What is a redemptive analogy?

Mission Briefing: Ideas shaping world mission outreach today

"Redemptive analogy: A practice or belief native to any given culture that distinctly parallels or illustrates the gospel." -- Hannah Sevedge Ahn

Missionaries Don and Carol Richardson seemed to be making no progress trying to share the Gospel with a Stone Age tribe in New Guinea. The discouraged young Canadians felt like giving up and moving to a different place.

Then, one day they watched the Sawi tribal chief make peace with an enemy tribe. To seal the peace pact, the chief gave his infant son to the other tribe. As the Richardsons listened to explanations of that solemn ceremony and its underlying meanings, parallels with the Gospel story jumped out at them. The Sawi needed to see that Jesus was God's "peace child" who has made lasting peace possible between humanity and its Creator. If the Sawi could wrap their minds around that idea, a spiritual leap forward might come.

The Richardsons did use that peace-making ceremony to explain the coming of Jesus into the world. The illustration from their own culture opened the eyes and then the hearts of the Sawi. Members of the tribe began accepting Jesus as their Savior and Lord.

Don wrote a book about the Sawi spiritual awakening. Titled Peace Child, that book became a best-seller which Don followed up by producing a 30-minute dramatic film under the same title.

He began referring to the use of the Sawi peace-making ritual as a "redemptive analogy." He encouraged missionaries around the world to look for cultural rituals, folk beliefs, and tribal tales in which could be seen a parallel to one or more key elements of the Gospel. As Don Richardson reflected on the "redemptive analogy" concept, he became convinced that cultures everywhere contained starting points for Gospel proclamation. Such thinking reflects the time-honored strategy of using the known to teach the unknown.

The use of redemptive analogies does not reduce Divine Revelation to no more than those cultural parallels. Cultural traditions are not on the same level as inspired Scripture. Christian teachers and preachers simply use them to shine a light on God's unique Revelation so it can be truly understood.

Using redemptive analogies is not a mixing of different belief systems any more than Paul mixed religions together when he based a sermon on an altar erected by the people of Athens to the "Unknown God." The use of redemptive analogies does not mean all religions and ways of thinking have equal value. Rather, using redemptive analogies is simply a way of teaching biblical truth by starting with something familiar to people.

Actually, redemptive analogies are used throughout the Bible. People of Bible times raised domestic animals and were fishermen and farmers. References to farming, fishing and the raising of domestic animals are used in the Bible to explain divine truth. Jesus Himself used redemptive analogies or parallels, often saying, "The Kingdom of God is like . . ."

Using parallels or analogies from culture as illustrations does not mean we preach a different "gospel" in different cultures. It simply means that some of the most eye-opening and heart-unlocking metaphors and analogies may be culture-specific rather than universal.

Discussion questions

  1. In what ways can redemptive analogies be helpful in cross-cultural communication of the Gospel message?
  2. How does the use of redemptive analogies differ from syncretism, and why is it important to maintain this distinction?
  3. What might be some potential drawbacks to using redemptive analogies in sharing the Gospel?
  4. How can missionaries and evangelists determine which cultural traditions and beliefs are appropriate for redemptive analogies?
  5. How does the use of redemptive analogies reflect the time-honored strategy of using the known to explain the unknown?

    -- Howard Culbertson,

This 500-word mini-essay on a key issue in world missions outreach is an article in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage, a monthly online magazine produced by the Church of the Nazarene.

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