Tuesday, February 10, 2009

“Missionary Elenctics”

By Dr. Jeff Arthurs, PhD

I read a great paper recently at an academic conference written by David Ridder. The title is “The Application of Missionary Elenctics to Preaching to Postmoderns.” “Elenctics” was new to me. It comes from the Greek, elencho, “to expose, bring to light, convict.” When missionaries study a culture, they note how the people’s own conscience convicts them. Missiologists often point to Romans 2:14-15 to describe elenctics:
“. . . even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. . . . ”

Finding postmodernism’s definition of sin is tough, but maybe not as tough as we might suppose. Ridder demonstrates that American postmoderns do have a sense of right and wrong, and that sense is congruent with parts of biblical revelation. Based on “field research” (conversations with co-workers at a coffee shop) and analysis of pop culture media, Ridder identifies four elenctic themes. I’ll give you two, and you can guess the other two:

Power is attractive, but it has a dark side which ensnares us. Think of the current fad of superhero movies: Spiderman 3, Dark Knight, Ironman, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. These movies still have silly comic book qualities, but the genre sure has grown up. The good guys, fascinated with power, realize that a thin line separates them from the bad guys. Watch Oprah and notice how often the theme of power emerges. We want it, but we must use it responsibly, and often we don’t.

Something is wrong with this world, and maybe its me! In the book Wicked, Gregory Maquire, a prominent voice of postmodernism, has one of his characters give voice to the first part of this theme: “We don’t embrace violence but we don’t deny its existence—how can we deny it when its effects are all around us? That kind of denial is sin, if anything is.” A movie like Blood Diamond explores both parts of the theme. The evils associated with the diamond mining industry hit home with pomos because they feel genuine angst for partnering with such industries. In other words, when some pomos buy diamonds, they feel like are making the world a worse place, not better. The OT prophets would agree with that sense of guilt.

Let’s think like missionaries as we minister in our own country. Remember your elenctics.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for your 'reminder' on elenctics. Me myself, I am an Assistant Professor of Missiology and using elenctics (JH Bavinck's Introduction into Missiology) and strugglin to get my students to appreciate the discipline. Thanks for your good words.
    Please contact me, than I could discuss some of the developments in elenctics.

    Blessings, Kees Haak, TUK Kampen Netherlands