Here is the first installment of my notes from David Smith’s address at the Reaching the Unreached conference. David was pastor at Eden Chapel in Cambridge before going to Nigeria as a missionary. More recently he was lecturer in urban theology and world mission at the International Christian College in Glasgow. He’s one of the UK’s top missiologists. His book, Mission After Christendom is highly recommended .
David gave an historical reflection on the social location of evangelicalism in the 21st century under the title ‘How Did We Get Here? Class, Culture and the Gospel’. Here are my notes on his introduction. I’ll post the historical heart of his talk on another occasion.
The urban poor constitute a missionary challenge. There is a loss of the Bible story. Other stories – or no story – are now determinative. So we need the skills and commitment that historically has constituted cross-cultural mission. We must be realistic and honest. It raises some difficult questions.
1. Do we recognise the futility of occasionally evangelistic forays into alien territory? We would never operate that way in Africa or Asia. We recognised in doing mission overseas that mission demanded something in relation to the incarnation: ‘immersion’.
2. What might be involved in translating the gospel into other sub-cultures? Helmut Thieleke said: ‘There is only one gospel. Our task is constantly to change the envelope in which it is send because those to whom we wish to send it are constantly changing their addresses.’
We are in a very fragmented and divided culture, one which is often broken. Some doubt we can even speak of having a culture because it is so broken. To the old division between classes is added the enormous diversity provided by immigration. We have ‘hybrid cities’. So the cultural situation is far more complex than it has been in the past. So mission involves a real effort the understand the nature of the society in which we are working.