ACADEMIA

Reviews on Resources for Biblical and Theological Studies

Sunquist. GOSPEL AND PLURALISM TODAY, 2015

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - May• 24•16

Sunquist, Scott W., and Amos Yong (eds.). The Gospel and Pluralism Today: Reassessing Lesslie Newbigin in the 21st Century. Missiological Engagements. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-8308-5094-5. Pages: 238

9780830850945This volume is the outcome of the annual Missiology Lectures (November 13-15. 2015) held at the Fuller Theological Seminary. The book deals with three distinct aspects of Leslie Newbigin’s life and work. First, it deals with the impact of his book THE GOSPEL IN A PLURALISTIC SOCIETY (1989) on missiology and missional practices. Secondly, it deals with various aspects of pluralism in the West. Thirdly, discussions on how Newbigin’s work influenced missiology.

It is not the purpose this review to offer synopses or critique of each essay in this volume. However, a listing of the contents may help the readers.

1. Introduction: The Legacy of Newbigin for Mission (Scott W. Sunquist).

2. Newbigin in His Time (Wilbert R. Shenk).

3. Newbigin’s Theology of Mission and Culture After Twenty-Five years: Attending to the “Subject” of Mission (William R. Burrows).

4. Community and Witness in Transition: Newbigin’s Missional Ecclesiology Between Modernity and Postmodernity (Veli-Matti Karkainen and Michael Karim).

5. Holistic Theological Method and Theological Epistemology: Performing Newbigin’s Plurality of Sources in the Pluralist Context (Steven B. Sherman).

6. Honoring True Otherness in a Still-Antipluralist Culture (Esther L. Meek).

7. Pluralism, Secularism and Pentecost: Newbigin-ings for Missio Trinitatis in a New Century (Amos Yong).

8. Evangelism in a Pluralistic Society: The Newbigin Vision (Carrie Boren Headington).

9. What Does It Mean for a Congregation to Be a Hermeneutic? (John G. Flett).

10. Asian Perspectives on Twenty-First-Century Pluralism (Allen Yeh).

In his introductory essay, Scott W. Sunquist presents us with a snapshot of Newbegin’s life and factors that influenced his life and thought before he sheds some light on how the book came into being.

A remarkable contribution is an essay by Wilbert R. Shenk who assess Newbigin against the background of his own time. This article is a very important contribution to the volume since it introduces the novice and the expert to the historical, political and theological currents that influenced his thought. However, Shenk has ignored how Indian nationalism, the various socio-political currents in India as well as the emergence of the new church movements influenced Newbegin. When Newbegin entered India where he spent almost all of his active life as a missionary and church leader, India was just five years away from freeing itself from British colonial rule. Independence was guaranteed by its actualization was delayed by World War II. Moreover, independent church movements (notably Pentecostal movement by Indian leaders) had their established their presence in South India for almost four decades. Not only Shenk but also other presenters as well fail to assess the influence of the realities of the host country on him.

However, this volume is a remarkable and useful contribution to missiology in the 21st century.
Link to publisher

Bauman. Pentecostals, Proselytization… OUP 2015

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Apr• 12•16

9780190202095Bauman, Chad. Pentecostals, Proselytization, and Anti-Christian Violence in Contemporary India. 1 edition. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-19-020210-1. Pages: ix+208

Bauman starts with the observation that the Pentecostals and Evangelical Pentecostals (or “Pentecostalized Evangelicals”) are disproportionately targeted by the Hindutva forces. Out of the 223 reported incidents of attacks on Indian Christians in 2007, the media mentioned the names of the denominations in 147 cases. Out of the 147 cases, Bauman found out that only 9% were attacks against Catholics, 4% against were other non-Catholic denominations. The Pentecostals and Pentecostal Evangelicals were the victims in the remaining cases (87%).
Bauman in his research tries to answer this question “Why?” Bauman presents his case in five chapters. In chapter 1 he takes up the question of who are India’s Pentecostals—their history and definitions. In chapter 2 he places Pentecostalism in India in the context of India’s politics and history. In chapter 3, he talks about the disproportionate attacks. In chapter 4 he turns to the debates about conversion in India. Chapter 5 is titled “Missions and Pentecostalization of Indian Christianity.”
He does agree with the most common observation that the particular beliefs, practices and the evangelistic zeal of the Pentecostals are the main reason for them being the targets of anti-Christian attacks. But he is not satisfied with this popular notion. His thorough study has led him to conclude that the anti-Pentecostal attitude of mainline Christians and also the caste dynamics are also part of the story. The marginalization of Pentecostals by mainstream Christian denominations make them more vulnerable to attacks than other Christian groups.
This is indeed a quite an authoritative study. Bauman has covered a considerable amount of literature written on the history of Indian Christianity, debates on conversion and the issue of caste. On the top of these, he has done remarkable in-depth field research that involved extensive travel in India.

