Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Presenting Christ
PRESENTING CHRIST AS RELEVANT TO OUR PEOPLE
By R. Domenic S. Marbaniang for Mahesh Verma, Bethel Mission Society, Paliganj, Patna, Bihar
Factually speaking, there is nothing more relevant to the life and destiny of any people than the Gospel
of Jesus Christ; it delivers them from the pit of destruction and places them on the path of salvation
originally charted out for them. Therefore, there is nothing more relevant than the Gospel of Jesus
However, the problem of relevance revolves around the people’s lack of awareness of Christ as really
relevant to them. Therefore, this concerns the problem of presentation or communication of the
Gospel. The seed is not sown before the ground is prepared. The seed will only spring forth if the ground
is suitable for it or relevant to it. Similarly, the seed of the Gospel can only find right ground in the hearts
of those who are receptive to it. This receptivity is the condition of being able to find the Gospel
relevant for the soul. Theologians refer to it as preparatio evangelica or the preparation for the Gospel.
That by the way was the name of a book written by Eusebius of Caesarea who thought that the writings
of the Bible were also anticipated the interpretations put forth by Plato and others. Some Indian
theologians have also thought of Hinduism as containing elements that functioned as preparatio
evangelica for the preaching of the Gospel. For instance, A. J. Appasamy found some anticipation of the
Gospel in the Bhakti tradition and Sadhu Sundar Singh talked of Hinduism being the channel through
which the living water of Christ was meant to flow. This fulfillment theory sees relevance as something
being woven into the culture and customs of the people through God’s intervention in their personal
history and context.
The exclusivist position, however, treats all human elements as non-divine and therefore devoid of
grace; therefore, irrelevant to the Gospel. Karl Barth called all religions and natural theology as demonic.
However, Don Richardson, author of Eternity in their Hearts and Peace Child has shown how
missionaries in different cultures have found elements within those cultures as relevant to and opening
points for the communication of the Gospel. This concept has given rise to a method called redemptive
analogy that seeks to find points of similarities in other cultures that can serve as analogies for the
explanation of the Gospel. To quote Richardson’s own example, and I take it from an article in
Richardson studied at the Prairie Bible Institute and the Summer Institute of Linguistics.
In 1962, he and his wife Carol and their seven-month-old baby went to work among the
Sawi tribe of what was then Dutch New Guinea in the service of the Regions Beyond
Missionary Union. The Sawi were known to be cannibalistic headhunters. Living with
them in virtual isolation from the modern world involved exposure to malaria,
dysentery, and hepatitis, as well as the threat of violence.
In their new home in the jungle, the Richardsons set about learning the native Sawi
language which was daunting in its complexity. There are 19 tenses for every verb. Don
was soon able to become proficient in the dialect after a schedule of 8-10 hour daily
Richardson labored to show the villagers a way that they could comprehend Jesus from
the Bible, but the cultural barriers to understanding and accepting this teaching seemed
impossible until an unlikely event brought the concept of the substitutionary atonement
of Christ into immediate relevance for the Sawi.
Missionary historian Ruth A. Tucker writes:
As he learned the language and lived with the people, he became more aware of the gulf that separated his
Christian worldview from the worldview of the Sawi: "In their eyes, Judas, not Jesus, was the hero of the
Gospels, Jesus was just the dupe to be laughed at." Eventually Richardson discovered what he referred to as
a Redemptive Analogy that pointed to the Incarnate Christ far more clearly than any biblical passage alone
could have done. What he discovered was the Sawi concept of the Peace Child.
Three tribal villages were in constant battle at this time. The Richardsons were
considering leaving the area, so to keep them there, the Sawi people in the embattled
villages came together and decided that they would make peace with their hated
enemies. Ceremonies commenced that saw young children being exchanged between
opposing villages. One man in particular ran toward his enemy's camp and literally gave
his son to his hated foe. Observing this, Richardson wrote: "if a man would actually give
his own son to his enemies, that man could be trusted!" From this rare picture came the
analogy of God's sacrifice of his own Son. The Sawi began to understand the teaching of
the incarnation of Christ in the Gospel after Richardson explained God to them in this
Following this event many villagers converted to Christianity, a translation of the New
Testament in Sawi was published, and nearly 2,500 Sawi patients were treated by Carol.
The world's largest circular building made strictly from un-milled poles was constructed
in 1972 as a Christian meeting place by the Sawi.
Analogies of such relevance can be divided into two groups: general analogies that deal with things from
the common man’s world (for instance, things like mustard seed, net, pearl, etc that Jesus used in His
parables); the other group are contextual analogies that relate to the culture or religion of a particular
people group. The peace child is one example of it. Analogies of relevance serve as bridges of
communication and one cannot but believe that those bridges were placed there by God Himself.
