I am talking about Sivin's reference to Christianity becoming "rooted in the soil" of Malaysia. Living in Japan on a missionary visa, the challenges surrounding that idea come up often for me.
It seems that within the recent history of Christian mission, there have been two extremes to which the pendulum swings. On one side there is the colonial, culture-crushing kind of mission that carried an attitude which basically said, "We have the truth, you need it, and we are going to give it to you, whether you like it or not".
In reaction to this, you have the movement that says mission is best done only by nationals within a given country; that only they can effectively communicate the gospel to their own culture. And from what I've encountered, neither side seems to be too interested in uncovering what God has been up to in the culture before the "missionaries" even arrived. Rather, it is just about who gets to communicate the truth from "over there".
To me, both seem to miss out on the diversity and sharing that seem to be central to Christ and the Kingdom of God. Perhaps a better paradigm would be one that says, we westerners have been given something from God to give to you, AND (and that's a big "and") God has planted something historically in this nation and this people that we need to learn from you.
But I guess that is where it gets down to the nitty gritty of how our theology affects our actions, and therefore where it gets divisive. Because in my case, the central guiding principle I take from Christ in scripture, the mission I believe has been given me, is the communication and the acting out of grace, the God kind of Love you might say, in whatever context you find yourself. For me that means I am comfortable with some big changes in the cultural expression of Christianity, as long as it squares with the guiding principle of grace. I would venture a guess that Christ may not be too concerned with our cultural expression (for all he had to say about it) as long as we are learning to Love.
Lots of people disagree with that. Lots of people believe that parts of the faith that I consider cultural are much more intricately linked to the mission that Christ gave his followers. And there the tension lies; there application gets more difficult.
Looking through the chapter headings, I don't see one called, "Why I am Buddhist". Yet this is the question I am interested in hearing discussed - to what extent do we need to be listening for the truth of Christ as it has been expressed in the religions of other truth seekers. I guess I should add though, don't let such crazy talk make you write me off as some kind of syncretistic, all-religions-are-equal liberal. That doesn't fit me. I actually passionately (perhaps arrogantly?) believe there is something unique, central (dare I say supreme?) in the person of Christ. I just don't think it is contained in the religion we created to represent him. And I think we should be looking for and trusting in the ways he has been expressing his heart to diverse people in diverse places, throughout the ages.
Dwight Friesen (he's from Manitoba!!)posted this a while ago. Maybe it captures some of what I am trying to say:
Back in the 1920's E. Stanley Jones wrote something to the effect of, Christ did not come to abolish Judaism but to fulfill it. Jones when on to build a case challenging the colonialist missionary movement of his day, arguing that Christ didn't come to destroy Hinduism but to fulfill it, ...to fulfill Islam, ...to fulfill Buddhism, etc...
What if in the name of Christ we sought to preserve and fulfill the beauty of God seen through other religions? While always nudging toward Christ. Like if Saddam Hussein began to follow Christ, should he renounce Islam and become a Methodist. Or could he live Christ in Islam?
Is that too vague? Should I be using more concrete examples? How are we supposed to discuss this stuff on a blog, with all the back-and-forth, challenging and clarifying type questions that a good discussion requires??