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Im, Global Diasporas, 2014

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 16•15

Im, Chandler H., and Amos Yong. Global Diasporas and Mission. Oxford: Regnum Books International, 2014.

9781908355638This book has in three parts discuss the implications of the global Diasporas for Christian mission in the 21st century. This is part of Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series (volume 23). The first part deals with the historical and biblical perspectives of Diasporas. In the second part the ethnic and regional developments are discussed. In the last and third part we find six articles on the missional implications of the Diasporas.

In the first part, ‘Mission and migration: The Diaspora Factor in Christian History’ (Andrew F. Walls) and ‘Global Christianity and Global Diasporas’ (Todd M. Johnson and Gina A. Zurlo) deals with the historical aspects of migration. In ‘My Father Was a Migrant Aramean: Old Testament Motifs for a Theology of Migration’ (Knut Holter) and ‘Migrants as Instruments of Evangelization: In Early Christianity and in Contemporary Christianity’ (Werner Kahl) the authors deal with the OT and NT perspectives respectively.

In the second section (Ethnic and Regional Developments) nine essays deal with the migration and Diaspora of various nationalities in different part of the world. For example, the Chinese and Filipino migration all over the world. The Japanese Diaspora in Brazil, South Asian Diaspora in the Persian Gulf, Korean Christian Diaspora in the US, Polish immigrants in Canada, etc. This section also deals with specific issues of some of these Diaspora situations. For example, identity and ecumenical partnership of immigrants of African origin in Germany, and the experience of the migrants in the Native  British Church etc.

The third section deals with the missional opportunities that migration provides. The Diasporas do presents missional opportunities for the churches at their destination. As Jenny Hwang Yang has pointed out in her article the Christians at the host countries are apprehensive of the immigrants and even see them as a threat.

Though, the book has covered almost Diaspora situations two significant lacunae has to be pointed out. First of all, the South Aisan Diasporas in Europe, Africa and North America are left out. The second largest immigrant group in the US is Indian but there is no essay devoted to it. The only article devoted to South Asian Diaspora has to do with their presence in the Persian Gulf. (‘South Asian Diaspora in the Persian Gulf’ by T.V. Thomas.). However, the situation in the Persian Gulf is different from other Diasporas. These are not Diasporas at all since none of them will be able to stay longer than their work permits allow. Unlike, in the West, in the persian gulf, the host nations have no live Christian traditions to minister to them. The laws of their host nations (all of them Islamic) restrict their religious freedom. This is very different from the situation in Europe and North America. However, there is a very strong presence of South Asians in other parts of the world, for example Anglophone Africa and Europe. One third of South Africa is people of Indian origin. How did they impact South Africa? These questions have significant missional implications.

Secondly, the book focusses on the missional opportunities the Diaspora presents to Christians in the host countries. However, the Diaspora also has opposite effects in their native countries which has to be studied as well, though it probably outside the scope of the present volume. The immigrants support various political and religious organizations who oppose Christian mission in their native lands. For example, the largest recipients of foreign funds in India are Hindutva outfits who oppose Christian mission and has been behind many anti-Christian activities. Most of the funds are remittances by Indians living abroad.

In spite of these gaps the books opens our eyes to the reality which often gets ignored. The essays convince the reader that Diaspora is not an accident but very much part of God’s plan for salvation of whole mankind. It also challenges us that we need to see it so and not as a threat. A very timely work, indeed an eye-opener!

 

Heurtz. FRIENDSHIP AT THE MARGINS (2010)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jan• 15•11

Heurtz, Christopher L. and Christine D. Pohl. Friendship at the Margins. Discovering Mutuality in Service and Mission (Downers Grove: IVP Books, 2010). pages: 159. ISBN: 9780830834549.Resources for Reconciliation Series.

