Disturbing Theological Trends Among Foreign Missionaries in China

“If choices are real and freedom significant, future decisions cannot be exhaustively foreknown. This is because the future is not determinate but shaped in part by human choices. The future is not fixed like the past, which can be known completely. The future does not yet exist and therefore cannot be infallibly anticipated, even by God. Future decisions cannot in every way be foreknown, because they have not yet been made. God knows everything that can be known—but God’s foreknowledge does not include the undecided.” This is a quote from theologian Clark Pinnock in a book which he co-authors entitled The Openness of God. Recently it came to my attention that a group of missionaries, in the city in China where I live and minister, have adopted this view of God. This theological position, known as Open Theism, is being embraced by a group of missionaries in our city, some of whom work with well-known and reputable missions organizations.

Over the last 7 years of our ministry in China I have been made aware of other troubling trends among some in our missionary community, particularly among those who live and work with minority groups. In particular I have observed three streams of spurious teaching that have influenced many among our missionary community here, all of which find their origins in the western church.

The first is the Insider Movement teaching, a missiological approach mainly aimed at contextualizing the gospel, Christian community and it’s interaction with non-Christian people groups. This approach recognizes certain degrees of contextualization, C1 being a category for little or no contextualization, while C5 represents a high degree of contextualization. While most evangelical groups would agree with a C3 or C4 level of contextualization, a level of C5 contextualization is widely considered syncretistic. Nonetheless I see many among the missionary community in China that embrace the Insider Movement philosophy and it’s C5 view of contextualization.

The second troubling trend I have observed among many missionaries in my area is a bold embrace of the teachings of the prosperity gospel, an over realized view of eschatology that teaches that in this age, God’s will holds that in Christ sickness, poverty and suffering are not part of God’s will for the victorious Christian to experience. Faith in God’s promises can bring about a Christian life that effectively overcomes all of life’s ills. According to Sri Lankan theologian Ajith Fernando, incarnational ministry and an embrace of the prosperity gospel are completely at odds with one another.

The third trend among foreign missionaries in China is an embrace of Open Theism. Recently I was made aware of a foreign missionary with a reputable sending agency with many years of experience in China. This missionary wrote a book embracing Open Theism and warning people of the errors of traditional Reformed Theology.

What’s most shocking, perhaps, is the ease with which these men and women, some of whom have served the Lord here in China for decades, are embracing doctrines that the orthodox Christian church has long viewed as being spurious and heretical. What troubles me even further is that they are teaching these harmful doctrines to the local Chinese. My prayer is that God would prevent his church in China from being harmed at the hand of careless missionaries and that those missionaries who are faithful to the historical, orthodox gospel message would be bold and winsome in refuting spurious teaching.

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