E-book: Jonah, the reluctant missionary (Part 3)

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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 two: Lost because they serve false gods

     The plight of the Phoenician sailors on board the ship carrying Jonah underscores the powerlessness of false gods. Those sailors prayed fervently to what they thought were real gods. In spite of their prayers, the stormy winds blew more fiercely than ever.
     The deities they trusted turned out to be as deaf, dumb and powerless as the god which Elijah mocked on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18). In that story, the Lord God sent fire to consume an animal sacrifice on a stone altar. The pagan god Baal had been given a chance to do that first. The fire never came from him, no matter how fervently his worshipers prayed. The same God who sent the fire to Elijah's altar now stilled the raging storm around Jonah's boat. Clearly, the god of the sailors and the God that Jonah served were not the same being who was just being called by different names. Baal and the sailors' deities were clearly false gods.
     Jehovah God does not, of course, calm every storm. The Apostle Paul had to swim ashore on Malta when a storm wrecked his ship. Still, one clear message of Jonah's storm experience is that which God you serve is important. That's clear in the results of the prayers of the sailors. A little later, inside that fish, Jonah lamented the fate of idol worshipers. "Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs," he said (Jonah 2:8, NIV). By saying "worthless idols," Jonah rules out a relativism that views all religions as having the same value.
     The Ninevites were likely sincere in their worship of Ishtar and other gods. Such sincerity had not, however, solved their sin problem. Their religion had not reconciled them with their Creator. Divine grace, says Jonah, is forfeited unless people forsake their idols.
      Recently, someone told me he felt that Islam and Christianity are simply two ways people approach the same God. Since the followers of both religions believe in only one God, this person concluded that either religion will lead you to eternal life. The trouble with that argument is that the Muslim holy book and the Christian Bible are very contradictory. They say very different things. For instance, the Muslim holy book, the Qu'ran, emphatically denies that Jesus was God incarnate whose crucifixion on a Roman cross paid the penalty for humanity's sins. The Bible says that was exactly what happened. Both books cannot be right. If one is right, the other has to be wrong.
     I served as a missionary in Haiti for four years. I saw that to the average Haitian, the Christian gospel comes as very good news. The people of that Caribbean island nation are very religious. Three-fourths of them are voodoo worshipers. They fear the loa or spirits who inhabit trees and crossroads and frequently even possess people. Voodoo religious ritual aims at appeasing or even keeping away those spirits. The Haitian voodoo worshiper lives in uncertainty -- even fear -- in his or her relationship with the supernatural. Even fervent voodoo worshipers have not found real, lasting peace. To them, the gospel is liberating good news. To those Haitians I know, Christian conversion does not mean simply improving on your understanding of God. To those former voodoo worshipers, Christian conversion meant -- as it did for the Ninevites -- moving from lostness to salvation. [ e-book on Haiti ] . . . [ 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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Isn't the sin problem at the root of people's separation from God?

Next chapterJonah's story make the point that the people in Nineveh needed to repent. That's a key thought in deciding whether all religions are legitimate ways to God. . . . [ 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