Film / Book Reviews

Understanding missions in the modern Asian context

Oct 2009    

VINOTH RAMACHANDRA’S Church and Mission in the New Asia: New Gods, New Identities refreshingly questions widely-held understandings of the nature and purpose of missions in light of the modern Asian context. e book content was prepared originally as three public lectures under the Annual Lecture Series of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia (CSCA).

Ramachandra’s core thesis is that the nature of missionary work must adapt to the nature of its object. Perhaps the most radical of his three lectures is the first one which criticises over-prescriptive missionary projects which seek to impose on, rather than engage with, the Asia that existed before colonialism and continues to exist today.

His next lecture goes on to discuss what is commonly termed the “postmodern condition”; he suggests ways in which missions may find relevance in resolving the volatility of personal and national identities.

Finally, he examines modern technological development and stresses the need for a sense of personal and corporate direction and purpose.

His analysis is strongest in the first lecture; rather than stopping at a denouncement of “top-down” missions, he goes on to describe four characteristics of “authentic Christian mission” and justifies them with Biblical references. By pointing out parallels between the modern interplay between cultures and the situation that Jesus himself faced as a foreigner, he offers sensible and practical suggestions on how to engage another culture while waterproofing his thesis by grounding it firmly in the very purpose of missionary work.

However, he points out that in emphasising the uniqueness of Asian culture we run the risk of reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

Ramachandra deals with this paradox well by urging action that is flexible rather than over-rigid in nature. He encourages a dialogue and a “counter-cultural appreciation of [people]… for their intrinsic worth” which calls for a deliberate effort of both mind and action from all to make people the object of missions. In this way, a primary concern for people can overcome the tendency to stereotype people or the (post)modern tendency to be so indefinite that we are left with “fluid” identities.

The very structure of the book embodies the need for this form of dialogue as it includes three critical responses from theologians of various he goes on to describe four characteristics of “authentic Christian mission” and justifies them with Biblical references. By pointing out parallels between the modern interplay between cultures and the situation that Jesus himself faced as a foreigner, he offers sensible and practical suggestions on how to engage another culture while waterproofing his thesis by grounding it firmly in the very purpose of missionary work.

However, he points out that in emphasising the uniqueness of Asian culture we run the risk of reinforcing cultural stereotypes.

Ramachandra deals with this paradox well by urging action that is flexible rather than over-rigid in nature. He encourages a dialogue and a “counter-cultural appreciation of [people]… for their intrinsic worth” which calls for a deliberate effort of both mind and action from all to make people the object of missions. In this way, a primary concern for people can overcome the tendency to stereotype people or the (post)modern tendency to be so indefinite that we are left with “fluid” identities.

The very structure of the book embodies the need for this form of dialogue as it includes three critical responses from theologians of various countries as well as a rejoinder from Ramachandra himself. The responses to Ramachandra’s lectures add fullness to the book as a whole.

Besides demonstrating the nature of the discourse that he advocates, they lend examples of specific cultural context to his theories.

As one author, Melba Padilla Maggay, says, “We do not all experience things in the same way as philosophers tell us.”

Although not all the authors of the responses agree with Ramachandra, his key message is quite clear: Christianity is about humanness, not prescriptive structuralism; we may “discover Jesus in the most unexpected place, beyond the Christian church” through a sensitivity to different social and cultural contexts.

This promising starting point, and the rigour with which it is analysed, is enough to make the book a valuable contribution to discourse regarding missionary work as well as the nature of discipleship itself.

Benjamin Ong worships at Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.

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Challenges of ministry in the marketplace

18-2

THIS YEAR’S “Methodists in the Marketplace” (M2) Conference will be held at Faith Methodist Church on Oct 30 and 31.

Organised by Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC), this is the second in a series of a three-year plenary which began last year. Last year’s theme was “Call to the Marketplace”.

The theme for this year is “Challenges of Ministry in the Marketplace”. Some of the questions to be addressed at the plenary sessions and workshops are:

• How do biblical principles apply in making decisions that may have no Christian consideration at all?

• How do we receive divine guidance on matters in the marketplace?

• How do we deal with marketplace politics?

• How do we manage the different kinds of conflicts we may face there – personalities, work styles, business principles, etc?

• How can we maintain a balance that gives attention to the priorities of our life – our family, career and involvement in church?

Registration for the conference is now open. It closes on Oct 15.

For more details on the conference and to download the registration form, visit the TRAC website, www.trac-mcs.org.sg

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