E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (Part 2)

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This electronic book (e-book) is about the theology of missions. Its basis is an Old Testament character named Jonah, a man whose story is often used to teach obedience. These 10 short chapters reflect on what Jonah's story has to say about God's desire that the entire world be evangelized.

1. Are the heathen really lost?

Point one: Lost in spite of their sincere religiosity

     It's clear that, in God's eyes, the Ninevites were lost. That wasn't because they lacked a religion. Archaeologists digging in the ruins of ancient Nineveh have uncovered pagan temple ruins. There, they've found Assyrian inscriptions with long lists of deities.
     In spite of their religiosity, the people of Nineveh fell under God's judgment and were about to be destroyed. Those Ninevites -- all of them -- were tragically lost. Being sincere believers in something was not enough.
     It may even be worth noting that those under condemnation included Nineveh's religious leaders. They were not in touch with God. He could not use them to convey His truth. The Ninevites needed an outsider to bring them God's message. Thus, they resemble those 2 billion people who today know little or nothing of Jesus. These two billion unreached people are from into about 10,000 tribes and people groups scattered mostly across Asia and into North Africa. Without cross-cultural missionary activity aimed at them, they will remain unreached because they have no Christian neighbors sharing their culture and speaking their native language. Even the most aggressive neighborhood evangelistic efforts by existing local churches will never reach these groups of people. Like the Ninevites of Jonah's time, today's unreached people will hear the gospel only if cross-cultural evangelists or missionaries go to them. Are these unreached really lost without the gospel? Jonah's story suggests that they are. [ more on the unreached ]
     As a side note, we should note that Christians who say it doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere are loudly applauded by some non-believers. Some secular anthropologists denounce Christian missionaries, insisting that we leave tribal peoples alone. These anthropologists are relativists who see all religions as curious belief systems, none of which is better than any other. To them, missionaries are imperialistic intruders who trample on and even destroy tribal cultures. This does not square at all with what is really happening. Christianity has turned out to be very cross-cultural, able to be contextualized in every cultural environment. Indeed, the gospel has been a stabilizing force for many cultures. By contrast, Christians from cultures dominated by religions such as voodoo testify that such religions degrade and enslave people rather than uplifting and freeing them.
     Apart from that argument, however, no human culture is static and unchanging. Our world has become one huge global village. There's little chance for any society in our world today to live in total isolation. Even if they did, the culture of that society would not be frozen and unchanging. It would be in change. The issue for even seemingly inaccessible tribal groups is not change versus no-change. Instead, the question is: What kinds of change? To the chagrin of anthropologists, research shows that they and those following in their wake have tended to be more disruptive to tribal cultures than missionaries have been. . . . [ continue reading ]

Note: The word "heathen" in the title is not used in a pejorative or negative sense. This was the classic wording of questions about the eternal destiny of the unreached or unevangelized.

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There's another reason Jonah story indicates the "heathen" are lost

Next chapterIn his prayer in the fish's belly, Jonah speaks of the uselessness of praying to false gods. . . . [ read more ]

SNU missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of Missions)    Nazarene Missions    Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions

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Article by Howard Culbertson. For more original content like this, visit: http://home.snu.edu/~hculbert