Vinoth Ramachandra

Reformed Amnesia?

Posted on: March 28, 2013

Much has been written in recent days of the  simple lifestyle of the new Pope. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he shunned the archbishop’s palace and chose to travel in public buses. A few days after being installed as Pope, he celebrated mass with the Vatican City’s gardeners and refuse collectors; and has opted to perform the traditional foot-washing ceremony of Maundy Thursday, not in St Peter’s Basilica, but in a juvenile prison in Rome.

However much we may disagree with the Vatican’s views on priesthood, celibacy and lay ministry, we cannot deny that the Roman Catholic Church regularly provides more examples of incarnational servant-leadership than any other Christian denomination. A prominent evangelist, apologist or mega-church pastor who lives like Pope Francis would be as rare as a snowflake in hell. A lifestyle that revolves around self-promotion, business-class/first-class air travel, conferences in luxury hotels and convention centres – this is what we have come to associate with most “global evangelical leaders”.

The Roman Catholic church has, belatedly, come round to being a leading champion of human rights and social justice in many parts of the world, largely as a result of pressure from Latin American and Eastern European bishops and theologians.

The Reformed Church tradition can boast of a rich heritage of social transformation, resistance to political tyranny, cultural engagement and ideological critique. Paradigmatic twentieth-century figures here are Abraham Kuyper (Netherlands), Karl Barth (Switzerland), Alan Boesak (South Africa). In the US, political philosophers such as Richard Mouw and Nicholas Wolterstorff have helped recover the centrality of justice to the Biblical narrative and Christian discipleship.

This goes back to John Calvin himself. He spoke boldly of the “wounds of God” not only with reference to the cross, but in terms of human beings as icons of God. For Calvin, notes Nicholas Wolterstorff, to injure a human being is to injure God; to commit injustice is to inflict suffering on God. “Behind and beneath the social misery of our world is the suffering of God. If we truly believed that, suggests Calvin, we would be much more reluctant than we are to participate in the victimizing of the poor and the oppressed and the assaulted of the world. To pursue  justice is to relieve God’s suffering.” [Nicholas Wolterstorff, “The Wounds of God: Calvin on Social Injustice”, The Reformed Journal, June 1987]

Not only did Calvin vigorously denounce corruption in the church, but also tyranny in the polity and huge inequalities of wealth in the economy. In his Commentary on Habakkuk 2:6, Calvin claims that the cries of the victims are the very cry of God. The lament “How long?” is God’s giving voice to his own lament. One rarely finds such thoughts expressed in Calvinist circles today!

Was Calvin the first liberation theologian? He has as good a claim as any. He persistently fought the City Council of Geneva for the rights of poor refugees, persuading them to provide adequate social welfare. He himself was often exiled, experienced severe deprivation and other indignities, which must have made him particularly sensitive to the plight of refugees and the downtrodden.

How strange, then, to hear some influential pastors in the US and UK laying claim to be guardians of a “Reformed orthodoxy” while demonstrating little of Calvin’s heart. For these men (they are always men), the church’s mission is primarily one of proclaiming a message of individual salvation. Pastors are exhorted to “contend for the faith” (which usually amounts to contending with other pastors, and damning all who disagree with them), and “the faith” is taken to be a set of timeless “doctrines” rather than any distinctive Christian way of living.

But perhaps not so strange, once we recall that our personal experiences, social and political contexts, profoundly shape the way we read both Scripture and the world. That is one reason why we need to listen to each other in the global Body of Christ. Authentic Christian witness has to be ecumenical and trans-cultural.

We have a long way to go in developing such theological maturity despite all the deceptive language of “partnership” and “equipping”. Below is one example of the huge obstacles we face.

A group of North American pastors calling themselves The Gospel Coalition of International Outreach is engaged in what they call “a mission of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church”. They state on their website: “We are partnering with translators, publishers, and missions networks to provide new access to biblical resources, in digital and physical formats. Our goal is to strengthen thousands of congregations by helping to equip the pastors and elders who are called to shepherd them.”

