Friday, June 3, 2016


Our personal (subjective) experience of God is probably the most important aspect of our faith. The Psalms encourage us:

·       Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! (Psalm 34:8-9; ESV)

This is something that we experience for ourselves as we trust and obey God. Jesus also appealed to personal experience:

·       If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (John 7:17)

Jesus would invite people into discipleship to live as He did, in order to come to the assurance of His truth. Believing in Jesus’ teaching would also bring freedom:

·       So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

This wasn’t simply freedom from the penalty of sin – this they received as soon as they believed – but also freedom from the spiraling effects of sin, as they continued to grow in the truth of His Word.

However, a vibrant Christian life requires more than personal experience. With merely personal experience, doubts will naturally arise, like “Perhaps I’ve deluded myself.”

Therefore, Jesus also provided His disciples with objective evidences. For example, He prophesied what would take place “that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.” (John 13:19; 14:28-29)

Paul also argued that when we devote ourselves to Scripture, we will experience personal changes that will be apparent to all:

·       Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Timothy 4:13-16)

As a result, the Church can point to innumerable testimonies of changed lives. However, the testimony doesn’t stop with changed individual lives. There are also changed societies and nations in the wake of the influence of the Bible. For example, the late theologian B.B. Warfield had observed:

·       Hospitals and asylums and refuges for the sick, the miserable and the afflicted grow like heaven-bedewed blossoms in its path. Woman, whose equality with man Plato considered a sure mark of social disorganization, has been elevated; slavery has been driven from civilized ground; literacy has been given by Christian missionaries, under the influence of the Bible.

Western culture often associates missionaries with the imperialists who wanted to stamp out native cultures and the colonialists who economically exploited them. However, new research has exposed the fallacies of these many stereotypes. 

Robert Woodberry, professor of sociology, University of Texas, has devoted the last 14 years to investigate why certain countries develop thriving democracies, while neighboring countries are failed states. Andrea Palpant Dilley writes that:

  • Woodberry already had historical proof that missionaries had educated women and the poor, promoted widespread printing, let nationalistic movements that empowered ordinary citizens, and fueled other key elements of democracy. Now the statistics were backing it up: Missionaries weren’t just part of the picture. They were central to it. (Christianity Today, Jan/Feb 2014, 38)
To his amazement, Woodberry was discovering that a long denigrated ingredient was actually central to the creation of successful states – the missionary. He writes:

  • “Areas where Protestant missionaries had a significant presence in the past are on average more economically developed today, with comparatively better health, lower infant mortality, lower corruption, greater literacy, higher educational attainment (especially for women), and more robust membership in non-governmental associations.” (39) 
  • Pull out a map, says Woodberry, point to any lace where “conversionary Protestants” were active in the past, and you’ll typically find more printed books and more schools per capita. You’ll find too, that in Africa, the Middle East, and in parts of Asia, most of the early nationalists who led their countries to independence graduated from Protestant mission schools. (41)
Woodberry’s thesis has been gaining support. Philip Jenkins, professor of history, Baylor University, claims:

  • “Try as I might to pick holes in it, the theory holds up.”
Daniel Philpot, professor of political science and peace studies, Notre Dame, goes further:

  • “Why did some countries go democratic, while others went the route of theocracy or dictatorship… Conversionary Protestants are crucial to what makes the country democratic today… Not only is it another factor – it turns out to be the most important factor. It can’t be anything but startling for scholars of democracy.” (40)
Robin Grier, professor of economics, University of Oklahoma, confesses that although he is “not religious,” “Bob’s work…changed my views and caused me to rethink”:
  • “I think it’s the best work out there on religion and economic development… It’s incredibly sophisticated and well-grounded. I haven’t seen anything quite like it.” (40)
Well, how about those missionaries that had collaborated with the imperialists? Woodberry claims that these were the exceptions:

  • “We don’t have to deny that there were and are racist missionaries… But if that were the average effect, we would expect the places where missionaries had influence to be worse than places where missionaries weren’t allowed or were restricted in action. We find exactly the opposite on all kinds of outcomes. Even in places where few people converted, [missionaries] had a profound economic and political impact… One of the main stereotypes about missions is that they were closely connected to colonialism, but Protestant missionaries not funded by the state were regularly very critical of colonialism.” (40) 
It is noteworthy that it was only the Protestant missionaries who sought conversions that are associated with the growth of thriving democracies. Dilley writes: 

