MISSIONARY & Reflections on the Mission of John Allen Chau by historian of mission & evangelism Arun W. Jones.

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: When evaluating risky missionary endeavors such as that of John Allen Chau, it’s important (as Dr. Armand Jones, Associate Professor of World Evangelism at Candler School of Theology, Emory Univ. reminds us) to consider three historical/theological aspects of missionary work.


(photo: CovenantJourney.org)

Some Reflections on the Mission of John Allen Chau by Arun W. Jones, University of Chicago Divinity School, 12/13/18.

… these reflections come after my initial “What the heck?” reactions to Chau’s missiological adventures or misadventures, depending upon one’s point of view.

There are three points I would like to make. First of all, given the long and extremely varied history of Christian mission, it seems to me that there is surprisingly little that is unusual in John Allen Chau’s missionary endeavor. From the earliest days of the Christian movement, missionaries, as well as others who witnessed to their deepest religious beliefs in their own circumstances, have felt compelled to tell others—or let others know—about their faith. Sometimes those witnesses have been understood in their context, other times they have not. Sometimes, though certainly not always, they have suffered and even died for their actions. The eighth-century English monk and bishop Boniface was killed along with fifty companions by Frisians (in the Netherlands) whom he was trying to convert. (Not unlike Chau’s report of being saved from an arrow by his waterproof Bible, Boniface attempted to protect himself from his killers by holding a book containing Christian writings to his head.) The Indian missionary Sadhu Sundar Singh died (no one knows how) after he set off to evangelize Tibet in 1929. Chau’s most obvious predecessor in missionary strategy and death was the evangelical Jim Elliot of Portland, Oregon, who was killed trying to make contact with the Waorani people of Ecuador in 1956. Through two millennia, women and men from all over the world have sometimes died while undertaking Christian missionary work. To understand John Allen Chau is not necessarily to condone what he did, but it is to say that a person of sound mind and judgment in his religious tradition could very well have undertaken mission work in the ways that he did. In fact, it seems that Chau made several reasonable and even thoughtful preparations for his missionary expedition, and he knew that death was a very possible outcome of his forays into the North Sentinel Island. John Allen Chau was not mentally ill, nor intellectually impaired.

My second point hinges on the first one. I have been surprised at some of the vehemence with which Chau has been denounced by members of my own intellectual tribe (i.e., those of us who identify ourselves as “liberals” of one sort or another), including members of my own mainline Protestant community. What is it about his death that has made us so indignant? I think it is that in his mission and death, Chau represents a challenge to the systems of rationality with which we have become so comfortable—systems that are founded in the European Enlightenment…

Read more at … https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/some-reflections-mission-john-allen-chau

SOCIAL MEDIA & How, in the words of #Luther, it increasingly “curves us inward on ourselves.”

“Social Media and Sin” by A. Trevor Sutton, The Martin Marty Center, University of Chicago Divinity School, 4/4/18.

…Religion may offer an important explanation as to why this social media platform is so problematic both for society and for individual well-being. Human depravity, original sin, and concupiscence are perennial themes, for example, within the discipline of Christian theology. Augustine and Martin Luther are known for describing the human condition as incurvatus in se (“curved inward on oneself”). Rather than living a life that is aligned toward God and others, human sinfulness directs our life inward, toward self-justification, self-gratification, and self-aggrandizement. The notion that sin has warped, twisted, maimed, and ruined human goodness is as ubiquitous in theology as Facebook is in modern life.

The burgeoning field of user experience design (UX), when put in conversation with the theological notion of human depravity, helps to put the problematic nature of social media into sharp relief. A central concern within UX is user-centered design. As the name suggests, user-centered design advocates for designing with end users in mind. That is to say, technology is designed to acknowledge and accommodate the needs and wants of the user, as designers seek to maximize user experience by creating products that are built around the user’s desires. User research is responsible for nearly all the design decisions at Facebook. In fact, there is an entire department at Facebook dedicated to Human Computer Interaction and UX. Teams of people at Facebook are thus dedicated to researching, and finding ways to capitalize on, the individual behaviors, thoughts, and impulses of users.

Donald Norman, a formative figure in user-centered design, has recognized how designers actually aim to facilitate human sinfulness through that which they design. In the foreword to a book by Chris Nodder, Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation, Norman writes: “But why should design be based on evil? Simple: Starting with evil means starting with real human behavior … And good design results from good understanding.” Norman’s point is rather simple: good design understands users, and it must therefore also consider the depravity of users.

This means that, according to user-centered design, human sinfulness ought to be accounted for and perhaps even exploited when creating products for the digital age. According to Nodder, designers must ask themselves the question: “how do we influence behavior through the medium of software?”

Theology recognizes that human hearts are curved inward, inclined to boast, and always looking for opportunities to prove their own self-righteousness. Human-computer interaction, UX, and user-centered design recognize that social media platforms should be designed to meet the wants and needs of real human users. Putting these two concepts in conversation with one another reveals why Facebook can be so dangerous. Facebook’s technology is designed to accommodate, encourage, and exploit human depravity. The “Like” button on Facebook is not there by chance; the “Like” button was created to satisfy our deep longing to be liked by others, lauded for our accomplishments, and acknowledged for our righteousness…


– Allen, Mike. “Sean Parker unloads on Facebook: ‘God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains’.” Axios. November 9, 2017.

– Murphy, Mike. “Why Apple’s Tim Cook doesn’t want his nephew to use social networks.” MarketWatch. January 22, 2018.

– Nodder, Chris. Evil by Design: Interaction Design to Lead Us into Temptation. Wiley, 2013.

– Wong, Julia Carrie. “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart.” The Guardian. December 12, 2017.

Read more at … https://divinity.uchicago.edu/sightings/social-media-and-sin

#GCRN2018 #GreatCommissionResearchNetwork


TRENDS & 5 Trends from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study #DukeUniversity #JSSR #UnivChicago

ABSTRACT:  The third wave of the National Congregations Study (NCS-III) was conducted in 2012. The 2012 General Social Survey asked respondents who attend religious services to name their religious congregation, producing a nationally representative cross-section of congregations from across the religious spectrum. Data about these congregations was collected via a 50-minute interview with one key informant from 1,331 congregations. Information was gathered about multiple aspects of congregations’ social composition, structure, activities, and programming. Approximately two-thirds of the NCS-III questionnaire replicates items from 1998 or 2006-07 NCS waves. Each congregation was geocoded, and selected data from the 2010 United States census or American Community Survey have been appended. We describe NCS-III methodology and use the cumulative NCS dataset (containing 4,071 cases) to describe five trends:

1)   more ethnic diversity,

2)  greater acceptance of gays and lesbians,

3)  increasingly informal worship styles,

4)  declining size (but not from the perspective of the average attendee),

5)  and declining denominational affiliation.

Read more at … http://www.soc.duke.edu/natcong/Docs/Changing_American_Congs.pdf

Changing American Congregations: Findings from the Third Wave of the National Congregations Study*

by Mark Chaves Department of Sociology Duke University Durham, and Shawna L. Anderson NORC at the University of Chicago (Forthcoming in the December, 2014 issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion)

*The NCS-III was funded by a major grant from the Lilly Endowment, and by additional grants from the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project, Louisville Institute, Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, RAND Corporation, and Church Music Institute. It also received generous support from Duke University and from the National Science Foundation via NSF’s support of the General Social Survey. Jodie Daquilinea led NORC’s NCS team, and Viviana Calandra translated the questionnaire into Spanish. Cyrus Schleifer and Alison Eagle helped analyze data and construct the figures.

Download the report … Changing_American_Congs.pdf