Week 7: Theology Behind Culture Specific Evangelism (part 2) October 26-November 1


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    Churchless Christianity

    Linda Grimms

    I thought that this article raised some interesting perspectives, even though I do not know anything about life in India.
    It reminded me of the turning point in Christianity described in Acts 15 — known as the Jerusalem Council. The early church wrestled with the key question about whether the new Gentile believers had to become Jews in order to be accepted as Jesus-followers — much like the question here, do indigenous peoples have to become western Christians in order to become Jesus-followers. Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the disciples and the gathered believers weighed this question, as Paul and Barnabas shared the stories of how God had been working among the Gentiles. The Council concluded that there were only a few things that should apply to the Gentiles who turned to Jesus — abstain from things polluted by idols, abstain from sexual immorality, and from blood.
    Doesn’t this text teach us then that for Jesus-followers, there are very few prescriptions on how we practice our faith? This article poses a scenario of Christian faith and fellowship that is outside of my personal experience, while still honoring and worshiping Jesus.
    However, while I endorse the idea of culturally engaged gospel and worship, I am not a fan of the idea of becoming “churchless”. The church is the body of Christ, the evidence of the family of God that is the privilege and honor of all believers. If the author is simply saying the it is churchless because it does not look like the western church but that believers gather in different forms of fellowship, that seems consistent with Scripture and the experience of church history. However, I would strongly challenge as unbiblical, any idea of being Jesus-followers that rejects the fellowship of believers.

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    Mariko's thoughts and questions


    As I was reading the article by Dr. Herbert Hoefer about “Oh, India,” I saw the beauty of contextualizing indigenous culture. At the same time, I was wondering how much contextualization is biblical? Since I don’t know much about Indian culture and its origins, I can’t speak much about it. However, using the examples of Japanese culture, I might be able to gauge the relevance. Is it okay for us, believers, to take a baby to a Shrine for reporting to God the birth of a child and dedicating a child (Omiyamairi /お宮参り/ Hyakunichi Mairi百日参り)? It is one of the multiple events that Japanese parents/grandparents participate in it and has a strong tied to Shinto worshipping. I always thought I shouldn’t participate in such traditional events. Thankfully, I wasn’t living in Japan and I didn’t have to make my family sad or disappointed directly. I just took a picture of my daughter wearing a kimono when she reached three years old as a replacement of Shichi Go San (七五三祝い). I think many Japanese Christians struggle to adopt Japanese culture in Christian culture. Of course, I’ve realized through these studies that many of the so-called Christian culture is not necessarily a biblical one.
    One question that I have is how do we make following Christ any different than following/worshipping other Gods if we say it’s okay to follow everything our traditional rituals in which we know that they are worshipping false gods?

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    Minako's thoughts

    Minako Wilkinson

    Video: Dr. Kikawa explained how God has been revealing Himself to the Hawaiians despite the Enemy’s interruptions. I heard how one of the prophesies was fulfilled about God revealing Himself in a black box through the language that the Hawaiians wouldn’t know through the missionaries who left Boston six months prior and arrived with the box with a Bible in it. That account brought tears to my eyes! God loves the Hawaiians and has been faithful to them.

    Cultural Theology and Missiology Part II: In this paper Dr. Kikawa address the questions: Is it scriptural to use an indigenous name of God and has there been good, long-lasting fruit in church history from using an indigenous name for God? And the answers are yes to both questions.
    The study on the names of God was very informative and I find it persuasive. The paper states that:
    1. From Adam through Noah to Abraham, God was called “Elohim.” (plural of El)
    2. From Abraham to Moses, He was called “El Shaddai.”
    3. Beginning with Moses’ experience of Ex. 6:3, He was known as Yahweh (Jehovah).

    And even though the name of El was corrupted, God Himself identified Himself as “El Shaddai” in Ex 6:3, and many other names of God before Yahweh such as “El Roy” (Gen 16) even “El Elyon” (the Canaanite God whom a Canaanite king Melchizedek served in Gen 14) have been incorporated into the Hebrew language as names of God.

    In the same way, Dr. Kikawa says indigenous names of God can be corrupted but are adopted to refer to the Creator God by Bible translators because the use of the indigenous names of God is much more effective for missions than to introduce a foreign name of God.