Sounds loving, until one asks: who decides who is theologically famished and who is not? who selects what “resources” to send the famished? who decides what constitutes “equipping” and who should be doing it? The answer is always the same. A small group of white, well-to-do American or British males. We have experienced such paternalistic, colonial “mission” before- others deciding what is the “Good News” for us, what is “sound doctrine”, which authors to read and whom to avoid, etc. They have exported their theological blind-spots and sectarian rivalries, reproducing carbon-copies of themselves in the global South rather than nurturing real leaders. The learning and theological traffic is all one-way.

Perhaps a day spent with leaders like Pope Francis or Desmond Tutu may be more useful for African pastors than all the “resources” from north America.

47 Responses to "Reformed Amnesia?"

Its interesting to compare what you have described approach of an Evangelical organisation like Langham Partnership, which aims to deal with similiar issues without using the paternalistic language of “theological famine” . Rather than simply trying to translate American resources, they are sponsoring the study of indigenous Christian scholars, not simply with the hope of getting them to study in Western seminaries, but to strengthen places of theological study in training in the Global South itself. They are also trying to get Christian leaders to form their own indigenous biblical preaching movements on an invitational basis, rather than simply translating resources. Its a much more relational and dignified approach which seeks to “level the playing field” between North and South, rather than create some sort of relationship of dependency.

You can read about some of the scholars they have sponsored here:

I wonder whether the real problem with groups like TGC is that they are not actually “reformed” enough – you have mentioned the problem of clericalism before. The approach of the magisterial reformers, while certainly not anti-tradition, was about returning to Scripture as the basis for doctrine and Christian practice. Nor was this worked out in some sort of cultural vaccum- compare the English Reformation with what happened in Germany or in Geneva for a good example The irony today is the way that many Reformed institutions are not prepared to trust others to do the same within their own cultural contexts. Unless one signs up to a whole laundry list of doctrinal positions, many of which seem to be given priority arbitrarily (e.g its ok to disagree about baptism, but not about Women in leadership), people are not to be trusted.

vinoth, we need your voice, we need to hear your experience, and your wisdom. but you also need the rich evangelical white guys. i am not speaking hear about a superficial liberal tolerance, I’m taking about the impossibility of knowing yourself without others. you are not invulnerable, in control, beyond conversation.

labelling whole swathes of ‘the church’ or ‘evangelicalism’ denies the gifts people could bring, however unwelcome and ambiguous they may be to you. but refusing conversation by labelling ‘them’ over against ‘us’ simply builds a cocoon of comfort from which to pontificate. A cocoon where you will ossify and become twisted with anger.

jeremiah promises us that the lord will one day give us heart of flesh in stead of stone. we serve a lord who refused to abstract and label, who was vulnerable and always open to others. in short, one who loved his enemies.

[…] Vinoth Ramachandra captures this in a strongly worded post: […]

I was reading this morning, on a Colombian daily, a comment on Pope Francis’ recent address to the clergy. He urged the priests to go out to the places where suffering seems to reign supreme instead of thinking themselves as CEOs. I thought if our neo-evangelica pastors (and I’m speaking of my non-white, non-Westen Latin American brothers and sisters who lead the church) ever consider Francis’ call to be theirs as well. Unless you venture out into those expressions of the church that do not enjoy good press and recognition, what you’ll find is instances after instances of “theological famine.” Our current spokespersons seem to be willing to broadcast the rampant neo-con mentality of today rather than the gospel.

So much of evangelicalism refuses to hear from other corners of the church and is also far behind in the area of social justice. Thanks for the reminder Vinoth. Nevertheless I don´t think that The Gospel Coalition is altogether wrong either. They are still our brothers in Christ and we would do well to remember that — with love — I think.

[…] Ramachandra has produced another excellent polemic.  In Reformed Amnesia? he presents another side of Calvin, even proposing him as “the first liberation […]

With Vinoth’s blogpost fresh on my mind I went to a combined communion service this evening. Very pleased to find a North Ghanaian song in the Methodist Church hymn book, in UK.

Share, if you have any other such stories. Here goes the lyrics…

Jesu Jesu
Fill us with your love
Show us how to serve
The neighbours we have from you

Kneels at the feet of his friends
Silently washes their feet
Master who acts as a slave to them

Neighbours are rich folk and poor
Neighbours are black folk and white
Neighbours are nearby and far away

These are the ones we should serve
These are the ones we should love
All these are neighbours to us and you

North Ghanaian song
Adapted by Tom Colvin (1925-2000)

Gareth, where did you get the notion about my “refusing conversation”? If you can get around the firewalls of these super-pastors and invite them and their fans to read my posts and engage with the likes of me, I would be delighted. I have tried and failed.

