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The Journal

of the International Society for

Frontier Missiology

Int’l Journal of Frontier Missiology

Linking Missiology
163 From the Editor’s Desk Brad Gill
Continents in Conversation

165 Articles
165 Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Intiated Churches
and Insider Movements Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum
An experienced eye will see the differences.
173 Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry
H. L. Richard
A rising mission activism needs to measure its steps.
183 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps
for Implementation David S. Lim
A reality check on any Christian rush-to-judgment.
195 Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors Kwame Bediako
It’s too soon to close the file on this missiologist.

202 Responses
202 “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?”: A Response to Harley Talman Ayman Ibrahim
204 My Response to Ayman Ibrahim Harley Talman

208 Book Reviews

208 Paul and the Gift 211 Christians in South Indian Villages, 1959—2009: Decline and Revival in Telangana

214 In Others’ Words

214 By 2050, 80% of Christians in the World Will Be Asian, African, or Latin American Are the World’s Muslims

Growing Faster Than the World’s Christians? Bible-Based Anasheed Videos Now Available An Intersection
of Theology and Missiology Online Resources

October–December 2015
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Continents in Conversation October–December 2015 Volume 32:4

n a recent trip to Africa I was third party to a bilateral African-
Chinese exchange. It began on a hotel shuttle when I found myself Brad Gill
sitting next to a Chinese gentleman who was ministering in a major Editor-at-Large
Rory Clark
Muslim city. It was fascinating to hear how his family—without any hint of
Consulting Editors
Western Christendom—was strategically placed. One could see that he was thriv- Rick Brown, Gavriel Gefen, Herbert Hoefer,
ing. Earlier that same day my cab driver had pointed out the Chinese cars, the Rebecca Lewis, H. L. Richard, Steve Saint
Chinese buses, the Chinese highways, and the impressive buildings which had all Copy Editing and Layout
been built by the Chinese. China had arrived and was investing in Africa, and I Elizabeth Gill, Marjorie Clark

was suddenly alert to the missiological conversations I might overhear between Secretary
Lois Carey
African and Chinese colleagues at the conference we were attending.
Of course, over the past half century, a global, multilateral missiology has already Frontier Mission Fellowship

been flourishing. Associations like the Lausanne movement (LMWE), the World 2015 ISFM Executive Committee
Greg Parsons, Brad Gill, Rory Clark,
Evangelical Alliance (WEA), and the International Fellowship of Evangelical Mission Darrell Dorr
Theologians (IFEMT) have brokered global conversations on the various dimensions
of the Missio Dei. This cross-pollination brings depth and new insights that can shift Web Site
our mission priorities. But how might this global interaction impact frontier missiol-
ogy with its singular focus? Should we expect such international conversations to help Editorial Correspondence
us overcome the seemingly insurmountable barriers to reaching the unreached? 1605 E. Elizabeth Street
Pasadena, CA 91104
The articles in this issue provide some African and Asian observations on three (734) 765-0368, editors@ijfm.org
very critical issues in frontier missiology: the orthodoxy of new insider move-
ments, the role of ancestor veneration, and the “prophetic” role of Muhammad. One year (four issues) $18.00
Daniels and Nussbaum (165) lead off by comparing the historic analysis and cat- Two years (eight issues) $34.00
Three years (twelve issues) $48.00
egorization of Africa’s indigenous movements with Muslim insider movements
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across Africa and Asia today. Richards insists that these types of movements Payment must be enclosed with orders.
require that we “cultivate reticence” if any fresh mission activism is to effectively Please supply us with current address and
engage in discipling an unreached Hindu world (173). change of address when necessary.
Send all subscription correspondence to:
On the subject of ancestor veneration, we include the final installment of David IJFM
Lim’s treatment of this difficult barrier for the peoples of East Asia (183), but we’ve 1605 E. Elizabeth Street
Pasadena, CA 91104
placed it in tandem with Kwame Bediako’s treatment of similar phenomena in Tel: (330) 626-3361
the African experience (195). Orbis Books has graciously given us permission to Fax: (626) 398-2263
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republish a chapter from Bediako’s Jesus and the Gospel in Africa, and you won’t want
to miss the way he weaves the ancestors into a biblical interpretation of Hebrews IJFM (ISSN #2161-3354) was established
(198–200). We look forward to hearing how our Asian colleagues respond. in 1984 by the International Student
Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions,, an
Editorial continued on p. 164 outgrowth of the student-level meeting of
Edinburgh ‘80.
The views expressed in IJFM are those of the various authors and not necessarily those COPYRIGHT ©2015 International Student
of the journal’s editors, the International Society for Frontier Missiology or the society’s Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions.
executive committee. PRINTED in the USA
164 From the Editor’s Desk, Who We Are

Finally, we continue to roll out force us to explore our well-established imagination in African missiology.2
responses to Harley Talman’s recent paradigms of mission, and allow a This issue of the IJFM posits that it’s
treatment of the “prophethood” of maturation of frontier missiology. The the lessons from Africa’s history of
Muhammad (see IJFM 31:4). In that African-Chinese encounter I witnessed mission to a primal religious world
issue we heard from Lebanese missiolo- at the conference indicates something that must be heard laterally across
gist, Martin Accad. Now we welcome significant about the place of Africa in frontier missiology. If indeed a primal
Egyptian scholar and professor, Ayman our global conversation. But beyond religiosity also lies at the grassroots of
Ibrahim. Professor Ibrahim’s response the development of these Global South Asian religious worlds,3 then it seems
and Talman’s interaction with it were relationships and the emergence of that an intentional African-Asian
originally presented at the 2015 EMS/ invigorating new pulses of mission, linking of missiology should benefit
ISFM meetings. In the next issue, we might we ask just how this partnership greatly the ministries on those religious
continue with a second set of interac- across the two very different religious frontiers. The pairing of articles in this
tions between Talman and Ibrahim, but landscapes of Africa and Asia will issue was designed towards that end.
we will also add a response from John profit our missiological imagination?
In Him,
Azumah, the Ghanaian missiologist
Missiologists like Bediako (195)
who teaches at Columbia Theological
and Turner (166–167) remind us of
Seminary in Decatur, GA. There is no
the vital role of the primal religious
doubt that Talman has assaulted tradi- Brad Gill
imagination in African mission his- Senior Editor, IJFM
tional notions of Muhammad, and let
tory. They recognize that Africa retains
the reader be forewarned that the result-
ing dialogues are heavy and technical.
a traditional religious consciousness Endnotes
even amidst rampant globalization. John B. Taylor quoted in Bediako,
These provocative (American–Arab– Kwame, Jesus and the Gospel in Africa
Years ago, one missiologist suggested (Orbis: Maryknoll, 2004), 86.
African) conversations are nevertheless
that this primal imagination 2
William Dyrness & Oscar Garcia-
crucial for reimagining our missiology
may survive the loss of its overt reli- Johnson, Theology Without Borders (Baker
for modern encounters with Islam. Academic: Grand Rapids, 2015), 60–66.
gious system and continue to provide 3
at least part of its terms of reference in Simon Chan, Grassroots Asian Theology
I say “reimagining” intentionally, (IV Press: Downers Grove, 2014), 63.
a new and more complex situation . . .1
because these kinds of civil multilateral
conversations—with very divergent That African complexity has certainly
points of view—will eventually reshape demanded new terms of reference that
our missiological imaginations. They have then spawned a new political

The IJFM is published in the name of the International Student Leaders Coalition for Frontier Missions, a fellowship of younger leaders committed to
the purposes of the twin consultations of Edinburgh 1980: The World Consultation on Frontier Missions and the International Student Consultation
on Frontier Missions. As an expression of the ongoing concerns of Edinburgh 1980, the IJFM seeks to:

 promote intergenerational dialogue between senior and junior mission leaders;

 cultivate an international fraternity of thought in the development of frontier missiology;
 highlight the need to maintain, renew, and create mission agencies as vehicles for frontier missions;
 encourage multidimensional and interdisciplinary studies;
 foster spiritual devotion as well as intellectual growth; and
 advocate “A Church for Every People.”

Mission frontiers, like other frontiers, represent boundaries or barriers beyond which we must go yet beyond which we may not be able to see
clearly and boundaries which may even be disputed or denied. Their study involves the discovery and evaluation of the unknown or even the
reevaluation of the known. But unlike other frontiers, mission frontiers is a subject specifically concerned to explore and exposit areas and ideas and
insights related to the glorification of God in all the nations (peoples) of the world, “to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light and
from the power of Satan to God.” (Acts 26:18)

Subscribers and other readers of the IJFM (due to ongoing promotion) come from a wide variety of backgrounds. Mission professors, field mission-
aries, young adult mission mobilizers, college librarians, mission executives, and mission researchers all look to the IJFM for the latest thinking in
frontier missiology.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Linking Missiology
Letting Africa Speak:
Exploring the Analogy of African-Initiated Churches
and Insider Movements
by Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum

nsider movements are raising a host of contentious issues for God’s
people working in the Muslim world,1 and a vigorous debate continues
to unfold. The normal framework for this debate has been to compare the
faith and practice of these insider movements (IMs) to the early church model
during and soon after the New Testament period. Many field workers and mis-
siologists invoke this “Jesus movement” from Judaism into a Greek world as a
single comparison for these movements today. While this early church correla-
tion has been chosen for various reasons, it is most often the only one offered
simply because missionaries have had no other model with which to compare
them. Unfortunately, the singularity of this comparison has severely constricted
Gene Daniels (pseudonym) and his the discussion, and we believe it’s preventing an understanding of these insider
family spent twelve years work-
ing with Muslims in Central Asia. movements that is robust enough to be theologically sound.
He continues to focus on the Mus-
lim world, now primarily through Furthermore, when we limit ourselves to this one comparison, we routinely
research and training. Daniels has a overlook the possibility of a third model that could contribute greatly to our
doctorate in Religious Studies from
insight and evaluation. What if there were another time and place in his-
the University of South Africa.
tory where “Greeks” became Jesus-followers en masse without adopting the
Stan Nussbaum, Staff Missiologist
cultural-religious package of the gospel messengers? What if we had another
at GMI Research Services, has been
involved with indigenous African distinct Christian tradition to which we could compare insider movements,
church movements since 1979 when something well established and widely studied which offered multiple paral-
he began his doctoral study at the
University of South Africa with M. lels? Would a different framework for consideration help alleviate some of
L. Daneel and David Bosch. He was the contention?
recruited by Harold Turner for teach-
ing in Birmingham, England, at a We believe there is a third option, hitherto unexplored because of the geo-
research center devoted to the study of
such movements. For almost two de- graphical and academic distance between different missiological fields—the
cades he edited the Review of AICs, Muslim World and sub-Saharan Africa. We wish to suggest some helpful
a journal for specialist practitioners
in this field. With three international comparisons and contrasts between insider movements and the African-
colleagues he authored Mission in Initiated Churches (AICs). These AICs rarely if ever come up as a point of
an African Way, reflecting on how
reference in the evaluation of IMs, for seldom is someone familiar with both
African movements see and carry out
their mission. of the models. This article will attempt to overcome this predicament through

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 32:4 Winter 2015•165

166 Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Initiated Churches and Insider Movements

the combined experiences of two essential by most of the churches that ecclesiastical models and forms of be-
authors who happen to be friends: rejected them earlier. Roland Allen in his ing Christian. (2008, 5)
Daniels, a worker in the Muslim world, 1912 classic, Missionary Methods, had al- Although insider movements are not
and Nussbaum, an expert on African- ready raised the question very poignantly: an identical phenomenon, it is not
Initiated Churches.2 Our missions are in different coun- hard to see how Anderson’s description
For the past century or so, in a wide tries amongst people of the most might reference some of them as well.
variety of contexts across Africa, an diverse characteristics, but all bear a
most astonishing resemblance one We believe there might be great ben-
incredibly broad spectrum of these efit to introducing the AIC phenom-
to another. . . . There has been no
African-Initiated Churches has enon into the current discussion and
new revelation. There has been no
emerged, ranging from the multi- new discovery of new aspects of the debate—especially in its application
million member ones like the Zion Gospel, no new unfolding of new to insider movements in the Muslim
Christian Church of South Africa, the forms of Christian life. . . . There was world. In this paper we will explore
Kimbanguists of Congo, and the several a day when we rather . . . prided our- some of the ways that insider move-
Aladura movements in Nigeria, to thou- selves upon the fact that no strange
ments in the Muslim world are both
sands of tiny denominations, some con- elements had produced new and
perhaps perplexing developments
similar to and different from African-
sisting of just one congregation of fifteen
of Christian thought and life. But to- Initiated Churches. We will also sug-
to twenty people meeting in the home
day . . . we desire to see Christianity es- gest some implications for our under-
of their self-appointed “archbishop.”
tablished in foreign climes putting on standing of IMs, in the hope that this
These vastly differing movements have analogy might reshape how we think
presented many of the same chal- and talk about these movements.
lenges to foreign missionaries and
local Christians in older churches that We assume that readers will be famil-
iar with the basic contours of the in-
insider movements are now presenting
in the Muslim World today:
In the African case, sider movement controversy;4 however,

• Are they Christian at all?

we have the benefit we also assume that those who are will
not be as conversant with the African-
• Are they “Christianity on the of a century Initiated Church phenomenon. In
cheap,” allowing locally valued but order to survey and understand the
unbiblical practices for the sake of of missiological rather large body of knowledge col-
acceptance? Is this syncretism or
valid contextualization?
hindsight. lected about AICs over the past fifty
years, we will begin with a four-part
• If they are real Christians, why typology of AICs developed by Harold
can’t they just join existing church- Turner,5 a scholar who became fasci-
es? What is their problem? nated with African-Initiated Churches
a foreign dress and developing new while teaching religious studies at a
The difference between these challenges
forms of glory and of beauty (Allen, Nigerian university in the late 1950s.
in Africa and the Muslim World is that
1912, quoted in Nussbaum, 2003). He later founded a specialized research
in the African case, we have the benefit of
a century of missiological hindsight. Is- This is saying, in effect, “Why don’t center on this phenomenon at the
sues that look totally new in the Muslim AICs exist? If the gospel is the gospel, University of Birmingham (England)
World actually have a long and complex they should be popping up somewhere.” where he mentored one of the authors
history of debate in an African context.3 They were just beginning to take root of this article (Stan).
Even though Africa and the Muslim in southern Africa when Allen wrote
but were scorned for several decades by
World differ in important ways, the
people who had not taken Allen to heart.
Turner’s Crucial Category
current discussion in the Muslim World
can benefit from considering some of the
About a century later, another Allan Turner’s great contribution to this field
parallels and their implications. (Anderson), one of the foremost of study was a typology of religious
A major caution for us as we consider authorities on African-Initiated interaction movements that have oc-
insider movements is to note the way the Churches, dares to write from a staunch curred globally as a world (or mission-
evaluation of African-Initiated Churches evangelical perspective that AICs are, ary) religion entered the space previ-
has shifted over time. For example, AIC living, radical experiments of an ously dominated by a single traditional
drumming and dancing were rejected as indigenized Christianity that has (tribal, primal) religion. Some indig-
pagan a century ago but now are seen as consciously rejected Western enous people will leave their religion

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum 167

and join the missionary’s church, but
often others will start religious move-
f the categories are not distinguished, all four are
ments of their own. For these move- tarred and feathered with the same brush, thus
ments, Turner introduced the four unnecessarily dividing the true Body of Christ.
categories of neo-primal, synthetist,6
Hebraist,7 and independent church.8 The first two categories and their other words, Turner realized that
respective intentions are obviously many of the African movements
Note at the outset that even though
outside the bounds of biblical faith. The were attempting to restructure the
these categories are academic distinc-
term AICs should never have been un- centuries-old, missionary-defined
tions, they are made not for academic
derstood to include movements from relationship between Christianity and
purposes, but deliberately practical be-
the first two categories, although at the African-ness. Turner’s typology is an
cause of their huge implications for the
popular level it often does. The distinc- assessment of the African experience
way that mainstream Christians relate
tion between the other two categories in what Andrew Walls has called the
to various categories of new religious
was a matter of theological judgment “serial transmission of the gospel”:
movements in these settings. If they by outsiders. So-called “Independent throughout history the gospel must
are not distinguished, all four are tarred churches” (more properly called AICs) “continuously enter into the vernacu-
and feathered with the same brush (and passed the Christian theological test lar culture and interact with it, or it
rejected), thus unnecessarily dividing and were welcomed as fellow Chris- withers and fades” (2005, 29). And it is
the true Body of Christ. By rejecting tians, while the Hebraists are much this very point, the vigor or withering
the entire phenomenon, mainstream more problematic. They intend and of gospel transmission, which suggests
Christians actually separate themselves claim to be biblical but in the judg- commonalities in the dynamics of
from one of the four types, the inde- ment of most Christians they fail to be African and insider movements that
pendent churches, that they would have so. Yet we must recognize that among should help us in our evaluation of
embraced had they understood the dis- African movements the distinction is these newer IMs.
tinctions better. That one type, and only not always so clear. There are Hebraists
that one, is what this article will refer to who are heterodox—that is they almost
as the African-Initiated Churches. qualify as churches—and then there are Similarities between African
AICs who share some characteristics and Insider Movements
Also, note that the label “insider To begin, we are not suggesting that
with Hebraists but still fit within a
movements” does exactly what Turner all of Turner’s categories have clear
generous biblical orthodoxy. This is why
was warning against—it lumps all the parallels within insider movements
Turner believed the issue needed more
categories together. We are digging in the Muslim world; however, we do
missiological reflection. The tendency
into Turner because we believe the IM believe there are important similari-
was to lump both categories together as
debate can benefit if we distinguish ties even if some of them are hiding a
Hebraists, and to fail to see that a large
different kinds of insider movements bit under the surface. A good example
proportion of them actually belonged
by adopting his categories.9 in an independent church category. of this is the neo-primal category.
Turner’s constant emphasis was to It seems to us that a similar kind While it does not have a parallel with
consider the intentions of the move- of overgeneralization is common in IMs among Muslims, Turner’s focus
ments when categorizing them. He discussions about insider movements. on motivation opens a very interest-
identified three different intentions ing space to be explored. Neo-primal
Going back to Turner’s typology, we movements are reactionary. They occur
at work in these four types of move- should be clear that as a theologian
ments: first, an intent to revitalize the when a primal (or ethnic) religion has
he was not a pluralist; he was not encountered a foreign, evangelistic
traditional religion to counter the new prepared to ignore nor excuse the
Christian threat (neo-primal move- religion, when that ethnic religion has
unorthodox theologies of new move-
ments); secondly, an intent to create a reacted to the foreign religion, and
ments.11 As a theologian he would
new mix of Christian and traditional when the primal or ethnic religion has
call a spade a spade, and theological
then taken on new forms that will re-
primal religious culture (synthetist failing was recognized as error. But
inforce its ethnic identity as a defense
movements); third, an intent to break as a scholar committed to the study
against a religious invader.
with traditional, primal religion and of religion from a phenomenological
become Christian—and this intent perspective, he cautioned outsiders It is not hard to imagine a simi-
was represented in both the Hebra- not to assume truth to be error just lar factor in the development of an
ist movements and the independent because they could not recognize it insider movement, even those that are
churches (Turner 1997).10 in unfamiliar cultural trappings. In biblically sound. While this is yet to

32:4 Winter 2015

168 Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Initiated Churches and Insider Movements

be researched across a large sample, However, this raises a tangential of group because of the affinity that
there are already a few examples of but valuable point about the term many Africans displayed toward the
IMs which developed as a reaction “syncretism” that is worth briefly pur- Hebrew patterns of life typified in the
against alien religious forms, such as in suing. This term seems to be used in Old Testament. Obviously “Hebraist”
my (Daniels’) interview with the East different ways by different schools of would have a negative connotation
African insider, Abu Jaz (2013). thought in missiology. For those who for many believers from a Muslim
lean more toward theological studies, background, so we would suggest a
Turner’s second category of intent
the term has a pejorative connotation shift in terminology when associating
describes those new movements
which indicates that something is this orientation to Islamic contexts.
which were attempting to synthesize
heretical or sub-Christian. However, Perhaps “Semitic” might be a more
religions, or in the case of IMs, those
for those who lean toward the social accurate way to capture the essence
which might be trying to somehow
sciences, syncretism is a somewhat of the majority of insider movements
reconcile the contradictions between
neutral term that refers to the mixing among Muslims. Like the “Hebraist”
two distinctly different religions that
of religious concepts that naturally in Turner’s typology, the term “Semit-
still share significant overlap—Is-
results from cultural contact (Mul- ic” emphasizes the commonality these
lam and Christianity. But by using lins 2001 in Richard 2015, 368). Thus, groups sense with the Semitic ethos of
the term “synthetist” he deliberately even when strong advocates of insider the Bible.12 By using “Semitic” rather
avoided the term “syncretist.” Turner movements recognize the inevitability than “Islamic” we clarify that we are
was trying to steer away from the of syncretism (Lewis 2015, 543), they not indicating that these believers
more loaded theological judgment and
intend to continue in the religion of
develop a phenomenological classifi-
Muhammad. We would note that the
cation. That said, in our comparisons
practical expression this commonal-
on this point we are not restricted to
ity takes is quite different between
Turner’s phenomenological approach.
We would feel it essential to recognize By using African and insider movements. In the
case of the AICs, the believers often
the obvious reality that some insider the term “synthetist” coin new ceremonies or institutions
movements will tend towards the
syncretistic. This is nothing new in he deliberately from biblical material, whereas for
insiders in Muslim contexts this com-
Christianity throughout history, since
various levels and kinds of syncre-
avoided the term monality is more of an affinity for, and
a sense of affirmation by, the cultures
tism have plagued new churches and “syncretist.” depicted in the Bible.
church movements from the very
beginning. Nor is it strictly a problem Because most of us are vastly removed
on the frontiers of mission. One is from these Semitic values and patterns
reminded that mature and established of life, we need to remember Turner’s
American churches can easily fuse are not necessarily talking about the advice and give this careful missio-
with the American cult of wealth and exact same thing as their detractors. logical reflection before making any
prosperity. This syncretistic tendency is Perhaps the colloquial term “damnable judgments. As outsiders, it is easy to
clearly indicated and addressed head- heresy” would be helpful to clarify the miss important nuances of difference
on in those New Testament epistles to differences in usage between the two between groups who are almost bibli-
the (church-planting) movements in camps, but this is beyond the scope of cal (heterodox) and those that are truly
places like Galatia (chapters 3 and 4) this article. biblical, but just in ways with which
and Colossae (chapter 2). we are unfamiliar.
Perhaps the most appropriate and im-
The main advantage in acknowledging portant commonality between African The most recent scholarship on insider
the potential problem of syncretism and insider movements is the third movements seems to confirm this line
in some insider movements is that intent, which represents the attempt of thinking. While never specifically
it helps us avoid a binary—right or of believers to redefine the interplay using this term “Semitic” in the way we
wrong—dichotomy when discussing of religion and culture. These move- suggest, the new compendium Under-
them. Turner’s analysis of African- ments which have sprung up across standing Insider Movements argues
Initiated Churches reminds us that Africa affirm the ability to maintain for a deep, even intrinsic connection
there will be a spectrum within the IM their cultural identity while having a between Islam and the Jewish/Semitic
world, and that some movements will new religious loyalty to Jesus. Turner faith (Talman & Travis 2015). In this
actually be syncretistic. used the term “Hebraist” for this kind volume, Talman devotes an entire

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum 169

chapter to the relationship between
insider movements and Old Testament
oth African movements and IMs usually emerge
theology, and Woodberry goes so far as in the context of power cultures. Dreams and
to state that Islam is an Arab contextu-
alization of Jewish monotheism (412).
visions often play a significant role.
Obviously, not all Muslims are ethni- Also, one of the reasons both the Hebra- our arguments would be superficial
cally Semitic peoples, but it’s important ist and the insider Semitic movements and even specious if we did not at least
to recognize that the meta-narrative tend to develop is because neither of briefly touch on some of the contextu-
and universal cultural markers of Islam them identify with nor trust the Chris- al limits of this analogy. We suggest a
are clearly Semitic. Many believers tian establishment (the churches of few more obvious distinctions between
who turn to Christ inside a Muslim Christendom). It looks and feels like the these movements below:
people group will resonate with this unbiblical imposition of a foreign culture.
Semitic ethos when reading the Bible. In the case of the African movements, 1. African movements developed
Their cultural filters are distinct from the source of this foreignness was the in a regional and ethnic con-
our Western cultural filters.13 The white missionaries. In the case of IMs, text where an animistic religion
implications of this are so huge we feel the sense of foreignness comes more involved the placating of spirits,
we can only scratch the surface in this often from the cultural distance between and sometimes idolatry, whereas
article. Consider the following conten- the language and ritual of a previously es- orthodox Islam is both monothe-
tious issue as one example. tablished Christian group in the host so- istic and universal.15
ciety and the new movement of believers 2. African movements have a
Many insider movements advocates
from a Muslim background. For example, strong element of anti-colonial-
have originally pointed to similarities
in Egypt, the Coptic church worships ism, whereas insider movements
between insiders and Messianic Jews
in the Coptic language—a language not do not demonstrate this feature,
(Travis 2000), which has in turn caused
even known by most Egyptians. African per se.16
some opponents of IMs to accuse them
and insider movements alike regard that 3. African movements make an
of giving the religion of Islam a status
foreignness as a ball and chain that ought open break with their previ-
similar to that of Judaism (McKeon
not to slow down the beautiful feet of ous religious identity 17 (African
2014). However, by identifying IMs
those who bring good news. traditional religion) whereas
as Semitic instead of Islamic we could
shift the perspective on this perceived A final point of commonality seems to insiders do not, because for them
similarity and encourage more objec- be that both African and insider move- Islam is a cultural as well as a
tivity on a highly-charged theological ments usually emerge in the context of religious identity.
point. By recognizing that both spring power cultures14—dreams and visions 4. AICs and Hebraist movements
from a common meta-cultural frame- often play significant roles in the begin- in Africa set up formal church
work, perhaps both would agree on ning of these movements. Such super- structures with names, offices,
this: that both the modern Messianic natural encounters on the part of leaders memberships, etc., and they see
Jewish movement and IMs are in their project a charismatic rather than textual these institutions as alternate
own ways a reaction to the lack of Se- authority. These supernatural powers structures running parallel to the
mitic cultural values in the Evangelical perhaps give leadership the confidence Christian churches identified
Church, even though those values are needed to launch new movements. As with Christendom.
present in the Bible. a general rule, this similarity to sub- This list is not exhaustive, nor is it sur-
Saharan African cultures exists in those
This reaction parallels that of primal prising. But our assertion is that while
contexts where folk Islam is strongest.
religious Africans when they realized African and insider movements share
Thus insider movements in folk Islamic
that physical healing power and vi- significant commonalities, they do not
settings may be expected to more closely
sionary experiences, both very promi- display identical realities in different
parallel African-Initiated Churches than
nent in African culture, were equally religious contexts. Major distinctions
those IMs in more orthodox settings.
so in the Bible—but nearly totally do exist. Nevertheless, we believe the
absent in mission-initiated churches. commonalities detailed earlier in this
The Africans resonated more strongly Points of Divergence between paper are broad and deep enough to
with the Bible than with the mission- African and Insider Movements warrant a fresh new lens on insider
initiated churches which looked sub- Although the thrust of this paper is to movements, even one that perhaps
biblical from their African cultural evaluate the potential similarities be- might generate a new way of talking
perspective on power. tween African and insider movements, about them.