    Follow-Up Reflections on Churchless Christianity: I find a lot of parallels between Hindu background believers and Japanese believers of Jesus. In most cases the forms of institutional churches in Japan have been copied by Western churches, and the forms of Japanese church culture are very different from those of the mainstream Japanese culture. A typical Japanese person finds it hard to step into a church building in Japan.

    But the biblical meaning of church is not forms. It’s function. A church is a body of Christ that is being built up to the fullness of Christ (Eph 1:23, 4: 11-16).

    I’ve been pondering over what would be more effective forms of church in Japan, and I have considered house churches. When we think of house churches, it’s usually a gathering in a private home of people who didn’t know one another gather for the purposes of hearing the Word preached and worshipping God by singing. However, this form of house churches has its problems. The neighbors get suspicious of these strangers gathering in the neighborhood since Japan has many cultic groups. Institutional church leaders get suspicious because they don’t know if the teachings in such house churches have correct doctrines.

    How about a house church, which starts with a believing family and gradually grows as the family invites neighbors to their home where the Bible is read and discussed conversationally. This way the family has earned neighbors’ trust as the gospel is lived out right in the neighborhood. Gathering in the neighbors’ home for various occasions is culturally appropriate in the most parts of Japan (maybe except in large cities). This form of house church which is raised up within relational networks seems more culturally viable. But even this form of church is often not approved of by institutional church leaders in Japan.

    Incidentally, the non-church movement that started in 1901 still has some members that gather for Bible study, but I don’t know how effective this group has been in evangelism and discipleship.

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    Week 7 Harumi

    Harumi Butler

    Week 7 comment

    In Cultural Theology and Missiology-part II, Dr. Kikawa talked about different names of God from the very record in the Bible. It was such a great approach, and it made me realize the fact that God Himself revealed different names/characters of Himself to different people at different times. I was a bit skeptic about using different names for God even though I totally believed that a person who doesn’t know God of the Bible can know Him. I am glad that God used Dr. Kikawa’s article to open my eyes.
    There is a comment in Follow-Up Reflections on Churchless Christianity, it says “There’s an overwhelming recognition that the Western-structured church is basically incompatible with the culture of the nation(India).” The nation of Japan is not similar to this, rather Japanese people are curious about things from the foreign countries especially Western cultures. That said, Japanese are like the Indians in the way they have a long and strong traditions and cultures that they cannot break. Talking about my own experience, I was interested in America and through this interest, God brought His Gospel into my life. If I were to be introduced to Jesus by a Japanese person, I would have been too stubborn to yield to that. Many Japanese people get saved by visiting foreign countries and that’s wonderful.
    As Jesus’ disciple who lives in Japan and is trying to tell people about God’s love, I constantly need to ask the Holy Spirit for the balance in my life. How much of Japanese culture I yield to and how much action I take based on the Bible teaching. For that dilemma, this comment was enlightening. “The Jesu bhaktas will demonstrate to everyone how one can be a Jesu bhakta of integrity and a cultural Hindu of integrity at the same time.” I would like to pursue this idea.

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    JD's comments


    Cultural Theology and Missiology, using indigenous names for God is not the issue. It’s “who” are you naming, who are you referring to? The person behind the name is what matters. If your culture has a name that you will forever use to describe the eternal, incarnate, sacrificial, resurrected Son of God revealed in the Bible; how is that any different than us calling him Jesus.
    My perspective and ideas of worship and discipleship are stretched by the “unchurched” in India, but why would we suppose that the western church is the perfect model. It obviously in not. But rather than seeking to be western or Indian, are they seeking to be more like Christ? shouldn’t that be the priority for our lives?

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    Thoughts (sorry for delay)

    Jim Woo

    I think I must continue to patiently wait until either Dr. Kikawa reveals the Japanese indigenous name for God, or whoever is the closest to God, or if God happens to reveal it to me as I wander around. The Christian friends I have there seem to have adopted western-style worship. There must be a way to connect to the Japanese multitudes.