Also, the local churches in Asia which are linked to the GC have a reputation for being isolationist and exclusivist. They refuse to talk with- let alone work with- other churches and local theologians/institutions that do not share their views.

I find that the “theological famine” that American conservative Christians such as The Gospel Coalition talk about here is not only limited in frame of theology, but also in the frame of famine. And the solutions that they propose have very little to do with the stomachs that starve – the same ones that Jesus said were his – or the people that perish as much as the minds that do not think and operate like they do.

One extra addendum/suggestion: “Perhaps a day spent with leaders like Pope Francis or Desmond Tutu may be more useful for African pastors than all the “resources” from north America.” Perhaps the reverse is true as well.

vinoth, you refuse conversation when you resort to blanket generalisation, easy caricature and ad hominem attacks. these provide no foundation for dialogue and certainly no resources for imagining a shared future together. they turn one part of the body of christ against each other.

you say that you have tried and failed to engage with these people; the gospel demands that you try seventy times seven more times.

i say this because these issues are vital. it would be sad if you were to be dismissed as a mere polemicist, rather than as one committed to ‘dialogue and social engagement’.

Gareth, please could you point out my “blanket generalisations, easy caricature and ad hominem attacks”? It is very easy to evade what I am saying by simply dismissing it with this kind of language. If you accuse me of something you must be prepared to substantiate your charge with specific examples and counter-examples.

I asked for your help in doing what you believe I should be doing. Why are you throwing the ball back at me?

And you seem to have got your biblical references a little mixed up. I had no idea we were talking about forgiveness and reconciliation.

Vinoth – I’m on the board of Training Leaders International, which seeks to strengthen church leaders who have a hard time getting the training that they want, and is associated with the Gospel Coalition. I’d be glad to hear from you how we might serve our brothers and sisters in a better way. If you (or anyone else) would like to dialogue with me, my email address is reedlarson at gmail dotcom.

I find Vinoth’s post and comment problematic for three reasons. First, Vinoth’s portrayal of John Calvin is questionable. Second, Vinoth’s description of TGC is ignorant. Third, Vinoth’s critique on TGC’s exporting their theology is unfair.

Gareth’s criticism is kind of central. Vinoth expresses his experience with groups like the TGC, Gareth makes logical fallacy statements (which seem erroneous) to strike at Vinoth, and then adds that it is Vinoth’s job to try and try and try to reach out to the TGC, no matter how many times they refuse his olive branch.

That’s Spiritual Abuse 101, Gareth. Blame the one who reaches out for being denied and then put the onus on him to make it right. At least Reed actually tried to reach out.

I for one hope that Vinoth and Reed will dialogue right here on this blog or another blog with a link posted here. I think it would be fruitful for all of us to read and hear.

Reblogged this on multivocality and commented:
Vinoth’s critique of The Gospel Coalition’s assumptions about the portability of their resources and ministries is, in my experience, very apt. The language of ‘Theological Famine’ is unhelpful hubris by a group who either don’t know, or do know but dismiss the character of theological activity in other places As you say, Matthew, not ‘wrong’, but their materials demonstrate a lack of understanding of cultural and conversational diversity which would hamper the appropriation of their work in large sections of (for example) Australia – both in terms of marginalizing other gospel partners who don’t conform to TGC formula (so prescriptive as it is) and also in terms of those on the fringes of faith, those damaged by Christendom, and those who have complete ecclesial and biblical illiteracy – and these three categories account for roughly 90% of our population., not to mention important dialogue to be engaged with the 2% Muslim and 2% Buddhist components of our national sociological fabric.

Where it seems that TGC take the religious landscape of the eastern states of the USA as ‘normative’, missionally, we engage a whole different set of concerns, constraints and conditions here. I give my little island as an example, because many people often mistakenly think there is not much difference between our cultures- but if the gap is so great between our two nations, both colonized by the same empire within a few centuries of each other – with similar strategies of slave labour, indigenous anihilation and cultural dominance, how much more untranslatable must TGC scripts be in other places?

