Gospel & Culture blog
How pastors from Africa, Asia and the Pacific influenced the United Methodist decision to support a scriptural stance on homosexuality
by Kenneth Nehrbass
Dr Lamin Sanneh, Professor of History of Religion (Harvard) and then professor of World Christianity and History at Yale Divinity School, passed away this Jan 6.
Sanneh, originally from Gambia, converted from Islam to Catholicism. His academic career has focused on Islam and Christianity. He has authored over two hundred scholarly articles and of more than a dozen books on Islam and African expressions of Christianity. Additionally, he “is an editor-at-large for The Christian Century and a contributing editor for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research”(Bonk, 2003).
The first edition of Sanneh’s (1989) book Translating the Message enjoyed wide popularity among missiologists because it argued that Islam destroyed culture whereas Christianity preserves culture (often protesting colonialism) by encouraging contextual expressions of faith and vernacular Bible translations.
By Ken Nehrbass
Author and missionary to Indonesia (then, Irian Jaya) has passed away this Dec. 23.
Richardson received his education from the Prairie Bible Institute and the Summer Institute of Linguistics. He never taught full time at a university, and his publications would be considered popular rather than academic. Yet his theories of redemptive analogies, the Melchizedek factor, and original monotheism captured the imagination of missionaries and mobilizers of missionaries. He also had a tremendous impact on my own life: I was planning on being a pastor in the USA until a friend at church gave me a copy of Richardson's Peace Child. After I read it, I knew I was called to Bible translation.
Richardson provided data from around the world that suggested that God has planted the notion of a Supreme Being deep within the human psyche (Richardson, 1981). This is a simplified version of Wilhelm Schmidt’s (1931) massive “culture-history.” Like other “diffusionary anthropologists,” Schmidt believed that cultural elements (bows and arrows, ideas about exogamy or endogamy, religion, etc.) must have been diffused from a proto-civilization. For Schmidt and Richardson, this uber civilization was directly inherited from Noah’s descendants, so it must have had a vestige of belief in one high God. The original culture, then, was monotheistic, but subsequent diffusion and cultural innovations led to increased interest in ritual and “middle level” religious activity, to the near extinction of belief in the high God. Yet spanning from the Karen of Burma to the ancient Incas, to Sub Saharan African religions, tribal peoples seem to have a name for the High God who seems to have forgotten them. Perhaps if missionaries would just re-introduce these peoples to their long lost belief in God, they would experience a collective conversion. Richardson’s stories of mass
By Kenneth Nehrbass
American missionary John Allen Chau was killed recently when he traveled alone to Sentinel Island to preach the gospel. India's law makes it illegal for foreigners to land there, partly to protect the islanders from foreign disease, and partly to protect travelers from violence. As a missiologist, people have been asking my thoughts on the killing. Is Chau a hero or not? Other missionaries have been highly praised for taking similar risks: The murder of John Williams and James Harris in Erromango in 1839 sent of a worldwide interest in missions in the South Pacific. The killing of Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Ed McCully, Pete Fleming, and Roger Youderian in 1955 sparked similar passion for missions among the unreached. Is Chau's short life a similar example for Christians to take risks for the sake of the gospel?
Chau's tragedy has ramifications for missions in general: Does a sense of divine calling outweigh the risks? Is it okay for a missionary to defy a nation's laws, if his motives are to preach Christ? Should remote places like the Andaman Islands be left alone?
Is his death a tragedy? Yes. The death of anyone is grievous; the murder of anyone is unacceptable and tragic. Many news outlets eulogized Chau well, and I find it natural to empathize with his family and friends who are grieving.
Is risk justified? Yes. Jesus calls us to take great risks for the sake of his name. Peter got out of the boat and walked on water in conditions that could have caused him to drown. Proverbs 3:5 encourages us to "Trust in the Lord, and don't lean on your own understanding." Many of the apostles and church planters in the early centuries were persecuted to the point of death when they preached the gospel across cultures. The scripture clearly places a sense of calling above logic and safety. If God calls you to take a risk, you obey. Josh 1:9 tells us to be strong and courageous. Watch Chau's short challenge to take risks for global missions here.
Is it okay to break the law to do missionary work? Generally, no. Missiologists almost never condone breaking another nation's laws. It's one thing to protest an unjust law in your own country- but as guests in foreign countries, we are not part of the lawmaking process there, and cannot pick and choose which laws to follow. If the Andamans are Indian's territory, missionaries must respect India's laws there. Virtually all missionary organizations work through the official processes and laws of the host countries to gain legal permits to do
Kenneth Nehrbass, Ph.D.
Associate Professor at Biola University, Author, Pastor