Photo by Hae Kwong Cheong
Text and Context in Dialogue
H-Scale for Hindu Contextualization
The seven-point scale below defines contextualization of gospel and church in the Hindu world. Where are you on the scale, and where should you be?
The H-scale is developed from the C-scale, a similar scale used for Islamic contexts. The C-scale focuses on Christ-centered communities in the Islamic world and how Muslims in Christ choose to relate to various types of churches. In contrast, this H-scale mainly endeavors to define degrees of contextualization in the Hindu world.
The central issues in Hindu contexts do not relate to culture, but to community. Thus even when H3 believers seek to integrate Hindu practices into biblical faith and life, true contextualization is lacking because they reject their birth community in favor of the "Christian" community. H4 believers, although little concerned with contextualization, are true to the most fundamental aspect of Hindu contexts because they recognize that remaining integrated with their birth community is essential.
As the definitions indicate, contextualized expressions of discipleship to Christ in Hindu contexts have not yet been deeply developed. This presentation is thus more an effort to define and encourage such efforts than to outline existing situations.
H. L. Richard is part of the Rethinking Forum (www.rethinkingforum.com) an association of scholars and activists focused on contextual biblical witness among Hindus.
The original version of this article first appeared in Evangelical Missions Quarterly, 40(3), July 2004, pp. 316-20 and is reproduced with kind permission.
Traditional Christians separate themselves from everything "Hindu"
Traditional Christians renounce Hinduism but still accept some non-religious Hindu cultural practices
- Traditional Christianity separates from everything "Hindu", including diet, dress, name, caste, ceremonies, etc.
- Many Indian churches and missions have followed and follow this pattern, leading Hindus to consider Christianity a foreign religion.
- One Nepali church in Kathmandu fits into this category, conducting its worship services in English.
Hindu Christians renounce Hindu religion for Christianity, but adapt Hindu religious and cultural practices
- Christians renounce Hinduism but are open to non-religious Hindu cultural practices.
- Name and diet not necessarily changed, although believers often alter diet even if not demanded for following Christ.
- Caste renounced with other religious and seeming-religious practices, e.g., a woman wearing a red dot on her forehead.
- Some music drawn from indigenous traditions, but most of foreign origin or adapted from foreign sources.
- Cultural aspects of a few Hindu festivals might be celebrated.
- Often not concerned with foreign funding of Christian work even though many Hindus consider it scandalous.
- Future leaders trained in western-style seminaries and Bible colleges - most have courses/discussions on contextualizing expressions of faith, but actions speak louder than words. These institutions are strongholds of westernized Christianity in India.
- Most Indian churches comfortable in H2, which has not affected the Hindu understanding of Christianity as a foreign religion.
- As in India, most churches in Nepal, especially in the cities are comfortable in H2.
Hindu disciples of Christ do not develop contextual expressions of discipleship
- Hinduism is renounced in favor of Christianity, but with efforts to adapt Hindu religious and cultural practices into biblical faith and practice.
- Efforts to develop contextual Indian Christian theology - willingness to use terminologies from Hinduism that traditional Christians avoid.
- Red forehead dot not a problem.
- Vegetarianism often practiced.
- Caste recognized at least to a limited extent.
- Musical styles from Indian traditions adopted, but western music also used.
- Hindu festivals sometimes celebrated (in varying degrees, often modified).
- Hindu temples studiously avoided.
- Commitment to indigenous financing due to the stigma of foreign funding of Christian work.
- No historic Christian movements in India have effectively arrived at H3. The Christian "ashram" (spiritual retreat center) movement beginning in 1920s was an attempt. Many individual Hindu converts experimented on these lines while within H1 or H2 institutions.
- In Nepal a few churches have experimented with H3 approaches. One consistent H3 church-planting ministry on the Tarai has seen a surprising amount of fruit as well as, at times, severe persecution.
Hindu disciples of Christ seek to develop contextual expressions of discipleship
- Hindus who come to Christ maintain sociological identity as Hindus within their birth community.
- Do not identify as "Christian".
- Do not develop contextual expressions of faith and discipleship.
- Name, caste, diet and dress (including red dot) not changed because they are aspects of community life.
- Positive adaptation in Christ of Hindu values and methods not attempted.
- Occasional study and fellowship gatherings culturally neutral, appearing neither "Christian" nor "Hindu".
- Hindu festivals celebrated.
- Hindu temples visited for family-related ceremonies.
- Full-time workers funded from abroad not involved.
- At least one fledgling effort to develop ministry in H4.
- No such ministry is known in Nepal.
Hindu disciples of Christ recognized as such by other Hindus but remain unassociated with other disciples of Christ
- Hindus who come to Christ maintain sociological identity as Hindus within birth community.
- Seek to develop Hindu patterns of discipleship in personal devotion, corporate worship, evangelism, etc., and to define their faith in contextual terms (contextual Indian theology).
- Often identify themselves as "bhaktas" (devotees) of Christ or "Yesu-bhaktas" - "Christian" in India is a sociological term more than a theological tag.
- Initially viewed with skepticism by Hindus due to traditional associations of Christ with radical culture and community change.
- Minimal music from existing Christian traditions, perhaps except Christian music in traditional Indian styles.
- Corporate expressions of discipleship often rare or non-existent due to practical considerations; but desire to follow biblical pattern of a corporate faith expression.
- Corporate developments may be mono-caste for a time, but for practical rather than ideological reasons.
- Socially acceptable means of inter-caste fellowship will be developed. (No known current or historic case of Christ-followers has upheld total caste exclusiveness in teaching or practice.)
- Hindu festivals celebrated, sometimes modified.
- Hindu temples sometimes reluctantly visited for family-related ceremonies.
- Indigenous funding deemed essential.
- Small stirrings toward H5.
- In Nepal, fledgling attempts to work within this paradigm. One movement among Newars, largely outside the Kathmandu Valley, has spawned over 70 mostly small household congregations.
Hindu disciples of Christ keep faith completely private
- Hindus in Christ remain in birth communities as Hindus.
- Individualized discipleship to Jesus without corporate expression, excepting perhaps some attendance at occasional large Christian gatherings.
- Not secret, but known as followers of Jesus in their Hindu social circles.
- Hindu festivals celebrated.
- Hindu temples visited.
- A significant number in Tamil Nadu in south India. Smaller numbers elsewhere in India.
- The "Churchless Christians" - a misnomer since they are not "Christians" but Hindu disciples of Christ.
- In Nepal it is estimated that hundreds of men and women, particularly in the Newar community, fit this category. They may have once attended a church and count themselves as "believers" in Christ but as they have not been baptized they do not count themselves "Christians". Social pressure to continue in own tradition forces H6 believers to hold back from full identification with the church. These people are often not accepted as "real believers" by mainstream churches.
- Hindus in Christ remain in birth communities.
- Keep devotion to Jesus secret.
- Appear to participate fully in Hindu religious activity, but address all prayers to Christ or God through Christ.
- Some such people have always existed, but hard to identify and harder still to quantify.
. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty