Sunday, April 03, 2005


I had a wonderful conversation thursday night after class with Ruth, a Hindu woman, who's in the class with me. The class is a study on Lesslie Newbigin and so, considering his widespread Christian influence in India, I was interested in hearing Ruth's comments. Throughout the whole lecture, Ruth kept on getting a troubled, confused and disappointed look on her face until finally, she spoke up.

She questionined the professor about Newbigin (the great Bishop evangelist, who died in 1998) and his personal faith, and explained how through most of her readings of him and in his autobiography, he doesn't talk much about his own personal faith. The professor responded (because he knew Newbigin personally) and defended him claiming, "He was so humble...I think he would've felt odd to share in public writings about his personal faith." This answer did not satisfy Ruth and so after the class, I approached her, introduced myself and began asking what it was she was really trying to get at. I told her how because of Newbigin's stearn British upbringing, it would've been highly unlikely for him to share about his struggles in his own faith and how this is probably moreso why he didn't, but that answer did not satisfy Ruth and so, she brought up a profound, rather disturbing point.

"Yes," she said, "but you don't understand. He has had huge influence on India and the Church there, and the biggest problem with my Hindu people since he came and spread the gospel is that they think doing what looks good and what looks right is what matters because that is all they saw in Newbigin! Social justice and helping the poor are all very good, but if that's all you know, as many of my people do, then how is God's grace truly affecting your life? Because Newbigin never shared his own struggles and was rarely ever vulnerable in public, most of the Hindu Christians in India today have adopted that same mentality and will never speak personally or vulnerably about their own relationship with Jesus."

I listened intently, and suddenly realized I had never thought of it in this light. Ruth was seeing Newbigin's influence as good but also very harmful because in her mind, he didn't present the whole gospel. Where as I was seeing Newbigin as this amazing cultural evangelist, fully-well knowing that even though he doesn't talk about his own personal faith much, I still admire him for what he did, who he stood up to, and all he accomplished in his life. It was a perfect example of how being from a culture and simply commenting on a culture's way of life, is the difference between night and day at times.

Near the end of our talk outside Fuller, with the night sky covering both our heads, I heard Ruth say something else that caused me to think even more: "I am not a Christian, but my Hindu people need to understand the importance of a relationships with Jesus and importance of being vulnerable to one another, to God, and to the Church at large." I had rarely, if ever, heard someone put it quite like that: "I am not a Christian" yet "A relationship with Jesus is what it's all about." I wonder if more believers of the Christian faith will begin dropping the identity title "Christian" and start thinking of themselves in other ways?

When I left Ruth for that evening, as her husband was coming to pick her up, I was encouraged to realize once again that the community of faith---the cloud of believers, followers and children---included Ruth and me, even though our pasts and cultures and ethnicities are so very different. Grace is given to us both and we have both gladly, through struggle and resistence at times, accepted it. And for some reason, the children's sunday school song "Jesus loves me this I know," came to mind just then. And then I realized just how important and essential the phrase "yes, Jesus loves me," is to all those who claim to believe. For we are weak, and He is strong.


nateshorb said...

i liked this.

i dont really know how to say what i'm thinking. but you know how jewish people are jewish people both by race and religion? i feel like that's kind of happening for every religion. where if you're from the states, you consider yourself a christian whether you actually are or not. and so ruth here considers herself hindu cuz she's from india and not a christian because she's not from the states. does that make sense? i kinda see that happening and it obviously makes everything a whole lot more confusing and unclear and unfortunate.

Neville said...

exactly. i think you just said what i couldn't really say but what i meant to say all along.

thanks a lot nate.

uuuuUUUUHHHHHRR (big sigh) HHHHhhh.