Text and Context in Dialogue

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Book Review
Communicating Christ Among Hindu Peoples
Edited by George David
Reviewed by Shannon B. Pettit

CBMTM Publications, Chennai, India, 1998. 183 pp.

In this collection of lectures, George David gives solid Biblical, readable teaching on communicating the good news to the world's 650 million Hindus. He describes Christian discipleship in Hindu terms while remaining true to the Bible, and he also points out areas where believers have fallen into "Hinduization" of our faith instead of faithfully contextualizing, or indigenizing, as he calls it. Also included is a glossary of Hindu terms and two appendixes in which he narrates an ongoing apologetics discussion between an orthodox Hindu and a follower of Christ.

In the first section, The Challenge before Us, David describes our mission, communicating the gospel to 650 Hindus worldwide. He points out the barriers: belief systems, cultural systems, social systems, and also sin and guilt, which keep Hindus from responding to the gospel. He says we need a viable strategy in order to communicate effectively. First, we must be a community of faith. Second, we must know our message, which is His Story, not a formula. Third, we must know our resources, spiritual as well as material. Our spiritual resources are authority, love, prayer, friendship, cultural understanding, and a people group focus.

Part II focuses on Christian Discipleship. Throughout this section, David beautifully describes the life of discipleship in Indian terms; our life of discipleship is an apologetic in itself. Jesus is our Sat Guru, the one person who has attained perfection. We enter a diksa relationship with him, a bond of discipleship, in which we are sadhaks, disciples. In sadhena, bending our neck to his yoke, we practice discipleship moment by moment. He describes the life of discipleship as a life of bhakti, devotion, nishkalanka, purity, aradhana, worship, prayer, witness, and service. As a practical tip, he suggests that bhaktis meet in the evening to sing bhajans in their neighborhood, which will attract neighbors to learn more about their faith.

David lists on page 43 ten sadhenas that are involved in daily submission to our Sat Guru. They are diksa, bhakti, dhyana, prema, (brotherly love), meekness, prayer, witnessing, worship, suffering, and union with Christ. David goes into more detail about two Christian sadhenas, or disciplines, those of meditation and meekness. Christian meditation is quite different from Transcendental Meditation of which the goal is to bring conscious thought to a standstill. The goal of the discipline of Christian meditation is to fill one's mind and heart with God's Word, obey it, and establishing a daily habit of meditating on the Word. Also, the sadhena of meekness is servanthood, of which Jesus is our example. The author apparently felt that this area required extra emphasis for South Asian believers. He wraps up the section on discipleship with a chapter on our mission, evangelism.

Part III is Principles of Christian Communication. The author is concerned that believers in tend to miscommunicate the gospel to Hindus, resulting in a lack of responsiveness. Compared to Islamic countries, he says, the Indian believers have a lot of freedom to witness. However, they make the mistake of failing to see the world from their audience's point of view: their minds are full of the teachings of Hinduism; their hearts are filled with devotion to various gods and goddesses, and fear of unknown spiritual powers. One example is that when crusades are held in villages, the speaker will tell the people how to be saved. But they understand being saved as being released from the bonds of karma. They have no understanding of their need to be saved from sin. When an evangelist talks about the son of God, a Hindu may picture Ganesh. So how can a believer communicate with a Hindu?

Communication is a two-way process and believers must listen carefully to learn the mindset of those with whom they are sharing God's good news. In chapter 8, Using all Available Means to Communicate the Gospel, he advocates first removing stumbling blocks to the gospel, for example if one is working with a vegetarian caste, they need to understand that becoming a believer does not mean they must eat meat or fish. And the worker needs to refrain from eating meat as long as he or she works with that caste. One also needs to remove the stones of wrong beliefs, such as believing the goals of Hinduism and Christianity are the same, so why change? His claim is that Indian believers are not attempting to remove stones before sowing the gospel in India today. Following are also several types of communication and how they can be used to the fullest, such as pictorial, kinesthetic, symbolic, tactile, audio, olfactory, and cultural objects and actions.

Chapter 9, Communicating God's Way The Incarnation, stresses the importance of communication the gospel through our bodily existence, in our relationships. This section also explains the Hindu belief in avatars in Vaisnavism, and how that understanding is different from the Biblical understanding of Christ as the Incarnation of God.

At the end of each section, the author includes questions people have asked during his lectures, and his responses. For example, at the end of the communication section, there is a question about the appropriateness of using Om to communicate the gospel message. He says it can not be used without Hinduization of the gospel, because the shabta (word) of God has an entirely different connotation than the word of god in the Sanatan dharma (Hinduism). [But see Dayanand Bharati's article On the use of Om by Christ-bhaktas for a different slant VOB 1 (3): 6., Ed.]

Part IV: Christian Apologetics to Hindus, advocates a positive attitude towards Hindus, without advocating pluralism, or the fulfillment theory. The fulfillment theory states that the longings of Hindus and their scriptures are fulfilled in the gospel, which unfortunately attributes inspiration to the Hindu scriptures. The author advocates getting to know what your Hindu friends are celebrating, or who they are worshipping, so you can dialogue with them. He encourages believers to have Hindus in their homes, and go to Hindus' homes. Some people fear this, but he points out that Jesus loved people of various communities. David says friendship is the context in which believers learn in order to be able to communicate the good news. There is a brief description of Hinduism and its scriptures as a starting reference point. The rest of the section includes inspiring examples of evangelism efforts of believers with Hindus.

Some readers of this review may be prejudiced against George David's book if they perceive he is pushing friendship evangelism, which many believe to be ineffective. However, this is a discipleship book, not an evangelism book. He is advocating a holistic life of discipleship, which he believes is lacking in many church members' lives. This book is written specifically for Indian national believers, and the author seems to think that they are not involved in any personal way with the Hindu community. If the Indian believers are in need of the very basic descriptions of Hindu scriptures and beliefs, they apparently do not know their Hindu neighbors in a meaningful way. They are, however, involved in much mass media evangelism, which is outside the emphasis of this book. He is not dismissing the value of strategic, large scale evangelism efforts.

In addition to strengthening the discipleship of South Asian believers, this book is obviously also informative for expatriate workers in Hindu areas. It gives a solid, Biblical dialogue about Hindu terms and beliefs. Moreover, it inspires the reader to renew their commitment to the Lord in a daily, disciple's walk, and gives the starting point for making one's walk intelligible to Hindus, so they can see the truth and beauty of the gospel. I personally am thankful to have such a Biblical, inspiring resource available for personal discipleship and cultural understanding.

Voice of Bhakti welcomes interaction with its readers. If you have a comment please email the editor at the address below. Mark Johnson, editor

bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty