Mission from the Perspective of the Other by Tim Noble
Carefully researched and clearly argued, a much-needed correction to a longstanding traditional binary approach to mission
Mission from the Perspective of the Other - Drawing Together on Holy Ground
By Tim Noble
Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon
Reviewer: Alec Gilmore
First, the title. Think ‘other’ rather than ‘mission’. Preparing a paper on the ethics of proselytism Noble turned to etymology and discovered that the literal meaning of the Greek (proselyte) was ‘the drawing near one’. So what would happen, he wondered, if we made our starting point for mission ‘the one drawing near’. Once he realised that this was how Jesus operated he saw its potential. ‘Mission’, stripped of plan, strategy or structure, because every ‘draw near’ is different.
The only strategy is to be open to ‘the other’, sensitive to what we might receive rather than give, and to facilitate an encounter which enables God to speak to
both of us. Mission is still a three-way experience (A, B and God) but with a difference. ‘A’ is no longer a messenger with a pre-determined message from God to ‘B’, but one who is aware that any encounter with ‘one who draws near’ creates the possibility for God to speak to both of them in the experience.
To validate (earth or simply clarify) his findings Noble next took a fresh look at three quite different exemplars from three widely differing traditions: Ignatius of Loyala (Roman priest, 16th century Spain), William Carey (Baptist minister, 18th century India) and Bishop Innocent (Russian Orthodox priest, 19th century Alaska). Familiarity may tempt Baptists to begin with Carey, and why not? On the surface he is perhaps not the best exemplary of Noble’s thesis but Noble nevertheless unearths saving features, often overshadowed by traditional Baptist missiology. Just don’t skip the other two.
This message is a welcome and a much needed correction to a longstanding traditional binary approach to mission. At one level it is a call for a re-assessment of western missionary endeavour over the last couple of centuries at least (which is unlikely to happen) but his conclusions deserve to be high on the agenda of every missionary society and aid agency and all who work in them today.
For the rest of us, with globalisation contriving to make the world both larger and smaller at one and the same time, with old familiar markers and boundaries breaking down, pride and prejudice on the up, and cohesive and cooperative community life under threat, it comes with quintessential timing. The ‘other’ is no longer a few thousand miles away and Noble’s findings have relevance far beyond potential Christian converts. We are all ‘other’ to somebody, and as post exilic Jews came to appreciate and had to come to terms with that (Deut 10: 12-22) so do we.
Carefully researched, well documented, clearly argued, illustrated, and eminently readable. Twenty pages of bibliography and three of index (a bit sparse by comparison).
Alec Gilmore is a Baptist minister