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Communicating and Ministering the Power of the Gospel Cross-culturally: The Power of God for Christians Who Ride Two Horses

Ten years ago, though, God used John Wimber to challenge us to try claiming the power of God to do the same things God used to do through Jesus. In a very unemotional, unweird way, then, we learned to do what Jesus did. As Jesus promised, we discovered that we could learn new truth via experience: Jn. 8:32 (cf. 3:21)1 “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We got out of our armchairs, stopped debating whether or not healing was for today and discovered that when we did what Jesus did, God frequently (not always) healed.

Now, when we go back to Nigeria or to the dozens of other places we go to around the world, the Christianity we present has a new kind of credibility because it is more like what Jesus demonstrated. We have not left the commitment to the scriptural Christianity we carefully learned as evangelicals. Our message has simply come to make more sense (and be more attractive) because Christ is seen and experienced in a biblical way as being relevant to daily needs in a world full of evil supernatural powers.


“Two Horses” Christianity

Charles Kraft teaching a workshop.

To illustrate what we mean by “two horses” Christianity, let’s look at a few typical expressions of Christian faith in various parts of the world. In Taiwan a Christian mother has a baby. The nonchristian grandparents carefully write down the exact date and time of the baby’s birth and take the information to a priest at a Buddhist temple to seek protection against evil spirits and the blessing of good spirits in the life of the child. The parents, faithful members of an evangelical church, aren’t really sure whether as Christians they should allow this, but every child needs all the protection and blessing possible. So they go along with it.

In Nigeria a Christian man develops severe swelling and pain in his right leg. He goes to the medicine man who diagnoses the problem as the result of retaliation by his deceased father for not burying him properly, according to custom. To appease his father’s angry spirit, the man must conduct an elaborate ceremony in which he sacrifices five goats to his father’s spirit. The Christian man believes the medicine man and carries out the ceremony.

Among the Navaho it is common to see Christians carrying packets of sacred corn pollen in their pickup trucks to protect them against accidents. Again, the view is that people need as much power as possible. So why not use this traditional technique as well as Christian prayer?

In the United States, sizable numbers of Christians regularly consult horoscopes, go to fortune tellers, belong to occult organizations such as Freemasonry and even dabble in New Age or Eastern Mysticism. We have even heard of openly New Age Christian churches. Even Americans are becoming aware of the fact that there is more to life than the physical universe and are experimenting with supernatural power sources.

In southern Mexico a woman brings her sick daughter to the Roman Catholic cathedral to be treated by a curandero. She regularly attends mass at that cathedral and is considered a good Catholic. But the ritual her daughter undergoes is not Christian, not even Roman Catholic. It comes from the pre-Catholic substratum of Indian society and demonstrates a belief in spirits, powers, magic and ritual not endorsed by the Bible or any other Catholic literature or tradition. Since the Christianity this woman’s ancestors embraced provided no effective way to deal with illness, they simply continued their centuries old practices, though they now perform their rituals in the Catholic cathedral.

As evangelicals, we are rightly quite critical of Roman Catholic Christianity in Latin America (and elsewhere) for allowing such syncretism. As we travel the world, however, we are disturbed to find the same kind of thing in abundance (though often less blatantly) among evangelical Protestants as well.

In these and countless other ways, Christians the world over demonstrate that, though they have pledged allegiance to Jesus, they still maintain an allegiance to other powers. This powerless Christianity they are experiencing has not, however, come from liberals. It has come from committed, born-again, Bible-believing Christians who have most of the Christian message right but have, because of worldview blindness,2 missed the spiritual power dimension of biblical Christianity.

As we travel around the world, talking to Christian leaders, we have come to believe that the most serious problem in worldwide Christianity is what we call “dual allegiance” or “bifurcated Christianity.” It happens either:

  1. When people come to Jesus but continue to depend on other spiritual powers for protection, healing and guidance (e.g. the continuance of dependence on shamans and pagan, Buddhist or Hindu priests, amulets, sacrifices and pagan, Buddhist or Hindu rituals), or
  2. When people add to their Christian commitment a dependence on occult powers (e.g. Freemasonry, New Age, Eastern Martial Arts, fortune telling, astrology, horoscopes, psychic healing).

Many who have left nonchristian allegiances to embrace Christianity have found themselves without the power to handle life crises. Christianity has been presented as the answer to the quest for eternal life but offers little to provide protection, healing and guidance for the present. This contrasts with the great concern for such things in the people’s prechristian faith, leaving voids in areas of great importance to them.

The need for spiritual power to handle events and problems deemed beyond human control is common to mankind. Most of the world perceives a variety of spiritual beings affecting everyday life. And this perception is affirmed by the Bible (see discussion in appendix 5 in this book: “Spiritual Warfare”). Marriage problems, barrenness, sickness, business or crop failure, accidents, broken relationships are all seen as involving spirit activity. In addition, success, health, fertility of fields, animals and people, protection from danger and the like are seen as requiring supernatural activity.3 In such societies, Christianity to be relevant must deal with all aspects of life. Often great voids have been left when western forms of Christianity have been adopted.

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Category: Ministry, Spring 2009

About the Author: Charles H. Kraft, Ph.D. (Hartford Seminary Foundation), is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology and Intercultural Communication, Fuller Theological Seminary (Pasadena, California). He has served as a missionary in Nigeria, and professor of African languages at Michigan State University and UCLA. He has published widely both in missiology and in African linguistics, and his books include Christianity in Culture (1979 and revised 2005), Worldview for Christian Witness (2008), and The Evangelical's Guide to Spiritual Warfare: Scriptural Insights and Practical Instruction on Facing the Enemy (Chosen, Feb 2015). His ministry website is

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