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170 Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Initiated Churches and Insider Movements

Insider-Initiated Ecclesias makes it explicit that those movements spectrum but apply this new term to
Our initial consideration of these that gather under this rubric of oikos only one certain type of movement, the
parallels between African and insider do, in fact, practice a form of gathering type that parallels the African-Initiated
movements has brought into sharp fo- comparable to the biblical ecclesia, even Churches in Turner’s typology. These
cus a problem with current terminolo- if it is vastly different from Western would be the insiders we recognize
gy. Despite the fact that advocates have models. Furthermore, this focus on and relate to as fellow members of the
consistently argued to the contrary, the the gathering of believers is consistent Body of Christ. Of course, we may
term “movements” seems to project— with the earliest discussions of insiders still have some theological debates
to us at least—an absence of locally in the missiological literature. In his with them, but they will be akin to the
gathered believers. This is unfortunate, seminal article on the subject, “The C1 debates between Presbyterians and
to C6 Spectrum,” John Travis offers a Methodists, not between evangelicals
since current field research in Africa
descriptive spectrum which and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
indicates insider movements include a
multiplicity of locally gathered fellow- compares and contrasts types of We believe that refining our catego-
ships of believers (Naja 2015). This ter- “Christ-centered communities” (groups rization of insider movements, using
minology of “movements” is a serious of believers in Christ) found in the the label Insider-Initiated Ecclesias
problem that we believe unfairly preju- Muslim world [emphasis ours]. (1998)
for only some of them, is a good first
dices many against insider movements Although Travis and others have attempt to establish some biblical
that are actually quite biblical in their repeatedly tried to define the ecclesial boundaries without trying to force-fit
ecclesiology. Therefore, we propose a nature of these insider movements, groups into Western ideas of church.
change of terminology to better reflect Gatherings of IIEs may be almost
the patterns of faith in some of the unrecognizable to outsiders as church
groups in question—Insider-Initiated services, for they may be daily rather
Ecclesias (IIEs). than weekly, or they may be comprised
of extended family groups rather than
Like all new terms, IIE may sound The term “movements” community groups; but, they will
strange to the ear at first, but it might
help dispel this unfortunate ambiguity. seems to project define the life of the group and its
This new term makes it clear that the members in locally appropriate ways.
kind of insiders we are talking about
an absence of locally
are neither cowards trying to avoid de- gathered believers. Conclusions
tection and persecution from Muslim In his landmark book, Schism and Re-
religious authorities nor naïve believers newal in Africa, David Barrett described
who think they can be primarily Mus- African-Initiated Churches as “the
lims (in the full religious sense of the product of African spirituality stripped
word) and only secondarily followers a new terminology such as Insider- of support from other cultures,” a Chris-
of Jesus. On the contrary, our point is Initiated Ecclesias would make the tian way of life which expresses biblical
that most IMs do consist of gatherings issue of community more explicit. By theology in ways that are unfamiliar to
in ways that fit the biblical ideal of simply appropriating a Greek word Westerners (1968, 163). In this article
“called out ones.” Like all other believ- which is already part of our theologi- we have asserted that insider move-
ers, they are called out of darkness (1 cal vocabulary, we can also avoid the ments in the Muslim world are doing
Pet 2:9); and yet these insider believ- entire debate about what exactly con- much the same. To substantiate that
ers, like most of those reading this ar- stitutes a church. It keeps the focus on claim we explored some of the com-
ticle, do not feel that “called out-ness” the typical Pauline usage of ecclesia to monalities between African and insider
means leaving their culture or society, indicate a local assembly or gathering movements, three of which stand out:
but rather involves living a noticeably of believers in Christ. • They both assert that religion and
different life within it.
Of course not everything happening culture are separable, i.e., one can re-
Some advocates of insider movements under the umbrella of the term insider main a loyal member of a society or
such as Rebecca Lewis have argued movements will fit well with the term culture without believing or practic-
that many insider gatherings are close Insider-Initiated Ecclesias—and this ing 100% of the religion traditionally
approximations of the extended Gre- is to be anticipated in a typology of associated with that culture.
co-Roman oikos (family unit), which movements. We propose to retain the • They both have what we might call
was a fairly common early church term insider movements for the whole a transitional zone where believ-
pattern (Lewis, 2008). This new term ers are attempting to redefine the

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum 171

relationship between religion and
culture as they affirm a new reli-
any adherents of African and insider
gious loyalty to Jesus. movements have a deep affinity for Hebraic
• Many adherents of both African
and insider movements have a deep
or Semitic patterns of life and thought.
affinity for Hebraic or Semitic from other IMs that are sub-biblical on 3
Serious study was launched with
patterns of life and thought. This this important point. It also leads us to Sundkler’s classic, Bantu Prophets, in 1949.
suggests that rather than thinking consider how IIEs experience and ar- Barrett’s Schism and Renewal in Africa,
about IMs maintaining Islamic ticulate their mission, another area that 1966, analyzed the movements statistically
culture, it might be more accurate across Africa.
has been profitably explored in Africa,18 4
to say that they are preferential to In the past several years there has
but is beyond the scope of this article. been a massive amount of ink spilled about
Semitic traditions and forms. As insider movements. Understanding Insider
with many Hebraist movements, Judging from the African experience,
we would say that Western missionaries Movements by Talman and Travis (William
and especially many AICs, this Carey Library) is a major new resource on
correctly rejected many of the sub-
preference causes them to read the the phenomenon. Also, IJFM has carried
Christian movements, but they tended some very thoughtful articles in the past,
Bible through a very different lens
also to judge the truly biblical AICs too including some well-written critiques, such
than most Western Christians.
harshly and too quickly from the 1920s as Tennent (2006) and Corwin (2007).
In light of several points raised in the through the 1950s. This gradually 5
Harold W. Turner, Religious Innova-
article, we suggest it is time to stop ap- shifted in the 60s, 70s, and 80s as closer tion in Africa: Collected Essays on New Reli-
proaching insider movements as a single investigation often revealed more true gious Movements (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1979).
category. We might need to generate a Christian substance than had been ex- Turner deliberately avoided the word
more accurate typology in the spirit of pected in the unconventional Christian “syncretist,” feeling that it was too loaded
practices of many African churches. as a theological judgment. He was trying
Turner, and this seems promising with
for a phenomenological classification, that
the increase of field research among Questions and concerns about some is, classification by intention, prior to any
these movements. We would suggest of these churches remain to this day, theological judgment. Theology was used
that a good first step in this direction but they are fewer when compared to only to distinguish the two types of move-
could be the use of a new term “Insider- a century ago. Will this pattern of in- ments that both have the intention of being
Initiated Ecclesias.” This term frames creasing discernment repeat itself with Christian, that is, Hebraist movements and
insider movements throughout the independent churches.
such groups within biblical orthodoxy 7
Islamic world? The African experience Hebraists were so called because they
and better captures their “gathered-
may offer a timely comparison. IJFM resonated so closely with the Old Testament
ness” without misrepresenting them as and had such difficulty comprehending the
following the patterns of “church” with way that the Messiah’s arrival reconfigured
which we are familiar in the West. Endnotes theology and practice. For example, prohibi-
The ideas in this article are exclu- tion of pork is common among Hebraists,
As is obvious by now, the authors take and animal sacrifice may be practiced as a
sively concerned with insider movements
a generally positive view of what is means of thanksgiving to God.
among Muslims. We neither affirm nor
usually referred to as insider move- deny their relevance to insider movements
In the African Independent Church
ments in the Muslim world. However, among Hindus or Buddhists. (African context, the term “independent church” has
that does not mean we advocate an traditional religion also qualifies as an a much different connotation than it does
uncritical acceptance of everything “other religious tradition” and we want to for many in the West where the term is usu-
assert we are indeed concerned with that ally synonymous with non-denominational
which has been presented under that
tradition.) This is due to limitations of our Protestant churches. It is a stronger term—
rubric. Rather, this article should be in some cases even placing such groups
experience: the lead author (Daniels) is
seen as an attempt to offer an historical reflecting on almost 20 years of involvement independent of or outside what can properly
analogue from Africa through which in ministry to Muslims, and the support- be called Protestantism, yet clearly still
to reanalyze IMs. In so doing, we ing author (Nussbaum) has more than 30 within the bounds of the wider orthodoxy
hope to bring a new perspective that years of experience in research and ministry of the historic Church.
promotes more objective discussion with African indigenous churches (and only Turner’s personal experience was
and analysis and that opens the door to slight involvement in the Muslim World). in Africa but his typology was global, and
The AIC acronym has been variously his Centre for the Study of New Religious
new ways of comprehending, evaluat- Movements documented the phenomena
unpacked in the past half century. First it
ing, and relating to what we are calling meant “African Independent Churches,” globally in great detail.
Insider-Initiated Ecclesias. This term then some writers used “African Indigenous 10
See especially Turner, A Typology
intentionally pushes gatheredness to Churches,” then some others pushed for for African Religious Movements (Boston:
the forefront, thus setting them apart “African-Initiated Churches.” G. K. Hall, 1979) 79–108. Also see Stan

32:4 Winter 2015

172 Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Initiated Churches and Insider Movements
Nussbaum, “African-Initiated Churches” in Corwin, Gary Downers Grove, IL: Inter-
A dictionary of Mission Theology, ed. John 2007 “A Humble Appeal to C5/Insider Varsity Press.
Corrie (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Movement Muslim Ministry Richard, H. L.
Press, 2007). Advocates to Consider Ten Ques- 2015 “Religious Syncretism as a Syn-
He was, in fact, a good friend of tions.” International Journal of cretistic Concept” In Understand-
Frontier Missiology. vol. 24. no. 1. ing Insider Movements, edited
Lesslie Newbigin and an ardent proponent of
Spring, 5–20. Accessed March 3, by Harley Talman and John Jay
the “gospel and Western culture” movement 2016 at stable URL http://www. Travis. Pasadena, CA: William
after retiring to his native New Zealand. ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/24_1_
Carey Library.
In the case of AICs, the believers often PDFs/Corwin.pdf. Oduro, Thomas
coin new ceremonies or institutions from bib- Daniels, Gene 2007 Mission in an African Way: A
lical material, whereas for insiders in Muslim 2013 “Worshiping Jesus in the Practical Introduction to African
contexts this commonality is more of an affin- Mosque.” Christianity Today. vol. Initiated Churches and Their Sense
ity with the cultures depicted in the Bible. 57. no. 1. January/Febuary. 22–27. of Mission. Wellington, South
13 Hoskins, Daniel G. Africa: BibleMedia.
This issue is much broader than
just insider movements in Islam; it is also 2015 “Russification as a factor in Tennent, Timothy C.
noticeable in Western cultural bias deeply religious conversion.” Culture and 2006 “Followers of Jesus (Isa) in Islamic
rooted in Protestantism. For example, Religion. vol. 16, no. 4. Mosques.” International Journal of
Martin Luther’s well-known disdain for the Lewis, Rebecca Frontier Missiology, vol. 23, no. 3,
book of James still echoes in the neglect in 2008 “Insider Movements: Honoring Fall: 101–115. Accessed March 3,
our Evangelical pulpits for this most Jewish God-Given Identity and Com- 2016 at stable URL http://www.
of the epistles. munity.” International Journal of ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/23_3_
14 Frontier Missiology. vol. 21. no. 2. PDFs/Tennent.pdf.
In the case of African movements
Spring. 16–19. Accessed June 5, Travis, John
we might say they have all emerged in the 2014 at stable URL http://www. 1998 “The C1 to C6 Spectrum.” Evan-
context of power cultures since power is a ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/24_2_ gelical Missions Quarterly. Oct.
fundamental aspect of African life. However, PDFs/24_2_Lewis.pdf. ———.
although many Muslim cultures are also very ———. 2000 “Messianic Muslim Followers
oriented toward the supernatural, it is still too 2015 “Possible Pitfalls of Jesus Move- of Isa.” International Journal of
early to make such a categorical statement ments: Lessons from History” In Frontier Missiology, vol. 17, no. 1,
about the development of insider movements. Understanding Insider Move- Spring: 16–19. Accessed Janu-
15 ments, edited by Harley Talman
Or course there is a great deal of ary 6, 2016 at stable URL http://
folk Islam that is, strictly speaking, neither and John Jay Travis. Pasadena, www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/17_1_
universal nor monotheistic. At this point the CA: William Carey Library. PDFs/Folowers_of_Isa.pdf.
authors do not know of any research which McKeon, Donald Turner, Harold W.
considers if that plays a factor in the devel- 2014 “A Response to Some of the 1979 Religious Innovation in Africa:
opment of insider movements, although this Insider-Movement Leaning Ar- Collected Essays on New Religious
would be a fascinating study. ticles in Perspectives on the World Movements. Boston: G. K. Hall.
16 Christian Movement, 4th edition Walls, Andrew
It could be that whereas we see
Textbook.” Biblical Missiology 2005 The Cross-Cultural Process in
African movements as a reaction to actual website, July 28. Accessed January
physical, political colonialism, IMs are a Christian History. Maryknoll, NY:
6, 2016 at stable URL http://bib- Orbis Books.
reaction to the psychological “colonialism” licalmissiology.org/2014/07/28/
known as globalization. part-iii-a-response-to-some-of-
17 the-insider-movement-leaning-
Here the focus is on three of
Turner’s categories: Synthetist, Hebraist, articles-in-perspectives-on-the-
and Independent Church. world-christian-movement-4th-
18 ed-textbook/.
Thomas Oduro, et al., Mission in
an African Way: A Practical Introduction to Naja, Ben
2015 “Jesus Movement: A Case Study
African Initiated Churches and Their Sense of
from Eastern Africa” In Under-
Mission (Wellington, South Africa: Bible- standing Insider Movements, ed-
Media, 2007), www.biblemedia.co.za. ited by Harley Talman and John
Jay Travis. Pasadena, CA: William
References Carey Library.
Anderson, A. H. Nussbaum, Stan
2008 “African Initiated Churches” In 2007 “African Initiated Churches” In
Global Dictionary of Theology, edited A Dictionary of Mission Theology,
by William A. Dyrness and Veli- edited by John Corrie. Downers
Matti Karkkainen, 5–7. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press. O’Brien, P. T.
Barrett, David B. 1993 “Church” In Dictionary of Paul and
1968 Schism and Renewal in Africa. His Letters, edited by Gerald F.
Nariobi: Oxford University Press. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Linking Missiology
Cultivating Reticence:
The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry
by H. L. Richard

he emergence of a global Christianity with thousands of local ex-
pressions raises again the question and problem of the cross-cultural
worker. Particularly when Western missionaries have a record of fail-
ure in the Hindu world, is it perhaps time to throw in the towel and let others
do the job? But the Hindu world remains a challenge beyond comprehension,
and engagement by non-Hindu disciples of Jesus is essential. With tens of
thousands of Hindus now resident in cities throughout the Western world,
rather than withdrawal, there is a need for new terms of engagement with
Hindus by Western followers of Jesus—terms that must be radically revised
from the modus operandi of earlier missionary encounters.

This paper assumes the legitimacy of insider movements, although it recog-

nizes that there is a wide range of insider phenomena and, like with all church
movements, there are some expressions that are not particularly healthy.
Another crucial assumption is that insiders need to be the decision makers,
and outsiders who take a role of standing alongside need to cultivate reticence
and insist on the principle that leadership must come from those within. As
my experience is with Hindu contexts, the focus of this paper will be on work
among Hindus in relation to Hindus who are in Christ, although the prin-
ciples stated certainly can apply to other contexts as well.1

John and Anna Travis contributed a stimulating and helpful paper on the role
of alongsiders in IJFM 30:4 (Winter 2013). I originally shared a first draft of
the thoughts presented here at a Rethinking Forum (RF) gathering in April
H. L. Richard has been involved in of 2012, and was encouraged by some at that time to share those thoughts
ministry in the Hindu world for three more publicly. I developed the material further at two later RF gatherings,
decades and is one of the founders of
the Rethinking Forum. He formerly leading to the current presentation, which retains some of its original oral
directed the Institute of Hindu flavor. My thoughts complement but also at times supplement those outlined
Studies and has published numerous
in the Travis’ article, so this paper is presented to further the discussion begun
books and articles on the Christian
encounter with Hinduism. by my esteemed colleagues who originated this “alongsider” terminology.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 32:4 Winter 2015•173

174 Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry

Four Roles of the Alongsider Hindus who come to Christ are not their own Hindu family or commu-
My attempt at summarization has properly or adequately assisted to grow nity, largely due to the foreignness of
resulted in this presentation of four in their faith. If you have discipling the Christianity they absorbed in the
roles and four qualifications for outsid- gifts, there is a huge scope for ministry course of study.
ers to be effective alongsiders. Readers among Hindus. This role can be further
Discipling a Hindu into maturity in
are welcome to mix and match these divided into three areas where disciple-
Christ within his or her Hindu context
with John and Anna’s six challenges ship is needed; biblical coaching, pasto-
is a massive challenge. There are no
and seven roles and come up with new ral coaching, and missiological coaching.
current programs or curricula that can
configurations. One vitally important Very possibly people will end up focused
be followed. And the vast variety of
issue precedes any discussion of roles on just one of these three areas. Once
Hindu contexts should indicate to us
and qualifications, and that is the again, I am assuming a foundation of
that many different expressions of dis-
matter of one’s identity: Who are you? deep relationships and prayer. While all
cipleship to Jesus need to develop with
What are you doing? And why do you valid discipleship must be based on the
varying terminologies and emphases.
want to befriend Hindus? You need Bible, the first aspect to be emphasized
(This is comparable to the hundreds of
a clear identity, and that of a salaried here is a discipleship into biblical under-
theologically acceptable—shall we say
worker with a professional career is standing. (This will be by far the largest
orthodox—denominations that have
definitely best. This is an important subsection of this paper, as this point is
developed in the West with their vari-
preliminary topic, but not the focus of important and is particularly complex in
ous distinctions, all the while centering
this paper, so I will move on to outline ministry to Hindus.)
on the resurrected Christ.) History
the four roles.
illustrates the challenge of moving
Role One: Evangelist beyond accepted Evangelical formulas
Roles are very dependent on spiritual in teaching the Bible to Hindus, but
gifts and the calling of God, but also it is a necessary venture if a long-term
impact is desired.
on the situations in which God places Moving beyond
us. The first of the four roles is that of In 2008, the Rethinking Forum
an evangelist. There is no more strategic accepted evangelical produced a document in lieu of a
need among Hindus than for evange-
lists, so if you have this gift you will
formulas is a traditional statement of faith. This
perhaps gives further insight into the
have great scope to exercise it. I should necessary venture. matter of not imposing traditional
say here that intercessory prayer and understandings of biblical faith.
strong personal relationships undergird
all of the roles I will describe—but they The Rethinking Forum was formed
are most vital for the evangelist. Evan- in 2001 as a network of like-minded
gelism is not just sharing a message; it people committed to the birthing
Everyone recognizes the need to and development of Christ-centered
is meeting heart to heart with another
develop biblical understanding in Hin- movements in Hindu cultures and
person. Everything done effectively
dus who turn to Christ, but the com- communities. The primary represen-
among Hindus will be done on a vi- tatives of Jesus in the Hindu world will
brant relational foundation. And we are mon process of sending a Hindu who
is new in Christ off to a Bible college be Hindus who have bowed before
dealing with the spiritual and eternal, the Lordship of Christ and sought ref-
so prayer is vital beyond all measure. I is deeply harmful. This necessarily
uge in Him. The RF is not particularly
don’t think there are many truly gifted removes a person from their familiar
for these people, although due to cir-
evangelists around, and even such per- context and introduces alien Western cumstances some from Hindu homes
sons will find a patient process is neces- thought patterns. Perhaps still worse, may identify closely with the RF. The
sary with Hindus. Nevertheless, we can particularly in India, attendance at RF is more about followers of Jesus
all aspire to learn (and practice) what is a Bible college is almost inevitably a from non-Hindu families who sense a
involved in evangelism and ultimately step into the world of dependence on call from God to service of Christ in
to become effective evangelists.2 Western financing. Not a few Hindus the Hindu world.
in Christ have found Bible colleges Hindus in Christ need to work out
Role Two: Discipleship suffocating, and have abandoned their their discipleship to Jesus in ways that
The second role relates to discipling or course of study. Many others have are natural to their context and which
coaching gifts.3 The tragedy in mission become fine Christian leaders, but resonate with their traditions and life-
history which has been repeated Bible college graduates usually do not styles. For non-Hindus entering into
regularly up to the present time is that go on to make a significant impact in this process, it is about contextualizing

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

H. L. Richard 175

the gospel for the Hindu world. Non-
Hindus need to study carefully and
he core issue is that alongsiders simply do not
learn about the many aspects of Hin- know exactly what discipleship to Jesus in a
du life and culture and faith and what
it means to speak the gospel of Christ Hindu context should look like.
into Hindu contexts. Yet this must be
a servant role, always recognizing that this is so important. The core issue is etc.) according to their background
leadership and decision making rest that alongsiders simply do not know and the predilections of the leadership
with Hindus in Christ. exactly what discipleship to Jesus in a that develops. An alongsider needs to
particular Hindu context should look focus on biblical meanings and not the
The Hindu world is vast and complex,
so multiple Christ-centered move- like. A process of exploration and de- choice of terminology. But this focus
ments need to develop among many velopment is necessary; decisions must must not ignore worldview differences,
different Hindu caste and community always be made by Hindus due to their particularly that Western Christians
groups. The movements that develop intuitive grasp of their own context, like neat definitions (not least when
need to be self-propagating, self-sup- and due to the fact that they will live related to God), but Hindus tend
ported, self-governing and self-theol- with the repercussions of each decision. toward mystery, recognizing that
ogizing, not in any exclusive way but much is beyond human perception
in the healthy sense of leadership and Biblical Coaching and understanding. Extremes in either
growth from within. The RF network Four core issues in biblical understand- direction, towards either definition or
can perhaps play a catalytic role in ing will be briefly considered here. mystery, can be disastrous for a biblical
linking various developing move- Thinking and speaking about God understanding of God.
ments for the sake of a larger unity will be examined first, followed by
and mutual learning and correction. 2. Understanding Christ
understanding Jesus Christ and then
The RF and its associates may also be particularly the exclusivity of Christ. A second complexity relates to the
privileged to engage in deep inter- Finally, sin will be discussed. These deity of Christ. It is very easy for a
action with Hindus in Christ as self- four topics only illustrate the kind of Hindu, particularly for a Hindu in
theologizing movements develop in issues that arise when any biblical con- Christ, to affirm that “Jesus is God.”
the Hindu world. Western disciples Most Hindus have a clear concep-
cept is taught in Hindu contexts.
of Christ in the RF network will bring
tion of an ultimate being who is one.
to such discussions their own insights 1. Understanding God But that ultimate reality is manifested
from Western theological traditions.
Growth towards a biblical understand- in many ways and forms, so that in
Western theological statements arose
ing of God is clearly foundational practice there is a strong polytheistic
out of situations of need and crisis
and are neither the only nor the fi- for all thought and life. But attain- element to Hindu life and thought.
nal words for theology. There is great ing such an understanding is itself a What, then, does the designation that
value in studying and understanding lifelong challenge, and understanding “Jesus is God” mean within such a
those statements, and neglecting the and communicating about God in a worldview? Clearly Jesus was a figure
earlier history of disciples of Jesus in Hindu context is not a simple matter. in history, so an affirmation of his
other contexts would diminish the “God” is one of the simplest terms in divinity in this polytheistic context
vigor of disciples of Jesus in the Hindu the English language; among people really means little more than that he
world. But different needs and crises influenced by a biblical worldview is one of many manifestations of the
will arise among Hindus, and formu- it immediately suggests an almighty Supreme Being. But, of course, this is
las from other cultural contexts will
creator. But no such connotations are not the biblical meaning.
not neatly answer the questions that
present with any of the many Sanskrit
develop among Hindus. The biblical meaning of the deity
terms that can be (and are) used to
The RF does not disparage Western of Christ is more nuanced than the
translate “God” (theos/elohim).
doctrinal statements, nor will it en- simple affirmation that “Jesus is God.”
courage Hindu disciples of Christ to The history of Bible translation in Technically, Jesus was the name of the
neglect insights from Western theo- India shows different choices for the man who was God incarnate, and, in
logical study. Yet we opt not to state core term for God, and there is no a Hindu context, it might be better
our own position with a list of agreed reason why uniformity across many to altogether drop the phrase “Jesus
doctrines, in light of our clearly stated languages (or even within a language is God.” This has practical implica-
purposes and principles above. group) must be sought.4 Different tions as well. Since there are so many
This might come across as rather Christ-centered Hindu movements gods, Hindus at a practical level do not
pedantic theorizing, but some practi- may well use different terms (not only take gods very seriously. Jesus can be
cal examples below should clarify why for God, but for Lord, grace, faith, affirmed as a god and yet completely

