Communicating Christ in Asian Cities: Urban Issues in Buddhist Contexts

by Paul DeNeui, ed.

Until recently, evangelical missiological efforts and strategies have focused on rural areas, and they have been struggling to catch up with the diverse urban realities where most Christians now live. Communicating Christ in Asian Cites is a worthy contribution to this effort.

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 2008, 297 pages, $20.99.

Reviewed by Dr. Edwin Zehner, Thailand/Southeast Asian visiting teaching fellow at St. Lawrence University; participant in a large urban church in Buddhist-majority Thailand.

For white North American evangelicals, cities have long been scary places. As whites moved out of America’s urban centers, so did their churches, and many white-majority denominations are now based almost entirely in America’s farms, small towns, and suburbs. However, Christ has never left the city. Some of the most dynamic growth in America has been in urban churches led by people who are not white. Meanwhile, urban areas overseas have been the nodes from which Christian churches and leaders have been moving most dynamically in recent years. This is especially the case in Asian countries where most Buddhists live.

Until recently, evangelical missiological efforts and strategies have focused on rural areas, and they have been struggling to catch up with the diverse urban realities where most Christians now live. Communicating Christ in Asian Cites is a worthy contribution to this effort. The nine chapters in this sixth volume from the annual SEANET Missiological Forum in Chiang Mai address two interlocking contextual issues: how to relate to the diverse contexts we call “urban” and how to relate to the diverse intellectual and practical traditions we call “Buddhist.” The authors share a wealth of experience, but have diverse backgrounds, including pastoring, teaching, and ministry. Three are from Buddhist-majority countries, two are Asians, and four are Australians and Americans who have worked in Buddhist contexts.     

The articles are particularly useful when addressing the sociological complexities of their contexts, whether those are the role of caste among Sri Lankan Buddhists, the social setting of a Bangkok slum, the complexities of building church communities in an urban context, the differences among social classes, or the complex relationships among responses to traditional and local media. Much of this material is excellent and useful. My one wish is that the authors would have addressed the complexities of the Buddhist context as well as they do the complexities of the urban context. It matters a great deal, for example, whether a person is a Sinhalese Buddhist nationalist, a former Thai Buddhist monk currently down on his luck, a Zen meditator in Japan or the United States, a cosmopolitan intellectual, a Tibetan refugee, or a Lao migrant laborer just trying to make merit, ward off misfortune, and pay the rent (while possibly chemically numbing the monotony of it all). Each of these presents unique challenges and unique opportunities for engagement. And while the authors have done a fairly good job of outlining basic beliefs and practices, I wish they had done a bit more to engage with the widely varied outlooks of actual Buddhists.

Nevertheless, even here there is material of great value, as when (to pick just three examples) J. N. Manokaran discusses recent “neo-Buddhist” movements in India, when G. P. V. Somaratna discusses the emulation of Christian practices by recent urban Buddhist movements in Sri Lanka, and when David von Stroh engages with the work of noted Thai monk Buddhadasa to help him understand how a former Buddhist monk in his slum unexpectedly (although atypically) affirmed belief in the Christian God as equivalent with the Buddhist notion of dharma while also accepting God’s omniscience, omnipresence, and eternity. The authors are to be commended for their work in exploring the contexts of urban Buddhists. The book is highly recommended for new practitioners, and its essays and bibliographies are a potential bridge to more advanced readings on the subject.

Check these titles:
De Neui, Paul, ed. 2008. Communicating Christ through Story and Song: Orality in Buddhist Contexts. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

De Neui, Paul and David Lim, eds. 2006. Communicating Christ in the Buddhist World. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Lim, David, and Steve Spaulding. 2005. Sharing Jesus Holistically with the Buddhist World. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

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EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 368, 370, 372. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

 

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