|Text and Context in Dialogue|
Living Water and Indian Bowl,
Reviewed by T. H. Tjee
Second revised edition, ISPCK, Delhi, 2001.
The author challenges missionaries and traditional Indian Christians to properly understand Hinduism and to live in Hindu society according to Hindu culture as "Hindu Christ Bhaktas", so as to present the gospel of Christ to the Hindus through their lives in an Indian way. Proclaiming one's devotion to Christ by changing his or her name to "Christian" is perceived as a shift of community allegiance (page 55). His or her communications with the Hindu communities are thus cut off, because they see that following Christ is a threat to their identity as Indians. He points out different areas in Hinduism that Christians generally fail to understand and different Christian practices that make the gospel message incomprehensible and foreign to the Hindus. The "western-ness" and traditional church orientation of Christianity in terms of culture, worship style, music, theology, and terminology, the imperialism associated with Christianity, separation from the rest of the Hindus by blindly abandoning Hindu cultural practices, misuse of Hindu Scriptures, and lack of Indian patriotism are some of the subjects discussed in the book. The section on "In Relation to Hindu Religious Practices" gives explanations and practical proposals on various issues that Hindu Christ Bhaktas will have to face.
It is quite revolutionary to propose the name "Hindu Christ Bhaktas" instead of "Christian" to followers of Christ. The problem of proclaiming one's devotion to Christ by changing his or her name to "Christian" is that it is perceived as a shift of community allegiance (page 55). His or her communications with the Hindu communities are thus cut off, because they see that following Christ is a threat to their identity as Indians. I think the term "Christ Bhaktas" will be well received by many who properly understand the meaning of "Bhakta". However, the term "Hindu Christ Bhaktas" will have resistance not only from traditional Christians but as the author also points out (page 162), from the traditional Hindu community as well. The author points out that the name "Hindu" historically comes from the Sanskrit word "Sindu", the river Indus's name, which mainly described the Indian people and their civilization (page 164). The term "Hindu", however, has undergone changes. Many Hindus would seem to call themselves such because they belong to a certain religious tradition. The author would like to use the term in the original sense but in my opinion that may no longer be possible, as the term "Hindu" does not simply mean "Indian" any longer. It does have a religious connotation. As the author points out, Hinduism comprises religious, cultural and social life (page 13). A Hindu Christ Bhakta can remain socially and culturally Hindu, but not religiously. Different Hindus may worship different gods, perform different rituals, or even have different theologies, but they all arise from Hindu civilization. The Hindu civilization did not bring about the Gospel of Christ.
Practically too, it is very complicated to live as a "Hindu Christ Bhakta". In fact, one may become so confused trying to come up with some solutions to reconcile the religious part of being a Hindu and his or her devotions to Christ. For example even the author, who has extensive knowledge of Hinduism and has seriously wrestled with the idea, mixes up issues like red dot, new names, marriage and funerals under the title "Hindu religious practices", although they were earlier defined as purely social. I am afraid it will be too much for most common people to have to resolve the intermingling social, cultural and religious practical aspects of being a pure Hindu yet a devotee of Christ. Since the name "Christian" seems to be the main problem for those who want to be identified as devotees of Christ and since "Hindu" historically means "Indian", why not call oneself an "Indian Christ Bhakta" or even a "Tamil Christ Bhakta"? For today's audience there is no religious contradiction in this kind of name. As an "Indian Christ Bhakta" one can have so much freedom in practicing the many social and cultural suggestions in this book. Most relieving is that he or she will also be free to not follow Hindu religious practices as asserted in this book.
I do have one regret about this book. It was written, it seems, for traditional Christians and missionaries. Unfortunately the general content of the book is criticism against all missionaries that were lumped together in a single mold. Written as the main text are the sins and mistakes of some missionaries of all ages, including those who did not seem to have ever met the Lord Jesus at all. The author's own proposals are written as reaction to these mistakes. The title of this book ("Living Water and Indian Bowl") has a very positive tone, a contradiction to the titles of the consequent chapters and subchapters ("Failures"). If the book was meant to give lights to missionaries and traditional Christians, it would be more communicative if the author sticks to the well-chosen title. He should present his ideas of what "an Indian Bowl for the Living Water" should look like and include some positive experiences. Mistakes can be included for reflections. You do not approach Hindus by pointing at their mistakes first. Likewise, you do not approach traditional Christians and missionaries by criticism. Another result of this approach is that the author's own ideas and valuable suggestions become clouded, scattered throughout the book and hard to identify. In conclusion this book's main plea is that devotees of Christ in Hindu communities should think through various cultural and social areas where traditionally the solutions according to western cultures are accepted and practiced without question. However, even the suggestions that the author presents must not be followed without question. Every individual, every family, every community must do their homework in studying God's Word and seeking God's wisdom, and by faith come up with solutions to live as loving and communicative light for Christ among their own people. They will most likely come up with different ideas and practices. More mistakes will probably be committed. However, God is sovereign and His purpose can not be thwarted by human errors. And, above all knowledge, cultural correctness, and even good strategies, it is how God's love flows through one to his or her neighbors day in and day out, that will touch their hearts. May the Lord direct our hearts into God's love and Christ's perseverance (2 Thess. 3:5).