Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Integrity and Mission

Integrity is a key to unlocking the power of the gospel.[1]  The Oxford English Dictionary defines integrity as: “Soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, honesty, sincerity.  For Paul and Peter, a Christ-like life is one of integrity, for the moral imagination is shaped by Christology which informs a Christians virtues and sincerity (1 Th. 1:6; 4:1-2; 1 Pet. 2:21-25).  In today’s “yeah, right!” society, where cynicism and scepticism are ubiquitous, integrity appears to be the only antidote to such vices, as a faithful presence disarms such toxic attitudes.[2]   And this is no more an issue now, than it was when early Christianity first began, as the writing known as 2 Clement testifies:

2 Clement 13:3  For when the pagans hear from our mouths the oracles of God, they marvel at their beauty and greatness.  But when they discover that our actions are not worthy of the words we speak, they turn from wonder to blasphemy, saying that it is a myth and a delusion.[3]

This is seen in the recent offering on apologetics by John Stackhouse, who devotes some space to the issue of integrity.  He writes, “bad behaviour discredits the gospel, while good behaviour adorns and so commends it.”[4]  Stackhouse goes on to make the claim that, “Augustine, for example, testifies that he was converted by the integrity and charity of other people, not merely by their Christian intelligence.”[5]  Hauerwas notes that our “preaching depends on the recovery of the integrity of the Christian community.[6]  In our fractured and oft noted “postmodern”[7] environment, at stake is not always “what is true?” But rather, “who can be trusted?”  This is illustrated by Nietzsche who said, “I’m not upset because you lied to me, I’m upset because I don’t trust you anymore.”[8]  This is illustrative of the results of a failure in integrity, or a lack of integrity to begin with.  Following Nietzsche’s critique of metanarratives, and truth claims in general, he viewed these as nothing but “the will to power.”  The consequences are the same, a lack of trust in the person, and therefore especially the ideas, philosophy or beliefs they are espousing.  In such a climate, it is only through faithful presence of integrity that credibility can be restored.[9] 

Integrity must provide the context in our various relationships through which we announce the gospel in words.  Actions motivated by a care, concern and commitment to the well-being and benefit of others, not self, prompted by the activity of God in our own hearts and communities gives us integrity.  However, this is not our aim.  Our aim is, according to 1 Thessalonians, to please God and to live worthy of Him.  That is our focus.  It just so happens that a by-product of such a focus and intention, will give us the needed credibility to proclaim his message to others.  As Guder notes, “it has to do with worthy living, with the character of our corporate life and the ways in which it provides evidence of the healing work of God's love, before a watching world.”[10]

[1] Integrity is an essential topic in current discussions of missiology, so much so that it had a day of discussions devoted to it at the recent Lausanne gathering in, Cape Town, South Africa. 
[2] See Integrity in the Public and Private Domains. Edited by Alan Montefiore and David Vines (New York: Routeldge, 1999) for a collection of essays that seeks to address this from a philosophical and pragmatic basis. 
[3] Translation by M. W. Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations 3rd Edition (Michigan: Baker, 2007).  It is unfortunate that Holmes has translated “ta; logia to:u qeou:” as “the oracles of God” when a more straightforward translation would render it “the word of God” and thus bring to memory that this is a reference to gospel proclamation, as in 1 Thess 1:8, etc. 
[4] John G. Stackhouse, Humble Apologetics: defending the faith today (Oxford: OUP, 2002), 135.
[5] Idem.  Stackhouse then goes on to note 1 Peter 3:13-16 and quotes philosopher Linda Trinkhaus Zagzebski as saying, “The experience of knowing holy people is still the most important evidence to me for the truth of Christianity.”
[6] Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon, Resident Aliens (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 99.
[7] It is interesting that for Jean-Frangois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), xxiv, postmodernity is an “incredulity towards metanarratives.”  This was due to the lack of trust in the Enlightenment project, but that is because the integrity of their claims could not be substantiated or fulfilled. This has led to the collapse of knowledge in man philosophical quarters.  However, this has led to a widespread incredulity towards any metanarratives, mainly because they are now viewed as suspect and lacking integrity due to various plays for power. 
[8] Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil (Edited and Translated by Judith Norman; Cambridge: CUP, 2002), aphorism 183.
[9] This seems to be part of the argument of James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (Oxford: OUP, 2010), who uses the category of “faithful presence” as the focus of our missional endeavours.  See the Christianity Today Interview with Christopher Benson, downloaded 22 June 22, 2010:  “Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. ‘If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,’ Hunter writes, ‘it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honour the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfilment of God's command to love our neighbour.’”
[10] Darrell L. Guder, “From Mission and Theology to Missional Theology” Princeton Seminary Bulletin XXIV:1 (2003), 36-54, here, 53.

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