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Fall 2014 · Vol. 43 No. 2 · pp. 152–165 

Mission: An Indigenous Perspective

Terry LeBlanc

Unbelievers deserve not only to be separated from the Church, but also . . . to be exterminated from the world by death.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1271

While few of those engaged in historic mission could be said to have embraced Aquinas’s late-thirteenth-century pronouncement, nonetheless the impact of Christian mission on Indigenous peoples through the centuries was such that they might as well have. For generations Native North Americans and other Indigenous peoples lived in the false belief that a relationship with their Creator required them to reject their own identity and adopt another—a European one. The theological foundations on which mission was built ensured that it was so.

Western Christianity fails miserably to account for the work of the Spirit so abundantly evident in creation.

The net result has been to subject Indigenous people to deep-rooted self-doubt at best, and self-hatred—a death more heinous than their physical eradication—at worst. And though residential and boarding schools have garnered much attention of late, since they served this purpose in clearly visible ways, they were not the sole missional instruments of prosecuting {153} this course of action. Guilt-framed preaching, camp meeting evangelism, Sunday school literature, tract evangelism, and situating Native ministry within ethnic minorities departments, all served to ensure Native peoples were subjected to death by “identity decay.” Traditional approaches to mission with Indigenous peoples in North America and elsewhere in the world have produced relatively dismal outcomes as a result—even when the bar was kept low, as it frequently was.

Reflecting on the socio-cultural holocaust that accompanied her experience of Christian mission, Isabelle Knockwood, a survivor of a church-run Residential School, observed, “I thought about how many of my former schoolmates, like Leona, Hilda and Maimie, had died premature deaths. I wondered how many were still alive and how they were doing, how well they were coping, and if they were still carrying the burden of the past on their shoulders like I was.” 1

While not always specifically intended, mission efforts over the past five centuries have nonetheless frequently ended up causing social and cultural assimilation (read “annihilation”) rather than “spiritual transformation.” Of equal concern, we fool ourselves if we think this was ancient history. More than a few initiatives spun off into and through the twentieth century utilized the same methods, couched in the same understandings. In fact, the relatively unambiguous mandate of many mission conferences in the twentieth century 2 was to continue the task begun as far back as the earliest Jesuit mission among the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet, and others at the dawn of the seventeenth century 3—namely, civilizing and Christianising. 4

These strategies of mission, while implemented in different ways, were nonetheless consistent across the denominational spectrum. Mission thinking with respect to Indigenous peoples was essentially the same across the board. It was, and arguably for many still is, rooted in a common pre-Reformation theological history and its construction of the nature and purpose of mission. 5 No tradition of the church, whether directly operating Residential Schools or not, could claim innocence—sins of omission being as culpable as those of commission. Had the Edinburgh 1910 goals been met, its mission philosophy been realized, we would have far fewer Indigenous peoples bringing their rich cultural diversity to Christian worship. There would, instead, be a deep and all-consuming “sameness” about us.

The collective failure of these missions to produce their intended outcome might cause us to conclude that Indigenous people possess a unique spiritual intransigence to the gospel. But that would not tell the whole story. {154}


Christianity as presented to us over the centuries offered soul salvation, a ticket home to eternity. It was essentially unconcerned with the rest of our lives—except, of course, the obvious one: how we might be assimilated into the Euro-Canadian/Euro-American body politic. 6 History makes crystal clear, however, that while Indigenous people were being targeted for such mission endeavors, sidelined in the growth of contemporary societies, their lives were nonetheless fully exploited during the mission period by those bringing the offer of salvation. 7 It was this exploitation that, sadly, became the experiential legacy of Christian mission for many.

Since the late 1980s, however, many Indigenous believers, not wanting to forsake their relationship with Jesus, have sought to facilitate spiritual transformation and growth within an Indigenous frame of reference. They pursue this transformation through the singular power of the gospel, not by way of propositional, controlling, Westernized, religious expressions of that gospel. 8 At times this has been a daunting task, since the juggernaut of Western mission and its theological method has tended to decry as heterodox or idolatrous any articulation of spiritual truth that seems contrary to what missionaries and evangelists have presented. 9 Had the goals of the 1910 Edinburgh conference been met, had its statement of mission philosophy been realized, we would have far fewer Indigenous peoples bringing their rich cultural diversity to the place of Christian worship. There would, instead, be a deep and all-consuming “sameness” about us.

The essentially mono-cultural, mono-philosophical foundations of Christian theology in North America have stultified theological and missiological development for many decades. Questions that might offer opportunity for real change have either not been asked or, when asked, are answered from inside this same egocentric, unchanging philosophical and interpretive framework. As a consequence, the praxis of faith—particularly but not exclusively evangelical faith—has been diverted to unhealthy patterns of self-absorbed, experientially framed individualism with a fondness for nineteenth-century liberal theological and missional trails. 10


Central to the purpose of Indigenous-led theological and missional training programs, therefore, is challenging the deep-seated Western ethnocentrism in theology and mission—at least as experienced by Indigenous people. In addition to strengthening the Indigenous church, success in this endeavor will encourage Native followers of Jesus to more effectively contribute to the wider community of Christian faith as they avoid the pitfalls of liberalism. This Indigenous contribution, while remaining rooted in an evangelically situated appropriation of the gospel, nonetheless takes some {155} different trails, visible in theological and missiological shifts taking place within many parts of the Indigenous community. Some of the more salient of these I sketch out below. 11

First, as the basis for our theological reflection, we have shifted away from the dualistically framed philosophies within which European and Euro-North American theologies have been classically framed, toward more holistic philosophical precursors. To Indigenous people, life is not easily captured in the simple binaries and either/or arguments still so comfortably situated within Western thought. The Hebraic “both/and” is much more akin to our philosophy than the Greco-Roman “either/or.” To be sure, the promise of the Hebraic thought has been addressed time and again in philosophical and academic as well as Christian theological circles, but with too little, if any, resolution or encouragement toward change. In fact, in most theology schools within mainline Christianity, classical Greek and Roman thought is central to the philosophical training of clergy.

Within the Indigenous academic community of those who follow Jesus, this discussion is no longer moot. Instead, it is a point for intentional action, shifting our thinking away from an unquestioned modernity or even a dualistically framed postmodernity, to a reframed Indigenous pattern of thought. Active engagement with traditional Indigenous worldviews is leading us to a more biblically faithful position with respect to the gospel.

By way of example, consider the continuing struggle of Christian theology and praxis to engage the whole of creation as the focus of God’s redemptive activity in Christ. Until very recently, evangelicals looked at the doctrine of redemption strictly through an anthropocentric lens. The rest of creation, they thought, was subject to destruction. Scripture is clear, however, that redemption through Jesus’s work on the cross has implications far beyond the generally limited focus of the restoration of human beings alienated from their Creator. If the covenant with all creation in Genesis 9 did not clinch the case, Paul is clear that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time, awaiting its own redemption even as we do (Rom 8:22, 23). That is, Paul insists that creation will see redemption, but this has been put on hold as it awaits Christ’s redemptive work to be completed in the slow-to-understand-and-respond human community within creation (Rom 8:19).

Yet, even if Western Christianity had given tacit assent to this fact in its theologies, 12 it nonetheless fails miserably to account for the work of the Spirit—dare I say, the gifts of the Spirit—so abundantly evident in the rest of creation. I often find myself asking students in my theology classes, “When was the last time you gave more to the care of the rest of creation than it has given to you?” It is because we abuse the gifts resident within creation that its groaning is becoming increasingly unmistakable. {156} We might learn something about the means and trajectory of our common salvation if we were to listen more carefully. Since our salvation is bound up with that of the rest of creation, 13 this ought to have clear implications for our focus and strategies of mission.

Most times the best we seem able to offer as a robust creation/restoration theology is an idyllic pastoral scene or an awe-inspiring panoramic of a blazing sun sinking into a calm, crystal clear lake projected on the screen behind the lyrics of the hymns and choruses we sing. In evangelical writing, seldom does the idea that Jesus came to give his life so that the rest of creation might also be redeemed find a voice. Make no mistake: our current environmental quandary is the outcome of Christian theology, framed in dualist thought, a sort of counterpoint thinking over many centuries, gone awry.