This book is another in the series on Resources for Reconciliation by the Duke University School and IVP. The authors have been involved in Christian mission in different parts of the world and with Word Made Flesh (WMF) in a number of developing countries for a considerable time. This book is based on their life-long experience and reflection.

The book challenges the traditional missional practices where the missionary enters a mission field to help those who are disadvantaged. In the conventional pattern there is not much partnership with the people at the receiving end and there is seldom any relationship as equals. The Western missionaries are always at a higher pedestal than the disadvantaged that they serve.

This book, through the real experiences of its authors and the model that WMF has adopted world-wide offers an alternative. It is a call to establish long-term relationships with those whom we serve. It challenges us to consider those whom we serve as friends and to learn from them as well. It emphasizes mutuallity in mission than the unidirectional flow of knowledge and skills as in conventional model of mission. This mutuality happens when the poor and the exploited becomes partners in their own liberation. Those who serve God in this way becomes friends with them and develop a new kind of spirituality. The book ends with a chapter titled “A Spirituality Fit for the Margins” where spiritual practices fit for friendships at the margins is discussed.

The book is full of anecdotal illustrations from the life and experience of the authors and their colleagues. This title is a must for those who consider engaging with the marginalized and the poor in their own country or abroad.

Loewen. BIBLE IN CROSS-CULTURAL PERSPECTIVE (2000)

Written By: Paulson Pulikottil - Jul• 25•08

Jacob A. Loewen, The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspective(Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2000)
This book has come from a veteran missionary and Bible translator who is also a trained anthropologist. His experience as translation consultant of the Bible Society in Africa and Latin America and his anthropological insights form the keel of this work. In the author’s own words, “This book is about discovering more of the message of the Bible than we see through the eyes of our own culture.” (p. 3).
This book has come from a veteran missionary and Bible translator who is also a trained anthropologist. His experience as translation consultant of the Bible Society in Africa and Latin America and his anthropological insights form the keel of this work. In the author’s own words, “This book is about discovering more of the message of the Bible than we see through the eyes of our own culture.” (p. 3). Here “our own culture” definitely means the Western culture. The book addresses three groups of people all situated in the West. First of all, Loewen, brought up as a Mennonite first of challenges the views of his own and of his communities. Secondly, he addresses the Western Christians in general and thirdly those western missionaries who serve in non-Western contexts.
The book is on the various cross-cultural perspectives on the Bible, that he has gathered through a lifetime of involvement with people of various cultural, religious and social background. It is presented in five parts: 1. The Bible in Cross-Cultural Perspectives, 2. The Universe: Physical and Metaphysical, 3. God and the Sacred, 4. The Significance of Names, 5. Some Implications of Cross Cultural Perspective. The Appendices contain a section on the various Pseudepigraphical books and another on God’s Names in European Translations besides the usual indices on authors, subject and scriptural references. The book also has a short biography of the author who turns 100 years this year (2002)!
It seems that Loewen is trying to prove a proposition in three parts. First of all, he want to assert that people hold differing worldviews; secondly, he want to correct the notion that the western world views are to be equated with Biblical worldviews, the latter are not constant, they vary. He sketches the development of biblical worldviews on a number of topics: After Life, Concept of God; Prophecies; Exorcism; Marriage etc. A third proposition is that the non-Western pre-scientific worldviews are closer to that of the Bible than the Western Christian worldviews.
The style is anecdotal and autobiographical. The author uses stories from his own experience among the Empera’s, Waunas and the Chalupis to illustrate his point. He also brings a wealth of autobiographical information. He tells us how his western, Mennonite, Missionary worldviews was in conflict with that of the people whom he served. This makes the book a insightful reading. An extensive bibliography is a definite contribution. An annotated list and bibliography of the Intertestamental literature is also wealth.