  • The positive effect of missionaries on democracy applies only to “conversionary Protestants.” Protestant clergy financed by the state, as well as Catholic missionaries prior to the 1960s, had no comparable effect in the areas where they worked. (40)
Woodberry’s conclusions have received support from other studies. Dilley writes:

  • Over a dozen studies have confirmed Woodberry’s findings. The growing body of research is beginning to change the way scholars, aid works, and economists think about democracy and development. (41)
In view of the above, the long disparaged missionary and even more so, the Word of God, deserve the recognition due them, even within the church.

Christian missions and the impact of their Bible have gotten a bad rap. If you doubt this, just watch a PBS or a BBC history special on the subject. In “6 Modern Myths about Christianity and Western Civilization,” Research fellow, Philip J. Sampson attacks the myth that the missionaries were oppressors. The missionaries who followed in the wake of the Conquistadores have received special condemnation. A BBC TV series of The Missionaries claims that,

·       “Under the guise of evangelism came harsh exploitation and eventually the enslavement of the Indians.”

Sampson counters that many of the missionaries had taken a strong stance against these colonial powers. He cites a sermon by Dominican Antonio de Montesinos (1511), preached against the sins of the white colonists:

·       “Tell me, by what right and with what justice do you keep these poor Indians in such cruel and horrible servitude? By what authority have you made such detestable wars against these people…you kill them with your desire to extract and acquire gold every day…Are these not men…Are you not obliged to live them as you love yourselves?”

Contrary to the philosophy of Aristotle who regarded the slave as a “live tool,” the Bible grants dignity to all humanity as “created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). Sampson points out the consequence of this:

·       “Many 19th century missionaries were appalled at the slave trade and did their best to try to change it. William Burns opposed the ‘coolie’ trade in China and protested to British government representatives…Missionaries in East Africa were horrified at the local slave trade and were at a loss as to what to do about it.” (100)

In her discussion of the missionaries to Africa, historian Ruth Tucker acknowledges that, while there were missionaries who also understood their role as one of westernizing the natives:

·       “They, more than any other outside influence, fought against the evils colonialism and imperialism brought. They waged long and bitter battles…the heinous traffic in human cargo. And after the demise of the slave trade they raised their voice against other crimes, including the bloody tactics King Leopold used to extract rubber from the Congo. The vast majority of missionaries were pro-African, and their stand for racial justice often made them despised by their European brothers. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that without the conscience of Christian missions, many of the crimes of colonialism would have gone entirely unchecked.” (“From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya,” 140).

Sampson explodes the myth that the missionaries were in collusion with the imperialists and colonists. In fact, the missionaries were often expelled by the colonial powers to prevent them from “publicizing atrocities or intervening to help the native people.” (101) He agrees with Tucker that the,

·       “Missionaries in Africa were opposed to slavery from an early period, and they used a variety of means to oppose it, including buying slaves and establishing plantations for them to work on.” (102)

According to Sampson, rather than collusion, conflict characterized missionary-colonialist relations:

·       “The missionaries insisted on treating native people as human beings who are entitled to the protection of the law, and this rubbed salt into the wound. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that colonists and traders often opposed missions.” (103)

·       “Traders and colonists resisted the evangelism of native people, seeing conversion as the first step to indigenous people gaining access to the resources of Western culture and hence to the power that colonists wished to keep for themselves…Native people who wished to break free of the settler’s stranglehold and worship God were immediately persecuted by the white traders.” (103-104)

Stephen Neill’s “History of Christian Missions” gives an example of this:

·       “The missionaries [to New Guinea] from the start found themselves in bitter opposition to the white traders and exploiters, whose attitude was expressed by one of them to John G. Patton in the words ‘our watchword is ‘Sweep these creatures away, and let the white men occupy the soil,’’ and who, in pursuance of their aim, placed men sick of the measles on various islands in order to destroy the population through disease.” (355)

In contrast to the concerns of the missionaries, the educated, disdaining the idea of the “spiritual equality of all colors of Christians,” aligned themselves with the exploiters:

·       “Missionaries, on the other hand, were ridiculed in scholarly journals for their shallow thinking in regard to race.” (Tucker, 140)

Darwinism had made racism intellectually respectable. Evolutionist Karl Giberson, in “Saving Darwin: How to be a Christian and Believe in Evolution,” acknowledges the prevailing racism:

·       “How shocking it is today to acknowledge that virtually every educated person in the Western culture at the time …shared [evolutionist] Haeckel’s [racist] ideas. Countless atrocities around the globe were rationalized by the belief that superior races were improving the planet by exterminating defective elements…there can be little doubt that such viewpoints muted voices that would otherwise have been raised in protest.”