Probably, Christ’s view of the harvest being already ripe refers to this.
But one must guard against dangers as well. Such dangers are often based on misunderstandings about
the nature of relevance, which I think to be chiefly four:
1. The false view that relevance is equivalent to evidence. This leads to attempts to find evidences
for Christianity within the culture, religion, or religious scriptures of the particular target group.
There are cases in which Christians have tried to find Christ in the Vedas; the Muslims too
attempt the same; while there are also Hindus who try to prove their teachings from the Bible.
This leads to confusion since it also treats other Scriptures as proofs, which is a false method;
for, if they were really reliable as such then everything written in them will then need to be
accepted which is impossible.
2. The second problem is of considering relevance as an external thing only. Thus, we find some
who think that a change in dress, style of worship, and other external elements can produce the
impression that the message is also relevant to the culture. The anti-cultural shock can, of
course, be avoided to a greater extent through all this but the only way the message can be
made relevant is by making it understandable to them. Sadhu Sundar Singh talked of the Gospel
as only acceptable to Indians if offered in an Indian cup. He draws the illustration of this from an
incident in which he once saw a man almost dying of thirst on a railway platform, but refused to
drink water when an Englishman offered it to him in a cup saying that he would only drink from
an Indian cup. Sadhu himself donned the Hindu ascetic’s saffron robe and practiced a typical
Indian style of preaching which was appealing to the Indian audience. But Sadhu’s methodology
must not be taken for a principle. The principle is that the message should touch the nerves of
relevance in the area of understanding. The external garb in which the message is given is only a
part of the presentation problem that differs from context to context – it is not the whole thing
or even the ultimate thing.
3. The third danger is the danger of compromise. This happens when the message of the Gospel is
so much fused with the local theologies that the identity of the Gospel itself is lost. The Gospel
cannot be made palatable to people in the same way that the seed cannot be made appealing to
the ground. The ground must be prepared in order that the seed is productive in it. Examples of
compromise are when Jesus is considered to be equivalent with the other avataras or
incarnations of the Hindu gods, or of salvation as being limited to physical deliverances from
debt and sicknesses alone.
4. The fourth problem is the problem of false relevance. This is, in fact, a logical fallacy when one
falsely relates the Gospel to certain things that don’t relate to it at all. For instance, one’s
relating Christ’s sacrifice to the sacrifice of the horse in the Ashwamegha Yajna of Hinduism , or
of relating the Trinity to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, Maheshwara) of Hinduism. Other false
relevances relate to distortion of the Gospel through compromise with or through false appeal.
For instance, inciting people to accept the Gospel in order to be emancipated from debts or
business failures, or some sickness.
Those were examples of the dangers one must guard against when trying to present Christ as relevant to
the people. Next, I would like to point out few principles of making Christ relevant to them:
1. The principle of respect. There is a Hindi saying according to which one must not give someone a
rose to smell after cutting off his nose (or insulting him or his religion). We see Paul on Mars Hill
at Athens speaking respectfully of the religiosity of the Athenians. This principle of respect
avoids making comments or doing things (including how or what we eat and how we dress) that
would unwantedly close the doors for evangelism.
2. The principle of honesty. Any element of falsehood in the presentation can totally discredit the
message so honesty must be evident in both the deliverance of and the living out of the Gospel
among the people.
3. The principle of workability. This is the exemplification of the Gospel or the real demonstration
to the world that the Gospel really works in our life. People need to see the truth and not just
hear it. Anyone can preach any theory; but when people really see the Gospel working in the
lives of the people through the manifestation of God’s presence and power, great conviction is
4. The principle of redemptive analogy; which as has already been seen involves the recognition of
types, practices, and other elements that can function as the explanative grid or framework in
which the Gospel can be explained or presented to them.
I believe that a consideration of what has been said in this discussion will greatly help in presenting
Christ as relevant to the people. I must emphasize here again that we present Christ as relevant to the
people; we don’t make Him relevant to the people, as already pointed out that the ground must be
prepared for the seed and not the seed made relevant to the ground. The seed is what it is and cannot
be altered; similarly the Gospel also cannot be altered. It must only be presented. One doesn’t need to
find out how Christ is relevant to any people group. All have sinned alike and all need the Saviour. On
the other hand, one needs to search for analogies of relevance in order that the Gospel be effectively
transmitted. But at the end, it is the Gospel that is lived in the life of the believer that speaks louder than
the words spoken by him.