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Holistic Mission, A Review Essay by Tony Richie

Significantly, Lubaale’s discussion of African Pentecostal churches indicates they tend to be engaged in community building in sectors of society that are largely excluded from the benefits of the formal economy, and furthermore that they are in most cases led by people who are as vulnerable to poverty as their followers. For them, Lubaale suggests, “bringing the demands of Jesus Christ, the bible, together with the understanding of the place of the Holy Spirit, is bringing a new dimension of mission at the grassroots.” However, a theology of prosperity poses problems. A materialistic slant can sometimes become overly stressed all too easily. Pentecostals also face an ongoing fear of “losing the Spirit”, or becoming involved in social and educational processes that may cause them to forfeit their spiritual vitality. Extending a Pentecostal understanding of spiritual discernment to these realms could be crucial in overcoming this kind of fear. There is a special need for the empowerment and liberation of the Spirit to be felt and experienced by the women of Africa who are the majority in the church.

Jayakumar explains that Asian Pentecostals are challenging the mission practitioners to understand holism not only in terms of evangelism and social concern, both of which they are also involved in, but more in terms of evangelism, social concern, and signs and wonders. Interestingly, Jayakumar suggests that the prosperity gospel understood in the context of extreme poverty can provide hope for the hurting and may not necessarily be mere materialism disguised as devout piety. Some of the “prosperity preachers” provide new hope for the poor and the sick. They may even offer sound financial management, enable people to live a Christ-like life and help nurturing Christian families. Allaby notes that Pentecostal involvement with national politics has been complicated and sometimes painful. However, all of these examples portray forays into holistic mission.

An evident strength of Holistic Mission is its wide-ranging diversity. This diversity is expressed in terms of geography, gender, and in other ways. Its commitment to integrating spiritual and social forms of mission is most commendable. Surprisingly in a book on holistic mission, it doesn’t address interreligious relations or interfaith dialogue. How can we have holistic mission without attention to the deepest beliefs and values of 2/3 of the planet? There are sparse general references in Holistic Mission to the religions or to “major faith traditions” and to Hindus and Muslims. Jews are spoken of in biblical contexts only, and Judaism per se not at all, but the Judeo-Christian tradition is mentioned a few times. People of “other faiths” are rarely referenced. Jayakumar does helpfully discuss the plight of Christian Dalits in contrasts with a culture of Hinduism, and he also briefly hints at the problems of an inadequate theology on the fate of the unevangelized as an incentive for evangelistic mission; but, he doesn’t speak in terms of interreligious dialogue or cooperation for social improvement. The lack in Holistic Mission of dealing with the reality of the world’s religious plurality is odd considering it’s affirmation of the 1974 Lausanne statement on Christian Social Responsibility which includes all humanity “regardless of race, religion, color, culture, class, sex or age” as created in God’s image and thus worthy of regard. A section or at least a chapter on interreligious encounter and cooperation would seem to have been a given.

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2012

About the Author: Tony Richie, D.Min, Ph.D., is missionary teacher at SEMISUD (Quito, Ecuador) and adjunct professor at the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (Cleveland, TN). Dr. Richie is an Ordained Bishop in the Church of God, and Senior Pastor at New Harvest in Knoxville, TN. He has served the Society for Pentecostal Studies as Ecumenical Studies Interest Group Leader and is currently Liaison to the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches (USA), and represents Pentecostals with Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation of the World Council of Churches and the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. He is the author of Speaking by the Spirit: A Pentecostal Model for Interreligious Dialogue (Emeth Press, 2011) and Toward a Pentecostal Theology of Religions: Encountering Cornelius Today (CPT Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles and books chapters on Pentecostal theology and experience.

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