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A Missional Church Is . . . : Artistic Expressions of a Fuzzy Concept

The Chattahoochee Valley Church in Columbus, Georgia commissioned the “Missional Church” series after Mark Woodward presented a series of lessons. I had done a few smaller projects for earlier themes the ministry staff had presented to me.

Each of the posters is purposefully simplistic and relies on symbols to portray the statements in a way that expands upon each of the ideas. It’s great to have the opportunity to use artwork to inspire, encourage, and develop the church in a way that will hopefully get them thinking more missionally. I hope that these images will serve to communicate to everyone from longtime Christians to newly reborns. It’s my hope that these images are able to constantly preach, every time someone views them. For example, if they remember the image of the church building with its walls felled and pointing outward, then imagine how they are to bring Christ to the world outside those four walls, I would deem the purpose of the images a success.

I hope the message received is that the whole church body, not just its leaders, is tasked with sharing the gospel to its neighbors, coworkers, and friends. I’m struck by how quickly the early church was able to spread the gospel, even through persecution, because all had taken on the duty of spreading the good news. They were excited about it. I’m not sure what steps need to be taken to stop the pervasive cultural misconception that mission work is “not my job” among the church members. We’ve assumed the roles of spectators and performers rather than a unified cause for Christ.

Aaron Sparks is a former youth minister who moved to the UK in 2010 to attempt vocational mission work and is now starting a career in social care work for young people. He has a beautiful wife, a five-year-old Star Wars fanboy, and a three-month-old Princess Leia in training. He is most likely found in a coffee shop reading a good book.

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Review of Jean Johnson, We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency

Jean Johnson. We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency. Sisters, OR: Deep River Books, 2012. 335pp. $15.99.

Missionaries strive to leave healthy, indigenous churches that are relevant to their host cultures and lead by local leaders. These dreams fall short, however, as they settle for planting unhealthy churches that are too dependent upon the missionary’s skills, resources, and Western ways of “doing church.” Missionaries unintentionally leave behind unsustainable models of church growth, leadership, and development that the local church cannot hope to emulate. What is needed is guidance and coaching to ruminate on the challenges associated with indigenous church planting.

In her first book, Jean Johnson provides a catalyst for rethinking missionary methods. Johnson previously spent sixteen years as a missionary in Cambodia, and she currently works as a leadership coach and consultant for both missionaries and indigenous church leaders with World Missions Associates. As she reflected on the history of Christianity in Cambodia, as well as her own challenges and failures on the mission field, Johnson came to a realization: although the mission churches she had helped plant were “healthy” and had good attendance, they were not able to multiply and grow effectively. These churches were, in essence, too Western in their worship, preaching, evangelism, and leadership development. They depended upon Western funds to sustain their outreach and church programs. With this realization, Johnson began to adjust her efforts in order to plant effective indigenous churches run by Cambodian leaders. Johnson challenges the reader to a “premeditated” missiology that focuses on “multiplication, indigeneity, and sustainability among the respective people groups” with whom they work (13). Using stories, parables, and case studies from her own time on the field, as well as those of other missionaries, Johnson seeks to share her new missiological understanding with her readers.

Johnson’s mantra throughout the book is, “Day 1 affects Day 100” (64). Missionaries often focus much of their time, effort, and energy on how to enter the culture. Even more important, however, is for the missionaries to focus on how to phase themselves out of the work. Sustainability must be worked into the DNA of the church from the first day, in the way that we reach out to the community and conduct evangelism. Indigenous evangelism focuses on relevant cultural forms: stories and songs, parables and poetry, etc. When the gospel is shared in culturally relevant ways, Christianity is no longer seen as a “foreign religion” and the new converts can easily share what they have learned.

Shockingly, Johnson calls missionaries not to plant churches. When missionaries begin planting churches, they unknowingly import Western forms of church: singing translated Western songs instead of using indigenous melodies; preaching expository sermons instead of telling stories; training through seminary classes rather than coaching and modeling. Instead of planting churches, Johnson calls the reader to plant the gospel:

Allowing the gospel (God’s presence and transformational work) to take root within a community in such a way that the community expresses and spreads its faith in an organic manner. . . . This organic expression may look very different from the cross-cultural communicator’s church experience. (241)

In order to build a sustainable evangelistic movement, missionaries must be intentional in every action they undertake. From the very beginning, missionaries should do evangelism with reproduction in mind. If the local leader cannot reproduce the missionary’s efforts and materials, and in turn teach others to do the same, then these methods must be rethought.

According to Johnson, every aspect of the missionary’s method and lifestyle must be rethought in light of the receptor culture.

Johnson’s book is broken into three parts and an introduction. In the introduction, Johnson calls missionaries not to think of themselves as heroes, which comes with an air of superiority and colonialism. Instead, she challenges missionaries to enter the culture humbly as learners and servants, walking alongside the contacts or Christians as a guide. Part 1 reveals the need for indigenous, self-reliant church movements that create disciples. Johnson uses the history of Christianity in Cambodia to highlight the need for multiplication, sustainability, and self-reliance. Part 2 helps the reader reflect on how to plant healthy, indigenous churches in which local leaders take the lead in all aspects of worship, evangelism, teaching, and expansion. Part 3 is more practical, helping the missionary conceive how these ideas can be put into practice. My only complaint with the material is in its organization. Parts 2 and 3 should have been integrated into one another in order to provide a cohesive flow. Also, at times the ideas of multiplication and sustainability overlap, and these areas could have been addressed together. Overall, however, the book was incredibly insightful and convicting.

Two sections were very thought-provoking. First, Johnson focuses on the differences between oral and literate societies in chapters ten and seventeen. Western communicators learn through bullet points, outlines, diagrams, and abstract concepts. Seventy percent of the world’s population consists of primary or secondary oral learners, however, which necessitates a different approach to communication, teaching, and evangelism. Johnson calls this type of communication orality. “Orality is a method of communicating truth by dressing it up in parables, poetry, riddles, stories, drama, dance, and song” (158). Johnson calls us to focus on the values and worldview characteristics of oral cultures by emphasizing community, working with heads-of-households, and using examples from everyday life in order to best communicate the gospel. She also reflects on ethnomusicology (“heart music”) as the best manner to convey biblical truths. Johnson’s insights into oral cultures are important areas of growth for most missionaries.

Second, Johnson calls the missionary to take the lesser role in ministry and instead work as a “shadow pastor.” Mission works often start with the missionaries as the leaders and then go through a process of nationalizing, in which local leaders are raised up and trained to take over these roles. Instead, Johnson calls us to practice indigenizing, coaching local leaders from the beginning and allowing them to succeed (and sometimes fail) in leadership as they learn to grow and thrive (247–48). The missionary keeps the focus off of himself/herself and instead mentors these new leaders behind the scenes, which allows local leadership to thrive faster than in traditional models.

Johnson’s book challenges the readers to rethink their missiological practices in light of what is best for the culture of their receivers. It would serve as a great textbook for an upper-level missions class or for missionaries who are strategically planning their work on the field.

Daniel McGraw

Community Life Minister

Houston, Texas, USA

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Review of W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus

W. Ross Blackburn. The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology 28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 238pp. $17.00.

Ross Blackburn’s study contributes to the recent rise of attention given to the theme of mission in the interpretation of Scripture. His purpose in this monograph, an iteration of his doctoral thesis written under Christopher Seitz at St. Andrews, is to argue that mission is the governing theme of the book of Exodus. At first glance this aim may strike the reader as peculiar, if not backward: how is mission the driving theme of Israel’s story of liberation and constitution? Anticipating such a question in the introduction, Blackburn defines his use of the word mission as God’s desire to right what is wrong, principally through God’s commitment to be known among his people and, through them, among the nations. Blackburn proposes that, when read as a coherent narrative within a canonical framework, Yhwh’s missionary impulse explains his motivation in each major development in the story and resolves some thorny hermeneutical issues therein.

After an introduction (ch. 1), Blackburn divides his treatment into six chapters. In chapter 2 he builds the case that the primary theme in Exod 1–15:21 is the revelation of Yhwh’s name/identity as redeemer. Through the burning bush, the plague cycle, and deliverance of the people from slavery, Israel and Egypt (to a lesser extent) come to know Yhwh’s redemptive character, Yhwh’s supremacy, and that Yhwh’s identity and mission is tied up with Yhwh’s goodness toward Israel.

Both chapter 3 (15:22–18:27) and chapter 4 (19–24) explore how the provision of torah/teaching carries forward God’s missional intention to make his name known. Blackburn argues that the sequence of wilderness trials serves the purpose of training (better than the commonly translated “testing”) Israel in the knowledge of her new sovereign. The giving of water, food, and security seeks to instill trust in Israel as preparation for Sinai. Chapter 4 casts Israel in a priestly role for the sake of reflecting the character of God before the watching nations. The law’s essence is a revelation of the character of God; thus, Israel’s holy imitation of Yhwh (by keeping the covenantal demands) aims toward the larger goal of mediating knowledge of God among the families of the earth. Israel’s witness pulsates out from her distinctive conduct.

Blackburn next turns to the dense tabernacle legislation in chapter 5 (25–31). The instruction detailing the materials to be used in the tabernacle’s construction and its accoutrements communicates the sanctity and kingship of Yhwh, dwelling in Israel’s midst. Moreover, within Israel, the tabernacle was a palpable, microcosmic symbol of Yhwh’s orderly, macrocosmic reign over the universe. The presence of Yhwh among his people in the tabernacle is an end in itself, but the purpose of the tabernacle was not limited to this end. Rather, the tabernacle pointed in nuce to God’s missionary desire to reign in similar fashion among all the nations.

Chapter 6 wrestles with how Moses’ petitions persuade God to forgive Israel’s transgression committed in the golden calf debacle (32–34). Blackburn persuasively argues that Moses succeeds in his remonstrations by appealing to Yhwh’s honor among the nations. In short, Moses defends God’s reputation before God. Thus, Yhwh restores Israel because Yhwh’s name among the nations is at stake. Yhwh’s judgment and mercy emerge from the same motivation—to be known among the nations. Yhwh’s forgiveness restores the plans for building the tabernacle (35–40), which Blackburn treats briefly in chapter 7. The construction of the tabernacle signals that forgiven Israel can now fulfill her commission to be a priestly kingdom and holy nation. God dwells in her midst—this is both the object and method of Israel’s missionary vocation.

The main body of the work is well written, well researched, and for the most part well reasoned. Blackburn’s commitment to reading the text in its canonical presentation as a coherent narrative pays rich exegetical dividends, especially in tracing underappreciated connections to the larger Exodus story in the wilderness narratives and Moses’s appeals to God in Exod 32–34. So too, Blackburn’s insistence that the minutiae of the tabernacle legislation carry theological, even missiological weight brings a welcomed corrective to traditions that devalue priestly texts. Because his work is in an evangelical series on biblical theology, Blackburn rounds out each chapter (and sometimes begins them) with reflections on texts outside of Exodus, mostly connecting his emphases to New Testament motifs. While this move helps further elucidate themes under discussion in some chapters (e.g., his parsing of the relationship of gospel and law in ch. 4), in others it feels more like an appendage that provides too terse a treatment. Blackburn concludes his work with four brief observations concerning how mission in Exodus informs the mission of the church. Because this is precisely the kind of theological payoff needed by churches (and so often lacking in rigorous works of biblical theology), the book could have been enhanced significantly if this chapter were longer than a thin five pages.

Blackburn’s book is a solid attempt to show how a missiological hermeneutic opens up the interpretation of a central Old Testament book. Yet, the book suffers on two accounts. First, Blackburn is in danger of instrumentalizing Israel’s election. His appreciation of God’s larger purposes undersells the promises to the patriarchs as a reason for the Exodus and creates some unnecessary tension with the subsequent history of God with Israel. For example, how does Israel’s future interaction with the nations (e.g., Canaanites) make sense of the missionary bent of Exodus, if this is indeed the governing theme of her root narrative? The conquest, which itself draws on themes from Exodus, fits this trajectory with difficulty. Israel as a “missionary people” may fit some of Isaiah’s prophecy—a prophet who draws liberally on Exodus themes—but is this the most apt theological backdrop for, say, the oracles against the nations? Moreover, what does it mean for the nations to know Yhwh? Is the acknowledgement expected of the nations on par with Israel’s acknowledgement? As a work of biblical theology, I would have liked these questions addressed with more rigor. Second, and related, Blackburn’s definition of mission will strike many as too narrow for biblical theology. He rightly stresses that in Exodus Yhwh’s presence is what makes Israel holy—attending to Yhwh’s presence is to make Israel distinctive, thus mediating knowledge of God. But does this fulfill the book’s subtitle: The Missionary Heart of the Book of Exodus ? The missional theology of Exodus is chiefly centripetal, and I am not certain it is the heart of the book, that is, the central theme giving life to all else. Nevertheless, I recommend the book for students and scholars alike, and I look forward to future works from Blackburn.

Nathan Bills

Assistant Professor of Old Testament

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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Review of A. Scott Moreau, Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models

A. Scott Moreau. Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2012. 432pp. $22.03.

Certain subjects linger in a state of cumulative chaos, waiting for the right scholar to create a sense of order. The discussion of contextualization among evangelical Christians is such a subject, and Scott Moreau has proven equal to the task of systematizing its diverse parts into a balanced presentation. The undertaking requires both a comprehensive understanding of a multifaceted debate and the methodological rigor necessary to avoid reductionism. In Contextualization in World Missions: Mapping and Assessing Evangelical Models, Moreau combines these qualities in an orderly, economical rendition of the issues.

A. Scott Moreau has taught missions at Wheaton College for more than two decades. In addition to authoring or editing a variety of missiological works, he has been the editor of Evangelical Missions Quarterly since 2001. A prominent evangelical missiologist, Moreau aims to “map” evangelical models of contextualization. Some prominent treatments of contextualization have lumped evangelical contextualization into a single category among a more theologically liberal array of options. Thus, the impetus behind his endeavor is the need for a truly representative analysis of evangelical perspectives. Moreau hopes his cartography will help readers explore the diverse regions of the evangelical “continent” of contextualization in order to make informed judgments about particular proposals.

The book bears a popular academic style that does not shy from technical content but consciously avoids scholarly wordiness. The real key to the book’s success, though, is its systematic and restrained exposition. The body comprises two sections of nearly equal length. The first section illuminates Moreau’s methodological concerns, and the second section is the substance of the proposal itself. Though Moreau’s descriptive endeavor is potentially fraught with subjectivity, in the first section he so thoroughly explicates the assumptions and criteria at work in his map that there is hardly any cause for uncertainty. Moreover, he manages to introduce working assumptions, such as the meaning of “evangelical” or the place of holism in contextualization, convincingly, without bogging down in topics that could be books unto themselves.

The proposal trades on Moreau’s credibility rather directly. He classified 249 examples of evangelical contextualization from published sources, according to seventy-nine criteria. In this process, he “discovered” six initiator roles (195). Moreau utilizes these six roles as his models of contextualization, cross-referencing them with other criteria to define exemplars of each model and their respective tendencies. The selection of these models, as well as the definition of the various criteria, is completely Moreau’s prerogative despite the clinical feel of his data analysis. By section two, though, the reader is convinced that Moreau is anything but arbitrary in his procedure, and his credentials certainly merit the benefit of the doubt. The skeptical reader may wonder, nonetheless, whether the source material could be organized into different categories, as Moreau cannot defend his choices in a work this size.

Moreau’s map seems to represent the major regions of evangelical contextualization. His models are Facilitator, Guide, Herald, Pathfinder, Prophet, and Restorer. One problem with these categories is that some examples fit equally into multiple models. Anticipating such objections, Moreau clarifies that his intention is not to communicate “that the individual never takes on other roles or that the method is constrained by that role” (175). Taken as typical rather than definitive, and in relation to the many other variables in Moreau’s dataset, the models are a powerful tool for “locating” contextualization efforts on the evangelical map.

One question lingers, primarily regarding the Restorer model. Although “the restorer comes to heal or deliver from bondage of any type,” most of Moreau’s examples have to do with spiritual warfare. Curiously, the evidence suggests that “evangelicals consider demons qua demons somehow immune to contextual or worldview considerations” (299). “A criticism of initiators as restorers,” states Moreau, “is that practitioners rarely discuss their methods as explicitly contextual” (307). The question, then, is why Moreau considers this a model of contextualization, when its presuppositions are acontextual on average and nearly anti-contextual at worst. It seems that the Restorer is a model of mission work rather than a model of contextualization. And this observation highlights a concern for the other models to a lesser extent. Approaches to mission that deal with issues in their contexts (such as spiritual bondage) are not thereby necessarily contextualized, as per Moreau’s own definition of contextualization (36). One danger of being as impressively thorough as Moreau has done is to be overly inclusive to the detriment of a limited notion of contextualization.

Because Moreau intends to systematize existing proposals rather than rehash them, the specific processes of contextualization in his models are never in view. He stays at a bird’s eye view of each exemplar, leaving the reader wishing for a more concrete understanding of each one, which would help clarify why each one is in fact an example of contextualization rather than just missions methodology. The book would be far more lengthy with that provision, though, and the bibliography is available.

A couple of other peculiarities are noteworthy. One, Moreau’s definition of evangelical appears to exclude Majority World evangelicals. There are a few exceptions, and he is aware of the issue (320–21), but it is clear that American evangelicalism is in view. This is due primarily to the use of published exemplars, of which there are far fewer from the Majority World. The point here is not that Moreau would chose to exclude Majority World exemplars given an alternative (although his definition of evangelicalism does have roots in American culture wars), but the fact that he cannot represent them severely limits the representativeness of his map. As with Europeans’ “discovery” of the Americas, once readers venture off the map, they may find the second half of the world—or more, in this case. Two, large portions of the book read as an extended exchange with Charles Kraft. Kraft is an influential and controversial missiologist whom Moreau could not wisely marginalize in these discussions, but at times it seems as though evangelical contextualization comes down to Kraft’s proposals and their dissenters.

One of the key successes of the book is that it makes evident the occasion of the contextualization discussion. The urgency of talking about particularly evangelical contextualization, and to a large extent the urgency of the dialogue with Charles Kraft, is a symptom of the ongoing shift within conservative Christianity toward critical realism. The mapping of contextualization models among evangelicals is fundamentally about establishing an epistemological continuum on which to locate contextualization efforts. Though evangelicals will need to move beyond Moreau’s descriptive contribution into critical and prescriptive proposals, they can now do so with the profound yet accessible insight he has provided regarding what is truly at stake.

Greg McKinzie


Arequipa, Peru

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Review of J. D. Payne, Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission

J. D. Payne. Strangers Next Door: Immigration, Migration and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012. 206pp. $10.91.

J. D. Payne serves as the pastor of church multiplication for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama. Prior to his current position in Birmingham, Payne was a domestic missionary with the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and an Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also directed the Center for North American Missions and Church Planting.

Payne’s book, Strangers Next Door, has a twofold purpose: (1) to educate Western evangelical churches on the large-scale global migrations that are taking place as the peoples of the world move to the West as long-term and short-term workers, students, refugees, and asylum-seekers (18); and (2) to challenge Western evangelical churches to reach, equip, partner with, and send the least reached people living in their neighborhoods to return to their peoples as missionaries (19). Payne’s book is neither a theology of mission nor a practical guide to missional living, though it includes elements of both. Rather, it is an impassioned plea and a vision, calling for evangelicals in the West to notice and act on a unique missional opportunity of the twenty-first century: the presence of migrants from least reached, unreached, and hard-to-reach people groups in Western countries, living right next door to us.

After defining his terms and outlining his theological assumptions in chapter one, Payne uses half of the book to make his case first that migration is occurring in the modern era on an unprecedented scale (chs. 2, 6, 7, and 8) and second that many of these migrants are moving from unreached or least reached areas of the world to Western countries (ch. 3), by which he means the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and many of the countries commonly referred to as Western Europe. On both accounts, Payne demonstrates his claims very persuasively with extensive statistical data. However, with regard to his second claim, Payne reveals a significant theological bias that obscures much of his data, namely, he considers people groups comprised of less than 2 percent evangelicals as unreached. He borrows his definition of evangelicals from the Joshua Project (55), but based on which countries he labels as unreached, Payne clearly excludes most, if not all, members of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and mainline Protestantism, among others. For example, he lists France, Portugal, and Spain as among the most unreached countries in the world (60), three countries known for substantial Catholic populations. Although this bias does not diminish the importance of Payne’s overall thesis and argument, it does limit the usefulness of the book in determining which countries and peoples are unreached for one who operates with a more inclusive understanding of Christianity.

The rest of the book focuses on what Payne calls “diaspora missiology,” which brings migration research to bear on missiology. In chapters four and five, he demonstrates from Scripture that God has constantly worked through migrations to accomplish his purposes in the world. In chapter nine, he shares inspiring stories of people who have acted on this vision to reach the unreached through migrants. Finally, chapters ten through twelve offer guidelines and a strategy for accomplishing the task of reaching, equipping, partnering with, and sending migrants back to their home countries as missionaries to reach the unreached peoples of the world. Payne suggests helpful missiological insights in these chapters, but due to the nature of his book as a vision-casting plea, these suggestions remain surface level and brief. For example, his section on contextualization is three paragraphs long. Anyone wanting to learn about how to contextualize the gospel in migrant communities in their neighbors will need to look elsewhere for advice.

Payne’s overarching vision, that churches in the West should focus their efforts on reaching migrants in their neighborhoods from unreached or least reached countries, with an eye towards partnering with and sending those migrants back to their home countries as missionaries, is worthy of attention and consideration for all, including non-evangelical churches in Western countries. I recommend this book to any church leaders and lay people willing to re-envision their task of sharing the gospel with the nations. As Payne argues, for those of us living in the West, the nations have come to our doorstep and we are now confronted with an exciting missional opportunity to proclaim the gospel to them without ever having to set foot on a plane.

Garrett Matthew East

Missionary in Training

ACU Halbert Institute for Missions

Abilene, Texas, USA

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Review of Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich, Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence

Bryan P. Stone and Claire E. Wolfteich. Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008. 168pp. $15.60.

Stone and Wolfteich challenge the missional reader with the reminder that “while the Bible begins in a garden, it ends in a city” (90). Sabbath in the City: Sustaining Urban Pastoral Excellence records the discoveries of 96 urban pastors who are given the opportunity, through the Boston University School of Theology and the Lilly Endowment, Inc., to examine their missional approaches to ministry. The project seeks to answer two questions: “What constitutes pastoral excellence in the urban context? What sustains it?” (ix). Excellent urban pastoral leadership requires a unique approach to ministry, one that involves serving the city as well as serving oneself. “If your . . . soul and spirit is not growing and at peace with God, the sheer intensity of urban problems will overwhelm and crush you” (63).

While defining four needs of urban pastors—partnership, spiritual renewal, Sabbath, and study—the authors specify each need as an individualized spiritual discipline. Spiritual friendships are to be interpreted as one enjoys Christ as a friend: a life-giving addition to pastoral ministry. Spiritual renewal is found in embracing spiritual disciplines that continually refocus one’s energies on the purpose and presence of God. Sabbath, a challenge for an overworked and understaffed urban pastor, is a reminder that the work of God can find completion while the man or woman of God carves out mandatory rest. Study allows the pastor to contemplatively hear a sermon for the people as well as a sermon for oneself while lounging in the Word.

Through their partnership with urban pastors, the authors discover that excellent urban pastors know and love their cities. This means that they also know and love the people:

To know and love the people of the city and to practice a solidarity with them creates a space for confession, pardon, and forgiveness. To know and love the people of the city is to treat no one like a heathen, a demon, or an outcast, and this honoring of ‘the other’ we encounter allows us first to hear them; second to serve them; and third, to be open to allowing them to creatively transform our ministries. (xiii)

A warning repeats throughout the book, from authors as well as pastors, that if urban pastors overlook the practice of Sabbath, they will not effectively serve the city. Urban ministry presents many needs and few resources. With the focus on required renewal, the participating pastors also receive a four- to eight- week compensated sabbatical. “We cannot talk of sustaining pastoral excellence without talking about the pastor’s ongoing spiritual renewal, for receptivity to God’s Spirit precedes any work of ministry” (63). Sabbath not only includes rest, but play, setting higher boundaries, and a fresh commitment to one’s family. Counsel from one pastor’s spiritual director reminds her that, “Just because you have the time to do something doesn’t mean you should do it” (55). Rest is a requirement for renewal.

The honest voices of the 96 urban pastors should be heard by all pastors, not just those in the urban setting. Sabbath in the City should inform the students in seminary who begin with a vision of excellence and are often extinguished by exhaustion and frustration. The stories of the participants will powerfully inform future decisions for current readers.

Missional ministry requires one to go and serve incarnationally, fulfilling the missio Dei. Being a sent people requires preparation, partnership, and pauses throughout the journey. Urban pastors are by their very nature missional, since many have moved into the city to serve with decreased funds and increased functions. The practical guidance detailed in Sabbath in the City will enhance the journey of any seminary student, pastor, or layperson who seeks to serve. Stone and Wolfteich have gone into the city, found the hearts of servants, and are striving to replicate their beat through their excellent voices of wisdom.

Kate Sullivan Watkins

Doctor of Ministry Student

Lipscomb University

Nashville, Tennessee, USA

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The Need for Indigenous Languages and Resources in Mission to Africa in Light of the Presence of Monism/Witchcraft

Globally speaking, we seem to be in an endless cycle. The West has grasped the means of being materially productive that has resulted in its amassing wealth. Africa in the meantime engages monism, which perpetuates poverty but demands equality. The interaction of the West that seeks to alleviate the poverty of Africa, in ignoring its root causes, perpetuates it. The fact that the same interaction empowers Western languages gives African people distorted economic signals. It is in the economic interest of many African people to rote-learn foreign wisdom that makes little sense while neglecting locally rooted intelligence and disregarding efforts at countering African monism.

“The missionaries’ aim was to develop Christian communities that were self-supporting.”2


The above quote by Grace Wamue demonstrates that attempts by Western missionaries to ensure that their projects in Africa are self-supporting are not new. Yet, dependency continues to plague the African church. This article attempts to ask and answer the question as to why this is the case. It goes on to suggest remedies to this situation.

The traditional approach to development projects is for Westerners to set up a system that should be economically viable, on the assumption that it will continue to be managed in the way that they advocate. Yet it has proved difficult for Africans to continue doing things in the way that missionaries did. This can be explained, at least in part, by considering African people’s proclivity to monistic as against dualistic thinking and philosophy. Because for many African people, the physical and the spiritual are not distinct and easily distinguishable categories, they are inclined to run entities set up on the basis of a material rationality according to more familiar (to them) spiritual-physical lines of reasoning. The West’s response to this practice has been to ignore it, assuming, as John Locke taught, that Africans are a blank slate onto which new things are being written. Unfortunately (or fortunately) previous understandings have continued to “interfere” with new inputs.

This article equates monism with witchcraft. Monism, the presupposition that all physical/material causation is also spiritual (and all spiritual causation is also material), is found to be very widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. Because at least in some parts of Africa “gods” are anthropocentric,3 it follows that misfortune always arises from or through a human agent. The human agent may be someone who is already dead, or an adverse orientation of the heart of another living person. Because the spirits of dead people work through the hearts of living people, the spirits of the dead empower witchcraft fears.4 I take witchcraft as being fear of the power of untoward feelings in the hearts of others, especially feelings of envy.5

The above relationships in African thinking are often concealed through the widespread and widely acclaimed practice in Africa whereby formal communication is in European languages. With the increase in globalized communication, African people are under increasing pressure to use these European languages in the same way that Europeans use them, regardless of their own understanding of what is going on around them. Thus, while the traditional worldview is propagated through widespread but informal uses of African languages, the same is concealed from formal contexts, which are the ones that are mostly in view to Westerners. Vulnerable mission, the use of local languages in ministry, is therefore advocated as necessary for a Western missionary to be truly “informed.” Vulnerable mission as here defined also includes the use of local resources in ministry. Such use of local resources frees African people from the need always to please their missionary as a donating foreign patron. Vulnerable mission is not optional. Local ministry really must be done using locally available languages and resources. The question is whether a foreign Western missionary can or is prepared to build on the local.

Following the Scriptures

The search for equality that currently dominates international relations, even in so far as it is rooted in biblical principles of equality, is not the whole picture presented in the Bible. A case can be made for charitable, material giving to those less well off, but a biblical case can also be made for the communication of a spiritual message that need not be underpinned by material resource provision. This is a message that is fundamental to the Scriptures, to the biblical worldview, and to God’s purpose for mankind. The call to Christian service in the Scriptures is not to persevere in service to God for as long as this proves to be materially rewarding. It is not one that puts material prosperity on par with one’s spiritual standing with God. It is not one in which God’s prophet pays people to do God’s will, or of obliging people to be followers of Jesus in furtherance of their own economic interests. Neither is it one of forcing people to proclaim “correct” theology in a particular language, while their innate and heartfelt understanding remains a vast distance away from such orthodoxy.

When Christ sent out his missionaries, he sent them as lambs amongst wolves, and he gave them specific instructions not to take a “purse or bag or sandals” (Luke 10:3–4).6 The instructions are repeated elsewhere (Luke 9:3; Matt 10:9; Mark 6:8–9). The reason Jesus gave these instructions has not in recent times been clearly understood. Many missiologists have passed over them, ignoring them or considering them to have been superseded (cf. Luke 22:35–36). The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) is seeking to revive these forgotten original principles of Christian missionary service.7 They are not exclusive—there may be a place for carrying a bag, but there may be a place equally for leaving it at home.

The principle of the use of local languages also has biblical support in the Pentecost event (Acts 2:6–12) and in Luke’s testimony of Paul (Acts 22:1–2). Again, I am not attempting to be absolutist. It would have been obvious to people in biblical times that it was advantageous to use a language in ministry that their listeners understood; something that Paul and Barnabas failed to do at their cost as recorded in Acts 14:8–20.


The statement, “the missionaries’ aim was to develop Christian communities that were economically self-supporting” struck me as incongruous and shocking, because it came from 1890.8 Having served in East Africa since 1988,9 I was amazed to find that concern to have been extant so long ago. I had mistakenly thought perhaps it became a concern to a more recent generation of missionaries. It is easy to blame prior generations for their bungles and to assume that we are more enlightened today. But I had to think, are we merely repeating past mistakes?

The approaches to helping people become self-supporting on the part of Western missionaries have doubtless had certain things in common in these last 120 years. One of those things is optimism—an implicit faith that the goal is possible. That faith has at times ebbed. I have witnessed a number of missionaries’ optimism being gradually worn away as years of field service have mounted. Indeed, it seems that the longer an observant and astute missionary serves, the lower his or her optimism regarding the chances of achieving project sustainability becomes. One problem with such a decline in optimism is that people at both ends, African and Western, do not like it. Those who lack optimism seem to share in the sin of the spies sent to report on the promised land, who discouraged the Israelites from taking the land that they could, with God’s help, have taken (Num 13).10

A love of optimists seems to be a deeply ingrained human trait. Hence people consistently love the politician whose forecast when running up to the election is highly positive. People often prefer an optimistic half-truth to a discouraging full-truth! Optimistic half-truths can indeed spur people into action, but what if (as in the case of mission and development in Africa) optimistic half-truths tend to favour foreigners and “fat cats” while leaving the masses struggling? Could it be helpful to consider this situation more carefully? For example, should we be more optimistic about African people’s ability to pass off witchcraft beliefs as irrelevant in “this day and age”? Concern for the plight of child witches11 seems in recent years to have helped to spark a renewed unease regarding problematic issues in African culture.12 “Religious” aspects of the culture of Nigerian peoples have recently been identified as evil, rather than as merely opium of the people.13 “Witchcraft” is the English term that continues to be widely used to encapsulate a set of apparently very contrary beliefs that are widespread on the African continent.14

I have pointed elsewhere to the problems that can arise in the course of translation into English.15 Labeling African phenomena with English terms invariably gives them baggage that is not necessarily rooted in the phenomena themselves. This is the case when it comes to witchcraft. The term is in contemporary times rarely used by people in the native English-speaking world to describe themselves. It is a term that implicitly raises the question of whether Africa is behind the times and should just stop “believing in”16 something that the native English-speaking world left behind long ago.

Without going into the linguistic debate in much more detail here, I do want to search for an escape from the somewhat arbitrary constraints in understanding imposed by Western ideas about the witchcraft that African people, supposedly erroneously, “believe in.” My “escape” is that instead of witchcraft, I want to talk of monism, and sometimes of envy. Monism I take as being an alternative to the dualism (in which the physical/material is taken as being different from the spiritual) which is widespread in Western nations. The increasingly popular Western explanatory system is dualistic; Westerners ever more frequently understand events in physical or material terms. This notion of what is real dismisses causative agents such as gods, spirits, curses, and omens. Monistic explanatory systems instead perceive a variety of causes that invariably include spiritual ones.17

In substituting the term monism (and at times, envy) for that of witchcraft, I hope we will find a little more room for maneuver in our consideration of “the problems of Africa” than has often been the case. Instead of means of overcoming witchcraft—which suggests rather gruesome practices like drowning, poisoning, or burning people, the obstacle to “development” is rather more philosophical in nature: monism. I also intend my use of monism to critique a tendency in some recent scholarship to value monism. I refer here to advocates of holistic mission, Tearfund’s use of the term umoja (“oneness” from Swahili) to describe their strategies for promoting self-sustaining development in the Majority World, and so on.18 (Some confusion seems to have arisen through the widespread use of English in which the words holy, holistic, and whole sound much the same.) I am not denying that there may be value in holistic approaches to situations, communities, or problems, but I would suggest that there is a dualism inherent both in the gospel and in Western society, and that this dualism is in both cases essential. The root of the essential dualism in the gospel is the distinction between God and the world. The essential dualism that I refer to in Western society is between the spiritual and the physical/material. The fact that these two are related reflects the Christian roots of Western dualism, though dualism arises also as a result of philosophical realism.19

If we assume that monistic thinking is contrary in various ways to human wellbeing, and for Christian believers that it incorporates theological error, the question arises as to how it can best be changed so that dualism comes to the fore. The preferred option in Western thinking seems to be to follow the teaching of John Locke, in so far as Locke considered the human mind to resemble a tabula rasa onto which information is drawn. According to him, the whole of understanding arises from physical stimuli made to the human senses.20 Such is the model of education that has been applied from the West to the majority world. It assumes that if educational inputs to the people of Africa are the same as those given to Western people, then African people will have as a result the same capabilities as Western people. There are two important, closely related assumptions that underlie this thinking:

  1. That whatever Western people (children) already have as they enter the school system that enables them to benefit from the education they are given, African people also have the same.
  2. That African people do not have anything in their understanding that can interfere with their ability to appropriate Western education in the way that Westerners appropriate it.

Unfortunately, we seem to hit a problem here quite quickly in terms of language of use. Education in Africa is largely carried out using Western languages. When languages are understood as needing to be integrally linked to particular Western cultures so as to function effectively, then this is something that African people do not have. African languages/cultures meanwhile are something that Western people do not have but African people do have. The presence of these languages/cultures “interfere” with African people’s engagement with Western education, for example through the way in which they affect how Western languages are understood.

It is very difficult to justify the assumption that a child entering school is a blank slate,21 not least because the home life of children prior to entering school, which surely is strongly formative of their character, differs between cultures, nations, tribes, and linguistic communities. Linguistically one can consider the implicit and explicit translations that must be going on as a child learns in English at school while using another language at home. In much of Africa a foundational monistic outlook on life is already in place before a child begins to acquire formal schooling. It is difficult for a child, or an adult for that matter, to break out of the kinds of strictures placed upon them by the monistic community within which they live and relate to others, even as they engage in Western education.

The dominant wisdom demonstrated in educational policy practice seems to be that the best way to provide an escape from the strictures of monistic thinking is to ignore them and to trust that they will go away. Hence educational systems (including theological education systems) being designed for and taken up by African people are no different from those in the West. This applies increasingly as advances in communication technology that enable globalization take hold. Globalisation enables the spread of provincialisms by people who think that their provincialisms are universal.22

That people are ignoring vast differences between themselves and others for the sake of some kind of superficial global uniformity ought to strike us as incredible. It would be helpful to adopt a thoughtful approach instead of ignoring contextual complexity. Popular educational wisdom states that learning should begin where someone is and then take them to where they are not. Contemporary educational systems in much of Africa, in assuming people to be “at the same place as the West” ignore cultural differences between Africa and the West.

If the educational system in Africa is so ineffective, then why is it so popular and so widespread? The answer in short is subsidy. The educational system in much of Africa is not homegrown, nor is its adoption motivated by what it can achieve or help people to achieve within the society receiving it. Were the latter the case, then Africans would educate their children using familiar languages. On the contrary, the perceived value of Western education in parts of Africa is in the links it provides to the wider world of European language-speaking peoples. The reason these links are so prominent and so critical to African communities is because English (perhaps more than other European languages) is the dominant language through which numerous varieties of charity and aid are distributed. Those with good English get this aid and get to control it, whereas those without good English are subject to the whim of those who get it. The power in English is not in the way it assists a community to help itself but the way it makes communities dependent on outside charity.

Such an educational system can severely restrict the development of a community: it forces students into great expense in terms of both time and finance to acquire the language of education, before being able to acquire the education in that language. It results in education being not from known to unknown, but from unknown to unknown. As a result the use of an African language is essential for education in Africa to be truly effective. There is a strong case to be made in favour of every people’s total education to be in their mother tongue.23 Even failing this, I believe there is still a compelling case that any African language used in education in Africa should be seen as a better prospect than the European languages that are widely used at present.

Some scholars may consider that the great advantage of the use of English in Africa is that it enables access to written resources and provides a lingua franca for the continent. Kwesi Prah powerfully critiques this view.24 Few scholars seem to ask themselves why it appears that every African language has failed to be the medium of enlightened advanced education. A question that should follow is, what are the implications of the fact that an African language apparently cannot be the medium of “modern” education? Could it be that there are qualities of African languages that render them incompatible with modern education? If such qualities exist, then how can learning a European language in itself enable a people to overcome such qualities? Presumably the content of African languages arises from the content of African lives. Does learning of another language “magically” result in a change in way of life? Or is the widespread use of English making people dependent on what they do not understand because it is not a part of who they are? If we had examples of non-European languages “succeeding,” then perhaps we could say that the choice of a European language for an African student is a free or arbitrary choice. As it is, if it is a choice at all, then it is a choice that largely precludes taking the African person’s own context seriously. This default option for African students handicaps them for the rest of their lives.25

For example, consider the contrast between monism and dualism. English is “at home” in dualistic communities. When used by dualistic people, it can be extremely productive, because the way it is used fits the contours of life of the people concerned. But if used by a monistic people, it loses its moorings. Its implicit categories are no longer the right ones. It serves a monistic people very poorly. This is the case unless they adapt English so as to use it in their way. Such “adaptation” of English defeats the original intention—that English be a means of easing communication with the wealthy and powerful international community and a means of achieving development and prosperity on Western lines.

In the globalizing world it is becoming more and more difficult for different peoples to use English as they like. There are too many people who are trying to align English with international standards for adaptation to happen easily. The main hope of many monistic people around the world is, in fact, to use English in the way that it “should be,” even when such use clashes with their way of life and makes little sense to them. English use has to be an imitation and cannot arise from understanding. That is, English has to be rote-learned, as is a large proportion of the African educational curriculum. Still, accusations of corruption in economic and other practices abound. As a result, the use of subsidy to promote English and other non-African languages in Africa may be crippling the continent.

