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The power of the gospel for the Two-Thirds world

02 August 2004

By Martin Conway (*)

A Malaysian theologian pointed scholars to evidence from the grassroots of the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ in and for the Two-Thirds world at the opening of the 11th quadrennial conference of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS).

Giving the keynote address to the conference meeting in Port Dickson, Malaysia from 31 July to 7 August, 2004, Rev. Dr Hwa Yung, head of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia at Trinity Theological College, Singapore, avoided any general analysis of the Western missions of the last 200 years. Instead he paid close attention to evidence of the ways actual people and communities have responded to the power of the gospel as and when it truly reached them.

According to Hwa Yung, those people and communities have in many cases been excited by "signs and wonders" in regard to healing and a new authority to dismiss evil spirits. Those "signs and wonders" have responded to the profound needs of people feeling themselves trapped by "supernatural powers", of which Westerners have long since ceased to be aware.

In other cases, the gospel has proved fruitful in bringing a new spiritual liberation and the essential freedom to launch out in new civilisatory endeavours, which the previous dominant culture(s) could never have permitted.

A third set of cases related to the widespread preference among Western intellectuals for a "pluralist" view of the various world religious traditions, which rejects any expectation of "conversion". Here, Hwa Yung pointed to the deep basis of their remarkably - and historically unprecedented - lasting "guilt complex" regarding colonialism and slavery, among other issues, which arose precisely from deep Christian roots in Western culture.

It should not prevent Westerners from listening to the voices from the Two-Thirds world witnessing to the way Christian good news has spoken, so as to convert those longing for a new future for themselves and their communities.

He ended with a striking story of an encounter with a sophisticated Chinese academic and intellectual woman, herself an expert in information technology, who, on learning that he is a Christian remarked: "You must come to China and preach the gospel." When he, startled, asked "Why?" she simply said: "China needs God, and if people like you fail to make God known, China will have no future!"

The 11th quadrennial conference of the IAMS is meeting under the theme "The integrity of mission in the light of the gospel: bearing the witness of the Spirit", and seeks "to understand the role of church and mission in an increasingly complex world".

Since the gathering coincides partially with the World Council of Churches' Faith and Order plenary commission meeting in Kuala Lumpur, and is being held only about 150 kilometers away, some participants will spend time at both meetings.

(*) Dr Martin Conway, from the Church of England, is a former president of the Selly Oak Colleges, Birmingham, UK.