Evangelizing Animists and Folk Religionists

June 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

Animism is defined as, “the belief that personal spiritual beings and impersonal spiritual forces have power over human affairs and, consequently, that human beings must discover what beings and forces are influencing them in order to determine future action and, frequently, to manipulate their power (Van Rheenen, 20).” Animistic practices are mentioned in the Bible and include practices that involve: magic, fetishism, shaman and mana. Weaknesses of animism are that it has no foundation for ethics, personal welfare is the only good, no real hope beyond this life and fear is dominant. Hiebert, in Understanding Folk Religion warns that even though we can’t accept folk religions in total, that if the views of animistic people are rejected they will go underground. Hiebert suggests critical contextualization by understanding (phenomenology), ontological critique, critical evaluation and missiological transformation (transformative ministry).

A strategy for evangelizing animistic people should begin with finding a bi-cultural person to learn about the cultural differences. I would also seek to understand their worldview concerning amoral vs. moral, and sins of omission and commission. A key component would be to insure they understand sin in regards to God’s law and the concept of grace to people who may not believe God would just do something benevolently. I would attempt to discern if it is the individual nature of conversion or the calling of an individual to conversion that is the issue within the cultures. Based on my findings I would examine how the individual relates to the whole and how this affects social-identification, information processing and decision making regarding a group oriented response and a personal relationship with God in collectivistic cultures.

Language learning would be an important component of the strategy I would consider use word categories to see how cognitive domains are grouped. That knowledge would then be used to identify Gospel bridges which could then be expressed in music, art, entertainment, stories etc. I would also consider training on practical theology and contrast biblical characters actions and practices in contrast to those of animists in hopes of generating a truth encounter (Hannah was used as an example in the book (65)). Finally I would try to be prepared for a potential power encounter such as breaking a cultural taboo. I saw no problems with using Kingdom Theology as described in the book. I would only want to be sure that it ultimately focuses on redemptive history in the work of Christ on the cross. I would also be sure to be clear about the eternal soul every person possesses and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit once we believe in Christ. Finally, I would be sure to emphasize that God desires our allegiance over manipulation and appeasement.

In Indonesia, Edward Nyus wrote about a strategy to evangelize Bataks was to use deaths to become a time of reflection of the Christian faith. The contemporary direction focuses on a felt need to continuously study the encounter between Christianity and traditional religion. The missionary encounter is to begin with the principle of change. The Christian community should not separate itself from the culture and system of customary laws in which it has found itself. In West Africa, Carolyn Butler writes about an African pastor’s instruction and advice to not get involved in spiritual warfare lightly. Some of the methods and teachings they have used effectively are to emphasize the characteristics of God. Make clear the concepts of blessing and cursing. Renounce, repent, and reaffirm. Replace traditional protection with blessing. Create a church family structure of protection and provision (Dr. Martins lecture).


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