Review of Revolution in World Missions

I’ve finsished reading the book by K.P. Yohannan Revolution in World Missions. It’s excellent! Very eye-opening as far as what is happening on the ground in Asian countries with Christianity. I was already aware of this new movement, but the book fleshed it out and is a much bigger movement than I realized.

Pros:

~Educational. It reveals a level of revival in Asia (specifically India in this book, understandable since that is the author’s nationality) that is unlike anything the western church ever expected. Believers who are thoroughly Indian are taking a message that is thoroughly Christian to a far vaster extent and degree of success than many western missionaries. This is not some foreign western religion. Faith and love in Christ is internalized in these dear brothers and sisters and inspiring them to share it with their own people. Indians often will listen to one of their own more readily than they will listen to a foreigner. This is reality. This is the revolution in the missions movement that early missionaries hoped and dreamed would happen and is now here, and one the Western church must be aware of and readily partner with.

~Equality. K.P. does a good job in breaking down western ethnocentrism in missions. He makes it clear that nationals have the same capability and demand the same respect as westerners. We can partner with them in support, but respect their authority over their own affairs rather than domineering our way into their work.

~Encouraging. It is thrilling to see that the Great Comission is being carried out, disciples are being made, and the kingdom of God is expanding.  The examples the Indian evangelists provide in their extreme sacrifice are an inspiration, and should give cause of praise to God.

~Criticism of “social gospel” surplanting the saving gospel of Christ. It is powerful coming from an Indian who has lived and seen and experienced the poverty of his people, yet is adamant that the gospel must keep priority to meet the real spiritual problem rather than helping temporary physical problems at the expense of the gospel. There is a danger of people becoming “rice Christians,” or those who become Christian to reap the benefits of social help rather than out of commitment to the person of Christ. Helping the poor to eternity is more weighty than helping the poor to a full stomach, even though both are commanded by God. All too often the eternal is lost in the service of the temporal. It should not be this way. K.P. knows what it’s like to be poor, yet to him the great value is preaching Christ, whether you have anything to offer them physically or not.

Cons:

~The main problem I found with the book is the implicit and explicit discouragement to western missionaries. The idea that I got was, “Hey Western Christians, we’re taking care of it, don’t need to send anyone else.” Some of this is certainly valid, especially in his argument about how some areas are so anti-American it would be counterproductive to have American missionaries there. At the same time, K.P. refused to accept donations that would allow involvement of an American on the board of a new Bible school. He said this was in the name of autonomy of the nationals, but I have a hard time seeing how having just one American brother on such a big board would do harm to this. Also, his descriptions of western missionaries are almost always negative: such stories as missionaries who live in extravagence and even have servants when the people they “serve” are poor and destitute. This is outright shameful and I deplore that any such person should even be called a missionary; yet he gives no positive examples of western missionaries today, and only one positive example in praising William Carey from the 1800s.

K.P. does address the question “Is there still a place for Western missionaries?” but he is vague on what role they can actually play. He gives three roles (p 216-217), but two are not really missionary roles: the West has “technical skills” and short term teams that can be utilized.  Technical skills help isn’t disciplemaking. And short-term team volunteers there for mere days or months aren’t what you’d call “western missionaries.”  The only role that really answers the question is his mention of the totally unreached peoples without even national Christians to draw missionaries from, such Afghanistan, where missionaries from anywhere can be used. But this is not fleshed out much.

~Comes down hard on the west. I can easily see how he can do this: he came from poverty and spent his early years in poverty as a young evangelist; then when he came to the US he saw the excesses and millions of dollars spent on things like high-tech church buildings and the complacency so prevalent among American Christians. He also came from a country that has been raked over by western colonialism, and I infer it is still a healing wound. Sometimes the book bordered on being overly critical. I left feeling guilty of being an American.

Take this  criticism lightly. I have tremendous respect for K.P. It is hard to critique anything concerning someone who was starving, emproverished, and persecuted physically for the sake of the gospel in India. I have never done that. He sold his possessions to get money to start his mission, “Gospel for Asia.” I have never done that either.

But my main concern is that we keep our focus on the Great Comission. Western Christians intent on missions should not be swayed away from missions from reading this book. It is an exciting revelation of what our glorious God is doing in the world to redeem lost people, and may re-direct ideas on where Western missionaries can go, since some places honestly would do better with a national than a westerner. But let’s not shirk our responsibility. We can support the nationals with our money and prayers, but as John Piper has said, let’s not merely distantly send money and let them do all the sweating, bleeding, suffering and dying alone. That is a new elitist racism in itself.

It’s a must-read, but not without having greater context than what he gives here. But you must understand, it is completely understandable if he overcorrects. The western church has been ridiculously blind in the most important areas of missions and the book is meant to shake that up.

With that, I thought I’d include a few of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It amazed me, though, that these buildings had been constructed to worship Jesus, who said, ‘The foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath no where to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). In Asia today, Christ is still wandering homeless. He is looking for a place to lay his head, but in temples ‘not made with human hands.’ Until they can build a facility of their own, our newborn Christians usually meet in homes. In non-Christian communities, it is often impossible to rent church facilities.” (p 45).

“Humility is the place where all Christian service begins.” (65).

In America “The typical media testimony goes like this: ‘I was sick and broke, a total failure. Then I met Jesus. Now everything is fine; my business is booming, and I am a great success.’ It sounds wonderful. Be a Christian and get a bigger house and a boat and vacation in the Holy Land. But if that were really God’s way, it would put some believers living in anti-Christian and in the Two-Thirds World in a pretty bad light. Their testimonies often go something like this: ‘I was happy. I had everything – prestige, recognition, a good job, and a happy wife and children. Then I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Now I live in Siberia, having lost my family, wealth, reputation, job, and health. Here I live, lonely, deserted by friends. I cannot see the face of my wife and children. My crime is that I love Jesus.'” (97).

“The only trouble with half-truths is that they contain within them full lies.” (105).

“If we intend to answer man’s greatest problem – his separation from the eternal God – with rice handouts, then we are throwing a drowning man a board instead of helping him out of the water.” (109).

“When all is said and done, the bottom line must be ‘the poor have the gospel preached to them’ (Matthew 11:5). If that is not done, we have failed.” (129).

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