Here is a brief overview of what I find immediately unhelpful about the profile and bias of the Gospel Coalition.

(This data reflects the profile of their cited sources, both the blogroll and the regular contributors)

1) Geography: Michigan, Florida, Illinois, Tennesee, Kentucky, Cayman Islands, Vermont New York, Georgia, Texas.
TGC doesn’t even represent a good spread of states on the North American continent, let alone other continents. I’d be willing to trust that these guys have their ear to the ground in their own backyards – but they represent strange, distant, foreign, incomprehensible discussions. It does me good to listen in sometimes and try to get a feel for what is going on for others, just like I do here at vinothifes. But TGC don’t seem to realize how indigestible their answer to the so-called theological famine would be.

2) Gender: TGC lists 19 male contributors and 2 female. One of the females expresses her ministry only in partnership with her husband, and the other is distinctly tagged as teaching and ministering among women only. Of the scripture indexed sermon resources, 100% are by men. In parallel, women are portrayed in discussions about marriage (with men) and family. Beyond the statistical testimony, their commitment to complimentarianism is

3) Denominational Groups: Presbyterian, Baptist and independent churches and colleges alone are represented in the identified contributors. However, one contributor’s focus is the ‘conversion’ of catholics’, presented in a way which is disrespectful and discredits a significant expression of Christian faith, apparently not to be regarded as full brothers and sisters in the Christ, or at best with suspicion. Another writer derides Anabaptist traditions of peace-making in the hyperbole of ‘rewarding terrorists’. It is hard to see how these approaches don’t either shut down conversation with genuine gospel partners, or simply become inflammatory.

4) Preaching and clergy-centric.:The methodology of the Gospel Coalition boils down to a strategy which places all their theological health and missiological success bets on the same horse – the preaching of the male clergy. That this is promoted in a community of followers of Jesus is astounding. If there is one indispensible criterion of Christian faith, it is the incarnation and bodily death and resurrection of Christ. Our faith is not an apologetic or philosophical combat, but a witness to embodied and inspirited life. This is where our faith matters: in embodied lives, especially in the embattled bodies of the poor, abused and marginalized in whom we recognize the likeness of Christ, far more readily than the polished voices of indoctrinated orthodoxic tropes and referents.

5) The Gospel Coalition represents a strong proclamation of the theological heritage of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Spurgeon. If you search their website for these names, each of them delivers over 2000 (3000 in the case of Luther) citations. Just by comparison, Barth, Bonhoeffer and Chesterton score around 700, Bosch, 200; Moltmann, 61; Brueggemann, 32; and perhaps most telling…Gutierrez 11.

That this ‘reformationesque’ strand has a place in the history of Christian thought is undeniable. That it is only one strand, culturally constricted and no more ‘orthodox’ that other strands is also well remembered. That it is being currently effectively bankrolled by an affluent part of the world does not protect it from being a thin strand that – if remaining isolated will break. The integrated conversation that has been debated in the comments of Vinoth’s post is as important for the survival of the reformed voice, as it is for the whole weave of Gospel fabric.
Like Matthew I hope to witness fruitful conversation between diverse strands of faith.

Sze Zeng,
I read your post and found more than 3 reasons why it is problematic. It was an extremely tedious and boring experience going through your post which to me seems to be written by someone who have had too much idle time. I had anticipated something substantive.

But fortunately for me, Beth Barnett in comment 14 has done the needful although for a different context/reason.

April Fools Day may not be the most appropriate time to be answering my critics, but let me assure you that what I say is no joke.

Sze Zeng and others- please don’t distort what I have written, and then waste your time attacking straw men.

MY POST WAS NOT ABOUT THE GOSPEL COALITION, even though the latter has come up in the conversation.

I referred to “a small group of Reformed pastors in the US and UK”- whether or not they belong to TGC is irrelevant. (The Brits I had in mind are not part of TGC, as far as I am aware).

My criticism was directed at the colonial mind-set latent in the “Theological Famine Relief” project of the group calling itself TGC International Outreach. Or, as Beth Barnett aptly puts it, the “assumptions about the portability of their resources and ministries”.

TGC is entitled to its views. I have admiration for the work of some of the pastors and theologians associated with it, although I find incomprehensible their tolerance of double standards and inconsistencies when it comes to the subordination of women (euphemistically labelled “complementarianism”). But that is the subject of a different post (see my “Leadership and Integrity” from last year).