Compounded dualisms resident in classical Christian theology have also, from our vantage point, created senseless divisions of reality into the sacred and profane, sacred and secular, natural and supernatural. Westerners are once again discovering that not everyone in the world assumes life is to be experienced on two separated planes of existence, isolated from the rest of a supernatural creation because they have arbitrarily dictated the Creator’s delimitations. For most of us in the Indigenous world, everything expresses the sacred, for it all proceeds from the sacred being, from God—regardless of the means of its creation. Not only is it fully sacred, but also (despite scientific discovery) a profound mystery. This has—or ought to have—clear implications for the modes of mission we undertake. We must not continue to put a wedge between people and the sacred context of life in the present 14 so they can obtain a sacred estate in the future. The two should be conceived of as contiguous and transitional, one leading into the other, as should be obvious from even a passing reading of Scripture.


A second shift we observe in the thinking of Indigenous followers of Jesus concerns our biblical starting point for mission. Western theology, in the firm grip of Augustine’s articulation of sin’s nature, has inevitably commenced its deliberations with the Genesis 3 and “the fall.” Scraping the bottom of the sin barrel, then turning it over to see what lies beneath, has occupied much of Western Christian thought down through the centuries, contributing (creating?) the notions of “savage” and “heathen” to missional thinking and praxis.

Stated another way, rather than focusing on the nature and significance of the Tree of Life (the first tree specifically named in the Genesis narrative), Western theologians framed their theologies by the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. We know the consequences, not only for {157} the theology of the West, but also for Western missiology: mission work became, literally and figuratively, a witch-hunt for heathen and savage, occasionally seasoned with grace for early adopters.

It is precisely this mission theology that made it possible for missionaries and monarchs, popes and priests, vicars and viceroys, to declare that we lacked humanity and souls—to assert, as did missionaries of the seventeenth century, “These heathen must first be civilized so that they might then become fit receptacles of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” 15 Is it not altogether curious that a people who believed in the omnipresence of God could announce his absence from what they deemed to be a godless heathen land and people? Were it not for the horrendous acts perpetrated in the name of Jesus which this thinking allowed, we might simply note the theological contradiction: the theist believing the deist’s truth!

This and other sentiments like it grew from the interlacing of a Genesis 3 starting point with theologies rooted in binary thinking: European theological frames of reference allowed Indigenous peoples to be assigned a less than human status, permitted their subjection to summary death at the hands of European colonials, as Aquinas had encouraged centuries before.

Recently I was confronted by a prominent evangelical who declared that our efforts to contextualize the gospel—to combine Indigenous culture with Christian worship—were leading people astray. In his opinion, pre-contact Indigenous people were a savage people, ruled by lust and murder, idolatry and devil worship. He further noted that Western civilization came to our social, spiritual, and cultural rescue, since nothing of value existed within our societies and cultures prior to its arrival. This is an intriguing thought given that the words of many Europeans in the earliest period of contact and mission rebut this. Consider the following statements, among many hundreds, that could be mustered in defense of a different view:

And, in this respect, I consider all these poor savages, whom we commiserate, to be very happy; for pale Envy doth not emaciate them, neither do they feel the inhumanity of those who serve God hypocritically, harassing their fellow-creatures under this mask: nor are they subject to the artifices of those who, lacking virtue and goodness, wrap themselves up in a mantle of false piety to nourish their ambition. If they do not know God, at least they do not blaspheme him, as the greater number of Christians do. Nor do they understand the art of poisoning, or of corrupting chastity by devilish artifice. 16

Moreover, if it is a great blessing to be free from a great evil, our Savages are happy; for the two tyrants who provide hell and torture for many of our Europeans, do not reign in their great forests—I {158} mean ambition and avarice. As they have neither political organization, nor offices, nor dignities, nor any authority, for they only obey their Chief through good will toward him, therefore they never kill each other to acquire these honours. Also, as they are contented with a mere living, not one of them gives himself to the Devil to acquire wealth. 17

Now reflect, for just a moment, on the political landscape of Europe from 1492 through to the twentieth century, on the countless wars over land, the lust for more that drove Europe’s and then North America’s “development” and tell me what you think about murder, idolatry, greed and lust! Daniel Paul, Mi’kmaq author and historian, reflecting on these very contradictions, wrote a book titled, We Were Not the Savages. 18 This is a fitting title given the continued aversion in some missionary settings to full truth-telling about Christian missions. We still lack the capacity to describe it for what it frequently was: historical genocide.

