Paul’s testimony to the Philippians does not lack clarity: “. . . but this one things I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14). Since 1928 this text has graced the seminary seal for Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not only has it focused the calling of each student, but it continues to guide how Central understand its dynamic mission.
What might the Apostle think needs forgetting? Surely not his transformative encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus; surely not his deep scriptural study that shaped his new theology; and, surely not his companions who had labored with him for the sake of the Gospel. Most likely he sees the need to forget the privileges of status he once prized—his tribal and Pharisaic pedigree. He also needs to forget his own role in persecuting followers of the Way lest he be paralyzed by guilt and incapable of receiving forgiveness.
As Central prepares to welcome students and faculty from Myanmar (Burma) this week, Paul’s witness is helpful as we reflect on the colonial history of mission, the Judson legacy in Burma, and the future of Baptist identity in their land. American Baptists have a long history in Burma, and Central has a unique relationship with Myanmar Institute of Theology, having given oversight to degree programs from 1955-1960. Our shared history of concern for quality theological education is much older--the first student came to Central from Burma in 1907! Now the plan is for students from both schools to find ways to learn together contextually relevant ministry.
The pursuit of shared mission in our day requires that we forget old practices, e.g., the exporting of North American culture along with the gospel, the presumption that existing cultures must be stripped away for Christianity to take root, and the arrogance of educational privilege. “What lies behind” also includes fascination with the “exotic” otherness of tribal peoples and treating them in a paternalistic way. Repenting of these practices and “forgetting” them allows new levels of collaborative mission.
Together, we strain forward to participate in God’s mission in a world that is rapidly becoming post-colonial, a world where Christendom has been disestablished. Together, we take up the challenge of bearing the light of Christ in nations choked with competing religious and nationalistic claims. Together, we strain forward to craft new expressions of Baptist witness that allow Christ to transform culture—in Myanmar and in America.
Molly T. Marshall
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