Economics, God, and African Leadership

Dambisa Moyo has probably become the most internationally renowned economist from Zambia. Her book Dead Aid speaks loudly and boldly against “charitable” practices that are “the silent killer of growth.”26

To her the dependence of Africa on foreign aid is clear, gross, and wrong.27 Her statements regarding this dependence have intrigued me: “foreign aid . . . continues . . . to be the predominant source of financial resources for much of the continent.”28 Just how dependent is the continent on foreign aid? The answer must of course depend on the definition one will take of terms such as “aid” and “dependence.” What exactly qualifies as aid? What criterion is used for aid to be considered foreign?

A broad definition of aid is necessary in order to understand dependence comprehensively. Foreign control of the economy contributes to the aid-related dependence that Moyo discusses. Remittances sent by relatives from overseas into local communities, which official statistics do not take into account, should also be included in a comprehensive definition of aid. Moreover, we must account for the way that the impact of aid multiplies within the local economy. The gross receipts of aid are tremendous by themselves, yet this number alone does not reflect the depth of dependency that such income creates.29

What impact does aid money have? Some try to minimise its apparent impact by emphasising how small it is in relation to GDP figures. Subjectively speaking—as a member of a rural African village community (admittedly a village targeted by the Millennium Villages Project, but the same could really be said even before MVP came)—it seems that foreign donor funds are constantly in view. It would seem that locally available resources quickly get used up in immediate home needs, whereas it is donor money that is used to fund whatever takes people beyond the level of basic self-sufficiency and household survival. If Moyo is right, then the degree of dependency of many African communities is very large indeed. The withdrawal of aid could certainly result in a severe catastrophe, yet the current system seems to be increasing this kind of dependency.

My reason for delving into this area of economics is not to belittle or to put down African people who would like to believe that they are doing better than I am indicating. It is to point to a massive concern that is crying out for attention. This concern links in to our discussion of dualism and monism. Could it be that deeply implicit and widely spread monism is preventing African people from grasping what is necessary in order to develop their economies along the same lines as others in the rest of the world? If this is the case, then we are face to face with an enormous and critical question: how to help people to grasp principles of dualism without which the onslaught of poverty intertwined with dependency will persist.

The perception that what Africa needs is science and technology is not new in the West. Unfortunately, attempts at transmission of scientific/technological principles have been rooted in the presupposition of dualism, onto which to latch scientific insights. The question of how to “convert” a people from being monistic in their worldview to the adoption of a partially30 dualistic worldview looms large. What strikes me as perhaps the most interesting with respect to this worldview question is how we are challenging the secular agenda with what has traditionally been mission/Christian territory. By discussing monism instead of just material poverty, and then conversion as a description of “needed change,” religious faith has become the central issue for socio-economic development.31 Religious faith after all, in its engagement with heart and affection, contributes presuppositional foundations on which other things, including secularism, come to build.32

The shift from monism to dualism has a lot to do with monotheism or a “high view of God.” If some Africans do not have a traditional understanding of a high God,33 then that absence can help to explain why it has been so difficult for them to acquire a dualistic worldview. Fennella Cannell makes a clear case for Christianity as source of dualism.34 The key, then, to Africa’s social/economic development, lies in the appropriation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.35 That gospel must not be merely the prosperity gospel or the gospel that concentrates on driving out demons which seems to be the variant encouraged by today’s “aid culture,” but which can leave the monistic worldview intact. I refer here especially to Pentecostalism, that (including charismatics) claims one quarter of the world’s Christians,36 but as James K. A. Smith concedes, easily becomes compromised to primal worldviews.37

Before looking at the missionary strategy that reflects the nature of God as high God, I want to make a few further comments regarding how historically a transition from monism to dualism has been enabled. This was a transition occurring during the fourteenth- to sixteenth-century Italian renaissance. In the course of this Renaissance monotheistic Christian belief was almost universally presupposed.38 In the seventeenth Century, according to Anthony Balcomb, “the main objection that arose against the belief [in magic] was [not science but] . . . that it threatened the idea of a transcendent omnipotent creator who could impose his will by divine fiat in the created order”.39 It is possible that the Greek discovery of dualism was connected to links between Greek culture and knowledge of the true God derived from Moses.40 Did Max Weber not also hint that economic advances in Europe were as much to do with “extreme faith” in Protestantism as with technological innovativeness?41 In fact movements of faith have often motivated masses of people in ways unequalled by either political revolution or “merely” social innovation.42

These observations challenge us to reconsider a lot of contemporary missions’ strategy. Why have missions produced dependent churches addicted to the prosperity gospel? In short, Western missions’ strategies have frequently presupposed the existence of dualism in the populations they have reached. For example, they have assumed that African people will understand that the resources provided by the Western mission body to support the spreading of the gospel are not the gospel. It has been very difficult, if not impossible, for many African people to grasp this. The challenge for the next generation of believers is how to spread the gospel without making the African church dependent on a dualism that it does not have, outside resources that it cannot control, and outside languages that it cannot own?

The West has been attempting to have African church leaders play a key part in the leadership of Western (-resourced and -language) mission efforts. Yet, we need to ask ourselves, How can African church leaders be expected to guide strategies to reach their own people that are rooted in misguided foreign assumptions? Instead of attempting to incorporate Africans into mission by educating them in Western languages and presupposing that they have a dualistic understanding that they do not, the challenge is now for Westerners to adjust their mission strategies to align with African realities. The lead, after God, must come from Africa. This requires the use of African languages as they are used by African people in Africa.43

African people leading Western mission efforts are invariably responding to an intricate and complex context of their own about which Westerners know relatively little. That context, including pressures from extended family and monistic presuppositions has almost invariably compelled the African to maximise the use of Western languages and to maximise foreign income in mission—to perpetuate dependence and the prosperity gospel. New mission efforts guided by the vulnerable mission principles of reliance on local resources and local languages must go beyond drawing on these “native informers.” Informers need to be allowed to speak more freely than is often the case. Listening to them in their own languages and ensuring that the economic equation not be loaded strongly in favour of their compliance enables such freedom. Such is what we are calling vulnerable mission.

Vulnerable Mission

We can define vulnerable mission as mission (or development intervention) by Westerners in the majority world that is carried out using local resources and languages. Instead of relying on “educated” foreign nationals to guide Western missionaries, Western missionaries and development workers must themselves become experts at intercultural communication. This requires that they become immersed in the languages and traditions of the people they are reaching. A vulnerable missionary will become dependent on locals and not on Western donors for the success of their endeavours. They will not so much devise “strategy” as they will respond in a Christ-centred way to the “strategies” of local African or other Majority World believers. Such can enable vulnerable mission to achieve a truly indigenous theology; something which money-laden strategists using Western languages have failed to accomplish for decades.

The carrying out of vulnerable mission depends on achieving the cooperation of nationals. Nationals have become increasingly accustomed to responding to proffered finance and other benefits. How Western missionaries will be welcomed if they do not have such to offer remains to be seen. The obligation is now, in the absence of the option of buying access, on the Westerner to adjust to the non-Western context. Will they be able to meet this challenge?

The new mission that emerges from vulnerable strategies on the part of Westerners opens numerous arenas full of challenge. Allow me to outline these by way of answering some of the critics of vulnerable mission strategies.

Some say that vulnerable mission is a way of denying African people access to Western languages or to funds. Yet, is a church pastor in the USA who is inviting young people to talk about God denying them access to education in mathematics? That pastor has not gone to the school to burn the mathematics textbooks; he has simply chosen to offer people something other than mathematics; so also for vulnerable missionaries with respect to English and donor funds.

My own prediction is that a VM will get the kind of stark view of “life” in African (Majority World) communities that has often been missed by contemporary missionaries. As the view becomes stark and clear, so will previously barely perceived challenges. Typically in Africa the major challenge is how to deal with the monism we are considering, which has in the West become known as witchcraft; something largely ignored by the current Western missionary force. The critics have long said that witchcraft does not “exist.” Recently, its impact has become more visible. Vulnerable mission provides an alternative to the perhaps much more common secular critique of monism.44

The rise in the visibility of African witchcraft in recent years has been notable. Stepping Stones Nigeria in particular has invested heavily in making the problem of child witches better known.45 Unfortunately, their work suffers the weakness of treating witchcraft as if it is an appendage to life in Africa that they can excise, rather than recognising it for what it is—an expression of the African worldview. Nevertheless the actions of Stepping Stones and others46 in drawing our attention to this issue can be considered progress. It is an improvement on those who perceive Africa’s problems to be only in the material realm—the position of many big players in the field of development, such as the Millennium Development Project, who are forced to be secular in orientation.

It is time for Westerners intervening in Africa to concede that beliefs related to monism are not there “objectively” waiting to be analysed using English as if they are in a laboratory. Treating beliefs in this way is like studying the habits of fish through first laying them out in the sun on a concrete surface. Monistic/witchcraft beliefs affect Africans’ communication about themselves and their communities. When talking with African people about witchcraft, even if the conversation is in English, one is not only discussing witchcraft, but one is also using witchcraft categories, and in that sense engaging in witchcraft, whether one knows it or not. In the course of discussion an African speaker may well be wary of the way what he says could implicate him in witchcraft attacks, and so on. Such topics are effectively tackled using African languages.

Envy is not given a great deal of prominence in many secular discussions today, despite the prominence of envy in Africa. The Western approach, rooted in objectivity, excludes such human sentiments as envy from view. Seen from the African side, the history of the interaction between Western and African people is intricately connected to issues concerning envy. This could be very evident to those who take a broader look at relationships between the West and Africa. Envy is the powerhouse of a lot of the evil associated with witchcraft (i.e., monistic beliefs).

Whether African communities can escape the clutches of envy/jealousy is a very important question. I take envy as a synonym for witchcraft. If they can do so, then in a sense they have already overcome one of the terrors of witchcraft. Such beliefs (i.e., fear of witchcraft) are very difficult to overcome, but if African communities cannot overcome their orientation to envy, then it will be hard to make progress on other fronts. Envy constantly curtails alternative options of mutual cooperation between community members. If each one has set out from the beginning to make sure that others not get ahead,47 regress is easier than progress. Envy easily disregards victims—if my focus is on how to close the gap between myself and others I consider to be better off than I, then I may have little energy left to consider someone else who is worse off.48 Africa cannot “be developed” by others without its own people’s active participation, yet envy undermines the possibility of that participation.

David Maranz articulates one outcome of envy: in many African communities, those who are better off have an innate and unquestioned obligation to give.49 (They are required to “give” so as to avoid the consequences of the envy (i.e., witchcraft) of others should they not do so.) What the receiver gives in return is a kind of servitude and verbal public praise. In terms of relationships between the wealthy West and Africa, this means that according to many Africans the West is required to keep giving and giving to Africa until material equality is reached. Such an equation includes relatively little consideration for the need to impart material productivity to Africa, because in the African view of the world much overlap between spiritual and “material productivity” looks different than it does in the West.

The flip side of Africa’s demands is of course the West’s willingness to give. The evidence demonstrates that the African approach to imbalances in wealth is proving enormously successful—to the tune of $1 trillion given to the continent in foreign aid over the last 50 years.50 Africa’s pleas for help would have accomplished nothing if no one was listening, but those who are listening are also responding generously. The sum total of reasons as to why the so-called international community responds as generously as it does to appeals for help from Africa is too large a topic for us here.

Summary and Conclusion

While the Bible may advocate equality, it does not insist that spiritual messages be accompanied by material charity. The Bible points us towards the advantages of the use of mother tongues.

Western missionaries have long recognised the need for African churches and communities to be self-supporting. African monism has hindered the achievement of that goal. Western experts have ignored monism, but contrary to their hopes, its persistence has revealed the shallowness of their aspirations for how Africa should develop. A necessary component to the overcoming of the ignorance of Westerners in Africa is a considered response to and not an ignoring of what is there, including monism and its products. Because monism will not simply go away, Western missionaries must carefully address it, which requires the use of African language(s) in church, leadership, and education.

Africa’s dependency on outside aid is massive. Empowering the continent’s people requires an appreciation of dualism, which has historically often come to a more monistic people by means of religious conversion—a kind of conversion which, contrary to popular opinion, has barely occurred in Africa. Because leading people from monism to dualism is different from the West’s education and leadership practices that operate within the boundaries of dualism, the best approach to African leaders ought to include an attempt to gain understanding from their perspective. The responsibility is on the West to communicate and interact interculturally.

To share the gospel and not Western culture remains an acute challenge to Western Christian missionaries. The rising visibility of witchcraft in Africa even in secular circles demonstrates an awareness of aspects of monism until recently deemed irrelevant by strict dualists. The way forward must be in a vulnerable approach to mission, that intends to overcome the intensity of envy associated with monism to foster belief in God as high God and to move away from the current widespread African Christian faith that hopes intently in this-worldly success.

Jim Harries (PhD) served for three years amongst the Kaonde people in Zambia. Since 1993 he has lived in a Luo village in western Kenya. In that time he has been teaching Theological Education by Extension at Yala Theological Centre and Siaya Theological Centre in western Kenya. He lectures part time at Kima International School of Theology. He has learned the languages of the Kaonde, Luo, and Swahili people. Harries is the chairman of the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission and serves as adjunct faculty at William Carey International University and Global University, both in the USA. He can be contacted at


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Tshehla, Samuel M. “ ‘Can Anything Good Come Out of Africa?’: Reflections of a South African Mosotho Reader of the Bible.” Journal of African Christian Thought 5, no. 1 (2002): 15–24.

Vulnerable Mission.

Wamue, Grace Nyatugah. “The Use of European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: East African Perspectives.” In European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa, edited by Frieder Ludwig and Afe Adogame, 365–73. Series of the African Association for the Study of Religions. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2004.

Weber, Max. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Translated by Talcott Parsons. New York: Scribner, 1958.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 Grace Nyatugah Wamue, “The Use of European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa: East African Perspectives,” in European Traditions in the Study of Religion in Africa, ed. Frieder Ludwig and Afe Adogame, Series of the African Association for the Study of Religions (Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 2004), 366, of Western missionaries to East Africa in the period beginning in 1890.

3 Joseph G. Healey, A Fifth Gospel: The Experience of Black Christian Values (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1981), 146.

4 Jim Harries, “Pragmatic Theory Applied to Christian Mission in Africa: With Special Reference to Luo Responses to ‘Bad’ in Gem, Kenya” (PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 2007), 210,

5 Jim Harries, “Witchcraft, Envy, Development, and Christian Mission in Africa,” Missiology: An International Review 40, no. 2 (April 2012): 129–39.

6 All Scripture quotations, unless specified otherwise, are from the New International Version.

8 Wamue, 366.

9 Jim Harries, “Meeting the Indigenous Church: A Personal Account of an African Missionary Journey” (unpublished manuscript, 2009),

10 I have pointed elsewhere to the dependence on providence often found in endeavours by Westerners in the Majority World that does not apply to their activities when “at home.” See Jim Harries, “Providence and Power Structures in Mission and Development Initiatives from the West to the Rest: A Critique of Current Practice,” Evangelical Review of Theology 32, no. 2 (April 2008): 156–65.

11 See Stepping Stones Nigeria, “Child ‘Witches,’ ” The Issues,

12 Such consideration of the problems of Africa as being unique has been variously oppressed in the course of history, as also explained by Bethwell A. Ogot, Reintroducing Man into the African World: Selected Essays 1961–1980 (Kisumu, Kenya: Anyange Press, 1999). Okot p’Bitek, Religion of the Central Luo (Nairobi, Kenya: East African Literature Bureau, 1971), 10–58, attempted to undermine reports of Europeans about African communities.

13 As suggested by Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel’s “Philosophy of Right,” trans. Annette Jolin and Joseph O’Malley, Cambridge Studies in the History and Theory of Politics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1972), 131. I include place quotation marks around the term “religious” because I consider use of this category with reference to African ways of life usually to be a false imposition.

14 Gerrie ter Haar, Imagining Evil: Witchcraft Beliefs and Accusations in Contemporary Africa, Religion in Contemporary Africa (Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press, 2007).

15 E.g., see Jim Harries, Vulnerable Mission: Insights into Christian Mission to Africa From a Position of Vulnerability (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011), 239–55.

16 I take a term such as “believing in” as coming from recent relatively cerebral Western Christianity. For the African witchcraft is likely to be simply a part of the way things are, rather than something to be “believed in” or “not believed in.”

17 Such a category as “spiritual causes” is of course rooted in dualism and so does not make sense for monists.

18 Tearfund International Learning Zone, “Umoja,” Churches,

19 The realist believes “that the objects of our senses are real or exist in their own right quite independent of their being known to, perceived by, or related to mind.” Harold H. Titus, Marilyn S. Smith, and Richard T. Nolan, Living Issues in Philsophy, 9th ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 283. Such belief clearly sets up a dualism of things that are real as against those that are “not real.”

20Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s. v. “John Locke (1632–1704),” accessed August 13, 2011,

21Tabula rasa,” see discussion on Locke above. This thinking would need to assume that the upbringing and home-life of African children is identical to, or at least functionally the equivalent to, that of Western native English-speaking children.

22 Samuel M. Tshehla, “ ‘Can Anything Good Come Out of Africa?’: Reflections of a South African Mosotho Reader of the Bible,” Journal of African Christian Thought 5, no. 1 (2002): 23.

23 Kwesi Kwaa Prah, “The Burden of English in Africa: From Colonialism to Neo-Colonialism,” (keynote address presented to the Department of English: 5th International Conference on the theme: Mapping Africa in the English-Speaking World, University of Botswana, Francistown, Botswana, June 2–4, 2009),

24 Ibid., 5.

25 Stating that an African language ought to be the medium of instruction is of course not to say that European languages should not be taught as subjects. To teach European and other African languages as subjects is highly recommended. Research suggests that African students become more competent in English if it is taught as a subject, rather than when it is the language of instruction.

26 Dambisa Moyo, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009), 48.

27 Ibid., 36.

28 Ibid., 25.

29 For example, a certain amount of foreign money subsidizes the primary school sector of a country. Some of that money will go to pay teachers. The teachers will buy food from a shop. This will enable shopkeepers to acquire produce from farmers, who will in turn purchase other products from the shops, so that the shopkeepers as well as the teachers will become owners of bicycles. The use of bicycles will enable certain young men to enter into the bicycle repair business, which will mean that their wives will have the money with which to purchase artificial hair and to pay someone to apply it and so on. At which point is money-flow no longer considered to be due to foreign aid? Another example: the presence of numerous outside agencies providing all kinds of aid, all requiring efficient communication systems, results in large profits for mobile phone companies that are in turn taxed by African governments for their own spending. That government income, which seems to be internally produced, arises only slightly indirectly from foreign aid. Just how dependent then are African economies on foreign aid?

30 I do not think it is possible, and certainly it is not “healthy,” to be entirely dualistic.

31 This paragraph raises many questions, which I cannot address in this short article. I refer my readers to some of my other writings, such as those found at

32 James K. A. Smith, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010), 5, 59.

33 As says Okot, 41–58; contra John S. Mbiti, Introduction to African Religion, 2nd ed., African Writers (London: Heinemann, 1991), 45–59, and Kwame Bediako, “Biblical Exegesis in the African Context—The Factor and Impact of Translated Scriptures,” Journal of African Christian Thought 6, no. 1 (June 2003): 21.

34 Fennella Cannell, “The Christianity of Anthropology,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 11, no. 2 (June 2005): 338, 350–51; Fennella Cannell, “The Anthropology of Christianity,” in The Anthropology of Christianity, ed. Fennella Cannell (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 14.

35 I do not here go into the area of comparative religions, and whether “the key” may rather be in Buddhism, Islam, etc., for reasons that go beyond the scope of this article. I point my reader to Cannell, “Anthropology of Christianity,” 1, 2, 16, 21, and Talal Asad, “The Construction of Religion as an Anthropological Category,” in A Reader in the Anthropology of Religion, ed. Michael Lambeck, Wiley-Blackwell Anthologies in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 122. Both of these authors give singular credit to Christianity for the emergence of categories associated with modern dualism.