To the community of Indigenous people who seek to follow Jesus within the context I have described here, resolution of these conflicting images requires that we begin at the start of the biblical narrative, Genesis 1. We feel it important to ask questions about the thought, the plan, the idea, and intent of God, interpreting all we see and experience in light of this plan, before we ask how it is that it became “subjected to futility.” This second shift seems particularly important and relevant in this post-resurrection era where the subjection of the rest of creation to futility is becoming altogether too obvious to overlook. All of creation, not simply the human soul fit for heaven, has been and is being redeemed and restored through Jesus.


If these first two shifts have not already done so, the third shift runs along two interconnected trails, and it brands us as suspect to some observers.

The first trail concerns Christian notions of the spiritual. Reading foundational Christian spiritual writings like the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order, could tempt a person to conclude that things spiritual are primarily cognitively experienced and rationally embraced. Rationalistic theologies, mission praxis based on propositional truth, and a positivist, evidentiary approach to knowledge of God owe their existence to this understanding of the nature of the spiritual. Interestingly, this understanding is both a product and source of Enlightenment thinking. As LeBlanc notes, from 1702 to 1762 the contributing editors of the highly influential Journal de Trévoux were Jesuit scholars, and among their most faithful readers were French Enlightenment thinkers, including Voltaire. 19

The Enlightenment roots of modern Christian views of the spiritual life become more manifest when we ask Western Christians how they {159} understand the nature of the spiritual. Their responses suggest that being spiritual is about behavior—having devotions, reading Scripture, praying a particular way, fasting, and so on. From these comments it appears that what I do is my spirituality! Once again, reading the devotional and spiritual masters of the centuries will affirm this perspective. 20

Some years ago I spent several days on the streets, sleeping in the back of my vehicle. I was searching for a young crack addict, a relative of mine. He was falling deeper and deeper into the grip of his addiction. Accompanying me on one of those days was a Euro-Canadian pastor friend. When we finally tracked the young man down, we sat together on the street curb and listened to the story he had to tell. At a pause in the story, my pastor friend commented on the sharp contrast between the young man’s church upbringing and his current condition. To which the young man replied, “You don’t think I’m spiritual, do you?” This is precisely what most Christians have come to believe: spirituality is about behavior, not a quality within human beings which they have by virtue of having been created—irrespective of behavior!

A corollary to this second trail emerges in interreligious dialogues. The corollary, simply stated, is that there are various kinds of human spirituality—Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and so on. For Christians to suggest this, however, is exceedingly strange since Christians are not polytheists. They affirm instead that there is but one God, and that all of humanity bears the singular image and likeness of that God, not multiple likenesses of a multiplicity of “gods.” How, then, the incongruent description of human spiritual reality—a description acted on historically in hostile ways in mission? Once again, this understanding militates against a more engaged conversation within the mission context, one framed, as Paul in Acts 17 would note, in the common spiritual nature of the human community.

Our history as Indigenous people, our general disposition toward life, suggests that all of creation has a spiritual nature—not just human beings. We also see this truth clearly expressed in a non-metaphoric, non-anthropomorphic, non-epitomized reading of Scripture (e.g., Gen 1:28–30; Job 12:1ff; Rom 8:22ff). And it has implications for how we view the work of Jesus and the cross. Jesus does not simply provide soul salvation, but initiates the restoration of all things to the plan and intent of God. This biblical teaching, of course, runs contrary to historic but also to many contemporary understandings of the nature of mission where soul salvation is still the sole emphasis. 21

Experience with both the biblical text and life itself tells us that all of creation is possessed of a spiritual nature, and all of creation is the focus of God’s redemptive activity in Jesus. Christian theology, particularly evangelical theology in the United States, has struggled to comprehend this truth. It has instead assigned such labels as “pantheism” or “panentheism” {160} to the more inclusive understanding of the spiritual which includes of all creation in Jesus’s redemptive work on the cross. To be sure, human spirituality is augmented and therefore differentiated from the rest of creation by the gift and impartation of God’s image and likeness, now marred by the collapse of creation’s harmony. But this does not diminish the spiritual nature of the rest of creation, or render it mere inanimate “stuff.”


