Building Bridges Between Christianity and Other Religions

Many missionaries are discovering that more attention and understanding of the Gospel comes to indigenous peoples when common ground between the religions is built upon by the missionary, rather the Gospel being presented as totally foreign to anything the hearers know.

This is similar to discoveries of missionaries in past centuries that the indigenous peoples need the Gospel translated into terms they can understand and are already familiar with in their own religion.

This approach also found that indigenous peoples believing in other religions often do not appreciate (and even cannot understand) the Gospel of Jesus Christ because of the language the Gospel is express in, or the cultural differences that the Gospel is encased in, or even the negating spirit (toward their religious ideas or idolatries) that is expressed by those presenting the Gospel.

Protestant missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries, by searching for common ideas shared by both Christianity and the other religion, have discovered bridges to the Gospel could be utilized, just as the Roman Catholic missionaries discovered in earlier centuries.

This general approach, called “Fulfillment Theory,” has increasingly been written about in the past two centuries. Some have even posited it as a way of seeing Jesus as the fulfillment of the highest aspirations of many of the major religions of the world. There are also some dramatic examples of how it works out in specific situations.

Don Richardson’s book, Peace Child, for example, shows how he as a missionary in the 1960s discovered a “redemptive analogy” in the beliefs of the Sawi tribe in Irian Jaya or what is now New Guinea (the eastern part of Indonesia), which eventually led to a massive turning of this tribe to Christ and a breaking up of some of the tribes centuries-old practices of cannibalism!

A current missionary in Japan, David Marshall, has now written two books citing numerous analogies between Christianity (or specific Christian teachings or events) and ideas/beliefs within the major religions of the world: True Son of Heaven, How Jesus Fulfills the Chinese Culture and Jesus and the Religions of Man.

Marshall's article "The Tao Made Flesh, Rediscovering the ancient roots of Chinese Christianity” reviews another book's attempt to trase the interactions of Nestorian Christians with the Taoism they encountered in China in the early centuries of the Christian movement. Though the book was not written by an evangelical and is not particularly favorable to a conservative view of Christian faith, it does make many interesting and valuable connections between early Chinese beliefs and Christianity, which Marshall points out.

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