This is an article from the September - October 1997 issue: The Jesus Film Project Takes on the World

Christianity Today

Highlights De-Westernization at Urbana

Christianity Today

Christianity Today (Feb. 3, '97) reporting on Urbana '96 highlighted the issue of De-Westernization. Here, in part, is its report:

Crowded Harvest Field

Ralph D. Winter, head of the U.S. Center for World Mission in Pasadena, California, told students that Christianity must be taken out of its Western context if the gospel is to reach Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists effectively.

"We're reaching closure in taking the gospel to all the nations," Winter said at one of the more than 200 seminars offered during the week, "but followers of Islam and Hinduism look at Christianity and see sex obsession, drinking, drugs, and family breakdown."

Winter ventured into the minefield of adding cultural context to evangelistic outreach. He reasoned that new breakthroughs will come from within indigenous cultures.

"In Africa, there are about 400 denominations started by Western missionaries," he told students. "But there are 6,000 denominations not started by missionaries, and they run the gamut of everything from total heresy to total orthodoxy."

The key task of the West, Winter maintains, should be taking the Bible to these cultures, allowing them to develop their own distinct kind of Christianity.

"If they're reading the Bible, they will even out and become orthodox," he said. "The Bible will correct more than foreign missionaries."

While some students were intrigued by Winter's talk, others wondered aloud if he was conceding too much. One delegate from Ghana argued that such an approach in a pantheistic culture would just mean adding one more god to the pantheon and devaluing the significance of Christ.

[Additional Note from Ralph Winter: CT reports well. However, please don't think I really said,"The Bible will correct more than missionaries…" my point was that the Bible--carried by missionaries-- always becomes the chief factor in the building and refining of indigenous movements. Furthermore, this is not "a minefield." Indigenization is a well-known concept and is almost universally the goal of missions today. Take an example: Over the long haul missionaries have discovered that importing a strange name for God-- that is, their own culture's name for God--is often more hazardous than allowing the Bible to build meaning into a term already existing for a high God, wherever there is such a term. This is actually less likely to "add a God" to an existing pantheon as it is to "subtract" one replacing it with Biblical truth--to elevate the one true God. In any case, saturation in the Bible is the key thing.


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