36 See The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “Global Christianity,” Christian, Religious Affiliation, Topics,

37 Smith, 41.

38 Bambang Sugiharto, “Radical Consequences of the Primacy of Experience in the Hermeneutics of Culture,” in Communication across Cultures: The Hermeneutics of Cultures and Religions in a Global Age, ed. Chibueze C. Udeani et al., Seminars: Culture and Values, vol. 26 (Washington, DC: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2008), 94.

39 Anthony Balcomb, “The Great Comeback of God(s): Theological Challenges and Opportunities in a Post-Secular World,” Missionalia: Southern African Journal of Mission Studies 38, no. 3 (November 2010): 418.

40 John R. Salverda, “Moses, Hermes and Io,” Ancient/Classical History,,

41 Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. Talcott Parsons (New York: Scribner, 1958).

42 The reader can note that the English I use here is implicitly dualistic in that I make a distinction between the religious and the non-religious (e.g., the “merely social”) that is an invention of Western society. This is not an argument that arises from the widespread African worldview, in which these are not distinct.

43 There would be less point in using an African language in a Western way. The point of the argument presented here is that mission policy for Africa must emerge as a result of the impact of God’s Word on the African milieu.

44 Note that in this article we are considering witchcraft to be largely synonymous with the terms monism and envy.

45 See fn. 11.

46 See also Tony Kail, Cry from the Bush: A Christian Response to Africa’s Epidemic of Witch Hunts, Child Witches and Deadly Exorcisms (Scotts Valley, CA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2011).

47 See for example Kwesi Kwaa Prah, The African Nation: The State of the Nation, CASAS Book Series 44 (Cape Town: Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society, 2006), 153.

48 The various implications for communication of a society rooted in envy are too wide for me to explore more fully here. See Harries, “Witchcraft.”

49 Maranz, 150.

50 Moyo, xviii.

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Vulnerable Mission vis-à-vis Mainstream Mission and Missiology

The goals of mainstream mission and missiology have gone widely unmet. The Alliance for Vulnerable Mission (AVM) proposes better methods for reaching those goals. The AVM has advocated the methods of local languages and local resources. This article expands the vulnerable mission methodology to include local thinking style. In particular, Western missionaries need to use oral thinking styles rather than the analytical thinking style that creates dependency in oral societies. Missionaries must decide whether to supplement local methods with foreign “strength” or to accept the vulnerability of using only local methods.

As a missiologist who has observed a lot of missions and churches in a lot of countries for a lot of years, I want to try to position “vulnerable mission” against the broader backdrop of trends in missiology and mission practice today.2 My hope is to help the rest of the mission world connect more easily with what we are talking about in this conversation, so that fruitfulness and glory to God may connect more commonly in mission practice just as they connect in John 15:8.

Underlying the paper is my personal conviction that we in the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission have a theme that ought to resonate with a lot more mission scholars and practitioners than our current circle. What could or should we be saying that we are not saying clearly enough to find more people who are already doing or desiring something akin to VM, no matter what label they put on it?3 In this paper I will try to answer my own question, and I invite you to answer it even better.

I will compare and contrast the theory and practice of mission in three areas: the goal of mission, the methods of mission, and the big question that Western missions face today. Along the way I will relate VM to the three trends or camps of mission with which we overlap most—partnership, self-sufficiency (overcoming dependence), and orality (storying). This brief exercise will require some sweeping generalizations that readers may wish to challenge.4

The Goal of Mission

If we look at the Edinburgh 1910 missions conference and its coordinated planning to turn this into a Christian planet by planting churches everywhere, the methods appear to have worked even beyond the planners’ dreams a century ago. Churches have been planted across huge stretches of previously unevangelized territory.5

But if we look at Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods book from 1912, we have to ask, “What kind of churches?” The goal in Allen’s terms was self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating churches.6 For our purposes, and to save us getting bogged down in the long debate about the adequacy of that famous Three-Self Formula, let me use three more recent and roughly parallel terms: contextualized, sustainable, and missional. These are very prominent in missiological writing in the last 40, 20, and 10 years respectively, and it seems almost everybody writing about mission now takes them for granted as three marks to look for in a healthy church.

But what is the state of the church globally? The harvest does not match the three-part goal very well. For the vast majority of the world, believers and unbelievers alike, Christianity appears to be more culturally foreign, money-driven, and confusing than contextualized, sustainable, and missional.

Allen’s goal Current buzz words about goal Frequent results
Self-governing Contextualized Foreign
Self-supporting Sustainable Money-driven
Self-propagating Missional Confusing

I am not saying that twentieth-century mission was a waste or a failure or that the global church is a basket case, needing rescue by us as if we are the enlightened part of the world. But I am saying that we have not yet arrived at well-contextualized, sustainable, missional churches (even in the West), because if we had, the missiologists would have quit talking about these things. They would be losing their jobs for being behind the times, writing another book about contextualization. They keep their teaching positions because they are focusing the next generation on the things churches do not yet have but that missiologists think churches should try to get.

In case you need any reminders that the church has not yet arrived at sound mission practice, here are three very painful ones I have recently encountered, all indicating that the bull-in-the-china-shop approach to missions is alive and kicking:

  • Steven Ybarrola concludes a 2008 article by sadly noting, “It was twenty-six years ago that I was first exposed to this application [of anthropology to mission work, that is, of contextualization] at the U.S. Center for World Mission. However, in my experience . . . I still find this perspective to be largely lacking.”7
  • Two weeks ago I was requested to answer a few survey questions for a researcher, one of which was, “The multi-language translating software can be used to translate foreign languages. The use of SMS, multimedia, internet, and satellite services can enable followers of Jesus Christ to communicate the gospel with non-believers, whose language is different, more efficiently and effectively than a missionary physically going to a nation in which the native language is different.” I’ll admit that I checked “strongly disagree,” but only because there was no option that said, “violently disagree.”8
  • Three weeks ago a missions pastor friend of mine returned from a trip where he heard a veteran missionary say, “Satan has taken full advantage of the short-term missions movement in [his Asian country]. We would be so far ahead of where we are if no teams had ever come.”9

To sum up, VM does not propose different goals than mainstream mission and missiology.10 We are arguing that the mainstream methods of reaching those goals are not achieving them very well. The contextualized, sustainable, missional church is not here yet.

Better Methods of Reaching the Agreed Goal, Including Oral Thinking Style

As someone has said, “Stupid is not doing stupid things. It is doing the same things and expecting a different result.” Let’s apply that to mission.

The biggest shift in mission from Western countries in the last twenty years is a massive increase in short-term trips and short-term workers (a year or less). In a sense, this is a new “method,” but in a deeper sense, it is the same old method of the colonial era, putting monocultural, ethnocentric people into cross-cultural settings.

In a way it is worse, because now that quick trips are possible and affordable, the trippers have no time to grow out of their ethnocentrism and no clue about why they should. They stick to the methods that ethnocentric people can use, even though these fly in the face of the goals of mainstream missiology. They rely on English or a personal translator, they operate as “haves” among “have nots,” and they cannot begin to imagine doing mission with an oral approach to life rather than an analytical approach.

Missiologists and most advocates of partnership in mission know this kind of mission activity will not reach the goals of mission, so they make some major improvements to the ethnocentric model, such as advocating that Westerners do things with people instead of for people. They promote these better methods even among short-termers whenever possible.11

Goal Partnership methods Short-term mission methods
Contextualized English or local language English only
Sustainable Prime the pump, or top up local resources Provide from outside
Missional Simplify the message Operate analytically without realizing it at all

VM takes the whole thing one step further, though none of us are claiming that VM methods are the silver bullet that will solve everything with one shot.

Goal VM methods Partnership methods
Contextualized Local language English or local
Sustainable Local resources Prime the pump, or top up local resources
Missional Local thinking style Simplify the message

VM has been very explicit about the first two methods (local language and resources) and has not yet said much about the third, that is, local thinking style. We have assumed that oral thinking style is naturally built into local languages and resources, but I believe it might be helpful to raise it to the status of a third defining mark of VM.

What is a “local thinking style”? In the broadest strokes, there are basically two styles—oral thinking and analytical thinking. Various labels have been used for these two styles.12 I am indebted to John Walsh for the following explanation which greatly helped me on this point: “When people routinely assume that the opposite of orality is literacy, they are making only a superficial contrast. The real contrast is not oral vs. literate. It is oral vs. analytical.”13 In other words, an oral style is a story or narrative or holistic style of thinking as opposed to a conceptual style that breaks everything down into pieces and then connects the pieces. Oral thinkers apprehend whole ideas; analytical thinkers comprehend them one piece at a time.

Again in very broad strokes, the preferred local thinking style is analytical in the West and oral in the Global South, though oral thinking is growing quickly among younger Westerners and analytical thinking is widespread among people with a lot of Western education, regardless of their home culture. The aspect of this relevant to our discussion is that the vast majority of mission today is undertaken by analytical thinkers working in contexts where oral thinking is the preferred local style.

Let’s return then to the earlier comment about doing mission with “an oral approach to life.” This hit me like a bombshell while I was giving some guest lectures in a Central Asian seminary a few years ago. I was talking about Bosch’s overview of paradigms of mission throughout church history14 and the question was asked, “What is a paradigm?” My on-the-spot attempts to answer did not shed any light for the questioner. In later reflection I realized that a paradigm is a tool that an analytical thinker uses to compare two or more systems. Non-analytical (oral) thinkers do not use that tool because they never undertake that task. They simply do not look at their worlds that way.

Further, I realized that every lecture by a foreigner and every book in that seminary library (except the biographies) was structured for analytical thinkers and was basically lost on the oral ones. I understood why a Scottish faculty member at the school had said, “We try to get them to answer the questions on an exam but often all they do is give testimonies.” The entire seminary system was set up to turn oral thinkers into analytical thinkers rather than to capitalize on their natural strengths as oral thinkers.

Whether that illustration was helpful or not, here is the abstract description of the problem. Outside money is often used for mission methods such as building a seminary or paying a salary for a church planting pastor, which are seen as the best or only means to the desired goal, such as a strong church or a successful outreach plan. There may be several Xs in a chain; for example, Bible schools (X1) are seen as the means to theological orthodoxy (X2) and spiritual maturity of pastors (X3), good study habits using good study tools (X4), and quality sermons (X5)—in order to reach the goal of mature believers and a mature church.

But the vision of the “mature” church may have been flawed in the beginning because it assumed that genuine disciples are analytical thinkers and their leaders must use analytical methods to help them grow. Look at the financial implications of this ethnocentric assumption.

Biases That Go with Assuming a Mature Church Must Be an Analytical Church

  1. Professionalization—the leaders are the best analysts; laity tag along.
  2. That kind of leader needs special schooling for analyzing the Bible.
  3. A congregation must be big enough to support a professional pastor.
  4. That size of congregation will need a building.
  5. The building, the schooling, and the pastor all require major funding.

Alternative Model If a Mature Church Can Be an Oral-Thinking Church

  1. The laity can be involved in developing the theology of the group.
  2. Special schooling not required for leaders; they can be apprenticed.
  3. Congregations can thrive and sub-divide though too small to support a pastor.
  4. Buildings are optional.
  5. Little or no funding required.

It boggles the mind to think how much Western mission effort and funding have gone into things the alternative model does not need at all. It also makes one wonder how many of today’s Western missionaries are missing golden opportunities for fruitful witness that they could seize if they could adapt to an oral thinking style. Here are a few examples, which have a few advocates but in my experience are usually regarded as quirky interests of a tiny minority.

  • Ethnomusicology. Music shapes the faith and life of emerging churches more than anything else. How can it be a sidelight of mission? A network of Christian ethnomusicologists is encouraging wider use of the kind of Christian music development that happened spontaneously in the VM churches.15 Let this become a mainstream pursuit. Cultural outsiders cannot do the composing and choreography but they may legitimize it for the local composers, give a little guidance for it, and act as cheerleaders while the new music emerges.
  • Proverbs. Proverbs are distilled oral thinking, masterful carriers of profound truth. How can these be incidental to preaching and witness? Why not routinely build them into mission work. For example, here is an ethnographic project for a one- or two-month short-term experience for a college student: “Write a paper of five pages or less that answers this question: What are ten local proverbs that every missionary who comes to this place should learn on arrival, and what would they know about the local people if they really grasped these proverbs?”16
  • Festivals. How can festivals be so neglected? They are communal events celebrating the great acts of God in the biblical story, intriguingly and graciously open to outside observers, involving music and drama, processions, symbols, colors, and many layers of meaning.17 Westerners are festival-deaf and festival-blind, but the rest of the world is fluent in festival. I would love to see us change the dominant paradigm for mission from a war to a festival, so that we automatically think of ourselves more as carriers of joy than agents of force. Might the festival be so effective that it would have an even greater impact on both evangelism and discipleship than sermons do?

A shift to an oral thinking style would also go a long way toward helping us understand and utilize the shift that N. T. Wright, Dallas Willard, and Scot McKnight are calling for—the recovery of the biblical “gospel of the kingdom” as opposed to an exclusive focus on the “gospel of salvation.” I cannot summarize that here. I only want to note that the “gospel of salvation” (our standard way of preaching and teaching the gospel in the West) is an analytical gospel, that is, it breaks the gospel into concepts and pieces, while the gospel of the kingdom is a narrative and is much more intelligible to oral thinkers.18

Emphasis on local thinking style would reinforce the other two marks, relate VM to the familiar Three-Self Formula, and point us toward another emerging mission network (the International Orality Network) as a naturally ally of VM.19 It would also align VM squarely with the healthy trend in missiology to attend to thinking style as an aspect of worldview. This is greatly needed because the message has not got through to many mission practitioners and even mission agency leaders yet.They do not comprehend the orality issue and do not assume it as a core aspect of mission strategy in nearly the same way they assume contextualization and sustainability.

Perhaps most importantly of all, emphasis on local thinking style would make our vulnerability more obvious to us than the other two marks. As Mary Lederleitner said in her paper, “It is always hard for people with a lot of money and education to learn from those with less.”20 But our money will not help us become oral thinkers, and our education, since it is so analytical, will actually hurt us.

The instant we try to shift from analytical to oral thinking, we know we are off our turf and out of our depth. Local oral thinkers are the experts, and we are in kindergarten, so we have to let them lead and learn from them as they do. When we ask them how to write a song, quote a proverb, hold a festival, or explain the gospel in an oral way, we know we don’t know!

This is a huge challenge, almost incomprehensibly different than our analytical ways. I ran into it as I worked with oral thinkers in Lesotho a generation ago, and I tried to explain it to my American supporters this way: “Teaching the Bible in Lesotho means teaching parts of the Bible we don’t often read (like Hebrews) to teach truths we don’t understand (like purification) to meet needs we don’t feel (like body-soul cleansing) by using methods we don’t like (like memorization).”

Once I taught a two-day course on worldview at a YWAM training base in England and included some of this material on thinking styles. At the end a Swedish student commented, “Now I see not only why I felt lost for most of the six months I served in Tanzania. I can see for the first time just how lost I really was!”

If missionaries among oral peoples tried from the beginning to shift to oral thinking, they would find out much sooner “just how lost they really are.” Then they would slow down, invest much less money and energy in poor (i.e., analytically based) mission strategies and programs, and do much less damage before they started doing some good.

The Huge Methodological Choice for Western Missions Today

If VM methods—local language, local resources, local thinking style—are so much better than others, where are they working? It is a fair question. If Jim Harries has come up with such a valuable theory, why has his own VM approach to theological training not yet caught fire in Western Kenya, spread across Kenya and even to other countries? Where’s the beef in the VM theory?

The answer is hiding in plain sight, and it is a lot bigger than Jim or any of the rest of us. Arguably the three most fruitful mission movements in the entire twentieth century were three that operated almost entirely on VM principles. (I realize these do not fit with Jim’s definition of VM as an issue of Westerners working in the Majority World, but bear with me.) The three movements are African indigenous churches, Chinese house churches, and (to a lesser extent) the charismatic movement in Latin America. Mainstream mission thinkers and leaders are fully aware of all three and generally admire them, yet they seem not to have grasped the implications of their fruitfulness. Consider this:

The AICs [African Instituted Churches] have shown how much mission can be done for free. It takes no money to retell the story of the calling of the founder or to tell people about one’s own walk with God. It takes no money to pray for someone to be healed. It takes no money to sing and dance or to write a new song that praises God. It takes no money to receive dreams or prophetic revelations from God. It takes no money for each member of a congregation to stand up and speak in a service. It takes no money to be freed from alcoholism, wife-beating, jealousy and witchcraft. It takes no money to become an honest, hard-working employee.21

The massive success of VM is not just a twentieth-century phenomenon. In our new century in India, Mongolia, the Philippines, and across the Muslim World, things are beginning to happen that look very similar to Africa 100 years ago and China 50 years ago. And the movements are typically working on VM principles because they have no other options.

If it is true that in the twentiety century God spread his kingdom most widely by VM methods, and if it is true that he seems poised to do the same thing in the remaining “neglected corners” of the earth in the twenty-first century, then we in Western missions need to ask ourselves one huge question, perhaps the biggest question facing Western churches, the Western mission establishment, and the next generation of Western missionaries: Complement or copy? To what extent does God want us to use our strengths (methods and resources) to complement the groups and churches who are using VM by necessity, and to what extent does he want us to copy their VM methods ourselves by choice, leaving our “strengths” on the sideline?

Complementing seems to be the obvious choice if we are thinking of the global church as a body where different members have different functions. For example, groups like Gospel for Asia promote mission by combining the money of the West with the manpower of the East. There are many more nuanced variations on this model, which is the premise for all forms of partnership. But in light of Paul Yonggap Jeong’s paper in the present issue, we have to recognize that every attempt to complement is an attempt to do mission from a position of strength. We want our strength to complement their effort in some area where they are weak.

VM is pointing out that the body is not working like it should when one member acts like Saul trying to help another “weaker” member, David, by offering some armor. That is interference not body life. It comes from the kind of well-intentioned thinking that says, “We are stronger than you, you need what we can provide, we are willing to help you, so accept it as God’s provision for you through us.”

Sometimes this thinking is true; God is providing by this route, but perhaps not nearly as often as we think. I believe a great deal of what is interfering with the carrying out of the Great Commission today—the foreignness, the money-centeredness, the fuzziness of the message—is largely the result of many Davids accepting Saul’s armor and trying to fight while they wear it.

We in the wealthy countries have to become much more self-critical. Are our strengths really strengths? Is David’s weakness really weakness? It all depends on what the Lord of the mission wants to do and how he wants to do it. If we assume that our money and technology, which look like strengths from a human perspective, are what God is most likely to use to get his mission done and to bring glory to himself, won’t we forget to check with Jesus, the general director of the mission, whether he actually wants to use our money and technology in each particular case?

Are we not overlooking 1 Corinthians 1 as the default setting for mission—God using the weak to confound the strong? Are we not relegating that “weak” and vulnerable method of mission to those who are too poor to be able to afford to do mission the way we do it?22 Are we not assuming that people do mission from a position of strength if they can and from a position of weakness if they must?

Three Requests for Readers

While we consider the mega-issues of oral thinking style and “complement or copy,” there are three very down-to-earth activities I would love to see readers engage in. I am doing them already and benefiting, but I am only one person. We need to multiply this.

  1. Getting more perspectives on VM from Majority World people whose contact with the West has not persuaded them to approach mission like Westerners (we’ve been confining the dialogue mostly to Westerners). For me this happens mainly through ongoing communication with a house church pastor in Central Asia.
  2. Discovering where and how VM overlaps with other movements and trends in the mission world, particularly “partnership” and “orality” (we’ve been describing ourselves mostly in isolation or in contrast to others). For me this means staying in touch with the COSIM and ION networks.23
  3. Finding and sharing more success stories about VM in practice (we’ve been refining the VM theory, and I’m still mostly doing that in this paper). For me this means promoting Thomas Oduro’s book Mission in an African Way.


There is broad consensus among the overseas churches I am familiar with, missionaries, and mission scholars that the Western missionary movement has not produced the desired amount of the desired fruit, and that the shift to emphasis on short-term mission is not helping much if at all. There is widespread work on method improvement, especially among advocates of partnership.

VM takes things a step further, advocating much greater reliance on local language and resources than we currently see. I am proposing that we also advocate a much greater reliance on oral thinking as opposed to analytical thinking.

There is a very difficult choice for the next generation of Western Christians. Should they complement the “weak” VM of the Majority World church with their strength, or should they forego their strength and copy the VM that the Majority World uses by necessity?

If God is in this, then we need to widen the VM circle and connect with others among whom he is also stirring. It is his mission, and it ought to be done in his way(s), which we can find in consultation with others he guides.

And here is the heart of the matter for VM. If missionaries and mission agencies are so interested in bringing more glory to God,24 why would we not cut back on the mission methods that are failing to bring much glory to him? Why not replace them with a more vulnerable strategy, one that for its inspiration harks back to the cross, the resurrection, and Pentecost instead of the conquest of the Promised Land? Why not pay the prices of vulnerable mission and bring to God the glory that vulnerable mission in his name brings?

Dr. Stan Nussbaum is Staff Missiologist of GMI Research Services and Adjunct Professor at Wheaton College. He has also taught the Breakthrough course at the Overseas Ministries Study Center in Connecticut, at the World Link Graduate Center in Portland, and (including earlier versions) in England, Korea, Malaysia, India, Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Congo (Dem. Rep.), and Nigeria.


Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series 16. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Butler, Phill. Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships. Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005.

Christian Storytelling Network.

Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries.

Elmer, Duane. Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002.

Hiebert, Paul G. Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.

The International Council of Ethnodoxologists.

International Orality Network.

Johnstone, Patrick. The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities. Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011.

Krabill, James R., ed. Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013.

The Lausanne Movement. “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission.” Documents.

Lederleitner, Mary T. Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin K. Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003.

McKnight, Scot. The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Nussbaum, Stan. American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005.

________. “Vulnerable Mission Strategies.” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013):

________. Waking Up to the Messiah. Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011.

Oduro, Thomas, Hennie Pretorius, Stan Nussbaum, and Bryan Born. Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission. Marturia series. Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008.

Rickett, Daniel. Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders. Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002.

Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions. “The 7 Standards.”

Vulnerable Mission.

Winter, Ralph, and Steven Hawthorne, eds. Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader. 4th ed. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009.

Ybarrola, Steven J. “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions.” In Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, edited by Robert Priest, 101–119. Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16. Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 See Vulnerable mission (VM) as defined by the Alliance for Vulnerable Mission has two trademark emphases: the use of local languages and local resources in mission and development. Its primary focus is on mission strategy and mission practice, especially the gap between these and mission theory. The VM concept has been developed primarily by Alliance chairman Dr. Jim Harries, a British missionary in Western Kenya. It is of most relevance in similar contexts where (1) mission (or development) is being done in a poorer country than the country or countries where the foreigners are based and (2) missionaries are not already “vulnerable” in the sense of being open to legal and/or physical attack once their purpose is known. Wider implications will be discussed later in this article.

3 Do not read too much pessimism into the question. We are finding some very important connections represented by all of you, and Jim Harries’s new books certainly give people much new information to chew on and debate, but we are still asking ourselves what we could do better.

4 Some of these are dealt with in a later version of this paper, revised for presentation to graduate and post-graduate students at a seminary. See Stan Nussbaum, “Vulnerable Mission Strategies,” Global Missiology 10, no. 2 (2013): The current version was designed more for undergraduates and mission practitioners.

5 This is beautifully documented in Patrick Johnstone’s new work, The Future of the Global Church: History, Trends and Possibilities (Colorado Springs: Biblica, 2011).

6 Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (London: R. Scott, 1912).

7 Steven J. Ybarrola, “Avoiding the Ugly Missionary: Anthropology and Short-Term Missions,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing it Right!, ed. Robert Priest, Evangelical Missiological Society Series 16 (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2008), 101–119.

8 My experience with translation software is that really ordinary conversations are difficult enough, let alone communicating the gospel into a culture I have no feel for. I recall one message where the software translated a Russian speaker’s greeting as, “Hello, expensive brother!” After pondering what kind of an insult my friend intended by this greeting, I eventually figured out that “expensive” was the software’s way of translating “dear.” But it didn’t give me much confidence in the rest of the message.

9 This is not to deny that short-term trips can be mutually beneficial if they follow strict “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Mission” guidelines referred to in fn. 11. The anecdote above only illustrates that as of this writing, the problems are still dire in spite of efforts to mitigate them.

10 We are with the missiologists at this point, battling against the popular temptation to define “better world” as “more like the wealthy part of the world.”

11 For “Standards of Excellence in Short Term Missions,” see For excellent summaries on partnership principles, see Mary T. Lederleitner, Cross-Cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2010); The Lausanne Movement, “The Lausanne Standards: Affirmations and Agreements for Giving and Receiving Money in Mission,” Documents,; Phill Butler, Well Connected: Releasing Power, Restoring Hope through Kingdom Partnerships (Colorado Springs: Authentic Publishing, 2005); and Daniel Rickett, Making Your Partnership Work: A Guide for Ministry Leaders (Enumclaw, WA: WinePress, 2002).

12 For example, Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 51–64, describe “holistic/dichotomistic thinking;” Duane Elmer, Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In around the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002), 142–49, sketches “categorical/holistic thinking”; and Paul G. Hiebert, Transforming Worldviews: An Anthropological Understanding of How People Change (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008), ch. 2, deals with different kinds of logic. (My thanks to Missio Dei editor, Greg McKinzie, for these helpful references after the conference.) Jim Harries speaks of the issue most often as “monistic/dualistic thinking.”

13 John Walsh, an astute practitioner of orality (, explained this to me in a memorable personal conversation in October 2011.

14 David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series 16 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991).

15 The International Council of Ethnodoxologists,, states: “We facilitate online networking and provide resources for the development of culturally appropriate Christian worship, utilizing insights from ethnomusicology, missiology, worship studies and the arts.” See also James R. Krabill, ed., Worship and Mission for the Global Church: An Ethnodoxology Handbook (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2013).

16 An entire cultural profile can be sketched using proverbs as points for a “connect the dots” approach. This is what I have done on American culture in the book American Cultural Baggage: How to Recognize and Deal with It (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2005).

17 I am currently making a personal attempt on this one, which you can see in my book Waking Up to the Messiah (Morton, IL: Enculturation Books, 2011). The book sketches an annual cycle of festivals that together tell the whole story of Scripture. A two-page diagram of the cycle is downloadable at

18 They are not “two gospels” but two ways of presenting and explaining the gospel. McKnight clearly shows that the gospel of the kingdom is summarized in the same biblical passage that the gospel of salvation advocates claim as theirs, 1 Cor 15:1–3. See Scot McKnight, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 40–43.

20 Mary Lederleitner, unpublished paper presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

21 Thomas Oduro, et al., Mission in an African Way: A Practical Introduction to African Instituted Churches and Their Sense of Mission, Marturia series (Wellington, South Africa: BybelMedia, 2008), 159–60.

22 We may note that 1 Cor 1 does not entirely exclude the strong from mission. Not many strong are called (1:26), but a few are. I don’t think that means that the church really needs to thank God for those few strong ones and build its whole approach to mission around them and their strengths. I think it means rather that God’s preferred way and most common way of getting his mission done is the surprising way, through apparently weak people and groups. He does weave a few “strong” people into the tapestry but they are not the ones holding everything together.

23 COSIM is the Coalition on the Support of Indigenous Ministries ( In spite of its name, it is not about funding of indigenous ministries but partnering with them in a variety of ways. ION is the International Orality Network (

24 Thanks to the influence of writers like John Piper and programs like the Perspectives course, there is increased attention to the connection of mission and the glory of God. Ralph Winter and Steven Hawthorne, eds., Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 4th ed. (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2009); see especially Hawthorne’s article on pp. 49–63 and Piper’s on pp. 64–69.

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What Is That In Your Hand?: Mobilizing Local Resources

In this manuscript, I share key experiences from my sixteen years of cross-cultural ministry in Cambodia in regard to mobilization of local resources. Additionally, I speak of Jesus’ incredible ingenuity for affirming and mobilizing local resources. Through personal experiences, biblical examples, and insights from others, I challenge cross-cultural Christian workers to avoid imposing outside resources, but rather facilitate local people to mobilize their local resources.

God had informed Moses that he was to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of their mental and physical prison into a land groomed and cultivated by God. Moses asked God with a great amount of pleading in his voice, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me?” God responded to Moses, “Throw that old rickety stick aside and let me give you something worthwhile for the task!” Surely, God did not respond in such a manner. Rather, God asked, “What is that in your hand?” (Exod 4:2).2

God did not give Moses additional resources but rather affirmed and used what was already in Moses’ hand. All missionaries should adopt the same question, both as a working question on the field and as a driving principle for their mission paradigm. A question that asks the local people, “What is that in your hand that God can use?” In the book Walk Out Walk On, Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze share about communities that have learned to work with what they have to create what they need.3 If we were to turn this into a Moses-type question, we would ask: “What can you and God do with what you have to create what you need?”

In this article, I will share “aha moments” that I have experienced during my sixteen years of cross-cultural ministry in Cambodia in regard to mobilization of local resources. In addition, I will speak of Jesus’ incredible ingenuity for affirming and mobilizing local resources.

I was riding with a group of Cambodians in a truck to a village. In a ministry setting, most of these Cambodians were very timid and unsure of themselves as communicators of Jesus Christ. But, there in the truck they communicated with animation, passion, and confidence. What was the difference? They were interacting with stories, proverbs, riddles, and songs versus logical explanations and debates. In that very moment the truth dawned on me—I had imported and forced my teaching styles on the Cambodians. I cleverly taught the Cambodian believers how to study and present the Word of God through systematic theology, definitions, outlines, reasoning, apologetics, and interpreted narratives. While some of those who learned from me sorted out how to communicate like a Westerner, their Cambodian audience looked at them with blank stares.

I had made a huge mistake. I imported my resources and modes of teaching and communication. It was time for me to be the vulnerable one—not them.

I gathered up all my Western-oriented materials that I had written in the local language, tossed them in a cabinet, locked the door, and threw away the key. Then I started asking the Cambodians the Moses-type question: “What do you have in your hand?” The Cambodians revealed, “We have stories, drama, symbols, rituals, parables, riddles, ditties, poetry, music, songs, and dance.” Indeed, these were the resources of communication that the Cambodians could use for all aspects of ministry: planting the gospel, discipleship, training, teaching, counseling, and so forth. My duty as a missionary was to recognize, affirm, and learn how to use their local resources. I liken the missionary’s role to that of a cheerleader. We do not have to tell others how to play the game or play it for them, rather we cheer them on saying, “You can do it!”

I entered the Cambodian church and looked for a place to sit down. My favorite time of the week was when I could praise and worship God with Cambodians in the local language. While I was worshiping, I noticed a Cambodian man worshiping in a way different from all the others. I curiously leaned over to take a closer look. At that moment, I realized that the man was blind. Unlike the others, his posture represented pronounced reverence. He worshipped God the exact way a Cambodian would behave in the presence of a king or someone important: bowed lowly, no eye contact, and both hands tightly pushed together, pressed against the chest. The others worshipped standing straight up, seemingly making eye contact with God, and hands lifted upward with armpits showing. This experience would not be so bad, if I were not the one who planted the church.

I had made another a huge mistake. I imported my form of Western worship. Why? I knew better, but I wanted to plant a church before I could grasp the indigenous music of Cambodia. Since a real church needed formal worship—so I thought—I took a shortcut and introduced some Western songs translated into the Cambodian language and modeled modes of worship from my experience in North America.

Again, I should have asked the Cambodians, “What is in your hand?” They would have answered, “A roneat, a pia, a chapey, a tro, a skor. We use pinpeat, chreing chapey narrative singing, ayai repartee singing, shadow plays, melodies that tell stories, lullabies, mohori ensembles, plengkar, ramvong, and so forth.” I should have continued to ask, “What is the most culturally relevant form of worship for you?”

It was time for me to be the vulnerable one—learn, adapt, and facilitate the Cambodians to produce their own indigenous hymnody: “a body of hymns and spiritual songs which are composed by members of an ethnic group and thought of as being their own.”4

A local Cambodian pastor requested that I work alongside of him to train a church planting team. I remember the first training session well. I made the following request: “Please, each one of you share your story of how you came to know and walk with Christ.” Their stories were similar: “I received free eyeglasses. . . .” “The Christian organization gave us rice. . . .” “I was given a job with an NGO. . . .”

I knew we were in trouble in regard to planting healthy indigenous churches. In a matter of months, the church planters requested eyeglasses, rice, and connections to job opportunities to share among the people with whom they were planting churches. Additionally, they expected material goods and financial compensation for their effort in church planting. I had matured enough to know that the moment I gave subsidies to the church planters and material goods for them to use as handouts, I would have created unhealthy dependency on me. Subsequently, the local pastor and I encouraged the church planters to remain bi-vocational and find ways to share compassion with their local resources—visit a patient in the hospital, work side by side on a project, teach a child to read, and any other compassionate acts that start with what is in hand.

Imported teaching styles, worship forms, and welfare evangelism were all detrimental to the process of mobilizing local resources for the sake of healthy indigenous churches that make a difference in their Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria (Acts 1:8).

Almost on a daily basis, I receive emails from Africa, India, and Asia. The emails are always requests. “Please come and do crusades. Please conduct seminars for our leaders. Send materials, books, and DVDs. Will you partner with us?” Most emails state a little something that informs me that the invitation involves money. All the emails are from seemingly well-established leaders. What does this reveal to me? It reveals to me that something went wrong in the birthing and early development stages of those churches and organizations. The planter or those giving birth instilled a mindset that resources from the inside are inferior.

Capable leaders are driven to look constantly outside themselves to the West for their human and material resources. Instead of mobilizing people and resources around them, they make pleas to those completely removed from the context. These churches and ministries are sometimes kilometers apart from one another. Instead of reaching out and collaborating with one another, they bypass capable disciples of Christ in their own villages, districts, states, regions, countries, and continents to ask for help from the point farthest from them. In my perspective, it is time for the West to ask, “What can you and God do with what you have to create what you need?”

Yesterday, I received an email from India. The sender of the email has completed master of divinity and master of mheology degrees. This minister is now pursuing a PhD in missions. The purpose of the email was to make a request for books, DVDs, and magazines to do research on the house church movement. The composer of the email expressed that he wanted the resources for free because he could not afford to buy materials for his research.

One reason local Christians in places such as India feel the need to look to the West for resources is because Western missionaries and churches have conveyed the message that the educated and the affluent have some sort of edge in fulfilling the Great Commission. We have introduced structures and paradigms that are complicated, expensive, and definitely not mandated by Jesus for the purpose of making disciples in all nations. It is slightly ironic that the Indian gentleman came full circle. In other words, he has spent a significant amount of human and material resources to eventually research the house church movement, which has a secondary name: the simple church movement—a method that intentionally promotes simplicity, low maintenance, usage of local resources, and reproducibility. I have two books on this subject sitting on my desk entitled The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity and Simply Church.5

Keep in mind that simple does not mean inferior. On the contrary, simple has an element of purity, authenticity, depth, and of course reproducibility. “It is not that the content is simplistic or shallow—it is often very profound—but the pattern for doing it is simple and therefore easily reproduced.”6

Being seminary trained or well funded certainly were not key ingredients to fulfilling the Great Commission for the disciples or Paul. Ben Chikazaza, a church leader in Zimbabwe, answered his own question:

I wonder what the apostles Paul and Peter would say if they came down and saw the state of the church today? They would be shocked at the amount of money needed to convert one soul today! God help the African pastor to remain simple and obedient. The apostle Paul preached a simple gospel and could not demand what was rightfully his for fear that he would be disqualified. David refused to fight Goliath using King Saul’s armour and we cannot fight our battles using the world’s armour. Many of God’s servants are so heavily loaded with materialism that they cannot lift a hand against the enemy.7

Jesus was born right in the midst of local resources—a manger in the town of Bethlehem. As you follow Jesus’ journey through the Gospels, you see that the only resources he introduced from outside the community were himself, the disciples, and signs and wonders. When Jesus entered a community, he utilized resources that already existed in that context to fulfill his ministry. He preached in existing synagogues (Mark 1:39). He preached and had dinner with tax collectors and so-called sinners in homes (Mark 2:2, 15). Large crowds caused Jesus to teach parables from boats along lakeshores and the beatitudes from mountainsides (Mark 4:1; 5:1). When a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the community well, Jesus led her into a saving relationship through himself, the living water (John 4:7). Jesus rebuked demons out of a man and sent them captive into a herd of pigs, which committed suicide by frantically running off a steep bank into a lake (Luke 8:33). He taught the people many things in parables using everyday objects and experiences (Mark 4:2–3). A withering fig tree along the road became a prophetic object lesson (Matt 21:19). The disciples brought a donkey to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and had Jesus sit on it (Luke 19:35). Jesus took bread during a holiday meal, broke it, and gave it to the disciples saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19). Jesus poured water into a basin and washed the disciples’ foul-smelling feet, then dried those feet with a towel that was wrapped around him (John 13:5). Jesus died hanging on a cross made of local wood and was laid in a local tomb, located in the garden near the place where Jesus was crucified (John 19:17, 41–42).

You never read about Jesus opening a duffle bag or a crate to unleash resources on the people. He never requested that Judas give funds to the people to enable them to build a church. He did not send out the disciples with ample supplies and donor funds to set up humanitarian projects. Even when Jesus miraculously fed five thousand people, he accused those recipients who received a free meal of being interested in merely filling their bellies.

Jesus expected the same from his disciples. He trained his disciples on-the-job with local resources and sent them out without even sandals.

There’s a great harvest waiting for you in the fields, but there aren’t many good workers to harvest it. Pray that the Harvest Master will send good workers to the fields. It’s time for you 70 to go. I am sending you out armed with vulnerability, like lambs into a pack of wolves. Don’t bring a wallet. Don’t carry a backpack. I don’t want you to even wear sandals. Walk along barefoot, quietly, without stopping for small talk. When you enter a house seeking lodging, say, “Peace on this house!” If a child of peace—one who welcomes God’s message of peace—is there, your peace will rest on him. If not, don’t worry; nothing is wasted. Stay where you are welcomed. Become a part of the family, eating and drinking whatever they give you. You’re My workers, and you deserve to be cared for. Again, don’t go from house to house, but settle down in a town and eat whatever they serve you. Heal the sick and say to the townspeople, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (Luke 10:2–7; The Voice)

Jesus had church; he didn’t make church. Jesus had church at a water well, in homes, on the mountainside, and in a boat. He made disciples using fig trees, parables, demons in pigs, donkey rides, meals, and washing feet. Jesus was the first to instruct people to share and be generous among the needy; but He did this very thing through loving relationships and creativity, utilizing that which was locally available. Local resources served as the color for Jesus’ artwork of discipleship making. He saw what was near him and turned it into a parable. He used everyday articles to make a life-giving point. Homes and seashores served as his mobile pulpit.

On the contrary, we are so quick to introduce our resources from the outside. We race to set up buildings and impose foreign organizational structures. Missionaries and sponsors serve as conduits of money. While Jesus modeled church in an everyday context, we model church in ways that can only be sustainable through our funding. Both Gailyn Van Rheenen and Jonathan Bonk echo this reality:

“Western temptation is to conceptualize and organize the missionary task on an economic level that can only be sustained by Western support and oversight.” This has resulted in the development of mission strategies which are “money intensive,” signifying that one must have a lot of capital to do Christianity Western-style.8

Josphat Charagu, a pastor in Kenya, expressed to me that the missionaries organized their mission work according to a Western context with complete disregard for the African context and thought. David Phillips, founder of the Nomadic Peoples Network, has revealed that the Western, imported model of church caused nomads to count Christianity as a faith for the rich who can afford to erect and maintain buildings—not a faith for communities who intentionally move from one place to another. A camel herder’s statement says it all: “When you can put your Church on the back of my camel then I will think that Christianity is meant for us Somalis.”9

Pastor Charagu told me how one day he arrived at his church and saw a pile of rocks dumped right in the front of the entrance. He became upset and exclaimed, “I have had enough with our neighbor; he continues to make things difficult for us!” Pastor Charagu called the head of his men’s department to complain. The department leader responded, “Pastor, slow down! The neighbor did not unload those stones in front of the church. One of the cell groups brought those today as part of their contribution to build our permanent church.” Pastor Charagu was utterly encouraged to see the church members give sacrificially and without provocation.

