A Context For Christ

When I came to Mongolia in November 2002 to take over as Station Manager of Eagle TV I was not sure what to expect. I knew that I would be leading a staff of mixed religions at a TV station where those mixed motivations might normally seem contrary—even out of place for a Christian owned organization with dual faith/secular objectives. Eagle TV has Christians, Mormons (not the same, in case you didn’t know), Buddhists, shamanists, and atheists working in nearly every department. The ministry department is naturally made up of Christians of various theological backgrounds. When I arrived four years ago I expected to encounter Mongolian Christians who were young in their faith, but passionate about the Bible and biblical truth. I encountered this in other countries I had experience in where the church was young, small (in fact 15 times smaller than Mongolia), with few resources to learn about God’s word. Yet the biblical knowledge of those young believers was, to put it mildly, remarkable. I remember observing Christians in one Middle Eastern country who had known Christ for far shorter than I, yet I felt ashamed because many of them understood far more about the Bible than I did.

That is not what I encountered when I came to Mongolia. Through our staff and some outside relationships I discovered a passion for Jesus, and for Christianity—but not a knowledge of the Bible that should have been commensurate with the length of time people had known Christ. This was not only my experience, but also the experience of most missionaries I talked with, and some of the Mongolian leaders as well. Such a situation is ripe for cults and heresy, and these have stormed their way into some corners of the Mongolian church with a vengeance—such as the Word of Faith movement turning the Gospel into spiritual “me-ism,” and the Mormon church preying on new, yet ignorant believers. The best way to defend against heresy is to educate people about the truth of the Bible, and encourage a passion for its life-sustaining text.

There is a difference between a passion for Jesus and a passion for God’s word. A passion for Jesus can be predicated upon rudimentary knowledge, but can’t help you much beyond that. It’s like a sword. I have three swords hanging on my home office wall; I love them, they’re awesome. I take good care of them. But I wouldn’t know how to use them to save my life. This is what I have observed about many people’s understanding of the Bible. They love Jesus and have a passion for him. But they cannot explain or defend their faith according to the Bible—and the Bible is what provides a definition of their faith in the first place. That’s a spiritually dangerous place to be.

By developing a passion for the Bible we come to know God’s mind. By practicing obedience to the whole counsel of God’s word, we come to know God’s heart. An initial passion for Jesus can only carry a person so far. Jesus himself knew this, which is why he instructed his disciples over and over again to “abide” in his word (John 14:21, 26, 15:7, 10, 16:1).

When I began getting to know Mongolian Christians I discovered that the passion for wanting to understand the Bible in its context seemed to be only rudimentary (Certainly that is not true with everyone). As an example, four years ago I began leading Bible studies with our Christian staff on basic principles of spiritual growth. At the time we had staff that varied from 2-7 years knowing Christ. All had Bibles, but I found that most could not relate even the most basic stories of the Old Testament about major Old Testament figures. Many seemed not to grasp elementary principles from the New Testament about the identity of Jesus. Most of these precious believers could tell you they loved Jesus and believed in him, and why they personally believed in him, but they could not explain why the testimony about Jesus was true or reliable.

Just last year I sat with a Mongolian pastor, showing him a short video of Mongolian believers, one after another after another who did not know basic things like who Abraham, Moses, and David were and their place in the story of Jesus. Many had seemed to never have even heard the names though they had Bibles, regularly attend church, and been Christians for at least two years or more. What was so terrible, I explained to him, was that we spent four weeks getting video from Mongolian believers to try and find people who could tell us some basic things about major biblical figures. The overwhelming majority didn’t seem to have a clue. The pastor and I sat watching the video together, grieving over what we were seeing. Suddenly he said to me, “Hey, I know her!” referring to girl on the video. “That wall looks really familiar.” Then it dawned on him—most of the people on that particular video were from his church.

I was red-faced embarrassed. I didn’t know this particular string of video had come from his congregation. We looked at each other and I thought he might be angry, as if I was trying to embarrass him—though he understood from our discussion that I wasn’t. Finally at the conclusion of the video he looked at me saying, and I quote: “I guess we have a lot of work to do.” Amen to that brother. Amen.

A Context for Passion

What I experienced that day was very similar to my earliest experience with Christians in Mongolia. Since that first day more than four years ago I knew that Eagle TV would need to change its focus from only presenting the basics about Jesus, and some of the fluffy feel-good stuff, to performing more of a substantive discipleship and educational role. That is why I begin working on the idea of using Bible movies and documentaries to tell the Bible’s story over and over again. Those early ideas eventually lead to the creation of our Steppe-by-Steppe ministry that is now seeing enormous fruit in the countryside, in addition to our on-air education about the Bible.

Nothing happens in a vacuum. More than 10 years ago a single Bible class by RTS Professor Richard Pratt and two of his books planted the seeds in me that would later sprout at the time they were needed most. I therefore cannot really take credit for the recent successes of our Bible movie strategy and Steppe-by-Steppe program. They were germinated long ago, long before Mongolia ever entered my mind. I find it so very interesting that of all the classes I took in 1997, and of all of the theology and books I’ve studied that what I gleaned from Professor Pratt and his books, and from Professor Wayne Grudem, have stuck with more than any other. Since my first days in Mongolia I find myself often dwelling upon what was learned from these men, the ideas from their books. I keep a copy of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology on my desk at Eagle TV—it is indispensable to me. Apart from the Bible, it is the single most important print resource I use in my ministry functions at Eagle TV.

It is to me no accident that the things I learned the most during that period happen to be the very things needed the most by Christians in Mongolia. I believe this is why God is blessing our efforts in this regard with such tremendous success. Whenever you truly focus on God’s word, God blesses. God blesses his own word, and he blesses the study and application of it when we study and apply it according to his design. When you give yourself wholly to knowing and understanding the Bible—the whole Bible—in its historical and other contexts, God reveals to us more and more of his character, and uses that to shape our character to be more and more like his. Without a genuine, contextual knowledge of the scripture Jesus so easily becomes a magic-genie in the bottle, nothing more than another Buddha, a way to get blessings and positive feelings rather than that for which Christ died—redemption from sin so that we can become just like him (Romans 8:29).

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