Though we have made other shifts, a significant fourth lies in our understanding of story. To us, a communal narrative serves a hugely compelling and significant function. It can be both objective and factual, containing clear teachings for living life well, which, if she ignores it, put a person in dire peril. Simultaneously, it can be mythic and lavishly embellished for narrative effect. A communal narrative seamlessly integrates the objective and the mythic, making it impossible to privilege one form over the other. Each narrative form or genre, each teller of a story within the grander narrative of the community, is fitted within the wider narrative collection, the compendium the community stewards through the generations to teach its members about the world and the way of life that best accords with the true nature of the world.

Removing one of these genres or storytellers, subjecting one to analytic dissection, or truncating the meaning of even one of these by casting doubt on its authenticity when the ancestors have clearly attested to it, destroys the whole. As one of our members has said, “Changing the story of the Three Little Pigs to remove the house of sticks and go directly to the house of bricks is to lose the story. Having the big, bad wolf use a wrecking crew to destroy the houses, is to lose the story. My grandchildren would respond and say, ‘Nookum, that’s not the way the story goes!’ ” To increasing numbers of us in the Indigenous community, the Christian Scriptures must not be dissected by historical or literary criticism, or even by contemporary narrative theological technique so as to arrive at the “essence” of the story or the “original intention” of the story-teller. Doing so truncates the story or, worse, renders it impotent. We experience this as schizophrenic dissociation from our own Christian history and reality. Indigenous narrative understanding and method is needful to re-seed a more communal embrace of the role and function of the gospel narrative in the church.


What does all of this mean for Indigenous mission? Some simple action steps come to mind. First and foremost, let us stop doing what has always been done! In 2008, the government of Canada offered its historic {161} apology to the survivors of Residential Schools and their families. In the apology, the prime minister said,

These objectives were based on the assumption Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal. Indeed, some sought, as it was infamously said, “to kill the Indian in the child”. Today, we recognize that this policy of assimilation was wrong, has caused great harm, and has no place in our country. . . . We now recognize that it was wrong to separate children from rich and vibrant cultures and traditions, that it created a void in many lives and communities, and we apologize for having done this. 22

“We recognize that it was wrong” has a counterpoint, a flip side of the coin, if you will: “You were right.” We Aboriginal people were right to fight for our languages, cultures, and unique ways of perceiving the nature of the spiritual; were right to seek to live according to our own understandings of the world around us; were right to uphold our relationships within Treaty; were right to seek to live Christianly, to follow Jesus, to exercise our faith from within our own social and cultural locations and practices. To engage in mission that ignores this historic reality as a contemporary issue is to play a fools game with the gospel.

Second, let us embrace in our mission praxis what we know to be true in our narrative of creation—there is but one Creator of all. Unless we want to return to henotheism, where each people group that acknowledges a supreme being has their own personal or cultural god, we must, with the cry of the writer of Deuteronomy say, “The Lord our God is One”—one for everyone and all times. Why do we persist in decrying the use of other terms for the One Creator when the English word itself is derived from a “non-Christian” source? The better approach would be to engage in a conversation that asks questions about a person’s understanding of the nature of the divine. From there, relationship and opportunity for holistic approaches to mission emerge.

Third, let us realize and be comfortable with other views of life lived well. It has always intrigued me that European Christianity could acknowledge biblical truth concerning the singular nature of God (Ps 139) and then announce, as Jesuits and others did, “Here was a land that Satan himself had forsaken” (my paraphrase). Lack of industry—something highly prized then as it is today—made any other way of life but the European seem ungodly, perhaps even demonic. Note, for example the following description from a Jesuit missionary:

For in truth this people, who, through the progress and experience of centuries, ought to have come to some perfection in the arts, sciences and philosophy, is like a great field of stunted and {162} ill-begotten wild plants, a people which ought to have produced abundant fruits in philosophy, government, customs, and conveniences of life; which ought to be already prepared for the completeness of the Holy Gospel, to be received in the house of God. Yet behold it wretched and dispersed, given up to ravens, owls, and infernal cuckoos, and to be the cursed prey of spiritual foxes, bears, boars, and dragons. O, God of mercy! Wilt thou not have pity upon this misery? Wilt thou not look upon this poor wilderness with a favoring eye? 23

Needless to say, there are standards other than those of material progress that more accurately measure the value of a way of life.