This community of believers plans to build their church using a method called “divide and rule,” which is used by local politicians. Unfortunately, politicians abuse this method, but they plan to implement this approach in a righteous way. In this “divide and rule” manner, different people will be responsible for different facets of building the church, such as the drawing plans, stones, roofing, pillars, windows, and so forth.

The ingenuity, sacrificial commitment, and resolve of Pastor Charagu and his church are an example of the beauty of mobilizing local people and local resources. It is what happens among the people who use local resources through dependence on God and on one another that make the difference: prayer, sacrifice, faith, companionship, gift sharing, creativity, teamwork, capacity building, and perseverance. I guarantee that when you see an elaborate structure built with outside funds, you will NOT see the make-a-difference characteristics that you would observe among a community that has built its own church or creatively found ways to do church within existing structures (homes, community centers, urban garages, businesses, backyards, under trees, etc.) The beauty is in the process, not the finished product. Better the small that reveals a group’s effort toward responsible self-help than the big that reveals donations from outside. Our big and better methods in someone else’s country do not fool God according to Leonard Sweet:

The ancient Hebrews compared God’s workings to the monstrous cedars of Lebanon and wings of eagles. Jesus loves looking at mustard seeds, grains of wheat, leftover crumbs, and barnyard hens. He invites us to look around at our fields, our gardens, our orchards, our vineyards, our backyards. Jesus is not against large but invites us to start small and do little large. “Little is much if God is in it.”10

We need to cease making people of other nations believe that money and what money can accomplish are the key to making disciples. If we despise the small beginnings of other nations by shoving our supposedly efficient, bigger and better structures and methods down their throats, we are guilty of crushing the dignity and initiatives of men and women. We can learn from the interchange between the angel and the prophet Zechariah on behalf of Zerubbabel who was responsible for rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem:

I asked the angel who talked with me, “What are these, my lord?” He answered, “Do you not know what these are?” “No, my lord,” I replied.  So he said to me, “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty. . . . Then the word of the LORD came to me:  “The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this temple; his hands will also complete it. Then you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.  Who despises the day of small things? Men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” (Zech 4:4–10a)

The interaction between the angel of God and Zechariah reveals to us the key ingredients to godly success, which are God’s Spirit and small beginnings. Let us Western missionaries not swallow up these key ingredients by imposing our resources onto others in cross-cultural contexts.

All of us are quick to say that the Bible is our principal and God-given manual for our mission practices. Dr. Christopher Little challenges the distortion of that claim:

Most if not all people involved in fulfilling the Great Commission today would affirm that the sole basis for Christian faith and practice is the Bible. Yet for whatever reason there has been a preoccupation with the former to the neglect of the latter. That is, the church has concentrated on “orthodoxy,” right or correct doctrine and thinking, to the exclusion of “orthopraxy,” right or correct practice and action. This predicament is most discernible in the area of finance since, according to Herbert Kane, “no other one thing has done so much harm to the Christian cause” (1976:91). As such, it is imperative that the Western church recovers biblical models regarding the proper use of money in mission.11

The apostle Paul was the most successful missionary of all time. We would be foolish to count his orthodoxy as passé. Paul purposely set aside regular support for himself, expected the churches he birthed to be self-supporting from the beginning, and encouraged poor churches to contribute to those who were facing famine, all for the greater purpose of planting healthy churches. Jesus and the disciples gave of themselves endlessly, yet that giving never included an unloading of material resources on a people. If we appreciate the success of Jesus, the disciples, and Paul, we may want to take their practices more seriously.

God asked Moses what was in his hand. Jesus asked the same question indirectly throughout his ministry on earth (John 21:6). Philip emphasized what the Ethiopian eunuch was holding in his hand—the Scriptures (Acts 8:30). Paul exhorted Timothy to fan into flame his resource—the gift of God that was given to him through the laying on of hands (2 Tim 1:6).

Instead of being providers of resources, let us affirm and facilitate local people’s identification and mobilization of their local resources to create what they need. May the question, “What is in your hand?” be forever on our lips as we participate in the Great Commission. In this way, God will receive the glory, not us.

Jean Johnson, a cross-cultural communicator, spent 23 years living and serving among Cambodians in the USA and in Cambodia specializing in worldview strategic church planting, orality, and reproducible training. Presently, Jean is a co-director of World Mission Associates and an international coach in parts of Asia, Africa, and North America. She coaches and teaches pastors, churches, missionaries, organizations, and teams on how to intentionally inspire indigenous people to mobilize their local capabilities, resources, and cultural creativity. Her publications include We Are Not the Hero: A Missionary’s Guide for Sharing Christ, Not a Culture of Dependency (Sisters, Oregon: Deep River Books, 2012), reviewed in the present issue.


Bonk, Jonathan J. Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem. American Society of Missiology Series 15. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Chikazaza, Ben. “Self-Reliance and the Church.” The Network for Strategic Missions (October 1997):

Dale, Tony, and Felicity Dale. Simply Church. Austin, TX: Karis Publishing, 2002.

Fitts, Robert. The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity. Salem, OR: Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001.

Little, Christopher. “Partnerships in Pauline Perspective: The Economics of Partnership.” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 61–68.

Phillips, David J. Peoples on the Move: Introducing the Nomads of the World. Grand Rapids: IVP, 2001.

Schrag, Brian, and Paul Neeley. All the World Will Worship: Helps for Developing Indigenous Hymns. 3rd ed. Duncanville, TX: EthnoDoxology Publications, 2005.

Sweet, Leonard. Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. “MR #2: Money and Mi$$ion$.”

Wheatley, Margaret, and Deborah Frieze. Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now. BK Currents. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2011.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a lecture presented at the Abilene Christian University “Global Conference on Vulnerable Mission,” March 7–10, 2012.

2 All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, unless noted otherwise.

3 Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, Walk Out Walk On: A Learning Journey into Communities Daring to Live the Future Now, BK Currents (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2011), 3.

4 Brian Schrag and Paul Neeley, All the World Will Worship: Helps for Developing Indigenous Hymns, 3rd ed. (Duncanville, TX: EthnoDoxology Publications, 2005), 3.

5 Robert Fitts, The Church in the House: A Return to Simplicity (Salem, OR: Preparing the Way Publishers, 2001); Tony Dale and Felicity Dale, Simply Church (Austin, TX: Karis Publishing, 2002).

6 Dale and Dale, 70.

7 Ben Chikazaza, “Self-Reliance and the Church,” The Network for Strategic Missions (October 1997):

8 Christopher Little, “Partnerships in Pauline Perspective: The Economics of Partnership,” International Journal of Frontier Missiology 27, no. 2 (Summer 2010): 64, quoting Gailyn Van Rheenen, “MR #2: Money and Mi$$ion$,”,, and Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem, American Society of Missiology Series 15 (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 40, respectively.

9 David J. Phillips, Peoples on the Move: Introducing the Nomads of the World (Grand Rapids: IVP, 2001), xiii.

10 Leonard Sweet, Nudge: Awakening Each Other to the God Who’s Already There (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 37.

11 Little, 65.

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The King’s English in a Tamil Tongue: Missions, Paternalism, and Hybridity in South India

This paper looks at problems that have occurred in Church of Christ missions by focusing on a case study in India called the Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission. The paper argues that paternalism in a cappella church missions has led to a “time capsule effect” wherein churches in India have become stultified. Indian Church of Christ members have developed a hybrid identity. They try to be faithful to the sending churches—in this case Canada’s valiant missionary J. C. Bailey—but they have to balance it with faithfulness to their own culture. Several issues are brought forth such as Bible translations (especially the use of the King James Version), contextualization and indigenization, and the unfortunate dependency that often arises in Church of Christ missions efforts.

To begin, I will share a quotation from the person described by Christianity Today as “the most important person you don’t know.”2 Andrew Walls is the dean of the relatively new discipline that I work in, known as world Christianity, or global Christianity. Walls is a Scottish, Oxbridge educated scholar who went to Sierra Leone in 1957 to serve as a church history professor in a colonial college. What he witnessed in Africa changed his understanding of Christianity and gave birth to a new academic discipline. While “happily pontificating” on early Christianity, Walls came to realize he “was actually living in a second-century church.”3 Africans were rapidly turning to Christ, and he was a front-row observer. He began to see that the Christianity his British compatriots had established was becoming translated and assimilated to the local context in creative, unpredictable ways. Africa was becoming the Christian heartland of the world, but it was complex, uncontrolled, vibrantly new, and unsettled.

Walls has made a career out of analyzing how Christianity gets translated and indigenized in new cultures. In his view, this is the genius of Christianity; its “translatability.” Walls’s ideas overhauled the field of church history to the point that most classic models are now obsolete. His work has impacted the discipline to the point that no longer can the history of Christians be told in an exclusively Western framework: Acts to Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Wesley to Barth. Now, church history should be told in all its manifold greatness and extreme diversity. At Pepperdine I advertise my World Christianity course as a study of Christianity that moves from South Korea to South America, from South Africa to South Carolina.

Andrew Walls has globalized the discipline of church history by making us think globally, even when dealing with our own personal, local faith traditions. In his watershed essay, “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History” he writes:

The church that is the subject of church history is implicitly defined as the church we ourselves know—our tradition as it has developed. In principle, there is no harm in this focus, provided we know what we are doing, and provided also we do more than this. It is natural and right to seek to understand one’s own tradition; it means to know who one’s ancestors are.

But there are lurking dangers, both historical and theological. One is that we think by the study of our own tradition we are doing church history. We are not—we are doing our church history. If this is the only lens through which we study Christian history, we have bypassed the story of the whole people of God in favor of clan history. Such an approach reduces the area in which we look for the works of God, whereas the promises of God are to all who trust them. The Lord of Hosts is not to be treated as a territorial Baal.4

Walls’s recommendation is a “Reconception of the Syllabus.” I am only one of many in a new generation who have taken Walls’s advice seriously, and most of the “history” that I write, I like to believe, respects the “whole history of the people of God.”

As a result, this article is a hybrid of local and global. It is “local” in the sense that it is indeed “clan history.” It is global in the sense that it is looking at how my form of Christianity managed to make its way to the other side of the planet. While not explicit, it has a practical dimension to it as well. It analyzes a small moment in time in the Churches of Christ missionary experience.

I am sensitive to the fact that these events took place within my clan, among my people. Telling stories such as these are important, but must be done carefully. I certainly hope that by looking at the mistakes and triumphs of our forebears, we learn to improve. It is my goal to be sensitive to whatever tradition I study, be it a different form of Christianity or a different religion altogether. We must treat other traditions with respect and dignity when telling their story. However, the same should apply when telling our own story. In this article, I try to handle my Restoration history with great care since it is the tradition that nourished me, and it is the tradition wherein I encounter the Risen Christ as Savior and Lord.


Due partly to paternalism in the church, the non-instrumental—or a cappella— Churches of Christ in India have become a time capsule wherein members show great loyalty to the form of Christianity brought to them decades earlier by deeply convicted missionaries. A hybrid identity develops, and it is fraught with ambivalence, resulting in social dislocation. Members become increasingly isolated on two fronts: (1) their own culture views them as insular and sectarian, while (2) their supporting congregations in the Western world see them as out of touch with newer developments in the faith, sometimes legalistically holding on to teachings long considered obsolete in the home church, or, the sending church. This article examines issues in cross-cultural missions, focusing on paternalism and the continued use of the King James Version of the Bible in a Church of Christ network in South India. I use the KJV as a touchstone for investigating complex issues that arise when Christianity is planted from one culture into another, very different one.

In 2003 I traveled to India for the first time to do my doctoral research. I needed to access archives and conduct interviews in several places, but it was crucial that I travel to the southeastern state of Tamil Nadu. In preparation for my trip I did a Google search for “India Church of Christ” and the first hit was

I had a good feeling about the website, particularly since it had many hallmarks of the Church of Christ tradition, notably the ubiquitous use of the King James Version of the Bible. At the top of the homepage it read “I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness (John 12:46).” When combining this website’s “C of C” jargon, its strong emphasis on immersion for the forgiveness of sins, and the use of the KJV, it was a dead giveaway: I was dealing with old school, died-in-the-wool, bona fide Church of Christ folk.

I immediately sent an email to that church, which happened to be based in Chennai. I had never been to India, I had no idea who these people were, and I knew not one person in the entire nation of India. The next day I had a reply in my inbox. They claimed to be faithful Church of Christ members, they were happy to pick me up at the airport, they offered to feed and house me during my stay, and they promised to provide any kind of support that I might need for as long as I needed it. Such is the nature of membership in the Church of Christ; there is immediate trust and rapport, even amongst strangers.

The Church of Christ

The Church of Christ is a loosely organized fellowship of over three million members worldwide.5 They refuse to call themselves a denomination since they have no hierarchy, creed, or central organization. Rooted in the Scottish independence church movements of the eighteenth century, they matured under the leadership of Thomas (1763–1854) and Alexander Campbell (1788–1866) and Barton W. Stone (1772–1844) in the nineteenth century. All three of these men began their careers as Presbyterian ministers. The Campbells were immigrants from Scotland while Stone was born near Port Tobacco, Maryland. Their early careers coincided with a very fractious time in the Presbyterian Church on both sides of the Atlantic. Discouraged, all three of them broke away from their Presbyterian affiliations in order to pursue a more ecumenical approach that emphasized the reasonableness of the Bible in determining right Christian doctrine and practice. With great confidence, they proclaimed their system and approach as a true “Restoration,” meaning they believed the ancient practices of the early church as portrayed in the New Testament were finally being restored.

The movement was attractive, and it mushroomed. It was a major player in the ecclesial context of early America, especially in the Second Great Awakening of the nineteenth century. This “Stone-Campbell” tradition grew and fragmented several times. It is estimated today that there are approximately 14 million people in 180 countries who associate themselves with the larger Restoration Movement.6 To be clear, the specific wing of the tradition that I am associated with—and the tradition dealt with in this article—is the non-instrumental Church of Christ. Without unpacking the nuances and distinctions between the various streams of the Restoration movement, it will suffice to point out that the most distinctive feature of the “Church of Christ” is the lack of instruments in worship. Thus this specific movement is generally referred to as the a cappella wing of the Stone-Campbell tradition, or the “non-instrumental Churches of Christ.” As the Restoration tradition splintered in the late-nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century, the a cappella group made its mark as the most theologically conservative strand of the movement, and it still carries that reputation.7

The Church of Christ in India and the KJV

The United States has the largest national Church of Christ population with around 1.6 million members. India also has a significant Church of Christ presence with estimates ranging from 600,000 to over a million.8 The story of how the Church of Christ tradition developed in India reflects fascinating cross-cultural dynamics and brings up numerous issues in missions and the indigenization of faith. The persistent use of the KJV in India is one of those issues, and is timely considering the 400-year anniversary of the translation. It is also an area rather unexplored.

It is important to point out that the Church of Christ was never beholden to the King James Version. Indeed Alexander Campbell edited a translation of the New Testament called The Living Oracles in 1826.9 While “extremely popular” in Restoration circles, it was “severely criticized by other church bodies” during its day.10 Nevertheless, due largely to Campbell’s influence, his movement had a very strong “back to the Bible” emphasis. Restoration scholars were at the vanguard of Bible translation throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, pressing for the most precise translations using the oldest and most respected manuscripts available.11 And the King James Version was insufficient on two fronts: (1) the Elizabethan dialect no longer reflected the spoken English of the day, and (2) the manuscripts used in 1611 had been surpassed by superior, more ancient ones.12

It might come as a surprise, then, to learn that until the mid-twentieth century, the KJV’s dominant status in the Church of Christ was never in question. The Scopes Trial in 1925 had the effect of drawing a line in the sand between liberals and conservatives in the United States, and certain individuals in the Church of Christ began “championing the sole use of the KJV.”13 With the publication of the Revised Standard Version in 1946, more conservative elements in the Church of Christ reacted.14 Led by Foy E. Wallace (1896–1979), a polarizing preacher and influential editor of Church of Christ journals, the KJV enjoyed renewed privilege. During the last decade of Wallace’s life, he “continued to speak about errors he saw in ‘the new versions’ in almost every sermon.”15 That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s—the very years that the Church of Christ presence was beginning to grow in India.

In general, the Church of Christ missionaries to India planted a faith strikingly similar to the one they knew back home. There was little regard for the unique cultural context of South Asia. Cultural intricacies were scarcely taken into account as the gospel was disseminated along the eastern coast from Shillong in the tribal northeast to Madras in the south. And the gospel as understood by those pioneering preachers was plain and simple. As Jesus announced in Matthew 7:14, “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (kjv).

Indeed, North American a cappella Churches of Christ in the mid-twentieth century had an exclusivist soteriology that was transported overseas through mission work.16 This is clearly evinced in an annual Church of Christ missions report entitled The Harvest Field. In 1947, in the chapter on India, the author Bill Phillips deplored the status of religion in that country. He wrote, “The Hindu religion is one of the most iniquitous systems ever devised by man. Surely Satan must have had a direct hand in riveting the shackles of such bondage upon a helpless people.” For the year 1947, that perspective was not unique to Churches of Christ. What is surprising, however, is the blatant censure of other Christians conducting mission work there. Phillips continues:

And what shall we say of those who in their search for Christ have turned to the denominations? They have not the truth, for the denominations have not the truth, and only the truth can save them.17

Phillips laments that, to his knowledge, there is not a single Church of Christ missionary in all of India. He then provides very curious advice for the prospective Church of Christ missionary who might venture into the Indian mission field: “I am inclined to recommend ‘invading’ the territory of the Christian Church . . . but others might not consider this the best policy.”18

This was a very strange perspective because, theologically, the Christian Church is the closest relative to the Church of Christ. The major difference is that the Christian Church chose to use instruments in worship whereas the Church of Christ did not. Phillips reasoned that the most logical targets for evangelism were actually those closest to the Church of Christ because they could be won with the least resistance. Hindus could not be effectively evangelized unless one was to go through the rigors of learning local Indian dialects.19 “Mohammedans”—or, Muslims—were considered too tenacious in their beliefs and were therefore not a good place to start.20 Other Christians, however, were fair game, especially those who shared the Restoration heritage. I shall return to this point later.

Arise Shine Mission History

The case study for this article is a Church of Christ network based in Chennai, south India. They go by the name Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission, or, ASCOCM. They are a registered charity in India and do all kinds of relief and benevolent work ranging from orphan homes to disaster relief. They have around 60 village churches involved with “the mission” as they call it, and they employ preachers in most of these. Their work is concentrated in the states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh and is overseen by a group of elders. The real authority, however, is the director of the charity, a young preacher named Jasuran Roy Knight.21 I know Roy Knight personally and have spent considerable time with him in India and in the US. He was born in 1979 to Indian Church of Christ parents. In 1995 he was baptized at the age of 16. After considering various occupations, he chose to become a preacher.

Roy’s personal faith testimony revolves around two important biblical passages: the Great Commission of Matthew 28, and Isaiah 60:1, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” Disgusted by what he deems the “idol worship” of his birth country, he vowed to rise up and bring Christ to his countrymen. He claims to have experienced severe resistance in his ministry. People have spit at him, used witchcraft against him, thrown poisonous snakes at him, and even attacked him—in one case with a knife that left gruesome scars on his arms. He even claims that one of his coworkers was murdered in 2008 for preaching the gospel in a hostile village. Over the last decade, Roy has assembled a ragtag team of evangelists who preach the gospel against the odds. They are poorly paid and rely on Roy’s fundraising to make ends meet. These men take charge of one or two village churches and Roy makes his rounds to each of them, usually over the course of a month. One of the first preachers he recruited to the work was an untouchable Hindu man with leprosy who accepted the gospel in 1999 and began ministering almost immediately.22

While the Arise Shine Church of Christ Mission is only about a decade old, its antecedents go back to the 1920s when Roy’s great grandfather, a Hindu man, converted to Christianity after being persuaded by North American missionaries. These missionaries were not from the Church of Christ, however. While there were a few scattered Church of Christ elements in India by that time, this family was evangelized by J. C. Bailey, a Canadian missionary who, in their words, “trained many 1000s of preachers and workers and faithful Christians.”23 A humble training school was soon developed and Roy’s maternal grandfather, G. D. Yesudin, took a leading role in the indigenization of the faith, planting churches and conducting an impressive ministry in rural villages.

