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

Many missionaries did, however, take pagan practices relating to the spirit world seriously enough that they were either (or both) frightened by them or committed to reasoning people out of them. Many saw nonchristian societies as so infested with such beliefs and practices that they waged an all-out war against their cultures, on the assumption that Satan was so in control of these cultures that virtually nothing was rescuable.

The amazing drive of many missionaries to replace traditional cultures with western ways was often rooted in this belief that their customs, but not ours, are the product of satanic influence. Fear that satanic customs would come into the church, then, provided strong motivation to condemn what the missionaries considered strange, infected and dangerous. In its place, they advocated what to them was familiar, and “Christian”—rationalistic Christianity in league with secular approaches to most of life.

Largely through western schools, then, evangelical missionary organizations secularized sizable segments of nonwestern societies (as they had done in western societies) in the process of introducing them to Christ. Though large numbers came to genuine faith in Christ, their traditional supernaturalistic view of life was condemned and taught against. In spite of this, however, many Christians retained their belief in spirit beings and powers and went underground with at least certain of their traditional practices related to them.

The fact that missionized peoples learned to read the Bible and to see the contrasts in this area between biblical Christianity and western Christianity led many to split off into independent forms of Christianity in which they could openly express their supernaturalism. These forms of Christianity, divorced as they usually were from the guidance and training provided by the missionary churches, often moved into seriously unbiblical practices. Even had they been able to receive guidance from missionary sources, though, they probably would not have been much helped with regard to spiritual power. For the western advocates of Christianity and those whom they trained were seriously deficient in this area and, usually, fearful of getting into it.

From early in the twentieth century, western Pentecostal Christianity began to be introduced. This approach to Christianity was much more intelligible to many of the peoples of the world, since it assumed a good bit of what they assumed with regard to spirit beings and powers. Furthermore, Pentecostals demonstrated that the power of God is greater than the power of evil spirit beings and offered Christian answers that work in the crises of life.

Pentecostal missionaries were, however, still westerners. Though they made more sense to most of the peoples of the world than traditional evangelical missionaries did, their supernaturalism was often not as developed as that of the people to whom they came. Nor was it as well integrated with biblical supernaturalism as it ought to be. For example, Pentecostals often were nearly as fearful of evil spirits as were the people they came to. In dealing with them, therefore, some Pentecostals tended to give the impression that the satanic kingdom is more powerful than it really is and that only those with special knowledge and gifting can deal with it. Contributing to this aura, others were given to unnecessary loudness and emotionalism in dealing with demons.

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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 www.heartssetfree.org.

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