(For your information, I informed the director of the famine relief project of my Blog post).

Reed- I am very willing to dialogue with you by email. But for the sake of Matthew and others who may also be interested, let me briefly respond to your question regarding “church leaders who have a hard time getting the training they want”:

(a) Most countries in the non-Western world have training resources of some kind or the other (gifted people, theological seminaries, local and foreign books, etc). If a pastor tells you that he has a hard time finding food, while spurning the healthy food offered by his brothers and sisters in the same city (or even refusing to explore what food is available locally and nationally), you should question his motives and interests, rather than pander to him. We have far too many pastors building their own petty kingdoms, often with outside “resources”, and the witness of the Kingdom of God suffers.

(b) My post makes clear that there are plenty of prophetic, servant-leaders in the non-Western Church (I mention three by name). They are role-models that others all over the world can emulate. What equivalent models does the North American evangelical church offer us? (NB: I am talking about leaders, not more books about leadership!).

Again, as I mention in the opening section of my post, the examples of “global evangelical leaders” who visit our shores are actually quite dreadful. It seems to me that it is they who stand most in need of “leadership training”.

Hi Vinoth,

I am well aware that your post is not against TGC per se. You are referring to “a small group of Reformed pastors in the US and UK”.

Whether am I attacking straw man or not depends on how one makes sense of the following 3 qualified sentences which are included in my post:

1. “We get a better picture here that the Reformed “influential pastors in US and UK” whom Vinoth refers to are “a small group of white, well-to-do American or British males” of which The Gospel Coalition (TGC) is an example.”

2. “Vinoth charges certain contemporary Reformed pastors, like those affiliated with TGC…”

3. “The reason why Vinoth does not see certain contemporary Reformed pastors (of which some are involved with TGC)…”

You can say that it is irrelevant whether the “small group of Reformed pastors in the US and UK” are linked to TGC or not. However, one cannot dismiss the fact that you had some of those affiliated with TGC in mind as **an example** of the group you were referring, as evidenced in 2 statements you made:

1. “A group of North American pastors calling themselves The Gospel Coalition of International Outreach is engaged in what they call “a mission of Theological Famine Relief for the Global Church”[…] The answer is always the same. A small group of white, well-to-do American or British males.” [This is an obvious reference to your earlier sentence of “a small group of Reformed pastors in the US and UK”.]

2. “If you can get around the firewalls of these super-pastors and invite them and their fans to read my posts and engage with the likes of me, I would be delighted. I have tried and failed. Also the local churches in Asia which are linked to the GC have a reputation for being isolationist and exclusivist.”

So whether my qualified description of the group that you critiqued is a straw man or not depends on whether you had some of those affiliated with TGC in mind when writing your post and comment. As far as the evidence I presented above shows, it seems that you had them in mind.

And if you had them in mind when writing your critique, then it is relevant to refer to them since they were *part of* the targeted group in your critique.

Anyway, that is not as important as a problem that I pointed out in your post: your misrepresentation of John Calvin. If my description of John Calvin is correct, then you have portrayed Calvin falsely in order to support your point. Isn’t this a straw man?

Thanks so much Vinoth for the clarification and the additional information. It is true that TGC has a very specific theological formula that it deems universal and correct. As such, it becomes difficult to dialogue with other groups and people with different theological paradigms from different cultures. I find this rather unhelpful. We need to recognize that their are different views on the atonement, varying views regarding the end times, different views regarding the roles of women in church leadership, etc. and that the proponents of these views all basically claim their arguments are coming from the Holy Scriptures. If that is the case — doesn´t it then necessitate dialogue between these groups rather than a one-sided, one size fits all approach? It´s not only the exporting of a particular theology that frustrates me, but the exporting of a particular culture into a foreign one. I have been involved with the work of some American missionaries in the past. It was clear to me that they were not only attempting to export their “brand” of Christianity, but also the ethos of the American culture at large. To me … this is also unhelpful because many people then associate the sharing of the Gospel with American expansionism and colonialism. Finally … thanks so much Beth for the comprehensive post. It truly moved me to think.

As ever, brilliant!