Consequently, evolutionists presented no rationale to oppose the abuses of colonialism. In contrast to this, Tucker cites A.F. Walls,

·       “But one thing is clear. If missions are associated with the rise of imperialism, they are equally associated with the factors which brought about its destruction.” (111)

She also cites Ralph Winter:

·       “Protestant missionary efforts in this period led the way to establishing all around the world the democratic apparatus of government, the schools, the hospitals, the universities and the political foundations for the new nations.” (111)

What greater testimony could there have been to the missionary dedication to those among whom they worked! Nevertheless, they have often been charged with the destruction of native culture. This is ironic because missions have done more to “codify and preserve [indigenous] languages” than has any other group:

·           “The anthropologist Mary Haas estimates that ‘ninety per cent of the material available on American Indian languages, is missionary in origin.” (Sampson, 109-110)

Indeed, the missionaries did campaign against certain native practices like female circumcision. Even Charles Darwin confessed:

·       “Human sacrifice…infanticide…bloody wars, where the conquerors spared neither women nor children—all these have been abolished…by the introduction of Christianity.” (Sampson, 110)

Why then all the bad press against the missionary? Darwin proposed that:

·       “Disappointed in not finding the field of licentiousness quite so open as formerly, they [the Western traders] will not give credit to a morality which they do not wish to practice or to a religion which they undervalue, if not despise.” (Sampson, 111)

Consequently, the historian Stephen Neill concludes that the,

·       “Weight of the evidence tells heavily against” the accusation that missionaries have been responsible for the destruction of native cultures.” (Sampson, 111)

The Christian missionaries bravely opposed the prevailing worldview. Representative of the Darwinian thinking of his day, Richard F. Burton complained that the Christian willingness to treat Africans as “men and brethren” was “a dangerous error at odds with the evolutionary facts.” (Sampson, 98) Instead, faith in the Gospel…

·       “Encouraged Dr. John Philip of the London Missionary Society to support native rights in South Africa in the early nineteenth century…Lancelot Threlkeld to demand equal protection under the law for the Awabakal people of Australia and also inspired John Eliot to persuade the Massachusetts courts to find in favor of native people against settler claims. Even so unsympathetic an author as David Stoll concedes that the contemporary missions in Latin America ‘tended to treat native people with more respect than did national governments and fellow citizens.’” (98)

This should be no surprise. It has been the faithfulness to their beliefs that has motivated Christians from the start. Regarding this, Philip Yancey provides some insights that he gleaned from the historian Rodney Stark:

·       “In the midst of a hostile environment, the Christians simply acted on their beliefs. Going against the majority culture, they treated slaves as human beings, often liberating them…When an epidemic hit their towns, they stayed behind to nurse the sick. They refused to participate in such common practices as abortion and infanticide. They responded to persecution as martyrs, not as terrorists. And when Roman social networks disintegrated, the church stepped in. Even one of their pagan critics had to acknowledge that early Christians loved their neighbors ‘as if they were our own family.’” (CT, Nov 2010, 32-33)

If a person can be judged by their fruits, then too the Bible! The fruits of those who allowed the Bible to govern their lives are apparent. Even Western civilization points unmistakably to its sturdy biblical foundations.

However, it is undeniable that the fruit coming from us flawed humans is inevitably flawed. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that some of our fruitage is corrupt.

Nevertheless, this shouldn’t lead us to indiscriminately lump all religions of philosophies together. There are stark differences among them. Instead, it seems that wherever the Christian faith has trod, there have been positive outcomes. Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, in a review in the Sunday Times of Niall Ferguson's new book, Civilisation: The West and the Rest, carries a quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in which he tries to account for the success of the West:

  • “We have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.”
We would expect that a faith based upon a Book given by God should give evidence of its Author. However, not everyone will acknowledge this.

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