Yesudin died in 1977 and his daughter and son-in-law—Roy’s parents—began taking the reins of leadership in the church. Roy’s father, Dayalan, is a gentle and quiet man. He spent his working life employed by the Swiss elevator and escalator company KONE, earning a good salary. He started a house congregation in 1978 and remained committed to the Church of Christ even when they moved to new towns because of his employment. Roy’s parents were doggedly committed to raising their children in the Church of Christ, in spite of the cultural baggage it entailed. They conducted church services in their home and from time to time gathered with like-minded Church of Christ people from other towns. Occasionally, North American missionaries would come, although these visits became less frequent through the years. While Roy’s father Dayalan remained loyal to the Church of Christ tradition, his docile personality prevented him from being an effective evangelist. His role was to keep the Church of Christ beliefs and traditions alive, which he did.

Roy Knight is Dayalan’s oldest son. He has a personality completely different from his father. He is charismatic and outgoing. He has worked for over a decade to expand his family’s church and mission. A highly entrepreneurial minister, Roy organized their ministry into a government-registered charity. He has had great success raising funds in several countries including Singapore, Britain, Germany, Canada, and the US. The daily workload he carries is exhausting, consisting of regular travels to remote villages on dilapidated roads, preaching in several languages, arranging marriages for young couples, sorting out church conflicts, running an orphanage, and managing church finances.24 He claims to have baptized around two thousand people.

Arise Shine and the KJV

The vast majority of Arise Shine’s 60-odd churches function in the vernacular, which is usually Tamil or Telugu, the languages of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. Most of the members are poor, uneducated village folk and do not speak English. However, a few of their city churches are English-speaking. In my interactions with Roy, I began noticing that when preaching in English or studying an English-language Bible, he and his cohorts use the KJV.25 I thought this was odd because the merits of using a more updated version of the Bible are obvious; the KJV’s English is difficult enough for Americans, hence its dwindling popularity.26 Furthermore, Indians who speak English normally do so as a second or third language after their vernacular and Hindi, and the antiquated KJV would seem even less comprehensible for them.27 However, when citing the KJV, I noticed Roy evincing a bizarre fluency.

After repeated conversations I came to realize that the language of the KJV was not the primary issue here; it was much more complex than that. Loyalty to the KJV is directly linked to loyalty to the tradition that had been taught to them in years past by highly committed missionaries. These American missionaries are heroic in the collective memory of this Church of Christ community. They propagated their faith with great confidence. Their version of Christian truth is still canonical in this network. And visiting Roy’s group of churches is like witnessing the opening of a time capsule, like stepping back in time to the Church of Christ of my grandparents. Their teachings and practices have not evolved or indigenized like I had expected. Within 24 hours of my first arrival to Chennai I found myself entangled in long discussions about why instruments in the worship setting could jeopardize a person’s soul, why non-Church of Christ Christians are theologically suspect, why drinking alcohol is a sin, and why women must take no leadership role whatsoever in public worship. Furthermore, I had heard the same arguments laid out in the same ways in the United States. I recognized these teachings as a part of the conservative strands of the Church of Christ heritage, but to witness them being propagated boldly in twenty-first century India hinted at two things: (1) this network probably received support from the most conservative Churches of Christ in North America; and (2) loyalty to the old ways of the missionaries took precedence over cultural relevance in this ministry.

When I arrived to India, I was given a hero’s welcome due to a strange twist of irony. While Indians are famously hospitable, and the Church of Christ connection certainly deepened the immediate level of trust between this community and me, there was something else going on. At the Chennai airport, an SUV full of Church of Christ preachers received me like a long-lost relative, with enthusiastic cheers. I found out later, after lengthy discussions, that they thought I was associated with the missionaries who had brought the gospel to them decades before. I, however, was clueless to all that.

Canadian Missionary J. C. Bailey

When I first traveled to India in 2003 I was actually working on my PhD at the University of Calgary, Canada. This was significant because upon arrival to India, I was surprised to find that this work was actually founded by a legendary Church of Christ missionary from Canada. His name was J. C. Bailey (1903–2001).28 In 1963, at the age of 59, Bailey moved to India as a missionary after many years working in ministry, education, and publishing.29 His towering stature in the Canadian Church of Christ scene is well known and is the subject of at least one master’s thesis.30 I never met J. C. Bailey but I did talk with his brother Cecil by phone once; he called me in 1999 to warmly welcome me to Calgary right before I moved there from Texas. Cecil explained that he would not greet me personally since he was soon to retire to Saskatchewan—at the age of 95. Like his brother J. C., Cecil was a missionary to India for many years.

When these Tamil Christians in Chennai found out I was coming from Canada, they figured I was associated with J. C. Bailey—a very logical assumption—and were very excited to receive me. I burst their bubble by telling them I did not know Bailey and knew almost nothing about his missionary work in India. In their minds, I had been sent to India to “check-up” on the status of the mission and rekindle the connection to the Canadian churches—a connection that had faded through the years. They were disappointed to learn that I merely wanted a place to stay while I did my research. And my dissertation had nothing to do with the Church of Christ movement. I was happy to meet their preachers, visit the orphanage, and even speak in some churches, but my focus was on research. I was clear: I intended to spend my time not out on the front lines of evangelism but in dusty archives at theologically questionable institutions. I was scarcely a shadow of my predecessor, the valorous J. C. Bailey.

In India as well as in Canada, J. C. Bailey is as much myth as man. In his obituary from 2001, one realizes the venerable status reserved only for the most elite “soldiers of the cross”:

Bailey’s influence on people was powerful. . . . He preached his first sermon when he was 17. . . . Bailey was always pushing into new frontiers in an unrelenting quest to seek and save the lost. Whether preaching in a schoolhouse in south Saskatchewan or in the scorching heat of an Indian marketplace, he was ever moving and ever pressing the battle for truth in the kingdom of God. . . . Nothing else seemed to be important except preaching the word and persuading men and women to obey the Lord. . . . As Gandhi stirred the heart of India’s people politically, so brother Bailey stirred their hearts in spiritual things. . . . His love for God encouraged people to change their lives. . . . If there ever was a man whose physical appearance, manner, and movement was that of a great Army General, it was J. C. Bailey. But this tall, straight man with long strides and brisk walk . . . was truly a STALWART SOLDIER OF JESUS CHRIST. Most of us who knew him thought he accomplished more in his fight for the right than any man we had ever known. . . . Like Stonewall Jackson, he had a tremendous ability to inspire his fellow soldiers to fight faithfully and stand valiantly!31

On April 25, 1963, J. C. Bailey and his crew arrived to northeast India to evangelize the people of what is now Meghalaya and Assam. However, within a few short months of arrival, in September, he moved south to Madras. Eventually he set up his mission base at Kakinada, Andhra Pradesh, where he found “South India was a riper field than North India.”32 His co-missionaries in the north of India were devastated. David Hallett, one of the members of the team, recounted that moment in his memoirs:

Then in September of 1963, such a short time after arrival in Shillong, J. C. decided that he and his family would go to Southern India. Of course he offered such to us, but we all knew he was the one going. Ray and I had been promised support of two hundred dollars per month, each, by J. C. We came on one-way tickets. Then the bomb dropped: J. C. would go south and take all the money with him. His promises to the Perrys, Ray and me failed. We were without money support. Talk about being left “high and dry!” We were half way around the world and now what? J. C. had the money. . . . All other monies also went with him. J. C. took little interest in the Northeast and the three small congregations and us. He was what I call a trail blazer, always being lured on by a greener pasture in the venture for souls. During this time, if I had a return ticket I would have left.33

Although various Church of Christ missionaries preceded him, Bailey is described as “lighting a spark for the evangelization of India.”34 What was meant by this, however, was that Bailey lit the spark for a distinctly Church of Christ evangelization in India. When Bailey arrived in 1963, he actually found three a cappella congregations totaling approximately 80 members.35

Bailey worked as a missionary to India for twenty-five years, from 1963 to 1988. During the first nine years he took residence in India. In 1972 he moved back to Canada.36 Between 1972 and 1988 he made twenty more evangelistic trips. It is estimated that over 100,000 faithful Church of Christ members resulted from his ministry there.37 However, statistics in India are rarely taken at face value. For example, Bailey’s first convert in the state of Andhra Pradesh, Joshua Gootam, claims, “There are now estimated to be more than 2 million members of the church [meaning Church of Christ] in this state alone.”38 Nevertheless, the point should not be missed: prior to J. C. Bailey’s arrival in 1963, there were scant traces of the a cappella Church of Christ in India. By the end of his ministry in that nation, there were hundreds of thousands of members—and many of them could trace their origins to Bailey’s work.


Bailey’s great successes and conviction have not been forgotten. This was the great heyday of the non-instrumental Church of Christ in India, and Bailey’s impressive work fostered extreme loyalty to him. Faithfulness and loyalty to this strong leader has resulted in what I am calling a “time capsule effect.” The continued use of the KJV is one aspect of a much larger issue that has historically been identified as “paternalism” in the church. Paternalism is a concept that has been denounced by missionaries and church historians for decades, but Christian leaders even still continue to battle it.

Ideally, missionaries plant churches that evolve and indigenize, and one day become independent. However, the opposite often happens: churches become stunted in their development, becoming ever more dependent on the supporting churches in the West. This loyalty to the parent church is reinforced in various ways: (1) through the memory of the heroic missionaries and preservation of their theology, (2) through continued financial support, and (3) through an unspoken division of authority wherein the missionary remains a father figure, even long after his death.

The phenomenon of missionary paternalism has received considerable scholarly attention in recent years. Boston University historian Dana Robert writes of the many and serious problems it can cause.39 It prevents the sending and receiving churches from developing authentic friendships. It thwarts collegiality by perpetuating unbalanced relationships between foreigners and indigenous. The sending church holds the power. It is able to superimpose everything from the leadership of the church to the formulation of its doctrines, no matter how out of synch they may be with the local culture. Robert defines paternalism as a “father-like relationship between the missionary and the people.” This dependency is very difficult to overcome. She argues that “unreflective paternalism” can prove dangerous since it has often “lacked the equality assumed by modern ideals of friendship.”40

Another historian, University of Edinburgh’s Brian Stanley, writes that while, theoretically, Indian and Western Christians should work shoulder to shoulder as equals, there are often fault lines—racial and otherwise—that prevent “real, intimate, brotherly and sisterly fellowship.” This imbalance of power is “the most fundamental of all missionary failures,” which is why it touches a “raw nerve in the western Christian conscience.”41

Paternalism in the church is not at all unique to Restoration churches. It has long been an Achilles heel for Christian missionaries of other denominations as well, notably the Church of England, which firmly established itself on the Indian subcontinent during the age of empire. Anglican Michael Hollis, Bishop of Madras from 1942 to 1954, bemoaned this situation in his 1962 book entitled Paternalism and the Church.42 Hollis argued that a strong paternalism developed in the nineteenth century as the template for doing mission work in South India. Decrying the “general subordination of Indian Christians to the missionary,” he advocated strongly for indigenization, claiming, “It is not the business of the foreigner to tell Indians what God wants them to do.”43 In Hollis’s view, paternalism in the Indian context proved disastrous. Christianity’s natural development in the subcontinent was stunted because of this dependence on the West. He writes:

Broadly speaking, the mission pattern has been too much concerned to ensure that Indian Christians accepted the right formulations of belief, as developed in the West, and followed the right patterns of behavior, again largely in the Western expressions, of what was believed to be the law of God.44

Hollis urged Christians in both East and West to wake up to the vast cultural differences between them, and to allow a “more truly Indian and more truly Christian Church” to develop.45 There is blame on both sides for this continued “white man’s burden” mentality. Indian reliance on Western funds, for example, is unhealthy. It stifles indigenization and prevents the mission church from reaching out in local ways. There is a sense everything has to be approved by a governing body in the West. The Indian Church becomes a misshapen attempt to replicate the pristine gospel as first transplanted by admirable but imperfect missionaries. As the churches in the West evolve theologically and culturally, the missionary church stultifies, becoming less and less relevant to the culture in which it was planted.

The time capsule effect I witnessed in the Indian Church of Christ is not unusual in the larger history of Christian missions. The New Testament itself shows Paul holding sway over the churches he established and the ministers he shaped. On one level, paternalism in the church manifests just how deeply missionaries are loved by the people they convert. Quite understandably, that admiration can last for generations.

However, when I arrived to India and realized they were dealing with the hot-button issues of my grandparents’ generation, I became curious why they had not evolved along a similar trajectory as in the United States. In North America, Churches of Christ currently discuss matters such as whether to have women preachers, what to do about the instrumental music question, and how many millions of dollars can justifiably be spent on a church building. These issues are not even on the radar in India. They talk about why instruments are flatly wrong, why salvation belongs exclusively to the a cappella Church of Christ, and, crucially for this article, why the king’s English is best for the Tamil tongue.

In preparing this piece, I communicated with Roy Knight, the leader of the Arise Shine Church of Christ network, and inquired specifically about his use of the KJV. His reply came almost immediately, “Brother J. C. Bailey used the King James Version.”46 However, unbeknownst to Roy, J. C. Bailey actually preferred the American Standard Version (ASV), but he used the KJV interchangeably with it.47 This was not uncommon in North America. Many Church of Christ people actually preferred the literalness of the 1901 ASV because of their “back to the Bible” convictions. In the first half of the twentieth century there was no major controversy over whether the Church of Christ should use the KJV or the ASV. It was not until the second half of the twentieth century that this issue escalated. It was the fiery sermons of Foy E. Wallace that made this issue explosive in North America. These debates played out in the Indian Church of Christ context as well, just more subtly.

I contacted Ray McMillan—one of the missionaries who joined Bailey in 1963—to understand how the KJV came to be normative in many of the English-speaking Churches of Christ in India.48 Ray outlined a complex story that illustrates the fact that while the KJV and ASV were both accepted, it was the RSV, published around 1950, that was considered by some to be pernicious. Both J. C. Bailey and Ray McMillan arrived to India with the 1901 American Standard Version. However, the third missionary in their group, a former sailor and recent convert named David Hallett, was a KJV-only man.49

Ray McMillan was only 21 years old when he began working with J. C. Bailey in 1963. In his ministry, he soon began to realize that the 1901 ASV—like the KJV—was difficult for English-speaking Indians to understand. So shortly before leaving on his first furlough to America, Ray put the controversial—but far more readable—RSV (Revised Standard Version) into the church pews, unaware of the sensitivity of the matter. His colleague, David Hallett, found out about this and took action. When Ray returned to India, he discovered that the RSVs were gone and KJV Bibles had been installed in the pews. He did not cause a fuss about it since he was quite a bit younger than Hallett.50

The residual effect is that some English-speaking Church of Christ groups in India still insist on using the KJV. What translation is used generally has to do with the missionary held in the highest regard. For example, in northeast India, the churches under the influence of Ray McMillan are actually using the New International Version now, probably due to his theological influence. After all, he has been involved in their work continuously since 1963. They trust the translation he uses. Other Church of Christ networks, like Arise Shine, have tried to remain loyal to J. C. Bailey and the earlier, more conservative missionaries. The English-speaking churches associated with David Hallett’s ministry—both in India and America—still use the KJV.51


A final issue that comes to the fore has to do with hybridity, or, the blended identity that many Indian Christians deal with today.52 Tamil fealty to the king’s English is part of a much broader phenomenon of living in India with a faith that is perceived as being Western. There is a considerable body of scholarship dealing with religious and cultural hybridity in the context of Indian Christianity.53 Historian Robert Frykenberg’s work is perhaps the most important. With an unparalleled breadth of understanding, including his own missionary upbringing in India, he speaks of the suffering that many Indians have endured because of this “dual identity.”54 This hybridity plays out in various ways. For instance, in the nineteenth century there was a “Hindu Christian” movement that became a precursor to Indian independence movements.55 Describing themselves as “ ‘Hindu’ in culture, Christian in faith,” they upheld Hindu traditions that were objectionable to Europeans.56 For example, some Hindu Christians directly opposed missionary efforts to dispose of caste-ism in the church. He writes, “Among converts to Christianity . . . what was notable was the tenacity with which they preserved traditional culture and avoided, or even spurned, ways of the West.” Another example was the famous Indian Christian convert Sadhu Sundar Singh who declared “Indians need the Water of Life, but not the European cup.”57

In spite of indigenization movements, there were—and are—problems stemming from the hybrid identity of being an Indian and a Christian, especially when caste is involved.58 A change in religion does not translate to a change in caste. Buddhism, Janism, Sikhism, and Christianity have all—at one point or another—served as vehicles of hope for low-caste people trying to escape the albatross of social stigmatization. And in more cases than not, those attempts have failed. In most cases, caste is more fundamental to Indian identity than is religion. It is much easier for one to change his or her religion than it is to change caste.

In the Indian Churches of Christ, there is definitely a sense of having a foot in two worlds, of living a hybrid existence. Their religion came from North America. However, the majority of them know little of North America outside of media influences, stories, and the occasional missionary visit. For most of the Church of Christ members however, particularly in the village, North America is that Christian land from whence their heroes in the faith came.

Living as a Church of Christ Christian in a sea of non-Church of Christ people requires a certain duality that allows the Christian to function as a member of Indian society without compromising the Christian ideals that have become sacred to the community. There are many tensions in living this way, however. Church of Christ identity in modern India is a rather insular affiliation, perhaps best exemplified in an old, self-deprecating Church of Christ joke: A man dies and goes to heaven. The apostle Peter welcomes him and gives him a tour of heaven. As they walk they notice Christians of all stripes—Methodists, Baptists, and Catholics. But then the man asks Peter, “Who are those people in that room by themselves?” Peter responds, “Shhhh . . . those are members of the Church of Christ; they think they’re the only ones here.”59 Here again we encounter another one of those issues that was central a few generations ago in the Church of Christ, but today is considered rather backward and outdated. Today, very few American Church of Christ members under the age of 40 argue theirs is the only group with a heavenly passport. But in India, this teaching is still common, even assumed. I know from personal experience because I questioned it once . . . and should not have.


To return to Andrew Walls, and his experiences in Sierra Leone, he described the amazing situation he was observing as “a symbiosis, very carefully fused.” He recognized the indigenous forms of faith as being Christian, of course, but with a profoundly African bent. He discusses how when he first arrived to Africa, he was depressed by what he saw.60 Christianity there was uncontrolled, unrestrained, and in many ways foreign to his conservatively tamed Methodist background. However, after ruminating on the implications of a truly African revival taking place, Walls experienced a “very definite movement from depression to hope.”61 During Walls’s ministry in Sierra Leone, the days of European control over African politics were grinding to a halt—Sierra Leone itself gained independence from Britain in 1961. The Christian faith that the missionaries had brought, however, would remain. It was almost as if Britain handed the baton of faith to Africa. Britain is largely secular now while Africa is home to 500 million Christians and growing. Christianity is now the largest religion on the continent of Africa—a statistic unimaginable a century ago.

The Church of Christ in India, however, has not turned into the fused symbiosis that Walls witnessed in Africa. Rather, the time capsule would be a more fitting analogy. And major challenges loom because of this theological and cultural stagnation. Members remain deeply loyal to the form of Christianity brought to them decades earlier by stalwart missionaries. This hybrid identity is fraught with ambivalence, resulting in a form of social dislocation. Members become increasingly isolated—they appear insular and sectarian in their own culture, yet remain somehow different and distant from the Churches of Christ in the West. To borrow a concept from prominent sociologist Peter Berger, these Christians become “homeless minds”—unable to call either culture home, yet marginally affiliated with both.