Big bad Americans I tell you. Vinoth, in your view, is there anything good that can come out of America and their males? Is there anything bad that can be found in your own ministry? My dad would always say “Where man is, there you will find manly behaviour”. If you are patient a little, you will experience this for yourself. The Catholics have failed and so have any other evangelical groups. However, your bias has been noted.

Joel Bernard

Vinoth – thanks for this insightful post and for reminding me why I work for IFES

If I am completely convinced of the rightness of my actions, I am going to struggle to hear a criticism of them. If what I am completely convinced of is what is fueling my actions, and I remain open minded and hearted about the actions themselves, then i am more open to admonishment, even if given in the most empassioned ways that expose the anger and pain my actions have had on others. This post and these responses are empassioned and exposes hurt ….and similar dialogues are happening on blogs and facebook statuses all over the globe right now…and there is a clear pattern. The majority world is using its voice more and more to expose the blind spots of the minority world and to give platforms to (fallible but willing and corageous) prophetic voices and lives that actually have said and done something to bring change. Too often someone like Vinoth cries out in pain, lamenting the blind spots of the power central people of the minority world and is met with defensiveness and accusations of generalisations. What really is there to defend any more? the status quo- really? because that is so great for everyone? what is there NOT to generalise about? not enough is changing, despite many really good books having been written. Generally, the power-rich are holding on to their power and not giving it away. Generally people are tired of the empire and some are becoming tired of the Church’s collaboration with it. PLEASE tell me more of their stories, especially if they are human and fallible at the same time.

Joel, why don’t you actually read my post? I mention two Reformed Americans from whom I have learned a great deal (Wolterstorff and Mouw). And the post was prompted by one of their journal articles 20 years ago. But these kinds of articles and books are not the ones exported to the Majority World!

If your child was suffering from leukemia, I doubt if you would shrug your shoulders and mouth pious platitudes about it all being due to sin. You would try to study the causes and look for the best possible treatment, wouldn’t you?

You ask about my ministry. Much of it is devoted to helping people unlearn the bad, shallow and irrelevant theologies that they have imbibed from (mostly) your part of the world.

I don’t have a TV channel, a PR or marketing agent. I only have a voice and I try to use that voice to expose injustice, hypocrisy and religious humbug wherever it may be found, and to do that to the best of my ability.

What are you doing about the failures that you mention?

My failures have been too many. In them, I have learned not to be so critical of the misguided.
Next question?

@Beth, thank you for your lengthy comment. It is so useful and helpful to read what you write.

@Joel … let us remember that Vinoth has gifts and so do other people. May we all use those gifts for the loving advancement of the Kingdom. We can in fact learn from one another. It has taken me a long time to learn this simple fact.

I find that tangent departure from peripherals of Vinoth’s blog is taking the main stage! The catch phrase around which I read this is “A prominent evangelist, apologist or mega-church pastor who lives like Pope Francis would be as rare as a snowflake in hell”! Isn’t this true? Doesn’t this call for a self search?
On the other hand, I do not believe writing is a 100% fool proof communication medium. We need to humbly learn to accept that fact. That is why, Bible needs Holy Spirit (and our minds) to interpret and understand; and we humbly have to accept we have not studied Bible “fully” in that sense.
Our perceptions of words, as we read, would lead us to create our own phantoms. Even examples cited by a writer, if not fairly fully presented (i.e., laying the boundary to which it is limited to; why it is cited etc), can open an unhealthy border-less arena.
And Vinoth, to me, is fairly known for choosing a ‘feather’ to his ‘hat’ (so to speak), that would eventually lead to make the feather the cynosure! In my view, Vinoth could have avoided reference to TGC /Calvin, or cited them with specifically laying the “boundaries”.
In Vinoth’s response in 26, I notice one other potential ‘feather’ that can lead to another tangent & phantom : he says, “I don’t have a TV channel,… I only have a voice and I try to use that voice to expose injustice, hypocrisy and religious humbug wherever it may be found, and to do that to the best of my ability”. This leaves room for readers to pick on another ‘feather’ and begin a new tangent on “TV ministries”!
Having said such limitations on written communication, we as readers should not only tune up our critical faculties, but also faculties of ‘serenity’ activated, to accept those that hurt us to do a self search, research on those that we are led to know more, and not to mix the two.

