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This contribution is by a student of Radius International. His name has been withheld due to the sensitive nature of his work and location.

Responding to: A Straw Man Argument to Prove What God Shouldn’t Do: A Critique of Chad Vegas’ “A Brief Guide to DMM” by L.D. Waterman http://btdnetwork.org/a-straw-man-argument-to-prove-what-god-shouldnt-do-a-critique-of-chad-vegas-a-brief-guide-to-dmm/

Original: A Brief Guide to DMM: Defining and Evaluating the Ideas Impacting Missions Today by Chad Vegas
https://www.radiusinternational.org/a-brief-guide-to-dmm/

In responding to Waterman’s contributions to the DMM debate, I will provide commentary in four broad categories: Obedience Based Discipleship (OBD), Sufficiency of Scripture, Person of Peace (POP), and Fruitfulness.  This is by no means a comprehensive commentary on all that Waterman addresses, but I  hope that this answers some of the key aspects most central to the DMM debate.  Direct quotes from Waterman appear in plain text, followed by my critiques in italics.  Any verses quoted will be in the English Standard Version.

 

Obedience-Based Discipleship (OBD) 

Waterman

After quoting Jerry Trousdale’s description of Jesus’ approach to disciple making, Brother Vegas summarizes: “Jesus was revealing himself to the (unconverted and unbelieving) Twelve ‘all those years’.”  The two words in parenthesis (“unconverted” and “unbelieving”) don’t appear anywhere in Trousdale’s description.  Trousdale had identified the fact that coming to deep faith in Christ normally involves a process.  And certainly for first-century monotheistic Jews to recognize Jesus as the Son of God required some process.  For twenty-first century Muslims to come to saving faith in Jesus as the Son of God also normally requires some process.

Brother Vegas, by inserting the words “unconverted” and “unbelieving” into his summary of Trousdale’s description, lays the foundation of a false dichotomy.  He imports post-Pentecost clarity into the categories of “believing” vs. “unbelieving” described in the gospels.

 

Response

Yes, we would all agree that the journey of faith is a process.  However, Waterman’s concern that Vegas is misrepresenting Trousdale’s wordsis unfounded. Trousdale himself is using the example of Jesus’ disciples to support the position that the disciples were obeying Jesus before conversionTrousdale describes OBD as a model that “begins with discipleship and moves toward the point of conversion” (Miraculous Movements, p. 43).  Vegas’ position is that we cannot draw this conclusion from the example of Jesus’ disciples, because at least four of the disciples made clear professions of faith in Jesus as the Christ even from the first week of His ministry (John 1:35ff).

 

Waterman

Brother Vegas continues: “We simply never see a command, nor a pattern, from our Lord, nor his Apostles, where unbelievers are discipled through regular obedience until they finally have sufficient trust in Christ to be baptized.” (6)  On the face of it, this seems true.  However it ignores the broader panorama of salvation history as described in the Bible as a whole.  God spent thousands of years calling people to obedience before giving a clear revelation of salvation through Christ and command to be baptized in his name.

 

Response

Here, Waterman draws on the Old Testament by saying that God was calling people to obedience before making a clear revelation of salvation through Christ.  While it is true that the people of the Old Testament did not have a clear view of Christ, it is a bold statement to claim that God’s means of drawing people to himself was through obedience. Even in the Old Testament, salvation was by faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:20-24, Hebrews 11:6).  God gave the Law precisely to show the Israelites that they couldn’t possibly live up to God’s righteous standard on their own (Romans 3:20, Galatians 3:10-14).  God intended for people to respond in repentance and humbly acknowledge their total dependence on God in faith, like the tax collector in Jesus’ parable (Luke 18:13-14).

 

Waterman

I find it strange that Brother Vegas seems so concerned lest unbelievers try to obey God.  It seems to me that whenever anyone reads the Bible and seeks to obey God based on what they have read, that’s a good thing.  Granted, only the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit makes consistent and God-pleasing obedience possible.  And an unbeliever’s attempts at obedience can never bring or earn salvation.  But I want to ask Brother Vegas: “Do you consider it a bad thing if large numbers of Muslims, Hindus, atheists and others study the Bible chronologically, try to obey what they’re reading and then after a period of time come to saving faith in Christ?”

 

Response

Waterman correctly points out that only the Holy Spirit makes God-pleasing obedience possible (Hebrews 11:6), so it is unclear in what sense it is a good thing “whenever anyone reads the Bible and seeks to obey God.” Perhaps implicit in the question posed to Vegas is the assumption that obedience naturally leads to saving faith in Christ.  While it may, it also may result in people inadvertently thinking that their obedience is gaining acceptance for them before God.  This is exactly what happened to the Jews who tried to gain righteousness for themselves through their obedience to the Law (Luke 18:9-14, Romans 10:3, Galatians 2:21).

 

Waterman

The Apostle Paul took a stunningly positive attitude toward gospel messengers with whom he disagreed: “It is true that some preach Christ…out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.  But what does it matter?  The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.  And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil 1:15a, 17b-18 NIV).  In that case, the issue was different motives; in this case, it’s differences in methodology.