Loewen offers a diachronic perspective on a number of biblical themes. For example, he tells us how Israel’s concept of God from a tribal God to a cosmic monotheistic God developed. He traces the question of after life from the early traditions in the Old Testament through the Intertestamental period to the New Testament. He also discusses the idea of the gender of God that different cultures have and the reason for the dominant male image that the Bible holds. There are some cultures that can not conceive God as male. For him gender is only a metaphor. He also discusses (it takes a major place) the issues of spirits, demon possession and exorcism. He finds that the African worldviews on this issue is somewhere between that of the Western world views and that of the Bible but closer to the biblical side. Extensive tables that compare various aspects of these three worldviews are very valuable (see chapters 11 and 12). The last part of the book (Part V) titled “Focus on the West” is important. Here he offers a critique of the western Christian culture, which thinks it is biblical. He thinks that what the Christian West worship a tribal God (in contrast to a universal God) made up of an unholy trinity of gods of wealth, of materialism and technology. In Chapter 17, he has presented a diachronic view on marriage in the Bible and marriage customs of various groups. He also discusses the problems of forcing western Christian concept of monogamous marriage poses to various cultures particularly the Chalupis. Though he discusses the various (sometimes contradicting) views of marriage in the Bible, he does not tell us where does the monogamous marriage evolve; does it not have a biblical basis or not. He also offers a critique of western materialistic and scientific worldview that has less and less room for supernatural. God is reduced to a God of gaps so also demon possession and exorcism. He evaluates two famous models (the Wimber-White model and the Peck model) on demon possession and highlights their inadequacy. He also finds that some scientific discoveries point towards the spiritual and supernatural.
This book was not possible a century ago. Hundred years ago the missionaries went out from Europe and North America wrote about how pagan and non-Christian were the people they served among. Now, there is a drastic turn around in the missionary attitude. Missionaries are discovering that the non-Western cultures have something to contribute to the West. This book is an example of this new genre. Missionaries are more and more appreciative of non-western cultures and also discover the inadequacy of the Western cultures. This book is documentary evidence of this trend.
He suggests that we need to translate the biblical worldviews to the various cultures instead of imposing on them the Western World views, which are not Biblical, worldviews either. Just as the biblical view of a flat earth was accommodated in the Western scientific worldview, other models could be translated if we read Bible cross culturally. To quote the author: “Western Christians have long since translated the biblical categories of flat earth with firmament dome over it into a globe with atmosphere and outer space, in keeping with our modern worldview. We no longer question the fact that we do so, even though at one time this process seemed unthinkable to Christians. It is that continued process of translation that I am seeking in another domain of divine revelation.” (p. 239).
This book is full of discoveries and is an eye opener on many issues. However, you would find that the comment by Paul Hiebert (another missionary and a celebrated Anthropologist) on the blurb is right. He says, “Not all agree with Dr. Loewen’s conclusions, nor does he expects us to, but the questions he raises are ones we are increasingly forced to raise in the era of a global church.” There are a number of points where one would find it difficult to swallow what Loewen offers. Many Christian readers will find his statement that, “Having heard testimony after testimony of African communication between the living and the dead and knowing that the Bible recounts an appearance of dead Samuel to King Saul (1 Sam 28:7-14), I can no longer discount messages from the dead.” (Page 48).
Does the fact that some of the worldviews are closer to that of the Bible at some stage of its development mean that they are valid? Where is the place of superstition and are cultures free from deceptive elements.
Though the diachronic perspectives offered are useful, the philosophical presupposition behind them is objectionable. Loewen follows Biblical scholars of the 19th century who advocated a linear evolutionary schema for the development of various concepts in the Bible. Biblical scholarship does not believe that biblical theology follows such a neat linear development. Also in arguing that differing worldviews that existed at different points in time in the biblical world we should also admit that there is the principle of abrogation. That is, some worldviews came into existence by abrogating earlier ones and thus invalidated them. So they all does not become valid worldviews but testify how the worldviews were developed.
I also find the argument that the Western worldview is material, scientific and has no place for the spiritual (demons, evil spirits etc) is contrary to evidence. The belief in a spiritual world is universal and superstitious beliefs are found in every culture. Western folklore is full of such beliefs. How does one account for the occult, spiritism and other practices in the West? If the West was a purely material then how do we explain the witches? To what realm do we ascribe beliefs in trolls and fairies in Western imagination?
At the popular level there is such beliefs, and these are universal, but the West that the missionaries want to project to the rest of the world is combed clean of such things. This is not the problem of the West in general but that of the Western Christians were brought up on Christian rationalism which had no place for miracles, exorcism, evil spirits etc contrary to their own contexts. Loewen mind that operates in such bipolar categories of West and non-West is outdated.
However, this book is a valuable contribution to missiology. Anyone, particularly in the Western world who takes up an assignment overseas should read this book. It definitely will serve as a textbook in missionary anthropology and can be of also use as a tertiary source book for teaching biblical themes.