[…] Giving some love to Calvin, Mouw and Wolterstorff while casting some doubt on The Gospel Coalition. Link […]

We admire the power of the gospel in transforming a man like pope Francis and power of the Holy spirit in making him take a stand against a normal culture. We also saw the same power in Mother Theresa. There are so many others who are being used by God in various circles without any recognition. What the position does to Pope Francis will be an interesting battle. If he allows to be ministered by the Holy spirit he will take the church to new level, but if the position cripples him and limits him, that will be a sad saga.The redemption and anointment is available to everyone who believes in the son of God, and the catholics are no exception.While living in the world none of us are immune from temptations, evangelicals or mega church pastors are no exception.
Pope Francis has just started, let us pray for him to be mightily used by God. Let us thank God for an appointment of such a man.

Here is an intriguing resource on Calvin, the father to whom the so-called Reformed always turn, the very recent lecture at Trinity Western University in Canada by Nicholas Wolterstorff.
“The Christian Humanism of John Calvin”.
Right at the start, NW acknowledges that for most of us John Calvin and humanism are not easily linked, in fact one would easily be thought crazy to think of Calvinism and humanism at the same time.
Nonetheless, NW speaks of Calvin’s humanism under three topics –
Calvin’s – Renaissance humanism, Anthropological humanism, and Social Humanism.
Listen to the audio of NW’s lecture is at the following link –

Near the end of the lecture, Wolterstorff says this –
“It is commonly said and assumed that, for Calvin, God is above all sovereign; pronounce the word “Calvinism” and most people think, divine sovereignty.
If Calvin speaks of God as sovereign anywhere in the 1500 pages of the Ford Lewis Battles English translation of the Institutes, I have missed it.
Over and over the word Calvin uses to describe God is “majesty.” …

“But as we saw, Calvin insists that what draws us to God is not our recognition of God’s majesty
but our recognition of God’s goodness toward us. [!!!!]
Such acknowledgment Calvin calls pietas; I have suggested that a better word than “piety” for what he has in mind is “devotion.”
Calvin does not mean to exclude from devotion our acknowledgement of God’s majesty; but at the core of his understanding of Christian devotion is acknowledgement of God’s goodness.”

If we are to develop a better understanding of our Christian responsibility for social justice, we need all the resources we can find.
Wolterstorff is telling us, contrary to our expectations and that of many who think Calvin is “in their camp”, that Calvin worked out some ideas for the Christian theological tradition
that can be of great help to us today as we think about the challenge of social injustice everywhere in the world.

Just to share my own experience. I wanted to teach theology in one of the most “theological famine” struck nations in the world, so I studied theology and philosophy for 3 years at Oxford University. I felt it was too academic for ministry purposes so decided to study at an Evangelical theological seminary in North America for another 2 years. But on the mission field when I tried to teach what I had learned at seminary to some of the brightest university students in the country, they sat in stunned silence afterwards, not having understood anything. A year later when I was asked to teach pastors from over 20 churches, I decided to simplify everything I had learned to a junior high level, using illustrations and stories. Finally my students began to understand, and so did I. The problem wasn’t language, nor intelligence, but a Hellenistic/ modernist way of thinking. Perhaps after taking a few courses in the history of western thought my students would have understood better what I was teaching. But what would our response be if the gospel had first been entrusted to Hindus, and when we as non-Hindus tried to understand the gospel, we had to take a degree in Hindu philosophy first?

[…] the disconcerting use of the word “Famine” and was led to a blog post entitled, “Reformed Amnesia” by Vinoth […]

[…] Vinoth Ramachandra, Senior Leadership Team member for the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES), writes from his home in Sri Lanka: […]

[…] Ramachandra draws our attention to a striking example of the persistent problem of theological colonialism. The Gospel Coalition’s International […]

This is one reason why the Coptic church has been experiencing such missionary success in Africa lately….it’s an indigenous African church, with an impressive theological heritage of its own that makes the Reformed world look like IT has a famine problem. It also has no ties to colonialism, and the fact that so many Copts have kept the faith even while enduring martyrdom in recent years shows that they have a level of devotion to Christ stronger than probably almost all Westerners. Most first world Christians (Reformed or not) are very lukewarm in comparison. But of course, the TGC folks probably view the Copts as heretics or merely “nominal” Christians or some other such tommyrot.