 

Response

While Waterman mentions Paul’s positive response to those who were preaching Christ out of bad motives, let’s not forget Paul’s decidedly vehement response in Galatians 1:6ff to those who were preaching a false gospel.  In that case, it’s hard to imagine how Paul’s words could have been any more harsh. The difference between Paul’s words in Philippians to those in Galatians is that the former was an issue of motives and the latter was an issue of false teaching.  Vegas’ concern lies in the real danger of people misunderstanding their acts of obedience as gaining acceptance before God.  This is why Vegas can later say, as Waterman quotes, “We realize this is a serious charge.  We are not arguing this false gospel is malicious in intent.  We hope and pray it is mere ignorance that will be realized and corrected.”  Thus the issue is neither motives nor methodology, but clarity of the gospel.

 

Sufficiency of Scripture

Waterman

The Old Covenant required human mediators for full access to God but the New Covenant presents Jesus as the final and essential mediator. In this age, certainly the Spirit of God can use human vessels to convey God’s truth.  Yet any attempt to limit the work of God’s Spirit and God’s Word by requiring a human mediator runs contrary to New Testament teaching.

Proponents of DMM believe that God’s Spirit can and does use God’s Word to touch human hearts, even apart from human mediatorial interpretation.  Brother Vegas seems to believe God only wants to convey his Word to unbelievers via human mediators.

Response

Yes, we would all agree that Jesus is the final revelation of God (Hebrews 1:2), and we would also agree that the Word of God and the Spirit of God are ultimately the source and revealer of truth (John 16:13-14).  Yet here Waterman’s main concern is the role of human vessels.  He agrees that God can use human vessels, but he’s concerned with any suggestion that requires human vessels. 

Perhaps it would be more helpful to ask the question: what is God’s normalway to convey truth? Both the command and the example we see in the New Testament is human vessels proclaiming and teaching the truth from the Word of God and enabled by the Spirit of God.  For example, Romans 10:14-15, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?  And how are they to hear without someone preaching?  And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” (see also 2 Corinthians 5:18).  He did not give this ministry to angels or even to the written word of God itself. 

Of course, there are many recorded cases of people coming to saving faith through only the printed Word of God (e.g., from a Gideon Bible in a hotel room), but we nonetheless see the clear command of Scripture for human vessels to go and to teach. Perhaps in an attempt to challenge the Church away from an abstract presentation of the gospel framed with a Western perspective,OBD has grown overly resistant to the many words in Scripture that emphasize the active role of human vessels: teaching, proclaiming, refuting, reasoning, persuading, among others.

In addition, we need to be careful that in our emphasis on the written Word of God we forget the many mediators that are necessarily required to accurately translate the Word of God for the many unreached language groups of the world.  Whether Bible translators are primarily locals or those from the outside, much time and effort must go into carefully considering the language and culture of the target language group.  It is not enough to simply translate from English or even from the Biblical source texts of Greek and Hebrew, first because many language forms are not easily transferable and second because many Biblical idioms are incomprehensible without due interpretation.  See Chapter 7 of One Bible, Many Versionsby Dave Brunn for concrete examples of the additional challenges faced when translating the Bible to non-Indo-European languages.

 

Person of Peace (POP)

Waterman

It may be admitted that perhaps too much weight has been placed on a possible interpretation of the “person of peace” text in Luke 10:6 and “worthy person” in Matthew 10:11.  Yet Brother Vegas’ determination to resist DMM causes him to miss a vital distinction between traditional church planting approaches and the DMM approach yielding significant fruit among unreached groups.  Something very significant happens when a believer finds among the lost a person who is sufficiently welcoming to open their household, extended family or local group of influence to the gospel messenger and his/her message.

 

Response

While Vegas’ views the POP passages asreferring tothose whohear the gospel, receive it, and have peace resting on them, we can all nonetheless wholeheartedly agree with Waterman’s assertion of the significance of finding people who will open their homes and their family and friend networks to the message of the gospel.  Certainly there is ample Scriptural evidence of families responding to the Gospel (e.g., Cornelius in Acts 10 and the Philippian jailer in Acts 16).

Perhapsthis is a good case of the DMM conversation surfacing helpful debate that can spur the Churchto greater missiological clarity.  Indeed, elsewhere in Waterman’s analysis, he notes that “not every DMM advocate agrees with Watsons on everything.”  Thus, in addressing concerns with DMM, Vegas is necessarily using the definition given by the primary DMM advocates, since it would be difficult or impossible to address the many unnamed and undefined variations of DMM that exist today.  Ted Esler’s “Two Church Planting Paradigms” and Chad Vegas’ “Brief Guide to DMM” have undoubtedly been instrumental in bringing clarity and definition to the conversation, but sadly we can expect continued confusion and unnecessary misunderstandings whenever advocates of a particular methodology (whether DMM or something else) ride under the banner of a name but alter it in significant ways without clearly defining how their views differ from the original methodology, as in the case of POP here.

 

Fruitfulness

Waterman

The most famous preacher of the time and America’s greatest theologian, Jonathan Edwards, responded to those concerns in his timeless essay: “The Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God.” In that work, he stated emphatically that “the word of God is the principal means…by which other means operate and are made effectual.” He challenged detractors to focus not on particular means involved, but to evaluate whether God’s Word was functioning as the central message and accomplishing its intended purpose: bringing people to true saving faith in Christ.

 

Response

Yes, agreed that the word of God must be central to evaluating any work of God.  That is, in fact, exactly why the issue at stake is not means or methodology, but whether or not there is gospel clarity.  Vegas’ concern lies in the real danger of people misunderstanding their acts of obedience as gaining acceptance before God.  If obedience is not understood correctly, then people have inadvertently accepted a false gospel and have not come to true saving faith in Christ.

 

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