The Truth Is Contextualization Can Lead To Syncretism: Applying Muslim Background Believers Contextualization Concerns To Ancestor Worship And Buddhist Background Believers In A Chinese Culture -- By: Philip A. Pinckard

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 05:1 (Spring 2008)
Article: The Truth Is Contextualization Can Lead To Syncretism: Applying Muslim Background Believers Contextualization Concerns To Ancestor Worship And Buddhist Background Believers In A Chinese Culture
Author: Philip A. Pinckard


The Truth Is Contextualization Can Lead To Syncretism: Applying Muslim Background Believers Contextualization Concerns To Ancestor Worship And Buddhist Background Believers In A Chinese Culture

Philip A. Pinckard

Professor of Missions & director of the global missions center
New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary1

Introduction

Contextualization issues have received much attention in recent years related to evangelical mission work. Phil Parshall who has written extensively on seeking to reach Muslims with the gospel has expressed some concerns in his book Muslim Evangelism: Contemporary Approaches to Contextualization related to contextualization among Muslim background believers. These concerns specifically address particular practices such as the encouragement to remain permanently in the mosque.

This article uses Parshall’s concerns about Muslim background believers as a starting point to assess how the practice of ancestor worship and the worship of Buddha in a Chinese culture by Christians can be evaluated. The hypothesis is that the continued participation of Christians in these religious practices in a Chinese culture would be viewed as syncretism. Another concern relates to changing references to Jesus in Scripture as the Son of Man in a translation. The practice of using biblical passages to justify a strategy of remaining in a religious group outside of the Christian community will be discussed.

An analysis will be given of how contextualization can lead to syncretism. The dangers would apply to Chinese believers who come out of a background of ancestor worship or Buddhist worship, as well as to those who are Muslim background believers.

Worship Of Ancestors And Buddha

The author was privileged to live in a region of East Asia where those who became Christians often came from a background of worshiping ancestors and Buddha. The blending of these two distinct religious systems is an example of syncretism of religious systems resulting from an apparent adaptation by those spreading Buddhist beliefs2. A large

temple across the street from where the writer lived for several years was dedicated to Kannon, the bodhisattva called the “goddess of mercy” and who could be portrayed with multiple arms “to symbolize her countless acts of mercy in answer to the prayers of this world.”3 When one enters the temple grounds one can view how religious beliefs have been combined. There are rooms in the temple dedicated ...

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