Someone above made a comment about “bankrolling”, and I think they might be right on the money (so to speak); the recent “Reformed resurgence” going on in the US seems very astroturfy to me, and I suspect Howard Ahmanson Jr. is behind most of the organizations promoting this agenda. In contrast, there is a genuine grassroots (i. e., not driven by big money-backed organizations like TGC) movement among younger American Christians toward a more Eastern expression of the faith (like Eastern Orthodoxy, for example). Paternalism indeed; theological self-proclaimed elites like Ahmanson want to force us all into their image, but ultimately I have a feeling those attempts will fail because no matter how hard they try, attempts to use money to influence people’s faith are rarely successful in the long run.

Here’s more information on the growth of Coptic missions in sub-Saharan Africa. Truly, the Lord is using this ancient church to accomplish great things even as it faces incredible persecution in its home country.

Thank you, Anastasios, for this interesting information.

[…] Reformed Amnesia, which concludes with a postcoloinal critique of theological […]


Greetings! I was pointed to this post after looking over the The Gospel Coalition’s project and feeling disheartened by their approach. Many have grabbed onto your helpful words since reposting this and especially through blogger, Rachel Held Evans, who tweeted and linked my initial blog highlighting your post, many have seen your words here.

It is difficult to know how our efforts and “partnerships” from the west will impact for good or ill or both once that “help” has left our shores. Thank you for giving this insight and many others and any other help and clarity you can push our way – it will be much appreciated.

Nathan, I suggest you read through some of the comments on this Blog (mine as well as others). Also, my posts below may also answer your questions about “partnership”:

30 Dec 2009 (and the follow-up to this on 18 April 2011)
7 May 2010
21 May 2010
28 May 2012

Well said..

it is a big challenge for churches in the West trying to partner with churches in the South or in the majority world, to engage without being paternalistic, irrelevant and stifling the growth of indigenous leadership and movement.

Missionaries are sent from the West to majority world with budgets to match a life styles they leave behind. In many cases, missionaries are pretending to be business professionals, teachers and etc. in order to slip through the immigration hurdles. Unfortunately, when cash bags are shown to local impoverished Christian ‘partners’ in the South, they keep silent and the partnership turns easily into paternalism.

The repercussion of a missionary under facade getting caught in a closed country will cause serious damage to the local church while the Western counterpart will return home with a badge of honor for serving Christ in a difficult place.

These are not hypothetical situations but real issues faced within a mission agency of a church in the US at present.

[…] Despite this, I often here people implying that missionaries from the UK are going to ‘solve the problems’ of churches in other parts of the world. There are two ways in which I see this happen. Firstly, people will suggest that there is a need to provide practical or professional skills in a situation, without any awareness of the realities on the ground. In many situations, the problem is not that there are no people with professional qualifications, the problem is a lack of jobs – which is exacerbated by expats coming over to show local people how to do things they already know how to do! The second way in which this is shown is through the assumption that there is something inherently superior about western-theology. There is a particularly egregious example of this highlighted by a Sri Lanken leader, here. […]

This article doesn’t do the Gospel Coalition and those involved in their “theological famine relief.” While the Gospel coalition may have its problems of sectarianism primarily in what they share on their website, the theological famine relief is not so. The books that they are translating are either basic guidance or to fulfill a need. I doubt that many Christian will deny the fact that when preaching pastors should lead the church through scripture and focus on Christ, which is one of their products.
Also, I know after I spent a year in South Africa and my hear broke over seeing people deceived and conned out money with false promises of prosperity and physical healing, I was overjoyed when I saw that they were developing a book to help remedy this situation.
You see one of the reasons TGC has to make this a “relief project” is because of their theology. They preach a heavily grace centered gospel. They focus on the Bible being supreme above other books. This is important because it isn’t like the Gospel Coalition is the only people exporting books. On the contrary you have numerous books from prominent leaders in the Word of Faith Movement. However, there theology tells the consumer that only if they purchase there book can they have “there best life now” or something else of that sort. Not only that but that the reader needs to “support” the writers “ministry.”
Lastly, you mischaracterize the fact that TGC is only producing from their perspective. No on the contrary they are working with others who have more of a local context on things such as aforementioned book on prosperity.

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March 2013
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