And, please, do not be naïve. This sort of thinking, ramped up in contemporary terms, still motivates many mission initiatives aimed at Indigenous people. Consider the following report of the Mi’kmaq response to early missionary efforts to raise the living standards of Natives:

I am greatly astonished that the French have so little cleverness, as they seem to exhibit in the matter of which you have just told me on their behalf, in the effort to persuade us to convert our poles, our barks, and our wigwams into those houses of stone and of wood which are tall and lofty, according to their account, as these trees. Very well! But why now, do men of five to six feet in height need houses, which are sixty to eighty? You say of us also that we are the most miserable and most unhappy of all men, living without religion, without manners, without honour, without social order, and, in a word, without any rules, like the beasts in our woods and our forests, lacking bread, wine, and a thousand other comforts which you have in overabundance in Europe. . . . It is true, that we have not always had the use of bread and of wine which your France produces; but, in fact, before the arrival of the French in these parts, did not the Mi’kmaq live much longer than now? And if we have not any longer among us any of those old men of a hundred and thirty to forty years, it is only because we are gradually adopting your manner of living, for experience is making it very plain that those of us live longest who, despising your bread, your wine, and your brandy, are content with their natural food of beaver, of moose, of waterfowl, and fish, in accord with the custom of our ancestors and of all the Mi’kmaq nation. Learn now, my brother, once for all, because I must open to you my heart: there is no Indian who does not consider himself infinitely more happy and more powerful than the French. 24 {163}

Mission can embrace or reject what it finds in Aboriginal communities, though its perceptions may clearly differ from, at times contradict, what others see. It can also bring destruction and degradation or nurture and blessing to something sacred and whole. But in general, restorative approaches to people in community are far more impacting and biblically appropriate than those that seek to replace long-held ways of life with “better” ways.

Fourth, work toward understanding that the purpose for humanity is the same, irrespective of time or place, irrespective of socio-cultural context: to seek after and reach out for the divine, for transcendence, for something beyond this life, for God. We are created to seek and stretch out our hands towards God. Contrary to fundamentalist assertions concerning the state of humanity, and despite doctrine and biblical interpretations that deny human agency in encountering God, Paul makes it clear that the Athenian search for truth, while not yet fulfilled through Jesus, was nonetheless authentically motivated to seek for God. What’s more, Paul asserts with boldness that they were worshipping God, albeit with ignorance of God’s true self.

Finally, we must recognize that “truth”—even biblical truth—may contain both a culturally framed component of reality and a universally applicable one. For me, awakening at last to the realization that in the incarnation Jesus the Creator had become a part of his own creation, had been the only perfect being within creation since Genesis 1, and had lived the only perfect life since Genesis 2 was a profound experience. Then to contemplate the truth that he did so in order to arrest the decay caused by continued sin so as to restore all of creation to the plan and intent of God as articulated in the opening chapters of Genesis was a revelation! This was a vision that Western critical approaches to the Scriptures and theology had failed to elicit in me.

It has transformed my understanding of the nature of mission.


