelism in other parts of Thailand. What you say about the theology poverty of many churches is absolutely true for Thailand, and I consider it a privilege to be able to teach up-and-coming Thai leaders as I teach seminary classes.

  2. Hello, thanks for this interesting post. I am a missionary in Taiwan, I’ve been here for almost three years. I would be interested to read more about the “bad theology” that is being taught.

  3. Thank you for the article, I agree with a lot of what you are saying and strongly support the need for sound theological teaching and training to be taking place around the world. I would add two other factors which I believe has contributed to the spread of false gospel instead of sound theology and those are: Missionaries being going to those countries because they feel “called” not because they are qualified and sent out from a local church. Sadly many of the missionaries I know have weaker theology than those they are working with. They have come because they feel “called” but have no training and no church to support them spiritually. The second reason I believe that poor theology is spreading is because of the new focus on social justice and care for orphans. Yes there is a great need to care not only for the orphans but also the poor, the widows and others who are trapped in the darkness of sin, but to offer care through education and physical improvement does not do much to help break the false beliefs which the people are living with and all you are doing is rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. They may look nice but the ship is still going down along with all who are on it. I see many missionaries who have come to open orphanages and work with sex traffic victims who have great plans on how to improve someone’s quality of life here on this earth but have no plans as to how to help those they work with gain eternal life through the preaching and practicing of the Gospel. They are focused on education but missing discipleship. I believe that it is not that missionaries are not going or even being supported by western churches, rather I believe the wrong people are being sent and the focus of the money donated is for the earthly improvements and not on the eternal promises found in the gospel. Just some thoughts and I did enjoy your article.

  4. The challenge seems to be: In the North we usually had enough time and money to finance a 4 year Bible school or theological seminary. Many southern churches simply can’t afford that. And we had a quite high educational level of those who entered the theological training. At least in Germany, where I come from, that level is deteriorating quickly. Anyone who wants to reach the poor masses in the south can’t do that by showing his brilliant academic achievements, but he has to adapt the way he preaches to in such a way, that he can really be understood by his listeners. And you can spread good theology only, if you can write it down in short, easily understandable messages and writings. In animist societies, as in many places in Africa, a very important question is, how to resist and to drive out evil spirits. That is very important in Thailand, too. Am I right in assuming that this aspect of our ministry plays an important role in the New testament , but not in the theological trainings? I think it is a challenge to ask the Holy Spirit, what is His best approach to pastoral training and formation of leaders.

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