Beyond Belief: Toward Worldview Modification -- By: Wayne A. Detzler
CAJ 09:1 (Spring 2011) p. 49
Beyond Belief: Toward Worldview Modification
Syncretism has been a negative phenomenon in cross-cultural ministry from time immemorial. Historically it has referred to the admixture of pagan practices to the Christian gospel. Thus Christian truth is diluted by the water of worldly practice. One manifestation is a so-called “prosperity gospel,” which affirms that belief in Christ inevitably results in economic prosperity.
Such syncretism is not new. When Pope Gregory I launched Augustine on his mission to King Ethelbert of Kent in 597 A.D., the Pope unwittingly also initiated the practice of syncretism in the Catholic Church. From that point onward Catholic missionaries were charged with identifying and adapting pagan practices for Christian use. For when Pope Gregory I commissioned Augustine, the Pontiff advised an accommodation. Pagan temples should be re-cycled for Christian use. Pagan festivals should be baptized into Christian
CAJ 09:1 (Spring 2011) p. 50
celebrations.1 This unleashed a pattern that has dogged Christian missionary work ever since.
In the twenty-first century the face of syncretism has changed. No longer is amalgam-syncretism the sole problem. Now syncretism has taken on a parallel aspect. Parallel to orthodox Christian faith, many peoples persist in non-Christian practices. For instance, a person may worship Jesus Christ on Sunday, and Monday he may return to his role as a violent freedom fighter. One missionary explained that he was serving in a politically unstable region. When the young rebels came to attack him, they were led by none other than the worship pastor of his church. On Sunday the young man led worship. During the week he led a rebel band of hotheads.
One recalls also the work of Dal Congden. In his doctoral studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School he explored the parallel syncretism among the Zulus of South Africa. His thoughtful study explored this aberrant phenomenon. This study formed the basis of Gailyn Van Rheenan’s thoughtful contribution to “Missiological Reflections.”2 At first we doubted the magnitude of Congden’s observations. We thought that this was an exception, a rare phenomenon.
Now we have discovered that this “parallel syncretism” is pandemic in the truest sense of the word. For instance, when this professor taught in China he worked among the very dedicated, often persecuted leaders of the so-called underground church. They professed an undying devotion to Jesus Christ and an openness to study the Bible. Then someone noticed that their hermeneutic was flawed. Th...
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