What has Charles Joseph Learned from Doing Apologetics and Evangelism in India?

What is the greatest lesson Dr. Charles learned on serving Christian Apologetics and Evangelism while serving in India, where there are a lot of faiths/deities?

Thank you so much!

India is a land that’s seeped in religiosity. Indians have always been spiritual seekers from ancient days. Though the trend might be changing among modern Indian youth. India is the cradle for several major world religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

Jesus in India is a very venerated figure. It’s very uncommon to find an Indian who dislikes Jesus. But Indians following other mainstream faiths, might take issue with stereotyped Christianity, but never with Jesus.

Gandhiji, the Father of the Indian nation, famously said, “I like your Christ. But I don’t like you Christians.”

The stereotyped Indian Christian is seen as someone who’s divisive, an anti-national (pledging a greater allegiance to his God than his country), anti-cultural (aping western culture at the cost of despising his), morally degraded (eating meat, drinking and dressing immodestly), currying favour from colonialists (westerners in general) and trading our values and tradition and converting for material gain - amounting to betrayal and hipocrisy.

So these become serious barriers and like an onion, there are several layers to these, which need patient, careful and loving engagement and redressal, by the enablement of the Holy Spirit.

Logical convincing, doesn’t help much here. As Indian pantheistic logic, is amply comfortable and advocates “both-and” thinking.

So many people come to embrace Christ, through supernatural encounters - healings, deliverances, visions, dreams, miracles etc.

So an average Indian who doesn’t have need for any of these, doesn’t feel the need to embrace Christ exclusively. But he’s happy to include him, in his pantheon of gods.

So getting an Indian to go against the grain and to come to Christ, trading his people, culture, traditions, gods, beliefs is a missiological challenge that has to be won on our knees, our authenticity, our relationality, our patience, sensitivity, sensibility and perseverance.

This is my observation and understanding, thus far.

5 Likes

You mention above how Indians who come to Christ are trading their people, culture, traditions, etc. Is having the saving faith of Jesus Christ incompatible with eastern culture in general or can some, or even many, cultural identifiers (for example: dress, holidays, enjoyment of art) be maintained after salvation in the eastern tradition?

Hi Alan!
It a very good and deep question and worthy topic for a doctoral research and many have in the past researched it academically and missiologically. Despite that its hard to agree on where to draw the lines.

As India is a deeply spiritual civilization, most of our traditions and cultures are seeped in and stem from deeply religious, spiritual and philosophical ideas. It is very enmeshed and hard to segregate.

So for a Hindu, who embraces Christ, the point of renunciation and integration become a very nuanced challenge. That changes from person to person. Missionaries in the past have done good and bad in this space and made problems worse for the new disciple and in some worthy cases (not too many) tried to ‘contextualize’ and integrate too. Often times this could be perceived as being too compromising or liberalizing the orthodox positions.

Ex. Diwali, in a broad sense is the ‘festival of lights’, symbolizing at the core, the victory of good over evil. But its the victory for a Hindu of his deity winning over evil. Now as a born-again disciple of Christ, can a Christian celebrate Diwali, along with the rest of the family or community, who are doing it to specifically celebrate Ram (Deity/Avatar) defeating Ravan (evil king)?

Some of us would say that we need to redeem, this festival, and could still celebrate it, but unto Christ - the others would disagree, about the possibility and debate about the extent and the specifics of how this could be done, still others will flatly refuse, saying that it amounts to sacrilege.

So there is a lot of need for sensitivity and sensibility in this area and there’s no one-size-fit-all solution here. It play differently for different people, based on their maturity and based on their conscience condemning them or encouraging them.

However, the larger Indian Christian community needs to understand these and affirm and support and not be judgemental and legalistic and yet, see that in the name of contextualization, we to the weaker ones, don’t appear as too compromising and become a stumbling block.

A lot of wisdom is needed for the first-generation disciple of Christ from the Eastern faith, to process all these and get the balance right and it could take a life-time! Even more wisdom is needed for those that spiritually invest in first generation disciples and this is often the challenge.

So Alan, this is much deeper than what meets the eye. Perhaps you should visit India and have a feel of these things to really get a grasp of it.

Please do pray for the 1.37 billion Indians, the majority of whom need the Saviour in their lives!!!

Thank you for the well thought out reply. Currently I work and live among a number of people with eastern backgrounds including India . I am interested in the interaction between culture and faith so your comments are very insightful and helpful. Thank you again.

Wow! Lovely to learn that Alan.
Salute Sir!

Thank You for you contributions on behalf of Christ Charles & God Bless you and your family .
I have heard it quoted many times the statement of Gandhiji’s which you have quoted :

I have always been curious from a psychological standpoint the circumstances swirling around Gandhiji when he made that statement & also what it reveals about Gandhiji’s understanding, or lack thereof, of what being a “christian” actually entailed ?
Was he speaking to an individual ? was he speaking to a specific church? Was he speaking to the world ?
There are many Lithuanians who after attending Christian church services followed up by going into the street capturing Jews and beating them to death, as well as hanging them as the Nazi army made it’s advance.
I can very honestly say that I do not like these people, but I cannot say that I honestly believe these
people who at one moment attend church and in the next moment were murdering Jews to be Christians.
No matter what moniker they cared to ascribe to themselves .
An extreme example but you get my point, no one knows with absolute certainty just who is a Christian.
You cannot know with 100% certainty that I am a Christian.
So I have always been curious what prompted Gandhiji to paint with such a broad brush , or was he in fact painting with that a broad brush, and did he really understand what salvation in Jesus entailed ?
Thank You Charles & God Bless + Mike

Hi Michael!

Thanks for that comment and question.

Gandhiji was a champion of social justice and greatly admired and tried to practice the “Sermon on the Mount” his favorite part of the Bible. He spent a stint in SA where he saw first hand the mismatch in “dogma and praxis” of Christian colonizers, who unjustly discriminated and ill-treated the natives.

When he came back to India, he experienced it again first hand against him in his own soil. The Rev. George Pattison tells the following story: One Sunday morning Gandhi decided that he would visit one of the Christian churches in Calcutta. Upon seeking entrance to the church sanctuary, he was stopped at the door by the ushers. He was told he was not welcome, nor would he be permitted to attend this particular church as it was for high-caste Indians and whites only. He was neither high caste, nor was he white.

Gandhji saw this as plain hypocrisy, which it is and that appears to be the context in which he said those words. Another great Indian leader, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar (the architect of the Indian Constitution) also experienced something and came to the same conclusions!

He says this to every Christian, every Indian Church and the Church-at-large and we would do well to take this seriously, won’t we?

I’m sure you’ll glean much more from “Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity by : S. K. George” (First Published in 147).

2 Likes

Thank You For Your Answer Charles .
I should have realized that the caste system played a large role .
Anything that provides power over others is very enticing to the flesh .
I live in an area of America that has a large medical community and I have heard stories of surgeons in the middle of a procedure discovering someone of lower caste assisting in the surgery, and halting the procedure until the lower caste person is removed and replaced .
Unbelievable but not the first instance of one nation importing it’s superstitions to this nation .
That is how we got the Salem witch trials very early in our history .
Also done under the banner of " Christianity " coincidentally enough .
Whether anyone so stridently clinging to these enticements of the flesh is actually in Christ Jesus remains the $ 64,000 question .
Thank you again Charles and I will look into the publication you mention to learn more .
God Bless + Mike