This is an important journal that must be read by all who are concerned for the evangelization of Asia, the largest continent (more than 60% of world population) yet still the least evangelized continent in the world. It contains 14 testimonials of Asian church leaders who have courageously envisioned and launched ministries that overcame traditional barriers to developing new models of ministry in their respective contexts.
These are big leaps forward in the realization of contextualized theologizing and evangelizing beyond traditional (read: denominational) church-planting and church growth paradigms which they inherited from westernized Christendom. They grappled with the pluralistic challenges that face anyone who wants to serve the Kingdom of God in Asia.
Among the cultural issues that they specifically experienced and found answers for were: shame and honor in Myanmar (Chap. 2), hierarchy and patriarchy in Bangladesh (Chap. 6), Western worship styles in Sri Lanka (Chap. 7), as well as top-down and intellectualized methodologies in Japan (Chaps. 4 and 10), in Bangladesh (Chap. 8) and in Cambodia (Chap. 9). Most of them struggle with transmitting successful contextualization in rural villages into urban settings (esp. Chaps. 3, 13 and 14), thereby highlighting the challenge of doing effective ministry among the urban poor in Asia.
Gladly in this same volume are five “models of hope” – one each in Japan (Chap. 4), in Bangladesh (Chap. 6), and most especially in Myanmar (Chaps. 2 and 5), as well as two in India (Chaps. 11 and 12, and 14) — which can serve as inspiration and direction for what churches in Asia should aspire to become, including in urban contexts. Rather than perpetuate the church planting approach of forming converts to Christ in Western-shaped denominational or independent congregations, these five community development ministries showcase the effective and strategic results of forming Christ-followers (and potential converts) into multi-purpose ministry centers which serve the contextual needs of the poor and marginalized in their neighborhoods. This is how Asia will be effectively evangelized and transformed for Christ.
With the need to reach Asia’s two billion plus unevangelized populations for Jesus, the urgent challenge is how to multiply these five models rapidly across the continent without compromising the indigenous principles of the best practices which made them succeed in the first place. Perhaps their replicability will be enhanced through fully discarding the practices and structures of uncontextualized Christendom that these models continue to use and maintain? Perhaps the churches in Asia should be discipling each member to act like shepherd boy David who boldly overcame Goliath with his simple slingshot without Saul’s armor? Or like Peter who transformed Jerusalem by telling a crippled man, “Silver and gold I have none. But what I have I give to you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, rise up and walk”? May God use ordinary believers to simply touch their ordinary neighbors, including government officials (like in Chap. 15), with God’s love – across Asia and beyond.
On my further reflection, this journal issues a call for full socio-cultural indigenization. There is a huge gap between Westernized Christianity and the indigenous cultural expressions for the “churches” in Asia (as was in Africa, until recently with the emergence of African Independent Churches that will soon make Africa the continent with 50% of all Christians by 2030). There has been a massive cultural colonization of the indigenous churches in Asia. Asian Christianity is just another name for Western religious culture and needs to be addressed just as Judaizing circumcisers had to be dealt with by Paul in the New Testament times. It is not necessary to be called “Christian” and to go to church to connect with God. Hindu and Muslim followers of Christ will be in heaven while maintaining their cultural identity. Our goal must be to incarnate Christ in the hearts of people in their own heart language and cultural heritage.
Reaching the unreached requires a completely different approach than what is used in most Asian Christian circles today. Westernized Christianity has been isolating new believers from their socio-cultural moorings. To precipitate exponential growth among the Jews, Paul circumcised Timothy (cf. 1 Cor. 7:17-24) and soon “the churches were strengthened in faith and grew in numbers daily” (Acts 16:1-5); he made himself a “slave” by “becoming all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:19-23). For qualitative and quantitative growth, we need to deconstruct church subcultures and reconstruct “churches” in which local Jesus-followers can develop their own unique spirituality, morality and identity.
Moreover, contextualization applies to the gospel message itself: to find the “redemptive analogies” and make known the “Unknown God,” just as Paul did in Athens, so that cultural values, themes and beliefs are used as bridges to reach people of other faiths. Paul did not take Christ to Athens; He was already there in their sacred texts, poems, stories and culture (Acts 17). Paul seems to have done no miracles, no baptisms and no church planting in Athens, but he catalyzed a disciple multiplication movement (DMM) (cf. Acts 19:1-10; Rom. 15:18-20) that in due course, that city became one of the centers of eastern Christendom.
Available from “Asian Access” website:// http://easternvoices.org
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