Thoughts about Sivin's thoughts...

I may be jumping the gun here, because I haven't read beyond chapter one yet, but I can see that this idea will likely be coming up, so perhaps it is good to look at it right from the beginning.

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??


Ryan Lee Sharp said...

Brian's chapter, "Why I am incarnational" was actually be titled, "Why I am Buddhist/Muslim/Jewish/Hindu", so there's the chapter you are looking for!...

As for your thoughts of God being at work in other parts of the world developing the Kingdom of God, I am in total agreeance. I just did a post reflecting on the recent Chinese film, "Hero". I cannot help but think that this was the narrative of "God" or perhaps "Dao" in their midst. Check out my blog at here if that sounds interesting to you.

I think that this new conversation of valuing different levels/traditions/paths of christianity will eventually lead us to the greater conversation about different religions all together. The underlying assumption of Brian's book is that perhaps many of these traditions are ways, but not THE way... perhaps there is no THE way, well... perhaps thats a bit too liberal?...

JJ said...

Thanks for the tip-off. I will be looking forward to that chapter.

Maybe there is "one way", I just don't think it is believing a bunch of things about Jesus, as that is not even what Jesus himself emphasized. But if Jesus was the revelation to the world that God is Love, then perhaps "the way" is to believe (accept and join in on) the grace that he demonstrated.

Now I'm getting too preachy. I better just keep reading the book.

Sivin Kit said...

A little comment on "mission partnerships". As I work closely with my German friend - a "theological consultant" to our denomination from Germany (the term "missionary" in the traditional sense has the potential of being perceived in a more "conquest"-flavoured way here) , I find that there's great value working with him, and interacting with him, our "conversations" open up lots of fresh insights into culture, theology, missiology, church, practices and so forth. Thus, personally I believe "isolating" ourselves from western Christians is counter-productive. Having a mutual respect and common commitment to find answers together is the exciting way forward. I think many Asians can have a healthy confidence that they have much to contribute (I confess many are still feel inferior at some level), while other Asians need to be cautious not to over-react against perceived historical mistakes (or become unnecessarily hostile to anything western) and close themselves up from useful dialogue.

Anonymous said...

mark oestreicher here, the publisher of the book. FYI, there was a chapter called "why i am buddhist/muslim/hindu/jewish" at one point. through several iterations, it later became the current chapter called "why i am missional". i think i commented on this process earlier.

but i agree with you: i would love to see a book (or series of articles) that discusses what we often-myopic christians can learn from the wonders of other beliefs.

dave p said...

The chapter on missions in Brian's The Church on the Other Side talks about this quite a bit. I don't think there are any pat answers, but Brian does have an excellent grasp on this having spent quite a while on the board of a missionary organization.

Truly, I think it's one of those things that's easy to say and hard to do:

Work together (indigenous and external missionaries) in humility and love

Having worked on a mission trip in Mexico with YWAM, it's interesting to see the local Mexicans send missionaries to Thailand, and yes, even the US.

Eventually, I think we need to see mission as anyone going anywhere, working with local people, because (in the best of worlds) locals bring the cultural knowledge and context and the outsiders bring the "yeast" that disturbs the status quo, which will always, inevtitably, be short of the best we can do for God.

dave paisley