32:4 Winter 2015

176 Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry

ignored, as there are simply too many to make clear both that no disrespect to Christ due to a sense of sin. This is
gods to pay much attention to beyond for other faith traditions is intended in something of a truism among those
a few. When this type of (very com- speaking of Jesus, and that the disciple of involved with Hindu-Christian issues.
mon) mindset is encountered, it might Jesus is very far from having an exhaus- The truism is that while in the West
be better to emphasize “Jesus as guru,” tive understanding of the being and a sense of sin often leads a person
since among Hindus a guru is an au- ways of Almighty God. A Hindu who is to Christ, among Hindus it is more
thority to heed and obey, compared to drawn to Christ should be not be pres- normative that after coming to Christ
the rather minimal acknowledgement sured to profess the uniqueness of Christ, one develops an understanding of sin.
often proffered to gods. but rather should be pointed to passages Vengal Chakkarai, a follower of Christ
like John 1:1–4 that show the glory and from a high caste Tamil family, stated
The supreme spirit (paramātmā) is
all-sufficiency of Christ, leaving no room it this way in his book The Cross and
generally recognized as the final reality.
for a comparison with anyone else. Indian Thought, first published in 1932:
When speaking English it is advisable
to regularly say “the almighty creator 4. Understanding Sin To strike a personal note which our
God” rather than just “God.” The good readers may pardon, the writer never
Finally, sin is another complicated topic
news is that this final reality of the uni- felt the awfulness of sin and probably
in dealing with Hindus, and this in-
verse, the almighty creator God, loves does not feel it now as some of the
cludes Hindus in Christ.5 Many Hindus European Christian bhaktas [devo-
us and sent Jesus to fully reveal himself. are genuinely good people, so their sins tees]. It was fuller acquaintance with
When we understand Jesus, we under- are comparable to those of the scribes Jesus in the beauty of His holiness
stand God and his love and forgive-
and matchless and moving character
ness. Of course, Jesus existed prior to that has made him realize the Protes-
his human form, and the Trinitarian tant feeling of sin and its enormities.
mystery will need to be explained as In one word, it is the positive char-
well from passages like John 1:1–4. There is acter of Jesus that has brought out
no more difficult topic the negative character of sin as the
3. Understanding the Only Way very opposite of all that He stood for.
Among modern Hindus there is no
more difficult topic than the claim
than the claim (Chakkarai 1981, 298—299)

that Jesus is the unique savior. This that Jesus is It is Christ himself, his person and his
theological issue gets mixed up with approach to people and to life, which
colonial history and Christian tri-
the unique savior. draws Hindus. There can be no biblical
umphalism and is usually viewed as objection to people turning to Christ
extremely arrogant. I’ve never seen this simply because Christ is wonderful;
problem stated better than in Hendrik sin and its subtlety and spirituality can
Kraemer’s study for the 1938 World best be taught to someone who has
Missionary Conference: humbly surrendered to Christ.
and Pharisees of the New Testament,
The Hindu mind, by virtue of its his- not to those of the publicans and sin- These are just four examples of biblical
torical background, easily hears in the ners.6 In English there is a distinction truths that need to be taught with par-
claim for truth and exclusive revelation between sin and evil acts, since most ticular sensitivity in Hindu contexts.
in Christ a contempt for other religions sins are not as socially reprehensible as But the alongsider needs to learn as
and a lack of modesty in the face of acts we refer to as evil. Every disciple much as teach. People need to disciple
the great mystery of Ultimate Truth. of Jesus confesses to being a sinner, and Hindus into deep biblical knowledge
Christians and missionaries almost as through inductive Bible study sessions
the more mature in spiritual under-
easily make the mistake of conveying over hours and days and weeks on a
standing also acknowledge an evil heart,
the impression that they possess and regular basis, and if it is truly inductive
dispense Ultimate Truth, which in this
but few have done truly evil deeds. This
distinction in English, however, is not so Bible study, the “teacher” will learn a
Indian atmosphere suggests coarse ir-
clear in Indian languages and in Hindu great deal in this process, both with
reverence and vulgar mediocrity, and
often is so. (1938, 368) worldviews. Suggesting that a Hindu is and from Hindu friends.
a sinner is close to calling him or her a
Questions related to the uniqueness of Pastoral Coaching
despicable human being, and the charge
Christ are the tip of an iceberg; below There is a second aspect of discipleship
is simply ignored as ridiculous.
the surface are questions of humility and that is worth bringing into focus, and
respect. When such questions arise, it Apart from this problem of under- that is pastoral discipleship. When a
is imperative for the disciple of Christ standing, most Hindus do not come Hindu comes to faith in Christ there

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

H. L. Richard 177

are massive familial and social issues
which must be faced. Traditional mis-
astoral concerns are more complex than theological
sions have failed in this area by too questions. Who has the wisdom to negotiate the
casually accepting the rupture of fam-
ily ties (often even subtly encouraging
problems and challenges of Hindu families?
that break by promoting a change Missiological Coaching realities in Hindu families can provide
of name and/or diet, attendance at a Finally related to discipleship, there are a basis on which Hindus in Christ can
Bible college, etc.) If you have pas- missiological issues. This especially is find their role among their own people
toral gifts, you are needed in Hindu the missing element in traditional mis- for the kingdom of God.
ministry. But just as when teaching the sion models. Why has God worked in
Bible, you need to take an approach Biblical, pastoral and missiological
a particular Hindu’s life? Surely God
of humility—of learning together— aspects of assisting a Hindu in Christ
wants him to impact his own family
because you do not have all the should always be in focus. We do not
and people, so how can that hap-
answers for Hindu contexts. Pastoral have answers and even the wise ones
pen? What would hinder that? These
among us cannot see clearly all the nu-
concerns are even more complex than questions seem never to be asked of
ances of other cultural contexts; who
theological questions. Who has the Hindus who come to Christ. Attend-
is sufficient for these things? God will
wisdom to negotiate the problems and ing a local church might be a good assist those with discipleship gifts who
challenges of Hindu families? way to learn about the Bible, but if it walk humbly before him alongside
Issues of caste and idolatry are central, strains or shatters family relationships Hindu friends.
but caste is much less an issue today it is neither wise nor helpful.
than in previous generations. “Fam- This paper is mainly a discussion about Role Three: Friendship and
ily” among Hindus is much more than roles for alongsiders, but what about Networking
parents and siblings, and this broader the roles of the insiders themselves? Having invested much in the critical
meaning is also the biblical meaning. How are they to deal with family idol- role of discipleship, let me suggest a
Individualism is assumed in America, atry and rituals? This is the great gray third role in Hindu ministry that is vi-
but is often deeply unbiblical; don’t area, as affirmation of family along tally needed, and one that requires nei-
make an individualist out of a Hindu with rejection of personal involvement ther an evangelist nor a discipler. If you
and think you are making a disciple of with idolatry do not easily match. A do not resonate with the first two roles,
Jesus. The complications of pastoring you can still fill a vital and strategic
simplistic rejection of everything asso-
and assisting a Hindu who is in Christ need in the Hindu world. Friendship
ciated with idolatry means a rejection
are many, and every Hindu home and the offering of human encourage-
of the family itself. A pastoral (not
practices idolatry with significant ment are alone important contributions.
merely theological) approach to idola-
differences of intensity and meaning. There are millions of Hindus in the
try needs to be developed which keeps
Outsiders simply cannot answer the United States, and few have a Christian
in focus the centrality of the family in
complicated questions that arise, but friend. If you feel like this is all you
God’s plan for human life.7
we can support and assist Hindus in have to offer, it is more than enough.
There is a great need for sensitive
“working out their salvation with fear In all the roles outlined here the
missiological thinkers in every field
and trembling” (Phil. 2:12). question of contextual practices by
where Hindus are hearing about Christ
If you feel helpless, know that this is non-Hindus is important and com-
(although the term “missiology” itself
how many Hindus in Christ feel: they plex. Hindus are rarely, one dares
is out of place in Hindu contexts, and
even to say never, offended by sincere
need pastoral engagement, biblical should not be introduced). God wants
engagement by alongsiders in “Hindu”
counsel, and especially encourage- a Hindu who turns to Christ to bring
practices such as contextual worship,
ment—even just the encouragement blessing to her family, not to alienate
traditional arts or festivals. The along-
that someone cares enough to listen her family. In Christ we can affirm the
sider will never become an insider, but
and pray. You cannot say what is right dharmic values of the centrality of family
can and should participate in aspects
and wrong to do in a Hindu family; and respect for elders. In all teaching
of insider experience not only corpo-
you can support someone through his and coaching, a concern for being a
rately but even in private life.
or her failures and successes in Hindu blessing to the family and clan must
contexts. Older people can perhaps always be kept in focus. Sensitive un- A key here is to supplement this role
best fill this role, but everyone involved derstanding of Hindu life based on case with being alert and willing to link
with Hindus will be in this highly studies from the past, biblical familial sensitive Hindus to other Hindus who
sensitive role to some extent. examples and the careful discernment of can point them to Christ. Being a

32:4 Winter 2015

178 Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry

pre-evangelistic contact person might qualifications discussed below will vary the right.” This is not about murder and
be the most strategic role for a busi- related to roles and gifts, since each adultery, but certainly relates to caste
ness person. The centrality of festivals person is unique and will bring his or and idolatry issues as well as biblical
in Hindu life means there will be her own specific skill set into Hindu interpretation. Even if I think I “know”
many opportunities to observe and ministry.8 Yet these are four general what should be done, more often than
participate in events in Hindu homes, matters that everyone needs to develop. not I should not say anything, consid-
and these opportunities should be ering this a part of the humility and
embraced without fear. This then opens Qualification One: Biblical Character spiritual mindedness essential in cross-
the opportunity to invite a Hindu who First, there are many foundational cultural situations. Pointing to different
serves Christ to come and share in qualifications which can be summa- biblical passages that may be applicable
your home with your Hindu friends rized as biblical character. The basic and sharing stories of other disciples of
during a Hindu or Christian festival. biblical character traits and disciplines Jesus faced with similar situations can
Some work needs to be done to find of biblical understanding, prayer, hu- provide helpful data without usurping
people who can effectively do this, but mility, love, integrity, zeal, submission, decision-making authority. We teach
it is a strategic supplement to friend- transparency and spiritual mindedness far more by what we do than what we
ship. Be the aroma of Christ among must all be manifest and increasing. say. To think I always know the right
Hindu friends, and network others Most of these are rather obvious and answer and that I should give the
into the lives of Hindus who are spiri- easy to learn about; if only they were answer is modeling something un-
tually needy and open. Much prayer as easy to actually learn and live out! Christlike. I must model deep humility.
and strong relationships are again vital. If I always have to give my opinion and
state the right answer, I am modeling
Role Four: Artistic Involvement something else. I need to go along with
A fourth role is related to every type of some things that I am uncomfortable
artistic and creative endeavor. Appre- with. As you, in turn, practice this
ciating the place of art has been a huge Be humble and reticence, you will find sometimes that
oversight in Protestant missions and what you “knew to be right” was not
here I will only note the need. Writing go along with actually right, and you will be glad you
is difficult and a lot must be learned be-
fore one can even think about writing
what seems to be kept your opinions to yourself.

into the Hindu world. But all types of an error. If you don’t have biblical understand-
edifying literature are needed, includ- ing, prayer, humility, love, integrity,
ing better Bible translations that make zeal, submission, transparency and
sense to Hindus. This is certainly a spiritual mindedness you will find
long-term project, but God bless those yourself in big trouble; if you think
who take up the development of better you have all these, then you are in
literature for Hindus. Painting, draw- The last one on spiritual mindedness even bigger trouble! Lord, help us to
ing, dance and music are all wonderful is an old Puritan idea. My point with learn these things. Also foundational
realms in which to engage Hindus. it is that we should not be centered on is basic missiological understanding
Don’t worry about being an evangelist; doctrines or traditions or rituals, but and cultural sensitivity. Emotional
just get into that world and be a contact rather on matters of the heart, on the intelligence and cultural intelligence
person. Anything related to communi- spiritual core of biblical teaching. In are vital, particularly empathy. These
cation and art needs to be pursued and practice this means that as alongsiders are the core requirements, the bibli-
developed for the glory of God among we embrace personal spiritual discipline cal character traits that God wants to
Hindus. More people need to step into over perceived correctness of any kind. develop in each of us.
these vitally important roles.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean Qualification Two: Acceptance of
by this challenging point. We must be Limitations
Four Qualifications of the ready to say, “Okay, I know I am right The second qualification for effective-
Alongsider on this point, but it is more important ness among Hindus is the acceptance of
Everyone engaged with Hindus will for me to be humble and go along with your limitations. You must see how little
develop differently, often based on what seems to me to be an error (per- you can really do that is effective, how
the Hindus God brings into our lives. haps a misunderstanding of a biblical little you will really even understand.
There will be overlap between the four text or an unwise act in a family) rather Worse still, you will always do harm.
roles outlined above, and even the four than for me to be right and stand for You will always be an outsider. You will

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

H. L. Richard 179

always be severely limited. You will
always, by what you are, compromise
nitiatives and leadership must come from the
what you believe and teach (because you insiders, and if we are privileged to serve at
are not and cannot be a Hindu disciple
of Jesus). From a biblical perspective
their right hand it is a great honor.
this should not be a problem, and this situation. Maybe this ideal is simply out These issues in Hindu ministry are not
perspective should not defeat us as we of reach for those who serve in North our issues. Internationals are engaging
understand how God uses the weak and America, but we should be seen to be with these matters and internation-
inadequate to shame the wise and fulfill functioning under our brothers who als are zealous, and while I want to
his purposes. This is the treasure of God are Hindus in Christ and we should go encourage that, I fear we do not know
in earthen vessels (2 Cor. 4:7). This is to great lengths to make this a reality. anything about reticence; this is a
Paul celebrating weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). We have inherited a terrible history of quality we need to study more carefully
Are we ready to learn, and are we con- ministry that can only be considered and zealously cultivate. We are in the
stantly learning? After nearly 30 years both colonial and dollar-driven. These Hindu world as guests, and it is not our
of study related to Hindu contexts I am are patterns that must be broken and world. It is at the largesse of our Hindu
constantly surprised by new things that must be manifestly seen to be broken, friends that we are there; in all matters
I never heard of before. There is so much and I would make this a fundamental we defer to others, in all matters we
diversity in Hindu beliefs and practices. requirement for effective ministry. are constantly stepping back. Even
If you need one word for Hinduism, it theologically we must shift back from
would be diversity. Never assume that I remember being invited to a meeting the matter-of-factness of our doctrinal
you know anything, because really you of insider advocates a few years ago statements to a sense of mystery. Doc-
do not; accept your limitations. and being shocked after arriving there toral statements are often our rather
and learning that it was a gathering of desperate attempts to define biblical
Related to this is the need to be adapt- insider advocates and their right-hand mysteries, and usually end up defin-
able. This is part of being modern, men (insiders). I did my best to point ing those mysteries with extra-biblical
certainly part of survival in India. The out that no insider advocate should terminology. All Protestant doctrinal
days of missionary visas for India are have a right-hand man or woman, statements are clear (at least implicitly)
over, and it is good that there is no rather they need to be right-hand men that they are not final; they are flawed
longer a colonial government giving and women. Initiatives and leadership attempts to explain sacred scripture.
shelter. So there is no choice but to must come from the insiders, and if We go with the mystery of the infinite
be adaptable and to accept change. So we are privileged to serve at the right and eternal God into the complex-
accept your many limitations, expect hand of such people it is a great honor. ity of new languages and cultures. We
disappointment, and persevere through
can help if we truly go to serve, but we
all types of change, failure, and neces- Qualification Four: Cultivating
Reticence need to break many of our own cultural
sary adaptation.
My last point, mentioned already in patterns and cultural habits.
Qualification Three: Submission to the opening paragraph, is that we must
the Leadership of Hindus in Christ cultivate reticence. Only the reticent Conclusion
Third, be insistent on submission to individual can be an effective alongsid- It is not unusual to hear calls for cross-
leadership from Hindus who are in er. Missiologically it is J. H. Bavinck’s cultural workers to become catalysts
Christ. That is not easy. It is already a possessio that defines how we view the and change agents. But, technically,
real problem at this stage that more gospel and cultures—that we take pos- a catalyst is the last thing we want
and more internationals are engaging session of culture for Christ; but this is to be. In a scientific formula, a cata-
Hindus but there are very few Hindus triumphalistic and imperialistic despite lyst introduces change without itself
who are mature in Christ; and Hindus it being biblical. The key is that this changing; the greatest enticement of
who are mature in Christ need to be en- taking possession of cultures is not for cross-cultural work should be how
gaging Hindus, not primarily interna- internationals to do; we must back off much a person will be changed by the
tionals. We alongsiders have visions and and see that locals do the real thing. process of deep engagement with new
goals and we can lead, but we cannot This is not my role and responsibility; cultures. Alongsiders especially need to
afford to minister in our own name; I am not qualified for this. I must keep expect to learn and change and experi-
somehow we need to be under the au- backing off and allow others, genuine ence a transformation themselves that
thority of fellow believers who are Hin- insiders, to take initiative and move is beyond what they can even imagine.
dus in Christ. You may need to work for forward. God bless those who want to To that end, these roles and qualifica-
a decade or more to create this kind of be right hand persons in this process. tions have been outlined. IJFM

32:4 Winter 2015

180 Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry

Endnotes 6
There is no space to draw out the References
1 implications of this point in this paper. A Chakkarai, Vengal
“Hindu” is a complex label that car-
careful study of Jesus’ ways with the Phari- 1981 Vengal Chakkarai Volume 1. P. T.
ries no definite theological connotations. A
sees is instructive. One reason for attrition Thomas, ed. Library of Indian
“Hindu in Christ” is a disciple of Jesus who
among Hindus who profess Christ in tradi- Christian Thought. Madras: The
maintains his familial and cultural and com-
tional Christian evangelism is that Hindus Christian Literature Society for
munity roles in Hindu society.
in Christ are taught to profess what they do The Division of Research and
I produced a list of practical pointers not feel; they say they are sinners but they Post-Graduate Studies, United
for sharing Christ with Hindus that has do not understand and have not internalized Theological College, Bangalore.
appeared in a number of different versions this reality. Kraemer, Hendrik
over the years; most accessible is “Ten Tips 7 1938 The Christian Message in a Non-
Often idolatry is not about God or
for Ministering to Hindus” at http://www. Christian World. London: The
gods, but about family and tradition. Many
missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/ten-tips- Edinburgh House Press.
Christians want to insist on the theologi-
cal aspect of idolatry even when Hindus
As I finished editing this paper my minimize this. These types of questions and
co-worker Tim Shultz sent an email about concerns do not make the issue easy, but
his reading in mentoring and coaching, ref- rather illustrate that outsiders/alongsiders
erencing Gary Collins, Christian Coaching, should not presume to make decisions in
from NavPress. Coaching as distinct from this area.
mentoring calls for reticence, recognizing 8
One of my coworkers, on reading a
that the coached person must take initiative
draft of this paper, suggested that it perhaps
and develop beyond what the coach suggests.
assumes modern, educated, independent
I discuss this in “Speaking of God in Hindus, whereas with some Hindus there
Sanskrit-Derived Vocabularies,” an article will be less willingness to take initiative.
forthcoming in the IJFM. There can be no blueprints as the personal-
Hindu cultures fit better under the ity and gifts of both the alongsider and the
designation of shame cultures than guilt Hindu will need to develop with wisdom
cultures, but this important topic is some- and humility.
what tangential to my discussion and so will
not be addressed in this paper.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

William Carey Library

Business for Transformation Christian Mission & Lessons Learned in the

Getting Started Economic Systems Lion’s Den
Patrick Lai, Author A Critical Survey of the Cultural and Imprisoned for Sharing Jesus
Religious Dimensions of Economies Daniel Waheli, Author
John Cheong, Editor | Eloise Meneses, Editor

Business for Transformation focuses on Christian mission in the twenty-first Lessons Learned in the Lion’s Den shares
answering the question: “How do you start century has emphasized endeavors that the journey of one missionary family as the
a business that transforms communities of address poverty alleviation, business as father is detained in a predominantly Muslim
unreached peoples?” Starting a business mission, marketplace ministry, rural/urban country in Africa. Daniel Waheli’s time spent
cross-culturally involves thousands development, microeconomics, and Christian in prison is ripe for building intimacy with the
of decisions. Until now, BAM and B4T attitudes toward money and consumerism. Lord in the midst of confusion, suffering, and
practitioners have been lacking a tool However, neither the macroeconomic uncertainty. The accounts of his wife and two
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engages unreached people for Jesus’ sake. ministry nor the assumptions that believers life of the family during this trying time. The
This book draws on years of experience have absorbed from the larger economy have heart of this story is not a man imprisoned, but
from scores of OPEN workers who are been adequately explored. a family united—in hope, love, and a pressing
practitioners of BAM/B4T, one of the faster desire that God be glorified in all things.
growing segments of the worldwide mission Christian Mission & Economic Systems gathers

movement. It is written for new workers scholars, experts, and practitioners to address In a world where mission strategies come
and coaches who need practical guidance the relationship of Christians to the economic and go and often fall short of being effective,
in setting up and doing business in hard, systems in which they are embedded and do Waheli distills his experience into twelve
churchless areas. ministry, and to evaluate the different cultural principles for building character to better
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macroeconomic systems around the world Whether you are a pioneer among unreached
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Harley Talman, John Jay Travis (Editors)
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For the first time in history, large

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This long-awaited anthology brings together

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mission will find it useful as a reader and
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will discover in these chapters welcome
starting points for dialogue and clearer

William C
Willi Carey Lib
Linking Missiology
Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration:
A Theological Survey and Practical Steps
for Implementation
by David S. Lim
Editor’s Note: In the previous issue of the IJFM (32:3 Fall 2015) the author
contributed his first installment on the theme of ancestor veneration with a
historical survey of this missiological controversy.

n the most recent issue of this journal, I introduced the theme of contex-
tualizing the gospel for cultures that practice ancestor veneration. That
first installment was a necessary review of the history of this missiologi-
cal controversy and how it has embroiled venerable mission orders, agencies
and denominations. Although we are in a changing global context today, it
is crucial we understand the insights and insufficiencies of previous efforts to
confront the deeply embedded values and rituals of ancestor veneration.

Editor’s Note: Originally presented Part II: A Theological Survey

at the SEANET forum in Chiang In this next section, I would like to move from history to a biblical study. To
Mai, Thailand in 2009, this paper
was published in Family and Faith in do so, I surveyed Scripture to find out what it teaches about ancestral prac-
Asia: The Missional Impact of Social tices. The main theological framework that developed is best expressed in a
Networks (WCL, Pasadena, CA 2010),
pp. 183—215. A revised, updated dual emphasis of the Apostle Paul: for expatriates it is “to become all things
version of the paper was presented to all men” (1 Cor. 9:19–23) and for local converts to remain in their socio-
at the Asia Society for Frontier
religious identities (7:18–19). The overall intention is that we may not only
Mission (ASFM) meetings in Manila,
Philippines in October 2014. be able to win some (especially heads of households, clans and communities)
and thereby disciple them to win the rest, but also to be true to the essence of
David Lim (PhD Fuller Seminary)
is from the Philippines, and serves a faith that is both biblical and multi-cultural. My study has yielded several
as President of the Asian School for correctives to commonly understood theological assumptions about ancestor
Development and Cross-Cultural
Studies. He previously served as veneration. These are based on a deeper understanding of Chinese worldview
Professor of Biblical Theology & and culture. I go on to formulate some missiological principles based on the
Transformation Theology and as
Academic Dean at both the Asian theological implications of these correctives. I outline these as three theologi-
Theological Seminary (Philippines) cal tenets and three missiological principles.
and the Oxford Centre for Mission
Studies (UK). He also serves as Theological Basis
President of China Ministries Int’l -
First, there are three tenets that underpin a contextualized biblical under-
Philippines, and is a key facilitator of
the Philippine Missions Mobilization standing of ancestor veneration. My conviction is that theologically they are
Movement which seeks to mobilize a
not idolatrous, in practice they are not religious, and culturally they fit a
million Filipino tentmakers to reach
the unreached. communitarian worldview.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 32:4 Winter 2015•183

184 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps for Implementation

1. Filiality, not Idolatry many the “supreme spirit,” tien (heaven) is permeated with the cosmic breath or life
The Bible clearly condemns the worship or tao (way or word), may not be at all force called Qi, usually described in a bi-
of gods and the making of idols (Ex. personal as in the Judeo-Christian and polar manner as Yin and Yang. Everything
20:4–5). Numerous passages such as 1 other theistic faiths. that exists results from the interplay of
Cor. 10:4–21; 5:11, Rev. 21: 8; 21:18–19, these two forces. Humans are but a feeble
Hiebert (1999) has helped us understand
and Deut. 4:2 teach that God abhors part of this cosmos and as such must live
idolatry, and those who practice it have the primal worldview as one with three
in harmony with these cosmic realities.
no part in him. The object of any worship, levels of reality. The bottom level is the
ceremony, and ritual must be God alone. empirical world as experienced through Infinite numbers of gods, deities, spirits,
the human senses. The top level includes and ancestors make up the vast pan-
I have yet to know, however, of even one cosmic realms beyond human experi- theon of Chinese religion. Tan (1996)
Chinese who considers ancestors as gods ence. In between, we find a middle level identifies many of the non-human
to be worshiped. Most, if not all, will find that includes the unseen or trans-empiri- beings who are part of the belief system
the idea of their ancestors actually being cal realities of this world. These three lev- of Chinese Filipinos. She also diagrams
gods both ludicrous and abhorrent. Chi- els emerge out of the intersection of this how Chinese Filipinos accommodate
nese Filipinos believe in only one univer- world (earth, universe) with other worlds the Filipino belief system within their
sal spirit whose manifestations (hua shen) (heaven, hell), of the seen (empirical) own. (Compare Figure 1 below with
include all the religious figures on earth with the unseen (trans-empirical). Figure 2 [Uayan 2005] on p. 3.)
(Buddha, Jesus Christ, etc.). They believe
this spirit is the source of existence, is be- In the Chinese belief system the three Tan has applied Hiebert’s division of
nevolent and effective, performs miracles, main worldview concerns are the cosmos, organic (beings) and mechanical (forces
and brings good fortune. So the Chinese the pantheon of invisible living beings, or techniques) in charting folk Chinese
lean towards monotheism, although for and humans. Chinese believe the universe belief systems. Lest we become too

Figure 1. Folk Chinese Belief Systems

Folk Chinese Belief Systems

Organic Mechanical
Based on concepts of living beings relating to other living beings. Based on concepts of impersonal objects controlled by forces.
Stresses life, personality, relationships, functions, health, disease, Stresses impersonal, mechanistic, and deterministic nature of
choice, etc. Relationships are essentially moral in character. events. Forces are essentially amoral in character.

