A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Sharing the Truth in Love
Ajith Fernando is a Methodist who has been national director of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976. This is a book about evangelism by an evangelist. In particular it is a book about evangelism amongst people from other faiths by someone who has lived his life amongst them as a member of a minority Christian community.
Fernando is very aware of the controversial issues surrounding the idea of conversion in the Post-Modern world. The opening and closing chapters are particularly concerned with these issues. In between is a lot of sound advice about the practicalities - advice firmly rooted in scripture, and drawing on his own wide experience in a variety of cultures.
Dealing with the issue of colonialism and evangelism Fernando is clear that the church needs to acknowledge its past faults. He commends the western world for its openness to other religions, seeing this as an example of tolerance which should be followed in Third World countries. Some of his comments in this context will raise some evangelical eyebrows. This writer certainly does not pull his punches, and few people will complete the book in complete agreement with everything he writes!
One of his great strengths comes in his dealing with the practicalities of evangelistic dialogue. Chapter headings like 'Respect and Humility, 'Sensitivity to Others' and 'Truth in Other Religions' speak for themselves. Fernando can draw on a wealth of personal experience as he shows how to relate the gospel to the needs of Buddhists and Hindus (and Western devotees of the 'New Age') in relevant ways. He has some useful things to say about culture - an issue over which many other writers can become very confused.
Fernando is an evangelist who seeks to ground his work in theology, and theological issues emerge throughout, particularly in the opening and closing chapters. He is concerned about the tendency to 'soft-pedal' the gospel in today's church, and this concern colours much of what he writes. He concludes with a plea for us to recover a sense of the 'lostness' of the world without Christ. I understand his concern, without always agreeing with the way he deals with it.
On the theological issues generally I think that evangelicals will appreciate what he has written, but his arguments are not likely to be effective outside the evangelical constituency. A surer guide to these from a non-evangelical perspective is provided by the books of his compatriot, Vinoth Ramachandra (e.g. The Recovery of Mission and Faiths in Conflict), which are included in his end notes.
The book ends with a set of brief 'Sketches of Other Faiths'. He is aware of the limitations of such sketches, and in the body of the book wisely advises us to learn by conversation with the followers of the faiths themselves. I suppose that the value of the sketches is that they enable us to start the conversation without being totally at a loss, and these sketches are at least reliable ones. If we become interested in a particular faith through our conversations we can develop our understanding by referring to the Bibliography.