  1. Isabelle Knockwood, Out of the Depths: The Experiences of Mi’kmaw Children at the Indian Residential School at Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia (Lockeport, NS: Roseway, 1992), 134.
  2. Patronization is evident in many places in the 1910 Edinburgh conference documents in which some delegates express great consternation that individuals from the “younger” churches had been invited to attend. See T.V. Philip, Edinburgh to Salvador: Twentieth Century Ecumenical Missiology (CSS and ISPCK; Kashmere Gate, Delhi, India, 1999), 23.
  3. See, for example, Reuben Gold Thwaites, The Jesuit Relations and Allied Documents: Travels and Explorations of the Jesuit Missionaries in New France, 1610–1791 (Cleveland, OH: Burrows Bros., 1896), vols. 1–7. {164}
  4. See Kenneth R. Ross, “Edinburgh 1910: Scottish Roots and Contemporary Challenges,” Theology in Scotland 17, no. 1 (2010).
  5. For example, Philip notes that for the Edinburgh conference of 1910, “the contribution was not in the theology of missions. The task of rethinking the theological pre-supposition of mission was not the concern of the conference.” Philip, Edinburgh to Salvador, 64.
  6. See Paul Hiebert’s discussion in “The Flaw of the Excluded Middle,” Missiology: An International Review 10, no. 1 (1982): 35–47.
  7. While not specifically related to the mission of the church, the legislative agenda of colonial governments in the period of North American colonial mission clearly point to this objective. See, for example, the Gradual Civilizations Act, 1857, and the Gradual Enfranchisement Act, 1869, among others.
  8. It needs to be said that, particularly in the United States, neither conservative nor classic liberal Christians differ significantly in how they express the gospel. Both, with their respective points of dogma, expect their converts to follow their particular theological and religious tracks.
  9. See, for example, Roger Olson’s recent blog post, “What about ‘Contextual Theologies’?”, or the posts of Sandy Simpson, self-appointed defender of all things orthodox, at While opinions of this sort may be expressed in kinder, gentler ways by some, the impact on those who conceive of a biblically faithful approach to mission in different terms is essentially the same.
  10. It is noteworthy that several contemporary authors attempting to reframe mission (for some, the nature of Christianity itself) have argued against the legal/moral framing of the Bible. “The Bible is not a constitutional document,” you will hear them say. It would appear from these arguments that Jesus overlooked the social/moral behavior of everyone but the legalists, overlooked all but humanity’s need to experience love. The central message of the gospel, they argue, is found in Jesus’s ethic of love. Such an assertion, however, ignores the other side of Jesus’s engagement with people. Quite consistently we hear him say, to confessed sinner and self-appointed righteous alike, “Go and sin no more.” It appears that while God’s love is boundless, God’s desire that human beings live ethically and justly with each other is concomitant with that love.
  11. This is not to say, by any means, that all or even most of the Indigenous Christian community is involved with, or even agrees with, this track. It is to clearly state, however, that the majority of those with theological and biblical training beyond the levels usually attained by Indigenous people in Western church settings are part of a diversely articulated position heading in this direction.
  12. Reformed traditions in particular like to make this point when I speak with them. {165}
  13. I note the recent work by Howard Snyder and Joel Scandrett as a change in thinking: Salvation Means Creation Healed: The Ecology of Sin and Grace: Overcoming the Divorce between Earth and Heaven (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011).
  14. The renewed debate over the right to end life at a time of the individual’s choosing—what used to be referred to as suicide (note the euphemistic change in language to avoid the perception of moral clash)—is, in my opinion, an example of what happens when society silos and compartmentalizes the sacred.
  15. Chrestien LeClercq, New Relations of Gaspesia, trans. and ed. W. F. Ganong, 2nd ed. (Toronto: The Champlain Society, 1910 [1691]).
  16. Marc Lescarbot 1610, in Jesuit Relations 1: 91.
  17. Pierre Le Jeune 1634, in Jesuit Relations 6: 229.
  18. Daniel N. Paul, We Were Not the Savages: A Micmac Perspective on the Collision of European and Aboriginal Civilizations (Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 1993).
  19. See Terry LeBlanc, “Mi’kmaq and French/Jesuit Understandings of the Spiritual and Spirituality: Implications for Faith” (PhD diss., Asbury Theological Seminary, 2012).
  20. Although framed in very different ways, consider the works of Ignatius of Loyola, Hannah Whitall Smith, Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Richard Foster. All focus on the spiritual in some form of behavioral way, whereas Indigenous perspectives view spirituality as innate. Though shifts are noteworthy, particularly in what came to be called “Spiritual Theology,” the fact some Christian thinkers believed that theology needed this correction is itself a telling indicator. Even Thomism, acclaimed for its spirituality, maintains a central emphasis on spiritual behavior in both its ascetical and mystical branches.
  21. I note, for example, neo-Reformed movements within the North American church that continue to divide Christ’s redemptive focus into the important and less important—humans and then the rest of creation.
  22. For the full text of the apology see
  23. Le Jeune 1616, in Jesuit Relations 3: 113.
  24. Le Clercq, New Relations, 103–6.
Terry LeBlanc (Mi’kmaq-Acadian) has been active in full-time vocational ministry with the Native North American community since 1978. He is currently CEO and Director of My People International and the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (NAIITS). He has developed and directed many Christian and non-Christian initiatives within the Native community. A recipient of the Dr. E. H. Johnson Memorial Award for Innovation in Mission, he completed his PhD at Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore, KY) in 2012.

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