Other Worldly
Jade emperor (Tien) Ming Yun Sees entities and events
Unseen or Supernatural Gods and goddesses Yin and Yang occurring in other worlds
and in other times.
Beyond immediate sense
experience. Above natural
explanation. Knowledge of Earth gods Five elements
this based on inference or on Sages Magic
supernatural experiences. Mythological figures Feng Shui
Spirits and ghosts Divination
Ancestors Palmistry This Worldly
Animal spirits (totem) Luck Sees entities and events
as occurring in this world
Seen or Empirical and universe.
Directly observable by People Acupuncture
the senses. Knowledge Animals Matter
based on experimentation
and observation.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

David S. Lim 185

rigid or categorical, Hiebert points out Springs? In the earth? In the air? In (such as divination and ancestor venera-
that “boundaries between the categories the rivers? It depends on their status tion) with those of “Greater Traditions”
are often fuzzy” and cautions us that the and on the believer. There is no single (Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism)
“organic and mechanical analogies form answer. They can be anywhere. But gods into a complex mosaic.
a horizontal continuum with many they are not (Chamberlain 1987:47).
A careful study of the Chinese worldview
shades between the poles” (1999:50).
It is obvious that syncretism is a common clearly shows that ancestors are distinct
Take note that the ancestors consistent- characteristic of Chinese religion. While from gods. Ancestral practices are a form
ly belong to the middle level and thus syncretism is at work in all religions, the of veneration, but they are best viewed
are separate from the upper level. The extent to which Chinese religions have as filial piety and not idolatry. This is
dead ancestors exist and have to be ac- been “religions of harmony” has allowed similar to the way that Roman Catholics
corded their due. They can provide help, more latitude for the phenomenon than understand the “veneration” of Mary
but they can also create problems: if the have the more exclusivist and mono- and the saints. For those who struggle to
living experience bad luck or worse, it theistic religions (e.g., Christianity and accept this view, please reference recent
may be because they have neglected to Islam). Chinese religion is itself a model missiological works on how to reach folk
honor their ancestors. Where do they of syncretism, intermingling elements religionists. (e.g., van Rheenen 1996;
reside? In heaven or hell? In the Yellow of ancient Chinese religious traditions Hiebert et al 1999; and Yip 1999).

Figure 2. Folk Chinese-Filipino Belief Systems

Folk Chinese-Filipino Belief Systems

Organic Mechanical
Based on concepts of living beings relating to other living beings. Based on concepts of impersonal objects controlled by forces.
Stresses life, personality, relationships, functions, health, disease, Stresses impersonal, mechanistic, and deterministic nature of
choice, etc. Relationships are essentially moral in character. events. Forces are essentially amoral in character.

God the Father, Jesus, Tien Other Worldly

Chu, Gods and goddesses Sees entities and
Ming Yun/ Fate and fortune
Unseen or (Buddhist/Taoist gods), Kuan Yin/ events occurring in
Supernatural Yin and Yang
Ma-Tzu, Virgin Mary other worlds and in
Beyond immediate Angels, Satan, devils other times.
sense experience.
Above natural
explanation. Earth gods, duwendes Priests/pastors/faith healers/
Knowledge of this
based on inference (Buddhist/Taoist) Sages/Saints, feng shui masters
or on supernatural Mythological figures Five elements, feng shui
experiences. (kapre, agta) Magic, Divination
Spirits and ghosts Palmistry/horoscope
Ancestors Good luck charms/anting- This Worldly
Animal spirits (totem) anting, tawas, kulam Sees entities and
events as occurring
in this world
Seen or Empirical and universe.
Directly observable Chinese medicine/doctors
by the senses. People
Manananggal, mangkukulam
Knowledge based on Animals and plants
experimentation and

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186 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps for Implementation

2. Cultural, not Religious the Han Dynasty, for example, those As referred to above, Chinese and
Second, ancestral veneration is cultural, who neglected ancestor veneration oriental cultures (including their primal
not religious, basically rooted in filial were subject to corporal punishment. and folk expressions) have a deep sense
piety. In Chinese thought, xiào (filial pi- of interconnectedness that extends to
For Confucius, xiào (filial piety) was
ety) is one of the most important virtues maintaining relationships with the ances-
not merely blind loyalty to one’s
to be cultivated; it’s a love and respect tral dead. They perceive the dead to be
parents. More important than the
for one’s parents and ancestors. The separated from human society merely by
norms of xiào were the norms of rén
Confucian classic Book of Filial Piety a curtain of invisibility. In these com-
(benevolence) and yì (righteousness).
(Xiao Jing), written around 470 bce, has For both Confucius and Mencius, xiào
munalistic cultures the concepts of being
historically been the authoritative source was a display of rén which was ideally surrounded by a “great cloud of witness-
on xiào. The book, a conversation be- applied in one’s dealings with all elders, es” (Heb. 12:1) and “the communion of
tween Confucius and his student Zeng thus making it the norm for inter- saints” (essential to the Apostles’ Creed)
Shen (Zengzi), is about how to set up a generational relations. But in practice, make perfect sense. The Christian faith is
good society using the principle of filial xiào has become reserved for one’s continuous with the faith of ancestral he-
piety, and thus for over 2,000 years has own parents and grandparents, and has roes, and God is as much the god of our
been one of the basic texts in the Chi- been elevated above the notions of rén ancestors as He was the “God of Abra-
nese Imperial Civil Service Exams. (benevolence) and yì (righteousness). ham, Isaac and Jacob.” To those in similar
Hence family-centeredness is promi- cultures, this formulaic title of God’s self-
Filial piety means to be good to one’s
nent in ancestral practices. disclosure to the Hebrew ancestors and
parents, to take care of one’s parents, and
the lengthy biblical genealogies are very
to engage in good conduct both inside
relevant texts, for they emphasize the
and outside home so as to bring honor
continuity of God’s presence both across
and a good name to one’s parents and
the generations and across the divide that
ancestors. It means to perform the du-
ties of one’s job well so as to obtain the
Respect for separates the living from the dead.
material means to support one’s parents. the ancestors is Unfortunately, much of Protestantism
It also means to carry out sacrifices to has emphasized the cultural disconti-
the ancestors. Furthermore, it means to the only moral virtue nuities that must be acknowledged as
not be rebellious, to show love, respect
and support, to display courtesy, to
common to almost proof of genuine conversion. While
some aspects in the Christian faith will
ensure there are male heirs, and to up- all Chinese. necessarily disrupt traditional culture
hold fraternity among brothers. Lastly, (discontinuity), most of our faith af-
filial piety means to wisely advise one’s firms the “folk” sense that we are not
parents (including dissuading them alone. This particular aspect of primitive
from moral unrighteousness), to display revelation found in all folk religions,
sorrow for their sickness and death, and 3. Continuity, Less Discontinuity that we are part of a great community
to carry out sacrifices after their death. The third theological tenet for a that stretches back through many
biblical contextualization of ancestor generations, reflects the biblical idea of
Ancestor veneration is so important veneration is to give more emphasis to a “cloud of witnesses.” It resonates with
because filial piety is considered the continuity rather than discontinuity the biblical “family of God” imagery,
foremost virtue in Chinese culture, and with the people’s cultural and religious which then develops into the “heavenly
it is the main concern of a large num- background (cf. 1 Cor. 7:17–24). This church assembly of living spirits” (Heb.
ber of traditional stories. One of the is the best way to develop indigenous
12:23) and eventually into the creedal
most famous collections of such stories (Chinese) theologies and to catalyze
concept of the “communion of saints.”
is The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars more effective movements to Christ.
(Ershi). These stories recount how In relation to ancestor veneration, this For instance, in native Filipino funer-
children exercised their filial piety in positive stance towards accommodat- ary rites, art objects and other artifacts
the past. While China has always had ing as much of the indigenous culture express this deep reverence for the dead
a diversity of beliefs, filial piety has as possible might enable a better and the continuing importance of the
been common to almost all of them; understanding of our biblical affirma- dead for the living. The rituals connect-
respect for the ancestors is the only tion of the “communion of saints,” ed to Todos los Santos, and the extended
moral virtue common to almost all as advocated and developed also in time of mourning signified by pasiyam
Chinese. These traditions were some- Simon Chan’s recent book Grassroots (prayers such as a novena every day for
times enforced by law; during parts of Asian Theology (2014). the first nine days after the burial for the

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

David S. Lim 187

departed), padasal (prayers for the dead he practice serves as a locus of identity;
40 days after the burial), babang-luksa
(first year death anniversary) and other without a burial blanket, one wanders about
such commemorative markers, speak like an outcast, not able to belong anywhere.
of a people whose relational sense is
unbroken by death, and who believe in We must expect a greater continuity with likely be rejected) or leave a vacuum, an
the continuing claims of the dead upon their own traditional forms, rather than “empty house” that would invite in seven
the living. Many upland community fes- the typical discontinuities of an alienat- demons worse than the first! Of course,
tivals are meant for ancestral heroes, like ing Protestantism. the content and meaning of all religious
Kabigat and Balitok among the Ikala- forms, rituals and festivities—even secular
han. In these communities, the caniao Missiological Principles ones like Valentine’s Day or Memorial/
(a dance ceremony) is, at its base, not so These three theological presuppositions Heroes’ Days—have to constantly be
much a religious as a social rite, a way of surrounding ancestor veneration lead to explained and re-interpreted, lest they
affirming ties with the ancestral spirits three missiological principles in forming lose their meaning and relevance. The
who are invited to participate in the Christ-centered communities: cultural need for a biblical reinterpretation of
drinking, feasting and dancing. It is also integration, community conversion, and ancestor veneration is what will allow
a way of identifying who belongs to the socio-religious transformation. for a proper cultural integration.
community. The caniao is a sign and seal
of the people’s sense of identity together 1. Cultural Integration Chinese folk religion, which permeates
This main principle is oriented Chinese society, is inseparable from
as a community (Maggay 2005:47).
towards adopting the existing socio- Chinese culture. Except in the case of
This sense of connectedness explains the religious culture as much as possible the professional religious elite who live
anxiety of Protestant converts among within biblical guidelines (1 Cor. apart in monasteries, religion in China
these tribes; they want their dead also 7:18–19). Its goals are to integrate the is so woven into the broad fabric of
to wear the burial blanket that identifies Christian faith with the ethnic and family and social life that there has not
them with their clan. The practice serves cultural identity of the people and to been a special word for a category of
as a locus of identity—of who they are have strong indigenous church leader- religion until modern times. To a great
and what they shall be in the afterlife. ship from the beginning—a leadership extent, the basic ideas of ancestral
Without a burial blanket, one wanders with four important characteristics: veneration coincide with beliefs and
about like an outcast, not able to belong self-governing, self-propagating, values that pervade Chinese culture
anywhere. Their animism is not preoc- self-supporting and self-theologizing. as a whole. Suggesting the model of
cupied with the worship of spiritual life Failure to follow these indigenous an “Asiatic mode of religion,” Chan
forces, but with maintaining harmoni- principles has resulted in the “trans- and Hunter stress that “religion is part
ous ties with ancestors, anitos (spirits) planting of foreign churches,” and not of culture and the cycles of daily life”
and all other spirit beings. the planting of indigenous churches. (1994:54). This implies that Chinese
Such “cultural dislocations” invite real socio-religious practices and beliefs are,
People from folk cultures understand this according to Western categories, actu-
syncretism and Christo-paganism.
better than those belonging to highly ally more “cultural” than “religious.”
individualistic cultures. Western world- Contextualization follows the wisdom
views assume people are all atomized in- of the divine incarnation. Jesus (with Can biblical Christianity become the
dividuals who live entirely in the present, ceremonial washing), John the Baptist fulfillment of Chinese religion? Can
without any notion that humans have (with the use of baptism) and Paul (with Christians use the traditional forms of
some connection to an invisible society use of the altar to the unknown god, ancestral veneration so as to infuse and
of those who have gone before. I would Acts 17) all risked being misunderstood enrich them with biblical meaning?
suggest that followers of Christ from in their use of local forms; they chose to And might they even show that Chris-
folk cultures need to compose new songs meet people at the point of their cultural tians who accept ancestral veneration
to praise the God of Abraham, Isaac and and religious understandings, and then in obedience to the Fifth Command-
Jacob, and to record their genealogies in built a bridge of communication, taking ment—honoring one’s parents—actu-
their own indigenous art forms; not to do them from the known to the unknown. ally care about their ancestors even
so might invite wholescale (unorthodox) This is the principle of “becoming all more than folk Buddhists do? For this
syncretism. We cannot afford to repeat things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:19–23). to happen, it’s essential that
the “heresy” of the Judaizers who ex- The alternative is either one of creat- Conversion should not “decultur-
pected Gentile converts to simply adopt ing new forms that would most likely ize” a convert . . . The convert may
Jewish forms and religious requirements. feel foreign (and which would most try to adopt the evangelist’s culture;

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188 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps for Implementation

instead the attempt should be firmly socio-religious vacuum. It’s estimated their whole families. This will insure a
but gently resisted. (Willowbank Re- his strategy resulted in 300,000 con- solid beachhead for evangelization, and
port 1978:78) verts, which could have led to an even also avoid any unnecessary trauma and
There is often no need to substitute greater movement had his approach persecution of young converts.
new rites or practices in exchange for not been stopped by the pope. Al-
Moreover, to achieve communal
old ones. There are already rituals and though Roman Catholicism exonerated
conversions, community involvement
festivals within cultures that are in Ricci’s position in 1939, it has experi-
is necessary. The prerequisite for a
and of themselves purely cultural and enced limited growth due to religious
church-planting movement (CPM) is
amoral (the Reformers’ adiaphora). forms that remain too Latin (Western).
that the worker earns his right to be
These should be welcomed and ad- 2. Communal Conversion accepted and heard by the community.
opted by Christians, because they are Second, contextualization should aim at In the past, successful missions have
familiar and give a sense of solidarity families coming to Christ, and through been accomplished through works of
and security for the people. The goal them, to extend out as a movement mercy, like health care and education.
is to develop local theologies and local among their people. Unlike the preva- At present, many forms of community
expressions of Christianity which are lent “extraction evangelism” of many development work have been used. In
culturally appropriate and wholesome; Christian missions, this approach calls fact, any professional skill will do! This
any other way would mean a perpetua- for movements in which believers are is the advantage of the expatriate: his
tion of arrogant cultural and theologi- encouraged to stay inside their family community service cannot help but
cal imperialism. We must seek to use be visible—hence access to leaders is
the existing cultural forms and expres- almost unavoidable. However, this ac-
sions except when they distinctly clash cess must be combined with a sensitive
with the message of the Gospel. focus on befriending and ministering
to leaders. It must also include urging
Many Protestants have no effec-
tive “theology of culture” beyond a
Many Protestants these new leaders to actually take
have no effective leadership (that is, making decisions)
rejectionist position, so they do not
in order to build the Christian com-
consider the useful function of indig-
enous ways. They don’t realize that
“theology of culture” munity. Without indigenous leader-
ship from the beginning, there will be
most of their very own socio-religious beyond a rejectionist a very minimal possibility of having
expressions have been “baptized” into
Christian usage by their previously position. a communal turning to Christ that
moves across an entire people.
pagan ancestors. They deny and reject
for others what their faith-ancestors Because of the highly integrated char-
have done for them. Instead, I would acter of ancestral rites within Chinese
suggest they follow Bavinck’s view of culture, changes cannot be imposed
and communities, so that they might
possessio, to take possession of “hea- from the outside. The expatriate must
share their faith with them (cf. Lim
then forms of life” and to render delegate leadership to the more cultur-
2010). The focus must be on reach-
them new; in the case of ancestral ally sensitive new believers who then
ing the adults, preferably the leaders
veneration, retaining and enlisting its can decide which old forms to main-
of households, clans, communities and
practices in the service of Jesus Christ tain, modify or discard. These local
even whole peoples. Sadly, Protestant
is “perfectly proper” (1960:178). Tip- leaders should be encouraged to use
missions have often focused on the
pett observes old forms and re-invest them with new
marginalized and the young, who have
meaning and value. Such changes must
In the process of incorporating con- then experienced severe stress and
be done as early as possible:
verts into their new fellowship group persecution as a price for the church’s
or congregation, indigenous forms, rejectionist stance. Not being major de- When good functional substitutes
rites, festivals, and so forth, which cision-makers, these young believers are have been proposed and accepted
can be given a new Christian value considered rebels and traitors when they at the time of the primary religious
content, have greater likelihood of refuse to follow family traditions. There change (conversion) . . . these have
finding permanent acceptance than is much wisdom in the early church’s stood the test of time and proved ef-
foreign forms and rituals. (1985:185) fective. (Tippett 1985:185)
practice of prioritizing ministry to heads
Ricci, the Catholic Jesuit, success- of households, responsible adults who Historically “people movements” that
fully did this in 15th century China, upon turning to Christ (and immediate build on communal conversion only
thereby avoiding the creation of a baptism!) may influence and include happen when the groups are truly

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

David S. Lim 189

indigenous, and self-governing and
self-theologizing are established from
heir secularized worldview is a form of
the outset. syncretism that denies the existence and power of
3. Socio-religious Transformation beings which operate in the “excluded middle.”
All this is not to say that the primal or
come for meditation and discussion. “syncretism,” because it focuses on the
folk worldview and practices should not
He transferred to Hong Kong in 1927, content and meaning of Christ and
be modified. In fact, they will and must
where he introduced “the universal, the his finished work on the cross, and it
be transformed “from glory to glory.”
cosmic, the all-embracing Savior Jesus also emphasizes that the forms must
Yet in the process, the theologies, litur-
Christ” to all those who visited this be culture-sensitive. Those who accuse
gies and praxis that evolves will surely “monastery.” Converts were baptized, this socio-religious approach of syn-
contribute in an orthodox way to the but instead of letting them join the cretism can be counter-charged with
enrichment of the glorious unity-in- existing churches, he encouraged these their own syncretism. Their secular-
diversity of the Christian faith. “Friends of the Tao” to spread out and ized Enlightenment worldview which
Historically, Christianity has been evangelize in the temples and monas- enshrines modern scientific rational-
able to turn pagan and secular tradi- teries. Reichert wrote, ism is a form of syncretism that denies
tions into Christian ones, so there Although not joining the external the existence and power of beings
should be no lack of confidence that church, such enter the yearly increas- which operate in what Hiebert calls
the Christian movement can take on ing number of unknown and unregis- the “excluded middle.” A missiological
the whole Chinese religious world- tered Christ-followers. (cf. Kung 1993) approach that aims at socio-religious
view and practices, too! The Chinese Although it had a plan to multiply into transformation from the inside out is
Christ-centered communities can be a movement, it had a complex structure the best way for syncretism(s) to be
spiritually transformed “from the in- which made it difficult to replicate. identified and corrected.
side out” as they give relevant witness
in their society by their development Reichelt’s approach was “from above,”
of distinctly Chinese forms of worship, and focused on the socio-religious elite. Part III: Practical Steps in the
catechesis and festivals. I would prefer a strategy for transfor- Formation of Contextualized
mation from the “bottom up” through Christ-Centered Communities in
Fortunately, we have one significant
model of this transformation in Hong
church-planting and disciple making Ancestor-Venerating Contexts
movements (CPM/DMM) that are Having now introduced both historical
Kong: Tao Fong Shan (“The Mount now growing among secularized and/or
Where the Wind of Tao [or logos] and biblical perspectives (see my previous
folk Buddhists in China, Japan, Cam- article in IJFM 32:3), the third and final
Blows”). Its buildings use Chinese bodia and Myanmar. On the matter
temple architecture and its Christian step is to offer two practical applications
of ancestor veneration practices, these with respect to the formation of contex-
community has sought to live out and movements combine a focus on family
demonstrate the most sensitive and tualized Christ-centered communities in
conversion and family-to-family evange-
contextual integration of the Christian ancestor-venerating contexts. They apply
lism, but most important is that inquir-
faith and Chinese culture, including to the development of both theology
ers and new believers are discipled in a
ancestral veneration. It was founded by (worldview) and spirituality (lifestyle).
less religious manner, with less concern
the Norwegian Lutheran missionary, about religious practices. Rather, they are Contextual Theology
Karl Reichelt (1877–1952) who ar- encouraged to grow “unto Christ” by be- The formation and development of
rived in China in 1903. He found that ing more generous (more caring towards theology must be relational and culture-
a poor relationship existed between and sharing with their neighbors), which sensitive—a simple matter of friends
Christians (especially Western mis- is the agape law of Christ (Gal. 6:1–2, inviting others to join them in a spiri-
sionaries) and the general population, cf. Mic. 6:6–8; Amos 5:21–24). This is tual journey, rather than salesmen force-
and he made a first-hand study of the the transformation vital for ancestor- fully trying to close a deal (cf. Richard-
life and practices of the founders and venerating cultures. It means freedom
son 2006). Since there is a wide variety
the principles of Confucianism, Bud- from fear of ancestors, nature spirits, fate
of ancestral beliefs and practices among
dhism and Taoism in China. and/or gods, which is the source of so
the Chinese, it is necessary that the
much superstition.
Reichelt set up a Christian “mon- evangelist-theologian must first study
astery” in Nanjing in 1922, where Such is the contextualization approach the socio-religious background of the
visiting monks and serious “seekers” to the evangelization and transforma- non-believers in each particular context.
(averaging a thousand a year) could tion of peoples and nations. It is not The pattern should be to listen carefully,

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190 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps for Implementation

and to accept their views (including pleroma, the totality of emanations sadly, the churches of Christendom
religious ones) non-judgmentally, with between the transcendent God and reinforce this cultural oppression by
“gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15), the material universe, and identify it not valuing and promoting the local
even if they might be dead wrong. Cor- with Christ (Col. 1:19). The thought of vernaculars. Non-vernacular-speaking
rections can come later in discipleship, Christ as the pleroma of emanations church workers and expatriate mis-
lifts the understanding of his cosmic
if necessary, as they prayerfully reflect— sionaries must be convinced—and
function into a realm far beyond
both individually and corporately—on what the old categories of messiah-
must labor to convince indigenous
the Scriptures with the guidance of the ship could ever convey. (1997:149) Christians—that Christ truly seeks to
Holy Spirit ( John 16:12–15). inhabit and transform their cultures and
The Greek pleroma corresponds to that worldviews from within.
There should be only a single stumbling- middle region of the Chinese worldview,
block: “Christ and him crucified” (cf. 1 and in like fashion for the missionary, As Walls (1997:150) notes,
Cor. 1:18–2:5). The Christ-believer can there is the potential that the symbols of Conversion . . . means to turn what is al-
learn the balance of biblical teaching later ancestor veneration societies might be ready there in a new direction. It is not
and, moreover, can unlearn aspects of his deployed in a way that “lifts” our under- a matter of substituting something new
own unbiblical worldview later on in the standing of Jesus’ cosmic function. for something old–that is proselytizing,
discipling process. Salvation is through a method that the early church could
his simple faith in Jesus, so he can come The second stage in the contextual-
have adopted but deliberately chose to
to Jesus “just as he is,” in his own context, ization process is the “convert stage.” jettison. Nor is conversion a matter of
with no requirement for immediate Walls suggests that the main feature adding something new to something
worldview change. Otherwise, who of old, as a supplement or in synthesis.
us can claim to be saved, since all our Rather, Christian conversion involves re-
worldviews are yet to be completely bib- directing what is already there, turning
it in the direction of Christ.
lical (cf. 1 Cor. 13:8)? Most of us expect
too much from new believers. We expect To fulfill Revelation 7:9, the gospel
them to embrace more than belief in Je- must be communicated in ways that
sus, but also that they immediately begin
Most of us recognize and embrace the fact that
to follow our own religious beliefs and expect too much conversion to Christianity does not
values (actually, those from a particular require indigenous peoples to change
socio-religious denomination). from new believers. their cultural identity or language.
Rather, Christ seeks to be “at home”
Andrew Walls (1997) has suggested
in their culture and language so that
just how the process of theological
Christianity comes to have the flavor of
contextualization proceeded histori-
the people’s heart and familiar speech.
cally. He identifies three stages in this
process, illustrating it with an analysis The third and final stage in this process
of the transformation of Hellenistic of this stage is that of identity, and is what Walls calls the “refiguration
thought in the early centuries of the that Justin Martyr is its most promi- stage,” typified in those earlier centuries
church, a process which extended for nent representative. This apologist was by the patristic theologian, Origen. This
more than three generations. During convinced that Christ could inhabit stage can only be achieved by a genera-
the first stage the Hellenistic church his Hellenistic world and transform it, tion that follows after the convert stage,
experienced the “missionary stage,” and he sought to that has grown up in the Christian faith
typified and led by Paul as he began to maintain his Christian identity within the and that is reconciled to its pre-Christian
adapt Jewish vocabulary and forms to Hellenistic intellectual identity, which inheritance—and yet is not afraid of
Hellenistic categories and vocabulary. he could not abandon because it had it either. To flesh out this refiguration
Paul abandoned the proselyte model of shaped his life and his mind. (1997:149) stage and its interaction with the hea-
dealing with Gentile converts, and as Sadly, most indigenous Christians then culture, Walls references the com-
a missionary, expected that any the- throughout the world struggle daily parison Origen made to the manner in
ologizing would need to select Greek with the question of their identities. which the Israelites used the gold and
terminology, symbols and rituals in any They are told over and over that the spoils from heathen Egypt to construct
effective communication of God’s truth. route to success is only by adopting the their most holy religious objects.
He undertook substantial symbol dominant modern culture and that their The work of Christians, he concludes,
theft from the Gentile world. Thus he own native cultures and mother-tongue is to take the materials of the heathen
can boldly seize the Hellenistic idea of languages are dead ends. Even more world and fashion from them objects

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

David S. Lim 191

for the worship and glorification of
God. . . And that is what Origen and
he ethos of these rites was originally and primarily
all his successors did; the classical ethical, and requires us to respect a certain
Christian theology that we associate
with the early centuries–its doctrines, spirituality in these Christ-centered communities.
creeds, and confessions–was made
accused of being part of a rejectionist alive, rather than worship them by
from the materials of the Greek in-
religious community, we must apolo- burning paper money and spreading
tellectual world and by means of its
gize for such attitudes in the past and a feast before ancestral tablets which
methods. The corpus of Neoplatonic
present. This is a very important act of are more superstitious practices.
thought was spoiled from the pagan
humility that is often needed to open up (Chang 1975:838—839)
world as thoroughly as ever the Is-
raelites could have spoiled Egyptian an opportunity for us to share the gospel So, we can see that the ethos of these
gold, and from it was hammered out with those who venerate ancestors. ancestor rites was originally and pri-
the doctrine of the Trinity. (1997:149) marily ethical, and I believe it requires
Contextual Spirituality us to respect the way in which a certain
The burning question for many
Believers should also demonstrate this spirituality will emerge among Christ-
Christians in non-Western cultures is
theological paradigm shift in their centered communities in these contexts.
whether the Jesus preached to them by
spirituality. Above all, they must show
Western missionaries can ever be “at First, it requires that we allow and en-
that they remember their ancestors and
home” in their native culture. Will they courage young believers to follow their
honor them from the bottom of their
have to surrender their identity and cul- family traditions, including bowing
hearts, and even exceed the honor given
ture to follow another culture’s “native down, offering incense (cf. Mal. 1:11),
ancestors by non-believers (cf. 1 Tim.
Jesus”? In other words, does the conver- eating food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8,
5:8). We must suppress any urge to
sion demanded by the gospel include 10) and making tablets or scrolls, just
criticize these rituals of remembrance as
the changing of their socio-religious like Paul did not object to the Corin-
non-Christian practices and, alternative-
identities? Must they live in a split-level thian practice of “baptizing the dead”
ly, allow for an indigenous yet Christian
Christianity? Or will vernacular trans- (1 Cor. 15:29). Out of love, they must
spiritual process to continue developing.
lations of Jesus and the Scriptures open never cause their families, clans and
the door for Christ to enter fully into As I pointed out in my comments on communities to stumble over prac-
their cultures? To develop dynamic and filial piety above, it is historically quite tices that are merely cultural (1 Cor.
relevant Christianity, the alternatives to clear that any spirituality surrounding 10:32–33, cf. 8:9–13.)
contextualization have produced poor ancestor veneration is primarily moral
results in terms of developing a dy- in nature. Before Buddhism came to In Korea, Yonggi Cho, the senior pastor
namic and relevant Christianity. Walls China with its doctrines of heaven, hell, of the famous Yoido Full Gospel Church,
(1997:152) perceptively notes, reincarnation and transmigration of got into big trouble with the Presbyterian
souls, there was hardly any concern for churches there because he taught that a
Christian faith must go on being believer could bow down during “ances-
elaborate burial practices (like burning
translated, must continuously enter
paper money, or pleading for blessings tral worship.” He remarked,
into vernacular culture and interact
with it, or it withers and fades. and protection from ancestors). The We Koreans serve our living parents
classical Chinese emphasis on filial piety by bowing down. Why is it alright
This third stage is the theological is much simpler and is generally con- (sic) to bow down to living parents
crucible for Chinese Christians who cerned with displaying proper morals: and not to dead parents? Dead par-
confront our ancestor veneration. Like ents are still the parents, thus it is not
Origen in the Hellenistic world, we Filial piety is the root of all virtues and
sinful to bow down to dead parents
must find a biblical way forward that the stem out of which grows all moral
during ancestral worship. (www.
teaching. It starts with the service of
welds biblical truths with the values goni.kimc.net/sacrifice.htm)
parents, proceeds to the service of the
and rites of our socio-religious culture.
Ruler, and culminates with the establish- I believe his stance must be emulated.
Moreover, since most Christians are ment of the character. (Xiao Jing, ch. 1)
known to be rejectionist towards “ances- Secondly, once people have received
tor worship,” we must try to avoid being And from one essay of Ou Yang Christ (and have preferably been
categorized as or associated with main- Shieu, a noted scholar and statesman baptized with their families), they
stream “rejectionist” Christianity. Being in the Sung Dynasty: must be discipled in private and in
categorized as a more accommodating It is more important to provide re- small groups. All efforts must focus on
Roman Catholicism might be the best spectfully and affectionately for the winning their extended families to the
way forward. If we are suspected or needs of the parents when they are same faith as soon as possible. If they

32:4 Winter 2015

192 Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps for Implementation

(especially family heads) regard their Fourthly, their spirituality must also be today, through our social activities on
ancestors as gods/deities, and hence holistic and strategic. This is especially their behalf or our “good works.” This
worthy of their worship, they will true since our objective is to disciple and is what Christian spirituality is: to glo-
surely realize very soon that repen- transform entire peoples into Christlike- rify God by shining his light into the
tance requires leaving such idolatry. ness without dislocating them from their world through our good works (Mt.
If they fail to realize this, a gentle dia- socio-cultural heritage. We want these 5:16). This is the summary of the To-
logue or probe into the foundational new communities of Christ-followers to rah in the Great Commandment (Mt.
meanings of their new-found faith in be in a position to disciple adults, even 22:37–39) and in the Golden Rule
“Jesus is Lord” will lead them to burn community and socio-religious leaders, (Mt. 7:12)—to do to others what you
their idols and paraphernalia. If they so they can lead in the theologizing, the would want to be done to you—which
(especially family heads) continue to education and the worldview transfor- is the positive (and higher) version of
view their ancestors as human spirits mation of the rest of the populace. We Confucius’ dictum, “Don’t do to others
who hover among the living, who are must try to befriend Buddhist and Tao- what you don’t want to be done to
capable of providing or withholding ist monks and nuns. Christians should you.” This is perfected in Jesus’ New
protection, who threaten them with participate in the activities of the Qing Commandment which raises the stan-
bad luck unless offered food, then Ming and Chong Yang festivals. When dard to the highest level: to love one
these new believers may be helped we join in socio-religious and other af- another as he loved us ( Jn. 13:34–35),
to discover functional substitutes. fairs, we show our willingness to cooper- which is, self-sacrificially!
Better yet, they can be encouraged ate with people of good will to establish We should therefore use our time,
to gradually drop the practices bit by
energy, resources, and skills to do
bit, without calling attention to their
community services whether from
conversion in the community.
our homes, offices, or public property.
Thirdly, we must accept that the If needed and capable, we can build
forms of an emerging Christ-centered community ministry centers, and
spirituality will most probably differ These new believers also turn our existing church build-
from mainstream westernized Chris- may be helped ings into such. There is really no need
tianity. There is no divine or universal to build more religious buildings for
form of Christianity which is suitable to discover functional conducting more religious services, for
for all believers at all times. This is any meeting can turn into a church
how indigenous theology will evolve, substitutes. (Christ-centered worship and liturgy)
too. However, this is not to affirm an when it includes prayer, Bible reflec-
uncritical, “to each his own” theologiz- tion and sharing (cf. Mt. 18:19–20;
ing. Caught in the tension between 1 Tim. 4:4–5).
scripture, church tradition and one’s
culture, each believer must choose the
way to follow Christ and obey God’s shalom /peace and thereby earn the right Conclusion
to form Christ-centered communities This contextualization of the gospel
word in his own context. We must
among them and with them. in ancestral venerating communities
believe that the Holy Spirit will use
affirms a biblical faithfulness and theo-
the word of God to illumine and direct This spirituality is based on our rela- logical relevance that will transform
each believer to become God’s “priest, tionship with God and reflected in our Chinese and similar cultures from
prophet and king” in Christ, especially relationship with our fellow man. It is within, and allows for more effective
in the Bible reflection or sharing time not measured by adherence to religious movements to Christ where ancestor
with his disciplers or small groups. practices which vary from culture to veneration has inhibited the gospel.
Christians will encounter a plurality of culture. God delights in creativity and With the rise of new religious move-
options rather than one single choice in diversity. We must avoid being judg- ments across the globalized world of
ancestral veneration, as they reflect on mental or legalistic (Rom. 14:1–15:7); the 21st century, this sensitive ap-
biblical principles, cultural values and we must allow freedom of conscience; proach may be the most relevant and
family practices. It is not the church or and we must encourage each fellowship effective mission strategy for peoples
the pastor, but the believers themselves
of believers to find how to express their of Buddhist and primal worldviews.
who will make the decisions. Some
religious faith in light of the Scriptures.
errors in discernment may occur, but In my assessment, it is dubious whether
the believing community around them After all, the best way to honor ances- rejectionist denominations and church-
should help keep them in check. tors is to sincerely love our neighbors es will adopt this mission paradigm

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

David S. Lim 193

officially. Their leadership and laity have
already been perceived by their com-
hurches may even take pride in a rejectionist
patriots as isolated, un-filial, and even religious heritage that has welcomed the
unpatriotic sub-cultural minorities. This
perception is actually quite accurate, for
persecution and martyrdom of their forebears.
they have westernized and modernized dishonoring toward parents, elders and of Frontier Missiology 23:3 (2006):
and have completely rejected the folk ancestors. Indeed, this shift of perspec- 127–133.
Buddhist worldview and practices. Most tive might cause some to hesitate, but Chamberlain, Jonathan
of them are so bound to their church 1987 Chinese Gods. Subang Jaya, Ma-
for the sake of the gospel and by God’s laysia: Pelanduk Publications.
traditions that they are hardly open to mercies, we must at the very least Chan, Kim Kwong & A. Hunter
even questioning the macro-issue of the prayerfully support those who are pres- 1994 “Religion and Society in Main-
socio-cultural barriers between their ently attempting to shift their para- land China in the 1990s.” Issues
Christianity and the wider community. digm in evangelizing societies which and Studies 30.8 (1994): 54–75.
They may even take pride in a rejection- venerate ancestors. IJFM Chan, Simon
ist religious heritage that has welcomed 2014 Grassroots Asian Theology: Think-
ing the Faith from the Ground Up.
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International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Linking Missiology
Jesus in African Culture:
A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors
by Kwame Bediako

Editor’s Note: This excerpt from the writings of Kwame Bediako is taken from Jesus
and the Gospel in Africa: History and Experience (Orbis Books: Maryknoll, 2004,
pp. 22–33) and reprinted by permission (see advertisement on p. 162).

Jesus and the Ancestors in Akan Worldview

ccepting Jesus as “our Saviour” always involves making him at home
in our spiritual universe and in terms of our religious needs and
longings. So an understanding of Christ in relation to spirit-power
in the African context is not necessarily less accurate than any other percep-
tion of Jesus. The question is whether such an understanding faithfully reflects
biblical revelation and is rooted in true Christian experience. Biblical teaching
clearly shows that Jesus is who he is (Saviour) because of what he has done
and can do (save), and also that he was able to do what he did on the Cross
because of who he is (God the Son) (Colossians 2:15ff ). Since “salvation” in
the traditional African world involves a certain view of the realm of spirit-
power and its effects upon the physical and spiritual dimensions of human
existence, our reflection about Christ must speak to the questions posed by
such a worldview. The needs of the African world require a view of Christ
that meets those needs. And so who Jesus is in the African spiritual universe
must not be separated from what he does and can do in that world. The way
Kwame Bediako (1945-2008), a in which Jesus relates to the importance and function of the “spirit fathers” or
native of Ghana, was trained as
a patrologist and historian, with ancestors is crucial.
doctorates in both French literature
and theology. He served as rector of The Akan spirit world on which human existence is believed to depend,
the Akrofi-Christaller Institute for consists primarily of God, the Supreme Spirit Being (Onyame), Creator and
Theology, Mission, and Culture in
Akropong, Ghana, and was a pioneer Sustainer of the universe. Subordinate to God, with delegated authority
in the exploration and advancement from God, are the “gods” (abosom) sometimes referred to as children of God
of African Christianity. His book
Theology and Identity (Regnum (Nyame mma), and the ancestors or “spirit fathers” (Nsamanfo). The relative
Books: Oxford, 1992) used the models positions of the “gods” and the ancestors may be summed up as follows:
of Justin Martyr and Clement of
Alexandria to encourage African While God‘s power surpasses all others, the ancestors would appear to tilt the
Christians to deploy their own scale in their favour if their power could be weighed against that of the lesser
cultural heritage in forming a genuine gods. After all are the deities not often referred to as “the innumerable gods of
Christian identity. our ancestors,” the spokesmen of the human spirits? (Sarpong 1974, 43)

International Journal of Frontier Missiology 32:4 Winter 2015•195

196 Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors

John Pobee has also underlined the European, but never belonging properly reality of the ancestors. We need also
importance of the ancestors in the to either. We need to meet God in the to make the biblical assumption that
religious worldview of the Akan as the Lord Jesus Christ speaking immediate- Jesus Christ is not a stranger to our
essential focus of piety: ly to us in our particular circumstances, heritage, starting from the universality
in a way that assures us that we can be of Jesus Christ rather than from his
Whereas the gods may be treated
with contempt if they fail to deliver authentic Africans and true Christians. particularity as a Jew, and affirming
the goods expected of them, the an- John Pobee suggests that we “look that the Incarnation was the incar-
cestors, like the Supreme Being, are on Jesus as the Great and Greatest nation of the Saviour of all people,
always held in reverence or even wor- of all nations and of all times. Yet
Ancestor,” since
shipped. (Pobee 1979, 48) by insisting on the primacy of Jesus’
in Akan society the Supreme Being and universality, we do not reduce his
By virtue of being the part of the clan
the ancestors provide the sanctions incarnation and its particularity to a
gone ahead to the house of God,
for the good life, and the ancestors
they are believed to be powerful mere accident of history. We hold on
hold that authority as ministers of the
in the sense that they maintain the to his incarnation as a Jew because
Supreme Being. (Pobee 1979, 94)
course of life here and now and influ- by faith in him, we too share in the
ence it for good or ill. They . . . provide However, he approaches the issue largely divine promises given to the patriarchs
the sanctions for the moral life of the through Akan wisdom sayings and and through the history of ancient
nation and accordingly punish, exon- proverbs, and so does not deal sufficiently Israel (Ephesians 2:11–22). Salvation,
erate or reward the living as the case with the religious nature of the question
may be. (Pobee 1979, 46) though “from the Jews” ( John 4:22)
is not thereby Jewish. To make Jesus
Ancestors are essentially clan or lineage little more than a typical Jew is to dis-
ancestors. So they have to do with the tort the truth. His statement in John
community or society in which their 3:43–44 that a Jew could have for a fa-
progeny relate to one another and not ther, not Abraham at all, but the devil,
with a system of religion as such. In this was outrageous from a Jewish point
way, the “religious” functions and duties Jesus Christ of view. What counts is one’s response
that relate to ancestors become binding
on all members of the particular group
is not a stranger to to Jesus Christ. In these verses we find
one of the clearest statements in Scrip-
who share common ancestors. Since the our heritage. ture that our true human identity as
ancestors have such an important part
men and women made in the image of
to play in the well-being (or otherwise)
God, is not to be understood primarily
of individuals and communities, the
in terms of racial, cultural, national or
crucial question about our relationship
lineage categories, but in Jesus Christ
to Jesus is, as John Pobee rightly puts
it: “Why should an Akan relate to Jesus himself. The true children of Abraham
of Nazareth who does not belong to his and underestimates the potential for are those who put their faith in Jesus
clan, family, tribe and nation?” conflict. For if we claim as the Greatest Christ in the same way that Abra-
Ancestor one who, at the superficial level, ham trusted God (Romans 4:11–12).
Up to now, our churches have tended to “does not belong to his clan, family, tribe Consequently, we have not merely
avoid the question and have presented and nation,” the Akan non-Christian our natural past; through our faith in
the Gospel as though it was concerned might well feel that the very grounds Jesus, we have also an “adoptive” past,
with an entirely different compartment of his identity and personality are taken the past of God, reaching into biblical
of life, unrelated to traditional religious away from him. It is with such fears and history itself, aptly described as the
piety. As a result, many people are dangers, as well as the meanings and in- “Abrahamic link” (Walls 1978, 13).
uncertain about how the Jesus of the tentions behind the old allegiances, that a
Church‘s preaching saves them from In the same way, Jesus Christ, himself
fresh understanding of Christ has to deal.
the terrors and fears that they experi- the image of the Father, by becom-
ence in their traditional worldview. This ing one like us, has shared our human
shows how important it is to relate The Universality of Jesus Christ heritage. It is within this human heritage
Christian understanding and experience and Our Adoptive Past that he finds us and speaks to us in
to the realm of the ancestors. If this is We need to read the Scriptures with terms of its questions and puzzles. He
not done, many African Christians will Akan traditional piety well in view, in challenges us to turn to him and partici-
continue to be men and women “living order to arrive at an understanding of pate in the new humanity for which he
at two levels,” half African and half Christ that deals with the perceived has come, died, been raised and glorified.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Kwame Bediako 197

The Good News as Our Story ur Saviour is our Elder Brother who has shared
Once this basic, universal relevance of
Jesus Christ is granted, it is no longer a in our African experience in every respect,
question of trying to accommodate the except our sin and alienation from God.
Gospel in our culture; the Gospel be-
comes our story. Our Lord has been from of man (Genesis 3), African myths of rites and sacrificial offerings to achieve
the beginning the Word of God for us as origins talk of the withdrawal of God, social harmony are ineffectual. Yet the
for all people everywhere. He has been so that he is continually in people’s view of sin as antisocial is also biblically
thoughts, yet is absent from daily living valid: sin is indeed sin against another
the source of our life and illuminator of
in any practical sense. The experience person and the community’s interest.
our path in life, though, like all people
of ambiguity that comes from regard- But human beings are the creation of
everywhere, we also failed to understand
ing lesser deities and ancestral spirits God, created in God’s image, so social
him aright. But now he has made himself sin is also sin against God. The blood
as both beneficent and malevolent, can
known, becoming one of us, one like us. only be resolved in a genuine incarna- of Abel cried to God against Cain
By acknowledging him for who he is and tion of the Saviour from the realm (Genesis 4). The Gospel underscores
by giving him our allegiance, we become beyond. But trinitarian doctrine is pre- the valid insight about the social nature
what we are truly intended to be, by his served, for the God who has become so of sin, but brings the need for expiation
gift, the children of God. Our response to deeply and actively involved in our con- into a wider context. Sin is more than
him is crucial since becoming children of dition is the Son ( John 1:18) whom to antisocial act; the sinner sins ultimately
God does not stem from, nor is it limited see is to “see” the Father ( John 14:15ff; against a personal God with a will and
by, the accidents of birth, race, culture, Acts 2:38ff ), and this is made possible purpose in human history.
lineage or even “religious” tradition. It through the Holy Spirit ( John 14:23). Seen from this angle, the insights about
comes to us by grace through faith. Jesus Christ in the epistle to the Hebrews
This way of reading the early verses of Jesus as “Ancestor” and Sole are perhaps the most crucial of all. Our
John’s Gospel that echo the early verses Mediator Saviour has not just become one like us;
of Genesis 1, from the standpoint of Thus the gulf between the intense aware- he has died for us. It is a death with eter-
faith in Jesus Christ as our story, helps ness of the existence of God and yet also nal sacrificial significance. It deals with
us to appreciate the close association of of his “remoteness” in African Tradi- our moral failures and infringements of
our creation and our redemption, both tional Religion is bridged in Christ alone social relationships. It heals our wounded
achieved in and through Jesus Christ because “there has been a death which and soiled consciences and overcomes
(Colossians 1:15ff ). We are to under- sets people free from the wrongs they once and for all and at their roots, all that
stand our creation as the original revela- did while the first covenant was in force” in our heritage and somewhat melan-
tion of God to us and covenant with us. (Hebrews 9:15). How does this death choly history, brings us grief, guilt, shame
It was in the creation of the universe and relate to our story and particularly to our and bitterness. Our Saviour is our Elder
especially of man that God first revealed natural “spirit-fathers”? Some suggest Brother who has shared in our African
his Kingship to our ancestors and called that ours is a “shame culture” and not a experience in every respect, except our sin
them to freely obey him. Working from “guilt culture,” on the grounds that pub- and alienation from God, an alienation
this insight, we, from African primal lic acceptance determines morality, and with which our myths of origins make
tradition, are given a biblical basis for consequently a “sense of sin” is said to be us only too familiar. Being our true Elder
discovering more about God within the absent (Welbourn 1968; Taylor 1963, Brother now in the presence of his Father
framework of the high doctrine of God 166–69). However, in our tradition, the and our Father, he displaces the media-
as Creator and Sustainer, that is deeply essence of sin is in its being an antisocial torial function of our natural “spirit-fa-
rooted in our heritage. More significant- thers.” For these themselves need saving,
act. This makes sin basically injury to the
ly, we are enabled to discover ourselves having originated from among us. It is
interests of another person and damage
known from African missionary his-
in Adam (Acts 17:26) and come out of to the collective life of the group (Pobee
tory that one of the first actions of new
the isolation which the closed system of 1979, 102ff; Busia 1954, 207).
converts was to pray for their ancestors
clan, lineage, and family imposes, so that
Such a view of morality does not who had passed on before the Gospel
we can rediscover universal horizons.
resolve the problem of the assurance of was proclaimed. This is an important tes-
However, “as in Adam all die . . .” moral transformation that the human timony to the depth of their understand-
(l Corinthians 15:22), Adam sinned and conscience needs. For the real problem ing of Jesus as sole Lord and Saviour.
lost his place in the garden. Where the of our sinfulness is the soiled con- Jesus Christ, “the Second Adam” from
biblical account speaks of the expulsion science and against this, purificatory heaven (l Corinthians 15:47) becomes for

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198 Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors

us the only mediator between God and of spirit, sends the Holy Spirit to his problem arises when one has to justify
ourselves (cf. 1 Timothy 2:5). He is the followers to give them understanding of that insight on the basis of Old Testa-
“mediator of a better covenant” (Hebrews the realities in the realm of spirits. The ment prophecies and anticipations. The
8:6), relating our human destiny directly close association of the defeat and over- fact is, “he was born a member of the
to God. He is truly our high priest who throw of the devil (“ruler of this world”) tribe of Judah; and Moses did not men-
meets our needs to the full. with the death, resurrection and exalta- tion this tribe when he spoke of priests”
tion of Jesus ( John 12:31) is significant, (Hebrews 7:14). The view of Christ in
From the understanding held about
and the thought of the “keeping” and Hebrews involves making room in the
the spirit-world, the resurrection and
protection of his followers from “the tradition of priestly mediation for one
ascension of our Lord also assume great who, at the purely human level, was an
evil one” forms an important part of
importance. He has now returned to the outsider to it. Just as an Akan might
Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17, aptly
realm of spirit and therefore of power. ask, “Why should [he] relate to Jesus of
described as his “high priestly” prayer.
From the standpoint of Akan traditional Nazareth who does not belong to his
beliefs, Jesus has gone to the realm of the clan, family, tribe and nation?”, so a simi-
ancestor spirits and the “gods.” We al- The Epistle to the Hebrews as lar question must have occurred to some
ready know that power and resources for Our Epistle! Hebrews in time past and the epistle
living come from there, but the terrors Turning to the epistle to the Hebrews, was written to answer that question.
and misfortunes which could threaten it has often been assumed that the
and destroy life come from there also. problem of theology in New Testament The writer’s approach is to work from
But if Jesus has gone to the realm of the the achievement of Jesus in the mean-
“spirits and the gods,” so to speak, he ing of his death and resurrection, into
has gone there as Lord over them in the the biblical tradition of sacrifice and
same way that he is Lord over us. He is high priestly mediation. In the pro-
Lord over the living and the dead, and cess, the universality of the Lord from
over the “living-dead,” as ancestors are Jesus is Lord heaven as the Saviour of all people ev-
erywhere, forms the basis of the call to
also called. He is supreme over all gods over the living and Hebrew people to take him seriously as
and authorities in the realm of spirit,
summing up in himself all their powers the dead, their Messiah. Even more striking, the
writer shows that the High Priesthood
and cancelling any terrorising influence
they might be assumed to have upon us.
and over the of Jesus is not after the order of Aaron,

