Paul H. De Neui, editor. William Carey Library Press, 2015.
—Reviewed by Larry Poston, professor of Religion, Nyack College.
In this newest addition to the SEANET series, Paul de Neui collects the thinking of a variety of missionary practitioners into a potpourri of thought regarding contextualization of the gospel message and the institutional Church in various Buddhist contexts, mainly in East Asia.
G.P. Somarana’s chapter on Buddhist visitors to an evangelical worship service provides a good starting point for discussions regarding the tension between Deuteronomy 12:4’s prohibition against using indigenous worship styles and the Apostle Paul’s ‘cultural chameleon’ strategy in 1 Corinthians 9. Mitsuo Fukuda’s chapter on Japanese Buddhism insists on the need to contextualize without considering foreign (meaning ‘Western’) counterparts—although one may question whether such a goal is actually attainable (or even desirable) at this juncture in history.
Steve Spaulding points out the difficulties involved when Christians are challenged regarding their lack of ‘temple’ structures, since East Asian residents have become enamored of the elaborate Buddhist temples that dot the countryside of Buddhist nations. Alan Johnson then provides a ‘toolkit’ for contextualizing the gospel for the Thai people, including examples of scripture verses, indigenous illustrations, and answers to objections raised by non-Christians.
Alexander Smith’s chapter contains an excellent discussion of the ambiguity of words when one seeks to translate the gospel message, and helpfully points out the dangers inherent in being too preoccupied with matters of contextualization. With respect to Laotian Buddhists, Stephen Bailey recommends the inclusion of non-Christians in worship services among the Lao people and advocates that for the sake of social harmony, Christians should participate in traditional Buddhist rituals at a ‘low level.’
Katsuheko Seino discusses the issues faced by Japan’s tiny Christian community with respect to funerary traditions, asking whether churches should conduct funerals for non-Christians, and, if so, whether these occasions may be used as opportunities for presenting the gospel. He concludes that such a practice would be justifiable only if one is able to do so by using the words and testimony of the deceased.
Ubolwan Mejudhon introduces the reader to the concept of ‘split-level Christians’ and advocates that believers work hard to acquire an understanding of the prototypical Thai Buddhist personality, including how Thai Buddhists learn about religion and how they create deep relational bonding. Finally, Paul de Neui applies the C1–C6 scale to Buddhist contexts and advocates that missionaries explore the possibilities of C4 and C5 more than they have in the past.
Overall, the chapters are well written and offer a fine balance between the theoretical and the practical. It is obvious that the various authors have worked hard and long in their respective ministries and are intent upon being faithful to Christ, his word, and his mission. I highly recommend this book for anyone contemplating ministry among Buddhist peoples in Asia.