by Eric J. Sharpe
Sharpe’s book is a critical assessment of the life and work of the Indian evangelist and missionary “Sadhu” Sundar Singh (1889-1929). This Sikh background believer came to Christ through a vision during his teenage years.
Intercultural Publications Ltd., A-1/270, Sec. 4, Rohini, New Delhi, India, 2004, 244 pages, $24.95.
—Reviewed by Jamie Bean, executive secretary, Rethinking Forum, Pasadena, California.
Sharpe’s book is a critical assessment of the life and work of the Indian evangelist and missionary “Sadhu” Sundar Singh (1889-1929). This Sikh background believer came to Christ through a vision during his teenage years. He lived the remainder of his life as a wandering holy man, or sadhu. Singh traveled across Asia and Europe, and even made it to North America before his mysterious disappearance in 1929. Singh expressed his faith and witness in an Indian manner, but there remains much controversy surrounding his life, work and his credibility. This is not a tidy little biography, but rather a serious study that produces more questions than answers.
Sharpe’s skepticism toward various accounts of the Sadhu is evident in his critique of Singh’s “spiritual adventures,” including his preoccupation with martyrdom and his numerous sensational episodes. Sundar’s heart for Tibet, personal relationships, theological education and denominational affiliations are also highlighted. The Sadhu’s mystical spirituality is still the focus of significant debate.
Sharpe concludes that the Sadhu clearly fit the traditional evangelical heroic missionary model but lacked the ability to effectively communicate Indian spirituality to the West. Sharpe says, “The riddle of Sadhu Sundar Singh, then, is whether the Christian West, however much it admired and patronized him, ever knew what manner of man, and what manner of Christian, he really was.” The author contends, “it might have been better for everyone concerned, had he remained on the Indian Road.”
Readers with a dry sense of humor will appreciate Sharpe. Embellished and exaggerated details are countered with sarcasm. In some instances Sharpe assesses why the various authors reported the way they did. In others he allows for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions. This book is helpful in that it gives an overview of the critical issues one must address when encountering the Sadhu. At the same time it introduces readers to the available literature on the topic through helpful appendices, footnotes and a bibliography.
Check these titles:
Bharati, Dayanand. Living Water and Indian Bowl, revised American edition, Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 2004.
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