The guarantee that Jesus is Lord also in

“living-dead.” the first Hebrew High Priest, but after
that of the enigmatic non-Hebrew,
the realm of spirits is that he has sent and greater priest-king, Melchizedek
us his own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to (Hebrews 7 and 8). Therefore, the
dwell with us and be our protector, as priesthood, mediation and hence the
well as Revealer of Truth and Sanctifier. times was how to relate the Gospel to salvation that Jesus Christ brings to all
In John 16:7ff, our Lord’s insistence on people everywhere belong to an entirely
Gentile cultures and traditions. The
going away to the Father includes this different category from what people
meaning of Christ for Jewish religious
idea of his Lordship in the realm of may claim for their clan, family, tribal
tradition was thought to be relatively
spirits, as he himself enters the region and national priests and mediators. The
simple. The epistle to the Hebrews
of spirit. It also includes the idea of quality of the achievement and ministry
however corrects that error. The writer
the protection and guidance that the of Jesus Christ for and on behalf of all
is aware that some Hebrews might be
coming Holy Spirit will provide for his people, together with who he is, reveal
tempted to turn from the proclamation
followers in the world. The Holy Spirit his absolute supremacy. As One who
of the great salvation in Christ.
is sent to convict the world of its sin in is fully divine, he nonetheless took on
rejecting Jesus, and to demonstrate, to The clue to the epistle’s teaching lies in human nature in order to offer himself
the shame of unbelievers, the true right- its presentation of Christ. Hebrews is in death as sacrifice for human sin.
eousness which is in Jesus and available the one book in the New Testament in Jesus Christ is unique not because he
only in him. He is also sent to reveal the which Jesus Christ is understood and stands apart from us but because no one
spiritual significance of God’s judge- presented as High Priest. And yet, “If he has identified so profoundly with the
ment upon the devil who deceives the were on earth, he would not be a priest human predicament as he has, in order
world about its sin and blinds people at all . . .” Though our Saviour obviously to transform it. The uniqueness of Jesus
to the perfect righteousness in Christ. does and did fulfil a High Priestly func- Christ is rooted in his radical and direct
Our Lord therefore, entering the region tion in his redemptive work for us, the significance for every human person,

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Kwame Bediako 199

every human context and every human
culture. The value for us of the presenta-
he value of Jesus in Hebrews stems from its
tion of Jesus in Hebrews stems from its relevance to our deep tradition of sacrifice,
relevance to a society like ours with its
deep tradition of sacrifice, priestly medi-
priestly mediation, and ancestral function.
ation and ancestral function. In relation priesthood (Hebrews 7:14; 8:4), so the Ancestral Function
to each of these features of our religious way is open for appreciating his priestly Of the three features of our traditional
heritage, Hebrews shows Jesus to be ministry for what it truly is. His taking heritage we are considering, ancestral
the answer to the spiritual longings and of human nature enabled him to share function seems to be the one to which
aspirations that our people have sought the human predicament and so quali- Jesus Christ least easily answers. Ances-
to meet through our traditions. fied him to act for humanity. His divine tors are lineage or family ancestors and
origin ensures that he is able to mediate so are by nature ours. So the cult of
between the human community and ancestors may be said to be beyond the
Sacrifice as a way of ensuring a
the divine realm in a way no human reach of Christian argument. If the cult
harmonious relationship between the
priest can. As himself God-man, Jesus of ancestors is valid, here is solid ground
human community and the realm of
bridges the gulf between the Holy God on which traditional religion can take a
divine and mystical power, is a regular
and sinful humanity, achieving for hu- firm stand. It is precisely here that the
event in Ghanaian society. It is easy
manity the harmonious fellowship with problem lies. In what does the validity of
to assume that the mere performance
God that all human priestly mediations the cult of ancestors consist? Since not
of sacrifice is sufficient, yet the real
only approximate. all become ancestors but only those who
problem is whether sacrifice achieves
lived exemplary lives and from whom
its purpose. Hebrews gives us the Yet his priestly ministry takes place not the community derived some benefit, are
fundamental insight that since it is hu- in an earthly temple or shrine, but in the not ancestors in effect a projection into
man sin and wrong-doing that sacrifice realm where it really matters, where all the transcendent realm of the social val-
seeks to purge and atone for, no animal issues are decided, in the divine presence ues and spiritual expectations of the liv-
or sub-human victim can stand in for (Hebrews 9:24). But his priestly media- ing community? Since traditional society
human beings. Nor can a sinful human tion has done more than act “on our be- views existence as an integrated whole,
being stand in for fellow sinners. The half.” It actually ends priestly mediation linking the living and the departed in a
action of Jesus Christ, himself divine by bringing into the divine presence all common life, such a projection is under-
and sinless, in taking on human nature who by faith associate themselves with standable. Yet the essential point is that
so as to willingly lay down his life for him. The meeting of the perfect sacrifice ancestors have no existence independent
all humanity, fulfils perfectly the end with the perfect priestly mediation in of the community that produces them.
that all sacrifices seek to achieve (He- The cult of ancestors provides the basis
the one person, Jesus Christ, means
brews 9:12). No number of animal or for locating in the transcendent realm
that having identified with human-
other victims offered at any number of the source of authority and power in the
ity in order to taste death on behalf of
shrines can equal the one, perfect sacri- community and gives to leadership itself
humanity (Hebrews 2:14–15), he has
fice made by Jesus Christ of himself for a sacred quality.
opened the way for all who identify with
all time and for all peoples everywhere.
him to be with him in the divine pres- Strictly speaking, the cult of ancestors,
To reject the worth of the achievement
ence (Hebrews 10:19–20). This unique from the intellectual point of view, be-
of Jesus Christ on the grounds of race,
achievement renders all other priestly longs to the category of myth, ancestors
ethnicity, and cultural tradition, is to
mediations obsolete and reveals their in- being the product of the myth-making
act against better knowledge, distort
effectiveness. To disregard the surpassing imagination of the community. To char-
religious truth, and walk into a blind
alley, in the words of Hebrews, to court worth of the priestly mediation of Jesus acterise the cult of ancestors as “myth”
“the fearful prospect of judgement and Christ for all people everywhere and to is not to say that the cult is unworthy of
the fierce fire which will destroy those choose ethnic priesthoods in the name serious attention. The term stresses the
who oppose God” (10:27). of cultural heritage, is to fail to recognise functional value of the cult of ances-
the true meaning and end of all priestly tors. For myth is sacred, enshrining and
Priestly Mediation mediation, to abdicate from belonging expressing the most valued elements
If the quality of Jesus’ self-offering in within the one community of human- of a community’s self-understanding.
death sets his sacrifice above all and ity, to clutch at the shadow and miss the The cult of ancestors as myth points to
achieves perfect atonement, so his substance. The thrust of Hebrews is that the role of the cult in ensuring social
priestly mediation surpasses all others. such error is not only unredeemable, it is harmony, by strengthening the ties that
Jesus had no human hereditary claim to also utterly unnecessary. knit together all sections and generations

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200 Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors

of the community, the present with the who he is in himself. Ancestors, even do operate in the traditional realm, we
past and those as yet unborn. On each described as “ancestral spirits,” remain can maintain that ancestral spirits, as
occasion of heightened feeling in the essentially human spirits; whatever human spirits that have not demon-
community—birth, outdooring of in- benefit they may be said to bestow is strated any power over death, the final
fants, initiation into adulthood, marriage, effectively contained by the fact of their enemy, cannot be presumed to act in the
death, the installation of a king and cel- being human. Jesus Christ, on the other way tradition ascribes to them.
ebration of harvests—the cult of ances- hand, took on human nature without
loss to his divine nature. Belonging in Since ancestral function as traditionally
tors forms an essential part of the ritual
the eternal realm as Son of the Father understood is now shown to have no
ceremonies that secure the conditions
(Hebrews 1:1, 48; 9:14), he has taken basis in fact, the way is open for ap-
upon which the life and continuity of the
human nature into himself (Hebrews preciating more fully how Jesus Christ
community are believed to depend.
10:19) and so, as God-man, he ensures is the only real and true Ancestor and
It is also important to realise that since an infinitely more effective ministry to Source of life for all mankind, fulfilling
ancestors do not originate from the human beings (Hebrews 7:25) than can and transcending the benefits believed
transcendent realm, it is the myth- be said of merely human ancestral spirits. to be bestowed by lineage ancestors.
making imagination of the community By his unique achievement in perfect
itself that sacralises them, conferring The writer of Hebrews, confronted by atonement through his own self-sacri-
upon them the sacred authority that the reality of the eternal nature of Jesus fice, and by effective eternal mediation
they exercise through those in the Christ, falls back on the enigmatic and intercession as God-man in the
community, like kings, who also expect Melchizedek of Genesis 14:17–20 for divine presence, he has secured eternal
to become ancestors. The potency of redemption (Hebrews 9:12) for all who
the cult of ancestors is not the potency acknowledge who he is for them and
of ancestors themselves; the potency of what he has done for them, who aban-
the cult is the potency of myth. don the blind alleys of merely human
traditions and rituals, and instead, en-
Once the meaning of the cult of ances- The potency trust themselves to him. As mediator of
tors as myth is granted and its “function”
is understood within the overall religious
of the ancestor cult a new and better covenant between God
and humanity (Hebrews 8:6; 12:24),
life of traditional society, it becomes clear is the potency Jesus brings the redeemed into the
how Jesus Christ fulfils our aspirations
in relation to ancestral function too. An- of myth. experience of a new identity in which he
links their human destinies directly and
cestors are considered worthy of honour consciously with the eternal, gracious
for having “lived among us” and for hav- will and purpose of a loving and caring
ing brought benefits to us; Jesus Christ God (Hebrews 12:22–24). No longer
has done infinitely more. They, originat- are human horizons bounded by lineage,
ing from among us, had no choice but analogy; without father or mother, with-
clan, tribe or nation. For the redeemed
to live among us. But he, reflecting the out beginning or end, he (Melchizedek)
now belong within the community of
brightness of God’s glory and the exact is like the Son of God ( Jesus Christ).
the living God, in the joyful company of
likeness of God’s own being (Hebrews The likeness is only in thought. For Jesus
the faithful of all ages and climes. They
1:3), took our flesh and blood, shared has actually demonstrated, through his
are united through their union with
our human nature and underwent death resurrection from the dead, the posses-
Christ, in a fellowship infinitely richer
for us to set us free from the fear of sion of an indestructible life (Hebrews
than the mere social bonds of lineage,
death (Hebrews 2:14–15). He who has 7:16). This can never be said of ances-
clan, tribe or nation that exclude the
every reason to abandon sinful humans tors. The persistence of the cult of ances-
stranger as a virtual enemy.
to their just deserts is not ashamed to tors is owed, not to their demonstrable
call us his brethren (Hebrews 2:11). Our power to act, but to the power of the
natural ancestors had no barriers to cross myth that sustains them in the corporate Reading and Hearing the Word
to live among us and share our experi- mind of the community. The presump- of God in Our Own Language
ence. His incarnation implies that he has tion that ancestors actually function for Once we discover that there is no valid
achieved a far more profound identifica- the benefit of the community can be alternative to Jesus Christ, the question
tion with us in our humanity than the seen as part of the same myth-making is no longer: why should we relate to
mere ethnic solidarity of lineage ances- imagination that projects departed hu- Jesus of Nazareth who does not belong
tors can ever do. Jesus Christ surpasses man beings into the transcendent realm. to our clan, family, tribe and nation?
our natural ancestors also by virtue of While not denying that spiritual forces But, how may we understand more

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Kwame Bediako 201

fully this Jesus Christ who relates to us
most meaningfully and most profound-
f Akan speakers read their Bibles only in English,
ly in our clan, family, tribe and nation? they may not realize the traditional Odwira
A helpful way of growing in under-
standing is to read and listen to the
purificatory ritual is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Word of God in our own languages. is essential if we seriously seek growth Mbiti, J. S.
in our understanding of Jesus Christ. A 1970 Concepts of God in Africa. Lon-
In matters of religion, no language don: SPCK.
speaks to the heart, mind and innermost final illustration from the epistle to the
feelings as does our mother-tongue. The Hebrews clarifies the point:
1973 “‘Our Saviour’ as an African Ex-
achievement of Christianity with regard When he had made purification for perience.” In Christ and the Spirit
to this all-important place of language sins, he sat down at the right hand in the New Testament (Essays in
in religion is truly unique. For Christi- of the Majesty on high (RSV). After honour of C. F. D. Moule), edited
achieving forgiveness for the sins of by B. Lindars and S. Smalley,
anity is, among all religions, the most
mankind, he sat down in heaven at 397–414. Cambridge: Cambridge
culturally translatable, hence the most University Press.
the right hand side of God, the Su-
truly universal, being able to be at home ———.
preme Power (GNB). (Hebrews 1:3b)
in every cultural context without injury 1976 “The Encounter between Chris-
to its essential character. For a Scriptural If Akan speakers read their Bibles only tianity and African Religion.” In
religion rooting religious authority in in the English versions and neglect the Temenos 12, 125–35.
Word of God in their own language, it Pobee, John
a particular collection of sacred writ-
is conceivable that they would dutiful- 1979 Towards an African Theology.
ings, this achievement is remarkable. Its Nashville: Abingdon Press.
explanation must lie with Christianity’s ly participate in every annual Odwira
Sarpong, Peter
refusal of a “sacred” language. With the Festival without ever realising that 1974 Ghana in Retrospect: Some aspects
exception of the dominant role of Latin the traditional purificatory rituals of of Ghanaian Culture. Accra Tema:
in the European phase of Christianity Odwira, repeated year after year, have Ghana Publishing Corporation.
and in some sectors of Roman Catholi- in fact been fulfilled and transcended Setiloane, G. M.
by the one, perfect Odwira that Jesus 1976 The Image of God among the Sotho-
cism, Christianity has developed as a Tswana. Rotterdam: A. A. Balkema.
“vernacular” faith. The significance of Christ has performed once for all
Taylor, John V.
this has been most marked in Af- (Hebrews 1:3 in Twi: ode n’ankasa ne
1958 The Growth of the Church in
rica, where the early possession of the ho dwiraa yen bone no). Jesus has thus Buganda: an attempt at under-
Scriptures in mother-tongue meant that secured eternal redemption for all standing. London: SCM Press.
who cease from their own works of ———.
African peoples had access to the origi-
purification and trust in him and his 1963 The Primal Vision: Christian
nal sources of Christian teaching, on the
perfect Odwira; that it is Jesus Christ Presence amid African Religion.
authority of which they could, if need London: SCM Press.
in himself, (the Twi here—ode n’ankasa
be, establish their own churches. Each Turner, H. W.
ne ho—being more expressive than the
of us with the Bible in our mother- 1977 “The Primal Religions of the
English versions), who has become our World and their Study.” In Aus-
tongue can truly claim to hear God
Odwira. The Odwira to end all odwi- tralian Essays in World Religions,
speaking to us in our own language.
ras has taken place through the death edited by Victor C. Hayes, 27–37.
The importance of this fact is theologi- of Jesus Christ. IJFM (Bedford Park: Australian Associ-
ation for World Religions).
cal. The Christian belief that the Bible
Walls, A. F.
in the vernacular remains in every References 1978 “Africa and Christian Identity.” In
respect the Word of God, has its basis in Busia, K. A. Mission Focus, vol. IV, no. 7, Nov.,
what took place on the Day of Pen- 1954 “The Ashanti.” In African Worlds: 11–13.
tecost, when the Holy Spirit, through Studies in the Cosmological Ideas ———.
the first Christian witnesses, spoke at and Social Values of African 1979 “The Anabaptists of Africa? The
Peoples, edited by Daryll Forde. Challenge of the African Inde-
one and the same time to people “who London: OUP). pendent Churches.” In Occasional
had come from every country in the Gairdner, W. H. T. Bulletin of Missionary Research,
world” (Acts 2:5 GNB), each in his own 1910 Edinburgh 1910. An Account vol. 3, no. 2, April, 48–51.
language, causing them to “hear the and Interpretation of the World Welbourn, F. B.
Missionary Conference. London: 1968 “Some Problems of African
great things that God has done” in Jesus Oliphant, Anderson and Ferrier. Christianity: Guilt and Shame.”
Christ (Acts 2:1–12). Hearing the Word ldowu, E. Bolaji In Christianity in Tropical Africa,
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202 Responses

“Is Muhammad Also Among with his theological claims about the coming of Christ in
flesh. Relying on its immediate context, one may ask: Did

the Prophets?”: A Response to Muhammad really confess that Jesus Christ has come in
the flesh, i.e. that he was God-incarnate? The answer is no.

Harley Talman For Muhammad, Jesus was merely a prophet, nothing more.
Before we even consider the claims of any other Muslim
by Ayman Ibrahim source, what about the Qur’ān? It is nearly universally
acknowledged by all scholars that the Qur’ān is the earliest
Muslim source, and is considered to be Islam’s scripture, the
Editor’s Note: Talman’s “Is Muhammad Also among the purportedly “revealed” message received and proclaimed by
Prophets?” appeared in IJFM 31:4.
Muhammad. From a Qur’ānic vantage point, Jesus never
existed before his birth. He was not God, nor the Son of

n his ambitious article, Harley Talman argues that the
vast majority of Christians have perceived Muhammad God, nor God-incarnate. He was only a prophet sent by
in a wrong way for the past thirteen centuries by depict- Allah like many other prophets. Thus, based on the three NT
ing him as a false prophet. He calls on Christians to “allow passages cited above, Muhammad fails to pass the test of
the possibility that Muhammad is a prophet in the biblical prophethood—from this biblical standpoint, he is to be iden-
sense.” He believes that there is “theological, missiological, tified with false prophets, and can hardly be identified as a
and historical” support for Muhammad’s prophethood. At true prophet of God, that is, the only God, at last and defini-
a minimum, we should congratulate Talman for trying new tively revealed to us in Christ, the Son, the Word of God.
and creative avenues of thought. Unfortunately, in my judg- Second, Talman, in his determination to deny that
ment, this particular path ultimately proves to be a dead end. I Muhammad was perceived as a false prophet in the earli-
fundamentally disagree with his major argument. To allow for est Muslim period, is willing to make claims that seem to
the possibility of “true prophethood” for Muhammad, from a be actually contradicted by what evidence we do possess. He
Christian point of view, one must intentionally ignore or avoid states: “It is significant that during the first century [of Islam]
specific biblical references and must also stretch some histori- Christians did not seem to think of Muhammad as a false
cal evidence a bit too far. In what follows, I will provide five prophet.” This is not only inaccurate, but clearly wrong. One of
critical observations to demonstrate briefly that Talman fails to the earliest references to Muhammad by Christians identify-
interact with crystal clear, relevant, biblical passages, mishan- ing him as “false prophet” is dated 634 ad—only two years
dles and overemphasizes marginally relevant historical cases, after his death. (Doctrina Jacobi V. 16, 209, cited in Hoyland
and relies heavily and selectively on secondary studies without 1997, 57). However, this is not to suggest that this claim was
acknowledging the counter arguments offered against them. the only perception concerning Muhammad, neither to argue
I will show how the core of his argument cannot be accepted for its truthfulness, nor to deny its biased attitude. It is simply
even by Muslims, which, in a sense, violates the primary aim to demonstrate that Talman’s broad assertion is fundamentally
of the author in “seeking constructive dialogue with Muslims” inaccurate and cannot support his argument. In the first cen-
based on his affirmation of Muhammad’s prophethood. tury of Islam, Muhammad was depicted in Christian sources
First, in his attempt to move Muhammad from the false- in various ways: a conquest initiator, trader, king, monotheist
prophet to the true-prophet category, Talman fails to revivalist, lawgiver, and false prophet (Hoyland, “The Earliest
examine 1 John 4:1–3, Christian Writings,” 276–295). Non-Muslims did attempt
to make sense of the growing power of the invading Arabs
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see
coming from the desert who were conquering the superpowers
whether they are from God, for many false prophets have
gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God:
of that era. Muhammad, in one of the depictions, contrary to
every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the Talman’s argument, was clearly viewed as a false prophet lead-
flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus ing “the vengeful and God-hating” Arabs. (As per Sophronius,
is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you Patriarch of Jerusalem (d. ca. 639) in Hoyland 1997, 72–73).
heard was coming and now is in the world already.
Third, in various parts of his article, Talman equates and
This passage is echoed in 1 John 2:22–23 with respect conflates “speaking of Muhammad with due respect” and
to the sonship of Jesus to God the Father, and in 2 John “identifying him as a prophet.” These are two entirely
1:7, linking the Antichrist with the deception of deny- different matters. We can, and actually should, speak of
ing that Jesus is the Christ who came in the flesh. These Muhammad with due respect, but that does not suggest
New Testament passages are crucial to identifying a true that we have to affirm a prophethood that violates biblical
prophet. The test here is not concerned with the moral passages. Consider Talman’s use of the example of Patriarch
behavior of the one who claims to be a prophet, but rather Timothy I to support the argument for the legitimacy

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Ayman Ibrahim, Harley Talman 203

he fact that an eighth-century ecclesiastical leader may, or may not, have
entertained the possibility that Muhammad was a prophet hardly constitutes
clear direction for our theological estimation of the Muslim prophet.
of Muhammad’s prophethood. The author simply uses secondary studies while ignoring the counter arguments.
this example as an affirmative one without providing any One of the scholarly arguments favored by Talman is that
historical context or background for the Patriarch’s asser- “Muhammad began his mission as [the leader of ] an ecu-
tion. In 782, almost 155 years after Muhammad’s death, menical movement of monotheist ‘Believers’ that included
at a period of the highest power of the Abbasid Caliphate, numbers of Jews and Christians.” However, this argument
Patriarch Timothy conducted his debate with the Muslim has been strongly criticized by various scholars as radically
Caliph al-Mahdi. The Patriarch did speak of Muhammad fanciful. (See the reviews of Fred Donner’s Muhammad and
with respect, but never stated that Muhammad was a true the Believers by Gerald Hawting, Robert Hoyland, Patricia
prophet, or even “a prophet in the biblical sense” as Talman’s Crone, and Jack Tannous). Talman simply does not inform
article argues. In fact, Talman himself is uncertain of his us about the counter claims, most likely because they pose
own reliance on Timothy’s assertion and states: “It can be difficulties for his claims. He adopts a theory, accepts it,
argued that Timothy cautiously affirmed Muhammad as a affirms it, and uses it to support his position. But this
prophet. . . .” This disclaimer demonstrates how fragile his hopeful “ecumenical movement” is notable for its absence
argument actually is, and how very weak are his historical in some of the earliest sources. We have a Syriac docu-
lines of evidence. Talman stretched the story a bit too far ment, the Maronite Chronicle, dating from the 660s, almost
by taking Timothy’s words about Muhammad (as having three decades after Muhammad’s death, which “refers to
“walked in the way of the prophets”) to mean that Timothy Mu‘āwiya’s issuing of gold and silver coins that broke from
thought of Muhammad as a true prophet. the widely used [Christian] Byzantine coin type, no longer
including the traditional depiction of the cross” (Penn 2015,
But, what about the historical context? Nothing is offered by
55). This suggests that Muslims, as early as 660, refused to
the author. He provides this story to support his argument
use Christian elements on their coinage, which refutes a
for Muhammad’s prophethood, although the context and
notion of “an ecumenical movement,” and rebuts the core
stated lines of the debate suggest only a respectful manner
argument of Talman regarding a true prophet leading a
on the part of the Patriarch in speaking of Muhammad.
monotheistic ecumenical movement. Even the “earliest”
Moreover, what may we expect from a Patriarch speaking
Islamic text, the Qur’ān, is not clearly supportive of this
about Muhammad in the presence of a Muslim caliph? If
“ecumenical theory,” as it contains polemic verses against
this story actually took place, then Timothy did the correct
Christians and their various doctrines such as the trinity,
thing by speaking of Muhammad respectfully. Undoubtedly,
incarnation, and crucifixion. While Talman seems to favor
Timothy was also mindful of his people living in the
the debatable notion that Muhammad and the Qur’ān
Caliphate of al-Mahdi. Furthermore, assuming hypotheti-
reacted to some fringe heretical Christian groups and not
cally that Timothy had actually affirmed Muhammad’s
to mainstream Christianity (187), this argument is convinc-
prophethood, what would that indicate for Christians today?
ingly dismissed by many scholars, such as Sidney Griffith
The fact that an eighth-century ecclesiastical leader may, or
and Gabriel Reynolds. (See Griffith 2008, 7–9; Reynolds,
may not, have entertained the possibility that Muhammad
“On the Presentation of Christianity,” 2014, 42–54).
was a prophet, in and of itself hardly constitutes obvious and
clear direction for our theological estimation of the Muslim Fifth, the model of Muhammad’s prophethood offered by
prophet. To question the grounds on which Talman singles Talman can hardly be accepted even by faithful Muslims.
out Timothy’s views, as well as how he interprets Timothy’s Consider these claims by Talman: “[Muhammad’s] message
statements, is not to belittle Timothy’s stature. Nonetheless, brought nothing significantly new; rather it was a confirma-
it would be equally possible to take other ancient Eastern tion of the message of the biblical Scriptures in an Arabic
Christian elites as examples, arguing that the far less language,” and “[Muhammad’s] utterances do not supersede
favorable views (of Muhammad) of Patriarch Sophronius biblical authority,” let alone his statement: “As Christians,
(d. 638), John of Damascus (d. 749), and al-Kindi (fl. 9th we do not regard the Qur’ān to be utterly infallible and
century) are actually more instructive for the church. authoritative.” These claims are problematic and can never
be accepted by any Muslim.
Fourth, Talman’s article is laced with speculative terms
such as “possibility” and “some kind,” repeating them over Therefore, is Muhammad a prophet? Yes, indeed, he is a
and over. This engenders little confidence in his overall prophet for Muslims, but not for Christians. With these
argument, especially when one considers his selective use of five abovementioned observations, it appears that Talman

