I can’t imagine myself using the “4-Spiritual Laws from an Eastern Perspective” any time soon. And I regularly engage in dozens and dozens of spiritual conversations. So why did I write these “4-laws from an Eastern Perspective?” if I don’t use them myself? (graphic above from http://wernermischke.org)
Following are links to all four “laws”:
I wrote all these to illustrate just how culturally distant the presentation could be for someone who relates to Asian culture. There’s just so much about this presentation that can create a barrier to those from an eastern culture. I don’t blame the presentation. In fact, about 2 decades ago, I spent time with the man who originally wrote the “4 Spiritual Laws” and can vouch for Dr. Bright’s heart. When he originally wrote it in 1952, he had just started a ground-breaking ministry to reach UCLA students, 97% Caucasian at the time. This was years before immigration laws in the mid 1960’s opened up the way for large-scale immigration from Asian countries. When the original “4-laws” was later translated into Asian languages, it was done so with little regard to culture. Therefore, while the tool has been used to communicate the Gospel to countless people, it can also be a distraction to many seeking the Kingdom. By the way, what I’m writing here applies to a vast majority of Gospel presentations. Very few are able to effectively translate the words into the “heart” language of the hearer because they make the same assumptions that I explain in the bullet points below. There is a need for a new body of presentations that are able to bridge the Gospel to non-Western cultures.
Technically, I don’t believe “The 4 laws” can be adopted for a non-western culture without a completely different starting point. Just the whole “law” metaphor baked into this presentation is problematic; people with an Eastern background see law differently then we do here in the West. Before I expand a few of the issues, I must give a little disclaimer. With this post, I am not saying that using these presentations are “bad” per se. God delights in people who, filled with the Spirit, step out in faith to share the Gospel to the best of his or her ability. Don’t get caught up in this Calvinistic-sounding argument. God is bigger than any potential abuse of the Bible and any lack of evangelical savvy. God is able to reach the most remote seeker in the most remote lands if He has predestined them to be his child. Per John 6, He won’t lose anyone that He’s destined to be part of His family. God does not need a Gospel presentation nor you and me for that matter. But he chooses to involve us to be a conduit of his love to others.
That said, those in God’s family are still responsibility to BE Good News and to communicate it as responsibly as we can. The burden falls on Kingdom people to bridge the Gospel over to other cultures. To have a “come” approach to the Gospel, that is, “come to our program or church”, we run the risk of sending a mixed message Gospel that says, “to follow Jesus, you have to leave your culture and come into ours” rather than “Jesus loves you, your family, and your people, and will redeem your culture so beautifully beyond your imagination.” This was the heart of Paul the apostle’s message. Jesus himself, the God-man, emptied himself of his “God-powers” and came to dwell among us, entering into our world, taking on our skin, feeling what we feel, being tempted as we are.
Following are just some of the concerns I have with the whole approach of the “Eastern 4 laws”, and how I would redeem it. What I share below has been extremely field-tested both in the seminary classroom, many pulpits, and on the field. These are not hypotheses I’m proposing. That said, when I share the good news of Jesus with those who relate to Asian background,
- I don’t use Scripture.
- Whenever most Gospel presentations quote Scripture, it assumes that the listener sees the Bible as an authority, which is often a poor assumption. Personally, unless I know that the hearer sees Scripture as an authority, which is rare where I live, I don’t make it a point to share Scripture. (I don’t live in the Bible belt)
- However, I make it a HUGE deal to relate Scripture to the listerner’s context. I believe this is what Paul did. In all his sermons where he shares the good news in Acts, the only time he uses Scripture is when he’s talking in the synagogue. But when he’s with non-churched people, the Bible does not record him ever using Scripture in his presentations. One might think that he would or should, given that Paul would have been the most qualified to use Scripture. But if you study his sermons to the unchurched, he is relating Scriptural truth to his hearers all the time without actually quoting Scripture. I believe this is an effective model for us for many reason.
- For those of us in God’s family, our effectiveness to relate Scriptural truths to others without using the Bible is directly related to our pursuit of practicing God’s presence in every sector of our own lives, most notably where we spend a large majority of our lives, like in our workplace. If we have trouble imagining God’s Kingdom in our own context, then it’s really difficult to relate it to someone else’s context. Christ wore our skin and humiliation for 30 years before he started his ministry. He got it. And he taught us to pray “thy Kingdom come…on earth as it is in Heaven.” Implicit in that prayer is the practice of God’s Kingdom reign and rule in every minute of our lives. Else, how can we possibly relate this to others? Unless we are abolishing the sacred secular split in our own lives, we just won’t get it.
- I don’t “guilt-trip” nor “shame-trip” anyone.
- How I hate (strong word) that the unchurched I talk with usually only see the “fire and brimstone” messages as “Gospel presentations,” from churches, from youth groups, from their kids parochial schools, and more. Moreover, most Gospel tracts assume a guilt appeal (as well as an appeal to Scripture). Being that shame is what separates many Asians from fellowship with God, I don’t “shame-trip” anyone in practice. I’d NEVER read law 2, even my own version. What Asian will willingly admit their own shame where “face” is of premium value?
- But Christ certainly is able to turn one’s shame into honor. This happens not by shaming someone (as is sometimes common in Asian culture, even to police people in Asian countries), but by loving and accepting someone. Think of the Samaritan woman, or the prodigal son. In the case of the former, love in action turned her shame into honor. The once “sleeping around” unclean woman is now the woman of honor because she experienced the love of Jesus.
- For believers, the calling here is to pursue compassion, not just compassionate acts, but a compassionate being. That does not happen without heart transformation and truth integration. Else, we’ll end up judging others in need of grace, and we’ll find ourselves in the shoes of the Pharisees and thinking, “if only that Christian knew their dirty lifestyle.”
- I jettison the “law” motif.
- The whole “4 spiritual Laws” motif unfortunately propagates the Western law motif handed down to us for generations. On the contrary, Asians tend not to think in terms of “law” but relationships and family. If you’ve ever been to a “typical” Asian church, everyone is an “uncle” or “auntie” and food is usually a big deal. And so when I share with an Asian, I paint pictures of the Kingdom in an Asian context, usually a picture of how God is able to see our deepest, darkest secrets, and still accept us. There’s a children’s book that illustrates this well, “My Heart, Christ’s Home.” When I’m talking to groups of students for example, I typically survey them to discover some of the biggest pressures they face in their lives. This typically involves grades and relationships. Then I’ll paint a new picture for them, having them imagine “what if someone still loved and accepted you EVEN IF you don’t make the grade, etc.” Then i simple invite them into this picture.
- Also, if you understand how cultural Asians work, there’s little connection to law, especially if Asians grew up in countries where leaders often abuse the law. But even here in San Francisco, I often read about “honor killings” on the front page. Asians surely submit themselves to a “higher power”, and it’s NOT law.
- Christians need to see the shame motif in the Bible and incorporate this framework into spiritual conversations. Even the Bible says more about shame than guilt. Yet for the most part, Christians still push a Western Gospel upon people who don’t appeal to “law” both here and abroad.
- I don’t use a 4-point outline.
- 4 propositions naturally lends itself to the legal language we’ve all inherited. When I was designing chips in Silicon Valley and worked with companies in Asia, I quickly learned I needed to “get the deals” by using a more collective, narrative approach. And it worked. Propositions don’t close deals, relationships and stories and building trust does.
- If Christians just stopped being so church-busy and made time to be present, half of the Kingdom work would be done. “Salt” can’t be salty without getting out of the “saltshaker” as the Matthewian metaphor goes. When I was a pastor, I was known to shoot down a lot of programs, especially if I felt they were making the members too busy. As a result, our unchurched involvement shot way up.
There is a LOT more that could be said…volumes more. I’m thinking of more bullet points even as I write this sentence. But I can’t write them down now. If you’re really interested, I’ll point you to some books. Blogs cannot contain the exhaustiveness of this paradigm-changing subject. So I’m not going to try.
Let me close shop by reconciling my past involvement with Cru (formally Campus Crusade for Christ). I joined their staff 20 years ago. At the time, I hated their name and its connotations. I left after 4 years because I felt the problems I articulated above and there was little opportunity to do anything about them. But 10 years later, after seminary, getting married, and pastoring, I rejoined the staff of Cru even though I still did not wholeheartedly agree with Cru’s approach to the Gospel. But this time, they gave me and my “leadership development team” a chance to do something about it. So along with faithful comrades who put the “calling” above the “vocation” (meaning, many went through adversity to stand for what we stood for), we saw change in the parent organization. Cru today is better able to equip their staff to reach across cultures, better than ever, because of our work together. And looking back, I feel proud about that work. This “Kingdom Rice” work is built upon that past. Cru (glad they changed the name) is not without its problems, but it’s been God’s Prov 14:4 “oxen” to reap an abundant harvest. And we had the critical mass to strategically move forward.
As I said in the beginning of this post, I don’t share these “4-laws” as they are presented. But I HAVE invited many people to come into a new family, a family where they are loved and accepted, a family without pressure or expectation.