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    Week 7 Reflection


    This week’s theme is about using indigenous name of God in mission work. Throughout this class, what I am learning the most is how God is already working among his people all over the world, no matter culture, race, language. The danger of syncretism can be overestimated because we all feel familiar to our own standard and worldview. It was eye-opening opportunity for me to know that there are many indigenous names of God already were being used in biblical period too. I only knew about structured church Christianity until I take this class, but from now on, I will pay more attentions on churchless Christianity so that my own cultural bias would not bother my future ministry.

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    Esha: CSE101: Week 7


    The church back home accepted the word “Ishwar” to call out to God; the word literally means “God” in Hindi. So, it surely has a traditional tone to it. However, Hinduism doesn’t enjoy the benefit of a god already existing within its framework that matches our God Yahwah. At least I do not know. I studied Hindu scriptures as part of studying Sanskrit language and all the Hindu gods I came across fall into the category of gods who must be appeased to avoid problems, gods who do not like to have personal relationship with people, and gods who are involved in unspoken sins themselves involving anger, sex and jealousy. They are always fighting one another trying to get to the “best” level; above everyone else.

    Yesu being a God is not a problem for India, since they already have 330 million gods (not a typo). It is the exclusivity of Jesus that generates the problem. To an Indian ear, it sounds like “my mother is better than your mother”. Even after living in India for 22 years, I have not yet figured out what is the best way to handle this and would love suggestions from you all.

    While in India, I met a yesu bhakta (similar to the one described in the article). This devotee Christian decides to reach out to Hindu people around him in a way that would be easy for them to digest. He stops wearing western cloths and accepts Indian traditional cloths as his everyday clothing. He worships Jesus in a way that would be more familiar to Hindus, with a photo of Jesus and incense burning in front of it. Hindus do not feel comfortable worshipping air (meaning not having an idol or photos). On countless occasions, my friends have come to my church and looked around puzzled! For them not to have your God manifested in 2D or 3D is confusing. This devotee Christian wears a Tilak on his forehead and uses songs that would be more traditionally accepted to worship Jesus. Many Christian friends in church are angry with his ways and want to throw him out of church. For them, it is important to keep the worship of Jesus different than the worship of Hindu deities, to avoid syncretism or to avoid making Hindus believe that Jesus is just another God in their array of 330 million gods. For Christian church, they say, it is better to appear a little different in their way of worship, thereby drawing a clear line between Jesus and the rest of the millions of gods. What are your thoughts?

    Recently, I gathered my thoughts on this document. If you have 10 minutes, please read. http://ism.intervarsity.org/sites/ism/files/resource/file/Insights%20on%20Connecting%20with%20Hindus.pdf

    • Minako Wilkinson

      Esha, your paper about how to reach Indian friends is very helpful. Can I share it with other staff in my organization (The Navs) who ministers to/with Indian students?

    • mariko

      Hi Esha,
      Same as Minako, thank you for sharing your experiences and thoughts about Indian people! Mike and I are currently having a lot of discussions with three Hindu students and this is very helpful.

    • EshaRJC

      Thank you Minako san and Mariko san. Glad this paper was helpful and yes feel free to use it as you may deem fit. No need to mention my name, if that is easier. Just want these thoughts and personal experiences to be helpful in making more disciples among Indian / Hindu students.

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    Mike's Week 7 Observations and Questions


    I greatly appreciate hearing stories of God’s work in the peoples of the world preparing them to receive His good news. Perhaps when Jesus mentioned that the fields are white for harvest this is what he was referring to. The prophecies to the Hawaiin people are evidence of this. (Likewise the many accounts in the Eternity in the Hearts book). I am not sure how to incorporate this into our evangelism with International Students who come from many different people groups and language and perhaps each has some story in their cultural that could be relevant. How could I learn of it? How might I utilize it in discussions about how we can know this God. Currently, we have 3 students from South Asia Hindu backgrounds coming to our Sunday evening “6:15 Club”. The article on India and alternative approaches that are contextualized is thought provoking. It makes me wonder if we should talk about Jesu bhaktas as a bridge to the cultural context of becoming devoted to Jesus. One of the ladies is from central India. The other couple is from Bangladesh. So their gods are different. The couple from Bangladesh is living in a Muslim majority culture. Our discussion this past week included what it meant to be discriminated against because of your religion or even having villages burned.