Two weeks ago in our adult English class as we were reading a simplified version of a story about the birth of Jesus, I asked students how they would feel if an angel appeared to them. One of them replied “lucky”, while the other said, in all honesty, he would ask the angel for money. Slightly different from the fearful response of the shepherds! But these are probably typical responses as to how someone rooted in Taiwanese culture and religious practices might respond to their understanding of an angel.
Similarly, last night I was reading stories about Jesus from Luke with a friend. When I asked him what motivated Jesus to heal the sick and deliver the oppressed, he responded that Jesus was only doing those things in order to spread his fame. Again, honest answers from someone with a traditional Taiwanese cultural and religious background.
Yesterday I was reading form Lesslie Newbigin’s Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship. In the first chapter Newbigin delineates four principles which provided the foundation for the subsequent development of science in Europe, a science which far outstripped the brilliant thinking of India, China, and the Arab world. What set these principles apart is that they were based upon faith in biblical revelation: “Science developed in Europe in a way that far outstripped the work of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Indian science because it was willing to take as its starting point affirmations rooted in the biblical revelation of God as creator and redeemer.” (p. 11)
Newbigin continues: a long long time ago, the medley of barbarian tribes and petty kingdoms which then constituted Europe began to be shaped and influenced by a network of monastic communities which eventually took over the whole of Western Europe. These communities had at their center the continual reading of the Bible, both in study and in the worship rituals of the community. The biblical story came to be the one story (emphasis added) that shaped the understanding of who they were, where they came from, and where they were going. … “It was this story that shaped those barbarian tribes in the cultural and spiritual entity that made Europe something other than simply a peninsula of Asia (p. 13). Though one might effectivly argue that Europe was never thoroughly “Christianized” – the veneer was superficial in many places – nevertheless, the development of science in Europe was directly influenced by the faithful telling and retelling from generation to generation of bible stories.
I find great hope in that. Evangelism, when you get right down to it, can be very simple: telling the story of the bible. As I introduce people like those mentioned at the beginning of this blog entry to the biblical stories of creation,the life of Jesus, as well as the other narratives, poetry, and biblical prophecies of God’s Word, they will- if they come with an open heart-- be influenced. I will be influenced. Indeed, over time, entire cultures will be transformed! As I was reminded again in my devotionals this morning:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11