Christ & Culture or Culture & Christ?

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It was with disappointment that I read this article from Thaindian News: Indianised Version of the Bible Hit Among Christians.
The new Catholic translation of the Bible, which apparently went on sale in India this month, has sold like hotcakes, with 15,000 grabbed up in just 10 days. Those are big numbers.

It’s also a big problem.

Apparently the new translation draws “references to other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism.” This means that the terms from these religions are used in the Bible’s text to explain Christianity. Actually, this is not an unusual concept. The same is done in Mongolia with one of two Bible translations called, in English, The Blue Bible. While the translation is popular here, for many it is also controversial.

But back to India…

According to one Indian believer, who is apparently a fan of the new translation, the translators “Have also drawn the Indian mythology into it. It’s not only based on [the] Biblelike you know foreign standards” (emphasis mine).

This is not good news for Indian Christianity. But it does provide an interesting insight into the application of Christianity in Asia. Syncretism is a common problem in Christianity, but especially in Asia. The blending of words, concepts, and even practices of one faith into—what is supposed to be—Orthodox or Evangelical Christianity usually ends up corrupting the expression of Christianity so much that that expression of Christ becomes unrecognizable for what it was intended to be in the first place.

According to one poster on the Indian forum site iVarta, “It portrays Jesus as Hindu.” Another remarked, “It would be funny if this version of the Bible slowly converts these Catholics back to Hindu practices.”

Holy cow, what are the Indian Catholics thinking?

Adapting presentations or emphasizing certain stories or passages is one thing, but altering the text by melding anti-Christian concepts into the scriptures is a violation of every principle of valid ministry I can think of. It distorts the message of the cross and puts it on par with the myths of Hinduism, Buddhism, or any other nonChristian “ism.”

The contextualization of Christianity in a culture is a controversial work. How much of the presentation of the Gospel must be adapted to a culture, and honor the culture? When must culture be ignored in favor of the supreme truth of Christ? I’m not going to answer that question here, except to say while these are difficult issues that every missionary and indigenous Christian must wrestle with, there is one thing that must be clear.

You must not change the text of Scripture, or introduce within its text, concepts which are foreign to its original meaning.
Note what one person who bought the new Indianised version remarked, “It’s not only based on [the] Bible like you know foreign standards” (emphasis mine).

Christianity is a foreign religion. There’s no sense denying it. But being foreign to a culture doesn’t automatically invalidate its truth. The indigenous desire to “culturalize” Christianity, or in this case, the Scriptures, very often places the expression of culture over the expression of biblical truth. Certainly there are many aspects of many cultures that are compatible with Christianity. But where traditional beliefs conflict with the Scriptures the Christian is left with no choice. He must abandon that which is contrary to Christ.

In the July 2007 issue of Christianity Today, Dr. David Hesselgrave, Professor Emeritus of Mission Trinity Evangelical Divinity School noted:

“Hindu and Buddhist concepts such as bodhisattva, karma, dharma, samsara, and nirvana can be understood only in the context of the religious worldview of which they are part. Jesus is the Son of God, the only Savior and mediator between God and man. He is no one’s bodhisattva. He died for our sin, not our karma. Hindus and Buddhists have re-made Jesus into an avatar and bodhisattva in order to make their false religions more appealing. When Christians do the same they sacrifice true religion and contribute to Christ’s diminishment. Contextualization is necessary but it has boundaries.”

Doing what the Indian Catholic church has done reads to me like an abandoning of the exclusive truth of Christ in favor of myth and superstition. If the Indianised translation becomes the Bible of choice of India’s catholics, then I predict it won’t be long before Indian Catholism becomes unrecognizable as Catholism, much less as Christianity.

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