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204 Responses

makes a radical claim, relies on several selected secondary 1. Some (e.g., Keener1) believe this confession is a test for
sources that agree with it, offers little in the way of evi- docetists who denied the full humanity of Christ whom
dence from primary sources to support it, and then calls they assert only appeared to be human. A good transla-
Christians to go against clear New Testament teaching tion would be, “If a person claiming to be a prophet
to support Muhammad’s true prophethood. When evi- acknowledges that Jesus Christ came in a real body, that
dence offered by secondary studies supports his claim it person has the Spirit of God” (New Living Translation).
is emphasized; when primary sources contradict him it is Raymond Brown holds that the issue was not a denial of
downplayed. Talman’s approach to Islam is hardly the only “the incarnation or the physical reality of Jesus’ human-
thoughtful Christian option. There are a variety of possible, ity,” but a high Christology that could have been “relativ-
nuanced Christian approaches to Muhammad which, even izing the importance of Jesus’ earthly life” to his messiah-
if they do not satisfy, let alone replicate, a Muslim view of ship.2 I am sure that Ibrahim would agree that Muham-
their prophet, are theologically honest, historically attested, mad and the Qur’an do not deny Jesus’ full humanity.
and missiologically measured. Out of love for Muslim 2. Others (e.g., Stott, Hiebert 3) see it as rejecting the
friends, Christians need to speak of Muhammad with due Cerinthian heresy which asserted that the “Christ
respect, but they cannot go against clear biblical descrip- Spirit” only came upon Jesus at his baptism and
tions of prophethood to grant him titles he does not merit. departed prior to his death. The Qur’an says Jesus was
Christ from his birth (Surah 3:45).
Ayman Ibrahim, PhD, is a Post-Doctoral Fellow of Middle 3. A case can be made for 1 John 4:1-3 referring again
Eastern History. Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and the to the denial that “Jesus is the Christ” that appears in
Senior Fellow for the Jenkins Center for the Christian Under- 2:22, the affirmation of this truth in 5:1, and the par-
standing of Islam, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. allel in John 9:22. The test may be a variation of that
same denial. Muhammad could hardly be guilty of
denying this, for the Qur’an repeatedly refers to Jesus
My Response to Ayman Ibrahim 4.
as the al-Masih (the Messiah/Christ).
Many, like Ibrahim, view the test as a confession of
the incarnation. If this is the correct meaning, the
by Harley Talman negative judgment of Muhammad put forward by
Ibrahim is based on a particular interpretation of

thank the esteemed Ayman Ibrahim for expending the
the Qur’an. While we can say that Islamic theology
time and effort to respond to this complex and impor-
eventually developed arguments against the incarna-
tant issue. As he affirmed, it was rather “ambitious” to
tion, this does not necessarily reflect the view of the
attempt to undertake it. Not surprisingly, there were some
historical Muhammad; for the Qur’an can be read as
issues or aspects that I did not address in sufficient detail.
affirming the incarnation of the word.
Dr. Ibrahim’s knowledge and expertise in this domain are
clearly evident, and enabled him to raise questions and chal- A key passage is Surah 3:45: “The angels declared, ‘Mary,
lenges that many others could not. I will endeavor to respond God announces to you good news of a word from him
to his comments following the five points in his outline. (kalimatin minhu) whose name is Christ Jesus, son of Mary
. . .’” What I find remarkable in this verse is the attaching of
Point One the masculine pronominal suffix to “name” (ismuhu) instead
First of all, Ibrahim alleges that I “attempt to move of the feminine suffix (ha), since the pronoun would be
Muhammad from the false-prophet to the true-prophet cat- expected to match the grammatical gender of its feminine
egory.” Unfortunately, for those who do not clearly recall the antecedent, “word” (kalima). This grammatical feature could
argument of my article, this statement may misconstrue my conceivably be a theological parallel to the Christian Arabic
position—given that the major thrust of my article was to translation of John 1 (Van Dyck-Bustani) which uses the
call for moving the discussion beyond such binary thinking
masculine case verb with the feminine case kalima, seeking
about prophethood. I am not arguing that Muhammad is a
to convey the personality of the pre-incarnate Word.
“true prophet” as traditionally conceived (on par with biblical
prophets in the canon of scripture), but as one who could have However, if the masculine pronominal suffix in “his word”
a prophetic function or prophetic role of some other order. (ismuhu) is taken as pointing forward to the proper noun
“Jesus,” it is very significant that the word from God has a
As for applying the “test” of 1 John 4:1–3, I would first
specific name (“Christ Jesus, son of Mary”).
caution against assuming that Ibrahim’s interpretation of
its significance and its applicability to Muhammad are so Elsewhere (4:171) the Qur’an declares that Jesus is “his
straightforward. This is because several aspects are debated word (kalimatuhu) which he cast down/spoke to Mary.”
by biblical scholars. This construct in Arabic grammar clearly indicates that

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Ayman Ibrahim, Harley Talman 205

imothy was not kowtowing to a powerful sovereign. He and al-Mahdi
were friends and were engaging in honest dialogue. But as patriarch he
had to be careful in his choice of words.
Jesus is “the word of God”—even if most Muslims try to Essentially a footnote at the end of a 100 page tract, it is a
make it mean a word. Moreover, 4:171 implies that the mere cursory rejection of expedience. Block concludes:
word existed before God cast it down to Mary, supporting In terms of Christian-Muslim relations, it can be considered
the idea of incarnation. little more than the opportunistic dismissal of the prophet of
Such high views of ‘Isa as the word of God are not exclu- the Saracens in order to bolster the position of Jesus in a tract
sively Christian readings of the Qur’an. Muhammad intended to convert Jews to Christianity . . .8
Sarwar translates this verse: The prophet of the Saracens here is interpreted in the con-
“Behold,” the angels told Mary, “God has given you the glad text of the Jewish messianic concept. The Jews heard rumors
news of the coming birth of a son whom He calls His Word, about an Arab prophet and are interpreting the military suc-
whose name will be Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, who will be cess of his followers as potential evidence that the unknown
a man of honor in this life and the life to come, and who will prophet is the Jewish Messiah. The Christian author of the
be one of the ones nearest to God.” tract dispels the rumor, and instead propagates the messiah-
ship of Jesus to its Jewish audience. The tract is highly informa-
Al-Tabari’s early commentary on the Qur’an cites Ibn Abbas’s tive on Jewish-Christian relations, and is a very early mention
observation, “God calls this son which is in thy womb his of the prophet of the Saracens, but carries little, if any useful
word.”4 Jesus is not merely created by the word of God, but information on Christian-Muslim relations as the author him-
he is that word. Thus, it is possible to read the Qur’an in ways self has little if any direct experience with the Arabs.9
that harmonize with the incarnation of the word. Ibrahim also cites Sophronius as refuting my asser-
In this light, let me also comment on Ibrahim’s assertion tion. However, in his strong reaction to the conquest of
that for Muhammad, “Jesus was merely a prophet, nothing Jerusalem, Sophronius says nothing about Muhammad, the
more.” While this may hold true for later developments in Qur’an, Muslims or Islam, but only that they were Saracens
Islamic tradition and apologetics, many Muslim theologians who were “godless” and brutal. As Spencer observes,
acknowledge the need for and the legitimacy of recover- Sophronius “shows no awareness that the Arabians had a
ing original Qur’anic meanings.5 For example, a modern prophet at all or were even Muslims.” 10 Similarly, without
Muslim authority suggests that Surah 4:157 is not a denial doubt, Muslims inside the walls of Jerusalem, when the
of the death of Jesus, but that “the Qur’an was speak- attacking Crusaders turned it into a blood bath, would have
ing about the Word of God who was sent to earth and uttered similar expressions about the Christian invaders.
who returned to God. Thus, the denial of Jesus’ killing is a But, in so doing, they would not be giving any indications
denial of the power of men to destroy the Divine Word.”6 of their views about Jesus Christ. Block concludes that
To regard Jesus as the Divine Word indicates he is more Eastern Christians distinguished between Muhammad’s
than a mere human. I refer again to Parrinder’s summary of teaching and wicked acts of his followers.11
Muhammad’s exalted teaching about Jesus Christ. As for
the denial that Jesus is the “son of God,” the Qur’an rejects Point Three
the unbiblical notion of God sexually procreating with a Ibrahim’s third main point argues that I overstated the sig-
human consort. For a more detailed response to Ibrahim’s nificance of Patriarch Timothy—whom he believes merely
view of the Qur’an’s teaching, see the discussions of its showed respect for Muhammad, but did not grant him pro-
Christology in the endnote.7 phetic significance. If we look at the broader context (which he
asserts that I failed to do), we find that Timothy is doing more
Point Two than this. By stating that Muhammad “walked in the way
Ibrahim rejects my assertion that “during the first century of the prophets” Timothy was not kowtowing to a powerful
[of Islam] Christians did not seem to think of Muhammad as sovereign. He and al-Mahdi were friends and were engaging
a false prophet.” At first glance, his citation from Doctrina in honest dialogue. But as patriarch of the largest church of his
Jacobi would appear to refute my statement. But my asser- time, he had to be careful in his choice of words, lest Christians
tion conveys the conclusion of C. Jonn Block’s analysis who had less favorable views of the caliph misunderstand his
which I encourage readers to consult. However, I will here words and accuse him of conversion to Islam.12 Later in the
respond to the two specific reports which Ibrahim contests. dialogue, Timothy goes on to cite the Qur’an:
First, the comment about the Arab prophet in Doctrina I also heard that it is written in the Qur’an that Christ is the
Jacobi is not actually an evaluation of the Arab prophet. Word of God and the Spirit of God, and not a servant. If Christ

32:4 Winter 2015

206 Responses

hat scholars find less persuasive is that this Islamic “Believers
movement” would have included those who self-identified as Jews and
Christians and the validity of the term “ecumenical” to describe them.
is the Word of God and Spirit of God as the Qur’an testifies, others find “less persuasive” is that this “Believers move-
He is not a servant, but a Lord, because the Word and Spirit ment” would have included those who self-identified as Jews
of God are Lords. It is by this method, O our God-loving King, or Christians and the validity of the term “ecumenical” to
based on the law of nature and on divinely inspired words and describe them.16 But what is meant by “ecumenical”? Was
not on pure human argumentation, word and thought, that their primary self-identity that of a non-confessional mono-
I both in the present and in the first conversation have dem- theist community? In light of the critical reviews Ibrahim
onstrated the Lordship and Sonship of Christ and the divine
refers to, I would agree that this is debated. Although it cannot
trinity (emphasis mine).13
be proven, given the limited archaeological evidence, Donner’s
Block observes, proposal is at least consistent with that evidence. Elsewhere
It is not at all disguised here that in Timothy’s appeal to Donner builds his case for such an inclusive community’s
Q4:171 as the foundation of a Qur’anic trinitarian theology, self-identity based on a study of the Qur’an.17 However, what
he has likewise rendered the words to which he appeals as “di- is important to my argument and what seems unassailable is
vinely inspired.” Timothy is not simply employing the Qur’an that Jews and Christians participated in the conquests (cf. the
as a debating tool [but] believes the Qur’an and Muhammad testimonies of John of Sedreh and John of Phenek). Therefore,
to be “voices of his trinitarian God.”14 the movement had to have been inclusive, even if the nature
and prominence of religious motivations is debated.
Therefore, is not Timothy attributing, at least in some mea-
sure, a prophetic function to Muhammad? Secondly, Ibrahim quotes Michael Penn on the Maronite
Chronicle regarding removal of Christian elements on
As far as John of Damascus (d. 749) and al-Kindi being
the coinage as rebutting the possibility of a monotheistic
“more instructive for the church,” I think that they have
ecumenical movement. However, if we read Penn more
been. John of Damascus marked the turning point for the
carefully, he states,
church in following the polemical approach as the domi-
nant model for Muslim-Christian relations. But this is Alternatively, it may be an anachronism based on the author’s
unfortunate as more conciliatory approaches like Timothy’s knowledge of ‘Abd al-Malik’s famous coin reform in the 690s.
also existed. However, as I stated, Timothy I is not unique As a result, it remains uncertain whether the Maronite Chron-
among Christian leaders and theologians who grant a icle was written in the mid-seventh century or simply comes
from a later author well informed about the 660s.18
prophetic role to Muhammad (e.g., Herman Bavinck, Johan
Bavinck, Martin Accad, Bill Musk, Charles Ledit, Timothy And even if we accept the early date as correct, would we
Tennent, Anton Wessels, H. Montgomery Watt, Guilio not expect the eventual elimination of symbols unique to
Basetti-Sani, Hans Kung, and Kenneth Cragg). one particular faith tradition, if a movement was truly “ecu-
menical”? Moreover, as I noted, coins continued to display
Point Four Christian symbols for up to a century.19
In regard to Ibrahim’s rejection of a proposed ecumenical
Finally on this point, I do agree with Ibrahim that the issue
movement that first included Jews and Christians, I am
of whether certain qur’anic verses are critical of mainstream
grateful for his informing me about the critical reviews of
Christianity, or heretical groups, is debated. However, I would
Donner’s book, for I was not aware of them. Nonetheless,
encourage engagement with studies such as Block’s that give
what is important to the main thesis of my article is not
support to my position. Moreover, the Qur’an’s commitment
what is the major focus of these criticisms, but what is con-
to the sole deity of God—a commitment shared by biblical
sistent with Hawting’s conclusion:
Christianity—should be a determinative consideration in
Many scholars today would accept elements of Donner’s the- interpreting those texts that address various Christian entities
sis. That what became Islam only gradually took on a distinct (e.g. Surah 4:17120). This is especially so, given the multitude
identity, and that the reign of ‘Abd al-Malik provides the first of verses stating that Qur’an’s purpose is to confirm, not
clear evidence of the assertion of that identity, are propositions contradict, the teaching of the biblical scriptures.
that would receive significant support. That neither the new
Arab rulers nor their non-Arab subjects at first called the religion Point Five
of the Arabs “Islam” can also be supported by the evidence.15
Lastly, Ibrahim faults my proposals for not being help-
I, like Hawting, doubt the “religious and moral valuation . . . ful in “seeking constructive dialogue with Muslims.” I will
that Muslim sources give to events.” What Hawting and agree that the possibilities explored differ greatly from

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Ayman Ibrahim, Harley Talman 207

typical Islamic views of Muhammad’s prophethood. But Joseph Cumming, “Muslim Theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari’s
surely my proposal would find greater favor with Muslims Doctrine of God and Possible Christian Parallels,” “Did Jesus Die
than the common Christian contention that he was a false on the Cross?,” “The Word of God in Islam and Christianity,” and
“The Meaning of the Expression ‘Son of God.’” http://faith.yale.
prophet—even when said “with respect.” Would not a
edu/reconciliation-project/resources; Mark Harlan, “A Model for
Christian who says, “I respect Muhammad as having a pro- Theologizing in Arab Muslim Contexts” Evangelical Missiological
phetic role, function or mission, even though I do not con- Society Dissertation Series, (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Interna-
sider him a prophet the way that you do,” find more favor tional University Press, 2012), chapter 9.
with Muslims than one who says, “I respect Muhammad, 8
Block, 123.
even though he is a false prophet”? 9
Block, 124.
Robert Spencer, Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry into
I would add here that it is not necessary for us to conclu-
Islam’s Obscure Origins (Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies
sively determine the nature of this prophetic role, if we apply Institute, 2012), 28.
Gamaliel’s wisdom to this question. Even though he was not 11
Block, 126.
convinced that Jesus was the Messiah, Gamaliel was pre- 12
See the numerous references to Timothy with Caliph
pared to allow that God had created the Jesus movement.21 Mahdi in C. Jonn Block, Expanding the Qur’anic Bridge: Historical
However, as Martin Accad has observed in his response and Modern Interpretations of the Qur’an in Christian-Muslim Dia-
logue with Special Attention Paid to Ecumenical Trends (New York:
to my article, my examination of this issue in the interests Routledge, 2014), 72–73, 93, 126–132.
of dialogue is aimed primarily at Christians—as it directly 13
N. A. Newman, ed., The Early Christian-Muslim Dialogue:
affects our attitude, and our view of Muhammad directly A Collection of Documents from the First Three Islamic Centuries
affects our view of Islam. And as Accad declares: (632–900 A.D.): Translations with Commentary (Hatfield, PA: Inter-
Your view of Islam will affect your attitude to Muslims. Your disciplinary Biblical Research Institute, 1993), 239, cited in Block, 93.
attitude will, in turn, influence your approach to Christian- Block, 93.
Muslim interaction, and that approach will affect the ultimate Gerald Hawting, Journal of Religion 91, no. 2 \(April 2011):
outcome of your presence as a witness among Muslims.”22 284–85.
In closing, I appreciate Ibrahim’s interacting with my article 17
Fred M. Donner, “From Believers to Muslims: Confessional
and raising questions and objections that surely reflect the Self-identity in the Early Islamic Community,” Al-Abhath 50–51
concerns of others. He has helped me refine my thinking and (2002–2003): 9–53.
has shown the need for further discussion of some issues. IJFM 18
Michael Philip Penn, When Christians First Met Muslims:
A Sourcebook of the Earliest Syriac Writings on Islam, (Oakland:
Endnotes University of California Press), 56–57.
1 19
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Harley Talman, “Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?”
Testament (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 743. IJFM 31:4 (Oct–Dec 2014), 172, fn. 31.
2 20
Raymond E. Brown, The Epistles of John, The Anchor Bible Here the Qur’an warns against exceeding the bounds in
(New York: Doubleday, 1982), 505. religion/theology. We are reminded not to say “three” gods, for He
John R. W. Stott, The Epistles of John, Tyndale New Testa- is one God. And we are exhorted to not confuse the Creator with
ment Commentaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1979), 154; D. creation by regarding Jesus’ sonship as physical/biological.
Edmond Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary Theologian Kurt Anders Richardson recommended applying
(Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1991), 182. the Gamaliel test to this issue (personal communication, August, 2015).
4 22
Tafsir al-Tabari 3:45, cited in Rodney Cardoza, “New Paths Martin Accad, “Christian Attitudes Toward Islam and
in Muslim-Christian Dialog: Understanding Islam from the Light Muslims: A Kerygmatic Approach,” in Evelyne A. Reisacher, ed.,
of Earliest Jewish Christianity,” The Muslim World 103, no. 4 (Octo- Toward Respectful Understanding and Witness among Muslims:
ber 2013), 448–463. Essays in Honor of J. Dudley Woodberry (Pasadena: William Carey
Abdullah Saeed, Reading the Qur’an in the Twenty-First Library, 2012), 29–47.
Century, (New York: Routledge, 2014), 143.
The view of Mahmoud Ayyub as expressed by Abdullah Harley Talman has worked with Muslims for 30 years, including
Saeed, 140. two decades in the Arab world and Africa, during which he was
Guilio Basetti-Sani, The Koran in the Light of Christ: A involved in church planting, theological education, and humanitar-
Christian Interpretation of the Sacred Book of Islam (Chicago, ian aid. Talman holds a ThM from Dallas Seminary and a PhD
IL: Franciscan Herald Press, 1977); C. Jonn Block, Expanding from Fuller. He presently teaches Islamic studies.
the Qur’anic Bridge: Historical and Modern Interpretations of the
Qur’an in Christian-Muslim Dialogue with Special Attention Paid
to Ecumenical Trends (New York: Routledge, 2014) and “Historical
Solutions to Some Problem Texts in Qur’anic Exegesis,” a paper
presented to Bridging the Divide, June 2013 http://btdnetwork.
Problem-Texts-C-Jonn-Block.pdf; Rodney Cardoza, “New Paths”;

32:4 Winter 2015

208 Book Reviews

As for my review here, I have in mind missiological readers
who wish to understand Barclay’s contribution on grace in
mission contexts today. I believe this is one of those vol-
umes that will require missiologists to deliberate just how
biblical scholarship anchors our perspectives on mission.
Sadly, at some 600 pages and a steep price (even Kindle is
Paul and the Gift, by John M. G. Barclay (Grand Rapids, $60), the starving missiologist might have to wait for a used
MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2015, pp. 656 edition or find the closest library. Nevertheless, I hope to
including notes) provide a short abstract on the way Barclay’s study might
mature contemporary missiology.
—Reviewed by Brad Gill, Editor, IJFM For the past four decades (while mission agencies have been
championing the frontiers of mission), biblical scholarship has
been wrestling with a controversial “new perspective on Paul.”
T his 2015 book is about grace—
God’s grace—and in particular its
centrality to the mission of the Apostle
Barclay has entered the fray with a new synthesis, lacing
together insights from this new perspective with an older
Paul. While it’s tempting to think we’ve perspective—one from the Reformation, which is about to
plumbed the depths of this subject, John celebrate its 500th anniversary. In short, this new perspective
Barclay will convince you otherwise. Paul on Paul arose from a fresh contextual study of the Judaism of
and the Gift promises to be a turning Paul’s day (Second Temple Judaism). It generally concluded
point in biblical scholarship but should that the Apostle Paul’s grasp of grace was not unique in rab-
win a special place in missiology as well. binical thought. This new perspective opposed the older con-
viction of biblical (and evangelical) scholarship that set Paul’s
“Paul talked about grace in a missionary context”;1 Barclay’s
understanding of grace against the Jewish understanding of
statement in a recent interview piqued my interest. But he
Law (grace vs. works). Enter Barclay. While Barclay agrees
really gripped my attention when he pointed out the critical
that a study of the Judaism of Paul’s day certainly indicates a
shift that occurred during the Reformation, a shift that
wider and deeper appreciation of grace (his study in Part II),
changed how the language of grace was used in its first cen-
he also challenges the way this new perspective has unilater-
tury context. Grace became “less about converting people
ally jumped to conclusions and “unwittingly created a spuri-
and more a point of dispute within the church itself.” This
ous uniformity within Judaism” (564). Barclay weaves a more
observation reflects Barclay’s respect for social context. In
intricate understanding of how a rabbinical Paul understood
his book, Barclay clarifies just how the Reformers turned a
grace (post-Damascus road), and he does it in a masterful
first century missionary theology inward, focusing it toward
exegesis of Galatians and Romans (his study in Part III).
the motives and self-understanding of Christians. For these
later theologians, he says, the original context of Paul’s In Part I, Barclay begins his study of Paul’s understand-
Gentile mission “became a matter of merely historical ing of grace from three vantage points—anthropological,
interest” (570). My missiological reflexes reacted to these linguistic and historical—each of which the missiologist
comments and I knew I had to buy Barclay’s book. can especially appreciate. The anthropological perspective
One might expect from Durham University’s Lightfoot is seldom given priority in these types of biblical studies.
Professor of Divinity a rather dense, scholarly tome, one that In his chapter “The Anthropology and History of Gift,”
might spark little interest outside of its theological orbit. Barclay places Paul‘s understanding of grace (“the gift”) in
Instead, Barclay’s book has already begun to gain substantial the broad cultural study of gift-exchange.
recognition within the rank and file of missiology. Far from Since both Paul and his contemporaries used the normal vo-
being simple intellectual fodder for heavier biblical exegesis cabulary of gift, favor and benefaction in speaking of (what
or abstract theological debate, Barclay’s surprisingly elegant we call) “grace,” we have located their discourse on this topic
prose can strum the devotional strings of any heart tuned within the social domain that anthropologists label “gift.” This
to the grace of God. On page after page, he provides rich conceptual frame has provided no templates, but it has alert-
and elaborate language to describe the ways in which grace ed us to features of ancient gift-giving that modern Western
touches our lives, often forcing the reader to stop mid-argu- eyes are apt to miss or to misconstrue. It also has afforded
ment to ponder the way he reshapes our Christian assump- some analytical distance from the special connotations that
have become attached to the term “grace.” (562)
tions. Admittedly, Barclay’s treatment is quite technical and
very comprehensive. IJFM readers wishing to gain a quick This is a remarkable beginning to any work of biblical scholar-
overview how it all fits within Pauline studies are referred to ship, indicating the author’s belief in the influence of cultural
Scott McKnight’s excellent review (see IOW, p. 214).2 conditions on even the great apostle. Barclay expects that

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Book Reviews 209

arclay’s linguistic perspective distinguishes him from the “new perspective”
on Paul which claimed that grace was understood everywhere in “Judaism.”
Yes, it was everywhere, but it was not everywhere understood the same.
Paul will construct the language of grace from the language, that transpired in the sixteenth century, and just how these
intentions, and meanings of reciprocal gift exchange in human Reformers each parsed the language of grace a bit differ-
society. But Barclay is no determinist, and he will prove in the ently from one another. However, Barclay makes it clear that
arc of this study that Paul’s understanding of grace overturns the way Luther and Calvin spun Paul’s understanding and
and shocks the normative ways of understanding gift-exchange application of the Christ-Event failed to fully appreciate Paul’s
in the first century. Unlike the new perspective on Paul, Barclay primary usage in the first century. Barclay’s appreciation for
will isolate Paul as a radical minister of grace who counters grace-in-context is what encourages missiologists to imagine
both the Roman and Jewish expectations of grace. how Paul’s understanding of grace should impact those frontier
settings that still remain today.
Barclay’s linguistic perspective distinguishes his scholar-
ship from a new perspective on Paul that claimed that While biblical scholars may consider Barclay’s thorough
grace was understood everywhere in “Judaism.” Yes, Barclay treatment of the new perspective as his seminal contribu-
agrees that grace was everywhere, but it was not everywhere tion (“Divine Gift in Second Temple Judaism,” Part II, 139
understood the same. He makes it clear how Jews and pages), I refrain from any assessment here. I only wish to
Christians can “discuss this common concept, using identi- emphasize that this scholarship provides the backdrop for
cal vocabulary with very different connotation” (563). In the Barclay’s excellent esposition of Galatians and Romans (Part
chapter “The Perfections of Grace/Gift” Barclay introduces III). Again, Barclay’s ability to “disaggregate” the polyvalent
grace as a polyvalent symbol, a term that has multiple meaning of grace allows him to delineate just how Paul’s
ways to perfect its meaning. He introduces six dimensions, understanding of grace in Galatians and Romans sets the
meanings or aspects of grace: superabundance, singularity, apostle apart from Second Temple Judaism. Barclay’s linguis-
priority, incongruity, efficacy and non-circularity. tic precision prevents the broad brush of a New Perspective
from glossing over Paul’s distinctive understanding of grace.
Each of these perfections configure gift in some maximal form,
but none are necessary features of the concept, and crucially, So, while the reader must be patient and wait until Part III
none requires or even implies another. They are distinguish- for his treatment of Galatians and Romans, all of Barclay’s
able perfections and do not constitute a “package deal.” (563) preliminary perspectives allow the reader to ascertain Paul’s
Each aspect becomes clearer to the reader as Barclay reviews meaning of grace with fresh sensitivity to culture, linguistics
and illustrates the use of these facets of grace throughout and historical context. Again, there is a rich panoply of missio-
history. Suffice it to say that Barclay will demonstrate how logical vocabulary across this part of Barclay’s study, but maybe
Paul’s understanding of grace (the Christ-Gift) will perfect the most important is captured in the title of his exposition
one particular aspect, the incongruity of grace, in a manner of Galatians 1–2: “The Christ-Gift and the Recalibration of
that will surprise, aggravate and reverse the typical under- Norms.” I don’t think I have ever heard the role of the gospel
standings of God’s grace in the first century. described in those terms: “recalibration” and “norms.” But
Barclay will rehearse again and again, in multiple ways, the
Here Barclay has done something remarkable for missiology. significance of this phrasing for Paul’s pioneering context.
His comprehensive treatment of Paul’s understanding of the
meanings of grace is a thorough case study that can inform Paul’s notion of the incongruous Christ-gift was originally
part of his missionary theology, developed for and from the
our study of all terms of polyvalent meaning in cross-cultural
Gentile mission at the pioneering stage of community forma-
communication. His linguistic (and biblical) vantage point can tion. Since God’s incongruous grace dissolves former criteria
be applied laterally to other mission contexts (one immediately of worth, it forms the basis for innovative groups of converts,
thinks of more recent controversies on the nature and use of by loosening their ties to pre-constituted norms and uniting
filial terms in translations into languages of Muslim people 3). them in their common faith in Christ. The starting point is the
In his “Interpreting Paul on Grace,” Barclay takes the reader on framing of the Christ-event as gift. (566)
a 110-page historical review of how key theological figures have The key word here is “norms.” Barclay understands that Paul
perfected the meaning of grace in Paul. “Interpreting Paul on perceived how the gospel would impact the normative cri-
Grace” includes a treatment of Marcion, Augustine, Pelagius, teria of worth (values) in a missionary context. He uses an
Luther, Calvin, Barth, Bultmann, Kasemann, and Sanders (the arsenal of verbs to describe the impact of the Christ-event
New Perspective on Paul). His extensive treatment of Luther on any normative system of society: dissolve, scramble,
and Calvin clarifies the brilliant re-contextualization of grace violate, subvert, shatter, destroy, alter, subordinate, or loosen.

32:4 Winter 2015

210 Book Reviews

hat shocks Paul about the Galatian believers is that by adopting the
socially-ratified standards of value embodied in the Torah they were
confining the gift within pre-established systems of worth. (Barclay)
But it’s in the exposition of Galatians that Barclay pin- anthropological venture emphasizes the values that have
points how the grace of God in the Christ-event impacts systematized in and around a particular mission context.
indigenous understanding of worth. Paul bore witness to an event that had broken the normal
criteria of worth and would embed new standards of worth
Paul understands the single event of Christ to bring into ques-
tion every pre-existent classification of worth. In figuring be- in the lives of those new believers.
lievers as “dead to the world” and as expressions of a “new Barclay is concerned that this unique perspective is lost
creation” (Gal. 6:14—15), he articulates the birth of dissonant in the re-contextualization of grace in sixteenth century
communities that are capable of disregarding distinctions be- Europe, and he uses his exegesis of Galatians to re-establish
tween Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female (Gal. Paul’s primary intentions.
3:28). Such social identities continue to exist, but they are de-
clared insignificant as markers of worth in a community that is . . . What shocks him (Paul) about the Galatian believers is not
beholden to Christ and operates “at a diagonal” to the normal that they are trusting in their own good works, as a subjective
taxonomies of value (Gal. 1:10—11) (567). fault in self-understanding, which puts the self in the place of
the sufficient work of Christ (Luther), but that, by adopting
Barclay wants to establish that in a missionary context the the socially ratified standards of value embodied in the Torah,
Christ-gift is the new Archimedean point “at odds with they are confining the gift within pre-established systems of
the normative conventions that govern human systems of worth . . . to repackage this gift as given in alignment with To-
value” (355). The normative understanding of gift-giving, rah practice would be to transform it into a gift of “Judaism.”
stated simply, was for Romans or Jews to calibrate their gifts (1:13, 14) For Paul, the cross cannot be thus contained with-
towards those who were worth receiving a gift. Gifts were out being nullified. (391)
generous—but selective—according to the suitability, the In his final treatment of Romans, Barclay exposits how
worth, or the appropriateness of the receptor. It was expected Paul continues to theologically embellish this concern
that there should be a certain congruity of value between the that the incongruous Christ-gift nullifies “pre-established
giver and the recipient of the gift. The Jew understood that systems of worth.” And that concern sets Paul apart from
God would only give his gifts (grace) to worthy beneficiaries. the subjective interpretation of grace that transpired during
He expected that his status as a Jew, and his adherence to the Reformation. Missiologists will be grateful for the
the Law, gave him preference for receiving God’s grace. way Barclay’s volume brings this missionary distinction
This was what we understand the Galatians were falling into, to Paul, but they might also beckon Barclay to proceed
i.e., that a certain normative system (Torah) would give them further. They might want to probe how Paul understood the
preference for God’s grace. Barclay interprets Paul as one who practical fallout from such a radical discontinuity of norms.
recalibrates this normative understanding of worth, for the Barclay can give the impression at times that norms (from
Christ-event establishes a shocking non-congruity (incongru- the “Christ-gift”) totally replace indigenous norms, that
ity) in God’s grace. Paul’s message to the Gentiles, his preach- one system is substituted for another. On other occasions
ing of the Christ-gift, was that grace is conditioned neither by Barclay’s language can suggest that it’s simply a transforma-
tion of norms that takes place in each context. Missiologists
ethnicity nor Torah practice, and the insistence of circumcision
would do well to invite Barclay into their enclaves and
for Gentiles represented a surrender to a normative system of
discuss these ambiguities. Together they might frame a
worth that nullified the Christ-gift. The missionary Paul was
“missiology of grace” for today’s frontier context.
primarily concerned to perfect the nature of this Christ-gift.
The Christ-gift was not a Torah-event: it was not enacted, dis- Endnotes
tributed, or experienced within the criteria of value established 1
“What’s So Dangerous About Grace?” Interview of John
by the Torah. The initial and continuing gift of Christ’s Spirit Barclay by Wesley Hill in Christianity Today, December 31, 2015
to Gentiles who do not practice the Torah is the phenomeno- http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/january-february/whats-
logical evidence that the Christ-event is not located within the so-dangerous-about-grace.html.
framework of “living Jewishly.” (2:14) “The Unexamined Grace,” a review of Barclay’s Paul and the
Gift by Scot McKnight in Books and Culture, January-February
Barclay has done missiology a favor by recasting Paul’s pur- 2016. http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2016/janfeb/unex-
pose in the language of worth, value and norms. Too often amined-grace.html.
the pioneer mission context is viewed as a simple dialectic 3
See the Independent Bible Translation Review of WEA
of dogma (worldview) and ritual (customs), but Barclay’s http://www.worldevangelicals.org/translation-review/.

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

Book Reviews 211

Christians in South Indian Villages, 1959—2009: Decline training for the ministry; urbanized pastors do not fit well
and Revival in Telangana, Studies in the History of in rural India, where untrained evangelists feel at home
Christian Missions, by John B. Carmen and Chilkuri (28, 90). The new independent churches are often self-
supporting as well. An obvious negative side to this picture
Vasantha Rao (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans
is the poor teaching present in many of these churches. (An
Publishing Co., 2014, pp. 242 + xxiv) appendix gives eight sample sermons from both CSI and
independent churches, some of which are inept at best.)
—Reviewed by H. L. Richard
The great point of commonality between the two studies is
the centrality of healing in bringing people to Christ. It is
T his is a follow-up study fifty years
after an analysis of church life
in rural Andhra Pradesh resulted in
particularly black magic from which healing is now sought.
One feature to which we give more attention is black magic
the book Village Christians and Hindu or witchcraft, which seems to have increased in the past fifty
Culture (Luke and Carmen 2009/1968). years. Healing from the effects of such sorcery is a major reason
As a stand-alone study there is much given by those who have decided to become Christians. (10)
of value in this book; as a comparative Neither more widespread education nor the ending of epi-
study of the present and a half century demics has lessened the belief in magical powers that seem to
ago it provides an invaluable look at transformations in many villagers stronger than traditional remedies or modern
Indian church life.1 medicine, stronger even than the local goddesses. (191)

The first study focused on the Church of South India Certainly, fear of magicians and of jealous neighbours who
pay the magicians to cast a spell is so widespread as to af-
(CSI), which was by far the dominant church in the area.
fect the quality of normal village life. Neither counter-magic
That is one of the changes fifty years later—the sprouting of
nor modern medicine seems to be effective against this black
many independent Christian congregations and the decline magic; only Jesus can break the magician’s spell. (212)
of the CSI.
Modernity is certainly impacting Indian village life, and
The first significant development, then, is the decline of the generational change is noted in this study. Literacy is now
older congregations. The second development, equally sig-
common in the new generation, and there is also a shift
nificant and perhaps more surprising, is very different. Since
1985, many new independent churches have been started,
towards more standardized Telugu language rather than the
some in villages with an older CSI congregation and some in local colloquial (79). There is a change also in viewpoints
villages where there were previously no Christians. While al- regarding untouchability.
most all members of the CSI congregations belong to the two Even in these villages, moreover, it is widely recognized that
Dalit castes, the Malas and the Madigas, more than half of the Dalits, whether Hindu or Christian, should no longer be treat-
newer churches have a majority of members belonging to the ed as serfs of the wealthy landowners or as despised village
“higher” non-Dalit castes. (7) servants. (180)
The caste issue will be addressed later in this review. It Woven throughout this study are discussions related to con-
should be noted that in the context of this discussion, textualization. A rather straightforward positive example is
urban CSI churches are growing, both in number and the embracing of the concept of bhakti (devotion).
in financial commitments. The major factor in both the
decline of the old and the growth of new congregations Devotion, or bhakti, in its Hindu forms has seemed to some
Christians to be akin to their own love of God, especially
seems to be leadership.
to their loving relationship with Jesus. For other Christians,
The core of rural CSI life was once unordained “evangelists.” bhakti is simply an Indian word that they use to express their
love of God. It is also possible to regard both this word and
The first study took place at a time when the former two-
many of its devotional forms as part of the legacy that Indian
tier system of pastoral care was still working, though with
Christians have received and naturally incorporate into their
some difficulties. The evangelists were unordained teacher-
own religious life. (70)
pastors living in houses whose veranda and courtyard served
as the place for teaching children, leading night prayers, and Contextualization issues raise many controversies, and often
conducting the Sunday evening service. . . . Now, there is no it is underlying assumptions that determine how one views
longer a lower tier of unordained pastor-teachers. (83) various ideas and practices. The root of controversies in
Perhaps it is a positive development that mission-controlled India is well defined.
evangelists and Bible women no longer exist, since into In India, where the dominant culture is “Hindu,” Christians are
that vacuum has come the independent Christian evange- divided, along with other Indians, as to whether that Hindu cul-
list. CSI pastors are urbanized due to the focus on proper ture, either as a whole or in some of its variations, is a religion

32:4 Winter 2015

212 Book Reviews

hristians are divided as to whether Hindu culture, either as a whole or in some
of its variations, is a religion competing with their faith or a national culture
to which all Indians belong and owe a patriotic allegiance. (Carmen and Rao)
competing with their faith or a national culture to which all Indi- Whether this pattern of “Christian” identity can endure is a
ans belong and to which they owe a patriotic allegiance. Many question raised in the book itself.
village Christians do not see these different views of Hindu cul-
ture as exclusive alternatives, but as extremes between which For Christians, conversion has meant a spiritual transforma-
they must negotiate in practical ways. (190) tion, but they have differed among themselves as to what
changes in behavior should be expected of Christians and
This type of question underlies the distinctly Indian contro- to what extent they should still participate in the traditional
versies related to “conversion.” caste system. (188)
Christians have long used the term “conversion” to refer both It is in the complexities of existential life that genuine con-
to the transformation of mind and heart (metanoia), which textualization either develops or is stifled. An interesting
ideally is expected of every Christian, and to the movement of side note in this study is a case of accidental contextualiza-
individuals and groups into the Christian community and, by tion related to baptism:
extension, into any religious community. In the latter sense,
the term was politicized in India during British colonial rule, . . . general Christian usage in India has followed the western
especially when Christians were put into a separate category European precedent of simply transliterating the Greek word,
for provincial elections. (171) thus in Telugu, baptismamu. By mispronouncing this word,
some of these village Christians actually invented a more
The earlier study found the difference between “Hindu” and meaningful term, for they said baptirthamu, which picks up
“Christian” communities greater than the more recent study. the Hindu term tirtha, in its meaning of “sacred bath.” (158)
The Christians as a whole are distinguished from the entire vil- Always and everywhere the challenges are similar; what
lage not so much by their customs or attitudes, as by the fact does it mean practically to be in the world but not of the
that they form a distinct religious community, with a distinc- world? These rural Christians in central India are, perhaps
tive time and manner of worship and with their own religious unconsciously, pressured by Christian history and also
leaders . . . (Luke and Carmen [1968] 2009, 201)
by a rapidly changing society. New church patterns have
The study currently under review says that these rural emerged, but both old and new are still rather tenuous. The
Christians “have . . . not formed communities as distinctive local responses outlined in this book certainly do not pro-
and separate as those of many urban Christians in India” vide a blueprint for other disciples of Jesus, but recognizing
(86). In fact there is an intriguing pattern of interreligious trends and struggles from this context stimulates ideas that
marriage among these rural Christians. can prove fruitful in other fields. To that end, this book is
When it comes to marriage alliances, these newer Christians, highly recommended, and it is essential reading for under-
like the members of the older congregations, seek a family in standing current issues in Indian church and mission. IJFM
their own caste, but they try to find other ways to represent
and to realize their unity in Christ. (116) Endnotes
The new study provides adequate summarization from the
In rural intermarriages the bride is integrated into the original to make insightful comparisons; but the original study
bridegroom’s family, but there is concern that in too many remains very worth reading and contains many insights not noted in
cases Christian pastoral care is weak and “many of the this new study.
women from Hindu families are never fully integrated into
the in-law Christian families and therefore do not always References
raise their children as Christians” (7). Luke, P. Y. and John B. Carman
2009 Village Christians and Hindu Culture: Rural Churches in
This all leads to a much more integrated society where South India. World Studies of Churches in Mission. Delhi:
“many Christians continue to observe some Hindu prac- ISPCK. First published in 1968 by Lutterworth Press.
tices, especially those connected with lifecycle rituals” (78).
The emergence of multi-caste churches is noteworthy in
this regard. The study reveals that “the largest church brings
together members from 7 castes, and the 2 other churches
have 9 castes represented” (100). “The newer congrega-
tions are made up of individuals and families from differ-
ent castes who affirm their separate caste identities” (177).

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

William Carey Library

Health, Healing, and Shalom: One Gospel for All Nations Holding the Rope
Frontiers and Challenges for Christian A Practical Approach to Biblical Short-term Missions, Long-term Impact
Health Missions Contextualization
Clint Archer, Author
Bryant Myers, Editor | Erin Dufault-Hunter, Jackson Wu, Author
Editor | Isaac Voss, Editor

Ever since Jesus’s proclamation in word and The Bible tells us what to believe—the Holding the Rope gives an insightful look into

deed as the Great Physician, his followers in gospel. Did you know it also shows how to the preparation, philosophy, and application

mission have assumed that salvation and health contextualize the gospel? In One Gospel for of short-term cross-cultural ministry. Archer
are intertwined. Yet for every age, Christians All Nations, Jackson Wu does more than talk addresses the issues with candor, humor,

need to examine how they can best announce about principles. He gets practical. When and most importantly, grace. He provides

the gospel message of God’s healing in word the biblical writers explain the gospel, they viable solutions to common problems, and
and deed in their own context. In our era, we consistently use a pattern that is both firm encourages churches, pastors, and volunteers

are often simultaneously grateful for modern and flexible. Wu builds on this insight to to adopt a biblical and practical approach for

medicine and frustrated by its inability to demonstrate a model of contextualization engaging in short-term missions. “Holding the
care for the whole person in effective, that starts with interpretation and can be rope” is more than a catchphrase. It articulates

affordable ways. applied in any culture. In the process, he an entire philosophy of ministry. Christian
explains practically why we must not choose missions is too daunting an enterprise to
In this edited volume, authors with an interest
between the Bible and culture. Wu highlights attempt alone, but the synergy of combined
in health missions from a wide variety of
various implications for both missionaries efforts can accomplish untold advancement
experiences and disciplines examine health
and theologians. Contextualization should for the kingdom of God. This book is a tool
and healing through the theological lens of
be practical, not pragmatic; theological, not for those serving the servants, a guide and
shalom. The meaning of this word, often simply
theoretical. celebration of those who hold the ropes.
translated “peace,” encompasses a much more
complex understanding of human well-being—

right relationships with one another, with God,

and with creation.

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Bryant L. Myers (Editor), Erin Dufault-Hunter (Editor) Jackson Wu (Author) Clint Archer (Author)
Isaac B. Voss (Editor) WCL | Pages 298 | Paperback 2015 WCL | Pages 140 | Paperback 2014
WCL | Pages 326 | Paperback 2015

214 In Others’ Words
Bible-Based Anasheed Videos Now Available

In Others’ Words Sheikh Salah Yammout (who is one of the leading poets
of the Muslim world) agreed to chant some beautiful
Anasheeds (Islamic-style religious songs) that are direct
Editor’s note: In this department, we highlight resources outside quotations from the Bible. Available both on DVD
of the IJFM: other journals, print resources, DVDs, web sites, videos and CD (music only), here is a sample of one of
blogs, videos, etc. Standard disclaimers on content apply. Due to the clips from I John 1:5-10: https://www.youtube.com/
the length of many web addresses, we sometimes give just the title watch?v=rPXRVw-2Zyc. To order go to CreateSpace.com
of the resource, the main web address, or a suggested search phrase. (https://www.createspace/850005963.).
Finally, please note that this October–December 2015 issue is
partly composed of material created early in 2016. We apologize An Intersection of Theology and Missiology
in advance for any inconvenience caused by such anachronisms. Paul and the Gift by John Barclay. Hailed as a tour de force
by many theologians, this seminal work will greatly benefit
By 2050, 80% of Christians in the World Will Be Asian, missionaries and missiologists as well. See the IJFM review
African, or Latin American in this issue as well as both reviews in Books and Cul-
Don’t miss the eight-page annual demographic report from ture—one by Wesley Hill and the other by Scott McKnight
the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2016/janfeb/
published in the January issue of IBMR. Two surprising unexamined-grace.html.
projections leap out at us: the number of Global South
Christians in 2050 will be 80% of the world’s total, up from
Understanding Insider Movements: Disciples of Jesus Within
20% in 1900); and two quite disparate estimates for Chris- Diverse Religious Communities edited by Talman and Travis.
tians in 2050: 2.9 billion (Pew) vs 3.4 billion (CSGC). This book is finally available on Kindle. Take a look at the Cir-
cumpolar missiological blog where Warrick Farah reposts two
Are the World’s Muslims Growing Faster Than the very different reviews of the book along with his comments
World’s Christians? (see http://muslimministry.blogspot.com/).
The Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Proj-
ect (April 2015) estimates that by 2050 global Christian Online Resources
and Muslim populations will be nearly the same size (2.9 In case you missed the great roundup of refugee relocation
billion vs 2.7 billion) with the percentage of Christians resources for local churches in the US, check out the March
not having changed at all from 2010 (31.4%). However, Cover Story in CT: “Hope on the Refugee Highway”:
the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/march/hope-on-
at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary projects that by refugee-highway-christians-iraq-greece-syria-isis.html.
mid-century, Christians will number 3.4 billion. This much
higher number would also increase the percentage of Chris- Looking for off-the-wall mission podcasts? Check out
tians in the world to 35.9%. Why the divergence? “Muslims, Christians and the Zombie Apocalypse,” a
new resource recommended by Mission Catalyst. Recent
The Center taps into knowledge from contacts in every country
podcasts include “The Psychological Profile of a Muslim
of the world, who inform us on what is happening in non-tradi-
tional forms of Christianity such as house churches and insider Terrorist” and “Sufism: The Hunger for God in Islam” with
movements (where individuals convert to Christianity in secret Dave Cashin. A free weekly email put out by Pioneers,
and/or remain identified with their past religion). Some of the Mission Catalyst, has links to great resources and articles.
most significant growth of Christianity in the world today, and Distinguished by its vibrant pictures and up-to-date reports
into the future, is indeed in non-traditional expressions and from the field, this periodical is interspersed with news,
does not easily get picked up in demographic measures such resources (including podcasts, books, and booklets) and
as censuses, surveys, and polls. This is particularly the case in
upcoming events.
China and India. Pew does not model religious switching in
either China or India, claiming a lack of reliable data. On-the- Each week Justin Long sends out a free email resource called
ground contacts in both of these countries consistently report “Weekly Round Up”, which is chock-full of resources, data,
that Christianity is growing due to conversions, and many of and points of interest culled from a large selection of inter-
these Christians are organized in “underground” or secret
net sources. Topics include: Resources, Forecasts, Current
communities. As a result, the Center’s Christian percentages
in China and India in 2050 (15.8% and 6.9%, respectively) are Events/Trending, Studies/ Statistics/Graphs, Mission Indus-
higher than those of Pew (5.4% and 2.2%). The Center proj- try News/Missional Thinking, Lifehacking/Tactics, Startup
ects Christians in China and India to number a combined 330 Thinking/Strategic Concepts, UPG Profiles, and Futuristics/
million in 2050, compared to Pew’s figure of 108 million. Tech. Click on www.justinlong.org to subscribe. IJFM

International Journal of Frontier Missiology

IJFM & Perspectives 215

Whether you’re a Perspectives instructor, student, or coordinator, you can continue to explore
Related Perspectives Lesson and Section

Lesson 11: Building Bridges of Love (C)

Lesson 6: The Expansion of the World

Lesson 14: Pioneer Church Planting (S)

Lesson 10: How Shall They Hear? (C)
Lesson 7: Eras of Mission History (H)
Lesson 5: Unleashing the Gospel (B)
issues raised in the course reader and study guide in greater depth in IJFM. For ease of reference,
each IJFM article in the table below is tied thematically to one or more of the 15 Perspectives
lessons, divided ed into four section
sections: Biblical (B), Historical (H), Cultural (C) and Strategic (S).

Christian Movement (H)

Di s laimer: The table below shows where the content of a given article might fit; it does not
p y en
dorsement of a particular aarticle by the editors of the Perspectives materials. For sake
of spacece,, the table
space, tabl
ta less related to the articles in a given IJFM issue. To learn
blee only includes lessons
more about ut tthe
hee PPerspectives
ec ves course, iincluding a list of classes, visit www.perspectives.org.

Articles in IJFM 32:4

Letting Africa Speak: Exploring the Analogy of African-Intiated Churches and
Insider Movements Gene Daniels and Stan Nussbaum (pp. 165–72)

Cultivating Reticence: The Supportive Role of the Alongsider in Hindu Ministry

H. L. Richard (pp. 173–80)

Contextualizing Ancestor Veneration: A Theological Survey and Practical Steps

for Implementation David S. Lim (pp. 183–94)

Jesus in African Culture: A Ghanaian Perspective on Ancestors Kwame Bediako

(pp. 195–201)

“Is Muhammad Also Among the Prophets?”: A Response to Harley Talman Ayman Ibrahim
My Response to Ayman Ibrahim Harley Talman (pp. 202–7)

Global Prayer JOIN 100,000


August 2015 • Frontier Ventures • 34:8

Voting Along Caste Lines
Varanasi’s Jains Go All Out to Liberate Their Souls
Varanasi Has Deep Roots in Buddhism
20 If They Won’t Attend Class, Teach Them on a Boat!
31 India Gospel Outreach Work in Varanasi Still Bearing Fruit subscriptions@frontierventures.org
$12 / year within the United States

32:4 Winter 2015

in conjunction with

Int’l Society for Frontier Missiology

MISSIONS and the


October 14–16, 2016 • Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics Campus, Dallas, TX

These are days of resurgent religious identity and tumultuous migrations. A new
generation is arising passionately committed to worship, intercession, and justice.
More than ever, local churches—especially Global South local churches—will be
keen players in the reaching of these complex frontiers. The ISFM sessions will
examine the essential missiological concepts required for local church participation
in breakthroughs on today’s remaining frontiers.

Full conference details coming, see www.emsweb.org.