About the Lecturer
Dr. Cooper earned a PhD in Intercultural Studies with a focus on religious movements and a minor in theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He currently serves as a missiologist for a missions agency where he focuses on missiological research and equipping missionaries for effective cultural engagement. He has thirty years of missions experience, including ten years as a pioneer church planter in Romania after the fall of communism and has equipped church planters and leaders in Africa, Europe, North America, South America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. He has written and contributed to more than 30 books and academic articles and has presented conference lectures at the London School of Economics, University of Bordeaux, Loyola University, Baylor University, and many others. His recent book, Ephesiology: The Study of the Ephesian Movement is a best seller at William Carey Publishing. You can email Dr. Cooper by clicking here.
Becoming Conversant with CPMs in the New Testament
Lecture given at Torch Trinity Graduate University
As church planting movements (CPMs) have drawn the attention of missionary practitioners around the world, missiologists are looking closely at this phenomenon and asking challenging questions. In recent years, a few of those questions posed by Jackson Wu and a cadre of missiologists from the International Mission Board as well as professors from predominately Southern Baptist Convention seminaries, contested the methods of CPMs including T4T and DMM as well as called attention to an apparent biblical eisegesis as advocates were accused of reading CPM into the New Testament texts.
Today, Mission Frontiers claims there are more than a thousand CPMs around the world. CPM agencies are reporting phenomenal growth of multiplying house churches focused predominately in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Such growth naturally draws the attention of motivated missionaries who equate numerical progression with success. Equally true is that such phenomenal reporting of growth draws the attention of critics. Their criticism of CPM has generally fallen in four categories: theological shallowness, immature leaders, reckless evangelism, and long-term sustainability.
These criticisms raise supplementary questions. For example, with such an emphasis on church planting movements, is there a clear mandate for church planting in Scripture? Additionally, as these movements grow, what is their susceptibility to syncretism? First, let’s turn our attention to the common critique of church planting movements then we will circle back to ask our supplemental questions.
The Missiological Theology of John
Lecture given at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary
Over the past three decades of my involvement in missions around the world, we have seen an explosion of gospel presentations largely focused on a message of salvation formulated in the Western cultural milieu. From the ubiquitous Four Spiritual Laws to the equally ubiquitous Three Circles, these presentations focus on the sinfulness of humanity, humanities inability to overcome sin, the need for a Savior, and the need to make a personal decision to accept the Savior’s death on a cross for salvation from Hell. More recently, with the introduction of a chronological method of evangelism, presentations often termed something to the effect of Creation to Christ have been used as tools to disciple people into a saving relationship with God beginning in Genesis and moving through the New Testament.
In the first and second century church, the Gospels were the primary instruments to share the story of the good news of Christ’s incarnation into a world in order to declare God’s glorious pursuit of relationships with His creation. In various ways, the Gospels describe what it means to follow Christ in our actions, beliefs, and participation in community. While they are most certainly messages of salvation and eternal life for those who believe, they went further in their insistence on identifying with the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, the Gospels portray a beautiful mosaic of what it means to be members of the household of God (Eph 2:19).
The Gospels are primarily evangelistic as well as missionary in nature, and provide examples of how the stories of Jesus connected with the people they were intended to engage. The Synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke – express three distinct examples of relating the good news to particular cultures. Matthew (ca. early 60s), originally written in Aramiac, focuses on a Hebrew audience. Mark (ca. 57-60), betraying a second language writer’s challenge with Greek, is written to a Gentile audience that is largely illiterate. Luke (ca. 63-65), perhaps the most clearly declared audience, writes to Theophilus and demonstrates an accurately researched portrait of the Savior. All three gospels possess a high degree of similarities within their presentation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. For example, the Synoptics share a similar geographic sequence in tracing Jesus’s ministry from Galilee to the wider northern part of Palestine then a focus on Judea and Perea and finally his ministry in Jerusalem.
This chapter focuses exclusively on John’s gospel as an example of connecting the stories about Jesus to the stories of a culture, or what is expressed as missiological theology. The Fourth Gospel is an evangelistic presentation focused on addressing specific cultural, religious, and philosophical systems observed by John in Asia Minor during his early ministry in Ephesus (ca. 67-70). Primarily concerned with challenging beliefs associated with the goddess Artemis and god Dionysus, as well as with the philosophy of Heraclitus, the gospel’s focus results in a missiological theology that effectively connects the story of Jesus with the stories of the cultures in Asia Minor (Cooper 2020: 87). After describing the term missiological theology, the chapter will focus on the features of John’s gospel that make him a missiological theologian. If the practice of missiological theology was indeed an impetus in the exponential growth of the early church then there might be implications for CPM/DMM today.
I argue in Ephesiology: The Study of the Ephesian Movement that John most likely arrives in Ephesus during the Jewish Wars, after Paul’s death in 67AD and prior to the destruction of the second temple in 70AD (Cooper 2020: 83-84). Salient points for an early date: 1) Polycarp’s death in 69AD; 2) no mention of the temple’s destruction in the fourth gospel; 3) Jewish Wars provides motive for seeking refuge in Ephesus; 4) Ephesus is a significant center of Christianity by 53AD; 5) Mary traditions place her in Ephesus with John (she would have been in her 70s).
More Resources on Church Planting Movements
Learn more about the Ministry of Church Planting with Jeff Christopherson
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Equipping leaders to effectively engage their culture with the skills and character concomitant with a biblically informed worldview in order to catalyze movements of disciples around the world.