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Text and Context in Dialogue

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Book Review
Holistic Mission and Church Growth: A Study with Special Reference to Kathmandu
by Harka Bahadur Khadka
Nepal, 2003, self-published, Rs. 50.

Reviewed by Mark Johnson

Hardly any books have been published on church growth in Nepal so I was pleased to see that someone had made an attempt to fill in this gap. After obtaining a B.Th from a Bible college in Nepal, the author of this work had the opportunity to do an M.Div at the New India Bible Seminary in Kerala. This book is his Masters thesis and to be honest it is disappointing.

At first glance the book seems to have a scholarly air about it - chapter one for instance has 54 footnotes. (In fact some sections seem to consist almost entirely of quotes making the work disjointed and tedious.) Dubious scholarship, however, undermines the value of such citations. In his brief section on Nepal's history (also p. 7) the author quotes from Makhan Jha's, The Sacred Complex of Nepal, which cannot be considered a work of serious scholarship. (He would have done better to check K.P. Malla's 1984, 'Nepala: Archaeology of the Word' in PATA Conference Souvenir, pp. 63-69.) Worse still, his description of religious life in the Kathmandu Valley comes from a tourist brochure (p. 7)! Do Bible colleges encourage any reflection on the student's religious background?

Khadka attempts to demonstrate that holistic mission (by which he means evangelism and social involvement) can actually increase the rate of church growth (p. 54). He supports this assertion by an analysis of the responses to a pair of questionnaires that were used to interview pastors and social workers in the Kathmandu Valley. From this data the author constructs a number of tables and graphs. (Table 3 showing the caste or ethnic distribution of Khadka's respondents is clearly in error in reporting 42.7% of the Kathmandu Valley's population as Brahmin.)

The crux of the data is arranged on a scatter diagram to demonstrate a relationship between rate of church growth and holistic ministry. The main problem with this is that even if a relationship emerges (the author himself is somewhat doubtful) it tells us nothing about cause and effect.

Khadka asserts that the ministries of Jesus and the apostles were holistic (p. 54). This reviewer remains unconvinced. When the crowds gathered to be healed and delivered from demons Jesus told his disciples, "Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come" (Mark 1:38). Sure he healed and exorcised and ministered to the material needs of the crowds as well. But it was not his priority. The ministry of the apostles continued in the same vein: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables," they told the church (Acts 6:2). This is not some sort of Platonic dualism, but rather a distinction between the temporal and the eternal. Social action, ministries of compassion, and acts of mercy are a vital part of our discipleship. But our priorities must be Biblical ones.
bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty