One of the greatest missionaries of the twentieth century, E Stanley Jones, twice nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, wrote about his struggles with the idea of teaching spiritual truth to an Indian person:
I felt very raw and undeveloped and rather abashed in the presence of this ancient something that looked out at me from his eyes. And I was to be a missionary to that ‘ancient something.’ Absurd!
Indians were inventing and discarding philosophical and religious systems when Western religious expression basically involved daubing each other with woad.
Under Gandhi, India won independence by trying to apply the Sermon the Mount, inspiring people all around the world with ideas of non-violence. Spiritually, India is a superpower.
How people from either West or East — or as is more usual nowadays, from South India to the North — can attempt to bring the gospel to the world’s most fertile source of religious ideas is not presumptuous, however. The gospel is a news story. So anyone can tell it. It isn’t cultural imperialism or arrogance or folly — just reportage. Dead man lives. Go figure.
My book goes on to look at the long history of the Church in India, and then at its various current manifestations:
- The ancient Eastern churches
- The newer churches, often of Western origin, some arising out of Victorian missions, some very modern
- The Christian NGOs
- The crypto-Christians who may be Hindus so far as the census forms are concerned, but who actually are devoted to Christ.