It appears to me that the Indian Churches of Christ with which I am associated have made a decision. They have chosen the faith of the zealous evangelists who first came to them half a century ago. And it appears that faithfulness to the traditions of those missionaries has become necessary for ecclesial survival. Challenging the faith of the missionaries could prove disruptive on a number of levels. For instance, it could destabilize conviction in a setting where religious commitments must be sheltered from the religious cacophony in the surrounding culture. The case of the KJV illustrates why loyalty to the old paths must be maintained. If confidence in the Bible can be eroded, then the solid faith that was built on a “back to the Bible” worldview could become crippled. Moreover, if one aspect of the missionaries can be critiqued, then where does the scrutinizing end? Thus, it has become taboo to question the founding fathers.

So far, the Arise Shine Church of Christ members have made the collective decision to resist the larger culture and live a rather insular existence. Forsaking all others they hold on tightly to their image of J. C. Bailey. Conversion has always come with benefits as well as challenges. The risks of being persecuted, marginalized, or cast out must be weighed against spiritual liberation, social mobility, or other opportunities that might otherwise not exist. The benefits can be palpable, but there is a gamble. Indians are faced with a balancing act between how to be Church of Christ without abandoning their Indian identity. The stakes are high, the situation complex.

I conclude with a story relayed to me by Ray McMillan, one of the two missionaries who went to India with Bailey’s family. Ray told me that on his first Sunday in India, J. C. Bailey took him to a community near Shillong, Meghalaya, to preach publicly using a microphone and a portable amplifier. Bailey preached about the evils of instruments in the church. He scorned the concept of missionary societies, arguing they were unbiblical. He took issue with church names, arguing that “Church of Christ” was the only acceptable name for a church. He unpacked the subtleties of why the Church of Christ is distinct from the independent Christian Church.62 Ray thought the sermon to be awkward and irrelevant to these people who had no knowledge of these esoteric debates that went on in the North American context.

The two missionaries split shortly after that, due mainly to Bailey’s move to south India. Nevertheless, Bailey remained convinced that Ray was far too liberal to work as a missionary in the foreign field. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote that Ray McMillan had proven himself to be “unfaithful” to the gospel.63 Fifty years later, however, Ray continues his missionary work in India. When Ray told me that story, he tried to chuckle and gloss it over. I sensed, however, that those words still hurt him deep down.

Dyron Daughrity is Associate Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. He is the author of numerous academic publications, including his most recent book Church History: Five Approaches to a Global Discipline (New York: Peter Lang, 2012). He can be reached at:


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Hallett, David William. The Serpentine Road. Privately printed by Jim E. Waldron, 2008.

Harper, Susan Billington. In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

Hinnells, John, ed. The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion. 2nd ed. London: Routledge, 2010.

Hollis, Michael. Paternalism and the Church: A Study of South Indian Church History. London: Oxford University Press, 1962.

“In Memory of David William Hallett: October 11, 1935–December 16, 2011.” Dignity Memorial.

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Jacobs, Lyndsay. “The Stone-Campbell Movement—A Global View.” Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry 17, no. 3 (Third Quarter 2009): 141–42,

Kent, Eliza. Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Knight, R. D. J. Roy. “Missionary.” Church of Christ.

Lewis, Jack P. “Bible, Versions and Translations of the.” In The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, edited by Douglas Foster, Paul Blowers, Anthony Dunnavant, and D. Newell Williams, 87–88. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004.

________. The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991.

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“Obituaries.” The Gospel Herald 66, no. 8 (August 2001): 1.

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Robinson, Rowena, and Joseph Marianus Kujur, eds. Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2010.

Ross, Bobby Jr. “Church in America Marked by Decline.” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 2 (February 2009):

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Triggestad, Erik. “How Many Church Members in India? Counting isn’t easy.” The Christian Chronicle (February 2003):’t_easy.

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Waldron Missions. Bulletin Briefs.

Wallace, Foy E. A Review of the New Versions. Fort Worth: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973.

Walls, Andrew. “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History.” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24, no. 3 (July 2000): 105–8.

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World Convention. “Profile Table.” Resources.

Young, Richard Fox. “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Geneaology, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works.” In India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, edited by Richard Fox Young, 1–25. Studies in the History of Christian Missions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

1 This article began as a paper presentation for Baylor University’s 2011 conference “The King James Bible and the World it Made, 1611–2011.” A second, expanded draft of the paper was presented at Pepperdine University’s National Endowment of the Humanities-funded conference “Manifold Greatness: The Creation and Afterlife of the King James Bible” in September 2012.

2 Tim Stafford, “Historian Ahead of His Time,” Christianity Today (February 2007): See also William Burrows, Mark Gornik, and Janice McLean, eds., Understanding World Christianity: The Vision and Work of Andrew F. Walls (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2011).

3 Stafford, 2.

4 Andrew Walls, “Eusebius Tries Again: Reconceiving the Study of Christian History,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 24, no. 3 (July 2000): 107.

5 See Thomas H. Olbricht, “Churches of Christ,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. Douglas Foster, et al. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 212.

6 For these statistics see Lyndsay Jacobs, “The Stone-Campbell Movement—A Global View,” Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry 17, no. 3 (Third Quarter 2009): 141,

7 It is generally held in the Restoration churches that the 1906 census is when the split into two movements occurred: the conservative Church of Christ and the more liberal Disciples of Christ. In 1968 the Disciples of Christ formally split into two movements: the conservative Independent Christian Churches and the more liberal Disciples of Christ. The 1968 split, however, was the result of a long process that began in the 1920s.

8 For Church of Christ statistics, see Bobby Ross, Jr., “Church in America Marked by Decline,” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 2 (February 2009): See also Olbricht, “Who Are the Churches of Christ?,” See the country profiles at World Convention, located at A good source for Church of Christ statistics in the United States is Carl H. Royster, Churches of Christ in the United States: Inclusive of Her Commonwealth and Territories (Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2009). For global statistics, see Mac Lynn, Churches of Christ around the World: Exclusive of the United States and Her Territories (Nashville, TN: 21st Century Christian, 2009).

9 See Jack P. Lewis, “Bible, Versions and Translations of the,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 87–88.

10 Lewis, “Bible,” 88.

11 Ibid., 88. Lewis mentions many biblical scholars from the Restoration tradition that were active in Bible translation. From the nineteenth century: H. T. Anderson, Benjamin Wilson, J. B. Rotherham, Cortes Jackson, and B. W. Johnson. From the twentieth century: D. Austen Sommer, E. E. Stringfellow, R. C. Foster, W. W. Otey, S. A. Weston, Stephen England, W. C. Morro, H. B. Robison, Lewis Foster, Batsell Barrett Baxter, Robert Hendren, J. J. M. Roberts, Chester Estes, Stanley Morris, Hugo McCord, George Estes, Harold Littrell, and W. E. Paul.

12 See Jack P. Lewis, The English Bible from KJV to NIV: A History and Evaluation, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1991). See especially chapter three, “Doctrinal Problems in the King James Version,” and chapter four, “The American Standard Version.” For a discussion of the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts available to the KJV translators, see pp. 41ff.

13 Lewis, “Bible,” 88.

14 The RSV New Testament was published in 1946, the RSV Old Testament in 1952, and the RSV Apocrypha in 1956. It is important to note that the 1901 American Standard Version, produced in conjunction with the British “Revised Version” (also known as the English Revised Version [ERV], published 1881–1885), was heralded by many Restoration leaders. However, the ASV did not cause the level of controversy that the RSV did since its producers managed to weave it into the larger KJV tradition as an official, authorized revision of the KJV. There were detractors from the ERV and ASV but in the Restoration tradition there was actually a good number of preachers and Bible college professors who preferred them. In fact, the ASV and KJV were often used interchangeably in the Churches of Christ in the twentieth century. The 1946 RSV New Testament, however, caused major problems. Lewis, The English Bible, 109, writes, “The appearance of the RSV was for many people the first major challenge to the KJV/ASV domination of the English Bible field.” The reason for the KJV’s continued dominance was largely because the stilted English of the ASV was widely critiqued as being far less fluid than the eloquence of the KJV. Charles Haddon Spurgeon famously critiqued the English Revised Version as “strong in Greek, but weak in English.” Lewis, The English Bible, 76. This long debate was not at all unique to the Churches of Christ. See Peter Johannes Thuesen, In Discordance with the Scriptures: American Protestant Battles over Translating the Bible, Religion in America series (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999).

15 See Terry J. Gardner, “Wallace, Foy Esco,” in The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement, 767–68. See also Foy E. Wallace, A Review of the New Versions (Fort Worth: Foy E. Wallace Jr. Publications, 1973).

16 Olbricht refers to the “radical exclusivism” in the movement: “Thought shapers in Churches of Christ did not, however, follow Stone, Campbell, and [Walter] Scott in seeking unity with other groups and in opening toward denominational cooperation or some semblance of inclusivism.” Olbricht, “Churches of Christ,” 214.

17 See Bill L. Phillips, “India as a Prospective Mission Field,” in The Harvest Field, ed. Howard Schug and Jesse Sewell (Athens, AL: Bible School Bookstore, 1947), 289–90. The year 1947 is significant as it is the year India obtained its independence from Britain.

18 Ibid., 294.

19 Ibid., 291–92.

20 Ibid., 290.

21 Roy’s short autobiography and his historical account of the mission is available on the web at I have known Roy since 2003 and much of my information is based on personal interaction with him.

22 See Daniel passed away in May 2011. Roy Knight, e-mail message to author, September 1, 2011.

23 See The work of J. C. Bailey is discussed later in the article.

24 In February 2003, the Christian Chronicle ran a story based partially on some of my experiences with the Arise Shine mission. On this occasion, 19 people packed into an SUV to conduct several baptisms in the countryside. See Erik Triggestad, “How many church members in India? Counting isn’t easy,” The Christian Chronicle (February 2003):’t_easy.

25 Roy is proficient in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, and English.

26 See Bobby Ross, Jr., “Thou shalt read . . . NIV?” The Christian Chronicle 68, no. 4 (April 2011): 3, 15, The Christian Chronicle is the flagship newspaper for the Church of Christ. In celebration of the 400 year anniversary of the KJV they conducted a survey of 1,100 randomly selected Church of Christ members. The KJV, which was dominant throughout Church of Christ history until the mid-twentieth century, has now slipped to fifth place behind the NIV (42%), NASV (17%), NKJV (10%), and ESV (10%). Only 6% of Church of Christ members now claim the KJV as their preferred version. The article states, however, that “Most black congregations still prefer the KJV.”

27 It should be pointed out that in Tamil Nadu there is widespread resistance to Hindi. Tamils often claim their language is Dravidian and has little connection to Hindi. Thus, the enforcement of the Hindi language is widely seen as a superimposition. As a result, English is often the second language of choice in that particular state. See the work of Eugene Irschick, especially Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism 1916–1929 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969).

28 Bailey’s life is chronicled in his two autobiographies: Forty Years a Canadian Preacher, 1921–61 (Abilene, TX: Mathews Printing, 1961); and My Appointment with Destiny (Fort Worth, TX: Star, 1975). The second one deals with Bailey’s mission work in India. Another source for Bailey’s life is a chapter entitled “J. C. Bailey” by J. B. Trotter in volume two of Ira Rice’s autobiography Pressing toward the Mark: An Autobiography (Memphis, TN: privately printed, 1998), 371–79.

29 The biographical information of J. C. Bailey comes from two sources: his obituary in “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle (July 2001):; and The Gospel Herald 66, no. 8 (August 2001). The Gospel Herald is a Canadian Church of Christ publication. The entire August 2001 issue is devoted to J. C. Bailey.

30 The thesis is by Shelley Jacobs, who plans to publish the thesis eventually. Shelley Jacobs, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. See also Bobby Ross, Jr., “Little Church on the Prairie: God’s work in Gravelbourg,” The Christian Chronicle 66, no. 8 (August 2009): 19–21,

31 “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle.

32 Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 27. See also David Hallett, The Serpentine Road (independently published by David William Hallett in Canada and by Jim E. Waldron in the United States, 2008), 14. For the “riper field” quotation see J. C. Bailey, “Evangelism in India: After 25 Years, What Then?,” The Old Paths Archive, For the precise chronology of Bailey’s ministry in India, I corresponded with Ray McMillan by phone and email. Ray McMillan is a Church of Christ missionary who currently lives in Regina, Saskatchewan, but he travels to India twice per year for extended mission trips. Ray was one of two missionaries who brought J. C. Bailey’s wife, three adopted children, and cargo to India in 1963, three months after Bailey had arrived. J. C. flew from Canada to India. However, Ray flew from Winnipeg to London and met fellow missionary David Hallett and J. C. Bailey’s family there (they had traveled by ship from Montreal to London). McMillan, Hallett, and J. C. ’s family then traveled by ship from London to Bombay via the Suez Canal. McMillan is still very connected to the churches established by Bailey and is one of the few people living who are acquainted with Bailey’s early years in India.

33 Hallett, 14–15.

34 Lynn, 106.

35 For this statistic, see Roy Davison, “Biographical Information: John Carlos Bailey,” The Old Paths Archive, See also Lynn, 107. Lynn discusses the pre-Bailey Church of Christ group in northeast India. A Presbyterian minister in Mawlai (near Shillong in the Indian state of Meghalaya) discovered a church bulletin from the Hillcrest Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, and wrote to the church. The Abilene church sent a missionary who was in Japan at the time, E. W. McMillan (no relation to Ray McMillan). Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011. The Independent Christian Church (instrumental) learned about these events and did follow up work and had some success. Bailey would later rail against the Christian Church and their use of instruments. The Church of Christ–Christian Church rivalry in India was discussed earlier in the article when Bill Phillips in The Harvest Field argued that the best approach to missions in India was to “invade” the Christian Churches and convert them to the Church of Christ.

36 Telephone interview with Ray McMillan, March 25, 2011.

37 “Obituaries,” The Christian Chronicle. The estimate comes from Bailey’s co-worker Charles F. Scott.

38 Joshua Gootam, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. Gootam claims to be Bailey’s first convert in Andhra Pradesh and several other sources either confirm or allude to that claim. J. C. Bailey’s son John has been a very helpful resource in my research. John Bailey, e-mail message to author, March 22, 2011: “Joshua Gootam was the first convert my dad made in South India. He has been a radio preacher for over 30 years and has more knowledge of my dad’s work in India than anyone living.”

39 Dana L. Robert, “Cross-Cultural Friendship in the Creation of Twentieth-Century World Christianity,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research 35, no. 2 (April 2011): 100, See also Susan Billington Harper, In the Shadow of the Mahatma: Bishop V. S. Azariah and the Travails of Christianity in British India, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000). Azariah was consecrated as India’s first Anglican bishop. He began his bishopric in 1912 in the diocese of Dornakal. He considered himself part of “a new generation of Christians who do not wish to be treated like children.” He saw “interracial cooperation in the cause of Christ” as the only solution to the problem of systemic paternalism. Harper, 148.

40 Robert, 103, 106–7.

41 Brian Stanley, The World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh 1910, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 130. These quotations occur within Stanley’s analysis of Bishop Azariah’s critiques of Western missions.

42 Michael Hollis, Paternalism and the Church: A Study of South Indian Church History (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).

43 Ibid., ix.

44 Ibid., 15, 36.

45 Ibid., 36.

46 Roy Knight, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

47 J. C. Bailey’s son John, as well as his co-missionary in 1963 Ray McMillan, confirmed that J. C. actually preferred the ASV to the KJV. John wrote, “My dad was a critic of the KJV-only faction. He thought the 16th century Elizabethan English led to misunderstandings of several things. He was a believer in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the KJV translation of “Ghost” was a hindrance to people understanding this. He was not a fan of Foy E. Wallace. Another key “mistranslation” was translating agape as “charity.” He especially thought 1 Cor 13 was flawed in the KJV. He also disliked the word Easter being used for resurrection. My Dad was part of the fan club that believed the ASV was the most literal translation.” John Bailey, e-mail message to author, March 24, 2011. However, in perusing Bailey’s Old Paths journal articles throughout the 1980s and 1990s it is clear that J. C. Bailey used the KJV and ASV interchangeably. In fact, in some of his Old Paths articles he used the KJV exclusively. See for example the 1990 article “The War is On,” where he uses the KJV only: The Indian Church of Christ members are still convinced that J. C. Bailey was a KJV-only man. But in fact, it was David Hallett who was the KJV-only man in the group. This illustrates the fact the real problem was not whether to use the KJV or ASV; the danger was using anything other than these two, particularly the controversial RSV.

48 Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

49 Hallett converted to the Church of Christ while in the Canadian Navy. See Hallett, 1–6. See also Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 20. David Hallett lived from 1935 to 2011. In 2012, Hallett’s personal letters and reports were donated to the Harding School of Theology library. See his obituary: “In Memory of David William Hallett: October 11, 1935–December 16, 2011,” Dignity Memorial,

50 Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, March 30, 2011.

51 Ray McMillan communicated to me that a missionary named Jim Waldron is now in Shillong, Meghalaya, supervising the churches formerly associated with David Hallett. Ray McMillan, e-mail message to author, April 1, 2011. On Jim Waldron’s website, the KJV and occasionally the NKJV are used. See Waldron’s “Bulletin Briefs” at

52 Hybridity has been defined as “The constant and organic fusion, intermixture, and translation of cultural practices.” John Hinnells, ed., The Routledge Companion to the Study of Religion, 2nd ed. (London: Routledge, 2010), 586.

53 See Corinne Dempsey, Kerala Christian Sainthood: Collisions of Culture and Worldview in South India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001); Chad Bauman, Christian Identity and Dalit Religion in Hindu India, 1868–1947, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008); Selva Raj and Corinne Dempsey, eds., Popular Christianity in India: Riting between the Lines, SUNY Series in Hindu Studies (New York: State University of New York Press, 2002); Rowena Robinson and Joseph Marianus Kujur, eds., Margins of Faith: Dalit and Tribal Christianity in India (Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2010); and Eliza Kent, Converting Women: Gender and Protestant Christianity in Colonial South India (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).

54 Robert Eric Frykenberg, “Christian Missions and the Raj,” in Missions and Empire, ed. Norman Etherington, Oxford History of the British Empire Companion Series (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 128. Frykenberg’s own hybrid identity and hybrid style are discussed in Richard Fox Young, “The Frykenberg Vamsavali: A South Asia Historian’s Geneaology, Personal and Academic, with a Bibliography of His Works,” in India and the Indianness of Christianity: Essays on Understanding—Historical, Theological, and Bibliographical—in Honor of Robert Eric Frykenberg, ed. Richard Fox Young, 1–25, Studies in the History of Christian Missions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009).

55 Frykenberg, 115, provides the notable example of Bishop V. S. Azariah as “a nationalist eager for the end of empire.”

56 Ibid., 122.

57 Ibid., 128. He cites Pandita Ramabi’s insistence that she was a “Hindu Christian.”

58 Ibid., 128, writes, “All Indian Christians knew that their religious identity could never supersede other identities that were grounded in history and culture.”

59 This joke is widely available on the web and perhaps oddly the Church of Christ community is well aware of it. Some of the websites perpetuating the joke actually defend the notion that the a capella movement does indeed have a monopoly on salvation. See, for example, one website’s attempt to vilify Max Lucado—a famous Church of Christ writer—for actually making light of the joke. See The article, entitled “Max Lucado’s Storytelling,” emphasizes in disgust that Lucado “believes that there really are Baptists, Methodists, and Catholics in those other rooms.” It should be pointed out that this joke has been applied to many religious groups with exclusivist understandings of salvation.

60 Stafford, 2.

61 Ibid.

62 For the Church of Christ–Christian Church tensions in India see Bailey, My Appointment with Destiny, 21, 25, 29, 31.

63 Ibid., 23.